From Unpaid Girlfriend to HealthTech CEOFeatured

Growing up in the Midwest, I sometimes wonder if it is a feature of being a small town farm girl or if it is just my family, but being humble, almost to a fault, is just part of the lifestyle. I am the product of a teacher and a farmer: hard workers who are used to getting no credit after putting in crazy hours. So it’s only natural that I would pick a career that requires crazy hours and requires years to build up credibility.Going into college, I thought, "I should be an engineer. It’s a well-paying degree and job security is great.” I should mention...I’ve never loved math, but I’m determined and strong-willed so I went for it. After one semester, I regretted that choice and switched to design. Luckily, I was able to cram all the required courses into one semester and my design portfolio helped me to get accepted into my program of choice: Industrial Design! Lesson #1: It’s okay to change your mind and find something that fits your talents better. In 2014, I graduated from university and felt lost, probably like many people. I had this super expensive piece of paper to show for four years of hard work but didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I liked the idea of being a product designer but didn’t really want to move away from Iowa. During college, I owned and operated a painting franchise. It was a way for me to get hands-on experience for running a company. I learned how to manage the finances, hire, train, sell, produce quality work, and appeal to different types of customers.Lesson #2: Hands-on experience will push you to extremes and force you to move through the highest highs and lowest lows. ClinicNote was founded by my (now) husband and two of his friends in 2015 and was accepted into the Global Insurance Accelerator in Des Moines. I joined the team at the beginning of 2016 as an unpaid girlfriend. At that time, Tyler and I got engaged and the company had very little money (another reason why I was unpaid), so Tyler got a full-time job outside of ClinicNote in Q3. In Q4, I was working part-time on ClinicNote and at another start-up. During that year I did a TON of customer discovery calls, created a PDF version of what our software could look like if we raised money but made sure it included all the details of features and benefits that people kept requesting in a visual format. It was through this that I was able to prove to our investors, with data (I kept track of calls, requests, etc.), that we should raise more money. Lesson #3: Use numbers to prove your work: number of calls, number of emails, number of conversations. Track your work and the outcomes from the projects. Our investors said that if I would agree to come back full-time, they would re-invest, but only if we did a recapitalization of ClinicNote to clean up our cap table. I secured the Demonstration Fund through the Iowa Economic Development Authority and came back to ClinicNote full-time. As you know, founder stories can be messy. This is our story. My husband still works full-time outside of ClinicNote but plays the perfect supportive partner because he knows exactly what I'm going through and cares about the company he started. When talking to my investors, they consider me a founder because although the three guys created the idea, I took it and built it into the business it is today. Lesson #4: Wherever you are, look to add more value than what is expected of you. People who are promoted are often people willing to work behind the scenes, people who have grit, and people who are determined to create success. Over the past five years of operating ClinicNote, I have been pushed to learn things I didn’t know even existed. From raising money to finding a product market fit and communicating effectively with developers, employees, and customers, I’ve found that as long as you’re willing to put in the work, build off whatever your talent foundation is, and persevere, there are so many opportunities. Lesson #5: Be a student of learning, find ways to educate yourself and continue getting better. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, but if you work at finding new information, you’ll be surprised at how much you can grow in a personal and professional capacity. You’re all capable of wonderful things. Don’t be afraid to take massive action, believe in the talents you were given, and make your mark on the world. Cheers to your own journeys!
thanks for sharing your growth journey.Curious, is your title at ClinicNote still "Unpaid Girlfriend to the CEO"?or did you claim the CEO or other CxO title?
haha Definitely just CEO. That was just a catchy title to describe the journey.
great title super creative - caught my attention
Thank you! :)
Many thanks for sharing your story. It’s a great one showing hard work pays off. I wish you, your husband and the company every good wish. Best of luck.
My pleasure! Thanks for your encouragement.
How did you learn the new skills? For example, how did you learn how to 'find a product market fit"'and how did you learn how to 'raise money'? Did you go through an incubator, mentor, spend lots of time googling things? All three?
I went to school for industrial design so I certainly learned some stuff around product design. However, I learned about product-market fit from cold calling having conversations noting the overlapping common issues, and tracking them with numbers. The initial founders were a part of the Global Insurance Accelerator and that's where they got the very first angel investors. When I came on board I went to every workshop I could get my hands on for growing a business. Plugged into the startup community in Des Moines, IA, made friends that were founders so we could discuss what we were working on and what was working or not. We had some pretty involved angel investors that were instrumental with my learning. I had meetings often with them about what I was working on and they gave advice and feedback. Google and Youtube were great resources. There is always an expert willing to share information, you just have to find them.
Thank you! I'm self-taught in a lot of areas, and I'm constantly second guessing whether I'm doing things the right way. Finding ways to talk to experts in person seems to be key in this journey. Thank you for sharing!
Love hearing a successful start-up story outside of a typical geographical hub like SF/NYC. Awesome that you were able to grow this company while remaining close to home. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you! Our startup ecosystem here in Iowa continues to build and grow, it's been fun to see it blossom.
OKAY we have to connect.I was born and raised on a farm in small town Iowa, got a degree in engineering, realized I hated engineering, and now lead marketing/sales strategy for a software design/dev firm that specializes in healthtech. 🤯Thanks so much for sharing! Would love to chat about our similar experiences!!
Yes! Find me on LinkedIn, let's chat!
Wonderful and inspiring journey. Thanks for posting!
Thanks Ellen!
Thanks for sharing, very inspiring. I think on no. 4 one has to be careful depending on the organisation, I know from personal experience it can be a strong female trait to do this but it's important to do it because you want to, you feel valued, respected, etc not because you think you have to.
Thank you! I certainly agree there is a difference between adding immense value and being compensated or getting taken advantage of. I do believe that if you have tracked your work (#3), you should be able to ask for compensation/recognition of this hard work. If you aren't being rewarded, listened to, or valued - then it's time to leave the position. There will always be companies looking for high achievers and be willing to reward them- sometimes it just takes a bit of research.
@lanafox, this is the inspiration I need now. Thanks for sharing this story. I'm building a health tech business with my husband. I do the driving while he finances. Like every starter, I'm concerned about if this will pay off. You have encouraged me to keep going
High-risk, high reward! I wish you the best. <3