We spoke to JamesMiles-Lambert, CEO & Founder of Hello Health Group about his entrepreneur journey, from turning down a place at Cambridge University to how in the COVID crisis, necessity has proven to be the mother of invention.
When School Brings You off the Well-Known Path
Not so long ago, the company’s founder, James Miles Lambert was a university student studying at Nottingham University UK, but decided to spend the second year of this course studying in Montreal — ”an amazing city” — he called it. But when looking at options to continue exploring the world, the solution came in the form of completing his course at the Malaysian Campus of Nottingham University. It was while studying there that he was offered a place at Cambridge, an exciting opportunity. But the Dean of the Malaysian campus received a phone call from a recruiter at Rocket Internet “We want to hire all your MBAs” said the recruiter. “I won’t just give you my MBAs, I’ll give you my smart students, replied the Dean.
And so it was the next day, James, who was actually studying for a Masters in International Relations, found himself at the offices of this dynamic internet company. Today it owns brands including Groupon (former CityDeal), eDarling, Zalando (which is the 2nd largest e-commerce company in the world outside of China), Dafiti, Lazada, and Zalora.
“The company had grown so fast that everyone was working off garden furniture —they hadn’t had time to buy office equipment.”
“I got the job, “ he says, but then as it turned out, he was the only student the university sent. A humble note creeps in — “I got the job because I was the only applicant.” One can’t help but conclude there was a little bit more to the offer of a position at Rocket Internet.
He started the following day, fortunate that a senior person at Rocket took him under his wing, but maybe fortune was only part of that story. Here was a student from England suddenly being thrust into the world of internet start-ups in Malaysia. Not many people would have had the courage to jump that far from their comfort zone.
“I had to persuade my parents,” he says. That sounds like an understatement.
The Next Move
Another senior person from Rocket left the company to start a new e-commerce venture, and James was persuaded to make the move into this company. It was then that things didn’t quite go as planned — such is the way for entrepreneurs. Rarely does everything work out, it is how they deal with these challenges that sets them apart.
The new company was relying on Facebook as a core part of its business model, and Facebook shut it down. “For breach of terms of service.” So, James had gone from student to working for this great company, working in what he thought would be a 2.0 version of Rocket, to wondering what to do next.
For some, this would have been a hammer blow. For James, one gets the impression it was little more than a slight bump in his entrepreneurial journey. Maybe it felt like more than that at the time.
But James was immersed in an entrepreneurial culture. The people he worked with were entrepreneurs. “We set up a couple of ventures.” They were quite the ventures, however. One was a marketing agency called Lion&Lion which went on to considerable success and a financial comparison company called Compare Global which now claims to be the leading financial comparison platform in the world by footprint. Also, during this period, he was involved in the foundation of Nova Founders a global investment company that identifies opportunities for creating or investing in innovative internet businesses. And there was also Glasses Group Global, which is now a leading online retailer for eyewear products in APAC.
So, that’s not much then — just four startups that all went on to do great things.
And James was 23.
The Partnership, and the Gap in the Digital Health Market
It was at this stage that James, who unsurprisingly had given up on the Cambridge University opportunity, went into partnership to create Consider Digital, a digital marketing agency with a focus on measurable ROI-based 360-degree online marketing campaigns. At this point, James was given breathing space. He sold his shares to his partner, who later sold the business for a lot more money. “But, at 24, I had a little bit of money in my pocket.”
This all begged the question, of course, what next? “At Rocket, we had three criteria for setting up a new venture.” And the criteria were:
- Had the business model been proven before in another market?
- What was the competition like in the market you were planning to focus on?
- Do you have the appropriate skills?
“I looked at three industries: e-commerce, Fintech and digital health. There was a lot of excitement in e-commerce, but it required a lot of financing to compete. I looked at Fintech, but felt you really needed to be a coder to set up a business in that area, and I didn’t think I had the right skills.” Digital health, it seems, was another matter. James did think he had the right skills. “There was a massive problem that needed solving,” and he had a personal reason to veer towards digital health. As a kid, he had experienced medical problems — hearing issues and later he was hit by a car and spent a few years in a wheelchair. “Mum was always on WebMD. I wondered what my mother would have used if she had lived in Vietnam or Thailand.” That was when he realised there was a gap in the market.
Hello Health Was Born Providing Consumer Health Information Across Asia
Understanding what patients and consumers are looking for, what their concerns are, what their fears are, and what the gaps in their understanding are, this is what Hello Health solves. And in creating the right communications content to fill those gaps, or gaining their trust so that they then sign up to your product or service. For brand owners, looking to drive membership, Hello Health becomes the partner of choice.
“We are also transitioning from the model of providing content and serving
s ads, to focusing on content that drives engagement and participation, which drives conversion at critical moments of care through a consumer/patient journey.” This enables brands to build much more meaningful relationships with their audience who can eventually become customers. Hello Health is partnering with consumer health, pharmaceutical, insurance and healthcare provider companies across the region.
“And that is what we are particularly proud of. We definitely have the audience, the content and the capabilities to move the needle to meet the business objectives of our partners.”
With key partners including Abbott, Bayer, Novartis, Pfizer, Reckitt Benckiser and Danone to name a few, the core offering to these clients relates to consumer and patient engagement throughout their health and wellness journey. “For an Rx company, you can spend billions of dollars developing your product, but you are not allowed to market directly to your end-user. So, you spend a lot of time marketing to doctors, but how do you connect to patients?”
Hello Health works with pharmaceutical companies on innovative ways for them to engage with patients in ways they would never otherwise have done. “We can drive awareness, self-relevance, visit to the HCP, diagnosis, treatment
s and adherence.”
James gives as an example the issue described above about helping patients in Malaysia with migraines. The patients didn’t know there was medication available that would support them. “The medication is there. The doctors are there. But how do you connect them? That is what Hello Health can do. We can move the needle for pharmaceutical companies in ways that were previously impossible.”
You can sense the passion from James, it’s the outcomes that excites him; making a real difference to people in perhaps the one area that truly matters: health.
An Inside Look Into James’s Personal Life
We all have been shaped by others, “having the right people is vital,” says James but who are the people who have really helped him? James cites three:
His father, who sadly died quite recently. “He had no skin in the game in any of the businesses I was building and so his advice was always unfiltered.”
His wife. “Having a stable home life is super important.” He adds: “Most successful world leaders have a stable home life.”
And Hello Health’s Chairman, Charles Toomey. “He does have skin in the game as he is an investor in the business and brings a wealth of experience and sound advice. Most battles I face now, he has experienced, and he helps me to avoid the mistakes he made. Having people with different experiences is very important creating a melting pot for great ideas to flourish.”
Today, Hello Health is based across ten markets with 300 employees. James is a busy man but his young daughter and wife have had something of a transformative effect for him. His day begins at six, and the first hour is spent with his little girl. Then from seven to eight, he hits the gym. James finds he has to structure his day, and for that reason, he feels he needs that hour at the gym every day and continues enforcing that self-discipline. He tries to leave the office at a reasonable hour to spend more time with his family and encourages everyone else to do the same.
Hard work paid off and staying grounded is as equally important. When asked what would you do differently looking back, James reflects on the question. “I have been too hasty at times,” he concedes. But he considers the overall direction has been about right. “Some decision making could have been better, I made some deals for short-term benefit, but I would have structured them differently. But those decisions were right at the time.”
To Be a Good Entrepreneur, You Need to Know How to Sell
James recalls a difficult year, which he partially filled by reading a lot of books. And one piece of advice he has is to “read wide and deep.” He says that a lot of people come out of university with good knowledge on finance but don’t know how to sell. So, his advice is to read books on selling.
Thoughts on the COVID-19 Pandemic
Hello Health is experiencing a true pivotal moment due to COVID. Since there has been more interest around immunity, more specifically to do with COVID, Hello Health has seen quite an uptake in usage of their platform, in some markets more than others. “We have seen a 400 per cent uptick in business, although some of this was expected anyway. But he adds “COVID has shone a light on the need to operate digitally. We took the time to analyse on how we can do things differently and how we can become more profitable.
As a 2020 Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort member, James remarked: “Galen Growth is a fantastic institution for connecting the ecosystem, which is now better documented, and connected than ever before. Galen Growth has been our single most important partner in building brand awareness in the industry. There are also lots of great startups who are contributing to and part of this cohort. You can learn from them.”
Hello Health Group is also the winner of the 2019 Most Innovative HealthTech Startup in Asia, a Galen Growth award won by predecessor Halodoc and Biofourmis with close to a million votes every year.
About the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort
Hello Health Group is part of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort, the only acceleration programme built to scale digital health start-ups to be the next generation powering healthcare innovation across in Asia. In 2020, Galen Growth is working with 25 HealthTech startups which will benefit from Galen Growth’s long-established and unmatched curated community of investors, corporate leaders and innovation teams and other essential stakeholders through our proven multi-channel tools. For more information, visit Galen Growth’s HealthTech Cohort webpage or read this article on the launch of the Galen Growth HealthTech Cohort.
Read our previous interview with Gourab Mukherjee, CEO & Co-Founder of Aktivolabs here.
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