Health Tech: Amanda Rees On How Bold’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
By keeping equity and accessibility as a customer goal, the overall social impact will inherently be positive. At Bold, we understand that there are real people with real needs that have to be addressed. When designing and developing your business, the process has to incorporate these values in order to actually benefit your customers/members. Oftentimes, older adults are not included in product testing for digital products — which can lead to lower accessibility and equity. Without equity and accessibility, your technology can’t make a positive social impact.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Rees.
Amanda Rees is CEO and co-founder of Bold. She started the company with a mission to close the gap between healthspan and lifespan by building products and experiences that can improve the way we age. Before Bold, Amanda worked in energy and environmental justice, managing the renewable energy portfolio at The 11th Hour Project, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation. Prior to that, she was a Dalai Lama Fellow, and she has conducted research at Stanford, Princeton, and UCLA. Amanda has a BSE in chemical & biological engineering from Princeton University. Amanda has been a fitness instructor for over a decade, teaching dance, yoga, indoor cycling, and tai chi.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up in Los Angeles and found a love of experimentation very early thanks to my mother, a molecular biologist. She was the inspiration for my love of science, always supporting and nurturing the fascination my sister and I had as children for at-home science projects. We lived in the middle of a city, but we still often went on nature adventures, bringing home tadpoles and watching them metamorphosize into frogs, learning about biology along the way.
I also grew up studying ballet and spending summers at dance intensives with the Boston Ballet, which instilled a deep sense of the power of movement and exercise. When I went to Princeton, I continued to pursue both dance and lab research, studying chemical and biological engineering and working in labs that were developing new types of materials for renewable energy technologies. I enjoyed the process of iterating and testing new ideas and working with interdisciplinary teams, which has similarities to my day-to-day at a startup.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most influential experience for my career happened outside of the office, while I was living with and caring for my grandmother for 8 years. Being in my 20s and living with someone in their 80s radically changed the way I understood and experienced our healthcare system. Becoming a caregiver shaped how I thought about my own aging journey.
For decades, my grandmother was very independent and always interested in ways to take care of her own health so she wouldn’t need to move out of her home.
When she began having issues with her balance and fell a few times, we looked for programs to help her, but couldn’t find any offerings that fit my grandmother’s needs and abilities. So, wanting to be helpful, my new hobby became teaching my grandmother how to do research-based balance exercises when I came home from work so that she could restore her strength and regain her balance. I was surprised to see the almost immediate impact the exercise was having on her physical and mental health, and this inspired me to begin teaching chair yoga and balance classes at a local retirement community and working with clients over 50.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many incredible people I am grateful to that have helped me become the leader I am today, and my partner and co-founder, Hari Arul, is at the top of the list. We met while in the Bay Area, and in the very beginning, I remember being struck by how passionate and knowledgeable he was about healthcare, a topic in which I wasn’t particularly interested. However, when that changed over time, Hari was an excellent mentor who helped me get up to speed on issues like value-based care and Medicare Advantage. On top of that, Hari had experience leading large enterprise software partnerships, and when we began developing our customer base at Bold, Hari was fantastic at building strong relationships with leaders at healthcare organizations and navigating the complex process of contracting. I have learned so much from working alongside Hari, and I love his persistence and resolve to make healthcare better for those who are aging — his obsession is contagious!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
George Bernard said, “Some people see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”
This quote has always resonated with me because it highlights the importance of seeking what goes beyond all that seems real or possible today. Ever since I heard it, I think about it whenever I need some creative inspiration.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
The first three that come to mind are resilience, patience, and understanding. You must be resilient to make a start-up work — all the late nights, planning, deadlines, and stress can be so taxing on one’s psyche and physical wellbeing. Patience is crucial in running a business. The constant “no’s,” waiting for results, and the sheer time needed to build a company, especially one you are passionate about and have added interest in, is challenging for an executive. And the capacity to understand and stay connected to user needs is often forgotten. The demographic of our customers (primarily adults 65+) have different mental and physical needs, desires, limitations, and goals than a millennial like me does. Ageism is pervasive in healthcare, so as a business owner and instructor working to support older individuals, I feel it’s imperative to give them grace and room to share these concerns so my team and I can pinpoint solutions to pressing issues. There are surely more than three traits, but these each play key roles in Bold’s continuous mission.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
The main goal for our Bold clients is to design and implement consistent exercises and techniques that anyone, and especially individuals who are concerned with balance, joint pain, and mobility, can follow in order to prevent falls and injuries and manage common problems that can arise as we age. There are a few notable issues that Bold tackles including:
- Adults do not know which exercises they need to combat physical problems associated with aging.
- Many older adults do not have access to exercise. Whether it be a lack of resources to physically get to a gym, social and emotional support, or other pervasive obstacles, accessibility is a huge concern for older adults and can halt them from receiving crucial help.
How do you think your technology can address this?
For many, especially since the onset of the pandemic, going to the gym is simply not a viable option. At the same time, the physical and mental benefits of exercise are critical to staying well. Bold’s technology has and continues to serve an important role in allowing for diverse exercise options without the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Our virtual platform provides members with science-based programs that are personalized for their unique needs. Bold increases convenience and comfort of exercise by providing all programs virtually.
Going to the gym can be intimidating, so knowing that you can participate without the added pressure of your surroundings can make the difference, for some, between exercising or not. Additionally, in many rural and suburban settings, gyms are only accessible if you can drive or get a ride — which can prevent many older adults from considering this option entirely. The instructors at a local gym or community center may not have the same certifications or have experience instructing exercise for individuals who need to be seated or have conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis. In bringing exercise classes directly to those who might not be able to get there otherwise, one less hurdle to health exists.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
As I mentioned earlier, the founding story behind Bold is extremely personal and comes from the time I spent caring for my grandmother and helping her through several health challenges, including falls. Further, though, the experience of being a caregiver really transformed my life and my career. When I first moved in with my grandmother, I primarily helped her with running errands and driving and doctor appointments and cooking. But as her dementia worsened, and as she lost her vision and hearing and was diagnosed with cancer, the responsibilities really snowballed. My wish for my own aging experience, should I be fortunate to live as long as my grandmother, really became much clearer. I learned that health is the #1 thing that matters, and doing what you can to protect or restore health is extremely important.
I poured over research and found an abundance of information about what’s needed for healthier aging but no sustainable solution that was easy to use for an older adult. Using my background as an engineer, dancer, I became a certified yoga and community tai chi instructor and started Bold to help older adults improve their balance, prevent future falls, and increase their healthspan through movement.
How do you think this might change the world?
I think older generations are often neglected and underserved when it comes to efforts in improving one’s health and promoting healthy aging. With ageism so pervasive in our society, many people have bought into stereotypes such as the belief that older adults don’t like technology or aren’t savvy enough to use it frequently. Even people who fall into an older adult age category themselves may believe this stereotype. The reality is, the majority of older adults are digitally connected today, and as we all age, it is imperative we build and design our digital spaces to be age-inclusive and accessible. It’s better for our society, and it’s better for our future selves.
Also, Bold stands out in that we work with clients’ insurance plans to cover the cost of their programs. Personal training and exercising can be extremely costly, and Bold is covered by certain insurance plans to ensure older adults have access to exercising on every front — especially financially.
Honestly, there’s no secret downside to encouraging individuals to exercise and stay active as they age. In fact, one message that I often refer to from The Journal of the American Medical Association is that “there is no medication treatment that can influence as many organ systems in a positive manner as can physical activity.”
The more concerning scenario is if individuals continue to become and stay sedentary as they age. This could lead to greater decline in their physical and mental health, which is far worse than any setback Bold’s tech use could ever have.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
- By keeping equity and accessibility as a customer goal, the overall social impact will inherently be positive. At Bold, we understand that there are real people with real needs that have to be addressed. When designing and developing your business, the process has to incorporate these values in order to actually benefit your customers/members. Oftentimes, older adults are not included in product testing for digital products — which can lead to lower accessibility and equity. Without equity and accessibility, your technology can’t make a positive social impact.
- Surround yourself with and seek out people who share your mission and values. While founders are the ones who usually have the initial vision for the business and plan in mind, they need a team that wants to accomplish that vision as well. From your product and engineering teams to operations to market to finance, every person on your team has a role and responsibilities to make that vision a reality. It is easier to navigate challenges and lead a team through difficult decisions if you are aligned on values and mission.
- Be stubborn and persistent. If you want to challenge the status quo, there will always be people who will try to stop you. Whenever you do something that veers off from what the world is used to, someone will always question your vision. Don’t let that bring you down — while this is part of the deal, it doesn’t have to stop you from creating a successful business, especially when you’re working to better the world.
- Remember to prioritize self-care. It’s deceptively easy to work to the point of burnout when creating a business and working to achieve positive social impact. Take the time to focus on your own physical and mental health so you can continue to make a difference for others and yourself! For example, when I am feeling particularly stressed or low energy, I like to move my body and exercise, like taking a dance or yoga class. These are great stress relief self-care activities that keep me physically and mentally in tune and at my best.
- Last but not least, do what I like to call “embracing the wiggles.” With the things that might make you uncomfortable or, literally, off-balance either physically or mentally, challenge yourself to embrace that unsettling feeling. Whenever you try something new, especially entering the complex and ever-changing world of tech, feeling lost sometimes is inevitable. But without challenges, you’ll never see growth or improvement, so work with the “wiggles” and not against them. Sooner or later, the uncomfortable feeling will subside, and you will see the great impact of all your hard work paying off.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If you would like to leave the world better than you see it today, then it is never too soon to think about how your everyday actions, big or small, can have a positive impact. I don’t recommend delaying or waiting or saying “one day in the future” — start making a positive impact right now, because like any habit or muscle, you want to practice and exercise doing-good.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
If I could have a private meal with anyone in the world it would be Twyla Tharp, an American dancer, director and Tony-Award-winning choreographer. In 2019, she published a book titled “Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life,” in which she shares her secrets for harnessing vitality and finding purpose and growth as you age. Each chapter of the book features descriptions of simple exercises encouraging readers to connect with a dancer’s intuitive way of moving bigger. As a fellow dancer I am inspired not only by her successful career but her attitude towards aging and her drive to share her knowledge of movement with others.
I would also love to sit down with Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin. It would be SO FUN to have brunch with incredible women who have taken on aging and ageism head-on throughout their careers as well as in the television comedy Grace and Frankie.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find more information on Bold by heading to our website agebold.com or visiting any of our social channels below:
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/agebold/
- Instagram: @agebold
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/agebold
- Twitter: @age_bold
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
Health Tech: Amanda Rees On How Bold’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.