18 Nov 2019 | 11.41 am
Interview: Richard Murphy, Zevo Health
Zevo Health is tapping into the workplace wellness trend using tech and tailored programmes
18 Nov 2019 | 11.41 am
When Richard Murphy returned to Ireland in 2014 after a stint working in Melbourne, he boiled his life options down to two: get a mortgage or build a business.
The Wexford man decided on the latter, establishing a company that promotes workplace wellness initiatives. Ironically, Murphy’s decision initially brought him nothing but work-induced worrying, as he struggled with the business model and branding, all the while burning through his personal savings.
Now called Zevo Health, Murphy’s business is in a better place. It works with companies to improve employee wellbeing using technology, consultations and tailored programmes. The company booked a pre-tax profit of €306,000 in 2018 and Murphy is forecasting turnover this year of €2.7m. Clients include Google, Circle K and Grant Thornton.
Murphy (33) is Zevo’s sole shareholder, but not for lack of investor interest. A 2017 appearance on RTE’s Dragons’ Den saw Chanelle McCoy offer Murphy €60,000 for a 25% stake in the venture. Murphy initially agreed, but got cold feet once the cameras stopped rolling.
“I was stone broke at the time but I had a gut feeling that the deal wasn’t worth it,” Murphy recalls. “It was a big chunk of equity to give away. I had nothing in my pocket and I was living off rice and eggs, but €60,000 for a quarter of my company just didn’t feel right.”
Murphy says that he has refused two other investor approaches since then. “Again, the offers weren’t quite right. I think that the best time to hear from investors in when you don’t really need them. That way, you won’t be take a deal that you shouldn’t have. With the right type of partner investor, I’ll look more seriously at taking them on.”
Murphy’s career didn’t seem destined to entrepreneurialism. He graduated in 2009 with a Master’s in construction project management and emigrated to work in Melbourne. It was on the building jobs that Murphy began to tune into the lack of workplace supports for employees.
“Employers weren’t seeing employee wellbeing as a priority. I have an interest in sports and I know how exercise and good nutrition helps you come to work with more energy. You have to bring your whole self to work, and come in motivated and energetic.”
Murphy began taking courses in fitness and personal training education, and when he returned to Ireland in 2014 he got a job advising on patient nutrition and exercise in St Patrick’s Mental Health Services. He launched MyMoodandMe in March 2016, targeting the broad consumer market.
The idea was that users of the online platform would fill out a questionnaire and receive a six-month personal training programme covering exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing. Murphy also included one-to-one video conferencing and live webinars as part of the service.
The business got some initial publicity through Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition, but there was little traction. “A business is validated through its sales and I wasn’t really getting any sales. The platform wasn’t scalable or particularly accessible. By early 2017, I was running out of money and close to scrapping the business.”
Salvation came in the form of a business-to-business pivot. At worst, Murphy reasoned that potential employers might at least be impressed at his determination to succeed, if his rebranded, redesigned startup still failed.
Changing to a B2B service meant that users would get everything for free with their employer picking up the tab. Murphy’s sales pitch was that as young people are more health conscious than their parents, companies with an in-house wellness and wellbeing programme will have a competitive edge when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff.
The Zevo Health pitch also includes a tech aspect. In its sales leaflets, the company states: “Millennials crave instant technology and real-time information. Our technology allows employees to see instant updates, chat to our health coaches live and interact and engage with their co-workers. They have the option of taking part in a group challenge or a personal step challenge, along with other options.”
The tech element was an important factor for forecourt retailer Circle K choosing Zevo for its workplace wellness programme. According to Áine Griallais, retail human resource manager: “With pervious partners the technology let us down. Our employees find the Zevo Health app easy to use, and the challenges based around getting them move more to be engaging and effective.
“Wellness cannot be seen as a fad or a ‘nice to do’. It is essential to focus on your employee wellbeing to be successful, competitive and attractive to top talent.”
Underpinning the Zevo Health approach are Apple and Android apps, with themes of Move, Nourish and Inspire. The Move element connects with fitness trackers, Nourish provides recipes and Inspire covers webinars and live chat. It’s not rocket science but it shows that the employer cares. App development was originally outsourced and is now handled in-house.
A name change was required too. “Someone told me that if you have a business name with an X, V or Z as a first letter, it can be a strong brand. While driving up from Wexford to Dublin one day, I thought of Zevo, pulled the car over and registered the name on GoDaddy.”
Murphy hired freelance designers to come up with a logo and website, and when he relaunched as Zevo Health in September 2017, his bank balance was -€4.
Early client wins were crucial in 2017, and word of mouth helped bring in more clients through 2018. “I learned that with an enterprise customer the sales cycle can be up to 12 months,” says Murphy. We don’t focus on specific sectors but we tend to attract bigger organisations.” Alongside the corporates, Zevo Health also works with health insurance companies to implement workplace wellness programmes.
Client companies usually go through a consultancy period of up to six weeks with Zevo Health to figure out the best way to deploy its services. This can involve focus groups, surveys, reports and presentations. The main objective of this prep process is to achieve employee buy-in.
“You’re never going to get 100% engagement within workplaces,” says Murphy. “We find that employees are much more enthusiastic when the data we collect is presented back to them in a transparent manner. There’s also a lot more buy-in too when staff have a say about the workplace programme.”
Zevo Health’s’s pricing depends on the client company’s headcount and range of services used. The company has 27 staff, including health coaches, psychologists, nutritionists and tech staff, and like his clients Murphy finds that requirement is a challenge. “It’s an employees’ market and the strain is being felt by every business,” he says.
Ireland is the primary focus for Zevo Health, though the founder has been over to the US recently trying to initiate business over there, helped by Google. “There are US states that are multiple times the size of Ireland. Securing work visas is expensive and there are other issues such as currency and accounting systems. We’re new to all of this, and Enterprise Ireland has put us in touch with advisers in San Francisco.”
Photo: Zevo Health founder Richard Murphy (front centre) with members of the company team