R7 Invests in Carrot to Save Millions of Lives

Aug 09, 2017

Imagine for a second that you’re in the year 2020. There’s a deadly chemical that has been released in the world, affecting over one billion people. This chemical is incredibly devastating; it kills millions of people every year and now it’s one of the leading causes of death throughout the world. For every six people you know, at least one person has been exposed to it. What if we told you that exposure to this deadly chemical is entirely preventable? Stop smoking.

When we were first introduced to Carrot, we didn’t think much about it. We passed their pitch deck around the office and everyone said, in some sort of way, “Meh. This is just sort of a ‘Weight Watchers for smokers.’ It’s a tired idea. Next.” Regardless, we decided to spend a few minutes on the phone with the founder and planned on passing afterwards. Needless to say, we talked with the founder of Carrot and everything changed...everything.

First, none of us at R7 smoke, but we all have friends or family members who do. We interact with smokers as much as any person in a big city like Chicago. And second, all of us at R7 try to be socially conscious about what we do, but it’s not a primary motivation in terms of our investment thesis. We strictly invest in startups with radical innovation that we believe will become very large companies.

When we got off the initial call with the founder we all felt like we were hit by a freight train. That freight train is Dr. David Utley (he goes by “Ut”). You know that gut feeling when you first meet someone who has an insane amount of passion and you just know they’re going to make a big impact? His passion is contagious and his mission is inspiring, to say the least. In hindsight, we now understand how he was able to recruit such an incredible, passionate team at Carrot.

After the call we went to work researching everything from smoking statistics, to quit programs, to vapor cigarettes, to even marijuana dispensaries (not sure how we landed on that!). The most shocking realization was that there hasn't been any real innovation to help people quit smoking since Nicorette was invented in 1975. That’s over 40 years ago. Woof. That then lead us to another question. How is that even possible? Well, after serious debates, we began to realize something. It’s hard to put this into words, but it’s like we’ve forgotten about smoking in some sort of weird way. We all still see so many people smoking throughout the day, but aren’t phased by it. Even though we should be.

After Ut sold his last company, he planned on retiring, but had been thinking about this problem for over ten years. Why isn’t there a better way to help people quit smoking? Prior methods include quit hotlines, driving to a clinic, and everything in between. The best techniques required a smoker to interface with an actual person, something that most smokers didn’t want to do – they wanted to quit on their own. So Ut and his team started by re-thinking how to get the best techniques to smokers, using the advances in technology, wearables and smartphones.

One of the first questions they asked was, “Is there a metric to track smoking, much like there is a scale to track weight loss, or step counters to track exercise?” There wasn’t, so Ut and his team built a breathalyzer that detects the amount of carbon monoxide in a smoker’s breath in real-time. They then built an app that helps users track cigarettes (when and where) and delivers the best techniques for quitting, but does so over a smartphone. By using the sensor and app together, smokers can get a completely new view of their smoking. One early tester noticed at the end of a week that there were three nights in a row where his carbon monoxide went through the roof in the evening, which was different than the other days that week. He was able to trace those three nights back to when he was drinking beers, smoking, and watching Warriors games with his roommate. He hadn’t really paid much attention to his smoking at the time, but once he saw his carbon monoxide chart, he realized just how much he had been smoking. Carbon monoxide comes along with thousands of other chemicals in cigarette smoke, so seeing it spike can be a shock.

The name of this super slick smartphone app? Pivot. It leverages the best evidence-based clinical strategies and coaching with gamification to help smokers stay active in their pursuit to quit by breaking up the quit process into six stages. We believe this is a revolutionary approach to helping people quit smoking.

You know when you meet a group of people that inspire you so much with their mission that your eyes almost tear up? Well, that would be the team at Carrot, and what happened to every one of us at R7. Their mission is to save millions of lives by empowering people to quit smoking. There probably isn’t a bigger human health value creation opportunity than eliminating tobacco usage. A tall goal indeed, but when you have Ut and his team’s passion, anything is possible.

We invested in Carrot’s recent round, which we led, and are excited to have other great investors like Khosla Ventures and Marc Benioff join us.

We’re proud to be part of Carrot and welcome them to our portfolio.