Women of the Year 2021: Optimity’s Jane Wang is Bridging the Gap Between Mental and Financial Wellness
From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Jane Wang: Optimity is the most rewarding micro-learning app that helps millions of members live healthier, wealthier and longer lives. It links up to health apps or wearable devices (like an Apple Watch, Garmin, or Fitbit) to track your activity levels and give you mini-challenges every day. You earn gems for completing tasks, like walking or meditating. It helps you be more self-aware and earn more gems with micro-learning quizzes. Those gems credits can be redeemed for rewards, including gas, groceries, health services, and tech gadgets, and donated to good causes such as breast cancer research.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Jane Wang: [Optimity] makes scary and difficult topics like disease risk, health screening, and finances more fun, digestible, and achievable for everyone. Creating these magical micro-moments every day for millions of people to self-care, micro-learn, and take the journey to a better self to be healthier, happier, and wealthier is very exciting.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?
Jane Wang: I have made the most impact by sharing my story. When I first started the journey with my co-founders, our personal experiences with losing loved ones to preventable health events had bonded us privately. We were all in to tackle a huge societal challenge of a very reactive health world but I was so shy and conflicted to share my story and why. Firstly, because I would tear up every time I was sharing it, and secondly because part of the solution was to infuse joy and ease to such a scary and morbid topic as mortality risk. However, along the way, I met so many amazing kindred spirits and brilliant, passionate, determined people like myself who are excited about what we are doing. They have joined the community as Optimitees, advisors, investors, clients, app members. With them, we are creating a real movement of fun and a proactive way to deliver better health, wealth, and longevity for millions of people.
What kind of problems are you trying to solve?
Jane Wang: Adoption and sustained engagement in holistic self-care for every human being so that they can live better, longer, and healthier.
What are you doing that no one else is doing?
Jane Wang: The idea of gamification is simple: use game mechanics such as playful achievements, leaderboards, and incentives to encourage users to achieve a certain behaviour or attain certain milestones. However, rather than focusing on a certain behaviour, Optimity uses sophisticated algorithms and AI to holistically nurture an individual’s health goals, encourage social connections, and a sense of comradery while providing relevant and timely rewards which, in turn, further encourage the individual to continue on their health goals.
Why is your work important?
Jane Wang: When my mom died in 2011, I decided I wanted to create something that could make the people I love live longer and better. I was working at a pharmaceutical company at the time, building software to get patients to take their medication, and I noticed people could change their behaviour if you incentivize them.
Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better?
Jane Wang: My career path was based on a blend of the two worlds, as technology and data is critical to advancing healthy living: quality of life and longevity.
My formal education and background was in health sciences and data. I received my Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from McGill University and MBA from Ivey Business School at Western University. I also completed my executive training at Stanford University.
Prior to starting my journey as a tech entrepreneur, I spent a decade leading teams in global clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies, developing technologies and programs to maximize patient outcomes and longevity.
Ironically on this journey, while achieving increased longevity for thousands of patients around the world, my mother got sick and passed away at age 52—and I couldn’t do anything about it. She never got access to the amazing science and technology I worked on.
This made me realize that consumer-facing technology was a critical missing piece of the puzzle, and the crucial role it plays in guiding individuals’ behaviours where we can democratize access to the right proactive health information and personalized programs. This allowed me to focus on a scalable technology solution that would codify the science of health and longevity as well as the practical ways that people can achieve a vibrant, high-quality life.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?
Jane Wang: I have learned that I have a lot of grit and resilience. When there are tough times I get calm and then I rally. My amazing team is also one of the reasons that allow this quality to drive us to big breakthroughs. They, too, have a lot of trust in me and each other. Their grit and creativity inspire me every day and allow us to solve many tough problems in the past—and I’m sure for the years to come.
What has been the most challenging part of building the business?
Jane Wang: The lack of major funding commitments for female founders. I had to get client traction early. In raising venture money, I’d get a lot more questions and it takes a long time, so we have to demonstrate a lot more traction for every round of funding. It’s very hard to have to do more with less every stage of the game. The good part is that it made my team and business very efficient, and my investors are truly 100 percent aligned with me on vision, mission, and strategy.
What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?
Jane Wang: The data [shows] that we are making a difference. We have been part of nine different scientific studies and continue to supply and publish our data on how and how much we are moving the needle on health outcomes and engagement.
What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?
Jane Wang: Do you truly feel compelled by what you are doing through thick and thin? Are the people who you are surrounded by compelled by the same thing and will be with you through thick and thin? Will you truly enjoy the journey as well as the destination?
In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission?
Jane Wang: Share their story on reactive health. Are they interested in taking the drivers’ seat to achieve daily joy in living a healthy, wealthy, and long life? Is it what they want for themselves, their families, and their communities? If they have a story and they said yes to both questions, they’ll bond with our mission.
What is your mission? The bigger picture?
Jane Wang: To have a lasting impact that helped a billion people live healthier, wealthier, and longer lives.
How do you define success? What does it mean to you?
Jane Wang: Success means that I have done good and positively impacted those around me. It means that I have made the same science and tech programs accessible to those that don’t know me personally around the world.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Jane Wang: Small steps lead to big achievements, impact, and outcomes. Just take the step today (not tomorrow.)
If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Jane Wang: Dream bigger. Get inspired by kindred colleagues, entrepreneurs, and makers. You can achieve more than you know with all these small, joyful, tangible steps you are taking everyday.
Who is a woman in the community that you admire?
Jane Wang: My mom, who was a software engineer. She always approached technology with a playful eye (she was also a gamer). We coded together for fun as I was growing up and played lots of board games, strategy games, and computer games. She helped me code my first health game, where we took the X-men concept and created a super-power game about detecting mutations based on sun exposure. I learned thoughtfulness around scalability and sustainability. Ultimately, it is the DNA of who I am as a builder, leader, and tech-entrepreneur.