In this ongoing series, we share advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are struggling in business out there every day. (Responses have been edited and shortened for clarity.)
Who are you and what is your business?
I am Meredith Oppenheim, Founder of society of vitality. For decades, I have been committed personally and professionally to ensuring that the elderly are well. My involvement began with my cherished grandparents, whose longevity became my priority. As a teenager, I started cooking for them, introducing ingredients that had been scientifically proven to have health benefits. Because they enjoyed and benefited from what I did, I decided to cook for other older people at senior centers in my home state of New Jersey to help other people lead healthier lives. I received a US Congressional Award for this work.
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I brought my 30 years of experience working with older people to found the Vitality Society. The goal is to build an affinity with a proprietary philosophy to help older people live exciting, fulfilling lives and feel great about it. We launched our successful pilot of daily fitness, wellness and enrichment programs live on Zoom. Our platform allows subscribers to benefit from the guidance of leading experts while creating camaraderie with others who share their zest for life. Our 60+ subscribers renew nearly 100% each month and attend an average of five hours of classes per week, a participation rate unrivaled and unprecedented for online programs designed for older people.
What inspired you to start this company?
A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with multiple blood cancers and blood disorders. I now know what it’s like to have to fight like hell to save my dad’s life and worry about my mom’s sanity — all while holding down a job and parenthood. We can’t do this alone. We grown kids are already exhausted, and Medicare and Medicaid are already exhausted. So we all have to fight like hell to stay sane like our lives depend on it. Because they do.
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When my father was very ill, I asked my mother what she thought she would do if something happened to him. Little did she know, she clarified that she would not be moving into a senior living community, even though I work for leading owners and operators in the industry. Rather, she said, “You’re the expert and there’s 70 million of me, so you’d better find out quick.”
I knew I had to think outside the box, that is, beyond the four walls of senior housing, to give the huge, maturing market another opportunity to thrive. The baby boomers have changed the game, so the Vitality Society is helping them stay that way.
What was your biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
I launched the Vitality Society in January 2020 to provide a way for people over 60 to stay connected and healthy. Little did I know that almost immediately after our launch, our online platform would become “a lifesaver” and “a lifeline” for many who were often stranded at home alone due to COVID and who were tremendously afraid to venture outside.
Being a hands-on solo founder who loves to know our members and provide them with the very best while having a child at home during the pandemic has been beyond challenging. At that time, I was trying to maintain the physical and spiritual health of three generations—my daughter, parents, and members, and my husband and myself. In the spring of 2020, in our mid-40s, we temporarily moved back from our New York apartment to my childhood home in NJ so that my mom could help care for my then 9-year-old girl and I. That said, I caught the very best advisor at home creating this for her and she helped me build the most relevant and important offer.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs looking for funding?
Define your unique path that best suits your needs and vision. Raising money is challenging and demanding, especially — as the data shows — if you’re female, over 40, and a solo entrepreneur. Given these circumstances, I had to figure out what I could realistically achieve and do. I made the decision that the best answer was to start with a pilot project that I could bootstrap and tweak for impact rather than scale. Ultimately, this gave me the very best opportunity and flexibility to experiment. In many ways, we conducted a multi-year focus group and gathered invaluable insights and ideas at every step.
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We are now on the cusp of forming strategic partners to fuel our growth as there is no limit to the impact of what we can do. As I built the business, I focused on doing what we did best, which was hiring older people. This is the holy grail of many industries including healthcare, retail, apparel and beauty. Businesses are becoming increasingly aware that this older population has the time and money to invest fully in their health and happiness. We will be the fulcrum that leverages our community building and content creation skills to fuel their distribution efforts by reaching and optimally serving the largest and most underserved market that supports an economy with a 22nd year longevity represents trillions of US dollars.
What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
The word Entrepreneur means to pursue viable opportunities, often with insufficient resources and unlimited risk, to activate my passion and purpose of improving the lives of older people. When I first started the company in January 2020, my daughter was nine years old. I vividly remember her walking into my home office and wondering why I was staring at a blank screen, waiting for something to happen. I told her that I organized and promoted a Zoom course and am waiting to participate. She wanted to know how long I would wait and I told her that you can’t give up so quickly or easily.
Starting a business requires a lot of patience and perseverance. However, with passion and courage, anything is possible. Every day it feels like a sprint. After all, it takes the endurance of a marathon. However, if you aspire to achieve something different and better than what you believe in a large and established company, you can partner with consultants who believe in you and will give you the guidance and confidence to move forward with your vision.
What is something that many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don’t need?
Initially, you don’t need a lot of money to learn a lot and make a significant impact. Start by finding out which friends and family members can help you get the best answers in the shortest amount of time. An example is my husband who is an engineer/MBA. When I told him I was going to build a community, he said to build on top of a SaaS solution and focus your time and money on creating something meaningful to the people in the community that goes beyond functionality want to wear. This no-code advice has allowed me to be self-financed for significantly longer than I ever expected or thought possible. When I started a pilot, I discovered what our members need and want, and now we’re ready to scale to have the greatest impact on those we serve and potential partners across many industries benefited by the can benefit from what we do.
Is there a specific quote or saying that you use as a personal motivation?
During my freshman year at Harvard Business School, as I was visibly concerned about my first exam, one of my professors told me, “We strive for excellence, not perfection.” Up to this point, I always strived for perfection, which was often an unattainable standard. This was the best life lesson, especially in the context of COVID when so much is changing and happening so quickly. Perfection is neither an achievable nor a sustainable standard when the need is greater than ever and the time to help people is more urgent. Connecting older people and keeping them healthy is so vital that we need to keep going, do our best, and adapt and improve as we move forward.