“Why you shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do” With Candice Georgiadis & Tammi Jantzen

You shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do. You need differing opinions and points of view to truly expand your thinking. Building a diverse team has always been important to us, however, it was never about achieving a prescribed diversity quota. Every hire we make is based on the […]

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You shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do. You need differing opinions and points of view to truly expand your thinking. Building a diverse team has always been important to us, however, it was never about achieving a prescribed diversity quota. Every hire we make is based on the best possible candidate with the right experience and skillsets. Our core values of competence, respect, authenticity, and communication help guide us as we grow. I’m proud to say our efforts have resulted in an incredibly talented and diverse team of amazing individuals. There’s so much we learn from one another — it amazes me every day.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tammi Jantzen.

Tammi is co-founder and CFO of Astarte Medical, a precision nutrition company using software and predictive analytics to improve health outcomes in the first 1000 days of life, initially focused on preterm infants. NICUtrition® by Astarte Medical is a real-time, clinical decision support solution designed to standardize feeding and optimize nutrition for preterm infants in the neonatal ICU (NICU). Tammi spent 15 years as CFO of three early stage venture capital funds and is an angel investor and serial entrepreneur.

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?

For the last 20 years, I have worked with my co-founder, Tracy Warren, as both investors and entrepreneurs. We have historically targeted healthcare, but six years ago decided to focus exclusively on women’s and children’s health, an area we are both passionate about and a largely underserved area of innovation and investment. In an attempt to gain insights into clinical needs and pain points, we visited many women’s and children’s hospitals talking to innovation groups and researchers. It was during a visit to Brigham and Women’s Hospital that we met Kate Gregory, a NICU nurse and Harvard researcher. Kate opened our eyes to the challenges of preterm infants and early life nutrition. She was clearly a rock star and we knew immediately that we wanted to work with her. Kate’s passion quickly became our passion, and we realized we didn’t just want to invest in the idea, we wanted to build the company ourselves. At the time, we didn’t know what the product would be, but we set out to investigate the problem first and develop the solution second. About nine months later, Astarte Medical was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In early 2019, we successfully raised a $5M Series A financing and then another $3.5M convertible note financing at the end of the year. Woo hoo! The Series A fundraising journey, however, was not what we expected it to be. Having spent so much time in early stage venture capital investing, we went into this thinking we knew exactly what we needed to do to win over investors. We focused on the business and the opportunity and shared our vision for revolutionizing care. It was clear early on that we had set very unrealistic expectations on how much time and energy would be expended to raise this round of funding. Sitting on the other side of the table as entrepreneurs, we gained an appreciation for all the founders that had come before us as investors for over 15 years. Nothing happens as quickly as you think it should and there’s a lot of “tire kicking” that sucks up so much of your time and never leads to an actual investment. And the worst part was investors that could never get to a “yes” or “no”. Hearing “no” is better than perpetual indecision. But with persistence and drive, it can be done! Sitting here today, I’m happy to report that we have an amazing investor base.

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?

The mistake was taking multiple meetings with a group of investors that were clearly never going to invest in a female-led company. I can call it a funny mistake now, and lesson learned for sure, but at the time not so much. Here’s how it transpired…at a meeting with an all-male group of potential investors, we were asked, “Do you have any men on your team?” In fact, we do. But, when the CEO has 15 years’ experience in the industry and an MBA, the CSO is a registered nurse with a PhD and over 10 years researching our product area, and the CFO is a certified public accountant with extensive financial experience, should that matter? The question about our company’s testosterone level was followed by one about who would handle mergers and acquisitions negotiations for us. Those can get quite complicated, the potential investors helpfully informed us. The mistake was not listening to our inner voices that day that were screaming “RUN! and don’t look back”. But we continued for the next 12 months to take meetings and entertain questions. Ultimately, they couldn’t pull it together and we successfully closed our $5M Series A financing — without them. The lesson learned is that not all money is good money. I’m so grateful they are not part of our investor base — I just wish we would have listened to our instincts sooner.

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?

Hands down, that person is my co-founder, Tracy Warren. We have worked together for 20 years — longer than most marriages. We joke about the fact that we have “one brain” because we often know what the other is thinking before speaking. Although, strangely, people often mix us up, we are definitely not the same person. Tracy is the high-level strategic thinker of the team. She comes up with the crazy brilliant ideas, and I figure out how to actually get them done. Tracy has continually pushed me to think bigger and outside the box. I am forever grateful to her for helping me see my own potential and push me to be a better me.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Before Astarte Medical was founded, I would say I was much more comfortable staying behind the scenes, being supportive but not putting myself in the spotlight — ever. But when it comes to startups and fundraising, it’s all hands on deck. I had to push aside my fears and give the company pitch, as often as we were given the opportunity, whether it was to an individual investor or on stage with an audience of 200 people. In the beginning, I stressed myself out in unhealthy ways over every single pitch. I have now learned the key to releasing and relieving that stress and anxiety is preparation, practice, and confidence. When preparing for a high stakes meeting or presentation, always remember that no one knows your business better than you do. That realization is game changing.

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?

You shouldn’t surround yourself with people who look and think exactly as you do. You need differing opinions and points of view to truly expand your thinking. Building a diverse team has always been important to us, however, it was never about achieving a prescribed diversity quota. Every hire we make is based on the best possible candidate with the right experience and skillsets. Our core values of competence, respect, authenticity, and communication help guide us as we grow. I’m proud to say our efforts have resulted in an incredibly talented and diverse team of amazing individuals. There’s so much we learn from one another — it amazes me every day.

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.

We are in a unique position at Astarte Medical to use our current NICUtrition® platform to tackle health disparities in neonatal ICUs. As shown in recent studies, racial disparities are widespread in NICUs in the United States. Black and Hispanic preterm infants experience a significantly increased risk of developing comorbidities than white preterm infants. Even within NICUs, disparities exist in how preterm infants are fed and nourished resulting in adverse outcomes that disproportionately impact Blacks and Hispanics. We can leverage our NICUtrition® platform to liberate data from a hospital’s electronic medical record to support health equity programs and develop a better understanding of the causes of these disparities. By providing data to highlight racial disparities in real time, we can enable effective interventions to reduce disparities and improve care while the baby is still in the NICU.

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?

While all leaders make contributions, responsibility for success rests on the shoulders of the executive team. Success is multifactorial and means building a sustainable and profitable business that provides continued employment to employees, reliable and innovative products to customers, and a solid financial return to investors. Ultimately, the executives are the ones held accountable for this success.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth is that you need to have fancy credentials, prior experience, an extreme type-A personality or that you need to be a middle-aged white man to be a great executive.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women often face skepticism, consciously or unconsciously, about whether they can get the job done or be effective leaders. Success has to be proven. Whereas with male executives, it’s assumed they will be successful until proven otherwise.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

As with any startup, you wear many hats. Although my official title is CFO, I actually spend less than 25% of my time on financial-related matters. As a CPA, I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I would lead the marketing effort for any company. Yet, here I am, doing just that. Admittedly, I’m learning as I go and lean heavily on the team for support but I’m enjoying it way more than I thought. Astarte Medical was born from an idea, and here we are, four years later with 12 employees, selling our product, seeing our vision take shape in a meaningful way. I’m not sure what I thought it would be, but I know it’s not a “job”. It’s so much a part of who I am now, it’s more like another child to grow and nurture.

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?

I can’t imagine being a successful executive without having passion for what you are doing. Passion, drive and determination are key. If you are a person looking for a 9 to 5 job, this isn’t for you.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Stay focused on executing and delivering on your core business. Too many start-ups attempt to take on an impossible scope early in their gestation and fail to do any one project well.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Over the last 40 years, there has been a significant increase in diseases such as allergy, asthma and obesity — conditions which are all linked to gut health. In order to reverse this trend and have a positive impact on the next 40 years, we are focused on the first 1,000 days of life, from conception through age two. It is a period of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability. The foundations for life-long health are largely set during this 1,000-day period as this is the most critical time for brain development, healthy growth and creating a strong immune system. Proper nutrition during this time can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. Astarte Medical is initially focused on optimizing nutrition and gut health for preterm infants; however, our strategy is to then move into prenatal care and early infant nutrition to optimize gut health across this unique window of opportunity. Our vision is to have a hand in creating the healthiest generation ever.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Invest time in finding the right hires — take the time to make sure the cultural fit is right. A bad fit can create negative energy and can bring the whole team down.
  2. Communicate expectations — ensure that every employee knows what is expected of them. It is key that they know what success looks like for them individually and as a team.
  3. Hold the team accountable — both when things aren’t going as planned but also when goals are achieved.
  4. Always trust your gut instinct (pun intended) — if that inner voice is telling you that someone doesn’t fit with the company culture you are working hard to build, don’t wait to make a change. See #1 above — it impacts the whole team.
  5. Think big and encourage your team to do the same — it will make them feel part of something bigger and can be a motivating factor in their current role.

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 would like to inspire the movement toward wellness and prevention rather than treatment of disease. At Astarte Medical we are inspiring this movement by using data and analytics to inform care early in life during the most critical time of growth and development to set our kids on the proper trajectory toward life-long health.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” During the early part of my career, as a venture fund CFO, I was pretty content working in the background to support the partners in the firm. I enjoyed my work and found satisfaction in my accomplishments, but never at any time did they include promoting myself, speaking to an audience, or in any way shape or form “putting myself out there”. As co-founder of Astarte Medical, I have had to push myself out of my comfort zone and do whatever it takes to make the team and the company successful. Stepping up and getting out there has resulted in a confidence level that was previously unknown to me and has led to a tremendous amount of both personal and professional growth and was a key driver in closing our financing.

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

Melinda Gates — because of her philanthropic work around the world in health, particularly children, but also because of her push to empower women. We share similar interest in increasing diversity in the workplace, encouraging more women to start businesses, and in closing the funding gap for female founders.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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