Client Conversation: Michael Scanlon

First Republic Bank

Michael Scanlon
Client since, ’11
Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Lumos Labs

What first attracted you to neuroscience and ultimately led you to the founding of Lumos Labs?

I got into neuroscience for two reasons: the big unknowns to me are the human brain and the universe – both really important to our existence, yet we don’t know much about either. The other reason was that both my grandmothers died of Alzheimer’s, which was horrible. So starting a neuroscience PhD was partially motivated by intellectual curiosity, and partially a practical desire to help prevent diseases like this.

In grad school, I studied neuroplasticity – how the brain changes in response to the environment and when it’s confronted with new challenges. Sensing and acting on the environment around you can have a profound impact on brain structure and function. This led to the realization that it should be possible for people to improve their brain function by engaging in the right cognitive challenges. I quit grad school, started a company, and ultimately we released Lumosity – an online exercise program that trains your brain to function better and be more like how you want to be.

Lumos Labs has 3 co-founders, how did you go about selecting your business partners?

It’s hard to do it right, but I was lucky to be friends with awesome co-founders. My best friend Kunal Sarkar and I arrived at this brain training concept together. He was coming from private equity and understood a lot about growing a business. We quickly realized that we were missing an important skill set in starting a web-based company. Neither of us could program or knew how to actually build the product!

When we met Dave Drescher around then, we immediately got along well, had similar personalities, but with different skill sets. The three of us have a similar way of thinking, but we each draw from very different knowledge and experience. We work well together, argue vigorously, but still want to get a drink after work. It’s hard to find that perfect balance.

Who has played the role of your mentor and what lessons have they taught you?

Growing up, I was into sports more than academics, so my coaches, along with my parents, were my most salient mentors. I try to learn from others’ wisdom and experience, but I’m also wary of going down the same path that someone else has already traveled. While I’ve learned a ton from others, I think the reason I don’t have dominant individual mentors is because I want to ensure I have my own unique course through life.

What is your source of inspiration?

In terms of Lumosity specifically, what ends up re-inspiring me is when I talk to my parents who are regular users of the site and are getting a lot out of the training. It reminds me of why I started doing it in the first place. I can lose sight of it while sitting in my office. I like being able to affect a lot of people from a distance, but what I find most inspiring is when I hear the individual stories.

If you weren’t the Founder of Lumos Labs, what would you be?

I don’t know, possibly an author. I’ve been so focused on this, that I don’t really have a career objective. If I were fired today, I wouldn’t seek out work; I would explore life and wait for some passion to hit.

Switching gears, let’s get personal. Where is your favorite vacation spot?

There is a list of places that I would go. I haven’t seen much of Europe or Asia, so there’s a lot of fresh territory out there for me to explore. I would love to motorcycle across the country solo. When you’re in the City, you’re surrounded by people; it might be nice to have more solitude for a while.

What is one of your greatest pet peeves?

The way people get really anxious at the airport and do silly things. For example, when you’re boarding group number 4 you don’t need to crowd the gate and slow everything down when they call group 1. To me, it’s selfishness getting in the way of rationality – it’s an ugly side of human behavior.

What is your favorite book?

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Give it at least 400 pages before you decide if you love it or hate it.

What is the best advice you ever received?

In high school a girl told me, ‘it’s just life’. In the context, it meant to ‘stop worrying. It’s ok to make a mistake. Just live and do it.’ I’ve always tried to hold on to that sentiment. When in doubt, I think it’s good to just ‘do it’. A related piece of advice from the Red Hot Chili Peppers that I try to embrace is, ‘it’s better to regret something you did, then something you didn’t do’.

The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.