Andrew Zengilowski – CEO and co-founder of Selvera

[quote style=”boxed”]I make low-value decisions quickly. There are a ton of these every day; you just have to make a decision and move on.[/quote]

Andrew Zengilowski is the CEO and co-founder of Selvera, a personalized, dietitian-led weight management company that empowers clients to adopt healthy, lasting lifestyle changes. Selvera delivers unparalleled service and proactive engagement through its comprehensive approach that addresses nutrition, activity, lifestyle, one-on-one expert counseling, and wireless monitoring tools. Andrew is an experienced investor in consumer, retail, and healthcare businesses.

Where did the idea for Selvera come from?

The desire to focus my career on health and wellness started early; I saw family members battle obesity and chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol, and hypertension — many of which could have been prevented with a healthy diet and more exercise.

My grandfather has shown the power small changes can have on one’s health. He suffered a heart attack early in life, but he’s now enjoying his late eighties after making changes to his diet and exercise routine. He walks every morning, tends his citrus trees, and hasn’t had a major medical issue in nearly three decades. He does all this with only 25 percent cardiac capacity and one lung (losing the other after a bout with tuberculosis).

The idea for Selvera was born from a review of the commercial weight management market. It became immediately apparent that there was an enormous unmet need — more than 150 million Americans struggle with weight management. I couldn’t find a single commercial weight management program that demonstrated long-term success. General consumer dissatisfaction with the “market leaders,” like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and Nutrisystem, have created an enormous opportunity. At Selvera, we have married effective tools developed by MDs, PhDs, and registered dietitians with a business model that’s convenient and affordable for the consumer and profitable for our investors. We’re very excited by the early results — on average, individuals we work with lose one and a half pounds per week!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I am focused on only two things: 1) Over-delivering on the promise Selvera makes to its clients and 2) acquiring more clients. Almost any action you take can be assigned a rough “value impact,” and I rank to-dos in this manner. I’ve seen a lot of time spent in larger organizations fretting over decisions that are either obvious or low-impact.

A typical day begins with breakfast — it’s so important to eat breakfast. Then, I spend an hour with our dietitians discussing client progress, challenges, and opportunities. I review our customer acquisition strategy and results, following up with team members or vendors as necessary. The balance of the day is typically spent on strategy and administrative tasks — HR, legal, accounting, etc. These functions need to be as effective and accurate as possible to protect the business and provide information for developing strategy. Great information makes decisions far easier and far more likely to be right. This reduces the time I spend outthinking bad or limited information, and it reduces the number of mistakes we make (though we still make plenty!).

I save potentially long or unproductive meetings for dinner or drinks after the day — funding discussions, partnership discussions, employee interviews, etc.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I talk ideas through with as many people as I can (usually starting with my wife and father). For anything to happen: 1) Someone must think of an idea; 2) someone must verbalize the idea, and 3) someone must execute the idea. The second step is the most exciting part — I don’t think I’ve ever done anything or seen anything done that was thought up by one person and not impacted by another. Talking it out is a great way to explore the idea more fully and begin the process of bringing it to life.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Wearable technology — pedometers, smartwatches, wristbands — is in the infancy of creating a major shift in healthcare. In the past, medical information was only gathered sporadically at doctors’ offices and, oftentimes, long after a medical condition had set in. In the not-too-distant future, doctors will be alerted if patients experience changes in blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, blood oxygen levels, etc., as technology advances to track these indicators at home.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m very good about getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night. That still gives me 16 hours a day to grow Selvera, but it allows me to stay healthy and sharp (sleep is an oft-overlooked component in weight management and overall health). The brain doesn’t function well when sleep-deprived, and you’re far more prone to make mistakes and be less productive. I get more done in a 16-hour day after a good night’s sleep than I could by pulling an all-nighter.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Mowing my parents’ lawn — I learned that working with or for family can be a challenge. I also learned that you don’t get paid if you don’t do what you agreed to do. As much as I hate to admit it, I may be able to attribute some of my maniacal focus on client experience to this early job.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have started this business earlier. The idea had been alive for almost two years by the time we launched. I thought an opportunity for an executive position at another company would be a good learning experience before jumping in. I learned a great deal during that experience, but Selvera would be much further along had I made the leap earlier. When you have an idea you know is a winner, you have to go after it immediately and with 100 percent dedication.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I make low-value decisions quickly. There are a ton of these every day; you just have to make a decision and move on.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Put yourself in the mind of your consumer. That can be hard for me, as our typical consumer is a thirty-something woman, but it’s so important. You might think something is a great idea because you like it, but if your consumer won’t like it, kill it.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I had an idea for a nonprofit venture and approached a close friend about pursuing it together. He was applying to business school at the time, and I had just started a new job; neither of us had the time to spend on it. It was a tough decision, but we realized we weren’t going to be successful in the endeavor, so we gave the idea to a friend of ours to work on.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

When naming our company, it cost us thousands in legal fees to check whether a trademark had been filed on the names we liked. Checking the Patent and Trademark Office database could be an automated process if the right software code were written. A report that costs roughly $600 today could be generated for no cost with the right algorithm. It isn’t sexy, but an online platform where trademarks could be searched for, say, $99 would be a great success and would be incredibly profitable. You have about three years to build it before I do!

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I can’t grow a mustache. No one knows this because I’m always clean-shaven, but even if I never shaved again, I’d still be sans moustache. It’s really lame during Movember every year.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

MailChimp is a user-friendly platform that allows you to segment and communicate with your customers. The key to business software is the user interface — a complicated program isn’t going to work for most businesses, and MailChimp has made email marketing extremely simple.

QuickBooks is a fantastic program, especially for startups. There’s a great deal of functionality, and we’re able to get a very detailed view of our business. The user interface really reduces the amount of time we have to spend on accounting activities.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend Gods and Generals. It’s a fantastic book that chronicles the battles of the Civil War before Gettysburg. The average American would probably be surprised to learn that the Confederate Army won almost every major engagement prior to Gettysburg with an outnumbered and outgunned army. Typically battling forces twice their size, the Confederates were able to succeed early in the war, defending their homes and even advancing into the North, through the great leadership of Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jackson, and James Longstreet. The book is told through the eyes of these men, and it’s a great study in leadership, both effective and ineffective.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Josh Phillips:

Josh is a thought leader in the healthcare venture capital industry and was influential early in my career in helping me understand what makes companies successful.

Darshana Zaveri:

Darshana is a great judge of talent and was instrumental in helping me understand how to identify individuals who have a high probability of success and with whom you can place your trust. She taught me that business is all about the people you work with.

Scott Dahnke:

Scott has taught me that successful consumer businesses are deeply focused on understanding who their customer is and what he/she wants. This foundation guides everything we do at Selvera today.


Twitter: @ARZengilowski