Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Ann Garnier, founder and CEO of Lisa Health, is a seasoned healthcare leader, helping to create, launch, and scale innovative tech companies and products that have improved patient outcomes and access to care. At Lisa Health, Ann leads the team to enhance the well-being of midlife women. She is passionate about women’s health and advancing research beyond pregnancy and fertility to reduce the serious and costly health risks that women face as they age and help them celebrate the start of something great. Ann sits on the advisory boards for FemTech Collective and the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Bay Area chapter and is a CSweetener mentor.
Ann, what is the idea behind Lisa Health and how did you come up with it?
Lisa Health is the only digital app for midlife women using science and real honesty to help them navigate menopause and midlife health challenges so they can be their best self every day. Using the Lisa app, women can boost their health and well-being with personalized, science and expert-backed micro-habit change coupled with virtual coaching, symptom tracking, curated products and resources, education, and community for support.
I came up with the idea after experiencing my own challenges navigating the menopause transition and receiving little support from my healthcare providers. Because of the shame and silence that surrounds this period of a woman’s life, most women are unprepared for the changes that occur. Women suffer unnecessarily in silence and feel a lack of control over their body. Society treats midlife women as invisible beings and frequently dismiss their symptoms and health concerns. Healthcare professionals are undertrained and too busy leaving women to deal with debilitating symptoms and health issues on their own.
As a long-time healthcare technology executive, I am a very knowledgeable and empowered healthcare consumer who knows how to navigate healthcare and advocate for myself. It struck me that if it was difficult for me to get support to manage my menopause symptoms and other midlife health concerns, it must be really tough for other women. In figuring out a better way to manage the menopause transition and thrive in midlife for myself, I felt a passion and calling to help other women around the globe. By 2030, 1.2 billion women worldwide will be postmenopausal. In the U.S. alone, over 43 million women are in perimenopause or postmenopause. This is a major problem that I was excited to tackle.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
I started the company in 2017. My chief technology officer is Marcos Athanasoulis, DrPH, MPH, also has deep experience in health tech. We are passionate about women’s health and delivering a much-needed solution to an underserved population.
Lisa Health is all about lifting women and people of color. While we are a small company bootstrapping our way to success, we want to prove the point that small companies can have a social impact and use their precious startup dollars to do so. We made a conscious decision that women should develop this product. The Lisa Health app was developed by AnnieCannons, a non-profit based in Oakland, California, that teaches formerly human trafficked and sexually abused women how to code. Our developers are midlife women. Working on our project, they gained the skills and confidence to go on to get full-time well-paying jobs. The app was designed by students from Tradecraft, an accelerated program in San Francisco that teaches digital skills and helps launch brilliant careers. The lead designer is a young woman from Thailand. Her diverse team hails from around the globe. Lifting women, minorities, and difficult populations are in our DNA.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
About 18 months from idea to beta.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Menopause is one of those female life events that is shrouded in shame and silence. Despite the fact that every woman will go through menopause, it remains a confusing and challenging period for most and made more difficult by the stigma associated with menopause and being middle age. Sadly, society prizes reproduction and fertility and all but ignores women when their reproductive capacity diminishes and ends altogether. We are expected to become invisible. The obstacle we still face today is educating the market on why it’s important to support women during menopause and midlife and push for more research and products to serve them.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Bootstrapping our company and bringing a product to market without outside funds is a pretty big achievement!
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
We hear stories regularly about the difficulties female founders have raising money and raising as much as our male counterparts. Specific to our niche, in women's health, there is a hyper-focus on pregnancy and fertility. At Lisa Health, we firmly believe that women’s health doesn’t stop at reproduction and pick up 25 years later with eldercare. We have a missionary task ahead around educating investors and the market about why midlife women are important and deserve our support.
What are the projects you are currently working on?
We are focused on our beta and learning from it so that we can make our product better and testing different business models.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Promoting #WomenInTech is essential to creating better health for women and a better world we live in. Women think about and solve problems differently than men and we need that perspective applied to every aspect of life. Even as a small company, we have tried to support women in technology and that will always be a core value.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Focus on strategy and less on your “to-do” list. The to-do list will always be there and never gets shorter. Too many women get mired in the small stuff and forget about the big picture. Good strategy drives big results not tactics.
My second piece of advice is to make sure you are getting enough self-care. As women, we put everyone else and our startup first. As I mentioned earlier, the to-do list will always be there. Forgoing self-care to cross a couple more things off your list will not move the needle for your startup. The creativity, inspiration, and breakthroughs you’ll have with self-care will. I get my best ideas when I am working out, meditating, or gardening. It’s tough to step away, even for me, but I’ve learned how essential it is not only to my well-being but the well-being of my company.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Wellness is a rapidly growing $4 trillion dollar industry being driven in large part by midlife women who want to age well. There is a groundswell of people who see themselves as “ageless” or “perennial” and striving for a lifestyle that puts wellness at the center. To serve this market, I see more fusion of wellness, digital health, and wearables.
I also believe that women will continue to work on solving the problems they experience and we’ll see a profusion of new products and services that introduce innovation and drive research. I am really excited about the future and being part of the movement to help women around the world get the health and well-being they deserve.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
Ida Tin, the founder of Clue, who coined the term FemTech, is an early pioneer and champion of the space. It takes a lot of courage to be one of the first.
Kathryn Ryder, the founder of Maven Clinic, is a strong advocate for working mothers and providing better maternity benefits and return to work. She has driven significant change in the maternity benefits space.
Cindy Whitehead, who built the company behind the female viagra and sold it for $1 billion proves that women can start healthcare companies that have amazing outcomes. Now, she is giving back through the Pinkubator, her incubator for female founders.
Instagram & Facebook: @lisahealthapp
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.