Quantified Self (QS), also known as biohacking is the concept of tracking a range of data points about your health & fitness in order to hack your way to optimal wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, the movement began in data-driven Silicon Valley a few years ago. Tech founders have taken to it like ducks to (statistics-laden) water. The QS movement is buttressed by the Internet of Things (IOT) industry- with wearables like the Apple Watch and Fitbit cheaper and more powerful than ever, we can all become uber-data-trackers and monitor our health closely. The QS movement in Hong Kong is small, but growing and it’s greatly due to Bay McLaughlin, the enthusiastic co-founder of Internet of Things accelerator Brinc.io who despite his punishing schedule (on top of being a mentor to dozens of entrepreneurs, he also speaks at over 50 events a year around the globe) decided to start the monthly Quantified Self Meetup to help Hong Kongers get in control of their health. We sat down with him one afternoon to talk about how the Meetup came to be, his own personal QS journey and why some people don’t want to know the truth.
How did you end up founding the Hong Kong chapter of Quantified Self?
I was part of the San Francisco chapter, the founding chapter. There’s 200+ chapters around the world, it’s quite a large (community). but I was blown away at, the level that they [the SF chapter] operate it is…people are so into it. Not only are they are super smart, they are deep in the data…They are working on really understanding it.
I found that every time I was in my neighborhood coffee shop here in Hong Kong, I was finding someone else with a wearable or a tracker and we started talking about and it was always about health & wellness, about heart rate variability, the paleo/ketogenic diets
So I went online and couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a Hong Kong Quantified Self meetup. I launched it a little over a year ago, and 100 people signed up to the first event so I thought: ok, there’s something here.
This is not about me, or Brinc.io. I just want to help people be more conscious.
What is the format of the monthly meetups?
The current format (which we are always open to changing) is that we do an intro about Quantified Self for the first 15-min because a lot of people have never heard about it.
We have [IOT] devices and demos in the back so people can mingle and try new products if they have already heard the intro at previous meet ups. We don’t want it to be a sales pitch but if you want to demo your product, that’s great.
We then have two speakers who do 15-min shares and for the last 3 months, we have had themes. We poll the group on Facebook and find out what people want to learn about.
We’ve done nutrition, heart rate variability, performance training, we are planning to do stress management.
After the two 15-min shares, then we have Q & A time, which is the original QS format.
Then we breakup in different groups. What I realized is that people had a lot of questions but they weren’t going out and changing their behavior. so what we’ve done to address that is create macro themes and break out the groups into Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced.
We are finally getting to the point where speakers are bringing their own audiences. In the beginning it was just me running around with devices and just trying to get people to talk about it. We do the meetups at Garage Society‘s Sheung Wan space, they have been our location sponsor for the year, which is great!
Why do you think the meetup has found such a dedicated community?
People are interested but they don’t know how to start. We help you start. The lightbulb moment for most is sleep: it affects everyone, most people get terrible sleep.The easiest way to start is to track your sleep. You can use your phone- you don’t need to buy a device. So we get people to install a free app and start tracking their sleep that night and then they can start sharing. It’s all about the sharing and learning because then they are going to start doing. I am not concerned about getting more people in the group, it’s not about the numbers. One of our meetups had 12 people. I just want people to learn. I care that people have outcomes. We want people to get inspired and learn.
At the end of the day, if the health system and the medical industry had really taken care of us, we wouldn’t be here. We’d all be living our lives.
Are you QS orientated?
I am incredible quantified. I started with the Nike Plus device in 2006. I track a lot of things. I’ve done every genetic, micro biome, macro nutrient, blood test…I’ve got 65,000 data points for my heart rate. I track seven to eight things about my body composition daily, I take my blood pressure every morning. I check it quite a lot because my dad has high blood pressure and I am concerned given my high-stress lifestyle. [You can view Bay’s stats here.]
I track really hard when I want to make a change, and once I get to a level of stasis and I am feeling good, I find I am generally less concerned about the numbers of it because I kind of figured it out.
What has worked best for you when it comes to living a QS life?
For me, what I’ve learned is that it’s about experimentation. I’m open to everything. I don’t judge everything. I go for the qualitative over the quantitative at first. At the end of the day, you have to feel good. If you are doing a ketogenic diet or you are doing paleo….it might be better for you but if you don’t feel good, and you’re not happy, what’s the point?
In my case, eating Paleo and following a certain kind of workout called The Modern Physique works great. I’ve also learned that I need eight hours of sleep. I cannot de-stress and I cannot gain muscle or lose weight or feel as mentally connected if I don’t get enough sleep every night. I’m not the guy that can do six hours and power through every week. It doesn’t work for me.
I’ve realized somewhat crazy things, like when I go on the road (I travel a lot), all my metrics go out of sync but within about five days of returning from the trip, I can pul everything back: blood pressure, sleep patterns, my weight (I can drop the pounds I’ve put on), even my body temperature! I got sick last week. I realized that 98.6 degrees Farenheit is what’s supposed to be health. I’m never in the 98s…I’m always in the 97s. So I know when I get to 98, I’m sick or about to get sick. I’ve proven it multiple times. And I know days in advance.
What about the naysayers?
I’m always really cautious of people thinking that things are black and white. This is never the way. The point is to start being curious, to start being more conscious every day of the tools that are out there, things that are free, things that are cheap. Basic applications that can inform you. And by coming and sharing and working together, you can start chipping away. It’s not meant to be some profound overnight change.
A lot of people just don’t want to know the truth. A lot of people are happy with the status quo. They don’t want to know that a lot of things that they are potentially doing might be bad for them.
We’re more into the health movement than the data movement in Hong Kong. In SF, it’s more at the data level. We are more at the data 101 level in Hong Kong. There’s a few of us that are digging deeper but for most people it’s about getting that intro, baby steps. Just downloading that one app can give you information you have wanted your whole life.
Brinc.io is hosting the Internet of Life Summit at the Start Me Up Hong Kong Festival 2018 this week. The Internet of Life Summit brings together the people, companies and ideas shaping the future of how connectivity is re-shaping the world and how we interact with it. Green Queen founder Sonalie Figueiras will be doing a Keynote talk about Being Human In The Age of Data. All Green Queen readers get 35% off tickets with code ‘IOL35’.
About Bay McLaughlin
Bay is a Co-Founder of Brinc, a global IoT accelerator, manufacturing studio, and online hardware community based in Hong Kong with offices in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, London, Barcelona, and Bahrain. Having spent half of his career in or founding startups, he now brings his experience and operations abilities to connect the dots from Asia to Silicon Valley for IoT companies from around the world. He currently holds equity positions in 32 companies in 12 countries, serves on the board of Soundbrenner and Brinc, and is a contributor for Forbes and a KOL for Huawei. He was previously at Apple as a founding team member of their global SMB channel and as the founder of their first Entrepreneurship Evangelism channel. As a regular mentor for Chinaccelerator, the Thiel Foundation, and other startup ecosystems in Asia, Bay is passionate about investing in founders with a global vision. He speaks regularly at conferences, most recently at Web Summit, Echelon, RISE, LAUNCH, SXSW, Big Salad and more.
Lead photo courtesy of Bay McLaughlin.