Interview: Felicity Yost
One of the Masterminds Behind TIA, a Women’s Healthcare Company Innovating All Aspects of Care
UNLEASHED Women features inspiring female trailblazers through full Q&A interviews. These women are creating new own opportunities across industries, pursuing positive impact for their communities, and leading socially productive practices in life and work at large.
UNLEASHED had the immense pleasure of meeting Felicity Yost at the 2018 X Prize Foundation at the United Nations. Yost is a developing a new company Tia, focused on innovating the women’s healthcare scene via technology and improved frameworks (access, communication, benefits). After experiencing the energy and charisma of Yost and hearing about the incredible opportunities Tia is beginning to pioneer for women’s healthcare and medical resources, we had to ask for an opportunity to learn more. Below are the ways Yost, co-founder Carolyn Witte, and the rest of the team at TIA are paving new paths towards improved healthcare for women.
What is your current career & role?
I lead product and operations at Tia.
Can you describe the mission of the company you’re developing, how it originated, and the inspiration behind creating it?
Tia is an innovative, venture-backed women’s healthcare company on a mission to transform the way women access, use and benefit from healthcare.
Our secret lies in blending data-driven technology with a holistic, “multiple tools in the toolkit” care philosophy all unified under a big, bold sex positive, ethically female brand.
Carolyn and I have been best friends since college, for over 10 years now. We originally gravitated to one another out of a shared passion for women’s rights and women’s health. After college we remained friends but pursued pretty different career paths on opposite coasts (me at Bridgewater in NYC and her at Google in SF). Over the next few years, we both ended up working in product-oriented roles, and actually swapped cities. I moved to SF, taking a role at a start-up as a PM at a data company called Owler. I was really fascinated by the challenge of turning notional data into analysable, structured data sets. I worked on creating data products for the next 3 years. Carolyn moved to NYC to join Google’s creative lab, where she got more involved in the design side of product development.
The idea for Tia came to Carolyn while she was living in NYC. She was struggling on her birth control with side effects that she really disliked — she ultimately got diagnosed with PCOS, a common endocrine disorder that impacts 1 in 10 women. Despite having some of the best insurance, her diagnosis process went on for several years — partially because of the fact that none of the doctors she saw were talking to each other. It was really this experience that catalyzed the realization that healthcare is fundementally broken for women. While it’s imperative that doctors share information, and can agree upon treatment plans for all patients, it’s particularly important in women’s health.
After deciding to set out on this journey, Carolyn moved back to SF (we were finally reunited again!! I was so happy to live in the same city as my bff) — and we moved in together. I would come home at night and talk to Carolyn about what she was working on. She’d ask how to manage engineers, or how to think about incremental build and testing. Over the next 6 months I became more and more enthralled by the problem and the product. However, it was one night when we were talking about the existing data corpus on long term effects of birth control on women’s health — or rather the dearth of data there — that I ultimately realized the unique and extraordinary value that this product could have.
My mom died of breast cancer when I was in high school and ever since I’ve been keen to try to control my risk — but the source and quality of information around how to do this is severely lacking. In general, the amount of funding and attention that goes into women’s research is meager. The first opportunity I saw with Tia was to create a dataset that never before existed to understand the side effects and experiences of women taking hormonal birth control, how to manage their health risks and to help educate women about their health more broadly. Obviously, we’ve significantly expanded our scope since — but at the core, we are here to help women make better choices for themselves. I believe that women, when empowered to be body literate, can improve their health today, and over the long term. I do believe that if we get this right with Tia, we will see lower rates of endocrine disorders, infertility, inflammatory diseases and breast / uterine cancers in the populations we serve.
What if your doctor already reviewed your history of sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress, too? What if you knew your doctor was going to look you in the eye, be totally focused on you — and listen to you, believe that your experience as you is the most important piece of information they could get in that appointment? What if your doctor presented you options in a data-driven, non-biased, factual way — and always allowed you to be the ultimate arbiter of your decisions?
Who is your sheHERO (a woman that inspires & encourages you)?
As cliche as it sounds: My grandma is one. She is the one who originally taught me about the power of analyzing data but more importantly — “do what interests you”. When my grandma was growing up, she was a housewife in a small suburb outside Detroit, she taught church school and wrote children’s books, baked a lot of cakes… She also was an avid stock market investor. She loved it. She was obsessive. I remember I’d go over to her house growing up, she’d sit me down with the paper (back in the day when all the data was published on the back of the business section) and she’d make me crunch numbers into her calculator. We’d draw out performance graphs on literal graph paper, and then she’d ask me what we should invest in. I usually said something that she’d tell me was all wrong. In those days it just seemed like part of going to grandma’s house. But looking back on it, I now realize how remarkable it was to have this woman who didn’t care that what she loved doing wasn’t a part of the typical job description of a housewife. She did what she liked to do, with no regard to what was “normal”. I strive to be like that too!
Who who would you like to give gratitude to that has made everything you’ve accomplished so far possible?
My cousin, who told me she believed in me when I was considering whether to make this leap. A vote of confidence in life can go such a long way.
And Carolyn who also believes in me, and has broadened her original vision to make it a shared vision, not just with me, but with all the people who work at Tia. She has taught me the power of conviction.
What exciting projects are you working on?
Well, most imminently we’re working on opening the first Tia clinic, so that’s just … THE MOST EXCITING THING! We’re starting small day one — performing solely gynecological services. But I am stoked to be part of this process where we reimagine what healthcare should be like from the female lens.
What does it mean to walk into a doctor’s office for your annual pap, feeling empowered — being able to exhale when you walk in? What would it be like to know that your doctor had your period and cycle data before you walked in? What if your doctor already reviewed your history of sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress, too? What if you knew your doctor was going to look you in the eye, be totally focused on you — and listen to you, believe that your experience as you is the most important piece of information they could get in that appointment? What if your doctor presented you options in a data-driven, non-biased, factual way — and always allowed you to be the ultimate arbiter of your decisions? We’re working on experiences, technology and care to bring all that to fruition!
Do you have any thoughts or opinions on the future of women-centric business, or any innovations that are currently taking place?
Haha. Yes, where to start!?
I don’t think we can ignore the research that shows women make decisions differently than men. Women tend to make decisions much more socially, and tend to pick less binary solutions than men. When women are leaders, decisions tend to be made with much more comprehensive data-sets and information, and outcomes are evaluated in broader-spectrum terms.
I think this is all really positive. However , as a female who has worked in two very male-dominated industries, I recognize how hard it can be to mesh these two approaches. And it is the female approach that is often suppressed.
Personally, I wouldn’t advocate for one approach or the other (except perhaps in diplomacy where research does show that the female approach tends to lead to more pacifistic policies). I’d love for us, as a culture and a society, to focus more of our conversations on gender around understanding and valuing these different points of view — opposed to, say, solely the gender of a body. Perhaps, even, just inculcate both approaches into our societal frameworks, such that a man or a woman might present either approach — and collectively we can appreciate the value of both ways. To get there, I believe we need to make stronger norms around the female approach — teach the successes and merits of this way of thinking.
What sources have significantly inspired your work (place, person, experience, worldview…?
I have a twin brother, and I think this has significantly shaped my world view for two main reasons. First, I think I naturally gravitate towards deep partnerships, rather than many, more superficial ties. I believe this has shaped my desire to work in smaller teams and companies, ones that are super tight knit — where everyone is really like a brother/sister.
The second way I believe my twin brother has shaped me has to do with expectations. Growing up. my parents treated us with very equal expectations — in chores, in school, and all outside activities. It solidified in me a belief that boys and girls can achieve equally, and the way to succeed is to put your head down, work hard and then say… I told you so!
At the end of the day, things and places are immutable: it’s people and your relationships that bring color to our lives.
What are some quick pieces of advice you would give to a young woman professional entering the working world?
I think I would give *any* young person the same advice — ask yourself: does what I’m doing make me happy? What, truly, are the dimensions along which I want to measure success in my life, today and in the long run, and am I on a pathway to reach those dimensions (or am I doing this because it’s someone else’s definition of success)? I say this because I believe it’s extremely easy to get pushed into certain “prestigious” career paths as a young person today, simply because that’s what’s expected — and so many people end up unhappy, losing their sparkle when they don’t take a moment to define these concepts — happiness and success — for themselves.
What are some important life philosophies or values you encourage others to consider?
Be an owner.
Get your questions answered.
People’s emotions are their realities.
Extroversion and introversion as differentiations are real — people have different needs and it’s important that we understand, respect, and cater to them.
At the end of the day, things and places are immutable: it’s people and your relationships that bring color to our lives.
What advice would you give to your 22 year old self?
The advice I said above + don’t be afraid, you’ve got time!
Biggest pet peeve?
In the box thinkers & delayed flights!
Favorite thing that makes you happy? (small or large, in general)
Long bike rides on hot days with views over looking the ocean.
What are some other goals you have for the future or new things you’d like to try? What steps are you taking so far to get there?
My goal for the future is that Tia may elevate the global consciousness around women’s health. I’d like Tia to bring a more nuanced understanding around what it means to be a healthy woman (getting a monthly period, not having cramps or acne, regulating risk for auto-immune, inflammatory or endocrine disorders, modulating cancer risk) and for each woman to feel she knows precisely which tools SHE should deploy to be the healthiest version of herself (what’s the right diet for her, how can she manage stress the best way for her, should she take hormones, how much sleep does she need, etc).
Women are the life source of this world, we need to support women to ensure we thrive collectively.
I want Tia to bring information like this to women around the globe with our free app. The true success for us would be for this information to increase the volume of conversations we hold about women’s health globally, and permeate the subject matter of these conversations so that women beyond the Tia app can access the latest, ground breaking research on the best women’s care.
Why do you think empowering women and giving back is important?
Women thrive in communities that support other women. The research shows this — women with strong support networks report lower stress and a higher quality of life. Women are the life source of this world, we need to support women to ensure we thrive collectively. Creating communities that support each other not only ensures the whole to be healthier and better equipped to accomplish, but the impact itself trickles to everyone else. Supporting women is supporting humanity, and I don’t think I have to explain why that’s a good idea! 😉