Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht On Why Healthy, Happy Employees Are the Key Ingredient to a Thriving Business

10/27/10

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inputs—all the facts in place—and then helped you improve your overall wellbeing in a statistically significant, evidence-based way?

Then I moved up to Seattle and got a job at an enterprise software company for a couple of years, but in the back of my mind I had this idea that I was slowly cultivating. And then, I was actually getting a rash on my face from my prior job because of stress—because I didn’t have what I have now, which was showing up and loving every minute of it—and I realized I had to pursue something that I just was hyper-intrinsically motivated to do. So I quit my job, took a road trip with my family, refreshed my batteries, and just set out on the task of figuring out if you could design a system that measured and accrued everything that drove human well-being.

I was lucky enough to meet a woman named Dr. Laura Hamill, who at the time was a PhD organizational psychologist working at Microsoft. And at Microsoft she had done some very interesting things. She was a psychometric expert, which means she measures people—peoples’ attitudes, the culture of a company, and the engagement, the performance, who to hire, who not to hire—all that stuff. So she designed assessments of how to measure all of these things. So I started working with her, creating hypothesis about what helped measure and improve wellbeing. And we came up with a whole bunch of dimensions based on a bibliography of over a hundred peer reviewed pieces of research on everything from energy level, or resilience, or self-leadership, or back health, or exercise—all of the things that the literature proves relates to wellbeing.

In conjunction with the assessment expert, I also started meeting with behavioral science experts, psychologists, cognitive behavioral therapists, psychiatrists, sociologists, statisticians, other physicians of various types to work on not just doing the assessment piece, but also doing the improvement piece. Then we just started as a software company—a small ragtag crew of zealots, and geeks, and stat and software people, designing, and wire-framing, and protecting, and building a system for measuring and improving wellbeing.

X: Why did you decide to design a wellness product that markets to companies, rather than individuals, as many in this new health IT space do?

HA: It took a few iterations on the business model to realize that maybe every consumer isn’t totally rational, as we thought we were, about structuring this equation and solving for it. But luckily over time we’ve honed in on what a very valuable proposition which is that employers care a heck of a lot about happy, healthy, high-performance people in their organization, because they stay longer, work smarter, deliver higher profits, don’t cause problems, become future leaders, cost less for health insurance—in pretty much every way they’re profit engines for companies. And what we found in our research is that there’s actually a very strong causal relationship between wellbeing and outcomes like health, and productivity, and job performance, and employee retention, and customer satisfaction.

We landed in the middle of this corporate wellness industry when the dominant thought at the time was that people should be treated as health risks, and told when they’re fat, and problematic, and costly to ensure, and of course that will be very motivating to them, right? And as we all know, we love to be told things we already know and told to fix them. So as it turns out the industry was ready for our approach.

X: What’s the biggest difference between Limeade and other goal-oriented wellness startups like Mindbloom and 43Things?

HA: We’re very focused on building high performance companies, and that focus means that it’s not just about weight loss, or just about working—it’s about everything tied to performance. That’s one differentiator. Another is people/employees engage with and use our service, which is not the norm in the wellness industry. A lot of the buyers we speak to and our customers been gone through the ringer with other wellness programs, where it launches great, or they have to pay people a couple hundred bucks to complete an assessment, and then it kind of falls flat over time. Ongoing engagement in the program is a big differentiator for us. We do that with fun, easy to use, personally relevant applications, but also one that is tailored specifically to the culture of the company.

X: Do Limeade’s employees use the system?

HA: Oh, absolutely. We totally walk the walk. We always have a couple challenges going on in our company. We have three employees who have lost over 30 pounds this year, even though we never had it as an explicit goal to do weight loss as a company, but because we’re doing things about talking about where we’re going to go to lunch—and is it Subway, or is it that other place that has the triple bacon behemoth burger?

We have pushup challenges in the office. We tie the insurance benefits that we pay to the participation of things like biometric screening to predict diabetes or heart disease, and other health conditions. But we always try to make it fun.

X: Why do you think employee wellness is so valuable for employers?

HA: Whatever you do, it has to be sustainable. It doesn’t really do you any good to have someone jamming for 90 hours a week, who is going to quit after 10 months, because … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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