Perfection is the enemy of completion. In my first start up I endlessly tweaked and tweaked the product before going to market. I was scared to launch anything that wasn’t perfect. With Fertility Circle, we launched with a beta version, tested, listened and pivoted — and fast-tracked our learning. Until you go-to-market you’re just guessing what your customers think, which will never end well. Strive for excellence, but at the end of the day get something out there.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jo Living.
Jo Living is co-founder and COO of Fertility Circle — a one-stop app that helps navigate the path to parenthood. She is a reformed Investment Banker who found meditation and spirituality on her path to entrepreneurship and wellbeing. She brings a unique blend of “kick-ass meets woo-woo”, also demonstrated by her love of both poker and yoga. She lives in North London with her husband, her 4 year old son and about 3 tonnes of Lego.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I had a fortunate upbringing, with lots of love, boardgames and playing cards! My father was a stockbroker and my mum a housewife, so it was quite a traditional home. I had 2 older brothers and my parents separated when I was ten, which I think made me very resilient. I grew up forever trying to join in the boys’ games. That meant I was a bit of a tomboy and I was always trying to prove I could compete in a man’s world. I’m sure that followed into adulthood — both at Cambridge University and subsequently in Investment Banking. I was bright, driven and ambitious from a young age. I was head girl at my school — my class yearbook voted me ‘first person to make a million’ if that tells you anything! At the time my parents broke up — when we were now running two households — my dad also lost his job suddenly. My mum had to go out to work after 20 years’ being a housewife which was really hard for her, and luxuries like summer holidays were no longer an option. Suddenly finances were tight and our lifestyle changed. We weren’t exactly on the breadline, but it made me appreciate the security and options money brings. I’m certain this made me really driven and to work hard for my own success.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Today well lived makes every yesterday a memory of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.” My highschool teacher wrote this on a leaving card to me and I still have it on my desk twenty years’ later! Basically I take this to mean “live for today”. Both my brother and my best friend died at a young age, just a year apart. Losing them reminds me to make each day count, and not sweat the small stuff.
How would your best friend describe you?
Kind, calm, resilient, sometimes private and sometimes direct — just like my mum was! They’d also say I was energetic, driven and “glass-half full”. I tend to make the best of situations and see failure and opportunity as two sides of the same coin. I’m working on showing more of my vulnerabilities and to ask for help, which doesn’t always come naturally to me.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
I have to start by recognizing that much of my success is probably due to a fortunate upbringing, and so I can’t take all the credit! I had a school and family with plenty of resources, as well as love and a stable home that gave me a strong start in life. It’s not necessarily just ‘qualities’ that got me here, but a head start on the monopoly board as it were. I think it’s important to acknowledge that due to societal inequalities, it’s not a level playing field for everyone.
Having said that — to answer your question — some attributes that have helped along the way are:
- Resilience / tenacity. I’m not easily knocked and can dust myself down. I love the chase. Setbacks are there to be overcome. I’m as much about the journey as the destination.
- Balance. I lost myself for a while in Investment Banking. I missed friends’ birthdays and date nights, and was completely exhausted and felt totally detached from the person I wanted to be. Balance is really important to me now — for me that’s yoga, running, sleep and meditation to ground myself and recharge.
- Sense of purpose. Since leaving Banking, I’ve really found a sense of purpose behind my career. It’s much more of a work-life blend than a work-life balance. I feel completely aligned and work is a channel for the things I care about and want to put my energies into anyway. It makes working late much more palatable when you’re committed to the cause and know you’re helping people.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I’d graduated from Cambridge University and was recruited into Investment Banking in 2003. At the time, there was a boys’ club initiation mentality where everyone had to “earn their stripes”; 2am finishes were par for the course, I was exhausted. A couple of times I actually fainted on the trading floor and then carried on my day…
I made a couple of moves within the financial sector to try and find my fit and was happiest covering Hedge Fund clients. I was in my late 20s, earning good money and enjoying city nightlife — the hours were a lot better at this point and there were certainly a lot of benefits too!
I was 27 and had the house, the boyfriend, the job that I’d always wanted. I’d reached the end of the rainbow but the reality didn’t match my expectations. Instead, my prior ambitions were replaced with new hopes and wants, and I felt a bit disillusioned.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
In my late 20s I had a major relationship breakup and lost my father suddenly. Those things combined send me spinning into my “quarter-life crisis”.
A friend suggested I go to her for a free reiki session (I’d never heard of it at the time!). It was a powerful healing experience that led to a total shift of my world view. It triggered a lot of questions, so I qualified as a Reiki Master in my spare time and traveled to India for 3 months in between jobs. It’s so cliched looking back, but by the time I’d hit 30 I’d found spirituality, meditation — and myself. I was then in this incongruous situation where there was ‘work Jo’ and ‘weekend Jo’. I couldn’t be fully myself at work and I started to feel more and more inauthentic. I found that very draining.
I was 31 when I finally left. It took 3 resignations — I never had a next-step lined up and they kept talking me out of it. I put aside some funds to support myself and trained as a massage therapist. Never as a career move but just to do something physical and ground myself in human connection — something more real than numbers on a screen and making rich people richer.
That same year I was accepted on a 1-year leadership programme called On Purpose, that helps mid-level professionals transition into entrepreneurship and social-purpose business. Off the back of that I got a great new job with a youth organization.
In the space of a year I had completely changed my life. I had found a new job, left my partner of 2 years, sold my house, met my future husband, and expanded my social circle to a whole new network of like-minded people. I felt completely alive.
Since then I’ve gone onto launch my own FemTech company — Fertility Circle — an expert-informed app to empower people to make the right fertility choices for them, whatever their path to parenthood.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I left Banking when I realized there was no one in my company who I aspired to be like, or whose life I wanted; no one whose job I thought would make me happy. Individually people were nice, but I didn’t buy into the system and the skewed incentives bought out the worst in people (including myself). I wasn’t happy in the moment, and didn’t know what I was striving towards either.
Taking the plunge to launch Fertility Circle actually felt a lot easier. I was really aligned with the mission, values and people. I trusted my co-founders and believed in what we were trying to create. Yes I left a well-paid job in the middle of a global pandemic, but somehow it just felt right — and I haven’t looked back!
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
Previously I set up and ran a fellowship programme supporting startup social entrepreneurs with funding, mentoring, as well as personal and professional development. I was supporting incredible people to launch and scale their amazing social businesses. I related to a lot of the skills I saw in them and had my own entrepreneurial itch to scratch. I often had side hustles or projects on the side, and was looking for the right startup opportunity.
A friend from the On Purpose programme was running a consulting project for us and we had collaborated well on a number of projects previously too. We got to talking about her own fertility journey, and she was looking for help to start Fertility Circle. It felt like such a natural fit to work with her again. I’m very passionate about women’s wellness and empowerment and was delighted to join forces.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Really well, it’s so exciting. We’ve launched a fantastic fertility app — to connect, support and empower anyone on their path to parenthood — and for a limited time it’s completely free. We’ve been blown away by the feedback so far — we’ve even had interest from Apple! We’ve partnered with over 50 world-leading fertility experts that host virtual events and answer your questions. The app has a wealth of informative articles and bitesize video tutorials available. There are also planning tools to support your IVF cycle and wellness, as well as a question bank, directory of service providers and community chatwalls. Our shop has a carefully curated selection of best-in-class fertility products, such as supplements, books, and wellness products. We think of it as a sensitively designed, easy to use, virtual hug — like your best friend with all the fertility smarts!
We’ve had thousands of downloads in our first few months, are part of the M Accelerator programme run out of LA. Plus, we are looking to raise investment to build out the app functionality further, and are planning to crowdfund in May. We’ve just been accepted onto the Virgin Startup programme, led by Holly Branson, which will help with that. We’re also working set to work with the NHS to run clinical trials. A number of IVF clinics are already offering our app to their clients. We have a big community on Instagram and it’s lovely to see how we’re helping people.
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?
Undoubtedly my husband Jake. He’s my confidant, my counselor, my coach and collaborator. We’re both natural entrepreneurs and we love coming up with new business ideas and brainstorming together. He champions me at every step. Even after having our son he pushes me to be the best in my career and never holds me back, or expects his work to come before mine. We split parental duties down the middle, even during lockdown. He rarely does the laundry but then I never cook a meal, so it’s a real partnership! I shouldn’t have to be grateful for this balance in 2021, but the fact remains that most women don’t have it this way. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
After leaving Banking I spent 2 years working closely with a young billionaire leading her charitable foundation — working with that family was a pretty unique experience all round! As part of one of the programmes she took the group camping in the Arctic Circle. It was workshops and husky-sledding by day, and sub-zero camping by night — something to remember! One evening at the perfect moment — after dinner and around the campfire miles from anywhere — we saw the most spectacular display of magical Northern Lights. I think I had some kind of beatific experience! We were all just overcome and we started spontaneously dancing and laughing and whooping. That was completely breathtaking and will stay with me forever.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
I think like many women imposter syndrome has been a bit of a theme throughout my career. I always had quite a strong ‘inner critic’ and felt that maybe I wasn’t good enough. When I returned from maternity leave I was feeling quite stagnant in my job. I felt I had been passed over for promotion and was struggling to be seen and balance my new family commitments as a first-time mum. I looked into coaching to help turn things around, but ended up part of the first cohort and founding team of an amazing women’s peer mentoring programme called She Leads Change. They offer virtual leadership programmes — with a big focus on challenging limiting beliefs and the inner critic. I came away from that immediately negotiated a pay rise, got a promotion and then left for an even better job!
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I enlisted a coach to help me make the leap form Banking. She helped me prioritise and understand what my strengths were, what I wanted out of life, and how to move towards that.
My friends were hugely supportive — and I also made a conscious effort to develop new contacts in the social sector. I reached out to some connections for coffee and got to learn more about the opportunities. I quickly heard about the On Purpose fellowship programme and that was a great place to land — like a mini-MBA with a supportive cohort of professionals making a similar transition. I also tried to create a “personal board” — nurturing relationships with informal advisors from a range of backgrounds, ages, professions, etc. Often your parents for example, just want to protect you so won’t always encourage you to take risks — you need to pull from connections further afield.
Plus, I did a lot of journaling around that time; that was a really helpful baseline to come back to when I doubted myself. When nothing had shifted and I started to write the same ambitions, I knew I owed it to myself to act on them. Meditation has also been a bit of a bedrock for me through the transition out of banking and beyond. I find it very grounding and helps give me stability when I’m having a wobble! In fact, it was during a deep meditation session that I got the clear insight to go for it with Fertility Circle!
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
I’m out of my comfort zone most days with Fertility Circle! I’ve not had direct experience with building out a tech platform, pitching to investors, or worked in the fertility industry before — so I’m learning every day! What’s great is that we are 3 female co-founders and our skills really complement and support one another. If I’m honest, I do sometimes feel out of my depth delving into the specifics of infertility issues. I didn’t have any difficulties conceiving my son, and sometimes I worry that I can’t ever fully comprehend how hard that must be, or that I’ll put my foot in it. However, both my co-founders have each overcome really difficult journeys to motherhood, so they really understand our community and their needs. What’s most important is that we open up the conversation, remove any stigma and don’t get paralyzed by fear.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why?
Sure, yes. 5 things I wish I knew before launching my start up?
- Ask “why will this fail”?
With any new project or idea — instead of asking, “Will this work?”, ask for all the reasons why it might fail. This drives right to the heart of any obstacles you might face, and helps you to tackle them quicker. When talking with our focus groups for Fertility Circle we asked ‘what’s wrong with this idea?’. They told us they wanted to connect with others — we didn’t have community chatwalls and opportunities for peer support at the time, and now it’s a cornerstone of our offering.
- There’s a course for that! In the early states of a startup when cash is tight — before you spend money on service providers — see what you can learn on the cheap and do yourself. There’s a plethora of free or low cost courses available online — covering everything from pitching to PR, SEO and running your own social media ad campaigns. Some things are worth paying an expert for — but be sure to weigh up the time and money you have to invest briefing and managing external providers, versus simply upskilling and executing yourself. We initially wasted a lot of time and money briefing and managing someone to run our social media campaigns, but they felt completely off-brand, and we ended up redoing ourselves.
- Trust your gut. In the early stages of Fertility Circle I got so much conflicting advice from all angles. They were all credible and well-intentioned, but it was simply impossible to follow everybody’s opposing viewpoints. At some stage I had to thank them and trust my instincts to slice through the noise.
- Just do the next right thing. This quote is borrowed from a song in Frozen 2 — my son’s favourite movie! It can be overwhelming and you wonder how you’ll “get to the finish”, which feels so big and far away. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and be in the arena; having “staying power” is half the battle. I’ve found that having a co-founder (or two!) to pull you back from the edge when you feel like throwing in the towel really helps with that.
- Perfection is the enemy of completion. In my first start up I endlessly tweaked and tweaked the product before going to market. I was scared to launch anything that wasn’t perfect. With Fertility Circle, we launched with a beta version, tested, listened and pivoted — and fast-tracked our learning. Until you go-to-market you’re just guessing what your customers think, which will never end well. Strive for excellence, but at the end of the day get something out there.
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?
Well I guess that’s why I’m working on Fertility Circle! For some, having a baby strikes at the core of what it means to be human. Unfortunately though 1 in 6 couples experience fertility issues. For those that go through infertility and pregnancy loss, it can be hugely stressful and dehumanising. And with lifestyle choices, same-sex parenting, and cultural shifts delaying parenthood — fertility challenges are on the rise. I think the mental and emotional side of these struggles is often so overlooked — especially for those experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss. There also remains stigma and shame around infertility, particularly amongst men. I hope Fertility Circle can spark a movement to change the conversation, and support people through what can be one of life’s most traumatic experiences.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I’m not really concerned about being remembered personally. But I’d love for Fertility Circle to thrive long into the future. There’s a growing need for not only reliable advice, but also emotional support during one of the most stressful — and potentially traumatic — times of your life. If we can leave a legacy of democratising access to access trusted advice, fertility education and emotional support, then my work here is done!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We have an active Instagram community — so do follow us @fertilitycircle. You can also visit www.thefertilitycircle.com to find out more, or download the Fertility Circle app. With over 50 fertility experts, live events, video tutorials, amazing products, wellness plans and community support — there’s a lot you can do to take control of your fertility journey.
Fertility Circle is a one-stop app that helps navigate the path to parenthood. Search “FertilityCircle” in the App Store or Play Store to download for free and join the conversation.
+44 7890 344298