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Why mission matters more than products

saeju_jeong

For truly sustainable long-term growth, you must prioritize your mission over your product — even if that means letting your product go. Noom founder and CEO Saeju Jeong has repeatedly turned his back on successful products in the name of his mission to help as many people as possible live healthier lives. In this episode, Saeju brings to life many of these make-or-break moments, and how his dedication to mission has driven his scale journey.

“As a founder, you can decide what the company’s mission is. And if that mission truly resonates well with your values and you follow that, you have a high chance of hanging in there when things are difficult. But you have to be truthfully honest to yourself.”

— Saeju Jeong
About the guest:
saeju_jeong

Saeju Jeong is the CEO and co-founder of Noom, the app that matches its millions of users with coaches to help achieve their fitness, weight and wellbeing goals. Saeju was born and raised in South Korea, where he founded a successful music business focused on heavy metal. He then moved to New York where he co-founded WorkSmart Labs with Artem Petakov. In 2011, WorkSmart Labs became Noom. Noom’s huge success has resulted in $400m in revenue and a $4 billion valuation.

About the host:
reid_hoffman

Reid Hoffman is the host of Masters of Scale. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, he’s known for his spot-on insights on how to scale a startup. He’s a partner at Greylock and co-founder of LinkedIn, and co-author of the best-selling Blitzscaling and The Startup of You.

Also featured in this episode:

Daymond John is an entrepreneur, author, and investor. He’s the founder, president, and CEO of the apparel company FUBU, and one of the original…

I believe that a guiding mission will take you farther than the success of any one product. And if you’re ever forced to choose between them, choose the mission every time.

— Reid Hoffman
Transcript of Masters of Scale: Why mission matters more than products

Chapter 1: Kill ideas that don’t align with your mission

SAEJU JEONG: My mom, she’s actually a violinist, so she’s into classical music.

When she visited New York city to meet me, the first time in the United States, I brought her to the concert.

REID HOFFMAN: That dutiful son is today’s guest Saeju Jeong, co-founder and CEO of Noom. He’s recalling a time soon after he moved to the U.S. from South Korea on a mission to transform how we think about fitness and health. But for his mom’s first visit to New York, he had another mission: to give her a memorable time. So of course he fulfilled her dream. Kind of.

JEONG: I told her, “Mom, I will take the most energetic concert that you will like and remember.” And that was Megadeth.

HOFFMAN: Now that’s about as far away from a Broadway musical as I can imagine. But keen to go above and beyond, Saeju wasn’t taking his mom to your typical, vanilla Megadeth gig. 

JEONG: I brought her to Megadeth Gigantour. That means they brought 20 other bands. It was a six hour nonstop heavy metal show outdoors. And it was real intense.

HOFFMAN: If you hadn’t guessed already, Saeju is a huge fan of metal music. His mom, not so much. But that didn’t mean his mission was a total failure. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

JEONG: My mom was like, she couldn’t stop laughing at me. Because she was expecting a Broadway musical show in Manhattan; my mom was laughing at the situation.

I’ll just say she had a very interesting experience, I would say. And she loves me, so I think she forgave me instantly, and we enjoyed it together. 

HOFFMAN: Mission accomplished! Although Saeju didn’t totally deny his mom the classic Broadway experience.

JEONG: I’m a good son. Of course I took her to the Broadway show. But the first concert was Megadeth for sure. That is the truth.

HOFFMAN: Here’s some more truth: Saeju knew she would get more joy from sharing an unforgettable experience than she would hitting the usual New York City tourist spots. And that was his mission. So Broadway could wait.

In scaling a business, you also need to put ideas off if they don’t fully align with your mission — maybe even drop them totally. It will often feel like a huge gamble — like taking a violinist to a Megadeth concert — but the payoff is worth it. In fact, choosing an easier path that doesn’t align with your mission can even be fatal.

That’s why I believe that a guiding mission will take you farther than the success of any one product. And if you’re ever forced to choose between them, choose the mission every time.

[THEME MUSIC]

Chapter 2: Choose mission over product

HOFFMAN: I’m Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, partner at Greylock, and your host. And I believe that a guiding mission will lead you farther than the success of any one product. And if you’re ever forced to choose between them, choose the mission every time.

For a business, aligning your product with your mission is vital.

Because without that alignment, your whole company will start to veer off course. And when it does, you need to ditch that product. And fast.

Letting go is hard. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking a product or service is on mission. Maybe it reaches a lot of people, or maybe the feedback is great, or it makes lots of money, or maybe you grew it from nothing and can’t bear to let it go.

But to have truly sustainable, long-term growth, you need to learn to let go, and choose mission over product every single time.

I wanted to talk to Saeju Jeong about this because throughout his career he’s never been afraid to choose mission over product. In fact, he has shuttered several hugely successful products and made painful pivots for nearly a decade in service of his guiding mission: to use technology to help as many people as possible live healthier lives. He finally found product-mission fit with Noom, the app that matches its millions of users with coaches to help achieve their fitness, weight, and wellbeing goals. Noom’s huge success has resulted in $400 millions in revenue and a $4.2 billion valuation.

Chapter 3: Choosing mission over passion

From the day he was born, Saeju seemed destined for a life dedicated to keeping other people healthy.

JEONG: My life was preset to become a medical doctor because my family has a medical background. My father, my uncles, all our doctors. Our family founded a hospital business, and we still operate in South Korea. The reason behind that, after the Korean War, Korea was completely destroyed. My grandfather had a vision that wanted to provide healthcare service for the community. And that was our family legacy.

HOFFMAN: But the path of Saeju’s family legacy didn’t exactly lead to where he was expecting.

JEONG: All my cousins, somehow they are good students and smart students, so they followed the path of the family legacy, which is to become a doctor. And they all became doctors. And I tried. I don’t want to lie; I tried hard, but I failed to enter the medical college. And then my life got lost by then.

HOFFMAN: Saeju switched focus to another challenging subject, electrical engineering, but as his feelings of shame and disappointment chewed at him, he immersed himself in another early passion to get him through.

JEONG: I love heavy metal. And you may ask why, and I don’t know. I just love it. I remember when I was nine years old, I listened to heavy metal, and I was like, oh my God, I love the music. And since then I listen to heavy metal in the morning, the first thing in the morning before I even have coffee. I listen to heavy metal before I go to bed — still today.

HOFFMAN: It’s true. If you open the Dictionary of Rock to the definition of “Metal Head,” you’ll see a horn-fisted Saeju moshing out.

But in South Korea in the 90s, metal was a niche interest, and finding fellow fans, let alone records, was a challenge. So in his freshman year at college, Saeju founded a website dedicated to the art form he loved. South Korea’s metal fans flocked to it, and pretty soon, Saeju was importing records and CDs, streaming music and organizing gigs.

JEONG: I was able to actually unite heavy metal listeners, and I was able to evolve the business to production. And I opened stores and gigs, all that. That made me quite happy, and also busy. And I absolutely loved it. And I discovered my talent as an entrepreneur by then, and also have a little taste of what it’s like building a company.

HOFFMAN: By Saeju’s sophomore year in college, his business was booming. But then he got a call that brought his life to a screeching halt.

JEONG: I got a call from my mom, and I knew something was wrong because my mom wanted to have a family meeting. And we never had a family meeting. And I ask her, “Mom, don’t tell me it’s about dad, about health.” Because I kind of sensed that. And she couldn’t answer; she cried. And I was like, “Oh, my God.”

HOFFMAN: The news was the worst possible kind: Saeju’s father had been given a terminal cancer diagnosis.

JEONG: It was hard. It was hard. And that really amplified the question of: what am I supposed to do for, actually, my life? Because I experienced death through that at a very painful time.

In other words, he sat me down, and he told me: “Let’s prepare for the departure. He gave me a priceless gift. He wanted to have a session every day, around 40 minute at 9:00 p.m. every day. He put the effort into thinking about the topic every day, and shared it at night. And that was the combination of the retrospective review of his life. He just wanted to share about it.

And also, he was curious to learn about how I think. 

HOFFMAN: His father’s curiosity led to a conversation about the mission that Saeju was focused on in that moment of his life, his heavy metal start-up.

JEONG: He was genuinely curious about why I started it and how I’m doing it, and why. And I discovered, myself, that I could not answer very well. And that really amplified the question of, I always had a little emptiness in my heart. I’m busy, and I’m kind of successful, but something was missing.

HOFFMAN: Saeju’s father shared his own thoughts on his life’s mission as a doctor. And one of his biggest regrets.

JEONG: Why are the patients not preventing the condition that he always warned that they can avoid or prevent? Often the patient developed further illness and came back, returned. And he saw his job became sick care management, over healthcare professionals.

“Why is prevention not a primary in overall healthcare?” So that was a big question mark he left, which really amplifies strongly to my heart. And I kept thinking about it. 

HOFFMAN: Thought quickly turned into action.

JEONG: That helped me to set the better priority of my life. I need to do something that I follow for the purpose of life. That’s how I became instantly decided I need to let the heavy metal business go.

Why? I am passionate about heavy metal music, but that is a hobby. It’s not the purpose of my life. My purpose is to be spent for something greater. I decided I will pursue healthcare.

HOFFMAN: To this day, Saeju still passionately loves heavy metal. But speaking with his father, he realized it was not his mission.

The distinction between “mission” and “passion” is subtle, but hugely important. It’s easy to confuse the two. Passion is about what you personally enjoy. Of course, it helps greatly if you are passionate about your mission. But first and foremost, your mission is about the great change in the world that you feel needs to be made.

Saeju was, and still is, passionate about heavy metal music. But the mission — the huge change he wanted to make to improve the world — lay in health and fitness, echoing the mission that generations of his family shared.

So Saeju decided to renounce his crown as South Korea’s king of metal, drop out of college, and focus on his mission. And thanks to his father, he knew exactly where he wanted to start his pursuit.

JEONG: My father’s best heyday of his life was when he was studying in the United States.

Because he said, “I finally got out of my hometown and met people from all over the world. The diversity and also their different backgrounds and culture that bring the ideas is incredible.”

HOFFMAN: Saeju couldn’t act immediately on this newfound mission; he had three years of compulsory service in the South Korean military to complete. But the moment he was discharged, Saeju headed straight to New York. He wanted to found a company through which he could pursue his new mission to prevent illness by promoting health and fitness.

There were just three small problems: Saeju lacked money, a network, and basic proficiency in English. 

JEONG: I got three or four random jobs to pay $630 rent, a sublet basement in Long Island. I sold 99 cent perfume. I sold glue and some random stickers. I did a lot of hustling jobs to make a living. At the same time, that was the way I learned the world, and that was tough, but also it was fun.

HOFFMAN: He was also studying English, and practicing at every opportunity — including one of the most delightful hacks for learning a language I’ve heard:

JEONG: I remember I contacted Sprint customer support. I feel sorry to Sprint by then because they take my call, and I can practice my English. That’s why I did it.

Chapter 4: How Saeju Jeong recruited his co-founder, Artem Petakov

HOFFMAN: When it came to networking, Saeju made the most of any opportunity. This included a cousin’s wedding, where he met a Google engineer named Artem Petakov. The two immediately hit it off, and soon discovered their mutual interest in healthcare and fitness.

JEONG: He was a very philosophical, open person and intellectually very savvy. I liked him instantly. We became best friends very quickly. I told him, “Artem, your talent is incredible, and I need to get you out of Google because we need to found a company for healthcare.” It took only two years and eight months to convince him to get out from Google.

HOFFMAN: In my experience, this combination of shared mission and mutual understanding makes for the strongest and most successful co-founder relationships. 

While Artem shared Saeju’s mission, he wasn’t prepared to copy Saeju’s dramatic career pivot. At least not immediately. And that’s not only understandable — it’s smart. Artem’s income gave the pair some stability as they worked out just how they were going to pursue their mission. It also gave contacts that would later be invaluable to them.

In 2007 Saeju and Artem founded WorkSmart Labs, making fitness their route to their mission of preventing illness.

JEONG: We thought: fitness is the answer. We thought, “Okay, let’s make fitness, make it easy and fun.” Our first prototype was to convert the stationary bike at the gym with our sensors to make a smart bike and we brought the interactive screening from the stationary bike, so we can motivate and guide the users to do the cycling.

HOFFMAN: It was Peloton before Peloton. But with a few major differences. The business model focused on supplying gyms rather than homes, and streaming technology to provide on-demand video classes wasn’t there. In fact, it was five years before John Foley would be out pitching Peloton to investors — and getting constantly rejected. You can hear that story in John’s episode of Masters of Scale titled “How to turn skeptics into fans” — just scroll back in your podcast feed.

Like John, Saeju and Artem also struggled to raise money from skeptical investors.

JEONG: I could not raise any single dime for three years because the product market fit was not there. We couldn’t scale it. We learned that first of all, gym business, they don’t have the budget to invest into new equipment. If they have the budget, then they will use a budget for upgrading the locker room. That is the truth. 

HOFFMAN: Their product and mission was a seeming slam-dunk fit with gyms. But they soon discovered their mistake in thinking gyms were partners in their mission.

Not only were the gyms unwilling to pay up, investors were also not going to back them. The scale market opportunity simply wasn’t there. And more importantly for Saeju, this meant their proto-Peloton device wouldn’t be able to fulfill a key directive of their mission: to reach as many people as possible.

Now a cautionary note: it’s true that sometimes you’ll uncover an unexpected mis-alignment in mission with potential partners. But it’s also true that you can unearth mission alignments in the most unexpected places. Harnessing these unexpected alignments can be a powerful scale multiplier.

One excellent example that springs to mind comes from Daymond John, founder and CEO of streetwear brand FUBU and Shark Tank star.

Early in his scale journey, Daymond wanted to supercharge FUBU’s marketing — but needed to do so on a tight budget.

So he went around to local businesses — not just clothing stores, but electronic repair shops, bodegas, any establishment with a metal security gate, despite the seeming lack of mission alignment.

DAYMOND JOHN: We went to all the stores that pulled down nasty storm gates and said, “You have graffiti there or profanity on there. We are a local company. We want to spray paint your gate with our name and keep it beautiful and white. We’ll always upkeep this. We’ll make sure nobody puts profanity on your gates and, by the way, the kids locally are going to know that you’re supporting a local company, and we’re going to come and point kids towards you.”

So, we spray painted 300 gates from New York to New Jersey, and put “authorized FUBU dealer.” We didn’t care what you were selling. I don’t care if you were selling furniture or Chinese food. You were an authorized FUBU dealer. Because those gates were pulled down during morning rush hour and evening rush hour and all those pedestrians passing by — that was about three million dollars’ worth of advertising.

HOFFMAN: At first glance, there’s little mission alignment between an edgy streetwear brand and a mom-and-pop hardware store. But Daymond took a deeper look at his mission, saw how it aligned with an unlikely range of small businesses, and seized that opportunity.

For Saeju and his team, the opposite was true. They had uncovered a deep misalignment in mission with their customers: the gyms.

JEONG: I remember we had less than $4,000. We had five people at a studio. We were living together, working together, and we had one air conditioner. We were all sweating like pigs. We were literally wearing only just underwear because it was so hot, and we were coding all the time.

The laptop was filled with sweat. I’m not exaggerating. It was like that. We became so poor 

HOFFMAN: The heat was on in every sense of the phrase. Their product just wasn’t clicking, and now, with their finances almost depleted, it was time for Saeju to make a tough call in order to stay true to his mission.

[AD BREAK]

HOFFMAN: We’re back with Saeju Jeong of Noom.

If you’re enjoying this episode on aligning mission and product, be sure to share it with your network. You can do that right now — just hit the Share button in your podcast app.

And to listen to the full conversation with Saeju, become a Masters of Scale member at

mastersofscale.com/membership. You’ll be able to hear some of the things we couldn’t fit into this episode, including more of Saeju’s love of heavy metal, the full story of how he and his co-founder struck up their partnership, and Saeju’s criteria for assessing new ideas for Noom. 

Before the break, we heard how Saeju and his co-founder Artem had hit a wall in their mission to scale health and fitness.

Chapter 5: The story of CardioTrainer

JEONG: We were like, “Guys, hardware does not work, and we are not good at that. What should we do? And we don’t have money.” Then we did a strategy meeting, very cute. We figured, you know what? Let’s just focus on what we are good at, which is software making, and let’s pay attention to one product.

HOFFMAN: They quickly decided on a mobile app. This would make it far easier to reach the maximum number of people, as their mission dictated. 

It was early 2008. Apple’s app store had just launched, and smartphones were coming into their own as omnipresent devices with the potential to do far more than make calls and send messages.

Thanks to Artem’s last job, they knew Google’s mobile OS, the Android, was on the cusp of launching. Just like iPhones, Androids would come with their own app store, and Artem’s connections at Google would give them a leg up. If they did things right, they could ride the initial wave of a huge new market.

JEONG: Artem came from Google, and the rest of the engineers also came from Google. We favored the Google platform, I’ll be honest. Second, we wanted to move really fast, and the Android platform was faster to code and test. 

We realized, we knew that Apple is a very important platform, which is very important at this moment, too. We wanted to quickly obtain the user base first, right? 

So, we need a user base, and Google was in favor for us, that we can receive the user faster. 

HOFFMAN: Notice how Saeju and Artem identified what their next product should be by using their mission as the lens for all of their ideas. 

This is one of the ways keeping true to your mission can actually help you spot opportunities, rather than limit them.

They then took the particulars of their new market — a mobile device — and combined it with their mission — fitness — to create a product that they believed would appeal to two groups: runners and cyclists. Both number in the millions; and both can easily carry a mobile device with them as they run or cycle.

They called the app CardioTrainer, aimed at letting cyclists and runners track their fitness training from their phones. 

The new Android  platform was fraught with unknowns, even with their home advantage. But they took the gamble. And it paid off. 

JEONG: So we became number one, like untouchable number one, the most downloaded user service in the fitness health category. And we were the top gross application for two years and 10 months straight in the world.

And Motorola, Verizo,n and Google, these three companies were united and promoted the Android platform very heavily. So we were preloaded on all Motorola devices, and we were promoted by Verizon and Google. 

HOFFMAN: That promotion extended to ads in Times Square, and being preloaded on Samsung phones also. In a matter of months, Saeju and Artem had gone from figuratively and literally sweating over gym hardware to riding high on one of the biggest tech successes of the year. They were ranked top of the app store. They had income and investors. And most importantly, they had a huge and engaged user base, through which they were fulfilling their mission of making as many people as possible fitter and happier.

But then they discovered something unexpected.

JEONG: We noticed that 90% of our users are not using it for running or cycling. We were like, “What? What’s going on here?” But they kept using our product. And we learned that they are using our product for just walking. Actually, they just use our product for step counting. We added the pedometer features as the bonus features out of running and cycling like that, but people were mainly using those features.

HOFFMAN: Saeju had equated user uptake with achieving their mission. This is why discovering such a huge disconnect worried him. 

Imagine a triangle whose points are what your customer wants, what your mission is, and what your product does. If that triangle becomes distorted and you don’t act, all three points will ultimately point in one direction: failure.

So Saeju and his team investigated further.

JEONG: So we ask, “Why are you not running or cycling?” And the majority answer was, “I don’t exercise.” We were shocked. We asked, “Then why don’t you do exercise?” And the majority of our users answered, “Because I’m too heavy,” or, “I just simply don’t exercise.” And then we asked, “Then why are you using our product?” And they answered, “I want to lose weight.” And that was the moment I went, oh, wow. And then we ask why are you step counting? Why do you need to lose weight? And they answered, “I have a health risk.” And that was the moment that really resonated well with us.

HOFFMAN: It was a surprise that barely any of the engaged users of CardioTrainer were doing any cardio, or any training, at all. In fact, a huge proportion of their users either couldn’t or wouldn’t do heavy cardio training.

JEONG: That was the moment that we learned weight issues are a big problem in the United States. It is a big problem. And we learn that a nutrition diet is a very hard problem. And then that opened our curiosity. It really rang the bell of our company mission.

HOFFMAN: Any time you hear the bell of your company mission ringing out from an unexpected direction, it’s time to change course — maybe even pivot. But in the case of CardioTrainer, Saeju and Artem went even further.

JEONG: So, we made a very bold decision that, “You know what? We are going to retire our product. And we will rebuild the product targeted for nutrition, diet, and weight loss.” 

HOFFMAN: That’s right. They didn’t set about making a pivot and bringing as many customers along with them as they could. They didn’t even try to sell CardioTrainer, and use the proceeds to start something more aligned with their mission. Instead, they pulled the plug on their top-ranking, money-making and only product.

JEONG: That was a big decision. And our investors were mad at us because basically we are killing our own product, which is number one in the market, and we are entering into complete new territory, which is nutrition and weight loss.

HOFFMAN: Even Saeju acknowledges now this was a huge gamble and that maybe they should have tried selling rather than pulling the plug. But at the time it felt like the right call and while a cash exit may seem like the better option in hindsight, remember this: An early stage start-up is on a mortality clock. Sure, business school theory might dictate that it would be better to sell. But the reality is, you’re unlikely to have the time to negotiate a sale while leaping full force into the next idea.

An example from my PayPal days is the product we had developed for PalmPilots, the rudimentary smartphones of their day. It’s the product we launched with. And Palm liked it. But we got to the point where our Palm product was distracting us from our core business. So we told them we needed to pull the plug. They didn’t really fully believe us. They even thought we were posturing for something. And so we just shut it down. And then they were like, “Oh my God, no, no, no.” But we needed to do it. And do it fast. Because speed really matters in start-ups.

The value you’ve created today can be a distraction from the opportunity of tomorrow.  And your mission is the smart lens for continually making tough but critical assessments for each investment, pivot, and commitment.

So yes, Saeju had made his investors mad. But he was still convinced closing down CardioTrainer was the right way to keep his company on mission.

JEONG: But for us, we are a customer-centric company, and we always believe the answers are driven by users, so let’s follow what they want to, and we need to solve this problem.

HOFFMAN: The evidence they’d already gathered from their users showed those users needed something more than they were saying. They couldn’t get this from a survey, so they looked at their users’ behavior and read between the lines.

JEONG: It was kind of obvious for us because we found the company to deliver our mission. And that is our promise. And when we faced the fact, the data, that we’re not helping them enough, and our users are using our product wrongly, they’re using one of the features which is not our main features, so it was quite obvious by then. And we were, I would say, bravely naive, but we were, I would say, well-minded, kind-minded that we had a deep empathy for our users. 

Chapter 6: Choosing mission over everything

HOFFMAN: This was brave new territory in terms of their product, but spot on in terms of their long-term mission.

Having closed down their only form of income and alienated their investors, Saeju and his team set about developing a new app. The mission — of helping as many people as possible stay healthy — remained the same. But this time the focus was different.

JEONG: We learned diet nutrition is a very important matter overall for weight. So we thought, okay, calorie counting matters.

HOFFMAN: They launched Calorific, an app that lets users log their calorie intake as part of a healthy holistic fitness plan. It was a success. But this time Saeju wasn’t taking mission-fit for granted.

JEONG: So we learned our users are quite happy with the product, but we could not connect the dots between usage and the result. In other words, did we help our users to lose weight and also manage our lifestyle better? And the answer is, we don’t know. 

HOFFMAN: They had made a great tool that their users loved, but it bothered Saeju that he couldn’t tell if that tool was furthering his mission. So in 2011, Saeju and Artem launched Noom Weight. This new app used an AI algorithm that tailored content to users. It was focused on overall weight management rather than just counting calories.

JEONG: We want to guide our users to understand their overall lifestyle, about diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, all that holistic approach, mind and body.

How you compose your life and why and how we can help you to build a healthy habit that will lead to better weight management by knowing about who you are and why you behave that way and what caused you to think or behave that way.

Chapter 7: How Saeju Jeong founded Noom

HOFFMAN: But it still felt to Saeju that something was missing.

JEONG: We knew from the inception of Noom that the mind and body approach is the right approach, but it will take years to build and make it right. And we were constantly looking forward to doing better. In 2012, we discovered the power of psychology and human coaches.

HOFFMAN: That discovery came in the form of a meeting with Dr. Andreas Michaelides, a psychologist specializing in weight loss.

JEONG: So we met him and we asked for help. How do you practice in the real world? He told us that we have an amazing scale and access to our users, and we can do it great together if he applies psychology and also highlights empathy to our users.

That was a big a-ha moment for us. Why? Because empathy is the value that makes humans beautiful. And it’s very powerful to motivate our users, hold accountable, and support the journey of lifestyle, which is, you know, weight management. 

HOFFMAN: This felt like the missing piece — real life human coaches who could empathize with and motivate users individually. In 2014, Andreas joined Noom as its chief of psychology, building out content for users based on cognitive-behavioral therapy. Noom also started hiring real-life coaches. Each user could get face-to-face time with a real life coach; while the coaches would get in-depth data on their user’s aims and fitness history from the Noom AI system. 

JEONG: And that was a moment I can tell you now, finally, we figure the product market fit. In other words, the market adopted our service very well, and we scaled the business very well since then.

HOFFMAN: Noom’s growth took off, reaching revenue of $200 million in 2019. Then, with the rush to home fitness during the pandemic, revenues doubled in 2020 to $400 million. 

Noom’s success is down to uniting users and coaches around its unwavering mission.

JEONG: We learn every user has a different background and a profile and a goal. But one thing that gets us united and together is either way, our user side and our coaches side, they are looking for how to get healthy. 

HOFFMAN: It’s also helped lifestyle coaches scale their mission.

JEONG: The number one complaint as a lifestyle coach was they have to answer the same questions in the beginning in order to assess the status, and that’s very repetitive work and that exhausts them. So we believe repetitive work can be replaced by software, and we can empower, our human coach can practice better, and also assist by the computer. 

HOFFMAN: It’s what Saeju has been striving for: alignment of his mission and his product. The mission has sustained Saeju through pivots and false starts. But now it is aligned with Noom’s weight loss product. And that mission is also sustaining new products and opportunities — like Noom Mood, which helps users manage stress and anxiety. By choosing mission over product every time, Saeju is now in a position to scale multiple products and his company. All in service of that unwavering mission to help as many people as possible lead healthier lives.

JEONG: So, if any of my friends are asking, “Saeju, I want to start the company.” Then I will ask, “Tell me the mission and why that mission is really aligned with your personal life, that you believe in your life value.”

As a founder, you can decide what the company’s mission is. And if that mission truly resonates well with your life value and you follow that, you have a high chance you can hang in there when things are difficult. But you have to be truthfully honest to yourself. 

HOFFMAN: This is the stark, self-honesty that every entrepreneur needs to practice. If what you’re building isn’t moving you toward accomplishing your mission, it’s time to stop, re-assess, and re-tool. 

I’m Reid Hoffman. Thanks for listening.

Masters of Scale’s mission is to democratize entrepreneurship. Launched in 2017 as a weekly podcast featuring Reid Hoffman, we’re now two weekly podcasts — Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, and Masters of Scale: Rapid Response, hosted by Bob Safian — as well as an award-winning daily learning app, a best-selling book, virtual and live events, and more, serving a global community of founders, funders, and leaders looking to innovate at scale.
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