Looking at supplements and food products these days, you will most likely see several ingredients that seem unknown to a common consumer. With the growing trend of going back to basics and embracing all natural content, people are seeking for more sustainable and pure elements. Host Josh Martin chats with Sagan Schultz, MD, MBA, the Founder and CEO of WellWell. Sagan explains how his company is changing nitrition and fits into that “food as medicine” concept. He justifies why he chose watermelon and tart cherry as key ingredients used by athletes and how his products can deliver something in its cleanest and most beneficial form. Be informed about these super yet simple fruits and learn how Sagan is managing his growing business.
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Sagan Schultz, MD, MBA, & On A Mission To Change Nutrition
I’m here with Sagan Schultz, CEO, MD, MBA, carpenter, the list goes on and on. I met you, AJ introduced us. I was excited when you agreed to come on the show. I know you’re doing a lot of cool things and I’m interested in diving into that and learning more.
Thanks. It’s great to be here.
You’re the CEO of WellWell. I had a joke about that and I was planning on mentioning how you named it and why like, “WellWell instead of Well, Well, Well?”
That was a corny joke the first time I’ve heard that one, not even close. We can talk about branded agency stuff and the way back early on in the early days. I’m the CEO of WellWell, the Founder. I got a lot of things in the pipeline with that, but we can get into that as well.
Why don’t you give us a little background on yourself, MD, MBA? I heard a music school somewhere. I read that somewhere. Neuroscience. Give us a little background on yourself.
I’m originally from the Midwest. I grew up in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I’ve been in New York for several years now. Originally, the music thing, I’m surprised you found that. Right after high school, I went to a music school in St. Paul, so I moved there. I was in music school for about a semester and a half and dropped out. I had a band tour and did the whole thing. I was nineteen at the time, so a different lifetime. I don’t talk about that much anymore. It feels like far in the past. I had a band tour story and ended as fast as it started. I found my way back into the academic world. I started taking classes again. I ended up at NYU, finishing my undergrad in neuroscience, which is where I get that from, to find the brain is super fascinating. I like the people.
I decided to stay and go to medical school. It seemed like the next logical step rather than going into research or a bunch of the other things you could do. I stayed and went to medical school. The same thing happened partway through med school. We do all of our training at NYU at Bellevue, at a big public hospital. You start to see a lot of the issues that are in healthcare, especially in a system like that and realized how big of a mess our healthcare system is. It motivated me to be on the side of helping fix that problem rather than being in the system and day after day grinding without being in a position to do anything about a lot of the big issues.
Halfway through med school, I decided to jump into the MBA program at Stern. They make it easy for us for the most part, to do both. I did a combined degree MD, MBA and at the same time, I was starting WellWell. I got caught up in the business school by starting a company and all that. I got sidetracked on the medicine game. I don’t practice medicine. I did finish med school and business school together. I’m a real doctor, but I don’t practice. I didn’t go to residency. I had an opportunity to do healthcare stuff with a big fancy consulting firm. At that point, I raised money for WellWell, so I put that on the back burner as well. That’s the long version.
I found something about you, how WellWell started and how they don’t discuss the value of nutrition in medical school. That was something that you were interested in pursuing and directly to you to starting your program at med school?
Yeah, it’s one of the big issues in healthcare in general, especially in the US, the tertiary care system. We wait until people get the disease to treat it and it’s reactionary. It’s to take medicine and have surgery. There’s not a big focus on preventive things like lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise. If you go to your doctor and you have some of these issues, a lot of times that will be a part of the conversation and the whole conversation might be ten minutes. That’s another reason why there’s not enough time where you’re having a one-on-one conversation about these things. A big part that’s missing from the medical system is the basic stuff of what should I eat? How do I stay active?
You don’t get that training in medical school when you’re becoming a doctor, which is for the most part left out and that’s a huge issue. A few of my medical school friends and I started this program. I forget even what we called it. It’s something like Mad or something like that. I grabbed a whole bunch of our doctor friends that were also into things like fitness, working out and eating right and started the training program. Also, we were doing some pilot studies around working with patients one-on-one, solely on their diet or making a lifestyle change, whether it’s quitting smoking or working out more or eating better or whatever. We did that at Bellevue. It was interesting to see what working one-on-one, essentially as a health coach or as a lifestyle coach with patients for an hour, which is way longer than you normally get with your physician. The outcomes of what happened with that were amazing. There is a need for it and it’s missing for the most part.Being a little bit selfish about your time and purposely putting work into self-care is unbelievably important. Click To Tweet
One of the things that attracted me to the idea of WellWell and this food as medicine concept, preventative measures, taking through your lifestyle is I’m an athlete, so that’s something I take seriously, taking my body care, what I put into my body, how I feel my body for the workout, shower, recover. Could you speak on maybe how WellWell fits into that food as medicine concept? There’s a lot to talk about if you touch any part.
WellWell, to give you the quick back story on that, it came about as a personal need. When I was in medical school, I was also working out super hard, like a life balance thing. I was sore all the time and WellWell was something I started making for myself in my kitchen and my apartment to fill that need. That was helping with recovery, specifically muscle recovery and things like delayed onset muscle soreness. I could go read all the clinical literature on the actual ingredients. I’d whip it up in my kitchen and I like to bring it to workouts. It started to catch on with some of my friends that are trainers. It came from what you said, having a need for something to feel my body in a way that made sense and was purposeful. A lot of the way that I eat now has for a while is based on that for sure. It’s super important that I can talk about this all day as far as how your diet is important, especially if you’re someone that might have some medical issue or could potentially in the future. It’s the key to prevention.
As an athlete, I think of how I can improve my performance. For me, it’s all about performance. How can I recover as quickly as possible to grind the next day? WellWell, I know what originally started as a three-ingredient drink. We’re growing into this brand. I don’t know if we can touch on that with the watermelon. I can’t remember the ingredients like watermelon juice, tart cherry and lemon.
It’s super clean, straightforward things and the whole idea with this was what can I make that is the cleanest version of something that is also the most functional for the specific reason that I need it. For me, at the time, it was muscle recovery. There’s a lot of research around watermelon and tart cherries, specifically with delayed onset muscle soreness and anti-inflammatory. It was three ingredients and primarily watermelon and tart cherry and lemon are more of a taste thing. You can argue the benefits of lemon all day. At the end of the day, it’s watermelon and tart cherry that provided benefit. For me, I was like, “Why would I put anything else in here?” The whole point is less is more to make it super functional. That was the first product.
It’s super clean. I also remember reading about the clinical research, the papers that you’re qualified to read and understand and how that research went into developing WellWell as well.
Yeah. I can also talk about that all day.
I know that it’s important to know what’s going into your body. Understanding that the company that you’re buying it from has done the research and knows that’s an amount and a recipe that’s going to be effective. That’s important to me as a professional athlete. The first thing I look at when I look at a product is the list of ingredients. I heard that it’s a specially concentrated tart cherries by all that dynamic lemon. I got the best of the best and all for less than $5. I spent a lot of money on supplements and all sorts of drinks and juices. I’ve never spent less than $5 on anything.
A big part of that too for me, especially here in New York or on the coast, is you can go and spend a ton of money on a juice or a smoothie or whatever it is. For me, that’s cool if you have the money, but so many people don’t. Aside from the pricing pressure in the market where I have to think about that, it’s also having access. A lot of this comes from, for example, doing my training at Bellevue Hospital where access is a huge issue. Seeing people that could benefit from this stuff, so it’s a big focus for us and me because it’s ethical to make things a fair price and get your product out to as many people as possible. Because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re trying to do. Our prices are coming down. They’re coming down so more on that. It’s exactly what you said. I can talk about the benefits of watermelon and tart cherry all day but delivering something like that in a super clean form where you can turn the label around and see only those things.
Honestly, it would be worth going into the benefits of tart cherry and watermelon. I take tart cherry supplements to reduce inflammation. I’ve been able to change my diet to a non-inflammatory diet. I’ve been able to eliminate anti-inflammatory drugs.
It’s interesting when I started looking at the clinical research, I didn’t have any ingredients in mind. I was trying to figure out what people were using. For example, like Olympic athletes, what are these people that do serious sport doing nutritionally to help them other than all the other things that you do non-nutritionally, which gets boring after a while? I still do it, but it’s boring and painful. When I started doing that research, a lot of the stuff that came up with was tart cherry, watermelon, which was surprising to me because if you think of watermelon, you think of summertime when you were seven. That’s it. It turns out watermelon is a super cool food where there are a few things going on. One is it’s got a ton of electrolytes like potassium, which is built-in.
In its form, if you juice it or eat it, at its baseline is a nutritional hydration thing. It’s hydrating. The other thing is it’s the highest source in the nature of an amino acid called L-citrulline. If you look at the Latin name for watermelon, which I can never remember, it’s like Citrullus lanatus or whatever. It’s related to L-citrulline. It’s because of that. If you’ve read any of the research, I’m sure you’ve probably taken L-citrulline before. That was a thing. L-citrulline is used for a number of things and mostly comes up in muscle recovery research. It’s one of the components in the biological pathway essentially. If you drink it or if you eat it, it eventually turns into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is one of the things that’s responsible for essentially opening up your vasculature.
It’s studying everything from heart health to muscle recovery, anything to do with your vasculature, erectile dysfunction, pretty much anything. With muscle recovery, it’s important because it helps you deliver the nutrients through your blood to your muscles that are working harder. It has some other nuance things about it too. The point is it helps with muscle recovery specifically. That’s one thing. It’s a high source of lycopene. Usually, when people talk about lycopene, if you google it, the first thing that comes out is it kills cancer cells. Lycopene is usually tomatoes. It gets all the attention for that. If you look at it weight for weight, it’s like 1.5 times the amount of lycopene for a tomato. The same thing that makes to me eradicates a watermelon, the red-pink color. Watermelon by itself is like a cool thing that’s super underrated and used for what I needed to do. It was perfect.
The other thing, tart cherry, I know you mentioned this but it’s known as a serious anti-inflammatory. That has to do with its super high content of anti-oxidant. If you look on a chart of all the things that people think of like antioxidants, blueberries and all the other fruits, essentially tart cherry crushes it. It’s not even a comparison, especially if you’re using the super-concentrated stuff, which is what we use. If you ever hear people doing tart cherry shots, these little things that are like syrup, which I don’t know if you’ve done those before but I’ve never done those. They’re extremely tart and they’re okay. They’re not bad. It’s a one-two punch of major antioxidant. It has some other things too like it increases your body’s levels of melatonin so it helps you sleep. That wasn’t in the process of WellWell.
What I like about it and I was thinking, giving this some thought before, you took clinical research used by elite athletes in an accessible format in WellWell and you’re able to provide that to the masses. One thing I like to believe is that everyone’s an athlete. If you get up, walk around and move around, there’s use, especially when it comes to using nutritious food as medicine. One thing I also heard about as I did my research, which I’m proud of, your wine and how that went into developing WellWell. I’m interested in your experiences in traveling the world, tasting wine and eating good food. It’s a good part of life. You’re such a busy guy with everything that you’re doing and running a company. What do you do to blow some steam off? How do you relax? Wine might be involved with good food or hanging out with friends, whatever it may be.
I’ve worked in wine ever since I was in music school, honestly. It was the best way to pay my rent because it’s the most money I can make for the least time commitment essentially like anybody I met. I could do it outside of class. I’ve been in wine for a long time. I spent the last several years here in New York at one of our clubs, Terroir, one of the best wine bars in the city. A lot of people would agree. It’s a cool place to work. It’s unpretentious. I would show up in chucks and a shirt and pour you awesome wine. Where else do you think to do that? Wine has been a big part of my life.
I worked all through med school and through business school. I’m probably the only one that had a job during that point. Putting myself through academic ringer like that, you get good at time management. It gives you space to pop things into your schedule that I’m a big believer. Work hard, play hard is the mantra that everyone uses. I don’t believe it. I think to work hard and play harder on the same side of the teeter-totter situation. On the other end, it’s more of our situation. Whether that it is for you, it’s yoga, meditation and getting your sleep right, nutrition, a part of that’s hanging out with your friends like anything to balance the crazy work hard and play hard situation.
For me, it is having a disciplined routine for the most part in New York. It’s hard because of social life and all the stuff that goes on. For the most part, I try to wake up super early. I was up at 6:00. Sometimes I’m up earlier than that. I like to keep the morning selfishly for myself. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or reading something or I try to meditate every morning after I work out. It already sets me up for everything else in my day to be a bonus or at least it feels that way because I know I accomplished something for myself already. Compared to waking up, having to plow through emails right away and starting your day that way, that’s one thing daily is super important for me to keep that balance. The other thing is I try to see my friends as much as possible and try to be social and sometimes that involves wine and sometimes it doesn’t. What I’ve learned is being a little bit selfish about your time and purposely putting work into self-care is unbelievably important for everything.
I’m in my sixth year in the NFL professional football. I appreciate it. I’ve dedicated much of my life to football. I found that having that work-life balance, things that I do for myself, things like this show, things I’m interested in doing off the field and having that work-life balance. Even though it might seem like work is this is something that I enjoy doing and working on, I was thinking of that. Where do I find relaxation? When I do invest in myself, I know I’m investing in myself and caring for myself in that way.
The balance thing too, it’s like the line where this podcast is work becomes plaything. For me always being in medicine or in school or being an intense undergrad program, the guy is a type-A person. Since then, I’ve chilled out to be a laid-back type-A person where they manage first. I don’t know if you saw this in all your research, but I picked up photography again. It would start to have a lot of fitness model friends and it’s like they make easy targets for making nice-looking photos. That for me has been another thing where it’s work but not at all. It gives me a chance to use the whole creative side of my brain that I never would get to use being CEO of a company or operating in or the daily grind of New York. It’s nice to use a part of your brain that you don’t exercise all the time. That stuff helps a lot.
It shows for me. I’m still trying to figure that out, doing it and enjoying it. I’m not quite sure where it fits in. That’s something I’ll have to figure out.
You can record 100 of them and never post any of them.
I don’t want to do that. It’s figuring out different formats, different styles and I get to practice speaking. I found that I was isolated in 2015. It was my third season in the NFL and I was in four different teams in four different cities, not knowing anyone for the most part. I spent a lot of time alone. I find that I wasn’t speaking. I used to speak all the time whether it’s an internship or school team, whatever it may be, guys that you build relationships and colleagues is different when you’re on a team. You don’t know anyone. If you’re only there for a week or two and you get hurt and you know somewhere else. This is a cool way for me to learn, continue to learn, meet new people and have cool conversations.Watermelon and tart cherry promote delayed onset of muscle soreness and are also anti-inflammatory. Click To Tweet
It’s similar too. People that are in companies like CEO, founder or whatever you want to call them, it’s a lonely place too. A lot of times it’s you, especially at the beginning where you’re religious grinding. You don’t have a team yet or whatever it is. You start to realize, “I need to get out a little bit, go interact with some people that are not doing this.”
Do you have any charitable causes or any community outreach that you do at WellWell or if you had the time or volunteer or do anything that you’re interested in?
We’ve done a number of things in the past. Number one in a baseline, we sponsor a ton of stuff with the free product all the time, whether that’s other brands we work with, donated a bunch of products or did a rally. Maybe a few months ago, we’ve donated probably close to $10,000 of products for a big firefighter thing in New Jersey. We do a bunch of stuff like that. We’re working on some other partnerships that hopefully will come into fruition. It’s a big thing for me specifically at the end of the day, not be running the business but having some social impact. We’re always looking for people that work with or partners or anything that we can do. It’s a juice company at the end of the day. The easy move is to give part of your profits. That’s amazing and super generative stuff. A lot of companies do that and hats off for that. There’s more you can do as well that involves you putting some time into it rather than writing a check. We’ve got a few things in the works.
I was at an event. One of my teammates, Quincy, was Walter Payton Man of the Year for the Jets and he got a $50,000 grant that he could spend on any charity. It’s based on this organization called Harlem Grown. The story, if I remember correctly, is these successful businessmen saw an empty lot in Harlem, decided to buy it, turned it into a farm. They got hydroponics going and all sorts of organic soil that they should be in. I thought it was cool. That’s something I thought of in terms of I have no association with them. I’m interested in learning about everything. Things that I find interesting in venture investing for professional athletes was the course at Columbia Business School that I took.
It’s amazing that you even have that. It was a niche course.
Maybe a handful of guys that took it. It was informative. I did an internship at a venture capital firm a couple of summers ago, FFVC. For me, this is all about learning and learning about new opportunities, what other people are doing and how they’ve had their success. I was curious. I have a problem with being on time for meetings. I know that you’re an extremely busy guy and I forget what organizational tool you used. You mentioned, or at least you use a couple of years ago, maybe you could provide some. I don’t know if this is a show or not. In terms of managing, I have football stuff going on I have to take care of. All of this on the side, the show, I got a blog going. I haven’t done this before, so I can use it all the time.
People ask me this all the time after they read my bio on something, they’re like, “Wait, what? How do you do stuff?” The answer is, I don’t know. Going through all that education and this is going to a good school and it’s a different level. You’re forced to figure it out. Doing that for several years, figuring it out, I’ve come to the point where I don’t think about it anymore, but a lot of it is time management stuff. I embrace technology as much as I can. There are a few different apps. I use these for my personal life, but I also use them for running WellWell. There’s a whole bunch of project management stuff that works. Things like Asana, I’m not sure if you’ve seen that. All these things are great. Asana now took Trello and copied it and put it in their platform. They took all the good parts of all the things and I find it to be the most useful.
I discovered Gantt Charts, which are the most amazing. I felt like a literacy course in high school. It’s amazing and a task-dependent chart that visualizes everything. I like visual things, especially when you’re trying to plan over long periods of time. I use all that. It’s a combination of those things. I started using this email app called Superhuman. It’s unreal. I figured out an email before. It’s amazing. I was using this program before they called Airmail, which I thought was the godsend of email, which is awesome for what it is. I was like, “Okay, what could be better than that?” I will say that Superhuman is better. It stuck to I don’t want to be spending my time dealing with email all day. I don’t want to be spending my time sitting in pointless meetings. A lot of it is saying no to stuff and carving out time. The way you would carve out time to be. My most important meeting of the day is my gym block off that I have from 1:00 to 2:00 PM. I’m going to the gym no matter what. It’s a lot of that.
What does Superhuman do? How does it work?
You need a high volume of email to justify. I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get that much email. That’s my point anyway. It’s all keyboard-dependent. A lot of times wasted switching views like from the individual email to your email list and clicking for functionality. There is something called snippets, but what it is macros where you can, if you have a pattern-based behavior, can recreate that behavior with a few strokes. They give you a macro to start. The one that I use the most is let’s say Sagan introduces me to somebody. If I get that email and read it and hit Apple, K, I and then Apple, semi-colon, enter, I can automatically thank Sagan for the intro, move them to BCC which is blind copy, automatically CC David Jeff and my assistant and type out, “Thanks, Sagan, for the intro.” Adding on David to help us find a time. Nice meeting him. That’s all automatic.
I’ve done it a bunch of times. I do it probably once or twice a day. I can digest and answer that email in its entirety, do all that in less than five seconds. That’s crazy. I probably get 5 to 10 emails a week asking for an internship at Vayner Sports, it’s the same thing. I can do Apple, semi-colon, one down arrow, enter, I automatically CC Matt Demato, the client services for Vayner Sports and all I’ve had to say like, “Thanks so much for your interest in our internship program. I emailed Matt Demato. He’ll be in touch about potential opportunities.” That’s me answering an internship email in 30 seconds. The best part about it is if you can be self-aware and think about the things that you do most commonly. You could pre-build the bottom of your systems where it was nice.
What’s your biggest issue being late to meetings?
It’s one of my biggest pet peeves for myself to ever be late to anything and it comes from when I was a kid. I played sports all during my younger years. I would have basketball practice after school at the YMCA and without fail nonstop. My mom was always late. For whatever reason, she had stuff to do, all the other things, whatever. I would sit there like I’d be the last one after practice almost every day. I don’t know what it’s like from that experience. I think it’s from that experience. I don’t know, but I hate being late for anything. What I’ll do is at home, before this meeting I was working right. I don’t have to work at home. I was like, “I’m going to make sure I’m twenty minutes early, go work at the Think Coffee Shop across the street and control when I arrive, rather than banking on an Uber coming on time, making on traffic, whatever.” I do that too.
I think you’re also coming in from Jersey. Part of it too is the commute from the facility home to Jersey City into the city, wherever that may be. Unfortunately, they were close to Jersey City and you can go through the tunnel.
There’s so much to plan for though. If I were coming from Jersey, I would assume that at least two things are going to wrong. Seriously, I do that coming from home and for the most part, I don’t come uptown all that often. I spend most of my time downtown and I bike. For me it’s, it’s 100% guaranteed knowing that when I leave my house, I know it’s going to take me eight minutes to get somewhere. I don’t have to wait for traffic, any of that stuff. It’s a lot easier to do that.
Part of me wanted to pull out and talk about how you like to train.
I’m back on the morning training schedule, so I’ve been working out at 6:00 AM, which is great. I don’t pop any pills. I take supplements for sure. It’s stuff like that everyone should take Vitamin D, especially if you look like me, you’re not going to get any sun. Most people are deficient in Vitamin D. I take things like that and some other basic high-quality vitamins, but it’s mostly functional training. It’s stuff I’m not trying to max out and have crazy gains in the gym. That stuff’s cool. I don’t judge anyone that’s trying to do that at all. At the end of the day, I’m playing the long game. Things that are going to help with that is my goal. I don’t think that staying active. I moved some heavyweight but that’s not my goal. See how high bill weight I can get over the next few months or whatever it is. It’s deadly if they still do all those things. It’s a lot of functional stuff, a lot of kettlebell work.
I find that when I used to lift, it was all about how heavy can I go? Who’s the number one bench press? Who’s number one squat? The one is forced to a degree, but it’s not all the sports. You see the guys that are high performers on the field that are on the court. They’re not necessarily any of the strongest people in the weight room. I think it’s a matter of maximizing function over his pure strength, which is in-line with WellWell and being entirely functional.
For me, it’s all about the long game. You think of all the things that you can do, I could talk about, this is a whole tangent, so you let me know if you want to go down but we’re going to live a lot longer than we all think we are. Whether that’s true or not. It’s a question of if it’s a possibility. If you’re banking at all on medical advancement, it’s a reasonable thing to think then when I tell that to people, the auto-response is like, “If I’m going to be living an extra 20, 30 40 years, I don’t want to live like that. It’s a terrible quality of life.” I’m like, “That’s why you got to start thinking about it now because if you’re going to live that long or have the opportunity to, no one wants to live with a terrible quality of life longer.” Those are things. It’s thinking about this stuff now.
Thanks for coming on, Sagan. I appreciate your time. I know you’re a busy guy. I’m sure you have another meeting or its work to do. I appreciate you coming by and picking up a few tips and learn about WellWell and your life.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
About Sagan Schultz
Practitioner of hospitality and hustle, passionate about people and science, a medical doctor armed with an MBA and heavily schooled in wine.