Don’t change yourself for someone. When I was last fundraising, I walked into a partner meeting and knew they weren’t going to invest from the moment I walked in. No matter what I said, I was cut off and talked down to. Later that day, I had a meeting with another investor who gave me a term sheet. In the end, you can only be true to yourself and your own mission, and must accept that you can’t please everyone.
As a part of my series featuring accomplished women in STEM, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chloe Alpert the CEO and co-founder of Medinas, Inc., whose mission is to help reduce a portion of the $765 billion in yearly U.S. healthcare waste through its technology-driven asset management and remarketing software for hospitals. In its first 18 months, Medinas has helped hospitals save over $70 million in sales equivalency to date and divert over 33,000 pounds of equipment from landfills.
In 2019, Chloe won the $1 million grand prize at the Global Creator Awards Finals, and in 2018, she won the $360,000 grand prize at the Regional San Francisco Creator Awards. Chloe also won the 2017 $500,000 Forbes Under 30 Summit’s Global Change the World For-Profit Competition, and most recently, was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Healthcare list for the class of 2020. She’s also a co-founder of the Women’s Founder Community, the largest online community for women entrepreneurs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mypleasure! The story starts in 2015, when my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and spent many of her final months in a hospital. While there, I saw a lot of waste, including rooms full of unused equipment and perfectly good medical supplies in the trash. A year later, I met someone who had started a non-profit that took in donated medical supplies and equipment. I made the connection to my experience the year before and had a gut feeling that there was more to be done. After talking to that person for well over six hours, I immediately drove from Palo Alto to Oakland to meet one of my now co-founders for midnight drinks and talk his ear off about what I had just learned. That meeting catalyzed a year of research and eventually became Medinas, an asset management and remarketing platform that has helped hospitals save over $70 million in sales equivalency (at the time of my writing this) and help divert over 33,000 pounds of waste from landfills.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
When we first founded Medinas, we tried to keep it in stealth while meeting healthcare executives in different cities and learning about the industry. While in Chicago, I was in the hotel checking emails when someone sent me a link to the $500,000 Forbes Under 30 Summit’s Global Change the World For-Profit Competition. We hadn’t raised any money at that point, and didn’t have plans to for another six months to a year, but I made a split-second decision to fill out the application and submitted it. Two months later, we got a call that we were finalists and had to be in Boston in five days. My two co-founders and I bought last-minute plane tickets, booked a single hotel room for the three of us and ended up winning the $500,000. That initial injection of money ended up being critical to Medinas becoming the company that it is today. The investment allowed me to put together a $1 million pre-seed that gave us the money to start developing software and building out the business sooner than expected.
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?
Before opening the marketplace for sales, we conducted a ton of research and began marketing to who we believed was our target demographic. Despite our efforts, our very first sale was through a completely different type of seller who we’d never targeted. He signed up (we didn’t have gating or internal notifications built yet), created a listing (again, no notifications!), and fully completed a sale before we even realized that we had a user. The take-away was that even when think you know your customer, there’s always something more to learn. Also, don’t forget to build notifications.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most startups are for-profit ventures. Medinas is unique in that we have a social and environmental mission as well. As part of our mission to reduce waste in healthcare, we are helping hospitals more effectively manage and sell their equipment, recovering millions of dollars that can be brought back into the capital budgets of hospital systems. The equipment we sell is given a second life in rural hospitals and developing countries, making it easier and cheaper for those populations to access healthcare. Additionally, we’ve found that reuse is one of the only additive ways to create environmental impact in the medical equipment space, because recycling medical equipment is incredibly inefficient. By promoting reuse, we are saving water used to manufacture new equipment, lowering hospitals’ carbon footprints, and diverting waste from landfills, including hazardous e-waste containing PCBs (Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyls), heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, and radioactive materials, including Cobalt 60, which has a halflife of over 5 years.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
In addition to lower carbon footprints and less use of natural resources, sustainable businesses are also much more cost-efficient. For example, low-flow toilets reduce water bills, and LED lighting reduces electricity bills. Businesses can reduce their costs of procurement by analyzing their supply chain processes to identify unnecessary waste, which, for hospitals, can mean lower healthcare costs.
Medinas is currently working on a partnership with the Green Business Bureau (GBB), a third-party organization that uses online survey tools to ascertain what measures an organization has already taken — everything from providing transit benefits for employees to installing low-flow toilets — to determine its overall level of sustainability. The partnership will allow all hospitals partnering with Medinas to automatically qualify for GBB Aware status. GBB will then help those partner hospitals take steps to increase their operational efficiencies with the hope that all will eventually reach GBB Gold or even GBB Platinum status.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, I still think women and people of color face a much steeper hill to climb in the STEM industry, but I also don’t see a silver bullet to solving the problem. When I look at the opportunities I have today, I recognize that they’re possible thanks to the women who came before me. As a woman early in her career, I hope that I can be the next wave of change and leave behind even more opportunities for those who come after me. It’s a cycle that needs to be continued, and right now, it’s my turn to carry the torch.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice is to invest in culture as early as possible. We engaged an executive coach who has become a resource for our entire company. All conversations employees have with our coach are confidential, and it gives our employees a safe, independent resource to get help. Our founders also grade ourselves quarterly on how well we’ve been embodying each company value. It’s a powerful tool for us to check in and make sure we’re living up to our promises.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Hire amazing managers. If you can’t trust your managers, you won’t be able to manage the company. I think everything starts with who you hire — one wrong person can completely shift the tone of the organization. When we were looking to scale our sales organization, a CEO who was much further along than we were gave me great advice — that the sales leader you hire will set the tone and culture of your sales team forever. And he was right.
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 always go back to my 7th grade technology education teacher. In “tech-ed” class, we had different modules with various things to learn, like programming a robotic arm or producing and editing a video, and students were to complete two each quarter. I ended up completing my two modules within about two or three weeks, leaving me with nothing to do for the rest of the quarter. Instead of just giving me busy work or letting me treat the class like a study hall, my teacher got me involved in something called the Technology Student Association (TSA), a national student organization created to develop skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as business education through competitions. That was really the catalyst for everything that I’ve done since, and I’m so grateful that I had a teacher who didn’t let gender get in the way of seeing potential in one of his students.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’d like to think I am being the change I’d like to see in the world. (H/T Gandhi). I’m extremely proud that the company I’m building, Medinas, not only has a significant impact on the U.S. healthcare system, but also brings care to more people and helps the environment. I feel so lucky that I get to go to work every day and know that what we’re doing makes the world a slightly better place.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Always seek the truth. This is our first company value, and a value I try to live my life by. As someone who has faced all sorts of biases, I try to be totally committed to seeing the truth in order to see past all the noise. It’s what I would want someone to do for me.
- Don’t change yourself for someone. When I was last fundraising, I walked into a partner meeting and knew they weren’t going to invest from the moment I walked in. No matter what I said, I was cut off and talked down to. Later that day, I had a meeting with another investor who gave me a term sheet. In the end, you can only be true to yourself and your own mission, and must accept that you can’t please everyone.
- Be compassionate to others, and more importantly, yourself. A sobering lesson for me as a co-founder and “visionary” of a startup was that even if you can get all of your employees to see your vision, for many of them, working at your company is a job. They have lives outside of Medinas, so I had to learn to be more compassionate and understanding of that. Additionally, I think a lot of founders and women in STEM are so focused on trying to prove themselves that they forget that, just like their employees, they’re human too. You need to take a few minutes each day to be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for mistakes.
- Trust the people you hire. One of the biggest things I focus on is hiring amazing managers and employees. If you can’t trust the people you’ve hired to do the work, you shouldn’t continue to work with them.
- Strong opinions, weakly held. As a leader, people look to you for direction, and if you can’t make up your mind, no one will know what to do. As a leader, you have to form a strong opinion with the information available to you, and the second you learn something new, reassess that opinion and see if anything changes.
You are a person of great 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. 🙂
I would hope that the work we’re doing at Medinas can inspire more for-profit businesses to find social and environmental initiatives that they can incorporate into their business plans. There are so many things a company can do that make a difference like using only post-consumer content paper towels, or having extra recycling bins around the office. A little effort can create a huge impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To be effective, you must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true. If you are too proud of what you know or of how good you are at something, you will learn less, make inferior decisions, and fall short of your potential.”
― Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work
Ego can be a powerful tool, but it can also kill you. You have to make sure you can control your ego so you know when it’s time to listen more than you speak.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Anne E. Wojcick, she’s had an incredible career and has scaled 23andMe into an incredible company. I would love to learn how she manages her board and her executive team, especially in a space like biotech where nearly everyone in the room is a PhD.