In 2017, people frequently get together with friends for spin class and smoothies instead of happy hour. People spend hundreds of dollars a month on gym memberships and classes at boutique fitness studios where you can try anything from aerial yoga to Zumba. Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula took note of the wellness lifestyle early on and realized people craved actionable information just as much as green juice. In 2010, the journalists created Well+Good, a popular lifestyle and news publication devoted to the health and wellness industry. The duo isn’t just writing about the topic, they are also contributing to the industry through partnerships, products and events.
Elana Lyn Gross: What inspired you to start Well+Good? What was your career path?
Alexia Brue and Melisse Gelula: We saw that wellness was becoming a “scene” (like the dining scene or the theatre scene) in 2008 and 2009—and curiosity about these new fitness studios and instructors, healthy food and juice spots and wellness thought leaders were starting to become cultural currency.
There was a change happening post-recession: Wellness was becoming this thing you did closer to home, versus heading off to Thailand or Bali or Canyon Ranch. As journalists, we saw legitimate white space to cover wellness and all of its components — fitness, beauty, activewear and food — as a media company. People needed a trusted source for all the questions they had.
People needed wellness demystified so it was relatable and understandable, without being dumbed down or made silly or ideological like “tips for melting fat” or “countdown to a bikini body.” We know how busy our reader is so we give her tips and hacks from experts to make healthy living choices understandable and easier.
Gross: What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Well+Good?
Brue and Gelula: We had to wear too many hats early on because we didn’t have the resources to hire people. We never raised any money, so it was a long time before we could hire senior editors or a senior vice president of sales and marketing. People always thought our company was so much larger than it actually was. Now we’re more than 40 people.
It’s rewarding to show people how easy it is to add wellness into their lives. The plus sign in our logo highlights the additive nature of wellness — and making a difference in people’s lives. Wellness is a personal, intimate and joyful part of people’s lives and it’s fulfilling to be part of that.
Gross: What advice do you have for other women who hope to start their own businesses?
Brue and Gelula: Find ways to test your idea and the market receptivity to your product or service before going big. For us, that meant launching a very simple single column blog and writing every day to see if our idea worked in practice and if we could build an audience. We realized there was more to write about the wellness scene than we ever could have imagined and people beyond our friends and family were eager for the intel!
Gross: What is a workday like? Please walk me through a day!
Brue and Gelula: We know everyone always says this but there’s no typical day, so let’s pick a good day. On a really good day, we’ll meet someone for a workout before work, that could be one of our Well+Good council members or someone we’re doing a partnership with. Our days are very meeting heavy, but we’re careful to keep the meetings short and to the point. Meetings run the gamut from monthly audience development deep dives, to editorial sessions to graphic design meetings.
Gross: What are your responsibilities as cofounders?
Brue: We knew we had to divide and conquer early on to be effective. Gelula is the chief content officer; she makes sure all of our content whether on the site, in the daily email, in a video or on Instagram stays true to our mission and our tone and that we’re continuing to define wellness and discover what’s next for our community. As our CEO, I work closely with the sales and marketing team and makes sure we are allocating resources in a way that we’ll hit all of our key goals. I also spearhead new business streams from event programming to product collaborations.
Gross: What are the most important characteristics someone needs to have to be successful in your role?
Brue and Gelula: Any founder must have almost stupid amounts of perseverance because there are so many days when things just aren’t working, especially early on. You have to believe wholeheartedly in what you’re creating so you soldier on in spite of lots of data that you really should go back to your old job with benefits.
Gross: What are three characteristics you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?
Brue: Passion. We always think about the “why” of what we do. We believe that everyone should have access to information that makes wellness actionable and joyful and helps them have a healthier, happier life. We look for people who share in that conviction—and who bring their A-game to work every day. When you have a small team, there isn’t room for less than stellar people. I spoke to a former Google engineer who now runs her own small business. She said at Google she had such a big team that it didn’t matter if 15% were having an off day, going through something or out sick, whereas when you have a small team, everyone needs to be in a good, focused headspace.
Gross: What are the most important skills for doing your job and how did you develop them?
Brue and Gelula: The ability to listen, learn and synthesize information. All the stuff you learn from a supposedly worthless liberal arts degree has come in very handy. Early on, we had to teach ourselves all sorts of things—and a background in journalism does make it easier to ask a million questions and find out what’s needed to make something comprehensible. We set up our first ad server (that required copious amounts of caffeine and locking ourselves in a room for ten hours). We had to learn more about search engine optimization, hosting sweepstakes and Interactive Advertising Bureau ad units than we ever imagined we would during our lives as journalists. We were relentlessly curious about it all and wanted Well+Good to succeed.
Gross: What’s the biggest lesson you learned at work and how did you learn it?
Brue and Gelula: Get a good night sleep after a crummy day. That’s the only and best cure when you get a kick in the pants.
Gross: How has the space changed since you started?
Brue and Gelula: We were the first women’s health media company that told our reader that she was perfect the way she was. We never write about how to get flat abs overnight, dieting, or bikini bodies as a goal. That dated approach compromises the credibility of health media. We are committed to wellness journalism and having an authentic, fulfilling life. We write about the culture of wellness and the actionable, fun, cool and interesting ways to workout and eat better. We give people the information and expert advice they need to make better choices about their health, to get inspired to try charcoal soap, a new smoothie with mushroom powder or whatever it might be. In the eight years since we started, it’s been heartening to see traditional women’s media change the way they write about women’s bodies and health. We’re proud to have spearheaded that.
The industries we spotlighted like boutique fitness, juicing and athleisure were considered pretty niche or even faddish eight years back, and we had to be patient (and cross our fingers) and wait to see the economies of these industries come to scale. We had to believe that we weren’t crazy. Now, the lifestyle categories that we’ve always covered are driving the national economy: healthy food and beverage products are driving overall food sales, natural beauty is leading the beauty industry growth, athleisure is the widely acknowledged revenue-driving rocket ship of the otherwise sluggish fashion industry.
There’s also so much more for us to cover now. We used to have just two writers and could stay (somewhat) on top of the trends, studio openings, new cookbooks and experts in the space. Now we have a team of 15 writers and editors and we all work really hard to cover everything that’s happening with everything from the 800 athleisure brands to the consumer packaged goods companies investing heavily in health-focused brands. It’s an exciting time for sure!
Gross: Well+Good’s tagline is “Your Healthiest Relationship.” What does that mean to you?
Brue and Gelula: Well+Good offers readers something positive they can add to their lives every day. We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness: We put our expertise and ideas out there so our readers can discover the choices that work for them. It’s about empowering people to take care of themselves so that they can take better care of their families, communities and the world.
Gross: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Brue and Gelula: Don’t be afraid to change your mind. And don’t resist change because it’s not how you thought things should be.
Gross: What is your business advice for other young professional women?
Brue and Gelula: Keep your eyes, mind and heart open to new learning opportunities. Don’t be too siloed in where you see your career going. A young woman on our team is a great example. She joined as an events producer and raised her hand to help with video producing as our video unit was just getting off the ground. She kept up with her event responsibilities never missing a beat there, while teaching herself about video production and really proving her talent. She’s now our video producer and is thriving, and someone else handles events.
Photo courtesy of Well+Good.