My Quest For Measuring Everything

I’ve written in the past about my obsession with measuring things.  While my manual measurements via Daytum include miles run, books read, flights taken, and cities slept in, I’ve become much more focused in the past year on what I’ve been calling “human instrumentation.” This resulted recently in Foundry Group leading a $9 million financing in a San Francisco company called Fitbit.


If you want to see the type of data I’m tracking, take a look at my Fitbit profile.  For now, I’m focused on the data that Fitbit tracks automatically for me, primarily derived from the step and sleep data.  But from my profile page you can see a variety of other data which I can currently enter manually (I’ve entered a few examples) even though I use other sources to track them (for example, my weight using my Withings scale.)

I now have a house full of personal measurement devices and an iPhone full of apps to track various things.  A few are still active; many have long been relegated to the “closet of dead, useless, obsolete, or uninteresting technology.”  During this journey over the past year, I feel like I tried everything and finally found a company – in Fitbit – that has a team and product vision that lines up with my own.

A year ago when I first encountered the company, they were just launching their product.  I was an early user and liked it a lot, but hadn’t clearly formed my perspective on what the right combination of software and hardware was.  As I played around with more and more products, I started to realize that the Fitbit product vision as I understood it was right where I thought things were going.  The combination of hardware, software, and web data integration are the key, and the Fitbit founders (James Park and Eric Freidman) totally have this nailed.  That made it easy when we explored investing again to pull the trigger quickly.

One of the things my partners and I love about products like the Fitbit are the combination of hardware, software, and a web service that lets the product continually improve without having to upgrade the hardware.  Fitbit is a great example of this which I expect you’ll see over the next quarter if you buy one today.

I firmly believe that in 20 years we’ll simply swallow something that will fully instrument us.  Until then, we still have to clip a small plastic thing to our belt or keep it in our pocket.  But that’s ok since it now knows how to talk to my computer, which is connected to the web, which is getting smarter every millisecond.

  • Highly recommend ordering your replacement fitbit now for that moment when you take the dog(s) for a walk at night, kind of vaguely recall having the fitbit on, but discover it's not on you when you return home.

    Because once it's fallen off you outside, it's pretty much gone.

    • There is an easy solution for that – keep it in your pocket. I only wear it on my waist strap when I go running and don't have a pocket, and I've never had it fall off my running shorts.

      I find the unobtrusiveness of it to be a huge benefit (vs. something that I strap on my arm).

  • gregorylent

    swallow something that will fully instrument us …. then humanity has really really lost something precious, traded a diamond for the price of spinach …

    what do you think consciousness already does? what do you think developing the mind is about ? what do you think tech actually is, except the out-picturing of what the mind can already do.

    algorithms, simulacrums, no matter how granular, are still just approximations of reality, one so easily apprehendable by awareness.

    yikes, quantify all you want, the qualitative will forever elude you.

    • I spend a lot of my time in the qualitative. That's part of why I live in the mountains just outside of Boulder. I don't agree that the two are in conflict with each other – I think they are natural compliments.

    • Quality comes from quantity eg. self awareness is partly linked to the number of synapse of different part/cognitivemodules firing at the same time. And if you appreciate the quality of a Picasso or a Vermeer it is because many different neurons networks are firing also vs just one neuron that would say "it is beoootiful". And this comes from the quantity of times you have deliberately exposed yourself to art (eg. 10 000hours rule). Brad is right, the 2 are complementary.

  • Totally agree about the coming revolution in personal analytics, "Quantified Self", or other take on better living through technology.

    I think the biggest challenge this kind of product will face is payment. Certainly there are enough Type A personalities with disposable income to keep companies going, but for them to break into the mass market in the health field at some point insurance will need to chip in which can be a slow and arduous process.

    I've been working on a iPhone compatible blood glucose meter for people with diabetes and the technical challenges are pretty straightforward. You can share patient info, provide better analytics, but the bottle neck is that health care professionals don't get paid (through insurance reimbursement codes) to review that kind of data. 5 minutes of looking at a web based dashboard and a phone call with a patient might be the most effective treatment, but docs aren't compensated for that time, yet.

    Hopefully this will change, but it is a short term barrier for companies in this area to figure out.

    If you are interested, Fast Company recently wrote about our iOS compatible glucose meter:

  • Ever since I saw them demo at TC50 in 2008 I wanted one. Bummer they're not yet ready for shipments to Euroland, can't wait to try it out.

    • If you send me an email ([email protected]) I'll see if I can facilitate.

      • Thanks, Brad! That's really cool. Email sent

  • Richard Forster

    I see you can wear the fitbit in bed (to measure sleep), surely they are missing a bigger market opportunity to measure!

  • I'm still waiting for the magic pill as well. In the meantime I've been a big fan of and I've been patiently waiting for my WakeMate.

    For me, FitBit Rev2 would be handy with a bar-code scanner & GPS tracker. Ah, it's so easy to add features when it's not your own product.

    • I'm a big DailyBurn fan also (TechStars Boulder 2008 graduate). Great team / great product.

  • QuantifiedSelf team would love to have you as a speaker sometimes (I take care of the QuantifiedSElf meetup London for inst. but there many esp. in the US). You could for instance share perspective on the potential business models around this measuring evthg / sensors wave. What are your thoughts there?
    What works financially, what does not?
    Post like this one are already precious. Thx:)

    • Happy to do something in the US during my regular travels. Just email me ([email protected]) and connect me with the meetup folks.

  • hdemott

    Went to your fitbit page.

    Dude – it said you managed to sleep for 12 hours on September 6th. How is that even possible?

    seems inhuman.

    • I love to sleep. My record these days is about 16 hours. Sometimes I get over 17 hours in a 24 hour period on the weekends but it's usually in two segments.

      • hdemott

        Are you a binge sleeper?Intense work for a few days then a total crash – or do you somehow manage to just conk out for a while.I'd love to get 9 hours just one night! Currently running on about 7 hours per night – and 8 on weekends. Not enough.

  • I kept looking for that "Fitbit Revoloution" ever since the early reports on the product.
    I remember seeing some early teething issues as well (I think it was overpriced packaging and having to hand assemble some early units).
    So glad to see you guys jumped in for fitbit.
    Hopefully they'll get the visibility they deserve for such a well designed product.
    Maybe another "secret from the wife purchase" for

  • I don't see the point of carrying another gadget around- the trend is to get away from dedicated devices. Can't you get the same functionality from an app that uses geo-location and the built-in motion detector in most smart phones.
    The last thing I need is another gizmo in my pocket…

  • You really sleep that much??

  • Brad,

    This looks fantastic. I've been looking for a product that does much of this. Just placed an order. Thanks!


  • PhilSugar

    Brad you are so OCD 🙂

    Just finished meetings and I'm sitting in Bristol Brewing Company in Colorado Springs for lunch….boy I don't want anything knowing what my lazy ass is doing after a tough set of meetings.

  • Brad
    As a regular reader, I am glad to se you guys are backing the fitbit crew as I believe they could use the help. For two years my wife has tried to buy a fitbit for me, they are always backordered and she never receives the e-mail telling her they are ready to order. I keep telling her it is a startup and that could explain why in 2008 they may not have been on top of it but now she has given up. She had a friend who did the same and was ordering two Fitbit two years ago and finally wrote them and told them it had been so long that she didn't want them and she never received a response. I hope that Foundry's money and guidance helps get their manufacturing and customer service on Track.

    • Sorry to hear you are having trouble getting one and that their response has been sub-par from your perspective. Email me ([email protected]) and I'll try to help facilitate.

  • Steve Bergstein

    I have to say that I expected this post to be about business rather than personal metrics. How does your penchant for "measuring everything" apply to your investments?

    That said, the actual content was a pleasant surprise but I'm not sure that I want to know all those things about myself. If/when I ever get back to running, perhaps.

  • James Jackson

    Glad to see they'll get a push. I've been using the Fitbit for a few weeks and find it prompts me to push a little harder. I already seem to meet the daily minimums, but putting a number on it helps.
    A few comments though. The website is a little cluttered. Not that I think they are trying to do too much, but nobody (on any website) has figured out the balance of tracking calories in and calories out that well. I'd like to see the site learn your behavior and start to strip away some of the options (I don't need to scroll past a lot of the activities just to find the few I use). At the same time, I want more customization on the activities. Currently I can't input the caloric output of some activities (a decent gauge of intensity) even if I know them.
    And finally, steps are good, but as my doctor says, quality is better than quantity. Going for a run is different than walking the dog (and running with the dog is an altogether different matter). Maybe we could individually prioritize measurements – intensity of activity ahead of steps? I know improvement is on the agenda, but the 'bit itself is so beautiful I want the rest of the experience to match.

  • But Brad… isn’t this just a glorified Pedometer? To be much more specific… an accleerometer with an 8-bit A/D converter behind it, a battery, and a little PHP code.

    It looks very weak on the calorie consumption side… that is a bit of smoke and mirrors. All it does is track your steps… but it has no idea about your heart rate, EKG, Vo2Max, exertion level, or many of the other critical factors.

    Good marketing… but come on. This is a primitive device.

    I”m glad they raised $9M though… the basic idea is great. But this looks very rudimentary to me.

    -steve b.

  • How do you find the FitBit food tracking feature in comparison to some of the other market options? I've used intermittently with good results (though the online UI is bad).

  • Brad
    You and the folks at Fitbit might be interested in the smart, close-knit communities at Quantified Self
    I've gone to several of their meetups where people present the ways they are self-tracking and follow their blog
    Alexandra provides adept coverage of their findings and, of course, having Kevin K involved has kept the bar high

    • Thanks. Yup – I'm aware of it – Kevin K's stuff is great.

  • Alexandra

    Hi Brad,Hi Brad,

    Great post! If you're ever in the Bay Area, come on out to a Quantified Self meetup – we'd love to hear what you have to say.

    Keep up the awesome investments!
    Alexandra Carmichael
    Director, Quantified Self

    • Thanks. I'll try when my life overlaps with the meetup.