Cork’s Clodagh Ryan travelled through South Korea, Goa, Sydney, professional services and adtech before coming home to set up workplace wellbeing start-up Craoi.
As the founder and CEO of employee wellbeing tech start-up Craoi, Clodagh Ryan is busy making other people’s working lives calm. She is buzzing with plans for growth and exploring how technology can make workers’ days more balanced. But she is also very aware that she and her team should practice the work-life balance wisdom that they preach.
Perhaps not coincidentally, that is Ryan’s main piece of advice to other leaders. “Practice what you preach and lead by example,” she says. “It is easy to tell others what they should be doing, and much harder to put into practice your own advice. If, for example, you want your team to take breaks throughout their day, because you know that this is proven to enhance focus, productivity and creativity, then you can’t just tell them to take breaks while you continue to hammer work out to them from your desk. You need to lead by example, show them how it’s done, and allow them the space needed to be able to follow in your footsteps.”
Travel was an early eye-opener
Like a lot of founders, Ryan has learned from other leaders’ mistakes. A stint working in the corporate world early on in her career gave her a desire for something different. She swapped the ‘Big Four’ for teaching English in South Korea and then trained as a yoga teacher in India. The latter experience was “definitely an eye-opener” says Ryan.
“I never knew how stiff I was until I was sat around at a Yoga Shala in Goa surrounded by aspiring teachers all touching the floor with their foreheads, while I was still pretty much sitting at a 90 degree angle, willing my hips to allow me to fold over but not moving an inch. A bit of humility is great and I learned a very important life lesson at that stage; to focus on what you are doing and don’t compare yourselves to others.” She spent her time “living a lovely blend of office and beach life”.
Despite the idyllic Indian yogi life, Ryan upped sticks once again, this time to Sydney, where she took jobs in marketing. “It was the first time that I truly loved what I was doing, and the people I was working with. I was able to travel and work in places like Sydney, Japan, the US, Paris and London,” she says of her time working with Japanese adtech Rakuten Advertising.
When the start-up bug bites
She recalls the atmosphere being similar to a start-up – although the company was global, the Sydney office was only new at the time and she and her colleagues “pitched in and worked hard” to make it a success. Ryan credits this time in her life with giving her “the start-up bug”.
While she may be right, she’s also probably underestimating herself. By her own admission, she was practically born with the desire to run her own business. “This started as young as the age of seven when me and my cousin used to shamefully (but innocently) pick flowers, soak them in jam jars full of water and try sell them to our neighbours as ‘perfume’.”
As she got older, her product ideas advanced. When she lived in South Korea, Ryan set up an event management company with her sister and a Korean friend. They took tourists on weekend excursions to show them around the country, which she says can be “quite tricky” for non-locals to navigate.
All of her experiences led ultimately to Ryan founding Craoi. With her interest in yoga, health and addressing gaps in the market, the workplace wellbeing sector seemed like a good area to focus on. Ryan says she has always been interested in wellness and experiences of anxiety and depression meant she realised the benefits of looking after herself properly. During the pandemic, she studied to become a health and wellness coach. By this time, she had returned to live in Ireland and was working more closely with techies in a senior product marketing role. Like a lot of people, she found remote working tough.
“My friends, knowing my passion for wellbeing and helping others, started asking me to create at-home wellbeing plans and mini retreats that they could start using and so I started creating online courses, such as the ‘7 Days of Happiness Challenge’, which focuses on positive psychology and the science of happiness to help people tap into key tools and practices that would help boost their mood every day for a week.”
Using tech to support wellness at work
“These went down a treat with friends accessing my courses from around the globe and it got me thinking that there was something there that people needed,” Ryan recalls. This, and a lot of workplace wellbeing research, was the genesis of Craoi.
“We have big plans, huge ambitions and dreams,” says Ryan. The platform is divided into four pillars focusing on movement, mindfulness, nutrition and happiness. Does it have a lot to do to distinguish itself amid a crowded market? Ryan says Craoi’s personalisation services single it out from competitors. She laments the fact ‘wellbeing’ has become something of a corporate buzzword – hence her belief in the importance of practicing what you preach.
The team is gearing up to officially launch its employee wellbeing mobile app on the market this month. “Our app has so many features available that have been asked for by our users and clients and we have big plans for the content that will be available on it.
“This year, there is a big focus on elevating users’ experiences by introducing rewards, incentives and gamification. We will enhancing the personalised element of Craoi through the further use of machine learning and AI and we will be rolling out a sustainability plan that is not only deployed internally, but is integrated throughout our offering for companies and users to benefit from too,” says Ryan.
Craoi has backing from Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Office network. “What we are building is unique and forward thinking; and it won us the innovation competition at the Grow Remote Summit last summer.” Following the release of the mobile app, Craoi will gather metrics and feedback before looking for more investment in the second half of the year.
The longer-term plan is to use machine learning and AI so Craoi can act as “a virtual coach” for users. It will include reminders for people to put take screen breaks and digitally detox, too – perhaps counterintuitive for an app.
But Ryan is adamant that using tech for good is important – even if that means her team’s tech tells people to put away their tech …
“We want to become the first proactive preventative to workplace burnout globally by bringing each user on a transformational journey, with the mission of creating healthier, happier and more engaged work environments. This is not a solution that has been created just for the workforce of today, but it has been designed to support generations to come.”