Don’t just lean on the “female in a male-dominated industry” narrative. In order for your brand to be well-respected and cogent, you really have to lead with your purpose and product.
Assert yourself, and pivot only when necessary. It’s tempting in the startup world to follow the money, but in order to build a loyal customer community (we call it our #coachingcommunity), it’s important never to compromise your value proposition, even for mounds of cash.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Borukhovich, a transformative tech leader, an exemplar of the power of health coaching, a breast cancer superhero, and a passion-driven CEO. After moving to Amsterdam and receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, her mission became to help other women feel in control and beautiful. Shortly after her diagnosis, she received her health coaching certification, which guided her to discover an opportunity to innovate in the increasingly important field of health coaching. She founded YourCoach.Health as a practice management platform and hub for all things health coaching, to transform the way coaches run their business. Marina endeavors to bring the power of health coaching to as many people as possible.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career journey started with my cancer journey. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago, at the height of my life. I was healthy, happy and living the life until I discovered a lump in my breast. It turned out to be five tumors; II went through 12 rounds of chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation — everything under the sun. After the doctors were done with their treatment plan, I still felt broken. I felt that I wasn’t where I wanted to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I discovered health coaching as a means to “hack my body” holistically, to get to my absolute best self and rediscover my inner strength. I received my certification 3 years ago, and I’m still going through new trainings all the time. I realized firsthand what an important role coaches play by being in their clients’ corners to help them reach their health and wellness goals. I also began to realize that there wasn’t any centralized practice management solution to assist coaches in better running their businesses. I became hellbent on crafting the best platform to support coaches. YourCoach became so much more than just a practice management solution, but also a coaching community and source of advocacy for the necessary role that health coaches play in healthcare.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
An important part of starting my company was sharing my journey to health coaching, which started with my breast cancer diagnosis. I was talking to a class of students from a Spanish business school, and one of the students told me that her mother, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer, saw and heard me speak. That was so surreal to me, that my story made its way around the world. It reminded me of how important it is to share your whole story as absolutely authentically as possible.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we first started, I sent out an email that I thought was a test email, but ended up going out to everyone on our mailing list. I followed up with a funny note that I think helped break the ice and keep things personable. Lesson learned, though — never do anything on 3 hours of sleep.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I first started YourCoach, which is mostly focused on the US market, I was living overseas. I jokingly say that my kids will call 2019 the year I gave up parenting! There were a lot of intercontinental flights, and I felt like I wasn’t giving 100% to any aspects of my life, business or personal. I took a step back and regrouped because giving up was not an option. I had to set an example for my girls, that I could launch this business successfully, and I had my business partner and employees counting on me to grow the company. My family has always been the driving force behind everything I do — they kept me pushing forward to get me to where I am today.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As a self-proclaimed introvert, sharing my story hasn’t always been easy. Since the YourCoach app was built out of the lessons I learned throughout my cancer journey, it was important to get comfortable speaking about these experiences. Becoming a health coach was transformative for me because it helped me see value in my story as inspiration for the coaching community while teaching me to tap into the people closest to me for the strength to translate it to something meaningful. My husband, Eugene, was hugely influential in this process. Just before my first speaking opportunity at Health 2.0, he sat me down and said, “This is your story, this is your life. You don’t need to rehearse it.” Something really clicked for me then. I realized that I didn’t need to find the “right” words to say, because everything I’d built for YourCoach was done authentically, drawing from my experiences as a cancer survivor turned health coach. I’d often get questions from investors about the trickiness of leading the app as a husband and wife team (Eugene’s my COO). We’ve been together for 23 years. I trust him with my life, I trust him with my children, and I sure as hell trust him with my business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I absolutely live by the quote, “Everything will be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” I read this as a teenager and it’s a life lesson that I’ve injected into everything I do and have imparted to my children. There are so many times when launching and running a new company that things seem dire. If the situation isn’t going as planned, I remind myself that it’s just a bad day and trust that, with the support of my team, we’ll have a better day tomorrow. That’s simply how a startup goes. If you don’t focus on “just a day,” you’re never going to make it through.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Our platform was created for health coaches by a health coach. We’ve created more than just a practice management solution, but also a holistic community for coaches to get support for their businesses. Health coaches are part of an increasingly important shift in healthcare, as the industry starts to focus more on a well-care and less on a sick-care system (the World Economic Forum put out a great article about this recently, you can read more here). As with many health care professionals, there are plenty of day-to-day nuances that can bog them down. Prior to YourCoach, there were tools to help coaches manage their practice, but we’ve compiled an all-in-one solution, with advanced scheduling tools, video and chat capabilities for remote coaching, a library to house their multimedia content, and a means to deploy, track and save contracts, adhering to HIPPA laws. On top of that, we’ve given them access to hundreds of other coaches in order to seek out co-coaching and mentorship opportunities. And because we’re a startup, we’re listening to every one of these coaches and building something that they desperately need.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes us unique is that we’re truly built for coaches, by coaches. Everyone who works for our company has to have some knowledge of health coaching, with the support of YourCoach to pursue certifications of their choosing. This means that the goal of every brainstorm session for development is to tackle a real issue that health coaches are facing. Especially given the pandemic, having a team that lives and breathes health coaching and that’s constantly asking its community for feedback ensures that we’re pivoting the app to meet coaches’ changing needs. I recently interviewed a new team member and started the interview in the same way I always do, “Challenge me.” It’s important that my team approaches the app with a fresh, creative perspective, driven by a strong passion for coaching. She came to the table with a great idea, we hired her, and now we have a new feature coming out next month.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Prior to the pandemic, everyone was on the go. By keeping a close line to the community, we understand that our coaches are now seated at their computers more, leveraging their mobile devices just a bit less. We began working on a desktop version of the app several months ago to make sure that our coaches can easily interact with the platform on their mobile or desktop devices. There are lots of space limitations when developing a mobile app, so we were able to get very creative with the desktop version, adding in unique features that are intuitive and exciting. We have plans to roll out the new version this month. We’re also kicking off our first ever virtual Health and Wellbeing Coaching Symposium in November, featuring experts across the health and wellness space. We’re excited to kick off the two-day event with a keynote by Dean Ornish, followed by experts in business and legal support for coaches, champions of diversity in the health and wellness space, and plenty more.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’ve always been a big proponent of celebrating people holistically. I don’t think it’s enough to frame the narrative as, “Let’s get more women in tech,” because this doesn’t support systemic empowerment. We need to be providing opportunities for women to explore tech careers from an early age, so that it’s not just about getting women into tech jobs for the sake of improving our diversity metrics, but rather, getting capable women into tech jobs because they are smart, motivated, passionate, and get ish done. As a female CEO, I recognize the responsibility I have to mentor and inspire young women in tech. But how we talk about being a woman in tech is just as important as providing opportunities. Whenever I’m participating in speaking events that celebrate women in technology, I’m careful about the way I frame my narrative so that I’m bringing my whole self to the table.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
My biggest challenge as a woman in tech has always been getting myself heard. In tech right now, unfortunately, the men are louder. Loud voices can be intimidating, but they aren’t always saying the most important things in the room. Learning to assert myself has been a long game, especially as an introvert, but through health coaching especially, I generated the confidence to be heard by investors, coaches, and the health tech community, because I knew that what I was saying was important. A second challenge I’ve faced as a mom of two teenagers has been the pressure to explain away my family. Men are rarely ever questioned about their families and how they manage running a business with familial responsibilities. Let me tell you, raising two children is like building two startups. I did it twice, and I bring that same mission-driven attitude and authenticity to my third startup, YourCoach.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
The best advice I’ve been given, and that I give anytime I’m asked, is to go back to your roots. Why are you doing what you’re doing, and more importantly, who are you doing it for? Anything that’s built without a holistic understanding of your user base, and a mission-driven attitude towards solving a real solution, is never going to be successful. Even if your ideas or circumstances have changed, if you constantly ask yourself, “Why?” then you’re still on the right path.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
I strongly believe that the people who sell for you need to fully trust in you and in what you’re doing. You can’t just hire somebody because they performed well for someone else, they need to be fully ingrained in the company’s culture and believe in what it is that you’re doing. For YourCoach, it’s important for all of our team members to understand health coaching. We’ve begun subsidizing health coaching training for all of our employees and we’re constantly sharing industry news and information among the team.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
I’m very lucky that in the health coaching industry, we all have the same goals. The platform was created specifically for health and wellness coaches and the people who download it are looking to better the lives of clients across the globe. The right customer, for us, is looking for the right solution. We have that solution.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
I spoke with someone last week during a one-on-one demo who had recently connected with a competing company who’d been at it for eight years. Her biggest qualm with them was that they didn’t make an effort to connect with their customers. While I’m not in the business of blasting any competitors, I do think that we bring unique value to the health and wellness industry. What I’m most proud of is that we give personalized attention to our customers and we regularly ask for feedback. Everything from our one-on-one demos, which I run at any time for current or prospective customers, to our social posts that seek to engage our community meaningfully, is a testament to this very personal experience. We’ve also made a keen effort to craft more than just an app, but a true virtual home for our coaching community. We want them to live in the app; they’re not just leveraging our tools to better run their business, but they can lean on our management team or the broader coaching community for advice and support. Lastly, I think it’s important that I’m surrounded by a team that holds me accountable. Regarding user experience specifically, it’s always necessary to get a fresh eye on our user experience. Everyone on our team uses the platform in as many ways as possible, which keeps it intuitive and user friendly. Customer service is a 24/7 goal for us, every email comes to me and if it’s not something I can help with, one of my team members hops in on the thread. We’re keen to receive feedback from both coaches and their clients who are interacting with the platform, so that we get 360 degrees of feedback. I’ve always said that I want the app to be easy enough for your 85 year old grandmother to use it. And if it’s not, we have a system in place to support her on a one-on-one basis to get her there.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Constant, constant feedback is key to limiting customer churn. Whenever I talk to customers, I always say that positive feedback is great, but it’s not constructive, and we’re building this for you. I want every step of the process to be easy to use. We’re constantly tracking trends in feedback and responses to our social posts. We’ve built a coaching community with valuable tools to run their business, opportunities to stay educated on health and wellness news, certification options, chances to connect with mentors and more. If they’re living in the app, then they’re not going to be leaving it.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Lead with integrity. I have staff in the US, Eastern and Western Europe, and work with investors across the globe. By honoring commitments and staying authentic to my product and messaging, I’m able to get past any cross-cultural prototypes and expectations for the “female CEO.”
- Don’t just lean on the “female in a male-dominated industry” narrative. In order for your brand to be well-respected and cogent, you really have to lead with your purpose and product.
- Assert yourself, and pivot only when necessary. It’s tempting in the startup world to follow the money, but in order to build a loyal customer community (we call it our #coachingcommunity), it’s important never to compromise your value proposition, even for mounds of cash.
- Prioritize what’s important to you besides your business. For me, the most important thing outside of my business is my family. I’ve been married for 21 years, with daughters who are 16 and 18, so I’ve been practicing this balancing act for almost two decades. For others, the most important thing could be self love or spending time with people who energize you. Always be sure to pursue passions that feed your soul.
- Be prepared to answer those, “Why You?” questions by knowing what you know and knowing what your team knows better. As a CEO, I’ve always made sure that I’m able to speak to many topics, while also surrounding myself with experts who can provide more in-depth perspectives. A leader is only as strong as their team.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We are prepping a #HappyHumans campaign that explores what we can do as a coaching community and as individuals to help people find holistic happiness. Different combinations of things make us happy, but at the heart of it all is health. Part of the campaign is collecting a donation box of coaching hours, where coaches can donate a few hours to help someone set up a health plan and get started on their health journey free of charge. Our mission has always been to improve access to health coaches across the globe.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Arianna Huffington — call me! As part of one of the health coaching school’s curriculum, Arianna did an incredible talk. She owned it, was so personable, and I felt like I was really able to connect with her virtually. It would be a dream to have a (virtual) breakfast or lunch with her to bask in her awesomeness.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!