Not all entrepreneurs have as dramatic a start to their business as Dr Simone Ryan. Ryan, now a medical specialist, was in the operating room at her hospital when she suffered a fainting seizure. She was overworked and under pressure and it took a health scare for her to realise there must be a better way for organisations to take care of their employees’ wellbeing.
Ryan resigned from her job and spent the next 12 months saving money to start her own business. In 2007 she founded One Life, Live It. After a few tough years and a “re-start” in 2009, Ryan’s business now provides corporate wellness programs for 30% of Australia’s ASX-listed companies, including the likes of Qantas, Jetstar and Sydney Water.
One Life, Live It employs 130 people, operates in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong and has annual revenue of $4.5 million, with a forecast annual growth rate of 250% this year.
What I am doing now is what I dreamt of doing when I was 17.
At school I was in the debate team and I thought I would go into law and become a barrister.
But during my HSC year, both of my parents suffered the adverse consequences of physical and mental health issues. My dad experienced a work downturn and my mum suffered from a bipolar disorder and depression.
Ultimately what happened was it broke up our family as a unit.
I kept thinking if my dad’s company had have taken better responsibility and recognised the warning signs, perhaps ultimately my family would have had a different outcome.
I decided to go out and qualify myself in the best way possible so I could talk to companies about the health of their staff. The only way I could think to do this was to study medicine and become a doctor.
I wanted to be the best of the best. I would have my qualifications and my family’s story. That’s how it all started. I went to Sydney University and studied medicine.
My last job as a public hospital doctor was in cardiothoracic surgery. But I was spending time educating patients about their diet, exercise and relaxation post-surgery and I remember thinking, well I don’t need to be a surgeon to teach them this.
It was such a long way away from where I wanted to be.
Every Monday morning there would be a spike in the number of businesspeople who had experienced a heart attack. Instead of pulling people out of the river, I wanted to walk upstream and find out what was making them fall in the first place.
I physically took a step back in the emergency room one day and thought I have got to go out and stop this. If I don’t, people will keep having heart attacks.
I left my job in fairly dramatic circumstances. I had called in sick one day and I know now that it was because I was burnt out. But I was overcome with guilt and went to work anyway.
I had a fainting seizure and I face planted in the operating theatre.
I said right then and there, here’s my four weeks notice.
I locumed for a year to save money and studied for my masters in occupational and environmental health. And then I started my business.
I also took out a small business loan to cover the fit out of my first business premises and equipment. I probably should have got 10 times that amount for a business loan.
I presumed all the big players would want to see me because I am a doctor. But the reality was I had to pay the rent and pay off my loan but I had no clients. It was a nightmare; I ran out of money.
I took a part-time job as a medical officer with Qantas to get a sustained income. My course also required me to do 10 hours of supervised work a week and the job allowed me to work in a supervised capacity. I knocked on Qantas’ door and they gave me a job.
I had tendered for a lot of work but until that point I was unsuccessful.
On my way home from work one day I made the decision to close my business. I decided I would tell my husband when I got home. But while I was driving I got a phone call from a large government organisation to say I had won a multi-million dollar tender. They asked when I could come in to have a discussion and when I could start.
It was really difficult as I am normally a definitive and decisive person and I had made a decision that I couldn’t keep going like this. But I took the job, moved business premises and the rest is history.
One Life, Live It works with businesses of all sizes. We offer individual programs to more general programs for the major corporates. Our clients don’t have to be on the ASX but a large chunk are.
Our goal is to have the largest market share in three to five years and we plan to go after our competitors.
Most of our work falls into three main areas. The first is executive healthcare. We offer a concierge service where we look after your health while you’re still sitting at your desk.
We will also bring in a team of doctors and nurses to do on-site health checks for employees. We will do skin care checks or give people their flu shots.
The third service we offer is independent medical assessments for workers compensation or insurance claims to assess employees’ fitness for work.
A business like ours is needed because often the people within an organisation do not have the time required to run these types of programs properly. Running ad hoc or bits-and-pieces programs can actually be counterproductive.
If you outsource employee health programs, the return on investment can be anywhere between $2-$7.50 for every dollar spent if run properly.
We are focused on growing our market share in Australia with our core business but we have also expanded overseas at the request of our clients. Some of the large banks also have operations in Hong Kong and Singapore and so offering services there has been a natural progression for us.
I am very mission-driven. My goal is to ultimately reduce the health care costs in this country.
But I have to be realistic that this is also a business and I have financial targets like any other business would. While I am entrepreneurial by spirit, I have made sure to employ a fantastic business team to make sure the business stays on track.
The adrenaline of growing my business is what keeps me awake at night. It is getting bigger and bigger and I can see my mission being fulfilled.
One of my current clients has their head office in India and they’ve said we need to expand there. So the speed at which demand is growing beyond our geographical presence also keeps be awake at night. I don’t want to make the same mistakes.
I’ve had a couple of offers to buy us out but they have never progressed far because the focus has been on accessing our growing customer base, which does not sit well with me.
My why is so strong and nothing will stop me in the foreseeable future. I’m here for the long haul.