Female Disruptors: Natalia Lumen of ThyForLife Health On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
‘You can do it all, but you don’t have to do it all every single day’. This applies to me pretty much every single day because I let my energy and motivation guide me where my time is best spent. Some days I spend more time on business development, other days on product, and other days on my toddler and a baby running around a playground!
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalia Lumen.
Natalia Lumen is the Founder & CEO of ThyForLife Health Inc., an award-winning mobile platform built for the 400M people with thyroid conditions worldwide to effectively manage and optimize their health. After living with thyroid cancer and experiencing the pains of managing one’s health data, Natalia sought to provide a solution for all thyroid conditions. Since launching in 2020, Natalia has been named a “Trailblazing Women to Watch in 2021”, 2020 Global Awards Winner of “Women-led Start-Up of the Year”, and has been featured for her business acumen in a variety of outlets including NASDAQ, Crunchbase, BC Business, Tuck Magazine, and in 2021 became a featured guest speaker at Harvard University.
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?
Sure! Even though it’s hard to tell from my highly international background, I’m originally from Ukraine but have lived in Canada the past ~3 years, Switzerland ~2 years, Singapore ~4 years, London ~5 years, pursued my MBA at Tuck Dartmouth in the US ~ 2 years, with an immense number of other international stints. I’m no stranger to airplanes, moving homes, countries and continents, and it’s no surprise (to me) that I built a global team and seek out opportunities to work with people from as diverse of backgrounds as possible as it makes life and work so much more engaging and interesting!
While in Singapore in 2017, working in a high-flying management consulting career about to hop on yet another airplane to my project in Bangkok, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, a disease I never thought could develop in a young, budding, healthy woman. Jet setting came to a halt. I was on an operating table twice having my throat cut and thyroid removed. This upheaval in my life forced me to step back from the high-pressure career I had been building for a decade.
I was finally able to take a deep breath, get grounded and connect with the rest of the world where 1 in 8 women and 1 in 40 men suffer from a thyroid condition, a disease that is silent yet paralyzing when unmanaged. After struggling with homemade spreadsheets and an overwhelming amount of information, I decided to build an app (ThyForLife Health) to help manage my new life, and for everyone else also struggling to manage their thyroid condition. Today, we have over 22,000 member downloads and over 2,200 active users globally at ThyForLife, the first and only global community and tracking app that provides support for all thyroid conditions.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We are building a solution that will disrupt the way people with thyroid conditions understand their thyroid health via intuitive displays that connect the dots (correlation between medication, blood test results, symptoms, etc.), access expert-rated content, and connect via a first-of-its-kind global community anonymously. Our goal is to uplift each individual by helping each person integrate their disease into their lives.
For years thyroid diseases have been considered well managed and not requiring any additional attention than is already given by the healthcare community. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the people I have personally interviewed who suffer from a thyroid condition are frustrated about the disconnect between the symptoms they experience and the attention they are given in their care. This silent disease can cause havoc in one’s life if unmanaged, from heart palpitations to brain fog that paralyzes one’s working life. This has to stop, so here we are, building a solution that is transforming the way so many of us manage our thyroid health.
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?
My mistakes aren’t usually funny in the actual moment! But one that comes to mind is when I was on a Zoom call pitching to a panel of judges for a grand prize and my 18-months old stormed in to sit on my lap and comfortably take a poop on me as I was answering some grueling questions. I could hardly contain my laughter and had to wait 10 minutes for the session to end to burst into laughter with tears together with my family who observed the ordeal. I didn’t get the grand prize, but I came away with a hilarious memory that will last a lifetime!
On a more serious note, as we were starting up, I had committed $30k in salaries to our growing team during the fundraising process, confident in the investors who gave me a verbal commitment, only to realize that the money wasn’t coming in. Serendipitously, our first angel investor became indeed our angel, as the funds came in 2 days before I was due to pay our team. The joys of ‘behind-the-scenes’! One lesson I did learn is that a verbal ‘yes’ from an investor (or a customer for that matter) is not a ‘yes’ until the documents are signed or the money is in the bank.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Absolutely. Having mentors is probably the single most important reason why we’ve been able to get to where we are today. I’d say that every juncture on my journey has had a different set of individuals/ mentors who have helped me navigate my decisions and transitions. They are former managers and colleagues, and most recently, fellow founders, investors, and of course, my family and friends. I think of my mentors as a personal Board of Directors where each person brings their own strengths and perspectives.
I would like to call out my partner because our relationship is my biggest strength — I can lean on his shoulder, both literally and figuratively. He is wise, clear-headed and a joy to be around. I love sharing the highs with him and really appreciate his perspective when he twists all the lows on their head.
I would also like to call out our very first investor who has been exceptionally supportive of me and our team. He is the most perfect investor one could ask for — giving me the space to run the business and encouraging me along the way. He has also facilitated multiple helpful introductions and doesn’t put any pressure on me as he’s there for the long haul.
One thing for sure, our company ThyForLife Health is much more than me as the founder, as what I have achieved thus far wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication and hard work of all of my team members, advisors, investors, and cheerleaders in the community. Our team has worked incredibly hard this year to bring our product to life for millions of people with thyroid conditions globally.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Industry is disrupted only when the market is ready for it. One can have the most innovative idea in the world but if there’s no demand for it, there’s nothing to show for it. Hence, I do not believe that disrupting an industry can be ‘not so positive’, because if people want it/ need it/ are willing to pay for it, there’s room for disruption to take place.
I also strongly believe in market timing for the disruption to take place. As an example, let’s take COVID pandemic as a prerequisite for disruption of the healthcare industry. All of a sudden, the pandemic accelerated virtual healthcare and the ecosystem has had to evolve to accommodate virtual doctor appointments, deliveries and other services. The demand for virtual care was spurred by both doctors and people receiving care, and here we are, witnessing the industry accelerating in the emergence and evolution of digital products and services.
We at ThyForLife Health have benefited from the attention that the world is giving to virtual healthcare and we no longer need to prove to anyone that there is a need for mobile-first health-related solutions.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- ‘If one can think it, one can do it’ — it’s a quote from a book that I like reminding myself of once in a while. Our company ThyForLife Health in its form today is a good example of starting something from the ground up.
- ‘You can do it all, but you don’t have to do it all every single day’. This applies to me pretty much every single day because I let my energy and motivation guide me where my time is best spent. Some days I spend more time on business development, other days on product, and other days on my toddler and a baby running around a playground!
- ‘There’s no rush’. That rings true to me and I remind myself of it when I feel any sense of time pressure. An example of this is when we had a major delay in launching on iOS. We launched eventually and ended up with a significantly better setup in hindsight as it pushed us to revisit our tech stack and adjust accordingly. Sometimes just letting things sit for a while allows me to focus on the bigger picture.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re just at the tip of the iceberg and there’s so much more that I envision for ThyForLife Health. We are building a one-of-a-kind global community, and tools and resources that would uplift each individual, and there are millions of us who would benefit from such personalized thyroid care. I am not in a rush as the longest way round is the shortest way home! Slow and steady wins the race, so stay tuned and follow us on social @thyforlife to keep abreast of all the ways we will be shaking things up!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
That’s an interesting question as I try as much as possible to create an equal world in my own mind and actions, and my partner and I are very intentional about it, as we have a young daughter who’s taking note of everything we do!
However, in reality, and today’s day and age, when I speak to my fellow women founders, I find that the biggest challenges are:
1) having to ‘prove oneself’ more: I had investors tell me I need a tech co-founder before they invest in our company; I don’t agree as I have had success employing a tech partner instead of making them a co-founder, and I’m aware that this is an objection investors make more often to women than men;
2) having a much harder time raising funds from investors: there are studies done on this already and it’s a well-known topic, one that I have personally faced as well despite all of my highly competitive credentials;
3) women disruptors who have children being labeled as mompreneurs; this term certainly makes me feel like I am not being taken seriously. Unless most male entrepreneurs do not have children, there should be many more dadpreneurs out there than mompreneurs, yet the term isn’t coined that way. I can be a mom and a professional, just like my male counterparts.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
One of my MBA classes at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth hosted Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, recognised as #1 Executive Coach in the World, Top Ten Business Thinker and the New York Times bestselling author who has advised the top CEOs of the largest companies. Marshall gave a talk that had a very deep impact on my thinking, and in particular, his Buddist approach to accept impermanence, practical ways to deal with challenges and my favorite is his gesture where he waves his hand and says ‘ahhh’ as a way to let it go. I fall back on it often when I get frustrated to just let it go. I also loved his book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” and will be ordering his new one ‘The Earned Life’ soon. Thank you, Marshall, if you’re reading this!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Anything climate related is a passion of mine, so a movement related to preserving Earth and Mother Nature is something that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. It comes down to individuals making wise micro decisions that would make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Silence is full of answers”. I love this quote a lot because it reminds me to slow down and listen in at a time of uncertainty. At the end of the day, my intuitive self knows what needs to be done, and it’s a matter of slowing down enough to recognize it. It’s relevant for me at every juncture really, and that’s when I get my most creative juices flowing, — with my notebook, pen, and a hot cup of tea!
How can our readers follow you online?
All other social channels: @thyforlife
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!