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Here is my weekly email with some insights and ideas pulled from conversations I had on my podcast.


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Asking All The Right Questions

“If you can find a way to do anything that improves the life of billions of people, you can create a massive enterprise out of it.”

Picture the microbiome of your gut; billions and trillions of infinitely tiny organisms all working together in a community to support your overall health and well-being. In a healthy microbiome, those organisms can function at their best. In an unhealthy one, they can fall prey to opportunistic infections, or act against your health rather than for it.

What if we could zoom in on these organisms and their environment? What if, by knowing exactly how they’re reacting to your gut and the role they’re each playing in your health, we could predict which ones are most likely to become opportunistic and intervene before they cause harm?

By asking all the right questions, Naveen Jain has made this possible. I’m so in awe of what he’s accomplished with his company, Viome – and I had the very recent pleasure of inviting him onto the Success Story Podcast! 

Let’s hear what he had to say about entrepreneurship, ambition, and asking all the right questions. 

Naveen Jain’s Entrepreneurial Success

Naveen Jain is easily one of the most intensely curious entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. He’s a philanthropist, focusing heavily on ideas that push humanity forward.

Driven to solve the world’s biggest problems and propelled by his imagination, Naveen pushes big dreams into action, spurring massive cultural and technological change. With an audacious vision, he knows no limits. His moonshot vision breaks through barriers; his magnetic personality inspires the impossible.

When I invited Naveen onto the show, I was excited to hear about his newest endeavor: Viome. 

“We have this at-home kit, and you send us your sample. We then show you the rashes inside your body; your biological age, how old your body feels; then we give you your immune health, your cellular health, your mitochondrial health, all the 400 insights into your body.”

Viome is essentially a home-test service where you send in a sample to their lab, and they closely study your health on a molecular level to totally optimize your health through nutrition. They’ve got this thing down to a fine, fine science in which they know exactly which foods and supplements you need, in which amounts, and how often. 

“We literally tell you don’t eat broccoli, because we saw that the sulfide production in your gut is high which is causing inflammation in your body. And sulfide is being produced because it needs sulfate. Broccoli looks really healthy – but for you, it’s actually harming you.” 

Viome’s Innovative Approach to Health

Now, I know what you’re thinking – aren’t there a million home-test companies already? How is this innovative?

I don’t want the focus of today’s newsletter to be all about health and microbiology (head over to the podcast for a full rundown!), but here’s a brief point-by-point of how Viome stands out from the rest:

  • Where most gut health companies test to detect which organisms are living in your gut, and how many are present of each, Viome tests to see what those organisms are actually doing. 
  • In Naveen’s words: “We need to focus on what they are doing, not who they are. A particular organism could do something good in your gut, because it’s in the right environment; but the same organism could make me sick, because the environment in my gut is fighting amongst each other.”
  • The Viome team finds this out using incredibly high-end RNA technology, and those results are then used to curate totally personalized supplements that the team makes from scratch. “There is no pre-made capsule ever. Everything is custom-made for you.”

When the majority of companies were all asking the same questions and getting the same answers, Naveen decided to ask a new question. And he got a vastly better result, too:

“For people who follow our stuff for just for four months, their depression score came down by 36%, anxiety clinical score down by 32%, diabetes down by 30%, 40% reduction in IBS.”

But… what does this have to do with questions?

Great question (hah). 

While I heard about Naveen’s groundbreaking foray into microbiology and healthcare, the point that stood out to me most was Naveen’s framework that he used to come up with such an idea. It involves something really simple: asking the right question. 

With Viome, for instance, Naveen recognized that hundreds of companies were already asking the question: “What organisms are existing in our gut?”

Knowing that the same questions generally reveal the same answers, he looked for a new angle: “What are those organisms doing? What genes are they expressing?”

And boom – he had a whole new world of answers (and a whole new business) open up to him. How did he do it?

Naveen’s Strategic Questions for Success

In Naveen’s words, he told me that his first and most important strategy is to build something that improves people’s lives. 

“It doesn’t matter what industry you are in. The first question you ask yourself is, am I building a service or a product that improves people’s lives? And the second question you ask is how many people’s lives?” 

On a humanist level, this is an admirable principle to live by in general – shouldn’t we all be striving to improve the lives of others? – and from a business perspective, it’s a great way to ensure you’ve got a big potential client base. 

“If you can find a way to do anything that improves the life of billions of people, you can create a massive enterprise out of it.”

Instead of starting with a goal and finding an idea that will support it (a common and often unsuccessful approach to entrepreneurship), Naveen starts with the impact he wants to make. 

“You don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘hey, I want to create a $500 billion company. What should I do?’ That’s not how the world works. Stay focused on making your customers’ life better, and everything else will fall in place.”

Why This? Why Now? And Why You?

“Anytime I start a company, I ask myself three questions: why this, why now, and why me?”

These are the three questions that let Naveen to incredible success with Viome, and he was gracious enough to share it with me during our interview. 

(He actually launched straight into it before I even heard about his origin story. The true sign of a passionate entrepreneur!)

Why This?

The first and most important question – why this idea? Why this business venture? Why, particularly, are you choosing to invest in THIS idea out of all the other possibilities? 

Asking this question is critical to business success, because it forces you to confront the core purpose of your product or service. It also allows you to validate your idea and find out if it’s worth pursuing in the first place. 

“If this is successful, would it actually change people’s lives? Would it improve billions of people’s lives? If so, you have a massive market in front of you,” Naveen explained.

This makes me think of a business venture that flopped a while back; there was an SaaS company that sent ‘last words’ to all of your loved ones when you die, for something like $30 per year.

It didn’t take off – and if you think about the logistics, it’s not hard to see why. Young people don’t care enough about their distant death to spend $30 of their limited funds every year. Older people either aren’t using technology enough to hear about this kind of service, or would rather write a note by hand and put it in a drawer somewhere. 

There simply wasn’t an audience for the service they were trying to provide. The company asked themselves “why this?” too late – but if they had, they could have saved themselves a lot of time, money, and energy. 

Why Now?

“The number one predictor of your success in your industry is not how talented you are, or how great a product you have. None of that. It’s timing,” Naveen told me. “Before Facebook, most people may not realize there used to be a thing called MySpace – but the timing just wasn’t there.”

This is such a crucial question to ask yourself before starting any kind of business, and it’s one that a lot of entrepreneurs overlook. 

If you’re not asking “why now?”, you’re risking everything on the chance that your idea is just ahead of its time. Or worse, you might invest in an idea that has already passed its prime. “If this problem could have been solved half a decade ago, using your technology, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Naveen solves this by – yes, you guessed it – asking all the right questions upfront. 

“What has changed in the last two years? And what do you expect to happen in the next three to five years that will allow you to scale your technology at a more affordable place? Then people can access it in three to five years using the technologies of tomorrow – not technologies of yesterday.”

Think about the rise of electric vehicles. We’ve known about them for decades, but it’s only been in the last few years that the technology, infrastructure, and public awareness have all aligned to make them a viable option for mass adoption. 

This is why Tesla has been so successful; they were able to capitalize on this perfect storm of conditions, and now they’re one of the most valuable car companies in the world. But there were other companies before them that tried and failed to do the same thing. 

Why You?

Finally, Naveen asks himself why he – out of all the people in the world – is best suited to solve this problem. And it’s not about your talent, or the amount of knowledge and expertise you already have in the area of your business. 

Naveen didn’t know anything about microbiology before starting Viome, but it was the questions he asked that set him apart. He looked at the issue of gut health from every possible angle; he spoke with experts from NASA (and even hired some of them!), he found what other similar companies were lacking and filled the gaps

“What questions are you asking that are different from what everyone else in the industry is asking? Because the question you ask is the problem you solve. Simply asking a different question allows you to solve the problem in more ways than ever possible.”

If you can ask the right questions that lead you to a useful, viable product or service that makes people’s lives better, that’s how you’ll know you’re the one for the job. 

“We asked a slightly different question. And that’s what allowed us to solve a problem that had remained unsolved.”

Wrap-Up 

Naveen Jain inspires me so much with his story. Not that I heard much about his own past or career leading up to Viome – he was more excited to tell me about his framework and approach to business, which I thought was so cool. 

And why shouldn’t we follow in Naveen’s footsteps? So often, we limit ourselves to asking the questions that others have already asked. That’s no way to innovate or make progress. 

Next time you stumble across a great idea, use Naveen’s framework to answer the three questions:

  • Why this? If you implement this idea, how many people’s lives will you improve? 
  • Why now? What has changed in the last few years to make this idea more viable than it was before? 
  • Why you? Out of all the people in the world, why are you best suited to solve this problem? And more importantly, have you asked the right questions to get to the heart of the matter? 

I’m certainly going to be using this framework in my own business ventures from now on. If you’re interested in hearing more about Viome, which I highly recommend, feel free to check out the full podcast episode here

As always, thanks for reading!


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