“Make Your Relationship with Yourself a Priority”, 5 Wisdom Nuggets with Heather Bowerman CEO of DotLab
“I am a better CEO and team member when I take care of myself — eating well , exercising, spending time with my husband, and staying in touch with friends and family (and social media definitely does not count). In my 20s, I often felt that I needed to prioritize work over all else, but I’ve learned from experience that balance and self-care actually make me more effective at work.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Bowerman, CEO and Founder of DotLab, disrupting the $119 billion endometriosis industry. For her work as a biomedical engineer, she has been recognized as one of the Top 35 Global Innovators by the MIT Technology Review, the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs, and a World Technology Award Finalist for Health & Medicine.
What is your “backstory”?
I am originally from Clovis, California, the heart of California’s agricultural economy. After I graduated from the UC Berkeley College of Engineering with a degree in Bioengineering, I loved the idea of moving discoveries from lab to market, but I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. I moved to New York to become a biotechnology investor, and worked on the acquisition and launch of one of the major portable technologies to diagnose avian flu (H5N1) and swine flu (H1N1). Next I went to Harvard for a master’s degree, worked as a McKinsey consultant in healthcare, and then led business operations at one of the first Silicon Valley startups applying machine learning and deep learning to medical image data. In all of these roles, I saw how research and the deployment of technology severely lagged in women’s health, and led to worse outcomes for women. I started thinking about what the best point of entry could be to eliminate this systemic bias and bring healthcare equality to women.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
My younger sister and I both worked in the White House under the Obama Administration, although not at overlapping times. I started as an intern — I remember having my birthday in the White House bowling alley — and eventually I worked as an associate in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. My sister, Heidi, became a lawyer and joined the Administration during President Obama’s second term.
On November 12, four days after the 2016 election, President Obama and then President-elect Trump had their first face-to-face meeting that morning, which went overtime. LeBron James was President Obama’s next meet-and-greet, and Heidi and I met the President shortly after that — she happened to have her outgoing employee photo scheduled in the Oval Office for that time, and families get to attend. That afternoon and the uncertainty of what we saw unfold was surreal, but President Obama was as gracious as ever. I remember him saying that he could tell that Heidi and I were sisters, and we grinned from ear to ear (and I can’t think about it today without smiling).
Yitzi: Are you working on any meaningful non profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I had been thinking for a long time about how to best impact women’s health, and am thrilled that I can be helping the 1 in 10 women worldwide who are affected by endometriosis. Endometriosis is the leading cause of infertility and chronic pain. Diagnosis currently requires laparoscopic surgery under general anesthesia, and the average timeframe from onset to diagnosis is ten years. Meanwhile, women suffer without the correct drugs they need to manage endometriosis and its impact on their daily lives. This neglected disease is truly a hidden drain on women’s success.
At DotLab, we have developed the first-ever diagnostic test for endometriosis, replacing laparoscopic surgery — and after initial diagnosis, the test monitors disease progression, recurrence, and therapy response. Our goal is to help women live more productive, healthier, and happier lives.
Yitzi: Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Patients email us every day with their stories. This week, we heard from a woman who was planning to have laparoscopic surgery to determine whether she has endometriosis that might be causing her fertility problems, but she wanted to take our non-invasive test first. She asked her physician to sign up for our early access program, and she told us that if she had to wait six or more months until accessing our test, she would probably go ahead with the surgery. At DotLab, hearing from patients is unquestionably our biggest motivator and has created a strong sense of urgency within our team.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
(1) Know your worth.
In business negotiations, the other parties always have their interests in mind first. I found myself in a situation in which another party tried to push me into a poor deal by creating an artificial deadline and using tactics similar to bullying. Your strategic partners, employees, and investors should be team members whose interests are aligned with your own, so don’t let yourself be bullied.
(2) When you’re leading a company, be decisive.
As long as you’re compliant with regulatory requirements, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, especially when you’re shipping your first product. Your users will tell you what they need from your product next.
(3) Know what motivates you, and follow that.
In my career, what I have loved about working in healthcare is that your work can directly enrich the lives of others. There is nothing more rewarding than hearing from patients whose lives have been changed.
(4) You won’t get what you don’t ask for.
Want a leader in your field as an advisor? Ideally, find a warm intro, and ask him or her. Want to partner with a company or organization that you admire, that would bring value to your customers? Same thing, except understand that it will take a unique set of circumstances and time to build trust so you can discover how you can partner. In our case, we approached top health systems that we knew would benefit from our test, and worked with leadership to run proof-of-concept studies before launch. But it all started with our initial ask.
(5) Make your relationships and friendships — most importantly the one with yourself — a priority.
I am a better CEO and team member when I take care of myself — eating well (in my case, that means eating clean), exercising, spending time with my husband, and staying in touch with friends and family (and social media definitely does not count). In my 20s, I often felt that I needed to prioritize work over all else, but I’ve learned from experience that balance and self-care actually make me more effective at work.
Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
I take any opportunity to share a meal with my amazing mom. If you’re asking for someone I haven’t met before — Ruth Bader Ginsburg! Of course, I am a fan of her brilliant legal mind and service to our country on the Supreme Court, but I also admire her for still doing planks every morning and for what she has shared about having a true partnership with her husband.