Angela: What are the chances of the founder of the largest fertility financing platform getting pregnant the natural way at the age of 45, after three miscarriages and investing $80,000 in IVF (in vitro fertilization) and egg donors. Now you’re not only the founder of EggFund, but also mother to Elisabeth.
Carmela: She’s a very active, happy four year old. I thought when she starts walking, it’ll be easier. It doesn’t actually happen that way. It’s just a different phase. The new phase has its own challenges that you need to adapt to and then learn from. By the time you’ve mastered that there’s a whole new phase of development that happens. The business is like that too. Actually I feel like I have simultaneously two children to raise: the business EggFund and Elisabeth. They’re inextricably tied together.
The idea for EggFund came to you after trying to get pregnant yourself through IVF and donors. Tell us that story.
Like most women I knew in Manhattan or any other urban center I had worked and worked and established my career. I really wasn’t focused on my personal life. It just wasn’t my priority. At the time I felt like I needed to get my financial footing and professional foundation really stable before I started a family. By the time that happened, I was way past my most fertile years, which are by the way, your twenties.
I met my husband online and we dated, but we were both in our late thirties at the time and we wanted to be married first for a little while before we introduced a baby. By the time we started, I was 40. Three times I got pregnant and I lost the baby early.
So you went the route of assisted fertility, an arduous process for you.
Yes, we sought help with one of the top clinics in New York and it didn’t work for us. I finally wrapped my head around the fact that I might not be able to use my own eggs because they were aging out. We decided we would go with a live donor and that took six months to find a match. Right before she was about to start her treatment, she disappeared.
So I thought about it, the pausing was really important. I realized I was super depressed and anxious. I had gained weight from the hormones. I couldn’t recognize myself. I decided to step off the roller coaster and had to make sense of the fact that I would never have a family.
Would it be fair to say you found purpose in entrepreneurship and helping others, despite what you’d gone through?
I thought to myself if I wasn’t going to have a family, how was I going to get meaning out of the rest of my life? That meaning came from giving to others. What you give, you get back in double and in my case, I got back the lottery. I became like a millionaire because I got pregnant and I was age 45.
I think that happened because I decided to start EggFund and help other people who are in the same position as me.
EggFund is a network of nation-wide lenders who give people the opportunity to afford their dream of having a family, whether it’s through IVF or surrogacy or adoption. Who’s your target audience? Is there a demographic that you’re seeing over and over again?
It’s across the board. It’s same sex couples but overwhelmingly though, women. Most of them are coupled in some way, they’re either partnered or married. They’re seeking assistance mostly for IVF. There are people who come to us who seek assistance for surrogacy or having to go to an egg donor for private adoption, because that’s very expensive. Most people don’t realize any of this costs what it costs before they’re already in the situation.
People don’t prepare and because they don’t prepare, they’re stuck in a situation where they need tens of thousands dollars within a very short period of time. It’s a very vulnerable time. What we do is we give people one place to go – the first and largest fertility financing platform. We connect intended parents with a network of lenders that we vetted, who will give them financing, personal loans that are at fixed rates to cover any or all aspects of the family building journey.
So describe how it works within the network.
The way I put this together was specifically with the patients in mind and clinics who are another big component, because they’re sending us their patients and intended parents.
First and foremost, I’m thinking what does the patient need? And then secondly, what do my partners need? How do I make their lives easier? Because they didn’t go into medicine to become a financial aid organization. They just send me their patients and I take it from there. So they love that.
The patients, they talk to me all the time. Especially right now with COVID people have lost their jobs. Some people have gone back to school. They’ve interrupted their income for now. How do they present themselves in the best way possible to actually get approved?
We get questions like this all the time. I love talking to people and trying to help them present the best possible application.
I’m talking about re-empowering the patient and putting them back in the driver’s seat. Everything I do, bottom line, is making families happen and making the process as painless as possible.
Where did you get the funding for your business.
It came from me. It came from us, it came from my husband working. I won’t say it was easy. While I was full-time on EggFund, I did consulting on the side to help us pay our bills until I was like six months along. My client said, don’t you think it’s time for you maybe to stop like you’re doing, but I knew that we needed the help. I was lucky in that I had a partner who was supportive and was working. It was a few very difficult years. Very skinny years. I made a decision not to chase money. I’ve had people approach me. I decided that for me and for what I wanted to do for the company, I was more comfortable keeping control and keeping it very tight.
What’s the most controversial decision you’ve ever made?
One of the more controversial decisions that I’ve made is to forego a stream of revenue by charging patients an application fee, even a small one. I could have easily made a very nice stream of revenue especially since we’re self-funded. Thus far I’ve been able to resist it and everyone’s told me I should be charging even just a small fee, my competitors charge small fees. But up until this point I’ve held out.
You grew up in Brooklyn and your parents came to the U.S. from Naples, Italy. How did family inform your values.
My parents were, and are still very hard working people. They came here with very little but their skills. They really set the model for me of hard work and digging in and just getting it done and being frugal. Scrappy, do it yourself is in the DNA of anyone who comes from the immigrant background, I think, because otherwise you wouldn’t have come here.
Last question. What advice would you have for an entrepreneur or a founder who’s thinking about taking that leap, quitting their job and embarking on an uncertain future?
Just plan for the first four or five years to be rocky financially, because that is normal. I think creating a product in search of a market is a mistake. I think what you want to really do is solve a problem. Then you’re adding value to the world. You’re adding value to your customers. You’re adding value to the market. So what the first and foremost question is, what problem are you solving? Who are you solving it for?