What you inspect is what you should expect. This quote came from a former leader that, at times I didn’t admire a lot, but he had wisdom that traveled beyond his leadership style. This lesson calls out the need to pay attention to the details. They matter. And if you don’t inspect the details, then you shouldn’t expect exceptional performance, because it’s the details and data that will be your roadmap to understanding the customer and being successful.

For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Angelo. Jill Angelo, former executive at Microsoft, is the CEO and co-founder of Gennev, a digital health platform for women in midlife. She has a background in launching products from the ground-up and scaling brands in thrifty and creative ways. Jill is combining her passion for women’s health with her 20 plus years of business-building experience in the tech industry to build the go-to solution for women in midlife and menopause.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s a pleasure to speak with you!

My journey to starting the women’s health company Gennev began during a role as Chief of Staff to the Chief Marketing Officer at Microsoft. I had a 20-year career in technology, specializing in marketing. One of my responsibilities as Chief of Staff was to help the CMO nurture our senior women’s leadership team across the company. We held intimate, quarterly salon dinners where senior female leaders could talk about the things that mattered to them. They spoke of balancing kids, work and spouses, but increasingly they talked about their health. Changing menstrual cycles, mood swings and extreme fatigue came up a lot. It was early days, so we as a company didn’t act on it, but years later it dawned on me that we’re losing senior female talent from the workplace because of menopause-related health changes.

Fast forward 5 years, I was on a sabbatical and got introduced to a former key executive from Neutrogena, Jacqui Brandwynne. She painted a vision of how underserved women in menopause are, and one thing led to another. We founded Gennev with a mission to empower women to take control of their health in the second half of life…starting with menopause. My first investor was the former CMO from Microsoft where it all began.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

As an entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time raising funding for the business. Gennev is pioneering a new way for women to manage their menopause. So, you can imagine I meet a lot of investors and spend a lot of time at pitch competitions.

Early on, I was at a pitch competition that brought together women investors who wanted to support female founders. I pitched Gennev, and won the competition, but even more, afterwards the number of women who came up to me to share their intimate health stories was surreal. One woman pre-empted her story by calling me the “vagina-whisperer” which gave us a good chuckle. Then she launched into how her PCOS placed her in early-onset perimenopause.

This shows that women need to talk, share and know that they’re not alone. They need to understand that menopause is natural and that they’re normal. It really influenced me in the decisions I’ve made building the business. We can’t do enough to normalize menopause through education, community, services and products that understand women.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early on, as I talked about the business, many people said that I needed to “lighten the topic,” add some humor to a sensitive and often shamed topic all women face in their lives. So, I started to call myself the Chief Vagina Officer, or CVO.

In a presentation to a network of female investors, I introduced myself as the CVO. It got some laughs, but afterwards a woman came up and shared that making light of a very real and often challenging time in women’s lives that can have real consequences to their health, their relationships and even their ability to work, is not funny. She cautioned me not to be flippant about a sensitive time in life that 50% of the population goes through.

It was an incredible lesson! Looking back, it’s not so funny, but it changed my perspective forever. While humor, when it’s used appropriately, can soften a situation, knowing your audience and being smart about how I use humor is something I’ll take with me forever.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our community is our secret sauce. Gennev is built for women, by women. Our physicians, our health coaches, our registered dietitians, our leadership team, our Board of Directors are all women. We understand women’s health. As a women-run company, we have built the largest community of women going through menopause.

In late 2019, we were on the NBC Today Show with Maria Shriver. She asked me what was the one thing women should do as they head into menopause and my answer was, educate yourself. Take our free Menopause Assessment to understand if you’re in menopause and where you are in the journey. Then, use the results to take action for your health. The rich data we have gathered over time helps us nurture and build our community of experts to support our global community of women. Being on television was a paramount moment for us to reach so many women who are suffering in silence. Helping them see the community that awaits them is the first step in helping them feel better.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, we’re always innovating. With coronavirus and social-distancing becoming the new normal, we are expanding our traditional telemedicine service, which is by appointment, with a new membership called Gennev HealthFix.

Starting at $25 per month, women get unlimited access to their menopause care team: doctors + coaches + products. In their membership, they work with health coaches who are also Registered Dietitians to create a personalized health plan that manages lifestyle behaviors like nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress — all behaviors that impact menopause symptoms. If medical guidance and prescription support is needed, a Gennev OB/GYN is brought into the plan. And, Gennev offers a line of health and wellness supplements, lubricants and hygiene products formulated by our practitioner team for menopause symptoms.

We’re launching HealthFix this month as an affordable care option for women to get access to menopause experts in the safety of their own home. Virtual care options need to step up and serve the vast population in smarter, affordable, more secure ways. Gennev and our HealthFix membership make that happen, reserving ER and clinic waiting rooms for critically ill patients.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Sleep! After my 20-year career in technology and moving to the world of being an entrepreneur, I vowed to get 7–8 hours of sleep a night. If you encourage your team to do the same, they’re so much more healthy.

Also, I really focus on empowering my team. As a small team, everyone’s voice must be heard, because we all bring diverse views to the drawing board. Making space for discussion, deliberation, and then decision…and moving fast is critical in a startup environment. Creating the flexibility in our calendars, in our work styles and in how we adapt to changes in our business or in society is critical to thriving in our roles. We have to get creative because budgets are small, but it’s through that creativity that we become better at what we do.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Empower people around you and then step away. This is not always easy, but you as a leader will become a bottleneck. I can be the worst offender, so I work at this every day. Not everything will be done the way you want, but you have to find people you trust who can just run with things. In an ideal world, you won’t be able to keep up with them. That’s when you know people feel empowered and they’re passionate about what they’re doing. Because if they’re in that mode of working, your business will thrive in ways you never imagined.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to go back to my former manager at Microsoft — the CMO who empowered me to run the senior women’s leadership initiative, and then years later helped fund my company. She’s tough, she’s smart, and she’s never given me the answer. Which at times, drove me crazy. But when I’ve been at my lowest points, she’s a problem-solver and doesn’t allow me to give up. She always says, “There’s a solution to every problem. You just have to break it down and start small.” And doing that somehow gets you through the toughest places. She grew up in in a very harsh and very male tech world, and she didn’t become a man, but she took notes from many amazing leaders and their ability to solve very tough problems. She’s passing that on, and I admire her ability to influence me in a “walk the talk” sort of way.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our mission is to empower women to take control of their health in the second half of life. And, looking at the tens of thousands of women who have taken our Menopause Assessment, accessed our community and benefitted from our services and products, I believe we’ve got a good start. But we’re just at the beginning. Half the population goes through menopause, and our larger focus is to change the way women do menopause; to change the way society thinks about menopause; and to normalize it so that it’s no longer a point of shame for women. We have a long ways to go, but we’re headed in the right direction and things are up and to the right so far!

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Seek to understand. A former manager always said this to me when I complained about another person’s actions at work. It’s such a hard thing to do, but you’re such a better person and a better leader when you incorporate it into your workstyle.

There is a solution to every problem; you just have to break it down and start small. I shared this example from my former manager and it sticks with me through every tough situation.

What you inspect is what you should expect. This quote came from a former leader that, at times I didn’t admire a lot, but he had wisdom that traveled beyond his leadership style. This lesson calls out the need to pay attention to the details. They matter. And if you don’t inspect the details, then you shouldn’t expect exceptional performance, because it’s the details and data that will be your roadmap to understanding the customer and being successful.

Be kind. People gravitate towards kind, humble people. If you want to run a large company or serve a large community of customers, you better be approachable.

Remember who you are. My dad would say this to me every time I left the house. It keeps me real, authentic, and keeps me from trying to be something I’m not. When I venture outside of me, I feel the pain and others sense it too.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to normalize menopause. If we could flip society’s notion of women in midlife and see them for their gifts, not for the health transitions they will go through, then the world will be a better place. Families would be more peaceful. More marriages would stay intact. More workplaces would retain high quality senior female leaders. More women would get the medical and wellness help they need. More women would be thriving!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

I came by this lesson from my first employer. We were a small software company in Fargo, North Dakota, and we were taking on a massive industry with our new approach to financial management software. We were kids from North Dakota — not that savviest of places to build a world-changing software company. But he shared this quote with us often, and it, along with our mission to improve the lives and business success of our customers and partners, became our north star. We ended up going public and Microsoft acquired us. It was epic.

I am reminded of this often as I think about our small team at Gennev and our massive mission to empower women to control their health; to normalize menopause; to have a higher quality of life. We are small, but mighty, and I’m reminded of that every time I think of Margaret Mead.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I’d like to have cocktails with Michelle Obama. I think she’s real, she’s funny, she’s deeply honest, and she’s been an inspiration for so many women. She’s my inspiration. Michelle has found her voice and is now using it to help others find theirs. Her humility and courage is off-the-charts admirable, and I’d love to have her voice helping us help so many women around the world. So, I’m putting it out there and hoping to connect with her someday.