“Have you heard of Radical Candor? Kim Scott came up with the framework, and it’s all about how to give candid, productive feedback. The 10,000-foot view is that you should do your best to care personally, and exercise empathy, when giving feedback to someone, but in tandem you should be direct, and truthful. Scott’s philosophy is that the most productive communication is at the intersection of those two things: caring personally and challenging directly. My advice would be to read her book or watch her Ted Talk, because it’s super impactful advice.”
I had the pleasure to interview Jenna Ryan, Co-Founder and CEO of UTI prevention company, Uqora. Jenna created the UTI prevention supplement after experiencing eight infections in one year. Frustrated by all the time wasted at the doctor, constant anxiety and system-crushing antibiotic cycles associated with treatment, she got with her partner (and now co-founder) Spencer Gordon, who is trained in molecular biology and biochemistry, to come up with a solution. Built in collaboration with physicians and urologists, with the best clinical research available, Uqora is dedicated to developing UTI prevention products that work, so that you can stay ahead of the problem. After launching, Jenna and Spencer kept getting extremely positive feedback from customers about how the supplement didn’t just work, but helped to improve overall quality of life for those suffering from recurrent UTIs. Realizing the positive impact Uqora could have was the trigger that eventually motivated Jenna and Spencer to invest full-time in Uqora as a business. —
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2014, I had eight UTIs. The cycle of UTI infections is awful — long waits at the doctor, constant anxiety, expensive co-pays and system-crushing antibiotic cycles — and I was desperate to get ahead of the problem, and not just rely on antibiotics for treatment. I was told repeatedly that I could take low levels of antibiotics daily to get ahead of the next UTI, but outside of that, there was little I could do. My partner, Spencer, was also tired of watching me suffer. With Spencer’s background in biochemistry, and my refusal to rely on antibiotics on a daily basis, we started experimenting with different possible solutions and, as a result, built Uqora. It turns out, I’m in really good company of women who want better prevention products — UTIs are the second most common infection in the US. One in every two women get UTIs. I now love being able to help women like me prevent infections and break the cycle of chronic UTIs — providing relief from the endless cycle.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
a. I was fascinated to learn about how UTIs were different in older women than they are in younger women. UTIs are common and ubiquitous. They affect babies and 100-year-old women. But what I didn’t know is that the symptoms can present completely different in older adults. In elderly people, UTIs are often mistaken as dementia. That’s because instead of the typical localized pain and frequent need to urinate, older people might instead experience delirium, disorientation, a loss of balance. Our customers have told us stories of bringing their moms or aunts to the memory care unit, only to learn that they were actually suffering from a UTI!
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?
a. In our early days, we started to hear from a few customers that our product was arriving clumped in the stick pack, or in some cases completely melted. It wasn’t all customers, but it was enough to feel alarmed. Ultimately, we decided to scrap all of the inventory and make a new product. At the time, it was such a gut punch because we were self-funded and doing everything on a shoestring. Deciding to scrap that inventory lost us a lot of money, but we were able to modify the formula to avoid future clumping issues, and we took the time offline to rebrand and redesign the product. For us, it set the precedent of prioritizing open, honest dialogue with our customers and the lesson was to always be transparent with your customers and community.
In our really early days, we were working with a third-party fulfillment center that was a new, scrappy startup. We wanted it to work with them but heard from a couple customers that when their package arrived, they received horse shampoo instead of Uqora. One of the recipients was a reporter. It was super embarrassing, but now it’s sort of funny. Needless to say, we switched fulfillment centers shortly after that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
a. We are the first of its kind UTI prevention solution. Cranberry juice doesn’t work — the American Medical Association proved that once and for all — and antibiotics are so harmful on your system. But now we have something that does work. Uqora was formulated with clinical data in collaboration with top physicians and urologists and takes a layered approach to give your body the defense it needs.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
a. When we launched, we were so focused on our first product, the UTI prevention drink mix, Uqora Target. We have continued to perfect the formula to get it where it is today, but we’re very in tune with our customer’s requirements and know that they’re looking for other ways to incorporate Uqora into their life. We’re excited to be coming out with a couple new innovations over the next few months to make this solution more accessible and continue to meet our customer’s where they are.
b. We’re actually launching our next product within the next 4 weeks. If you’ve ever gotten a UTI, then maybe you’ve heard that you’re more likely to get another once you’ve had one. Everyone talks about this phenomenon, but no one tells you what you can do about it. We’ll be launching a product that protects women from those UTIs that truly seem to come out of nowhere. More on that soon — stay tuned!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
a. Have you heard of Radical Candor? Kim Scott came up with the framework, and it’s all about how to give candid, productive feedback. The 10,000-foot view is that you should do your best to care personally, and exercise empathy, when giving feedback to someone, but in tandem you should be direct, and truthful. Scott’s philosophy is that the most productive communication is at the intersection of those two things: caring personally and challenging directly. My advice would be to read her book or watch her Ted Talk, because it’s super impactful advice.
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?
a. My partner both in business and in life, Spencer. He was tired of watching me suffer from so many UTIs, so he was really the champion of creating a lasting solution to get rid of the problem when doctors told me to rely on cranberry and antibiotics (funnily enough, some of those same doctors now tell me one of the reasons they recommended cranberry juice to patients is because they didn’t have another solution to offer — before Uqora that is). Together we’ve built this company over the last few years. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else and I am so grateful that we’re in this together and helping to bring relief to thousands of women.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
a. For me, the two are linked. I didn’t start Uqora to be successful, I started it to create a solution where there previously was not one. It’s a shame that women’s health issues are often overlooked or underappreciated in our society. It’s unbelievable to me that it’s taken this long to create a solution for something that affects 50 percent of women, or one quarter of the population. Success for me will be the day that all women can avoid the pain and anxiety caused by UTIs.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
a. Try to understand what motivates your teammates early on. I’ve managed people who really need to hear words of affirmation and appreciation to feel valued, people who feel the most valued when they feel like they’re in-the-loop on strategy and completely plugged in. It’s just different for everyone, and the early you can speak someone’s language, the more likely they are to be happy.
b. Share bad news and good news. I think it’s key for everyone to have a realistic perspective on both challenges and opportunities. I’ve worked in office environments where the leadership only shares good news, and while I know that comes from a good place, it really sapped motivation for me. I love to roll up my sleeves and make meaningful impact at an organization, and if you don’t give people a realistic view of the challenges at hand, how can they know what to rally behind?
c. Say thank you a lot. Why not? Who doesn’t like that?
d. Be kind but be honest. I think it’s important to be direct. If you’re not being open with people about something they’re doing wrong, then they can’t improve. I always try to come at feedback from a kind place, but that doesn’t mean I sugarcoat what I’m saying. No one has time to read between the lines.
e. Do the dirty work. I think a good leader routinely rolls up their sleeves and gets in the trenches with their team. I think that sends such a powerful message, and really demonstrates that you value each part that makes up the whole.
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. :-)
a. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to shine a spotlight on women’s health issues and bring more attention and resources to solving them — and not just UTIs. I want to empower women to advocate for themselves, seek second opinions when necessary and force people to take their health concerns seriously.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
a. I have an independent streak, which I think serves me in a lot of ways but can sometimes be counterproductive in a team setting. When Spencer and I had just started dating, well before we were in business together, he said, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” It might sound cheesy that he actually recited this inspirational quote to me, but it didn’t feel cheesy at the time. It’s become a mantra, both in the business and in our relationship. It takes a village, and even if I’m tempted to go rogue from time to time, and do it my way, it’s so helpful to remember that there is such power in numbers.
Some of the biggest 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 :-)
Oprah, 100 times over. How brilliant is she? I’m in such awe of what she has built and would love nothing more than to pick her brain.