James Li of Mighty Health: Inspired to Improve Seniors’ Health

By Ariel Cadby-Spicer posted 08-18-2022 03:44 PM

Bernard Chang, James Li and Felipe Lopes of Mighty Health

AgeTech is a growing and dynamic space filled with innovation that makes a real difference in people’s lives. But what drives startup founders — especially young entrepreneurs — to work in the AgeTech space in the first place? 

For some insights, we turned to James Li, co-founder of AgeTech Collaborative™ participant Mighty Health, an innovative digital exercise and nutrition platform designed specifically for older adults. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Please tell us about yourself and your company, Mighty Health. 

I'm James Li, CEO and co-founder of Mighty Health, which is the first all-in-one, daily health app for older adults. Basically, we provide joint friendly exercises, personalized nutrition plans, as well as a personal coach for adults 50-plus to work on their health goals — whether it be improving their balance, getting stronger, or just feeling more energy. 


What was your original inspiration for Mighty Health? 

A few years ago, my dad had to be rushed to the hospital, where he endured a long open-heart surgery. Obviously, I was extremely worried, and there was not much I could do about the surgery itself. But what surprised me was that his real struggle began after the surgery. He began texting me all the time, asking, “James, can I eat this? Am I allowed to drink coffee? Can I get on this airplane?” And I would think, “Why are you asking me these questions?” That’s when I realized that I took it for granted that, as a younger adult, I had all kinds of fitness apps and boutique gyms and yoga studios that were available to me. But for someone his age, there were only very old-school weight-loss programs and other things that didn’t fit his needs or lifestyle.  

That’s what led me to start Mighty Health, along with my co-founders, Dr. Bernard Chang and Felipe Lopes. We started working on the company in 2018 and launched in late 2020. 


Startups have many different dimensions to them. Does your own background give you a specialization in any particular area? 

Back to my dad, he was an inspiration in other ways. Both my parents were immigrant entrepreneurs, and I actually grew up doing my homework in the back office of their little computer hardware shop. Later, I went to Georgetown and studied entrepreneurship as well as marketing. So I basically studied business in college, and I lead the business aspects of Mighty Health. 

So you’re the business guru at Mighty Health. What about the tech and medical sides? 

I’m lucky because my co-founders are much smarter and more accomplished than I am in those fields. Our CTO, Felipe Lopes, and I have been working together for 11 years now, and he’s had over 15 years of full-stack engineering experience. Our other co-founder, Dr. Bernard Chang, is one of the top doctors in the country. He has a master’s and Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard, and he holds an endowed chair in the emergency department at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center in New York. So, yeah, these two guys are incredibly smart, and it’s an honor to work with them.  


How do you personally handle the road bumps that come with building a startup? 

First, I think it’s important to focus on the process of the work rather than the results. If you’re focused on just the results, you’re setting yourself up for the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. At Mighty Health, we try to focus on incremental growth from week to week and hope that leads to some amazing results in the end. 

The second thing is just to focus on self-care. In my first company, I put my own health on the back burner. I suppressed a lot of stress, and had this identity of myself as someone who was calm, cool and collected. But that ended up taking a huge toll on my health. Now, I try to prioritize more self-care so I don’t go into work burnt out. 


What are some of the things you do for self-care? 

I enjoy both watching and playing sports, so I follow my favorite teams, and I get out to play tennis, basketball, and golf with friends. And I like to get in a spa day when I can — it’s a real treat to say, “I’m taking a day off for myself” and go sit in a hot tub.  

On the quirkier side, I love board games and especially escape rooms. I started doing escape rooms in college, and I’ve done over 70 of them now. My buddies and I did a string of seven escape rooms in one day in San Diego a few weeks ago. It was like a marathon of escape rooms and it was so much fun. 


I'm curious if you have a philosophy of leadership you bring to Mighty Health. 

Leadership for me is a combination of the words “discipline” and “family.” When people think of discipline, it’s like an arduous thing, but it’s really important for Mighty Health, especially because we have a remote team. So I’ve tried to set a cadence for how we work together with the types of meetings we have, the KPIs we’re measuring, and so on. These things are really important to help people stay on track, but also help everyone understand how their work is part of the bigger picture and moving it closer to its mission. 

The other side of that is “family” — I try to help everyone feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. I love bringing folks together and helping them get to know each other on a more personal basis outside of work with game nights, or having a big in-person retreat. I think that’s incredibly important, and something I take a lot of pride in. 


Is there anything else you'd like to share? 

I always try to give props to the AgeTech Collaborative and AARP Innovation Labs. I feel like as founders, we’ve been through many, many accelerators and incubators both with our previous company and with Mighty Health. Our experience working with you has certainly been one of the best, if not the best, in terms of the support that you’ve given us. I’ve always been the type of startup founder who seeks advisors and mentors in all areas, and that’s a challenge in the AgeTech space. So being a part of the Collaborative and Innovation Labs has been a real blessing.