Can a virtual currency make you healthier? The founder of Wellcoin thinks so

Wellcoin lifestyle

Need a new pair of sneakers but you’re broke? Exercise all month. Want a pair of 3D-printed headphones? Keep gulping those smoothies. That’s the idea behind Wellcoin, the world’s first health-related currency, which wants to reward you for being healthy.

Wellcoin members collect currency by logging healthy steps throughout their day, then redeem them for discounts and full purchases at retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Reebok, and even Whole Foods. The company is based in Boston and has an operational center in New York City, so all in-person Wellcoin redemptions will happen in those two areas until the company can expand with more national partners. It costs nothing to sign up for Wellcoin, and apps are available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Wellcoin isn’t just rewarding the gym rats, however: The service also has credits for healthy parents, friends, and even pet owners. You can earn Wellcoins by keeping your dog healthy, making sure your kids eat their vegetables, and even for sleeping seven hours a night. The company exited beta on July 29. Glenn Laffel, a Wellcoin founder and a former attending physician in the cardiac transplantation program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, spoke exclusively with Digital Trends about how the company deals with fraud, plans to have Wellcoin help pay for health insurance, fixing Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, and more.

Digital Trends: WellCoin is an entire currency based on being healthy. What was the inspiration?

Laffel: I came up with this idea when I was looking at Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, which as you know is her campaign against childhood obesity. They’ve done a nice job, but I just think the actual effect and impact of the campaign could be better if there were two things that it currently doesn’t have. One is a way to track healthy behavior. How many breakfasts are being eaten? How many walks have been taken? How many doctor visits? Simple things like that, so a campaign like the First Lady’s could make goals and rally around certain targets. You need data to show if there’s improvement in the population. 

The second is rewards. It’s well established by lots of different scientific fields that to change a behavior, especially a health-related behavior, it really helps if there can be incentives and rewards along the way. It was a combination of data needs and rewards needs. Wellcoin is a way to weave those in and support a lot of well meaning projects like that.

Are there plans for wearables so users don’t have to input the information every time? Otherwise people can just lie and get the rewards, right?

They can try to lie but we’re going to catch them. We have already linked to three of the most popular apps and devices: FitBit, Runkeeper, and Strava. Our members love that we have integrated with them because it means that these claims are automatically generated for them as a result of the link that we have to these apps. Once you sync your wearable with Wellcoin, the device automatically updates your health stats on Wellcoin and you earn without doing it manually.

fitbit lifestyle


Because the information is coming from one of these devices, that’s going to deal with he lying and cheating. We don’t just post a claim, we award members bonuses if the way they verify their claim was a really good solid way, like using wearables. As opposed to if I just posted “I went walking.” 

So you can’t just post, “I walked 10 miles.” 

There are also limits on the number of WellCoins you can earn a day. If someone just decided they wanted to sit there and claim, claim, claim, at their desk, they would quickly hit a limit. Not only that, we would be detecting multiple claims, reminding the user that it’s very unlikely they could do all those things in such a short period of time. But there are other ways to verify. Say if you and I went for a walk. You could claim walking and then request that I, as your friend, verify your claim. I get a push notification and when I go on, it says ‘Keith wants you to verify his claim of walking.’ I just click Yes or No. If i verify it, then you earn more WellCoins because I verified it. So that’s Friend Verification.

Photo verification is by far the best and most popular. Fifty percent of all the claims on WellCoin have photos attached to them. Supposing we had a nice salad for lunch today and you wanted to claim Healthy Lunch. You’d snap a photo of the salad as proof. That photo then goes to a queue where anonymous members of our community — not your friends — get to look at it and rate the extent of it proving your claim. A simple 1 to 5 scale. If I’m rating a photo, I earn Wellcoin everytime I rate one, but I do not earn more or less for rating low or high rating.

What’s the most popular gift on WellCoin, so far?

The biggest and most popular gift card on WellCoin is one from Whole Foods Market. These are only available in New England and in New York, because that’s the extent of our relationship with Whole Foods in that area, but they are very very popular.

You just exited beta mode with only a handful of rewards partners; do you think the success and expansion of WellCoin hinges on how many there are?

I think it does not depend on how many companies work with us. That will come if we maintain the incredible engagement statistics we’ve had through the beta. I mean people spending time on WellCoin. We didn’t focus on member growth, we focused on engagement. Merchants and brands will want to work with us if we have a large community, and this is where people are hanging out and talking about their health and exchanging ideas and photos of themselves. We are three to four times higher than the health and wellness industry standard of active users at 90 days after signup. Up to 46 percent of users are active 90 days after signing up. The average active user posts three or four activities a day and half of those have photos.

If there’s a big enough user base on WellCoin, do you think it’s possible Wellcoin could become a community’s secondary or even main currency?

“We didn’t focus on member growth, we focused on engagement.”

WellCoin, like dollar bills, have real purchasing power in the real world. Sometimes the person doesn’t have a way to earn dollars for a reason or another. But they can be earning WellCoin. So they’re getting themselves healthy, but in the process they are getting real earning power. If that person has worn out a pair of sneakers and needs a new pair, WellCoin will get that guy the new pair. All he has to do is do healthy things and verify he did them.

What are some huge rewards you want to give away on Wellcoin?

How about life insurance? Or health insurance? Why not? All we have to do is find an insurance company that will do that. It would take quite a long time to get enough for something that valuable, but yeah, absolutely. 

Anything else?

Charitable giving. Fund-raising, like for the Jimmy Fund in Boston. They’re very well known for raising money for cancer through walks, called The Jimmy Fund Walks. Let’s say you want to raise money by doing the walk. You hit up your friends for $10 per mile and they have their big donors in the background that will match.  Problem with that is you might be out of town that weekend. You might be sick. Not everybody likes to walk. Why not having fundraising attached to earning Wellcoins? That means you can do it your own way. If we had a donor that would put up dollars to a good cause and money were coming in per-Wellcoin earned in our community, you could participate in fund-raising any day, any time, with any healthy activity you do. That’s a much better model than the Jimmy Fund Walk. I know this is going to work. 

We haven’t done that yet, but it’s my goal. 


‘Return of the Obra Dinn’ compels you to solve the seemingly impossible

Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest game from the mind behind Papers, Please, is an intricately designed logic puzzle that initially feels fairly impossible. Its old school 1-bit Macintosh visuals only add to its marvelous intrigue.

It's dangerous to go alone! Have fun with friends in our favorite co-op games

Video games don't always have to be so brutal, dog-eat-dog experiences! Here are some of our all-time favorite co-op games across a range of platforms, genres, and difficulties.

Cyber Monday Extended: Best Cyber Week Smartwatch Deals

Cyber Monday is known for its awesome online sales. Smartwatches, fitness trackers .. they both will see deep discounts. Now is your chance to score a new wearable at rock bottom prices.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high-tech and low-budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…

Still have money in your Flexible Spending Account? Head to the FSA online store

Don’t panic if you still have money sitting in your FSA and no doctor's appointments on the horizon. The FSA store has plenty of cool, useful gizmos you’ll want to purchase for your home and your health.
Emerging Tech

Breakthrough male contraceptive gel is nearly ready for the bedroom

A new male contraceptive gel is absorbed through the skin, and promises to temporarily reduce sperm count in order to avoid pregnancy. Here's how you can get involved with a clinical trial.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Wearable device spots signs of an opioid overdose, automatically calls for help

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a wearable device that’s capable of detecting an opioid overdose and sending out an alert to medical personnel. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

First baby born using a womb transplanted from a deceased donor

In a world first, doctors have confirmed the birth of a healthy baby girl in Brazil using a womb transplanted from a deceased donor. Here's why that's so potentially transformative.
Emerging Tech

This implant goes beyond pacemakers, helps aging hearts beat more vigorously

The FDA's advisory committee has voted to recommend an innovative pacemaker-style gadget be approved in the U.S. The Optimizer Smart Implantable Pulse Generator boosts performance, strength, and pumping ability of weakened heart chambers.

Forget pumps. This innovative filter purifies H2O in 8 seconds flat

The Grayl Geopress water purification system removes more than 99 percent of all bacteria, cysts, and viruses from water in just eight seconds, providing clean drinking water to travelers and outdoor adventurers.

Built to take a beating and still perform, these are the best hiking watches

A proper hiking watch should track exercise metrics and act as a navigational co-pilot during any kind of hike. Ideally, it'll even have a built-in GPS system and sensors. Here are five of the best hiking watches.

Crush your next workout with the best Fitbit for every activity

Fitbits are amazingly helpful tools for setting fitness goals and tracking progress. However, different activities require different metrics. We've gathered a list of the best Fitbits for running, swimming, biking, and other activities.

These fitness deals come just in time to work off those holiday calories

Finding the motivation to work out is one thing. Finding space at home to get in a few sets and reps can be an entire challenge in itself. Luckily for you, Walmart and Amazon both have space saving fitness machines and tools on sale right…