We asked 2 Reno startups: What are keys to a successful venture in health and wellness?
RENO, Nev. — There was a time when the average person’s connection to health and wellness looked something like this: an occasional trip to the gym and an annual juice cleanse.
Times and mindsets have changed. From the clean eating trend to the rise in nutritional supplements to the influx of wearable devices, health and wellness have become a daily priority for consumers.
So much so that the global health and wellness industry is now worth $4.2 million, according to the Global Wellness Institute. What’s more, the industry was the second-fastest-growing small business sector in the nation in 2018 with a 10 percent increase, according to a small business survey conducted by Guidant Financial.
Zooming in on booming Northern Nevada, health-and-wellness-related small businesses have been consistently popping up over the past five years.
One of those is EFAST, a Reno-based personal training/coaching business geared toward endurance athletes. Lauren Evans, who played tennis and ran cross-country for Division-I Furman University, founded the business with her husband, Ryan Evans, a Reno native who swam for the University of Iowa.
“We wanted to share our passion for sports and the good that it can teach with others,” Lauren Evans said in an email to the NNBV. “We wanted to help people achieve their goals in a safe, healthful and injury-free way that didn’t require sacrifices in what is most important in their lives — family, career, faith and friends.”
Since launching in the spring of 2013, EFAST has coached more than 200 athletes in the Reno area and beyond. Their clients include multiple Boston Marathon qualifiers, many first-time marathon finishers and ultra running finishers, Ironman competitors, and more.
Simply put, EFAST is a success. However, like many startups, Lauren and Ryan Evans experienced their share of growing pains as they tried to find their footing as a small business. Perhaps the most notable, Lauren Evans said, was when she thought EFAST needed to literally grow — through opening its own facility and adding more coaches — in order to grow as a business. This line of thinking, she said, was proven wrong.
“Now, I realize that things can intentionally be kept smaller and that business can thrive that way,” said Evans, noting that she makes sure that she is a good fit for a prospective client before taking, rather than saying yes to every request. “I realize that it is OK to intentionally and deliberately keep something smaller in order for the quality to be there and for my own peace of mind.”
Unlike EFAST, some startups’ growing pains are too hampering to overcome. After all, according to Guidant Financial’s small business survey, only 56 percent of startups make it to the fifth year.
Which is why Evans said figuring out “what is driving you, your business, and your decisions” is especially important for an entrepreneur trying to break into the health field.
“If it is ego, you have to somehow eradicate that in order to do what is right,” she continued. “Or, at least you have to be aware of it and not let that drive your decisions and the way you impact the world.”
Evans said genuinely caring for the people she and her husband serve also goes a long way, adding: “Not just about what you are hired to do for them, but (care) for them in general. You truly have to care about their health, their families, their well-being overall.”
This is similar to the message Amber Barnes tries to get across to her clients as the founder of StartHuman, a Reno-based startup that works with organizations to re-humanize their workplaces.
After all, according to the World Health Organization, most of the world’s population spends at least one-third of their adult life at work, contributing actively to the development and wellbeing of themselves, their families and society.
“I think for years we’ve bought into this myth that people are just productivity engines and we can use people like robots,” Barnes told the NNBV. “And I think the more research that we have access to — the more we learn about the human brain, the human body, the human psyche — the more we understand that the key to having an enduring business is to take care of your people. And that means we have to take care of the whole human.”
In terms of research, Barnes said it’s especially important for a health and wellness startups to stay immersed in research with credible sources. In other words, research that is “peer-reviewed and empirically-based,” she noted.
“I would say that’s been a huge competitive advantage for us,” said Barnes, who launched StartHuman in 2011. “A lot of people in similar work promote pop psychology and tout stuff that is not really based in research; it’s almost anecdotal. I think to be working with human beings, we need to understand how human beings are wired and we need to be able to discern truth from bulls–t.”
To that end, Barnes said some entrepreneurs in the wellness space might rush into trying to help other people before “doing their own work,” leaving “a gap between what they’re saying and what they’re doing.”
This, Barnes said, is why having mentors is important, as well. Although, she said knowing whether or not a mentor is a good fit is just as important.
“I’ve had mentors that are incredibly awesome and I’ve had some really bad ones,” she said. “So knowing when it’s time to cut ties — when you’ve outgrown a mentor or when they’re just feeding you crap — is important, too.”
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.