WakeMate: The Science of Sleep (Interview)

For my recent review of the WakeMate personal sleep-cycle monitor, I was fortunate enough to interview Greg Nemeth, the marketing director and cofounder of the company.

wakemate dataThe WakeMate is a Bluetooth-based wristband which monitors your sleep, communicates with your phone, and wakes you up at the optimal point in your sleep cycle. Its sensitivity and advanced charting abilities are unparalleled, and I found the technology to be really exciting. It opens up a very new era in “lifetracking” software, and is one of the few phone apps I know of that can actually improve your quality of life. I was interested in learning more about the product from Greg, and came away even more impressed.

Here is a transcript of our session:

Appculture:Hey Greg, so, the first thing I’m wondering about actually is how you got started with WakeMate. How did you meet those guys, and what led you to the project? Were you part of it from the very beginning, or did they bring you on later?


Greg Nemeth: Yeah, I was one of the original cofounders with my friend from high school, actually. He and I had the original idea back in high school, didn’t really know what to do with it. We both went to college and ended up doing a program called the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute. And what we did there was basically learn to take the idea from an idea to an actual business, and then everything pretty much went from there.

Appculture:Oh, cool. So basically you guys went through the whole thing together…

Greg Nemeth: Yeah.

Appculture:… and I’ve seen that you’re pretty engaged in how the marketing goes for WakeMate. I’ve seen you commenting on blogs and on Twitter. What other kinds of marketing have you done for WakeMate? I mean, are you just doing everything you can, is there sort of a sort of pattern to it? What’s your approach?

Greg Nemeth: Luckily, the product is something that the value proposition really appeals to people: I mean, feeling better, waking up refreshed: these are things that are defined pain points in people’s lives.


The best way we’ve seen so far for people to sell product is just referrals from friends: you know, you buy the product, you use it, you wake up, you feel great, you improve your sleep, so you know, you’re gonna go tell people about it. And so that’s what we’ve really seen, that chatter, such as Twitter and things like that, have really been the most effective so far. And what we’re doing right now is working on different ways of improving the ability to share, on Twitter and on Facebook, building some of that stuff into the app.

We’re really looking at our blog as more of a sleep resource for people right now; we’re trying to turn that blog into a place where people can go learn about sleep, understand how to improve their sleep, and hear some testimonials from people who’ve had success with the product.

Appculture:Yeah, that sounds like a really good idea, because obviously, with the blog, people are there to see authoritative content. That’s really great. Do you tend to communicate a lot with people who’ve bought the WakeMate, even if they don’t write to you directly? Is there any kind of newsletter or anything like that set up, where you’re sort of passively contacting them from time to time, or not yet?

Greg Nemeth: We’re working on some stuff there: what we’ve done now is, not really through a newsletter, but we’ve done some emails out to customers asking them about their experience: asking what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they’d like to see improve, some additional questions ased, in order to see how we can really utilize our users’ feedback and make the product better. But in terms of a constant wave of being in touch with them, we haven’t done any of that yet. That’s something we’re looking to put in place right now.


Appculture:Yeah, I always wonder what users actually think. When they go home and get a new product and– they’re anxious to tell all their friends, but whether they interact with you or not is a whole different story! A lot of times customers don’t talk to the people who make the product unless something goes wrong. I’m glad you’re reaching out to them to try and get their feedback. So, do you find [that] there’s anything in particular that people mention a lot? Something you’ve uncovered through these surveys, or maybe something you hadn’t thought about?

Greg Nemeth: To be honest, it’s not stuff that we didn’t think of; there’s a few suggestions for a little feature here, a little feature there that we’ve incorporated that we didn’t think of, but really the main reaction that we’re getting from people was pretty much exactly what we expected. People are asking for better battery life, some people wanted a bigger wristband, and the last thing that we really knew is that people want a defined way to improve their sleep.

That’s what we’re actually working on right now, building some tools to [help] people bring their sleep score up over time.

Right now, what we’re essentially doing is, we wake the person up at the optimal time, we show them their sleep, and we do have the tagging feature in there, which allows them to kind of track [certain] things effectively, but people want to be told what to do. Some people want to do this self-discovery thing and track things, but the majority of people just want to use the product and then have us do an analysis on their sleep. And [we would have them] get emails. “These are the things that are going to affect you, this is how you can sleep better, this is the time you should go to bed, how long you should sleep, this is what’s optimal for you.” We’re working on those features right now.

Appculture:Cool. Yeah, there are other programs on the market I know that– I’m sure you’re aware of them– that do have a little more of a pre-programmed [process for the user]. I think the Zeo does that a little bit. But you guys have a really interesting target audience, because your product is much less expensive than the other solutions that are comparable. It’s a little bit more than an iPhone app, but it seems to me to be kind of the best of both worlds. I’m glad that you’re looking at really building it out into a full analytics platform that [can give recommendations].

Have you guys found anything unusual or kind of interesting patterns in the data that you’ve collected? Is there something about the way people are sleeping or the way people are using the product that changes your idea of it, or changes your future plans? Something that gives you something new to work on?


Greg Nemeth: Right, right, I understand: that’s really the question we’ve been asking ourselves recently, and right now we’ve still been working on new features and making the product better, so we haven’t really had time to go through all that data and do that analysis. But that is really at the top of our list because we have such a rich set of data, so many people’s sleep. There’s definitely going to be some interesting findings to come out of that.

One thing we have noticed, just with a smaller subset of data–we haven’t actually looked at the full set–but that just with the guys in the office and some of our beta testers, one of the most significant things in terms of quality of sleep is based on the time that you go to bed, and that really varies from person to person. So some people– me for example, I can go to bed pretty much any time I want and it really doesn’t affect the quality of my sleep. My cofounder, if he’s in bed by midnight, or before, the quality of his sleep goes through the roof, because those first two hours are really, really beneficial. And that just, that changes from person to person based on your circadian rhythms, what’s best for you.

So, that type of thing is really interesting to us, because when you extrapolate a bit, we can actually look and see the best time for you to go bed as the most beneficial hours of sleep for you, so you can significantly improve the quality of your sleep, just by altering when you go to bed by about an hour or so. And that’s the type of thing that our users are really interested in, because it’s not changing your lifestyle, it’s not saying, OK, well, when you go to the gym five times a week, you’ll sleep better. That’s nice, but most people aren’t going to want to do that. But, oh, hey, go to bed a half hour earlier– that’s something that people can easily do, make a change and have a significant impact.

Appculture:Can you tell me a little about how the WakeMate analysis works? I mean, I understand about sleep cycles, and I’ve used the iPhone app that uses the accelerometer, but what it is about this process that’s different? I mean, you say it needs to be on your non-dominant hand, obviously it’s not just an accelerometer, it’s some kind of other thing. What is it tracking exactly? How does that work?


Greg Nemeth: It actually is an accelerometer. The way it works is a science called actigraphy, which is a clinical science that’s been used in sleep labs for the past twenty, thirty years. What’s happened is, scientists have been looking for a much better monitoring system. Currently the gold standard in sleep monitoring is the PSG- the polysomnogram. And that’s the typical thing, you know, when you think of a sleep lab, you have this guy all strapped up with all kinds of different things–

Appculture:Yeah.

Greg Nemeth: –and in that PSG what they monitor is eye movement, brain movement, muscle movement. One of the things they do as well is this science of actigraphy: they’re measuring movement of your wrists.

What’s great about actigraphy is that it’s much lower cost, it’s much less invasive for patients, and so if you have a patient who you want to monitor for, let’s say, three weeks, having them come into the lab every day for three weeks is extremely disruptive for his normal sleep cycle, so you won’t be getting really accurate results.

So the science of actigraphy, over the past ten to twenty years has really been pushed forward because it’s much less invasive and much less expensive. The limits of actigraphy start coming in when you look at diagnosing sleep disorders: unfortunately it just can’t diagnose certain sleep disorders, you need the full PSG for that. But in looking at sleep/wake analysis, which is what we do, it really is very accurate and even can be as accurate as a PSG in terms of telling the level of sleep a person is in. It’s about 95 to 98% as accurate as a PSG.


What we do is we use that science, and those algorithms, to score a person’s sleep in one-minute intervals. So, without getting into too much detail, essentially what we do is look at the amount of motion that you have in each minute, and put it through the algorithm and it gives us a score of whether you’re asleep or awake, and what state of sleep you’re in.
Appculture:It sounds sophisticated, but also a lot like the other accelerometer apps. I guess the idea is that the wristband itself is able to track more accurately? Is that why it’s connected so firmly?
Greg Nemeth: Exactly. The issue there is that it’s absolutely necessary for it to be placed on the wrist, and placing it on any other part of the body, or obviously not on the body, will yield extremely inaccurate results.

We actually built a sleep cycle application about six months before Sleep Cycle was released, and did a bunch of tests and found that it was just completely, completely inaccurate. We decided not to release that app because we had a much more accurate product in the works.


When you look at the science of actigraphy, it requires the sensor to be placed on the wrist. It also requires a more sensitive sensor than what’s in the phone. So unfortunately the app-only route is just not based in any real science: at the same time, it’s an interesting lead-in to the concept of actigraphy. We’ve actually talked about releasing that application, for free, so that people can get the idea of what we can do, and then saying, this isn’t really very accurate– but if you buy this wristband, it’ll be much more comfortable, you’ll have a better experience, and you should try that out.

Appculture:That could work really well–especially since you guys have that Wakelytics platform, with all this interesting data, and of course the more people who contribute to it, the more you’d be able to learn later on…


Greg Nemeth: Exactly, exactly.

Appculture:Well, listen, Greg, that’s pretty much all I’ve got for you. I just wanted to take a second to thank you for taking the time to speak with me and for giving me all this information about the product. I wish you guys the best of luck with the whole platform, and I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next.

Greg Nemeth: Awesome, thanks a lot.

Appculture:Take care!

For more of my thoughts on the WakeMate, read the full review on AppAdvice!

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