With degrees from Harvard University and the University of Oxford and a White House fellowship in the Clinton White House, where he worked on climate and clean energy policy, Jeff Glueck might have seemed earmarked for a career in politics.
But Glueck chose another path and, over the subsequent three decades, compiled a record as a serial success both as a tech entrepreneur and as a startup executive.
Together with a colleague, he befriended during his White House fellowship, Glueck started a last-minute travel deals website that grew to over $100 million in sales when it was acquired by Travelocity. As chief marketing officer at Travelocity, he helped launch the company’s iconic Roaming Gnome ad campaign featuring a world-traveling gnome, helping to build the company into a travel powerhouse whose annual sales soared from $3.5 billion to $11 billion during his tenure.
He then took the helm at Foursquare, helping to revive a company that started as a social network famous for allowing users to “check in” to locations and earning digital badges for achievements. When he finished his nearly six-year stint as CEO, Foursquare had reinvented itself as a B2B business with revenues roughly ten times higher than when Glueck arrived.
Now Glueck is applying that same knack for disruption to the healthcare industry — gut medicine, specifically — as co-founder of Salvo Heath, offering a virtual clinic for people affected by chronic gastrointestinal problems. Glueck and his partners are looking to increase patient access to the best specialty healthcare, matching users with an online medical care team that will help them plan everything from a nutrition regimen to sleep and mental health management as well as diagnostic testing or medications.
STARTING SALVO HEALTH
Q: What similarities or differences stand out for you between startups in travel and mobile tech and now, healthcare?
I was part of the digitization of various legacy industries in my career. When I co-founded a travel startup (site59.com), around 10% of travel was booked online. And by the time I left almost a decade later, over 80% of travel was booked online. So, I lived through that scale up from pennies to billions of dollars. One of the aspects that stood out was the need to infuse humanity, the user experience, and brand promise to build trust to get that leap from 10% to 80% adoption.
The technology to check flight or hotel prices seemed like a great research tool, but it was not seen as trustworthy for completing a reservation. Users wanted to know that if something later went awry, there were real people who stood behind the reservation and could fix things. So, one of the first things we did was to introduce the Roaming Gnome when I was Travelocity’s new chief marketing officer.
We wanted to give a personality to the software that embodied that there was a whole company and thousands of people in our call center standing behind the reservations and the information that you were finding.
Q: Tell me how you and your co-founders, Avi Dorfman and Jason Finger, came up with the idea that led to Salvo Health?
I had gone through a traumatic experience with my wife with the healthcare system. That really forced a reckoning with so many things that are broken with the American healthcare system. I vowed to someday start a company to try to make a difference there, but the timing was not yet right.
The pandemic in 2020–21 was a precipitating moment, both for doctors and, more importantly, for patients. There was this moment when telehealth had to come into the mainstream, and people realized that there were all kinds of advantages in getting access to a doctor without driving for an hour and sitting in a waiting room for an hour and then driving home for an hour. It was a liberating moment. People went through what I think of as a Wellness 2.0 moment where health became central to people’s mindsets.
As I was studying the opportunity, I connected with my old friend Avi Dorfman in New York. Avi had started a healthcare company called Clearing.com that digitized the pain clinic through telehealth and comprehensive non-opioid pain treatments. And he said to me, “Jeff, the healthcare industry needs people like you. I’m doing neurology, but there are 20 other medical specialties that are awaiting a next-generation telehealth experience.” That was interesting because I had long wanted to do something that would combine telehealth with the best of conventional medicine, the best of behavioral health psychology, and the best of a more holistic functional medicine approach. We started brainstorming and looking at all these different areas that could be our first clinic.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on gut medicine?
A few reasons. The doctors who inspired Salvo Health, like Dr. Mark Hyman from the Cleveland Clinic, and Dr. Emeran Mayer from the UCLA Brain Microbiome Center, will tell you that so much of health begins with the gut. So many Americans suffer from gut issues such as Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Beyond that, gut dysfunctions can lead to other ailments that used to seem unrelated, such as mental health impacts or autoimmune symptoms. Secondly, gastrointestinal (GI) is a massive area of spend in the health system and is probably underestimated due to the many urgent care and ER visits it drives. Gastroenterology spending in the US is actually bigger than mental health spending. And yet there are probably five or six unicorn mental health/telehealth new brands founded in the last decade, while none yet exist in gut health. So, it was a white space that remained to be solved.
Q: In preparing for our chat, I was struck by this statistic: 60 million people in the US suffer from chronic gastrointestinal conditions. What’s remarkable is that there are only around 15,400 board-certified gastrointestinal specialists in the entire country.
The fact that there are only 15,400 gastroenterologists in the country for those 60 million sufferers — there’s obviously a huge mismatch. And the supply-demand mismatch is even worse because gastroenterologists are trained as surgeons, and their primary role is colon cancer screening on anyone over 45 who are otherwise healthy. All that makes it hard to find a specialist, and it also limits the time available for follow-on care for the many serious conditions like IBS or GERD, which are less acute than, for example, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or colon cancer. This was another reason we thought gut health needed a “technology plus physician” approach to scale a smaller set of physicians to treat many more patients and continuously do comprehensive support and follow-on care.
Q: What needs to happen to expand the deployment of this type of medical care via an app throughout the country?
The regulatory framework is there. We’re going through the proper process to license our physician corporation affiliated with Salvo Health and accredit all our doctors in each state. It’s a rather slow legal and paperwork bureaucratic process, but there’s no impediment to that happening over the next year. It’s just time and effort.
We are also reaching out to national payors, large GI practices, and primary care physician groups to partner to enhance the services they provide to their members and patients, particularly by adding our digital care management programs to their offerings.
Q: What are your expectations for telehealth, which is still relatively new? How do you envision the adoption rate?
Telehealth is perfect for lower or medium acuity conditions that lend themselves to telehealth, particularly with chronic conditions. One of our beliefs is that the current American healthcare system is very advanced for dealing with trauma or high-acuity situations, for instance, in a hospital. But chronic conditions require a kind of continuous mix of traditional medicine and what we now think of as lifestyle and preventative medicine, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, monitoring, and mental health support. That is not well suited for going to the doctor’s office for what could be an easy asynchronous daily interaction via a mobile app between a patient and their care team. And that’s what Salvo Health is about. It’s a different model where you have access to your doctor and nurses, health coaches, and programs designed by registered dieticians and psychologists daily. It’s easy to ask questions to the team 24/7. You’re getting daily curated content related to your care plan. You’re getting a daily to-do list provided by your doctor that evolves over time and works through different areas, all starting with the proper diagnostic tests that can be ordered from your local lab. I think you’ll see that people will realize this is just a better way to handle chronic conditions, which are the majority of spend in the healthcare system.
Q: Does that fall under the umbrella term that you’ve referred to as Whole Self Science?
Whole Self Science is a bigger set of principles that our Clinical Advisory Board has developed in partnership with our clinical team. We brought together an interdisciplinary set of renowned medical and psychology experts to design a comprehensive approach. And that Whole Self Science really begins with the belief that these things require a comprehensive approach to get to the root cause of issues. It’s all interconnected. Nutrition and the microbiome, the brain-gut communication cycles, your sleep and movement, and stress management. It all affects your health.
Q: Favorite book?
I really loved Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” just the way it captured that dynamic of learning to walk in someone else’s shoes. The first thing you need to do as a business leader is listen to your customers, listen to your teams, and put yourself in their shoes.
Q: Favorite movie?
It’s hard to pick one, but I enjoy watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year. Just the way that someone who tries to do right and struggles ultimately realizes they have a big impact on people and the world around them.
Q: Is there a motto you try to incorporate into your day-to-day routine?
There is not one quote but more a series of ideas I return to. I ask all my teams to read the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. There is a quote from Admiral Jim Stockdale on how he survived being a POW in the Vietnam War. Stockdale said, “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” The Stockdale paradox is something I always try to encourage in my teams. You believe you’re going to succeed — you must in order to build a business — but you can’t delude yourself about the problems you have to fix.
Q: What person has had the most influence on your professional life?
My grandmother. She survived the Holocaust and yet kept faith in people. She said that if you’re looking for the wrong in people, you will find it. But if you’re looking for the good, you’ll find that, too. I think of her as having a huge impact on my life. Professionally, if I had to pick someone, I’d say my good friend and co-founder of my first startup, Michelle Peluso. She’s an incredible business leader.