Kate Ryder is about to launch Maven, a digital health clinic for women. She talked to TechRepublic about transitioning from journalism to investment to entrepreneurship.
Being a CEO is very similar to being a journalist, according to Kate Ryder. And she would know — she hustled for years to establish herself in the journalism industry, and now she's working hard to establish herself in the tech startup scene.
Ryder is the founder and CEO of Maven, a digital health clinic for women that will launch in January 2015. She is also one of the first portfolio companies of Female Founders Fund, a new VC firm for women founders launched by Anu Duggal earlier this year.
But in her previous life, she was a magazine writer and wrote extensively about business for publications like The New Yorker and The Economist.
"The skills you learn as a journalist are so applicable in business...analysis, research, interacting with people, 'getting the story'... a lot of what you're doing at an early stage business is a kind of storytelling, and getting not only employees but trying to get brand partnerships."
Born in Minnesota, Ryder grew up in the Adirondack Mountains and in Connecticut. She went to the University of Michigan for undergrad, then moved to Spain for two years to teach in the public school system and pursue freelance writing. Then she interned at The Paris Review and The New Yorker, before attending the London School of Economics for a degree in anthropology.
Ryder entered the journalism world right after the recession, in a time when many newspapers and publications were closing their doors. She helped former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson write his memoir, contributed to the Wall Street Journal, and worked in Southeast Asia for The Economist.
Eventually, Ryder left journalism because she wasn't making enough money and found the prominence of blogs and news aggregation sites to be exhausting. She loved longform writing and in-depth reporting, but realized it was time to make a career transition. Plus, her family is full of entrepreneurs, and she started to get the itch.
While living in Singapore, Ryder tried to start a Chinese travel company that she said was "a total failure." She realized that to successfully enter the business world, she should start learning about venture capital. She got a job with the early stage investment team at Index Ventures, a London-based VC firm, where she stayed for two years.
That experience was exactly what it took to launch Maven. Last summer, she started researching markets and was drawn to healthcare — particularly for women around her age, in their early 30s. Her best friend is a doula, a person who assists women during childbirth, so she had access to the issues and people she was looking to target.
"Reality hits when you start a family and a lot of that falls on the woman," Ryder said. It's true — the majority of healthcare decisions for families fall solely on the woman.
Before starting Maven, Ryder held focus groups where she interviewed many women. She kept hearing about the overwhelming lack of education for them — they wanted to know how to deal with prenatal care, postpartum depression, tough times during pregnancy and the first few months, breastfeeding.
"How do you provide better support? How do you really, really help her?" was the question Ryder wanted to answer.
What these women wanted was on-demand access to care when they needed it. She started looking at the telehealth space. "Telehealth," she said, is a "very unsexy word for a really cool part of healthcare right now."
Maven has recruited hundreds more providers, according to Ryder. They are working with lactation consultants and nurse practitioners as well.
"The passion in this market... we're starting with those [types of things], but our vision is much bigger — to really just help women during this time of life," Ryder said.
Having a background in a completely different industry has helped her in business, she said. "It's good that I'm a little naive going into it, or I probably wouldn't do it."
Though she's left journalism, Ryder keeps the lessons with her every day. Most importantly, she said, being a CEO is being a generalist, which is very similar to being a reporter — she has to know a little about a whole lot. And so far, that has served her well.
"A lot of the best innovators don't come from the industries in which they innovate," she said.
In her own words...
What are some of your hobbies?
"Hiking, being outside, being in front of the campfire. I grew up in the Adirondacks, so being outdoors is definitely one....and bridge, I play it on my phone every day on the subway on the way to work."
What do you like to read?
"I just bought a book of Emily Dickinson poetry...I'm trying to get back in fiction. I am also reading How Doctors Think, which is a good one, written like 10 years ago."
What is some advice you would give entrepreneurs?
"It's all about perseverance and persistence. When I tried to leave journalism to get to whatever bridge was to entrepreneurship, I probably had 110 meetings. It was awful! Just knowing that persistence is the most important thing. And optimism. They go hand in hand. Have something that if you're feeling really down, [and it's] not working out, you know what it is that can pick you back up...a great book, reading a poem, going for a hike up a mountain, whatever it is that can bring you back up."