Finalist Q&A: Luhrs Media Co.

Luhrs Media Co. creates the easy-to-use, fun ColorCode ModeTM Journals to help people of all fitness levels color their way to healthier habits.

How did you come up with the idea for your business, and what were your influences and sources of motivation?

Jennifer and Alexis Luhrs.

I've had a lifelong devotion to prevention and healthy eating habits. But having grown up in an era when there were no real athletics for girls, my exercise habits were hit-or-miss and I considered myself a non athlete. In 1996, at the age of 46, I decided to train for my first 5K race as a way to overcome my stubborn weight gain.

A visual design person, I began coloring in the days on my calendar with my running and video workouts--yellow for an outdoor run, and pink for a video workout. Seeing too many empty white days in a row motivated me to run or work out just so I could color in my calendar. Using my journaling system I lost 40 pounds and worked my way up to a half marathon at age 54. I've also competed in several sprint triathlons since then.

During that time I was working on a health improvement website with Stanford University's Prevention Research Center. I became familiar with the principles of health behavior change, and just how tricky it is for any of us to improve our health habits even though we know we should. I knew I had a fitness motivation tool that worked and was easy and fun to use, but I resisted marketing it because I had started a business before and was well aware of the risks involved.

All of that changed in 2003 when I heard the shocking statistic that 1 in 3 children born after the year 2000 would be at high risk for debilitating type 2 diabetes due to obesity. To me, this was unacceptable, and so unnecessary because type 2 diabetes is an almost entirely preventable disease, if people can learn to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.

It became my mission to share my practical fitness tool with the world in order to help people create healthier habits for life. My daughter, Alexis, joined me in this mission with all of its inherent risks. It has been a wild ride, but we're smarter, closer and more devoted than ever to our mission.

Together we create colorful, fun, intuitive tools that help people develop the healthier habits that lead to a healthy lifestyle. For our first product, the 2004 Streaming Colors Fitness Journal, we refined the design of my initial calendar system and added some features, e.g. a place to color in how many glasses of water you drank, or to celebrate with color a french-fry-free day, for instance. We consulted with Dr. Wes Alles of Stanford University to make sure our content followed established rules of health behavior change.

We are always in touch with and heavily influenced by our devoted customers. In 2007, at their request, we created a weekly planner version of our Streaming Colors Fitness Journal that has proven very popular. This year, based on customer requests for a more detailed food tracking log, we adapted our color coding concept to create Lean Mode, Color Code--Not Your Usual Food Diary, and early response has been excellent.

What do you consider to be a unique feature of your business?

The staying power of our core concept, which is to color in the positive things you do each day in order to make them habits. As entrepreneurs, we've been prepared to change everything about our business if need be, but even we are surprised by the longevity and range of our original concept. Our customers return year after year, and tell others (which is mainly how we've grown our customer base.) They enthusiastically embrace the spin-offs of our core concept, which makes us very optimistic for the many new products we have in development. We're a very small company, but we've discovered that rare "big idea" and we're ready to develop it and reach out to other audiences with products that will help them lead healthier lives. The Idea Cafe grant would give us the funds to do that.

What are your thoughts on the future of small businesses in a slowing economy and their importance to the vitality of the local community?

Many small businesses have been operating in a tough credit environment for quite some time and already know how to adapt and survive (as opposed to the huge corporations whose only recourse seems to be lay-offs, hiring overseas, filing bankruptcy, or government bailouts.)

As innovators and the source of most new jobs, small businesses are the best hope for a grass roots revitalization of local, national, and even global economies. But many are on the brink where even a relatively small amount of capital could be the difference between survival and failure. A stimulus package that would pump modest amounts of money into many small businesses and micro-businesses so that they can survive and thrive must be part of any new plans to revive the economy. The business world needs to get real again, and small business is as real as it gets.

Why should the Idea Cafe regulars vote for you?

This grant is to reward original and innovative ideas that help people. The comment we hear most often about our color-coded journaling concept is "what a great idea." More importantly, our idea helps people make life-changing improvements in their fitness and health. Here's what one of our customers said about how our unique journaling concept, with its focus on the positive, helped her:

"When you are overweight, you feel out of control and ashamed. I started my first journal with a lot of goals but was only able to commit to doing one. I gave up drinking soda. I went for three months with only one color on my journal. When I reflected on what I had accomplished for three months straight, I realized that I had taken control. It empowered me to try another goal and then another. I am 60 pounds lighter now thanks to your journal. Thank you.
—Jan H., Chicago

Even a modest weight loss can help prevent costly and debilitating diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. There's advice galore on this topic in the media, but few tools that actually help people act on all that advice, which is the important gap our concept fills. We help people act on all their good intentions and finally succeed at becoming healthy and fit. Imagine the effect on the healthcare system if we could get our concept operating on a much larger scale.

We've been consistently innovative in both our business model and our products, and in the process have discovered how to create tools for all kinds of positive behavior change. Co-incidentally, our nation is in a time of unprecedented change and upheaval, where people are going to need help to get control of many aspects of their lives. This grant will help us advertise and grow our customer base faster, which will give us the resources to develop our awaiting line of color-coded journals for fiscal fitness, eco fitness, and kids fitness, to name just a few.

Just about everything you see on our site,, was created by a very resourceful mom/daughter team and a designer who is like a daughter. We're never short on ideas, but we are short on the vital funds that would help us get the word out so that we can help more people. We would use the Idea Cafe grant money to reach people through online health newsletters, blogs and web sites.

The timing of the Idea Cafe grant couldn't be better because it would allow us to reach out just as people are making their New Year's resolutions to get fit and improve their health. In this economy, people may not have as much access to their usual health and fitness resources, including health clubs and trainers, but coloring in one of our journals with the positive things they do each day will remind, reward and motivate them to take control, set new goals, stay on track, and succeed.


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