Estrella Jaramillo is the co-founder of femtech platform B-wom, serving women in all stages of life from pre-fertility to menopause with health education, tracking tools and personalized care. She shares the challenges of raising venture capital investment when your product is geared only to women, plus important advice for women in technology.
Melinda Wittstock: Welcome to Wings Estrella.
Estrella Jaramillo: Hi Melinda, thank you so much for having me.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s great to have you on and I’m so excited to talk about the work you’re doing really on women’s health issues for so long so difficult for women to get their businesses funded when they’re working on women’s health issues because the men mostly who control the money…
Estrella Jaramillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melinda Wittstock: …didn’t see it as a relevant market. So I can imagine there have been a few challenges on your journey. What have been some of the biggest challenges getting to where you have so far with your company?
Estrella Jaramillo: I think that as an entrepreneur you’re going to be facing challenges on a daily basis and particularly because we also operate internationally, besides the aspect that you were just mentioning right? The fundraising obviously becomes even more of a challenge when you have a product that is only geared towards women because the people who are making these funding decisions have never experienced these problems themselves and as an investor you also look to invest in issues that you relate to so besides that there’s defining being a lot of challenges growing internationally and truly understanding how we would fit in different markets and its been a very exciting journey also because we have seen how there are, even though we operate in very different systems, there are common needs that are just inevitable that all women are facing today and all women are creating solutions for so you know understanding how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together has been another one.
And then I think that on a more personal side, just becoming comfortable with uncertainty and with not knowing everyday making such high decisions that have such a strong impact on everything that happens in your businesses I think that that’s something that as an employee I have never had that pressure and it wasn’t until I had my own company that I really had to think on a daily basis of oh my god you know ever decision I make has such a strong impact and I need to be on all the time.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Estrella Jaramillo: So yeah that one definitely is one that you need to work on.
Melinda Wittstock: That idea of being on all the time that sounds stressful…
Estrella Jaramillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melinda Wittstock: I mean it’s an interesting one because we think we have to be ‘on’ and who are we being are we being 100% ourselves or are we being the person that we think we have to be in order to close the deal or get the funding or whatever, how do you square that?
Estrella Jaramillo: That is a very, very, interesting thought and it is something that I also think about myself all the time. Definitely too, I think that what is important is that at the beginning, although this might change you kind of like figure out for yourself what kind of business you’re looking to build. Not everyone has to build a one billion dollar Silicon Valley type business and that’s not the only way to be successful so I think that there’s been an idealization of that being the only way to be an entrepreneur when the truth is that entrepreneurship has existed for a really long time and people create their own businesses and it’s always been there so there’s many ways in which you can run a business and I think that you need to do an exercise in deciding for yourself what type of work life balance you might want, what type of work load do I want to deal with and then there might be ups and downs, not everything is under your control but you need to decide whether you want to play one game or the other.
Once you get into the Silicon Valley game, as part of the founding team, there really are moments when you are going to be working really long hours and as of today that’s going to like, as the founder when you’re in the early stages and you need to race to hit certain marks it’s like part of the deal. At the same time I’d say it’s important for people to check on their health and the moment that you see that something’s off or you need to rest, taking a rest and taking a break is way more important than writing that fifteenth paper or just whatever it is that you’re doing or taking that hundredth call in one day, that can wait. Definitely being healthy and having a good mental health is…
Melinda Wittstock: Well yes and it strikes me too that if you’re running, if you’re the CEO and founder of a health company for women, you got to walk your talk on that too right?
Estrella Jaramillo: I mean I’m here recording this podcast and I’m doing my kegels at the same time. Multitasking.
Melinda Wittstock: Estrella, I know from meeting you that I’m a good deal older than you and one of the things that I learned along the way in my twenties and thirties and even in my early thirties I was like so task-oriented like just get it done get it done get it done working long hours, pushing through, I think I bought into that stuff like no pain no gain right? As a result though, a little bit older you realize oh my god, there’s not much left in the tank like your hormones are out of whack, your adrenals are burned out and I know so many female entrepreneurs who get into their fifties and they’re there because we were being dudes, we weren’t being women.
Estrella Jaramillo: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: And it’s a really interesting realization that a lot of women in my generation, here serial entrepreneurs are coming to so I’m curious on your generational take of in your twenties and thirties are women entrepreneurs kind of aware of that being the youngster that you are?
Estrella Jaramillo: I think that when you’re in you’re twenties and early thirties you don’t see it, you don’t see it yet, right?
Melinda Wittstock: Do you think you’re invincible? I know I did.
Estrella Jaramillo: You think you’re invincible, you take your health for granted, even me like you were saying in the health care sector you’re like ‘go-go-go’ now I have to power through this because ultimately I think that what a lot of us are thinking about is that we want to be in a place of financial security at some point so we can build a family because that’s become increasingly complicated for people in my generation to actually be able to invest in real estate and building a family unless you really power through when you’re very young. So I think that that’s a little bit of the culture of the times too so everybody’s trying to like “I need to secure my finances so I can then have a family” and about what you were saying we definitely also see, and are really fighting for is that, you know you mentioned women in their fifties who have been entrepreneurs are realizing that they’ve been working really hard but the truth is that women do not just have to work hard in the workplace they were also baring the maturity of the burden of taking care of the home.
That’s why they also are depleted and why it should be even more mandatory for them to take care of themselves because we’re still, in my generation we’re trying to fight for fifty-fifty like no, children are as much yours as they are mine and we need workplace policies where men take parental leave too and we need better care for the mother when she needs to return to work and we need to have facilities that are adapted to that where she can have childcare really close to the office and not have to commute twice to pick up their kids. So we are trying to rethink, how can we make it easier for women to have an entrepreneurial career if they decide to pursue one and at the same time not burn themselves out.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, oh gosh, it’s so true. I think it’s really interesting though when women work together, I think we sometimes have a tendency because we are such over achievers to really focus on the getting it done and making it perfect and like that kind of mastery, which is awesome but we really do need to really take quiet time for ourselves…
Estrella Jaramillo: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: For contemplation, self care, speaking of health.
Estrella Jaramillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melinda Wittstock: And also time for relationship with each other, what I’m so intrigued about is that when women work together we release the brain chemical Oxytocin like we were never meant to be isolated and yet we self isolate ourselves often…
Estrella Jaramillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Melinda Wittstock: In entrepreneurship.
Estrella Jaramillo: Yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: How do you [crosstalk 00:17:24 balance that, do you sometimes find yourself just like “okay I got to get it done, I have this task list, I got to get it all done.” Or do you make sure that you allow yourself time for those quiet periods of reflection and also time to really connect specifically with other women?
Estrella Jaramillo: Yeah I think that I absolutely agree that’s very necessary. It’s a balance I keep myself in check. I see myself getting locked down and being like “I need to get this done, this is very important, it’s very urgent.” And then my health kind of gives me a little sign. Like one day a week I wake up and I feel physically very tired and emotionally and kind of internally I’m like wait a minute I need a break, I need to go out to dinner with my friends and one of the things that really has helped me a lot I we have a community here in New York City called The Women of Sex Tech, we’re all different entrepreneurs in technology or education and media and we all have businesses that focus specifically in sexual health or women’s health and we support each other.
It’s a difficult field, it’s a field where you don’t have lot of mentors that have been in the sector for a really long time and it’s still kind of a bit of a taboo of a sector where not everybody’s comfortable talking about it even though there is a big demand which is why we have businesses that are running and talking to this group of women who are running their businesses too are facing the same challenges I’m facing, it really is comforting because that’s when you have the sense that you truly are not alone and that there’s other women that you can also rely on to help you go through the tough moments [inaudible 00:19:18
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Gosh this is so true. So I want to ask you a question, how you got into, you call it “sex tech” which I think is an awesome phrase.
Estrella Jaramillo: Sex tech, fem tech, yeah.
Melinda Wittstock: Okay so you got to tell us all about your company and what it was that inspired you to work in this area.
Estrella Jaramillo: So I have been in the space of women’s health specifically maternal health for now six years. I was always very attracted to gender equality issues and that to me was something that always came across in my [inaudible 00:20:00, in my discourse, in my relationships, in my actions, you could tell that that was one of my core values and that I was very frustrated with the situation and so I experienced growing up, particularly in my early twenties a lot of women’s health symptoms that were even incapacitating at times and that kept me for some short periods of time out of the office and I didn’t want to discuss with my employers so when I got into the women’s health, maternal health sector and having experienced myself how embarrassing it is sometimes just have to be discredited as a woman because I was on my cycle and needed to stay in bed and have a ton of Ibuprofen because I was having incapacitating cramps and the employer not believing you or thinking that it was like why do I have to explain this like why is there such a stigma still and why do we have better women’s health solutions and education and why is this not talked about and why do I have to hide in the bathroom.
The whole think kind of like came back to me, why do we force women to come back to work two weeks after having a baby and pretend like nothing happened because ones are going to lose their job or afraid they are going to lose opportunity like this needs to stop. So you know with my co-founders we started this app that at the beginning was very focused on public dysfunctions which usually happens after you have a baby like incompetence and sexual pain and pelvic pain and a lot of them they become chronic and helping women in that space right? And with user feedback we kind of saw that there was a match for the opportunity because we know the health care system as we know it today doesn’t have the tools and resources to offer us preventive personalized solutions and education so someone has to do it.
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative) its just so true it is a massive market opportunity and this is where we are going to pivot a little bit into some of the funding questions because gosh there is a huge need for this. More than half the population, we’re all under served there’s just such a lack when you think of health care options, you think of health insurance, you think of all these things just the lack of preventative care let alone preventative care focused on women. So you’re sitting, Estrella, on this massive market opportunity so what’s it like when you go out trying to raise money, trying to raise angel in venture capital for this industry known as sex tech. What happens, what are some of the things that investors tell you, like if you don’t mind like don’t name names but
Estrella Jaramillo: I won’t.
Melinda Wittstock: Because I know it’s hard enough to raise money, like right? So what are some of the obstacles you have to overcome to succeed here?
Estrella Jaramillo: I think the first one was a question of awareness and education. It was a matter of having an answer to the question “this only serves a very niche population” over and over again. I’m like how is fifty percent of the population niche, how are we still thinking that and it’s because these issues are so taboo because nobody talks about them openly people think they don’t happen and when you start showing the data. That was always the easiest way to overcome that barrier that you were mentioning. Usually once they see the data they would be like I get now that this is a thing right?
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Estrella Jaramillo: It definitely makes it more difficult like you said. Raising capital is always a challenge its a big challenge, but if you have a good idea or a product, you know eventually, if you don’t give up, eventually you will find the right partners but when you have a part of that it’s only for women, just the pool becomes smaller. And there’s many other things you also have to take into consideration for instance, and I have to say that I have seen a big transformation from three years ago to now in the way that people react to this and I think that being part of fem tech movement and the fact that some women’s health companies have already raised big chunks of capital has given legitimacy to the sector which I am very grateful for and I think that this is just the beginning because fem tech is going to be a fifty million dollar industry like 2025. It’s only going to grow and like I always say it’s unstoppable. As more women have acquisition power and realize that they can demand better solutions this is only going to grow right?
But you need to also still work a little bit with how uncomfortable they are with the topic. At the beginning I needed to, you are explaining the issues that you work with and I just sent them to you and you’re perfectly fine but if you say in confidence organ prolapse vaginal delivery in a room full of men, not everyone might be that comfortable unless they’re doctors, so you have to play with it a little bit. This is a conversation we had right at the beginning like should we sugar coat things, we decided not to obviously. Yeah it’s a fine line that you need to walk/
Melinda Wittstock: Mm-hmm (affirmative) So Female Equity: So we all got together, I first met you in Montauk, last year, at this beautiful place on the beach and there were a bunch of really high performing entrepreneurs and all of us got together and we talked about how we could ten ex the amount of capital available for women with scalable technology companies in the next ten years. We came up with a hashtag “10X10Y”
Now it was really funny, I was in San Francisco a several months ago and I was talking to a couple of VCs there and they said “no go bigger than that, go bigger, I saw just ten last week, you can go bigger than that.” Do you think that the tide is turning where we’re beginning to really be acknowledged that for men who are no on this, who are not open to funding women are just missing, like they may as well just put a whole bunch of, millions of dollars on the table and light a match and just like walk away from opportunity.
Estrella Jaramillo: No absolutely. And that’s the way it is and I mean time will tell, I really do think that we’re at an inflection point. I also know that there are still barriers that need to be overcome. But I do see indicators of change happening that I have never seen before. Now even California passed this law that companies need to talk at least one woman in the board to be able to operate. And it’s sad that you need to get to the point where you need to make strict regulations but that’s the way it has to be until we live in a world where gender biases and discrimination and any type of biases and discrimination are not a thing that’s keeping populations oppressed and closing doors on opportunities.
I definitely think that as more female entrepreneurs become successful they are going to start funding more female entrepreneurs so its just an upwards spiral right? Whether we will see the type of picture we want to see in ten years or fourteen or hopefully eight, I’m not sure because there’s a lot of things that have to play into that you know there’s now this huge talk in Silicon Valley about this bubble that we’re in that’s going to pop again so investors are already being weary when they give “give me money, write me checks.” You know there’s more that play a role definitely but definitely the most exciting time to be a female entrepreneur.
Melinda Wittstock: And so where do you see, oh gosh let me just ask this again, sorry Estrella. Estrella, so this is an exciting time and so what’s next for your company? What are the big things ahead in 2019 that you’ll be tackling? How do you see your growth trajectory? Where are you going? And what’s the big vision? Where are you ultimately going to be with this?
Estrella Jaramillo: So for now, for 2019 we’re excited to be launching some new pilots and deals with several companies, both in Europe and in the United States where we’re going to help them better understand the needs of the female workforce and their female populations that they work with. We finally see how big health care stakeholders and incumbents are starting to really see the need for them to invest in women’s health and to really provide a full range of services that they haven’t so far. Women are starting to act more as health care consumers. They are the ones that have the highest, the ones that are the decision-makers, sorry, in the household in terms of health care purchasing decisions but also for themselves so all of these organizations are starting to finally look into it and it takes time but we’re excited to be partnering now with some of our companies that are going to take the lead in really providing their employees and their female population with top notch wellness and preventative services. And we’re excited to see that grow to expand in scale and get more clients and also to draw some very strong numbers and really prove that by offering women better benefits and better health coverage they become not just more satisfied and healthy but also more productive and engaged.
Melinda Wittstock: This is a very exciting vision. I can’t wait to see how you do and I know that on the podcast pretty soon I want to get a bunch of us from female equity on [crosstalk 00:30:33 to really share this mission too of just what we need to do to go get the capital and what not that we need as well. So how can people find you, Estrella and work with you and find out best about your company and all its amazing products.
Estrella Jaramillo: So if they want to check out the company they can go to www.b-wom.com which is our site and then from there, or they can just look up the app store and download it, take a test, learn about their health and start taking care of their health journey today which is something that I recommend to everyone. People can also find my column, I am [inaudible 00:31:23 in the field of fem tech so I am always writing what’s coming on the market, what’s next, what trends I see, so definitely find me Estrella Jaramillo on Forbes and send me your thoughts, if you want to share anything I am always happy to exchange some thoughts and you can also maybe then link my Instagram together with the podcast so they can find me on social media too.
Melinda Wittstock: Wonderful. Well thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us.
Estrella Jaramillo: Thank you so much Melinda.