Updated: TC50: HealthyWage pays users to stay fit, lose weight

healthywage-logoHealthyWage, one of the startups that debuted onstage today at the TechCrunch50 conference in San Francisco, is a startup that incentivizes users to stay fit by paying them a reward.

At the beginning of the year, a person can submit their health basics, weight being the most obvious, and set a target at the end of the year. If they meet the goal, HealthyWage either pays them a reward, or matches and raises the user’s bet that they’ll meet their target.

With the nutrition data users enter, HealthyWage can track the protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium a person consumes. It also has a social networking function so people can get together in groups to meet a goal.

They’re launching with a BMI challenge (BMI or body-mass index is a common measurement for obesity by taking a person’s height, weight and age into account). A user has to start with a minimum BMI of 30 or higher and they have to cut it down to 24.9 by October of next year. The money for the bonus doesn’t come from health insurance companies. Instead it comes from corporate sponsors that might want to establish a direct relationship with a consumer.
One challenge for the company is that there is a whole host of companies that have launched recently to do something similar, with a particularly large group of applications targeting the iPhone, for example. The trend started earlier this year, but has continued since. This area feels hopelessly crowded right now.

Some judges at the conference provided some feedback about the company:

Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO: If we can get more employees not to be obese, that would help us. It’s a really interesting concept. The idea of paying someone to do something is interesting. You may want to figure how to separate the incentives. Not everyone is going to want to log-in twice a week.

Marc Andreessen, founder of Andreesen Horowitz, creator of Netscape: Loves the idea of rewarding employees for being healthy. There might be an adverse selection problem where people who need this the most are unlikely to participate.

Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of search product and user experience: Has some skepticism. You’re paying people to be healthy. The competition seems pretty stiff. What’s to stop WeightWatchers or other companies from rolling out similar technology? (HealthyWage says it’s free unlike WeightWatchers, which charges consumers around $400 a year).

Roelof Botha, partner at Sequoia Capital: Wonders about the incentives. Should it be to pay the employees to meet the target or should it penalize them for not meeting the targets?