Katerina, you wear a number of hats. You’re the Chief Strategy Officer at Epoch Financial Group, the founder and the CEO of Meddy Health. You’re a member of FinTech Advisory where you help founders prepare to fundraise and scale their companies and provide consulting services to startups. You sit on the board of several startups, you’re an advocate for women in business. You’ve spoken publicly on the importance of financial inclusion for women. You’ve held corporate jobs in consulting at PWC and Bloomberg in financial services, and did an MBA in finance. Your social media is on fire with some very bold opinions.
What led you to entrepreneurism, to say there’s more out there for me that I need to pursue.
I always say there’s two types of entrepreneurs – the first is someone that just wants to run their own company.
So they filter through different ideas until something sticks.
The second type of entrepreneur is someone that has an idea that just eats away at them until it’s created. I was the latter. I had an idea that haunted me constantly for two years and no one was building it. So I decided to create it.
In 2015 my best friend was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that caused her to lose her vision.
I started helping her by reading medical journal articles where different doctors around the world were helping people get their vision back or doing new cutting edge studies. At the time I was emailing these doctors her medical records, and I remember thinking it is crazy that something doesn’t exist that is HIPAA compliant (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and secure where you can grant access to any doctor anywhere and then can also revoke that access in turn.
So I just decided to build it. It was one of those ideas that would not let me go. I felt like I had this responsibility to create it for everyone else. And that’s Meddy!
Where did the funding come from?
Meddy started out being self-funded for the first year or so. I was building very slowly and pouring my own money into the company. In 2021, we closed some angel investment from accredited angel investors. That helped us finalize our beta at the end of last year.
So if I asked how many people were on the platform at this point, would it be premature?
No. I had created a landing page for Meddy early on and we had just under 1000 people subscribe, to be informed when Meddy was released. So I knew there was clearly a need for what I’m building. When folks signed up, I had created a Google form for them to answer a few questions so I could identify my customer archetype. It allowed me to see that folks interested in Meddy spoke a second language over 90% of the time, traveled for work, moved frequently, lived in large metropolitan cities, and were between 29 and 39 years old.
In addition to their own medical data, they wanted to manage a family member’s medical data on the platform. So that would be like a child, a parent, or someone they cared for.
The mobility aspect is interesting as well as the second language and family members’ data.
I’m a data person at heart. If I can analyze something and strategize around it, that’s my niche. That’s where I excel. Even with Meddy I’ve had investors say, well, your background isn’t in health tech – and I say, Meddy is about data. It’s about health, sure, and I’m not a doctor – but, I’m allowing people to own their lifelong data in one place and then analyze it. That’s where my expertise is. Meddy is a data platform at the end of the day.
What’s next for Meddy?
Our initial product was an MVP of sorts, but I hesitate in calling it an MVP because the security we have in place is in line with top telehealth providers right now. So that’s far more than an MVP – I was adamant that we not release a health tech platform that did not have all of the security mechanisms in place that other telehealth providers have. I spent a lot on hiring a cybersecurity architect and making sure our product was in line with industry standards. Now we’ll be fundraising again for phase two of our beta. That will allow us to build more features for users, which will be awesome.
What’s the most controversial decision you’ve ever made?
That is a great one. The most controversial decision I made was to continue working while I built Meddy. I’ve gotten a lot of pushback from traditional investors on it. I’m going to be very controversial in my response right now, but I think that when an investor thinks that a founder should have one job and that is a startup, they are assuming that their founder is a white male that comes from a family that can fund their company. I don’t come from that. I’m first generation American. My parents are working class. I still have student loans today.
I had to have a part-time job in high school and throughout college. So if I want Meddy to survive, I need a job where I am personally paying Meddy’s bills until I can draw a salary from it and it’s earning revenue. I think investors that immediately blacklist a founder or reject them because they are working a day job while also building their company are assuming that it’s a negative rather than a positive. I see it as a positive because I see a founder who will do anything necessary to keep their company alive. I see it as a founder who will work to the bone if needed. I see it as a founder who is building connections beyond just their industry. And I see it as a founder who is learning within another company.
I have the number two seat at Epoch. Epoch already has an exit strategy in place and is currently fundraising at an $18 million valuation. That’s just amazing progress. I am learning in the number two seat behind the CEO. If I were to see that in a founder as an investor, it is impressive. And it shows me that that founder has grit. But there have been several investors that kind of see it as a red light. I think that’s old school thinking. When you see founders who don’t come from an affluent background or a family that is funding their company, investors need to first ask what that founder is doing is to benefit the company – if they’ve taken a second job to throw their paychecks into their startup, that is “skin in the game” – a resignation and focusing 100% on their startup funded by someone else isn’t. That’s actually low risk. The person working a day job and their startup is more committed and has much more to lose. In 2022, we need to expand our mindsets and realize that not every founder is going to come from a family that is funding their company. So they’ll need to have different revenue streams, whether that’s a day job or something else.
In your experience consulting founders, what have you learned about the importance of a pitch deck in terms both of content and design?
It’s really important in a pitch deck for founders to tug on someone’s heartstrings. Even if they’re an investor, you want to show them why you’re creating what you’re creating, why there’s a chip on your shoulder about this problem, why it’s personal for you. Show them what is motivating you on the inside. You do that by creating a series of story arcs with the problem and the solution or the vision and the opportunity that you see. So it’s very important to tell a story, though you should be concise in a pitch deck and get to your point – you can convey your motivation and those story arcs in a few sentences.
A pitch deck is typically 10 slides, 20 minutes, right? What would cause a VC to check out at minute two or three?
I’ve seen ones for Meddy in particular because that’s where my personal experience is, check out when maybe health tech isn’t their subject matter expertise or their domain. Many of them will come back and say, “Hey, can I send this to a friend that does invest in companies in this industry”? Others might check out just because they make quick assumptions. They might look at a pitch deck and not understand how you are qualified to do what you’re doing. In cases like that, I’ve learned to qualify myself up front. This actually comes from a personal story where I was pitching as the founder.
I was at the Founder Institute and one investor was sitting in the front row and did not pay attention to a word of my pitch. He was texting on his phone the entire time, looking down. At the end of my pitch, when I said, “Are there any questions?”, he popped his head up. He said, “Yeah, I didn’t listen to a word you said until the last slide where you said you led global teams at PwC and Bloomberg. Then I started to suddenly pay attention and care about what you were saying. So move that to the beginning of your pitch.” That is what I have done ever since. So I always tell founders, if you’re coming from a nontraditional background or a group like women in tech that isn’t really represented in your industry, you want to qualify yourself upfront, grab people’s attention and then start with what you’re building.
On a larger scale, you’re doing so much to drive financial inclusion for women. Where did that come from?
It comes from experience and being a woman in business. During college, one of my first jobs was at TD Bank where I met one of my mentors that was assigned to me at the bank. She eventually became a 360 life mentor to me. She’s still in my life today, 15 years later. She encouraged me to ask questions, to have an insatiable curiosity about the business and about growth. I would attend company meetings with her and I remember at the time observing that in a room of a hundred people, there were maybe three women.
This was 2006, 2007. Towards the end of my career as an equity analyst at S&P I would see in a room of a hundred, maybe 10 women. It definitely improved, but I saw a problem and I wanted to provide for women a cheat sheet to make it in a man’s world, because that’s what finance really still is today. That’s why I focus on mentoring and lifting other women in the industry.
Are there executives or world leaders or figures in the public that you really admire?
I fangirl for Richard Branson because as an executive, he marches to the beat of his own drum, he doesn’t seem to really care what others think. He’s built several companies, he’s a philanthropist, he’s an author. He also deals with a disability that he has never let impede him. He seems to have embraced it and circumnavigated to his goals. He’s spoken about his dyslexia, he’s public about it. I personally talk about embracing your obstacles and your hardships rather than fighting them. You want to kind of hug them and move forward with them in life. He is an example of that and I love to see it in a leader. I think that’s important.
How are your values reflected in your own leadership style?
I am big on openness, transparency, honesty and compassion, and I don’t think that last one traditionally would be mentioned as a value in a business setting. But I think when you show compassion to your team, your colleagues in turn give you loyalty. You get hard workers.
I will never sacrifice my team. I put my team members first. For example, we were just working on a project where everyone was putting in 12 hour days, and I went to the CEO at Epoch and said, I want to give everybody Friday off. Everyone has been working like crazy, a Friday off will not make a difference on this deadline.
He said, okay, and our team was so thankful for it. They came back on Monday working even harder. When you show your staff compassion, that human-centered leadership, when you lead in that way, you get loyalty in return. You get people that will go to bat for you. They will fight for the company and be great to your customers. So it really is a win-win.
Last question and I’m not sure whether you want to answer this with respect to Meddy or Epoch or both with the dual role you have now, but is there a tension for you between balancing quality and growth and if so, how do you manage it?
I do think there is tension between quality and growth. It’s like, you’re juggling a bunch of balls all of the time and some are made of rubber, some are made of glass. You need to figure out which is which, and which you can let go of and they’ll bounce back. If you let go of the glass balls you’re juggling, they’re going to break. So you need to prioritize. With both companies, Meddy and Epoch, I try to keep in mind the saying “Perfect is the enemy of getting it done”.
You can, for example, work on a website redesign for a year if you’d like to, but you will never launch your website or your landing page. It’s better to just get it out there. Will you jeopardize quality a little bit? You might, but that’s why founders iterate on their solution and their company.
Learn more about Katerina at her website.