How a massage company pulled off a radical Covid pivot

On a list of business models likely to face headwinds due to Covid-19, in-office massage would be pretty high. Luckily for Amelia Wilcox, whose company billed itself as “the largest national provider of on-site massage,” she wasted no time turning to a new venture when the pandemic struck. Rebranded from Incorporate Massage to Nivati, the Salt Lake City-based company reinvented itself as a virtual wellness company, and now it has 11,000 corporate users in the US

Incorporate Massage was founded in 2010 and was just taking off when Covid hit. In 2019, the company was ranked #678 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the United States. In 2020, it made the Inc. 5000 again, landing at #1619. The company had a network of 1,200 massage therapists, and Wilcox and her husband eventually paid off $60,000 in debt from a previous business.

“We blew all our goals,” says Wilcox. “It was fantastic.”

Wilcox had plans to expand into additional on-site services like yoga, chiropractic, and other wellness areas. She even had her eye on some automotive services down the street, like windshield repairs and tire changes. “This is the bright future we’ve prepared for,” says Wilcox.

However, as massage cancellations began to arrive in February and March 2020 due to the pandemic, the business outlook for Nivati ​​quickly changed. On March 13, Wilcox had to send all of their employees on vacation. “We had a few hundred thousand in the bank and should have closed in about four weeks,” she says. “It was like the darkest time of my existence. I have never felt so lost and hopeless.”

When Covid wreaked havoc on business, Wilcox thought at the prospect of losing everything she had worked for over the last ten years. Her board told her to focus on finding a new direction. The message, she recalled, was, “Let’s just pretend massage is never coming back and see what you guys would do with the platform and the people you have on site.”

At first, Wilcox tried to think of any work her network of massage therapists could do across the country to continue earning a salary. She even considered offering delivery and logistics help to Amazon and others, but “none of it seemed to work,” she says. Initially, the company worked with a group of its massage therapists, who had skills other than yoga teachers and life coaches. Wilcox bought home video kits and assembled teams of videographers to teach 15 practitioners how to record their own videos. The company launched a mix of one-to-one sessions and live broadcasts of group sessions on its platform and offered them to existing customers “just to try to retain revenue and avoid refunds,” Wilcox says.

Live events have had limited success, but there has been consistent feedback from practitioners about a different type of service the company should offer. “A couple of our life coaches came up to me and said, ‘I’m talking to these people, and they have serious issues,'” like anxiety and PTSD, which haven’t been addressed amid the pandemic. At first, Wilcox looked for a mental health partner to refer clients to, but the clinics responded that they were overwhelmed with their existing clientele and “have been fully booked for months”.

Realizing that there was a shortage of mental health professionals to mentor these clients, Wilcox hired recruiters to find mental health professionals who could work with the platform. A handful of therapists were willing to take the plunge and worked with Nivati ​​to schedule appointments. Until October 2020, the company was a corporate virtual wellness platform, offering live classes and therapy appointments, as well as a library of wellness content, including yoga classes. In early 2021, Nivati ​​raised $830,000 in a fishing round. The company now offers additional content and services focused on mental wellbeing. It also offers services not often associated with mental health. While researching mental health data, Wilcox learned that financial stress was a leading cause of dissatisfaction. Shortly after, Nivati ​​started a financial learning program.

For Wilcox, part of Nivati’s goals is to make it easier for clients to access mental health services. Employees do not have to go through Human Resources to access counseling or related services, for example. They can simply ask for access to Nivati ​​and can therefore be more discreet with their peers. This pathway also provides users with an opportunity to become more familiar with mental wellness services by initially focusing on something that seems beside the point rather than going straight to the counseling.

The company’s customers now range from a variety of technology startups to school districts and hospitals. Nivati ​​has about 60 companies on the platform and is adding one to two customers a week, according to Wilcox, with tech companies making up about half of its portfolio. The company is close to closing a major venture capital funding round in which it “more than doubled” its pre-money valuation, Wilcox says.

Reflecting on her radical turnaround over the past two years, Wilcox says one of the things she learned from the process is that she is stronger than she thought she was. And while the pandemic posed an existential threat to the business, it also put the company in an even stronger position.

“Somehow the company is worth more than it was before Covid,” says Wilcox.

About Stephanie McGehee

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