Our environment is cleaner. We’ve learned that big changes can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. There’s an opportunity to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy alternatives, such as solar and wind.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alli Kasirer.
In founding Robyn, Allison Kaiser set out on a mission to make sure no other woman ever felt as alone and confused as she once did on her fertility journey. Prior to launching Robyn, Allison was a Vice President at J.P. Morgan’s Corporate & Investment Bank. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. Robyn is a community-driven digital platform that provides access to a network of integrative maternal wellness tools, resources, and specialists.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Absolutely! I grew up in New Jersey and went to the University of Pennsylvania to study Engineering. I always loved math and science and knew that it would be a great analytical background regardless of what career I decided to pursue after college. When I left Penn, I worked for 7 years at J.P. Morgan on the trading floor. I loved my team and clients; however, I decided to take a personal leave when my husband and I were having trouble getting pregnant. I wanted to take a big, deep breath, and focus on mothering myself during this time. During this personal leave, I became very passionate about the intersection of fertility and wellness. I also started sharing my journey on social media and started forming a community for aspiring, expecting and new parents. It’s been a few years since then — I have 3 kids under 4 — twins via IVF and another natural surprise! Robyn has also gone from a burgeoning social media community to a technology platform that offers maternal wellness tools , resources and providers for every step of your journey to parenthood.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Four years ago, I had a meeting with a small, women-run branding agency that I found on Google. I went in there with my first pitch deck (which I can’t look at now without cringing) and completely connected with the woman who sat across from me. She was hesitant to take us on at the time because we were so early but I was persistent. Little did I know that over the next four years, her and her partner became friends and stakeholders in Robyn. Carolyn, from that meeting, is now our Head of Brand & Strategy. That’s one of the most “interesting” parts of this or any career path — the relationships you build!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are! We’re on a mission to make maternal wellness and education accessible to all. With childbirth education classes costing upwards of $300–500, educational resources and community for women can be prohibitively expensive and inaccessible. There’s also endless online advice on fertility and pregnancy, but it’s difficult and time-consuming to determine credibility. Later this summer, we’ll be launching two new projects that further this mission. (1) The ability to book virtual or in-person sessions directly with a network of vetted maternal wellness providers, and (2) a virtual childbirth education class that features multiple perspectives, real stories and an accessible price point.
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 don’t think it’s possible to boil it down to one person! I am grateful for my parents who empowered me to be a leader at a young age. I wrote in my middle school yearbook that in 20 years I would be a CEO. That drive comes from within, from a supportive family environment, and incredible teachers and educators I had the privilege of learning from. I am grateful for my husband who respects my work and shares in a 50/50 equitable division of family and domestic responsibilities. I am grateful for the people who help us with childcare so that we can both balance work and family. I am grateful for my team who drive Robyn and our vision for the future forward each and every day. I am grateful for advisors, mentors and investors who believed in what we were building enough to become stakeholders and see it come to fruition.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
I think most people will agree that the biggest family challenge has been trying to work from home with kids. As I mentioned, we have 3 kids under 4, and the twins were going to preschool every day before the pandemic. I’m currently working from my bathroom vanity and my bathtub shows up in all of my Zoom calls! Other things I’m struggling with — finding time for self care and dealing with the kids’ renewed separation anxiety. Even driving to the office and listening to a podcast felt like “me” time. Those transition times aren’t happening anymore so I have to carve out more space during the day. My kids will sometimes scream if we have to go out of the house without them, even just a quick jaunt to the grocery store. I’m anticipating a longer transition when they do go back to school.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Well we are extremely grateful to still have childcare in the house. Our nanny has taken charge of the schedule so that the kids still feel like they have some routine in the absence of school. She is part of our family and was part of our “quaranteam” from the get-go. I’ve also started to set boundaries around the house — certain rooms mean ‘Mommy is working,’ and other rooms mean ‘Mommy can play.’ That being said, I’ve been trying to give myself a break on all of it and embrace the chaos.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
Work remains my place of positivity during the pandemic. Almost immediately, we recognized that our community was in crisis — canceled IVF cycles, traumatic births, isolation in postpartum. So it was really a time to reaffirm our “why” and accelerate product development which has been really invigorating as a founder. This time has caused all of us to radically prioritize, and for a lean startup, that can be an extremely helpful exercise to cut anything fluffy and extraneous. Hiring and managing a team remotely has been more of an adjustment than a challenge. Predicting future cash flows and runway is probably the most challenging.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
During this time, we’ve been approached by a number of talented people who were recently laid off and resonate deeply with our mission of destigmatizing, democratizing, and demystifying the path to parenthood. This has allowed us to grow the team strategically for the near-term while prioritizing candidates who will stick with us for the medium-/long-term after the pandemic.
Like most companies, we’re relying more on communication and project management software whether it be Slack, Zoom, Monday, etc — it helps people feel connected when working from home.
As I mentioned above, cutting extraneous projects and expenses and radically prioritizing the most important initiatives. For example, we recognized quickly that for many women and families, their in-person childbirth education courses were canceled. We had been working on a more highly produced childbirth class that won’t be ready until July. The radical prioritization and product acceleration exercise resulted in us putting out a 3-hour live zoom childbirth education class that had over 700 sign ups. We believe consumers will remember the companies that provided real value during this time.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Try to get everyone on as much of a “routine” as possible. Write that schedule down somewhere for everyone to access. Set boundaries for work/play within the home. Kids and adults need quiet, alone time so carve out that space for everyone, including yourself. And when it all falls apart and chaos ensues, recognize that we’re all trying to do the impossible during impossible times. Tomorrow is a new day!
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
I just started wearing an Apple Watch and it reminds me to breathe! Wow, I didn’t realize how much I needed that simple reminder. Whether it’s meditative breathing, a virtual exercise class or a walk around the neighborhood, I find that breathwork and moving, especially outdoors, is extremely restorative.
Take control of what you can control but realize that any experience that feels out of control is an exercise in letting go. Every time I have dishes piling in the sink or an interrupted conference call, I’m actively trying to see it as a spiritual exercise in letting go. It reminds me of my fertility journey — I could control my wellness (nutrition, exercise, acupuncture, etc.) but not if or when I would get pregnant.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- This too shall pass. Bad times pass. Good times pass. Getting comfortable with the impermanence of everything and the uncertainty of the future is an incredible growth opportunity for all of us.
- A time for radical prioritization. What a time to recognize what’s really important to you and what brings you joy. Write those things down, practice gratitude and keep them close to your heart when things go “back to normal” and the excess creeps back in.
- Work/life balance will change for the better. The pandemic has brought to light family and work challenges that were lurking beneath our normal day-to-day (85% of moms feel unsupported).
- Mental and emotional wellness will be prioritized. We’ve woken up to the importance of mental health awareness, self care, and making healthy choices.
- Our environment is cleaner. We’ve learned that big changes can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time. There’s an opportunity to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy alternatives, such as solar and wind.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mother yourself. I had to learn to mother myself before I could mother my children. Self care during pregnancy and postpartum is a little more obvious; but for me, I had to learn it in pre-pregnancy. Through this practice of mothering myself, I was able to take a challenging experience like infertility, shift the perspective, and use it to help other women and families. This self care has become increasingly important in my life. Whenever I start to feel fear, tension, or anxiety creep in, it usually means I’m letting my self care slip.
How can our readers follow you online?
@wearerobyn on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/wearerobyn/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!