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The Driven Podcast 006 Phil Southerland

The Driven Podcast 006 Phil Southerland

December 28, 2022

Phil Southerland
CEO & Founder at Supersapiens, CEO & Co-Founder at Team Novo Nordisk




Phil Southerland is driving change in the world of diabetes. He's the CEO & Founder at Supersapiens, as well as Team Novo Nordiskthe world's first all-diabetes professional cycling team. He has become the hero that he once searched for in his youth, and rather than giving up to diabetes, he leaned into diabetes. Phil has spearheaded the movement to redefine the mindset around and the technology of diabetes management.


Rick Baraff:
Hey, am Mdrive Nation Rick Baraff here with another awesome blast of the driven podcast? We've got the Amazing Phil Sutherland here who is the founder of Team Novo Nordisk All diabetic cycling team, which I'm super excited to talk about and the founder of super Sapiens, which we will jump into to it's a real time glucose monitoring system, which just helps everybody not just diabetics, but everyone. Cool, Phil, how the heck are you? Doing

Phil Southerland 2:42
Rick, it's great. Great to reconnect with you after what, 16-17 years now?

Rick Baraff 2:47
Yeah, yeah, a couple of years. You know, back in our teenage days, I think. Tell us a little bit about your cycling history. We'll get back in we'll eventually get to the race across America. But um, yeah, I mean, your story's amazing. Tell us how it all started. It's

Phil Southerland 3:05
one it's really cool to be talking to you. Because it just brings me back to being 2524 years old again. And anything in the world was possible. Because the power of the youth right? Yeah. But for me, I diagnosed type one diabetes and someone's age, my parents were told to be better blind by 25. They really when I was young, that if I was active and moving, it was easier to control my glucose. And I numbers more like they had which parents without diabetes. And so they got me into sport, and it was swimming and football, baseball, racquetball, the whole nine yards. I learned early in sport, if I could control glucose, I could win back control, I would lose. And the third, I think the lesson that applies to all of us in the world, because glucose does matter for all of us is that on the days that I was active, it was much easier to manage my diabetes and get good numbers. Ironically, I started riding bikes, competitively for Andy Barr, because I had a Snickers bar at school, my glucose went to 350. I knew that was a number that I could go blind from if I kept going there. So did a little test and rode my bike to the gas station, higher, higher, and it got a Snickers bar, rode my bike around the neighborhood. So my legs hurt came home, and my glucose was perfect. So it didn't the next day, and that was my entry into cycling, just to so I could eat food and it was normal. And that was quite liberating.

Rick Baraff 4:37
Um, so explain. For folks who don't know there are diabetes that most people are aware of, but there are two types of diabetes.

Phil Southerland 4:46
So it's type type one has an autoimmune condition, and it's the body attacks your beta cells which produce insulin. Essentially, you have to immediately go on insulin, or you'll die. And so it's You know, it's, I think diabetes only chooses the champions, right? In today's world, there are phenomenal insulins, there's continuous glucose monitors, which I'm able to look at my risks, check my glucose 100 times a day take action, it's a really good time to have diabetes. And because of the work of Team type one team ever notice, we've really helped people with diabetes all around the world, you know, that they can do anything they want, right? That's type one diabetes, type two diabetes. And you know, it's, it's a genetic condition. Also, most of the onset of type two happens because of how you were raised and is the body has God given amount of insulin that you're able to produce or to use? Once you burn that out, then that begins the onset of type two. The thing about type two is that it's it's progressive disease. And really, there's a negative stigma out there associated with type two. So first, you're told you have type two, and then you've you're a failure. People just associate it with a VC. And that's not that's not the case, right? It's if we all live to be 150 years old, everyone would get type two diabetes, you know, so type two is you go on diet and exercise, and then when that doesn't work, then you go to first pill, and then after a year, that doesn't work, and the next one, and so it's this like, ongoing journey to get to, you know, a motivation for glucose optimization. And then there's pre diabetes, which is, you know, right now, I think the number is 90 million people, and then states have pre diabetes. And so the fact of the matter is, you know, I guess glucose matters for everyone. If you have type one, diabetes, type two diabetes, pre diabetes, or you're a professional athlete striving to win the Tour de France, glucose matters. And then to, you know, we can all optimize glucose and exercise is still that billion dollar drug that really, super sapiens is prescribing to the planet as a means to, you know, take control of your glucose and live a great, long, healthy, happy life. We're all we're all part of the same family. We're everyone, everyone in the world. And I think we all get a little bit more active. As individuals, we can inspire our family to get active and then healthier and happier society going forward.

Rick Baraff 7:18
Yeah, right, on, right on. So let's go back, you're underselling yourself. I think a little bit I mean, that is I know you you're you're very you're very competitive also from from a young age, and you were very driven. And again, that obviously plays into you know, founding, you know, the cycling team and whatnot. So talk about your, your, your drive early on. I mean, even with your condition, you became, I think a champion, right?

Phil Southerland 7:41
I mean, it's, I probably had a little chip on my shoulder because I had football coaches that benched me because I had diabetes. Because I wasn't a good athlete. They just were scared of putting a kid with diabetes into the game and what's going to happen? Are they going to be the cause of my death?

Rick Baraff 7:57
That's a great lesson. Yeah. For people out there. Yeah.

Phil Southerland 8:00
But for me, the bike was the beauty of cycling is it never gets easier, you just go faster. And so I had a great group of guys in Tallahassee, Florida, where I grew up who would give me the group rides and it started with mountain bikes. And then I got on the road, I made money in my first road race. And as a guy I can, I was a poor, my family had no money was raised by a single mom. So the fact that I could make some money doing something I loved at 16 years old was pretty cool. So I really started to focus on road cycling, the junior national championships in 99. I didn't finish the road race or criterium, which was a massive disappointment. You know, the failure, I think failure in sport is just the ability to look within yourself and get really driven to not fail again. And so I set the goal in the year 2000. My final year as a junior top 10 and nationals, I achieve that target. I was eighth place in the junior national criterium championships with the University of Georgia. When I was a junior, I wanted to win, you know, at all cost. So you know, remember my last year as a junior I, I crashed eight times north, the final corner of the race, but then I won nine races. So my equation for success was that I crashed. And it was a year when I was able to get top 10. Again, ninth place the s u 23. National Road Race championships. I had offered to go race professionally in Europe, but in college, but if I did that I would have been kicked off my mom's insurance plan. We couldn't afford the cost of insulin and you know, test strips were actually what was the most expensive back then. So I stayed in school. And then after winning the SEC criterium championships for Georgia, I met a guy with diabetes Joe Eldridge. He said, it's cool seeing you and it's proof that one day I can win to you know, you're my hero, and I was like, huh, that was interesting. I never heard that before, right. So over the next six to 12 months Geminis friendship evolved So I inspired him to improve his diabetes control. Now he did. He said, Phil, thanks. You know, because of you, I'm going to see my grandkids grow up one day. Life. And so I was on a, again, US senior, my second year at university, Georgia. I didn't have a car. It was finals week. And so I didn't have the time to do my 30 hour base week. I'm gonna ride my bike home. My mom said you crazy? Yeah, that's 300 miles. How are you going to get here? There were no Google Maps at a time. So I had 11 terms that I taped onto my, my handlebar and set it set off. And this was in the Lance Armstrong ad. Or, you know, I saw the impact that sport had on the cancer community. And I know heroes with diabetes, there's no one I do, there was nothing but negativity about our disease state and your your long term outcomes. And based on what I've done for Joe, I said, You know what, we can use the bike as a platform to inspire, educate, empower people affected by diabetes. The idea came on a bike ride, like all good ideas do and was able to do my senior management class with Dr. Epperson. 25% of the grade was a business plan. So team type one, this is fine class project, I expect to see in the grade, but I did get first $400 of venture funding from Hopkins, and set off on a mission to use sport and more the bike as a platform to change the world, the way the world views people diabetes, but more importantly, to change the way people with diabetes look within themselves. And we've been wildly successful. But it's been a 17 year journey off the back of 23 years of being driven for success in sport. And I've been blessed. Fortunate.

Rick Baraff 11:50
No, that's amazing. That's awesome. I'm hoping that everybody out there can take something away from this, of course, even in the best of health, I take away the inspiration from you. So my big question in there is how it was there ever has there ever been a point where you've, let's say thought of yourself as normal as it? Was there always that thing in the back of your mind? How did you? How did you think of yourself back then during all these times, even when you were winning? Did you still think of yourself as maybe a person with a disability? Let's call it or were you just like, hey, I'm just a normal dude. And I'm competitive. And I'm gonna just show everybody that.

Phil Southerland 12:27
I mean, I, I was an athlete who wanted to win, right? I always had ambition in sport, like, and I was. So on the bike. Everyone has the right, it's, if someone without diabetes bonks, right, they is they have low glucose. So I remember, in my college years, and we'd go on these five hour full gas train rides in the mountains, with me and my local professional training buddies. And then I'd when my guys my friends were like laying on the ground, and we get to the car, like check their glucose, and they had they were hypoglycemic, or they actually bumped.

Rick Baraff 13:00
And so secondaires Wow, okay, that's cool. Yeah, it was fun

Phil Southerland 13:03
to see data really early on from a glucose, this glucose testing before it continues. Throughout that were a whole lot more similar, then the textbooks would create. And so cycling in sport, you know, it was that great equalizer. So I never looked at myself as disease, like I never looked at was less than someone else. I mean, maybe my bank account was less than shorter than others. And this that, you know, I'm in college, I, I looked like I was 14 years old. I had other things outside of diabetes, that you could quickly make fun of me for diabetes, that was mind control. Yeah. And I really, you know, if you want to talk about the theme of driven, right is, was driven from a six years old on to not go blind for diabetes. And that driven to use diabetes, you know, to control glucose as a means for success in sport. I found a system that worked for me. And it's, I don't like diabetes can cause pretty drastic consequences. Like if it's not managed, it's easy to make mistakes and, you know, average person with type one diabetes makes 300 Life or death decisions a day. Right? That's a mental burden that people don't understand. And I think if you watch our documentary, right for your life, which came out this you can really get a look inside what it's like to live as an athlete with diabetes through the lens of the athletes of Team Novo Nordisk. Yeah, great piece. Yeah, I'm privileged to have this disease. I think I'm healthier now than I would have be if I didn't have diabetes. And if someone offered me a cure tomorrow said, Phil will take this magic pill, your diabetes goes away. I'm not going to take it because this is the one thing in my life that I can own and I can control you know, business family, this all those things, you know, they're there. We all have our challenges, but A diabetes is mine, and I own it. And I win with it 99% of the time, and I want to use iPhone to help the rest of the population also when in their own personal diabetes game 100% of the time.

Rick Baraff 15:12
Awesome. That's amazing. And that will I guess it sort of leads us up to that step to the race across America, which I believe is still a whole nother ball of wax for you at the time, racecars America is a cross country bike race get from one ocean to the other as fast as possible. There are individual people who do it, which is just mind blowing. And there are a number of different team teams out there that are doing it. You did it in a four person team the first time when when we met. Oh, you did a person? Was it a? Oh, gosh, I don't know. I don't remember why I remember four people. But okay, she didn't a person team. And you of course went on to win it a handful of other times. So just talk quickly about how your decision and because that was, I guess that was you know, almost like your launch of teen type one, right?

Phil Southerland 15:56
I mean, it was really, I gave a speech at a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, you know, cycling ride to care. People said, Look, Phil, we've never heard so much positivity of diabetes, like you need to do something, do something big ride your bike across America. I just graduated college with $70,000 in debt, you know, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I was like, Well, I can't afford a month to ride across America. But we could do RAM. Right. So the team together. And then in November. Again, I was 23 Looks like I was 16 saying I was gonna raise dollars to put all diabetic team in the race across America. And everyone looked at me like you're absolutely crazy. Like this is not possible not going to happen. And, you know, we, the bike industry came around. You know, Lightspeed was an early sponsor, Herbert Crable, the only guy at Interbike, who told me no, but eventually came around and gave me some Steve Blake was at Oakley. He hooked us up, you know, and, and others. But I got put on a game change for me when I got put on a continuous glucose monitoring trial. And we're November of 2005. And I've been checking my glucose 20 times a day, for a bunch of years supreme control diabetes, I thought I knew everything. But in 20 days with a continuous glucose monitor, I learned more about what everything did to my body than in 23 years of obsessing about glucose control, when we had this big platform to do the race across America. And I said to my doctor said, Look, this is the tool that I need to make sure we do this safely. Because I didn't want to be a martyr, where one of us died in the middle of the country, and then use that as a negative platform to raise more money for a cure. Now, we needed to empower people and empower, we need to succeed. And I knew to succeed, we had to have this continuous glucose monitor. So I pitched added diabetes care back in January 25 2006. They agreed that night over a glass of wine to under us, and you know, and we got the devices, you know, the day before the race in 2006. So here are eight of us with diabetes all using brand new technology that we've never gotten to use in a race environment before. And we've quickly tried to learn figure things out what works for you, how is this impacting you? Yada, yada, yada. But, you know, the start line that you're I think you'll remember, people look at us like we were a group of freaks, right? They like a team at eyebags. Good luck. We hope you finish. And it's like, we're not here to finish. We're here to win and

Rick Baraff 18:30
yeah, yeah, nice kids at school, you know. And nice. It's

Phil Southerland 18:33
an I was confident I put out a lot of work and to preparation. And yeah. And I was extremely fit extremely lean. I was ready to win the race. Like that was my, my sole goal. The rest of the race cross America community just thought, Well, we think this is cute, or it's cool. It's inspiring. But the fact that we were there to win, even our own PR team, if I go back was a team failed. And they're, they're going to be impossible to be right. And they were amazing guys, like I've rode bikes with Nat Ross and him up last a couple of months ago in Arkansas, reminiscing on that race. Work amazing competition was but yeah, we we figured out that if our glucose was between 140 and 180, we felt good. We the second half the race, were able to titrate much more effectively. We went faster. And I day, 16 hours, four minutes, which was a world record in the eight person division. Or mobile. We lost the race to Vail Beaver Creek, a team of pro mountain bikers by three minutes. Yeah, yeah. So that was, you know, beautifully devastating. I like to say. Again, failure helps motivate the drive for success. The impact we had on diabetes community was phenomenal. You know, we we created heroes for people with a team of people diabetes. I mean, I just I saw kids with pride that they never had before parents Well with tears in their eyes because they knew their kids will be okay one day. And we knew we had to win, right? That was this community deserved champions. So we pulled another sponsors in the pharma med tech space, we knew how to control our glucose to perfection. And that second next year, you know, Vail Beaver Creek was, again, our number one competition, amazing eyes. And we were able to win the race. But I guess before that is the start line. And the days before the race, year to 2007. We knew that we were there to win, like we were going to be we were the team going to set the record. And just seeing how quickly an entire community changed their mindset about us people with diabetes. Because of the platform, the sport was inspiring. So I really I owe a tremendous set set of gratitude to the race across America, because that's the race that set us off on this journey, which has now helped us change the world change access to medicine and developing countries around the world. And bring hope and inspiration to people diabetes, nowhere, no matter where you live, nearly 10 million fans on social media, we have camped in the summertime now kids with diabetes, offer our program. It's just like, sad, like I've got two of the coolest jobs in the world. And bringing us glucose matters and helping people optimize their glucose, no matter what you're optimizing for is something I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity.

Rick Baraff 21:34
I know that cycling you know probably is you know, way down the list than most people in America but I know your your reaches is far greater and more prominent, of course, especially in Europe and elsewhere. And that number of just you know, people who have you know, either diabetes or pre diabetic in America alone is just staggering 90 plus million that's just such a huge percentage of the population. So yeah, that that works into you know, your your team. I mean, you are the founder of Team Novo Nordisk and the managing director I believe, right I mean, I saw I saw your film is really great. And I've really recommend everybody get out there and watch it I mean, you can find it on on your website team Novo Nordisk, right for your life, it's just a really cool snapshot of not just what it takes, I mean, you know, forget that diabetes is just an awesome sort of glimpse in the inner workings of just being a pro athlete, you know, which is what I took away. I mean, I understand that, yeah, you're trying to, of course, also make the point that these guys have this extra, you know, thing to deal with, but it was just really fascinating to me to see that kind of stuff. So these days, just take us through a day in the life of managing a cool international Pro Cycling Team.

Phil Southerland 22:46
I mean, it's, we have a phenomenal partner and nothing, right, this next 2023 will be our 10th year as this team, if team ever noticed the mission to inspire, educate, empower people affected by diabetes all over the world. And, and, and because of the stability of the partnership, you know, I've been able to keep my good friend and really the general manager of the cycling team facility Davydenko, the helm. And vice does the real the heavy lifting for the organization. We have a phenomenal team of directors, sportifs, coaches, sports scientists, who are all working to help our athletes optimize to be the best athletes they can be. And they're all very driven to do so. Because the more you win, the more you get paid. And the more impact you can have on the world. So, you know, it's this age that I also run a startup company, right super sapiens. And you know, what most people don't know is that you know, super Sapiens exists today because of Team Novo Nordisk. Right? We've, our athletes have been added continuous glucose monitors in new jersey pocket for a lot of years. But, you know, data that you can't see is data that you can't take action on. So it was chip Hawkins, the co founder or not former CEO, he's the founder of Wahoo fitness, who, when I said Chip, I really need this for my athletes. You know, he went out and made it happen. And so December 12 2018, it was the first day I ever rode with glucose on my bike computer on my Wahoo bolt. And my world changed. And two days of seeing every data point in front of me, I learned more about how to optimize my fuel for performance than the teen years of having a sensor and CGM in my pocket and then put it on the athletes of T Nova Nordisk these guys, they've been racing bikes with diabetes for years and years. We changed everything we did from a nutritional and insulin timing standpoint. Their control improved drastically, and we went on to have the best season we ever, ever had. So it was because of this, I thought, this is the best invention I've ever had, you know, got to bring it to market and so it was able to Wahoo, you know, kind of come up with a name through some cool branding kids, super sapiens. We had a conversation with Abbott to talk about, you know, taking their technology outside of the diabetes landscape of the world of sport. We've done that and our athletes have won, you know, world record in, you know, marathon with Elliot Kip shogi this year. Gustafson won Kona

Rick Baraff 25:21
Wow. Okay, so you had those Yeah, that's awesome.

Phil Southerland 25:25
You know, for yellow and green at the tutor, tutor Francis here you know, move on arts and on our technology, Sep customer, an athlete from day one. Like they were the first pro athletes to validate you know, super use of super sapiens.

Rick Baraff 25:40
These are big these are big names in pro cycling of anyways, still not familiar. But But yeah, that's That's amazing. That's the point I was gonna make is you know, super Sapiens, especially this this, you know, system for monitoring your blood, your blood glucose real time is absolutely not just for people with diabetes. It's, it's, you know, like you said, a game changer for these incredible, you know, cyclists and athletes who do, you know, really world class? So yeah,

Phil Southerland 26:05
but I mean, the thing that really makes me proud is because people that for 100 insulins existed, people with diabetes have been alive for 100 years. Now. First, the first 100 years of life for people with diabetes has been catching up. It's been trying to be normal. But now we flip the script. It's because of Team Novo Nordisk because of these athletes diabetes, that now the best athletes in every sport in the world, are using continuous glucose monitoring to optimize their performance. Yeah, like you're you're in, in Dallas, Rick, so I'm sure there's a lot of golf fans out there. But I don't know if you've seen like we did on Instagram, how he's using super sapiens. He said CGM. I know he's using super Sapiens to optimize his fueling to be the best he can be on the golf course. And that would never have happened if it wasn't for these guys to have an artist. So it's amazing. We finally flip the script that people diabetes are leading the future of sports performance in the in the realm of glucose optimization.

Rick Baraff 27:03
There you go. That's awesome. And then you know, again, like I said, your your team success has been amazing. You even have a farm team. And one other amazing, awesome thing again, I've know we've touched upon this from the film is just seeing, you know, that that, you know, one to one outreach and seeing, you know, young kids who've come up to your team and they probably like you, you know, a couple decades ago, let's say that, you know, might not have had any heroes. And now they do and

Phil Southerland 27:31
the the team that we have now is what I wish existed when I was a kid any goal any dream that I had was all there was doubt that surrounded it because it has never been done before. And and so like it's I've got this tremendous pleasure like I'm making these kids dreams come true. So they're grateful to me, but they're they're making my dream come true. Because they're for the kid like me who's 15 years old with a dream their parents download can come through their friends down oh come through, there's not going to be this routing doubt that can really kill it kill drive for a young person. And so we it's, it's a unique opportunity. But yeah, they're, they're paving the way for the next 100 years of life and domination for the diabetic audience in the world today.

Rick Baraff 28:20
So super sapiens is not quite available in the US yet the the system, but hopefully will be next year you think or when

Phil Southerland 28:28
we're coming to market in the US will get here, Amazon, right? There's discussions we're having, which might fast track that. But we've got, I think, a nearly a 2000 person clinical trial going right now. A lot of the top athletes and business leaders in the states were using it, you know, because, look, if you want to be good at the office, you need to optimize your glucose, if you want to be good night, if you need optimize your glucose. And if you want to succeed in sport, you definitely need to optimize your glucose. So it's yeah, we're just really at the tip of the spear for really understanding, you know, how, you know how much glucose matters for everyone in the world. And we use it as a platform to try and help educate the world so that they can begin to take action to be the best of yourself. If you want to live better, you want to feel better, you want to train better. Super sapiens is your tool.

Rick Baraff 29:17
Obviously, it was, you know, part of self reliance but you know, you've become quite a tech whiz, I guess in this space, too, is where you literally helping develop the technology as well for Super sapiens.

Phil Southerland 29:31
From the product aspect. I I know I know what matters, right? And so from there's a lot of lessons that I've learned from the 200,000 times I've checked my glucose, you know, in my life that I can then pass forward to our product team and really help us ensure that we get glucose where people want to see it, right so like getting the energy banned for the Wahoo to the Garmin. Those are things that as an app Our company, they don't make sense. But from a value to our consumer company, or it's the golden solution. So I wouldn't say I'm a tech whiz by any means. But when it comes to glucose, and you know how to gamify it, you know, there's no one better on the planet than me. I try. I say that humbly, right. I'm just fortunate to have the experience. But it's, it's been a journey, I'll tell you like, the startup world, and the roller coaster. And we're, we're nearly four years and now. You know, there's days, it's a lot like running a cycling team, you know, there's days where celebrations, and then there's days where you're fighting for survival. The capital markets are an interesting place right now. That's my number one job there is raising money to keep driving the innovation and keep driving the call it the growth in Europe where we are. So it's, you know, you have good days, you have bad days, but when you have a clear goal at the end, you know, it allows you to stay motivated in the darkest times, because you know, what the impact you're going to have. And I think that's, again, I, if it wasn't for my history in sport, if it wasn't for my life with diabetes, we wouldn't be here today, the company would have gone business three years ago. But sport breeds resilience and cycling within the realm of sport. I think cycling breeds resilience, unlike anything else.

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