Creating a wellness ecosystem for the modern health nut

Health and fitness companies merge old-school support with new-fangled tech—and we're better off because of it

No matter how digitized our wellness habits and goals become, there’s one IRL aspect that humans continue to need: social support from people going through it, too. In a recent panel discussion at WeWork Now in New York, Liz Plosser, editor-in-chief of Women’s Health, sat down to discuss the power of community in the wellness space with Mark Mullett and Ashley Mills, co-founders of startup Obé, as well as Mindy Grossman, CEO and president of WW.

Creating an ‘ecosystem of support’

Obé and WW (formerly Weight Watchers) are perfect examples of startups and legacy brands that have created a “wellness ecosystem” for users. Via devices, apps, and IRL or online community, you’re never away from support and cheerleading on your wellness/fitness journey.

After meeting as workout-obsessed talent agents at William Morris Endeavor, Mullett and Mills founded Obé, a platform for live and on-demand 28-minute classes. Their vision is for Obé to be “a great sweaty experience” that “showers” members with information, inspiration—and community. Obé’s teachers give shoutouts in real time to members joining from Puerto Rico or Kansas City, and victorious participants post “sweaty selfies” to Facebook while planning their next workout together.

For WW, community has always been part of the secret sauce that makes the program work—from the original in-person meeting experience to today’s thriving community within the WW app and on its social channels. “[What] people are sharing [is] so emotional, so real,” Grossman says. “As a brand, you need to be that trusted place.”

Mark Mullet (left), Mindy Grossman, Ashley Mills, and Liz Plosser pose together after their discussion about building wellness brands in the digital age. Photo by Liz Devine/The We Company.

Building a comfortable platform

“Why shouldn’t your fitness content mimic the same behavior as every other platform [you use]?” Mullett asks. Obé is rolling out a new platform and updated, content-rich app in May. After launching with live programming alone, they discovered their audience wanted on-demand content as well. “That was hard and not part of our initial core vision,” Mullett says. But they met the need.

Next steps for Obé include developing their markets beyond the U.S. and Canada, with a goal of 24/7 live programming (right now they offer 10 hours a day). The vision, Mills says, is that “no matter where you are in the world, you can sweat it out with us.”

Meeting the family

Throughout the discussion, the talk turned to parenthood. Mills spends her evenings “talking about dinosaurs with my 3-year-old son.” Grossman nods, saying, “I never bifurcated my family and work life… If a company didn’t go for that, they weren’t for me.” All three agreed companies need to start “respecting family time.”

This family-centered approach extends beyond their workplace ethos to what they offer the consumer.  Both Obé and WW aim to include whole families in their wellness programs. For Obé, this means offering dance or workout classes set to the Moana and Frozen soundtracks. “The power of example is really important,” Mills says.

WW recently acquired Kurbo, a “healthy habits” platform for kids and teenagers. “We know that if one person in a family becomes part of our world, the whole family gets healthier,” Grossman says.

That’s the “wellness ecosystem” in action: Customizing the user’s path to fitness, better habits, and happiness.

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