Our Guest Today: Allison Martin
Allison Martin (LinkedIn) was born and raised in South Africa. She’s the founder of UDoTest, the first company of its kind to help significantly reduce the unnecessary cervical cancer deaths in Africa.
Following a mobile and tech career, she noticed the significant lack of accessibility to medical services and care across Africa. After the first few experiences of getting her Pap smear, she figured that there must be a better and easier way for women to receive these tests – possibly in the comfort of their own homes.
UDoTest was the start of something digitally different in South Africa and sub-saharan Africa with the intention of merging tech, healthcare and a much greater purpose all into one. The goal was to educate, increase awareness and disease prevention using simple and accurate methods.
After receiving several notable awards in South Africa, Allison decided to bring UDoTest to the USA in 2017. Allison traveled to different states include the South, the West and now the East Coast of America (Boston, MA to be specific) continuing to spread the word of UDoTest.
Today, UDoTest offers a unique, and sophisticated B2B At-Home Disease Testing SaaS Platform. In partnership with leading global laboratories and physicians, UDoTest sets forward a personalized, comprehensive, in-network, lower cost and life-saving at-home testing experience for wider populations in North America.
What more will you learn in this episode?
- Allison shares her current journey as a 30-something year old female immigrant and traveling entrepreneur living in Boston, MA
- Her successes and struggles as an independent creator and entrepreneur, running a business while adapting a new life living in a foreign country
- How Allison manages to balance her career and a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend
- Her decisions for delaying having children, starting a family and living a “normal” life
- She talks about her experience freezing her eggs (the process and feedback)
Allison Martin (Founder of UDoTest) Empowering Women Through Accessible Medical Prevention.m4a – powered by Happy Scribe
Feisworld Podcast helps independent creators live their creative and financial freedom. I’m your host, Fei Wu, and I’ll be taking you through a series of interviews with creators from around the world who are living life on their own terms. Each episode is packed with tactics. Nuggets can implement origin stories to make listening productive and enjoyable. We’re not only focused on the more aspirational stories, but relatable ones as well. We also have non-interview based miniseries releasing throughout the year to help deep dive into topics such as freelancing marketing, even indie filmmaking that will benefit creators like you. Show notes, links, and ways to connect with the guests are available on phaseroll.com. Now onto the show.
Hey, guys. It’s Fei Wu.
And welcome to another episode of Phase World Podcast.
Thank you so much for being here.
And I want to take a moment just to thank you guys, because you.
May or may not know this, but.
About 75% to 80% of the listeners who stumble upon Feisworld every week is new. I know that is kind of crazy because I wish there were more returning listeners, but at the same time, I’m.
Really grateful that we just started a.
New relationship this week with Alison Martin. It’s going to be such a treat because I met her not so long ago, about a year ago, and we kept in touch and she was introduced to me through her brother Gareth Martin, who appeared on an earlier episode of the Phase World Podcast. And Gareth and I met through Seth. Gonzale. Ten BA. We even had the opportunity to kind of cross the ocean and meet each other in person in London almost exactly a year ago in October 2018. But very soon after that, I found out that Garriso’s sister, Allison Martin, was.
Kind of working and living in Boston.
And they both are originally from South Africa. I realized that Allison is in a very unique situation and is just the type of person I want to invite onto the show because she is not only a female immigrant, but she’s also a traveling entrepreneur. Check it out. She is the founder of You Do Test. Udo Test. That’s right. The first company of its kind to help significantly reduce the unnecessary cervical cancer death in Africa. Following a mobile and tech career, alison noticed this significant lack of accessibility to medical services and care across Africa. After the first few experiences of getting her Pepsimir, she figured that there must be a better and easier way for women to receive these tests, possibly in the comfort of their own homes. I cannot agree with this statement more, and as you can imagine, I think if you’re a woman listening to this.
I bet you want to look her.
Up, because I certainly did. Udo Test was the start of something digitally different in South Africa, and with the intention of merging tech, healthcare, and a much greater purpose all into one. The goal was to educate, increase awareness and disease prevention. And it’s kind of, in my two sense, allison’s way of giving back to a community and empowering women. After receiving several notable awards in South Africa, allison decided to bring Udo Test to the United States in 2017. She traveled to different states, including the south, the west, and now the East Coast of America. Boston, Massachusetts, to be specific. Continuing to spread the word of Udo Test today, you Do Test offers a unique and sophisticated B to B. So business to business at home disease Testing SAS platform. So if you’re not super familiar with all the jargons and software terms SaaS SaaS means It’s software SA service, and that is in partnership with leading global laboratories and physicians, you Do Test sets forward a personalized, comprehensive, in network, lower cost and life saving at home testing experiences for a wider population in North America today. But wait, what more will you learn? In this episode, Allison shares her current journey as a 30 something year old female immigrant and traveling entrepreneur living in Boston.
Her successes and struggles as an independent creator and entrepreneur running a business while adopting a new life living in a foreign country. How Allison manages to balance her career and a long distance relationship with her boyfriend who still lives in South Africa. Her decision for delaying having children, starting a family and living a, quoteunquote, normal life. She also talks about her experience, which is freezing her eggs, the process and the feedback all of her experience completely on the table. So if you’re a woman in your 30s experiencing some of the same thoughts, whether you’re a traveling entrepreneur or otherwise, I think you’ll find a lot of very useful information and in the context of someone who understands you. And that makes not just Allison, but myself as the interviewer as well. So before I close and let you get started with this episode, I want to share D. H. Lauren’s quote, which is that she bear children is not a woman’s significance, but she bear herself. That is her supreme and risky fate. Without further ado, please welcome Allison Martin to the Phase World Podcast.
Ali Martin. Welcome to Faze World.
Thanks, Fei. I love me to speak to you again. I really, really love it.
Yeah. You know what’s interesting, Ally, is the fact that I met your brother first through L Ten BA, and you weren’t even part of Seth Goldens Elton BA, but because you’re here in Boston. And then he introduced us. And I noticed that the moment that we got introduced, it was funny. We sat down, ate a salad for lunch. Salads for lunch. We’re not like that. We both enjoyed that much. Oh, my gosh. Like, I met this woman in my thirty s, and I know you’re a few years younger than I am, and we have so much to talk about. We seem to be sort of on these even though. Different paths, but somehow we can relate to one another.
No, I love it. No, absolutely. It is like friendship. At first start for me, I was like, oh, my God, this woman is just so motivated, so inspiring. I can learn so much for you. And we’re similar ages and where have you been? It’s amazing. Yeah. So grateful.
How do you I wonder I’m curious, you grew up, obviously, with your girlfriends from childhood, kindergarten, grade school, and now you’re traveling around the world. How many of those people are you still in touch with or do you find sort of engaging conversations with?
Wow. So I’m actually very, very lucky. I’ve got an incredible group of girlfriends and I’m actually in touch with pretty much all of them still. So really, I mean, my oldest friend, I met her, we became friends, I was five, and we’re still friends to this day. We went to the same schools, all that sort of thing. And I actually kind of censored text a couple of days ago. So I am actually, I think, very fortunate. I don’t know if it’s uncommon amongst women and especially as we move on in our lives, but I’m actually very fortunate in that I do have quite a solid group of probably about five to ten girlfriends. Some of them back at home. Some of them have immigrated, which are all kind of going through our various stages of life and very fortunate to, at various points, still talk in touch base and absolutely adore one another.
That’s lovely. We have moved away and still be able to keep in touch. Today’s day, in an age with all the technologies surrounded, I think that’s the one thing that technology actually brings joy to us, is to help us keep in touch with one another after all these years.
Absolutely. And you, like, make a plan, right? So, I mean, over here, obviously, I’m 67 hours behind where all my friends and my family are. So you make a plan, you kind of get up a bit earlier, and I actually have, like, coffee, I have morning coffee chats to my friends, and it’s lunchtime or kind of afternoon bedtime. So they’re having afternoon lunch, we have coffee out of those awesome catch ups. And you just make a plan. Yeah, it’s worth it.
It’s so interesting to hear about immigrant stories. And recently the morning chats is what I’m hearing for the first time. One of my girlfriends is doing, like, dinner. While she’s actually eating dinner, she has her iPad open, talking to her mom who lives in China. And I was like, that’s brilliant, because I rarely find those, even without kids, I rarely find moments where I’m not typing on a computer when I’m not doing research and when I’m eating, that’s a perfect time. Like, she could be eating too. I mean, timewise may not line up, but it’s a lovely idea.
Definitely. Well, I mean, the best time, like you and I, the best times over meals, right? So we’re having lunch together and that’s great. So what’s the difference? I’m just having breakfast or coffee on my side and my friends or my dad, whoever is having lunch or afternoon tea on their side. So it’s just over a virtual connection, which is just so much more special.
Yeah. So, you know, obviously you’re not from around here. You gave that away pretty early on. And tell us about your origin, like, where did you come from? And like at a high level, what was it like growing up in South Africa?
Yeah, cool. So in some ways it’s kind of not too dissimilar to, I think, your suburban areas in the United States. I’m in my 30s, so South Africa had kind of gone through kind of more stressful times and we were coming out of that. And I think my generation is all kind of forward thinking and getting over that. But the point is we stayed in a suburban area. We went to a public school, like a very nice school in our area. We were lucky in that we could walk to school and walk home. So similar to here, where you’re safe enough to do so. But that’s not common. I mean, in South Africa, you wouldn’t walk off the dark or anything. And then obviously South Africa is an interesting country and that we’ve got kind of unfortunately kind of vast disparities in our population. So we definitely have townships and chansey towns or whatever. But obviously the way they set up our country was quite divided. So we still had a suburban area and a close group of friends and all kind of multicultural at my time. So that was awesome. And really, thankfully, I would say not dissimilar to what you have here, other than, I think us being very conservative by nature, very more kind of close, I would say less trusting.
And then just also because of the surroundings and because it’s obviously not the safest place, you’re kind of more closed, more to yourself, I would say. Whereas here, people I find a lot more generous, a lot more open, a lot more naturally giving. And therefore it’s kind of obviously a lot more freeing being here. If I had to compare it, and I think what I’ve been exposed to so far, I would say that kids here, they grow up taking ownership and accountability a lot quicker because they get onto buses, they walk around. You know, they walk home from school, they got like a lot of their own time, whereas back home, because of safety issues or whatever, kids are a lot more nurtured and protected by their parents, is a lot more anxious, that kind of thing. So long story short, I mean, it wasn’t a similar but I think it would be different now.
I think it’s funny to hear that because what I’m constantly hear like right around this location, new England and even the majority of the United States, a lot of people complain, and I think to partially or largely that is true, which is people of an older generation, 45, 50, and they grew up playing on the street. They walked themselves to school, back from school. And these days in the US, kids don’t get to do that anymore. There’s a lot of fear about not just gun violence, all kinds of violence and things like that in general. And, like, where I’m living, if I look outside, I rarely and it’s like it’s sad to me because I remember growing up playing outside all the time, even though Beijing from different parts of my upbringing wasn’t necessarily the safest place either. You know, certain parts, like downtown and such. But yeah, it’s just like now, I think in comparison, what you have windows is, like, so relative.
Yeah. And now that we’re talking about it, what’s significantly different, obviously, is that we have walls around our homes. And it sounds weird, but obviously now that I’m here and I’ve been here for three years, and it sounds weird when I explain it to Americans, but it’s kind of like, we’ve got the most we’ve got homes, but you don’t see them because all you see are walls. And my friends back home would be laughing at me because that’s kind of the norm. It’s like, well, of course you have a wall. And until I think you’ve actually lived elsewhere and understand that, how restrictive that is, that you’re really kind of imposing yourself with your own little prison. But as a kid, you play outside, you do whatever you want, but it’s just within your walls. Do you know what I mean? Like, there’s no playing on streets generally because you’re enclosed in these walls, which is quite strange when you go there as a tourist, actually, to see the difference.
Yeah, I’m so curious. I mean, I have a lot of friends. South Africa has become a very tourist destination for Asian people for quite a long time. And I was surprised when first people told me about it, I was like, what really are you going to be? Do you know what you’re doing? Like, which part of it? And then they will take pictures and looks like the most parts of it, like, at least the part that they went to looks very European and just the same like everywhere else.
Yeah, it’s gorgeous. I mean, honestly, we’ve got a beautiful country. I prefer Kate Santa, Johannesburg. But it is magnificent. And I think if you’ve got you can have an amazing lifestyle living in South Africa for a lot of bad news that I think it sometimes gets. It is an absolutely gorgeous place to be, to live, to raise a family, if you’re just kind of street smart and savvy.
Yeah. Figure that out. Yeah. A lot of that is prejudice. Like, totally what we imagine and even the stories, honest. I hear from other people about China, I’m like, you should go. Seriously, you must go.
I’m not offended because what you learn about via textbooks and news is always like, breaking news, something’s happening, and you go over there, people are greeting you. Huge respect for you. And Chinese people love foreigners for years, decades. That just a lot of curiosity about and introducing them to the food. It’s very welcoming, right? Yeah. So what brought you here? Oh, my God, it’s a gorgeous place. You came from a good family, safety growing up, and then you are here by yourself.
I’m very lucky. For a large portion of my career, I’ve been an entrepreneur, and I started my company, Ud Test originally. I started about five and a half, six years ago in South Africa. And really, we won several awards that in 2016 that were pretty unexpected and pretty kind of remarkable, and they were like, oh, my gosh. We basically do a specialized type of testing, medical testing, and really, we make it super simple for people to test themselves and stay healthy and that kind of thing within a private home, easy environment. And I launched it really many years ago because I had to go for my Paps near and I was running another business before this, and I just like I did company and I didn’t have time and couldn’t understand. The importance of it and really just started doing research and digging deep and going for meetings with doctors, pathologists, et cetera, to figure out how can women start doing this themselves.
Wow. Hold on. Let’s let you take a pause right there. I think you were in your mid to late 20s when this started, and you had your peshmer. I mean, everybody hates it. It’s so funny. It’s one of those things, like, I feel nervous, but then at the end, it’s like, okay, it wasn’t as bad as I thought, even a conversation, just being in that environment. And it’s very awkward. Like, I remember the first time getting it done, I didn’t want to go back to work.
I think I’m done for the day. Exactly.
I was like, I think I need a rest. But I love where you see. But I went back home.
I’m just like, what if I’m not doing this?
You’re like, no, I’m not going home. I’m the future petismer. It sounds so natural to you, which is interesting because I talked to a lot of I consider you also, as a creative entrepreneur, means that you don’t have to be an artist, fine artist or musician or an actor. We have a lot of those folks here on the show. But what I find exactly what you said just now, that is creativity in its purest sense, right? You had an experience. You know you’re not alone. I just reaffirmed you, and you start talking to all these doctors like, could you give me, like, some insights of what those days are. Like, literally, how do you reach out to doctors? Like, what are some of the questions you asked?
Well, first, you sound like a total idiot because you’re not a doctor, you’re not in healthcare. I was just running another tech company. All I knew was article stuff. So you got to accept the fact that you’re going to sound like an idiot to most people. And how did it start? I actually I started reading a lot of clinical studies. So thankfully, and I don’t know why, I actually just became obsessed with HPV. It sounds crazy, but I absolutely freaking love it is kind of like a clinical, but also kind of technical side to HPV that I just became fascinated with. And then there’s so many there are hundreds of different types. And then it was like, oh, what does this one cause? How does it interact with these parts of the body? For some other reason, I just started reading about HPV, and loads of clinical studies and loads of can bore you to death fast, but they didn’t for me. And then once I’d done that, then I was a little bit more kind of better versed when talking to doctors, or a little bit, and really it was a matter of kind of picking up the phone, sending an email, and being like, hey.
At the time, it was with Africa’s largest lab, so your version of Quest or Lab core over here. And it was a case of, like, sending an email and just being like, hey, doctor, so and so I saw you on this website, and I’m interested in X-Y-Z. Can you help? So it kind of started off with that, and then I was here. With each and every meeting, you get more comfortable and better versed and sounds less like an idiot. And then you get a lot of doors closed, a lot of people think you’re a moron, and a lot of people judge you, and you lose faith, and you think you’re crazy. And then one person, literally one amazing professor in South Africa, I’ll never forget her. She met with me, and she said, alison, I think you’re onto something.
Sorry, I’m just a person celebrating it.
That’s all I needed in order to kind of quit everything, move cities and start and be like, Great, let’s go. So you need one champion, one believer to give you that boost of confidence. Isn’t that crazy?
Because same thing, right? Like, with interviewing people on the podcast, I mean, that is like a very non intrusive. Like, most people would just say yes, but still you get rejections. You get no’s are not the worst answer. Some people just never respond, or they don’t say anything. And you, as a beginner creator, are thinking through, like, what did I do wrong? But you continue down that path, and you have this tiny little platform, and other people want to stand on this platform with you. I use the metaphors like our coffee table at home. That’s the size of the platform I had. And people decided to stand on it with me and take a few risks to say the things they’re not so sure. Yeah, they’re certain we’re not. So how long did it take for having these lovely conversations to, wow, meeting this woman? How long did that take till then? And what happened after that? From ideation to I would say it.
Probably took about a year for the conversation.
Yeah, kind of a lot of research, a lot of thinking about it, but also because it’s a big step, I was running this other business, but for everyone else, they would be normally they have a job, so it’s a big decision. So you got to get the confidence and get to the point where you’re ready to be like, okay, cool. Well, I’m going to minimize my hours here, and I’m going to start taking up hours there, and we’re going to actually start designing this product and this solution that is going to help thousands of women within my life. I was going through, like, a specific change at the time. I think I was breaking up with a really interesting boyfriend. Inspiring, phenomenal. And so I was kind of ready to leave where I was physically, like, home where I was staying. So then I was like, okay, well, there’s no better time like the present. Let’s leave this boyfriend and then let’s move back to a place of growth. And at the same time, I was like, great, well, I’m going to start this business and I’ve spoken to enough women, so do obviously you’ll use your research and that kind of stuff.
Women were like, oh my God, you joking. Like a replacement to the pack now. You’re kidding me. Like, I would have done that yesterday. So you get like, enough. Yeses. And then eventually eventually you just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s just something you literally sleep on every single night. Somebody is literally kicking you out of it and just saying, do it.
Yeah, you remind me of this. Like, people talk about the bedside manners. I remember when I first had my this is like, too much information, but hey, and that’s crazy because for me, actually, as a Chinese immigrant, first of all, my mom never talked to me about that. It really just didn’t happen until my primary care at the time told me, like, oh, as a woman that you need to get this done, like, over the age of 18 or something, right? And so I was like, okay, what’s involved? And I start to really picture it and you talk to your dorm room, whatever, or your roommate. And so I remember a decision that the doctor made was to the device that they used. I remember they said, oh, we’re going to use, like, the one we use for teenagers or something, like a young woman, I’m like, yes. I can tell you how happy I was. Like, yes. And then for the past, whatever, 20 years, 15 years. So every time I go get it, every time I see new doctors, like, do you have the teenage size? Think about the medium. It’s funny to talk about it now.
And then this nurse came in and said the nurse came in and said, doctor, do you need a medium one with a large one? I said medium. Oh, so dreadful. And then the doctor answered, yes, the gold one. Premium.
Oh, my God.
We reserve this only for fake.
Instead of trying behind.
I didn’t think about that.
Oh, my God.
I didn’t remember too much from tremor. Noah next career will, comedian. Oh, my God. It’s true. It’s like, for women to have to think about these things and oh, my God, the gold one. Oh, hello, Kitty. Oh, God. This is like, getting out of control. I love it, but I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful for people like yourself to find areas and find these pockets in the lives that we live and trying to really make a world a better place. Oh, my God. I’m, like, with tears right now.
Oh, my God.
This is FEI Wu, and you’re listening to the Face World podcast. Today on the show, we welcome Alison Martin, who was born and raised in South Africa, and she is the founder of Udo Test, the first company of its kind to help significantly reduce the unnecessary cervical cancer death in Africa. She is a traveling entrepreneur currently living in Boston, Massachusetts. And that’s where we met.
Well, I want to talk about production because actually, let’s give people some clarity for the products you have. So I remember you have tests for HPV, STD, if I’m correct, and other tests you’re also developing. So now, years later, you’ve gone through to me a suite of products. What are you working on right now?
Yeah, our space has just exploded over the past five and a half years, and our business has changed. So, you know, huge lessons learnt and really just spend some time understanding the American market, which is obviously where I’ve been for three years now. And what we have now is essentially not only a much wider variety of tests, so clinically, the labs we work with are doing incredible stuff, really kind of the world’s leading laboratories are launching phenomenal things that we partner with, and we essentially design it within our platform and our service. But long story short, you can now screen for a huge amount of diseases and conditions from home, and including kind of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cholesterol, a full lipid panel, hormones, kidney disease, liver disease, actually a huge amount. I mean, if anything, is kind of not up to date on our sites. But what we do now is we actually work with your health plans and your enterprises over here in the US. And because we’ve got so much kind of not only IP and proprietary software that we built now, but we’ve also got a huge amount of experience in diverse populations and serving people who are in a rural population or those who do have insurance, don’t, et cetera, english speaking, nonspeaking.
So really what we pride ourselves on is the actual user experience and designing something customized for you. On the one hand, we’re obsessed with the consumer, and in my world, the female, the mom, the busy executives, women who just need a god and break. And we’re obsessed with kind of designing products specific for her, but also, you know, for her to encourage her family. And then on the other hand, you’ve got this super powerful system. So something we put all our energy and cash and time and capital into that makes it simple and allows a health plan or an employer or a lab or anybody to really just activate this type of service for their population easily. So the models changed quite a lot, but also, I think we’ve gotten a lot smarter and a lot more niche and how we offer it.
Well, you’ve only been in the US. For about a year right now.
No, in January, it’ll actually be three years. Oh.
So, wow. We have known each other for, like, I feel like a majority of that, but possibly the past year.
Yeah, a year and a half, maybe a year and a half. When I came to Boston the first time, it was last year, August.
I realized that Boston is not your first destination. That’s why. Because you are somewhere else and got you. So now let’s say most of the listeners still for this podcast are American or based in the US. So if they’re thinking of, like, bing, something lights up, is like, oh, I’m an executive woman. I don’t want to go through this anymore. How then can they use the products? How could they track back to you? How do they take advantage of this?
Yeah, so typically, we’re actually targeting your enterprises, your health plans, employers, your labs. So typically, it could be somebody who’s either the CEO or in charge of innovation or in charge of kind of quality or cost savings or whatever at these organizations who we target. So not necessarily a direct consumer anymore. And those individuals can contact us on our website, www.udotest.com. That’s spelled udotest.com. And essentially what we do is we design a fully fledged start to finish, at home disease testing journey on their behalf, which is pretty personalized and cool.
So, for example, for someone like me, is it this sounds like it’s attached to a lab, or perhaps it’s for a consumer perspective. It’s really attached to their health insurance provider. So in the US. Would be something like tusk healthcare? A blue cross. Blue shield. But I know you’re still in. Development. Is it the case that this test perhaps isn’t, like, open or available to the general public just yet?
Absolutely. So, yeah, we changed that model a while ago. Really? Because what happened is we knew that individuals in the US. Wanted these types of tests to be paid for. Health insurance here is ridiculously expensive, and essentially what we’re testing are kind of forward in your prevention benefits kind of category. So we learned pretty quickly that we needed to get the staff paid for as much as we could. And as a result, we spent at the past year working with your health plans and understanding that and getting them paid for. And as a result, they are the ones who would essentially invite you to this type of service as their member, say, hey, thanks for being a member of Tufts. We really appreciate you and wanting to offer you convenience and privacy, and this is some super cool.
So I’m accumulating some questions. I feel like I’m trying to pretend like I’m listening and meeting you for the first time, because sometimes it’s hard when you interview a friend and you feel like you already have a lot of the pieces in place. So from the ideation to production, I think some of the listeners may be wondering, okay, that sounds amazing. You’re already at this level, you’re working with healthcare companies. What was it like for you to have these prototypes build? I’m not really an investor. I’m not really sort of a founder in that sense. Was there any, like, seed money that you had who supported you in this initiative, this project at the beginning, to make it into a thing like somebody can touch and see the results from?
Yes, great question, and that kind of relates a little bit to the docs I was referring to earlier. Essentially all you need is one crazy person. That’s it. So when we first started, I had one crazy person who I adore and has known me for about ten years and was somewhat of a mentor, advisor to me in my previous business and telecommunications career and everything. I’ll help you. Obviously, I wasn’t kind of drawing a salary or anything like that, but you need one person to just kind of support you in a small way financially, if you so true, and whether that’s a family member, a friend. And in this case, it was my first really small investor to this day. One of the people I’m most grateful for in my life.
I thought it was she at the beginning. That was he. Later on, we’re one.
It was he.
Okay. I mean, if it’s a mentor, is it possible to reveal his name, that we can thank him for mentioning him on the blog.
His name is Mark Athia, and he’s quite a kind of prestigious South African I’ve known for ten to 15 years.
Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, that’s incredible. I mean, really, these are the names that you may or may not hear from, but having that someone believes in you, that one crazy person, which years later will be hundreds and hopefully thousands of crazy people who believe in you to make it a reality. But I know it’s always an uphill battle sometimes from that, having the first prototype reiterating upon it. And then you have to decide how little money that you set aside for yourself while working with these technologists and builders to make it into reality. Could you maybe talk about that part of your journey? What was easy, what was perhaps most likely challenging during that part before you came to the US. Because we also want to talk about your journey since you have arrived in the US.
Some of the most challenging times are we’re definitely meetings with back at the time in South Africa, it would be meetings with employers, with your very powerful insurers over there, typically your clinical people with respect. And back then, I mean, if you imagine it was six years ago, so it was actual meetings with doctors and Gynecologists. And typically, if you imagine the environment, we’re already said South Africans are conservative now, so in the Gynecologist, they’re even more conservative. So that, I think, was the hardest is winning them over with this. And it took time, and it was tough. And it’s not only like a mixture of relationship and data and influences within that space being a part of the journey, but it’s a thick skin. You really just got to kind of brush off the nose. You’re stupid. Who are you? You’re kind of your email, like, whatever, and then you’ve got to prove them wrong. And then what happened was we actually launched. We launched with the product and received a huge amount of publicity and all that sort of thing. And literally we did because cervical cancer is the deadliest cancer in South Africa.
It then became, like, a huge motivator for me. I was like, oh, my gosh, I know the solution is available. I technically would know how to execute. And now but even more motivation because now it’s killing a stupid amount of women in our country. Like, what are we doing? Like, now I just had to do it. That was the fire that kind of kept me going. And I was like, I really don’t care what this one doctor thinks. It’s clinically proven. It’s valid. It’s supported by XYZ. It’s listed on this. It’s been done in this country. I’m going to do it anyway because I was so fired up to help women around me who were being impacted by it. But long story short, what was the hardest part during that time? It was the conservative, typically kind of medical community back home until we launched. We were helping women. We were helping women who saw our advertising in airports and didn’t have time for a Paxia and were like, oh, this is the best thing ever. And then we started referring more women to those same gynecologists than anything else. So these women had no intention of going for a path, no time, all that sort of thing.
And they came back with certain high strains of HPV and we actually sent them back to those kind of colleges and then everybody was our friend.
Wow. Everybody. How long did that take? That sounds like maybe two to three years in the making, if not longer.
Yeah, it’s easy kind of too. It’s an obvious yeah.
Wow. So your credential being a woman aside, you also didn’t, you’re not a medical doctor, you didn’t really study medicine or chemistry or biology, that sort of thing. What did you study in college?
No, I literally studied a marketing degree and I studied separate kind of mini MBA courses thereafter through distance learning. At the time it was really tough, but one of the best things I probably did was change from going to traditional university, like kind of a physical presence, to studying distance learning. So I continued my degree through distance learning and actually started working really young because of it. And I needed cash, I needed to pay stuff off. I paid for my own studies and started working at 19, like in a.
Corporate whoa, you started working in corporate at the age of 19? Ever young men. Oh wow. There’s a lot of discovery I didn’t know before. So I’m curious because I remember the reason I’ll make sure, number one, I’ll make sure that you’re off and we’ll wrap it up in ten minutes so you have time to get ready. And Thanksgiving dinner, I don’t think it’s going to take that long. Are you going to bike, by the way? Bike over to your house? Perfect. Alright then. Don’t worry about it too much. So I just realized you live really close to Sam. You guys should totally catch the same Uber. Not to complicate things. I remember the most recent conversation that we had and knowing that you’re always super busy, we have lunch and dinner when we can, but there are times that you have to get on a call talking to investors, potential investors, VCs, and trying to close these deals. And I remember just some similarities of me running my own business, having a pitch myself to other people, or for them to kind of come through to say, hey, are we a good fit? And then you tend to sort of tell the same stories.
But it was more painful for me in corporate because I was presenting somebody else’s idea, case studies. Whereas for Phase World, for my business, it felt easier. What’s the journey been like for you? For let’s just talk about maybe your Boston journey for the past year, year and a half. How do you find yourself, motivate yourself to start and stop the conversation over and over again? Like, what was I like with investors? Yeah. Like how do you even find them? How do they find you? And like, what is that process?
Like, oh my gosh. So literally it is a case of hustling. Like, without sounding kind of like that is an easy way out. It is literally a case of networking as much as you can, getting involved in associations as much as you can, getting referrals as much as you can, you get into a rhythm. Obviously, I’ve now been here for like two and a half years. I’ve adjusted a lot and I’ve learned a huge amount. But really it’s the case of I knew that I was a foreigner and I knew that I didn’t go to MIT, I didn’t go to Harvard, and I’m not a part of the club. I’m not a male. So I knew that I had to kind of work freaking ten times harder just to get known and to get trusted. Incredible. So really one of the first things I did is I became a part of every association I could see that was going to be valuable and I subscribed to it. I went to their events. I am on their databases. I’m kind of finding whoever I think is relevant for what I was doing. And that was like, step one.
Because I go to school, they are like the top ten or top ten associations. Dive in, go to the events, talk to people, ask the question, be like, hey, I’m doing X-Y-Z looking for Y. Can you help? Really being bold enough to just ask those questions and one person. But one thing that was interesting for me when I moved here is I just love I’ve just loved Americans, to be honest. It sounds maybe a little Ricky Shade or shallow, but I was astonished that within the first week of moving here how I would make I was introduced to somebody, I think through my incubator, and I would have one phone call with this person. This person was senior. He was a VC in San Francisco and he was kind of managing partner. And literally after 30 minutes, this guy said to me, he’s like, Alison, sounds interesting. I’m going to introduce you literally five people on the phone. And I was like, oh my God, who is this guy? I’ve never actually met him. Like, I don’t know what he looks like. I’ve never shaken his hand. And to you that sounds normal. That home.
Know it. That home. Oh, my God. You would need eight months of, like, no joke, eight months of relationship with somebody for them to get to know you, trust you, like you understand, you know, your family, and then they feel safe enough in due to their network. So that’s a fundamental difference that I was exposed to, like in week one. And that gentleman introduced me to five more people in his network. And then what did I do? I burned all five of those and then expanded into the next five. That’s a kind of cultural difference that we don’t have in South Africa. We’re a lot more conservative. Long story short, it’s literally a case of asking.
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What are some of the things that you learn? Is it gesture? Is that warmth? Is it leaning in? What is that like?
Interesting? That’s a good question. I would definitely say, is the person asking you questions back? Are they intently listening or are they kind of distracted by something else? Do they take your card? Do they give you a card? Too many times at conferences, everyone’s like, sorry, didn’t bring my cards to this. It’s kind of a matter of detecting the real intense and usually I try and always ask a bit of a curveball question in all of my meetings that people are kind of not expecting so that I can really kind of test that. And if that’s a personal question, I usually get personal quite fast, actually, and it’ll be like, oh, so what do you do in your spare time? Or if you have time, you ask certain questions that they weren’t expecting to actually just test. Are they freaking listening to you? And then yes. I mean, how engaged are they thereafter? Can you joke with them? Can you build some kind of a quick personal connection that enables them to remember you? Thankfully, I think it’s somewhat of a blessing in disguise that I am some African and female in some ways and people remember that.
If you got something that’s memorable, use it. Use it in a good way. Thankfully, through that you remain memorable. But make sure you spend time on quality, as you said, picking up on those subtle hints. Is this person genuinely interested or are they going to turn around and walk away in the next five minutes and then following up? Yeah, I think a lot of the stuff is detected after. So do they come back to you? Do they pick up your calls? Do they reply to your email? Even emails you can detect, obviously. Are they keen or not?
Oh, that’s lovely.
Think about that.
Like, you get so much smarter, at least in this area and domain, to know so much more than compared to even you yourself, like a year or two years ago. This is lovely. I mean, I can imagine doing like a series of this thing. I actually encourage you to consider doing your literally five to minute podcast using something like Anchor dot FM, like something you can speak right into your phone and say, this is like a journey of a South American sell that America. A journey of a South African female entrepreneur. And I can make that mistake in front of you, which is like, yeah.
I’d probably do it myself. I’d be like, this is a South American.
That’s the thing. In Chinese, there’s a term, it’s like, global to village. We call it a global village. We’re all in this together, and you can access different parts of the world so easily these days. I want to make sure that I don’t delay your upcoming quick trip too much, but I want to just touch base and have the opportunity to discuss with you, because I recently recorded the video. It’s not as though the recording right now, it’s not published or live on YouTube, but the topic is basically tough conversation. A lot of my Asian female friends asked me, they promoted me to talk about being Asian over 35 and child free. And you don’t have to be 35, but literally the moment that you hit 30 or even in late 20, everybody around you is like, who’s your boyfriend? What’s his family’s like? What are you gonna have kids? How many kids are going to have? When are you going to get married? So we talk about that for a bunch of hours. What’s your vision and your take on that in general? Like, how much of your life do you spend thinking about it?
Very little. Yeah, probably I should think about it more. I do think that women go through an unnecessary amount of pressure. There’s something that happens, we all know, like, when we turn 30. I don’t know if it’s society. I don’t know if it’s kind of previous generations, like, whatever it is, we just feel an overwhelming amount of kind of pressure that 30 is the time that you’re supposed to bear kids and have a husband. But then the funny thing is that I turned 30, and then my life carried on. My God, I’m one day over 30, and it’s okay. Like, nobody approached me and said, Where’s your child? So life carried on, I think. Another interesting thing, obviously at that time, I was obviously moving to the US. So I was being exposed to other stuff, and I wasn’t within the same circles that I was. Who are more expectant of that? And I was totally distracted by my company, and I love what I do. So, like, I had this fire in me to do this, and I’m dating an amazing guy, but I knew for a fact that because of my business, I was like, I’m not even mentally prepared to have a child now, even if I was married.
So it was, for me, just, like, a logical decision. God, I’m like getting my company running. It’s, like, so great. Why would I do this even if I was buried? So really, I did freeze my eggs. We’ve spoken about it and now we got, like, nothing to hide and really accurate. It was empowering. It took me a long time to decide. It wasn’t an overnight decision at all. I think it took me a year. But what was going on is people I knew, girls who were struggling to have kids, they were older than me, but it was a very sad situation. Some of them were struggling and really, I mean, I’ve been exposed to a lot of medical stuff in my life. My mom is a nursing sister, so we’ve been exposed to, you know, the challenges of fertility. And I was just like, you know, I know now that I don’t want to have it. I don’t want to have kids now, but I don’t want to not have the choice later. I really kind of slept on that. And at the time, I was hugely religious, not huge, but I was following a path.
It was kind of against minigrains that I had at the time. It was like, oh, I’m kind of like, this is a little bit not natural. And then eventually something cracked and I was just like, Hang on. I was like, I’m thinking of it from the wrong perspective. This egg freezing thing is really an insurance plan. That’s what this is. And I was like, I’ve got a decent car, I’ve got insurance on the car. It makes logical sense to me. So this is what egg freezing is stirring on me for a future date. And so once I switch the perception, I was like, oh, but then it’s a rational decision, you know, there’s nothing, like, emotional about this thing. Let’s just get it done.
The procedure and how much detail you want, but, like, it was pretty once you make decision, it was pretty kind of easy going. The procedure was easy going itself. It was, like, only kind of 15 minutes fast. But the injections itself not to the procedure. Yeah, there are injections that you take, I think, like a week sorry, two weeks ahead of time, and that’s pretty interesting. And you feel, like, a bit kind of groggy and uncomfortable or whatever, as this happened, was it tolerable or was.
The pain and, like, discomfort? Not just sharp pain, but was it discomfort, the pressure, like, tolerable for you, like, totally tolerable.
I am not an injection person at all. For a person who is now actually advocating blood collection, I absolutely hated it.
Those are tiny needles, I heard.
So anyway, they’re tiny, tiny needles and you kind of put them inside of your stomach every day. And so that was the worst of it. And I think for me, someone who literally faints at the side of that, I think I’ve made it one. You know, it was fine. Like, that was the worst part about it. It’s really the daily injections, for sure. You just feel kind of blow still, whatever. But then the procedure itself was totally harmless. I think I fell asleep and woke up and it was all done. And it was like, all in all.
15 minutes and Fine life went back to normal. Like, you felt normal immediately after, or it took like a week or two to feel okay.
No, I mean, I think there was discomfort when you go to the bathrooms, but honestly, nothing terrible. And then I think within a few days, that was Fine. Completely harmless. I think the biggest thing for me was kind of mentor. I try and rationalize it back then, and I was like, well, this is insurance. It’s going to make perfect sense. But I underestimated the impact it would have and it did have on my life. So now that I’ve obviously looked back and I’m very grateful that I did do it, whether I needed or not is another story. Completely. But I was amazed at the way it just freed me up.
Oh, my God. It was like a game changer, you know, suddenly you’re like, not feeling this need. I was like, oh, thank God. I don’t have to get married as 30. I don’t have to find the nearest male and start breeding. I don’t have to feel this pressure any more. Oh, my God. I can actually plan my one day party. Like, literally, I can be like, okay, cool. At this age, I’m going to do this. I can start, then have a kid, then I could literally tabulate my life. And that, for me, was a game changer. Absolutely freeing. I can, like, go forward with confidence and, like, gun blazing.
I feel like I’m being freed right now.
I feel like some clinics has got to pay me to be these bonjets. Seriously.
No, I know. I know a lot of women who started their own family to say maybe they didn’t really like the ones that they were born into, and they want to create this perfect home, having multiple kids, and they want to be the best influence, most positive influence. And I think obviously that belief is absolutely beautiful. A lot of people are succeeding at it. But also I think about the path that we were on. Think about the path you were on in particular. Like, think about how many thousands of women and easily, hopefully tens of thousands and millions of women’s lives you’re going to change. Right? It’s that not just that one day in their life, but it’s something they will do on a regular basis and, you know, changes their perspective, their expectation leading up to that appointment or whatever they need to get done now. They can just be comfortable, they can be home. And I can see this really what you’re doing to really expand to certain parts of other parts of the world, like Asia, for example, where women don’t have even the access to go to a hospital even if they wanted to, or too expensive.
So yeah. Go, Allie.
Thanks, man. Yeah. It’s been an incredible journey. But that’s the goal, right? The goal is to help those who really need it. It’s to help those populations who can’t, who don’t, who are scared, who haven’t, are not allowed to, are anxious, help those the most. So try and make a small difference that you can in whatever way you can. And if you know that you can just do it, have the courage to just try.
Now you’re not going to have the courage to’thanksgiving during the recording. I think it’s so lovely that we’re talking about this. I think this is the spirit of thanksgiving, to give love to one another and not just to your family, but, you know, like a community.
This episode of the phase feisworld podcast is brought to you by feisworld, LLC, our marketing service agency created for independent creators and businesses. We offer website development, video production, marketing, mentorship to people who want to tell better stories, level up and create a profitable brand face. Feisworld podcast team. Our chief editor and producer, Herman Sevillos. Associate Producer Adam Laffert. Social media and content manager, Rose De Leon. Transcript editor, Alina Ahmedova. And lastly, myself, the creator and host of phase world. Thank you so much for listening.
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