podcasts Episode 15

Mae Founder & CEO Maya Hardigan

Leerink Podcast Maya Hardigan Cover Art

June 4, 2024

Sasha Kelemen, Head of Women and Family Healthcare Services and Technology Investment Banking at Leerink Partners, interviews Maya Hardigan, Founder & CEO of Mae. In this episode they discuss Maya’s startup journey, the importance of solving for the needs of underserved mothers, and how the difficulties of the moment do not need to define or limit where we go.

Welcome to Perspectives, Leerink Partners’ signature podcast, where we share our insights and interview leaders across the industry to get their perspective on how they’re driving innovation. We’ll also be digging into the backstory to learn more about what has most influenced their success. Be sure to check out all episodes by Leerink Partners.

Sasha Kelemen: Welcome to the Leerink Perspectives podcast. My name is Sasha Kelemen and I’m your host for today. I’m a director at Leerink Partners where I lead our women’s health investment banking practice as well as provider technology coverage. I’m joined here today by my close friend, Maya Harrigan, who is the founder and CEO of Mae Health, a digital health platform on a mission to reduce maternal health disparities for black women. Maya, thanks for joining us here today on the podcast.

Maya Hardigan: Thank you so much for having me, Sasha. It’s a pleasure.

Sasha Kelemen: Maya, why don’t you give our audience a brief introduction of Mae, your role, set the stage for where we are today.

Maya Hardigan: Sure, I’d love to do that. So, Mae is a digital first services business that, as Sasha said, is really working towards reducing maternal health disparities and poor outcomes for underserved mothers. And really with an initial starting focus on the black maternal health crisis, right? Black women essentially on every measure are faring more poorly with respect to maternal health outcomes, higher rates of pregnancy related death, higher rates of maternal morbidity, higher rates of C-sections with downstream complications, preterm birth rates with often long-term health consequences for our children. We know that so many different things contribute to this, right? But what we are trying to solve for at Mae is really solving for many of those disparate challenges and complexities and circumstance that our moms are dealing with. And we’re doing that in a few ways. One is that we are doing a lot of work through our digital platform to help to understand the complexity of needs that our mothers are experiencing and really going deep into these as we call them, the social determinants of health that may be barriers to one, engaging meaningfully in their own thinking about financial limitations, thinking about transportation support to the doctor, thinking about food security, all of these sorts of things. Second to that, we are very heavily focused on connecting our learnings around lived experience for mom and unmet needs along this pregnancy life cycle to community-based services and interventions that we know work. And specifically, we’ve gleaned very heavily into doula participation in care with a focus on those who are insured under Medicaid. And so, we’re doing a lot of work to help more community-based birth workers of color be in a position to engage in Medicaid and Medicaid reimbursement. And what that is bringing to our moms is a lot of support from someone who may have shared lived experience and adding cultural congruency to care teams, but essentially just making sure that our moms have someone they can trust and talk to along that maternal health life cycle from early pregnancy to a year postpartum. Thirdly, we’re also doing a lot of work to build towards virtual support and education. And so, we’re doing something that we call Mae Mama classes, which are targeted and topic, topic-based virtual education classes that are led by experts of color in maternal health. Focusing on things like earlier symptom identification and awareness for mothers, thinking about self-care advocacy and pregnancy, preparing for successful breastfeeding and all of these sorts of things. What I will say on the business side for us is that we are very focused on value-based care. When we think about wanting to drive towards more investment dollars and more holistic services for our most underserved mothers, we know that one of the approaches to doing that is to ensure that we have a financial ROI for our plan partners associated with this more robust provision of services. In that sense, I very much think of Mae as a value-based care play around Medicaid maternity in particular, and helping us to do better in terms of maternal health outcomes, but also around maternal health, clinical cost of care, and really partnering with our plan partners to try to get that right and to align incentives so that as we’re creating more value and more opportunity and more support for the mothers we serve, we’re also serving the plan in terms of better managing that cost piece. And so, it’s been a real honor to do this so far and we’re looking forward to just doing more of what we’re doing now.

Sasha Kelemen: Maya it sounds incredible. I mean, especially given the massive unmet need in the US around maternal healthcare even more exacerbated for black mothers, really incredible work. I would really love to set the stage for our conversation today. Ultimately, the number one priority is to really get to know you. So, the person behind the c-suite, founder title and company behind every leader, there’s really an incredible path filled with unexpected twists, pivotal experiences and critical moments of truth. And we acknowledge that your path was likely not a straight and narrow, and that’s probably a good thing. I personally have a thesis that in order for someone to truly persevere, it’s critical to first identify one common data point in common with a leader who has already made it by sharing your story. It’s my hope that this inspires the next generation of leaders to overcome potentially new challenges or pursue new innovations in healthcare that they otherwise may have ultimately viewed as unattainable. And so, with this backdrop and your incredible experience in the space, I like to just run through a really quick exercise to kind of help our audience get to know you a little bit better. If you had to pick three identities to describe yourself outside of your role as CEO and founder of Mae, what do you think they would be and why would you pick those three identities?

Maya Hardigan: What I would say about my own upbringing is that I didn’t see great examples. I didn’t have many individuals who were working in entrepreneurship who looked like me. And so, I think there’s really a great need to broaden or redefine what and who we think of as a successful founder, and I appreciate the opportunity and platform just to share a little bit. In terms of three identities of mine that fall outside of work, first and foremost, I’m a mother of three little girls, ages 10, 8 and 5. And I think it is largely because of them that I’m here wanting to see a different future for them when we think about health equity and opportunity, but also wanting to model for them the power that each of us has in making a difference in the world. And there are lots of different ways to do that, but I think for me, it was important for my daughters to be alongside me in this journey, and I think that they are a large driver of why I’m here. So I’m a parent. I’m sure you can appreciate having three little ones and being a startup founder is not easy, but that is by and far my most difficult job and my most important one. And so that I would say is probably my first identity. I’ll also share on more of a fun note that I am a gardener.

Sasha Kelemen: Oh, you have a green thumb.

Maya Hardigan: Yeah, I have increasingly a greener thumb. I’m learning as I go.

Sasha Kelemen: I’ll have to learn from you, then. I can’t seem to keep any plant alive.

Maya Hardigan: This is funny because this also stems somewhat from my startup journey. I think that I personally was struggling a lot with the stress and anxiety and the emotional weight of being in this role. And so, I think constantly about what are opportunities for self-care and what are opportunities for de-stressing, right? And I started gardening as a hobby actually back in 2020, right? In the early days of Covid, but also in my early days of Mae. And it’s been such an interesting thing for me because it is truly an activity that I think is so good for our collective mental health and something that really helps me to feel a shift in that stress and anxiety. And so that’s something I would definitely recommend for any and all of us who have a lot on our plate and can occasionally feel overwhelmed by that. What I would also say in terms of number three, I would describe myself as an advocate in minority health. And again, this is something that I lean more and more into each year. I think about this constantly, and it’s in some cases because of experiences that I’ve seen across my family and my loved ones, we need to be better supported. I do believe that there’s a legacy of trauma going back generations for many of us. And I think that sometimes the emotional toll that takes can impact just how we exist in the world. And even more so in my work at Mae, right, it’s not just about healthcare as I was saying before, it’s really about the totality of that lived experience and making sure that we are feeling whole and we are feeling well, and we can have the right set of circumstances and support around us to be able to thrive. And many of us don’t have that. And so, I think that minority health goes far beyond healthcare itself. And this is something that I feel very, very passionate about and more so by the year is just driving towards robust mental, physical health for minorities and driving towards opportunities to allow us to be our best.

Sasha Kelemen: I love that and could not be better said. I know we’ve talked about some of this in the past, and you and I share a lot of similarities and values and some experiences. For completeness, I thought I would share with you some of my three identities. Number one, same as you. I know we’ve talked about our girls in the past, mother of two, two daughters, one and three, and they are feisty and curious and the best part of my day, similarly, a large part of why I’m focused on women’s health here at Leerink is so that they have a better future when they grow up and better access to care that is unique and curated and supportive of their unique anatomy. Number two for me would be immigrants. I was born in Venezuela. I moved to the states when I was quite young and sort of straddled multiple cultures in the us now, I’ve spent the majority of my life and career here for sure, and US citizen, but is an important part of my identity and my culture and speaks Spanish to my girls, for example. They’re growing up bilingual. And third is feminist, which I think ties to, I have a twin brother, but it’s just us two, we grew up very competitive, but also with incredible parents that supported us to become the best version of ourselves and didn’t necessarily define our roles, our studies, our extracurriculars based on what society previously deemed are things that girls should do or boys should do. So, I think those are areas that have really been personally motivating and critical for my personal and professional development. And I know those are a lot of areas that similarities through your identity. So, no surprise that we’re having this conversation today.

Maya Hardigan: I just have to say, as a side note, I respect so much the work that you’re doing in women’s health and the particular focus there. We need people like you doing it.

Sasha Kelemen:  It is a collaborative effort. A rising tide truly lifts all boats in this space. Look, Maya, let’s maybe take a step back. I’d love to better understand a little more about your early path. You mentioned a little bit about your family and potentially not having those examples or plethora of examples out there but tell me a little bit about your family. Where did you grow up? Do you have any other siblings? What was your home like as a child?

Maya Hardigan:  I grew up in metropolitan DC so in Maryland and Virginia primarily my extended family is in Louisiana, so I also spent a lot of time in Louisiana growing up. I am one of two children of a single mother. We did not have a lot of money, and I think this is really important to the point that I was making earlier around ensuring the totality of needs are met. I think that when I was growing up, there was a lot of emotional support, yes, but there was also a lot of financial insecurity, a lot of uncertainty around a lot of things. And I think that for me, part of my takeaway from that is just how distracting it was for my mother. And I think this goes to Maslow’s hierarchy. When we think about individuals being able to care for themselves, we have to make sure that their most basic needs are met first and otherwise a focus on oneself becomes very difficult. And so what I would say of my mother and my upbringing is that there was a lot of grit. There was a lot of love. There was a lot of my mom working from every direction to make sure that my brother and I were well supported as best that she could provide that. But there was also a lot of stress. There was a lot of anxiety. And I think that my mom over the course of my upbringing was I don’t think she often had the emotional space or capacity to take care of herself. And so, this is also something that really is a heavy focus for me in my work and in the maternal health space is mom is really the anchor of any family and mom has to be well in order for the rest of the family to also thrive. And so that’s just something that I think about all the time is again, just around this complexity of needs and making sure that when we think about one’s healthcare and one’s capacity to really thrive in life, that we’re thinking broadly about all of those experiences that allow an individual to really focus there.

Sasha Kelemen: It sounds like your upbringing was one safe upbringing filled with love, not without its challenges, especially financial hardships. And in terms of, it sounds like your mother likely was quite a resilient woman to raise two children on her own and be the sole and primary breadwinner while creating examples of what that could look like in a very challenging world. I can only imagine what was a lot for her. Are there any kind of maybe values or lessons or things that maybe your mom or your brother you kind of grew up with that maybe have guided some of your experiences as you’ve grown up perhaps?

Maya Hardigan: I think resilience is a big one. And you said it, the difficulties of the moment do not need to define or limit where we go. And I think that’s always been something that is really front and center in my life. You move past the difficulties of the moment, but you move towards something bigger and something more secure. And we always just have to remind ourselves not to be self-limiting. I would say that that’s something that my family really did instill in me, a focus on education, a focus on hard work and a focus on graduating above and beyond where we may have started. And so, I think that’s very front and center for me at all times.

Sasha Kelemen: And as you were thinking around potential paths through maybe it was high school or college and thinking about college, if that was even something that was on your path, I guess, what did you initially think about being an option for you when you grew up? Did you ever think that you would be a CEO? Did you grow up thinking you’d be a doctor or a lawyer or a different vocation? Curious what childhood Maya thought of?

Maya Hardigan: Yeah, childhood Maya was a little bit all over the place. I never thought I would be a CEO, I was a dancer, so I spent 18 years of my life doing classical ballet, and so I would probably toggle between, yes, at times thinking I would be a doctor and at other times thinking I would be a professional ballerina and I would’ve loved that path too. Let’s be honest, I never thought I would be a CEO,  I’ll admit to you, Sasha, even as an adult, I never thought I would be a CEO, right? I think that my decision to have found Mae came much later for me. I may have been 39 when I made this decision to found Mae. And I think it was really rooted in where I was emotionally at that particular moment in time, but it’s not something that I ever envisioned for myself as a young person. I will say that I was very interested in health, and so at times I did think I would be a doctor when I was younger. I had a couple of internships when I was in undergrad at Duke where I thought maybe this sort of hands-on in a clinical setting is not suited to me and my personality and I’m a little bit of germaphobe and not comfortable in all aspects of that. I don’t think I would’ve been the best doctor per se, but I think it really opened my eyes to other roles that I could play in healthcare and equity and access and that piece of it and I think I’ve always felt some of that really from the time I was a child.

Sasha Kelemen: It sounds like you always set the bar pretty high in terms of potential vocations, professional ballerinas, not for the lighthearted or being a doctor or a mom of three girls or a founder and CEO. And you mentioned you went to Duke for university and potentially had a few either internships or roles in healthcare. Was your study focused in healthcare or other areas and did that evolve over your period of time at Duke? And I also know you were at Columbia for your MBA curious what that education groundwork, you mentioned the focus of your mom growing up, always focusing on education. My parents always told me similarly, that’s something that no one can take from you. You’ll always have what’s in your brain and what you’ve developed. Intellectually curious how you’ve thought about where to focus your studies either at Duke or Columbia.

Maya Hardigan: So, at Duke it was all healthcare. I double majored actually in biology and in psychology with a neuroscience focus in psychology. And so, I’ve always been very interested in both health but also behavioral psychology right, and the cognitive aspect of health. And so that has always been a focus area for me and something that I found very interesting when I was in undergrad though, I don’t think I had a clear sense of how I would apply that. And so, I was someone who came out of undergrad, really had my eye on the ball. I went to business school. I went to business school very young at 23 and in business school I was using that opportunity to learn a lot more around the business of health and then where I may want to focus. And I don’t think I have a clear sense of that in my late teenage years through undergrad and even in my early to mid-twenties, I think this experience for me has been shaped a little bit more opportunistically and or it would be appropriate for me to say that I tested the waters in many different directions until I found the thing that really stimulated my brain but also filled my heart. And so directly out of business school, I went into healthcare management consulting, and I really worked across all of the healthcare ecosystem. There were some aspects of that that I found very interesting and certain aspects of that I found less interesting. And so, it’s really been an ongoing exercise in learning and just leaning into the pieces that really filled me.

Sasha Kelemen: I think management consulting is also a great career platform, especially early on in your early twenties to get exposure to different business models, different companies more often than not. I also saw a lot of friends from business school go that path and then most of ’em like yourself ended up transitioning after a few years on the management consulting track and on the weekly Sunday night and Thursday flight back transitioning to in-house on the either strategy side or innovation. And you made a similar pivot a few years after your time in consulting and joined Pfizer where you went on to have a truly remarkable, I believe,11-year career. Thank you. More than a decade career Pfizer, which is incredible, right? And you did a few different roles there. Can you maybe walk me through a little bit of what was that transition like for you from consulting to Pfizer and potentially a little bit of a flavor for what were you responsible for at Fiverr and Pfizer and how did that potentially evolve over time?

Maya Hardigan:  I’ll start by just saying that management consulting is a hard lifestyle, but it’s also such a unique opportunity because I started working in management consulting I think at age 24 as an MBA summer intern. I was young, I didn’t know a whole lot on the business side, but it put me in very senior rooms and as a junior consultant at that time, I wasn’t running the show, but I was listening and I was learning and I was absorbing and I was learning how so many of these senior healthcare leaders thought and operated and made decisions. And so, some of that has come full circle. I did that for a handful of years and from a lifestyle perspective, it’s not hugely sustainable. I did want something other than the Sunday night to Thursday being away from home and not really being able to build much of a life around it, but I’m grateful for the experience that I had. Yes, I did transition from management consulting after a handful of years to Pfizer and spent 11 years there. Pfizer was also a great experience for me. I did have a few different roles. I started there in corporate strategy and then we founded a sister team to that which was corporate innovation, which really worked across Pfizer’s functional businesses to think about strategic growth opportunities, efficiencies, all of these sorts of things. But after a few years there, I actually pivoted to a role in clinical innovation, specifically I found in lead an internal capability called M Clinical that focused on mobile and digital innovation and incubation of technologies and approaches that were patient facing really with the goal of driving towards more robust healthcare access, but also drove towards diversification and retention in clinical trials. And so a lot of the work that I would say pharma has been for decades to try to diversify clinical trials and in doing so to diversify our understanding of medicines, right? We know that is a huge root of healthcare disparities as well. So I stayed in that role for a long time. I was working with a lot of startups, frankly, in the digital health space, and that’s been really helpful to me. Now, some of those CEOs I’m still in touch with and they are mentors to me now, and it’s been really wonderful to be able to lean on them because this is a learning experience for me. I did transition in my final years at Pfizer to managing a broad internal innovation focused TMO. It was about 30 work streams that had involvement from about 300 colleagues, and it really focused on helping Pfizer to get towards next generation innovation in drug development. And so there was a big budget we were managing. There were lots of different work streams we were managing. I think it really helped me, again, to understand how to engage and work with senior leaders within Pfizer. And admittedly, I was very lucky to have had that experience for all of my 11 years there from the time I started in the corporate strategy team. I think it’s really important for founders to have operational experience and to understand deeply how spend decisions are made, how senior leaders in healthcare organizations think about efficiencies and where to put dollars versus not. And so, I really loved that experience. I would also say though, Sasha, that during that experience I was doing quite a bit of maternal health nonprofit work, and so I had a taste of maternal health experience on the social impact side, and I came to a point where I said, I’ve been here at Pfizer for 11 years. Either I can stay and I can become a lifer and I can do this for the rest of my career, which I don’t think would’ve been a bad thing. I think the work that I was doing there was really important, or I can pivot and make a change and that change will be easy for me or feel comfortable for me, but it may better serve my interests and what I want to do and accomplish and change in the world and in the healthcare ecosystem. And so that was not an easy move for me to make at my age. I think I was very comfortable in the job I had. I could do it fairly easily. And becoming a first-time founder from that point was a little bit of a water hose hitting you in the face. There was a very, very steep learning curve. But I think there was a lot that I took out of my experience both in management consulting and at Pfizer that prepared me to do this well. And for that I’m very grateful.

Sasha Kelemen: It sounds like when you were putting together and launching the M clinical platform at Pfizer, that sounds very, spending a lot of time with startups in the early stage community innovation community, it sounds like that might’ve been the first seeds planted of the entrepreneurial itch, I would presume and could have been a good way to sort of test A and B test within a larger strategic with a much larger capital resources and capabilities for you to potentially, I would assume, see, do you have the skillset to do this? And evidently you do, which is why you’re now founder and CEO of Mae. Were there managers or sponsors who really helped shape your career, especially at such a large organization? It can sometimes feel, and younger generations have sometimes commented, they feel like just the number, right. And so how did you think about navigating your career trajectory through these different moves as you moved up the rank as you potentially started managing teams or receiving more responsibility?

Maya Hardigan: Yeah, so I had a lot of support at Pfizer, and I do think that that had a lot to do with the particular leaders I was working for and under. I’m still very close to the person who was my boss for the majority of those 11 years, and he was my boss as I was also navigating this major life change of having three kids and trying to figure out how to be a working mother and not feel like crap on either side, just being able to navigate all of what was demanded of me at work and also all of what was demanded of me at home. And I think for all of us who are working mothers, there are moments of feeling like doing both things may not be possible or you’re working so hard, you’re working at 150%, but you don’t feel like you’re playing either of those two roles well enough. And so, I would actually credit one boss in particular with providing me with the support I needed to even stay in the workforce during that very stressful moment of my life. And I’m really grateful to have had that level of support because I think without it, it would be very easy for many of us to fall out of the workforce at that stage. So, a lot of my continuity there, a lot of my evolution there, I would credit with strong managers that I had and managers who were really thinking a lot about my own journey and development there and really sustaining some of what I needed to be able to balance those two identities all at once. And so, I think that’s really important. And what I would say for someone who’s younger and entering the workforce and someone who really feels like they don’t have that support around their path would just be to find it. One of the things about these very large entities is that there are a lot of jobs, there are a lot of roles, and it’s really important to find the right fit of doing something that interests you, something that you can feel some passion around, but also finding the right leadership and support team to surround yourself with because none of us want to be miserable at work where we’re spending so many hours of our life. And I would say that mentorship management can sometimes be as important in that equation as the particular role itself.

Sasha Kelemen: I could not agree more. And it sounds like you were able to develop that and cultivate that relationship with that key sponsor and leader, and again, differentiate sponsorship versus mentorship and one that is there pounding the table for you when you’re not there for advocating for promotions, for compensation opportunities and career development. Oftentimes I am also when speaking with either those folks kind of just graduating about to start their career, especially for people of color or diverse perspectives. And if they have a difficult time seeing someone that looks like them or thinks like them, they might have a more challenging time resonating and really even identifying that potential sponsor to help them through their career or relating to them in some way. So were there any potential strategies or how did you identify this manager? Was it a direct report or direct line that you had from your role? And then were there potential things that you thought about in terms of navigating that relationship so that it would be mutually beneficial and ultimately rewarding for the long run?

Maya Hardigan: That one fell into my lap. I’ll be honest. The particular manager I’m referencing here is someone who I worked with when I started at Pfizer in the corporate strategy team, and I got to know him over the course of a few years before going to work for him. And so in that sense, it didn’t feel like a wild card. It felt like someone I knew and could trust and who I respected both professionally but also respected very deeply on a personal level in terms of his focus on equity, his commitment to family, his support, and this was a man, but obviously his support around women in the workforce and diversity in the workforce. I think all of these were principles that I could see in this person and I deeply respected and so learn people. I know that especially in this day and age, not everyone stays at a particular employer for 11 years as I did, but taking opportunities to outreach and learn people and learn who they are on a personal level in addition to who they are professionally. One of the things that I will say is that when I started to think about moving away from Pfizer and doing something that was a little bit more social impact focused, right before I decided very specifically to found Mae, I was challenging myself to get to know more people. And by that I said, “okay, Maya, you are naturally introverted. You’re a little bit shy. It’s outside of your comfort zone to just go out and walk into a work happy hour and make those introductions.” And so, I challenged myself to do a little bit of a better job networking. And what that was for me was outreaching to people every two weeks. So, if that meant I was sending a note to someone at Pfizer and saying, it been really great to meet you, I’d love to get to know your work. If that meant that I was outreaching folks externally, maybe in the startup ecosystem or in the VC community and saying, “this is the work I’ve been doing. I’d love to meet and share and learn.” I challenged myself to do that a little bit more proactively. And I think that was really, really great for me, right? Because I learned what new opportunities within Pfizer could look like. But I also learned about the world of opportunities outside of Pfizer, and I think that there were some that weren’t for me, I would say that venture capital is an example. It was really, really special to learn about it. It was really special and additive for me to learn and understand how they evaluate startups, how they work in supporting their startups, because I think it grew my entrepreneurial understanding, but at the same time, I didn’t come out of those conversations and say, I want to be a venture capitalist. I came out those conversations saying it could be really cool to be an entrepreneur. And so again, to my point that I was making earlier around not necessarily having a clear idea of where I wanted to go, I think this experience of really pushing myself to have conversations, network and learn, every single one of those conversations to some extent shaped where I ultimately landed.

Sasha Kelemen: And as you were going through that evaluation process of both getting to know different individuals inside and outside of Pfizer, the different potential next career phase for you, maybe we can talk a little bit about your eventual transition to May. It sounds like starting something out of nothing in a space in the category that has been historically misunderstood, underfunded, I think the qualities of someone that they need in order to succeed is grit, is determination, resiliency, and a really big passion, which I think you embody. But these are things that are not without stress and anxiety, which sound actually a lot of parallels and similarities to when you were referencing where you grew up and how you grew up and the kind of role model that your mother played for you. So as you were thinking 11 years at Pfizer, evidently doing absolutely well continue to see career advancement and promotions, what made you decide, okay, I’m going to, as you mentioned in your early forties, I’m going to step away and become a first time founder and I’m going to focus on black maternal care and black maternal health and health equity.

Maya Hardigan: Oh my gosh, it was such an emotional decision. Sasha, what I’ll say to you is I actually think that a lot of the events of the summer of 2020 brought me to Mae. I mentioned that I had been doing maternal health nonprofit work for about eight years up until that point. The social unrest in the summer of 2020 pushed me to land here.

Sasha Kelemen: You’re referring to the Black Lives Matters Movement, correct?

Maya Hardigan: Yeah, exactly. So, I live in Brooklyn. A lot of those racial injustice protests were coming down my street, thousands of people sometimes me and my girls and my husband were out there marching at other times we were on our stoop with signs and cheering those protesters on. And it was so emotional for me. I would have individuals walk up to my stoop and walk up to my girls who at the time I think were, I don’t know, one and four and six and say, “black girls matter”, chant this to our protestors. And for my babies to be doing that, I was just so emotional. I was crying and crying and crying and just thinking, having lots of conversations, I think with my husband, with my community of friends, with everyone I knew about how we could thrive and advance equity and try to work towards just more equitable treatment of people in the world. And I think that was a very emotional moment for so many people. And it was for me where I think I had maybe more of an emotional as opposed to a rational decision, particularly given the age of my kids to say, I’m going throw it all in the bag up a lot of my earnings. I’m going to pivot and do this thing that will just be social impact and racial equity focused. And I think that, again, the reason I say it was more of an emotional decision than a rational decision was I’ll be transparent in saying I had really no idea what that entailed in terms of understanding the day-to-day of what it meant to be a startup founder and a first-time founder. That was a lot to take on with three little kids. And so for me, however, I was feeling this massive, massive void, especially in thinking about and just being challenged around how to talk to my kids around why the people were marching and why we had to be out there with them marching. And I kept thinking to myself, yes, there’s one approach of giving money to causes we care about and causes that can drive towards a more equitable society, but there’s a bigger thing to do, which is actually putting your time and putting your knowledge towards those things. So actually committing yourself instead of just committing your dollars. And I think committing the dollars are very important too, if you have the capacity to do that towards any particular objective you care about. And so that was part of our approach as a family, but I also felt an extreme need to put myself in a position to try to drive towards some of those improvements I wanted to see in the world. And so it was not a rational decision, it was an emotional one. It was something that could help me start doing and stop crying and really put my attention and energy towards something that I felt would be very meaningful. And that was what led me to found Mae and really just sit down and start putting pen to paper on what could this look like, number one, but also what can my specific value add be to this area? And I think this is really important for me to say that a lot of the work that Mae is doing, I think is the culmination of incredibly hard community-based work that black birth workers and others have really been doing for generations. When I was sitting down and thinking, what can I do in this space? It is really pulling together those clinically effective interventions, but then using my experience from the many, many years I’ve had in healthcare and working with senior healthcare leaders to put more of those clinically effective interventions on a path to reimbursement and to drive towards broader access of those interventions to mothers of color. And so that is a big part of what Mae is it is helping to get more funding, more dollars, more services to our most underserved mothers. And in doing so, really driving towards healthier beginnings and more opportunity for our children.

Sasha Kelemen: So impactful, honestly. Got chills when you were sharing your story there and can definitely imagine what that experience has been like sitting on the stoop with your girls. I do remember being in New York during that summer and of course also in the middle of a pandemic. So quite a lot to wrap around. But I know I want to touch on one comment thread, which I think does tie to the focus of the movement, the community, not the need for sure, but really coming together and being responsive to the needs of the individual. And one thing that I know we’ve talked about in the past is making sure that you are staying true to your vision and focus as a CEO, as a black woman and black mother, and thinking through the various stakeholders that are part of your business. And so that includes, of course, yourselves, your management team, your investors, the doula population that you are activating and many others and lives that you are touching and ultimately patients. But curious if you can share whether it’s an example or maybe a learning or something that potential insight that came up over the last year or two or three through the various stakeholders that are part of May. I’m curious if there was anything that’s come up that’s made you pivot a potential business strategy or product launch or even the way in which you might communicate something.

Maya Hardigan: What I would say to you, Sasha, is that we’ve actually pivoted very little, right? And I think that is an exercise in stakeholder alignment that in and of itself could be my full-time job here. And so, I say that because a huge focus for us at May is on focusing on the needs of those who are publicly insured, so covered under Medicaid insurance. And I think it’s really important to say that when we think about the black maternal health crisis, it is not limited to black mothers who are in those lower socioeconomic thresholds, if you will. I think the disparities that we see irrespective of educational levels, irrespective of income. So a lot of moms like me who have graduate degrees, who have high levels of health literacy, who have some financial capacity, are still burdened by these disparities and outcomes. Having said that, early on when I was doing work to think about Mae and what it could be, I was actually doing a lot of work to think about how can we reach the most scale? What are the pockets of most extreme need? And part of that exercise for me being a former management consultant, was actually looking at who is the primary payer of black births. Having children while under Medicaid insurance was not my lived experience as a black woman, and it is not the lived experience for all of us by any means, but in a given state, we might see about 65% of black mothers who are covered under Medicaid insurance. And so when I was thinking about May in the earliest days, I said, we need to think about and build for the primary care of black births, and that is Medicaid managed care. And so we really built in that direction from the start. What I would say about this space, and this is going to tie to the stakeholder alignment point I want to make, is that it looks very different from operating in commercial. And so it has a very different margin profile. It is a massive volume but lower margin game. And it is also very complex from an execution perspective. Unlike Medicare, Medicaid operates at the state level, budgets, regulations, reimbursement practices, all of these things are specific to one individual state not applying across all 50. And what that means is that when you’re operating in Medicaid managed care, as people often say, knowing one state and Medicaid managed care is knowing one state and Medicaid managed care because every state is different. And so the reason I raised this in response to your question, Sasha, is because having been through a few fundraising rounds, it is something that can be difficult to navigate. My position is, and my position has always been, if you can figure out Medicaid maternity cost containment and value-based care in Medicaid, that is a massive opportunity for a business. What I think investors would sometimes see when looking at my company was just a business that was less attractive on margin relevant to commercial alternatives. And so I think one piece of this stakeholder alignment is having the right stakeholders and having the right partners in the first place. And so if for example, I was pitching an investor and they’re very fixated on how our margins compare to other maternal health companies that exist in operate in the commercial space, it was really important for me to speak up and say, you are not our right investor, right? Because we are a mission-based business focused on health equity and minority health. We understand value-based care in Medicaid, and that’s where we’re putting our weight. If you want to go and invest in a generalist maternal health company who operates in the commercial space, then this is the wrong business for you to consider. And I think our ability to be very resolute in making those decisions, particularly, which is Sasha, particularly very hard in a difficult fundraising market, but I think our staying resolute on that and making sure that we brought in the right investors also meant that we were compiling a mission aligned board. And it also meant that I was not having, I am not currently having to fight to stay focused on Medicaid managed care because our investors and our board, by and large are aligned with that approach. And I’ve been very clear on that being the focus of our business from the very start. And so investor management is tricky, but I think we’ve done a good job in finding the right investors who are focused not only on financial returns, really confident that we can unlock value-based care dollars in Medicaid maternity, but also who are mission aligned with where we’re going. And so I think that that’s the biggest challenge is just cherry picking to the extent that you can folks who are aligned with your principles, and of course there’s always going to be guidance on opportunities to strengthen the business to make it more efficient. There will be tweaks, but we have not experienced a large pivot. And I think the reason we have not experienced a large pivot is because we built our community of partners while being very clear around our mission and impact goals. And I think in the course of doing that, we can also say, Hey, if and when we deliver, and I do believe that we are and we’re showing great progress in this regard, unlocking value-based care in maternity within the Medicaid space is hugely valuable from a financial return perspective as well. It takes time and it takes a lot of depth of understanding and it takes a lot of commitment. But I do believe that it’s an incredibly valuable space to be in both in terms of mission and impact. And if you can get it right on value-based care and Medicaid also on financial return,

Sasha Kelemen: Incredible. And not without its challenges, the business model, there’s a reason why it’s so difficult and no one’s really cracked that solution yet. But sounds like you’ve been very focused and very much in the driver’s seat of selecting who do you have at the table around you both in terms of investors, advisors, community members? I assume majority of your employees also fit that similar mission-driven perspective, which is critical. And so to think about now coming up on four years as a founder and CEO, and again, the business has evolved over time from an idea to a real tangible business with contracts and traction and providing the care that majority of the US maternal care population for black women is lacking. So how has your leadership style or management style evolved over time through the evolution of Mae? And as you earlier becoming a mother was a pivotal moment and evolution for you personally and professionally. Curious how that blends itself into your role as CEO at Mae?

Maya Hardigan: Yeah, I don’t think my approach as CEO is typical and you think about this sort of health or health tech or technology as bro culture. When we think about CEOs, I think I am humble. I think I lead with a clear gratitude for being in the position to play in this space. And I think that I always feel a degree of gratitude or humility to everyone who has become a part of it, whether it be our investors or our employees who are so important to me. I think one thing that is unique about our employees is we do have, I would say a hundred percent of our employees who feel a deep passion for the work that we’re doing. Ironically, it’s a hundred percent women. My team is all women up until this point, disproportionately women of color and black women. And I think it’s really important to say that I have compromised not an iota to have this team. I think these are the most brilliant people of any gender, of any race to be doing this work. They are the best of the best. And so I think it’s important to point out when we think about diversity on teams, we should not think of diversity in building teams as a tradeoff to quality. That has not been my experience in building this team. This is the strongest and most efficient and most effective team of people I have ever worked with in my career to date. And so, it’s really important to me to be really transparent around what this experience is to my entire team. And so, I think if we’re having a difficult moment in the business that we’re needing to work past, and I would say one example of that is just the fundraising environment we’ve been in over the last two years. So, we closed a raise in September of last year, but the year and a half leading up to that Sasha, it was just killing me softly. It was so difficult, and I think for me, always being transparent with my team and saying, this is the runway we have, this is the work that we’re doing to close this raise, this is what we’re dealing with, and always working towards making this feel like a collaboration and a partnership and a family. As it pertains to my internal team, I think that that is my style of leadership and I think that it’s served us well as a team. I think there’s a depth of personal connections and relationships on my team that is something I haven’t really experienced before professionally, and I think a lot of the younger women on my team have also not experienced before, let alone in a company that is as diverse as ours. Most certainly. I would say that when I started this journey and we had a very small team, everything was consensus driven, right? Sasha. So we would sit down, let’s say in the time that our team was five people in that first year, we would sit down, we would talk through every decision, and it was definitely a situation where everyone had an equal vote in terms of thinking about pros and cons of going down different paths. And we would make consensus decisions together all the time. One of the things that’s been a little bit tricky for me to navigate is how that evolves. How you actually go from being a consensus driven team of 5 to being a team of 20 at a different stage and focused on efficiency and scale up and how you actually evolve the organization alongside that growth, right? Because we’re large enough now that not everything can be a consensus level decision. If that were the case, we would just get stuck in rumination, and we wouldn’t be getting things done at the pace that we need to. And so that’s been a particular challenge for me because I think my natural inclination is to have that consensus driven approach and sort of nonhierarchical approach to leadership. But as the company grows, that feels a little bit more difficult to do in practice. And so that’s an evolution that we are currently experiencing. And one where for me as a leader, it’s been difficult. It’s been challenging because it is not the way that I want to work, but it’s the way that a leader stage company that’s a little bit larger has to work. But I think my leadership approach rather is generally speaking, consensus driven and one where we work towards hearing and considering the opinions of everyone on the team and just being incredibly transparent around the decisions we’re making for the business. And I believe that that helps everyone to be a little bit more bought into the approach and the direction and a little bit more engaged around the success.

Sasha Kelemen: Maya, it sounds like your team is really lucky to have such a visionary leader at the helm and really showing paving the way of how things can be done and how to your point is not typical across business or healthcare or sort of c-suite level executives broadly, but I think by shining light on your example, it will and I hope provide future generations and an opportunity to see of what a different style and different type of leader could look like that is just as effective, just as successful, and potentially be able to pave the way for new generations. I know we have, I think just for one quick final question that I’d love to end on is now looking back, what is potentially a piece of advice that you would give to your younger self or maybe something that you would share with your daughters, perhaps?

Maya Hardigan: Oh gosh. There is a piece of advice that I would give to my younger self, and it’s a piece of advice that I continue to give myself, which is, don’t be your own harshest critic. Just trust in the journey and trust that if you are working hard, that you’re going to make positive advances. I would guess that many startup founders are people who put a lot of pressure on themselves, and also perhaps people who struggle with a degree of anxiety because we want things to change. We care so much about what we’re doing, we care so much about the people working for us. And what I would say, Sasha, to the comment you just made is as lucky as you say, my team is to have me. I feel an immense gratitude to have them right and to be working with such a passionate group of people. And so I hope that all of the younger women on my team can also know, appreciate that we’re making a new market. We’re working in an incredibly difficult space. And I think that we just have to allow ourselves a little bit of grace to make mistakes along the way, but also to make sure that we’re not losing sight of the goal. And so, if I could give my college self some advice, it would be stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Work hard and the hard work will lead, yield the benefit that you’re looking for. And I continue to give that piece of advice to myself today, and it’s something that I always aspire to do and manage a little bit better.

 Sasha Kelemen: Incredible, incredible advice. Thank you, Maya. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Truly has been incredibly inspiring. And thank you for joining us today on the podcast.

 Maya Hardigan: Thank you, Sasha. I so appreciate the time with you as always, and so appreciate this opportunity to share. Thank you for having me.

Thank you for listening to this episode of our Perspectives podcast. If you are interested in participating in future podcasts or would like to learn more about Leerink Partners, please email us at info@leerink.com.

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