Meet The Disruptors: Jim Donnelly Of Restore Hyper Wellness On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Surround yourself with good, talented people, and let them have the freedom to do great things.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Donnelly.

Jim Donnelly is the co-founder and CEO of Restore Hyper Wellness®, a disruptor in the personal health and wellness category that delivers expert guidance and an extensive array of cutting-edge health modalities, such as IV drips and cryotherapy, integrated under one roof. Before Restore, Jim served as an Officer in the U.S. Army and spent years working at leading brands, including Jell-O Pudding, Bell South, Coca-Cola, and Citibank. Jim began his entrepreneurial journey when he co-founded IgoUgo.com, which became the leader in user-generated travel website content, won a Webby Award as the top travel website in the U.S. and was sold to Sabre Holdings / Travelocity all in less than five years.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I spent my early life surrounded by entrepreneurs. My father was regularly engrossed in different initiatives, from commercial fishing boats, to an accounting company, to bringing the Russian ballet to the United States to tour. His ventures weren’t always financially successful, but I loved my dad’s enthusiasm. He never lost his zest for trying something new.

While my father sparked my passion for business, I decided to take a different professional route than he did. I completed my undergraduate degree and MBA in four years and started my first business at 21. The military funded my education, so while I was on active-duty, the person I hired to run my business actually stole the money and disappeared. That was my first entrepreneurial lesson learned — be extremely careful who you trust with your business.

After completing my military service, I knew I still wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t want to jump back in without a solid foundation. I developed a strategy to gain knowledge across different industries which led to me working for Kraft General Foods, AT&T/Bell South, Coca-Cola, and Citibank.

One day I was introduced to an entrepreneur at a social event. As we talked, he asked me about my work history with all of these blue-chip companies, essentially questioning my commitment to entrepreneurship. A week later, I quit my job. I took a page out of my father’s handbook, determined to explore something new every five years.

First, I explored the travel industry, where I started a company that provided custom travel content that suited niche audiences. I also ran a luxury condo company where I bought abandoned bank buildings, flipped them into condos, and sold them to the likes of Michael Jordan and Cam Newton. In my business ventures, I, of course, wasn’t always an expert in whichever industry I entered. In turn, I realized I couldn’t outdo my competitors in their game, so I had to create my own.

Founding Restore was an easy decision. I was training for a triathlon, and my body hurt from the punishing training regiment. A friend suggested I join him for a cryotherapy appointment. I thought, Why not? I fell in love with the experience immediately but recognized treatments were way too expensive, housed in a horrible retail environment, and the people running that particular studio did not belong in the wellness industry. So, when the opportunity arose to change that, I once again said…why not?

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As you know, access to proper healthcare in the United States is limited to those who can afford it. Simply having your blood taken can cost hundreds of dollars without insurance — many people self-manage their chronic pain or illnesses because of their current healthcare inaccessibility. While do-it-yourself versions of alternative medicine have increased in popularity since the Coronavirus outbreak, alternative medicine clinics present the same barrier as traditional medicine: cost. We all deserve the opportunity to have access to a healthy lifestyle. Restore’s new category of care — Hyper Wellness® — combines groundbreaking science, expert guidance, and innovative retail experience with the sole goal of reducing the ever-growing gap between lifespan and healthspan. Alongside my Hyper Wellness Team and CMO David Fossas, we designed our program to be not only easily accessible but also affordable with the hopes that fewer Americans have to decide between their health and their wealth.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m going all the way back to my first company. The company was called Repeat Performers. It was a golf ball recovery business. We would get the contract from golf courses to retrieve lost golf balls from their water hazards. A typical golf course produces thousands of golf balls. Being located in the Southeast, we saw alligators and all kinds of snakes in every water hazard.

A funny mistake; I had a bunch of new divers show up at a job at Jekyll Island. We had a large order from Wal-Mart and needed to “harvest” a large number of golf balls. We got to the first hazard and saw a dozen alligators on the far bank. None of the new divers would get in the water. I was wearing my work clothes and wasn’t prepared to go in the water. But I had to. I grabbed scuba gear, jumped in the water in my khakis and golf shirt, and started retrieving golf balls. Slowly, the rest of the divers entered the water, and we had a successful day. It got to the point where the gators simply ignored us, and the divers ignored them.

The mistakes I made and learned from:

  1. My team wasn’t fully trained and I put them in a potentially dangerous situation. They hadn’t been educated on diving with alligators, and they were justifiably scared. That’s on me. Today, the health and safety of my team and my customers are paramount.
  2. I probably picked the worst possible course to harvest, given the experience of my team and the conditions. Based on this experience, we changed our training and onboarding process, making safety the centerpiece of our practices. .
  3. I didn’t show up prepared to lead by example. Getting people over the hump required a “show me, don’t tell me” mentality.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My main mentor was my father. He had a long military career and transitioned to entrepreneurship from the military. Unfortunately, the military provides a terrific baseline for entrepreneurs but not all of the necessary skills. So my father struggled as an entrepreneur. He started some pretty cool ventures but never seemed to be able to get a business beyond a certain point. Having said that, he taught me a few things that form the foundation for how I do everything:

  1. Enthusiasm and optimism matter.
  2. Be the same person in good times and bad times.
  3. You learn the measure of a person at two different points: when there is a lot of money to divide up and when they are out of money.
  4. Surround yourself with good, talented people, and let them have the freedom to do great things.

My father also provided a quote I always remember. He said, “Son, there is no debtor’s prison in the U.S. If you fail, you can start something new the next day.” Essentially his construct was work hard, do what you promise to do, don’t risk other people’s money if you aren’t risking yours first, and never break the law or lie.

I took these lessons from my father and added the notion of getting the experience I needed to become a subject-matter expert as the launching point for becoming a great entrepreneur. That is why my career includes all of the stops in corporate America. I made sure I had the right experiences to help me be successful and overlaid that with the lessons from my father.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

To be disruptive is to provide a service unique to your intended industry — to turn heads so to speak. To be a disruption is to impact industry standards and ongoings, moving forward in either a positive or negative manner.

I chose to be disruptive by observing America’s healthcare problem as a whole and finding a compromise that benefits each affected party to some degree. If I had entered Restore with the single-minded goal of profiting from simply the popularity of cryotherapy, we would have never expanded our services into a full-fledged wellness clinic offering programs targeting various health concerns.

Being disruptive is always positive when one’s goal is to improve the standard quality of life. However, an action I consider to be helpful may not be beneficial to someone else. How I choose to be a disruption is to lead my company, and eventually, the wellness industry with the goal of maximizing efficacy, not dollars. If you make people feel better and maximize their health benefits, guess what they’ll do? They’ll return again and again. I believe some smaller operators function off of slated hierarchies because they rely on a single source of income to keep their business afloat. In turn, they may make the misguided decision to offer any products their customers are willing to pay for regardless of their benefits or risks. We do not operate under that construct.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Anytime you deal with high-level, successful human beings, you must expect the unexpected. Sometimes I forget that our lifestyles, no matter how we lead them, can send people in different directions. I had to recognize that my franchisees are my partners in business and life, and in their daily lives they can have marital problems, health problems, and general life problems. People are multifaceted, and I had to strike the right balance of empathy and emotional intelligence to make Restore a great company to work with. We’re inventing together, we’re taking a chance together, and we’re creating our own playbook together.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

My Restore team and I work with the goal of improving the customer experience and efficacy. We already make the best full body cryotherapy chambers in the world. Now, we want to make the most appealing studios to host those chambers. I believe beauty and aesthetics play a large role in a customer’s experience and therefore the success of a business. If you have ever walked into a medical hyperbaric unit, you would compare it to an ICU unit. Hospitals aren’t relaxing. There’s so much innovation that we can bring to the space, and while I’m not a social media connoisseur, I want our locations to be as relaxing and Insta-worthy as possible.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I am a voracious reader as well as a consumer of podcasts so it is very difficult to narrow this to one. So I would like to mention a book I’ve read in the last few years. The book is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It is the story of an aristocrat in Russia that is sentenced to house arrest at a fancy hotel in Moscow after the communists take over after World War I. It isn’t a business book, but I loved it for all the lessons it provided. The main character always made the most of his situation, he was incredibly optimistic, and he treated everyone with dignity. As a former aristocrat he recognized that the waiter was just as important as the politician. The book had whimsy, it provided some really cool historical perspective (I believe you learn from history), he gravitated toward clever solutions to problems, and many lessons were embedded throughout the book. It was truly a lovely story and affected my approach to people in personal and professional settings.

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

I don’t believe in the concept of “failure” — to me, these moments are opportunities to learn, grow and try again.

My father once reminded me that there’s no debtor’s prison in the U.S. — you don’t go to jail here just for failing in a business. As long as you work hard, do what you promise to the people involved, and don’t break the law, you can try again the next day. It was a powerful insight into who he was and how he felt about the things he pursued. Where there’s an opportunity, there’s an equal opportunity to succeed or fail. But you can learn from both, and neither is a reason to not try to do something new.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Shifting the perception of healthcare from reactive to proactive. For those people who can afford it, our preventative care usually amounts to annual checkups to see how or if things are functioning the way they should be. For many people, their care comes through urgent care clinics or emergency room visits. What about all of that time in between? It’s not enough to tell people what they should be doing and then trust that they know how to proceed or that they have the means to proceed. Instead, we wait until someone’s health situation is so dire that urgent (and expensive) measures need to be taken. There’s one important piece missing from the greater puzzle of the healthcare system at large, and that’s providing education on the efficacy of being proactive about your health and increasing your healthspan. A critical second piece focuses on equity, ensuring that people are not only able to receive and understand that information, but are provided equitable access to the kinds of care that will help them thrive.

How can our readers follow you online?

Keep up with my career and Restore’s ongoings on LinkedIn or follow me on Facebook @JimRestore.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market