Episode 16

A Modern Way to Age

with Melissa Eamer

January 18, 2022

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Melissa Eamer
CEO, Modern Age

Melissa Eamer is the Chief Executive Officer of Modern Age, a digital and in person platform for Age Wellness.

Prior to starting Modern Age, Melissa served as the Chief Operating Officer for Glossier, the digital-first beauty company that’s changing how the world sees beauty. Founded in 2014, Glossier recently achieved unicorn status with a valuation of $1.2B and is the pioneer of a “skin first, makeup second” beauty philosophy. At Glossier, Melissa managed a team of 130 people including the CTO and all teams responsible for digital innovation and revenue generation.

Prior to joining Glossier, Melissa spent 19 years at Amazon, most recently as Vice President of Device Sales & Marketing, where she managed a team of over 800 people across engineering, product management, branding, marketing, demand planning and retail partnerships. Over the course of her career at Amazon, she held many different roles, across both retail leadership and product development.

In Amazon retail, Melissa led multiple businesses including Books, Music, DVD, Home & Garden, Sports, Outdoors, and Toys and grew P&Ls from less than $1B to greater than $12B in annual revenue. She also led the Retail Leadership Development team which was tasked with attracting, retaining and developing Amazon’s future retail leaders. In addition, she served as the Technical Advisor to the Consumer Business CEO Jeff Wilke.

In Amazon product development, Melissa’s teams built and launched both hardware and software products including Look Inside the Book, Amazon Vine, Amazon Retail Analytics, the Kindle E-Book stores globally, Kindle Singles, Treasure Truck, Amazon.ca, Kindle Readers and Fire Tablets.

Melissa received her MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and holds a BA in English from the University of Vermont. Prior to business school, Melissa owned and operated a restaurant for ten years in Richmond, Vermont. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and two daughters. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors racing and riding with an all-women cycling team.


Our goal is to help people understand their 'subjective age.' If you feel younger, you'll end up living longer. You take better care of yourself. You sleep better, eat better. We bring together the ingredients you need to feel younger.



[00:00:29] Aaron Martin: Hey, and welcome. This is Aaron Martin. I’m a Day Zero advisory council member, really excited for this Day Zero session I have here a good friend of mine, Melissa Eamer, who has started an incredible business that she’s going to tell you about. I’m Aaron Martin. I’m the Chief Digital Officer for Providence and how I know Melissa is, is we worked together at Amazon and she jumped in to healthcare with both feet. We need more really super smart, talented people like Melissa in the industry. So with that, Melissa, I’ll just kind of hand it over to you. We’d love to just know more about what you’ve started and then we can also kind of go into your background and et cetera, but we’d love to know about the business first.

[00:01:09] Melissa Eamer: Thanks, Aaron. Yeah, so I’m building a business that we’re calling Modern Age and it’s really focused on helping people take more control over how they age. The business was inspired by me sort of watching my parents age and their peers age, and trying to understand the difference between why some people thrive in the second half of their life and others seem to struggle a little bit more. So, we’re hoping to help people understand what’s going on in their body over time and then take control of it.

[00:01:36] Aaron Martin: Excellent. Love to just kind of know a little bit about your background, your work at Amazon. You can go as far back as you’d want would be wonderful.

[00:01:45] Melissa Eamer: Way back, right out of undergrad, I actually had my first role as an entrepreneur where I owned and operated a restaurant in Vermont, and sort of ended up backing into that role and that position. I think ignorance was bliss there. I didn’t know how hard it would be. It’s incredibly hard, the hospitality industry, for a bunch of different reasons, right? Demand is fickle. The lifestyle is very, very intense, maybe not the healthiest. After doing that for a while, I realized I didn’t have the right set of tools to really manage a business well and that inspired me to go to business school and learn what I didn’t know. I walked away from the restaurant business thinking there was nothing about the experience that I would ever use again and grateful that it was in the rearview mirror. But, it turns out it comes up all the time. The skills that I learned there, both as an entrepreneur, but also just as a very customer-centric person, are really valuable to me and were really valuable when I started at Amazon. So, I went to business school at Michigan, got recruited there to go to Amazon. I actually had to convince them that an ex-restauranteur would be a good product manager. So I wrote this white paper on a feature I thought that they should launch around a digital book club. The ticket to every interview was like, hey, this is why you should hire me, you know, take a chance on me. Gratefully, they were willing to make a bet on an ex-restauranteur with an MBA. And so I started as a product manager back in 2000. And that was really my first introduction to product management and building the software engineers, and thinking about how to build products that help customers. And one of the big first projects was “Look Inside the Book”, which I think is probably a predecessor to Kindle, now in hindsight.

[00:03:16] And so I spent 20 years at Amazon, over the course of time, me rotating back and forth between building roles, where I was building software products and also a lot of hardware products at the latter end of my career there, and then managing P&L in the retail business.

[00:03:31] Aaron Martin: That’s awesome. And then, what kind of inspired you to kind of get into this brand new business, Modern Age?

[00:03:37] Melissa Eamer: I tried, when I was at business school, to get into healthcare. I really was focused on long-term care at that point and I felt like there was a better way of caring for people as they age. I could not get anyone to hire me. I found like one long-term care facility in the south that was like, well, you can come and do filing. But, I wasn’t really sure that’s what I wanted to do. And so, I gave up a little bit on that dream of getting into healthcare, in particular, some of the aging care. When I found Amazon, it felt like a great place to just go and learn. And so, over the course of 20 years, I feel really fortunate that I had the chance to learn real customer centricity, when you start with those needs and work backwards, but also how you invent on the fly. It was very energizing and you know because you were there. It’s a very energizing place to go, and build, and experiment. After 20 years, I was like, well, if I’m going to make an impact in healthcare, now’s the time. I have the skills, hopefully. I have the perspective and the pattern matching. If I have 10 more years left of work in me, I’d like to really make a difference with those 10 years. So that’s what gave me, I guess, the courage, in a way, to try building this new business.

[00:04:45] Aaron Martin: Yeah, the thing I also noticed about working at Amazon, it was kind of like you got to see businesses grow that otherwise would be very entrepreneurial, I’d say. They could kind of grow very, very quickly, almost in like a time-lapse, right, because you kind of plugged them into, you know, an instant pool of demand, right? When you and I first met, I was kind of tasked with launching this crazy kind of self publishing business and a print on demand business. It was really cool because I didn’t really have to worry about the consumer demand side of it, but I did have to worry about building a great product. Does that kind of resonate with you, being able to kind of see some of these things really effectively, that really quick cycle of learning, I guess you would call it.

[00:05:27] Melissa Eamer: I think it is definitely something I’ve had to think about as being an advantage. And it cuts both ways, right? So, at Amazon, you launch something, you get an immediate signal. You also get immediate attention. So if you’ve gotten anything wrong, there’s not a lot of grace there to fix it. I think, at Modern Age, I probably have the opposite problem, right, which is, do people people even notice that we exist? And so it gives us, it affords us the opportunity to experiment and iterate. But it also presents the challenge of, how do we get people to know that we’re out there and how we can help them.

[00:05:57] Aaron Martin: Yeah. So, what’s the thing that’s kind of surprised you the most so far about kind of jumping into healthcare kind of from Amazon? What’s the thing that you’re like, wow, I didn’t expect that or this is an interesting problem that I didn’t anticipate?

[00:06:10] Melissa Eamer: Yeah, I think two things, maybe one challenging and one promising. The promising piece, I think, is the challenges are not that different than other challenges I’ve tackled before in terms of really understanding a customer need and being able to use technology, particularly digital technology, to help people. So, that’s good. On the bad side, it’s amazing to me how incredibly complex, particularly the software components, of healthcare are and I’m not sure all of that complexity is helping us to iterate and invent quickly.

[00:06:44] Aaron Martin: Yeah. Hallelujah. Amen. I can answer that question. It’s not. Talk a little bit about the business, and the product, and what’s the service that you’re going to be offering at like kind of a finer level of detail. Where are you in the process of kind of the launch and you know, all that fun stuff?

[00:07:02] Melissa Eamer: So our goal is to help people understand something called their subjective age and that’s the age you feel versus the age you are. And it’s inspired by our set of research that suggests, if you can help people feel younger than they are, they end up living longer. So using the Amazon vernacular, it totally makes sense to me because you create this virtuous cycle, right, where if someone feels younger, they’re going to take better care of themselves. They’re going to sleep better. They’re going to eat better. I think the opposite is also true and that’s what I experienced in my own family, which is, once you decide, you know, I’m kind of old, it’s not really worth putting in the effort, it’s a very downward spiral that you can create. So our goal is to bring together the ingredients that you need to feel younger. And we hypothesized, there’s probably like 10 or 15 of those ingredients and they’re very connected. So we’re going to use a digital experience to first assess where someone is on their subjective age, so really get to the heart of giving you a score so that you can understand and then manage that score, and then recommend a set of treatments that help you lower it. We’re going to start with four categories, skin, hair, bonees, and hormones. And then we hope to add to that set, you know, the other, call it, six or eight that we think are really important over the course of time. We’re gonna meet customers digitally online, but we’re also building our own clinics with our first clinic in Flatiron, in New York City. And we hope to open both of those experiences in the first half of this year.

[00:08:25] Aaron Martin: That’s incredible. And I would imagine, knowing you specifically, but also knowing where you come from with respect to Amazon, this will be a highly instrumented process where you can kind of, you know, show people their progress, but you can also kind of manage it as a business. Can you talk a little bit about, what are some of the metrics, because what always fascinates me and what kinda got me attracted to the Providence job is I kept thinking about, wouldn’t it be great to have a weekly business review that wasn’t about selling more units, or whatever, but was more about kind of giving more people access to healthcare, for instance, or better quality, you know, metrics and those types of thing. Can you talk a little bit about some of the metrics that you think are going to be important?

[00:09:03] Melissa Eamer: Obvious ones around product market fit, and one of the most important there is NPS or customer satisfaction score. So for the people we are able to reach, how happy are they with their experience? And so, you know, that to me, is at the very top of our scorecard. Below that are, at Amazon, what we would have called the inputs to creating that high NPS. So are we reaching customers with content that’s compelling? So we’ll look at click through and conversion on content that we’re putting out there. We think there’s a lot of opportunity to help educate people on what happens as you age and then proactively take a stance on that. So, click-through, conversion, customer retention. We believe there’s a real opportunity if we present a great experience to keep people coming back. Some of the fundamental metrics that we would look at at Amazon around, what’s the cost of acquisition versus, then, what are the revenue streams that result from that acquisition? And so, are we creating both a positive experience from a consumer perspective, but also an economically viable experience? Our investors will care a lot about that one.

[00:10:07] Aaron Martin: At a pretty detailed level, what was the transition from Amazon into this role? I was talking to a really great kind of serial entrepreneur yesterday and it was kind of like a kismet thing. He kinda ran into a board member from a company that he served before, and they had this idea. And initially, he was kind of a chairman role. And then he got so passionate about it, he was like, no, I want to be the CEO. There’s all these different kind of winding paths into it. Tell us a little bit about how you got into it.

[00:10:39] Melissa Eamer: You’re right. A lot had to line up to even be introduced to the partners that I’m working with. I feel very fortunate there. I found my way to a venture firm that has an incubation model. And what I found in discussing potential roles with them was that their mental models were very similar to the ones I was used to at Amazon, so very data-driven, sort of high IQ, low ego folks who really want to solve problems on behalf of consumers. And so there, I knew there was a bit of a fit. But they’re also the type of firm that is willing to invest in a first time CEO and founder like myself and teach me all of the things I don’t know about how to build a business, everything from fundraising and how you think about that, to how you might have to think differently about hiring when you’re a pre-seed, pre-revenue company in t-one year. At someplace like Amazon, where everyone kind of knows what you do and who you are. So I think that combination gave me the confidence to take the leap and say, if, if I’m going to do this, these seem like the exact right partners for me and the support that I need. And then the other thing is, at Amazon, over and over again, you learn to take smart risks. And if they don’t work out, so be it. You move on to the next big challenge. And so I think that history of having done that over and over again maybe helped me have the courage to do this one more time and say, if I don’t do it now, I know, again, it’s just regret minimization framework, right? I know that I will look back when I do eventually retire and say, I really wish I had taken a shot at building a business myself.

[00:12:10] Aaron Martin: What’s been the hardest thing so far, after you took that leap, or maybe there’s several, I’m sure. What are the things that you would kind of tick off as, like, man, this part is hard, that part is hard and how have you kind of managed up against it?

[00:12:24] Melissa Eamer: Oh, there’s been so much that is hard, so much that is rewarding, but hard. I think one of the first things, and this is just because it’s fundamentally different than building something at a place like Amazon, is getting my head around how patient you can be, how long you have to wait to hire the right person, build the right product, find product market fit.

[00:12:44] Amazon’s an incredibly patient organization. So you could build something like “Look Inside the Book” and then wait, and fix it, and iterate while the reality is, at a start-up, you run out of money at some point, right? And so that tension of being patient enough, having something that’s good enough, it’s almost like that 80/20 all the time in the back of your mind, keeping your eye on the balance in your bank account, and making sure that you’re not putting yourselves into a really dangerous position. That’s been really hard to learn. I think also just attracting talent to something that is really more about a vision than an actual product that they can look at and getting people comfortable with that has been probably more challenging than I expected. Those are the biggest ones that come to mind. And then there’s just the ongoing uncertainty that you experience before you’ve launched a product of everyday waking up and saying, hey, are we building the right thing? Will people like it? If we build it, will they come? Which is just hard over the course of the year plus that it takes you to get something out there.

[00:13:40] Aaron Martin: What’s the biggest piece of advice you could give somebody who’s thinking about launching a business?

[00:13:45] Melissa Eamer: One is, I think you have to be really passionate about the idea because you’re going to have a lot of people, over the course of time, tell you it won’t work, it’s too hard, you’re not qualified. So you have to have enough faith in that vision to be able to block some of that out. You can’t do it just because you think that there is a financial opportunity. I think it’s too hard. And then the other thing that’s been really important is surrounding yourself with a group of advisors or investors who can really help you make smarter decisions. I’ve been super fortunate. Juxtapose, I mentioned, is the seed incubator. Annie Lamont at Oak, who’s super deep on the healthcare side. And then I have Google Ventures, a guy named John landon. And so when you look at that group, and I have a couple of board members as well, who are operators. They are fantastic about telling me when they disagree, sharing different perspectives and, day-to-day, they help me make much better decisions than if you just think you know everything and you can go out and do this on your own.

[00:14:42] Aaron Martin: Tell me about a time where you’ve talked to maybe a few of your advisors and they disagreed with you, and you still are like, you know, I still think I’m right, right? And it’s a total judgment thing, right? It’s a total judgment call. Have there been things like that so far?

[00:14:58] Melissa Eamer: Yes. Oh, there’ve been a lot of things like that. And you know, it spans everything from, I think this is the right person for this role at this time, and I will tell you, I’ve had investors who’ve pushed back on certain hires and turns out, over the course of time, they were right and I was wrong. At the end of the day, that’s a judgment call, to how do we think about the offering that we’re going out with and what’s the right balance? For Modern Age in particular, offering hormone replacement is really important to me. It’s not the safest bet in terms of consumer acceptance. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and uncertainty around it. And so there’s a tension around, how much should we focus on that versus some things that consumers may be more familiar with. And that’s an ongoing debate that I have with my advisors around, how do we make sure that we’re bringing people in so they fully understand what we’re talking about and how to get that balance right.

[00:15:50] Aaron Martin: That’s a great example. And it’s interesting. So part of my role is, I sit on our portfolio company boards and you always have to keep in mind that it’s their baby. You’re there to advise, but ultimately, they have effectively veto over any kind of discussion going on because they also have the accountability going on with it as well, as to whether or not it’s gonna work. And they have the passion to make it work. It’s a tough thing for me as an operator too, to just keep my nose out of things where it doesn’t belong and make sure I’m just giving advice and what not.

[00:16:19] Melissa Eamer: I have to remind myself frequently that my advisors and investors are not involved in the day-to-day the same way that I am. And so I’m often dropping them into a topic or a debate where they don’t have as much information as I do. I have to make sure that I’m giving them all the right context too.

[00:16:34] Aaron Martin: When you were out looking for investors, and again, you’ve got the top, the top of the top, so this is gonna be a weird question, but what were you looking for at the end of the day? I don’t think you could’ve done better, but what were you looking for when you were kind of talking to potential board members, investors, et cetera?

[00:16:55] Melissa Eamer: You know, I was looking for folks who could offset gaps I knew I had. So obviously, healthcare, haven’t done that before. So that’s why Oak and Annie are so fantastic. Juxtapose on the fundraising side or the, sort of, how to be a founder side, helps out in gaps there and really helpful. But I also looked for folks that had similar mental models to the ones I’d been trained to develop at Amazon, right? So I knew I needed board members who and investors who would debate with me and be willing to look at data and push, and really have that sort of discussion that I found so powerful at Amazon in terms of building better products. That was a big part of it as well.

[00:17:37] Aaron Martin: Well, Melissa, thank you so much for your time and doing this. I know there’s not enough time in the day and we’re kind of imposing on you, but it is just so incredible to see, you know, a good friend do something so cool in healthcare. I was telling you, I just read your Medium article and it was a. It was, it was so impactful to me. And it’s clear that you’re on a mission and I just wish you the best. And thanks again for talking to us.

[00:18:05] Melissa Eamer: Thank you, Aaron. I really appreciate having the opportunity to speak to you.

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