Agile Businesses: Paul O’Reilly-Hyland of Zeamo On How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies

An Interview With Charlie Katz

Charlie Katz
Authority Magazine

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Don’t accept conventional wisdom. Being confined by preconditional views, even if they are from experience, can be a barrier to pivoting. Many believed fitness had to be done at a gym because that’s the way it always has been and at-home works would only be a fad. That’s proven to be wrong. At the same time, others believed that gyms would die and be replaced by at-home work outs — that’s not happening. Now, it looks like a hybrid approach will be mainstream, where people use a mixture of digital and physical.

As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul O’Reilly-Hyland, an entrepreneur who has founded and grown companies in the financial services and corporate wellness industries.

Paul is the CEO and Founder of Zeamo, a data driven digital platform that makes it easy and affordable for companies and insurers to engage, motivate and reward all employees and members to live an active and healthy lifestyle by providing choice in the best brands and workouts both digitally and physically.

Prior to founding Zeamo, O’Reilly-Hyland founded and ran a broker dealer, Trinity, a hedge fund which was acquired and was a Managing Director at both JP Morgan and Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. O’Reilly-Hyland began his career in finance in London before working in Hong Kong and eventually settling in New York. He is a graduate from Trinity College Dublin and is registered with the SEC & FINRA. He is a keen sportsman, having completed several marathons and triathlons in his own time.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up in Dublin, Ireland; and despite having asthma at an early age, I loved playing sports. I played rugby and hockey for my high school. I discovered at an early age that the fitter I was, the less asthma bothered me, so that inspired me to be more active. I began a career in finance in London after graduating from Trinity College Dublin, then moved to Hong King and have now settled in New York. As soon as I arrived in New York I entered the New York marathon. Later, I began doing triathlons, which require a lot of swimming practice — something that wasn’t easy for me given my busy work and travel schedule. It was during one of my road shows I thought, “why can’t I have access to any gym with a pool and why doesn’t my employer provide that?”

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I have made so many mistakes it’s hard to remember all of them; and even if I could, my answer would be way too long. One of my biggest mistakes was thinking I always had to be in a hurry. Life is a marathon but when you are 20 it seems like a sprint. Building a business takes time and patience; which in my 20s hardly existed. Since acknowledging that taking my time plays to my benefit, it’s allowed me to master my craft with fewer mistakes along the way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’m very to have had several great mentors and friends along the way. My first boss in London, who later became CEO of the Investment bank and Lord Mayor of London, remains a close friend and investor in Zeamo. My good friend and board member, Xihong Deng, has been a tremendous resource and support with Zeamo. And my father, who showed you can do a lot with little and succeed, has helped me exponentially.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The vision is the same as it was when I began- to make it easy and affordable for any size company to help their employees live an active and healthy lifestyle. Our purpose has always remained the same, we’ve just pivoted how we bring or purpose to our customers; for example, making hybrid and remote fitness more accessible in response to the world making drastic lifestyle changes in response to COVID.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?

Our lives revolve around our work but often our work prevents us from being active and healthy. Many of us work long hours and can’t find the motivation or time to workout. Today heart disease and diabetes continue to rise correlated to rising obesity rates. My company makes it easy for companies to motivate, engage and reward employees to live a fitter and healthier lifestyle by offering them choice and flexibility, while also providing challenges and rewards. Companies, no matter how small, can now offer a complete fitness echo system to all their employees, which previously only very large companies could afford to do.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

We began with making it easy for companies and their employees to access any type of gym anywhere any time without being locked in. We developed a network of gyms across North America. Digital, at-home fitness was only in its infancy before COVID-19. When the pandemic struck, people were confined to their homes and gyms shut their doors. The at-home digital industry sprung to life with many entrants copying, competing, and complementing Peloton. Digital at-home workouts have been a massive disruption to the fitness industry, changing habits for all types of individuals. Many gym goers may now decide to work at home or do a hybrid workout with digital fitness and gyms in the future.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

With so many digital fitness companies creating content, we decided not to create our own but to curate the best brands to offer our clients a choice. As an aggregator, we can benefit from so many new brands and workouts by always offering new and fresh content. Most importantly, we’ve redesigned our business model to meet our customers where they are; allowing them to access Zeamo from their workout place of preference whether that’s in a gym, at-home or a mix of both.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

The aha moment came when I was watching Netflix. Netflix has been successful by offering so much content from so many producers around the world at an unbeatable price. Zeamo does similar and makes it easy for a company not just to offer one or even a few brands, but thousands of workouts from over 100 brands and growing each week. Like Netflix, we make it highly affordable.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

Many companies can’t believe we offer so much at such a great price! The reception is very good but still not many know about us. We are new and eager to share our benefits with the world. As we enter the fall and companies try to engage their employees and get them back to work, Zeamo is the perfect benefit so we want to be known and accessible to all.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?

There are so many stories to share but one is the shortage of good quality engineers. Our pivot required new technology builds and integrations; and to do that, we needed to hire good engineers. It seems like every business was pivoting to digital so the market for engineers was very tight. The market continues to be tight but I am glad to say we have secured a great team of engineers out of India.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

To have one’s team really believe that the company’s goals are achievable — that although times may be challenging, the company will find success in the long run.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Celebrate any success the company sees along the way. Even small wins should be celebrated.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Conviction — conviction that the vision is the right one.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. People — having the right core team is highly important.
  2. Spend the time to plan so there are little or no changes when you implement.
  3. Avoid taking on too much –shareholders, employees and clients will come up with ideas which seem very important to them but may not fit with the core business. Diverting or adding more can be a major problem.

Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Don’t accept conventional wisdom. Being confined by preconditional views, even if they are from experience, can be a barrier to pivoting. Many believed fitness had to be done at a gym because that’s the way it always has been and at-home works would only be a fad. That’s proven to be wrong. At the same time, others believed that gyms would die and be replaced by at-home work outs — that’s not happening. Now, it looks like a hybrid approach will be mainstream, where people use a mixture of digital and physical.
  2. Challenge your business model regularly. In times of change such as the past 18 months, one had to constantly challenge whether the business would hold up and succeed in different environments.
  3. Know your client and target audience. When COVID struck, our team anticipated that gym users would need to work out at home and want on-demand classes and other options. We adjusted our business model to accommodate this need.
  4. Act quickly. Pivot in time to meet new demands.
  5. Be Flexible. In May of 2021, many, including myself, believed COVID was being defeated and companies and their employees would be resuming some normalcy by late summer and into the fall. We positioned ourselves for this upturn in gyms and corporate onboarding, but Delta appeared. Now, concerns and uncertainty over COVID are back, with companies postponing their full reopening. We had to have flexibility in terms of costs, so we can be positioned for what will be a gradual recovery in the rest of 2021. I believe 2022 will be a very good year with wellness and fitness being a top priority for companies and their employees.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Everyone makes mistakes and everyone should learn from them, but ideally learn from other people’s mistakes, too.

How can our readers further follow your work? Readers can follow myself and Zeamo on LinkedIn to keep up with all our exciting news and offerings. Additionally, our blog shares share valuable wellness tips and discuss the importance of employers prioritizing their employees’ mental and physical health.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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Charlie Katz
Authority Magazine

Executive Creative Director at Bitbean Software Development