Talk about all in the family. For Ran Ma, who comes from three generations of doctors, healthcare is in her blood.
“The expectation for me was to go to med school like every other nice Chinese girl," Ma tells SWAAY with a laugh. “But at the end of the day, I wanted to find my own path. I really appreciate what doctors do but I wanted to make a difference more on the prevention side. I wanted to help give people the tools to do something about their health before they have to get cut open. I wanted to work higher up in the healthcare chain."
After working in a wound lab where she did a lot of research on diabetic foot, Ma says she found her calling. “It stuck in my head," she says, about the issue in which high blood pressure leads to nerve damage in the foot. “People in the medical industry know that diabetic foot is a very traumatic, expensive, life-threatening problem, but it's very preventable."
Siren's first smart sock protype
With that idea in mind, Ma, who studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, decided to revolutionize the way diabetes patients monitor their health at home by introducing a smart sock that would help detect temperature changes in feet. In February of 2015, Ma began officially launched her company, Siren Care, which is designed to offer practical solutions to health issues through wearable technology. Ma's first prototype, which she today laughs about and describes as “hideous" was built after hours of research and her own development with a mix of parts she bought online.
“It was very painful, very hard at the beginning. I worked for a couple other start ups when I decided to do my own thing. It was a New Year's resolution. I told myself I'm going to work out and I want to start my own startup."
In March, 2015 Ma went to DFCon (Diabetic Foot Conference) with her homemade prototype to meet with podiatrists and surgeons. “They didn't know what to think of me," says Ma. “I started talking to doctors. I went back with their feedback and worked on another version."
This time Ma paid a professional to make the product, and she switched out the electrical parts and wires for smaller, more streamlined versions. Then, she went back to the conference the following year and unveiled her newest version. At this point, Ma says the reaction to her concept was even more positive.
“The sock got a little better, a little smaller, and a little more refined each time," says Ma, who subsequently brought on board two co-founders; CTO Jie Fu and COO Henk Jan Scholten, as well as an Industrial Designer to help take her to the next level. “Then I really reached the limit of my prototyping abilities," says Ma, adding that the company is currently seeking a head of growth.
Today the Siren Smart Sock, which sends a signal to a corresponding app should there be any significant change in your foot temperature, is making waves across the globe. It is available on the company's website for pre-order.
“I just started doing research," says Ma. “I made lists and kept coming back to diabetic foot and wearables I had all these ideas."
According to Ma, a big springboard to her brand's success was winning the Techcrunch Hardware Battlefield competition. After her subsequent feature in the magazine, Ma says Siren's website traffic exploded, and the product became one of the most popular articles on Reddit.
“The news about what we do is spreading like wildfire around the world."
“We are getting inquiries from as far as the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, Iceland, and Korea," says Ma, adding that she is plans to roll out in Europe next, followed by Asia. “Diabetes can happen to anyone anywhere. It touches the lives of so many."
“Our technology has a lot more uses than diabetic foot," says Ma, who plans to expand her line to include more intelligent undergarments. “I'm very passionate about prevention and health care and adjacent industries. There are many health issues that affect a lot of people, including the elderly who live with chronic disease. I want to make sure we have dignity in our older years and have devices that are easy to use and can detect things for you."
When it comes to funding, Ma says she raised about half a million in the summer of 2016, then joined an accelerator soon after. She is currently raising her seed round as is hoping to close a “significantly larger" investment in the next few weeks.
“We call ourselves consumer healthcare brand/company," says Ma, about her hybrid B2B and B2C brand proposition. “At the end of the day we need to make consumers happy, no matter who we sell to. That's what I care about."
For Ma, the biggest motivator for pushing her company forward continues to be the people she helps with her product introductions.
“I work with patients who have ulcers and have been bedridden for months trying to heal ulcers," says Ma. “They can't go to work. They're living in fear because they don't know when they will have the next ulcer, and by the time they see a doctor it's too late, surgery is the only option. We've come in and the response has been very happy and emotional."
"We want to help people. We want them to stop living in fear."
“I started with the problem," says Ma. “Then I built the technology to solve it."
"Just keep doing what you're doing and one day you will get there."
When asked what words of advice she would give to young entrepreneurs following in her footsteps, Ma says simply, “Never give up. No matter how hard it is. When I started people laughed at me. They said “what are you doing making socks in your bedroom? You're crazy. You could get some other job, but I didn't give up."
Ma, who will be making an academic presentation at DFCon 2017, adds that entrepreneurs shouldn't be afraid to put themselves out there, regardless of which point of the launch journey they may find themselves. "When I went to the conferences with my crazy prototype people laughed at me," says Ma. "But every conference I went to it got better. As long as you keep making progress no matter how small, don't give up."
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
I live the Tenderloin area of San Francisco and a lot of packages get stolen. The Doorman app is really useful so I can schedule deliveries for when I am at home and I can make sure my packages get to me in one piece.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
I have two types of mornings: day without presentations when I wake up 15 minutes in advance, shower, get dressed, run to work, and days with presentations when I wake up an hour and a half earlier to do hair, makeup, put on heels and a dress, land take Lyft or Uber to work.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Elon Musk. His vision is so big he's almost borderline crazy. I admire that!
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Penicillin. It's one of the major milestones in modern medicine and has saved millions of lives.
5. What is your spirit animal?
Tiger. Just like my Chinese horoscope. Fearless.
6. What is your life motto?
"Never give up!"
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful.
"Willing to take risk"
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Silicon Valley. I knew this is where I was going to learn how to build my company and where I was going to build it. That was three years ago.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Laptop, power generator, some way to connect to the internet.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.