Alumni Profile: Katherine Ryder, CEO & Founder at Maven (LSA Honors College 04′)
Women make 80% of all healthcare decisions for themselves and their families — however, the current healthcare system remains stagnant in providing comprehensive, specialized care for women today.
After seeing and experiencing this crucial gap in women’s healthcare, Michigan alumnus Katherine Ryder founded Maven, a digital women’s clinic offering low-cost, accessible private services for women from a network of highly trained practitioners from across the country. From symptom-related questions to instant access to prescriptions for birth control and STIs, Maven has revolutionized the way women interact with their health by offering comprehensive healthcare services for women from the simplicity of their phones. And with Maven Maternity, its corporate benefit offering has also redefined how companies handle fertility, maternity, and postpartum benefits for their working parents.
CFE had the chance to sit down with Katherine and discuss her story as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry and the creation of Maven.
Q: How did your experience as a journalist with The Economist lead you to the world of entrepreneurship and starting your own venture?
A: There are actually more similarities to journalism and entrepreneurship than you would think. Working as a journalist definitely helped me learn how to operate in unstructured environments and inspire others to get excited about bigger ideas. I’ve also made sure to have a network of really smart advisers to help me grow Maven—kind of like my sources when I was a journalist—who guide me toward the right answers across the different parts of the business.
Q: Can you walk me through your experience with your first venture in starting an online travel business while you were in Singapore?
A: I co-founded my first company in Singapore, while I was still reporting for The Economist, and it was a total failure. It was an online travel business, geared towards group travel for the Chinese market. I still think the idea was great, but we were pretty clueless when it came to everything beyond the idea. My dad was like, “I know you don’t like to listen to me, but if I can give you one piece of advice: Go get other experience before starting a business.” So that was my next step.
Q: How did your experience of moving to London and having to find a whole new network lead you to discover and creating Maven?
A: I moved to London in 2011, right when the first eurozone crisis hit, and mass layoffs were occurring all over Europe. I was trying to get a job outside of journalism but it was tough. I had maybe 120 meetings and with each rejection (or simply – we’re firing, not hiring), I was very scared that I was facing the beginning of the end of my career. Then I met a partner at a venture capital firm, and he was looking for an associate. He had a soft spot for journalists, so he hired me in two days. I spent the next two years covering early-stage venture capital across Europe and the US, and one of the areas I focused on was digital health. In the background, I was constantly trying out different start-up ideas – many of them within digital health – and eventually one of them was Maven.
Q: Where did your inspiration and idea for Maven spawn from?
A: I got the idea for Maven around the time that I turned 30 when a lot of my friends started having kids, and their healthcare needs weren’t being met in very basic areas. Our current healthcare system is incredibly inconvenient, and there are serious gaps in women’s care in particular. I realized that there was a real need to improve access to quality care—especially for women who are pregnant or newly postpartum. One of the first things I did was start talking to healthcare practitioners and patients to better understand the current state of women’s health – as a former journalist, my instinct was to get to beyond my own experiences and better understand the experiences of hundreds of women to create a narrative around what type of company and product I would build. I found the passion in the women’s health practitioner community electrifying. And when you match that against how underserved many female patients are — it’s pretty crazy no one had started anything like Maven before.
Q: How has Maven revolutionized the state of women’s health care today?
A: Maven strives to raise women’s expectations for healthcare. We believe that to empower the female patient, you need to give her access to amazing providers who will have her back as she navigates the healthcare system for herself and her family. At our core, we’re a network of the best women’s and family health providers around the country (over 1,000 today), available on-demand via video or text, for prescriptions, specialized care, or just peace of mind. Since launching in mid-2015, we’ve served over 100,000 patients – and from that built and launched Maven Maternity, a platform for employers to help their employees navigate everything from family planning to pregnancy to postpartum to return-to-work. We’ve been active for two years in corporate America and I’m incredibly proud to see that we’re genuinely helping women transition back to work in a healthy and productive way (43% of new moms drop out of the workforce in the first 52 weeks after having a child) as well as helping employers reduce maternity-related costs, which are often the #1 or #2 health care cost for companies. To date, oddly, there has not been innovation in this area.
Q: What qualities does an entrepreneur possess in terms of getting a venture off the ground to being a highly successful global business?
A: It’s all about persistence and patience. Optimism is important too – it goes hand in hand with persistence. I think you also have to love learning, because every year the business is incredibly different, with different challenges.
Q: Can you describe how your experience of being a mom shaped the way you approach Maven?
A: Fundamentally, the healthcare system is not patient-centric. I always knew that conceptually and through one-off experiences (which is why I started Maven), but navigating the system on a monthly and, towards the end, weekly basis when I had my son really opened my eyes to how bad it is. I used the Maven network to find a doctor with a low C-Section rate, and I developed a wonderful relationship with her. But it always felt like despite finding a great provider, we were just cogs in a larger, unfriendly system. I had two terrible experiences in New York hospitals, and one of the craziest parts is that you never know how much anything is going to cost. From a healthcare perspective, I also experienced separation anxiety around returning to work after having my son, and that experience helped me address that part of our Maven Maternity program. Helping women return to work after having a baby is a fundamental part of our program and how we work with employers.
Q: How has your education and experience here at the University of Michigan helped shape you into an entrepreneur?
A: So many ways! Michigan is an incredibly diverse place that gave me the freedom to explore so many different things. I was in the Honors College so took a lot of courses in the classics Freshman year, and then I double-majored in English and Political Science. I think my liberal arts education has helped me a lot as an entrepreneur because it taught me critical thinking. Of course, I also had a tremendous amount of fun and Michigan really broadened me in a way that also kept me down to earth to be able to be a good leader and motivate people. As I look today at many of my friends from college: one is a chef in Michigan, another is in the band Wild Belle, one works for a bank, and another is a teacher out in Montana. My husband went to Harvard and a lot of time it feels like most of his classmates are working in business or finance. With Michigan, thankfully that’s not the case.