20VC Why Entrepreneurs Should Let Everyone Rip Apart Their Business Idea, How To Construct Frameworks for Success & Why You Should Not Always Test Your MVP with Afton Vechery, Founder & CEO @ Modern Fertility

Summary Notes


In this episode, Harry Stebbings interviews Afton Vakuri, co-founder and CEO of Modern Fertility, a startup providing accessible fertility hormone testing. Vakuri discusses her transition from private equity to healthcare, driven by the emotional impact of women's health and fertility challenges. She highlights her rigorous approach to company growth, including prioritization and feedback integration, and emphasizes the importance of resilience and celebrating both successes and failures. With Modern Fertility, Vakuri aims to make fertility information as routine as a pap smear, empowering women with knowledge about their reproductive health. The company's vision is to proactively educate women about fertility, rather than reactively addressing issues as they arise.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Modern Fertility

  • Modern Fertility is a startup focused on guiding individuals through their fertility hormones to provide options for the future.
  • The company has raised over $7 million from leading venture capital firms.
  • Afton Vechery, the co-founder and CEO, has a background in product management at 23andMe and strategy and finance consulting at Willow Pump.

"Well, today I'm thrilled to welcome Afton Vakuri, cofounder and CEO at Modern Fertility, the startup that guides you through your fertility hormones now so you have options later."

This quote introduces the purpose of Modern Fertility and the credentials of its CEO Afton Vechery, emphasizing the company's role in fertility planning and management.

Afton Vechery's Background

  • Afton transitioned from private equity to the fertility industry.
  • Her interest in women's health led her to invest in IVF clinics and labs.
  • Afton's experiences revealed a lack of information and tools for women regarding fertility.
  • Prior to Modern Fertility, Afton worked at 23andMe and was involved in launching four companies.

"But it was really the emotional aspect that stuck with me. I was talking to so many women who just kept saying, I wish someone would have told me that fertility declined with age, or I wish someone would have told me that IVF didn't work for every single person..."

Afton Vechery discusses the emotional motivation behind her move to the fertility space, highlighting the gap in fertility awareness and education among women.

The Genesis of Modern Fertility

  • Afton's personal experience with fertility testing was costly and complicated.
  • She identified a widespread need for accessible fertility information and education.
  • Modern Fertility was founded to provide fertility education and proactive tools.
  • The company offers a home hormone test with physician-reviewed results, consultations, and educational resources.

"I realized that every woman was thinking about fertility. It was something that was top of mind. It was something that she was discussing with friends, but there were no tools and there was no education to help women think about and learn about their own bodies."

This quote explains the insight that led to the creation of Modern Fertility, emphasizing the demand for fertility education and the lack of available resources for women to learn about their reproductive health.## Early Company Days and Frameworks for Success

  • Transitioning from an idea to creating a company is challenging.
  • Modern Fertility used a rigorous approach to get started.
  • Afton Vechery and co-founder Carly Leahy created a three-month Gantt chart.
  • They tagged and color-coded tasks, assigning ownership and prioritizing daily tasks.
  • Utilized a "c" document for daily rank prioritization, ensuring tasks were completed before sleeping.
  • Celebrated completed tasks on the Gantt chart with smiley faces.
  • Balanced execution with seeking advice from knowledgeable people.

"We went through my co-founder, Carly Leahy and myself, and built a three-month gantt chart, and we essentially tagged all of the things that we needed to do." "We would go through and rank prioritize everything that we were doing in the day, and we basically just wouldn't go to sleep until it was done."

These quotes explain the meticulous planning and daily execution discipline that was essential in the early stages of Modern Fertility. The Gantt chart provided a visual representation of progress and tasks, while the "c" document helped in daily prioritization.

Decision Making and Prioritization

  • Afton Vechery prioritizes tasks that could potentially harm the company.
  • The company's broader lens focuses on consumer value.
  • Decisions are filtered through a framework considering scalability and defensibility.
  • Every action is evaluated for its alignment with company goals and consumer value.

"I order my to do list around eliminating the top things that are going to kill the company." "We really think about every single decision through the eyes of the value that we're delivering to them [consumers]."

These quotes highlight the prioritization strategy, which involves addressing the most critical threats to the company and focusing on consumer value. This approach is integral to the company's decision-making framework.

Scaling Prioritization with Team Growth

  • The company has separate initiatives tied to broader company goals.
  • Each initiative has an assigned point person and success metrics agreed upon with their manager.
  • Autonomy is given to team members, provided their decisions align with the company's mission and key metrics.
  • The leadership team clearly articulates goals to facilitate informed decision-making.

"Every single initiative has a point person and an owner, and then they're responsible for defining success metrics which we agree on with their manager."

This quote describes the structured approach to scaling prioritization within the team, emphasizing clear communication of goals and the empowerment of individual team members with defined responsibilities.

Maintaining Morale and Celebrating Failure

  • Weekly meetings review goals and progress for each initiative.
  • A culture of celebrating both successes and failures is cultivated.
  • The company is mission-driven, with a focus on providing information to women.
  • Successes and constructive feedback are shared across the company to maintain morale.

"Understanding what doesn't work is just as important as understanding what works." "We're able to have these very passionate discussions about what should happen next or what we should push towards or why we should meet our goals."

These quotes convey the importance of learning from failures and maintaining a passionate and mission-driven team culture that values both successes and constructive criticism.

Challenges of Founding a Company

  • As a first-time founder, balancing passion and rigor with personal well-being is challenging.
  • Founding a company requires immense personal investment and dedication.

"Doing something that you believe in this much, you want to put so much of yourself into it every day."

This quote reflects the personal challenge of founding a company, where the passion for the mission can demand a significant personal commitment.

MVP Process and Healthcare Startups

  • Different spaces require different approaches to MVP testing.
  • Healthcare startups must be meticulous and avoid errors that could impact customers.
  • Digital health companies need to be compassionate and empathetic toward users.
  • Moving quickly is still possible but must be balanced with customer impact consideration.

"There's no room for a 10% error. There's not even room for an error that would impact one customer." "You have to do so in a very compassionate way that is tied to every single person that will be touched by the change or product that you're implementing."

These quotes emphasize the high stakes involved in healthcare startups, where the MVP process must be handled with extra caution due to the direct impact on customers' health and well-being.

Customer-Driven vs. Customer-Informed Product Development

  • Balancing having a vision for the product with incorporating customer feedback is crucial.
  • Being in the fertility space allows Modern Fertility to be customer-driven and informed.

"I love that quote [Henry Ford's faster horse]." "So I think that there's an interesting blend of having a vision and building to that vision and then incorporating what customers think along the way."

Afton Vechery agrees with the balance between having a product vision and incorporating customer feedback, suggesting a hybrid approach that benefits from both perspectives in product development.## Customer Insight and Product Development

  • Afton Vechery emphasizes the importance of understanding and empathizing with the customer's journey.
  • It's crucial to balance customer feedback with what is scientifically and technically possible.
  • A deep understanding of the customer's needs can lead to impactful product development.

"But if you just ask the customer off the bat what they want, they might not know what they want."

This quote highlights the idea that customers may not have a clear understanding of their own needs or desires, which can lead to misaligned expectations and product offerings.

"And so it's really understanding the customer, empathizing, understanding her journey, and then being able to really balance her insights, her feedback, her feelings with what is possible."

Afton Vechery explains that the key to successful product development is to empathize with the customer and combine their feedback with the possibilities that the latest science and technology can offer.

Market Expansion and Consumer Education

  • Educating consumers about the benefits of early fertility monitoring is a significant aspect of market expansion.
  • The conversation with venture capitalists often revolves around the potential market size and the importance of consumer awareness.
  • Modern fertility aims to make fertility testing as routine as a pap smear, advocating for annual testing due to the variability of fertility curves among women.

"I mean, for me, it's very much in market expansion play with kind of educating the consumer on the need and maybe the benefits of doing it earlier and monitoring earlier."

Harry Stebbings outlines the strategy of increasing market size by educating consumers on the importance of early and regular fertility monitoring.

"And so our view is that this type of testing, this information, should be as routine as a pap smear, and women should test with us and retest with us every year because fertility unfortunately declines with age."

Afton Vechery explains that the company's vision is to normalize fertility testing, making it a regular part of women's health care, similar to other routine tests.

Feedback and Business Improvement

  • Afton Vechery values conversations with critics as they help identify and address weak points in the business.
  • It's essential to discern when to listen to feedback and when to trust one's own understanding of the business.
  • Gathering diverse perspectives and advice can strengthen the business when weighed appropriately.

"If I can get in a room with someone that just has an issue with a part of our business or thinks that something isn't going to work, those are my favorite types of conversations."

Afton Vechery expresses enthusiasm for engaging with critics, as these discussions can reveal areas for improvement and drive the business forward.

"And if you're able to kind of label all of those different thought processes, frameworks, advice and perspective across a couple people, and then you know your own business better than anyone. And if you truly trust that, you're able to really weigh that feedback in the right way, and that, to me, makes your business stronger."

This quote emphasizes the importance of evaluating feedback from various experts against one's own deep knowledge of the business, using this process to make informed decisions and strengthen the company.

Fundraising and Market Research

  • Fundraising involves presenting the business to potential investors and responding to their concerns.
  • Conducting thorough market research can address investor questions and strengthen the fundraising process.
  • It's crucial to work hard to understand and act on insights gained from feedback and research.

"And it was these initial conversations that made me go back and run a bunch of surveys and actually get mass market data on how women were thinking about this information, how much anxiety they have over this information, their likelihood to purchase this type of product."

Afton Vechery recounts how initial conversations with venture capitalists prompted further market research to better understand the target customer's thoughts and feelings about fertility information.

"You just have to do the work. You have to work really, really hard to understand that insight and then fix it."

This quote captures the ethos of diligence and effort required to translate insights from feedback and market research into actionable improvements for the business.

Resilience and Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • Afton Vechery's resilience and strength are rooted in her early experiences of building things and working hard.
  • Overcoming challenges, such as securing internships and balancing work with personal goals, contributed to her tenacity.
  • The ability to make progress through hard work is a key element of Vechery's entrepreneurial journey.

"You know, I learned at a very early age that I could build things and that if I worked really, really hard, I could make progress."

Afton Vechery reflects on her early realization that effort and determination can lead to tangible progress, a principle that has guided her career and approach to entrepreneurship.## Early Career and Entrepreneurship

  • Afton Vechery worked as a waitress to earn gas money for an internship.
  • She also did data entry to support herself financially.
  • Afton conducted a science fair project that led to the discovery of water contamination in her community.
  • She started a water quality testing company as a result of her findings.
  • The company provided infrastructure for residents to have their water tested.
  • Afton applied her philosophy of seeing the change she wanted in the world and taking action to her subsequent career.

"I was doing data entry on top of that, so I made it happen." This quote indicates Afton's determination and work ethic to support her career goals through multiple jobs.

"And I discovered that a large percentage of them were completely contaminated." Afton's research during a science fair project revealed a significant issue with water quality in her community.

"So I started a water quality testing company and set up this whole infrastructure where residents of the community could bring their water in, and we would test it every single day on Wednesdays after school." Afton's entrepreneurial spirit led her to start a company that addressed the water contamination problem she identified.

Quick Fire Round Responses

  • Afton suggests reading "Motherhood Rescheduled" for insight into women's thoughts on fertility and egg freezing.
  • She learned to speed read due to dyslexia, which helps her consume a lot of content.
  • Afton's morning routine varies but includes reading emails, going to the office early, and a weekly bike ride.
  • She aims to change the misconception that fertility sharply declines at age 35, advocating for personalized healthcare.
  • Resilience and problem-solving frameworks in business increase with experience.
  • Afton envisions a future where fertility testing is routine and accessible to all women.

"I think you should read motherhood rescheduled." Afton recommends a book that offers a unique perspective on women's fertility choices.

"So I learned to speed read by accident as a kid. I'm a little bit dyslexic." Afton shares a personal learning strategy that has helped her absorb information efficiently.

"I go on a bike ride with a really good friend every Wednesday morning between 06:37 a.m." She describes a part of her morning routine that provides her with reflection time and a positive start to the day.

"So most women today hear that fertility declines with age, but it just goes off a cliff at 35." Afton addresses a common fertility misconception, emphasizing individual differences in fertility curves.

"Your level of resilience increases, your ability to have frameworks to solve problems quickly and move on." She reflects on how her capacity to handle challenges in business has grown over time.

"We see a world where every single woman has access to her fertility information, and fertility testing is as routine as a pap smear." Afton outlines her vision for the future of women's fertility awareness and healthcare.

Acknowledgements and Partnerships

  • Afton was introduced to the show by Rebecca Caden at USV and Finn Barnes at First Round.
  • Host Harry Stebbings promotes his Instagram and gives thanks for support.
  • The show acknowledges sponsors Brex and Terminal for their services tailored to startups.
  • Lattice is recommended as a people management solution for growing companies.

"And I do want to say a huge thank you again to Rebecca Caden at USV and Finn Barnes at first round for the intro to Afton today." Harry Stebbings expresses gratitude for the introductions that made Afton's appearance on the show possible.

"It'd be great to see you there." Harry encourages listeners to follow him on social media for further engagement.

"And with Lattice, it's easy to launch 360 reviews, share ongoing feedback, facilitate one on ones, set up goal tracking, and even run employee engagement surveys." The host endorses Lattice as an effective tool for managing various aspects of people operations within a company.

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