Getting Drunk & Healthy with Wellsphere

35 Comments

We don’t usually write about parties, but the Wellsphere launch this weekend was a fun one. Held at the Mission Cliffs climbing gym in San Francisco, the bash was lively and well-attended, as you can see in the somewhat intelligible video interview with Wellsphere CEO Ron Gutman embedded below the jump.

So what’s Wellsphere? It’s a wellness — fitness and healthy eating, mostly — -oriented social network, opening to the public today. The core idea is for it to be a resource as well as prompt for finding gyms, restaurants, and activities, focusing on positive encouragement rather than avoidance of sickness and obesity.

Wellphere’s informational index will be amplified by its members, who offer advice and connect to each other to arrange activities and help motivate each other to uphold workout resolutions. I brought along some muggle friends to the party and they actually seemed pretty excited about the idea.

I think the site could do with increased capability for users to edit its core resources rather than pushing their participation over to personal profiles and blogs. However, encouraging social activity among Wellsphere members is even more important. All Yahoo has to do is better localize a its health vertical and then what have you got.

San Francisco-based Wellsphere has raised an angel round as well as a Series A from investors including Gemini Israel Funds and healthcare management guru Woodrow Myers, but Gutman would only describe the total amount raised as “a few million dollars.” The 14-person company emerged from a multidisciplinary group at Stanford.

See additional coverage on TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

35 Comments

Ron Gutman

Since the day we founded our company, we have always taken the time to listen to people- from the deep research we conducted on how to help people make healthier lifestyle choices to developing our initial prototype to our focus groups and feedback from our alpha community, serving people has been at the heart of our company. Our recently launched Beta site is built on top of all of this great input and we will continue to listen and continuously improve Wellsphere in our efforts to help people live healthier, happier lives. I would like to thank the people who have taken the time to help us improve our site by providing serious, thoughtful and meaningful feedback. I also want to warmly thank my fellow employees at Wellsphere for joining me in working toward our shared mission and for making the challenging job of bringing innovation to the world enjoyable and rewarding.

In particular, I would like to thank my co-founder Dave, who has been working with me from the day we founded the company (and even before), around the clock to make our dream come true – to help millions of people live healthier, happier lives. I also want to give a huge kudos to Dr. Geoff Rutledge, a great friend and our CIO – without whom we would not have been able to bring the beta site we are so proud of to life. Finally, I would like to give the warmest of words to our wonderful, smart, dedicated team including Sastry, Kathleen, Ivan, Larisa, Nikki, Paul, Vadym, Irina, Jeff, Phil, and all the others who are working to make our vision a reality.

It takes a lot of work to make a real change in the world, but we are determined to do so and enjoying ourselves along the way. It is pretty amazing to see how a strong culture can enable a small, committed group to make remarkable things happen.

I invite anyone in the greater community to write to me, call me or meet with me so we can have a frank, open discussion about the Wellsphere community. I will be delighted to tell you more about Wellsphere, our mission and why I strongly believe in dedicating my life to helping others live well and be happy. Please feel free to write to me at ron.gutman@wellsphere.com or call me at (650) 345-2100.

Sastry Nanduri

My experience at Wellsphere has been very pleasant. Wellsphere has a great mission, a fun working environment and a strong team of passionate, positive-minded individuals. As a technologist, I am very excited at the opportunity to build a product that will help millions of people lead a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Kathleen Donahue

Read the comments, both good and bad. I can only speak for myself and tell those interested that overall, as an employee since the beginning of April, I’ve had a very positive, productive time with Wellsphere. We have a great crew of people, both employees and contractors with whom I interact regularly. We’ve formed a tight, fun team that keeps on moving forward together to improve our product. As a user-interface designer, I love hearing back from people about the site and how we can improve it for them. Yes, being a young company, we have a ways to go, but we are listening, learning, and steadily enhancing the site. So, to burst the hyperbolic bubble of those who have never worked here, yet seem to be bent on creating/spreading hearsay, this is the current atmosphere.

Larisa Rozentals

Personally, I have not experienced what others may have; rather I’ve had a very positive experience with the company, Ron and Dave. I enjoy working for Wellsphere – it’s nice to come into the an office where I can eat breakfast with others or at my desk, Katie, the well-dog, says hello to everyone (she’s so happy and excited – she really reminds you what life is all about), we enjoy a casual weekly lunch with everyone together, fruit and other healthy items are provided for us (although Kathleen and I would really enjoy some dark chocolate), and the office has a great view of the Bay Area.

From my experience, both Ron and Dave care about their company and their employees. You know you have a great team of employees working for you when you are instructed to leave the building promptly at 5:00 pm to repair the AC and none of us wanted to leave – it took Ron and the AC company over an hour to get everyone to go home. What can I say… I enjoy the people, the culture, and working with Katie.

The Wellsphere team

We felt compelled to add our comment here because we were personally and professionally hurt by what was written in some of these comments, and we thought this would be a good opportunity to describe openly and honestly who we really are and what our company is really all about, and invite you to (please!) contact us if you have any questions.

All of us at Wellsphere share a deep commitment to our mission of helping people live healthier, happier lives. We are a group of positive, hardworking, caring people who very much enjoy each other’s company, and are dedicated to helping one another and to achieving our goals. Our ‘WellSpace’ in San Mateo is a bright, energetic, fun environment (we even have a small exercise room and beautiful views of the green hills and the Bay!). We recently launched our Beta site based on substantial research and feedback from our alpha community. We implemented a scalable technology that is designed to support our growing community. We are delighted to watch our members help and support each other everyday in their quests for well-being. We are very proud of the progress we’ve made and the growth of our community, though we know there is much more to do. We think our site speaks for itself, and invite you to visit us at http://www.wellsphere.com.

We are committed to continuing to improve Wellsphere everyday and we enjoy responding to the feedback from our community. We greatly appreciate all constructive advice about how we can improve the site and our users’ experience. Please feel free to share your thoughts (or hate mail if you must :-) ) with us at wecare@wellsphere.com. If you would like to learn more about our company, our mission, and our values firsthand, please reach out to any of us directly. You can reach us by phone at (650) 345-2100, or by email at the addresses below.

Our core team (alphabetical by last name):

Kathleen Donahue
kathleen.donahue@wellsphere.com

Ron Gutman
ron.gutman@wellsphere.com

Dave Kashen
dave.kashen@wellsphere.com

Ivan Marchenko
ivan.marchenko@wellsphere.com

Sastry Nanduri
sastry.nanduri@wellsphere.com

Larisa Rozentals
larisa.rozentals@wellsphere.com

Geoff Rutledge, MD, PhD
geoff.rutledge@wellsphere.com

Wellsphere

Hey I don’t think Wellsphere is bad at all. I also never saw the initial alpha site. Well I work at Wellsphere currently, don’t attack me, haha. And trust me I don’t know any of you. We actually just launched the beta site a few days ago, so I would love everyone to check it out if you have time. Also, state your opinions, because evidentally none of you will hold back. haha. Thank You.

Shawn

I am so grateful to read these comments since I was approached by them for product management. Sounds like a nightmare of a situation.

THANKS!

RealityBites

Ron Gutman has hurt so many people I know, it’s high time people become aware of it. He is a pathological liar who will manipulate and fabricate without hesitation. COMMUNITY BEWARE!!

Jack LaLanne

Ouch. Bit harsh there! Just like in 1849, the tech gold rush has brought hordes of “entrepreneurs” to the valley who have never used a shovel (or a computer) in their lives. They are late to the party and without stellar people skills, what has happened here is inevitable. All the successes of the past few years have come from either experienced management teams, or lifelong technology people. Wellnet was a great idea as originally proposed, and will eventually become a success, just not with these guys at the helm. VC’s aren’t stupid and they haven’t made a mistake here. All they have to do is wait until the initial round of money runs out and then replace the management with their own people. Or do they have to wait? Hmm.

Another former employee

To those of you who are thinking ‘what is happening here?’:

What is happening is that over the course of the last 12 months Ron Gutman has shown his true colors. In the process, he has cycled through more than 40 employees. Some lasted a day, others lasted months. Mind you, Wellcrap has never had more than a dozen employees at any given time. For almost all of us joining Wellcrap appeared to be a great move as we would have been able stay in or join a technology/web2.0/internet centric startup where we could hopefully have a positive impact to each other and the community at large. Little did we know. Perhaps we were blinded by visions of what could be or perhaps we were shamboozled by Ron’s repeated lies about his past, lies about investors, lies about where the product stood or lies about other employees. Ron is one of the slickest and sleeziest sales people I have ever run into. He can sell Vista to Steve Jobs as is evidenced by the fact that someone actually funded this thing. When was the last time you felt good about buying a car from a salesperson that lied to you about things like the size of the motor, how many tires it comes with, if the windows roll down or if the car is even exists in the first place? I have been an early employee of several startups that have gone public and in the course of my career worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of people. NEVER have I experienced the utter incompetance as shown by Ron. Not only does he have no grasp on technology issues but he has zero clue about marketing, distribution, partnerships, advertising or customer support. Add to that the self centered righteousness and pathological lies and manipulation and you have what Ron has, WellSphere. Passengers on the Titanic had a better chance of survival AFTER the ship sank than WellSphere has of lasting another month if Ron is there.

Ron stepped on, lied to and screwed over too many people who have exponentially more ties , connections, friends and colleagues who respect us and our experience than he does. Ron will try to brush these ‘negative ways’ under the table or chalk it up to poor hiring decisions.

The fact of the matter is that Ron is the negative energy NOT EVERYONE he come in contact with. Think about it..what are the odds that Ron could make 40 key hiring decisions in less than 12 months and every single one of those people turn out to be assholes. (I’ll defer calculating the actual odds line to one of the many PhD’s in the group of 40 exemployees to provide that actual number.) Reality is that Ron is the asshole, not the 40 MBA’ss, PhD’s, MSEE, MA’s in CS, DBA’s, former executives from healthcare institutions, Medical Doctors, interns, temps and even janitors that have been through the revolving door at 380 Brannan.

Someone said it before and I will say it again, let this unfortunate series of experiences we ex-employees had with Ron Gutman serve as a warning of what to consider if you ever encounter Ron.

Dave Kashen is Ron’s partner although Ron makes it very clear that Dave is not at all integral and brushes him off as inexperienced. Dave to me is Rons bitch(combo or a lapdog and roll of toilet paper). At least he is right about being inexperienced and nobody in their right mind would hold that against Dave. What we do hold against Dave is his lack of a spine. You see, Dave has a front row seat to the goings on and has, over the last year, participated in and supported Ron is his quest to do the wrong things. Dave, you know right from wrong and there is no excuse for your inaction and submission while Ron ruins people’s days, weeks, months, years, etc. Dave, you are a spineless weakling and deep down inside I know you realize what you have become. I hope this serves as the catalyst to a moment of clarity which result in your taking responsibility for your actions. It’s not too late for that. Close, but still possible. perhaps your girlfriend or parents will reaffirm our feelings and convince you it is time to get out of Waco before it really is too late.

It is a small Valley indeed, Ron. It’ll likely be an uncomfortable locale for someone with a legacy like yours. Had your actions not come to light when they did you may have made it and gone public and everything else you hoped for but it did and you should thank us for rallying together to stop evil which exudes from your being.

I really hope you can’t sleep at night but I know that is merely wishful thinking on my part because you have no conscience to get in your way.

Game over, Ron.

Big Yaron Gutman

Wow Ron -that’s amazing insight. I’m moved to tears with your words. You are a serious genius. I’m so glad you are so warm, positive, and HONEST. That must be why everyone loves you and all the people who have worked with you praise you so highly. Keep up the good work!!

Little Yaron Gutman

Good People, unite!
I truly believe that all people in this world are fundamentally good.
Thankfully, many people choose to take their good energy and direct it
to ward helping other people live a better life. They devote their
time, energy and resources to improve other peoples’ lives in some
way.

Directing our and others’ energy toward doing good (rather than
channeling it in negative, destructive or unpleasant ways) is
something that the Wellsphere team is highly committed to. We
encourage anyone who feels frustrated, sad, disenchanted, confused,
gloomy or depressed to try this: help someone else be healthier and
happier. Though it sounds counterintuitive to help others just at the
time when you want to focus on yourself, when you help others, it
actually makes YOU feel better. Plus, all the warm, positive regard
your receive from the people you help (like all the wonderful e-mails
we’ve been getting from community members, thanking us and encouraging
us to continue doing what we’re doing), will help to convert any bad
energy you may have accumulated to good energy that will make YOU a
happier individual.

Former Employee

Jon, I know who you are. I know what you’ve been through. Sadly, you don’t. Not trying to sound arrogant here, but you were used by Rave. You were underpaid. You were lied to about deadlines. You were given unreasonable expectations. How do I know this? I went through the same thing. I was there for many many many months.

These founders are deserving of personal attacks. You wouldn’t believe the shit they pulled on people. Lying about them being fired. Forging documents to Administaff about firing/resignation. Putting the wrong dates on forms (always in their favor… I know of at least 3 instances of this). Changing contracts on file (I have first-hand knowledge of at least 2 instances of this). They are completely unscrupulous. Check the date on your forms. Trust me.

As for taking this up with them directly, believe me, I tried. I tried for many months. I tried until I was blue in the face. Ron and Dave are in complete denial. Ask them about the input they solicited from the employees. It covered this with them honestly and directly. They chose to ignore it. They have their heads in the sand. Ron Gutman is a sociopath. Don’t believe it? Read this and tell me if it isn’t him 100%. ( http://www.exit…rtcls/socio.htm ). We can’t figure Dave out. Seems like he was once his own man, but his free will has been subsumed by Ron.

We tried. It was hopeless. Their MO is to get new faces in the door and try the same old shit again, make another 2 months of progess, every one quits, then they try again. Ron will tell you people are too negative. The fact is he drives people insane.

It was definitely to early to release that product. It was ridiculous from the beginning. Do you even know what they were doing 3 months ago? Something completely different. Not even a consumer based app. They chase whatever idea fancies them today.

Ron’s first startup? Come on. Surely he’s regaled you with tales of how he’s started 7 or 8 companies, all but one successfully. Where are they? What are their names? Where are the hordes of good people who helped him and still want to work with and for him? He’s a liar. He has no clue how to manage people. If he did, they wouldn’t have had 30 people (REALLY, ITS TRUE) in and out of the door in calendar year 2006. He’s just batty.

I’ve worked for countless startups. Wellsphere is the most bumbling brew of incompetence and disaster I’ve ever seen. They are rookies among rookies. Their only saving grace is that they do somehow manage to attract fabulous employees, which pulls them along for some time. But they inevitably leave when they realize how moronic the people steering the ship are. I know at least 8 of these people. We still talk. We will probably be friends and colleagues for years to come. We spend most of our time laughing about our experiences at Hellsphere.

There was a core group of engineers. Really good ones. Stanford. MIT, etc. They got fed up and quit. Found work the next day. Why waste your time? There were no features to polish. Ron couldn’t keep the ship pointed in the same direction for more than four weeks at a time. How can you be successful in that environment?

Unrealistic expectations? Hello! Hi there! I’m Ron. This is my friend Dave. We want you to build this in four weeks. You agreed to this deadline. It has to be done by then because that’s when we have to launch. Bugger if it’s not possible. We can do it if we believe. Have some of this magical fairy dust!

The requirements weren’t flushed out because they never point at the same goal long enough to develop a sense of what they are building.

They’ve had several good UI people. They quit too. Some in tears at how awful Ron and Dave are. They were truly heartless. Who makes their employees cry? Seriously now? Who? More people throw shoes!

I commend the team that stuck it out. I met them once. They seemed like solid guys. If only we could have warned them what they were getting into. We tried. There was no way they could know. We are just disgruntled employees. Maybe now through this shared experience we can come to understand one another.

Jon, I’ve heard you’re good at what you do. We’re going to look you up. Sorry you got dragged across the country for this, but don’t worry. There are tons of brilliant, smart people to work with in this town… you just got drafted by the wrong team.

Jon Herman

To all of those that are posting the personal attacks on the founders of this company, I encourage you to take your issues up with them directly, rather than using this forum to sling mud at them. This blog is used to support the startup community, not slander and childish rumors. Let’s keep it’s credibility by being constructive and supportive, so we can improve that state of things.

I quit Wellsphere today after working there for a month. It was the hardest I’ve worked in my entire life and I am totally crushed that the site was released so early. In my opinion, it was too early to release and we pushed the product out the door.

Sure, this is Ron and Dave’s first web startup, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely incompetent. They made some mistakes. It happens. Startups are hard work, as most of us acknowledge, and part the reason many of us love being in startups is the learning experience involved.

Wellsphere’s plan is to get user feedback on the site from users and improve. They have a long way to go, but they are definitely motivated to do it.

In my opinion, I saw these things from the inside:

1) There was not a core group of in-house engineers working full-time on the product from beginning to end. There was a lot of turn over, which made it hard to keep consistent progress and polish the features.

2) There was a very unrealistic expectation about when the site would be ready. Rather than determining how long engineering would need to produce the product, it seemed that a date was picked and we went forward with it, regardless of the state of progress.

3) Part of the reason a bad deadline was picked, was because the requirements were not flushed out for engineering to determine how long it would take. So, during development, core concepts about about the site’s functionality changed several times.

4) A UI person was not hired to help ensure the site was usable.

The team of people that worked on this site gave it all they had. We came a long way in a very short time. It just wasn’t enough time, and the requirements were not defined.

It seems that there are a lot of disgruntled ex-employees commenting here. Now that I am an ex-employee, I can say that Ron and Dave were good to me. Yes, they expected a lot from me, and yes, there were times when I felt like I was being pushed too far, but they were good to me. I’m not sure what happened with the other employees, but I know how I was treated and I know it was good.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I chose to make this post, and no one else asked me to do it. I just felt compelled to share my view since there was so much negativity here.

Mirie Sanders

I can vouch for the fact that Ron Gutman and Dave Kashen are total jokes. Over 40 people have joined and left the company within two weeks. Any person who wants to do their due diligence on this company would immediately know about the utter incompetence and lack of integrity of this management team.

Greg Barstow

Jeremy, it would be funny if it wasn’t true… well it’s all true, and it’s still kinda funny. Bozo lives. His name is Gutman!

Ann Rad

i started searching the net, after reading this post. the best relevant site i found was a site called mdjunction (the name isn’t great!).
but i couldn’t find any blog posts on them…
i guess they r just trying to get the work done instead of feeding a few bloggers with alcohol to get them to write about a fully bugged horrible UI website.

Ryu

After such a mixed bag of reviews, I just had to take a look. It took fourteen people to put out that mediocre (being generous here) site? Am I missing something? Maybe they should have let some natural momentum build up first, not too mention work out at least a few of the kinks, before deciding to “launch”…

Paul

The site is hard to navigate and filled with bugs. I gave up minutes into it. Prone to hackers.

Jack LaLanne

I worked there too! It’s a comical display of Stanford wannabes with plentiful ego but no technical or management experience. There are about 4 times as many ex-employees as there are current employees. It’s really funny to see what a pathetic website they finally puked up after two years of dicking around.

Craig

Just checked it out. It is awful. Are you sure there are employees working at Wellsphere? Looks bad and why are there so many bugs?

Jackie

Seriously I looked at the site after reading these comments. At first I was skeptical. You are right the site is full of bugs and nonsense content that was obviosly made up. I think they took money from a vc so they could throw a big party. There site is the worst seen yet. Guys you cannot use PR alone. Too many niches in this space already. Boring.

guy

Jeremy,

Gregs comment is quite funny unless you happen to work there or invested in it. He is 100% correct and ‘lunatic’ is far too flattering to be used as a description of the CEO.

They will never get beyond 14 employees because it only takes a day or two for someone quit, as in get up and walk out with no intention of ever coming back.

Infact, I would almost guarantee that someone quit today. The errors happening on the site will cause the CEO to explode in rage and try to pinpoint blame on someone, likely the only someone who knows ANYTHING computer related. That someone will either get up and leave or break the CEOs nose. My bet is the latter as a broken nose is long overdue and likely longed for by the other 13 workers.

The blind leading the blind is an understatement on this one.

Greg Barstow

OMG, this company is a joke. The party was a total farce. I know several people who work there and the CEO is a raving lunatic. The whole engineering team quit on the same day and they had to scramble to put this out. They got 3MM in funding by conning an Israeli VC who was about to go on maternity leave. You couldn’t imagine a worse place to work.

SnakeOil

uhhhhhh… okay.

Let’s review: you throw a big launch party, stick a video on YouTube, have the same positive and upbeat posters on VentureBeat and TechCrunch, and have a Website full of bugs and limited functionality…

This is professional PR management and not true grass roots community excitement over an innovative and exciting site. Look elsewhere folks. You’re being taken advantage of.

Solomon

The idea might be cool and the launch party might be fun, but does that make a good Website or a good company? I’ve checked out Wellspere and find it to be a true alpha, so full of bugs and confusing as to be unusable. There are hardly any users on the site and I could find almost no one that took the time to fill out a Wellsphere. The design is horrendous and Web site seems to have missed all Web 2.0 features.

Traineo, RevolutioHealth, and others seem to be much better attemps at capturing this health-nut market.

Jeremy Pepper

Something about alcohol and partying and wellness just don’t seem to fit.

Then again, something about sitting in front of your computer, turning pale and soft, doesn’t jibe with an online fitness network.

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