Exclusive: Sleep coach company Zeo is shutting down

By: Brian Dolan | Mar 12, 2013        

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Zeo_iphone_new-1024x1024Since late last year it has been something of an open secret in some digital health circles that Newton, Massachusetts-based sleep monitoring and coaching company Zeo was winding down its operations and searching for a buyer. At least one investor was making veiled references to the company running out of money during various question-and-answer periods at the mHealth Summit in Washington DC last year. Zeo’s absence from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this year — a must-attend for any company selling devices and companion services to consumers — was telling.

This past week the Better Business Bureau listed the company as being “out of business” and Zeo CEO Dave Dickinson participated in an online TEDMED event as the company’s “former CEO”. While there is no official announcement, no known buyer yet, it’s clear that Zeo as we knew it is now over.

Zeo’s original offering was a sleep monitor that included a wireless-enabled, sensor-equipped headband that users wore at night and a bedside display alarm clock that captured the data transmitted from the headband. When Zeo was first conceived by a group of Brown University students almost 10 years ago, the idea was for an alarm clock that could wake you up at just the right moment in your sleep cycle, during the right sleep stage, so that you would awake feeling refreshed. Zeo’s alarm clock had this functionality built right in when it launched in 2009. Before that launch, however, the startup discovered in early product tests that users wanted a device that could do more than just wake them up better, they wanted to know how well they were sleeping, too.

“They wanted to know more about how they could get more REM and deep sleep,” Zeo Co-Founder and former CTO Ben Rubin told MobiHealthNews in 2010. “They wanted explanations for why they woke up seven times last night and how they can improve that. So we set about creating not just a smart alarm clock, but a personal sleep coach that would show you what was affecting your sleep and suggest improvements that could be made.”

Zeo’s bedside display and subsequent reports showed users when they were in a certain sleep phase and then they awoke during the night. The company also created a composite score to help users to better understand how well they slept one night vs another — the score was called their ZQ.

Over the years Zeo added new suggestions to its sleep monitoring website, added mobile apps, transitioned into a sleep “coach” instead of a sleep monitor, and even offered a version that bypassed the bedside display alarm clock and transmitted right from the headband to the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth.

At last year’s Quantified Self conference in San Francisco, it was clear that Zeo was favored over most other tracking devices at the event. Zeo has had to deal with increasing competition from simpler activity tracking devices that suggested users wear them at night to get a basic idea of how well they slept based on how much they tossed and turned throughout the night. Activity tracker companies like Fitbit and Lark are among those that offer that kind of a sleep tracking component, which may have been “good enough” to compete with Zeo’s far more sophisticated and — likely — more accurate sleep tracking capabilities.

Zeo was also a fixture in Dr. Eric Topol’s keynote presentations — in fact, Topol included a couple of slides about how he uses Zeo to track his own sleep at HIMSS13 last week.

Former talk show host Regis Philbin also famously tested out Zeo soon after it became commercially available, and after discovering how much trouble he was having sleeping at night, the data he gathered with his Zeo encouraged him to go visit his doctor. Turned out he had sleep apnea.

Zeo was always a consumer product and not meant for people who had sleep disorders. The company made early inroads with retail channels like Best Buy, back when Best Buy wasn’t selling anything related to health and wellness. Zeo made an effort to make clear that its device was not a medical device, but it also worked with medical researchers who were looking for a less expensive way to include sleep monitoring data in their research.

While the debate over why Zeo didn’t make it is one that will likely continue for some time, one thing that clearly set it apart from the rest of the companies working in digital health today is that Zeo not only had to manage the usual issues that all startups have to deal with as they launch and grow, it also had to convince the world that sleep health was important. For those that have looked into the issue, there’s no question that there is a sleep problem underlying many health issues in this country.

Zeo had a disruptive offering. The company did help kick off a discussion about sleep health. Hopefully, its sleep coaching platform finds a home soon.

  • MobiHealthNews

    Paul,

    I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you will disagree, but I think you are arguing for how things should be and not how they are.

    Azumio’s specific claim about “pulse oximeters” and the “ER room” equated their app with an FDA-regulated medical device that’s what got the FDA’s attention. (Notably, Azumio changed that language following our report, and as of now the app remains unregulated.) The acne apps made claims that the FTC found to be misleading to the point that it decided to remove them from the market.

    Zeo’s general claims did not cross the FDA’s line or the FTC’s. Maybe, in your opinion, their claims still crossed some kind of ethical line, but they didn’t make specific claims that are comparable to either of the two cases above.

    Marketing claims and intended use are often what trigger FDA regulation. Companies do choose to position their offerings accordingly. A popsicle stick is just a popsicle stick until it is marketed as a tongue depressor.

    And, yes, I would ask Chodor to explain himself if he compared Zeo’s claims to the acne apps’ claims. He didn’t do that in his testimony though.

    Brian

  • Paul Sonnier

    Brian,

    I’ve made my points amply clear. It’s fine that we disagree, but noteworthy—as I pointed out—that you seem to have inconsistent opinions in your reporting on a very similar situation involving marketing ambiguity and misleading statements by another consumer digital health company that was presented as doing things that a medical device is doing. We’re not going to solve this here, that’s why there are hearings in Washington right now on how to bring more regulatory clarity to the digital health space and where the lines are. I’m asking the questions and pointing out issues with Zeo that are relevant and were left out of your reporting on the company’s demise. In fairness, it seems no reporters asked these questions in reporting Zeo’s demise, e.g. “As the Health-Gadget Market Swells, It’s Lights Out for Zeo’s Sleep Tracker” http://www.wired.com/business/2013/03/lights-out-for-zeo/

    I did not say that Ben Chodor included the acne apps in his prepared testimony. I stated that he is in hearings where the acne app is being discussed and that these hearings are specifically focused on the topic at hand. Here’s my statement for your reference: “Do you plan to tell the people testifying (like Ben Chodor from Happtique) that they are “stretching” things, too, by including those acne apps in the discussion?”. The acne app was brought up—in discussion at the hearings—as an example of issues with ambiguous or misleading marketing claims. It seems entirely reasonable that you would ask Ben if he feels the acne app is relevant to this discussion. My point in bringing up the acne apps is to provide an example where marketing claims for consumer digital health is less ambiguous and clearly making medical claims. On that point we agree.

    The big picture here is patient safety. I’m glad we’re having this conversation now.

    Best,
    Paul

  • Paul Sonnier

    .

  • http://www.facebook.com/photini.mcclain Photini McClain

    I’m very disappointed that zeo went out of business. For whatever reason, I found Zeo’s customer service to be excellent. Because I have their device, first one purchased 2011 soon after I was diagnosed with sleep apnea – I was able to tell my doctor that I was having significant problems, though my AHI was within normal limits. I could compare the data I received from the zeo to my data from my cpap machine and found that I was having clusters during both REM and DEEP sleep – severe clusters that dropped my oxygen level to below 80%. I received a sleep study because of this important information and had my prescription settings adjusted. So it’s fair to say, that this little ingenious machine saved my life.

    I’m very sorry they went out of business. I hope that someone will buy it from them, but I honestly don’t expect nearly the same customer service.

    I just purchased a second zeo and a mobile zeo for back up. They were wise enough to foresee that off line use might be necessary, so they provided an open source viewer. They took care of us for all the ‘just in cases’.

    Though this not a medical device – they were wonderful in bringing such an important tool to those of us who have trouble with sleep – those of use who’s health is seriously effected by our sleep – or lack of it. They made it affordable, effective and obtainable.

    Thank you, Zeo. Thank you all of you who ran this company and produced this product. I hope you fair very well in your future endeavors. And if by some stroke of fortune you are able to reorganize and come back stronger – you will have me as a continued customer.

  • Don

    Well i was and still want to get one. should I now and will there be third party support for the bedside model? And will you still be using yours?

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    I will continue using mine as long as possible or until a comparable device comes out. But I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone else start using Zeo.

  • Don

    I understand…even tho it will no longer be supported its still better the everything else out there. That’s the shame of it all…hopefully some open source support or user made mods will come out so it never truly died.

  • Marcio Teixeira

    Hi! Now that the company that makes the Zeo appears to be out of business, I wanted to get the word out on how to make your own replacement Zeo headbands:

    http://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Replacement-Zeo-Sleep-Monitor-Headband-Sensor/

    Hoping this will kickstart the Zeo DIY community! :)

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  • http://dentistfind.com/ Sharky of DentistFind.com

    All of a sudden I can’t log into myZeo account. Felt cheated, at least keep it the app going or notify us users. I can’t even log in to get my data, I used it as a personal diary! I hope there is a buyer soon that will continue the product or at least let me log in to get my data.

  • Eddie Rehfeldt

    What a pity the company ceased operations. The Zeo is a terrific device that truly helps improve your sleep by letting you clearly understand how poorly you sleep and how to improve it. I hope someone buys the company or licenses its products beacause so many friends want it after hearing my results.

  • Paradise

    I’ve been a Zeo user for 2.5 years and considered myself to be at the top of the disappointment list over the loss of Zeo ’til I read these comments. I even dug and dug thru various Google hits to find more headbands, managing to find one pack of 3 in a foreign country! It’s on its way to me now!



    To those who never tried Zeo it was/is a wonderful way to MONITOR one’s sleep. It cannot diagnose, nor should it. That takes a sleep lab/polysomnograph with electrodes and wires from head to toe, not to mention an oximeter and thermister…and interpretation by a physician. The Zeo can detect a potential problem which should alert the user to get to a doctor. Once diagnosed thru proper channels, the Zeo can then monitor treatment. It’s been invaluable to me in this regard.

    

I have a sleep disorder and have been thru 2 sleep labs. The last one allowed me to also use the Zeo so I could check it against the gold standard polysomnograph. Guess what? Same results for deep and REM sleep. I’ve tried various meds…conventional, OTC and alternative. Each morning I get to see how those meds impact my sleep. As an example, benzos eventually increased REM but dramatically decreased deep sleep. Remedies from my naturopath increase deep but didn’t increase REM which is what I need. Ditto for increasing my Vitamin D level. Oh…and wine all but eliminates REM for me! Chocolate, if eaten at night, decreased deep and REM. Who knew!!! The anti-inflammatory, Celebrex, if taken at night, disrupted both my deep and REM sleep. As deep sleep increased body pain decreased. And, nothing helps Periodic Limb Movement Disorder except some heavy duty neurological drugs which I’m unwilling to take. Having this information at my fingertips has been invaluable. Knowledge is power. At the risk of redundancy, Zeo wasn’t/isn’t a diagnostic tool. It’s meant to monitor and it does that job very well.



    As it has been for others, the Zeo has been a life changer for me. I understand my symptoms so much better. It was well worth the $199. I paid for it (before it dropped to $149.!). So sorry to see the web site is no longer usable. Thankfully I kept all hard copies of the weekly journals.

    

I agree, Zeo was ahead of its time. Hopefully it will reappear under new ownership.

  • Boater39

    There are some open source initiatives for it right now. They released an API and firmware so the data can be retrieved unencrypted. I’m sure some user-friendly tools will appear in time.

  • Boater39

    Try places like eBay. As for replacement pads, there seems to be a company that is doing it on Amazon, albeit an expensive disposable solution. But, you may be able to run with their idea and do it cheaply…

  • Boater39

    There are open source initiatives if you search the internet. They released the API to the public, so you will probably see user-created solutions to utilize the data sometime soon.

  • Boater39

    Yes, I remember reading comments about this on their site. Gonna’ have to take a look. I’m a SparkFun customer anyways, so I’ll have to put the cloth on my next order.

  • Boater39

    Many of us users of this device are diagnosed sleep apnea sufferers. Many of us take an active role in our sleep apnea treatment. For instance, I use an APAP, monitor it’s recorded data, have a PulseOx and monitor my SPO2 levels at night, and also use the Zeo. I use all of this information to tweak my settings in my APAP (which also tweaks it’s OWN settings). Many doctors do not like APAP, because it allows us to not have to go back to them numerous times for expensive sleep studies to perfect our settings. It’s not a replacement for sleep studies completely, but these tools allow knowledgeable users to take an active role in their treatment. I think there is more a drive by some medical professionals that they want these things out of the hands of people, because it cuts into THEIR business model.

  • Boater39

    It works if you research and understand what it shows. For those of us with Apnea who have made it a point to educate ourselves, it is useful. There are quite a few of us. Look for message boards like apneaboard and cpaptalk on Google….

  • Boater39

    You have to understand that it would never be FDA approved because your average joe on the street could not reliably interpret the information it produces. But, there are many of us with apnea who HAVE made it a point to get educated on the condition, and for us, this is a useful device. Sadly, the FDA won’t approve things if your average 50 IQ person can’t get reliable results….

  • Boater39

    EXACTLY! Stay tuned–there are open source projects out there looking at using the data from the Zeo…..

  • Boater39

    Wow–very impressive work! I skimmed it for now, but intend to read it in detail later. Even with my skimming, I think I learned a few things!

  • http://dentistfind.com/ Sharky of DentistFind.com

    Is there any that your recommend or most popular?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kashifk3 Kaashif Abdul Jabbar Khan

    which one would you guys recommend? Mobile or bedside?

  • Robert Williams, Ph.D.

    How can I retrieve the data from my zeo since the Web site is down? If I could get the format of the zeosleep.dat file, I could write a program to duplicate what was on the Web site and more. I have always wanted to combine it with the activity monitoring device that I have.

  • Judy Yeddo

    so disappointed. I have not been able to get the site to load for a week or so and then I stumbled on this page. I literally just purchased the bed side one a less than two months ago, after having used the mobile one with my iphone. I can’t really read the data easily on the nightstand one, like you do when you upload it. So very disappointed, especially since I just through down a $150 for something that will not allow me to retrieve the data easily. Does anyone know of an easy way to get the data from the bedside model in a way that is easy?

  • LilMoby

    Based on what? How are you going to track your phases of sleep … while you’re sleeping? Sheesh.

  • jammin858

    Paul, for the record I’ve read this entire dialog and I (probably like many others who read this thread) believe you are off base with many of your comments. Your points of view are extreme (throw the baby out with the bath water mindset). I could go give you 20 reasons why I think you are off base but somehow from the dialogue I’ve seen I can see that would be pointless and a waste of my time.

  • http://www.successwithfocus.com/about/ Jeff Jones

    I was really bummed to hear about Zeo. I love the device and it and their program have been huge in improving my sleep quality and effectiveness. The day I tried to log in to catch up my data and got the godaddy message was a low point for me. If anybody on this thread has any information about whether the product was picked up by anybody else, please share it.

  • Katie

    Hi Whitley,

    Is there any way to still get a hold of the Zeo app since it’s been taken off the AppStore?

  • Julie

    Whitley, i have just looked up the article you sited and it is no longer posted. Could you provide another link or summarize the information in the link. This would be very helpful for my purposes. Thank you.