My friend Matt Daniel attended the Future of Wellness dinner that was held last year in New York City. A former VP, Business Development for over a decade at a publicly traded health club operator who is now CFO and VP, Business Development at Way Better, a health tech startup, Matt brought an interesting perspective to dinner. As both a veteran of the legacy fitness club business and a forward-thinking entrepreneur interested in the new ways technology and particularly social media and gamification can improve health and wellness, he sits at the nexus of the changing face of fitness and found himself surprised, challenged and energized by our conversation that night.
On why he was at the table:
“I’ve had a personal passion around health and wellness for as far back as I can remember in my adult life. From a professional standpoint, I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my career in this field—and for the last five I’ve been in the digital health space with a company that’s making social games to help people build healthy habits.”
On what surprised him about his fellow dinner guests:
“What I expected to find at the dinner were some other folks whose background was in fitness, exercise, nutrition, coaching, things like that. What surprised me was that there was an entrepreneur-chef-restauranteur named Seamus Mullen there, and he ended up contributing probably the most of all participants. Linking the foods we eat to the microbiome and how your gut health affects your overall wellness. It’s just not a subject I had ever given much thought to. And I think I along with a lot of the other attendees found it fascinating and probably could have spent many more hours just discussing that topic.
On the lesser known aspects of wellness discussed:
“Again it was interesting that the discussion focused less on exercise, diet and traditional nutrition and more on topics like mindfulness and the microbiome. Another great topic was the importance of sleep and regeneration which is something I’m still not sure has fully hit the mainstream yet. This just wasn’t where I expected the conversation to go but, when it did go to these other places, it was a pleasant surprise.”
On the untapped potential of the wellness business:
“Even though I’ve spent fifteen years in this business, I think I came out of the dinner with a better appreciation of how many spokes there are to this wheel of wellness. It made me realize, wow, there are so many business opportunities here. Someone even said that at the dinner. We need to start taking a more comprehensive, holistic view of wellness. And I feel like we’re still in the very early days of understanding how we can help people live healthier lives in an effective way and where we can measure results. We’re just getting started. I mean the insurance companies really haven’t done anything meaningful yet in this area. I think it opened my eyes to that somewhat.”
On something he set out to tackle after the dinner:
“One thing the dinner reinforced for me was the opportunity to come up with solutions that are social. I still think there’s a big gap in the offerings that are out there. Now, I’m a bit biased because the products we put out have a big social component and are all about collaboration and helping people reach their goals. I think there were even some people at the dinner who acknowledged that it’s easier and more motivating when you’re part of a group, helping each other--even when it’s activities you technically have to do by yourself like meditating or sleeping. It’s generally more fun to join a group and support each other than to go to the gym by yourself, for instance, and try to get a fifty minute workout in on your own. So I’m just really focusing on the idea of social approaches to goal oriented health and wellness challenges.
On the best thing he’s read/seen/experienced in wellness recently (article, TedTalk, etc):
I’ve read a couple articles lately on the benefits of meditation for young children. As a father of three (7, 9 and 12) I can appreciate the challenges of getting their young, active minds to wind down at the end of the day and prepare for a good night’s rest. One study conducted in Australia found meditation to be particularly effective for children with ADHD. Not surprisingly parents found this a refreshing alternative to oft-prescribed medication.
On his proudest wellness/fitness achievement:
“OK, a chance to toot my own horn, here it is. I’m getting ready to attend my 25th college reunion and my pant size hasn’t changed since those undergrad days. (Although I’d like to think my taste in fashion has improved immensely.)”
On what topic he’d select if he were a dinner host:
“Gosh. I feel there’s a lot related to parenting I’d want to talk about. Parents have lots of experiences and opinions and face a lot of challenges that would probably be really interesting if people would open up. Especially if you could bring together parents of teenagers. And I think a really good, honest discussion on race relations. It’s a little bit like talking about religion. It can be a controversial subject but I think a lot of people would have ideas they’d want to share.” [In late 2015 we did start tackling Religion and Parenting as dinner topics.]
On the dinner format overall:
“One of the things I so appreciated about the dinner and why I would recommend the experience to many of my friends if they had the opportunity to attend one is that, sadly, there are so few opportunities these days to sit around the table for several hours with a group of people who all have expertise in a particular area or particular theme. To go really deep on a topic, to not be rushed, and to enjoy some good food and drinks while you’re at it. It’s hard enough to find five or six nights a week to have dinner with your family and those last for twenty or thirty minutes…never mind a three to four hour dinner where you go deep on a topic. It was just a such a unique experience and I cannot recommend it enough.”