On the anniversary of Babyscripts’ acquisition of iBirth, we sat down with Chief Growth Officer Judith Nowlin, former CEO and founder of iBirth, to talk about her influences, challenges, best advice for females following in her footsteps, and the future direction of pregnancy technology.
How did you make your way into the healthcare field?
My fascination with women’s healthcare started at a young age. My father, who worked for a publishing company in Chicago, brought home a book about the female reproductive system and I pored over its pages, fascinated by the graphics, cellophane overlays that showed the gestational stages of pregnancy, and the details of childbirth. I still have that book on my shelf!
Fast forward to holding my first child in my arms, and sharing stories with my friends about our pregnancy experiences: I could not believe the amount of close calls that I heard about, the complications and near-tragic endings that mothers close to me had experienced. I began to take a harder look at maternal healthcare, in disbelief that a country as developed as ours could be failing mothers so miserably.
At the same time, I was contemplating a career move that would help me stay home with my baby full-time. These questions that I was considering, coupled with my early interest in female health, led me first into childbirth education, then a career as a birth doula, and finally a postpartum doula, working boots on the ground with families toward their best pregnancy outcomes.
As a doula sitting at the bedside of hundreds of families, my vision for how our healthcare systems could make healthy and safe pregnancies a possibility for every woman grew and developed. Out of that vision, I founded a health software company to deliver that promise to all mothers, and then saw the opportunity to enhance that vision through an acquisition by Babyscripts.
Did you face any discrimination as a female in the male-dominated tech world?
Absolutely! Recently we’ve seen femtech really blow up — it’s demanding recognition and respect in the market — but when I started my femtech company 10 years ago, most men that I pitched to devalued the idea as “cute.” I would talk through the weight and depth of the challenges I was aiming to address — maternal and infant morbidity and mortality — and yet those grave statistics, hardly cute, couldn’t help them see past the fact that I was a woman who was out to try something that had not been done before.
How are females in leadership a value-add at a company like Babyscripts?
Women bring a unique skill-set to the executive table: empathetic leadership, high EQ, and collaborative approaches to team success, among other things. These leadership qualities not only influence productivity so that teams are empowered to build the best tech solutions in the world, but also influence the nuts and bolts of the solution itself — there is always a soft side to tech like Babyscripts that interfaces with humans, and women are a critical part of developing that.
How do you juggle being a parent with a high-pressure situation like working at a start-up?
Oh man, that’s the question of the year! There’s a lot of transferable skills. Both children and startups take on a life of their own, are fast moving, require endless patience and a ton of creativity, are demanding at times (realistically, most of the time), and when all is said and done, have the potential to change the world. I think that anyone with kids and also working in a startup will admit that it is a really hard balance to maintain at length. I have three kids who are really energetic, active, and passionate about what they do, so I’ve had to set some ground rules for juggling the two. I focus on what really matters, pick my battles, and embrace imperfection, because that’s where growth happens.
You bootstrapped your own company and then were acquired by Babyscripts. Any advice for entrepreneurs going through an acquisition process?
Be sure to surround yourself with expert advisors. Your advisors can come in the form of friends, family and/or hired professionals. The truth about mergers and acquisitions is that there are so many high-stakes moving parts throughout the process that it will make your head spin. Having people you can rely on who have been there, done that, is critical. An acquisition can be emotionally charged for the founder — it was for me — so it is extra important to have objective counselors on your side to guide you through the process and alert to red flags.
How do you think you have influenced the culture at Babyscripts?
The leading company value we put into place at iBirth was “Listen First” — to our customers, to our colleagues, and to one’s self. Starting any interaction or decision-making process with active listening creates the requisite space for new insights, great decisions and subsequently unprecedented outcomes and progress. I’ve come to Babyscripts demonstrating this value and am contributing to laying the foundation for a very cohesive culture as we rapidly grow.
Do you have a life motto?
It’s important to me to find satisfaction, contentment, pride, and accomplishment in even the smallest of actions and interactions of everyday life. I try my best to start with gratitude and find joy in the ordinary. The smell of fresh ground coffee. The warmth of the morning sun on my face. The opportunity to listen to a friend or colleague share about their recent wins or losses. The simple realization that what I put my energy towards every day is what will grow, with both my business and my family alike, and has the potential to have a world changing effect over time.
What is the worst advice someone has given you? Conversely, what is your best advice for females looking to follow in your footsteps?
Worst advice? Stop waking up so early or you’ll wear yourself out.
As an entrepreneur, I’m at my best when my alarm clock is set to ring between the hours of 4 and 5 AM, and over the years, many people have been uncomfortable with my decision to do this and they have been very vocal about it. A few years ago I decided to heed that advice for the better part of a year and it turned out to be quite a mistake. I was miserable. I wasn’t being true to how I was wired. Ultimately the experience taught me that even the most well-meaning advice can be harmful if it goes against your natural strengths, and helped me be okay with making choices that don’t necessarily square with other people’s expectations for success.
My best advice for people looking to follow in my footsteps is to trust yourself. When setting out on a mission to do something that has never been done before — at least not in the way you want to do it — it’s imperative you hold fast to the fact that you know what you’re doing, why you want to do it, and probably have a fairly decent sense of what it’s going to take to get it across the finish line. Being a successful entrepreneur has nothing to do with where your academic degree comes from, who you know, how much money you have or how smart you are: the most successful entrepreneurs are those who persevere with a sense of purpose that is not discouraged by setbacks, and a strong belief in themselves and their vision. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to?
What is the biggest challenge facing women in the workforce today?
There is a laundry list of challenges facing women in the workforce today, but I believe the root of these challenges stems from a long standing business model that is male-designed, male-led, and male-dominated. The expectations for a woman’s performance in the workplace are fundamentally set according to parameters that do not take into account the unique strengths a woman brings to the table, like measuring a swimmer by his golf game. Unfortunately, these problems pervade the workplace, keeping women out of high-ranking positions and perpetuating the myth that women have to perform like men if they want to be successful.
What do you think is the next frontier for health technology companies like Babyscripts?
Health technology companies like Babyscripts are the catalyst for teaching the healthcare system at-large what consumer-centric healthcare really looks and feels like. The next frontier is when the technologies become so integrated that from a consumer point of view, “healthcare technology” as it’s known today will simply be known as “healthcare” in the future.
Okay, one last question: rapid fire, can you give me one brag, desire, and goal?
Very cool question!
Brag — I’m still amazed that 15 years ago I conceived of a way to positively impact outcomes for moms and babies by offering services to families in my small town of Boulder, CO, and then was able to grow that impact beyond what I could personally do and reached my goal of creating a program (iBirth) that did just that for over a million families worldwide.
Looking forward, my desire is that the work we’re doing at Babyscripts be a leading force in fundamentally changing the trajectory of maternity care in the U.S.
My goal is to make that happen by formalizing as many strategic partnerships as possible so that we can reverse the climbing trends of maternal and infant morbidity and mortality in our country.