Before her life as a founder and CEO, Jane Wang worked as a mortality risk specialist. For ten years, she led global clinical trials to help pharmaceutical companies determine how long patients would live based on their conditions and lifestyles.
“I decided that I was going to be part of the solution and create tools that anyone can access.”
Her work became deeply personal in 2011 when her mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. At the time, Wang’s work focused on early cancer prevention, yet her mother couldn’t benefit from that research.
“I realized that the work that I was doing was actually very limited in scope, and it wasn’t useful for people in my own backyard,” Wang told BetaKit.
Only months after her diagnosis, Wang’s mother passed away at 52 years old. The loss hit her family hard, both emotionally and financially. But from that personal pain, Wang discovered an opportunity to democratize access to the tools that help people live longer, healthier lives.
“I decided that I was going to be part of the solution and create tools that anyone can access,” she said.
Wang now leads Toronto-based Optimity, a startup looking to give people a more proactive way to improve their physical, mental, and financial health. The startup offers a health coaching app that uses gamification, micro-learning, and nudge science.
In the last eight years, Optimity has grown into a B2B and B2C business, and today offers its platform to insurance policyholders, workplace employee wellness programs, and consumers. Wang recently spoke with BetaKit about the evolution of Optimity and her mission to reach one billion users.
After leaving her job as a mortality risk specialist, Wang co-founded her first company, MyHealthSphere, in 2013. The startup offered a health coaching app aimed to help consumers maintain healthy daily habits. Over two years, the company grew its users to roughly 1,000 and received support from MaRS’ UpStart competition and the Ontario Centre of Innovation (formerly the Ontario Centres for Excellence).
After two years, Wang discovered that the B2C startup required a great deal of external capital to scale effectively – capital was often difficult to come across. “Being a first-time founder and female founder, I didn’t have a network within VC,” Wang said. “I was coming in from the outside.”
In 2016, MyHealthSphere transitioned its intellectual property to a new company, Optimity, that would target the existing health coaching and micro-learning platform to employers and insurers. On top of pivoting to a B2B model, Wang also expanded the definition of “wellness” beyond physical and mental health to include personal finance, cybersecurity, and insurance.
Optimity began offering a suite of solutions for workplace teams, including white-labelled apps, wearables, APIs, AI-powered tools, and wellness programs based on over 30 years of research on behavioural science.
User growth and funding came more easily following the business model change. By 2018, Optimity was working with 100 companies, giving the company access to approximately 100,000 users, according to Wang. Following its participation in 500 Startups’ Spring 2017 cohort, the startup also secured several seed funding rounds, raising $3 million over two years.
With the startup quickly growing by 2019, Wang decided it was time to expand back in the consumer market. “I think [focusing on] B2B was great because it allowed us to build a tool, and it allowed us to raise funding, but I truly believe our mission is to make it available to every single person,” she added.
At the same time, another Toronto-based startup was making headlines. In June 2019, Carrot Insights shuttered its wellness and rewards app and filed for bankruptcy after funding for the company dried up.
Carrot’s platform allowed users to earn rewards from loyalty programs, including Aeroplan, Scene, and Petro-Points, when they met specific health targets, such as daily step counts. While Toronto-based Planswell initially bought Carrot’s IP assets in 2019, Optimity purchased the assets shortly after Planswell shut down and filed for its own bankruptcy.
Since Optimity was already scoping out a consumer solution at the time, Wang said the purchase of Carrot IP would speed up Optimity’s expansion to consumers. Following the acquisition, Optimity launched a beta of the new Carrot platform (under Optimity’s brand name) in mid-2020 to roughly 1,000 users. The CEO claimed its user count ballooned to approximately 200,000 by the end of that year. This growth occurred during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Wang said reinforced Optimity’s strategy.
“On the B2B side, we saw a slowdown in 2020, especially at the beginning, when people had zero idea what they were going to do, so they weren’t doing a lot of innovation projects,” she added.
While the pandemic delayed some of Optimity’s B2B projects in 2020, Wang said the B2B business has since rebounded and claimed the company’s revenues grew 250 percent over 2021.
Optimity has recently focused on providing more tools to help users optimize their lives. Last month, the startup launched a premium version of its service that gives users access to Headspace Plus for mental health support, ClassPass Digital for exercise resources, and Dashlane Premium for online security services. Optimity Premium also offers users a $5,000 no-exam life insurance policy through a partnership with Walnut Insurance.
“This is our expression of bringing together physical health, mental health, cybersecurity, and insurance, all into one holistic package that members can access without having to go through a B2B channel,” Wang said.
Currently, over 2.6 million people either actively use Optimity’s platform, or have access to the platform through their employer. Optimity wants to grow its platform’s reach to 100 million in North America, and eventually, one billion people globally.
As Optimity pursues this goal, the startup is coming up against some stiff competition in the wellness space. Paceline, for example, offers a fitness rewards platform that incentivizes physical activity through financial benefits. European company Vitality offers health insurance, life insurance, car insurance and investments that reward you for making positive lifestyle choices.
Paceline targets users in the United States, while Vitality works with global multinationals, including Canadian insurance giant Manulife. Optimity will need an edge to remain competitive, and Wang believes that the startup’s ability to blend the B2B and B2C models is its “superpower.”
“Having the two together is very beautiful, because you have a very stable way to monetize as a B2B SaaS company, and you also have the energy from a consumer-based company,” she said. “You get to have the consumer growth, and you can learn fast.”
While Optimity’s business model and offering have evolved over the last eight years, the company’s core has always remained personal for Wang. “I think my biggest goal is impact,” she said, adding that if that goal requires more capital or an eventual exit, she’s up for the challenge.
Feature image courtesy Optimity.