Tania Boler of Elvie: Women have so many unique health requirements which are not talked about or invested in as they should be; We aim to change this

Here’s the thing — women have so many unique health requirements which are not talked about or invested in as they should be. At Elvie, we are identifying real needs and innovating around it, and in turn creating conversations and challenging age-old taboos around women’s health. To know that you have a vision and have found a team of talented people to share that with and make it a reality, is the best thing in the world. I believe that we can all do something to help make the world a little bit better than the day before. At Elvie, we’re well on our way to changing perceptions around women’s health and reducing unnecessary health problems.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tania Boler

Tania Boler is the CEO and co-founder of Elvie, a health and lifestyle brand committed to developing smarter technology for women. Passionate about improving the physical and emotional well-being of women, Tania realized that women’s health products lacked technological innovation, and most of what was on the market was ineffective. Through Elvie, she’s made it her mission to lead candid conversations and build world-class products to address intimate issues women face on a daily basis.

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?

The inspiration for Elvie came from my own personal experience. Despite having worked in women’s health for over 15 years, when I became pregnant I realized I knew far less about my body than I ought to, especially around my pelvic floor. My husband is French and, whilst spending time there, I discovered that it’s normal for French women to attend pelvic floor rehabilitation classes after birth to help re-strengthen their bodies. I couldn’t believe that nothing like this existed in other countries and that one in three women will experience pelvic floor problems. As I researched further, I realized there hadn’t been much innovation at all in this area. Giving women real-time biofeedback is shown to be the most reliable way to encourage commitment to pelvic floor training, yet this technology was only available in hospitals.

I had never planned to start a business but, with all of this information, I set out to create a smart Kegel trainer and app that gives the same real-time biofeedback, but that also makes it fun and convenient. Since launching Elvie Trainer in Autumn 2015 I have never looked back. In September 2018, we launched Elvie Pump, an award-winning silent wearable breast pump, and we have plans to launch two new products later this year.

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

Founding Elvie has been an incredible journey so far. I have learned so much and done things I never thought possible. For me, the most interesting part is seeing how tech can help destigmatize taboos around women’s health. In the past five years, we have seen the convergence of three trends — we are all talking more openly about our bodies; innovations in sensor technology means real-time body monitoring is now possible; and finally, our perceptions of health and wellness have dramatically changed from one of doctor-patient to individuals taking control for themselves. It’s a really exciting time for women’s health-tech and it’s fascinating to be a part of.

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?

In the early days when I was raising funds for Elvie, I’d shy away from using the word “vagina.” On one occasion I was fifteen minutes into a pitch when I realized the investor had been playing around with Elvie Trainer but had no idea what it was! Of course, they didn’t invest. This meeting taught me to always be upfront and not skirt around the issue. Now I always do the “vagina” test with potential investors to determine their reaction once I say vagina — if the reaction isn’t good, then it’s a sign it won’t work between us.

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?

My father was a serial entrepreneur and he always pushed me to believe I could do anything. He would frequently remind me of William Pitt the Younger, who became Prime Minister of the UK at 24, and say “Tania, of course you can do this.” While this irritated me at the time, his support has always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and encouraged me to set my ambitions high.

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?

When I was raising money for Elvie, a really helpful technique I learned was “flipping the pitch.” Rather than putting all the pressure on myself to impress the investors, I’d view it as an opportunity for them to show me how they were a good fit for the brand as well. Shifting my mindset helped me remain calm and confident in those high-stakes meetings.

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?

Diversity is incredibly important in the workplace. It is widely recognized now that businesses with greater diversity perform better and see higher profits. At Elvie, it has always been hugely important to me to encourage an inclusive workplace culture where people with different backgrounds can learn from each other and understand how serious topics affect people differently.

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.

As the world, in particular the United States, goes through some crucial self-reckoning, Elvie has been reflecting and recognizing that there is a lot more we can do to contribute and fight for injustices. We have pledged a long-term commitment to ensure increased representation and visibility of the black community in our content and partnerships; raise awareness of the issues that affect black mothers’ experiences of motherhood by sharing more resources and education; and reinforce our actions within the company — empowering our team to educate, listen and learn. We have never been a brand that sits on the fence. We don’t pretend to be perfect, but we won’t be silent.

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?

As CEO, I am not only a leader, but also the face and voice of the brand. This means being visible across the board — from investor meetings to speaking opportunities and public appearances. For me, as the founder, it comes quite naturally to be the biggest brand advocate and champion of our mission. But this is probably where my responsibility differs to other leaders within the company.

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

The myth that it’s the job of a CEO alone to make the right decisions at the right time. Along the way, I have learned that success heavily depends on the people around you. If a CEO thinks they have all the answers all of the time, this doesn’t bode well.

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

The journey to reach senior positions is far more complex for women than for men. We are seeing that the pay gap increases in line with the age at which women are typically having their first child. Before that, it’s more common to see men and women earning the same, but after women have had their first child, they fall behind because it is increasingly hard to hold a senior position, which typically demands working increased hours and limits flexibility.

The tech industry is renowned for being male dominated and it can be intimidating to jump into something when you haven’t seen many examples set by other female friends or leaders. However, there is a growing network of amazing, like-minded female entrepreneurs out there who are willing to support.

In my experience, while the initial conversations with investors often raised eyebrows, being a woman ultimately proved to be an advantage, since we are building a global women’s tech brand. We aren’t only changing technology, but also conversations and how technology helps us understand our female bodies better. At Elvie, we are committed to making it possible for women to hold senior positions with high-level responsibilities (and the pro-rata pay to match), while also offering a flexible working environment. It has worked really well for us and it’s imperative that more companies start doing the same.

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

I have always been somebody who delves into the details and likes to understand things fully. As a founder and CEO, I have come to recognize that most decisions are based on ambiguity. Often, there are trade-offs between decisions and not a clear-cut “right or wrong” answer. I have learned to make peace with this.

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?

Leading a company is an incredible adrenaline ride and it’s not for the faint-hearted. To be successful you need drive, determination, creativity and resilience. I often say you need to have skin like a rhino and never take anything too personally. It can be hard to hear criticism about something you are so passionate about and have worked so hard for, but sometimes this is what’s needed for positive change.

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

At Elvie, our mission has always been super clear and defined. This has enabled us to build a team of talented people who sincerely believe in improving the lives of women through technology — if we don’t attract those people, it simply doesn’t work well. I would say to other leaders to hold on to that relentless drive and optimism they have in the early days. It becomes ingrained in the company’s DNA as you scale.

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

Here’s the thing — women have so many unique health requirements which are not talked about or invested in as they should be. At Elvie, we are identifying real needs and innovating around it, and in turn creating conversations and challenging age-old taboos around women’s health. To know that you have a vision and have found a team of talented people to share that with and make it a reality, is the best thing in the world. I believe that we can all do something to help make the world a little bit better than the day before. At Elvie, we’re well on our way to changing perceptions around women’s health and reducing unnecessary health problems.

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

  1. Don’t be scared of rejection. In the beginning it was hard work to get male investors to believe women would talk openly about pelvic floor health. Fast forward to now, and we have celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow recommending us. With rejection comes resilience.
  2. Live and breathe the mission.It almost goes without saying but you need to be the biggest champion of your idea. You need to be able to sell your company’s vision daily, so having that belief is essential.
  3. Build your support network. Finding like-minded people in the industry to share ideas with and learn from is vital in the early days. These people will have your back when times are tough and help you make those all important connections.
  4. Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you. As you scale, the most important thing is to hire the right talent. You need people who believe in the mission as much as you do and are the best at doing the jobs you need them to do.
  5. There is never a right time to quit your job. I took the entrepreneurial leap and then got pregnant. It was tough, as I was just starting out, but you just have to dig deep and get through it.

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.

Basic womanhood, from periods and menopause to pregnancy and postnatal care, has been completely overlooked by technological advances for decades. The tech world is finally waking up to the fact that women love and appreciate great tech and design. At Elvie, we are so proud to be pioneering this, but understand that more still needs to be done.We need to celebrate and encourage women to talk more openly about their health so that we can create solutions to the issues that matter most. With Elvie Trainer, we have worked hard to change the narrative around pelvic floor issues like prolapse and bladder control. Normalizing these conversations allows women to understand their bodies, empowering them to live happier, healthier lives.

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

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” It can be easy to get tied up worrying about something and trying to find the right solution, but life is short! I am always mindful to zoom out and look at the bigger picture.

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

Cindy Gallop, for her candid speech and her relentlessness in her ambition to change the world — “be proud of helping women on their overall wellness journey, including sexual wellness.”

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

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