As we emerge from a tumultuous year like no other, still navigating the impact of an ongoing global pandemic and its meteoric shifts in consumer values and behaviour, the wellness industry and its trailblazers continue to showcase agility, resilience and responsiveness.
Amid this great reset, existing trends have been accelerated, the need for optimal wellness further amplified and, of course, disparities magnified. Out of both necessity and ingenuity, innovation has flourished, and as brands race to demonstrate their relevance in this new and exciting landscape wellness is being pushed further under the global spotlight.
So, what can we expect from the business of wellness in 2021? And which brands will dominate the headlines over the next 12 months?
Here’s our annual rundown of the businesses we predict will capture the imagination of the industry over the forthcoming year, thanks to their use of cutting edge technology, groundbreaking approaches and their inclusion of new and exciting minds………..
WHOOP (wellness tech)
Meeting the rise in demand for more intelligent, athlete-led wellness, WHOOP is a next-gen wearable valued at $1.2 billion.
The ‘human performance company’ which claims to be pioneering a new wellness category, provides users with 24/7 health monitoring across fitness, sleep, recovery, strain and more, for $30 per month.
Originally conceived as a product for professional athletes, over time, it has gradually evolved into a consumer brand that’s filling a gap in the market for fitness enthusiasts and health-conscious consumers who want to take their every day health ‘to the next level’.
Having experienced a period of high-growth during 2020, the company, which has raised more than $200 million from investors including Cavu Ventures, D20 Capital, and a host of professional athletes, now plans to double down on product and software development, global expansion, and new membership services.
“Where you’re going to see Whoop evolve is becoming very good at tying individual goals back to the feedback it creates and I think that’s the future of health monitoring — having this 24/7 life coach that’s in the background that can make you a more optimal human,” founder Will Ahmed recently explained in an episode of The Business of Wellness podcast.
By positioning itself as the closest thing most people are going to get to an actual coach — telling them what they need to do to improve on the aspects of their wellness that have a direct impact on how they feel day-to-day and across the different touchpoints of their lives — the brand has the potential to tap into human desire for self-quantification, in a more connected, credible and relevant way. Listen to more
Hims & Hers (healthcare & wellness)
First launched as a lifestyle brand, aimed at addressing the problems most men are too embarrassed to talk about — including male pattern baldness, erectile dysfunction and acne — Hims hit $1 million in sales in its first week and has enjoyed a fast growth trajectory ever since.
By giving consumers access to credible healthcare solutions in an affordable and convenient format, and creating a relatable yet aspirational brand identity, founder Andrew Dudum has cultivated consumer trust in an era of scepticism and hard-won loyalty.
Now catering to women too, via sister brand Hers, the wellness unicorn has evolved into a multi-speciality telehealth platform that connects consumers to licensed healthcare professionals. It gives its customers access to high-quality medical care for numerous conditions related to primary care, mental health, sexual health, dermatology, and more.
The company argues that the future of healthcare will be led by consumer brands that empower people and give them full control over their healthcare. And a direct relationship with consumers, as it has built, will become the most valuable component in the healthcare system.
By directing the consumer experience from start to finish, it is uniquely positioned in the rapidly-emerging telemedicine landscape to lead the industry in B2C-focused telehealth solutions.
Since its founding, the company has facilitated more than two million telehealth consultations, enabling greater access to high quality, convenient and affordable care for people in all 50 US states. It has also driven 100%+ compounded annual revenue growth over the last two years and has more than doubled gross margins to 70%+, with revenue that is over 90% recurring in nature.
Following its recent IPO, via a $1.6 billion special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) deal, the company plans on further making its mark on the digital healthcare space by investing in growth and new product categories that it says will accelerate Hims & Hers’ plan to become the digital front door to the healthcare system. Read more
Tonal (connected fitness equipment)
Tonal, which calls itself the ‘world’s most intelligent fitness system’ is quickly establishing itself as a leader in the connected fitness equipment category.
An at-home strength and personal training platform, its use of revolutionary equipment leveraging digital weight with advanced A.I. software, is setting the bar for connected strength training. And has already won the backing of 20 world-class athletes including Serena Williams, Klay Thompson, Tony Gonzalez and Stephen Curry, who argues the device “is revolutionizing how people will work out now and in the future.”
In another move pointing to its potential to disrupt the fitness industry, L Catterton — which has unparalleled expertise and institutional knowledge of the fitness space, and an investment portfolio featuring Equinox, ICON Health & Fitness, Peloton, Pure Barre and more — has also poured investment into the startup. To date, the company has raised $200 million.
Tonal’s differentiated approach to providing consumers with a personalised, connected strength training experience that mirrors the type of training and feedback only professional athletes are usually privy to, has also seen it experience record-breaking sales, according to the brand.
“As the first mover in connected strength training, it has been incredible to see the momentum we’ve had in the two years since introducing Tonal to the world,” commented founder Aly Orady, recently.
“Month over month, we’ve consistently seen record-breaking sales and member engagement fueling one of the most passionate fitness communities ever,” he added.
Further fueling its growth are several partnerships including a collaboration with Mayo Clinic in a clinical trial using it in physical therapy applications — the results of which are expected to be released in early 2021. And the successful installation of in-room Tonals within the Four Seasons Hotel chain.
In 2021, it plans to accelerate marketing initiatives and scale its supply chain and logistics to more quickly meet its unprecedented demand. It will also roll out new software-driven product innovations and a wider breadth of content. Listen to more
Levels (wellness tech)
A $399 biowearable system that tracks the user’s blood glucose in real-time, to help them maximise their diet and exercise, Levels claims to offer consumers the holy grail of attaining peak performance.
Backed by a $12 million seed round led by a16z, one of Silicon Valley’s top venture capital firms whose portfolio includes Airbnb, Facebook, Instagram, Lyft, Pinterest, Slack, Stripe and Waymo. And notable angel investors including Marc Randolph (co-founder and first CEO of Netflix), Dick Costolo (former CEO of Twitter) and Michael Arrington (Founder of TechCrunch), it is currently still in beta testing mode.
However, once fully launched later this year, it has ambitions to disrupt the $33 billion wearable technology market by making it easy for people to see how their diet is affecting both their health and their lifestyle in a quantifiable way.
So far, users in its closed beta program have been sold not only on its ability to intelligently close the loop between daily actions and performance but also on the feeling of being part of an exclusive club that has access to secrets others don’t.
Started by Casey Means MD (Stanford), Josh Clemente (SpaceX, Hyperloop), Sam Corcos (CarDash, Y Combinator), David Flinner (Google), and Andrew Conner (Google) in an attempt to reverse the trend of metabolic dysfunction, despite the brand entering the market via the premium lifestyle space, its ambition is to eventually become a mainstream brand used by a mass audience.
One way it has the potential to do so is by partnering with healthcare providers and employers — the latter of which the startup is already exploring.
“Preventing metabolic dysfunction is one of the 21st century’s greatest health challenges, and Levels addresses the epidemic head-on,” said Vijay Pande, PhD and General Partner, a16z.
Adding: “By harnessing CGMs, wearables, data science, and the latest advances in biology and medicine, Levels provides critical information to help consumers take control of diet and exercise while making real, fundamental improvements in their health.”
Wave Sleep (meditation)
Formerly known as Wave Meditation, Wave Sleep is the brainchild of Brad Warsh and Mason Levey (co-founder of US boutique yoga brand Y7).
Launched in 2018, to answer consumer demand for elevated at-home meditation that is more culturally-driven, after more than two years of operating as an immersive meditation experience the startup has decided to shift its focus.
According to the brand: “Through extensive data collection, feedback and client discussions, we found that the world is in need of help falling asleep, staying asleep and maintaining healthy sleep habits.”
At a time when sleep neurologists are reporting increased sleep disturbances, in a trend they’re calling ‘COVID-somnia’, the pivot makes sense.
So, in January of this year, it relaunched Wave as a sleep experience company, with a new app created to help users build healthy bedtime habits, and sleep better.
To fulfil its mission of redefining adult bedtime, it’s offering live and on-demand visualisation-style meditations, with live classes running every 30 minutes to accommodate every sleep schedule and time zone. The hope is that by booking into live sessions, users will approach them as they would a live exercise class — building accountability and discipline into the practice.
In the same vein as its previous incarnation as Wave Meditation, Wave Sleep is creating a differentiated offering by making the practice more approachable, enjoyable and culturally relevant — building out a wider lifestyle brand that is meaningfully different from anything else on the market.
A sporty streetwear-inspired apparel line, community-driven app features and special live sessions relating to real-world events are also helping the brand to tap into the values and behaviours of the Gen Z and millennial demographics.
Real (mental wellness)
Launched in 2020, new-age mental wellness platform Real is leaning into the philosophy of ‘by the people for the people’ in a bid to authentically and contextually support the real-time mental wellness concerns of individuals — especially as they navigate times of existential crisis.
In doing so it’s redefining current pathways into therapy and reimagining the overall experience to meet the needs, goals and preferences of millennials and Gen Z — in their language and on their terms.
Backed by $6 million from investors including Forerunner Ventures and Gwyneth Paltrow, in addition to addressing standard mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression, its membership-based platform taps into more contemporary concerns such as single life, body image and imposter syndrome. And in direct response to prevailing lifestyle shifts; navigating life without your loved ones and dating in a digital world.
The forward-thinking startup says that by “removing the barriers of an antiquated system and providing care that is affordable, easy to book, and curated for the modern human” it is creating an approach that helps people to proactively take care of their mental health.
And it’s providing them with a very modern blueprint for crisis management in the process.
“Today, everyone is designing for therapy; no one is designing for people,” Founder Ariela Safira told Female Founders Fund, another of the startup’s investors.
“The way in which today’s providers and startups market therapy, provide care, track (or don’t track) progress, and provide ongoing support are all based on what therapy has always been like. We need to think about people – what does today’s 30-year-old woman worry about? What words does she use to express this worry? What happens when she doesn’t express this worry? What does she need to feel understood? How do we create that?”
For Real, the answer to that final question appears to lie in demystifying the experience of therapy through familiar language and aesthetics, creating accessible and recognisable avenues into the practice and through the provision of mental wellness support that aligns with the lifestyles, values and markers of its audience.
The long term goal is to improve the mental health care system and establish mental wellness as an integral part of people’s engagement with their overall health.
Golde (supplements & nutrition)
Founded by entrepreneur Trinity Mouzon Wofford — the youngest Black woman ever to launch a brand in US beauty and wellness retailer Sephora — Golde’s superfood infused lattes, supplements and face masks have already amassed a cult following.
The brand’s bright and buzzy packaging, approachable and accessible rhetoric and all-round feel-good vibe have caught the attention of consumers by tapping into the desire for wellness that sparks joy and inclusion rather than restriction and exclusivity.
Launched in 2017, over the past couple of years the brand has been gradually building out its retail footprint, which includes indie wellness and beauty shops, as well as Urban Outfitters, Goop and Sephora. However, January 2021 marked a huge milestone for the startup which is now stocked in US mass-market retailer Target.
Because Golde’s sweet spot exists in speaking to a section of the population that isn’t being targeted by the majority of the wellness industry, launching in a retailer like Target has the potential to be hugely beneficial in getting the brand in front of that audience.
Speaking about the move, Wofford told Yahoo: “I think this is really the next big step for Golde. We’ve been this cool little niche brand, but now we’re showing that we can hang on shelf with the big guys. It’s a massive proof point for the scalability of our mission, and we’re only just getting started.”
Adding: “A lot of our retail placements right now are focused in smaller shops in big cities — working with Target means that for the first time, customers outside of major wellness hubs like NYC will have the chance to discover our products in person.
Despite being approached by multiple investors, the brand remains entirely self-funded for now as it looks to continue expanding its products range in a way that’s affordable and inclusive.
Function of Beauty (clean beauty & body)
Founded by a team of world-class MIT engineers, cosmetic scientists, and developers, Function of Beauty has leveraged two of the biggest consumer trends — clean, science-backed ingredients and personalisation — to create a pioneering beauty and body brand that is reported to have hit $100 million in sales, and a $1 billion valuation.
Launched in 2016, the company quickly realised that the only way to create customisable beauty products at scale was to find a fully operational production facility that fit its needs. To fulfil its vision it made the bold move to build its own state-of-the-art factories from the ground up.
In doing so, it created a truly first-of-its-kind facility in the US, where all of the filling equipment was designed, built, and coded in-house. To this day, there is nothing comparable anywhere else in the world.
Elsewhere, Function of Beauty’s mission of bringing the benefits of customization to a broader audience has seen the development of the first proprietary quiz in the industry, defining which ingredients and formulations would meet each customer’s unique goals. Function of Beauty is currently selling its products in 45 markets and employs more than 400 people.
Thanks to the brand’s innovative thinking, in the last five years it has experienced phenomenal growth.
In December 2020, the four-year-old brand secured a $150 million strategic investment from L Catterton, which it says has been earmarked for further expansion beyond the markets it currently operates in. It also recently entered into its first major retail development with US retailer Target.
“As Function of Beauty continues to grow, this will just be just a preview of what people will think of when they think of hair care and, specifically, [customized]beauty in the years to come,” Co-Founder Zahir Dossa, recently told Glossy.
Flow Water (f&b)
Set to go public later this year, Flow Water is one of a wave of functional ‘wellness’ beverages that have risen to prominence over the past couple of years.
The Canadian-based company, founded just six years ago by serial, mission-driven entrepreneur Nicholas Reichenbach, has seen its sales surge by 44% in the past year, hitting $25 million in 2020. Its popularity has soared thanks to a spike in consumer interest in “drinks with benefits”, as well as the desire to align with companies demonstrating ethical values.
Citing its sustainable packaging as one of its biggest selling points, the co-signing of high-profile celebrities such as singer Shawn Mendes, who joined the company as an investor and advisor in 2019, as well as rapper Post Malone, has also helped to propel the brand into mainstream consumer consciousness.
However, Reichenbach says the company still has a way to go to really capture market share. A goal he hopes can be achieved with its entrance into the public markets. This, he argues, will accelerate its growth through expansion of its omnichannel retail distribution and continued product innovation.
To date, the brand has raised more than $100 million from various investors and is currently sold direct-to-consumer via its website, as well as via 30,000 chains in the US and Canada.
By aggressively targeting the large and rapidly growing premium enhanced water and ‘better-for-you’ beverage markets, it hopes to become the number-one wellness beverage brand in the world.
Keep (fitness app)
Chinese fitness platform Keep’s ambitious growth strategy has seen the company raise an impressive $614 million across eight rounds in the past six years. Its latest fundraise in January of this year, is reported to have raised its valuation to around $2 billion.
Launched as a fitness app providing at-home workout videos, thanks to its consumer-first approach, the startup amassed 100 million users within its first three years of operation. This figure has now surpassed the 300 million mark, growing alongside its platform, which now includes fitness influencer-led live classes and customised fitness plans.
Having gradually expanded its offline presence to include healthy snacks, wearable hardware, and workout apparel, more recently, the company also launched a Peloton-style bike as well as a treadmill. However, for now, its main revenue source continues to come from the membership fees of 10 million users who receive its personalized services.
According to Keep, with fresh capital now secured, it plans to continue finessing and expanding its ecosystem of products and services to cater to the uptick in Chinese consumers working out from home.
Fitness businesses in China’s top 18 cities generated $4.9 billion in revenues during 2019, before the onset of the pandemic, according to a recent report by Deloitte. The report also revealed that despite the fitness sector’s rapid growth, there is still plenty of room for further growth, as fitness continues to cement itself as an integral part of everyday life.
Keep is said to be weighing an initial public offering as soon as this year, according to Bloomberg, however, a representative for the company said it has no IPO plans for now.