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Swedish Leadership: The Co-founder and CEO of Digital Health Company Lifesum – Henrik Torstensson

Henrik Torstensson is the CEO and Co-founder of digital health company, Lifesum. In addition to his role at Lifesum, he’s also an angel investor, and has previously worked at Spotify, as Head of Premium Sales. Here Henrik talks all things health, trying to change the world and ‘fika breaks’.

 

What inspired you to make Lifesum the company that it is today?

The inspiration behind Lifesum and the work that we do has always been our drive to answer a seemingly simple question “how can we help people get healthier and happier?”.

While this may sound trivial, this question addresses a global problem, and on a macro level, anyone who could answer it would have an enormous impact.

In 2013, we had a strong team of 20 people, and our app was performing really well. We realised that we were really onto something, and asked ourselves: “do we want to continue to run this as a nice company that might make us a bit of money” or “do we want to try and change the world?” We decided to go with the latter.

We still have a long way to go, but with 25 million people using our app today, we feel confident that we’re doing something right.

 

What makes Lifesum unique to other health apps?

On paper, being healthy should be pretty easy, as all you need to do is to exercise more, eat better, and stress less. The problem is that life isn’t that simple, and this is where Lifesum comes in with a different approach to many other health apps. To us, there is no universal one-size fits all model when it comes to health, but we have built our product based on the fundamental idea that everybody’s different, and in the knowledge that certain approaches to health won’t suit everyone.

Once a user has downloaded the Lifesum app, they get access to an extensive self-assessment test to identify personal goals and motivations, and questions which help to evaluate what might have stopped them from being healthy in the past. The test also identifies dietary preferences, as well as current eating and workout habits in order to specifically tailor the app as closely as possible to the user’s needs.

Many health apps offer calorie-based recommendations without taking into account the nutritional content of the foods logged. This makes no sense to us, and we have instead developed a food rating algorithm that, depending on your personal health plan within the app, will give you recommendations and guide you towards the right foods for you. It almost goes without saying, that 1600 calories of ice cream will impact a user’s health very differently than 1600 calories of nutritional meals and snacks.
What is Lifesum’s approach to “failure” and how has the company’s tolerance towards it impacted productivity and employee wellbeing?

In order to progress as a company we need to ensure that we have an office culture that promotes innovation and motivates our staff. We understand that when people are scared of making mistakes, it can hinder creative thinking and stifle bright ideas. By actively working towards removing such fears we have noticed that we can increase the speed of all processes of development and improvement.

Our idea is that making mistakes and taking risks is not only okay, but actually crucial in order to reach success. Without failure, it is impossible to learn, and without learning we can’t evolve.
This approach to failure is really just about taking advantage of how most people work. As humans, we are in fact much better at looking back at past events than we are at predicting the future.

I trust staff to take risks with projects, and I would much rather my team asks for forgiveness than for permission, as long as they review their mistakes to see how we can improve, and learn from things that have gone wrong.

 

How do you think Swedish leadership differs compared to leadership styles around the world? What makes it successful? Do you have any specific techniques of your own that you feel are effective?

Swedish leadership and organisational structures are all about collaborative efforts and consensus. Most Swedish businesses have minimal levels of hierarchy, and employees tend to have easy access to the company’s CEO and senior management teams.

Some would say that a ‘flatter’ organisational structure can be ineffective and make internal communications more difficult, but in fact I would argue the opposite.

Removing unnecessary levels of management means fewer internal meetings, less reporting, quicker decision-making, and an elevated company-wide understanding of the business. If something requires my immediate attention as our CEO, I want everyone at Lifesum to feel comfortable to come directly to me. Making myself visible in the office and keeping an open dialogue with my employees has really helped with this.
What is the biggest challenge that you currently face within your market, and how do you overcome these?

Our greatest challenge is always to find ways to improve the user experience, and better support our users in their day-to-day life.

People have an intrinsic motivation when they download Lifesum, but in order to retain this, we need to make it as easy and rewarding as possible to establish healthy habits and long-term behaviours through the app.

The user experience is something that doesn’t just happen within the app. It is highly dependent on us hiring great software engineers, UX designers, and data engineers, but also having the best people in place for marketing, sales and customer service functions. Together, these people help to enhance the full experience by understanding the feedback from our users, ensuring that we support new trends, and identify better strategies for customer acquisition and retention.

 

What difference does a happy workforce make for the business and how do you promote employee wellbeing?

We believe that the wellbeing of our employees has a great impact on the health of our company, and we work hard to promote work-life balance.

Last year, we worked with a stress coach to help employees learn how to better-manage stress, and we now try to be mindful in terms of creating a mixture of time for project delivery and time for recovery.
We are careful not to create a culture that glorifies overworking, but one that instead encourages staff to take time off in the evenings and on the weekend, which they can see as an opportunity to switch-off and focus on other aspects of life.

Work-life balance can mean very different things to different people and as such, promoting it has also meant allowing a certain level of flexibility when it comes to working hours. If you need to leave early to pick up your kids, that is not a problem, and if working out in the morning makes you more productive throughout the day, it’s okay to come in a little bit later.

There is a common misconception that in the world of tech start-ups, employees have to work late into the night, and almost round the clock. That said, we remain flexible enough to ‘stay late’ to deal with an urgent matter if required.

In addition to the initiatives we pursue as a company in order to maintain a happy and healthy workplace, a lot of things happen spontaneously. For example, we have an increasingly popular ‘lunch run crew’ that goes out at least twice a week, normally for forty-five minutes to an hour. As part of Swedish culture we also have ‘fika breaks’, which is where we sit down to enjoy a hot drink and a snack while discussing non-work related topics.

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