You wouldn’t think of Rhode Island as a hot bed of startups. However, a very nice eco-system is coming together, and success stories are emerging. Read ShapeUp’s wonderful journey …
Sramana: Rajiv, let’s begin this story by exploring your background. Where are you from? What kind of environment did you grow up in?
Rajiv Kumar: I was born and raised in Connecticut. I have lived in Providence, Rhode Island for the past 13 years. I went to school at Brown and did an 8-year undergraduate program, PLME, that combined undergraduate studies with medical school. As an undergraduate, I studied business economics and from there I went to medical school.
Sramana: What did you do after you finished medical school?
Rajiv Kumar: I left medical school for two and a half years in the middle because a project I had started was gaining some traction. I left to help scale an idea we had into a company. We left to raise money and build a business. I ended up going back to medical school to complete my studies and I did graduate with my degree. I then came straight back to the company to lead its growth.
Sramana: Was that company ShapeUp?
Rajiv Kumar: Yes. That is the company that we started.
Sramana: Let’s go back to the point and time when you were taking time off of medical school to start ShapeUp. What was going on in your head? What was the opportunity that you identified?
Rajiv Kumar: When I was a first year medical student, I became very interested in obesity as a health topic. I began to see patients in the clinic and I realized that almost every patient I saw was struggling with their lifestyle. They were trying to figure out how to have a healthy diet, exercise, and keep off extra weight. Many also had lifestyle-related medical issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
What was interesting to me is that the healthcare establishment was not prepared or established to help patients achieve lifestyle changes which would prevent or significantly reduce their chances of getting lifestyle-related diseases. We would make generic recommendations to our patients. We would tell them to join a gym or to eat healthier. Those patients would return 6 to 12 months later and most of the time, they failed. That was disconcerting to me and I felt powerless. I felt that the medical establishment was resigned to prescribing medication to these patients. It seemed that everybody was going to be on Statins. It seemed that the establishment was ready to manage their illness and was not ready to prevent it.
I realized that something had to change. Most of the diseases we were treating were preventable. I began to find patients that were successful at changing their lifestyle. When I asked those patients what they had done differently, they all told me that they did not do it alone. They had an exercise partner or they changed their lifestyle as a family. Those people who had social support were much more likely to succeed. I set out to find a way to let people take a social approach at changing their lifestyle.