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You cannot predict the waves, so you also need to be totally ready to make mistakes
Today's entrepreneur is Jessica Bell van der Wal, co-founder and CEO of Frame Fertility, a venture she launched with her husband following their own fertility crisis. Founded in 2020, Frame Fertility is the first and only evidence-based platform that enables the early identification of fertility risk and care navigation leading to better fertility and overall health. Developed with clinical experts, Frame Fertility’s approach alleviates a downstream and often costly fertility crisis for patients, employers and providers.
The company recently launched with a $2.8 million seed funding round.
Prior to Frame, van der Wal led teams in marketing, customer success, operations and strategy at various early and late stage companies including Castlight Health, Nike, Deloitte Consulting and Genentech. She currently sits on the advisory boards of two digital health companies as well as multiple educational institutions, nonprofits, and women’s empowerment organizations.
Her foundational training in public health and international volunteer experience colors her passion for health solutions on a broad scale. Van der Wal holds a BA in Public Health from UNC Chapel Hill and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
I am a(n):
Companies I've founded or co-founded:
Companies I work or worked for:
Castlight Health, Genentech (acquired by Roche), Deloitte Consulting, Nike, Inc.
Achievements (products built, personal awards won):
Combining these two pieces, my proudest moment was when I won the Values Award at Castlight in my second year there as it was voted on by my peers and it was the result of a product I built in partnership with our engineers to streamline our user registration flow during open enrollment. The product significantly expanded our engagement and thus value to our end users, which is at the core of my focus.
If you're an entrepreneur or corporate innovator, why?
I want to change the world.
My favorite startups:
Omada Health, Everly Health, Wildflower Health, Somatus
Why did you start your company or why do you want to innovate inside your company?
My partner, Corey, and I didn’t set out to start a company or just make money on this endeavor. We are two people that experienced a problem ourselves and were shocked that there was no one looking upstream trying to prevent the crisis. More specifically, we actually tried to plan ahead for building our family and were told not to worry and to just come back after we tried to conceive for 12+ months. Unfortunately, there were a variety of factors under the surface that would challenge our ability to build our family, which were only amplified by waiting until much later in life to start the process. So in 2019, we were diagnosed with infertility and told that IVF was our only hope. In the end, we are one of the lucky ones that has a child at the end of this, but it wasn’t without a lot of physical, mental and emotional angst. And more than anything, a lot of this could have been avoided by having better support, resources and knowledge earlier in the journey. We want to build that better way. We want to help anyone that may want children someday understand their risk factors early to avoid a downstream and often costly fertility crisis, and we didn’t see anyone looking at the problem in this way. We don’t just want to help women and those trying or struggling to conceive. We want to support everyone, proactively, by understanding their holistic set of factors that impact fertility and mapping out a plan to address them head on to prevent people from reaching this challenging place later on. We want better health and better outcomes for all.
What's most frustrating and rewarding about entrepreneurship/innovation?
I am constantly learning, from one conversation to the next, things can change directions pretty radically. This means that there are a lot of ups and downs, and there is a lot of noise to sift through. So it’s rewarding because I am growing and learning more every day than I have in any other part of my career BUT it’s a wave. And you cannot predict the waves, so you also need to be totally ready to make mistakes. Learning = mistakes.
What's the No. 1 mistake entrepreneurs/innovators make?
The biggest thing I have learned being an entrepreneur is that it can feel like a lonely job BUT it does not mean you are alone. You have to ask for help. We have investors, advisors, employees and believers spanning various areas of healthcare and beyond. I have to remember that I am not alone, and I have to remember to ask for help. It is not and cannot be all on me.
What are the top three lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?
As I mentioned, I’ve learned a ton and continue to learn each day, so ask me next week, and these learnings will likely be different :) But today, here is what I would say:
- A lot of my work habits from the past won’t work and can’t work now. As an example, I’ve always been an inbox zero kind of person. Ask anyone who knows me. I respond. I am accountable. But, inbox zero is no longer realistic. There are a lot of things like this that I am learning to adjust to.
- Other founders are my go-to. Every time I talk to another founder, I feel heard. I feel understood. I feel supported. When I am most stuck, other founders are the first place I go to, and I have built a mini-advisory board of them that I go to for questions, especially the ones that feel “dumb” but aren’t. Knowing that they are there helps me feel less alone, and it ensures that I have a safe place to go for feedback.
- Don’t settle. In these early days, it can feel like saying yes to everything is required. But for the sake of the team, our mission and my own health and sanity that cannot be the answer. One of my number one jobs is to keep us focused, so what to say no to is a critical thing to keep asking myself.
Woah, you work with your husband? How? Why?
Yes, this may seem crazy, but for us it makes a lot of sense. First, we went through this specific situation (fertility) together. Second, we have incredibly complementary skills; I am all things sales, customer and growth and he has depth in product, engineering and analytics. And, trust. We've known each other for 10+ years, been married for 8, and I never have to worry about trust or values. We are on the same page with the basics. Of course, the the dynamic we have to be mindful of is boundaries of work and life. And from what I can tell, it's a skill that all founders have to revisit and hone.
But you will not find two people more motivated to change the status quo for this specific topic. Our daughter is our reminder everyday.
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Joined Vator onHumanizing family building as the CEO / Co-Founder of Frame Fertility; Digital Health Advisor; Previous exec at Castlight Health, Nike, Deloitte Consulting and Genentech; BA in Public Health from UNC Chapel Hill, MBA from Harvard Business School.