Coach Alba is applying mobile technology to self-improvement, starting with weight loss

By Editor February 14, 2013

Coach Alba logoA Q&A with Coach Alba founder and CEO Vince Han. The Provo, Utah–based company was founded in 2010 and emerged from stealth mode in late January.

SUB: Please describe Coach Alba and your value proposition.

Han: We are a self-improvement company that builds technology products to help people make important personal changes. Our flagship product, Coach Alba, is a smart-text messaging system that personalizes targeted messages for users to survive the daily temptations, or ‘crucial moments’ that derail weight-loss plans.

In the U.S., four out of five diets fail, and the average diet lasts about 19 days—not enough to sustain lifestyle change. Chances are, the weight loss plans that dieters are using are actually pretty good, but only if users can stick with those plans.  It’s the ‘sticking with it that is the hardest thing.

Our value proposition is to leverage the right technology to help people survive their individual crucial moments regardless of their weight loss plan. If people can overcome temptation to deviate from their plan for several weeks, they get the momentum and optimism they need to stick with their plans and be in a state of mind to continually tweak their plan to fit their ever-changing circumstances.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Han: Our sweet-spot users are people who need to lose at least 20 pounds and have struggled with keeping weight off throughout their adult lives. We plan on expanding into other personal change areas where chronic bad habits keep people from healthy outcomes, such as smoking cessation and relationship or communication issues.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?

Han: Our competitors include any self-improvement companies that use mobile technologies or apps, like LoseIt!. More robust online weight-loss solutions like Weight Watchers are competitors, as well, although they could also be great partners since Coach Alba is designed to integrate into any weight loss plan.

SUB: What differentiates Coach Alba from the competition?

Han: We have a couple of key differentiators. First, Coach Alba uses a text messaging-based system, which means we can support many more users than platforms requiring a smartphone and data plan. Second, we offer a unique focus on helping users through their individual moments of temptation through the day versus building a tracking or planning tool like many other common products. Third, our platform tailors to each user by automatically building individual ‘crucial moment’ profiles rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. Finally, we incorporate a staff of live coaches to help support the texting engine when users request live help or if the engine happens to not understand a user’s response.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Han: We were founded in early 2010. I co-founded the company with VitalSmarts, a leading research-based corporate training company. The VitalSmarts team had done extensive work on studying how people change and had written several New York Times best-selling books about it, including ‘Influencer’ and ‘Change Anything.’ We decided to start a company together to apply technology to the principles found in their research in order to reach a broader audience.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Coach Alba? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Han: We spent our first couple of years working on building a better planning tool for users who wanted to make a personal change. We tested these beta tools with more than 25,000 users, which was enough for us to understand what worked and what didn’t work. Our ‘a-ha’ moment was realizing that most people knew what they needed to do, and while many did want tools to help them track their progress, life forces end up being the most formidable obstacle to success. We came to discover that we could best help people succeed by focusing on these crucial moments of vulnerability. 

For example, if you were to ask a 45-year-old, overweight female what she needs to do to lose 40 pounds, chances are she would have a sensible answer. A plan as simple as going to the gym three times a week, eating salads for lunch and not snacking after 8 p.m. would help her lose weight. The plan isn’t the problem; actually doing it, consistently, over time is the hardest thing.

People also get stuck in the willpower mentality. They think, “I just have to have the willpower to do it,” but that attitude is not realistic. Willpower is not a sustainable resource for anyone with a chronic problem that has an addictive quality to it.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Han: ‘Alba’ is inspired by the renowned Stanford psychologist, Albert Bandura. Dr. Bandura inspired much of the work behind ‘Influencer,’ and his research around how people can make tough-yet-lasting change is truly groundbreaking.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Han: Like any self-help company, what we are trying to do is not easy. Although personal change is vitally important to millions of Americans, and they acknowledge as much, the truth is that change is hard, complicated, emotional, and isn’t necessarily fun to do. So our product has to strike the right balance of combining highly engaging features without trivializing personal change in any way by making it too gimmicky.

SUB: You just emerged from stealth mode. Why was this the right time?

Han: We have been waiting to see the levels of user satisfaction and user engagement that demonstrate a high level of value before going live to the world. While we have a long way to go, our early beta test results were encouraging enough for us to go live. You always want a strong contingency of users that love your product and rely on it each day. We were waiting until we had that before launching publicly.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Han: We have a monthly subscription model. We offer group rates to employers with wellness plans. We also plan to add other modules in the future.

SUB: What are your goals for Coach Alba over the next year or so?

Han: We want to help as many people as possible, so we are marketing our product to increase our user base. We are excited about new product features, too. We will likely pursue a handful of partnerships to help us raise our profile among employer wellness programs.

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