In August last year, Arianna Huffington made the surprising announcement that she was leaving the eponymous Huffington Post news organisation she cofounded in 2005 to launch a new wellness startup called Thrive Global.
Less than six weeks after its official launch, Thrive Global — which comprises corporate training, a consumer media platform, and a commerce business, selling items like pillows, candles, Fitbits, and a $100 smartphone bed — has already surpassed revenue expectations, Huffington told Business Insider.
Huffington said: “We’ve already doubled our revenue targets for 2017 from what we had initially presented to the board. Another indication of growing much faster than we thought is that we moved into our offices in September, and we already had to take additional space in our building and are looking to move to a new space three times as large.”
Thrive’s big money spinner is its corporate business.
The majority of that revenue has been driven by the corporate training partnerships Thrive Global has signed — some of them in the multi-million dollar range — with companies including Uber (Huffington also sits on the company’s board), Under Armour, Accenture, and JPMorgan.
Each partnership is different and tailored to each company, using their internal brand language. Huffington said the reason most corporate training programs don’t work is that they are too “cookie cutter” and don’t incorporate the individual company’s values. Thrive begins by conducting a survey to identify employees’ biggest stress points and builds the program from there.
Some companies ask for a 28-day mostly-online challenge, training their employees on the small steps they need to take to “thrive” — from removing their smartphones from their bedrooms before they go to sleep, to increasing heir levels of physical activity, or expressing more gratitude. (JP Morgan Chase chief marketing officer Kristin Lemkau wrote about her experience getting started on the program, and her initial defensive reaction to being told she needed to carve out more time for herself and to sleep.)
Some partnerships are multi-year, including in-person workshop sessions from Thrive’s trainers, influencers, athletes, and business leaders. So far, guest teachers have included Kobe Bryant, Wharton professor Adam Grant, and Warby Parker CEO Dave Gliboa. The online element program also includes examples from people like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, billionaire businessman Mark Cuban, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
Huffington said: “The connection between well-being and performance: that’s the key. That’s the entry point to convince people that if they take care of themselves — through sleep, meditation, recharging — they are not sacrificing their work or careers. That’s a delusion.”
“Right now the role models we have [in business] are the super successful people who burned out along the way and we feel that’s why they succeeded. But all the science shows this isn’t why they succeeded. They succeeded despite that,” she added.
Using science to prove Thrive works.
Huffington, who wrote the book “Thrive” in 2014, has spent the last few years relentlessly campaigning for people to get more sleep, practice mindfulness, and unplug from the digital world every now and then. “Thrive,” plus her 2016 book “The Sleep Revolution” drew on scientific research to make the point that wellness sets people up to be successful. Huffington is determined to use science and data to prove her point.
To that end, Thrive has created a scientific advisory board — consisting of doctors and professors from universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford — to advise on its training programs and editorial. Alongside that, Navigencis cofounder and professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California Dr David Augus sits on Thrive’s board and helped curate many of the products for its store.
Thrive has also enlisted Dr Adam Grant from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to measure the impact of its training programs on companies’ retention, productivity, and healthcare costs.
Huffington said: “If you look at most health programs, they are interventions after the problem has appeared — weight management, smoking cessation, dealing with heart disease, diabetes. Our interventions are more upstream: what are the stress triggers that lead to this problem? 75% of healthcare costs and problems are because of preventable, stress-related diseases. That’s huge if you look at the fact that most companies we work with have growing healthcare costs. That’s why it’s important for us to measure the impact we are having.”
Huffington is clinging to her media roots — and she wouldn’t have published that Donald Trump dossier.
Right now, Thrive’s revenue heavily skews towards its corporate business. But Huffington is hoping the media side of the business will grow to be a significant revenue-driver too.
The media platform offers articles about improving physical performance, mindfulness, and well-being. It has featured articles from business leaders and influencers such as Selena Gomez and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.
The Thrive Global website launched with a year-long advertising deal with Quaker Oats, featuring branded content about the importance of reducing stress in the morning. Quaker Oats has also been running events in partnership with Thrive, including a breakfast at the latter company’s pop-up store in New York.
Huffington said: “We expect Thrive Global to become the answer for brands that want to tell their own stories around well-being and performance — in multiple languages, in multiple countries — while providing a platform for the people they touch to also tell their own stories.”
It makes sense that Huffington, a career writer and journalist who wrote her first book in 1973 and led The Huffington Post to winning a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, would not want to shed her media roots.
When she announced she was leaving The Huffington Post, Huffington said there had been discussions for her to continue in a different role there, alongside running Thrive, but she told The Wall Street Journal that wasn’t an option and that she wasn’t prepared to take on part-time role.
The danger of publishing unsubstantiated allegations is that they obscure real and substantiated issues
But had it been an option, and Huffington was still at the helm of The Huffington Post when the the now-notorious unverified dossier containing salacious allegations about Donald Trump landed on her desk, would she have mirrored BuzzFeed (a company cofounded by her Huffington Post cofounder Jonah Peretti) and published the document in full?
Huffington responded: “We would first try to corroborate the allegations. Both CNN and The New York Times tried to independently corroborate the dossier and couldn’t, so both decided not to publish. So if we got the dossier, tried to corroborate and failed, we would not publish. The danger of publishing unsubstantiated allegations is that they obscure real and substantiated issues, like those contained in the two-page summary the intelligence chiefs briefed President Obama and President-Elect Trump on last week.”
What’s next for Thrive
Thrive Global currently employs 50 people — a mix of engineers, editors, writers, salespeople, commerce staff, people working in operations, and trainers. The company is currently recruiting for a COO, head of business development, and CFO.
Huffington says it may be a while before Thrive turns a profit and for the “foreseeable future,” the company is focused on expansion, which is why its revenue is being reinvested in the growth of the business. She added that the company doesn’t currently need any additional funding to the $7 million Series A the company raised last year. (A source told Business Insider in August that Thrive Global was valued at $33 million, post-funding.)
Huffington said: “Right now, growth is our priority and our focus. If opportunities emerge for M&A or for new products that would require significant investment, we are open to an additional funding round, but we don’t need it for the day-to-day operation of the business.”
The pull of Huffington’s celebrity has helped get Thrive off to a strong start and she will continue to use her media and speaking appearance — such as at this month’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos — to build the brand. To take it to the next level, globally, the company is expanding its customer base through joint ventures with companies like The Times of India, Gruppo Espresso in Italy, Discovery in South Africa, and the Antenna Group in Eastern Europe.
Aside from that, Thrive is also partnering with IBM to use its Watson technology to create a digital coaching program based on artificial intelligence. Thrive plans to open more pop-up stores, including stores within companies’ offices. And Thrive is working on more apps and content around sleep and meditation to be compatible with Amazon’s voice-controlled Alexa service — although Huffington jokes that Alexa doesn’t yet fully understand her Greek accent.
Huffington says Thrive’s most important marketing tool is that it has “tapped into the zeitgeist,” which she describes as “the recognition that the old way of doing business, of living and working, is no longer sustainable.”
“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and they want to change, so we have the wind at our back.”
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