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How NYC's THE WELL co-founder approaches business and health

While I was in Paris I called Sarrah Hallock - co-founder of what I think is Paradise in New York City, aka The Well: a community-focused wellness centre that offers mindful movement, holistic treatments and nutrition services. To put it in short: Pilates, natural and paleo/vegan/gf friendly foods, barre, SOUND THERAPY (!!!), barre, sauna, cold plunges and more! They have a flagship location in NYC but have geographically expanded in amazing places like Cabo, Costa Rica and Miami. Anyways, while we hop on the zoom, Sarrah joins with a contagious smile and a very funny Christmas sweater.

Photo courtesy @THE WELL on instagram

I read online both through your linkedin and featured articles inspiring story - how do you feel that the emerging wellness industry can complement the traditional healthcare one? Especially in the USA?

Functional medicine treats the body as a whole while working with individuals to address things like environment, genetics and lifestyle to get to the root cause of your health issues. This differs from a lot of traditional medicine that is primarily focused on acute or urgent care or treating symptoms without understanding the underlying issues. At THE WELL we are building a community of like minded people because when you are surrounded by support and individuals on similar journeys, you are twice as likely to meet your wellness goals. Especially in the US, where loneliness has been declared an epidemic, community plays a fundamental role in terms of achieving optimal health outcomes. We want people to have greater agency in their health care decisions, and when people come together and support each other, doing so can feel less intimidating.

In an article published on Medium by Candice Georgiadis, you mentioned “Ask for what you want. In general, people don’t hand out opportunities — you need to go after them with some gusto” - how did you come to this conclusion? What is a good strategy for founders to go ask for capital?

Your desire to bring your idea to life has to outpace your fears.  No one was knocking on our door trying to give us money, that’s for sure. We had a ton of ideas, honed them into a business plan and thought about fundraising like building a team of strategic advisors.  Our goal was to find investors who could also add value to our vision.  Asking people for money was intimidating, but I let my belief in what I was building be my guiding star.  Be prepared to call everyone in your network, almost shamelessly, because that might be what it takes.  I also learned to be prepared to pitch my business whenever and wherever. At dinner, at a friend’s wedding, on a chair lift. When people ask you what you do, it’s an opportunity to share your vision and connect with someone who might be able to help you make it a reality. We stood on a mountains of no’s to get to our first yes.  I am so fortunate to have my amazing business partners and I would not have been to do this without them.

How did The Well start? In terms of initial product offering and then expansion?

The entire idea was always centered around integration of western medicine and eastern healing; we wanted to create a one stop shop for wellness. Bringing everything together in one place: food, movement, healing and community would make it easier for people to make wellness part of their everyday and ultimately achieve their wellness goals.

The  business model is a bit complicated and when we were fundraising in 2016, no one had brought all of these services together under one roof. We first had to explain and convince people this was a good idea and that there were (a lot) of people who would want to come to THE WELL once we opened our doors.

How do you get inspired for new treatments?

My desire to start THE WELL came from my own needs and experiences. I had health issues that went misdiagnosed for two years and it wasn’t until I combined Western medicine and Eastern healing that I started to really address the root causes of my health conditions. We have an incredible Chief Medical Officer, Dr Frank Lipman, who is at the forefront of our treatments, services and modalities. We also have a brilliant team of practitioners who come together in what we call Grand Rounds to review our member’s cases and share their perspectives based on their area of expertise. There is so much noise in the wellness space, you have to surround yourself with people you can trust. We are that trusted resource for our members and guests.

What is your favourite treatment at THE WELL?

This is always a hard question! I absolutely love everything but right now I am very into our Vitamin IV Infusions. We use only the highest quality ingredients from our compounding pharmacy, we customize the blends to your different need states and they are administered in a super cozy relaxing environment by our knowledgeable and thoughtful nursing team.

What are the future trends we will see in the industry both as consumers and producers?

We are already seeing wellness travel in a big way, but I think travelers will want an even deeper connection with their bodies and mental health when considering wellness destinations. We are going to see people wanting to improve their health at a cellular level and thinking about extending their life through longevity services and programs. We are able to provide these immersive experiences especially at our destination locations.

From what I gathered, you have a record of working in startups - what did you like of this unstructured environment? And given you were overworking yourself, would you consider doing it all over again? Or looking back, what advice would you give to yourself?

I’ve always worked in start ups. In college I worked for a college marketing start up that went public and it was then that I realized how much I loved being able to build something from the ground up. Now, well into my career and after being part of incredible start ups like vitaminwater and bai,  I do understand why start up life is not for everyone! It works well for my personality type and my skill set, but you have to have the stomach for it. The business plan can change overnight and as an employee your job description can change 10x in one year especially early days as you are trying to prove out the business model and find that product market fit.

What is the most important quality a founder needs to have? What advice would you give people in their early 20s if founding a startup?

Starting your own company requires a healthy mix of love and grit. You have to be the biggest believer in what you are building, because to begin with, you have to convince everyone around you that it’s a good idea and that they should either invest, come work for you and/or ultimately be your consumer. Starting a business is definitely going to force you out of your comfort zone, so be ready. Have advisors and friends you can rely on for support. For an introvert like me, things like networking and public speaking require extra nurturing and care.

What advice would you give people in their early 20s for starting their wellness journey?

It took me a long time to get diagnosed with my autoimmune condition because early days my Dr’s were dismissive of my, very long list of, symptoms. If you are working with a Dr or a practitioner who is telling you “its all in your head” or “your labs look normal” and you still feel terrible, please find a new Dr! Keep going until someone listens to you

I also read that you find extremely important mental health (which I do to) - how can people understand its importance? How do you educate on this topic?

I think one of the best ways we can educate on the topic of mental health is to talk about it. We need to normalize going to therapy, normalize talking about our fears and things that trigger our insecurities, deep emotions and self destructive behavior. So many of us hide or avoid these feelings because we are ashamed. When you shine a light on your fears with your trusted practitioner, healing network or family, it can be incredibly liberating and healing.

What’s your favourite product for recherche biologique? And something that would be more affordable?

I use BR P50. It’s like a facial in a bottle. If you are looking for something affordable, that will have an immediate impact on your skin, and works with every budget, I would say SPF. I wear it every day 365 a year.

What do you consider a holy grail of beauty and wellness? In terms of food or active ingredient?

Holy grail for me is sleep. It’s when your body repairs, restores, maintains and detoxifies. But the single most important thing you can do for your health is to eat well. I live by the advice of Michael Pollan; eat whole foods, not too much, mostly plants.

We then wish each other Happy Holidays after Sarrah kindly found the time to connect with me: she was surprisingly available as she is a super busy boss woman and made me beyond happy when she agreed to call me! What I realised after our conversation is that great leaders of course need to be strong-willed, but all these incredible women I have met with are caring, aware, creative, imaginative and genuine and trust me - they are getting places!


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