A Compass Conversation with Lydia Zeller, digital health entrepreneur & CEO of Pelvital
June 2, 2022
Recently we spoke with Lydia Zeller, who recently joined Pelvital as CEO, about her thoughts on the direction of consumer healthcare for women.
You recently joined Pelvital as CEO. What inspired you to join the company?
I joined Pelvital because we are fundamentally a get-your-life-back company making a huge difference in daily quality of life in an area – female urinary incontinence – where historically women have suffered from stigma and lack of accessible, effective solutions. It was also a fantastic opportunity to formally join the amazing community of entrepreneurs passionate about making a real difference in how we view and empower all aspects of women’s health. This is an incredibly vibrant space and we have the tailwinds of change behind us.
What motivates and excites me is empowering people in their health and bringing the same level of joy, ease, and convenience to healthcare that we enjoy in most of our consumer experiences. This is particularly meaningful in areas where people have given up hope or are unaware that there are options.
I believe our team at Pelvital has a unique opportunity to make a real difference for women. Pelvital’s current offering, Flyte, is an easy, clinically proven treatment to cure bladder leakers in the privacy of a woman’s home. Incontinence affects a third of all women, including new moms, athletes, and peri- and post-menopausal women. Yet the vast majority cope rather than treat, adjusting lifestyle around the issue. Incontinence has a HUGE impact on quality of life. It’s linked to double the rate of severe depression and to significantly lower sexual activity. Incontinence is ranked in the top three negative impactors on quality of life, right behind stroke and Alzheimer’s. It is a major contributor to nursing home admissions in the elderly.
Any health issue causing a negative impact on a third of women should be a national emergency and yet incontinence is still not widely and openly discussed much less treated. We are on a mission to change that.
What are the top 3 consumer insights that you think will have the biggest impact on consumer health and wellness?
First, consumer demand for a retail-like, e-commerce experience in healthcare. Consumers have become increasingly frustrated with the complexity and confusion of the healthcare system. Even back in 2020 a study facilitated by the Harris Poll found that 67% of consumers feel that “every step of the process is a chore” and 81% feel that “shopping for healthcare should be as easy as shopping for other common services”. The pandemic, which accelerated adoption of a profusion of digital and virtual solutions, opened consumers’ eyes to what convenient, accessible healthcare can look like. And yet in some ways it added more complexity via more non-integrated options. There are a few digital/virtual providers doing very interesting things to bridge that gap, but as a system we still have a long way to go to provide a pleasant and frictionless consumer experience across the increasing number of care options and across the continuum of care (wellness to acute). We also have a long way to go before the reimbursement system effectively aligns the interests of consumer, provider and payer.
In addition to digital/virtual care, I believe that omnichannel retail health, including OTC options, will play an increasingly important role. If we are forcing consumers to, as the Harris Poll study states, be their own “general contractor” in their care, and with the increasing trend towards high-deductible plans, when feasible consumers will increasingly use their FSA/HSA dollars to shop for healthcare in the same way we shop for anything else. We want immediate access, to know our costs upfront, to comparison shop, reviews, and money-back guarantees. And why not? As CEO I put our money behind our product – why is this so rare in healthcare?
Long-term, the players who can seamlessly bundle together digital, virtual, retail, and traditional brick-and-mortar care to deliver stellar consumer experience and outcomes under a true value-based payment model will be huge winners. And so will their customers.
Second, a pandemic-spurred consumer reassessment of priorities that places value on multi-faceted wellbeing. COVID made it vividly clear that every moment counts and that we can shift the way we live in ways we never dreamed. More and more consumers are prioritizing making time for physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. We are looking for balance, purpose, more out of life, stepping out of our comfort zone, wanting to feel good as well as look good. I have personally benefited from this and I am not only happier but also more productive. Healthier, happier team members drive better results.
The flip side of this is an increase in disparity. It is a luxury to be able to dedicate time and money to our wellbeing. More fundamentally it is a luxury to be able to navigate, access and pay for basic healthcare much less discretionary wellbeing. Several years ago we began talking about social determinants of health. Now we are talking about health equity – where everyone has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential”. Those of us at the forefront of women’s health have the privilege as well as the obligation to figure out ways to move the needle forward for all women on this frontier.
Third, we are talking more openly about our struggles and about the more private areas of health. Mental health led the way, and Gen Z showed us how. We are learning that it is ok to show our real selves, to acknowledge when we need help, to share struggles where it may help others, to share inspiration. There are areas of healthcare that have historically suffered from stigmatization. Mental health is one. Sexual health is another – and in particular female sexual health. The conversations have started and will snowball. We need to foster this communication as a community, and mainstream social media needs to catch up and facilitate honest conversations and information-sharing in female sexual health.
As an entrepreneur and female CEO with a track record of success, what advice do you have for other women leaders?
The overarching philosophy I try to live by and would share with any entrepreneur and leader is: Be courageous. Trust in yourself and in others. Deal always with integrity. Be curious. Be tenacious. Understand and take appropriate risk. Recognize, acknowledge, inspire and pursue excellence. Exemplify, encourage and mentor reach and growth beyond one’s comfort zone. Deliver and demand impact.
I will expand on one of these and add two more.
Trust yourself. You know your strengths and your superpowers, and you have the self-awareness to recognize what you don’t know. Own your strengths and your vision and your passion and trust yourself. Open-mindedness and the curiosity and humility to seek out other perspective and expertise is not typically a weakness for women leaders – but the confidence to trust ourselves and move decisively can be a challenge.
Make time to take care of yourself. You are likely working crazy hours and juggling a million hats, both professionally and personally. And let’s face it, unfortunately as a woman leader in many circumstances you still have to make twice the calls and pitch twice the pitches as your male colleagues. It is difficult to make the time to care for your physical, mental and emotional health, but you, your mission and your team will benefit when you build in the time to recharge your batteries and enable the mental space for creative, big-picture thinking.
Pay it forward. Every leader – man or woman– has benefited from the friendship and generosity of others. Go out of your way to be generous with others. I had the honor recently of moderating a panel with two amazing, dynamic leaders where we discussed shifting our mindset to focus on building meaningful relationships rather than networking towards a specific career goal. The results are life changing.
Lynda is a consumer marketing expert with a track record of successful U.S. and global product launches. She has created new product innovations across consumer wellness, from personal care to digital health. She is a founding partner of Compass Marketing.