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The problems women (still) face when raising VC funding, with Oova Founder Dr Amy Divaraniya

by Female Startup Club
November 16th 2021
00:58:37
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Today on the show we’re learning from Dr. Amy Divaraniya, the founder of Oova, a women’s health company. 

She has more than 10 years of experience as a data scientist and has both led an... More

doing here, we're in month two of being part of the hubspot podcast network and I wanted to take a second to shout out another incredible women lead podcast. Being boss with Emily Thompson if you're a creative business owner or thinking about becoming one. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it means but what it takes to be a creative business owner, freelancer or side hustler. I loved Emily's episode on taking time off as a business owner. It's definitely a really challenging part of running your own business and I recommend giving it a listen, check out being boss wherever you get your podcasts. This is Amy Diva Rania for female startup club. Mhm. Hello, it's doing here, your host and hype girl today on the show, we're learning from dr Amy Diva Rania, the founder of Uber, a women's health company. She has more than 10 years of experience as a data scientist and has led and published original research in the areas of personal genomics and biomarker discovery. Her solid understanding of biology and being able to apply complex analysis have led to innovative projects in the healthcare space.

After facing her own struggles with conceiving her son, she decided to build a solution to help women having difficulty getting pregnant. Today she and her team have built the first at home test over that measures multiple hormones through urine samples and provides personalized results and insights on a woman's fertility. We talk through her journey as a female founder in the VC world and question why things don't seem to have changed much recently. We also talk about the development of something that didn't exist in the world before and how to find your beta group and before we jump into it. If you didn't know this already. We also have a weekly newsletter that has industry news and jobs from female founded companies, insights from the show and it's for everyone, whether you're an entrepreneur or not, you can sign up for free at female startup club dot com. Let's get into it. This is amy for female startup club, customers want more from brands, delivering more means owning the customer experience, taking control over data acquisition, analysis, creative and delivery.

Clay vo calls this owned marketing and believe it's the best path to growth for more visit clay vo dot com slash F. S. C. That's Clay vo dot com slash F. S. C. Female star presence. Amy hi, hello and welcome to the female startup podcast. Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to be here. I'm so pumped for everything that you're doing. You are a woman of many impressive things. You are a scientist. You have a PhD you've been doing this crazy business for the last few years. That is highly impactful. Two women and two men in the world. Can you give us an introduction of yourself and how you like to introduce yourself and what your business is. Sure. Absolutely. So as you mentioned, I have a PhD in biomedical sciences with a focus on genetics and genomics. But before that I was actually a data scientist in industry.

Um I worked at Rush for about five years and then I was a researcher at bristol Myers Squibb. Part of that, my like I'm pretty I'm like an education nerd. So like I was on a pre med track undergrad and then I did my Masters in bioinformatics and then I did a PhD in a similar field. So um my trajectory was kind of always like, okay, how do you identify the best way to help people? And early on I was like, okay you're going to be a cardiologist. And that quickly changed because for some reason I could never get myself to go to med school. But I feel like with what we're doing with cuBA were kind of mending hearts in a different way. So what we've built is an at home test that monitors multiple hormones through urine. It's really a tool to help women feel more empowered about their fertility. Because what I've learned is that women experience fertility issues and the fertility is basically a black box. So how do we shed light on that? And so what you've a does is we get down to the root of the problem, we figure out what your hormone baselines are and then we detect fluctuations in your hormones by comparing to that. So the entire platform is really designed for the irregular woman who I believe is the normal, that's me right.

Women aren't getting pregnant at 20 anymore. And yet all the solutions are really designed for that woman. And so what we've done is try to build something for the modern woman who is In her late 20s, early 30s, trying to conceive and things just aren't the way they were 10 years prior. Yeah. I mean, as we were saying just a moment ago, offline and it's something that I talk about with my girlfriends all the time. It's become this stressful thing. You know, like I'm 32. I'm not necessarily there just yet. But of course I want Children. I'm like, what do I do? And I meant to freeze my eggs and I meant to you know, just get pregnant right now. I don't know, it's it's this really. I don't know, overwhelming feeling that I feel, you know, I'm not alone in you obviously know that a lot of women feel this pressure and God it needs to change. It's great that you're starting or not starting. It's great that you're impacting women in that way. Yeah, I mean, so I actually found started because I was in a similar boat as you. I had a really tough time trying to conceive my son. But I knew the journey to pregnancy was not going to be easy for us.

I've had irregular cycles my whole life I was misdiagnosed with pcos multiple times when I was younger. And so my husband and I actually agreed that we wanted to pursue parenthood naturally and not go down the invasive route mostly because based off of the misdiagnosis that I had dealt with early on and was put on medications I didn't need to be on. I had a really deep mistrust for the medical community when it came to my fertility. I didn't really want a doctor to tell me like you need to do X. Y. Z. To get pregnant if my body wasn't going to do it on its own, it wasn't for me. So I started doing everything right. I started peeing on sticks every morning. It took my body temperature first thing before I got out of bed. And I used every fertility tracking app and luckily after 18 months I did conceive my son. But those 18 months were the most devastating of my life. And the worst part was after I collected all this data, I didn't really learn anything about my cycle. All I found out was that I had irregular cycles. And I knew that going into my journey And I also realize that really all those tools we're hardwired for women who had that perfect 28-32 day cycle.

Many of these apps were telling me that I'm fertile when I'm telling it that I'm on my period and it just wasn't fitting into their algorithm. So the idea for you to really came out of? Okay, well what is the piece of information missing from my data set and it's understanding our hormones because that dictates everything that we experience in our in our fertility and our whole reproductive system is driven by that. So what we set out to do is figure out how to bring that clinical accuracy of these hormones into a person's home. So you don't have to go to the lab every day for a blood draw to understand what's going on. Wow, that is crazy. There are so many, so many parts of this puzzle that I want to unpack. First of all, I mean, how do you actually start a business? Like to try and solve this problem? It just seems so like just such a challenge. It seems like there would be so many challenges on many levels, whether it's like regulations, whether it's capital, whether it's, I don't know, just on so many levels. So how do you actually get started? So let's take one step even before that. So how do you decide mentally like, okay, you're going to pursue this is exactly why you.

So now it's really funny in my story, like I never thought that I would run a business. In fact, when I was an undergrad, I like was don't I'm not going to take a single business class because no one should trust me with their money. That was like my Mantra, right? Oh my God and fast, fast forward 10 years here we are, right? Like running a business. But I never really saw myself doing this. But when my my breaking point was one morning I was sending my bathroom on my bathroom floor. I had all my ovulation sticks around me and I got another negative pregnancy test. So I was incredibly frustrated. I was trying to interpret like, okay did I obviously did we time it properly? Did I not ovulate like what's going on? And I was literally sitting on the floor with my dad's magnifying glass, interpreting those test lines. Oh my God, right. And I saw my reflection in my shower door. I was like this cannot be real life, how am I doing this In today's day and age, I'm sitting with a magnifying glass and my dad used, I think that doesn't make sense. So I was in the midst of my PhD at the time and I went like I was just so frustrated that day.

I went into my lab and luckily my lab was really diverse. We had data scientists like me, engineers, clinical researchers. And that morning this guy walks by my desk, he happens to be an engineer. And like the second conversation I've had with the first being like a hello, my name is Amy in the coffee room, right? So this is, he walks on my desk says good morning and I just vented all of my months of frustration on this guy and like you are doing so many cool things in technology, you're applying it to all these spaces but nothing is being applied to women's health, why can't we do something here and actually make a difference? And I think my rant went on for about four or five minutes and this poor guy walked away from me incredibly scared and then an hour later he came back to music Amy I think we can build something and so then we spent the rest of the day in a conference room and just mapped out what is cuBA today. So I'm really proud to say that what we drew on the whiteboard that day is actually what we felt. But that was just an idea at that point after that I was like, well, okay, this is a great idea, but like who's going to do this?

Like I have no, no give me the data and I'll know what to do with it, but like how to run a business, I have no clue. So, my PhD advisor was actually really entrepreneurial and as I was coming to the end of my PhD, he's like, okay, what are we doing with your life? Like do you want to go into industry? Do you want to go into research? What do you want? I'll do the intro. And so I was like, well I don't want to go to industry, I want to do possibly a biotech but I have this idea and then I kind of told him about what I was thinking about for UVA and he's like, amy, you need to see that through. You have something there. I was like, okay, well I don't know what else to do. So we'll try that. And I was like, okay, I'll see it through. Like, what does that mean? I have no idea what to do next. He's like, well, you gotta get some money. So what do I do tomorrow? Right. He's like, you need to get some money, let me introduce you to some VCS. And I was like, okay, so he gets me meetings with these like high end VCS and I'm just like, they're like, where's your pitch jack? Like what's the pitch bag? I don't even know what a pitch deck is. So I literally for a month and mind you, I'm meeting with like big shot VCS, like the north coast came into our office.

Like we're meeting with any a like these really big funds. And My pitched at my first picture that I ever showed anyone was, I think about 57 slides and is that long, You're supposed to have 12, Okay, you're supposed to have 12. Okay. Including a title slide. Right? So I had a 57 page deck that I was circulating and I'm like this and like I would present it and everything. And then finally I heard like I learned very quickly, right? Like this is not what people are expecting, no one's going through it. So it was a lot of google searches, it was a lot of network effect by um what I really valued at that time was people were trusting me more so than anything else because I didn't have anything at that point. So it's like, alright, here's this girl that is trying to solve a problem, Is this a problem worth solving? And is she the right person to do it? And so I think what really came out in those meetings was my passion and how driven I was to solve this problem because I experienced it myself and what was the kind of feedback you were getting on?

Like the idea itself because you know, we've heard a lot about how women pitching to male Vcs who may not get it or or just in a room of men full stop, no women in there. What was the kind of feedback? Because I can imagine that there are male VCS who have, you know, wives or daughters who are experiencing that and would get it and then there would be people who are like, I got no idea like, what are you talking about so early on? I was not so comfortable sharing my story because we were still in the weeds of it. Right? So the questions I would constantly get is how big is this market really do people really suffer with this problem and like just a lot of vague questions like that Once I kind of like, all right, of course it's the problem. Like I'm going through it and usually I would get so frustrated those conversations 75% through the meeting. I would release like what my story was and it was one VC that was like, you need to start with that because that adds credibility.

That adds credibility to your entire pitch and why you're doing this. Otherwise you're just somebody who came up with this idea and it has no meaning to you. So you're no better than like joe off the street to run this company. Right? I got it. Okay. So you go through this experience of understanding what's in a pitch deck and that you need to raise capital, how much do you raise and what do you do with the money? Sure. So we ended up winning a grant for $10,000 And I was like, wow. Like that's a ton of money. Like we can do so much with this. $10,000 is nothing. Oh yeah, literally I'm pretty frugal and I need to be. And so we use that money. So effectively to prove out the tech right? I'm like, okay, if we're going to do this, Oh my God, how well, $10,000 tell us like if we're going to do this, then it needs to hit certain success metrics that are ridiculous, right? Because I didn't want to put another product out in the space. Women who are going through infertility are incredibly vulnerable.

And you get to a point where it's like, alright if you drink this water you will get pregnant in 48 hours. You will drink that water. Right? Like that sense of like questioning and like being a little critical goes out the window at a point in your journey. And I feel like a lot of companies in the space, we're really monetizing on that. So I was like if we're going to put a product out it needs to work. It needs to be accurate, needs to be sensitive. It needs to be done at home. Not invasive. And the results need to be trusted by a doctor. Right? So I was like if you don't hit all these metrics, we're not moving forward. So the first thing we did was we took that money and we identified a partner or at least like I guess a contractor that could help us prove out. Can we get a quantitative test? Okay. So I mean I guess this is a good spot to kind of explain to you what however works because then we can go over the technology a little bit more detail. Great. So if it it's an at home test that is urine based. So basically you purchase a kit from us. You download our app. You go through an extensive onboarding process. We learn a lot about your reproductive history, your general wellness overall menstrual cycle.

We feed that data into our Ai algorithm and we determine which 15 days of your cycle. You need to use an uber test. So you're never guessing on a testing day, you basically provide a urine sample on the sample pad here. This is not a used one. You then wait 10 minutes and then you'll see 12 or three lines up here in this window and then you scan it with your phone. So there's no device. There's no attachment. You scan it with your phone and you get your results in seconds, Right? So you'll learn what your hormone concentrations are for both LH or utilizing hormone and progesterone. So you can identify your fertile window and confirm if you actually populated that cycle. And then we also give you a daily action plan. So, that's something a nutritional health, physical health and emotional wellness. So, you can really take control of the journey again. Now, what we were trying to do, I was like, all right, can we just figure out a way to read the test strips that exist better because to replace that magnifying glass that I was using. Okay, what I learned very quickly is that the test strips that were on the market were so inaccurate.

They were not sensitive at all. So you would take a couple of urine dip to test strips and they're gonna get varying results. You're already starting with failure, right? Because the test strip is not reliable. So I was like, all right. We got to start from scratch and let's build the tester from the ground up. So we identified a partner that there was still like research mode. The company was like in a lab trying to figure out how to build a company that was started themselves And they claimed they could do a quantitative test, lateral flow Assay. That's the test strip inside, right? And I was like, all right, let's test it out. So, we negotiated a really ridiculous deal with them. I was like, I only have $10,000. So you got to work with us if you want to do this. And they needed a proof of concept to So it worked out for us to at least get a solid proof of concept that this is feasible. We decided very quickly, we did not want to work with them because they weren't scalable. They like they were not set up as a business. They were clearly like three researchers in a room trying to figure out how to build a business. And I'm like, I need someone to help me grow not grow with me in such a slow pace, right?

So but the point is they were able to give me a test strip that would quantitatively measure one hormone that wasn't enough for me to have enough trust that we could actually build this out. And this could be something when you say measure quantitatively this one hormone? What does that specifically mean? Sure. So basically what happens is if you look at the if you think of a pregnancy test right? Um you get either one line or two lines, the first line tells you the test worked the second line. If it's there, that means that you're pregnant. If it's not there, you're not now, it doesn't matter how dark that second line is. Even if it's like slightly there it's positive. So if you think about what the result is that you're getting you're getting a yes or no, you're not getting a how pregnant am I result right with cuBA if you think about how our test works here, you're getting 12 or three lines. one Line tells you the test work. The other two lines are going to vary in intensity based off of how much hormone is present in your sample. So we don't expect a woman to interpret that because that's ridiculous to do.

So our app and our algorithms to actually do all the interpretation for her. So we're able to give her a number. This is what your LH concentration is today. This is what your progesterone concentration is today. And that's a value that she can trust and her doctor can trust. And does that mean that then And obviously I'm not going through this stage of my life yet? So I don't know any of this kind of thing. Does that mean that when you look on your phone and you see those levels of the hormones. Does the app basically say to you, hey you should have sex today or like you should have sex at this time today, yep, it doesn't tell you the time, it's not temporal like that because realistically like if you're ovulating, if you're utilizing hormone is surging and your egg is being released, you have 24 to 48 hours to conceive. So it's not like you need to have intercourse at four p.m. Today, it's in this window, You should you should have intercourse, okay, right, okay. So you work with this company, you strike a good deal. They make this test for you to prove that essentially it's possible then what happens then?

At that point we actually had a device that you would put the strip into and it would do the interpretation. I happened to speak with a really good who's now this man who is now a really good mentor of mine. And I've kind of pitched to him because I was like maybe this could be a good collaboration, I don't know. Um and I pitched the whole concept to him and he goes amy if you could put this on the phone then you have something. And I was like, he's like get rid of the device. How is it? Okay, So I went back and with my team of my co founder, we basically just like jammed on this for two weeks and two weeks later we went back and were like, here, there's an app on the phone, you scan it and you get your results in seconds and he invested in us. So I think it's, it's very interesting to kind of being a mod to pivot to grow too, take feedback, really, be a sponge and hear what the people around you are saying that being said, you have to surround yourself with people that actually have your best interests at heart, know what they're talking about and are successful themselves.

There's a lot of bad advice out there too. So I have been really fortunate to surround myself with people who have been incredibly successful and amazing mentors first before advice givers and investors, wow, that is crazy. Oh my gosh, what great advice to receive. So then essentially, you know, you have something you've raised a certain amount of capital, is that public information or you're able to share or is that not disclosed? So we closed a seed round of 4.4 million Um right before the pandemic. So before the week before New York City shut down, we were able to secure that round, but that 4.4 was kind of collected over the span of a few years. So we did a friends and family around, We did a pre seed round and then we did a seed round, got it. The friends and family around is really where we use that prototype that we created and that was a really humbling experience because you basically feel like you're laying all your cards on the table and you're allowing your people closest to you to kind of evaluate you.

And for me it was really nerve wracking. But then what they would tell me as I'm like pitching my idea like me, I don't care what the idea is if you're doing this, I want to invest in you. And I was like, okay, like what have I done to make you have that much confidence in? Because I don't know if I have that in me yet, That's amazing. But it's very humbling, I love that. So I think a lot of founders are nervous to ask friends and family for money if done the right way. I think it's a really great thing to do. It's a great thing to do because it's, it's relatively you're not going to collect a ton of money there, but it's a great boost of confidence for you as a founder, but also it's also really expensive money to take because I carry that weight on me every day right with every decision. I'm like, oh my God, this is my friend's child, like my friends, kids college running right now that I'm playing with, that always enters my head, but it's, I think it's a great driver for you to keep going every day as well. Yeah, absolutely. Gosh, I can imagine it would weigh on you having, having your best friends or a family member or something like that money that you're essentially spending.

I read that your go to market strategy was first centered around a beta program and then it was kind of focused on a specific strategic partnership that you had That gave you access to something like three million users like olympic teams. I think I read like something totally insane. Can we start with the beta group? Like how did you find the people who were part of that beta group and what was the impact of it? Or like what happened from that? Sure. So the beta group. So I guess the beta group happened in 2018 and In that time from 2017 to 2018, what we did was we actually built out that prototype of a quantitative utilizing hormone test. All right. So we still had, I mean, I think at this point I had a little bit less than $100,000 in the bank because we have raised some money through friends and family and I was pregnant. So in my head, I'm like, okay, how do I get as much done before I deliver? Because who knows what's going to happen after that? And when I say, who knows I meant more?

So like what's going to happen with me with my mind with my bandwidth, like I had no idea how to predict my life would look like post child. And so I was like, okay, let's get the prototypes ready. Let's let's have some people pee on these. Like, let's see what that experience is like. And then scanning it with your phone. So once I delivered, we did a beta where I actually posted before I got there for the beta test that we did was we three d printed 300 cases to hold the cartridge, right? And then we hand seal them all. Oh my God. Yeah, it was pretty insane. So if you had to put a sample pad to the test strip, we had to put desiccant like build the whole thing out, right? And then I was like, Okay, now let's get 300 women to test this out and see what their reaction is. So we put together a really quick app where all you could do was scan it, get a result and then you would be taken to like a five question survey that was all in the app. So the way we promoted this was while I was on my fertility journey, I had joined a bunch of facebook groups and I had gone really ingrained in the infertility community because it was my support when I was on my journey.

So I quickly went on to those facebook groups and I was like luck. I went through this journey and I wanted to solve this problem, I built this test. I would love for people to test like to try it out, I'm happy to send this to you for free. Just sign up here, Right in less than three days we had over 600 women signed up, wow and we didn't pay a dollar for it. So I think there's a lot to be said about just tapping into your own network and not undervaluing that we're incredibly sensitive about how we approach that community. Because I mean these women, like I said they're really vulnerable and they don't want to be sold to. So I'm really conscious about how we frame things for this group because I never want them to feel like we're trying to sell them something. Women are smart, they'll figure out what they need. I truly believe that. So we mailed out those beta tests and the feedback that we got was amazing. 300 women. Almost every single woman said it'd be great if we had a quantitative progesterone too. And After the 5th woman that said it, I was like Oh that makes sense because they want to confirm they released an egg.

And then when the 290 if women said it, I was like Oh my God, like we need to get funding and like do this because this is what they need. Okay wow, it was just really informative. And and so we then closed a pre seed round with our first venture capitalists and all that money went into R. And D. Again? So at this point we have not brand at the company. The brand at this point was something I made a power point. We had no market testing for really where we paid, we had no marketing done, we had no messaging, done. All we had was a prototype that worked in a ton of feedback. So I ended up closing a million or 750,000 for that pre seed round. And we put all of that money into building out a quantitative progesterone test that ended up working really well. And so in that time now we're in 2019 and this time I ended up meeting are getting closer to the ceo of thorne research And he he's actually the one that I had met back in 2017 who told me take it onto the phone.

Right, okay. So he ended up investing the good advice guy, the really good advice guy, he ended up investing in us and he's allowing us to tap into his network which I mean he runs thorne research which is a giant supplement company. They have over three million users. They work with high performance athletes. And so we got access to that entire network. But what was also interesting is we got access to their clinical network. So I all of a sudden had this resource to talk to doctors and ask them what their feedback was on my test and my product. Would you trust these results? How do you want to see the numbers when a patient brings you this report? So we started building out this entire platform for clinicians at that time too. And it's just a very eye opening experience Doing here as we get deeper into the holiday season. You might be thinking about ways to keep your business connected through the madness with things like employee holiday travel by our behavior changes and Q4 wrap ups staying connected has never been more important from marketing to sales and operations, hubspot Crm platform is ready to connect all of the touch points of your business, whether you're just getting started or scaling to what's next.

Hubspot is consistently working to make its platform more connected than ever. Improved forecasting tools, give you a bird's eye view of your entire pipeline to see what's around the corner, see how your quarter is going, inspect new deals and use customizable data driven reports to improve team performance as you grow with custom behavioral events, you can get into the details of what makes your customers tick track site behavior and understand your customers buying habits or within the platform, learn more about how a hubspot Crm platform can help connect the dots of your business at hubspot dot com wow, it just sounds all, I mean just crazy and it also all sounds just so kind of like, and I know this isn't the case, it sounds kind of easy, like you tell it in this way like, oh yeah, like we did this, we did this, we met this guy, we met this guy, everything seems ran like randy dandy. I don't know what the time is, Rosie, rosie, let's go with Rosie, I imagine that's not true. Imagine that's not the case. It's absolutely not the case.

Any, like, any key kind of lessons or learnings that you want to share for entrepreneurs who might be in that position. Absolutely, especially, I mean, I can speak from experience of being a female entrepreneur, trying to run a women's health company. Well, I guess I'll give you the end result first, like you need to have really thick skin because people don't hold back and I think they forget that you're a human sometimes. Oh my God, because I'm like, how can you say stuff like this to another person? Like what? What's an example? I'm happy to share some of that. So well I guess I could give you a few anecdotes. So The first time that I was like, thinking of raising VC money was in the beginning of 2018 and I was three months pregnant when I started going out for fundraising and I spoke with a ton of founders prior to me going, this is my first time going to san Francisco, I'm based in new york, so I was like, okay, I'm going to go meet with like some big big shots here. My, my network had helped me set up some really great meetings and every founder I spoke with was like, do not tell anyone that you're pregnant.

And I was like, well that's like the foundation of my company. And I realized that it was just so many people telling me, don't let anyone know that you're pregnant, they're not gonna be able to tell they've never met you before. And I was like, okay, super traumatizing experience to go through because I just worked so hard to get pregnant and I founded a company from that and now I'm having to hide it and I realized it was a pill I had to swallow in order for you to be a success. So I did do that and now going back like I would, I would flaunt it, but I'm also not the same person today that I was three years ago. I have a lot more confidence today than I did them. There was another time when I was still in my first trimester and I was sitting at the negotiating table for a deal and I was the only woman in the room and at that time only my partner next to me knew that I was pregnant. Nobody else knew, and in my first trimester I was incredibly emotional, like I couldn't keep my emotions in check. The smallest thing would make me start crying. And I didn't even know I was crying. So it was just our hormones being completely crazy at that time, right? But we were sitting at the negotiating table and I was winning.

You can call it winning when I guess when you're negotiating and at one point the other man just banged on the table and was like, if you're going to be a woman ceo you need to get a stronger backbone. And I was like, I looked at my partner, I was like, am I crying? And he's like, no, you're not crying. Like where did that come from? It was just completely uncalled for just no reason, No reason was because it was his way of showing that I am still in control of this discussion. And I was just like, that's so unnecessary. Like you can use your words. It's like when I say to my three year old, use your words stop screaming. Use your words. My God, What the heck? Yeah, I know. And also you're like, well obviously I don't want to be like, in partnership with you if this is the way that you're going to react or treat people. Exactly. That's bizarre. It's been really insane. I've been questioned about not having an MBA and like how am I qualified to run a company if I don't have any business know how and no one on my team has it either. And it was during a diligence meeting and this guy kept on the first two times.

I kind of, I answered it very politely. And then the third time he brought it up, I was like, look, it is really easy for me to google how to make a business plan. It's not easy for me to google how to make a lateral flow assay. If you're making business decisions off of people's business, know how you must have missed out on a lot of deals. And then I walked out of that meeting. That is so bad, us so frustrated and you're going to make a decision or judge me for not having an NBA, but I have a master's, a PhD and I've run this company for 2.5 years at this point and yes, we don't have revenue because we haven't launched but have a product that that works really well. Yeah. And so much great feedback. Exactly. Oh my God, that's crazy. I love that you walked out of the room. Yeah, I was done after that. I did not take their money to say the least. But what was frustrating to me was I felt I truly felt that if I was a man, that question may have been asked once, may have been definitely not three times and that once I had that realization, it really irked me and the way that he was asking, especially the third time I was like, okay, you're just undermining me and I don't need somebody on my cap table that looks like that, that thinks of me that way.

100%. Did you see what Sara Blakely said the other day when she was announcing her, you know when she was announcing to her staff that she'd been acquired and things like that, she said something along the lines of, you know, I built this business like leading with femininity and intuition in like, you know, like masculine space, I eat business and like I've proven that you can do that and I was so like that it's just so true. Like we need more women leading with this and leading with like, you know, you don't need to be aggressive in business and you don't need to be the most arrogant in the room and you don't need to be like all those things that, I mean it's cliche but typically come up in that kind of VC world, you can just, yeah, anyway, it's like, it's inspiring because Actually, because we're like, it's 2021, we've heard that for so many years these kind of conversations, but it hasn't changed.

It's the same, it hasn't changed, it's the exact same and I mean I think there's, there's a lot of, it was a biased data out there are skewed data, I should say where like there's a lot of reports and like, oh women's health and Fintech has been getting a lot of investment this year, 2021 is the turning point, but that's really not true because if you look at it, that statistic is being driven by companies like maven clinic and kind body that closed really monster deals. But they were a series C and D. If you look at seed and series A companies were still struggling to get funding. That that has not changed at all. So now if you take out those outliers, the statistics are pretty abysmal and it's wonderful like what maven and kind body have done. But at that point when you were raising your series C and D. You have proven out your business, there's very little risk. You're talking about completely different types of investors. You're not talking about an investor coming in and taking a risk on a female founder or an idea that's like focus on women's help.

I was on a podcast the other day and the guy asked me like, you know, when you look at statistics around like the performance of women founded businesses verse men and you know, there's that there's that data out there that says like a dollar invested into a woman led or woman owned business actually performs twice as much as the male lead. You know, there are so many stats around like the amount of women owned businesses and start ups and that kind of thing out there, but They only get 2.3% of funding and like all this kind of thing. And his question to me was like but why? Like when you read the data and you and you know these kind of things like how calm it hasn't changed and I was like, I just don't know like I just don't understand it. Like I'm still not sure what do you think? I think it's, you're trying to change mindset and it's kind of like changing habits as well. So what I've noticed when I've been fundraising is investors like to diversify their portfolio, but they also really don't, they like to invest in something that they understand that fits the mold that they know how to scale in the same way, but for a company like CUBA right like and I can speak from experience here, We are not a traditional direct to consumer company, we're not a traditional B2B company we're in the middle because Uber sells through clinics and then we also sell directly to the consumer.

So when an investor is evaluating us, the metrics that there like comparing cuBA too are not really relevant, but they don't know how to tweak that model to apply it to cuBA. So what I've noticed is whenever a woman founder is like what are we doing? We're not trying to just like follow on somebody else. We're trying to change the world. We're trying to create a very unique idea that was actually going to make an impact and if you're in that space and you're innovating, there is nothing like you prior to to you. So how do you fit into a temple that a VC has? There isn't one you're building it and that's very hard for an investor to get behind. Now. I will say that the investors that I have are amazing, like they have completely embodied what the values that I want for my company and they're pushing us forward. So that's I think what for a female founder, like if you're finding like pushback from investors, like traditional vcs, get creative about who you're taking money from and just make sure that that investor believes in you and your vision totally don't take money.

That doesn't feel right. No, there's a lot of stupid money out there. Yeah, that's what I hear back to your launch. You partner with thorne you, you launch, How does it go? Well, So we didn't really launch with thorns. So that was just a partnership agreement that we had, but we didn't have product ready yet. So that money helped us start building up inventory. And then um, we closed our seed round in March of 2020 and at this point we were supposed to do a bunch of clinical trials with the small amount of inventory that we had, this thing called Covid took over the world, this thing Yeah, this thing can come in. Um and it kind of threw us for a loop because we just secured funding and we're like well now we're sitting on money. Do we kind of sit on it and ride this out or do we kind of hit the ground running and if we're going to fail let's fail fast and hard. So we obviously went the latter, we were fully direct to consumer at that point. But then I started getting so much inbound interest from clinicians because especially the fertility clinics to be specific because at the time of covid fertility clinics are being forced to shut down because fertility treatment was viewed as an elective procedure that left clinics patients families in such a vulnerable position.

And you're being told I'm sorry we have to postpone your treatment indefinitely. So clinicians are reaching out to us to see if they could use our technology to do remote hormone monitoring. So at this point we quickly pivoted and we put together a HIPAA compliant dashboard. So basically now when a woman scans her of a test at home, she gets her results in the app. But the clinician would actually get her quantitative levels in their hipAA compliant dashboard. So that became a huge game changer. We got one clinic on that was an introduction through one of my investors. She loved it. She got her whole practice, it's throughout the hospital network. She got the entire practice using it. And then word spread really fast. So we haven't even launched. We don't even have a functioning, we had a functioning website but like it was so basic and we had gone through like a bit of a rebrand that hadn't launched yet, But we officially launched in September of 2020 with the clinicians. And from then until now we are now in over 85 clinics across the country. We launched direct to consumer in july of this year after we kind of finished the whole product redesign and uh yeah, I mean now we're available on both channels, which is not the way we had foreseen the company going at the gecko, wow, that is some crazy stuff.

It's kind of like of course it's backed by strategy and and you know, serious science and all this kind of thing. But also there's like you hit at the right time where people really needed this and it was able to kind of like just explode and b everywhere. It's incredible. Yeah, I think it was a big lesson for me because I'm so type, I like to have a plan and I'll stick to it and then having to pivot so quickly was really hard for me to accept because I'm like, well we haven't thought about how we're actually gonna execute on this, we haven't thought about the business model, we haven't thought about the pricing for this, like we haven't thought about any of this. So how are we launching a whole new channel basically without trying to figure it out on the fly, But what I quickly realizes that that's actually a huge advantage of being in an early stage startup because you have that luxury being able to pivot. Mhm yep totally if you're like in a pharma company or like a really big established entity you can't pivot quickly.

You have to go through so much red tape so much like approval and with us it's like well you want to try this idea out. Just just try it. If it fails then we'll go back to what we were doing before you can pivot so quickly. So I hope that that was a big lesson for me but I hope that other entrepreneurs realize what an advantage that can be for you as well totally. When we're thinking about like the D. C. Side of the business how is that going for you? And are you having to pay to acquire customers or is it literally word of mouth? What's a kind of paint a picture of now in your dtC side of the biz? All right so my background is obviously very heavy on the science side. No business, no marketing background right? Like no formal business or marketing background. So everything that we've done until now has been focused on the science and making sure that the product actually worked the way it was meant to work now we're ready to launch and we have to get customers in some way we did not spend any money on marketing until this upcoming monday when we're actually going to have a marketing budget for the first time.

Whoa, that's crazy. And what kind of like how many kind of customers were you getting on a monthly basis or are you even able to share that? Maybe not. But so we can say this um we've seen growth Month over month, right? And it's a lot of the great thing is that we have a lot of returning customers. So we have a 65% retention rate month over month which shows us the data is really sticky and then there's obviously a lot of new customers coming in. What's interesting is that, I mean it's not really, it's interesting but it's also Great to get that confirmation that about 75, of our sales are coming through our clinical channels And 30% directed consumer. But it kind of makes sense when you're not marketing on the director consumer side. So the reason that we did it this way is because I knew that I did not have the expertise to run a facebook ad properly understand what those results meant. Be able to tweak things, how to run google ads effectively. I know about S. E. O. I know I know the concept of all these things but how to execute in the most effective way.

I'm not the right person. So for the past six months I have been looking to hire a head of brand and marketing to just take this brand that we have and really scale it. And so that person literally started two weeks ago and she is amazing. She has already defined our strategy, our content strategy, the whole thing and that's kicking off on monday. Oh my God, how exciting, wow, congratulations, I'm excited to, to watch along from the sidelines and and you know, watch, watch it flourish, that's super cool. It's a really exciting time because I feel like we've done everything we can on an organic side and now it's like, okay, how do you pour fuel on this? Because we've done a lot of testing organically now, taking that information, how do you synthesize that into a marketing strategy and for someone who lives and breathes this, it's super fun for them because like we did, we actually did our first in person meeting in over two years for almost two years and it was a marketing brainstorm. So we've got our marketing team together and I was like, all right, let's come up with our strategy and the way that she took the information that like I've been sitting on for a year and turned it into, right, this is what our messaging pillars are, this is what our content is going to be for these months.

I was like, okay, you clearly know what you're doing because I had no idea how to do that. Oh my God, I love it, I love that. So exciting God, I mean that was also kind of hard for me to swallow too because like I, I always felt like I had to solve every problem in the business and that's not the right mentality to have at all as a good founder and a good leader, What you need to be able to do is identify what the gaps are and then hire the best person to fill those, it doesn't have to be you surround yourself with smart people, people smarter than you. That's exactly what I say. I like to surround myself people more experienced and smarter than I am because then I'll grow as a human too totally. What do you think is your most or what do you think is your top piece of advice for entrepreneurs coming into 2022? Well, as an entrepreneur in general, I would say you should be a sponge and just listen to feedback, take the criticism, be able to parse it out and figure out how to grow and evolve your company in business, investors are going to give you a million reasons why they don't want to invest in you if they say no, don't ever just take that no.

For an answer, be like why I believe we fit into your portfolio and your thesis. What is the piece that is missing and get that one level deeper because that's going to help you tweak your pitch deck is gonna help you tweak your pitch, how to tell your story better and you should use each of those opportunities as a way to grow. But then going into 2022, Just be ready for change and be willing to kind of roll with the tide. Don't get your heart set on a certain plan because of 2020 show does anything projections don't matter at all. So true. We wrap up every episode with a series of six quick questions, some of which we might have covered, some of which we might not have, but I asked them all the same. So question number one is, what's your, why? Why are you doing what you're doing? I feel like women's health is so underserved. Women in general usually prioritize themselves last and they don't take their own symptoms seriously. And I feel like because of that when they go to a doctor, they're also not taken seriously. So it just kind of piles on and diminishes everything that woman is experiencing.

So my wife is how do I empower a woman to be able to take that next step for her health and be in charge of it instead of being at the mercy of somebody else. I love that. Oh, amazing question. Number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made the business pop? That's hard. I think the number one thing was, well for us was when the clinicians actually wanted to use our platform and because I mean we ended up having to launch sooner than we expected and completely pivot our business model. That was a really interesting opportunity for us though. Because now if you think about this really crowded space that cuBA is in, we're also the only product that is clinically trusted in actually being recommended by doctors by name. So it's a critical marketing moment because even though we're not using it in our marketing materially yet, that is one of the pillars that we're going to be launching within the next week. Yeah, it's a signal that you should be shouting from the rooftops. Absolutely. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter?

What are you reading or listening to or subscribing to? That's worth noting as nerdy as this is. I'm like, uh super active on all of these different slack groups that are founder focused. I think it's really important to talk to other founders that what, regardless of what stage they're at just talking to founders. I feel like we're in our own league because you can talk to your friends about your struggles at work or how your day was. But no one that is going to understand those pains and those, I guess like those pain points until their founder themselves only they will understand, oh my God, I have to talk to legal today. I had to do product today. I had to do marketing sales plus I had to do like all this business strategy, find to my projections and then hop onto a call with this partner who was miserable. That's not a typical day. And anyone else that has a 9-5 job. So I think it's really important to surround yourself with other founders who can give you real life advice and really give credit and importance to the issues that you're facing.

Because so many times I've talked to my friends about a big problem that's weighing on me and they just don't get it if I tell them that like one customer is like so upset that we don't have this feature and I'm not sure how to put that in right now. Like it's only one out of how many like without one matters. 100%, totally get that. Yeah. The, I think network is so important having people that you can just, I don't know just talk about the good stuff and the bad stuff. We have a private network for early stage entrepreneurs through female setup club. And the best part of the group is actually people sharing the stuff that goes wrong and then getting that like peer to peer here's what you could do or like, hey, did you think about this and watching those conversations is just, it brings me so much joy because I'm like, oh my God, I didn't know that. That's a great idea. I love it. Anyway, question number four, how do you win the day? What is your AM or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated.

So I think it's really important to take time for yourself. And as a ceo mom and wife, it's really hard to prioritize herself. So I wake up at four a.m. Every day, go to the gym at five o'clock, do my one hour workout. That is my time, right? I don't let anyone touch my time. I'll come home and I'm full time mom, like get my son ready for school, feed him breakfast, like do all of that and then go through the day. Like I devote my day, I, my whole day segmented out really well where I don't try really hard not to overlap the responsibilities, but something that I've learned through the pandemic actually is, I realized it was so hard for me to separate out work in life and so I would go to sleep every night. So stressed out because I was like, I didn't get 90% of the things I needed to get done done today. And so then I would wake up stress too. And so I was like, okay, you know what, this is a mind flip, I need to do. So instead of making a list, like my to do list at night, what I was doing was saying, all right, what are three things I did well today and I would look at those like I would go to sleep smiling and I woke up happy, like, well this is a better way to live.

So I kind of celebrate my successes at the end of every day because those are harder to find. It's much easier to find things that went wrong. But if you think about three things that went right all of a sudden you have this list of all of your accomplishments and that's really nice to see after a week, after a month after a year, 100% couldn't agree more. I think leading with that positivity instead of leading with that negativity is just obviously sets you in a totally different mood, totally different vibe. Um I like to finish the day with my like, what was I grateful for today? What was one thing I like really loved about the day and that puts me in a good mood to even when I'm in a bad mood, like I'll still do it. And then I'm like, God, this is pretty cool Question # five, this question is to highlight what's the most important spend of a dollar. If you were given $1,000 of no strings attached grant money, where would you put it in the business? I would still use it the same way that I did, which is proving out the technology and making sure that we're hitting the success metrics that we've set to me, it's critical to ensure that you're staying true to what the company's core values are.

And for us it's trust. And the only way to instill trust is if when a person uses your product, they're getting the results that they expect to see and or that they actually are. So I would put all that money into confirming that we're staying true to our our corporate killer. Amazing. And last question question number six, how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset when sh it hits the fan, surprisingly I stay pretty calm. I don't think there's any point in getting frazzled or losing losing your own. It's it's about it's more, I take a much more analytical approach. So, okay, so this went wrong. Let's have a moment to figure out like, okay, everything went wrong. It's not the way we wanted it, make peace with that. Now let's go back and think, okay, what, what actually went wrong? Let's talk about the tactical pieces that we could have improved on who dropped the ball, not a blame game. Just let's figure out how to avoid this from happening in the future. And it just, I think having that that approach, it makes the entire team feel more at ease that they are not to blame and they're not in trouble and it just makes it a much more productive conversation because even if someone screws up.

I mean, I can say from I was like, so far, no one has screwed up so badly where like, you're gonna lose your job over it, they may think they did, but they're all part of our family. And if you think about your family, everyone makes a mistake here and there, right? But you're still a family. And so I run my business very much. And that mentality that you're not joining a company, you are joining the of a family. So yes, you have ownership over what you're working on, but you also have to support others that are working on their own task because that's what you do when you're in the family, you support each other. Amy, this was so cool, so cool. I am just in so much more of you and what you're doing. I have loved meeting you and getting to ask you questions about your business. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you so much for having me. I hope it was helpful. It absolutely was my goodness. Hey, it's Doom here. Thanks for listening to this episode of the female startup club podcast. If you're a fan of the show, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com, where you can subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about our D.

I. Y course the ads, M. B. A. I also truly appreciate each and every review that comes our way. It might seem like such a small thing, but reviews help others find us. So please do jump on and subscribe rate and review the show. And finally, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing these inspiring stories, please do share it with them and empower the women in your network. See you soon, Okay.

The problems women (still) face when raising VC funding, with Oova Founder Dr Amy Divaraniya
The problems women (still) face when raising VC funding, with Oova Founder Dr Amy Divaraniya
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