On health tech investing and disrupting the fertility industry: a conversation with Halle Tecco, founder and CEO of NatalistFeatured
I spoke with Halle Tecco, founder and CEO of Natalist, which makes evidence-backed fertility and pregnancy essentials. Prior to Natalist, Halle founded Rock Health, a healthcare focused early stage venture capital fund, was an adjunct professor at Columbia University, and served as a business development manager at Apple. She graduated from Harvard Business School and is working on her MPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She has been an advisor to the Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, CNN’s 12 entrepreneurs reinventing healthcare, and L’Oreal’s Women of Worth. Halle and I discussed transitioning from investor to founder, team building, and engaging with her investors. Could you share more on your career before founding Natalist? The bulk of my career has been centered around investing in early stage companies in the healthcare and technology industries. I started Rock Health at business school. At the time, no venture capital firms would hire me, but I had enough people who believed in me and so I worked together with them to launch this fund. I had a thesis around the emerging field of digital health. In the early days, Rock Health was like a startup in many ways, but I needed to learn tons of skills quickly to effectively interface with investors and startups. During my 8 years at Rock Health, we invested in dozens of companies. Additionally, with my husband, we have an angel fund (Techammer) that has invested in over 100 companies over the last decade. How did you decide to make the jump in founding Natalist? I had been thinking about the idea behind Natalist for a while. I had been dealing with infertility for several years and so was inspired, in part, by my own journey in getting pregnant. Through my research into the space during my time at Rock Health, I also knew this was a completely untapped opportunity. I started by speaking with and investing in companies in related spaces such as Everlywell, Milk Store, KindBody, and Robyn. I was hoping to find a startup shaking up the medical device space in fertility but did not come across any. That was when I realized that I had so much passion and vision around this problem that perhaps I just needed to do this myself. Through my own experiences, I had gained tons of customer empathy and truly understood the pain point to be able to create the most fitting solution. So, I put together a great team with others who also had personal connections to the problem, and we started Natalist. When you became an entrepreneur, did you have concerns around the risks involved? If so, how did you manage these fears? I was a first generation college student and went to Case Western for my undergraduate degree. After school, I took a corporate job because I could not afford to take risks. But going to Harvard Business School gave me the opportunity to be riskier since I had this degree and my prior work experiences to fall back on. Traditional career paths, like investment banking and consulting, would always be there to pursue, but being a founder and pursuing something truly meaningful was something that could not wait. How did you ensure that you hired the right people while rapidly scaling your business and your team? Hiring is one of the most important things you can do as a founder. Ultimately, human capital is the most important asset in any company. I knew my advisors from my time at Harvard. Liz came on as my co-founder and brought her lab experience and diverse skill set. She is passionate about all the details that go into our products, which is especially important given the massive amounts of junk science that is marketed to women in the fertility and broader healthcare space. Together, we created our mission and ethos “inspired by beauty and backed by science” because we wanted to make products women would love that were also rooted in evidence and high caliber research. Liz now leads our full product team. I also brought on a practicing OBGYN advisor to further help with product vetting, and she has become a north star in guiding our content and education initiatives, which is another core pillar of our business. Our current director of operations was employee #1, and she is incredible at people management, which really rounded out the team. She has been instrumental in supporting employees as we grow and implementing best practices around structure and team development. Being a founder and being an investor seem like very different experiences. As an investor, particularly in the early stage, you work with long feedback cycles (7-10 years for the life of a fund and investment). In contrast, as a founder, you are frequently getting almost immediate feedback from your users/customers as you make changes to your product, website, and strategy. How did you navigate this transition and think about working with your investors as a founder? It was quite helpful that I knew all of my investors beforehand. I had met these people during my time at Rock Health and had generally built a great network of female and minority investors prior to founding Natalist. One of my lead investors is Aileen Lee, founder of Cowboy Ventures, and she is very much in the trenches with her founders. She helps me with relatively little fires as well as larger ones, ranging from cap table advice to thinking through growth strategies. Overall, founders are fighting fires of various sizes each day, so relative to being an investor, being an entrepreneur is definitely higher stress. Ultimately, it is important to find investors that will give you their time and experience, which is more important than the capital.