On August 16, CEO & Founder Jeff Glueck sat down with Startup Health’s Logan Plaster for a revealing podcast episode.
On August 16, CEO & Founder Jeff Glueck sat down with Startup Health’s Logan Plaster. Startup Health unites and connects to a global network of major leaders and investors who support entrepreneurs and start-ups like Salvo Health–and are dedicated to solving the most pressing systemic issues in healthcare. Their podcast broadcasts healthcare transformers like Jeff, and our team at Salvo Health, to consumers, investors, and thought leaders as invested in our mission as we are.
Together with Startup Health, we discussed:
Listen in, and get the transcript below to join Salvo Health and Startup Health in conversation about the next evolution of virtual care.
Welcome to StartUp Health, the podcast where we celebrate the entrepreneurs and innovators reimagining the future of health. I'm your host, Logan Plaster. In health innovation, this world that we inhabit at StartUp Health, there are certain issues that seem to get the lion's share of attention. Think wearables for tracking daily activity or new mental health solutions. A lot of attention is going towards interventions for seniors and addressing issues of loneliness. These are wonderful areas of development and we want to see more innovation. But there are other areas of health that have huge implications across society, and yet have a way of flying under the radar. There's stigma like our hesitancy to talk about mental health struggles, and then there's society's take on gastrointestinal conditions, GI problems, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, Celiac Disease, the list goes on. Each year, 62 million Americans are diagnosed with a digestive disorder, and another 30 million go undiagnosed. They're often too embarrassed to even talk to their primary care provider about it. So they suffer in silence, and it has negative ripple effects across their entire lives. Well, all of that seems to be about to change. The virtual healthcare revolution has reached the GI market with the launch of Salvo Health, a startup that's using virtual care to bring the best gut health tools and therapies to millions of people. Heading up the effort is CEO and co-founder Jeff Glueck, who's my guest on today's episode, and who joined the StartUp Health portfolio last year, Jeff is a tech industry veteran, having been Chief Marketing Officer at Travelocity during their meteoric rise, and the CEO of Foursquare. He's leveraging all that experience to disrupt an old school industry and bring relief to millions. He's just announced a 10 and a half million dollar seed raise, which is going to bring Salvo Health out of stealth mode and help them start to scale in earnest. How's Jeff gonna use his experience at Travelocity and Foursquare to disrupt the GI health market? I'll let him explain. Let's get to the interview.
Jeff Glueck, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation for StartUp Health TV.
Great to be here, Logan.
So I'm really excited to hear about what you're building with salvo health. You've made some great headlines recently. But I want to start by understanding you and your journey, because I think it's somewhat interesting, and our audience will be curious to hear about it. You know, you're known as the former CEO of Foursquare. Now, you're leading the charge with this healthcare startup that's targeting gut health. And so I want to hear about that, that journey, and kind of how you got from point A to point B?
Well, I've been an entrepreneur for over two decades, in travel as co-founder of a travel startup, CMO of Travelocity, and, and then CEO Foursquare. I've been part of digitizing legacy offline industries many times, whether it's travel or the retail sector, with Foursquare, and with two co-founders, Avi Dorfman, and Jason finger, we got together about a year ago, intent on bringing that entrepreneurial spirit to the healthcare industry. The StartUp Health Community kept saying to me over the years, you're welcome to come in, as an innovator into healthcare, which can be daunting as someone new to healthcare. And so the StartUp Health Community was part of encouraging me and you'll hear more about it, but this is really a mission driven project, of the heart, to do something really special and so on. That's what brought us to this journey.
I want to hear more about why gut health in particular, and the challenges inherent to just the GI clinical landscape. But I love that you mentioned that you your work at Travelocity, because so many times I've had sort of vague conversations with folks about, hey, if we can, if we can revolutionize the travel industry, then you know, why is healthcare so far behind. And here, you've done that actual workflow of really up ending a legacy system. And it's not abstract for you, right?
When I started my first travel startup in 1999, called Site 59. About 10% of travel transactions in the US happened online, including hotels and airline sites and online travel agencies like Expedia or Travelocity. By the time I left the industry, nine years later, 80% of transactions were happening digitally and online. And so I've seen that incredible scale up. And this was an industry like healthcare, I think, where people relied a lot on trust. And so one of the keys to digitizing that I was focused on was humanizing technology. And I think that's something you'll see in Salvo as well. So when I became Chief Marketing Officer of Travelocity, I introduced the roaming gnome, which was a kidnapped lawn ornament. And people would say, "Well, why do you want to spend $100 million a year on, you know, a garden gnome that has been kidnapped and is traveling the world?" It was strategic to try to bring a personality and a humanity to these software tools that people were just beginning to learn. And one of the things we rolled out with something called the Travelocity Guarantee that came out of listening to people who would frequently look up the price of a flight or a hotel room. Then they would call a travel agent, or they would call the hotel and they were afraid to book online. And as we spend a lot of time with user research, we heard people saying, you know, I want to talk to someone because if there's a problem, I want to know that there's someone standing behind it, and Travelocity at the time had 5000 customer service agents that were helping travelers all day long. At the time, Travelocity was actually bigger than Amazon, but Amazon set the model by hiding the phone number, you know, there was no way to get customer service. And so we tried to do something very strategic, to put our phone number and say, call us anytime and we will be responsible, we will fix it. And if something goes wrong, that was the Travelocity Guarantee. Everyone said it was a category entirely defined by price shopping, and yet Travelocity, after we launched the gnome and the Travelocity Guarantee began to grow at 30%, and so it really proved that you can zig when others are zagging that you can differentiate on humanity combined with technology. I think that's actually a theme that you'll see very true to Salvo Health's DNA as well.
Okay, that's a good segue. What is Salvo Health?
So Salvo Health is a world class specialty clinic in an app. We’re focused on the 62 million Americans who suffer from gut challenges, chronic GI issues, IBS, GERD, Celiac, Dyspepsia and SIBO and other similar conditions. There are 62 million people who suffer annually from chronic GI conditions. And yet there are only 15,400 board-certified gastroenterologists in the entire United States. And remember that the same 15,400 set of board-certified doctors also have to do all the colon cancer screenings, and colonoscopies, and endoscopies in the country.
What does that mean in terms of real world delays or lack of care?
So what happens in the US, and this is emblematic of a lot of chronic conditions, is that people wait months to see a specialist and from our research with a survey of over 4000 chronic gastro suffers, 73% never make it to a gastroenterologist. And so there's a real shortage. And that means particularly if you live outside of a place like New York City, there are a lot of medical deserts, where smaller towns or rural areas where you might wait months to get an appointment. And even beyond that, more importantly, chronic conditions don't have an easy on-off switch. So the current US healthcare system is not well set up to deal with chronic conditions. It's very advanced for acute conditions. But these chronic conditions like IBS don't lend themselves well to a 10 minute appointment, and then a pamphlet, and we'll "See you in six months. Good luck." These people need daily support, and they need a comprehensive approach. And so Salvo Health was born as part of this next generation of telehealth after the pandemic. You saw a lot of early telehealth that was closer to what I call transactional medicine. And so that might be a Doctor On Demand for an urgent care visit. But you're likely never to see that doctor again, or be able to have follow up questions. And then you see a lot of what I think of is transactional medicine online. So it's closer to ecommerce than real medical care. You might see websites providing hair loss medications or ED drugs. What Salvo Health is really trying to do is world class, not acute, chronic care. And we're looking at everything from labs to lifestyle from microbiome science, to cognitive behavioral therapy, and gut brain exercises and elimination diets and all of these sophisticated programs. And we really believe that a comprehensive approach with a daily medical care plan supervised by a doctor with proper advanced diagnostics is the way to really help people, and make them feel heard, and get their symptoms under control. And the ultimate goal, Logan, is to restore a sense of trust in their own bodies that they've lost through chronic symptoms. 93% of the people in our surveys say that their chronic gut conditions affect them every day and other parts of their life. So the biggest category is mental health and anxiety. But it could keep them from going on a date, or a business dinner, or seeing their kids recital. It, it just affects every part of their life. And the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with needing to be near a bathroom at all times and unsure what will happen next. These are very stressful, chronic diseases. And the US healthcare system is much better set up to deal with acute pain than these kind of ongoing, complex medical situations.
I think it's such an interesting point. And, you know, gut health is just this top level descriptor for what is one of the best sort of examples of daily chronic care needs that you can really find in the world. What does chronic care look like when you need to be in touch with your healthcare on an almost hour by hour basis, right? What other types of care also benefit from this level of touch point, with your provider, this level of knowledge of your own body? So it feels like you're opening the door to just a new type of digital care.
Salvo Health is beginning with gastroenterology. But our vision is to bring this new kind of care that we call Whole Self Science to a number of sub-specialties over the years to come. And it is that continuous intervention is that comprehensive approach. It's working with unlimited messaging with your dedicated doctor, trying diverse strategies with a team of experts ,and doing it all affordably through technology, particularly in app-based communication.
Now, you just made headlines recently, just this month, about your 10.5 million dollar seed raise, which is exciting. Congratulations. This coincided with you coming more public with the company, which is an awesome way to announce what you're doing. What are you hoping to accomplish with that seed? What does the next 6-12 months look like because of that?
So it was an exciting week because we announced the $10.5 million seed. And we also announced that we are live, serving most of the US population, accepting members in states that cover most of the US population as of this week. So it's an exciting time here at Salvo. We've been working for a year, relatively in stealth, to deal with how do you orchestrate all of these pieces, the doctors, the health coaches, the registered dieticians, that gut-directed psychotherapy experts, and then bring that all, including proper triage and diagnostics, into an app. And, in the process, make it deeply empathetic for the millions of people who haven't found great solutions yet for conditions like IBS or GERD. So it's an exciting time. And we have, you know, announced this incredible set of investors who I'm learning from, who are healthcare experts, and this amazing Clinical Advisory Board that we brought together for the first time of renowned physicians and researchers and experts from fields that don't often come together. And so we can talk more about that. But it's an exciting week to announce all that.
You mentioned creating a platform that's deeply empathetic. And you said, you know, at Travelocity you tried this, try to bring in the human touch. How do you make Salvo Health deeply empathetic?
So we spent months, listening to people who face chronic gut conditions, and really understanding their journey, and mapping the things in their life and the ups and downs, because often people have faced chronic conditions since they were in their teens, a decade or more. Over 80% of the people we surveyed said that their conditions might have gotten a little bit better, but not resolved, and still bothering them. So these are really complex journeys. And so we want to build a therapeutic alliance. And this continuous model, so that people would feel kind of emotional support and relationship with their doctor and personal health coach. But doing that all through technology, and primarily asynchronously and that's not, that's a new area. Just just like when we took Travelocity from hundreds of millions to 11 billion in sales by the time I left. This is a pioneering area. There's early research and evidence. And there's a lot of evidence that physicians and health coaches can help people with these conditions. But to primarily provide medical care through an app and asynchronously, the early evidence is positive. But this is this is a pioneering area.
I'm curious what you think the role of awareness is in communication. You worked at a social tech company. I think about folks with IBS and other related GI issues as suffering in silence, and being stigmatized, not wanting to talk about what they're dealing with. And so I wonder what you feel like communication and awareness, and how that plays into this, and how Salvo Health is addressing those issues?
Well, that's the perfect segue into what we were just discussing about building empathy. One of things you have to understand about irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is that at one point, doctors used to call it hysterical housewife syndrome. And there was this way that at that time, a kind of older male establishment didn't necessarily take the health concerns of women as seriously as the system should. And a lot of people we interview feel like the system doesn't take their concerns seriously.
These are not problems that are, to quote, "in your head." They're real biological challenges. Now, they do involve the brain and gut hypersensitivity. And there's a lot of research that our Clinical Advisory Board has guided us on, around the communication between the microbiome and your gut, and the biological neural chemical processes going on in the brain. And that's why gut-brain communication and cognitive behavioral therapy are all part of the protocols. But these are real complex systems and they deserve this kind of attention.
And then one of the advantages, in fact, about app-based care for this empathy is that because it can be hard, most of the patients in our survey have not even talked to their primary care doctor, 53% have not talked to a primary care doctor about suffering for years. And when we asked them about it, you know, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, inflammation, abdominal pain, these are things that can be awkward to talk about. And so we actually have found that the asynchronous model, kind of almost snap-chatting with your doctor, has some advantages. And then it can be easier to talk to your health coach or your physician through an app, especially for a lot of young women. Compared to going in and seeing your primary care physician that you've seen, since you were a kid, maybe, and trying to talk about some of these stigmatized topics.
And then moreover, people who do raise these concerns with their doctors, they face a couple realities that can sometimes make it feel like this system isn't hearing them. One is that your standard, you know, primary care physician probably had, you know, one class if they're lucky on nutrition, or Microbiome Science in Medical School. Cognitive behavioral psychology, all these areas, these are not areas that most physicians are deeply trained in unless you're one of... there's only a couple 100 get-directed psychotherapy specialists in the entire country. So most of the primary care physicians, you know, they don't have necessarily the time nor the staff nor the preparation to deal with some of the specialty issues. And then the last pressure is that if they do refer someone to a specialist, because there's only as I said, 15,400, board certified GIs in the country, those GIs are under enormous pressure to be doing all colonoscopies and endoscopies. They're incredibly trained surgeons and they're amazing doctors, but there's little financial incentive for them or time, frankly, to help, let's say a 28-year-old young woman who doesn't present with symptoms of colon cancer, but has tons of questions and is calling the office constantly about diet, microbiome, anxiety, all of these, these different questions each day. The offices generally aren't set up to handle that.
But that is exactly the kind of member that Salvo Health, through our app based care, is designed to help. Every day, you can have unlimited contact with your team, and there's a health plan, a personalized care plan put together by your doctor. So when you wake up in the morning, here are three things that Dr. Pittman has asked you to do today to deal with your IBS. And there might be some bite-sized content or brain-gut exercises that might take five minutes that are right there in the app for you, along with reminders to take either medications or do your labs or take medical grade supplements. So it's all easy and on an app and there's emotional support with it.
One of the things I love about this is that the innovation here isn't necessarily like a new pill. It's a way to package great things that we have known work and make it available to more people in a new way. However, I also know that there are really innovative ways of addressing these issues; exciting, new advancements, and I think about, you know, the microbiome, and we really are tapping into some new things.If you're an overworked GI doctor, you don't have time for that either, let alone the base level day to day conversations needed to have to help. So I'm wondering, are there any, you know, innovative practices that you're really excited about that you'll be able to maybe help people access in the future? ,
This is probably a good moment to talk about our Clinical Advisory Board because they're guiding us to the latest research constantly. And so one of the things is exciting about Salvo Health is that we went out and we brought together experts from disparate fields. So Salvo Health is really about the best of conventional medicine, the best of what's called Functional Medicine and the best of behavioral health psychology as well. Those three threads together. So, on our Clinical Advisory Board you have people like Dr. Mark Hyman, who helped create the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. You have Mark Pimentel who created the most cutting edge medications like Rifaximin and the IBS Smart Test and leads the Cedar Sinai Pimentel Center. He's probably the top most renowned IBS researcher in the country. You have Professor Emeran Mayer, who's created the Brain-Gut Microbiome Center at UCLA and has published hundreds of NIH funded studies. You have Dr. Megan Ozer, who led cognitive behavioral psychology for Brigham and Women's and is now a professor at UCLA, and an expert in gut directed psychotherapy. We have incredible health coach leaders and other researchers. And so we're watching all of the latest developments.
But one of the most interesting things is how often if you catch things early, and you get the right diagnosis, relatively low cost interventions can be the most effective. And there's a lot of published evidence around this. So one of the interesting examples is a lot of our our members early on are getting pretty quick relief through a combination of an elimination diet, medical grade fiber supplements, or what you think of as prebiotics, to go with probiotics, and prebiotics are actually more important, the experts will tell you, and then things like peppermint oil, medical grade supplements. And so people are astonished that, when they start cutting out some of the sort of low FODMAP trigger foods, combined with these steps—after years of pain—they're starting to feel better. And then we move on to some of the gut-brain hypersensitivity exercises and some of the cognitive behavioral therapy.
You know, obviously, the key to this is getting the right diagnosis. So we will test for Celiac, we'll test for Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis. And we'll test for SIBO. And so depending on your diagnostics, you need a very different care plan. On the internet, there's so much misinformation, or billions of impressions of people talking about gut health and GutTok. But a lot of it isn't coming from doctors or researchers. It's the latest fad diet or pill. And even a lot of these things can be useful solutions. There's low FODMAP snack bars, but they don't come with a doctor and a psychologist and a registered dietitian and all the experts to see whether this really applies and is right for your medical history and your condition. That's why the combination of a doctor with all these wraparound services is so key.
And that's why we're so lucky to have these renowned physicians and researchers guiding this protocol that we call Whole Self Science, which is really a philosophy of care that will help you get to the root cause. We don't simply treat the symptoms. Our doctors use diverse strategies in a partnership with the patient. The best doctors actually try different things in conjunction with the patient. With GI, it's not like hypertension, right? The patient is telling you that they have abdominal pain or reporting chronic constipation. People track daily through an app, reporting whether they’re "adhering," a word that the healthcare industry uses, or whether they’re following the doctor's recommendations on diet, exercise, medications, and supplements, and what kind of daily results they’re seeing. That allows the care team to jump in. Within days, if the patients report that something, an intervention, is either working or not working, we're gonna factor that into their care plan and adjust accordingly.
Awesome, awesome. Well, Jeff, I think that's the time that we have. It is so exciting what you're building, and I just know it's gonna help. A whole lot of people who have, like we said, suffered in silence, have suffered without that day-to-day care. Maybe they got handed a pamphlet one time about low FODMAP diets, but might not have access to a GI specialist because we're in a rural area. There's so many case examples of folks who are struggling and will benefit from this. And it's exciting to see you've got this initial seed funding to kind of launch in a bigger way. So I know there's going to be more stories to tell in the coming months.