Anybody can start a business and take the plunge into entrepreneurship. But only few will make the right decision and survive. For Arvind Krishnan, the Founder of employee well-being and engagement company The Fuller Life (TFL), it is a journey of constant innovation. The 18-year-old company, which he started, works with leading companies, managing their year-long well-being initiatives in a passionate way. In a freewheeling interaction with N V Vijayakumar from The NFAPost, Arvind Krishnan opens up about his company’s USP and its future plans.
The name of your company sounds good. Can you elaborate on how you took the decision to start this company?
After completing Engineering from Bombay and Management from IIM Calcutta, I worked in a few companies before starting off on to the entrepreneurial journey in December 2001. Initially, the idea was to help people to do more with their lives. The focus is on health and wellness management. We manage health, wellness and engagement for companies like Microsoft, Ford, KPMG etc. as mentioned in the website. Now, we are very focused on health and wellness management. We have started way back in March 2005, a long-distance running club called runners for life. We are doing this for a long time, slowly, steadily and organically so that whatever the company wants in health and wellness, we can pretty much cover all that, both online and offline. That’s a short summary of the company.
Early stages of any startup will have its own problems. When you look back, how difficult it was in terms of registering the company since government regulations in health and wellness space are quite complicated?
Now all the offerings are pretty much online so that people can avail almost everything, however, we aren’t a health tech company. We have quite a comfortable path while setting up the business way back in 2002, it wasn’t so difficult, we started as a proprietorship company, and then quickly become a PVT. LTD co. because my overall goal was to bring in institutional value. This is not a lifestyle project, but the idea was to build something that will last. The brand name is THE FULLER LIFE, and we were not allowed to use the same for our company. The ROC (Registrar of Companies) told that we are not allowed to name a company with THE. So, it was registered as TFL, and it continues. It was pretty comfortable and pretty straight forward. We never had any regulatory hurdle since we were not hiring any doctors, technicians directly. We have other challenges, but the procedures and regulations have become quite regular now.
Executing business model during the initial phase is a difficult task for any entrepreneur. Can you elaborate on your operation strategies and engagement with the team?
Starting from 0-5, in the initial phase it was difficult, and Infosys was one of our first clients. We used to take our instructors there to do sessions like Reiki and graphology. Those sessions became a success and we started doing it more for them. Infosys asked us to plan an engagement program for the employees. We started doing that, and then we got into the wellness plan. In the last decade, the intersecting line between wellness and engagement has blurred.
Now during this Covid crisis, people are looking more for engagement plans but one should realise that this has to be built-up over a period of time. People are becoming more aware during this Covid crisis, and distancing has become an important aspect in engagement. We can definitely start with health and wellness then there is something called sports, which is another aspect of health and wellness because you can’t play any sport with an unfit body and mind. And sports is an engagement. Everything started converging and became our bread and butter. Customer requirements worked overtime. It blended and grew where we are today.
Majority of your clients are from corporate and IT sector. Share details of your team, allocation, operation and client management?
True, most of them are from Corporate India. About 5% of the runners also take part in our Cauvery trails. At this point of time, we are 26 people, used to be larger but we downsized during the pandemic. The large part of the team is into client management who interact with the client. Backing them up is the communication team for writing, and technical team for putting clients requirement, Marketing team, Operation, which mainly comprise of the admin, HR and finance.
How do you deliver the services to the client when you talk about wellness- physical, mental, financial wellness? How are you training the people and how many are you training?
We are not training anyone. Effectively, we are the aggregator services partnering with the best resources in the category, fits best with the requirement of the company. We make custom-made solutions for clients, unlike online service providers. We hold health summits every year called corporate health summit and the idea is to bring people in one forum to talk about challenges in corporate health. We have completed four editions in February 2020. The next edition is in 2021. We are basically the aggregators, not the onboard healthcare services.
TFL recently undertook healthcare programme for Kotak, that too during pandemic. Kotak has 40,000 people and they work out of 1,100 offices and wellness is important to all of them. Most of the employees are working out of home and we combined a lot of initiatives on their website which has a lot of article, videos, doctors on call, e-medicine and EAP counselling programme. Some of them are with their partners as well. There is a webinar every month and there is a newsletter which is getting circulated, but the idea is to take the company wellness process and move the whole thing online and brand them. Kotak focuses a lot on wellness, they work with a sub brand called health to the power infinity. We have taken this idea and transformed the whole proposition in virtual medium. We also have another programme for customers called Wellbeing on the Web.
Do you have engagement model with B2C right now?
Right now, we do not have B2C Clients. We are currently focused on B2B only. However, we do see participation for Cauvery trail marathon, which started in 2007. The 14th edition of the marathon is still undecided, that’s where individual can join. That is the B2C engagement we have. Also, we do have another running initiative called Urban Stampede, where people can take part in it and run from wherever they are, upload their images in their social handles. This is a virtual run platform.
Wellness is a broad business area. What do you mean when you say wellness in physical, emotional and financial?
Socially, it means to connect with colleague and family, also engaging with the firm, engaging with the CSR. All these are important.
How do you map it, match it up with one’s personal space and company’s requirement and help achieve that?
It is like a restaurant. It’s a menu-based approach. We have a lot of things in our offerings, we provide according to the company’s best solutions. Every individual is a part of a puzzle, we can’t get to individual customisation level. It is more like the reports that companies get based on their surveys. Our customer is the company, so we address around their problem based on their employee-specific issues.
Companies have got good amount of data about the performance of their health management system. In regard to physical and emotional data, nutritional data etc. We get all the data – the kind of articles the employees read, the sites they browse through, and put up a plan together with the HR and Admin. They specifically mention about the potential challenges. They may not know the name of the employee going through a particular problem, but they have the rich supporting data about the problems. That gives a fair sense of what needs to be done, and we are able to do that. So, we customise to the companies’ requirement.
How do you measure the ROI, when it comes to the top-line management and bottom level employees’ health?
I’m thinking like a capitalist here, as companies will always look for an aggregator service to keep the employees in good shape. However, the belief is your health is primarily your responsibility. A firm should only do what is important, and there is government regulations too. If you are running a factory with X number of workers, you have to do X number of checks.
Its under the factory law. Employees health is super important, but it may be a conventional wisdom and necessarily bought everywhere. As a capitalist, the survival of the firm is the only important thing.
I think people tend to forget the basic values of exercising regularly, eat regularly on time, take rest and keep a good health in general. That onus should be there for the person, individual. For instance, it has been seen that the company’s medical insurance has been extended to the parents, in laws etc. I don’t understand the logic behind it. The companies think they will increase ROI by extending the insurance, ROI is important for any business, but ROI is a misled question. There is a short term return for ROI.
One has to take it up and continue, people ask me, I want to take it up for 4 weeks, what will be the ROI? I have to say sorry, there is nothing. For us in the current calendar, ROI works on quarter to quarter. If we start eating, resting, exercising well, we might see the change in 3-4 weeks, while other people will notice the change in minimum 12-14 weeks.
So, measuring quarterly or annually will only come into play effectively when companies are running for long time. After running for a shorter time, say for a couple of weeks, deciding on the programs working or not working will not be right. I am afraid everyone needs to extend the horizon. It is the nature of the scheme that it has to be long term.
What is the model of your contract?
Mostly annual. The spectrum we work with the companies is largely dependent on the responses. We need to adopt a lot of things along the process, be very clear on what we can, what we can’t. It is important we get genuine company data that are accessible to us. We also recommend advocacy within the peers, that spreads the message across the community. People suggest/ advise, come up with the best solutions. It builds up a bridge, weave community and culture together which is a tangible thing. Adoption, efficacy, advocacy, awareness and lastly community health and culture. The horizon we try to cover for the companies are 2-3 layers. So, physical, emotional, financial and social health are all interlinked.
How do you assess the company performance with regarding revenue generation? Would you like to share some details?
We have been profitable for the last few years, last year we made Rs 12 crore to Rs 13 crore. Only two years out of 18 years we have not been profitable. We are growing organically, and we are a moderately run company. This year, of course, things are a bit uncertain. With two decades of entrepreneurial experience, my reading says, we will be in the winning side.
Considering the time of crisis, are you expecting more people asking for wellness programme?
I’m not really expecting anything, I am coming from the thoughts that the most important thing is to survive and sustain. If I survive and profit is absolutely zero, I would consider this as a moderate year.
Are you looking at any inorganic growth by acquiring or any other vision that you have for scaling up the business? What is the roadmap for 5 years down the line?
We are not looking at any inorganic growth, we want to watch, and we want to grow. We will go for funding when it is appropriate and scouting for investors who are having long-term commitment.