Aha Moment: Kognitas

January 24, 2023

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Personal tragedy is a force that knows no limits; one that can debilitate as much as it can inspire. For Pedro Lau Semedo (he/him) a series of painful family health challenges was a driving force for him, along with Luis Rivera and Alejo Martínez-Sansigre, to co-found Kognitas.

Kognitas helps busy geeks get healthier by making lifestyle change intuitive: change as data drives experimentation. With the support of a personal Health Coach, users try from a growing collection of small experiments & challenges to find what works through wearable & biosensors data.

An Aerospace Engineer and Technologist in his previous career, Pedro now dedicates his life to helping others regain their health, and his along the way.

KognitasPedro Lau Semedo presenting about Kognitas at the Google Campus in Madrid during the Tetuan Valley Startup School in 2022.

Episode transcript.

[00:00:00] Rachael Lewis-Krisky: Have you ever had an idea that made it feel like the world had clicked into place? An idea so powerful that it drove you to action?

You’re listening to a special segment of ‘Making Work Work,’ by DigitalOcean called An Aha Moment, where we bring you bite size stories from entrepreneurs and founders about how they came up with the key idea for their business. They didn’t know what the business would become or how their idea would evolve, but they knew in their gut that they had found something great.

Let’s dive in.

[00:00:38] Pedro Lau Semedo: Around 2016, my father had a massive stroke. It left him needing support 24/7.

My father actually had been quite lucky because he had a stroke when he was with my auntie. And my auntie happens to be a nurse. So he essentially got saved by my auntie being very quick at calling the emergency services. And then her contacts allow us to put my father in very good care, in a specialized clinic in Lisbon, which is the, the best of its kind in the whole of the country. But even that was not good enough. He can’t write, he can’t read, he needs help, you know, washing up and all of that.

At that time, I realized how hard it was for the informal carers, in this case, my mom, to know what to do and how to best improve support. There’s a lot of bureaucracy to get support. It’s still not seen as, something that takes over your life. My mom was a very vibrant and quite young for her age. And now I look at her and she aged like 10 years. It really impacts you.

If this is what my father got and he got the best in class in my country what are everyone else getting?

Around the time my first child was born, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. I started talking a little bit more with my auntie, about my grandfather. So my grandfather died of consecutive strokes at age 60, early sixties. Then my father in his early sixties had a stroke and I was now diagnosed at age 35 with high blood pressure. It was scary already, because two males around age 60 died in my family. I, I’m gonna be next and I just had a child. I went through all of this with my father and, and there was already all of this trauma in my family and I really wanted to avoid my child having the same things.

It drives me. And if I can do that for my child and help other people do that for their families. It became my life to find a solution.

My name is Pedro Lau Semedo. I’m the CEO of Kognitas and I’m co-founder with Luis Rivera, and Alejo Martínez-Sansigre. And we are a wellbeing startup focusing on wellbeing for geeks.

We provide an integrated service where we give people a chance to experiment from different challenges and little lifestyle changes delivered through chatbots. You have smart scales and a smart watch and a continuous glucose meter, and then people check at their wearable data and sensor the data and see if things are working.

On top of that, we have support through personal health coaches. That really guide you through what things to change or what things are making an impact and, and the hope is that little by little people will make small changes, integrate their mass habits, and over time they will compound into big changes.

Because I identified that whatever worked for me, probably work for a lot of other people in my situation: you know, middle aged people, professionals that don’t have a lot of time, they probably have kids. They’re already having the first signs of an unhealthy metabolism and lifestyle. Like, high cholesterol, high blood pressure. And, uh, we found that this worked much better than the typical fat diet, trying to go to the gym, not going to the gym, and all of those typical things that people are told to do.

I knew from a younger age I wanted to do something of my own. When I detected that there was a space and there was no solution, I just kept thinking about it. It was just there on iterative loops in my mind. Everywhere I looked, everything I read, it was all about that. I became obsessed about what is the right angle to go at this.

And, and, and it being something very close to my heart made it very easy. I, I just, I kept reading scientific papers about the best ways to combat these chronic diseases. When do they start? How can you most effectively stop them? What is the psychology behind it? Why do people fail? Because I failed a lot and I still fail some days. But we have generations of people now, they have consistently failed to change. And they’ve went through great lengths sometimes to lose quite a lot of weight and even become fit. And then they fall back again to, a mode of operation, which led them to being unhealthy, right?

So my life became looking at those different dimensions. It was me getting in that head space of, understand the market, understand the problem, understand why people fall into these problems, understand the social economic implications of why we are here, and why the insurers and the national health services (for those countries that have public national health services) why are, they’re not doing something about it, right?

But looking back, I needed that. That that’s probably the only part of the whole thing that I can call systematic. Because now a lot of the decisions I make and the things we talk about come from those couple of months I spent just swimming in, in all of this knowledge, all about linking this visceral part with this cognitive part, with understanding the problem space. All of that just came natural. It wasn’t work.

So I think the idea that makes it just feels different. It just kicks you in the gut as now this needs to be out there and with this one you will convince other people to come with you.

If there’s anything close to a, a single point in time where Kognitas was born, it was where myself, Luis, and Alejo, which are the three co-founders, first met to discuss the potential of combining ideas. My mature idea was in, in prevention of cardiovascular diseases. And Luis had a couple of years before with Alejo built a, a prototype of integrating wearable data and visualizing that, and Alejo was helping a little bit with the analytics and so on.

So when, when we started, we just put, you know, one on one it just made sense. We just collided the two ideas and, we could see the potential in changing people’s lives, and it was a worthy thing to pursue.

We felt in the first meeting that we had quite different personalities. Yeah. So what we decided to do was to do the YC Startup School together. And we said, so let’s see where we can get to at the end of the program. And by the way, that’s where we got to know DigitalOcean and that’s how we got to start using DigitalOcean products. So we get to the end of, uh, YC Startup School and it was just clear that all of the planets are aligned and it was just silly not to do this.

And now I am the CEO dealing with the wellbeing, the coaching side, and the visualizations. Luis is our CTO, but also helps a lot with the business side having been, not only responsible for building accelerators in Europe, but also having his own startups. And Alejo is our AI science guy. Previously was an astrophysicist, with papers in Nature.

We are very, very early on, we just launching our MVP now to paying customers. My ambition, and this is far in the future, is that people can prescribe us to people, instead of people getting medication after medication to deal with symptoms. We, we want to go big and, and really change healthcare and really creating preventative care, which is something we don’t have nowadays.

But as a startup, we cannot start there, so we made the decision to go to wellness which allows us to, to operate in a less restricted regulatory environment. But it also allows us to validate the most important part of the whole service, which is how to get people to change their lifestyles in a way that is sustainable.

If I have to look back at it now, and I think it’s just pure luck. It’s pure luck. We all in Madrid at the same time, we all been living around the world. Two of us had similar ideas almost in parallel. And we are a terrific team. I’m not gonna say it’s impossible for us to fail. We can fail, it’s a startup. But, the conditions that, brought us here are really unique. And I’m very proud. Just, um, pure luck.

[00:08:49] Rachael Lewis-Krisky: Great ideas aren’t born overnight, even though inspiration can come in a flash. We hope this Aha Moment story for ‘Making Work Work,’ inspires you to continue shaping, molding and honing your own ideas because you never know what they can become.

Our theme music is composed by Mirco Altenbach.

Make sure to check out do.co/makingworkwork for more info.

Until next time, I’m Rachael Lewis-Krisky. Keep swimming friends.


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