An Entrepreneur’s Path to Longevity: Interview with Combilytics’ Founder Steve Matheson

Can you tell us about your journey from working in sales and tech to becoming a founder focused on longevity? What inspired you to pursue this path, and what motivated you to start your own company in this field?

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 13. My father taught me how to buy and sell cattle. I learned from him that business was fun and challenging at an early age. That was 54 years ago. Ever since I’ve had my toe in the entrepreneurial water.  Sometimes I worked for big or small companies. 

My first “real job” was at IBM, where I learned about structure and discipline. Over the years I’ve worked as an employee, as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, having started 5 small businesses, sold 2 and 3 failed.

As you get older you think about the aging process and when I read a headline in 2019 that said “zombie cells may be killing you” I had to know what that was all about. It seemed to me to be one of the most important aspects of slowing the aging process and extending healthspan so I created a formula for myself and family. After a few months it became apparent that I was not the only one in the world interested in slowing the aging process.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your early career, and how did you overcome them? Were there any particular mentors or role models who helped guide you along the way?

My first mentors were my parents. My mother taught me how to play chess and be a gentleman, my father taught me values around the concept of hard work being good for the soul. As I grew up I had several mentors along the way.  My first boss at IBM, taught me accountability.  A close friend Gerry, who had several businesses, taught me that the first bank was your customers and to be diligent in collecting my accounts receivable. That was a very basic lesson, but I needed a kick in the pants to make it real. I learned from others, Mike and Paul, how to manage teams and enable them to be successful. I’ve been fortunate to have some excellent people in my life.

The biggest challenges come from managing people who are not the right fit for the position they hold. I learned from Mike to hire slow and fire fast. I think one of the biggest challenges was firing people. This is not fun at all but in most cases it is the right thing to do for that employee. Many people get stuck in a rut, they do the bare minimum for a variety of reasons and are unhappy with their job. So I learned to help people by gently as possible setting them free to find a way to be happy in their work. It’s a hard lesson to learn that helping people be happy sometimes requires setting them free to try again.

How has your background in sales and tech informed your leadership style and approach to problem-solving as a founder in the longevity space? What unique perspectives or insights do you bring to the table as a result of your past experiences?

As a sales oriented person, closing deals is one of the best feelings there is. While I’m a people centric type and enjoy helping others become successful, I really enjoy the hands-on creative part of product development. People’s problems are the most challenging, treating your teammates as unique individuals is something I’ve done my best to incorporate into my management style, whether it was in sales or in tech development.

It’s a lot easier to “fix” a machine or create a new product than it is to manage the people who participate in those processes. I find that by giving a shit about the people you work with is key to the success of having a functional team. I’ve developed products and the teams that worked on the Dev and the Ops and the Sales of the products being developed so I have a multidisciplinary approach as I have a good understanding of those aspects because I’ve done all of them. Being diverse in skills and experience is vital for an entrepreneur, I feel that helps to provide a clearer and more expansive view of the market you are going after.

Can you speak to the importance of longevity and aging research in today’s society, and how you see this field evolving in the coming years? What opportunities and challenges do you anticipate for companies like yours?

Aging comprises 2 fundamentals, 1) health span and 2) lifespan. Some see this as a chicken and egg type scenario but I feel quite strongly that we must significantly improve health span today and that will lead to a bit of a lifespan increase. Significant life span increases are going to come, but not from what we have currently available.

I believe that people get the 2 confused in the consumer market and over hype the lifespan thing to the detriment of this emerging industry. The media grabs on to anything that mentions lifespan and a debate always ensues, is this a good thing? Is it morally acceptable? Should we strive to increase lifespan? Because of this, the media drives hyperbole and the reason to increase health span often gets mis-represented.

At Combilytics, we are in the approach portion of longevity and still a long way from landing a “cure” for aging. Fortunately many scientists and researchers are working away at this regardless of the hyperbole because the market is huge. When you finally come up with something that every living person wants to buy, that is what longevity research leads to.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in pursuing a career in the longevity space? What skills or qualities do you think are essential for success in this field?

There are a lot of incredibly smart, dedicated, hardworking people in this field. The diversity of skills required in this area of bio-science is very broad. If you like numbers, biostatisticians are required.  If you like chemistry, molecular chemists are required. If you like physics, engineers are required. If, like myself, all you have is desire and the ability to make things work, people like that are required. But the most important trait is unquenchable curiosity.

How do you balance the demands of running a company with your ongoing learning and development in the field of longevity? How do you stay up to date with the latest research and advancements in this rapidly evolving field?

I’m at a stage in my life, where most people would be retired. I’ve retired twice and it’s not for me. Startups and running development projects are of most interest to me, outside my family. My 4 kids are all grown and we have 7 grands and I make sure I have the time for them.

I read studies every day. At least 1 and sometimes 2 or 3 a day. I’ve probably read over 400 studies in the past 3 years. I’m not an educated biologist by any stretch of the imagination but I know how to use google to get my questions answered and when it gets real sticky I have an advisor group that I consult with. Having a group of people who are willing to listen to one’s “stupid” ideas and questions and offer their educated opinions is tremendously valuable.

Can you speak to the role that technology plays in the longevity space, and how you see it evolving in the coming years? How is your company using technology to advance its mission?

I believe gene editing is the top longevity intervention. The key today is to stay healthy until you can take advantage of the coming revolution. Our purpose is to find the latest tech that can help people today, so they can add at least 1 year to their health span for every year they live. Cost effective tests that any consumer can use and get feedback on their progress is key.

With the advent of DNA clocks and other DNA results, you can now have a good feedback loop for what you are doing. I’ve always promoted the fact that if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it and encourage people all the time to do some testing. It can be as simple as a good scale that measures your body composition or apps that help you understand your current fitness level. I call these gateway tests. If you are truly interested in health span you will expand your testing regimen and learn enough to get to the next level. We use epigenetic DNA methylation testing on a regular basis with select clients for their and our benefit.

Looking ahead to the future, what are your goals for your company and your own personal development in the longevity space? What legacy do you hope to leave behind as a leader in this field?

When I was in the med device business my goal was to save lives. That goal has not changed with this project, we want to enable people to improve their health span and have access to tests that show progression or regression so people can become their own best advocate.

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