After having a bad experience with very expensive lab testing that resulted in little explanation from my doctors, I knew there had to be a better way – especially since managing biomarkers is a top contributor to preventing chronic disease. With a few other passionate people, I launched EverlyWell one year ago to redesign lab testing to be convenient and meaningful.
Today, EverlyWell is one of the fastest-growing consumer healthcare startups in recent history, and we’ve reached millions in sales in just 12 months since launching in beta — while also delivering profitable unit economics.
(In fact, today EverlyWell is celebrating our one-year anniversary – check out this infographic which shows our exciting growth since launch.)
It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come in just one year, and while it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing, I wouldn’t trade a minute of the experience. I think one year at a startup is equivalent to 5 years in the corporate world – I’ve had to become an expert in every function to grow the company and team at a very fast pace. It’s been a very rewarding and challenging experience, but ultimately I can’t imagine going back!
For those of you who are currently in your early startup journey, here are my first three secrets for navigating the ups and downs of founder-hood and entrepreneurship in your first year.
1. Your idea is all about timing
I had lots of ideas for companies before starting EverlyWell – but I decided to take the leap because timing is really important for startups, and now is the right time for consumer lab testing. There’s a fast-growing $250B industry around consumer-centered care, and I also believed people were more comfortable self-collecting after 23andMe set out the behavior. Consumers are now making market-based decisions about health and evaluating what they are spending money on. I was passionate about the idea and solution, but I also looked at the market forces and timing — and believed this could actually work.
2. Create a “top three” for your team
When you are growing a team extremely quickly, culture builds from the bottom up and there’s no time to focus on soft-culture activities. Coming from a variety of corporate jobs, I had been through extensive performance management and managerial training – most of which I intentionally wanted to throw out the window. Getting away from inefficient management and meetings was a big driver for starting my own company! But you still have to have management structures in place and a cohesive set of values, however start-up-y you may be.
The people you hire will all have very different skills from you – engineers, designers, you name it. That’s necessary for success, and the team will ultimately determine whether you succeed or fail. What aligns the successful members of our team is a common set of traits that are independent of expertise: intellectual curiosity, data-driven decisions, and excellent execution. Those are not the right three for everyone, but they are EverlyWell’s three. We now have an interview process in place, including a detailed 2-4 hour project, for anyone we consider for a role here. Get your team right early on so you don’t have to make talent changes that are painful for both sides.
As someone trying to hit goals, enhance product features, and launch new partnerships — I can tell you from experience that you need productive people willing to work extra hard to be part of the company’s success!
3. Your business is your #1 priority
I am a pretty transparent person, so when asked how I maintain a work life balance – the reality is that I don’t — and I do not have a goal to achieve that balance. At this stage, my business is a 24/7 job, and from every founder I’ve talked to, that does not get any better with time and scale – the challenges are just different!
Although I certainly believe that other early stage founders should structure their lives in whatever way makes them fulfilled and happy — I really love to work and believe that you have to commit fully to one thing to be excellent at it. So far it has paid off! (Part1).
In Part 1 of this blog, I touched on the importance of timing, early hires, and dedication when it comes to your early startup journey. Below are 3 more tips for navigating the ups and downs of founder-hood and entrepreneurship in your first year.
4. Trust your gut and create your own opportunities.
As startup founder it is important to listen to your instincts and go with your gut when the path is unknown. It takes just as much effort to go after a game-changing opportunity as a small partnership or PR splash. Go after the really big wins — and ration your availability. This will help with your own burnout and the perception of your brand and business. If you have a unique angle, capitalize on it! As a female founder, I’ve been afforded a lot of speaking opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I fit the mold. I choose to embrace those opportunities, because it’s hard enough to be a woman in tech. Let it differentiate you and your business.
5. Choose your investors wisely.
As CEO of EverlyWell, I’ve been through a few funding rounds, and I’ve experienced firsthand how difficult the process can be. One of my top pieces of advice for raising your first round of funding is choosing the right type of investor for your business. Pick your investors the same way you would pick your employees: look for someone who is a fit from both a skill set and cultural perspective. Know exactly why you want to work with them and why they should fund you. You need to know how it fits in with their portfolio and vision — and you want to vet them as much as they vet you. You can waste a lot of time talking to great VCs or angels who just structurally or philosophically don’t fit with your company.
6. Hold your principles.
“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time” — said Clayton Christensen, one of my professors from business school. To me this holds true in life and in entrepreneurship. As a founder, you set the standard for the company and the team. Your name and reputation are all you have, and while many decisions will be hard, you can always choose to do the right thing even in tough situations. When you go the extra mile or do something you didn’t have to, it often won’t be reciprocated — but it’s still worth doing!
As a first time startup CEO and founder, there are a lot of tough calls. You want to wake up every day and be proud of your actions. It takes a tremendous commitment to make it through the ups and downs during the first year — hopefully some of these tips can make it a rewarding experience for you too.
Julia Cheek is the CEO and Founder of EverlyWell. (www.inc.com)