Ep 20: Overcoming the Odds as Female Founders


Share Episode
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook


See more from our #FoundersSeries


Carolyn Witte
CEO and Co-Founder, Tia

Carolyn Witte is the CEO and Co-founder of Tia — the next-gen women’s healthcare platform building the relationship-based care model of the future, online & offline. As a design-thinker and storyteller, she’s applied the brand-building and user-centric design playbook from her time at Google’s Creative Lab to make women’s care more personalized, preventive, data-driven, and soulful. A big believer in interdisciplinary teams, Carolyn has orchestrated a symphony of top tier women’s health providers, software engineers, designers and data enthusiasts to build a new model of women’s care that can sustain the pressures of the modern healthcare system for patients and providers alike.



Halle Tecco
Founder, President, and Chief Women's Health Officer, Natalist

Halle Tecco is the Founder, President, & Chief Women’s Health Officer of Natalist. Previously she was the founder of early-stage digital health venture fund Rock Health and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School. Halle started her career working in finance and business development roles at Intel and Apple. She is currently an advisor to the Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics and Boston Children’s Hospital.

Halle has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC. She was named as one of Goldman Sach’s Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs and listed on the Forbes 30 under 30. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School and is currently pursuing her MPH from Johns Hopkins University.

If you're obsessed enough with the problem, you find a way to iterate out of it, and continue to build something that matters. – Carolyn Witte, Co-founder and CEO, Tia



Lan Nguyen  0:02  

Given that women make 80% of the healthcare, buying decisions, and 65% of the healthcare workforce in the United States, and yet continue to lag behind men in the percentage of healthcare leadership roles, we still have more work to do to close the gap. One sector of healthcare where women are significantly underrepresented is at the intersection of venture capital and health tech, where women constitute less than 15% of founders. In this special edition of Her Story, we’re digging into how to trailblazing founders and alumni of Forbes 30 under 30. Halle Tecco and Carolyn Witte overcame the odds of building women’s health companies. First, we hear from two-time Founder Halle Tecco, who built Rock Health. The first venture fund dedicated to digital health, and most recently Natalist. A science back fertility products company. Halle is currently the Founder, President, and Chief Women’s Health Officer of Natalist.


Halle Tecco  1:02  

Yes, there still are very few women in VC, and I think my confidence has only grown over time. When I was early on, I definitely had a lot of imposter syndrome and felt like I didn’t necessarily belong, or I had to really prove myself. There are ample research studies that show that women are evaluated based on what they’ve accomplished, whereas men are evaluated based on what their potential is. And so that puts women at a disadvantage for coming up with new things. So it’s very difficult with very little work experience and very little healthcare experience. And I certainly heard that from some people, I’ve had one reporter who was just so nasty and would write just really inappropriate things. He would comment on what I wore to a healthcare conference in DC. He literally wrote out I came to a conference in jeans, how dare I go up in jeans. And there were people that made it really difficult for me in the beginning. And I definitely had a lot of fears of being caught, or that I was a fraud, or I wasn’t eligible to do what I was doing. But at the end of the day, I raised the money. I ran the fund and we made good investments. We hired amazing people. And Rock Health is a complete success story in digital health. I’m so proud of what the team has accomplished. Yes, I face it. But now that I’m kind of like on the other side of it, where I have proven myself, it is a completely different professional experience for me. And I now have a ton of privilege, more respect, more proof that I’ve been able to accomplish things. And I use that privilege now to call out injustices that I see in the space. 


If there’s one area where it is most disappointing to me that women are underrepresented. It’s within women’s health because I do believe having the first-hand experience of facing the issues that you’re trying to solve is invaluable as a founder and as an employee of a women’s health company. And so that really opened my eyes to “Okay, there are two opportunities here.” One is that Women’s health is underfunded, there’s a lot of opportunities to solve problems that have been addressed. And the other is women have been underfunded. And so combining these two was a really exciting opportunity for me. And so I just started spending more and more time on women’s health than other sectors. So there are a lot of places to become an expert within digital health. And I just felt the pull to women’s health from my own health experiences from seeing an amazing business opportunity. And then seeing the women that are courageous enough to work in this space with being totally underfunded, and still making it happen. I was continuing to invest in continuing to support Rock Health, but at the same time going through some struggles on my own in my own personal health, which had to do with fertility. And it opened my eyes to the opportunity that there is in the fertility space. In 2016, I declared on Twitter, that I was dedicating the next few years to this space. I’m gonna find companies in the space, there’s just ample opportunity to make the fertility experience better, more transparent, more affordable for women. And so I did. I invested in a couple of companies in this space and fertility and women’s health in general, including Kind Body, EverlyWell, and Tia. And I was able to scratch some of that itch. But one of the things that I noticed was just the physical over the counter retail products that were required. And these are technically medical devices, but their consumer, really in my mind felt more clinical than the consumer. And so realizing that I had the courage to build a medical device. I’m not afraid of that (building a device) yet also had the consumer experience have the empathy to build a better brand around it that is really consumer and millennial-friendly. I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. And so I actually tried to find companies working on this. I couldn’t find any companies working on it. So I started interviewing potential CEOs. And so I had two folks that I had identified. And I started interviewing, and I was like, Oh, I love this, I’ll be on your board, I’ll be supportive, and you’ll run it. And both of them were excited about the opportunity. But at the end of the day, I felt like I would have driven them crazy because I had so many ideas and so many opinions about what needed to happen. And so I remember coming home, and I told my husband, I’m like, at this point, we had a one-year-old at the time, and I had a very cushy setup, I was teaching in the spring, investing on my own terms, I had all the flexibility I needed. And he was like, Are you sure? And I was like, Yes, I can’t get this concept out of my head, it needs to exist.


Lan Nguyen  5:52  

Next up is Carolyn, witty, co-founder and CEO of Tia, the modern-day medical home for women.


Carolyn Witte  5:59  

I grew up in an environment in which risk-taking and thinking about the world differently was dinner table conversation, so to speak. Every challenge that I then quickly faced on a very long and treacherous journey that is becoming a healthcare company, having that emotional safety net and a family that I think was comfortable with failure, and making big bets. Having that I think was something that made me willing to try. The emotional roller coaster, I think is the hardest part of it personally. I mean, there’s a financial risk, there are all these risks, right? As someone who was that very meticulous student never failed, had perfect grades did all the things right… The idea of potentially failing at something was an emotional burden and continues to be one. I think a fear of failure drives a lot of entrepreneurs to be a little bit crazy. But in a good way, usually. But I think there’s a balance of it’s like can be motivated. But you also need to manage that with this support. in some regard. That’s like, wait, but if you do fail, what’s the worst that can happen? Did you fail for the right reasons? And I think that’s kind of the thing I asked myself now that I’m four years into this. 


In Tia’s case, we had one customer, which was the consumer, the female user, and then the patient and so we had to figure out how to tell a story to her. And instead of actually telling a story to women, we actually built a platform that let them tell their stories to us. And then we used that as a way to share those stories with the world. I think that was one of our big differentiators from a brand perspective. And I think women often feel like they’re being told by other people, predominantly men, what other people think they want. And what we did is that we said, I’m a woman, my cofounders are women, but like, you know, you may want something different. And let’s build a platform that lets you share your story. And I think that was really interesting. And then it’s evolved. And we decided to open up you know, become the doctors we to go tell stories to doctors. And that was a totally different story that we had to tell about how you’re changing medicine, how you’re delivering higher quality care at lower costs, how you’re using technology to empower not replace providers, these sorts of things. Flash forward to now we’re raising a Series A financing, we had to go tell a story to the investor community about why Tia is going to be a billion-dollar business and why we aren’t just a cool clinic in New York City. But truly a technology platform that’s changing the face of women’s healthcare and flash forward to where we are now, which is actually in the process of partnering with so many other constituents of health care, insurance companies, employers health systems, and saying how do we take our very engaged female consumer base and deliver her a connected care experience across the entire ecosystem. And that’s a very different story as well. 


So I learned one thing on the journey to becoming a healthcare founder, it’s you have to figure out how to create a line of incentives between all the different customers of healthcare and healthcare dies, typically with misaligned incentives. And so if you can build a product and a business that gives women what they want, but also benefits providers and health systems, and payers and employers and figure out how to tell all those different stories together, you have something really powerful. My story is one of evolution and iteration with Tia when I jumped out of that airplane it is so different than what it is now. The vision of transforming women’s healthcare was the same but the what, and how I didn’t know what that was, I thought I did, but I was wrong. And so I think what’s kind of sustained me and allowed us to build a very successful product that meets the needs of all these different constituents and can evolve in real-time to the continuously changing world and pressures COVID-19 events of 2020 it doesn’t you don’t stop iterating it’s like every day we’re iterating is an obsession with the problem. And so when you hit rock bottom when you feel like you just feel stuck in the trough of sorrow I think they call it that founders experience, whatever it is, you hit it, you, you lose that deal. You get, you know, your 100th rejection from an investor, whatever it is, if you’re obsessed enough with the problem, I think you find a way to iterate out of it, and continued to build something that matters to your customer and to uphold the vision that you want to create. I started to whip one of my best friends, which is a unique experience that is a beautiful one but challenging in its own right. But it’s enabled, I think, needed personally, and Tia us collectively to kind of hit rock bottom, if we kind of take turns hitting rock bottom, which is valuable to have the other person like piggyback us back up. So having a co-founder both in terms of sharing the workload and that emotional burden IO think is huge. Finding space for joy in your life outside of Tia even though it is like my life and you know, my baby and all that is a struggle but important to to to not burning out and through those tough times, especially find the drive to keep going.


Lan Nguyen  11:11  

Her Story is a podcast produced by Think Medium. For more stories tune in every Wednesday. Please subscribe to Her Story on Apple podcasts or wherever you’re listening right now. You can also access Her Story episodes and video on YouTube and other mediums on our website. Thinkmedium.com/herstory. Be sure to rate and review Her Story so we can continue bringing you stories from inspiring women leaders across the country, expanding our vision of what is possible in health care. In addition to subscribing and rating, we found that podcasts are known through word of mouth, and we appreciate your spreading the word to friends, family colleagues, and mentors who might be interested. For questions and suggestions about Her Story. Contact us at herstory@thinkmedium.com. Thanks for listening.

Subscribe for Updates​

For exclusive access to Think Medium content and program updates, subscribe here.