An Interview with Shayan Italia, Founder of START App

Shayan Italia is the founder of START Wellness Intermittent Fasting App. START is an application to intermittent fasting (I.F.). It stems from Shayan’s personal discipline to do things in a clean and efficient way.  START’s customizable program adapts to one’s individualistic lifestyle and this sets it apart from the rest of the competition, most of which deliver a mere fasting timer. The app is designed in a way to not only track one’s dietary regime but also recommends some simple workouts and life-changing good habits which are strategically keyed into the programme, making it more holistic and result-oriented. The app really amazed us with its capability, so we decided to get in-depth knowledge from Shayan Italia about his achievement and strategies.

1) What’s your story? How did you become an innovator in healthcare?

I lost my Mum and Dad to Cancer of the Bone Marrow (Multiple Myeloma) and Multiple Sclerosis when I was very young and within a year of each other. It was quite a blow, as I pretty much lost my life’s foundation in a heartbeat. Since then, I promised myself I would never fall victim to ill health. Thus started my journey into fitness, wellness and trying things out through a lot of experimentation. This included various fitness programs, diets, lifestyle changes – all of which led me to intermittent fasting, which is my lifestyle of choice. Intermittent fasting keeps me optimized on a daily basis and its science is sound, more so a lifestyle that is hugely beneficial long-term, but more importantly, easily achievable by anyone to adopt and reap its benefits. START Wellness, my start-up, helps you in that journey to fasting, and correctly.

2) Why is it so important to track Intermittent Fasting? What makes START different from the other apps available in the market?

Intermittent fasting tracking, even a child can do. You don’t need an app, your smartphone timer is more than adequate. Intermittent fasting is also quite simple: you don’t eat for a number of hours and then you eat your daily calorie intake in the remaining hours. With START, our intermittent fasting app, we adopt the 16:8 method where you don’t eat for 16 hours and then eat in an 8-hour window. This has profound long-term scientific benefits for your body and mind as a whole. Adopting more severe methods of intermittent fasting like 18/6 or 20/4 or even O.M.A.D. (One meal a day) is kind of impractical in the world we live in. While the scientific benefits are sound, for most people it’s just not feasible, especially those that work 9-5 jobs.

With reference to the app itself, START is so much more than other intermittent fasting apps (that only feature a timer) as it is an entire program that works for you in the background. We feature a perpetual automatic fasting timer but that is just one of START’s entry-level or basic features. As I said, it is a holistic wellness module that aids one in gliding into 16:8 intermittent fasting.

START is broken up into various daily activities that you set up to your own personal lifestyle and then you’re reminded to carry out those activities in the most efficient way possible. We focus on WHY and WHEN than WHAT. We house holistic wellness modules like our scientifically curated dynamic stretch, 4-7-8 breathing and even have the Johnson and Johnson 7-minute workout module in there, performed by an Olympian!

If that isn’t enough, START also helps you track your daily water intake efficiently. The key requisite for START was to always have a strong science-led foundation and we always route that into the app from multiple sources. For example, in your heart rate module segment, you not only can enter your heart rate manually or through your smartwatch, but you also gain insights into why heart rate is important, how it differs in age for people and much more through our “Understanding Heart Rate” section. The same applies to every section in our smart dashboard. It’s very comprehensive!

And this is just our initial MVP offering. There are tons more to come!

3) Looking more broadly, Does this app help people who do not follow a strict diet?

START works you at a cellular level, so any exercise, diet, or fitness program you’re already on, just gets enhanced in terms of results. In essence, if you were on a strict diet program and used START, you’d end up losing a lot more weight and faster. Why? Because part of START is triggering autophagy (where your body produces new cells that eat up old weak ones) and also reducing insulin and improving insulin resistance, and all these lead to your body accessing its fat storage faster as an alternative form of fuel that helps burn more fat leading to more efficient fat loss on a daily basis long-term. And because it’s working at a cellular level, you sleep better, you wake up more refreshed, your muscle recovery is faster, your skin clears up and more. And all this as a whole helps your system regenerate more efficiently, leading any program you add to it to work as if it were on jet fuel. Dr. Jason Fung’s research on the same and Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi’s Nobel Prize-winning research on ‘Autophagy’ has really helped advance cellular science by leaps and bounds.

4) How’s the feedback from the users who are already using the START app?

START is a project that has been in development for over 3 years now. From beta testing the program to converting it to an app, we developed the app in Ukraine, and have now moved operations to India. One of the things we are focusing now on is wireframing the entire app so we know what is going on – how people are using it etc. And this will give a real insight into understanding what the app is primarily used for, how it is used and also where we can go from here. These are very early days, but the landscape looks very promising and exciting. We’ve not spent anything on marketing and we’re already ranking “Top 5” for START and “Intermittent Fasting” across India on the Google Play Store which accounts for 95% of India’s smartphones.

We’re also adding in START Experts to the app on a monthly basis. These are highly experienced individuals within their fields who have not only tried the app but avid endorsers of intermittent fasting and range from doctors, to cellular dieticians, to fitness experts. That’s a pretty good START!

5) Tell me the key most interesting features users should definitely try when using this application?

There are 3 key features in START that will make you a hardcore loyalist should be

  • The science videos section helps you learn everything on START in short 1 minute fun animated videos. These empower you with the correct knowledge. These videos also link to the main START program page so while you’re setting up your program you can also find out the “WHY” of any activity on START. By knowing the “WHY” you learn faster, implement correctly and grow! Our job is to empower users so when they recommend the app to anyone, they are informed correctly.
  • The smart dashboard is great as you have the choice of inputting data manually (as any doctor would) and also captures data through your smart devices like a smart scale, smart watch etc. It also houses the Daily Water Intake module which I personally use the most on the app. I like to regulate my water and see if I’m dipping or not. Adequate water intake is VITAL for good health and most don’t even consume 1L a day. On START due to the nature of the program, we recommend for you to consume 3L a day at least.
  • The START intermittent fasting program is the highlight of the app. There is no app that features anything like it. We built the timer modules from scratch. It’s all custom made, so intuitive it actually shows you where you’re going wrong and a video next to it explains why! Once you set up your program, you don’t have to do anything else. The app does everything for you. All you have to do is follow the program to a T and reap the benefits long term. It’s that simple to START! In 7 days, you will see great changes and great health habits adopted.

6) How do you see apps developing in the future? Should we expect more new features related to Fasting will be added?

START has a grand vision of producing its own smart devices, nutritional modules, workout modules and providing a plethora of features. Let’s call this present version our MVP (Minimal Viable Product) but a solid step in the right direction to then build on as it has all the correct foundations imprinted. I envisage health-tech is the future, especially after COVID-19 and to me, this market is set to explode in 2030-2035 across India and we would like to be at the forefront of this. That is our vision for START. We are surely in it for the long haul.  I also love what I do, so it doesn’t feel like work to me. START is kind of my life now as I live the program on a daily basis.

7) What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out as an innovator and entrepreneur?

Always close the loop.

Never invest in hope of results or believing something is going to help be great. We live in a digital world where everything can be tracked. So, close the loop. For example, if you want to start a business, create a product and sell that one product. Get paid, deposit that money in the bank. Now the loop is closed. Once the loop is closed, do it again and again and then scale up. This is the only way to grow properly and efficiently. And that’s what we are doing with START. We are laying foundations for long-term expansion so we have to start to close the loop at the outset and then scale up. We’ve spent nothing so far on any customer acquisition as we want to make sure the loop is closed. Revenue is coming in and that revenue has to hit the bank account. Then the loop is closed from the customer paying for the app to the money hitting our bank account. This is the most fundamental thing I’ve learnt in business. Once you get this done then you can really grow rapidly. Cash flow is the oxygen of your business and it must be optimised to grow efficiently. But if you keep selling and no one is paying you you’re pretty much doomed from the start.

Another lesson is to always focus on the WHY! Why am I doing this? Can I see myself doing this long-term? Why? What is my purpose here? If you answer and start to invest your time in things that change people’s lives for the better, you will grow at an exponential rate. 

Written by Shintu Dhang