Allowing Room for Error, Finding Balance as a New CEO and Mother

Brief Background

VP, Business Development, Unacast

Director, Product & Partnerships, Eyeview

VP Partnerships, InSITE

Consultant, Bain & Company

MBA, Columbia Graduate School of Business

Married, mother of one

Marianna Zaslavsky has always known she wanted to be her own boss and have a career where she could be innovative. In her first business, she sold pre-clipped coupons to classmates at her middle school, so they could have the convenience of not clipping them themselves. In college, she started the magazine version of the Columbia University newspaper. Her first company created a mobile app that allowed people to buy drinks at a bar without waiting in line. After a few stints at startups, in venture capital and consulting, she decided to pursue Norka Health full time to alleviate the financial pressures associated with fertility. Marianna’s personal struggle with infertility and lack of employee benefits to cover associated expenses gave birth to Norka. Now, one week postpartum, Marianna shares her experiences about being a new mom, wife, founder and leader with Program Manager, Sharon Mwale.

As an entrepreneur and founder, can you talk about the challenging experiences you have had, how you addressed them and, if relevant, how you would do things differently?

I was hired as Head of Business development for a venture-backed startup and my responsibility was to identify companies that we could partner with, to buy and sell data assets. Two weeks into the job, I recognized that the vision of the company and the strategy did not align – we were going in the wrong direction. I pointed this out to the founders and had a difficult time convincing them to redirect. They were in love with their original idea and saw me an ‘outsider’ who didn’t understand the vision. So, for months I continued my work without any changes, but I was frustrated, and it affected the relationship I had with the founders. The defining moment was when others started to voice their concerns and as a team, we worked on addressing the issues and gaps.

Looking back, the biggest lessons I learned was not to let frustration influence how you lead. And, dropping grenades without offering solutions gets you nowhere. My advice for dealing with upper management and potentially problematic insights: 1) build consensus within your team, don’t be the only voice; 2) offer solutions in a clearly communicated way, i.e.: a presentation that identifies the problem, recommendations on how/what to change, and next steps to move forward; 3) don’t get frustrated because being part of a team is a long game. Idiosyncrasies of personalities exist but don’t take it personally; and, 4) have patience, turning a whole company strategy around does not happen overnight.

Today, and with each passing day, we strive to do more—with less. How do you in your organizations or personally leverage technology to improve processes that make healthcare work better, faster, smarter, more efficient, and/or less expensive?
Healthcare has a long way to go in terms of user experience. Simple technologies like live chat or scheduling tools are massive improvements for the patient and their experience. At Norka Health, we leverage technology to enable patients to have a better experience in their fertility journey. Our fertility team works with each patient through a simple platform that removes friction at each step. For example, online scheduling, user friendly patient intake forms and putting patient records in patients’ hands. Our solution also enables our partner clinics to focus on medical treatment and not customer service, which is an oft-complained aspect of the fertility journey.

How has your professional and/or academic experience influenced the way in which you approach entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership?
I’ve worked in consulting, venture capital and at several venture-backed startups. I have an academic MBA from Columbia and a life MBA from my work and experience. So, I’ve seen a lot of startups with exits of $250M and startups who’ve closed their doors. My biggest takeaway is that being venture-backed isn’t the right move for everyone. My advice to other women is to consider the desired outcome of your business and then build a business with financing that makes sense to reach that goal. For example, you might be an entrepreneur that is happy with running a lifestyle or small business that doesn’t require flashy venture dollars. The key to entrepreneurship isn’t the exit value – It’s what you want to get out of the experience. Maybe it’s pure financial returns. Maybe it’s to be a leader of a company with a product/service or mission you really believe in. Now is the best time to be female leader and entrepreneur, and it’s only getting better!

From your experience, what has changed the last, yet still has major impact regarding gender parity within entrepreneurship technology and healthcare?
More companies need to offer paternity leave! Since becoming a mom, I recognize and appreciate, even more, the importance of having spousal support after such a pivotal life event. Due to my delivery, I can’t lift heavy items, strollers included, and so I’ve had to rely on my husband for a lot of small things I normally could do on my own. When I’m feeding, I can’t move! I’m tethered to the baby and the couch for at least 40min, 8-12 times a day. There are dozens more examples where I simply can’t imagine being alone at home with a newborn and it makes me think of all the women who do not have the opportunity to take advantage of having 2 parents at home as they find their new normal.

Lecky’s Final Thoughts

Our featured entrepreneur provides so many valid points particularly when a woman is managing a very difficult industry, raising capital and most importantly starting and raising a family. Team dynamics can certainly add to that stress; however the vision and the mission of the goals and objectives always needs to be at the forefront. Personalities need to take a back seat to accomplishing those objectives.

If you would like to recommend a female entrepreneur in healthcare technology to be featured, we encourage you to contact us.

Contact information:
Sharon Mwale       Program Manager        [email protected]