Limeade lives what it preaches

(Story by Robert Celashi originally appeared in Puget Sound Business Journals)

When Bellevue-based Limeade was building its assessment tools for corporate wellness programs, it enlisted the help of Dr. Mike Parkinson, who was then president of the American College of Preventive Medicine, a physician society.

“I was immediately struck with a couple of things. They don’t think like health care people,” said Parkinson, now senior medical director of Health and Productivity for UPMC Health in Pittsburgh. “They think like tech developers, with rapid cycle times and a focus on what the customer wants, and embedding technology in the ways people want to use.

The second thing was Limeade viewing wellness as not just about employee health, but also corporate performance, resiliency and engagement.

Limeade’s approach to workforce wellness starts with biometric screenings and assessments. Based on that data, Limeade’s mobile web platform creates a personalized interface for each employee. Workers can earn points and rewards for participating in engaging and targeted challenges.

The technology has been a hit. Customers include such big names as Stanford Health Center, Jamba Juice and Puget Sound Energy. This past August, the company signed up the state Health Care Authority with a five-year, $15 million contract.

Total revenue in the past three calendar years rose 193 percent to $12.9 million in 2014.

A big part of the Limeade’s success is finding the right customers to pitch.

“We target companies who think about their people as assets and not just cogs or costs to be managed,” said CEO Henry Albrecht. “Companies who invest in culture and see the connection between an energized, engaged long-term work force and business outcomes like market share and profitability and stock price increase.”

It’s not always easy to discern whether a company stands behind its rhetoric when it comes to caring about employees. But tools such as “greatest places to work” lists and social media interaction can indicate that words and actions are aligned.

Wellness is a highly competitive field, Parkinson noted. One way that Limeade stands out is a focus on the worker’s positive ability, rather than all the bad habits that might have piled up.

“Who wants to be told they are a pile of risk factors,” Parkinson asked. “They have had tremendous traction with clients, because I think they resonate with employers.”

Limeade also constantly updates and expands its product, he added, putting out more new releases in a year than most wellness companies do in three.

“There are a lot of well funded competitors chasing the market opportunity. I think maybe our edge is that we are not necessarily chasing the opportunity, we are defining the opportunity,” Albrecht said. “I believe that any employee can feel empowered and aligned and excited about their well being and health. It is really the job of the employer not to hit them over the head with too many mandates and requirements. Change only happens if they want to do something differently.”

Revenue is likely to keep on growing for Limeade. This past fall the company raised $25 million in venture capital, led by Oak HC/FT Partners of New York. In June this year, Limeade made its first acquisition, spending an undisclosed amount for 9Slides, which makes a mobile multimedia learning tool that lets employees watch video presentations, answer quizzes and create their own presentations to share.

Nonetheless, Albrecht doesn’t want fast growth to grind down his own health or the health of his employees.

“Even if we grew 100 percent a year for 10 more years, we want to survive that 10 years. We want to be along for the journey,” he said. “Also, I think it helps us attract and keep great people, when they realize we are not just invested in burning them out and getting rid of them.”

Limeade, Bellevue | Health and employee engagement platform
Growth: 193.25%
Fiscal year, revenue
2012: $4,390,512
2013: $7,887,891
2014: $12,874,975
Source: Puget sound business journal research

Growth is hard, and it has limits “You can only grow at the speed at which you can make your customers happy,” Albrecht said. “We are not growing for growth’s sake. We are not looking for a quick hit and an easy exit.”
Drink our own limeade. The company uses its own office as a “test kitchen,” exploring ways to get people more involved in wellness programs and giving them more autonomy over their schedules. The idea is to make sure ideas resonate socially in addition to working technologically. Look for prospective customers whose priorities align with yours, but examine their actions as well as their words.