As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Romy Antoine. Romy is a millennial engagement expert who’s actually a millennial! He’s the author of the Ultimate Guide to Engaging Millennials, as well as the founder and CEO of One Stop Wellness, an award winning digital workplace wellness SaaS company empowering employees to make informed health decisions, have better relationships with their doctors, and improve their mental wellbeing. In addition, these employees are rewarded for helping their company reduce health costs and turnover. One Stop Wellness is currently a semi-finalist for the 2020 Harvard Business School Black New Ventures Startup Competition. Romy was also the 2018 recipient of the National Wellness Institute’s inaugural Young Wellness Professional Award. His work has been covered by Men’s Health and he was named Top 100 Modern Man Influencers of 2017 by Black Enterprise. Furthermore, Romy is a fitness trainer and nutritionist who’s coached clients all over the world! He is a renowned speaker and thought leader on how organizations can inspire well-being, as well as how managers can better engage millennials to attract and retain top talent while navigating through a connected and multigenerational workplace. Romy is a graduate of USciences with a BS in Biology and minor in Exercise Science & Wellness Management.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
While running my fitness coaching business I came across a client who had a lot of issues with work-life integration and managing her priorities when it came to health. Within a short amount of time from starting her job, which involved traveling from the east to west coast over 50% of the month, she told me she gained a great deal of weight and was unhappy. I helped her to get back on track, which led to her asking if I could come do a workshop at her job because her company would benefit from my guidance. I said of course! After doing that workshop, I did many more and discovered the corporate wellness industry. I started networking on LinkedIn, attending conferences, speaking at conferences, and eventually publishing a book on millennial engagement. At the same time, I was booking workshops at many companies and packaging a wide range of on-site services to engage their employees. This eventually resulted in me building a team and scaling my small workshops into a digital workplace wellness platform.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Anyone can be opportunistic, even if it’s to your detriment. Certain people are looking to find gaps or vulnerabilities in your business, leadership style, etc. and will be the first to take advantage. I learned that while not everyone is out to get you, it’s good to consult trusted advisors/mentors, be vocal about your opinions, and take a step back to assess the situation. If it doesn’t align with your vision, you need to decide whether you should conform to just taking a check or risking it all and going a different route.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
1) Not asking for permission to take action led me to success. Nolan Bushnell, known as the father of electronic gaming, said, “Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.”
2) Being self-aware — aware of who I am, who I am not, and who I can become. When you’re self aware, you can easily look at a situation and decide whether it’s more efficient for you to learn how to solve it or when its best to ask for help. I dedicated the last few years to inner work — meditation, journaling, kundalini yoga, and so much more.
3) Having a strong enough “WHY” drives me to my individual success. In my teens and early 20s, my “why” was really driven by superficial things — cars, money, etc. However, after dealing with depression after my mom’s passing coupled with the joy of having my son, my mentality shifted. I now had someone who was watching my every move and fueling my desire to create an impact. I’ll be able to teach him that if you have a mission, be of value to others, and be relentless, success is inevitable.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
1. You will be on an emotional rollercoaster. Being a CEO or even just an entrepreneur is one of the most stressful jobs on the planet and it takes a certain type of person to do it. Social media influencers glorify being an entrepreneur mainly because they’re posting highlights. After-all, posting a picture of you on a conference call or sending out emails won’t get any likes. But a CEO has to be responsible for the entire business, all the partners, clients, employees, and they still have their own life. You need to take time to keep your mental health in check, because it can and will lead to self doubt, anxiety, and depression.
2. You need to be patient. The market will let you know if you’re doing the right thing. Even if you’re not getting the traction you’d like, you need to trust in the process. Jeff Bezos said it best: “All overnight successes take 10 years”.
3. I wish I learned about the VC world while I started my first company. There is so much money out there if you make the right connections, have a good story, and good business model. I just assumed getting an investor wasn’t for my type of business. At the same time, there was a similar company doing exactly what I was doing and growing rapidly. I kept seeing that the company was getting funding, but I just assumed it was because the CEO went to Harvard and had connections to capital. That company had an eight figure exit a few years later, and my company just continued as a small business. Venture Capital is still a foreign concept, but you don’t know about it unless you get involved in it.
4. Be prepared to work harder than anyone, be more educated than everyone in your business, and always be ready to negotiate. The only way you’ll be successful and be respected is how well you know your work, how clearly you can articulate an idea, and how effectively you can turn a maybe into a yes.
5. Be authentic. I say this especially with the experience of being a young, black man. As many can relate, there’s times where you try to be someone you’re not to “blend in” and get the deal. Yes it works, but if you’re not being your true self, you’ll always feel deep inside that something isn’t right. Your authenticity and experience can be your superpower. That’s part of how I was able to brand myself as The only Millennial Engagement Expert who’s actually a millennial!
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
On a podcast, Arianna Huffington said: “For the human operating system downtime is a feature, not a bug.” — Arianna Huffington
You need to take time and relax otherwise you become a disservice to your business and family. If you think of yourself like a fully charged battery, as you go through the day, you get pulled in so many directions, multiple conversations, conflicts, meetings, obligations, family and each interactions are taking some of your energy. For many of us we can reach 5% before the afternoon and when this becomes the norm, burnout is on the horizon. Ideally, I’m talking about making it a goal to get adequate sleep each night so that you’re able to give 100% each day. In some situations, time may not be on your side, but even if you’re taking 5 minutes a day to close your eyes and just be present in the moment will help you to leave the world of chaos.
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?
My younger sister Gaelle has helped me in so many ways. As an entrepreneur, especially in startup mode, you tend to go all in and be extremely risky with your money. There were times where I literally was close to running out of money, or did run out of money, but I knew I needed $300 to take a flight to get to a conference where I can make the right connections to get a client or grow my business. My sister would help me. As long as I could make it to where I needed to go, I would do whatever it took even if it meant sleeping in the airport or a bench on a quiet floor in a hotel. Gaelle would sometimes be that person for me that came through during these rough spots. The thing is, she didn’t have loads of money; she’d even borrow money to loan me because she believed in me. She’s seen my highs and lows and always continues to support me. She is also an entrepreneur and started her own clothing line. The crazy thing is she said she always looked up to me as a role model, even to this day. Not necessarily because I was successful, but because I was out making things happen, being dedicated, and not letting anyone or anything get in my way.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I need to sometimes take a step back and celebrate my small wins. I tend to overlook certain accomplishments because they are not the big goal.
I need to practice more gratitude because even if you may not have everything you’d like, there’s still someone in the world who would literally die to have something you consider insignificant.
I want to make time every day to unplug completely, even if only for an hour to give my undivided attention to my loved ones.
I want to complete my private pilot training.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Sometimes what seems like a setback may be a blessing in disguise. I hope that my story inspires someone who is working with an unrelenting passion, without the results they’re hoping for, to not give up. It’s ok to change the strategy, but don’t give up on the end goal if it’s important. I also hope that is a lesson my son can learn as he grows up and sees. That even the little guy, the underdog, could create an impact.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Given the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, I want for us to bring the human back to humanity. We live in this fast paced world and now when we are forced to finally slow down, we’re noticing the small things to be grateful for. We’re learning the importance of coming together as humans, as a world, to spread compassion. There are so many people downplaying the severity of this pandemic. I’ve been sickened by the amount of people traveling, going to crowded bars, and celebrating while so many of us educated about this pandemic are truly in fear. While many may not be affected directly, it can affect a parent, a relative, or the elderly neighbor living alone. I want everyone to do their part in spreading love by doing one random act of kindness a day to someone they come across. I’d love to build a social app in which we are ranked by where we are on the compassion meter.