American entrepreneur Matt Bucklin loves solving problems and building companies in consumer healthcare, wellness, and digital therapeutics. He’s passionate about figuring out how to make ideas a reality. Have worked for, founded, and co-founded multiple startups, mostly in the consumer health space. His latest business venture, Sense Relief, is an antiemetic digital therapeutics company that uses existing Apple Watch technology to deliver an acupressure therapy for fast and safe nausea relief.
Carolina Rodríguez Hernández: Can you describe to us a childhood experience, which influenced your business career, especially your relation with health?
Matthew Bucklin: I did not realize until I became an adult that my mother was into natural health and holistic healing. She used to shop for organic foods in the 1980s, when that wasn’t really a thing, especially in rural Maine. We used to go to health food stores and farmers markets, and even see alternative health practitioners sometimes. She was good at getting everyone to eat well, take vitamins, and try natural ways to get better if we were sick, before taking medications.
That really rubbed off on me and influenced the business ideas I wanted to pursue. I think there are many opportunities to take more alternative health ideas, and try to turn them into scalable, mainstream businesses. With my first product, Quit Tea, the idea was to use herbal tea as a habit replacement to quit smoking, which wasn’t novel, but a dedicated product, specific to smokers, to use and learn about behavioral interventions, was novel. And now with Sense Relief, acupressure is not novel, it has been around for a long time, but using your smart watch’s haptics to deliver the acupressure is novel, and now it has a 21st century techy feel.
CRH: Could you give us an insight into the creative process behind The Quit Company?
MB: My first job out of college was as a pharmaceutical and biotech analyst in finance. One of the drugs that investors were interested in was Chantix, which was approved by the FDA in 2006 for smoking cessation. Investors were interested to know if this could be the next blockbuster to replace Lipitor. So before it launched, I did some research into the drug, I read the studies and learned about how it worked, and I was shocked that it did not even work for a majority of smokers that used it. As I learned about the addiction, I kept having a nagging idea that it was probably more of a behavioral dependency, a habit, and something like sipping a herbal tea could replace the habit. This idea led to Quit Tea, and after successfully launching the product, and hundreds of thousands of smokers trying it, I began to add more and more products.
CRH: What is your philosophical and cultural approach to life?
MB: My general rule for life is to try not to regret anything. I never want to do something that I will end up regretting later, and I don’t want to regret missing out on opportunities that I won’t get later in life. Life is short, and I just don’t want to get to my death bed with regrets that I cannot do anything about.
Is there one historic event we can reference and draw from to help remedy and bring about new solutions to world problems? What historic event would that be?
I often think back to the story of the Wright brothers. They were very industrious bicycle makers in Ohio that dreamt of flight. It took them years of going back to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to study birds, and test out flying machines, to come up with something that could get off the ground, which changed humanity in a profound way.
One thing that really inspires me about their story is that they were constantly just tinkering, experimenting, building, and fixing things. But the reason I bring this story up is that it is impossible to predict where the next big, world changing invention will come from. The invention that solves climate change might come from two sisters in Siberia, we just never know.
CRH: Which philosopher/investor has inspired you throughout your career? Why?
MB: I think Peter Thiel is one of the most unique thinkers alive today, and he didn’t inspire my business pursuits, but they do resonate with me. In ‘Zero To One,’ he talks about trying to find a monopoly. I have always only wanted to work on things that other people are not working on, not specifically because I’m looking to earn monopoly profits, but because I don’t want to duplicate and waste my efforts. I also aspire to dream as big and be as optimistic as he is about the future and technology. Only people that dream big end up changing the world.
CRH: What is a good personal experience in defining Sense Relief, Inc? What are your challenges?
MB: I am very excited about the potential for digital health solutions, like Sense Relief, to address some of the major health issues facing society today. I think that wearables will help people take charge of monitoring their own health. And when health data and records are fully digitized in a usable format, there will be more health breakthroughs than when we first were able to sequence the human genome.
The problem is that this stage of digital health is like computer programming in the early 1990s, some people can see the potential but the technology and business models have not caught up to the vision, and probably won’t for a while.
For example, right now wearables are not great at monitoring health. They all use pulsing LEDs to monitor physiological changes, but there are limitations to that. And the payment model for most digital health products is consumer paid, which will have to change. I see this as like how people used to pay for email services until we figured out a better business model of advertising, before there could be wide scale adoption. Also, the regulations and standards around health data will require government intervention.
CRH: What is the single most inspiring video you have seen addressing today’s biggest challenges, which include: climate change, food security, poverty reduction, and quality of life for all?
MB: I saw a video of Bill Browder addressing Congress during a hearing about the Magnitsky Act, which was ultimately passed and signed into law. He gave a powerful testimony, it is one of the most amazing and demonstrative stories I have ever heard.
There is a book by Daron Acemoglu at MIT called “Why Nations Fail,” the best book I have ever read. The gist of the book is that the only reason some countries work and others don’t is ‘rule of law.’ When a country is corrupt, the economy doesn’t work, which leads to poverty, and a poor quality of life. Corruption spreads and demotivates everyone. In an environment like this there is little chance for progress and innovation, and the world misses out on all the human capital.
It has always bothered me when corrupt politicians and business people take the money they stole and leave the mess they have created to go to enjoy their spoils in a pleasant, law-abiding country. That is what the Magnitsky Act seeks to prevent, and I think that if corrupt leaders cannot escape, at least they might consider trying to make things better where they live.
CRH: What role does music play in your daily life?
MB: When I was young, I played the saxophone in a jazz band in junior high and high school. I loved jazz, and still do. But I appreciate all kinds of music. I listen to hip hop when I work out every day. And I think that good DJ´s have a special ability to feel the energy of the room and play the music that can make the crowd feel a certain way. Music should always be on during social events, even if it is at a very low volume, and can make or break any type of gathering. That is why I always have a playlist ready to go on my Spotify account, ready to go for any occasion, just in case there is none or bad music playing.
Was there a particular human exchange you can describe which inspired you towards taking charitable action regarding the causes you love?
I had the pleasure of visiting a Shriners Hospital for Children. The hospital treats children that are crippled or burned, for no charge. It is really heartbreaking to see children born with debilitating orthopedic conditions. The positive attitude of the children and doctors there really inspires me. The work that the Shriners Hospital does is truly amazing. They give kids that were born with issues that were no fault of their own, a chance at a normal life. I have been involved through the Masons and personally, donating and volunteering.
CRH: Can you please share a story about your parents’ business and life?
MB: My father bought the family construction company from his grandfather when he was 29 years old. He had to take out a lot of debt, which was in the 1980s so the interest rate were very high, and then he became responsible for dozens of employees and huge construction projects. He had a real entrepreneurial drive that I didn’t understand or appreciate until I became older. I think his desire to be his own boss and take risks is either genetic, or it rubbed off on all his sons, because me and my three brothers are the same way.
CRH: What advice can you share with the world on the importance of empowering others to reach one’s full potential?
MB: I truly believe that most of life is luck. Things work out for some people because of good timing or the right set of circumstances lining up, usually completely out of their control, and for other often equally talented people they do not work out. The problem is that we all hear a different version of the story of success from someone with hindsight and confirmation bias, so many of us believe that other people have it all figured out.
I think if people can accept this fact, I believe it is actually empowering, because we should be aware that others do not have everything figured out, and that the only way to reach our potential is to show up and give it your best effort, and maybe we will get lucky.
you conduct your behavior accordingly are the principles for a happy and fulfilling life.
CRH: Would you describe yourself as a spiritual person? If so, can you share with us one of your more profound spiritual experiences?
MB: I am spiritual in the sense that I do believe in something bigger than myself. I think we can all sense it, and everyone puts a different meaning or name to it. It could be a shared consciousness, energies, an omniscient gods, or whatever you want. I’m religious in the sense that I believe it is important to have a practice to remember that there is something greater than yourself, and the ways in which you conduct your behavior accordingly are the principles for a happy and fulfilling life.
The most profound experience I can share happened when a good friend of mine, that is clearly much more connected to a higher power than myself, called me late at night out of the blue. He told me that a fire was heading towards my parents’ home and that I need to warn them. I texted them and went to sleep. The next morning, they called and told me that a fire had broken out just 2 hours after I texted them and spread through multiple buildings towards their home. Fortunately, it was put out before doing damage to their house. That friend lived 8 hours away from my parents, so there was no way he could have known. I was in complete awe, and confirmed yet again that there is something beyond our physical senses that we should be aware of and strive to be connected to.
CRH: What is your message to entrepreneurs who struggle to launch their ideas?
MB: It is my belief that there are no bad ideas, there are only bad strategies. It can take a very long time for a product or service to find its fit in the market, with a business model that is actually sustainable. I think it is important to remember this, because the mantra these days is to “fail fast.” I don’t think so, and honestly, some of the most successful companies took years to find their feet. I love the saying “it takes years to become an overnight success.”
CRH: What is your greatest hope for the future?
MB: I feel like I am more of an optimist than most people I speak with. It is true that the pace of change now is so dramatic that it can be scary for people. But in general, the world is getting safer, healthier, cleaner, and wealthier.
My hope is that we will one day be able to structure our society so that the vast majority of people can have a meaningful and fulfilling occupation, but with lots of time to spend on their health, cooking, with their families, and in nature. This would almost get us back to a way that pre-industrial people lived, the way humans were intended to live, but with far more abundance.
CRH: What is next for Matthew Bucklin?
MB: I got a grant from Stanford for Sense Relief, and I’m working on raising a seed round for venture capitalists now. I will finish my MBA program at Yale this spring. I also have a side project I’m slowly plugging away on with Daniel Seidman, the country’s top smoking cessation expert. We are trying to take a typical course of his cognitive behavioral therapy that someone might get with him if they can afford to see him every week in New York City, and replicate that experience into an app so that everyone can have access to Dan and the best advice. We are calling it Quit Clinic for now.
CRH: How would you like to be remembered?
MB: I love all the opportunities for innovations in healthcare, and health is something I’m deeply passionate about. But in the long run I would love to get back to my roots in construction and real estate. I would be the 5th generation of my Bucklin family in the construction industry. And one day I would like to give back in public service, however that looks at the time. However, if I am to be remembered, I hope it is by my many children and grandchildren as a good father and grandfather.
CRH: Who are your top three living thought leaders?
MB: There are so many smart people I read and listen to in business and society, but I believe that the political thought leaders are the most brilliant, and the most important. I think that if one person doesn’t invent a new product or service now, eventually someone will. Like, if Jeff Bezos didn’t start Amazon, we would still have a large eCommerce platform today. But if we don’t get our political policies right today, it can send humanity on a course that is not good.
I think the three most impressive thought leaders are Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist and political economist at Stanford, Akhil Amar, a legal scholar and professor at Yale, and Bernard-Henri Levy, a French philosopher and public intellectual. If I were ever president, I would have these guys advising me every day.
CRH: What does it mean for you to venture into life science in the 21st Century?
Photo by: Matthew Bucklin
is an exciting time in the life sciences industry.
MB: It is an exciting time in the life sciences industry. It used to be that only people with medical degrees or PhDs in science could contribute to the advancement of medicine and health. But now, the nature of the business is changing and people with computer programming degrees, business degrees, data scientists, engineers, and even accountants can get involved with a life science company and make a big contribution. A lot of the opportunities to make a big dent in healthcare are in just finding inefficiencies in healthcare billing or finding new trends in data and turning them into a business.
Photo by: Matthew Bucklin