Bringing Quantified Self to the Masses: Habit Labs Creates Games to Make You Live Healthier

WHAT: Create healthy habits with software tools that can be tailored to people's goals and the ways they want to communicate. Current product is Health Month, which makes achieving health goals a social game and is integrated with Fitbit and the Withings scale.

The next product, code-named Budge and expected to be released in about six months, will consider a person's context -- events like parties and conferences, weather and location -- to make relevant recommendations. For instance, if it's raining and you normally run outside, Budge would recommend indoor exercises or the gym to keep you on track. If you ate too much one night, Budge would help you get back on track with losing those five pounds.

LAUNCHERS:  Jen McCabe, CEO, and Buster Benson, CTO.

WHY: America has an obesity epidemic. Data and logic are not enough to change people's health-related behaviors. Seeing data you don't want to see or that doesn't show fast enough change leads to shutting down a health app, Jen has learned. Health-care reform passed in 2010 has health insurers reevaluating their systems, which track visits and not outcomes.

About $65B spent each year on changing health behavior, and an estimated 80M people will use wireless wellness devices by 2016.

WHEN/WHERE: Aug. 15 / Seattle.

BACKSTORY: Merger of Jen's Y Combinator '10 company Contagion Health, which built the social health challenge app, and Buster's Health Month. has been rolled into Health Month.

Jen decided to "save consumer health care" after a car accident at age 20 (in 2000) put her out of commission for a year-and-a-half. She worked her way back to health and began her career post-college in health-care administration. Her interest in mobile/social health began in 2007 when she saw men in her organization's shelter texting each other on prepaid mobile phones. She moved west and began building health apps at hackathons.

Buster, who worked on Amazon's Personalization and Recommendations team, built Health Month in 30 days in May 2010 after his son's birth. He based it on a yearly New Year's ritual that began in 2003 with friends. Buster previously built and sold Locavore, an iPhone app for finding fruits and veg in season.

Jen met Buster at the Casual Connect conference in Seattle last summer, where Jen was speaking and Buster was launching Health Month. "Our motives and backgrounds aligned really well," Jen says, hence the just-announced merger.

BUSINESS MODEL: Freemium, which Health Month uses (pay $5 a month or $50 a year to create/track more than three rules). Elite or premium level for those who need a lot of help or have little time to set up a program based on their goals. Also revenue share with device makers (e.g., Fitbit) that need to get their users reengaged with the product.

COMPETITION: Daily Challenge from MeYouHealth, employer-focused Keas co-founded by Google Health launcher Adam Bosworth.

GOAL: "Put health back in the hands of individual users," says Jen. No plans to sell to big pharmaceutical companies or health insurance companies. Zappos-like devotion to customers.

CUSTOMERS/GROWTH: Health Month has 45K users including about 10K from

LESSON FROM USER TESTING: "'Who do you want to make the [health] change for?' is a far more intimate question than 'What do you want to change?'" says Jen. "Most of us know what we should change about ourselves. One thing that's missing is someone or something to support us even when we fall off the wagon. That's why in what we build we're so committed to being able to calibrate up and down and consider whether you had a bad day."

ON THE HEALTH APP MARKET: Jen says there's a philosophical division between those who think people need extrinsic motivation to change their health behaviors (rewards like coupons for new running shoes) and those who think you can keep people intrinsically motivated. She views it as an Apple versus PC divide, where people will choose tools based on "what's cheaper or what they need for work." Her prediction: "We'll see a multipurpose platform that does a little bit of both."

BUILT ON: Ruby hosted on Heroku servers. MySQL. Mobile apps on HTML5 rather than native iOS and Android.

WHO BACKED IT: Contagion Health: Y Combinator, Founders Fund and Esther Dyson. Habit Labs: Dave McClure, Jennifer Lum (Apricot Capital), Rick Webb (Barbarian Group), and Chris DeVore and Andy Sack, Founders Co-op.

TOTAL RAISED: $275K (Contagion Health). Raised another $250K with merger. "We're not going to raise more than we need," says Jen.

MENTOR OF NOTE: Jeff Clavier, managing partner at SoftTech VC. Jen says when she was considering having an office in San Francisco (where Contagion Health was based) and Seattle, Jeff told her, "Pick a place and go there" and "I heard Seattle is a great place."

ON SEATTLE: Jen's reasons for Seattle over San Francisco: better work-life balance, lots of experienced people, lower cost of living, easier to hire talent. Jen says that with their current funding, they can afford to hire four people in Seattle versus just one in SF.



After completing the sign up, choose up to three rules (for the free version) you want to follow for the month. You're encouraged to start with small improvements. There are diet, exercise and mental rules (e.g., relaxation and journal writing), and you can view them by "do" rules and "don't" rules.

Each rule requires you to answer a few questions: how much you like the activity,  how well do you do this already, how difficult this will be for you and how important this is for your sense of healthy living.

Now commit to your rules for the month. You start with 10 life points and lose one every time you break a rule -- stay in the black and your name is added to the "Wall of Awesomeness" at the end of the month. You can also opt to pledge yourself rewards and punishments.

Spin a Wild Wheel for fun (outcome is positive, doesn't affect your points). You can pass it with no penalty and go straight to the page where you report how you've done that day. Meet your goals and score a piece of fruit that you can give to a friend on Health Month who has lost life points.


1. "The Quantified Self: You Are Your Data" (Boing Boing on Good, Feb. 3, 2009)

2. "A 'Stages of Change' Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior" (American Family Physician, March 1, 2000)

3. "Understanding the Affordable Care Act -- Timeline: What's Changing and When" (

4. "Speaking of...Hellraiser with Jen McCabe of" (TCTV, Nov. 2, 2010)


Jen McCabe
Email: jen at habitlabs dot com
Twitter: @jensmccabe

Buster Benson   
Email: buster at habitlabs dot com
Twitter: @busterbenson

Habit Labs