Days are for execution. Nights are for brainstorming.
Chris Cutter’s career-long passion has been to create effective behavior change ventures that can scale fast enough to curb the preventable health epidemics of our time. In his role as founder and CEO of LifeDojo, he sets the strategy and vision for the company while ensuring every element of LifeDojo combines the power of evidence-based public health with great design, entertainment, and technology.
Before LifeDojo, Chris led a large-scale venture in New York City, which brought federal, state, and private dollars together to deliver evidence-based health behavior change programs to diverse populations. For Chris, LifeDojo is about taking what works on the ground and scaling it to millions of people by offering the same level of quality online. He received his master’s degree in applied research and social development from Washington University in St. Louis and is a healthcare transformer with StartUp Health.
Where did the idea for LifeDojo come from?
My life passion has been to create effective, population-level behavior change programs. I was fortunate to be able to design and lead some effective efforts in New York City early in my career. Although we were able to attract funding and generate some great results, the more attention we received, the clearer it became that spending millions of dollars to improve the lives of thousands of people was not scalable.
Knowing that you have to turn people away from life-saving preventive programs is extremely frustrating, so I wondered what it would take to bring down the cost 10 or 100 times. That’s when I started thinking about how to bring the best of proven public health programming online.
Six months later, the company was born. Within months, we had a minimum viable product and more than 10,000 people going through our health improvement programs. That’s when I knew we had something.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I don’t shortchange my sleep. I wake up at 7 a.m. and head to the office by 8. My first activity is yoga — there’s nothing better to wake up the mind and body. When I sit down to work, I prioritize first. What are the top five priorities of the day? What are the hardest things? I start with those, but only after I check in with my team members to reconnect, see what needs my attention, and more often than not, get their input on something important.
Productivity is about focus and balance. Our entire team has a gym pass, and we often use it during work hours. When we work, we’re focused, energized, and not sweating the small stuff.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Evernote is everything. If I have an idea, whether it’s related to work or life, I write it down immediately and typically spend two or three minutes sketching it out. I’ve lost some great ideas to time and distraction, so I’ve learned to run to the green elephant app.
If an important idea is ready to become a reality, I typically spend evening hours researching, emailing experts to get their perspective, and outlining my thoughts. Days are for execution. Nights are for brainstorming.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’d say the sharing economy. My wife and I are Airbnb hosts, and I rent Getaround, ride Uber when travelling, buy meals through SpoonRocket and Sprig, and TaskRabbit the tasks I can’t get to. Why? Because there’s a massive group of brilliant, hard-working people with jobs that give them the freedom and opportunity to hustle and be their own boss.
I met an Uber driver in Georgia who had three jobs and never saw her kids. After one month of Uber, she quit the other gigs and now sets her own hours so she can stand with her kids at the bus stop every morning. That’s beautiful.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
LifeDojo’s motto is “employee health, one habit at a time,” so habits are what I’m all about! Designing my environment is what gets me in a consistent habit. For example, my TV is tied to my treadmill at home, so if I want to watch “House of Cards,” I need to be running. My jar of almonds is always front-and-center. I also have a Lumo Lift to keep my posture up at work. If my life is healthy, my productivity will be up.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a “bad” job, but working in an acute care psychiatric facility was emotionally taxing. I’m an optimist, and I obssess over how to support people in their goals for life improvement. Working with acute chronic mental illness takes serious patience. I still went “Patch Adams” (watch it if you haven’t seen it) on the situation, but it wasn’t easy.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start cold-calling relevant customer leads from day one. It’s invaluable. I started doing that soon after we launched, but day one would’ve been better. If you aren’t building something to address a real pain point that matters, you’re dead in the water.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Do everyone’s job first — sales, marketing, product development, customer success, or whatever. Read, learn like crazy, and then try running with a project or two. When you hire for that role, you will be 100 times more informed about what you’re looking for.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
This may be redundant: listening to our customers and looking at the data. I figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what end users and buyers care about and exceed expectations by iterating, listening, and iterating again.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In my first venture (pre-LifeDojo), I relied far too much on academic learning to make “real life” decisions. Platitudes and best practices are often great in theory but fail in application. After my first failure, I promised myself I would only partner with and fully trust academics if they had experience in real-life applications.
This’s why all of our experts at LifeDojo are brilliant Ph.D.s. But equally important, they’ve all worked with and succeeded with real people in health behavior change efforts.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If you’ve ever signed up to have a booth at a conference, you know it means getting 200 phone calls from vendors, receiving 600 emails, and filling out handwritten forms. Clearly someone needs to go in there, wrangle the unions, and build a seamless experience for everyone. It’s a big market. Please do this for me, our marketing director, and the thousands of people forced to do this every time.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
For our four-year anniversary, my wife and I rented a log cabin in Big Sur, California. It was awesome.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
• Mailbox and Desktop Apps make inbox zero possible.
• Asana provdies seamless project management for free.
• Email is dead for internal communication. Long live Slack.
• Getaround kills car payments.
• Sprig is great for quick and healthy lunches.
• SpoonRocket provides fast-delivered dinners.
• TaskRabbit is great for when you have a little more cash to work with but much less time.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Myths of Happiness” and “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. They will make you feel better about your decision to follow your passion and also remind you that money isn’t going to make you happy unless it gives you more freedom to do the meaningful work you want to do.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
• Geoff Canada, former CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone
• Robert Sapolsky, stress expert at Stanford University
• Startup gurus Brad Feld, Steve Blank, Fred Wilson, Jerry Colonna, and Jason Lemkin
Chris Cutter on LinkedIn:
Chris Cutter on Twitter: @christocutter
LifeDojo on Twitter: @LifeDojo
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.