We need to find ways to enable black and minority people in my industry to get into the leadership positions they deserve so they can have a voice in addressing one of the biggest challenges in our industry, which is that of health disparities for minority populations.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruby Gadelrab.
Ruby Gadelrab the CEO and Co-founder of MDisrupt, the first-of-its-kind medical diligence company, is helping health-tech startups demonstrate viability and bring health products to market faster and more responsibly, the company is also launching an on-demand health industry expert platform to connect a wide range of highly specialized medical and scientific professionals with emerging health tech companies that will most benefit from their expertise.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I did a degree in molecular biology at University College London, and while I loved the science academically, I was a terrible scientist in the lab. So I decided to pursue a career in the commercial side of biotech with a series of sales, and business development roles in genomics companies in the UK. Twelve years ago I moved to California and shifted my career to marketing and executive roles in healthtech companies, where I was head of marketing at Invitae and then later VP of commercial marketing at 23andMe.
I was at 23andMe during the boom years of consumer genomics and there were many genomics and healthtech companies starting up at the same time. I decided to leave 23andMe and started Ruby Consulting Group to help those companies with their branding, marketing, and commercialization efforts.
After consulting for about 30 companies, I kept seeing the same pattern emerge. Companies would spend time and money on their commercialization efforts to get their health products to patients and consumers, realize how difficult and expensive it was, and decide to focus instead on B2B channels in healthcare. They would ask me “How do I get physicians, health systems, and self-insured employers to adopt my product?” I would ask if they had done the necessary studies to prove that their products were safe, effective, and had economics that worked in a healthcare setting. For example, had they ever spoken to a physician or understood clinical workflow? Had they pursued the appropriate regulatory strategy? Who in the healthcare ecosystem were they expecting to pay for it? When they looked at me with blank stares, I realized the need for a new company.
So I and my co-founder at the time founded, MDisrupt, the world’s first medical diligence company. We wanted to help healthtech companies get their products to market faster by helping their investors do “medical diligence” before making an investment and also help the companies themselves fix any gaps they had in developing the evidence they needed that was critical for adoption in a healthcare setting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we launched the company we had a sudden and huge outpouring of support from health industry experts. The day we launched was a Sunday. Chrissy Farr of CNBC health wrote a story about us and I woke up to find over 500 LinkedIn requests and messages. The messages were primarily from health industry experts asking how they could help and how they could get involved. And it didn’t stop there — it continued like this for the next few months with constant messages on LinkedIn and on our website from incredibly talented scientists, doctors, regulatory experts, health policy experts and many others. The response was overwhelming and honestly, in the beginning, we didn’t know quite what to do with it.
After a few months it became apparent that all the interest was a signal we couldn’t ignore. We realized that what we needed to build was an on-demand health industry expert platform where we could connect these experts with the companies that needed their experience and skills. So that’s what we did. We currently have 70 consultant experts in our network who have at least 10 years’ experience and span the healthcare continuum.
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?
We completely misjudged our market — we went to market believing that investors would be our primary customers. We believed we could save them millions of dollars by helping them make better investments. But we were wrong.
Our first clients were a particular breed of healthtech founders. The truth-seekers. The ones who wanted to build evidence-based, responsible health products that would scale and who knew they needed the expertise of people who worked in healthcare to be successful.
We had to completely rethink our business model, our pricing, our market, and our value proposition. We had to pivot pretty quickly and we realized that we were now not just building a consulting service but a marketplace or the gig economy for health industry experts.
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?
It started with my parents who were both immigrant doctors (of Egyptian origin) who moved to the UK and taught me and my siblings about the value of education. They used to say, “Money and material things can disappear in a second but no one can take away your education. And with your education you will always have the tools to rebuild if something goes wrong.”
The next major influences were a group of executives at Affymetrix who believed in me enough to give me countless opportunities, which started with transferring me from the UK to the US, which was my dream. From Sean George, the boss who suggested it, to Thane Kreiner the executive who signed off on it, to Mindy Lee Olsen the manager who taught me all I know about marketing, each played a critical role making my American dream come true. Then later, also at Affymetrix, I worked for Chris Barbazette, who hired me for an incredible role as head of international markets. He entrusted me with huge responsibilities and allowed me to develop from a manager into a leader. I traveled around the world, built and led teams, made vast connections and learned about biotech and healthcare on a global scale. He even sent me to live in China for six months, which was a culturally and intellectually enriching experience.
Another person who shaped my path many years later was the accomplished entrepreneur Lisa Alderson. When I decided to leave role as VP of commercial marketing at 23andMe, I called Lisa, who was my mentor and one of my ex-bosses, and said, “When I leave on Friday, what am I going to do on Monday morning when I wake up?” She said, “I’m starting a new company called Genome Medical, why don’t you come and help me as a consultant?” And that was my first taste of consulting. She then reconnected me with an incredibly talented creative director we had previously worked with, Paul Bohanna. I partnered with Paul to found my first company, the Ruby Consulting Group, where we helped over 30 healthtech companies develop their brand and marketing efforts. In 2019, Paul was part of the founding team of MDisrupt, our second venture together.
Not to be cliché, but I honestly wouldn’t be able to take the risks that I have taken into entrepreneurship if it weren’t for my husband Liviu Tudor. I am not saying that all women need a partner to support them to be successful. But I am a mother to a beautiful five-year-old boy, Lucas, and we have no family in the US. Being a wife, mother, and career woman isn’t easy — in fact, it’s extremely challenging and honestly I can’t do it all without a lot of help. My husband, who is a talented engineer, not only creates stability for me and our son, but also is my biggest advocate, supporter, and inspiration. Since he’s in the tech industry too, he also has a unique perspective on how to solve business problems in innovative ways.
Finally, I can’t ignore the incredible au pairs we have had throughout the years. No one ever talks about the women who love and care for our children and give us the freedom and space to focus on our careers.
Just writing this, I’m acutely aware of how incredibly lucky I have been. I would love to use this article to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has supported me and continues to do so.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Achieving racial equality in the workplace is one of the most critical things that companies will need to accomplish in the next decade. And it needs to start immediately. It is not acceptable for us as leaders to accept the status quo and go back to the way things were. And it starts at the top, with the leadership.
Let’s be clear: The lack of diversity we see in leadership roles is NOT due to lack of talent. I personally know hundreds of talented and accomplished black and minority professionals. It’s due to lack of opportunities created for black and minority individuals.
It’s now more essential than ever that we change our organizations to address the issues of race, diversity and inclusion. Our workplaces need to mirror the socio cultural dynamics we experience in our every day lives. There are many moral and social reasons to create a better, more equitable and inclusive society as a whole. But let’s also look at some of the business reasons:
Diverse teams are better at decision making. The differences in our backgrounds and our experiences will be reflected in our opinions and therefore we will be less prone to homogenous thinking. Greater diversity will force the entire team to think more broadly about problems, and will likely make reaching a consensus harder, but the final decisions will likely be better ones.
Diverse leadership boosts innovation. This study by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with greater diversity in leadership reported 19% increased revenues due to innovation than their less diverse counterparts. This makes sense because diversity of background leads to diversity of thought and ideas.
Diverse leadership increases profits. This study by McKinsey, “Delivering Through Diversity,” showed that companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits.
Diverse teams will create better products, particularly in healthcare. Most healthtech products are designed to serve the majority of the population. But this article shows that many health products are actually inaccurate when used on non-Caucasian populations. Wearables use a particular type of light to measure heart rate. This light does not measure as accurately when there is more melanin (pigmentation) in the skin and so products that rely on it don’t accurately measure the heartrates of people with darker skin. Think about the implications of this when applied to all the healthcare products we are dependent on, from tests and diagnostics to drugs and therapeutics and even to the way our healthcare gets delivered. How much have ethnic and cultural differences been taken into account?
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
When it comes to creating more racially diverse and inclusive societies, education and investing in programs there are critical. However, as critical as they are, it will take decades for us to see the impact of this on society. I believe if we can address these issues in the workplace and create more black and minority leaders now, we will see results in a shorter time frame.
Here are some things we need to do as business leaders and employers.
- Don’t Be Silent. This is the worst thing we can do. Silence is deafening during times of crisis. It is equally deafening to turn a blind eye to casual racism. When presidents, governors, and mayors fail to provide the words of comfort we need, it is an opportunity for us as employers and business leaders to step up. Employees and colleagues need to hear that we support them and will protect them from discrimination, and that the company will take a stance to protect them, too.
- Enact a zero tolerance policy toward racism. Companies should immediately review their policies on racism and renew their commitments to zero tolerance. They also need to articulate these policies and put them into action immediately, through training for every employee and contractor in the company. And training is not enough. When racial incidents occur, companies need to react quickly. A good example is how Franklin Templeton’s zero-tolerance policy on racism led to the swift firing of its former head of insurance investment, Amy Cooper, after the Central Park birding incident with Christian Cooper.
- Develop a consistent dialogue that creates cultural intelligence This issue is not going away in a day or two, nor should it. The pain people feel will continue to come in waves, so employers and should continue to check in over the coming weeks and months. Make the dialogue a routine part of the company meetings and give your employees a voice regularly in what should be done. Give employees the opportunity to speak and ask questions. As leaders and colleagues, we should seek to listen and learn.
- Hire more black and minority individuals throughout the company and at every level. Make sure they have roles in leadership teams, executive teams, and on boards.
- Invest in mentorship and sponsorship — this means developing training and mentorship programs for your existing black and minority employees to help them get into leadership roles within your companies. Give them what they need to be successful in those positions and promote from within.
- Make diversity and inclusion goals a core company metric. Hold everyone accountable for meeting those goals. And just as revenue, profitability and NPS scores are routine performance metrics that every company likes to use, diversity and inclusion metrics should be on a par with these and measured and discussed openly and often.
- Don’t just hire a diversity officer. I am all for hiring diversity officers — clearly it needs to be someone’s responsibility to hold everyone accountable. BUT companies also need to give diversity officers substantial and meaningful roles at the company and ways to contribute to the business with their other skills. One company I work with, Prescient Medicine, just hired Dr James Gillespie as its chief diversity officer. His other major role in the company is to ensure that every health product created also addresses health disparities — from how it’s built to how it’s paid for and how it’s delivered to underserved communities.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
- The CEO is the main sales person in the company.
- The CEO of a start-up should have a maniacal focus on their product and their customers’ experience of the product.
- The CEO is responsible for the financial health of the company.
- The CEO is responsible for ensuring that their clients and customers are surprised and delighted with every interaction they have with the company
- The CEO is responsible for taking care of their employees and creating a safe environment where their employees are protected from all types of discrimination.
- The CEO is responsible for creating a culture in which employees can thrive, develop their skills and be the best version of themselves that they can be professionally.
This is not to say that the CEO needs to do all of this alone — they obviously need to hire other leaders and team members who can help them execute. But ultimately, if any of these factors are not working, it’s up to the CEO to fix the problem.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
- CEOs make all the decisions. No — CEOs hire people better than they are, who know more than they do, and they let their hires make decisions. Your job as a CEO is to give your people the right tools, unblock them, and then get out of the way.
- Being a CEO is easy. Actually, being a CEO is the hardest job I have ever done. I lie awake at night thinking about how I will ensure my team will get paid, how I will retain them, how I will help them achieve their career aspirations, how I will keep motivating them. I worry about if our clients are satisfied, if our consultants are happy, if our partners see our value. It’s constant worry. It’s also the most rewarding and exhilarating job I have ever done.
- Building a successful product means your company has made it. This is also not true. Succeeding as a CEO takes constant innovation in the product, in the business model, in the marketing and in the communications. You can’t stop for a second.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
- Many women, including myself, suffer from imposter syndrome. Despite my many years of experience I am constantly doubting and questioning myself. I find myself doing copious amounts of research and constantly seeking advice before I do anything, just to be sure I have the information I need. Many of my female colleagues experience the same thing.
- Women have a much harder time advocating for themselves, asking for the promotions and the pay raises.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
- I thought I would have more work life balance, but I actually work much longer hours than before. The only difference is I have flexibility in which hours I work.
- I can never take a real vacation and switch off. My team is amazing and they can handle a lot, but many of the responsibilities with clients, lawyers and advisors come directly to me and it can be any time, even if I am on vacation.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Traits of a successful CEO
- Those who can inspire. Leadership is about inspiring the right people to believe in you and your vision. And that includes everyone, from your employees and investors to your clients and partners. Not everyone will and that’s OK, too, but for those that do, they have to have faith in you that you can lead them to accomplish that vision.
- Those who are comfortable with being uncomfortable. The path of a startup never runs smooth. It’s fast-paced, it’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, its chaotic. There aren’t always a lot of perfect processes. We have to do things on the fly, take risks, make tough decisions. Sometimes it’s just completely terrifying. Most of the time you will be way outside of your comfort zone and you have to be ok with operating there.
- Those who can adapt to change quickly. To the point above, one of the things required to lead a startup is the ability to pivot quickly when you need to. This can be necessary for many reasons — competitive challenges, changes in market dynamics, global pandemics, or when new opportunities present themselves. The key here is WILLINGNESS to change and being able to differentiate when to pivot and when to stay focused on the core mission. When the time for change comes, it’s important to be able to recognize it and execute the change as quickly and painlessly as possible.
- Those who know and accept their limitations. No CEO is perfect; we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I believe it’s hard to fix a weakness, but you can always strengthen a strength and make it into a superpower. So I focus on those strengths, for myself and for people I hire. However, it’s very important to be aware of what you’re not good at, and to hire people in your teams that have those skills. I also think it’s important to surround yourself with mentors and advisors, even later in your career. There are always people who know more than you about something and they usually are more than happy to share their wisdom.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
- Invest in your team — invest time in teaching them, invest money in training and developing them. Help them achieve their own career aspirations and they will be the biggest asset to your company.
- Be honest about your limitations and surround yourself with people who have skills you don’t have. Trust them, listen to them and ask for their help.
- Take risks on people, look for the diamonds in the rough, give people roles bigger than they think they can do and let them grow into them. It’s amazing how much someone can achieve if they are challenged and supported by someone who believes in them.
- Build diverse teams. Diversity within teams drives creativity and innovation and novel ways of solving problems. It makes your product or solution applicable to wider audiences and bigger markets.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Being CEO is lonely. Some of the big and hard decisions are ones I ultimately have to make alone. I seek lots of advice but ultimately there are some calls that I just have to make.
The hard conversations are REALLY hard. When you have to let go of someone in a small startup it’s hard when you chose them and they chose to come and work for you. It’s different when it’s someone else’s company. When you lose someone from your own company, whatever the reason, it’s tougher.
The biggest thing I will worry about is paying my team. I never took funding to start the company, I self-funded it and luckily we had amazing clients and good traction early on. But ultimately it’s down to me and my amazing team to keep bringing the clients in and keep doing great work for them to sustain the business.
No amount of success will make me think I am successful. There is always more to do, something I haven’t done yet, another goal I want to achieve, someone whose career I want to help and haven’t been able to yet.
Despite the challenges you will face, at every step of the way you will find angels who will help you. At every obstacle and every difficult moment someone in my network of colleagues and friends appeared and had the skills, the time, and the patience to help me solve the problem and overcome the hurdle. When doors slammed shut, kind guardians graciously opened windows for me and guided me through them. When a contract with a big client would finish and I would be worried about the next one, someone would make an introduction to the next client. When I desperately needed a particular type of expertise to solve a problem, I would magically meet them at a social event. When my workload got too much to handle, someone would introduce me to the right person who could help and lighten the load. Trust that the angels will always show up.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am a woman of Middle Eastern origin. For a very long time I have shied away from talking about issues of race, inclusion, and diversity because of my own fears of being judged. I have always worked with and built my own very diverse teams; however this is no longer enough. As an executive and a leader in the health space I have recognized the importance of using my platform to stand up to racism, speak up for equality and finding ways to actively driving change. As a start, this summer we took on four interns, three of whom were from black or minority backgrounds. It’s been one of the most humbling and educational experiences for me and my entire team.
Furthermore, I think it’s important that we do more than this. We need to find ways to enable black and minority people in my industry to get into the leadership positions they deserve so they can have a voice in addressing one of the biggest challenges in our industry, which is that of health disparities for minority populations.
I have started a sheet that is being shared on LinkedIn so that we can find these leaders to create an executive forum to work on this together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better” Maya Angelou
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment 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
Bozoma Saint John — A very inspirational leader who has had a fascinating career.