Cultivating Healthy Lifestyle Habits For Your Employees with David Osborne

March 23, 2021

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David Osborne is CEO of Virgin Pulse, the world’s largest digital health and wellbeing company – helping 7 million employees at 3,100 workplaces across the globe to sustain healthy habits and build employee wellbeing into the DNA of their corporate culture. David brings 22 years of business experience to Virgin Pulse, including previously serving as CEO of DrillingInfo, Managing Director of Operations for Vista Consulting Group and EVP of Operations for SumTotal Systems. He leads more than 1,000 Virgin Pulse employees from the company’s headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the impact podcast. This is a very special edition of the Impact Podcast. We are so lucky to have with us today David Osborne. He is the CEO of Virgin Pulse. Welcome to Impact David.

David Osborne: Thanks, John. How are you doing?

John: I am doing great. You and I are still living through this tragic covid period. I am sitting here in Fresno. I believe you are on the East Coast in Boston or Rhode Island area, but I still feel like we are sort of sitting next to each other in an office and it works. We were talking a little bit off-air before we started and this technology seems to be working out for us.

David: Yeah. The only difference is you are in the warm and I am in the cold right now.

John: That would be true. Okay, I cannot make that up. For our listeners out there. This is going to be a timely show. Virgin Pulse is doing very important things in David. I want you to go through all the important things that you are doing in Virgin Pulse with you and your colleagues. Before we get into that share a little bit about the David Osborne story. How you even got here, and what was your background before being named the CEO of Virgin Pulse?

David: Sure, I am happy to. I was in private equity for a while not as a deal guy, but as an operator. I have had a lot of experience running software companies or pieces of software companies. I was working for a company in New York that was a majority owner of Virgin Pulse about six years ago. Insight Venture Partners, a great company. They said “Hey, look at we got this opportunity. We got this company called Virgin Pulse, they just acquired two companies. Two competitors are theirs. That executive team is fantastic. They do not have a ton of integration experience”. I have integrated lots of companies and bought lots of companies. “Could you jump in there help them integrate and then come back?” and I said sure. Then I joined. About six months later I just said I do not want to come back. I love what these guys are doing. It is a great business, set of people, team, and culture.

I saw this opportunity to not just consolidate this industry, but fix it or at least innovate around it. I do not think that the healthcare industry is necessarily fixable right now. I never look back and they appointed me CEO about eight to ten months after that, and here we are.

John: Let me see if I got this right. I read a lot about you. I read a lot about this great company for our listeners out there to find Virgin Pulse. I am on their website now. It is a gorgeous website full of tons of information go to ( You are the world’s largest digital health and well-being company serving over 7 million employees at 3100 companies.

David: Well, we are close to 50 million members now on the plateau.

John: Oh!

David: Yeah.

John: 15 million members?

David: Yeah.

John: Okay. Wait a second. Let us step back. Talk about when the journey started for Virgin Pulse. How is it invented[?], Richard Branson’s involvement.

David: Sure.

John: Where are you in the journey now, and what services do you offer that you think are compelling to get 15 million people at over 3,000 companies? It has got to be some kind of compelling great services you offer.

David: Yeah, Richard Branson started the company about 15 years ago, more as an activity-based company, like just a get active I think it was.

John: Yeah.

David: They have changed names and Brands a few times. We just kind of transformed that from activity to almost everything health and well-being. Health and well-being are not just about getting your steps in. It is mental resilience, financial wellness, sleep nutrition. We went down that path for a few years and then about three years ago. We need to take this to the next level and help members navigate the complexity of the Health Care system at least domestically, and get into more ROI-driven population health, and on how do we solve for gaps in care and solve for health outcomes. I was talking to somebody the other day, and I almost equate it to. I have been on record saying this before. Almost like the taxicab industry, that is a broken industry. One could say if you have ever tried to get a taxi cab at five o’clock in New York when they are on their shift switch?

John: Yeah.

David: Impossible right? Companies like Uber and Lyft did not try and fix the taxicab industry. They just innovated around and we are doing the same thing. We do not think we can fix the health care industry, but we can certainly innovate around it. We can put everything health and well-being, and employee engagement, and navigating the complexity of the Health Care system from like I said, activity to sleep, nutrition, digital therapeutics. A benefit navigation care guidance on to one platform that people can come back to, and just kind of get it all in one shot. That is what we have done, and that is where we are going.

John: I am so intrigued. I am the chairman of our company here. We have got a thousand employees. I was reading all about you studying the website, all your literature, and about you. This would be something we want to use. Who makes decisions on these kinds of critical issues. Is it the Chairmans or CEOs or is it Human Resources directors? Whom are you pitching to? Who are you appealing to on a day-to-day basis when you are out there doing business development?

David: Yeah. Sure. It generally rolls into the head of benefits. Employers and payers by the platform as a benefit for their employees. They roll it out as a benefit. There is extrinsic motivation, they will give incentives. It could be a discount off your health premium or an influx of cash stipend into your HSA. Like just get healthy. We all know that a healthy employee shows up at work better and ready to perform at their Peak. We usually sell them to the benefits area. However with the pandemic and Covid-19. It is certainly reaching the c-suite, and I think we are seeing CEOs get more involved with health and well-being and trying to figure out how do we do what is best for our employees and keep our employees healthy and safe.

John: We are going to come back to help in covid and everything that regarding wellness and let us go back to the issue of culture. Corporate culture. How are you involved with the corporate culture issues, and why is called keeping corporate culture set advertise within the company, message outside of the company, and maintaining it, actually working on it. Why is that so important to what you do?

David: Yeah. I think it is really important. I think it is changed to, as you know everybody has been working from home for a long time.

John: Right.

David: I think the whole work from home Dynamic is forever changed, even post covid. If I think about our company, we have about 1,500 employees.

John: Okay.

David: About a third of them are remote. They are not around in the office.

John: Okay.

David: I think remote hiring has become a big thing now.

John: Right.

David: You read all about Silicon Valley. Years ago, a programmer sitting in Charleston South Carolina is not going to pick up a phone when Palo Alto calls them.

John: Right.

David: Now they are going to pick up the phone and can work from home and do this great job. I think that remote hiring is bigger than ever and we are going to do more remote hiring as well. If the third of our company is remote after this pandemic, I am guessing John, probably we are going to want to stay at home regardless?

John: Right?

David: In third, they are going to want to come in, and it is almost like the center of excellence concept. They are going to want to come to the office. Driving a good culture is critical in that environment. I think it becomes more critical, and if I think about what the pandemic, I will approach your question a little bit about with the pandemic has taught us if you do not mind?

John: Yeah. Go, I want to go into that.

David: I think we communicate better now to our employees than we ever have. We have no choice. We do daily stand-ups. I have switched our town halls from a quarterly town hall to a monthly town hall. We almost like to over-communicate if you will. I think that companies, as they venture into a more flexible work from home policy, which was hard for us John because we had a very collaborative environment. We have got this beautiful office in Providence, Rhode Island. We built it from scratch.

John: Right.

David: We took over a building.

John: Yeah.

David: It has got this great background.

John: I have seen it. It is gorgeous.

David: [inaudible] I call it Silicon Valley for 21 dollars a square foot. It is an amazing place. But at the end of the day, we had a culture of collaboration. We celebrated wins together. We learn from our losses. But as we go into the post-pandemic world, we saw that a lot of people are going to want to work from home. We have proven to ourselves that our people can be very productive at home. They really can. The question now is how do you step to your point? How do you create or continue with this great culture that we have? I think it is to be more transparent which we are. Communicate better, which we’ve done. Be more agile. Think about new ways of thinking. Think about new ways of collaborating. We celebrate success with our employees more than we used to. We focus on health and well-being as you can imagine. We do a lot more Social Challenges to keep everybody engaged around the world. We just make sure we have the right kind of remote work from home policies, procedures, stipends if you will, and all that kind of thing.

John: It is interesting what you have said. We do the same thing. I used to have quarterly town halls and I do it monthly, and it works. Because of the unique position where you sit in David. You have 15 million members over 3000 Corporate clients that you represent the data that you must be picking up. Do you believe your path forward represents how other companies are going to be moving forward as well in terms of those who are going to stay at home versus those who are going to come to the office is that just unique to your company? which it was used in a certain way and other companies might break differently. What are you sensing from the other CEOs and your constituency based on whom you represent?

David: Yeah. There are two questions there, and they are both really good ones. The data part on our number one is that what other CEOs are doing with work from home. I think everybody will have flavors of what I just said.

John: Yeah.

David: I don’t think anybody is going to go back to a model of forcing people to come back to the office.

John: Okay.

David: Remote hiring is like I said is becoming bigger. We are going to see most companies try and meet employees where they are, and just try and do good for them more than anything. Salesforce came out with something today that was very similar to what we are doing. You are going to have a remote, and you are going to have people that are going to come in. You are going to have people that might want to come in just a couple of days a week. I love the idea of if you are close to an office and you can come in. On post-pandemic, let us not do Zoom calls with clients from our bedroom anymore. Let us go to the office to do it. That would be great. If that is step one if we get out there.

John: But that is interesting. I like that. Okay.

David: Yeah. No more FedEx guys ringing the doorbell. We got to meet employees where they are. There are still people that are homeschooling for example.

John: Right.

David: People can be productive at home. We need to make sure that we are flexible as we can be.

John: For those listeners and viewers that have just joined us. We are so lucky to have with us today David Osborne. He is the CEO of Virgin Pulse. To find David and his great company and colleagues. Please go to ( David, I do not make this show political, never have in 13 years, but we just came out of very different times. Politically speaking. We are talking about health and well-being now, and now we have moved into the bite[?] of administration where Kamala Harris, the first woman vice president half black half Southeast Asian talk a little bit about the times that we live in, and diversity equity and inclusion having a huge part of health and well-being of corporate employees.

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David: Sure. Well, I think diversity and Equity inclusion is the linchpin. It is not an input like how many hours did I sleep that night. It is all about employee well-being candidly. If these are off, then the company is off. If these are off no one is well. No one will feel safe, and heard at work. No one will feel like they are compensated appropriately at work. No one will feel they have a path for growth. If these are off I would argue and say no one as well. We have to foster radical inclusion candidly. The data is there.

Companies that are great at diverse a conclusion just are better, and they are more successful. I think organizations need to be intentional in embedding DEI into all aspects of their culture. Like I said it is not an input. It is not a bolt-on. It is just part of your culture. It has to be part of the organization and I love it candidly. It is a great recruiting tool. I read an article a while ago that 8 out of 10 candidates that were interviewed said that inclusion is one of the most important things when choosing an employer. That is just the way it is.

John: That is great. I know you have this digital platform called home base for health. I want to understand what that means from Virgin Pulse and all of your members. Is it also going to continue to expand because of COVID, and now what we are all doing with Hydro, Mira, Peloton, and all the opportunities that we now have found to work at home. Workout at home instead of going to the gym with.

David: Yeah. Sure. The home-based for health is really where we are driving our platform. It is the one place to go for everything health and well-being.

John: Okay.

David: Whether it is an activity, sleep, nutrition, mental health, financial health, women’s health, family health, digital therapeutics dealing with diabetes prevention and cure, hypertension, gaps in care, population health that you benefit navigation. Everything that is health and well-being, and navigating the complexity of the Healthcare System. It is everything that you can imagine on one platform where people go to every single day. The beautiful thing about Virgin Pulse in our platform is our members that are on the platform come back and use it 60% of use daily, which is unbelievable. It is a number we are proud of.

I am an ex-college golfer. I do not know if you have read that. I used to sit with people. If you play golf once a year, you would not get any better and [inaudible] off once a month. You would not get any better. Health and well-being are the same way. If I took care of myself once a year once a month, I would not get any better. I would probably get worse and atrophy from a health and well-being standpoint. It is a daily activity. It does not have to be massive. The platform home base for health is very personalized. What you might be focused on John today could be sleep and stress, and I might be focused on activity nutrition. The platform uses artificial intelligence to understand who I am and who you are and it will roll out know data content programs that are very specific for you to work on that day or that week or month. It will do very different things for me based on what my numbers are and what is important to me.

John: David we did get a little personal before we got on the show, and I said how great you look, and it is so nice to meet a leader. You walk the talk. I said you look about 40, you told me you were a little bit older. I am 58, and I try to live. Now I am wearing my Garmin watch that counts my steps. Does this make our lives better or is it just made us a little bit obsessive-compulsive? Does that make me a little bit more cuckoo when it comes to that stuff? or is that a good thing that is making me more cognizant of what I am doing, and making me get my 10,000 15,000 steps a day, and forcing me to be the best self I can be?

David: Yeah, I think it is a good thing. You do not stare at your garment all day long, but it is just data, right John?

John: Right.

David: Not knowing how much is like I wear the Oura ring right? I am focused on my cleat right now.

John: Yeah.

David: I think it is just understanding how am I sleeping. When do they go to bed? How many hours did I sleep? That is important to me. How much activity or how many steps did you get. That is important to you. We collect about 12 and a half billion data points a month from our members, and that allows us to feed it into artificial intelligence machine learning. Offer up recommendations, and because our recommendations are so spot-on, and because we are so good at getting people to use the platform and follow those recommendations. We can show outcomes, and change lives for good and deliver an ROI that the industry needs to see. I think it is a good thing, John.

John: Okay. It is a great answer to the question. Now, let us talk about what you have seen, what we have all seen those who have been paying attention obviously during this covid-19 tragic period we have so many breaks in the healthcare system that we did not realize before. Maybe someone like you realize it because that is your that’s the world you live in. But a Layman like me a business person entrepreneur did not realize how chaotic and how broken our system is. I do not know if you have gotten the vaccine yet. I have not gotten the vaccine yet. But there is so much misinformation out there. Is it part of what your evolution is? Are you going to continue to push technology to help bring services and opportunities just like we are going towards personalized medicine? Will your platform State Cutting Edge in terms of delivering the best services and best opportunities for health care for your constituents and members?

David: Yeah. Absolutely. We invest heavily in Innovation every year, and every year we invest more in RND. We are not done with our home base for Health Vision, but we are getting close but to your point, people are going to come out of this pandemic somewhat broken. Whether it is mental health. It is a huge impact right now on employees. Substance abuse is on the rise, obesity is increasing, and musculoskeletal issues are becoming more prevalent due to people just not being active.

John: Right.

David: I used to say that sitting is the new smoking. You just got to get active. Our platform offers up tools and resources to establish new habits in this what I would call new Norm. It is personalized as I mentioned. It kind of meets employees where they are, and what is important to them. More importantly, it makes it easy for them to find. Whether if you have an EAP program or coaching or activity, nutrition, mental health, etc. Make it easy to find employees who do not want to log on to 10 different things to figure out how to get healthier and how to get better, and then the whole isolation component.

John: Right

David: The Social Challenges and bringing your organization closer together to continue to be involved as an organization and as a person. I think that is important. We will continue to innovate as fast as we can and bring a home base for Health Vision to completion.

John: Before we talk about the future. I just want to ask you because you and I talked with both walkers to stay healthy especially during these times with Jim’s clothes and stuff. How many steps a day is ideal now? I know it is very personalized and everybody is different but if you were to say because I am like you. The desk I am sitting at right now is a standing desk as well. I happened to be sitting while I interview you. But if sitting is the new smoking how many steps a day just to get our blood going is good to do?

David: Well. Yeah. Well first and foremost, I am not a doctor.

John: Okay.

David: I can cite the research. I strive for 10,000 steps a day.

John: Okay.

David: I try and do something a little bit more active whether it is running on occasion, not daily, but probably at least three or four times a week. But to your point is you can stand all day long and not have one step as you can imagine. But it still allows the circulation to flow through your body. So I think a combination of just not sitting all day. Steps, as well as standing if you are working nine or twelve hours, is an important combination if you will.

John: We talked a little bit off-air about plan phase[?] eating David.

David: Yeah.

John: 2010 I had a common friend say “hey, can you interview this guy” who wants to get a little visibilities his name was Ethan Brown, and even at a little company called beyond me and he was just starting it. Of course, I interviewed him, and I had them on again in 2013, and now we know we are beyond meat[?] is. Is plant-based eating and better eating a part of our future for everyone who wants to be their best self?

David: I hope so. There is no doubt that you can get all the protein you need from a plant-based diet. You know this John you are a vegetarian/vegan. I cannot remember where you are and your specs, right?

John: Right. Pretty much.

David: You can get everything you need from a plant-based diet. You do not need to go out and eat cows all day long and have these mass farming activities. I do not want to be political on your show either.

John: Right.

David: I think I am a big fan of plant-based eating. I cheat every once in a while.

John: We all do.

David: I am not opposed to having the odd steak here and there.

John: Right.

David: To your point, I try and stay more plant-based and I feel healthier than I have ever felt.

John: David, in terms of an ROI. From a real business and bottom-line perspective. Healthier employees mean healthier company means better Revenue better profits.

David: Yes.

John: When your business development people are speaking to guys like me or my director of HR, how does that equate? Can you just without going into strict numbers, what does it look like when you say hey John it is going to cost this much. But here is what from our other 3,000 clients. Here is what we are seeing there. They are all seeing a lot of benefit in 15 million members. Are the numbers compelling when it comes to healthier employees?

David: Yeah. No doubt. I think that is one of the key aspects of home base for health to be able to ingest claims data, and figure out how do we solve for gaps in care, and how do you think about population health, and health outcomes. Right now we are showing that we are saving just north of about a thousand dollars per employee per year. That might not seem like a lot but if you have 20,000 employees, that is 20 million dollars.

John: Gosh.

David: There is a massive ROI, I think the bigger point is how do we get to focus on not just using claims ingestion, but also to figure out true gaps in care. True harder ROI and get in front of people that have potential problems looming.

John: David. I do not like it when the media talks about all we cannot wait till science wins, and we all get vaccinated or get a herd immunity or some combination thereof, and we go to a new normal. I think New-Normal is such a defeatist term. I like the terminology New-Better. Talk a little bit about where you are going to take Virgin Pulse in the years to come and your home base for health which I love one place for all the information. How do we all get to a New-Better when we get through this very tragic covid period.

David: Yeah, Not to be too repetitive but the home base for health, and the one platform that has everything all-encompassing from Health, Well-being, Employee Engagement, navigating the complexity of the Healthcare System, and driving Health outcomes, which is what it is all about. That is what we are striving for.

John: Got it. A guy like you who understands software, data, and scaling. You do not join something just to manage it. How big can this get in the years ahead?

David: Yeah. I think it can get really big. We are going to have a fantastic year. Most CEOs talk about bookings and revenue and Evad[?] on, and those are bad words by the way. Evad[?] is not a bad word.

John: Right.

David: But the bigger we get candidly the more lives we change for good and we just had our company kickoff, and one of the questions. We had a lot of really fun questions with nothing really serious, but the only kind of real serious business question was (Hey Dave, in 15 years from now, I am a brand new person in our client success group, you are handing over the reins of CEO to me. Where do you see us in five years?)

John: Okay.

David: I said (Well. Honestly, I would love to see us have a hundred million members on our platform. Not 15): That is a lofty goal. But I think it is a good one. That is almost a third of the country which would be pretty exciting. To be able to change that many lives and businesses for good are really what our mission is all about. Our vision is great. Our vision is innovation and getting a home base for health complete and having as many members on that but the mission is changing lives and businesses for good. Having a hundred million people that are healthier and happier, and showing up for work more engaged is pretty exciting. You think about 75 or 80 percent of the workforce is not engaged. This is even pre-pandemic. They are just not engaged at work. Being healthier and happier helps with that as well.

John: I hope your goal comes true because we got a hundred million people on Virgin Pulse. We are going to have a healthier and better country.

David: Correct.

John: I just wanted to thank you for your time today. I want to encourage our listeners or readers and our viewers to go to David and his colleagues and find a way to become a new better instead of a new normal. David Osborne, you are making a great impact. You are making us all be better be our best selves. Thank you for making the world a better place and thank you for being with us on the impact podcast today.

David: Thanks John, I enjoyed it.

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