On our third episode of the OneHaas Alumni High Impact Teaming (HIT) Series with Dr. Brandi Pearce, we have a conversation with Haas alumni Amy Fan. Amy completed the dual degree program with an MBA and MPH in 2019.
During her time at Haas, she also launched her start-up, TwentyEight Health, a women’s health platform to provide reproductive and sexual health care, with a focus on providing access to underserved communities.
Amy’s experience growing up in Canada with public healthcare and her professional experience years working as a management consultant and for a start-up team providing direct consumer skincare, fostered a client centered and equity lens that she has brought to the design of TwentyEight Health.
Listen to how she has leveraged her experiences to design and build her team with intention and lead during this challenging time.
Disclaimer: The views shared in this episode are Amy’s personal opinions and reflections and not necessarily those of her employer.
“Haas has created this ecosystem where there’s a lot of a sense of psychological safety, even from a relationship perspective.”
“We want to make sure that everyone feels supported and even though we might be working on different things, at the end of the day, we’re working towards a bigger goal.”
“Giving people that sense of ownership over their projects makes it a lot easier for them to also think through.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Sean: Welcome to the OneHaas alumni podcast. I’m your host, Sean Li. And today we’re joined by my cohost, Dr. Brandi Pearce, and this is part three now of our High Impact Teaming series. Today, we’re joined by Amy Fan. She is a full-time MBA class of 2019. Welcome to the podcast.
Amy: Thank you.
[00:00:46] Brandi: Welcome Amy, we’re so grateful to have you here.
[00:00:48] Amy: Thank you. I’m very excited to be here.
[00:00:52] Brandi: It is wonderful to have you here as we talk about high impact teaming. But as we get started, I’d love to just have you introduce yourself.
[00:01:01] Amy: Sure. My name is Amy, I did the dual degree program at Haas. So, I simultaneously pursued a Master of Public Health. I originally grew up in Canada, so I think healthcare has been something that’s been really interesting for me living in the US where I experienced a very different healthcare system growing up.
[00:01:18] Sean: Actually, wanted to ask you about where you grew up in Canada, and what made you choose to come to Haas all the way from New York?
[00:01:29] Amy: Sure. My family’s originally from Taiwan and I actually did up to grade one there so I can speak Mandarin. Although my reading and writing is terrible.
[00:01:37] Sean: Same here.
Amy: I bet your mom didn’t work at your Chinese school and is a little bit disappointed. But yeah, I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. Absolutely beautiful place to grow up. And I went to college at Queens University, which we call the East coast of Canada, even though it’s not on a coast. It’s about three hours away from Toronto, three hours from Montreal. And actually, stayed on the “East Coast of Canada”. Afterward, I worked at Bain for three years in Toronto and that’s how I made the transition to New York.
[00:02:14] Sean: What made you pick Haas? I mean, there are so many amazing schools out East.
[00:02:18] Amy: For me, I felt like the community was something that was really important. One of the things I really loved about my experience at being, and I realize it’s not the same experience for everyone in a different office is that I worked at a really small office. So, at the time the Toronto office had only about 80 consultants.
[00:02:36] For comparison, I think the New York office is about 500 consultants. So, it’s a much smaller office. And I felt like I had the opportunity to get to know everyone really well at all different levels. And even now I’ve been away from Bain for eons and when I go back to Toronto, I will still pop in an office to say hi, because that’s the type of tight-knit connections they’re able to make.
[00:02:59] So, when I was looking at business school, I really wanted to go somewhere where there was that same sense of community. So, it was really focused on, one, what was the student community like? And the second piece also the class size. I really valued actually a smaller class size where I felt like there was a better opportunity to get to know more individuals as well as to be able to get involved in more activities and extracurriculars because there are just more opportunities for a smaller student body.
[00:03:28] Brandi: I didn’t realize actually that TwentyEight Health was initiated and started while you were at Haas. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and your experience?
[00:03:38] Amy: Sure. Prior to Haas, I was working as a general manager of a direct to consumer skincare startup in New York. And I really loved how consumer centric beauty was. Everything we created was in the service of our end-user. We got a really deep understanding of what their lifestyles are like, what their pain points are, what their desires are, and from the product packaging, the formulation, to the unboxing experience, we created everything with them in mind, and it was very contrary to my experience with the healthcare system in the US where it is incredibly hard to navigate. Very difficult for me to find not only an OB/GYN but one that was in-network, accepted new patients, and had time to actually schedule an appointment that was outside of a typical workday. And I also recognize that. I was already coming from a fortunate place where I had employer sponsored insurance versus individuals who are either uninsured or under-insured.
[00:04:32] And I think for me, that was a really interesting part of my experience, where I experienced such a dichotomy and a big motivator for me to want to go back to school to learn more about the US healthcare system, and really think about how to bring a more consumer-centric approach to building patient experiences.
[00:04:49] I didn’t initially expect that I would build a business while at Haas. I had come from an early-stage startup. I left because I felt burnt out and wanted to just take the time to explore while I was at Haas.
[00:05:01] But, very serendipitously I met a co-founder who had very similar passions and started creating a venture there. And I’m so appreciative of the community, both the peers that were building startups as well. As well as the professors that were incredibly supportive, opening up, not only their expertise and knowledge but also their network to really help TwentyEight Health get off the ground.
[00:05:24] Amy: So, I don’t necessarily recommend this to other folks if they are trying to start a business while at school. But I started TwentyEight in January of 2018. So, about a semester after I started the full-time program. And it was really because my boyfriend had recommended me to talk to his old coworker from the Gates Foundation.
[00:05:47] His name is Bruno and he was really interested in thinking about bringing some of the insights he saw about telemedicine in the reproductive sexual health space in Africa, and thinking about how do we leverage those learnings, particularly around overcoming stigma, overcoming lack of affordability and lack of infrastructure, and bring it to the US.
[00:06:08] And I just thought the idea was so interesting I wanted to continue with it. And I was also very fortunate where I got a lot of support from professors. Pretty much every student who worked with me on any project, that project was about TwentyEight, and I’m very appreciative as well that my peers are so understanding. Where I talked about birth control a lot while at school. And so, I was able to leverage a lot of the classroom learnings to be able to continue to explore it. I had a lot of support from a scholarship perspective as well that made it all that more feasible to be able to pursue entrepreneurship after graduation. And I basically was a full-time student and full-time at the startup for the majority of my time at Haas.
[00:06:52] Brandi: As you think about community and the Haas community, because I think that’s something we all value and in this moment where we’re remote and not moving through the courtyard and seeing that community day to day, I think it would be interesting to hear what did it feel like to be a part of the Berkeley Haas community?
[00:07:14] Amy: I think the best way I could describe it was that I was excited to come to campus every day. And whether it’s for classes or for a meeting for a student project, I was always excited to be there and I would spend probably all day on campus because it was so nice to be able to just sit in the courtyard and have whoever walked by stop and say hi, and it could be someone that’s in your cohort or maybe someone you just recently met.
[00:07:45] And I think that’s something that I find is very rare in the real world where people have a lot higher personal barriers. And I think Haas has created this ecosystem where there’s a lot of psychological safety, even from a relationship perspective. So, I think people are very open to just walk up to a new person and be like, Hey, I saw you in class. We haven’t had a chance to meet yet, this is my name. This is where I’m from. What about you? And I think that’s something that’s really special.
[00:08:17] Brandi: Yeah, it is really special. It’s interesting to name it because I think it is something we tend to be very intentional and how we launch our students into the ecosystem, but also how we’ve crafted space in terms of the development of Chou Hall and the courtyard, and the connectivity and the capacity to actually create opportunities for people to connect.
[00:08:57] So, it’s really interesting to hear you name that feeling, and something that I think we’re all missing a little bit in this moment. Before we move forward, I think it would be so nice to hear a little bit about you personally. If we weren’t looking at your LinkedIn or your vita, what are the kinds of things that help you feel passion or that you really love are more specific to you?
[00:09:21] Amy: I would say the first thing that is not on my LinkedIn whatsoever, but for anyone who has known me, I think for more than a week somehow identifies I have this really deep love for dogs. That was actually the first job I wanted – was to become a veterinarian. Even in high school, I worked at my dog’s veterinarian clinic and that was also when I very quickly realized that I was not good with blood and that was probably not a viable career.
[00:09:49] But I think one of the things that makes me love spending time with animals so much, really needing to be present where, especially with the dog, they like to have attention. I think it’s just a good way to realize that you don’t always have to be on and thinking about something or doing something to be able to enjoy spending time.
[00:10:10] And then the other piece, I think, is probably not very obvious on my LinkedIn, I am a trained yoga teacher, which occasionally comes out with my team because we do weekly team activities. And we’ll usually alternate. Yoga is one of those. So, I’ll conduct a virtual yoga class. And it’s something that I initially got into because while I was living in New York, I started doing CrossFit and really loved the intensity and also really loved the community that’s around there as well. But I was realizing that a lot of my old injuries actually from playing sports in high school were coming back. So, I wanted to get into yoga as a way of thinking about how do we better take care of my body and really thinking through if I want to be healthy and active for the rest of my life. What are the things I need to do rather than just pushing as hard as possible all the time. And as I did yoga teacher training, I really enjoyed the mental aspect of yoga, really thinking about the idea of listening to yourself and listen to your body and what it needs that day.
[00:11:13] It doesn’t mean you always have to be at 110%. And I think that’s a different speed than I was used to. And I think that’s something that also has made a really big difference in the way I approach building TwentyEight to the startup experience I have before.
[00:11:28] When there are times where it is really important to get something out, it’s really important to get speed to market. But there are other times where it’s okay to take a step back and make sure that everyone feels like they can have a break and have a moment to breathe because that’s also a really important part of sustainability in the longterm.
[00:11:48] Brandi: It’s interesting to think about how these passions we have in our lives seep into the way we lead and yoga is a nice metaphor for that intentionality and mindfulness. I’m curious as you think about your experience in building TwentyEight Health, can you tell us a little bit about its mission and how you got there?
[00:12:12] Amy: The mission of TwentyEight Health is to increase access to reproductive and sexual health. And our focus is on underserved communities. There are two ways that we look at underserved communities. One is thinking about access to healthcare coverage. So, we want to make sure that individuals on Medicaid, individuals who are uninsured or under-insured have the same access to high-quality affordable, and convenient healthcare as everyone else.
[00:12:35] And the second lens is unfortunately the reality of the demographic that tends to be on Medicaid, who are underinsured uninsured, typically are women from low income as well as women of color. I think that’s something really important to recognize because there is such dire differences in terms of patient outcome. Whether it’s in maternal health or reproductive and sexual health when it comes to race.
[00:13:00] And I think it’s an important topic for us at TwentyEight. We want to make sure that we keep in mind because there’s a lot of systemic racism that does occur in the healthcare system. And how do we make sure that we are aware of our own biases and that we’re not building towards the same biases as before?
[00:13:20] Brandi: Can you tell me a little bit about how that shows up in the design of the organization, the work that you do, and the partnerships that you build? How you actually deliver to the customer or client?
[00:13:32] Amy: I think that’s an interesting question because talking with investors as we’ve gone out and fundraise, a question that we’ve gotten from folks is, Oh, well, everything is on the internet and you say it’s mobile-first.
[00:13:46] So, do these individuals even have access to phones? And I think that just shows how easy it is to make assumptions about a community that you’re not a part of where actually for a lot of low-income communities, many people have smartphones and that is their main way to be able to access internet and that’s why it was really important for us to make sure that, one, as we’re rebuilding it, it is mobile responsive. The second piece is thinking about the language that we use as well, where the average reading level in the US is at a great eight reading level.
[00:14:16] So we have articles that talk about reproductive and sexual health and there are some medical terms that are more difficult to switch out, but how do we make the language clear, easy to understand where there are words that are more complicated? Can we define them in the articles so that it’s approachable for everyone to be able to read and digest?
[00:14:38] Brandi: It fascinates me because it reminds me of years ago, traveling in developing parts of the world where there weren’t landlines, but there was mobile technology. And so, it’s interesting for us to think about not only how this access is individuals who may be underserved in our own society here in the US but also more globally. And I’m curious, do you see this having a global impact at some point?
[00:15:04] Amy: Yeah, I would say it’s a part of the long-term vision because for us we want to serve as many women as possible. I would say in the near term, that’s not where our focus is because one of the nuances with being in the US is understanding insurance, in particular Medicaid. And that’s a big focus for us because for individuals on Medicaid, it’s actually much more difficult to get care, even though there’s actually pretty great coverage once you’re able to get care. So, for example, one in three doctors in the US do not accept new Medicaid patients. So, for them to even see a clinician in the first place, that can already be a hurdle. And for someone who might not be as well-resourced around how to navigate the healthcare system, it’s really difficult to understand what’s covered and what’s not. And for someone who really cannot pay anything out of pocket for their healthcare services, that becomes a huge deterrent to even engage with the healthcare system.
[00:16:02] Brandi: Can you walk us through a little bit, how you overcome that particular hurdle? How does that translate to the end-user?
[00:16:09] Amy: There’s a lot in the way we set up the company, as well as we set up our partnerships to make sure that we are able to take Medicaid. And from a user perspective, we actually try and make it as seamless as possible. So, when a user signs up, they provide their medical information, as well as if they do have any form of insurance coverage, like Medicaid.
[00:16:31] And that’s all the work they have to do on their end. We’re the ones that will bill insurance. And if there are any issues or if there is a co-pay that they didn’t expect, we’ll make sure that we let them know what the co-pay is. Also see if there are alternatives that have lower co-pay.
[00:16:47] For taking birth control, there are over a hundred different brands and the coverage for each brand can actually differ even if they are medically equivalent. So, they essentially have the same active ingredients. And that’s something that we also want to support our users through. And then the other piece that we’re also thoughtful about is we want to make this really inclusive and, unfortunately, there’s also a lot of stigma around having Medicaid and using Medicaid.
[00:17:17] So, you’ll actually see on a website, we don’t talk very explicitly about serving underserved communities. We do say we accept Medicaid, but we say in the context of we accept commercial insurance, including Medicaid, as well as we offer a self-pay option. Because we also want people to see that this is a high-quality service that’s available for everyone and that we don’t need to create something that is less dignified or less empowering because we are serving an underserved population. And that’s another question that investors have asked us about as well of, looking at our design saying, Oh, this feels like a millennial product. It feels like it’s something that might be priced at a premium. How do you think about that and your end customers?
[00:18:03] And again, I think there’s just a level of that being a little bit out of touch with understanding. The fact that we all want to have access to healthcare services, we don’t necessarily want to self-identify it to say that I don’t have the income level to be able to get employer-sponsored insurance. And therefore, like I need to go somewhere that’s inferior.
[00:18:25] Sean: I’m really curious, when we talk about underserved communities, especially with, I may be completely out of touch with this, but with a women’s health. I imagine it’s a pretty wide age range. What are some challenges you have? Are you guys able to help underage women as well?
[00:18:43] Amy: So, we started with birth control as the first product that we launched. And right now, we offer birth control pills, patch ring, as well as the shot, and emergency contraception. And I think organically because the nature of what we started with our user skew younger. So, the majority of our users are between 18 to 25 years old.
[00:19:03] However, we can serve anyone who’s between 16 to 49 years old. In addition, our vision is to be a comprehensive women’s health platform. So, we are planning and adding additional products in non-contraceptive areas later this year. And we will likely, because of that, also attract a broader demographic in terms of age.
[00:19:24] Sean: The only reason I asked that question is because growing up, I always heard these stories about teenage pregnancies. I guess is that still an issue today?
[00:19:34] Amy: Yeah, that’s a good question. There’s been a lot of work that’s been done over the last few decades, specifically around preventing teenage pregnancies, and actually, there is a non-profit that we work with called Power to Decide. And that’s their main focus. It’s really decreasing, unintended pregnancies for teens.
[00:19:55] They’ve actually been very successful with their mission. So, in the last decade or so they’ve rebranded to Power to Decide to really focus on increasing access to contraception. So, I think the education is becoming better and better. And I think the internet is really helpful for that because even if your school doesn’t offer sex education, you can still go online and find medically accurate, scientifically-backed information about sexual education.
[00:20:23] That being said, I would say education is still something that is important because there are many states that do not mandate that sexual education has to be medically accurate when taught in school. Which is bewildering because if it’s not medically accurate, what are you teaching kids? But that’s a whole other question.
[00:20:47] So, I would say to your point, education is still an important piece, but access I think now it’s becoming even more important. Another stat is that 20 million women live in contraceptive deserts and the way contraceptive deserts are defined are areas where there is a lack of access to a clinic that offers a full range of contraceptive methods.
[00:21:09] And I highly recommend for individuals to check out Power to Decide. They have these really interesting maps where they actually show you clinics by state and by county. And when you look at it by county, I think that’s the most stark where there are many states where there are tons of counties that have zero public health clinics.
[00:21:29] So, that means that even if you wanted to get care, it’s really difficult to, unless you have access to a car and you can drive maybe for hundreds of kilometers.
[00:21:38] Brandi: This startup was just named by poets and quants one of the most disruptive startups of 2020. What do you see that your organization is doing? What is it disrupting really fundamentally?
[00:21:54] Amy: I would say that we are re-imagining the way that we can deliver care, particularly when it comes to reproductive and sexual health. And a big emphasis for us is making sure that it’s inclusive. And there are other direct to consumer medication delivery startups, especially in the birth control space that is out there. But we’re the only ones that are actually thinking about the underserved communities and thinking about how do we make sure the access exists there?
[00:22:24] Brandi: I want to step back and think a little bit about how you design and develop your organization to be able to execute on that mission. So, what have you done to be able to disrupt this market with this vision that you have?
[00:22:40] Amy: I think a part of the organization’s design is also really thinking about the values of the company and how that will impact the culture of the company. So, very early on my co-founder Bruno and I spent a lot of time thinking about the company values and what our values are. How we want to bring those to TwentyEight and also distilling them down into phrases that are a little bit more tangible, easy to understand.
[00:23:07] And I think that’s a really important first step before even hiring anyone or designing the structure of the company and what the roles are and how people report to one another. Because I think fundamentally the values will drive how you end up designing and how you end up building the team.
[00:23:27] And for us, one of our number one values is putting people first. And there’s a couple of aspect this touches. One is always putting our users first that we want to treat them as individuals. We want to be empathetic and listen to their needs and do as much as we can to help them. And the second one is also with our team, both Bruno and I actually come from management consulting backgrounds and really valued the investment in teams that a lot of consulting firms have.
[00:23:56] And we want to make sure that everyone feels supported and even though we might be working on different things, at the end of the day, we’re working towards a bigger goal. And that means that whenever we can help one another, we should. So, I think those are elements that help to think about who is the right first hire. As well as even larger business processes, particularly when it comes to customer experience and operations, if we always have our end users in mind, how do we actually design it? So, it’s really easy to use for them so it creates a really positive experience and making sure that I feel is really seamless.
[00:24:33] Brandi: When you think about those two elements in practice in relationship to your end user, your clients, and your team, maybe we can start with your clients, what does that actually look like from the startup lens?
[00:25:03] Amy: Yeah. So, one example is that we always get feedback from users and our customer experience and operations team as we’re building our product. So, we regularly conduct large surveys with our group of users, and every week the customer experience and operations team will also share our user feedback we got that week.
[00:25:24] And this ensures that as we’re building the product itself, so the tech platform, we’re really keeping in mind the needs of the users that we serve and trying to solve challenges that arise on their end as well as we continue to develop the product, what are their needs and what are additional things that we can help with. I would say another way that this comes up from a team perspective is we do a daily all hands to make sure that everyone feels really connected. And the all-hands we do for 15 minutes, we don’t talk about anything specific in terms of from a business perspective. We usually talk about the latest show that we watched on Netflix.
[00:26:08] And the idea is just to create that bond and connectivity between one another that is really hard to have when everyone is watching remotely. And I think actually building those bonds is really important so people feel comfortable reaching out when they do need to ask for help. We’ve grown quite quickly during this year.
[00:26:27] So, there are quite a few folks that we’ve hired completely remotely. And I think that helps to put a face with the name and makes it more approachable to just send someone a stock message. Say, Hey, like, I don’t understand this or I’m looking for this. I’m not sure where it is. Can you help me?
[00:26:43] Brandi: I mean, that’s actually a really interesting question is more and more companies are at a point where they’re beginning to onboard individuals completely remotely. So, I’m curious, in addition to this bonding, are there any other practices that you’re using to support you in onboarding individuals who may never come into an office with you?
[00:27:05] Amy: Yeah. So, we also do what I call musical chairs one-on-one virtual coffee chats. So, it’s a very long name. Every two weeks we randomize who’s a matchup with one another and encourage them to take 20 to 30 minutes to book a meeting with the other person. Video is optional because we actually try and do video for all of our meetings but we recognize there is fatigue looking at the screen.
[00:27:31] And we also encourage folks to go outside for a walk. Maybe show your partner where you are at. A lot of us are actually no longer in New York where the company is based and taking the opportunity to spend time with family or friends. So, that’s another part of being able to get to know one another better and just making sure that we are still providing those moments that would typically happen organically if you were coming to the office, maybe just going to go for lunch with someone and making sure that we’re creating space for those types of opportunities.
[00:28:05] Brandi: I mean it’s interesting to think about this combination of structured flexibility, right? Actually, putting some structure around making sure that these interactions are happening with that flexibility to allow it to be organic in nature. TwentyEight Health is designed in such a way that you have not only your internal team, but you also have lots of partners. I’m curious how you think about what you need to cultivate to be successful in navigating this more dynamic ecosystem that does embody your organizational design.
[00:28:41] Amy: I think working with a distributed team from the very beginning, particularly when it comes to our physician partners or a pharmacy partner, it’s helped us a lot to make the transition during the pandemic to fully remote. Because, from a business perspective, a lot of our processes actually didn’t change.
[00:28:58] We no longer come into the office, but other than that, it’s more or less the same for everyone. And the way we’ve been able to make that successful is to actually spend time putting in processes, putting in training, as well as communicating clear expectations at the very beginning. And I think that’s something that feels a little bit counterintuitive, especially for our startup where the nice part about being at startups is that it is smaller and nimble, and it’s not necessarily burdened by bureaucracy. But there is a level of structure that can help provide clarity, especially when teams are working asynchronously. Our communication with our pharmacy partner is not always in real-time, but we do need for them to take certain actions and respond to us. So, at the very beginning, we collaborated with them to build out a process that would work for both of our organizational entities.
[00:29:51] And that collaboration has made it a lot easier to make sure, one, it’s successful, but also to establish clear expectations at the very beginning of that. For example, even if something is asynchronous, how do we highlight when something’s urgent? How do we highlight what we actually need a response by a certain time and making sure those are all in place before we start to scale?
[00:30:13] Brandi: One of the things you talked about early on is the importance of values, that your values are really driving how you’re organizing your teams, how you’re connecting into your partners. Did that play a role in the partners you actually selected?
[00:30:26] Amy: I would say it showed up in two ways. One, we were just starting out. We were so small. We had no customers. There was really no reason for these very established organizations, such as our pharmacy partner, to work with us. It was a lot about the personal connection and them believing our vision and them being really inspired that there is a direct to consumer company trying to solve acts of the health care for underserved communities.
[00:30:56] And that matches with their ethos where they’re a pharmacy that actually has been around for decades. The majority of their clients are Medicaid or Medicare. And so, for them, that’s what was really interesting because they also recognize that there’s not a lot of pharmacies that focused specifically on that demographic that now is thinking about online services.
[00:31:20] So, to be honest, I don’t know how intentional of us from our end at the beginning of really thinking about, okay, we want partners with similar values, but I think organically that happened because all we had at the beginning was our mission and our values. And that’s what attracted people to us.
[00:31:37] Brandi: It’s interesting to think about how purpose, values, allows an entity to grow even when we’re not necessarily assuming it’s intentional, but in and of itself, self-selection, people self-select into us and allow us to grow around our values system.
[00:32:15] Brandi: So, I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk about this moment in time. So, you have this startup in this concept that you’ve been working on since you were in graduate school. And then all of a sudden we hit this pandemic where actually telemedicine has now become normalized.
[00:32:34] And I’m curious what the impact has been to your organization and how you’ve adapted and adjusted to this unique opportunity in some ways that the markets have opened and perhaps created more capacity for what you do.
[00:32:50] Amy: Yeah. I feel very fortunate to be a part of a startup that is working in healthcare right now, because exactly like you said, Brandi, we have been very positively impacted from a growth perspective where there’s more need than ever before for telemedicine and more individuals know about telemedicine are comfortable with it.
[00:33:13] So we’ve seen TwentyEight grow very fast this year. And I think one of the interesting pieces for us is that as a VC backed startup, what growth comes hand in hand with is fundraising. So, we also went out and fundraise this year. And that for us was the biggest question mark, where there was a lot of uncertainty where we were speaking with VCs that were not solely focused in healthcare. Some were, but there were some that also had other types of investments potentially in travel or hospitality or retail, and those have been hit really hard. It has leveled the playing field. I think particularly thinking about it as a female founder where I personally have not had this happen, but investors are really big about personal connection and most investors prior to the pandemic really like meeting up in person, whether it’s for coffee or for drinks.
[00:34:11] And I think there’s an infamous story of Katrina Lake, the founder of Stitch Fix, where she was invited to go to Tahoe with a VC and sit in his hot tub and have a beer because that’s how he liked to bond with founders. And at the time she was pregnant. So, I think there’s a lot of norms around forming bonds and in VC industry, that’s not necessarily inclusive of everyone. But with everything being remote I think now everyone is having the same type of interactions. It’s maybe we’re doing longer video calls as a way to get to know one another, but I don’t think there’s as much of a barrier for maybe founders who don’t drink and don’t want to go grab a beer or for founders who don’t live in tech hubs.
[00:34:55] Amy: From a business perspective, we were very fortunate where my co-founder and I didn’t have to have the tough conversation around downsizing our team or figuring out if we needed to pivot or not. But we still wanted to remain empathetic to our team members because we recognize everyone is going through a different personal situation.
[00:35:14] Not everyone has a great at home set up for work. Potentially you might have people in your lives that are impacted by the coronavirus. And there’s just a lot of factors that we don’t know. And what we did was just built more flexibility for folks where there’s a lot more flexibility around what the expectation is for when you start the workday or taking pauses in the middle of the workday. So, for example, our head of engineering has three young kids where he is trying to manage with his wife who also works full time, what it looks like for their kids to be at home all day, doing school digitally, and times where he will have to step away and say like, Hey, I actually have to take my daughter to this. So, I’ll be back in 30 minutes and making that a norm where people just add that to their calendars if they need to take time in the middle of the day out.
[00:36:05] Brandi: As you think about how that emerged and how you came to this new form of work of really thinking through kind of flexibility for individuals inside of your organization, what did it look like behind the scenes building that awareness that you may be needed to shift your expectations?
[00:36:27] Amy: I think we arrived at the decision to go remote pretty quickly. We told everyone that it was not required to come into the office beginning of March and actually closed down the office altogether by the end of March. Along with that, my co-founder and I talked a lot about, okay, what are ways that we can support people that in some ways are quick wins because we are making such a quick transition.
[00:36:52] So we offered everyone a stipend to set up a home office. We let everyone know that if they need to take personal days, please feel free and that’s not going to be counted as a part of their vacation days. And just making sure that we were also checking-in with each person on the team individually and on a regular basis early on.
[00:37:10] And then, after the first three months, we also started doing a team survey where we just did a pulse check on how everyone’s feeling. If they feel like they’re being supported while being at home if they feel like there’s clear communication. So, those are the types of things that as we transition, we tried to do. The other piece and I think this is more a philosophy of the way we built the roles is we want to trust every individual. So, both Bruno and I work as really thinking about our roles as managers is to help people understand what’s your broader vision of TwentyEight, how does their work shape into the broader strategy and vision, and also to remove any obstacles they have.
[00:37:50] They really are the ones that have ownership over what they do. They should be the ones that are driving it. And we rely on them as the subject matter expertise that we want to support them, but we also want to empower them to move forward. And I think that philosophy for how we built out roles and functions made it also easier to transition to being remote because we gave a lot of people autonomy and trust are ready.
[00:38:13] So there never was a need to feel like, okay, we have to check in on folks and see if they’re actually working, but that never has crossed my mind. For me, it’s really thinking about being clear with them what the projects are, what the timelines are, and trusting that they will manage their time appropriately.
[00:38:33] Brandi: In addition to the surveys that you run and the check-ins that you do, what are the other ways that you create this culture of actually asking questions and seeking help, and in many ways, building that psychological safety inside of your teams, are there other things that you do that you think help embody that in this startup, particularly as you’re working from a distance with each other?
[00:39:26] Amy: So, on Fridays, we do longer all hands where we actually provide business updates. And during that time, we encourage everyone to ask any questions they have. And for example, a couple of weeks ago, we did a deeper dive into the 2021 strategy for TwentyEight and actually had a couple of individuals who had asked his questions earlier that week. We answered them and then also ask them, Hey, can you please ask those questions when we’re all in a meeting together? Because one, I think it would be valuable for everyone to hear the answers, but also it helps especially newer folks feel more comfortable raising their hand and asking questions.
[00:40:07] Brandi: What have you found to be some of the benefits of this kind of design in your team and what are some of the challenges that you’ve noticed and how have you addressed them?
[00:40:18] Amy: I think one of the benefits is being able to provide a lot of flexibility so that people can adapt to what’s coming up in their life, but also their personal preferences. I think it’s okay to say, you know what, can we actually do this meeting in the afternoons because I have my most productive thinking time in the mornings?
[00:40:40] And I think giving people that freedom to say that also just makes individuals from a business perspective more productive, but also from a team perspective, happier. And I think those are little things that are actually very easy to do as a team. If we can trust one another. I think the other piece that has, I would say open up the perspective for me and my co-founder, is thinking about being more inclusive from a hiring perspective.
[00:41:06] Prior to the health pandemic, where you’re a Brooklyn based company and to be able to live in Brooklyn, it’s not necessarily something that is very accessible for everyone. But now that we are very comfortable with the distributed model, I think that also broadens our perspective around where we can hire talent and still making sure that it continues to build culture, that they feel supported, and they can be successful in their role.
[00:41:31] And I think that’s a piece that has now brought in a perspective around we can hire from larger geography and I think that’s a different way to look at inclusion.
[00:41:41] Brandi: It’s interesting to think about this criticality of what’s important in a distributed environment. What are the kinds of things we really need to focus on? And in part, what I’m hearing you talk about is at a high level, it’s values. So, ensuring that we’re really clear on what our values are and that helps us select and compose our team in a particular way.
[00:42:05] And even all of a sudden, organizations have is this ability to hire people from a wide range of locations and it gives you access not only to talent in a new way, but it also creates a more inclusive capacity to reach talent that you might not have been able to reach before that maybe couldn’t live in the Silicon Valley or in a high rent location like New York City.
[00:42:31] Then kind of ratcheting down a level to being really clear about what people’s goals are so that they know what they’re orienting on and that provides them with a somewhat autonomy. And that it really moves us away from a model of hierarchy and command and control to a model of creating a vision and hiring people who have a base of knowledge that then you trust to go out. And so, it’s interesting to see how your values are pulling through in so many different ways.
[00:43:02] Sean: So, I have a question from an entrepreneurial standpoint. How do you balance flexibility in the startup environment where there are potential high demands and pressing deadlines?
[00:43:14] Amy: Yeah, I think it’s setting up each role to be goal-oriented. So, it’s not about checking things off the list or demonstrating to your manager how much you did or how many emails you sent that day. But it’s being really clear with timelines and projects to say, Hey, these are the things that you are responsible for that I will also hold you accountable for these certain timelines.
[00:43:39] That’s been successful for us in terms of operating the team. But I also recognize it also takes individuals who are bought into that model who want to have ownership, who are excited about that opportunity. And then the other piece with that too is providing regular feedback. And I think feedback is something that’s really interesting.
[00:43:58] And even with our head of engineering who has the most years of work experience of anyone on the team. And when I did my first feedback session with him, he was even a little bit nervous because he was not used to our environment where he got feedback ever. And so, for us, we actually do feedback very frequently.
[00:44:18] So, it’s usually on a cadence of every two to three weeks. You do a check-in for about 30 minutes with your manager. And the idea is not to talk about the to-do list for your project, but really step back and thinking about what are the strengths you’re continuing to hone, what are areas for development, what are quick wins in terms of things that you might be able to adopt and adapt and what our longer-term goals and you’re working towards so that when there is a formal review, it should never be a surprise to anyone what that form overview looks like.
[00:44:51] Brandi: Is there anything that you’re specifically looking for individuals who you’re hiring to work in this more nimble startup distributed environment?
[00:45:01] Amy: Yeah, I would say the top piece is having a growth mindset and I was very tempted to use student always as one of our values but decided to reward a little bit.
[00:45:13] Brandi: We discovered over time it’s both of our favorite defining principles. So, feel free to bring it.
[00:45:21] Amy: And I do think that’s such an important one of always having the mindset of wanting to grow and being humble and recognizing there’s more things that we can learn. And I think that’s a really important part to being at any startup because you’re facing new challenges and new opportunities every day, but there’s probably a lot of things that all of us are uncomfortable with or unfamiliar with, and having that humbleness to say you know what, I don’t know, but I want to know. So, I’m going to ask for help or do more research on my own and figure it out.
[00:45:58] Brandi: It’s interesting to think about how this moment affords an opportunity to shine a light in a new way on a lot of the values that we hold at Haas in terms of what we think and what we feel is important in terms of leadership and beyond yourself, to question the status quo and to be a student always are critical components of leading broadly, but particularly in a moment like this. And so, it’s really exciting for me to hear those topics and themes come forward. I have one final question. One of my favorite questions, which is, what is something you admire in another leader when you see it in action and why.
[00:46:42] Amy: I think one of the most influential mentors I’ve had is actually one of the managers I had at Bain earlier on in my career. And I think there were two things that he did really well. The first was that while he took the work seriously, he never took himself seriously. He would always joke around.
[00:47:01] And even when it’s late at night and we’re crunching on a model, trying to get a deliverable out for a client, he would say like, Hey, let’s go for a walk and grab a coffee for 10 minutes. And I think having someone who brings that levity is really important, particularly in a very tense environment. And also realizing that just because we do serious work and that we care about our work, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t miss out on still kind of the little funny moments that might happen in life. And I think it’s helpful to have a little bit of that separation, which I really admire from him. And then the second piece is really about feedback. So, Bain is a very feedback-heavy culture.
[00:47:46] I actually did check ins with them every two weeks. And in the beginning, it is very uncomfortable, but I think he did two things really well in gathering feedback. First, he was very clear and provided tangible examples so that it was easy to understand exactly what are areas that I need to improve on, where I’m making mistakes.
[00:48:07] And the second piece is that he delivered it with a lot of kindness that he always made you believe that this is an area of weakness that you can improve on. He believes in you and he has faith in you that you will be able to continue to improve so that even though it can feel very taunting to hear like, Oh, here’s all the deficits I have, it also really reinforced for me, like, Hey, there is someone who is always going to be supporting me and have my back throughout this. And he’s continued to do that even beyond Bain. And I think those are two pieces that I really admire from his leadership skill.
[00:48:47] Brandi: It’s interesting to think about that from the perspective of it’s a theme I’ve heard run through our entire interview, the value of believing in our shared humanity and how that shows up in the way we lead. And also, our ability to come to what we do with others from a growth mindset, both in terms of how we lead, but also how we create space for others to grow and develop in their own capacity to lead from wherever they are in an organization.
[00:49:19] Sean: Brandi, I do have to add, just to follow up before you wrap things. Amy, you really remind me, and this is with great sadness to say this, but you remind me of the late Tony Hsieh, just your whole philosophy about being so customer-centric, right? That was the beginning of our conversation to how you run your organization and treat your team members. And I think it’s pretty inspiring. He’s one of my role models. Brandi, you’re asking about role models.
[00:49:44] Amy: Thank you. I really appreciate that.
[00:49:46] Brandi: Yeah, that’s a lovely compliment.
[00:49:51] Amy: More than I deserve, I think.
[00:49:53] Brandi: Let’s see where we land, might be the new Zappos of healthcare.
[00:49:57] Sean: We haven’t talked about this yet, but I think this is a good note to end on, is just the fact that you guys just recently finished a $5 million seed round, which is huge. But I think that also goes to show how much the investors believe in not just the idea but your team and the leadership. And from a different perspective, I really want to hear about what fundraising was like during the pandemic for you.
[00:50:25] Amy: Yeah, it was a leap of faith because while we have really great advisors and at the point, we were just starting to raise our seed round, we also had amazing investors participating in TwentyEight already, they have a lot of great wisdom to share but no one has ever been through a health pandemic like this.
[00:50:47] And it was very difficult for anyone to predict how VCs will react. And so, I think for us, we knew we had to do it. There was no other way. So, you know, what we’re going to put up best foot forward. We’re going to invest in preparing and making sure that we are telling the story of TwentyEight in a compelling way that connects and resonates with others. But beyond that, we also have to trust that we’ve worked really hard to get up to this point and trust our instincts of where we have focused our time thus far. And it was really interesting where I think early on a lot of the VCs themselves were a little bit unsure where some people said Hey, we’re actually not taking meetings right now, but email me again in three weeks and things might change and that’s how quickly things were changing.
[00:51:36] I would say the other piece that actually made it a lot more efficient of a process because everything was done via video calls. Previously, there was a lot of time we’d spent commuting between places. If a VC was in a different city, potentially having even to go to a different city to meet them in person.
[00:51:54] And I think that has made it a lot easier from an efficiency perspective, but it’s also an equalizer in many ways and not just geography. So, for example, my co-founder welcomed a lovely baby girl five months ago, right when we were starting fundraising and it would have been really difficult for him to be able to fundraise and help out at home at the same time. And being able to do it remotely actually made it a little bit easier. Though, I cannot begin to emphasize with him how difficult it is to have a newborn while trying to fundraise.
[00:52:29] Sean: That’s amazing.
[00:52:30] Brandi: Really wonderful. Amy, so great to see you again. And I think in many ways, as I think about the end of this podcast, the thing that really strikes me is you were awarded this wonderful award of being one of the most disruptive startups of 2020. And I think as Sean so eloquently said, it shows up not only in what you’ve achieved, the outcomes that your startup has really been able to accommodate in a very uncertain moment, but also in the way that you’ve led your team and how that shows up in the values that you established as you began this process. And it makes me so happy to see our students going out and doing amazing things and really impacting the world. So, thank you for that.
[00:53:20] Amy: Thank you so much. This has been such a fun interview and also, I very much appreciate the invite to come to this. It’s such an honor, and I’m just always happy to do anything I can to contribute back to Haas because like I said, I think it’s such a special community that I would love to continue to help cultivate and foster.
Sean: Thank you so much, Amy.
[00:54:04] Sean: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas podcast. If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to hit that subscribe or follow button on your favorite podcast player. We’d also really appreciate it if you could give us a five-star rating and review. You can also check out more of our content on our website and haaspodcasts.org, that’s podcasts with an S at the end, where you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts until next time. Go bears.