Founder stories. Rethinking wellness, with Hanna Bumsteinas of Wellt
Performed at Dissrupt, NYC, June 12 2015.
Hanna Bumsteinas: Laura Winters. Interviewer: Aaron Timms.
Interviewer: You’ve set some very ambitious goals for Wellt.
Hanna Bumsteinas: I’m sorry, I think we should start with a breathing exercise. Can we do this?
I want everyone to close their eyes and breathe in, breathe deeply, and out. Breathe in, draw in all the positive shakti from around you, and out, expel all that negative shakti out. In, and out. Good shakti in, bad shakti out. Bring everything to your head chakra, then down to your heart chakra, and out through your pelvis chakra. Good shakti in, bad shakti out. Good, in, bad, out. And open your eyes. Okay. Woo! I’m ready. Now we are ready.
Wellt. Your startup. You’ve added an L — it’s Wellt with two Ls — but the word “welt” has negative connotations for most people. It’s an interesting choice of name.
Okay, so we wanted to capture this sharks and crocodiles sense of taking something bad and turning it into something good. Yes, a welt is bad. It means you’ve just been whipped or beaten. But if you add an extra L — W-E-L-L-T — that changes everything. Suddenly you’re feeling well. You’ve been wellt. Good better best, well weller wellt. And that’s what this company is about: change. We are re-defining what it means to be well and re-defining in the process what it means to be human. We change the aperture of internal focus to take a sharks and crocodiles approach to wellness.
Sharks and crocodiles… in what sense?
Sharks and crocodiles, dude — figure it out. Who wins in a fight between a shark and a crocodile? We do: we don’t like either. We’d prefer them to destroy each other. It’s win-win for us. It’s sharks and crocodiles. Okay: how good are you at English?
Okay that’s fine. I want you to think about a question. Are you well? You know, usually people say, “Are you well?” and you answer, “Yes. Yes I’m well.” But how well is well? Are you really well? Or are you just… okay. We want to close the gap between just okay and awesome. We want people to completely reconstruct their interior and exterior architecture. And we now have the basis for a push into global expansion that will completely change the way everyone on this planet thinks about everything.
What is that basis?
We have one yoga studio, on the bottom floor of the loft my parents bought for me in San Francisco’s Mission District. But tech is all about mastering one thing — fucking nailing it, crushing it — and scaling from there. From that 30 square foot space, where three students work on breathing and self-centering today, we know we have built a beachhead to conquer the solar system.
One studio seems kinda… modest.
It’s not modest. When you’re a millennial like me, you always think big. You know that book, Lean In? No. Don’t lean in. Punch up, bitch. Start a fire. Play in a all-girl punk band. Try lesbianism, just for a bit. Fellate with your fangs bared. But don’t lean in. That’s the spirit we bring to Wellt. We have all-staff meetings during SoulCycle class. Music up, high resistance, curls, shouting. Then we do a breathing exercise. Then we get Shake Shack [claps]. That’s how you ideate in the wellness sector today. That’s how you attain inner fucking peace. Not by leaning in.
As a female founder, have you had to deal with a lot of discrimination?
We all deal with discrimination every day. But to the haters I say, eff you. You’ll never have abs like mine. You know, I’ve always been a deeply spiritual person. I follow the Vedant tradition of Hinduism, which I first became exposed to through Wikipedia. And I have learned a lot as I have made this journey through self-discovery and on to success as an entrepreneur. I have learned to always forgive, unless he had a small dick. In which case, I’m going to write about him on my tumblr.
You actually launched the startup a year ago after you quit your job in a consulting firm. What prompted the shift?
I was in consulting, in my corporate job, you know, just sitting there in an ergonomically correct chair and looking at the screen and being surrounded by go-nowhere losers who were shatteringly inferior to me, and I just found myself doing a lot of thinking.
Thinking about what?
Myself, mainly. And I just realised, you know, I’m so talented. What am I doing here? In this… sterile office? I have the coding ability of a full-stack developer at Quora. I was a youth archery champion. I speak COBOL and Old Norse. I know morse code. Morse and Norse: who else out there has that double on their resume? I am both deeply spiritual and deeply capable. I need to make use of my talents. Do I really need to be here helping you, big consulting firm, peddle your shitass mediocre brand of jerkoff corporate bullshit?
The answer is no. No I do not. I mean, I’m a millennial. Okay? There is a huge generational difference here in the way millennials and non-millennials think about life. I think a lot of Gen Xers in management positions today, who are like so jaded and divorced and angry about the fact that their skin looks like shit and their stomachs are like literally dragging across the floor, I don’t think they really understand millennials. They don’t understand that millennials — you know, we, the millennial generation — we are the future. Whether you like it or not, the future is ours. And we need to be engaged, no matter where we work. We need to feel that what we are doing has meaning. Don’t just give me a job — give me a vocation. Give me a hashtag. Give me the time and the space to explore trending apps. Give me lunch. Give me a wardrobe budget — I’ve been wearing the same top from Madewell to work for two years now and it is killing me. Give me travel, and a small film crew to come with me so I can document the trip on YouTube. Give me my friends, and put them next to me — give them jobs too. Give me a rooftop, in summer, and put some drinks on it. And make sure it’s always summer. Give me 40% free time to pursue my own passions, and then set aside 100% of the remaining 60% for the same thing. Basically, don’t give me a job. Just… give me other shit. It’s pretty easy.
I’m struggling with this as a concept. It doesn’t really sound viable as a long-term employment model.
Oh, you’re struggling, are you, gramps? You don’t get it. Your generation is obsolete. You grew up with print newspapers and a daily commute via steam engine. I grew up with the internet and creative takes on Korean food. And the internet, like us, is badass. Okay? I’m badass. I’m a badass coder, lifehacker, yogi, feminist, chocolate lover, gamer, and warrior.
How much coding have you done as a non-technical co-founder?
I built the whole front end of our content management framework for Wellt myself. Okay? I built it myself.
Well, it’s a Wordpress page. I’ve seen it.
I customized. I came up with a new color scheme. And I did it all while going to culinary school and teaching a Flywheel class and raising three emotionally damaged rescue greyhounds and running a weekly dubstep night in a warehouse in Bushwick and being an active presence on Hinge. I did it all at the same time. That’s what millennials are about — we get shit done. So don’t question the viability of my employment model, señor.
Well, it’s just you don’t really seem to be exchanging labor for capital — you’re getting capital but not offering labor in return.
You’re fucking wrong. You stupid fuck. You stupid old dead white male fuck.
I’m not dead.
You stupid old live white male fuck. Don’t oppress me with your patriarchy. Don’t look at me with your patriarchy. Don’t. I can feel it. I can feel it. No.
Is now okay?
No. [Pause.] Okay. Breathe. Feel the energies recentering at the core of your being. You are being taken into a room that is white. There is a bowl of fruit. You are the energy. You are okay. Okay.
Have you had trouble securing funding for Wellt? I mean, as a first-time founder with no experience in coding or the health industry… how hard has it been to get money?
Nothing is ever easy in life. But that just means you have to fight for what you believe in. I arrived in this country at the age of 7 from Lithuania with no English and no clothes but I still went on to become my grade school valedictorian. Fully dressed. And I’ve applied a lot of that same grit to fundraising. You know, we went to AngelList to do our initial raise — we got a lot of expressions of interest. They all fell through.
So what did you do?
We went out to the market and we tried again — we sought more funding.
What did that consist of?
I spoke to my mother. She gave me her credit card. We closed our seed round that day.
You’ve been onboarding clients for…
6 months. 6 very successful months.
6 months. What have you learned in that time?
I’ve learned above all that everyone deserves a chance. As long as they’re not an ENTP. I am an ENTJ, I get on well with ISFJs and ISTPs, but I cannot be around ENTPs. So my co-founder brings this guy in for an interviewer to be our new programmer the other day. And my co-founder is awesome — she’s a Fulbright scholarship winner and a marketing ninja and a spelunker and a wiccan and a techno-shamanka and a flaneuse and a qualified pastry chef. And you know, usually she makes great decisions. but this dude she brought in… I found out he was an ENTP and I was like, ew. Anything else would have been fine but this? ENTP? Ew.
You’ve been vocal in stressing the communal aspect of work at Wellt.
It’s critical. Both at work and outside. We do a lot of volunteer work. We had a program where we all came together — all staff, all three of us — we came together one weekend and we made hummus. We made hummus for ISIS.
Yeah, ISIS — you know, the guys in Syria, Iraq. I believe, we believe, that if you just give people a chance, they will discover their better selves. That’s as true for you or me as it is for an apocalyptic jihadist in Syria. Right now what ISIS needs is food. We gave them food. That will count for something, one day. People look at ISIS today and they’re like, these dudes will always hate us. No: they just haven’t learned how to breathe properly. With breathing and the power of positive thinking and hummus, we can bring ISIS back.
Did they say thank you for the hummus?
We haven’t heard from them, but if you put good energy into the world, you will get good energy back. We sourced great ingredients for ISIS. This wasn’t like Tribe or Sabra quality hummus. This was really good shit. And one day I know that that energy will circulate back and we all at Wellt will get some good dips in return. Dips matter, dude.
They certainly do. Please join me in thanking Hanna Bumsteinas of Wellt.