I’ve had the pleasure of attending Web Summit, a top technology conference, and sitting down with Laura Chambers.
Laura Chambers is the CEO of Willow, the creator of the world’s first quiet, all-in-one, in-bra wearable breast pump. As a mom to three, she is especially passionate about Willow’s mission to bring joy to motherhood. Laura joined Willow from Airbnb, where she led the Core Hosts business, focusing on helping Airbnb guests find high-quality unique homes, and helping hosts have wonderful experiences with their guests. Before Airbnb, Laura worked at eBay Inc in various leadership roles at eBay, PayPal, and Skype, and McKinsey & Co in Australia. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Melbourne. Laura and her family reside in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Web Summit is Europe’s largest technology event bringing together 100,000 attendees from over 150+ countries virtually this year.
Forbes has said we run “the best technology conference on the planet”;
The Atlantic that Web Summit is “where the future goes to be born”;
The New York Times that we assemble “a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests.”
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us how you got to where you are today? Why did you start Willow Pump?
I moved to Silicon Valley from Australia in 2003, and I was instantly enamored with the Valley. It was such an interesting time, and it’s been amazing to grow up in the Valley. I have about 20 years of experience in consumer technology—with brands like Airbnb, eBay, PayPal, and Skype- typically on turnarounds and transformations.
Now, turning to Willow Pumps—and it’s a very cool story. It came out of an incubation lab called ExploraMed. The lab looks at solving tricky medical problems using technology. The founders wanted to do something in the women’s health space because they realized that it was relatively underserved. So, the founders conducted a survey asking women about their key medical issues, and all the participants wanted to talk about was breast pumps and how terrible they were. And from that, the founders launched Willow Pump in 2014.
I just joined in June of this year, and as a mom of three, I can tell you how blown away I am by the quality of the technology, and the amazing impact it has.
What have you learned?
One thing I learned over time is how much resilience humans have—particularly in the world of COVID. I’ve been studying what creates resilience and what drives it. And there are a few interesting nuggets.
One is doing the work that you love. Sometimes, we think of work as this is what we need to do and this is what is important. But the real magic is in being self-aware enough to know your strengths, and operating in the intersection of what you are good at and what you love to do. As a leader, if you can direct your teams to do work in that magic intersection, amazing things can happen.
The work output is better because people are enjoying what they are doing, and they are great at doing it. This type of work builds up resilience—it builds up your energy reserves. And leaders who do the real work with their team will ask “what are your strengths? What are you good at? What do you love to do?” And try to sculpt their days around it.
The other thought is that energy flows where attention goes. As individuals and as leaders, it’s important to think about where your attention should be. It’s so easy to get distracted by things that happen. But if you are incredibly focused and crisp about where you direct your attention, and where your organization should direct its attention, then the energy will flow there. And that has very meaningful impacts in terms of performance.
What is something that you are working on that you are excited about?
We just completed our five-year strategy and I am so excited about what’s ahead for Willow. It’s an amazing brand and an amazing product, and there’s just tremendous opportunity and workspace in the world of supporting moms. We have a whole suite of new products coming in the next year, and we’re super excited to get that to our moms and make motherhood easier.
Another area that I’m super excited about is the intersection of hardware— which is where Pump is today— and software and data. I think we can collect a lot of data and integrate the pump with ideas and solutions to make mom’s experience better.
What do women need to know about pre and post-natal care?
The good news is there are great resources out there about the technical elements of pre and postnatal care. I would encourage women to remember—and this is something that typically first moms do not know about, but second and third-time moms start to understand over time— is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. There is so much that you need to do, and you are going to be so tired, and your body is changing, and your hormones are all over the place. And you have this tiny thing that you need to take care of, and you have all these people around you that you need to engage with, and it’s incredibly exhausting. It’s hard to imagine, in those moments, that you need time to set aside for yourself— to make sure you exercise once you can, to sleep and to eat and to rest. But it’s one of the most important things you should do, and it’s something that I believe is under-discussed. You are undergoing so many changes and the more you can invest in yourself and make sure you are well-rested and happy will give you the energy and resilience you need during those very difficult postnatal experiences at home.
What is one of the most interesting parts of being an entrepreneur?
It’s so fun! One of the things that stands out to me is that I’m relatively new to med-tech and healthcare, and I’m learning how wonderful the network is. There are a lot of incredibly passionate, incredibly talented people working in this space, and it’s been so much fun getting to know them. I’m realizing how small the world is. Everyone knows everyone else, and it’s a remarkably supportive community.
Of course, everyone is trying to go out and do their own thing. But everyone that joins the med-tech and healthcare space is deeply passionate about making a positive impact on humanity.
I’ve usually worked in large corporations, and this is the first time I’ve worked in a smaller company. And the most inspiring and exciting thing is the opportunity to make an impact. Fem tech, and mom tech, has had remarkably little innovation and investment, and it’s a shame. But, that’s good news, since there’s just so much untapped opportunity to make a positive impact. And it’s wonderful to be at a company where that’s at the core of our mission. Our mission is to bring joy to motherhood. And we have amazing investors, amazing boards, and a very supportive environment around us to go out and do just that.
What is the future of health tech?
It’s an incredibly exciting time in this space right now. From a market perspective, there’s tremendous interest in med tech and health tech firms, and it’s a time of remarkable innovation. An emerging trend is telehealth—how you can provide people with services that don’t require going to the doctor’s office. It’s being accelerated by COVID.
I think this is still very nascent, but the utilization of some of the technologies emerging around AI and machine learning, and deep data resources will be fascinating, especially how to apply that to both hardware and software.
Do you have any tips for working moms and executive moms?
I think that we are all just muddling through it—from schooling three kids and joining a new company. I think one of the most important things is to just give ourselves grace. We’re not going to be perfect at everything all the time. And some things will slip through the cracks, and that’s okay.
There’s always going to be a million things—dogs barking at us and kids knocking on doors and Slack pinging us. But I have a saying I love to live by, and it’s “live by your feet.” I try to be where my feet are. So, if I’m with my kids, I very deliberately put my phone in another room, and I’m just with them. If I’m at work, I try to do the same. It’s very tricky, especially right now with COVID.
Is there anything you would like the readers to know?
We touched on this a little bit, but I’d love to emphasize that there is tremendous opportunity to innovate on behalf of women and moms. It’s a relatively unaddressed space. And the more I look into it, the more I’m disappointed that there is less work and attention given to this space historically.
The great news is that we are starting to get more investment in this sector, and I’m tremendously excited about the potential and the opportunity to do that. It’s going to be a wonderful set of work for us to do, and I’m very excited that we can have some very positive impacts on moms around the world.