On the up · 16 May 2016

Welltodo founder Lauren Armes: “I only had six months left on my visa, so I knew I had to be successful quickly”

Welltodo
Welltodo founder Lauren Armes

In less than two years, Welltodo founder Lauren Armes has started a media business on the other side of the world to where she was born, pivoted it, and branched out into events. We spoke to her to find out about how her enterprise – and the wellness industry as a whole – has grown so quickly.

Having grown up and gone to university in Australia, Armes originally moved to London to work in business development for a global architecture firm. When she arrived in the UK capital, it was obvious to her that the wellness market was one with plenty of potential.

“Though it was more developed in the US and Australia, where there’s more of that culture of outdoor fitness, active living and healthy eating – all the things that make up what I now consider to be the wellness industry – it was obviously very fast growing,” she said.

With the proliferation of boutique fitness studios and indoor spinning classes like Psycle, as well as a growing demand for healthy food and stylish activewear, Armes spotted an opportunity in a growing market and moved to launch a UK-based digital publication covering consumer trends in the industry.

Despite being thousands of miles away from home, starting up a business in a city she had only recently moved to didn’t phase the Welltodo founder, who embraced the challenge. “Generating a network from scratch in a new place was very daunting, but quite exciting too,” Armes explained.

“On a scale of one to ten, it was probably a nine in terms of risk, but I was confident that the job I was doing probably wasn’t right for me, and the career path which I was following wasn’t what I wanted to do, so it was the perfect time for me in my life to take that risk, with minimal responsibility outside of looking after myself. But I knew it was a rapidly evolving industry, and that gave me confidence too.”

When she made the decision to launch her own company, Armes faced the additional hurdle of only having six months left on her UK visa, creating a sense of urgency which many entrepreneurs would shy away from. “The way I saw things, it was kind of now or never – if I’d taken the leap and it hadn’t worked out, I could have gone back to Australia and potentially gone back to a business development job there, but I knew if it did work out I would stay,” she explained.

Though the concept of an authoritative wellness source proved popular, Armes quickly realised that her readers were not those consumers she had initially targeted, but entrepreneurs, startup owners and brand representatives. Given her background in the B2B space, pivoting meant making better use of her personal strengths, too, so the decision to shift her company’s focus from consumers to industry leaders made sense.

The decision also led her to branch out into events, which now provide most of the company’s revenue. The first one Armes organised saw Ella Woodward – better known as Deliciously Ella – headline, and sold out quickly. “At the time, she was quite symbolic of where the industry was going, and the emerging clean eating movement. But our event was the first time she spoke about the business side of what she does, as an entrepreneur as well as an author. Prior to that, we’d heard about her lifestyle movement but we hadn’t heard about how she was turning it into such a powerful empire.”

In the last year, her three-person team has expanded its scope to include a careers site and consulting for new wellness startups – with adapting to customer needs driving the decisions each time. “We realised that, amongst our readership, it’s not just about launching or owning businesses in the space – many of our readers want to work in the wellness industry too, especially if they’re in the corporate world but passionate about health.”

For brands in the industry, she thinks the biggest challenge is finding access to the capital needed to scale. “As the market gets more crowded, it’s harder for young brands to gain the traction needed to compete with some of the more established players in the market – they need capital, but there are only really a handful of active investors who really understand the wellness landscape and have proven the value of their investments,” Armes explained.

But despite these challenges, the level of support that established players are willing to give young companies makes the space an attractive one to small company owners. “It’s easier to make connections and get people to work together than in other B2B space,” she said.

“Most entrepreneurs and business owners are quite friendly with the competitors, everyone is really supporting each other in their passion for making peoples’ lives better and making it easier for other entrepreneurs as well.”

This attitude is what has allowed Armes to take the events side of her business to the next level – but also what she hopes to build on with the forthcoming Business of Wellness summit on 4 June. Organised with the support of BarreCore co-founder Andrea DeBellis, the conference will bring together startups, investors and industry leaders to make the most of the growing community in the space.

“Many of those passion founders are ambitious too, and want to grow their businesses into successful companies,” Armes said. “In the wellness industry it’s important to have an authentic brand because you’re saying to someone I can make your life better by consuming this product or service, so having a story behind you is a strong point of difference, but we’ve proven that there is also demand for knowledge to help people with lots of passion turn that passion into a viable business.”

Looking for more inspiration from a young wellness brand? Check out this interview with the founder of Move Pop Up Gym.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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