INTERVIEW: Welltodo Founder Lauren Armes “Wellness Is Non-Negotiable”

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Welltodo founder Lauren Armes, the doyenne of wellness media, has watched a niche trend grow into one of the most watched industries on the planet and her b2b wellness platform has been at the very centre of the sector’s skyrocketing journey ever since she first started chronicling the space back in 2014. An Aussie by birth but now a seasoned Londoner, Armes’s Welltodo is the go-to online destination for wellness founders, brands and those aspiring to enter the industry and her varied events, from summits to conferences to founder nights, are always packed to the brim. She has since expanded into recruitment and podcasting. A media business pioneer, Armes is a true insider in the trillion-dollar and growing global wellness economy. In an exclusive interview with Green Queen, she chats about future wellness trends, what the pandemic has meant for wellness brands, her personal advice for budding female impact entrepreneurs and why Welltodo branched out into search and recruitment.

GQ: Tell us more about Welltodo, what the platform is, from being an wellness news resource to organising industry events and being a career launchpad? 

LA: What we say our mission is at Welltodo is that we help people build incredible businesses and careers in the wellness industry. That started out as being a media platform, creating content to help people who are thinking about or actively building a business to better understand the motivations and trends are amongst consumers, and how they can also gain an industry and marketplace perspective to make better business decisions. It then organically grew into a series of events where we spotlight successful founders in the wellness space, to create a dialogue about what it takes to be innovative and grow and scale in the industry. From there, we realised a part of our audience were individuals that weren’t necessarily people who wanted to build a business, but wanted to be a part of the dynamic of the wellness industry because they share that same personal passion. 

With the growth and investment coming into the wellness industry, we began to see that there were new opportunities for people to work in wellness, from startups to growth companies. So we diversified into supporting people finding jobs and careers as well. That’s how we came to launch Welltodo Careers, which is like a jobs board, and more recently Welltodo Search to serve a recruitment function. We say that now is the perfect time to start a business in wellness, but it is also the perfect time to take an existing skill-set – whether it is operational or management or marketing – and apply it to a career in wellness. 

I also work as a business coach. This is my personal passion to work one-on-one, particularly with female founders who want to turn their passion into a business, and just need that extra support to plan and plug those commercial skills to make it a success. 

GQ: Can you tell us the story behind your journey into wellness? What was the inspiration behind building your platform?

LA: I moved to the United Kingdom 7 years ago this week from Australia. And it was probably about just over a year living here that I realised I had an inner calling to be my own boss, to run a business, to start exploring what my career would look like from a personal passion perspective. I began getting curious about my interests and my own pain points. What are some of the problems I could solve that I am experiencing, and perhaps others are experiencing too? 

At that time in London, the whole wellness industry was starting to emerge. For the first time we were seeing boutique fitness studios, juice bars, raw food brands, vegan cafés. There was a real shift in the way consumers were thinking, still on a fairly niche level, but there were big trends happening in other places such as New York and Hong Kong. 

That’s when I started writing about it to help me crystallise what my business opportunity would be. Even though I didn’t have a journalistic background – in fact, my background was in sales and marketing – I realised that interviewing people, getting their insights and understanding why they entered into the wellness market was useful to see what was working and what wasn’t. Which industry categories were most exciting or scalable? Is it a bubble or a long-lasting trend that could survive the test of time? 

I suppose I launched Welltodo as sort of a personal research platform, and after a couple of months I saw an exciting opportunity at the intersection of wellness and entrepreneurship. This curiosity led me to better understand why people launched businesses in wellness, how they did and why they were so successful. My pain point, I came to learn, was that I really wanted to start a business in wellness but there were no resources online to better understand the trends, insights and developments and track other businesses launching. In all the other industries I had been in, there had been a central platform available. Welltodo was the business opportunity I was looking for, and I could grow into something useful for other people like me who didn’t know where to start. 

GQ: As a pioneer of wellness media, what can you say about the way that the industry has grown from being quite niche to being a trillion-dollar global market today? What has driven this growth? 

LA: I think it’s a lot of things. The age we live in of having access to more information and empowering educational content about themselves has given people the opportunity to take their own health into their own hands. People feel empowered in the knowledge that they can prevent some of the most common lifestyle diseases, stress, lack of energy and focus and other modern day ailments – understanding that these are either preventable or even reversible through lifestyle choices. This kind of knowledge coupled with a proliferation of social media, led to wellness being trendy. It became cool and almost a personal success marker, very much a part of the identity of this new millennial generation

With anything that becomes trendier, there is a question mark whether it is a bubble that bursts or it transforms into something more sustainable. And that’s where I think the world we live in allows it to become sustainable, because we can live on the way that we have in highly stressed and highly disconnected lives. That’s where things like yoga, meditation, fitness, eating well, nutrition and supplementation – all of these subsets of wellness categories – have become increasingly popular. People could see the results of wellness and how it changed their lives

We then saw the infrastructure of wellness being developed with more and more investment being directed into the space, more entrepreneurs wanting to be a part of it, more talent being attracted and cash injected in the industry. Over time, wellness has become less of a defined industry and more of an inherent part of our lives to focus more on our personal wellbeing. 

GQ: What are some of the more individual-level factors that led to wellness climbing to the top of people’s priority list in recent years?

LA: The fact that we are so busy. We’re so obsessed with personal advancement and being the best we can be in our careers, relationships and our lives more generally. I read a book recently called Selfie by Will Storr, and it talked about how over centuries, our idea of self has evolved to the extent that we have become a generation that has really seen our own personal advancement as a definition of success. We are continually on a hamster wheel of self-improvement. This has made wellness a non-negotiable – with all that striving for more, we are all going to reach a level of burnout and exhaustion, and that is why we are coming back to ourselves and feeling the need to reconnect. 

Secondly, it is this disconnected feeling that is being perpetuated – ironically – by our increasingly connected world. The statistics around how young people feel, despite the fact that there are so many more ways to be connected to others, is that they are feeling lonely and isolated. With that comes a greater yearning for reconnecting with self, and things like yoga, meditation and mindfulness are becoming a necessity for people. 

GQ: How is the coronavirus pandemic factoring into this growth?

LA: It’s an interesting one. We’re surveying our audience at the moment, and there is definitely a feeling amongst individuals who are now having more time on their hands – due to being either furloughed or working from home, not needing to face the usual intensity of their routines – there is a shift towards getting outside when allowed. Yesterday, I went on a walk outside and there were lots of people running and walking in parks. This is something we don’t usually see because we have become so overwhelmed with our packed routines. So it has really given people this time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, things that we’re grateful for like families, relationships and having time to look after ourselves

Connected fitness and meditation apps have therefore seen a rapid increase, healthy meal deliveries services have seen explosive growth. Some of these resources that have already existed are being forced online and I think there is now an emphasis on making sure as you are as healthy as possible, so we become less susceptible to the virus. Though there isn’t anything we can necessarily do if we come into contact with someone with the virus, there is certainly something to be said about having the foundations of a strong immune system and healthy mind. That’s where the wellness industry plays into it. 

GQ: How do you think the recruiting industry will change because of Covid-19?

LA: I can only speak from the perspective of recruitment in the wellness industry – so we support wellness brands, we’re looking for talent to grow their teams. How they’re affected is pretty straightforward. With all the uncertainty, our recruitment clients have had to really clamp down on spending across their businesses, and recruitment is a part of that. A lot of business have also had to furlough or make staff redundant as a part of their strategy to pivot and reshape businesses to survive this period. So recruitment has really largely dried up. In terms of hiring – where recruitment refers to businesses actively searching using recruitment agency for new talent – companies are still hiring. When you look at specific areas of wellness, for example, meal delivery companies or digital fitness companies, some of them are still in a position for growth and in some cases are still needing to hire. So when you look at Welltodo Careers, you can see that in the UK there are a handful of companies actively searching, so it is not entirely on pause, but there has definitely been a downturn. That said, I am a believer that on the other side of this pandemic, the wellness industry will be one of the industries that recovers quickly, so we are looking forward to being able to support brands with their recruitment needs on the other side of the coronavirus.

GQ: We’re all about sustainability here at Green Queen and in recent years, we’ve watched environmental issues go from being a sideline topic to dominating headlines. How has the rise of sustainability shaped wellness brands, marketing and products? 

LA: That’s a great question. I think it is extremely important right now for any brand in the wellness space to consider their sustainability plan-of-action and philosophy. As you know, there is no point in professing to be a wellness brand that is good to the individual but not good in terms of its impact on the collective and the environment. We can definitely see a general shift towards sustainable packaging, sustainable business models, a prioritisation of purpose over profit, considering where things are made and how, and providing transparency to consumers. Especially younger consumers who are much more considerate of these aspects of a brand and are much less forgiving. As far as building customer loyalty, those elements of trusted communication are essential criteria to be a successful business in the wellness space right now.  

GQ: There are so many definitions of wellness nowadays. What does the word mean to you? 

LA: Very simply, being well is living a life that is in line with your values. Living a life where you prioritise your own personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of the greater collective

GQ: What are the biggest trending topics in the wellness world this year and do you have any predictions for the future?

LA: A few of the things that we will be looking at are connective wellness. How we move out of this coronavirus lockdown period and back into in-real-life experiences, and how that will develop into more of a blended approach for brands into online and offline propositions. So in the fitness sector, we will see companies that are traditionally brick-and-mortar have more of a focus on how to keep their audience and community connected online. In this current phase and having to be forced online, brands have had to quickly respond, pivot and create an offering that will sustain them. So one of the most exciting things to emerge will be connected fitness and wellness. 

Another category that we were already mapping as topical and heavily trending is personalisation. We have acknowledged that wellness is personalised and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but what the power of technology has done is allow brands to offer something truly individualised, based on mapping data and understanding physical and mental markers. This will enable them to offer a service – be that supplements or a meditation experience – that really responds to people’s needs. 

The other big one is sustainability, as we already said. Brands need to now prove they are now needed, that they are not just a vanity project, not just entering the market for the sake of being one more brand. We’re going to come out of this pandemic experience with a re-evaluation of what we truly need in our lives, and that we don’t need as much stuff as we thought we did in order to be well. 

In terms of predicting the future, I honestly think that the future of wellness is that wellness is not a thing. It is actually just life – to be conscious of how we consume, what we consume, we are taking more of a stand for those values and principles of how food and packaging is made. That being said, I think that there is still a massive opportunity outside of the urban wellness bubble, so it isn’t going to be an overnight thing, it’s a long-term game. Ultimately, though, wellness will become much more fluid and less defined. 

GQ: If you had to give one piece of advice to young women looking up to you as a female role model and business leader, what would it be? 

LA: I would say that when you truly focus on what you want to create, solving a problem for people aligned with your values and understanding who you really are as an entrepreneur and as a human being, anything is possible. That will certainly require hard work, patience, commitment and persistence, but if this is your dream and ambition, then it is completely possible. 

GQ: Last question – team rice or team noodles? 

LA: Noodles!


Lead image courtesy of Lauren Armes / Welltodo.


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