MyFitnessPal’s Tricia Han on How Cultural Understanding Strengthens Health Data

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Tricia Han
Image courtesy of Tricia Han

On this episode of Office Hours, MyFitnessPal CEO Tricia Han discusses her role revitalizing the company and redefining its mission during a time of uncertainty for the company.

“I love a good reboot,” she said. “Let me just say that. That's how I came to be at the company.”

Han took on the role of CEO of MyFitnessPal last year. The company operates one of the largest mobile data tracking apps, with around 220 million registered users in 80 countries, across 60 languages. MyFitnessPal tracks users’ food intake and exercise, among other things, and compares that information with what may be the largest nutrition database in the world.

“We're able to put all this data together about you, the end user,” she said. “You might be pursuing a health goal. It could be you're looking to lose weight. You are managing a health condition — or we also have a lot of performance athletes on the platform who are using the tool to sort of increase their speed,” she said.

At the time Han stepped in, MyFitnessPal had been spun off from its massive parent company, Under Armour. In addition to transitioning MyFitnessPal’s work culture and managing the twin crises of a pandemic and restructuring, she also had to fix the broken parts of the app.

“For many years, there was probably under-investment in the app,” Han explained. “And as a result, there were a lot of systems that were not necessarily up to prime, when it came to being fully functioning for the end users — a lot of outages, a lot of bugs.”

Those minor issues were resulting in the loss of customers.

“How do you turn this thing around that, by the way, has billions and billions of data points coming in every day?” she said. “How do you keep that engine working while creating a new plan? And sell that to everybody?”

Han said one of the biggest things she learned in her first 100 days as CEO was just to “be human.”

“You had a lot of people in the company whose lives, all of a sudden, you're responsible for,” she said. “They've also spent a lot of years working very hard on this business, on this product, and you had people who today really cared about what was going to happen to it and to themselves.”

The changes meant some downsizing, but one “small” thing she did early on that seemed to make a difference was to acknowledge at an all-staff meeting the employees who were leaving or being let go — and thanking them for their work.

“What I have learned is, the small moments of grace and humanity are really, really important, not just for the people who are leaving, but the people who are staying,” she said.

The company has now focused on going beyond telling users the “lagging indicators of [their] health” and moving into providing actionable data, in particular, around how eating affects well-being.

“Having worked with a lot of trainers over the years, they all have a saying: ‘Abs are made in the kitchen,’” Han said. “What we're doing is we're saying well, ‘Where are you starting? What are you eating? What are all the inputs?’ And then working with trackers to connect the dots on the outcome.”

Han takes her position as a female CEO of color seriously. Talking with friends and colleagues who come from similar backgrounds, she said, helped her get past some of her insecurity over whether she was ready for a CEO role.

“I've talked to a number of women, I've talked to a number of people of color. And they've kind of said the same thing to me: Yes, opportunities. Yes, pipeline. Yes, all of that stuff'," she said. "But they also just need to see that model out there. And once they see it, then it becomes much more attainable for everybody else.”

Beyond her own role, she said she’s very aware of the importance of having a diverse set of employees who can recognize issues and opportunities for users of different cultures, especially when working with diets and nutrition.

“Sometimes when you talk to registered dieticians, nutritionists — and especially if they're people of color — they say it has been difficult to be in this field, because there is a sense that ‘food from my native culture is bad’,” Han explained. “When you expand that and say, ‘Let's not be so narrow about this. Let's understand what different people eat from different cultures and different backgrounds and that there’s no bad food.’ Then, all of a sudden, it just really widened your audience and your ability to talk to those people authentically to have a product that actually solves a problem for them.” Social and Engagement Editor Andria Moore contributed to this post.

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