I fail at something every week, and I’m incredibly proud of that.
Scott Sundvor is co-founder and chief product officer of Nima. Scott graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering and a concentration in product design and development. He leads the product vision and development process at Nima, including early design, prototyping and user testing, sales and marketing, and customer support. Since its inception in 2013, Nima has worked to create greater food transparency to help consumers make better health decisions. Its first product is a discreet, portable device that allows consumers to test their meals for gluten in just a few minutes. The company aspires to alleviate the stress around unknown food ingredients, deliver social freedom, and make mealtime enjoyable again.
Where did the idea for Nima come from?
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I completely agree with this concept, but it has somehow found its way out of Western medicine and culture over the past 50-100 years. I grew up in a relatively healthy household, but I still ate my fair share of crap fast food, produce and meat riddled with pesticides and antibiotics, and inflammatory foods like gluten.
My freshman year of college, I was plagued with stomach issues and diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Since then, I’ve struggled to control the symptoms of the disease. Pharmaceutical drugs never worked for me, and I realized that my diet was a huge factor in my health. My body reacted more acutely to some items (including gluten and dairy), but many more things had small effects over an extended period of time. I recognized that what I ate could be the difference between a great day and a terrible one, but it took me a long time to understand my precise triggers. It took me even longer to learn how to consistently avoid those trigger foods.
As soon as I made the connections between my own diet and health, I realized how important diet is for everyone’s health. I met my co-founder, Shireen Yates, who similarly has multiple food allergies. We quickly vibed over the idea of starting a company to help people better understand what’s in their food and how that food affects their health.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
When running a startup, almost every day is a complete whirlwind. Because my schedule can be so hectic, I’ve found that keeping a healthy, calming morning routine has given a huge boost to my mental and physical well-being.
Before I do anything else, I start my morning with 15-30 minutes of mindfulness meditation. This kickstarts my morning with a sense of calmness and clarity, enabling me to handle whatever challenges the day might bring. I try to stay present within my morning routine, so I avoid checking my phone or email until I get into the office.
After meditation, I generally make myself some bulletproof tea or coffee instead of breakfast. There’s a lot of science behind the health benefits of intermittent fasting, and I’ve found that the caffeine along with the ketogenic boost from medium-chain triglycerides in the coffee/tea works well with my body and brain. If I do eat breakfast, I try to keep it light and vegetarian. I also take various supplements depending on what my body tells me I need that day.
The mornings are when I typically prepare my lunch for the day. That is either vegetarian leftovers from the night before or a quick combination of lentils, stir-fried vegetables, or something else quick and nutritious. To keep the quality of my diet high, I cook my own organic food instead of eating out. Getting a salad from the cafe next door might look delicious and healthy, but nonorganic health food is still toxic to your brain, your microbiome, and your full system.
Before I head out for the office, I spend some time snuggling my dog, Blu; chatting with my girlfriend; and doing other energizing activities, if only for a few minutes. After that, I head into the office — often with Blu in tow.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A great idea is worthless without great execution. And great execution on a bad idea is a waste of time. So for me, it comes down to two things.
First, I conduct research to understand my target market and the product I need to build. I then evaluate product-market fit as much as possible before I start building anything. Once I’ve finished the research phase, I shift into execution. Set goals, keep tight timelines, and remember that testing and learning quickly is more important than perfection.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love seeing the momentum behind consumer-driven healthcare, alternative health approaches, and the quantified self movement.
Doctors were unable to treat my ulcerative colitis, and they wanted to remove my colon after drugs and other interventions failed. I took matters into my own hands, researching how to heal myself naturally. Without a single drug, I was able to regain my health. The wealth of knowledge and support I found online didn’t exist 10 years ago, and consumer products and information for tracking your own health, vitals, and bloodwork have exploded. While there’s a long way to go to enable people to take a more holistic approach to their own health, the progress that has been made makes me hopeful for what the next 10 years might bring.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every day, I block off an hour at lunch to go to the gym. That time is sacred, and my team members know they can only schedule during that time if it’s an emergency. There’s a rock-climbing gym that also offers yoga classes about two blocks from my office, so I head there every day for either an hour of yoga or 45 minutes of climbing. That combination of exercise and a brief break has a positive effect on my physical health and mental clarity. I think more clearly, react faster to issues that arise, and am more centered throughout the day.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I ask, “Why?” Even if I agree with someone’s perspective or think I know the answer, I still ask why we’re taking a specific direction. I want everyone to stay inquisitive, be open-minded, and question the status quo. We make decisions based on data instead of emotion. Asking why, forcing yourself to articulate why you feel a certain way, and encouraging your colleagues to do the same is an easy way to stay honest and on your toes.
What is one failure you’ve had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I fail at something every week, and I’m incredibly proud of that. I tell our team that the most important thing is making fast decisions, analyzing the results, and learning from our mistakes. Failure is not a bad thing — it means we learned a lesson. Learning is how we grow, get better, and build a great company.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I spent $75 on a weekend silent meditation retreat at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center north of San Francisco. I’ve actively practiced meditation for the past two years, but dedicating this much time to it in a formal setting was something I’d never done before. It definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone.
It was difficult and painful at times, but the experience was incredible and left me feeling grateful for the opportunity I was given. It was difficult to put my finger on the immediate impact, but the experience has sent ripples through my everyday life. Whether it’s being able to get in the zone more quickly during my morning meditation, having flashbacks to the teachings in the Dharma talk during moments of stress, or just generally feeling happier and calmer, the benefits are numerous.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It’s too hard to choose just one, so I’m offering my favorite books in three different categories: entrepreneurship, health, and philosophy.
Ben Horowitz’s “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” is the best book I’ve ever read about entrepreneurship. Ben doesn’t hold back or try to paint a rosy picture; he shares his personal story of the struggle. Reading about the adversity he encountered and learning how he and his team dealt with countless challenges was an incredible asset as we started Nima. It helped me and my co-founder feel like we weren’t alone as we went through our own startup struggles.
In the health category, Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” delivers a high-level overview of the Western perspective on food and nutrition. He explains how it has evolved over the past few hundred years in response to industrialization and “nutritionism,” offering useful insights on what constitutes a healthful diet. It’s short, sweet, and to the point — something that’s missing from so many health books.
“A Brief History of Thought” by Luc Ferry is an excellent introduction to philosophy. It covers everything from the rise of Greek philosophy and stoicism to the modern day. Few people understand how much philosophy has influenced religion, politics, and society, and this book offers a great starting point to understand the paradigms of thought we all work within.
Tell us something that’s true that almost no one agrees with you on?
Everyone should have hookworms (or other helminths). Most people view hookworms as a parasite, but they’re actually a symbiotic organism that has evolved alongside humans for thousands of years. It’s only in the past 150 years or so that we’ve eliminated helminths from our bodies through antiparasitic medications and other “hygienic” practices.
Scientific studies have found that hookworms release a chemical that serves as an immunoregulator in our gastrointestinal tract. A small population of hookworms (10-100 worms) can eliminate allergies, combat inflammatory and autoimmune issues, and even curb some neuropsychiatric disorders.
Similarly to how we once thought all bacteria were bad, we now know that the microbiome is a critical part of our physiology and health. We should think of worms as another part of the microbiome that should be nurtured rather than destroyed.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Have fun, take yourself less seriously, and stay present. Life is about the journey, not the destination.
What is your favorite quote?
“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” — George Bernard Shaw
- Great ideas are worthless without execution.
- A healthy, calm morning routine can boost your mental and physical well-being.
- The growth of consumer-driven healthcare is an exciting and promising trend.
- Try to remain present in all aspects of your life.
- Take time every day to squeeze in a workout or practice meditation.
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