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.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."