Ep 13: Biology-Based Decision Making

with Emily Yudofsky

December 16, 2020


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Emily Yudofsky
Founder and CEO, Found

Emily Yudofsky is Co-Founder and CEO of Found. Emily is the daughter of two academic physicians who have devoted their careers to teaching and publishing about the importance of considering the psychological, biological, and social dimensions of mental illness.  She saw first hand how her parents’ efforts helped to destigmatize mental health conditions and resulted in optimal care for their patients.

Along with her lifelong passion for health and wellness, this sensitized Emily to the fact that obesity and other weight-related conditions were still being treated with outdated models that overemphasized willpower at the expense of addressing the biological, psychological, and social factors at play. Therein, the idea for Found was born.  Emily completed her undergraduate education at Yale University, where she studied Psychology and Neuroscience and conducted research on the effects of advertising on health-related decision making, and graduated with honors. Prior to starting Found, Emily received her M.B.A. from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and was an early employee at X (formally Google X), The Moonshot Factory. She currently resides in San Francisco.


Weight is not the simple equation that society taught us to believe. Decision making is not only influenced by the things that we have control over, but also the biological things that affect gut-brain interaction.



Emily Yudofsky  0:02

Well, decision making is not only influenced by the things that we have control over, it’s influenced by things like neurotransmitters and hormones and gut-brain interaction. And a lot of those things are biological; you can’t control them with just what you’re putting in your mouth and how much you’re exercising.


Lan Nguyen  0:21

That was Emily Yudofsky, co-founder and CEO of Found, a company that takes a biological, psychological, and social approach to weight care.


Emily Yudofsky  0:30

Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right decisions are, but you can work through it and redefine things—redefine yourself—by continuing to push the boundaries and ask questions and make the right decisions with the information that you have.


Lan Nguyen  0:46

In this conversation hosted by Lynn Chou O’Keefe, Founder and Managing Partner of Define Ventures, we learn how Emily’s early interest in visualizing the brain led her down the entrepreneurial path of redefining how people make health and wellness decisions. So let’s jump into Her Story, a program where we explore the intersection of women in leadership and health care.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  1:13

Thank you everyone for joining Her Story: lessons in leadership in the healthcare space. I am so excited to be joined with Emily Yudofsky, founder and CEO of Found. Emily, thank you so much for joining us. You’ve just had such a great entrepreneurial path here that I’m really excited to talk about.


Emily Yudofsky  1:35  

Thank you, Lynne, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here and to be speaking with you.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  1:41  

Let’s start from the beginning. What are the elements, knowing what you’re accomplishing today, that you think were very important in your family and how you grew up? If I understand, you have a family of doctors? And so how did that influence what you’re doing today?


Emily Yudofsky  1:59  

You are correct. Both of my parents are academic physicians. And I was always surrounded by medicine and absorbed it through osmosis, and always had an interest in science and medicine. And actually, my grandmother to my grandfather and my grandmother were both dentists. And I spent a lot of time with them growing up as well. And influenced, I think, both by my grandparents and my parents to be interested in the field of medicine, but also in entrepreneurship. Interestingly, a dentist practice actually has a lot of entrepreneurial aspects to it. And for some reason, as a kid, I was always starting things, whether it was very simple as lemonade stand or jewelry business, I had—making purses—anything I could sell and create a business around, I was always doing that. And so I think it was very natural to merge these two things, and brought me to where I am today.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  2:58  

That’s great. Some people when they grow up with a family of physicians or dentists might say, “No, I want to go in the opposite direction.” But you made a very conscious decision to innovate and be in health care. What was that spark to say yes, a career in healthcare is right for you?


Emily Yudofsky  3:16  

When I was very little, I tried to go the other direction. And as I mentioned, starting all these businesses and very, spaces that are very much not healthcare, but I remember one really pivotal moment that I had. And when I was in eighth grade, I was a competitive swimmer. And after school, I decided to help coach a Special Olympics swim team. And in trying to help these swimmers try to learn the strokes that actually came very easily to me, it made me think about, how were their brains working, and what was going on in their brains, and how can I better help teach them to learn the strokes in a very different way than I was able to. And so I started asking – my dad is a neuropsychiatrist – and a lot of the work that he did was very much on the neuro side of things, and so I was trying to understand, like what is going on in their brains and became fascinated with the brain. And fast forward a year, the dorky kid that I was, my dad invited me to attend a neuroscience conference with him. And he brought me along, and I went out and kind of did my own thing. And I attended a lecture on decision making and functional neuroimaging. And I was absolutely just engrossed in the subject from there on. And in particular, it was on how people make decisions and how our decisions are influenced by things like branding and our environment, and we could actually visualize in the brain through neuroimaging, how those branding elements or the environment that you grew up and affects the brain, you can see it on an image. And so that’s when I first started getting into more of the science and medical side of things. And that ultimately led to my starting a company in college that tested healthcare marketing, using fMRI, and trying to help create messaging that affected the way people make decisions about their health.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  5:18  

That’s amazing because we talk so much about this day and age of digital health, where we combine consumer and technology and healthcare together to really redefine delivery models. And it’s amazing because that example you just said is like the consumer mind, what does that mean? And then to see it in neuroimaging, right, the technology and then how does it affect decision making and healthcare, etc. It’s amazing how that all came together. You’re so early in your career. So talk to us, Emily, how have those three things come together in Found. Tell us what Found is, because I think you’re utilizing all three of those things. And how you’re redefining healthcare today with Found.


Emily Yudofsky  6:00  

Found is a weight care company that takes a biological, psychological and social approach to helping people care for their weight. And we take a medical doctor-centered approach, so there’s a doctor at the center of a model that cares for members via telemedicine. And we also go direct-to-consumer. And we have what we like to think of as direct-to-healthcare. And we also built a brand around it, a really caring, inviting brand that connects with the consumer that helps them understand that weight is not that simple equation that society has taught us to believe, of calories in and calories out, and this is all about willpower, and if you’re not at a specific weight, that’s all on you. That’s not the case at all. And going back to what we were talking about before, about decision making, well, decision making is not only influenced by the things that we have control over, it’s influenced by things like neurotransmitters and hormones and gut-brain interaction. And a lot of those things are biological; you can’t control them with just what you’re putting in your mouth and how much you’re exercising. And so, for many people, it requires additional support through things like medication in some cases. And so what we are able to do is bring together a comprehensive approach through, again, the use of telemedicine, but also through health coaching, which we do via SMS.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  7:34  

I think it really struck us when we met you for the first time —A., the combination of consumer technology and health care approach. But especially because the health care system needs something like this, there’s truly just not enough clinicians that understand weight loss almost as a specialty, if you will. And the ability of what Found’s been able to do is to do a very comprehensive solution for individuals in need. And we all know that weight loss is a precursor for so many chronic conditions, if not COVID, etc., of what’s happening today. So, appreciate your innovation along that route. And so tell us the journey, as you’ve built Found, your journey as a leader from—you started this from the very beginning – so, obviously, Define participated in your seed round, but also you incubated this at the Atomic Venture Studio from the very beginning. How is your leadership from that first stage change to where you are – you’re building your team, right, you have real traction in the market—what does that look like from your leadership?


Emily Yudofsky  8:45  

As you mentioned, I was very fortunate to incubate this along with Atomic which is a venture studio that has a group of shared resources, shared business resources from legal finance, HR. And so it made it very easy to get a company off the ground really quickly. And because we had this extension of a team, we were able to create a really lean team to get us to a certain point. So the style of leadership was very different because we were working with many people that were an extension of our team, but didn’t only focus on Found, itself. And so as we’ve grown over the past year, it has become much more about creating team culture and making sure that we’re focused on the mission and that every decision that we make is in the best interest of our customers in their care and their health. And always looking to bring people on who are mission-driven and trying to create a healthier, better world and a better healthcare system overall.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  9:44  

Just reflecting back on this journey of leadership, do you think you’re more of an accidental leader or more intentional leader?


Emily Yudofsky  9:52  

I think more intentional. The reason for that – I love problem solving and coming up with new solutions for things that exist. If I’m shopping in the grocery store, and I see something done in a certain way, I’m always thinking, “How could that be done better?” And I think because of that quality, I’ve always wanted to start something of my own. And I love improving systems and improving the way things are done at every level of a business. And earlier I mentioned just having started these kind of, like, small businesses as a kid, and this has always really been a dream of mine. And it’s so exciting to be here today. And finally doing it for real, if you will.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  10:34  

Well, I would say all of those steps are to the leader and the entrepreneur that you are today. I mean, little known, I ran the movie theaters at Stanford, your mini GM, right, in a lot of ways so that’s really exciting. What is the one piece of advice you give your younger self through this journey?


Emily Yudofsky  10:55  

Just reminding myself to stick with it and nothing is ever what you imagine it to be. And at every turn, there’s a surprise. Early on it can be difficult because you just run into roadblock after roadblock after roadblock, but I think at this stage I’ve really found the absolute joy in those roadblocks, and it’s become fun to navigate those situations and come up with creative solutions. And I think, knowing that earlier, not stressing so much, and just being able to get to that point where you can say, “Cool, we’re gonna find a way around it and get to the fun part without the stress part that comes before it.” I think that would be the advice that I would give myself.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  11:38  

How do you give that advice to your teams? I mean, obviously, you have a team building with you. And there are hurdles, or those roadblocks. What is your leadership style to get them over those humps?


Emily Yudofsky  11:49  

One of the things that we do often as a team, we have a really engaged and active community. And so often what we do is we go back there we go back to the why, “Why are we doing this?” Because it is hard, it’s not easy. And the stories that our community is telling, and the success that they’ve seen is so incredibly motivating. And it keeps us excited day in and day out. And so when things feel hard, turning to, back to our why has always been really, really helpful. And then also just making it fun and getting everybody right now on a Zoom, and having some levity, I think, is important as well.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  12:27  

That speaks volume, the why and I think so many people right now are asking themselves about impact, especially after 2020 and all the events that we’ve had. And so bringing it back to that impact to your startup makes a lot of sense from that perspective. Any other advice you give aspiring young entrepreneurs in the healthcare space? 


Emily Yudofsky  12:53  

Yeah, I would say kind of along those same themes, it’s nothing revolutionary, but just don’t give up. And in the same way, it’s like, there are always ways around things. And if somebody says, “No,” you just, you can’t take no for an answer. And when there’s a will, there’s a way – totally believe in that, and you can’t let others define your path. And you can find ways around things. That would be the advice I would give. 


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  13:19  

Absolutely. The last thing is that if you wrote a story of yourself and leadership, what would that title be?


Emily Yudofsky  13:26  

I think it would be Choice. Very short and sweet, kind of like Found. The reason for that is everything in life is a choice. And going back to sort of this idea of decision making and something that I’ve been so fascinated with before, and just navigating the choices of life, and making the right choices. Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right decisions are, but you can work through it and redefine things—redefine yourself—by continuing to push the boundaries and ask questions and make the right decisions with the information that you have. And you can always course-correct. But I think coming back to sort of where my roots were, and what really got me started on this path today. Coming back to that conference that I went to with my father around decision making and visualizing in the brain. I think that’s what I would call it.


Lynne Chou O’Keefe  14:19  

Thank you, Emily, you’ve really wrapped from the beginning of your journey to the end and where you are as a startup founder. Just the perfect title.


Lan Nguyen  14:30

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