I Started A Gut Healthcare Company

Momo Vuyisich
I Started A Gut Healthcare Company
Viome Life Scienc...
from Seattle and New York City
started October 2016
3
Founders
150
Employees
43.8K
alexa rank
market size
$48.4B
starting costs
$13.7K
gross margin
40%
time to build
7 months
growth channels
Word of mouth
business model
E-Commerce
best tools
Google Drive, YouTube, Twitter
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
tips
1 Tips
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Start A Probiotic Business

My name is Momo Vuyisich. I am a co-founder and Chief Science Officer at Viome Life Sciences, a biotechnology company that has created a discovery platform for the next generation of diagnostics and therapeutics.

Viome Life Sciences also has several existing and upcoming applications of the technology that we have developed either alone or in collaboration with other leading companies. Our mission is to revolutionize healthcare, from the current model of symptom management to truly preventative and curative Medicine.

Our current products, under the Viome brand, focus on empowering consumers to take control of their health and follow highly personalized, scientific nutrition. Viome customers provide stool and blood (will add saliva soon) samples, and Viome computes the best foods and supplements for each person. Our annual run rate is currently around $40 million.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company
Viome analyses RNA, and not DNA, as it is a far more informative and actionable molecule. DNA is static and boring; RNA is dynamic and more relevant

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I had an early onset inflammatory disease/arthritis while in graduate school. I suffered for years, and the healthcare system had no idea what was causing my illness. Their only solution was to suppress my immune system, as they thought I had an autoimmune disease. I spent several frustrating years trying the fad diets, and none of them helped. The keto diet ruined my memory, which took years to recover. By reading a lot of scientific articles and experimenting with foods, I finally figured out what was causing my disease. It was the Neu5GC in mammalian foods. Since I switched to a mammal-free diet (not an official diet), my body has healed and I have been symptom-free ever since.

My journey, combined with my training as a biochemist, made me decide to bring objective science to the field of nutrition, chronic diseases, and cancers. I changed my scientific career and spent 6 years leading multiple teams to develop the technology needed to study the human body like it’s not been studied before. This technology is called metatranscriptomics, and it’s what Viome Life Sciences and the Viome brand heavily rely on.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company
Some of the members of Momo’s research team at Los Alamos National Lab(LANL)

All this science happened at Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), where I led the Applied Genomics team. Once the technology was ready for commercialization, I was looking to start a company. Luckily, Naveen Jain (also a co-founder and CEO of Viome Life Sciences) came to LANL with funding and huge business experience, and we instantly bonded. After a few weeks of planning, we decided to start Viome Life Sciences (then simply known as Viome).

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company
Momo Vuyisich and Naveen Jain, in the early days of Viome Life Sciences

Take us through the process of creating your first product.

Our products deliver personalized nutritional recommendations that are computed using mathematical equations from molecular data obtained from the customers’ stool and blood samples (we will add saliva soon).

These are very complicated products that comprise sample collection kits, lots of patented molecular biology, analysis of the sequencing data, and using artificial intelligence (AI) to make recommendations. Therefore, we have a very diverse set of teams that create these products, including biochemists, mathematicians, software engineers, nutritionists, physicians, data scientists, systems biologists, product designers, etc.

While all this is very complicated, we make it simple: everyone is focused on creating something that will have a positive impact on humanity. Therefore, we start and end the whole process by understanding how we can use our science and technology to solve big health problems.

Despite the cutting-edge laboratory, bioinformatics, and data science required for our products, our minimum viable product (MVP) was modest. We started the company by licensing an advanced technology ready to be productized. The LANL scientific team that developed the technology moved to Viome and worked with nutritionists and software engineers to develop the MVP within five months of starting up the company. Soon after, our CTO Guru Banavar joined us and brought his brilliant ideas and vast experience that transformed our company into an artificial intelligence powerhouse.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company
First day at work at Viome Life Sciences, using two trash can boxes as my desk

Describe the process of launching the business.

This could be a book, but I will try to summarize. Naveen provided the initial investment, so we had enough money.

We started with a team of 15-20 people to create the physical product, perform the laboratory analyses and bioinformatics, translate the data into actionable nutritional recommendations, create a website with product and ordering information, and personal web accounts for our customers to view their test results and recommendations. Many of the initial employees came from Los Alamos National Lab, while we hired others.

We were focused on creating a minimal viable product that will be improved over time, but already provided good value for the consumer. The plan worked, and 5 months after we started the company, we had a product on the market.

This is an extremely important step in any business (stop doing research and prove that your product has value), especially since we wanted to grow quickly and attract new investors.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company

Viome Life Sciences is a new kind of company that utilizes its technology to improve humanity. We will also make money, but we can do well while doing good.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

During the first 4 years after the launch, we did not have a marketing team. Our marketing strategy was to educate potential customers via conferences, podcasts, and articles. That worked very well, and I highly recommend this strategy for educating the public about the problems you are trying to solve and how you plan to solve them.

Momo’s TEDx talk that was never published on TED channel because their lawyers thought I was giving medical advice

Gut microbiome and brain health

World Government Summit in Dubai: The future of Healthcare

Word of Mouth

What brought the most customers was the word of mouth. Once a customer used our product and felt better, the word quickly spread, and their social cloud was buying our products with no marketing effort.

Retention

Customer retention always depends on the value of the product, and since our products provide a lot of value, retention has been better than most of the industry.

Today, we have a moderate size marketing team that is constantly exploring new ways of promoting Viome, while mostly relying on digital marketing via social media and Google ads.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are doing amazingly well today. Almost 5 years old, we have 160 employees in two divisions of the company. Our consumer division (the Viome brand) sells products in 85+ countries and has over 200,000 customers. Our Health Sciences division is creating new applications of the technology, such as the upcoming saliva test for oral and throat cancers, which was recently designated by the FDA as a breakthrough device. We are not profitable yet, because we heavily invest our income into new technologies and products.

The future is bright. We know that because we are building it. We follow the motto “the only way to accurately predict the future is to invent it”. We are currently developing several exciting applications for early disease diagnosis and identifying novel therapeutic targets that can be targeted for prevention and curing, not the management of chronic diseases. Think of Viome Life Sciences as a health app store, where we own and continuously develop the platform that can be used by the entire World to develop an unlimited number of health applications.

i-started-a-30m-year-gut-testing-company
Viome Life Sciences has developed a health platform that it uses to develop many health applications. This platform is open to the World to develop their applications, just like the Apple app store

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

This section could also be a book, but I will provide some highlights. The most important factors for a successful start-up, in my opinion, are:

  • The leadership team has to be 100% in agreement on the mission of the company and focused on the success of the company, not their success. If a leader does not behave this way, they must leave, or the entire company is at risk.
  • Identify key people in your organization, and do your best to keep them for the long term.
  • Release products on the market as soon as they provide value to the customer. Do not wait to perfect them, as you may run out of money trying to perfect something.
  • Focus on your core mission; do not pursue projects just because you can, or just because they are lucrative.
  • Be data-driven; minimize your reliance on opinions and feelings, as they are very frequently wrong. Make as many decisions as possible using accurate data.
  • Think big. If you are not solving a problem for 1+ billion people, you may be thinking small.
  • Fail and succeed quickly. Do not spend too much time and money on projects that keep promising results, but fail to deliver.
  • Create an efficient system. This includes documentation, project management, etc.
  • Create your company’s principles for success, similar to those from Amazon, then ask every employee to follow them every day.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We rely mostly on the Google Drive suite of tools but also use JIRA/Confluence and Smartsheet.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Anything that Elon Musk has done and is doing is very inspirational. The only book I would recommend is The road less stupid by Keith Cunningham. Check out the Amazon reviews if you don’t believe me, but it truly has everything you need to know to run a successful business.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for exceptional people that want to change the world. Our officially open positions are listed on viomelifesciences.com, but exceptional talent does not require an open position.

Where can we go to learn more?

The main company website, actively being built.

The consumer division website.

Social media:

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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Momo Vuyisich   Founder of Viome Life Sciences, Inc
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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