From Silicon Valley to Healthcare Innovation: My Journey from Pinterest and Reddit to Transforming Medical Tech at Luminoah

Mar 27, 2024

Hello friendly traveler! My name is Marty Weiner. I was a founding engineer at Pinterest, the first CTO Reddit, and now a “retired” mad scientist who loves to build anything and everything, especially if it helps make the world a better place… or at least funnier. 

One of the ways I could help make the world a better place happened by accident when I met Neal, The Nicest Guy in the WorldTM. No really. Like Mr. Rogers nice. Neal had an idea for a product that all began when his 3-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer. Quick spoiler so I don’t keep you stressed: Noah is now 7 and fully recovered and thriving! For Neal and his wife Val, while dealing with the unfathomable hell I can only imagine of having a child with cancer, one of the many really hard things was feeding. For about 18 months, Noah couldn’t swallow. Food slush had to be pushed through a tube straight to his stomach via a surgically implanted connection. That meant Noah sitting there for hours next to an IV pushing liquid food straight into his stomach. That meant going anywhere was a hassle. That meant this little kid that just wanted to jump and run and play had to just sit there. That meant other kids at school teasing him. That meant (and this competes for the best/worst new failure mode phrase I’ve heard) “feeding the bed” on occasion. What’s “feeding the bed”? That’s when the IV line detaches at night and the pump keeps pushing food slush out onto the bed. Eech. 

Through all that pain, Neal didn’t seem to lose his drive and passion. He’s got like Serena Williams level of drive and passion. I find that truly inspiring – to go through such a hard life path and come out of it with his burning need to do something to make the world a better place.

Neal had a vision. What if the liquid food and pump were compact and portable so that going places was easy? So that a child or grownup who needs this kind of feeding can jump up and run and play and work and relax? What if this device was also fun and cool (you know, maybe some sweet Spiderman graphics on the screen)? What if the alert sounds emanating from this device didn’t sound like the panic-inducing sounds of the ICU, but rather, were relaxing, fun, or enjoyable? Seems doable and definitely revolutionary for people going through this. This is some Steve Jobs level vision Neal had.

So, I started chatting with Neal about how I could help as an advisor and possibly more. Cause when you meet a Mr. Roger + Serena Williams + Steve Jobs, you just gotta amplify them.

We chatted about funding, hiring, and building a software team—all the usual startup stuff. But then I asked that fateful question: who’s building your circuit board? Nobody?? Dude, I wanna build it!

And for a year and a half, while my kids were in bed, I did. I’ve built maybe 20 circuit boards in my life, but never one for production and certainly never one that would need to also get FDA approval and be in the hands of small children pouring orange juice on it and dropping it in the mud 🙂. I had to learn a lot for my part. We pumped out 8 or PCBs until honing in on the one that’s going to the FDA. 

A little aside cause I gotta geek out with you – it’s insane how fast you can prototype hardware now! I can iterate a design on Kicad (which, if you haven’t tried it, is amazing), ship it out to PCBWay (today’s sponsor… just kidding), and have it back in my hands in a week. For just about $80. Holy crap… that’s nearing the speed of software development. (And don’t get me started on how amazing 3D Printers are…). Ok, geek out over. Back to it.

We set out to build this portable food pump and did just that. In the earliest days, I hacked alongside Neal, Hill Johnson (an excellent product manager), Landon Gilkey (an excellent mechanical engineer), and Kevin Owen (an excellent electrical engineer). Once the company was able to get some funding underneath it, the team rapidly expanded with more brilliant people to cover all the areas needed to bring this device to market. And now we’re off to the races, quickly stepping over each hurdle as any great team does. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, one to introduce you to Luminoah, soon to be the hot new kid on the med tech block :). And two, I want to reach out to all of you out there who find yourselves in the same lucky position I’ve found myself – having a little extra time on my hands (or hate sleep) and a background that helps startups get off the ground – and encourage you to find and amplify another Mr. Rogers… err… I mean Neal Piper.  You might just help change the world for the better :). 

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