4min readCareer 12 December 2019
Ok, I'm Outta Here.
If you haven't heard already, being an entrepreneur is HARD. It's extremely risky; there's a lot of late nights, salary loss risk, a lot of uncertainty, and the list goes on and on. These are the "known unknowns," so to speak, and they are challenging, but expected.
The real challenge, the single largest factor to prepare for is the steady flow of, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, "unknown unknowns," you must overcome on a daily basis. This cannot be overstated. As a leader in a startup, you will be confronted with a broad and largely unpredictable set of conundrums, and the only way to prepare is to anticipate their arrival with an open mind and a deep breath.
The transition period is unsettling because while you're trying to grow your idea into a tangible entity, you're thrown obstacle after obstacle that tests your perseverance not only mentally but physically as well.
I had a solid career in Brand Marketing at the largest food company in the world— a position that I had dreamt of earlier on in my career. I wanted it so badly that I got an MBA just to qualify for it. This coveted position would open the doors to significant career advancement opportunities. But something was amiss… at the end of the day, the organization of which I was part, while spinning a tale of innovation and respect for, "out of the box" thinking was entrenched in conservative and traditional ideas with deeply shortsighted planning. I said, "Ok, I'm outta here."
Soon after leaving my job, I learned the hard truth that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Rose-colored glasses blind you from the lurking dangers you need to path around. Being a realist is vitally important, and the faster you accept the situation that arises, the faster you can act to correct it. When you embrace this is a natural part of the entrepreneurial process, the resulting incremental success will help ensure long term survival.
I also learned the hard way that sometimes you have to come to terms with killing your "best" ideas. An early company of mine, a beverage line, was destined for failure. We had no major customers lined up, our formulation had too short of a shelf life requiring a tiny sales window, and it required a large amount of capital for the initial production. Don't get me wrong, the actual product would be GREAT, and I've recently seen a similar iteration of the product in the beverage aisle, but that's not always the point - at the time we were not capitalized to make that product and coming to terms with that notion is KEY. Venture capitalists call it "failing fast," and if it ain't gonna work, it's better to decide to can it, sooner rather than later.
A major career change will affect all arenas of your life, least of which are the relationships in it. It's been said that you should never work with friends or family, and I've learned the hard way that this adage has stood the test of time for a reason. This isn't to say it's impossible, but there will, like any other relationship, be challenges as your circumstances and dynamics undergo changes. This may be with your business partner, your family, or even your friends as your priorities shift to focus on your newfound project. If you're one of the lucky ones, your relationships may remain unaffected by the major adventure that you've chosen to undertake. If not, the good news is that you can prepare for the inevitable ups and downs.
Business partnerships are like any other relationship—you need to be transparent and explicit not only about what your expectations are for the business but also your relationship in the event that your venture doesn't work out. We all hope relationships won't sour, but it's good practice to anticipate and prepare for the possibility that it might. Take stock of your support system: Who will you turn to outside of your partnership to discuss problems? From whom can you get honest but constructive feedback? Whether a support system means finding a seasoned mentor in the industry, checking in more frequently with a therapist, or taking the time to destress with girlfriends at a weekly brunch, schedule me-time just like you would any other meeting or event.
Your Company is Not You
As an entrepreneur, you have to be flexible to pivot when necessary. So when my goal of starting a beverage line didn't pan out, I reached into my back pocket to see what other ideas I had in the past that could come to fruition. I took all those ideas and worked on them simultaneously to see which project could get the most traction. From this journey materialized DoggieLawn, an eco-friendly alternative to pee-pads that just seemed to naturally make sense for a busy pet owner like myself.
It's important to prepare for failure as much as you would prepare for success. Failure is a natural part of this process. And it's so easy to dwell on it when it feels like everything is falling apart before your eyes.
But if and when things go awry, be solution-oriented instead of ruminating over what could have been. Remind yourself that running into obstacles is normal, and success doesn't happen overnight, despite what our social media inundated culture would have us believe.
You can easily become overwhelmed, depressed, or even take it personally. This is why I advise women who are thinking of making the big shift from corporate to being their own boss to prepare for failure as much as you would for success. Your ideas and your company are not YOU. When you ditch a product line or shutter a company, you must not shutter yourself. Meditate on this notion before you even start - you'll thank yourself later.
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With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."