When I first met Julia Hu, Founder and CEO of Lark Technologies, she was working at a bench at the AOL incubator in Palo Alto. Her small startup team, including technical Co-Founder Jeff Zira, was busy building one of the early devices to help people sleep better. That was four and a half years ago. Since then, Julia and Lark have been on a wild ride. I suspect neither one will ever be the same again.

I was delighted to catch up with Julia again at the 2015 Health Tech Conference in Santa Clara. I asked her to fill me in on what has been happening with the company since we last met. Here is what she said:

The Lark device was a rough prototype when I first saw it. Even so, Julia said it only took about a year to go from prototype to being sold in all Apple stores. That’s right, a year from prototype to all Apple stores! For all of you struggling entrepreneurs reading this: Step away from your device for a minute, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths – then resume reading. Most startups take a bit longer to get to that kind of success.

The Lark insomnia aid was not only a tracker, it also came with a personal sleep coach. When Julia realized the power of coaching to digital data, she decided to evolve the company from its single condition focus to the broader goal of developing text-based coaching for any condition using digital data (e.g., weight loss, diabetes, and hypertension).

 

The Lark Health Committee

She assembled a prestigious team of experts in behavior change that she calls the “Lark Health Committee.” Here are just a few of them:

  • Dr. Baba Shiv – expert in neuroeconomics and behavior change at Stanford University Professor
  • Dr. Jo Solet – Professor of Cognitive Behavior Therapy & Medicine at Harvard Medical School
  • Dr. Mark Heyman – Diabetes psychologist and Founder and Director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health
  • Cheri Mah – NFL, NBA, and Olympic coach as well as a sleep expert
  • Heather Milton – Cardiopulmonary specialist, exercise physiologist, and performance coach at NYU Medical Center

(Kudos to this young female health tech entrepreneur for seven of the ten Health Committee members being women!)

 

Lark coaching

lark-apple-watch 210x350 px (MacWorld)Lark coaching is primarily text based although Julia says you can also use Siri. You can have frequent conversations with the app with responses, powered by artificial intelligence, giving you advice on whatever health or wellness issue you are working on.

You can think of Lark as an inexpensive, much more scalable version of the disease management programs of the past that were powered by live nurses primarily employed by health plans or disease management companies.

So far, Lark has fielded 350 million text messages from people using the product. Julia says that is “the highest user engagement in the industry.” Further, she calculates that it would have required 24,000 nurses to carry on that many conversations. It should be no surprise, then, that Lark’s customers are payers and self-funded employers, as well as pharma.

Lark is available for both iOS and Android. It is also a part of the Apple Healthkit. According to Macworld,

“A few of us on Team Macworld have been using Lark since it launched alongside HealthKit last fall, even picking the app as one of our favorite new apps of 2014.”

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