Talking Points is a semi-regular series where we highlight some of the key topics discussed at a Generation T keynote, fireside chat or panel discussion.
The global wellness industry is valued at close to 4 trillion US dollars, according to some estimates. That’s three times larger than big pharma. Given that the World Health Organisation estimates that 90 percent of the world’s chronic diseases could be prevented with proper diet and lifestyle, this looks to be a tipping of the scales in very much in the right direction. The inexorable rise of the wellness trend, it seems, is going nowhere fast.
We assembled three Gen.T honourees to discuss the implications of the burgeoning industry during a Generation T panel discussion at Iris: Your Escape, Hong Kong’s largest wellness festival.
MMA fighter Ramona Pascual, Prenetics founder Danny Yeung and Nosh’s Max von Poelnitz discussed their personal journeys as well as trends in the industry as a whole. Each of them have put wellness at the forefront of their professional lives—albeit in very different ways.
Max von Poelnitz is on a mission to make Hong Kong eat healthier. His startup Nosh—a virtual cafeteria that designs meals specifically for delivery—provides calorie-controlled meals packed in biodegradable materials to health-conscious Hong Kongers. Since launching in 2015, Nosh has delivered over half-a-million meals, and is currently growing 45 percent quarter-on-quarter
Danny Yeung wants to transform the medical industry—and the serial entrepreneur already has quite the track record for disruption. Through a simple DNA swab, his digital health company Prenetics—now one of the world’s largest—helps people gain insight into their risk of chronic diseases, the optimal diet based on their genes, and much more. His aim is to help people realise that prevention, not cure, is key to living a healthy life.
Ramona Pascual is a boundary-busting professional athlete. In a moment of now-or-never-ism, at 27 Ramona left a career in finance to dedicate her life to mixed martial arts—quickly becoming the first woman to headline a fight event in Hong Kong. Now signed to MMA promoters Road FC, Pascual is currently recovering from a career-threatening injury and looking forward to her next bout—continuing to serve as an inspiration to female fighters everywhere.
Here are the highlights from their discussion.
There are multiple factors behind the rise of the wellness industry
Danny Yeung Education is very important. More and more people are understanding that a lot of diseases we face today can be prevented with proper diet and lifestyle. For example, type-two diabetes—in 80 to 90 per cent of cases it can be prevented through diet. Increasingly, people are realising they can put their health into their own hands.
Ramona Pascual It’s now so easy to access information, particularly through social media, people are becoming more aware of what needs to be done to live a healthier life—and it’s changing our mindset. People used to think "When I get old, that's just how I'm supposed to feel. I'm supposed to get this disease, because my parents had it." That’s not the case, and increasingly people are seeing that that’s not the case.
Max von Poelnitz The one thing I’d add is that the growing middle class in the developing world is a factor. A larger middle class means more people who are staring to care about things besides sustenance. Caring about how long you live and your quality of life, these are relatively new things in emerging economies such as China, India or Indonesia.
Why Danny Yeung decided to put purpose at the core of his latest business
Danny The reason I decided to enter this industry is purpose. This is my fourth company, so I wanted to do more than just create something. I wanted to see how I could use my entrepreneurial experience, my network and my resources to make a positive impact.
A lot of people think what I do is just make money, saying, "Danny wants to sell the company again." Given my track record, I understand that. But what I'm currently doing is ultimately about empowering people, making genetic testing more accessible and helping people understand that the diet and lifestyle have a real impact on their health. We’ve sold over 100,000 DNA tests this year, and we’ve found that 70 per cent of people have modified their diet and lifestyle after taking the test. Behaviour change is one of the most difficult things to get people to do, so that’s a significant number.
This is the last company that I want to be building. I feel very passionate about what we do, because I know the product we're creating is helping people. And if you can build a successful company and help people at the same time, that’s the win-win situation
For Ramona Pascual, it’s about the process as much as the goal
Ramona I decided to get into fighting because I was really shy and introverted growing up. I didn't like being around people and was insecure for a long time. I felt like sports was my only outlet to get out there and push myself. And of course, I would watch movies, see the hero and think, “I want to be that hero.”
I later realised that my favourite part of these movies wasn’t the end where they beat the guy, it was the process of them getting there. The training and going through the pain—the Mr Miyagi stuff. The idea of going from nothing to something, I got a lot of inspiration from that—just seeing how you don't have to have it all to get to where you want to be. And most people don't. The reason some people become great at something is because they were just really bad at it.
So for me, fighting has helped me be more self-aware, to learn about myself and to see where my limits are—how hard I can push. Every single year I constantly just surprise myself, just by putting myself in difficult situations that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for at the time—actually, that I'm never prepared for. Doing that makes me step up, makes me become that person.
Whether running a startup or training for a fight, be prepared to make sacrifices
Ramona One of the main reasons it took me so long to transition into this career is that I felt pressure to fit into a certain box—the one where you go to college and then work in finance.
I tried to fit into that mould but I couldn't; I just wanted to be myself. The biggest worry was: “What are people going to think of me? What are my parents going to think of me?” They were definitely disappointed, maybe still a little disappointed, but they’re coming around. Other people definitely think, “She’s just beating people up or getting beat up—how is that a career?” So having to get over other people's opinions—especially the people who care about you, who love you—who still don't want you to do it? It’s tough.
There’s also the things like having to miss weddings, birthdays, having to eat alone all the time. Having to starve myself and dehydrate myself just to make weight, and then needing to perform at my peak the next day in front of thousands of people and people streaming online all over the world—and risk getting the crap beat out of me in front of all those people. And then sometimes you fail, knowing that I put everything I had into preparing for this one thing. So, you have to know that it's going suck a lot—most of the time, actually. But that's what makes the peaks even better.
Danny I’ve put everything I have into each one of my businesses. Every single day I’m constantly on my phone and email to serve my employees, the company and our clients. Two or three times a week I won’t sleep until 4am because I have too much to do – too many thoughts going through my mind. But I think if you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice.
There's a lot of these things people probably don't realize about being a CEO, the work that goes on behind the scenes. The things you need to do to build a sustainable company for the best interests of your employees and your clients, not just yourself. So you really have to love what you do, then the sacrifices will come very naturally to you.
Max I think the irony is that running a wellness business, you actually don't think about your own health enough. There were definitely some major sacrifices in my first few years, both on sleep and food. Ramona’s description is very similar to the what you might get from someone who's starting a company, so it's pretty amazing to hear that.
Wellness is the new luxury—but not for long
Max If there’s a high-margin product, more competition will enter the market over time because everyone’s fighting for the margin, and prices eventually go down. I’m a firm believer that this is what’s happening with wellness. The industry initially is as high-margin as you can get. Think of Lululemon. Let’s be honest, the shorts do not need to be US$100. But ultimately, what happens over time is competition comes in, lowers the price, and we as consumers are better off.
At Nosh we are working really hard to bring down the price of lunch to the same price as a cha chaan teng. If you're spending HK$45 for your rice box, I want to feed you a healthy 600-calorie meal with the right macros for the same price. So right now we call it luxury, but in time it's just going to become the norm.
And finally, you never get used to being punched in the face
Ramona It sucks, definitely. But it's something you have to condition yourself to get better at. Because you can't be a great fighter with just a great technique. It's not just about beating someone up, it’s about getting beaten to the ground and being able to come back and keep going.
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