In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what’s your business?
My name is Michael Heinrich and I’m the CEO and founder of Garten. Garten (formerly Oh My Green) is a data-driven workplace wellness platform designed to help companies of all sizes shape their well-being culture and simultaneously better their employees’ health. We believe that wellbeing programming should not just be a luxury but a vital business strategy for gaining a competitive advantage on multiple levels.
What inspired you to create this business?
The seeds of inspiration for Garten began in my grandma’s garden. She was a medical doctor for 50 years who never experienced chronic disease — and who took a garden-first approach to medicine in general, meaning healthy foods and lifestyle over prescription medication whenever humanly possible. I took every chance I could get to learn from her about various fruits, vegetables and flowers and the power of healthy food. She was a beacon of health. She would often say to me, “The best medicine is prevention using food from the garden and good lifestyle habits.” But I never thought about the magic of a garden as more than just a beautiful place to explore and spend time with my grandma until I joined one of the biggest investment and hedge fund management firms in the world. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle was extremely difficult. Long hours, subpar food and stress, not to mention a lack of sleep, all did a number on my health and productivity. I was tired, unmotivated and uninspired. My anxiety levels were at an all-time high. I had really painful recurring headaches and physical decline on multiple fronts. I wanted to quit. I was burnt out. It’s no wonder research has found that 50 percent of employees experience constant stress at work and nearly 70 percent of our daily caloric intake is consumed while working. In fact, employers are said to play a greater role in your health than your family physician. Boy did I miss that garden.
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Experiencing first-hand the link between food and productivity (and how it directly impacted my mental and physical health) made me realize that employees’ health, which can stifle productivity and drive up costs in so many ways, should not just be the employee’s responsibility. Corporate wellbeing is about so much more than the bottom line, it’s about doing everything in your power to support the mental and physical health of each and every person that works for your organization. It was recently found by Deloitte that only 56% of employees think their company’s executives care about their well-being, whereas 91% of C-suite think their employees believe their leaders care about them, and it is up to an organization’s leaders to bridge that gap. I wanted to make it turnkey for them so they could better provide well-being at scale. Garten was born to do just that.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
The purpose of funding is to connect with a partner who will guide and support you. You want a real partner, not a financier (and I’m not talking about the French pastry). It should never be about money for the sake of money. Any person investing in your company should also be investing in you. They should partner with you based on their personal experiences and passions — learnings, successes and failures. If you get the sense that it’s only about fattening their bank account, run away as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, an investor will push you in directions that don’t align with your ultimate goals and mission (e.g. if ESG is important to you, look for investors who support it) so spend a lot of time researching potential investors to determine whether they are specialized enough for your particular niche. Pitchbook is a tool that can help.
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And once you think you’ve found a few — or even if they’ve reached out to you — take the time before the meeting to watch their videos, read their blogs, look at their Linkedin connections, check out their tweets. The investors are ultimately going to be an accelerator for the direction your company is going. It is of utmost importance to be aligned from the beginning.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
An individual who mobilizes resources around a clearly defined mission to make a positive impact on the world. Being an entrepreneur requires an unrelenting focus on the core purpose of the company. An entrepreneur, to me, is like a gardener. By watering the company’s “roots,” an entrepreneur can remain faithful to their short and longer-term goals while investing time and energy into the parts of the business (and themselves) they want to grow. As the saying goes, ‘you reap what you sow,’ and whether the result is beautiful plants or weeds is almost entirely up to you. Similarly, the hard work and focus of today won’t pay off right away. Just like a garden, things take time, the right environment and a little luck. Having a healthy mindset, healthy operating principles and a happy business isn’t something you should take for granted. Only once you have your formula for a healthy garden down can you truly scale and transform into a platform that can support a larger ecosystem of partners. Think like a gardener and your business can flourish.
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What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don’t?
An “always on” work hard/play hard lifestyle. I’ve learned the hard way that the best decisions and the most productive work get done with good (aka balanced) lifestyle habits. Working harder doesn’t make for a healthy, sustainable business. Trust me. Neither do fancy cars, lavish trips or multiple homes. I would take my health over that any day. My well-being habits have made me a better leader and a healthier, happier person. There isn’t anything new about this way of thinking or operating but it’s important to know and understand what this means so when you do get caught up in a grind that isn’t serving you, your loved ones or your organization, you can stop, back up and pivot. In a world where things should be a “nice to have” rather than “must have”, the grindset lifestyle for the sake of success and money is a dangerous path. It’s not the things that truly matter. Rather, it’s how you are positively impacting people’s lives. If you truly believe this, you are already five steps ahead of the competition.