Good news: the consumer health industry is still taking applications for a leading tech company. Bad news: there are a few obstacles you’ll have to overcome.

Perhaps the largest and most difficult of those being user engagement.

In the first h:Tech seminar of the semester, JP Pollak, co-founder of Wellcoin and Senior Researcher in Researcher at Cornell Tech, spoke about ways to improve engagement on a consumer health application.

Wellcoin calls itself the first “health currency.” Users receive Wellcoins for participating in healthy activities—from forgoing salt on your french fries to running marathons—share them on the mobile app and spend them on discounts, gift cards and free stuff in the rewards center.

Pollak focused on three areas of engagement and how Wellcoin has attempted to overcome the dreaded drop-off.


Everyone is motivated by different things. What motivates someone wanting to get healthier and someone seeking to maintain their health is very different. The challenge facing Wellcoin and other consumer health companies, is motivating enough people to stay engaged with their product.

What’s worked for Wellcoin is diversity.

In addition to providing a wide variety of rewards in the marketplace, Wellcoin has toyed around with leaderboards, for those motivated by competition. For users interested in analyzing their data, they’ve worked on data visualization. And for those motivated by community support, Wellcoin has incorporated a social aspect to their app that allows users to interact.

Short Attention Spans

We all know attention spans are getting shorter and most of us have fallen victim to at least one crazy health trend, be it hot yoga or a juice cleanse. And every day seems to bring a new trend.

The challenge for Wellcoin and other consumer health applications is keeping their product fresh enough to hold users attention through every health fad.

“Our approach that has seemed to go over well, has been to embrace these fads,” Pollak said. “We try to take what’s really popular now and let people get Wellcoins for it.”

Logging and Collecting Data

Anyone who has ever tried to keep a food journal knows how easy it is to drop off. It’s tedious to document every thing you ate and you probably feel like you don’t have time.

On the other end of the spectrum, the automated data gathering from wearable devices like Fitbit or Jawbone is almost too automatic and many users don’t continue to monitor their data and eventually stop wearing the device all together.

Pollak suggested consumer health applications must find the balance between user-generated data and automation.

Despite what you may predict, Pollak said automating everything hasn’t helped with engagement. People only using the automatic integrations with Fitbit or Instacart tend to earn more Wellcoins than other users, but they rarely log into the system to spend them.

Wellcoin has tried to strike the balance between manual input and automation by making user input easier. Their intelligent recommendation system learns to predict what a user has done and core features are separated from extras.

“There’s a real trade-off between offering too much functionality and not enough,” Pollak said. “Users will start to complain that they can’t have all this detail and then once they get it and start to use it, they drop off.”