Nintendo shows off exercise-powered RPG for Switch, Ring Fit Adventure – gpgmail


Nintendo has been at the crossroads of video games and fitness since the famous Power Pad for the NES, and the Switch is the latest to receive a game powered by physical activity: Ring Fit Adventure. And it actually looks fun!

In the game, you’ll jog in place to advance your character, and perform various movements and exercises to avoid obstacles and defeat enemies. Your quest is to defeat an “evil body-building dragon” who has disrupted the peaceful, apparently very fit world of the protagonist. Sure.

The game comes with a pair of accessories: a ring and leg strap, each of which you slot a Joy-Con into. The two controllers work together to get a picture of your whole body movement, meaning it can be sure you’re keeping your arms out in front of you when you do a squat, and not phoning it in during leg raises.

The ring itself is flexible and can tell how hard you’re squeezing or pulling it— but don’t worry, it can be calibrated for your strength level.

Interestingly, the top button of the controller appears to be able to be used as a heart-rate monitor. That kind of came out of left field, but I like it. Just one more way Nintendo is making its hardware do interesting new things.

ringfit2

There look to be a ton of different movements you’ll be required to do, focusing on different areas of the body: upper, lower, core and some sort of whole-body ones inspired by yoga positions. Ingeniously, some enemies are weak to one or another, and you’ll need to use different ones for other scenarios, so you’re getting a varied workout whether you like it or not.

Meanwhile, your character levels up and unlocks new, more advanced moves — think a lunge instead of a squat, or adding an arm movement to a leg one — and you can get closer to the goal.

ringfit3

There are also minigames and straight-up workouts you can select, which you can do at any time if you don’t feel like playing the actual game, and contribute to your character’s level anyway.

The idea of gamifying fitness has been around for quite a while, and some titles, like Wii Fit, actually got pretty popular. But this one seems like the most in-depth actual game to use fitness as its main mechanic, and critically it is simple and easy enough that even the most slothful among us can get in a session now and then at our own pace.

Ring Fit Adventure will be available October 18 — no pricing yet, but you can probably expect it to be a little above an ordinary Switch game.

You can watch the full-length walkthrough of the game below, but beware — the acting is a little off-putting.


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SmileDirectClub makes its debut on the public market – gpgmail


SmileDirectClub rang the opening bell earlier today, marking its first day of trading as a public company. The teeth-straightening company is now trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol “SDC.”

Already, the stock is trading down 11% at $20.36 per share.

SmileDirectClub kicked off its IPO hoping to raise up to $1.3 billion at an offering price of $23 per share, with an expected market cap of around $10 billion. The company originally intended to set its price between $19 and $22 per share.

“We are focused on long term shareholder value – the next 12, 24, 36 months and beyond,” SmileDirectClub CFO Kyle Wailes said in a statement to gpgmail. “Today’s IPO allows us to reinvest in innovation in product, process, international growth and customer experience. We are just getting started but our commitment to our mission, our 5,500+ team members, our customers and now our shareholders is stronger than ever.”

The company plans to use money raised from the IPO for international expansion and developing new dental products. SmileDirectClub filed to go public back in August amid concerns from national dental associations.

Prior to this, SmileDirectClub reached a $3.2 billion valuation following a $380 million funding round last October. Investors from Clayton, Dubilier & Rice led the round, which featured participation from Kleiner Perkins and Spark Capital. This funding came on top of Invisalign maker Align Technology’s $46.7 million investment in SmileDirectClub in 2016, and another $12.8 million investment in 2017 to own a total of 19% of the company.

In 2018, SmileDirectClub’s revenues came in at $432.2 million, a significant uptick from just $147 million the year prior.

The company ships invisible aligners directly to customers, and licensed dental professionals (either orthodontists or general dentists) remotely monitor the progress of the patient. Before shipping the aligners, patients either take their dental impressions at home and send them to SmileDirectClub or visit one of the company’s “SmileShops” to be scanned in person.

SmileDirectClub says it costs 60% less than other types of teeth-straightening treatments, with the length of treatments ranging from four to 14 months. Upfront, SmileDirectClub costs $1,895, with the average treatment lasting six months.

Though, members of the American Association of Orthodontists have taken issue with SmileDirectClub, previously asserting that SmileDirectClub violates the law because its methods of allowing people to skip in-person visits and X-rays is “illegal and creates medical risks.” The organization has also filed complaints against SmileDirectClub in 36 states, alleging violations of statutes and regulations governing the practice of dentistry. Those complaints were filed with the regulatory boards that oversee dentistry practices and with the attorneys general of each state.

SmileDirectClub explicitly calls out those issues in its S-1 as potential risk factors. Here’s a key nugget:

A number of dental and orthodontic professionals believe that clear aligners are appropriate for only a limited percentage of their patients. National and state dental associations have issued statements discouraging use of orthodontics using a teledentistry platform. Increased market acceptance of our remote clear aligner treatment may depend, in part, upon the recommendations of dental and orthodontic professionals and associations, as well as other factors including effectiveness, safety, ease of use, reliability, aesthetics, and price compared to competing products.

Furthermore, our ability to conduct business in each state is dependent, in part, upon that particular state’s treatment of remote healthcare and that state dental board’s regulation of the practice of dentistry, each which are subject to changing political, regulatory, and other influences. There is a risk that state authorities may find that our contractual relationships with our doctors violate laws and regulations prohibiting the corporate practice of dentistry, which generally bar the practice of dentistry by entities. Two state dental boards have established new rules or interpreted existing rules in a manner that purports to limit or restrict our ability to conduct our business as currently conducted.

Additionally, as the S-1 notes, a national dental association recently filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration claiming that SmileDirectClub’s manufacturing violates “prescription only” requirements. While no regulations or laws have been passed that would affect SmileDirectClub to date, it’s a possible scenario that would greatly impact the company’s core business.


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Tech startups want to destigmatize sex – gpgmail


Sex, despite being one of the most fundamental human experiences, is still one of those businesses that some advertisers reject, banks are hesitant to financially support and some investors don’t want to fund.

Given how sex is such a huge part of our lives, it’s no surprise founders are looking to capitalize on the space. But the idea of pleasure versus function, plus the stigma still associated with all-things sex, is at the root of the barriers some startup founders face.

Just last month, Samsung was forced to apologize to sextech startup Lioness after it wrongfully asked the company to take down its booth at an event it was co-hosting. Lioness is a smart vibrator that aims to improve orgasms through biofeedback data.

Sextech companies that relate to the ability to reproduce or, the ability to not reproduce, don’t always face the same problems when it comes to everything from social acceptance to advertising to raising venture funding. It seems to come down to the distinction between pleasure and function, stigma and the patriarchy. 

This is where the trajectories for sextech startups can diverge. Some startups have raised hundreds of millions from traditional investors in Silicon Valley while others have struggled to raise any funding at all. As one startup founder tells me, “Sand Hill Road was a big no.”

A market worth billions or trillions?




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Trump administration is readying tighter regulations on e-cigarettes, including ban on flavorings – gpgmail


The Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration are readying tough new requirements on e-cigarettes — including a potential ban on flavorings for vaping products.

The FDA compliance policy would mean that all non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes would have to be cleared by the FDA before they could be sold. The regulations could effectively remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market until they go through the testing required for FDA approval.

In August 2016, e-cigarette companies were required to file premarket tobacco product applications with the FDA over a two-year period. Those companies whose products have not received FDA approval are now considered to be marketed illegally, according to the HHS statement.

“The Trump Administration is making it clear that we intend to clear the market of flavored e-cigarettes to reverse the deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, in a statement. “We will not stand idly by as these products become an on-ramp to combustible cigarettes or nicotine addiction for a generation of youth.”

Over the past year, the e-cigarette industry has faced a steady stream of criticism related to the health effects of vaping and the ways in which companies marketed their products to minors.

A new version of the National Youth Tobacco Survey shows the continued rise in rates of youth e-cigarette use, especially through non-tobacco flavors, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 25% of high school students were e-cigarette users in 2019, and the bulk of those kids cited fruit and mint flavors as their pods of choice.

Earlier in September, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning against vaping as several deadly instances of lung-related illnesses cropped up among vape users (although no solid link between the lung condition and vaping has been identified). As we reported at the time:

The first death was reported in late August in Indiana, but other suspected cases have turned fatal in Illinois, Minnesota, California and Oregon — as reported by The Washington Post, though the CDC said three are confirmed and one is under investigation. The number of reported cases has skyrocketed, though this is likely a consequence of better information coming from state health authorities and hospitals, rather than a sudden epidemic.

The FDA is now working on a compliance policy that will be announced in the coming weeks to address the flavored e-cigarette issue.”Once finalized, this compliance policy will serve as a powerful tool that the FDA can use to combat the troubling trend of youth e-cigarette use. We must act swiftly against flavored e-cigarette products that are especially attractive to children. Moreover, if we see a migration to tobacco-flavored products by kids, we will take additional steps to address youth use of these products,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, MD, in a statement.”Earlier this week, the FDA sent a warning letter to the leading e-cigarette company, Juul Labs. With a reported 70% of the U.S. e-cigarette market and more than $14 billion in financing, Juul is the largest private company operating in the vaping space.

The government’s mobilization efforts come just one day after former New York City mayor and billionaire philanthropist Mike Bloomberg announced a $160 million effort to combat youth vaping.

Blomberg actually called out the federal government in the announcement, saying:

The federal government has the responsibility to protect children from harm, but it has failed – so the rest of us are taking action. I look forward to partnering with advocates in cities and states across the country on legislative actions that protect our kids’ health. The decline in youth smoking is one of the great health victories of this century, and we can’t allow tobacco companies to reverse that progress.


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Kenshō, ‘the antithesis of Goop,’ launches a research-based guide to natural medicine – gpgmail


Goop is cashing in on pseudoscience and, in the process, giving natural health practices a bad name. Krista Berlincourt, the co-founder and chief executive officer of a new startup, Kenshō Health, hopes she can take back the narrative.

“We’re the antithesis of Goop,” Berlincourt, a fintech veteran who previously led marketing and product at Simple Finance, tells gpgmail. “What we are creating is less of a consumer magazine. We are a holistic health platform that approaches things as more of a holistic health medical journal — everything is backed by science.”

Kenshō, launching today, is an invite-only subscription-based platform for holistic healthcare providers to list their services and share knowledge. The startup has also collected information to construct a research-backed guide to holistic health, something the team believes has been missing from the natural health sector.

Berlincourt and Kenshō co-founder Danny Steiner, who previously worked at NBC Universal, Conde Nast and Hulu before pivoting to health and wellness, have raised $1.3 million in seed funding from Crosscut, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm, and Female Founders Fund. The pair, based in the LA area, have both suffered from chronic illnesses that had them in and out of doctor’s offices for years.

“I had two years of working with a team of incredible Western physicians and then I had a crash that landed me in the ER. That’s when I realized, OK, this isn’t working,” Berlincourt said. “When you’re caring for yourself or someone you love, there are standards. I am focused on elevating and creating those standards in a way that can be better advised.”

The global wellness economy represented a $4.2 trillion market in 2017, according to The Global Wellness Institute, as subcategories like personalized medicine, healthy eating and fitness/mind-body accelerate growth.

Kenshō, nestled in the personalized and complementary medicine category, says it ensures all of the care providers featured on its platform are 100% validated. Before being allowed to list their services, providers complete a background check and their provider credentials are verified. Kenshō then affirms the providers use research-backed methods and that they have vetted peer references and clients who can provide positive feedback.

Kenshō’s launch features providers from Stanford University, Harvard University, Columbia University and more.

“When you look at health as a whole today in the U.S., we only treat the physical,” Berlincourt explains. “The reason that is destructive is 70% of death is premature and lifestyle related. We are dying faster and people are dying more quickly, generally speaking, as the world turns.”

Many, of course, are skeptical of natural care practices because they can be untested or dependent on unscientific principles. Additionally, holistic care often forces patients to pay out-of-pocket. Nonetheless, patients across the globe are turning to non-traditional methods.

”There’s been a massive shift in the zeitgeist in the way people look at health,” she adds. “One in three people have paid for supplemental care out of pocket from a holistic health provider.”


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Peloton plots $1.2B Nasdaq IPO – gpgmail


Peloton, which debuted its IPO prospectus last month, plans to charge as much as $29 per share in its upcoming Nasdaq listing.

In an amended S-1 filing released Tuesday afternoon, the developer of internet-connected stationary bikes and treadmills announced a proposed price range of $26 to $29 per share, allowing the company to raise as much as $1.2 billion in its 2019 public offering.

At the high end of the proposed price, Peloton’s valuation would surpass $8 billion. The business is expected to launch its IPO roadshow as soon as Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

New York-based Peloton will trade under the ticker symbol PTON. Goldman Sachs & Co. and J.P. Morgan Securities are managing the IPO as lead underwriters.

Peloton, founded in 2012, raised $550 million in venture capital funding last year at a valuation of $4.15 billion. In total, the company has attracted $994 million in venture capital investment, according to PitchBook. Its S-1 filing lists CP Interactive Fitness (5.4% pre-IPO stake) — an entity connected to the private equity firm Catterton — TCV (6.7%), Tiger Global (19.8%), True Ventures (12%) and Fidelity Investments (6.8%) as principal stakeholders, or investors with at least a 5% stake in the company.

Peloton reported an impressive $915 million in total revenue for the year ending June 30, 2019, an increase of 110% from $435 million in fiscal 2018 and $218.6 million in 2017. Its losses, meanwhile, hit $245.7 million in 2019, up significantly from a reported net loss of $47.9 million last year.

The company’s upcoming float is expected to be one of the largest of the year.


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iPhone 11 Pro hands-on – gpgmail


More than any other iPhone event in recent memory, today’s big launch was content-first. Apple began the show with several gaming demos from Arcade, before moving along to TV+ premieres. The new iPhone didn’t necessarily take a backseat, but there’s little question that this event was a key piece in shifting messaging for the company.

The big announcement also saw a shift in iPhone positioning against a backdrop of declining smartphone sales. There are a number of reasons why device sales are down across the board, of course — I along with everyone else in the industry have written about them dozens if not hundreds of times. Price creep is a big one, and the iPhone 11 finds the company readjusting accordingly.

The device takes the spot of the R line — a big seller for Apple. This time the entry-level “flagship” is $699, while the Pro and Pro Max step in for the premium-tier devices, priced at $999 and $1,099, respectively. Apple set those prices with the iPhone X two years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Apple has also really settled into a style. The 11s are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, head on. The screens have been souped-up to “Super Retina XDR” on the Pros. Both are 458 PPI, at 5.8 and 6.5 inches, respectively.

The notch remains, even as companies like Samsung push into a subtler cut-out model (not to mention all of those companies currently experimenting with pop-up cameras). Ditto, unfortunately, for the Lightning port. Apple’s ditched it for USB-C on the iPad Pro and, honestly, I can’t wait for it to follow suit on the iPhone. I go through what feels like a Lightning cable a month, due to wear and tear on the connection.

That will have to wait until 2020 (fingers crossed). So, too, will 5G, though the company did allude to “faster cellular” in a quick rundown of all the features it didn’t have time to announce onstage. Ditto for the rumored improved FaceTime camera. That should work faster and from more angles, so you’ll (theoretically) be able to check messages while the phone is laying flush on a table. Huge, if true.

Apple iPhone 11 8245 4CCE AEA3 A3CC65F5E188

Speaker of cameras, that’s the biggie here, of course. It continues to be the last vestige for smartphone innovation. Again, hardware is just kind of good on smartphones. There doesn’t appear to be a ton of room for innovation, but for the camera. The iPhone 11 ditches telephoto, for wide and ultra-wide-angle lenses. The Pros, meanwhile, add telephoto it back in.

The three cameras on the Pros are as follows:

12MP wide angle camera (26mm f/1.8), a 12MP ultra wide (13mm f/2.4), plus a 12MP telephoto camera (52mm f/2.0). All are capable of shooting 4K video at 60FPS.

They’re in an odd square array (versus, say, the three down vertical on Samsung’s latest). In fact, all versions of the iPhone 11 have a camera box bump on the rear, for the sake, one imagines, of aesthetic uniformity. As we’ve noted before, most of the innovation in smartphone cameras is happening on the software side, and that appears to be the case here. The big feature is Deep Fusion.

iPhone 11 Apple

It works similarly to HDR photos, creating a massive composite. Here it uses nine photos, with the optimal pixels chosen by on-board machine learning for super-fancy photos that should greatly reduce image noise.

The devices are the first to sport Apple’s new A13 chip, which promises much faster processing — the “fastest ever on a smartphone,” according to the company. That, naturally, means more and better gaming, bringing us right back around to the content play we were discussing at the top of this story.

Understandably, what you can do with the phone has become a much larger selling point for Apple than the phone itself. You’ll be able to get your hands on the device starting September 20. 


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FDA says Juul ‘ignored the law’ and warns it may take action – gpgmail


The Food and Drug Administration has put vaping giant Juul on notice with a pair of letters calling the company out for misleading statements about its products and ongoing targeting of teens. It is demanding written answers to a boatload of pertinent questions and expects Juul to respond within two weeks or risk “even more aggressive action” by regulators.

The specific claims being disputed by the FDA have to do with Juul positioning itself as a smoking cessation product. Now, it may be obvious anecdotally that vaping is a good way to wean yourself off smoking. But unlike nicotine patches and other products, there isn’t a lot of documentation on the complete risk associated with vaping — and with several people dead of vape lung, there would seem to be some worth considering.

“Companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless in a news release. “Juul has ignored the law, and very concerningly, has made some of these statements in school to our nation’s youth.”

Juul was reportedly directly targeting social media channels frequented by young people and, “despite commitments JUUL has made to address this epidemic, JUUL products continue to represent a significant proportion of the overall use of ENDS products by children. Some of this youth use appears to have been a direct result of JUUL’s product design and promotional activities and outreach efforts.”

In a recent Congressional hearing about the risk of “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” or ENDS, evidence was presented that a Juul representative told students that the company’s products were “much safer than cigarettes,” “totally safe,” and that the “FDA was about to come out and say it was 99% safer than cigarettes… very soon.”

Representations like these were apparently made far and wide, among students certainly and also among native American communities. They aren’t the kind of statements you can just say — tobacco cessation products are regulated, essentially medical products, and the FDA looks at them closely. Claims have to be documented and evaluated.

Juul seems to have been walking very close to the line in its public statements, and it’s likely that the company very carefully crafted these messages to convince people that its devices are good alternatives to smoking while not making any claims that would expose it to FDA attention. But they appear to have stepped over that line now and again and provoked exactly the kind of scrutiny they’d rather avoid.

“We request that you provide any and all scientific evidence and data, including consumer perception studies, if any, related to whether or not each statement and representation explicitly or implicitly conveys that JUUL products pose less risk, are less harmful, present reduced exposure, or are safer than other tobacco products,” the FDA told Juul.

Furthermore it asked Juul to explain why it uses a 5 percent nicotine concentration in its products, which could increase the likelihood of addiction, and why the company uses nicotine salts, a substance that reduces harshness and allows greater nicotine concentrations.

Likely independent of the ongoing investigation into lung problems seemingly caused by vaping, the FDA also requested “Aerosol particle size analysis of aerosol formed from your device,” “experimental design and data on pK studies from your device, your e-liquid, and combusted cigarettes,” comparisons between free nicotine and nicotine salt delivery, and “How the design and performance of your device and/or e-liquid, including the level, formulation, and delivery specifications of nicotine, affect lung deposition as related to the use and addictive potential of the product.”

In other words, tell us why you designed your product to be extra addictive and attractive to non-smokers, and whether this was in spite of knowing the substances created caused lung damage.

In a statement, Juul said that it was “reviewing the letters and will fully cooperate.”


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CDC says stop vaping as mystery lung condition spreads – gpgmail


Vape lung is spreading and the CDC is warning people not to use vaping products while they are investigating the cause. In a media briefing, the public health agency said that some 450 people are now thought to be affected, and as many as five have died.

The CDC’s incident manager for this issue, Dana Meaney Delman, summed up the situation as follows:

CDC, states, and other partners are actively investigating, but so far, no definitive cause has been established. No specific e-cigarette device or substance has been linked to all cases, and e-cigarette include a variety of chemical and additives; consumers may not know what these products contain.

Based on the clinical and laboratory evidence to date, we believe that a chemical exposure is likely associated with these illnesses. However, and I really want to stress this, more information is needed to determine which specific products or substances are involved

Reports earlier this week suggested that Vitamin E acetate, a byproduct of the vitamin complex formed during the vaporization process, may be to blame. Delman downplayed this, saying that although they are working with the labs that made that connection, nothing has been established as yet.

One trend worth noting, however, is that very few of the cases involve only nicotine products; Most of the afflicted users reported using THC exclusively or as well as nicotine. This could be the result of many factors, however, so take it with a grain of salt.

The first death was reported in late August in Indiana, but other suspected cases have turned fatal in Illinois, Minnesota, California, and Oregon — as reported by the Washington Post, though the CDC said three are confirmed and one is under investigation. The number of reported cases has skyrocketed, though this is likely a consequence of better information coming from state health authorities and hospitals, rather than a sudden epidemic.

In the meantime the only advice they have is to avoid e-cigarette and vape device usage, especially modified devices or homebrew material. The fact is no one really knows what chemicals are formed in the conditions created by these devices and some of them could be toxic.

While the investigation is ongoing, CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing this type of severe lung disease. And of course e-cigarette use is never safe for youth, young adults, or pregnant women.

People who do use e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or others) and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns. Regardless of the ongoing investigation, people who use e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer.

The CDC is working with numerous state authorities and the FDA to identify the cause of this malady, and will soon publish a report in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing the first 53 cases identified. This should help doctors and other health workers tell if they are dealing with a case of vape lung or something else.

Daniel Fox from WakeMed Hospitals in North Carolina characterized the condition as they had encountered it, with a preliminary diagnosis of “lipoid pneumonia”:

What we wanted to report and what we have seen has been a cluster of five cases that will be reported later today. Each of these cases featured a pulmonary illness in a relatively young person. Ranging in age from 18-35 from what we saw here in North Carolina. The symptoms that these patients were experiencing were being short of breath, having some GI or gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea and vomiting and fevers.

One of the things that was found in common with all of these cases is that all patients were using vaped substances in e-cigarettes. They all had abnormal chest x-rays and developed a need for a lot of oxygen.

All of our patients underwent evaluation, and after the clinical evaluation we found a certain type of pneumonia that was noninfectious. It’s called lipoid pneumonia. Basically, can be, it can occur when either oils or lipid-containing substances enter the lungs.

That is consistent with the Vitamin E acetate hypothesis, as that substance is oily and could enter the lungs mixed with the vapor and then stay there. But none of the doctors or experts on the call made that connection officially.

Some patients are being misdiagnosed as having bronchitis or a viral infection. If you are or anyone you know is getting sick and uses vaping products a lot, it’s worth mentioning this if you get checked out.

Delman concluded her briefing with an assurance that everything that can be done is being done:

Please know that CDC, FDA, state, and clinical partners are working hard to understand why people are getting sick. We will continue to share what we know and what we don’t know to help health departments, clinicians, and the public respond to this outbreak.

If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one who is using an e-cigarette product, contact your health care provider, or your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.


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‘Mental fitness’ startup Elevate Labs launches a personalized meditation app called Balance – gpgmail


While investors are already writing big checks for meditation startups, Elevate Labs founder and CEO Jesse Pickard said that none of the existing meditation apps can replace the experience of working with a human coach.

“This experience where you have somebody that meets with you is wildly better than any digital product that’s out there,” Pickard said. “The problem is, it’s not affordable to 99% of the planet.”

So Elevate Labs is launching a new mobile app today called Balance, which is designed to replicate the experience of working with a live meditation coach.

“Even with meditation increasingly getting into the mainstream, it’s a fairly difficult practice to adhere to,” Pickard said. “We take away a lot of that indecision and present you with a path that is unique to you … People live all sorts of different lives: Some people care about stress, some people care about sleep, some people care about focus. But when you and I go into any of the other major apps, we’re getting the exact same recording.”

With Balance, on the other hand, you’re not just browsing through a library of prerecorded content. Instead, the app starts out by asking you about your goals, your meditation experience and more. You’ll then get a set of introductory meditations that may look familiar, but Pickard said that each meditation is actually “a combination of dozens and dozens of clips woven together that’s personalized to you.”

For example, I told the app that I already had experience with meditation, and that my top goal was to stay focused. As a result, my first meditation skipped most of the introductory explanations, and the main exercise was designed to help me focus on the sound of my breath.

Pickard said the app will continue to ask you questions about your experience over time, which in turn will lead to more personalization. The meditations are narrated by coach Leah Santa Cruz, who’s also involved in writing the content, and there are other meditation experts on the Balance team.

The app’s initial 10-day course is free. After that, to get access to additional meditations, you’ll need to pay $11.99 per month, $49.99 per year or $199.99 for a lifetime subscription. In addition to the meditations, Balance also includes a guided activity designed to help people sleep.

On top of launching a new app, Elevate Labs is also announcing that it has raised a $7.1 million Series B led by Keesing Media Group, with participation from Oakhouse Partners.

Under its old name MindSnacks, the company built language-learning games before shifting focus to Elevate, a “brain training” app that has supposedly been downloaded 25 million times and won Apple’s App of the Year Award in 2014. Pickard (who, thanks to the magic of Craigslist, was my roommate for about a year when I was first starting at gpgmail) said that unlike most of the other apps that are marketed as improving your mind, Elevate focuses on trainable skills like reading, writing and math — rather than, say, improving your memory.

“We’ve been extremely careful about [not] venturing into untrainable skills — things like improving your attention span, those activities are not as provenly teachable,” he said.

It’s been a while since the company has raised outside funding — seven years since MindSnacks announced a Series A from Sequoia. Pickard said the company actually raised another bridge round in 2015, then “buckled down for a number of years and really just had to build a business that actually was sustainable.”

Apparently that’s paid off — he said Elevate Labs was cash-flow positive last year. With a total of $17.1 million in funding, the plan now is to continue supporting and growing Elevate while also launching Balance and building a whole line of related apps.

“We think there’s a really huge brand to be built around mental fitness,” Pickard said.


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