Lessons From a Female Founder Who Reached Millions in Sales in Just 12 Months- Part 1
Julia Cheek, founder and CEO of EverlyWell, shares 6 secrets to navigating the ups and downs of your early startup journey.
After having a bad experience with very expensive lab testing that resulted in little explanation from my doctors, I knew there had to be a better way — especially since managing biomarkers is a top contributor to preventing chronic disease. With a few other passionate people, I launched EverlyWell one year ago to redesign lab testing to be convenient and meaningful.
Today, EverlyWell is one of the fastest-growing consumer healthcare startups in recent history, and we’ve reached millions in sales in just 12 months since launching in beta — while also delivering profitable unit economics.
It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come in just one year, and while it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing, I wouldn’t trade a minute of the experience. I think one year at a startup is equivalent to 5 years in the corporate world — I’ve had to become an expert in every function to grow the company and team at a very fast pace. It’s been a very rewarding and challenging experience, but ultimately I can’t imagine going back!
For those of you who are currently in your early startup journey, here are my first three secrets for navigating the ups and downs of founder-hood and entrepreneurship in your first year.
1. Your idea is all about timing
I had lots of ideas for companies before starting EverlyWell — but I decided to take the leap because timing is really important for startups, and now is the right time for consumer lab testing. There’s a fast-growing $250B industry around consumer-centered care, and I also believed people were more comfortable self-collecting after 23andMe set out the behavior. Consumers are now making market-based decisions about health and evaluating what they are spending money on. I was passionate about the idea and solution, but I also looked at the market forces and timing — and believed this could actually work.
2. Create a “top three” for your team
When you are growing a team extremely quickly, culture builds from the bottom up and there’s no time to focus on soft-culture activities. Coming from a variety of corporate jobs, I had been through extensive performance management and managerial training — most of which I intentionally wanted to throw out the window. Getting away from inefficient management and meetings was a big driver for starting my own company! But you still have to have management structures in place and a cohesive set of values, however start-up-y you may be.
The people you hire will all have very different skills from you — engineers, designers, you name it. That’s necessary for success, and the team will ultimately determine whether you succeed or fail. What aligns the successful members of our team is a common set of traits that are independent of expertise: intellectual curiosity, data-driven decisions, and excellent execution. Those are not the right three for everyone, but they are EverlyWell’s three. We now have an interview process in place, including a detailed 2–4 hour project, for anyone we consider for a role here. Get your team right early on so you don’t have to make talent changes that are painful for both sides.
As someone trying to hit goals, enhance product features, and launch new partnerships — I can tell you from experience that you need productive people willing to work extra hard to be part of the company’s success!
3. Your business is your #1 priority
I am a pretty transparent person, so when asked how I maintain a work life balance — the reality is that I don’t — and I do not have a goal to achieve that balance. At this stage, my business is a 24/7 job, and from every founder I’ve talked to, that does not get any better with time and scale — the challenges are just different!
Although I certainly believe that other early stage founders should structure their lives in whatever way makes them fulfilled and happy — I really love to work and believe that you have to commit fully to one thing to be excellent at it. So far it has paid off!
Look for part 2 of this blog later today with three more tips.
Julia Cheek is the CEO and Founder of EverlyWell, a digital health startup empowering consumers to order, self-collect, and understand lab tests. Based in Austin, EverlyWell launched in June 2016, and had raised $5M in capital to date. They have garnered awards from TechCrunch and Rock Health and are on a multi-million dollar run-rate in just one year since launching. Julia was also named the number one female entrepreneur to watch by CIO magazine for 2017.