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Melissa Fann, Founder of The Wellness Insider

Her medical condition redefines her career and life

 

Melissa Fann was a veteran in the finance industry, but she decided to trade looking at figures at health instead. This week, we find out what made her change her career path from the world of “ka-ching” to start The Wellness Insider.

Can you share with us what is The Wellness Insider?

The Wellness Insider is a platform which promotes body confidence. We do that through educating our readers with opinions from experts on fitness, diet, beauty and lifestyle.

We are advocating a healthy lifestyle while also trying to change people’s mindsets and judgements about one’s health or character simply by their body.

How did the idea come about?

I have a medical condition called endometriosis, which made me gain weight very rapidly within a few months and when I was hospitalised for emergency surgery, I had quite a bit of nasty comments from colleagues. Since this is a chronic problem, many couldn’t understand why I took so many days of medical leave and the pressure to not take leave when I was in pain push me into a slight depressive state. It doesn’t help that my mum has always called me fat.

All this while, I was also researching on what foods to eat (or not eat) in order to alleviate the symptoms as well as exploring what types of exercises I enjoyed other than my usual trips to the gym. I discovered a lot of fads, be it in terms of exercises or diets, and many had little or no scientific backing. This made me really irritated because a lot of people were just following fads blindly, hoping for a quick shortcut to losing weight without understanding the health risks or simply just eating foods that they believe have some sort of benefits but are great marketing ploys. The fact that I had to continually explain to those around me about the scientific facts, coupled with many fitness trainers telling me that they too have the same problems with their clients, made me realise that there needs to be a platform that acknowledges all these fads and explain more about it so that people can make informed choices.

Interestingly, through this journey, I met a lot of people with unseen medical issues (including mental health problems) and plus-sized women, and we all had the same complaint – we felt very judged and labelled. And that was how The Wellness Insider was born.

Melissa Fann, Founder of The Wellness Insider

Left to right: Fiona Tan and Melissa Fann

What were the reactions from your loved ones when you told them that you are starting your business?

A lot of scepticism and up till today, my parents don’t really know what I do. They still refer to The Wellness Insider as my “website”, and they were not happy that I quit my job to do my start up.

What were the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

I had to build my network within the wellness industry from scratch, which was a great learning experience and I love how a lot of people were so open to share contacts to me. The other tough part about starting up is financial – as my business model is very traditional and with no tangible product, nobody wanted to partner up or be an investor. And with no readership initially, it was natural that nobody wanted to advertise with us. As such, I spent a year solely on building up the readership through quality content and improving on The Wellness Insider’s SEO. It definitely worked as we now average about 8,000 readers per month.

Have you ever thought of giving up?

Yes, because there are a lot of things that I wanted to do but couldn’t due to lack of manpower and money. However, whenever I feel that way, I keep getting comments from my growing network within the wellness industry about how they really like the website and what it stands for. Of course, the growing viewership really helped encourage me.

Where do you see The Wellness Insider in five years time?

I want it to evolve and have an app where people can geolocate healthy meal providers near them, or where to sneak in a quick workout either at home or even in the office!

What’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start an online business?

Get good partners, plan out your finances and prepare more money than calculated. After which, network, network, network. You will eventually find your ‘tribe’ to rely on for emotional support as well as to bounce off business ideas. You may also end up finding a business mentor, who is also very important to know whether you’re on the right track.

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Josh Loh - Rehab Pro Movement Therapy

From Army Fitness Specialist to Rehab Pro

Josh Loh is the founder of the Rehab Pro Movement Therapy. Taking a quick look at their Facebook page, and you will see many proven records of how the company’s Neuro-Kinetic Therapy (NKT) have helped many regained control of their body through the specialised technique.

However, long before Josh became the entrepreneur he is today, he spent seven years of his earlier part of his career serving the Singapore Armed Forces as a Fitness Specialist.

So what changed? Here’s his story.

How does your CV look like before you started Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

I was a Physical Training Instructor with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), training men and recruits who were in the service, and I eventually became one of the Fitness Specialists in green. After my tenure with the SAF, I sold fitness equipment for a short period before moving on to managing a rehab gym owned by a Physiotherapist. That’s where I picked up my skills in rehabilitation and refined my knowledge of fitness.

What made you start your own business?

I was pushed into starting my business when my former employer decided to sell off her business. It was at that point where I began to question myself about what’s next for me since I was having my second child. What made the decision even tougher was that I am the sole breadwinner for my young family.

My professional qualification was in economics and finance, as well as an instructional designer. To stay in my field with my certificates may not be the most beneficial as local companies still tend to look at papers more than experience and capabilities. That’s when I decided to start my own business.

What were your family and your wife’s reactions when you broke the news that you want to do something of your own?

My wife prefers for me to have a stable employment so I can spend more time with her and the children. Sometimes, we do get into some disagreements because my work may at times require me to begin work at 7 am and end later than 9 pm. It’s demanding running a lean startup.

But we make small compromises here and there. I am happy that my wife supports my work by helping me take good care of our kids and the household and all I have to do in return is to allocate more of my weekends to spend time with them.

What were the considerations you had when you were planning for the business? Did you draw up the pros and cons?

I guess a good friend gave me a good nudged towards starting my own business. In a way, I was consulting with him, a serial entrepreneur, after losing my job. He reminded me that he had not had a similar experience as he had never been underemployment before.

The pros of running your own business are taking away the negative experience of being out of a job. However, it does come with other stresses. My business partner and I worked hard to keep the company afloat as we strive to get more people to experience our treatment. We are happy that those who came through our doors are happy and thankful after our therapy sessions.

I took over the space that my former employer gave up, and that, together with my existing patients helped a great deal in the beginning. It allowed me to spend less and yet able to enhance the survivability of the business.

To start a brick and mortar business requires serious investment. How did you manage to secure the funding or did you pour all your savings into the company?

I took a loan from my aunt, and I am still servicing the credit now. Thankfully, I have a strong team, and we are making enough for our operations to stay afloat.

I believe that our goal of delivering the best solution and care underlines our growth. It is also our best possible marketing strategy, which is serving the business well. This mentality has helped us grow our followings slightly, and it helps with our bottom line.

When did Rehab Pro Movement Therapy start its operations?

We begin operation in September 2016. Operating out of Camden medical centre, in the gym space that I designed and managed for my boss over the five years before calling it our own. Now we have relocated to Clarke Quay area for the convenience and accessibility of our patients. This new space is also bigger and allows us to design and deliver more innovative movement that can help in their recovery.

We are also looking at using this space to bring in more therapy-related courses that are beneficial for the industry as a whole. This helps our company stay true to continuous education and learning so that the best possible solution is provided.

What were the difficulties faced when setting up Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

Aside from funding, we started out as a rehabilitation clinic staffed with strength and conditioning coaches. Our skills and knowledge were not the ones that people would go to for their body conditions, which limited our outreach.

When I tried collaborating with a golf coach, he commented that he is the first person people go to, and my company was not. Although I helped with resolving some pain and imbalances issues for his clients, our partnership never kicked off. It’s sad, but we eventually moved on.

We had also done subcontract work for a physiotherapy clinic with a 10-day credit term. They bullied us by owing more than six-month of debt, and it effectively transferred their risk to us. To date, they still owe my company payment, and we have to resort to legal means to recover the fees.

Moving our business to a new location was also a big challenge. We found a suitable place to settle down, but the agent backed out of the deal after we agreed to their proposed price. It is disappointing that we met people who didn’t keep their words. But we moved on, and thankfully we managed to emerge from these experiences a little wiser and stronger.

What’s so different between working for a company and owning a company?

I guess the most significant difference is that you are accountable to yourself. Running a company is challenging and stressful, but it allows me to drive ideas of care and treatment. I’d like to think that I take responsibility, whether by proxy of my employment or by running on my own, so it’s not too different in other aspects.

You have an impressive record of certifications in sports and wellness. Why did you decide to focus on therapy and not fitness training?

When I left the military, I didn’t know what my destiny was. By God’s grace, I was offered a role in a rehab gym as the manager. There, I learned and experienced the joy of helping patients get better.

In the USA, Physiotherapists are known as Physical Therapists. It was there where we learned about highly educated athletic trainers with specialised knowledge on performance. Though Singapore is still a distance away from this standard, I believe that we, as rehab coaches, movement therapists or whatever you like to call it to have a role to play in patient care.

We fine-tune and optimise individuals through highly customised programmes with the aim of getting them better and granting them pain-free movement.

Therapy is also more fulfilling. Imagine your patient telling you how your treatment had allowed her to carry and bathe her baby. Priceless.

If someone was to tell you that he/she wants to start their own business, what advice would you give them?

I’d say go ahead and give it your best shot. We all have the same opportunities ahead. It’s how we manage the opportunities and leverage them to our advantage. However, the caveat is that they have to be prepared to put in hard work. Push through, and stay true to the reasons for starting out. If that reason is that you are unhappy with status quo, think deeper. Our goal for being in business is because we believe in the modality of treatment and sincerely want to help more people get better through movement.

I originally wanted the business to be called Inspire Movement because it stands for the importance of movement. The human body is designed for moving like how we need oxygen. The other meaning for this is also that we hope in a tiny way, we encourage and inspire non-movers to start moving more.

So what’s next for Rehab Pro Movement Therapy?

Well, I guess, for now, we are trying our best to get the word out about our work. Marketing is not our strength, but I believe that our results and our patients’ testimonials speak a lot more than us blowing our own trumpet. We are also big on developing future therapists, and we do so through our internship programme where they spend a great deal of time learning from every one of us. On that front, we are actively hosting study groups and live seminars of therapeutic modalities that we use. We hope that the industry grows so more people will enjoy movement as we do.

As a knowledge-driven practice, we spend a lot of time furthering our education and that allows us to be at the front of techniques that may help us achieve better and faster results for our patients.

When things stabilise, it is my goal to spend more time giving back to the elderly population. We try to do a bit here and there, but more can be done.

So with hope, we will sustain and survive the short run!


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