Last week I had an interaction with a founder looking for advice/feedback on the product he was building, that just threw me.
He was building a new diet/food tracking app and the tagline was "The food tracker for food lovers"
I pushed him on its meaning and how with so many existing competitors he could stand out. I literally had no idea what his product did, what it would do for me and why it is better than the current situation.
He appreciated my candor and said the best we he could articulate it would be:
“I'm aiming to have [redacted] be best in class in terms of design and integration into the Apple ecosystem. I had been using other apps for years and fed up with their lack of innovation and user-hostile design. I found many others felt the same, so I got started.”
I came away frustrated from the interaction as throughout my life I have tried tracking my diet several times, whether I’m going Keto or training to cycle across England, planning and tracking my macronutrients was a task I invested heavily in.
Here was this founder investing a serious amount of time to improve the existing way of doing this.
I couldn’t help but feel it was all so fractional. That you can’t build a significantly better product by indexing more foods or making the bar code scanner better. The whole experience as a user is terrible. It’s complex, tedious, time consuming.
It made me realise why slimming world has been so successful.
While their dietary guidance is pretty trash, the syn system they have built makes the task of tracking or planning what you can eat incredibly easy. It’s all done on one vector - points. All you need to do is count points. And every branded item they sell comes with a point count.
I am sure they have faced internal and external pressure to add blue points and green points, to add more context to which points where, but some hero inside understands that it needs to remain as simple as possible. Just points.
I kept thinking about this over the weekend as a place where real technological development might greatly improve the experience and with it, unlock a healthier society.
That might seem like a far stretch, but poor dietary choices hurt America's financial and physical health and if it was easier to understand that not only what you put in your body is bad but what you’ve put in your body over the past 3 weeks is bad I think you could change behaviours.
Something about lines not dots comes to mind.
I took a step back and thought just how ridiculous it is that you have to manually tag every crumb and calories you put in your mouth.
This is what doing your personal finances must have been like pre credit card statements.
Can you imagine physically tracking and entering every expense you made every day every month. I am guessing that hasn’t been done since the 50s (1950’s incase you’re reading this 30 years on).
How mind numbingly exhausting it must have been just to understand what you are spending your money on and if you’re going over budget. What an exhausting commitment for the outcome.
(I have to believe in the interim families outsourced this to bookkeepers)
That is where diet tracking apps are today. They are solidifying a behaviour from the 1950s.
A new millennium
So what could diet tracking look like 50 years on in the new millennium.
Well in the interim jump - how crazy is it that we would outsource the tracking to a diet coach? An Alexa app? That we tell it well I ate these things and this much and they can work out what brands, the margin for errors and what you can eat later. You could even send them photos?
This still feels fairly active. For this much data and for building a permanent system of tracking we need collection to be passive.
Maybe the future is smart mouth pieces that can analyse and track every thing that goes in your pie hole.
Maybe Alexa has a camera that can see everything that can go in your mouth. Or hell our phones are usually right there - their camera could track it.
Maybe there’s contextual data in what/how you digest too - smart toilets could track data from digested food.
How about taking a personal finance track. We could all have “health” credit cards we use to buy foods. An app can then populate all the food you have bought such that you can easily yes/no on what you ate today. You wouldn’t get full coverage but it is a start. You could plug this in with your store loyalty cards to get granular box by box information.
Maybe all we need is the ability to take a picture of everything we are about to eat and ai/someone will analyse and tag it to your tracker. (to those thinking this is what barcode scanners do - I need to take a pic and put my phone away - it has to be simple).
Diet tracking might seem pretty boring as a space but think of it as healthcare or human performance. It is a product that could touch +1 billion people and dramatically change the way we live our lives.
It is exciting to think about what the future might hold, but for now I am not betting on anything we currently have.
If this is a space you’re working in - let me know, I would gladly put what little money I have where my mouth is.