“Celebrate”, With Douglas Brown and Dr. Hadas Shatz-Azoulay of MilkStrip

Celebrate: Take time to practice gratitude and celebrate even the smallest victories, each and every win helps you move forward. While there will be times that you strike out at a meeting or have a negative experience with an investor, it’s important to remember to celebrate the small wins that you pick up along the way. […]

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Celebrate: Take time to practice gratitude and celebrate even the smallest victories, each and every win helps you move forward.

While there will be times that you strike out at a meeting or have a negative experience with an investor, it’s important to remember to celebrate the small wins that you pick up along the way. Not only will this keep you optimistic, but every moment contributes to your overall success if you allow it to.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Hadas Shatz-Azoulay, COO, VP of Research and Development, and co-founder of MilkStrip, overseeing the operational functions and innovation efforts for the biotech and wellness company and subsidiary of DiagnoseStick. She applies her expert background in biotechnology, molecular biology and genetics as a leading innovator in the baby-tech industry. She received her Bachelor of Science from the Department of Animal Sciences and her Master of Science from the Department of Genetics, Breeding and Genomics at the Hebrew University, where she graduated Cum Laude.

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?

I had just finished my PhD and was at home with my newborn trying to decide what to do with myself next. My friend and former classmate, Avital Beck, approached me asking me to collaborate and brainstorm business ideas related to our experience in biology. I initially considered a breast cancer-related initiative, but being on maternity leave sparked my interest in the breast milk space.

When I left to go to the first brainstorming meeting with Avital, I had to consider whether to bring my newborn with me, or leave her at home with my mom and pump milk for her ahead of time. This led to my doubts about my breast milk’s quality and its potential freshness, which then led me to the idea behind MilkStrip.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

One day, one of our business partners called Avital and me, telling us that there was a big investor from the United States who wanted to meet in Tel-Aviv, just hours before “Shabat”. This being a two-hour round-trip drive from home meant Avital could not join and I would need to take the meeting by myself. When I arrived, I was greeted by an extravagant hotel lobby and the potential investor. He began the meeting by asking about the company, my military service, my husband and my children. We spoke for over two hours and it was one of the most pleasant meetings I’ve ever experienced, but he didn’t invest a cent!

However, this made me realize that sometimes, expanding my social circle and meeting people from all over the world is enough. It was good practice and a good talk that was highly appreciated. The bottom line is that whether or not someone invests is not all that matters.

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 the business was just starting out, Avital and I were very nervous before every meeting with a potential investor. At one of these meetings, we arrived a few minutes early, and went to the bathroom to freshen up. The bathroom was playing music so I started dancing. Avital looked over at me, and then started dancing herself! Then another woman came out of a stall and gave us a look, so we stopped dancing and started laughing.

We entered the meeting with our spirits uplifted. Since then, we’ve made it a point to dance in the elevator or parking lot before every important meeting. I realized that if I was dancing, it made me happier and more confident, and therefore improved the meetings. The lesson learned? Always do what makes you happy and confident before the next big meeting or presentation. Your state of mind matters and can make a huge impact on your performance.

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 starting on our journey, my partner and I met with a number of investors and mentors. For an entire year, it seemed that no one was interested, and even worse, several insulted us, saying things like “you don’t know what you’re doing,” “stay at home,” “stay in the lab,” or “who cares about breast milk anyway?” At times, we were discouraged, but we believed in ourselves and had people in our lives that supported and believed in us.

From the beginning, our spouses were cheering us on and encouraging us. My husband constantly reminded me of all of the unique traits that I have, emphasizing there are so few people out there who have the same combination of motherhood, science, drive and strength that I do. He had confidence that someone would recognize all of these qualities soon. Of course, my business partner and I also had each other and made a deal that only one of us could be discouraged at a time. We each took turns being the optimistic one. I think it’s safe to say that a good partner, both in life and in business is a must.

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?

I’m grateful to my partners in life and in business, as well as my PhD PI, my principal investigator and program instructor. He was a hard boss to work for and in many ways, had two personas, the nice and warm fatherly figure at social events and the hard, strict and precise scientist in the lab. He expected a lot from his students, and even brought me to tears more than once during my PhD. When my partner Avital and I decided to establish MilkStrip, we met with him to hear his thoughts. He was encouraging beyond expectation, and expressed real faith in us and the company. It meant a lot to me hearing that he believed in my abilities, both as an individual and as a scientist.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote is “follow your heart.”

Throughout the years I’ve noticed that it’s okay to want different things at different points in your life. I’ve reinvented myself throughout the years more than once. I have worked as an officer in the Israeli Air Force, in the consular of the Israeli embassy in the US, participated in biofuel and cancer research, and was a stay-at-home mom, all before becoming an entrepreneur. Throughout my journey I chose to follow my heart, doing what I believed in that made me feel good about myself. Throughout all of the career changes I made, I kept in mind that not only is a good, fulfilling career important, but so is family, and I made sure to find a balance.

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?

Women today want it all, to be able to raise a family and maintain their career. However, working often means that these breastfeeding mothers have to pump milk ahead of time which can lead them to question whether the milk is still fresh for consumption. Over 85% of breastfeeding mothers pump breast milk, and yet over 50% of them throw out breast milk because they’re unsure if it’s still good for consumption. That’s a lot of wasted milk.

Moreover, women want to be able to take control of their babies’ health and nutrition. This extends to their own breast milk to ensure whether it provides optimal nutrients to their growing babies. Women want to not only know if their breast milk is still good for their babies, but if it’s quality can be improved in any way too. This is critical when it comes to vitamins such as vitamin C, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system.

My company, MilkStrip, recently launched two at-home breast milk diagnostic kits that test breast milk for vitamin C levels and freshness. Utilizing the latest technology available, we’re focused on helping breastfeeding moms make informed decisions about their milk for their babies’ wellbeing. Unlike our competitors, whose tests need to be sent to a lab and provide results in 1 to 2 weeks, MilkStrip’s tests provide results and actionable insights on our corresponding app in just three minutes from the comfort of our customers’ homes.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

MilkStrip stands apart from other companies because we are a company for women, by women. We also understand our core customer base. I have breastfed five children, and my partner, Avital, has breastfed six. We both have careers as well and understand the need for a product that helps provide real-time breast milk diagnostics at-home.

I also have a fifteen year gap between my first and my last baby. When I was looking for a breast pump after having my first baby, I could only find two different brands, which were only available in highly specialized stores. Fifteen years later, breast pumps are now on the “necessity lists” for mothers-to-be and hundreds of brands are available for all mothers.

While the world is certainly changing in the baby tech industry, the diagnostic care and resources available for breastfeeding mothers is not. In this sense, the industry is exactly where it was fifteen years ago when I had my first child, and we wanted to change that.

Many of the products available to mothers are what brands think women want or need, but my partner and I have first-hand experience in knowing new mothers’ fears, and what products will give them peace of mind.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Without giving too much away, I can say that MilkStrip is always working to answer the most pressing questions that parents have and create new ways to give them certainty. We have several new products that we are releasing soon that we think parents will be really excited about.

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?

Women make up 50% of the population, so they should make up 50% of those in the tech industry, from manufacturing through research and development, all the way up to management and investment. However, we are not there yet. Companies need to be more family friendly, rather than focus on “female friendly.” Fathers must be given the opportunity to be a part of their family’s lives as well.

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?

In an interview many years ago, I made the mistake of sharing that I had three kids (I’ve had two more since) and the interviewer asked me, “so, what will you do when they are sick?” I don’t think any man has ever been asked such a question. When an employer sees a young, bright woman, they begin worrying about maternity leave immediately. That needs to change, and it should begin at both the top and the bottom of organizations. We must create better opportunities for women by making working conditions family friendly for women and men alike. Success should be measured not by how many hours are spent in the office, but by how many tasks and obstacles you overcome and the goals you achieve.

Education is an issue that needs to be addressed as well. Schools focus on the arts, geography, and humanities for girls, instead of promoting STEM and computer science. This has a significant impact on the careers and opportunities that are open to them later in life.

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”?

While our company is just starting out, being creative, hiring good people and trying to accurately map out the market are all great strategies for success. Another key area to focus on is creating a good client base by responding to your customers with respect and care. Providing customers with solutions to their everyday problems and having good customer service goes a long way in creating brand loyalty and ultimately, success. Lastly, don’t lose faith in yourself and your business.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Companies should focus on finding and hiring marketing and public relations professionals that are just as passionate about the product as you are. They will help to amplify your efforts and drive brand awareness.

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?

To find the right customers, you have to know your customer base. When my partner and I were starting out we put our heads together to consider what we needed as breastfeeding mothers, and what we know women are interested in. The idea of MilkStrip came from first-hand experience, which is often the most informative way to build a successful brand.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

  1. Promptness Is Key: We always try to answer any customer questions as fast as possible. We want to make sure that our customers feel that we listen, and know we are always trying to help.
  2. Give Customers the Benefit of the Doubt: One time, a customer shared that her coupon didn’t work. Even though she had already paid the full price for our product, we recharged her PayPal and gave her the coupon value, and a new coupon for her next purchase.
  3. Be Generous: When a customer was struggling with a payment, either due to their Visa or our system, we sent a complimentary kit to her. Regardless of why there were payment difficulties, we felt it was the right thing to do.
  4. Take Time to Explain Your Product: One time, we received an in-depth scientific question regarding breast milk and lipase activity. We took the time to explain the scientific process, providing a long explanatory answer, and in the end, suggested purchasing our products might help best. The person ended up buying two kits!

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?

We try to give our customers the feeling that we care, ask about their experiences with the product, and try to solve any problems for them quickly and efficiently. We always want to hear their feedback as this is one of the best sources for new product ideas.

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.

  1. Passion: You need to love what you do.

Every time we meet a new investor, one of the first remarks we hear is that our company is so interesting, and that they never thought about our idea before. They also tell us our enthusiasm is infectious. It’s our passion for the products that truly sells the brand and the company to investors.

2. Knowledge: Know your market, its pains and statistics. It’s equally critical to know your products, their abilities and their limits.

Whenever I get the chance to meet with a new mother and hear her thoughts on our products, I gladly take the opportunity to receive feedback.

3. Find the Right Team: Find the right people to work with, the ones that you trust but also the ones that are different from you, so you can see each situation from multiple perspectives.

Avital and I have frequent discussions and while we don’t often agree at first, having two approaches and the fact that we each believe in the other brings us to the best solution every time.

4. Take A Risk: Don’t be afraid to do something you’ve never done before. If it scares you, that’s probably because it’s worth it.

Just prior to co-founding MilkStrip, I was on maternity leave. While the chance to create my own company was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it was also something that I had no experience in. However, I decided to take the risk, realizing it was better to do something that scared me than nothing at all.

5. Celebrate: Take time to practice gratitude and celebrate even the smallest victories, each and every win helps you move forward.

While there will be times that you strike out at a meeting or have a negative experience with an investor, it’s important to remember to celebrate the small wins that you pick up along the way. Not only will this keep you optimistic, but every moment contributes to your overall success if you allow it to.

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.

Education is one movement that I would love to have an impact on. There are so many young people in the world that aren’t able to receive educational opportunities in technology, science, and the arts. The world is missing out on so many creative and bright minds, just because they were born into certain circumstances.

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

I would love to meet with Mackenzie Scott, as I think she’s an inspiration to all women. She is a mother, a businesswoman and a philanthropist. A core pillar in developing Amazon, MacKenzie has accomplished so much in both her personal and professional life. Additionally, her decision to donate some of the proceeds from her divorce was yet another reason that I found her inspiring.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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