‘Venture Velocity’ Helps UVA Darden Couple’s Wellness Company Plot Next Steps
By Dave Hendrick
Jonathan Ganthier (MBA ’20) came to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business with an entrepreneurial background, with an undergraduate degree in the field and a successful post-college stint buying and renovating homes in Texas. Interested in breaking into strategy and consulting work, Ganthier enrolled at Darden and, after his First Year, landed a summer internship in a strategic consulting role at Dell.
Still, Ganthier said, he figured he’d take advantage of the entrepreneurial opportunities at his disposal at Darden, and asked Professor Damon DeVito if he could explore a particular idea in DeVito’s “Venture Velocity” course, which is open by application-only.
His fiancée, Claire Siegel, had a growing nutrition and wellness coaching company. Ganthier asked if the pair could take the class together and iterate on the idea.
DeVito interviewed the pair and, after asking a battery of questions about the company, logistics (Siegel was living in Texas at the time) and shared commitment, agreed to the novel arrangement to bring Nutritional Freedom into the Darden course.
The company, which the registered dietitian Siegel started following years at the meal delivery service Snap Kitchen, offers nutrition and mindset coaching programs designed to “help women create a sustainable approach to nutrition without relying on diets,” which, according to Siegel, fail more than 95 percent of the time.
Siegel said she knew nutrition and had a relationship with an audience from almost a decade of blogging, but the business end of starting a venture initially involved a lot of trial and error.
The bedrock of the Nutritional Freedom program is a 12-week, virtual coaching program called Foundations, which is followed by a monthly membership program called Freedom. Most clients are women in their 30s who have found little success using traditional diets and are seeking a new path to a healthy lifestyle and greater self-esteem, said Siegel. The founder said clients come in with a range of goals — some simply seek to lose weight, while others want to develop healthier eating habits or work on developing greater energy levels.
At the time of inclusion in the “Venture Velocity” program, Siegel was 18 months into the venture, but had already worked with 200 women, hired her first full-time employee, and was increasingly conferring with Ganthier on strategy and how to scale the business.
“As we’ve continued to grow as a business, I’ve very naturally started to lean more on Jonathan and his past experience and then also everything that he’s learning at Darden,” said Siegel. “That’s been really helpful and kind of just happened organically.”
Although the young company had clients and revenue, Siegel said the class caused her to think critically about the future and hone her vision, writing her first executive summary and pitch deck, for instance.
“One of the first things we did was write the pitch deck,” Siegel said. “At first, I was a little bit resistant, like, ‘Why I am I doing this? I don’t need to pitch anyone.’ But it really made me get out of my comfort zone. The action-oriented nature of the class and the boldness that Damon encourages has been really inspiring.”
DeVito encourages ventures to identify a specific problem to overcome or goal to reach to further their venture. For Siegel, all of her customers had been organically acquired with no money yet spent on marketing, and the next step in growth required a more coherent customer acquisition strategy. Through the course, they connected with a Facebook ad expert mentor, who helped chart a likely growth path forward.
Ganthier and Siegel said the course helped bring “clarity” to what they were striving toward, both growing the business in its current state and tapping into corporate wellness markets — without straying from the values and approach that had appealed to many women.
“As we continue targeting substantial growth, we’re experimenting with paid customer acquisition for Foundations, while also considering how to best expand our corporate wellness offerings,” said Ganthier. “It’s a mix of zooming out to see the long-term big picture, then drilling down to identify the weekly milestones and tactical steps we need to take each week to get there.”
While Siegel remains the head of the organization, and Ganthier said he likes to “stay in the shadows as much as possible,” he’s been able to opportunistically deploy his Darden experience as the business begins to mature, working to improve the sales funnel and calculating potential lifetime customer value, for instance.
“Slowly but surely, I’m injecting more ideas into the conversation — offering input on how to service more customers, optimize processes, etc., without diluting the current experience,” said Ganthier. “It still needs to be mission-forward and a very purpose-driven experience.”
After graduation, the couple moved back home to Texas, where Ganthier accepted a full-time offer at Dell and Siegel continue to build Nutritional Freedom.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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