For new or casual supplement users, popping into the supplement aisle to pick up even a simple multivitamin can be a confusing experience. There are so many choices, so many claims, so many price points. It can be hard to decide not only which products are reputable, but which products truly provide the active ingredients that are claimed on the label. Twenty-four-year-old Neil Thanedar wondered why there wasn’t a more efficient, less confusing way to cut through the informational clutter—so he developed one.
“I hate the FDA system—they have billions of dollars worth of product safety research, but consumers never see the benefits of this work because all the data is private and/or excessively complex,” said Mr. Thanedar. The son of a chemist with an undergraduate degree in chemistry of his own, he co-founded his own FDA-registered, GMP analytical laboratory that removed carcinogenic chemicals from non-supplement products.
Last May, Mr. Thanedar launched LabDoor, a startup company that communicates product analyses, report card-style letter grade rankings and relevant product data to consumers via an iPhone app that he said helps consumers make smart decisions faster. “I created LabDoor to focus our efforts on making product safety information beautiful and simple,” he said. “If we can solve this problem, we open up our market from individual research organizations to millions of regular consumers. That’s the vision behind our applications.”
Here’s the LabDoor approach in a nutshell: first the company identifies a product category (right now, those categories are limited to multivitamins, protein powders and energy drinks), then it evaluates a sampling of products within the category by identifying active ingredients, measuring potencies and researching efficacy via published studies, before assigning a letter grade (A-F) to the products.
The company’s recently launched web and mobile applications include more than 100 LabDoor Reports for top supplement and energy drink products. In fact, LabDoor has chemically analyzed 200 products from the National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Supplements Labels Database.
The testing methods and instrumentation the company currently uses are very similar to those Mr. Thanedar and his colleagues have used for years, including numerous chromatography and spectrometry standards (HPLC, ICP-MS, GC/MS, etc.). “We collect data on purity (pesticide and heavy metal contamination), identity (expected ingredients) and strength (expected quantities),” he told Nutraceuticals World. “LabDoor also utilizes data points from over 10,000 clinical research articles and FDA reports about ingredient safety and efficacy to quantify the expected positive and negative effects of individual products.”
What sets LabDoor apart are its proprietary algorithms which measure and weigh all of the information the researchers uncover according to clinical efficacy, ingredient safety, FDA reporting, manufacturing purity and chemical reverse engineering, all of which play into the product’s final letter grade.
Currently, the company contracts its analytical chemistry work through independent GMP laboratories, but it has started researching strategies around building its own FDA-registered, GMP laboratory facilities. At present, LabDoor has raised $250,000 from angel investors, and $100,000 from San Francisco-based accelerator Rock Health (according to Forbes).
Mr. Thanedar explained that LabDoor’s customer base is somewhat akin to the Yelp app user: tech-savvy and craving concise information in a slick, no muss, no fuss interface. “That means that for us, great scientific data is just the start,” he said. “Our development and design team is obsessed with making science beautiful and easy to use, including consumer-friendly grades, interactive data visualization and apps for in-store research.”
At present, the free LabDoor mobile app is meant for in-store research. “A quick barcode scan will take you to a simplified 'report card' version of our LabDoor Report for that product,” Mr. Thanedar said. “During our limited beta launch, all features on our iPhone application are free. Eventually, there will be new applications for other mobile platforms, along with special features available to paid subscribers.
The premium membership replete with additional features is currently in beta test mode. According to Forbes, LabDoor hopes to turn a profit by selling its chemical data to the pharmacies and supermarkets that stock the products.
“We are decades overdue for real transparency and facts, and that’s LabDoor’s specialty,” Mr. Thanedar said. “Science needs to go mainstream [but] the biggest challenge here is scale—how do you get millions of people to use data in their everyday lives?
“For now, we’re 100% focused on supplements and functional foods,” he added, noting LabDoor has the potential to solve the same problems in other industries like pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. “We’ll continue to go where our users need us.”
Simplifying the Supplement Shopping Experience
LabDoor distills the benefits of supplement products into a letter grade that's delivered via a smart phone app.
By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor
Published February 21, 2013