NexChange Interview Series: John Probandt, BFD Inc.

“Sometimes it takes a big corporation two years to audit their books, with blockchain and modern technologies there’s no excuse like that anymore.”

The interview opens up a special edition of NexChange Interview Series ahead of the virtual Hong Kong Blockchain Week 2020. This time NexChange’s Head of Content Olga Yaroshevsky sits down with John Probandt, Chairman and CEO of BFD Inc. John has over thirty years of experience with investing in the fitness, health, nutrition, diet and bioscience industries. He now runs a venture where science, technology, and nutrition “baby food diet” (what BFD actually stands for) techniques come together to help people lose weight, improve health and find a perfectly balanced lifestyle.

OY: I’m joined today by a prominent expert in health, wellness and tech. Live from LA, John Probandt. John, so what does BFD stand for?

JP: BFD stands for the Baby Food Diet. It’s a type of diet that is a supplemental meal replacement. I created this diet after living in China for 20 years. Because, living in China, what I noticed was people getting fatter and fatter, and the rate of diabetes was going up and up. In 1980 in China the diabetes rate was only 1%, and 1.5% people overweight. And 2020, the rate of diabetes in China is close to 13%, so over 150 million people with diabetes. So, I created this diet with the idea of replacing 2 meals a day with pre-prepared, pre-packaged meals, but curated scientifically by top scientists in the world who we have within the company. One is considered the father of sports nutrition, Dr Scott Connelly. Another is considered the father of probiotics, Dr Prakash. Another one, Dr Ping, is a doctor who’s been an expert in weight loss for many, many years, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. We have these three doctors who created the formulations. All of them are patented. So not only do they have trade secret protection they also have patent protection which really makes us unique. 

OY: So it’s not just a baby food diet, it’s an upgraded version, right?

JP: It’s a baby food diet for adults. You take it in as basic baby food, which is pureed vegetables and such as that. Then our scientists added a bunch of stuff to it. It decreases significantly that you develop type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes you’re not going to get rid of it, but your dependence on insulin will be reduced, your weight will be reduced, your energy will go up. It’s actually incredible how this works. 

OY: How is technology applied here?

JP: Technology is very important in this entire thing. We’re using both AI and blockchain as it is growing so quickly, and eventually there will be at least 20 million people a day using this in a relatively near future. The only way to track everything is using blockchain and AI. Technologies are an extremely big part of it. But there’s more than that: we’re also using social media. It’s all technology-based. Even the logistics and delivery of the products is based on technology. It’s pretty exciting. We did this diet really to help Chinese people and people around the world, but we focus on China market first, control their weight, control type 2 diabetes, so they don’t end up developing it. And then COVID came along. I’m sorry about COVID and I’m sorry for everybody who died and suffered, that’s for sure. But the fact is: the second-highest death rate from COVID is from type 2 diabetes. Our diet has now a greater function than it did before. It boosts your immune system, as I already mentioned, it keeps you from getting type 2 diabetes and keeps your weight down. This diet has become popular with the book, it’s already become a huge success, because right now the world needs it. China is our primary market, but we’re moving to India, to your country Russia, and other countries around the world. Our doctors are really that good. It’s all about technology when it comes down to it, whether we’re talking about the creation of the recipes of the product, that was created partly by AI, actually. It’s all about technology, from logistics to monitoring results from people, and blockchain is extremely important in the whole equation. 

OY: Diets have been out there for thousands of years. And there are a lot of diets nowadays on the market, but not all of them are technologically backed and science-based. So it’s some kind of amusing intersection of wellness, health industries and tech industries. From where you stand, do you think that the health industry is technically evolved?

JP: It’s going to, it’s gonna have to. As time goes on, and wellness industry will have to move a little bit ahead of the curve. Part of that reason is my background, as an investment banker I like to stand technology-oriented. I was with Morgan Stanley and some other big firms. I’ve owned my own firm for a lot of years, we’ve done a lot of tech investing. So we know the importance of doing this. I’ve been involved in the health business for so many years, investing in so many different health companies, owning a chain of gyms at one point, developing products like this before. I know the importance of being surrounded by people who are smarter than me, more educated and experienced than me. All our doctors and our team, I would say I’m the lowest guy even though I’m the founder and the chairman and I surround myself with so many people. I want my ego shut down every single day. That includes our technology people, our doctors, everything. We want the smartest, sharpest people, and if anybody’s not smarter than me we don’t want him in the company.

OY: Which technologies are the keys to the future success of the industry? Blockchain is very important for transparency and for tracking, for keeping the data secure. What about other technologies?

JP: Testing all new types of technologies and software is important when you’re making a food product. There’s so much software that our doctors use, it speeds up the entire process and makes it much more efficient. You know the results when you’re testing things. AI and robotics come to the forefront. In manufacturing, they create more efficiency and consistency. In logistics especially, like I said — we want to know that the product got delivered to a person on time, we want to know that they received it, we want to monitor them with it, and communicate with each person. Let’s say we have 20 million dieters, we want to communicate with each one of these people every single day. The only way anybody’s successful on a workout or on a diet program is because somebody’s monitoring them. We have all these people that we call nutritional coaches, and they contact a person — maybe not on a telephone call, as there’s too many people — but they’re constantly pelting them with different types of information, they’re encouraging them to make videos and post up, as it builds up your self-esteem. 

You can ask me a question which would be important: why did you choose China as the first market? The reason is, as I told you before, is type 2 diabetes, but more importantly is because of culture. In China, meals are everything for doing business deals. Meals are everything for the family. Western diets are very restrictive and don’t work. Our diet is designed so you replace two meals a day, and then the third meal which is dinner with your family or with your business. That’s normal. You can even drink alcohol. I’m not gonna encourage people to be drunks, but it’s not gonna hurt you on our diet. If you want a diet that gives you the flexibility, something that gives you an opportunity for a lifetime of being fit, healthy and happy, our diet is the answer for sure. 

OY: Your background, over 30 years of your experience in investment, health, fitness, nutrition, and bioscience, I guess that has helped you a lot, building this new venture.

JP: It also helped in meeting the new people and having the credibility to get the doctors I’ve managed to board with us. If I didn’t have that kind of experience it would be very hard to get people to join us. One more thing I didn’t say and it’s important: this diet is based on portion control. This means you can eat anything you want, but if you watch your portion a little bit, you’ll lose weight faster. If you don’t watch your portions and drink alcohol every night you still gonna lose weight, it just won’t be as fast. This is a big advantage of our diet.

OY: SO, a calorie control is ensured by portion control, as simple as that. 

JP: It’s just SQ, EQ and IQ. SQ means being spiritual about the way that you approach things, it’s more about Chinese and Indian market. IQ is your intelligence. EQ is using common sense. You put all three together, and our diet, and you have a better result from it. You’d say, why would you have SQ in there, spiritual? I think spirituals are important in everybody’s life every single day. If we can count our blessings every single day, we can be thankful and more appreciative of the results we get and we’re gonna stay with it. 

OY: Back to technology, just a detail question: is that a single platform that’s gonna be tracking dieters and logistics, or you will use different platforms to help you with that?

JP: They’re all internally created platforms, our own in house platforms created by people we either hire or acquire from someone else and then modify their technology to fit our particular need. We don’t go to another platform that somebody else has and put our stuff on there. But we might go to another platform and make an agreement with them or pay the license fee to use their technology and enhance it to work more specifically for our situation. It’s unlimited technology. This is what I really learned in investment banking: whatever is today is not tomorrow. Technology is so dynamic. Even three months later the technology that you’re using can be dated. You have to have people within your organisation who will modify your technology, letting it evolve. Sometimes you even have to drop the technology completely and replace it with another one, that’s very important to us. 

OY: It’s called a digital transformation, a digitisation, it’s kinda crucial for businesses these days. Do you think it’s also important for all levels of life, for governments, for people’s daily life. And what do you see as an important outcome of this digital transformation? In 20 or 30 years. Is it AI everywhere, cashless society, biohacking, everyone using open banking?

JP: Blockchain is very important because it gives encryption and greater security to all transactions. If we look at the history, this is an unrealistic scenario, if bank robbers would do this they’d never be bank robbers. When a bank robber walks into a bank, believe it or not, the average haul is only 400 dollars. Imagine that! If bank robber do that why would they rob a bank? Digital robberies and crimes, there’s been billions of dollars stolen from a bank, and because it’s done in a different geographical region you can’t even prosecute or capture the people. As we’re moving to a cashless society all technology, all encryption and safety has to keep improving. That’s true with our diet too, and our food. When we’re manufacturing – and this is people consuming food! – we wanna make sure the quality is perfect. We wanna be monitoring the factories, the shipment when it’s on a boat or an airplane, when it’s in a warehouse, when it’s delivered to a person. And make sure there’s nothing that can cause our products to get spoiled or have any problem happen to them. We can monitor our products all the way from raw ingredients to manufacturing, to all the different delivery stages, to logistics lines, to make sure you get something that you bought, and that thing is gonna keep you healthy and not get you sick.

OY: So, a perfect digital society in the future is, let’s put it this way, transparent. 

JP: It gives you the opportunity to know immediately, within a millisecond, where something is, what’s going on and what’s the accounting, something you weren’t able to do in the past. Sometimes it takes a big corporation two years to audit their books, with blockchain and modern technologies there’s no excuse like that anymore.