Editor Anna Magee started Healthista as a blog in her bedroom before raising funding and running it into business – here are the things she learned along the way
I recently had a huge clear out and came across an old diary. My usual diary entries are a rambling stream of consciousness affairs but this was a simple list about what I wanted to happen over the next two years.
At the time, I was about to start a women’s health blog, because it was 2013 and that’s what health journalists were supposed to be doing. The list charted the milestones I wanted to have reached and by when.
I had turned Healthista.com, a tiny blog literally created in my bedroom into a business with a team and a website that now gets 12,000 unique visitors a day
Amongst its entries were ‘June 2014 – find a developer to partner with’, ‘January 2015 – get first round funding, hire team. ‘November 2016 launch products.’ It struck me that although it was all about 12 months later than I had planned, most of it had actually happened.
I had turned Healthista.com, a tiny blog literally created in my bedroom with zero cash into a business with a team and a website that now gets 12,000 unique visitors a day and sells a range of health products in three UK supermarkets. Here’s what I learned along the way…
1. Figure out your why, first – then your how and what
In his TEDtalk, How great leaders inspire action, motivational speaker Simon Sinek describes the ‘golden circle’ of business. There’s a small circle in the centre, your why, then another circle around that, your how, then another around that, your what.
The mistake most businesses make, he says, is knowing what they do and how they do it, but not knowing why. He advises starting with the why.
I had been a heath journalist for years, was the Health Director of Red, the Health Editor of Sainbury’s Magazine and had at the time a busy career freelancing for national newspapers.
Having been a fat teen who became health obsessed in the ‘90s and never stopped, I had discovered how much fun being healthy could be, and how transformative fitness, diet and yoga was for the mind and body.
But this was all before the wellbeing explosion had hit and looking around, the information available was either really expensive, came from wrist-slapping bullies (think Gillian McKeith) or was all a bit beige and clinical. Nothing delivered accessible information that could be trusted packaged in a sexy, glossy way.
I was also angered by how much cringe factor existed in our national health media. Unless you took a Cosmo-type approach, topics such as vaginal health, painful sex or HIV were usually off limits, so they never received the grown up journalistic treatment that say, dementia or cancer regularly got. It was downright dangerous.
That was my why – to make it easier for women to be healthy and to break through taboos surrounding women’s health and in doing so, empower women.
Then, I figured out my how which became our three editorial pillars: ‘smart, useful and real’ journalism. Our what was easy – journalism that could be trusted, expert advice, honest reviews, free quality video and eventually, useful health products.
2. Make up a name, buy the domain and trademark it
When I first started Healthista, it was called Thinking Women’s Health, and it was a blog built on WordPress, a free blogging platform. But when I went to trademark it, my lawyer had other ideas. ‘There is a similar brand in your space (Women’s Health), and they will sue you,’ she said, advising me to come up with something that wasn’t actually a word, but described the business.
‘It’s like a fashionista, but for health.’ Which is how the name was born
I still remember my then husband, Kevin and I sitting up in bed for hours one Saturday morning, looking at Goddess’s names in different languages, women’s health in different languages, all taken.
Kevin, exasperated asked me, ‘Well, what is it really?’ I stopped and thought. ‘It’s like a fashionista, but for health.’ Which is how the name was born. We still have to spell it over the phone and often get called anything from Healthvista, to Healthsista, but hey, the web domain and the UK trademark were both available, so we nabbed them.
If you can afford it, get your trademark in Europe and the US too – I regret not having got mine earlier so the name would be secure in those markets too.
3. Check people out before you jump into anything
I had no idea how to run a business, the only thing I could do was write health stories, so I fell on my inexperienced face time and again. I tended to jump into business in the same way that I had jumped into relationships in my 20s, by saying yes to anyone who asked.
During Healthista’s first manifestation, I partnered with the first guy who asked me, who called himself a tech and business expert but turned out to be serial careerist with family money and no clue about tech or business.
By the time I realised that, I was trapped in business with him. Months of stressful legal battles ensued and I had to shut the whole company – and that first website – down and start again. Lesson. Learned.
4. Find an inner circle – and stick with them
First, get a lawyer and keep them close. Things like new data protection laws, insurance, terms and conditions, shareholders’ agreements and disputes need a legal eye. And if anyone tells you to avoid lawyers, run.
Someone recently ‘advised’ me to try and avoid getting a lawyer to look at an agreement he was proposing I sign because it would get expensive for me. My lawyer took one look and found that signing the agreement would sign over all of Healthista’s intellectual property (I know).
Get them to estimate the cost of a job before they do it, so your cash flow doesn’t suffer. Ditto, for an accountant.
Eventually I did find the right business partners. One of them, David Evans, who runs Akiko Design – a development and design agency who I teamed up with at the end of 2014 – was instrumental in Healthista’s growth.
Despite being all men, his team understood the brand and turned Healthista into the sexy, glossy package you see today. It was David who saw how much organic traffic our little site was getting, with zero marketing or PR money, and who suggested we get funding to grow it and launch a range of products.
I trusted him, his network was wide and he introduced me to Touker Suleyman, an investor best-known for his role on BBC1’s Dragon’s Den.
5. Get some money to grow
I started Healthista with zero money; zip, nada. That meant I had to hustle for everything, from having our first ever office in a drafty, heatless government building in East Ham because it was free (me and two interns), to sourcing rights-free celeb pictures and experts who wrote stories and did workout and cooking videos for nothing.
By the time I got to Touker’s office to pitch for our first round of funding in June 2016, David and I had spent many sleepless nights on creating a glossy ‘pitch deck’. This is a 10-20 page PDF presentation potential investors expect that outlines what your business does, how it’s grown, its USP and why they should give you their cash.
Touker agreed then and there to give us all the seed money we were pitching for – £150,000
I was nervous as hell. We were about three slides into the presentation when Touker turned to me and asked about my background. I took a deep breath, forgot about the graphs and forecasts and let loose my passion for what I wanted to do in growing this business. I told him my why.
Touker agreed then and there to give us all the seed money we were pitching for – £150,000 – for a 30% slice of the business. That money got us a small team and meant we could move into a shiny building in North London owned by Touker which also houses his other businesses including Ghost, Finery and Hawes & Curtis (so we get great sample sales) with our own TV studio and even proper heating.
6. Hold every penny prisoner
Touker’s investment also allowed us to manufacture a range of Lean Diet proteins and superfoods now stocked in Wholefoods, Tesco, Morrissons and soon, Ocado. Some of the money was wasted on two expensive hires who turned out to be wrong – something I could have found out if I’d checked their references more thoroughly. Lesson. Learned. Again.
And it ran out quickly, but we’re self-sufficient now, though I have never worked so hard in my life to run what has now become a hungry beast of a website with a wonderfully bolshie and engaged audience.
Some of the money was wasted on two expensive hires who turned out to be wrong
When it comes to money, Touker is fond of saying, ‘Every penny is a prisoner.’ And I tend to agree. If there is one bible I run my business by, it’s Eric Ries The Lean Start Up. In it Ries asserts that constantly changing when something isn’t working can only be done if you’re running a lean show, because change is easier when less money is riding on the product you have released.
At Healthista we only spend money we have to, and we are still lean enough to be agile; so we can change often, take risks, celebrate what works and quickly forget what doesn’t.
7. In business as in life, relationships are everything
Healthista is nothing without its brilliant content, which is made by a tiny alpha team of what I call ‘machines’; one journalist, two editors (including me) and a video producer. That’s it. They’re the best people I could find and I hang onto them with all my might.
I still know little about business, but now Touker and David, my shareholders and mentors, handhold me through the process. Without those relationships, I wouldn’t have been able to grow Healthista.
Now, when there is a problem, we fight it out for half an hour, then figure out a solution that will work for the business and most importantly, the end user.
the wellbeing sphere is being taken seriously in the business and investment worlds
Recently, Healthista signed a partnership with Pullman London St Pancras Hotel to expand their wellbeing offering through a series of content, events and seminars encouraging health entrepreneurship among our audience.
At last, the wellbeing sphere is being taken seriously in the business and investment worlds. That means we can offer our users more innovation, more opportunities and more resources to help them not only look and feel better, but also achieve their business dreams. That’s pretty much all I care about.
Anna Magee is the editor of healthista.com and the former Health Features Editor of The Telegraph.
If you’ve always wanted to make money from your healthy passion, Healthista’s upcoming Health To Wealth event is your chance to learn how to grow your business and network with people that can help.
Healthista have teamed up with luxury hotel brand Pullman Hotels & Resorts to launch a new wellness entrepreneurship-focused initiative and event – Health To Wealth – to help budding start-ups bring their businesses to life.
The live event will see Healthista readers, consumers, influencers, media and businesspeople alike, come together to share and learn.
During the event, selected early-stage health businesses and ideas will be put to the test Dragon’s Den-style before a panel of industry experts including BBC Dragon – and Healthista investor – Touker Suleyman.
When: June 13th, 2019
Where: The Shaw Theatre, Pullman London St Pancras, 100-110 Euston Road, King’s Cross, London, NW1 2AJ
Tickets: £15 from this link. Entry price includes a wellbeing goodie bag worth over £50.
On the night
Successful entrepreneurs from all areas of wellness including nutrition, fitness, and fashion will take part in a panel discussion focused on sharing their experience, tips and tricks for starting and growing a business in the wellness space.
This will be followed by a Dragon’s Den-style format, inviting up-and-coming wellness entrepreneurs to pitch for support to further the success of their own businesses.
The Health To Wealth entrepreneur’s panel includes:
Touker Suleyman, BBC Dragon, multi-millionaire behind brands including Finery, Ghost and Hawes & Curtis and Healthista investor.
Emlyn Brown, Vice-President Well-Being, Luxury and Premium Brands at Accor Hotels.
Ashley Verma, founder of London’s barre fitness studio DEFINE London.
Anna Magee, Healthista Editor and CEO and multi-award winning health journalist.
Charing the panel will be Anni Hood, co-founder and chief executive at Well Intelligence – a research, insights and market evidence platform aimed at helping wellbeing businesses grow.
Tickets to join the audience to learn from the successes and hurdles overcome by the panel of speakers are £15 per person and available to purchase from here.