Sophia Yen, M.D., M.P.H. is the CEO and Co-Founder of PandiaHealth.com. She graduated with a B.S. from MIT, M.D. from UCSF Medical School, and M.P.H. from UC Berkeley in Maternal Child Health. She serves as a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stanford Medical School. She is a Reproductive Health Specialist and has founded 2 non-profit campaigns and co-founded 1 non-profit in her endeavor to improve the lives of women: The Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women, the Pandia Health Birth Control Fund, and SheHeroes.org.
She hopes to be the first surgeon general to say masturbation without being asked to resign. She is the mother to 2 daughters and wife to a feminist husband.
Pandia Health improves women’s lives by providing a one-stop solution for prescription birth control. By enabling online prescriptions and automating medication delivery, Pandia Health empowers women with convenient, confidential, and reliable access to reproductive healthcare. Pandia Health is the only women-founded/led, practicing reproductive health doctor foundedl/led company in the space. For more information, visit PandiaHealth.com.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I was 15, I ran a pregnancy test-- but it wasn’t for me. I was a pregnancy test counselor, and it was for my 13 year old client at Planned Parenthood. When the results came back, both of our lives were changed forever. She would go on to be a mother, her future irrevocably altered. I would go forth, and I went on to graduate from MIT (undergrad) and UCSF (Medical School), followed by a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in Adolescent Medicine-- with a passion for preventing unplanned pregnancy.
About 3 years ago, I was preparing to give a talk on contraception to medical students, and I came across a fact that changed the course of my career: one of the top reasons women don’t take their birth control is because they don't have it on hand. At the time, my friend Perla Ni wanted to start a company to help women. We put our heads together and thought, this problem is easy enough to solve-- and an opportunity to disrupt a slow monolithic system of pharmacies. "We’ll ship it to you and keep shipping it to you until you cancel.”
We ran ads for “free birth control delivery,” and we quickly found that 60% of those who responded didn’t have a prescription. That is, either their prescription had expired (you need once each year) or they never had one to begin with. This learning, combined with the fact that I am a doctor who can write prescriptions, led to our creating an asynchronous telemedicine model: the patient fills out a questionnaire, gives us her blood pressure, and the doctor reviews it. If it’s all good, the doctor writes a prescription, we fill it at our partner pharmacy, and the birth control is on its way to her by mail.
I had planned to be a doctor, but then wanted to make a bigger impact. So I became a professor, teaching both future and fellow doctors. And then this opportunity came along-- the opportunity to help all women of reproductive age in the US (and possibly more countries!).
What was your toughest obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I didn’t want to take this on (CEO of a startup) unless I knew I could absolutely, 100%, do it. So, I put together a killer team that had all the components to make this happen: a pharmacist co-founder, a CTO, a friend with startup experience and a great rolodex, a marketing guru, and, finally, myself for fundraising and medical expertise.
And I learned to accept uncertainty and let go of perfection.
What’s the key to staying focused & motivated?
I think I still need help staying focused. As the CEO, there is so much to do and so many hats to wear. Whatever is not being done, you need to do it. You have to fundraise, you have to motivate, you have decide. I also have to do the medical component.
The motivation is that I know that at PandiaHealth.com we are making women’s lives easier and less stressful, and we’re preventing unplanned pregnancies. We’re building the Brand Women Trust with their Health.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”-- which I interpret as don’t sweat that which you cannot control. Be prepared so you don’t have to worry. Be happy - be present, enjoy those around you, appreciate those who are with you on this venture and the champions that are helping you along. Be OK with MVP.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to start a new venture?
Go into it with your eyes wide open. Know what you are getting into. Doing a startup is like a roller coaster - the highest highs and the lowest lows - all within minutes. You get an email saying “Yes, I want to invest.” You get an email saying “No, I don’t think so.” Startup life is worse than residency (which was being in the hospital on call and pulling an all nighter every 4th night). It’s tiring, it’s stressful, you have people’s livelihoods on the line, you have your friends’ and family’s and co-workers money on the line.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are those that have gone before you and they can share their learnings with you.
How do we get more women leaders?
By showing young women that it can be done. Check out SheHeroes.org, a nonprofit that provides free online videos targeting 3rd-8th graders to show them that women can be anything they work hard towards. We quizzed 3rd graders in the heart of Silicon Valley, “picture a CEO, is it a woman, man, or both?” We even LED with “woman.” And we repeated with 15+ professions - lawyer, President, Editor, judge, Scientist, Programmer, etc. It was still very male-dominated. We showed 1 video of a female surgeon and re-tested. Boys and girls shifted their views to a more egalitarian view. Now imagine if we showed them more women in more roles of leadership.
Demand equal representation at conferences. Whenever I see a conference, I look at the speakers and hope to find 50% women and if not, I will ping the organizers to ask them #WhereTheWomenAt?
Ask established companies "#WhereTheWomenAt?”
Don’t praise girls and women for solely their beauty, praise them for their skills. If someone calls my daughters beautiful, I always add and “strong, smart, confident, brave, etc."
Change the policies or ask those in power to change the policies. I met a SheHero-supporting man. He was the CEO of a company and to increase diversity, he demanded that for any open executive position that the final 2 candidates have a woman. I’ve heard of people say “at least 1 woman,” but to require the final two, that’s brilliant! He doubled the representation of women executives in 2 yrs at the company. And he did it to improve the bottom line. And his policy improved the bottom line. Diversity makes a better company and product. When people panicked and said “where am I going to find qualified women?” He said, look harder. They looked and they found them. Studies show that women have to be asked and that men self-nominate. By demanding that a woman be in the final 2, more women were asked.