This Malaysian is Leading a Health-tech startup in… Estonia!

By Ahmed Wafi

From Kuala Lumpur to Tallinn, making waves in the startup community.

Ganenthra Ravindran, or Gan, is currently living and working in the cosy little city of Tallinn, capital of Estonia. The 26-year-old is the Chief Operating Officer of Entirebody, a Norwegian startup in the healthtech space with operations in Estonia that provides personalised nutrition and exercise coaching with the goal of advancing human wellness.

Clearly not the most conventional career paths!

So how did he end up there? Gan pursued his Associate Studies at Santa Barbara City College in California with the intention of starting his career in the US where he was first attracted to the entrepreneurial culture. “I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Entrepreneurs are lauded in the US; even if you have failed several times, people still respect you, they are the modern day warriors,” says Gan.

After graduating, he lived and worked in Santa Barbara for some time as a sales executive. During his time there, his father passed away and circumstances forced Gan to move away from Santa Barbara.

After some research, Gan decided to try his luck in Estonia where he first arrived in August 2019. The funds he had in his pocket would last him the length of his stay and beyond in Tallinn but he took no chances and began his job hunt. He eventually landed a role as a Foreign Trade Manager at a local engineering firm.

He met his would-be CEO Sander Andersen, a former Norwegian swimming champion, at an event in January 2020. Following multiple correspondences, he was presented with the opportunity of helping Entirebody grow. Albeit not officially taking up the task, Gan would take part in weekly discussions with the team early on, sparing insights on how the business could further expand in the future. After a few months of getting to know the Entirebody team and being captivated by Sander’s vision and grit, he officially took up his role as Chief Operating Office in September 2020.

Founded by childhood friends Sander Andersen and Eirik Nielsen in 2016, Entirebody seeks to transform the world of health and wellness, by connecting users to the best fitness and nutrition coaches that create personalised plans. In addition to that, subscribers will have access to their app that allows them to log in and track metrics like exercise, nutrition, sleep, steps, mood, weight and more. Entirebody has been laying the groundwork to scale personalised coaching with AI and in late 2020, they received a sizeable grant from Innovation Norway, an extension of the Norwegian Government to fund its machine learning project.

2021 looks to be a pivotal year for Entirebody as it plans to expand aggressively into the United Kingdom and possibly other predominantly English-speaking countries such as Singapore or even Malaysia should there be enough demand later on. Preparations have already begun but with COVID and the rest of the challenges 2020 brought, Gan admits that the expansion process has been quite a challenge, especially closing deals with potential distribution partners in the UK. “Closing deals and doing business is about trust and human warmth. During the pandemic, our meetings are almost entirely virtual and the lack of human warmth has undoubtedly caused challenges,” he says.

As COO, Gan’s primary role is to establish and foster partnerships and relationships with key customers and partners as well as to oversee the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of the business. In addition to that, he also handles the company’s internal affairs and is responsible alongside Sander for all plans and strategies for developing the business and achieving sales goals.

On top of that, Gan is also pursuing a full-time degree in International Business Administration at the Tallinn University of Technology or Taltech. Leading a startup is already a mammoth task on its own but doing it while pursuing your studies full-time? Now that’s something special!

How does Gan juggle both? “By being extremely efficient with my time. I am usually up and ready by around 5am. Then some light reading and homework between 5am to 8:30am during the weekdays. Work officially starts after a daily operational meeting with my CEO,” says Gan. Online classes have also turned out to be a blessing as it buys Gan more time and freedom.

He also thanks his academic director at Taltech, Merle Küttim for being a liaison between him and the lecturers in finding compromises and exemptions where possible. “She has been incredibly understanding to my work schedule and I have yet to let her down in terms of my academic performance,” he says.

So why Estonia? “Not many people choose to go to Estonia, instead I believe Estonia calls for you and it’s a magical experience,” says Gan. “Estonia is today what Silicon Valley was in the 1970s.” Also according to the ambitious entrepreneur, the difference between the two places right now is the cost of doing business. “In Estonia, the cost of living is about the same as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but the cost of doing business is immensely low with less bureaucratic hurdles due to active assistance from Government agencies such as Startup Estonia and Work in Estonia,” he says.

Most Malaysians and non-Europeans might only know Estonia from watching the Euro football tournament qualifiers but Estonia, as small as it is (with a population less than KL), is one of the most digitally savvy nations in the world. In fact, 99 percent of Estonia public services are online including voting!

When COVID struck, the little nation was well prepared due to its technological advancements, thus making the transition to remote work a breeze. Tallinn’s public transport is also on another level – it’s free!

“Living in Tallinn has been immensely exciting as it is the de-facto tech capital of Europe; thus, there is much that goes on in terms of business,” Gan says. And being Malaysian, Gan shares this interesting titbit about Estonia: “The food here is also absolutely healthy! I’m a huge fan of kohuke, which are Estonian cottage cheese chocolates and I consume a lot of tatari or buckwheat as a substitute to rice and it has helped me lose a great deal of weight.”

The one thing he misses about Malaysia? Getting a haircut! “In Estonia, you have to make appointments in advance before getting a haircut. I miss the freedom of going into a barbershop and getting my haircut!” he laughs.

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