Helping people find the luxury health and fitness retreats in the world

Dervla Louli Musgrave, founder of Compare Retreats

Dervla is on a mission to inspire and motivate people to travel in a way that improves their physical and mental wellbeing. Starting her career in a venture capital firm followed by start-up incubator Rocket Internet, she made a career jump into publishing where she worked her way up to from intern to editor at The Antithesis in Hong Kong where she worked on magazines for Peninsula, Swire and Intercontinental Hotels.

She then moved to Sassy Media Group as managing editor before being appointed digital editor at Hong Kong Tatler and director of integrated content at Edipresse Media Asia. She also contributed on a freelance basis to the fashion and wellness sections of South China Morning Post.

Founded in 2017 and based in Hong Kong, is the world’s first booking portal and community for Luxury wellness retreats and healthy holidays that have been tried and tested by qualified health and fitness professionals. It is a trusted platform where you can discover and book top-quality retreats around the globe.

The USP lies in the carefully curated selection that promises something for everyone, whether its detox, losing weight, getting fit fast, de-stress, reconnect or just chill out.

As the founder of Compare Retreats, the premier booking portal and online magazine dedicated to the best luxury wellness and fitness retreats in the world, Dervla also finds time to work on her passion – digital media solutions and content-marketing consulting for companies and brands to help them with their online content and platforms.

Here are some more intercepts from her exciting entrepreneurial journey, as shared with Team ABT.

Who is your greatest inspiration & Why?
Ariana Huffington used to be the first name that came to me whenever I was asked this question. The co-founder of the Huffington Post created something out of nothing when she launched the Huffington Post. She had a great idea, a strong team and the ability to execute her vision. Now, my inspiration comes from fellow entrepreneurs in my network. I have a reliable support system in the female start-up community of Hong Kong, and we are always helping each other out.

What led you to setup Compare Retreats? Tell us how did it all start?
Wellness retreats are expensive, so there’s a lot of research involved in booking one. You need expert insights, a friend who has been there before, or an in-depth review to make a decision. I couldn’t find everything I needed to make an informed decision in one place. Either the price wasn’t listed on the website, reviews completely contradicted one another, or programme outlines were vague.

While the general travel publications and forums were covering retreats, the people writing the reviews weren’t industry experts or qualified health and fitness professionals. This prompted me to create an ecosystem of expert reviews, founder interviews, and transparent listings including prices to help people find the best, luxury health and fitness retreats in the world. I had three researchers working on a database of all the wellness retreats in the world and stopped when we got to 15,000.

That’s when my editorial hat came on and I started editing down the list to only include the best ones from the data set. I started a blog called Healthy Holiday Hero and commissioned the top wellness retreat consultants in Asia to write reviews about the top 100 retreats they had already been to. Within six months the blog had become very popular, and that’s when the comparison and booking portal idea came to me, and Compare Retreats was born.

I was in my dream job at Tatler at the time, and I knew I had to make the move to Compare Retreats full time when a KPMG analyst at the Financial Times Luxury Summit told a room full of journalists that wellness and travel were the two fastest-growing markets for 2018.

Tell us more about the business model. Have you raised any funding?
Compare Retreats has been self-funded from day one. The initial investment in talent, tech, content and digital marketing meant that the costs, in the beginning, were quite high. But now it’s running like a well-oiled machine at a very sustainable price. My fixed costs are low and my variable costs are high which means I can allocate resources to different areas as I need to each month.

Not taking investors on too early was a critical element of Compare Retreat’s success as I was able to pivot fast when necessary and give the company time to grow organically. We’ve recently had interest from large English and Chinese booking engines, boutique travel agencies and travel publications looking to buy or invest in Compare Retreats. It’s an exciting time to be in the wellness, travel and tech space, especially because our business is in English and Chinese and based in Asia.

Do you recall your most cherished milestone?
The website had been live for 72 hours, and I received a desperate email from a client saying that they were depressed, unhappy and burnt out and that they urgently needed to go away on a retreat. They told us that they were so confused about what retreat to go on until they came across the highly curated collection on the Compare Retreats booking portal.

There are over 23,000 retreats in the world right now, and we only work with the top 100, our edit is everything, and it helps consumers make intelligent choices easily. Being able to help people navigate the confusing world of wellness retreats is hugely rewarding.

Do you face challenges as a Woman Entrepreneur? Tell us more.
Not at all, in fact being a female entrepreneur has opened up so many doors for me. My best friends, favourite bosses and important mentors in my life have coincidentally always been female, and I’m lucky that I have a close network and community of female friends who believe in raising each other up.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, in a country where women have very few rights, but I have never felt weaker or at a disadvantage because of my sex. My parents brought me up to believe that I could do whatever I put my mind to and I have been lucky enough to work with men who never treated me different because I was female.

If you were to do any one thing differently, what would that be?
I don’t think Compare Retreats would be the success it is today if I hadn’t made the mistakes I made in the beginning. I had an excellent team working with me from day, so we were always able to fix any errors quickly by putting our heads together. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
As wellness travel continues to become more popular and people realise that health is wealth we will be here to help people compare, book and educate themselves about the best wellness retreats in the world. Our numbers have grown organically month on month, and our forecast for the future is looking great.

Re-imagining the marketplace for Insurance & preventive healthcare solutions

Rosaline Chow Koo, Founder & CEO – CXA

At the age of 21, Rosaline got the first hand sobering experience, as she recalls, supervising Procter & Gamble’s factory lines in Iowa, managing two production lines, staffed by older white men in their thirties. She rose to the ranks from there to land up at Bankers Trust on Wall Street, launched two dot-com start-ups before moving to ACE insurance and has to her credit, the success of growing Mercer Marsh Benefits’ to 14 APAC countries, a growth of 800% over 8 years.  Her second startup, which she later sold, was co-founded with the former president of Dell Asia.

A graduate from UCLA Cybernetics and Columbia Business School, Rosaline was convinced that the antiquated paper-based industry was ripe for disruption. She invested her entire life savings of $5 million, and borrowed $5 million more, to found CXA. She recruited a world-class team to build Asia’s first benefits and wellness marketplace platform and acquired Singapore’s largest homegrown employee benefits brokerage.

Today, CXA has grown into a $100 million company working with employers to transform current healthcare spending from treatment into benefits and wellness programs where employees in Asia choose their path to good health.

Prior to establishing CXA, Rosaline led Mercer Marsh Benefits, the largest employee benefits brokerage and HR benefits consultancy in Asia Pacific, overseeing a 14-country operation with over 400 staff and growing the business eight-fold during her eight-year tenure.

Rosaline shares her experience & insights in this interview with Team ABT Singapore.

How has being a Woman, complimented your entrepreneurial journey?
From 1999 to 2001, I actually built two start-ups during the dot-com era, but had to quit since I discovered my 6 year-old daughter had epilepsy and a learning disorder.  My two little kids were living in Singapore while I was commuting every Monday to KL and only returning Fridays at midnight, so you can imagine the guilt I felt as a mother building startups in another country while leaving my real babies at home.  CXA is my 3rd start-up, which I can focus on 24 by 7 as my children are now in college in the US. I feel that the journey was very exciting, with all its hardships, making me more experienced, wise & ready to face any challenges.

Where do you find inspiration from?
Reflecting back over my 34-years career, I feel like Forest Gump as serendipity placed me as an active participant in so many innovations in both corporate transformations and start-ups.  These experiences have taught me how to re-imagine a different future based on solving customer pain points and the execution skills to transform a vision into reality.

Some of my life changing experiences include Just in Time Inventory at P&G; shift from Product Specialists to Relationship Managers, from Deposits to Mutual Funds and Pensions to 401k at Bankers Trusts; Unified Messaging and Regional BPO during the dot-com; Worksite Marketing at Chubb; Regional Brokerage Mandates and Flexible Benefits at Mercer Marsh and Employee Flex & Wellness Ecosystem & SME Bancassurance at CXA.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have always had very good managers and mentors who helped me become much more self-aware and a better people leader.  They’ve also helped me to integrate work with life so now I’m extremely healthy, whereas earlier I barely slept and ate and minimized my water intake since I didn’t have time to pee with my crazy travel and meeting schedule running 14 countries.

How did you come up with CXA? Tell us more about the idea.
Even though Mercer grew 800% during my time there, client complained that we and others in the industry were not addressing their pain points of rising healthcare costs due to worsening employee health and one-size-fits-all benefits not meeting their multi-generational staff needs. We finally figured out how to do this with technology, so for 5 years, I repeatedly begged NY HQ for $10M.  But they wouldn’t, so I finally left to build my dream on my own.  Little did I realize that the $10M would come from my family’s life savings, and that my retired husband would need to return to work and my daughter would have to work for her college tuition in Boston.

Firms that purchase their employee benefits insurance via CXA’s brokers get our marketplace platform for free, which allows employees to shift their unused insurance treatment spend into prevention to get healthier. So we help firms use existing spend to improve employee health to reduce premium costs. Now the largest banks are white-labelling our SAAS platform to cross-sell financials services to employees of their SME customers.

What’s been your career highlight to date and what do you still dream to achieve?
Last year, CXA was valued at over $US 100M after series B, so 75 high flyers from the HR consulting and brokerage industry finally felt safe enough to join our start-up.  We hope to become Singapore’s first post-menopausal unicorn, since I started CXA after 50.

How do you balance motherhood & work?
I’ve always had difficulty balancing motherhood with work and have always integrated work with life.  When I was on Wall Street, I had to leave work at 5pm to free up my nanny since she was attending night school. I quit my dot-com in 2001 when I discovered my daughter had epilepsy and a learning disorder. I started CXA with 10 employees in my living room, while helping my daughter apply for college and my son loudly gaming with all his friends in the house.  Both my children summer interned for CXA.

Like every other working mother, I’ve lived with guilt about both motherhood and work.  My guilt only left several years ago when my daughter told me that she wanted to grow up to be just like me. I really had no idea she felt this way and was so touched.

What Advice do you have for young Women Entrepreneurs?
Try to gain the necessary skills needed before starting your own business. I was fortunate to have years of experience running start-ups and implementing radical change for corporate turnarounds.  This gave me the leadership, strategy and execution skills to build CXA.

Business success is about keeping emotions at bay

Anu Shah, CEO, Rocket Internet

For someone who left home with $ 40 in her pocket to fetch a job in a call centre in Mumbai, Anu Shah has come a long way in her career, overtaking challenges & hurdles, head-on. Her career kickstarted with an FMCG company in Mumbai where she had to demonstrate extreme endurance in blazing heat for over 8 hours a day to cover 40 shops, to earn a commission of mere $10. It was a steep road marked by many slammed doors, extreme gender and pay discrimination in male dominated sales role, unwanted / unusual catcalls and stares from shop-keepers and supervisors, she recalls. Despite this, Anu exceeded her sales target, outperformed her peers, and rose through the ranks to become a Brand Manager in the same organization.

Subsequently she earned an MBA from University of Leeds and worked in M&A, strategy consulting and private equity. In last 7 years, Anu has lived and worked in all the major financial capitals of the world including London, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Boston. In 2017, while she was pursuing a short course at Harvard University the startup incubator called ‘EFI Hub’ was born. She managed to raise over $300,000 for this business and to date, EFI hub has mentored tech businesses in East Africa and India; raised capital in excess of $ 100,000 for one of the startups as well as worked with the government of South Africa on developing technology investment policy infrastructure.

Her current role is that of a CEO for Rocket Internet’s on-demand staffing platform called Ushift. Ushift has over 35,000 subscribers and more than 2,000 businesses registered on their platform in Singapore.

“The experiences and resistance I faced early on in my life have jolted few things within me and it has gotten me more involved in social impact initiatives. I started volunteering with an NGO in Mumbai several years ago. There I led a volunteer team of doctors / i-bankers / marketers / journalists /MDs / COOs to educate children in slums; worked in tandem with psychologists, counsellors, corporate trainers, and education entrepreneurs to spread awareness about child abuse and sexual harassment”, says Anu Shah.

Anu Shah was conferred the Women Icons Asia Award 2018 by BERG Singapore earlier this year. She shares some interesting facets from her journey in this interview below.

Who is your greatest inspiration & Why?
In the past I would have said Golda Mier is a woman I admire the most. Raised in a middle class family she went on to become a wife, mother and a school teacher before she became Israel’s Prime Minister and remains the only female to hold such an office. She was lovingly called the “Iron Lady” before Margaret Thatcher adopted the moniker.

However, in recent times I have come to realize that real heroes in my life are the people closest to me. My biggest inspiration is my uncle, D.R.Shah. His is a classic rag-to-riches story. After several obstacles in life he carved a niche as a noted professional and entrepreneur in London. Inspite of all the hardships life threw at him, he never became bitter. He’s brave, courageous, optimistic, altruistic and extremely emotional about every single family member. I aspire to be exactly like him.

The other biggest source of inspiration is my mother. Though I never admitted publicly out of fear of never being her equivalent in any sense, but the truth is that I have always tried to be her mirror image. At the time when I was 6 years old & my brother was 4, my mother was managing a tour group of 1,200 people and a staff of 200 (only men) in the North of India. We were on the road for a couple of weeks and there were instances when we have travelled alone with my mother in trucks & tempos, to deliver food at the designated location before the group arrived. She managed it all single-handed without getting bogged down. Her astute business sense, leadership qualities and ability to manage hundreds of people at work with boldness and courage has always left me awestruck. She’s the most pragmatic, proud and strong woman I have ever known.

What led you to the path of Entrepreneurship?
I am not as strong and bold as my mother was so I never dared to dream about being an entrepreneur. However in 2016  while I was deal sourcing in Rwanda, I met CEO of a Craft Brewery, run and operated by a  woman. During our conversations, I learnt that she had faced many odds in her life – forced marriage, domestic abuse, and gender discrimination. But through her brewery, she intended to build a livelihood for herself and empower other women in the community – a business that truly spoke to me.

Professionally, I had to turn down the deal, but my interest was still piqued. I decided to consult the CEO pro bono. I assisted the business in closing a crowd-funding drive that raised $ 110,000. The capital was used to build the bottling line and hire 50 women. This success was the most fulfilling of my life; it meant jobs for women without means, jobs for women like me.This experience and all of the past experience of overcoming challenges at work place only remained stand alone incidents until I came to Harvard in the spring of 2017. I found my inspiration, support and mentors on Harvard Campus who motivated me to create something which will generate impact on a larger scale.

Through their guidance and funding from my classmate at HBS – Lavan Gopaul and support from other Harvard Alumni (who have joined as advisors) idea of replicating Rwandan success globally, came to form. And I founded ‘EFI Hub’ a start-up incubator with the goal of empowering start-ups in emerging and frontier markets of Asia and Africa. I scored moderate success with EFI Hub. Africa is a very challenging geography and I felt that I was too early in that market and I lack the right skills to achieve the scale as an entrepreneur.It was around the same time I was talking to an old friend of mine who was CEO for one of the Rocket Internet Ventures and he mentioned that Rocket Internet was looking for a Co-Founder / CEO for one of their startups in Singapore. And I looked no further to build my skill sets. Rocket Internet is definitely the university you need to graduate from to build your entrepreneurial skill sets with low economic risk. And voila! Ushift happened.

Tell us about your cherished accomplishment.
There has not been one to mention. I have never felt that I have achieved enough, or I am the best at any point in time. But every time I look back, I do feel grateful that I have come this far in life. At the age of 21, surviving in a city like Mumbai was the biggest challenge. I never thought I would ever make it where I am today.

The journey sure has been gruesome, but I am extremely thankful and grateful to Almighty for all the challenges he threw my way. I have only learned and become wiser from those experiences.

Tell us about the biggest Challenge that you faced and how did you overcome it? Any lessons learnt?
Though I have 12 years of experience, I think entrepreneurship is a different ball game altogether and nothing can really prepare you for that. I still feel I am naïve and inexperienced. Some challenges I faced initially were sourcing for investments, managing the finances and logistics. Though one of the most difficult part is managing people.

Very recently I had to let go a staff member, also a close friend & more like a younger brother; due to his poor performance and attitude. I am an over emotional person so this decision tore me apart and totally crippled me emotionally. I cried so badly the day I let him go that my mom asked if I was the one who got sacked. Days following that were harder and I was filled with grief and guilt; I would cry every night worrying about him. I even asked my colleagues to check on him, to know if he’s doing well. It was the most painful thing yet the most logical decision to go ahead with.I tend to be too trusting especially with people I am close to and in the past I got played out a few times.

Though everything did not go well in this situation, but when I reflect back, I realize that I too had gone wrong in the way I communicated and handled the scenario.The biggest lesson that I have learnt is, as a leader,  you have to take some tough decision and separate emotions from a situation in making a professional decision, yet be level headed & transparent in communication.All these ups and downs that I faced in last 1-2 years in business were all part of my learning and growing up, and it’s what has made me who I am today. I feel that as long as we don’t give up and keep learning, every obstacle will make us a better and a stronger person!

Do you face challenges as a Woman Entrepreneur? Tell us more
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to partner with many entrepreneurs and help foster the growth of dozens of startups for social good. As a woman, the fact that I’m still working in tech, and in a leadership position, is not lost on me. By now, I’ve grown used to being one of the only women in the room.

Hence as a woman entrepreneur, I don’t experience obvious forms of discrimination or sexism. Instead, I face an undercurrent of condescension that leads to a feeling of isolation.I feel, it is tough for women entrepreneurs to get venture funding. Recently when we were downsizing & I had to let go of one of the male employees, the investors walked up to me and said that it would be tough for me to raise funds without a man by my side; they sure were right I realised. The heavy male presence in the private VC process is one not talked about much in the diversity conversation within the tech community. Male VCs invest in male-led startups, then end up on the boards of those startups, which then grow into major male-led tech companies.

However, I don’t get deterred by these challenges. This is part and parcel of the game. Over a period of time, I have learned to circumvent these obstacles by being positive and building my own network and support system of strong female mentors, investors, and peers. These experiences have also bought me closer to my friends and family and in them, I find my biggest support system.

How do you describe your leadership style?
This is my first job as a CEO and I am continuously learning to adapt and change. I have a very pragmatic and practical approach towards business. I believe in leading by example and I am a workaholic.

Ever since UShift started, I have been working 16-18 hours a day and haven’t taken a single holiday or a weekend off. I am totally consumed by my work.I am also quick to admit mistakes and take corrective measures to prevent them from happening further. For example, I am over committed to the projects I take on hand and that makes me quite demanding to my employees too. I am now making conscious efforts to communicate more effectively and embed empathy in my approach at work.

What would you like to achieve in the coming years?
In next 3-5 years, through EFI Hub I want to replicate the Silicon Valley model globally by creating a robust develop a robust ecosystem which will bring the entire mentorship network to support the growth of high potential start ups in emerging and frontier markets such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Singapore and HongKong.

However in the long term my goal is to change the way investments are perceived and establish an ‘Investment fund’ investing directly in technology, health care, and clean energy sectors. I will differentiate my fund by establishing a concurrent gender-based index fund designed to track and invest in companies that are leading in their respective industries by placing women and minorities on boards of directors and in senior leadership positions.

Combining software, architecture & business to provide next gen Radiology solutions

Eric S. Schulze, CEO – Lifetrack Medical Systems

Eric started his career, planning to go into academic Medicine and earned his MD & PhD and Radio Credentials from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital. Soon in his journey, he realized that he can have a larger impact using his skills more effectively in Software development and Business. He was involved in a Startup – US Software Company in 1997-2000 as the 4th hire and got his first US patent based on his work in that company.

Eric then built went on to build high end Private Practice Radiology group and as part of providing Emergency Room night time Radiology coverage he established one of the World’s first Teleradiology companies that leveraged the software which he helped design, to provide Teleradiology coverage across the USA. Because of the Time Zone difference Eric kept moving West and was able to provide US Night time coverage from Singapore/Philippines daytime.

He was exposed to radiology in Emerging Markets while doing the US call coverage in The Philippines and India and realised that there is a huge scarcity of Radiologists throughout the emerging markets.

With the advent of cloud & browser era, Dr. Eric engineered a new generation of Radiological Information system/ Picture Archive and Communication System (RIS/PACS) that is robust, secure, easy to use, easy to deploy and maintain and reduces total cost of ownership.  Lifetrack’s solution is designed to bring radiology departments to the next level at just a fraction of the cost.

The problem is that the Tools were lacking since the current software was 15 years old and was designed for developed economies and infrastructure. So I saw a problem where my Skill set as a Software Architect, Radiologist and Business person could be leveraged to help”, says Eric.

Team ABT reached out to Eric to find out more from his journey so far, captured in this short interview below.

Where do you usually find inspiration from?
I read a lot of History and Science and am inspired by Inventors and Problem solvers throughout History.

What got you started on Lifetrack Medical Systems?
I sold my last company to a NYSE listed company – and realized I had a lot more ideas left to be explored. I started Lifetrack because I saw no one was addressing the problems from the ground up.

What is the biggest that interests you about entrepreneurship?
I don’t think of Entrepreneurship as a goal in itself. I think that entrepreneurship happens when you find a problem and realize no one is fixing the problem. I do love the daily excitement related to discovery – as when you realize that something you developed addresses problems that no one even realized existed. For me every morning is like Christmas as I see the new software features coming Alive and see them solve Real World Problems.

How is Artificial Intelligence transforming the future of Healthcare?
I am a bit of an AI Agnostic.  I see enormous potential for AI – so in our software we have built an API for what I call “Feature Detectors” – for instance Tuberculosis identification on chest X-rays.  I also think that many AI companies are chasing only the “Sexy” problems – like replace the Cab driver or Radiologist – whereas I think the biggest impact is likely related to boring workflow and efficiency improvements.

What’s the Radiology industry like in your country?
We are now in 9 countries from Nigeria to India to Singapore, The Philippines and the USA. The radiology industry across these countries is diverse. Fortunately, our software covers the diversity based on the second of our 2 US patents “Managing Permissions”. This patent allows us to meet the challenge of being the First of a kind “Distributed Enterprise Radiology” platform.

An emergent property of the patent is that it can be localized into any language in an afternoon – which opens up markets all across Asia as well as Europe and South America. Because of the architecture – the software allows us to connect Flagship hospitals in each country and region with undeserved rural hospitals with the Lifetrack Platform enabling an Ali Baba like approach to connecting Rural Hospitals with Name Brand Hospitals with excess capacity in the Metros.

What is the high-reliability challenge in Healthcare?
The biggest issue in Radiology (on the diagnostic side of healthcare) is a lack of Radiologists both in Developed and emerging economies.

Lifetrack addresses this in 2 ways:
We make Existing Radiologists far more efficient with patented structured reports. We help improve quality with patented in -line Decision Support.  The in-line Decision Support System is also used for Radiologists in training.

What’s your most cherished Career Achievement so far?
As someone who has been inspired by inventors my entire life – I am proud of my 3 Patents – as well as my Scientific Research papers in peer reviewed Journals including Nature. I am also excited for the future as our Company helps Save Lives with more timely and accurate reporting – while providing long term capacity building in countries all around the world while saving money through intelligent use of Technology.

We also decrease the total cost of ownership such that our software can accomplish these goals in even the poorest countries with installations in Bangladesh and Nigeria while also improving efficiency and outcomes in developed markets like the USA and the EU.

What Advice do you have for other aspiring Entrepreneurs?
Know something deeply that interests and excites you. Find the problem/challenge in your area of interest. Find a solution and NETWORK LIKE CRAZY 🙂