Every month we aim to spotlight the stories of women* founders to share their journey and knowledge for our community.
This month we sat down with Robin Laird. Robin is multidimensional, multicultural and multitalented! Being both from the USA and the Netherlands, Robin’s life journey is far from a singular path. She describes it as a squiggly line, which, with time (and trial and error) becomes clearer and clearer. At the heart of all Robin’s entrepreneurial ventures, is her genuine concern for the wellbeing and well-living of other people.
Robin’s professional journey began with a degree in public relations and marketing. Through this she gained the technical skills necessary for effective storytelling. However, she found writing for corporate brands an unfulfilling experience.
She spent a lot of time soul searching, working as a model, living out a suitcase, travelling and learning about what people in different countries were struggling with. When backpacking through India at 19, one thing that really dawned upon her was that all human beings struggle with the health of our bodies. Robin herself struggled with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) which negatively impacted her mental health. It was through learning to navigate her own symptoms and diet to alleviate her symptoms did she develop a deep motivation to help others be their best and healthiest selves. She recognised that it made a world of difference.
Science of Self Care
That is where the Science of Self-care came into play. Robin acquired a health coaching certification, which allowed her to work with individuals to improve their health through engaging the behavioural and emotional psychological elements needed to create lasting change. Many people know what is considered objectively healthy, but still struggle to find the appropriate application or solution for themselves. Robin reiterates that “we are the own detectives of our body,” and her goal with the Science of Self-care is to give people the tools that they need to explore their physiology and personalise treatment plans to their own needs. In alternative medicine practises like health coaching there is the space to have your subjective experience validated, which can be extremely healing for those who have felt dismissed by traditional medicine.
Although she was initially disinterested in the medical field- both her parents being microbiologists – she allowed herself to pivot into this field at a Liberal Arts and Sciences College here in the Netherlands where she did her second degree in biomedical sciences. She found herself genuinely enjoying learning about physiology and biochemistry, and so took this to the next level at a master’s program in biochemistry and biotechnology at the University of Amsterdam. While at her postgrad degree, Robin joined the Internationally Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, a synthetic biology competition which entails changing genetics to address a problem. Aside from developing the solution, the competition entailed marketing and selling the product to stakeholders, an element which she became increasingly drawn to. The competition ignited the entrepreneurial flame within Robin by introducing her to the world of Start-Ups. It was in this process that she realised that she really enjoyed the business and marketing of healthcare products.
While she was brainstorming the kind of tools she thought would help her as a health coach, she realised the need for a tool for patients to track their symptoms and share this with their healthcare provider in-between sessions. Her partner, who has a technical background in AI, showed her how this would be possible with an application. Their joint skills complimented one another, and they both were keen to create something that could help people.
This led them to launching Health Curious. While the goal of Health Curious started out very broad (to support health coaches), the entrepreneurial journey taught her the importance of addressing a niche problem. They pivoted several times and finally narrowed their target audience to Bariatric surgery patients to help track their diet and weight loss post-surgery.
Setting up their business required extensive research into entrepreneurial strategies and while Robin was at first very patient centred, she quickly realised that she needed to market the product to who was responsible for caring for the patient’s post-surgery, that is the nutritionists. This realisation took them to Brazil, where they worked with a world-famous nutritionist to pilot Health Curious in Brazil.
In August this year, she realised that there were some issues with her business model that would make it difficult for the venture to be sustainable and profitable in the long term. In addition to this, Robin also recognised that her co-founder and partner was no longer able to commit. His desire was to pursue his passion in AI safety research. This led Robin to the difficult decision that she would end Health Curious. She acknowledges that the health technology field can be difficult to break into as it requires all the solutions to be clinically validated and piloted with a range of patients. This only makes it so much more important to have mentors and clinicians in the field who are willing to share their insight and support the venture.
Lessons from Robin
Robin in no way sees ending Health Curious as a “failure” because the experience enriched her life with lessons that she will take into her next venture. She feels it was one of the best decisions she made in her career, as through the hustle and grind she gained invaluable insight. Her future ventures now have a solid foundation to build off from. To future female founders, Robin wants to say: do not be afraid of failure. If you fail at starting a company, you have such a solid foundation of knowledge to begin your next venture from. The lessons you’ll learn are invaluable.
Robin describes the entrepreneurship journey as a wild ride that can take you from feeling on top of the world to the brink of collapse overnight. Consequently, she advises those starting this journey to try approaching it from a neutral perspective. She suggests that it would be beneficial to see the entrepreneurial journey as a creative experience, and that you avoid tying strong emotions to the outcome as this will provide some objectivity.
Although women are often starting at a disadvantage in business because they are perceived as less capable, Robin found that being perceived as empathetic immediately allowed her to connect with patients. This stereotype was in fact an advantage as it brought her closer to her target audience and allowed her to understand their needs better.
Robin wants to tell future founders and high achievers to take care of their health: “Performance is possible through balance. I would go so far as to say that it’s even amplified by lifestyle balance. We need more leaders who are promoting healthy ways of living and working.”
Through her journey she realised that she did not want to work in a lab, but instead her passion was in-between her different degrees. She wants to share stories that matter. Robin aims to demystify scientific information and share knowledge that can make an impact in people’s day to day lives. She now does this with the marketing agency she cofounded with Ozlem Birkalan : Cytostudio
She still has big things she wants to do, so follow how the adventure that is her founder journey will continue to unfold on her social media!
Want to read more about amazing woman founders? Click here to read our other Founder of the Month blogs.