Spotlight On: Helena Ngo, MoreGoodDays
From childhood, Helena Ngo had a “deep desire” to grow her own business. While the first fifteen years of her career took her into sales, brand and marketing positions for multinational companies, she couldn’t shake the pull to have a bigger impact - and after meeting co-founder Neala Fulia and learning about the idea behind MoreGoodDays, Helena found an opportunity where ambition and impact finally aligned.
Serendipitously, Helena’s career experience has played a major role in MoreGoodDays’ (MGD) go-to-market strategy, winning paying customers and clinician referrals in just a few short months since launching.
In our latest founder chat, Helena shares more on the benefits of a career before startup experience, challenging the “hustle culture” of startups, and why knowing your customers is a discipline to be cultivated.
Blackbird: Tell us about your early years. Was becoming a founder something that was signposted in retrospect, or did you plan for a different career entirely?
Helena Ngo: Growing up I wanted to be many things: a lawyer, an architect, a writer and more. But underneath all these different labels I had imagined for myself, I held a deep desire to have my own business.
Looking back, it explains why I went into brand management in blue-chip multinational companies; it was a supported learning curve into the world of business with the resources of a global company.
Each brand is like a small business. So each brand had a P&L to deliver yet had the benefit of having shared resources like Legal, Regulatory, Packaging teams and more in the broader company structure.
I learnt and developed so much working in companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Mars Inc, Mondelez International (formerly Kraft Foods), but I also felt something was missing. Yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
I continued to grow and develop working with the sharpest minds and iconic brands - some that I grew up with, and so I stayed in the corporate lane.
It wasn’t until after having children I could pinpoint what it was. And it was this.
To equal the impact, purpose and joy that ignited my family life, I was craving more impact, purpose and joy in my work and career life.
With the blessing of my husband, I left my high-paying corporate job, created a mindful movement brand from scratch and created a business to work around my family.
After a short while, I met Neala and became intrigued by what MoreGoodDays was creating. I arrived at a crossroads between growing my business or joining Neala at MoreGoodDays.
In the end though, it was simple. An African proverb sums it up best: “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
MoreGoodDays had all the ingredients of impact, purpose and joy that I was keenly searching for.
What did you learn from your former roles that you've since applied to building MGD?
HN: I’ve spent over 15 years in sales, brand and marketing roles and over time, I’ve learnt the disciplines of building strong, memorable consumer brands.
One of them is having an acute understanding of who our key consumers are, what their pain points are, what beliefs and behaviours hold them back, what gives them hope, and who inspires them.
It’s this discipline that then drives where we place our efforts and resources in marketing. It lessens the risk, and the itchy need to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
But what’s also helped me co-build an early-stage healthtech startup like MGD is actually in unlearning some of the routines and deeply ingrained habits I’d carved out over a career in multinational corporations, and reframing how to apply the principles of great marketing with a shoestring startup budget.
It’s here where the benefit of having a career before my startup experience has been worth its weight in gold. Not only because the experiences with building trusted consumer brands have been a proving ground for creating my own, but it’s also having an established and trusted work network who have your back. Sometimes I’ll contact past colleagues and ask questions like “can I trademark my brand without a lawyer and what are the steps to take?” (If you’re curious, the answer is yes and I can show you how).
Any favourite brand and marketing campaigns that have inspired you over the years?
HN: In my mind, a marketing campaign becomes memorable when it evocatively reflects society or a subculture at a point in time.
Then it doesn’t feel ‘salesly’ or ‘an intrusive ad’. It feels like they were able to put into words/views what everyone else was thinking about that topic. You’re left feeling breathless, inspired or wildly entertained.
It can be done simply like Nike’s love note to Serena Williams and her legacy (love her or hate her she is the GOAT of women’s tennis) and winning a grand slam while pregnant is insanely inspiring. (watch here)
Or it could be out of this world like Red Bull’s jump from space (watch here) that vividly captures their brand promise of ‘gives you wings’
Or just wildly entertaining like Old Spice’s “The man your man can smell like” (watch here).
Bottom line, the message and/or feeling you’re left with is so good it cuts through the noise, and has to be shared with others.
You and your MGD co-founder Neala met through Startmate Founder's Fellowship. What was your early impression of Neala, and how did the conversations around MGD grow from there?
HN: Neala and I met during the inaugural Startmate Founder Fellowship in 2021. During our initial chats, we found our values aligned and had similar interests, and while we didn’t move forward back then we decided to keep in touch with walks around the Tan in between lockdowns and emails back and forth.
We got to know each other both in and out of the startup ecosystem.
Then early 2022, Neala reached out to me for general marketing support as she was about to launch the pilot program for MoreGoodDays. We talked more, and when I unearthed the personal story of why MoreGoodDays started I pitched my hat in the ring as her co-founder.
So we did the standard 50 cofounder questions. We had the ‘hard chats’ at the beginning to help steer expectations. A lot of things were ticked: our values aligned, we had similar backgrounds, and we both worked in corporate roles before startup. But it wasn't until we got into the day to day operations that we came up against some points of tension. One example is we have different preferences when it comes to ways of working.
It was an inflection point for us, and aside from having the shared desire to talk through conflict so that it doesn’t fester, we realised the benefit of identifying each other’s trust language. Trust language is something I’ve coined here that’s built off the concept of the 5 love languages.
In the same way that a person receives love through their preferred language, such as words of affirmations or acts of service, it can also apply to trust. In my world, trust is built off doing what you say you will do. Words spoken with truth and positive intent, followed by actions to back it up inspire loyalty in me.
It also comes back to one of our shared values, around “no ego”. All our conversations around MoreGoodDays are with the intent that we want to do what’s right for the company and our shared vision to help more people living with chronic pain get their lives back.
Despite its early stage, MGD has made incredible progress in acquiring both paying customers and referring doctors. How have you structured your GTM to engage both these groups, and any advice for other startups at a similar stage?
HN: Earlier I mentioned the discipline of being completely dialled in with who our consumers are, what their needs are and critically, where they are and what types of media they consume.
Despite mainstream media reporting on the slow erosion of Facebook, a significant portion of our key audience aged 35+ still use that platform, specifically the community groups hosted on Facebook.
The secret source of our early success has been approaching and then partnering with the moderator of one of the more larger and active support groups. A 3-part series of posts led to over 250 very motivated leads and that has led to our early traction. We’ll continue this approach with other community groups.
Doctor referrals have grown organically for us because sadly, chronic pain patients are notoriously harder and take longer to treat. So when a patient is experiencing positive clinical outcomes from a specific treatment then the news spreads to other doctors in the same clinic. We’ve had several doctors refer us to multiple cases. Doctors are the front line for our patients and we plan to build out our referral loops with our Head of Clinical care, a fellow GP, Dr Steven Lu.
My advice here is to deeply understand who you serve. Know who they are, what they think, their beliefs and how that translates to how they behave. Use these insights to inform your choices rather than trying to keep up and across too many marketing channels. This then reduces the risk of spreading yourself, and your capital too thin.
Finally, what excites you most about the future MGD is building?
HN: I was speaking to Emily Casey (of What the Health) last week about this and I shared this story with her.
When Neala and I had initial conversations about fundraising, truthfully I was hesitant. As a parent of two young children and Neala expecting her first, we were concerned about the current narrative linked to the insane hustle culture of startups. In the huge personal sacrifices attached to venture fund capital.
I wanted to be fully in but I remember Neala saying to me, sensing some trepidation: are you prepared for this kind of lifestyle?
In the end, it was a conversation with Blackbird where the hesitation switched over to opportunity.
It was when we realised our objectives are aligned. The clincher, in that our ability to create a bigger impact and reach more people living with chronic pain would be accelerated. And in fact, our growth ambitions were as big as venture fund expectations (but with more available resources).
So If I had to pick, it would be making the life-changing treatments that are currently out of reach, accessible to the 1.6 billion people in the world who need it.
Your Spotlight On:
- A book that is worth reading: A recent one is Think like a Monk by Jay Shetty
- A podcast you never miss: My mode of learning is through reading rather than listening to podcasts, so a newsletter I never miss is Julian Shapiro’s ‘Highlights’ newsletter, where he summarises highlights and insights from famous books.
- The last great article you read: How Can You Tell the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain? By pain scientist and educator Daniel Harvie for the MGD blog.
- Someone to follow on social media: moregooddaysau on Instagram 💁♀️
Learn more about MoreGoodDays and sign up for its upcoming Pain Management Program here.
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