Noom CEO and co-founder Saeju Jeong moved to the U.S. in 2005 with $3,000, zero acquaintances and a lot of gusto to help people live healthier lives. He later met Artem Petakov, who he convinced to leave Google and create the company that ultimately became Noom. They launched the well-known weight loss app in 2017.
The privately held company does not disclose user or subscriber numbers, but app analytics company SensorTower says it was the most-installed weight loss app in the U.S. during 2020.
Jeong recently talked to The Associated Press about life goals, weight loss and heavy metal. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: You founded a heavy metal label, that’s a far cry from Noom. How did you find your way into the wellness realm?
A: I founded the first heavy-metal label in South Korea because I love heavy metal music. I started my business when I was 19 and that was the way I discovered entrepreneurship. My father was a doctor and ran the hospital. I looked up to him a lot. Unfortunately, he passed away quite early, at age 51, from lung cancer. That helped me to see the world differently. It really shocked me. I was twenty-one — a college kid. I was forced to mature because I had a very intense experience and it really helped me to think about why I am here on this planet. It was a reminder that everyone will die and your legacy matters. I decided I am going to do something like my father had inspired me to do before I die. I want to live up to my potential. I will do my best, but with a laser focus on health care to make the most impact.
Q: Why is it called Noom?
A: It’s moon backward. Because Noom services, we are a companion. Changing behavior, looking for a healthy lifestyle, it’s such a journey; it never ends. We are the best companion for every single user, just like the moon is the guide and companion of your journey in the dark.
Q: How do you see it as being different from the other weight loss services?
A: A lot of people think of us as a consumer weight loss company and I think that’s partially right and wrong. The reason we pay attention to weight management is because weight management is a good barometer of your overall health. Period. And weight is an issue for a lot of people.
We use a scientific approach and focus on the user experience for the best outcome. The goal we founded the company with is to help as many lives as we can. Behavior change is a very organic, lasting, healthy way to make the most impact.
Q: Your revenue doubled last year. Is that due to increased interest from people who want to lose weight they gained during the pandemic?
A: Yes and no. I’ll be frank about it: I wish I could directly figure out what is COVID-19’s impact on our business. I could do more if I figured it out. But we couldn’t figure it out, not because people are stupid but because Noom has been growing well before COVID-19. I think there was a lot of organic interest because of COVID 19 but we are in hypergrowth as a company, so it was not super clear if COVID-19 actually provided a tailwind. Our guess is COVID-19 really changed the way health care has been treated across the entire industry and the end user base may keep paying attention to the importance of health. I think there’s a silver lining there.