From our experiences as teenagers to the intimate conversations we have as adults, the moment someone mentions the words “periods” or “fertility” most of us blush and look away.
Despite “reproduction being the core of our human experience,” we remain embarrassed to discuss the different elements of the process.
Kindara, a fertility startup based in Boulder, Colorado is reimagining a world where words like cervical fluid and basal body temperature are understood, not shunned.
“From day one, Kindara has been about educating, normalizing, and de-catastrophizing fertility,” Co-founder and CEO Will Sacks explained.
“We want to make this area of life something we can all talk about, understand, and navigate.”
In November, The New York Times published an article about how mobile period trackers are normalizing the conversation about feminine health; Especially for teenage girls who no longer have to feel embarrassed about their cycles.
With an active community of over a million users, Kindara is playing an important role leading the charge.
With their fertility tracking app and Wink, their soon to be released basal body temperature thermometer, the team’s goal is to give “women a record of their reproductive health from when they first get their period to when they stop menstruating.”
In today’s featured episode, Will gives us an inside look into the startup’s journey designing Wink, how founders can navigate the complexities of hardware, as well as his personal experiences raising capital and leading the team.
As personal users of the Fertility Awareness Method, Will and his wife Cati, who is also a co-founder at Kindara, felt that “cheap, plastic thermometers weren’t sufficient for something so important in life.”
They created Wink to be a small, sleek thermometer designed to fit into your life. You’ll notice it looks similar to a mascara wand or a tube of lip gloss.
The goal is that the product “doesn’t communicate sickness or pregnancy,” Will asserted.
Kindara began their initial product testing with college students who tested Wink mockups.
Will and his team watched the women use the mockups in bed, on the go, sitting up, and laying down.
They focused intently on the way the students put the thermometer down – Did they stand it up or lay it down? – and whether they used one or both hands to do so.
“You need to see actual people using your mockups,” Will affirmed.
A general, yet often neglected, node to startups: Don’t design what you think your customers want and then go build it. You will most likely be wrong. Optimize your time by asking your users what they’re looking for and deliver.
Every time you interact with a customer you learn things you’d never think of.
To the adage that ‘hardware is hard,’ Will’s advice to founders is to: “Budget 18 months from when you first start the design to when you ship it.”
“There are a lot of important steps you can’t rush through,” he said.
In reflecting on his team’s experience, Will would have designed for manufacturability, rather than bringing a concrete design to the factory in Thailand.
Working alongside your manufacturer enables you to garner a clear understanding of what’s possible and will save you time, money, and unnecessary stress. The design you start with isn’t the design you’ll end with. Approach production with an open attitude.
As a team, it is inevitable that you will face numerous challenges designing, developing, and manufacturing your product.
Be honest with your customers about where you are, what progress has been made, and the challenges you’re working to overcome. You’ll be surprised how open, excited, and supportive they are to see you through the journey.
“You have to build trust with your customers. Send an update saying ‘Here’s where we are. Here’s where we’re going. Here’s what you can expect.”
You can read Will’s latest update here.
To navigate these challenges as a founder, Will shares a life lesson he learned fundraising: Focus on the process, not the result.
Since raising their seed round in 2012, Kindara’s raised nearly $7 million. As with all founders, fundraising isn’t Will’s favorite part of the job, nor was it an experience he was previously familiar with.
“Instead of focusing on getting a yes, I focused on getting a meeting,” he explained.
At the start of the process, he set out to have 100 meetings with investors until Kindara got funded.
He literally wrote a check list from one to 100 and marked off each number as he made progress.
The key here is to focus on the meeting, not the outcome.
This will enable you to stop asking questions like: ‘Am I going to be able to do this or not?’
When you approach any type of goal with this mentality (you can use this framework for writing blog posts, eating healthy, etc.) you establish a unit of progress to keep you motivated and on track.
The list is especially helpful for startups raising capital as you’re destined to hear ‘No’ far more than ‘Yes.’
It’s important to remember that fundraising is “a matching process. You need to have chemistry and put all of the pieces together in the puzzle,” Will explained.
If you’re a first-time founder, prepare to answer these questions during your initial meetings with investors.
- How are you going to get customers?
- How is your business defensible?
- Why is your team the right team to execute this?
- How are you going to make money?
To gain deeper insight, read Will’s post How to Raise Money for Your Startup in 10 Steps and Paul Graham’s essay How to Raise Money, which Will recommends every founder read.
While raising capital is always, and rightfully, focused on convincing investors to believe in your business, there’s an equally important element of convincing yourself and being confident in your approach.
“I had to convince myself about what we are doing and feel rock solid about the future of Kindara, the future of medicine, how we fit into that and they way we’ll exist in the future,” Will said.
Achieving this clarity empowers you to develop your personal confidence which will make a significant impact in your pitch.
People can feel when you don’t believe your own story.
As all founders know, fundraising is one of the countless tasks you have to complete, and complete well, as a leader.
Having long forgone the transition from a family to a team, Will’s role as CEO continues to evolve as Kindara’s needs change and grow.
“You go from being a weed, to a tree, to an oak,” he said.
“Today, my role is making Kindara a sustainable company with a culture where everyone knows why we exist and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The single, most important way to achieve that is building and fostering an exceptional team with deep roots in the company’s mission.
Will starts all interviews by saying: “Kindara is a feminist company that exists around empowering women with their bodies as a way to evolve culture on the planet.”
If there’s no “heart connection” in a candidate’s response, it’s not the right fit.
“Everyone has to feel something towards the mission. Without that, you have no glue holding everything together,” he explained.
We wear our mission on our sleeve. It’s why we exist.
As the team grows, self-awareness reigns as one of Kindara’s most important values.
Whether you’re the CEO or an intern, “everyone has their blind spots. If you aren’t aware and don’t own them bad things happen.”
For example, if you have difficulty adapting to change, you should tell your team ‘I know I can be stubborn. I’m working on it.’
“If you do that everyone else will follow,” Will explained.
Everyone sees through the idea of leadership that the infallible leader can do no wrong.
“No one is a superhero. We all have our kryptonite.” It’s up to you to be honest about it.
Be real about who you are and who you’re developing yourself to be.
Revealing your blind spots as a person and leader is a great step forward. However, coming to terms with them extends far past admitting they exist.
Whether your goal is to raise a round of funding or release a new product, remember that “more money and achievements aren’t going to make you happier.”
“There’s a false finish line [with goals]. You’re never going to get somewhere in life and say ‘I’ve arrived! Now everything is finished!’”
“Stay centered, and dance with life until the music stops. It doesn’t stop when you reach an achievement.”
To learn more about Will’s journey follow him on his blog Focus: Create and on Twitter at @willsacks.
Images retrieved from Kindara.