Running a business can be "four seasons in a day"
Melinda Nicci is CEO and founder of Baby2Body, which provides support and advice on health and well-being in pregnancy. She discusses with Smith & Williamson’s Hall of Fame how an encounter with a GP early in her own pregnancy fuelled her ambition to put the right information in women’s hands, helping them make better choices.
My career experiences have always been centred on health and fitness, and after I got married and moved to London I was primarily working as a personal trainer. When I became pregnant with my first child, one of the first questions I asked my GP was if I could still exercise. I was shocked when they didn’t have any useful information, and horrified when they advised that I’d be better off not exercising at all. Ultimately, they had no idea what I could and couldn’t do, and at the time neither did I. However, my whole life I had been very active and I didn’t want to change that, and I knew it couldn’t be healthy for me to stop exercising altogether.
I set out to gain a better understanding of what information was out there, but found almost nothing on the subject available to the general population. With that in mind, I sought to learn as much as I could, and I quickly got my training in prenatal and postnatal exercise. Soon enough, I had friends who were having babies and I started teaching small classes, which turned into much larger classes throughout London. A major book deal followed, where I wrote about wellbeing and fitness in pregnancy, and shortly after I launched a successful fitness DVD. In those days, I was the only one at the school gates in my gym clothes, but the message spread. I was keen to grow the business into a broader lifestyle company, finding ways to build an online community. I wanted to scale up and take it across the globe, helping people make better choices in pregnancy.
I recognised that I needed to go back to school to help me do this, and we needed better technology to make it possible. I got my Masters in Sport Psychology and followed it up with a two-year stint at Philips to build a consumer health and wellbeing hub. During my time there, I worked on strategy, building technology that would positively influence behaviour, and helping to bring these products to market. It was an invaluable experience and crucial in helping me build Baby2Body.
I used a TSB grant to start the company, launching in January 2015. It started out as an email subscription service to test the hypothesis. We grew our email subscribers significantly and after taking in more funding we were able to launch our app just over a year ago, Since then, Baby2Body has won loads of awards and recognition in this space, and we’ve built it up to 250,000 active users on the app with 850,000 women signed up to the Baby2Body platform.
We decided on a Freemium/Premium model. For most people it is a free service but our Premium model offers tailored fitness guidance, like having a virtual personal trainer that specializes in all things pregnancy. There are also add-ons, such as a meditation programme and a large bank of healthy recipes.
As a business, we face the usual challenges; running a business can be ‘four seasons in one day’ – one minute everything is wonderful, then it is terrible and then it is wonderful all over again. Probably the biggest challenge looking back is that it’s been tough to find the right people that fit the culture and values of the business. Our business vision is very strong and our team is on the smaller side since we’re a start-up, and occasionally we’ve found that people we’ve hired haven’t shared that vision, which becomes apparent quickly. However, we’ve now built a really stable team and recently opened an office in New York.
It is always difficult to find time for everything. I have long been responsible for the ‘brand’, which means doing the PR and marketing, the leadership function, and investment responsibilities, such as talking to investors and keeping everyone happy. Nevertheless, we have seen the most amazing growth. The business is now 14-people strong and it is incredibly rewarding to see.
Having a routine makes everything easier. I exercise five times a week and I do intermittent fasting, which grounds me and makes me more focused. I feel that if my head is strong, I can do what I want with the business. I am disciplined on my lifestyle: I meditate, I make sure I get enough sleep, I am careful about what I take on at the weekend so I can be with my children. I have a work uniform to minimise decision- making. I know what I’m going to wear ahead of time so it’s not a scramble. Every January, I state my intentions for the year ahead and I do monthly check-ins on that to make sure I’m on track – I am very goal-orientated and I take a similar approach with the business as well. We have quarterly and monthly goals that we aim for; so I definitely aim to practice what I preach.
Unfortunately, when it comes to prenatal wellbeing and fitness, I’m not sure that a GP would give much better advice today. It’s still a grey area – and doctors don’t have time, nor are they trained in fitness and emotional wellbeing to give clear actionable guidance for these women. While a lot of our users are from the US, in the UK, we still find there is a reticence to trust anyone but the NHS. A lot of women believe they get everything they need there, in spite of the lack of readily available advice on healthy living. The National Childbirth Trust offers a lot of preparation for the birth, but not much else. Our app provides daily updates on how your baby is growing, how to manage the emotional changes, exactly what workouts you can and should be doing, the best foods to eat for you and baby, and more.
From here, we are increasingly looking at what women can expect after birth – dealing with sleep issues and anxiety, finding practical techniques they can use to stay mindful and calm, learning how to build back confidence and regain muscle tone, and learning how to take care of yourself while raising a child. It really is an overwhelming time and we want to help. We want to put power back into the hands of every single woman in the world at this special time in their lives.
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