Kate Ryder's Ambitious Mission

Building Maven Clinic Into an Innovative Healthcare Unicorn

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Kate Ryder, Founder of Maven Clinic

Kate Ryder, the visionary founder of Maven Clinic, revolutionized an industry that was largely overlooked by investors at the time but was undeniably ripe for disruption.

In doing so, she built a billion-dollar company helping millions of women and families around the world.

Her story highlights how taking an unconventional path, combined with an outsider’s perspective, can enact change in an industry.

And she’s just getting started.

Let’s get to it.

Early Days

Growing up in Redding, Connecticut, Kate was surrounded by entrepreneurs.

Her father and aunt were both entrepreneurs and her mother helped out in their businesses as well.

Years after starting Maven, she’d still chat with her father weekly about company-building.

But her path to get there would be a winding one.

At the University of Michigan, she double-majored in English and Political Science and her college experience was a transformative one:

I think my liberal arts education has helped me a lot as an entrepreneur because it taught me critical thinking. Of course, I also had a tremendous amount of fun and Michigan really broadened me in a way that also kept me down to earth to be able to be a good leader and motivate people.

As I look today at many of my friends from college: one is a chef in Michigan, another is in the band Wild Belle, one works for a bank, and another is a teacher out in Montana. My husband went to Harvard and a lot of time it feels like most of his classmates are working in business or finance. With Michigan, thankfully that’s not the case.

Kate Ryder

Right after college, Kate moved to Madrid to teach English for about a year, even though she didn’t speak fluent Spanish when she arrived.

Let that sink in.

She moves to Spain.

Doesn’t speak Spanish.

But makes the move anyway.

In retrospect, it’s an early sign of someone who at least potentially can make a dent in the universe one day.

From there, Kate became a journalist:

I began my career as a journalist, first at The New Yorker and then at The Economist. To get your stories published, you have to be self-starting and persistent, and those qualities definitely translated to entrepreneurship. 

Kate Ryder

Between stints at The New Yorker and The Economist, an interesting opportunity came Kate’s way, one she couldn’t pass up:

I also spent a really fascinating year helping Hank Paulson with his memoir, in 2009.

I got that job because I was trying to get hired at the Wall Street Journal, but the editor recommended me to Hank’s writer instead.

Hank was raring to get started, and his writer was like, “If you can read this book on J.P. Morgan’s takeover of Bear Stearns in a day, then you have the job.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll go buy some Red Bull!”

Kate Ryder

After 9 months of working as a writer and researching for Hank Paulson’s memoir, On the Brink, Kate ended up in Asia.

This is where she’d take her first crack at starting a company.

It didn’t work out all too well:

I co-founded my first company in Singapore, while I was still working for The Economist, and it was a total failure.

It was an online travel business, geared towards group travel for the Chinese market.

I still think the idea was great, but we were pretty clueless when it came to operations.

My dad was like, “I know you don’t like to listen to me, but if I can give you one piece of advice: Go get other experience before starting a business.” So that was my next step.

Kate Ryder

Not long after Kate’s first company failed, she was ready for a career change, looking for an opportunity to get that experience her father talked about.

She’d find it in London, working for Index Ventures starting in May 2012:

Transitioning to venture capital was really tough. I knew I wanted to change careers, but it was sort of a nightmare scenario.

My husband got a job in London, so we moved there, and I didn’t have a network at all.

I had maybe 120 meetings. I was very scared that I was facing the beginning of the end of my career.

Then I met a partner at a venture capital firm, he was looking for an associate, and he had a soft spot for journalists, so he hired me in two days. It was partly luck, but also a game of numbers—I worked really hard to meet a lot of people, and it took time.

Kate Ryder

120 meetings.

That’s persistence, my friend.

And there was a reason for it.

Kate knew she wanted to start another company and she was upfront with Index Ventures in her interview about her intentions:

I didn’t know at the time what company I wanted to start, but I knew I wanted to start something.

During the interview, I made it clear that I didn’t necessarily want to climb the ladder to become a VC.

I wanted to get up close and learn about starting a company, and I was willing to do whatever job they needed in the meantime while I learned the ropes.

Kate Ryder

While at Index Ventures, Kate toyed with a few different side projects, including a vitamin subscription box as well as an idea for a healthy version of ramen.

But she wanted to go after a bigger market, undoubtedly influenced by the environment she was in.

She’d soon find it.

Starting Maven

It’s 2013.

Kate is working at Index Ventures.

She knows she wants to start a company, but she hasn’t quite found the idea worth pursuing yet.

But she does notice a gap in the digital health market:

At Index, I saw that digital health was really in its first inning. In 2013 telehealth was beginning to gain a little bit of traction. But women’s health and family planning were still largely underserved.

Kate Ryder

Kate also starts hearing about the pregnancy issues friends were having:

When one of my best friends first started the family building journey, she got really bad postpartum depression. The next friend couldn't conceive and it took her three IVF rounds.

I was working in venture capital at the time… Sitting across the table looking at all these entrepreneurs starting digital health businesses, I thought, “Wait a second, why are there no women coming into these rooms? And why isn't anyone focused on this moment of building a family, because it's so central to a functional healthcare system?”

And so, very boldly and brashly I thought, “Well, we're going to figure it out and do it.”

Kate Ryder

To figure out this healthcare problem, Kate started doing research.

Lots and lots of research.

She talked to more than 100 people, mostly women, as well as 30 different women’s healthcare providers.

She even flew to the United States to conduct a few focus groups, asking women questions about pregnancy and family planning:

I asked tons of questions about how they related to their health care. A key theme that arose was access — whether it was problems around lack of access to specialists through insurance, limited time to access mental health care for postpartum depression with a newborn at home, or financial barriers to fertility treatments.

You’d hear stories about a woman needing to see a pelvic floor specialist after giving birth, but no appointments were open for three months with a doctor in their network. It was clear through these conversations that this was a much wider problem than just my group of friends.

Kate Ryder

In talking to providers, she was trying to figure out what was broken in the system.

One question helped tremendously:

One of the big questions I was asking them is, “So, all of this telemedicine is starting, why aren't you guys doing telemedicine? Why is it only primary care?” And everyone was like, "Well, I don't know. Because that doesn't make any sense."

Kate Ryder

It didn’t make any sense to them, but it made sense to Kate.

She knew that women were disproportionately the consumers of some of the early digital health products and yet there weren’t providers who catered to women on many of the early platforms.

And what else was missing from these early digital health platforms?

A focus on the customer experience:

The first wave of digital health companies seemed to over-index on regulatory compliance and speaking to providers. They weren’t tech companies building delightful customer experiences. That’s when I knew there was a huge opportunity.

Kate Ryder

But remember, Kate is still working full-time at Index Ventures at the time.

To pursue this huge opportunity, she needed capital and a team.

That’s when she reached out to one of the partners at Index:

In December 2013 I went to lunch with Kevin Johnson, an Index partner who was focused on biotech and softly pitched him my idea for a women’s virtual health clinic. He bought in and wrote a $50,000 check.

Kate Ryder

In early 2014, Kate quit her job and started Maven Clinic.

The next step?

Building a team.

We didn’t look like a traditional founding team. I see other founders who obsess over getting folks on board with dazzling resumes. But I wanted people who would run through walls to achieve our goal.

The first person I called was my friend Sally Law Errico, who I used to work with at The New Yorker

A couple of years back she had pitched me an idea for a mocktail for pregnant women, so I knew she was interested in working in a similar space. She agreed to be our first employee on a part-time basis as our Director of Editorial and Community.

Kate Ryder

But wait.

Doesn’t Kate want to build a digital health platform?

Why does she start by hiring an editorial and community director?

The answer goes back to the nascent state of digital health platforms at that time.

Kate knew she was going to need to help women become comfortable with telehealth solutions and the way to do so was through content.

Of course, she needed to build her engineering team as well, a process that took her to numerous engineering meetups:

I basically walked up to everyone there and asked if they were an engineer and whether they were interested in healthcare and Suzie Grange was the first person who said yes. We went and had lunch together and I told her about the company and the mission, and she agreed to do some work on the side.

Kate Ryder

Finding her CTO, Zachary Zaro, was another unique experience:

I was attending my best friend’s wedding and knew Zach was going to be in attendance, and that he was a top-notch engineer. I switched the seating cards so that I ended up sitting next to Zach and basically pitched him on the idea of joining Maven for the entire wedding.

Kate Ryder

Kate’s experience finding her CTO reminds me of how Melanie Perkins spent an entire year trying to build her tech team for Canva, including a three-month stint in San Francisco:

That two week trip to San Francisco, quickly turned into three months — the entire duration of my visa.

I attended every single engineering conference that I could. I reached out to people on LinkedIn. I cold-called people. I set up my ‘office’ in the food court at the Nordstrom shopping center as I had a table, I felt safe, had space to work and a little portable WI-FI connection. Oh, and it was free!”

Melanie Perkins

To be able to build her team and Maven’s MVP, Kate raised a $1.2 million friends and family round, which included that $50k investment from Kevin Johnson at Index Ventures.

By this time, Maven was a team of six based in New York City.

The two solutions Kate wanted to launch Maven with were simple:

  1. On-demand care

  2. Specialized information

For Maven’s on-demand care solution, Kate had to get providers on board:

Getting the first couple dozen providers to sign on was pretty easy. Women’s health is so underserved — we have the highest maternal death rate in the developed world. The believers were excited to join our mission.

Kate Ryder

She also had to build her online community:

I wanted to create a digital community where women could continue to have these conversations, ask questions and help one another tackle the tangled web of our healthcare system.

This approach would also help us continue to prove out our concept as we were thinking about raising money.

Kate Ryder

Kate launched Maven in April 2015 with 300 providers on the platform.

At the same time, she announced a $2.2 million round of funding.

While raising money from family and friends was relatively easy for Kate, raising from institutional investors was another story:

Yeah, we were two weeks out of cash at one point. But I think in the early days of talking to investors, again, it was 2013/2014 and women's health was considered nich, no one was talking about fertility. No one was talking about miscarriage. No one was talking about postpartum depression or even just how hard it is to be parents of young kids at a time when your career is ramping and all of the trade-offs that come with that.

We started in London and there was not as much stigma in women's health in Europe. So, a lot of the friends and family rounds that we pulled together very early on, which was about a million dollars, was pretty straightforward. It was just like a "Hey, I want to see more traction," or "Sure, I'll give you $50,000. It sounds like a good idea." And I had had a network, obviously, from working in venture capital.

Then we moved to the US to try to raise an institutional seed round and it was just like a blood bath.

Kate Ryder

Nevertheless, Kate got the funding round together and continued to execute the first part of Maven’s GTM strategy.

Go-To-Market Strategy

In an interview with Sam Toole of Primary, Kate described Maven’s go-to-market strategy:

So now there's a term for how we went to market, which is called B2C2B. Our thesis at the time was that the most important thing that you can do in any kind of technology company or any kind of industry where we're trying to change how things are done through new products is to build a great product.

And to build a great product, you need lots of feedback. You need to have a rapid iterative process to make changes and to pivot based on what kind of feedback you're getting from your consumers.

You always have very limited resources in the beginning. So we put all of that into making a great product. We launched in April 2015, knowing that the real business model opportunity was in selling to employers, payers, and the government. Those are the big payers of healthcare.

Kate Ryder

On the consumer side of the business, Kate and her team found scrappy ways to acquire users in the early days:

We would stand in a park and try to sign consumers up with field marketing. We’d hire a bunch of interns to go canvas the city and try to get eight appointments. We set up a table at the New York Marathon. It was a grind.

Kate Ryder

It worked.

Maven’s digital community started catching on, a moment Kate remembers well:

A community member asked a simple question, and we had four different provider types answering to add their input — an OB-GYN, a doula, a midwife and a nutritionist.

Oftentimes, the answers to fertility and parenting questions aren’t black and white. It was incredible to see so many different perspectives represented in a community forum.

Kate Ryder

And, six months after Maven’s launch, they sold their first B2B deal.

Kate’s pitch to employers at the time?

Employers are in the best position to buy — they want happy and healthy employees and they want women to come back to work after having babies.

So I was going around to different employers and speaking their language about how Maven could help them cut their high healthcare costs and provide a compelling benefit that stands out from competitors.

Kate Ryder

A year after launch, Maven had sold ten deals and Kate described what exactly Maven was at this time:

Maven connects patients and providers over video or private message. Women can get prescriptions—we help provide a lot of scripts for birth control and UTIs—or they can get support on whatever specific issue they’re going through, whether it’s breastfeeding or mental health. We offer weight loss support with our nutritionists and injury support with our physical therapists.

We’re basically a one-stop shop: You don’t have to go to all these different places to get digital care. We now have providers to cover anything a healthy woman would need over her journey from college to menopause.

Kate Ryder

By October 2016, Maven was working with 700 providers in the United States.

The next step?

Raise a bigger round of funding and start scaling.


Even with a growing community, B2B customers, and clear signs of a massive need that was being filled by Maven, Kate struggled to raise her Series A.

Many investors still didn’t understand:

A lot of people didn't think this was a big market and that women's health was this niche, side thing.

Kate Ryder

Of course, all you need is one true believer to get the ball rolling.

Kate found her true believer in Lauren Brueggen at Spring Mountain Capital:

I spoke to individual female angels, but in those early institutional rounds what would happen is I would meet a wonderful man, a male investor, who would see it. He was a dad. He got the problems that we were solving.

Then he would take it to his partnership and there wouldn't be a single female in the partnership. And so, we would get rejected because someone would be like, "There's no problem here. Women have doctors. There's no problem here."

Our series A after 40 rejections, was led by a mom of three who was pregnant at the time, and she had a very small partnership. It was a very small B2B fund here in New York. Spring Mountain Capital.

She was like, "Guys, this is a big market. Look at their pipeline. Look at the rest of the trends in digital health. We should take a bet here." And she convinced them.

Kate Ryder

Kate ended up raising a $10.8 million Series A in July 2017.

After this funding round, she started building the sales team, and, without having a sales background herself, she found some help along the way:

The one thing that I think was really important for me in the early days, having not come from a sales background, and quite frankly not even a corporate background or an MBA, was I surrounded myself with advisors across a lot of different areas. Sales was one of them.

There's this wonderful woman, Michelle Shepard, who was a Chief Revenue Officer of a lot of different companies and she worked with PE firms and would come in and transform that sales team and then move out.

Someone introduced me to Michelle and she really cared a lot about female founders and so I made her an advisor and I just had monthly calls with her.

She was actually really instrumental in helping me understand how to build a sales org, what metrics we should be looking at, how to hire great people, and I was a newbie so I didn't always get it right in the early days, but she was certainly very helpful in helping me understand what best in class looked like.

Kate Ryder

In the same year, Maven expanded its product line for enterprises.

While it already had Maven Maternity, its first enterprise product with early customers including Snap Inc. and the Clinton Foundation, it launched Maven Fertility in 2017.

This new product covered everything from surrogacy to egg freezing to IVF/IUI to adoption - the many paths to building a family.

The next year, Kate raised a $27 million Series B led by Sequoia Capital and Oak HC/FT.

In a blog post announcing the raise, Kate shared her plans for the capital and how this round of funding was a small sign of change in the venture industry:

We will use the capital today to double down on Maven’s Family Benefits platform, to support more women in the workforce, more women in leadership positions, more diverse families, and more confident working parents.

Today we’re launching our latest feature, breastmilk shipping, which is an important component of our return-to-work program as it equips working parents to travel.

This investment will not only engender change — it is itself a sign of change.

Jess Lee, who is leading the investment from Sequoia, is the firm’s first female investment partner in the US. Oak, which is led by Annie Lamont, is the only female-led venture capital firm in healthcare — and Nancy Brown, a female partner who spent more than two decades at leading healthcare companies, is leading their investment.

This is what happens when we create change from within — when women start to drive capital allocation decisions — which they didn’t in 1972, and are only starting to today.

The market is not just listening, but acting. We’ve grown 14x in the last 12 months and now serve some of the world’s largest multinationals.

Kate Ryder

By the end of 2018, Maven had delivered care to 200,000 patients and had 1,300 health specialists representing 18 different specialties on the platform.

300,000 women were accessing free medical advice on their platform every month by this time.

For consumers, the Maven app is free, and if they want to book a virtual consultation, a 10-minute online appointment starts at $18.

It was a novel concept, especially when Maven launched:

The transaction is between [women] ourselves and the doctor, not layers of insurance companies and hospitals and clinics.

Kate Ryder

Kate is leading a team of 60 by the end of 2018 with plans of expanding to 100 by the end of the following year.

In a few short years, Maven would be valued at more than a billion dollars.

Billion-Dollar Company & Beyond

COVID, as you can imagine, fueled a massive increase in telemedicine use.

Maven, which had the largest women’s and family health telemedicine network in the country at this time, was perfectly positioned to make a positive impact during this critical time for so many women and families.

The Maven team saw a massive increase in telemedicine uses on the platform.

They even had the state of Massachusetts call on them for help:

The State of Massachusetts was like, "Maven, can you do our pediatrics and our OB virtual care appointments for our Medicaid population?"

And they were like, "Can you launch in two weeks?" Okay.

That was actually one of the most vivid moments where we had all shifted to remote work and we just had an incredible team that stayed up like every night for two weeks and we launched it on time, and everything went well.

Kate Ryder

Then, in 2021, Maven announced a $110 million Series D, valuing the company at more than a billion dollars.

The following year, Kate raised a $90 million Series E led by General Catalyst, valuing Maven at $1.35 billion.

By this time, 15 million people were covered by Maven’s employer-paid benefits suite.

Just as when COVID hit, Maven acted swiftly with the horrendous overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022:

The overturn of Roe v. Wade is something that is completely devastating in women's health because so many people are suffering.

This is a very black-and-white story of restricting access to care during one of the most vulnerable times in a woman's life, which is going through that family-building process and pregnancy.

All the major medical associations have come out and they have said, "This is restricting access. We're going to have adverse patient outcomes. This is not good." Almost one out of four women by the time they're 45 have had an abortion— it is just such a core part of prenatal care.

When we knew it was coming, we started building a pregnancy options counseling program as part of our core maternity program. We’re helping people understand their options, the implications, and the law around all of that.

What we're seeing in that product is people who are living in states with restricted access, they might not even be pregnant, they might be wanting to have a baby in a year, but they're so anxious now about their reproductive health that they're thinking about delaying their families until this is figured out.

Then we have a travel reimbursement product through our payments platform, Maven Wallet. Our clients, both payers and employers, are able to support employees who need to travel across state lines to get support and we power that reimbursement process.

Kate Ryder

Today, Maven has more than 2,000 providers in its network and 17 million lives under management in 175+ countries.

A testament to the mission-driven organization that Kate has built, Maven receives tens of thousands of job applicants per year.

It’s been a decade since Kate started Maven and the company is not only the largest virtual clinic for women’s and family health, but it’s one of the most influential companies in the world.

Kate Ryder’s Wisdom

In each edition of the Just Go Grind newsletter, I like to include a few more quotes at the end from my research into the founder who is featured, sharing their wisdom.

On building a company as an industry outsider:

Approaching healthcare as a bit of an outsider has allowed us to innovate a lot.

Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone in like a bull in a china shop, but it also meant that we had a fresh take.

The industry is complicated and heavily regulated, so before we launched, I dedicated more than a year to making sure we were building good products, getting the right lawyers, and checking all the boxes. We now deliver care nationally over a HIPAA compliant system, so it’s really happening.

We’ve also built a number of specific products, such as Maven Campus, which is for college students, and Maven Maternity, which provides support for women from the moment they start trying to get pregnant to when they re-enter the workplace after maternity leave. We’re starting to re-invent the support they can receive.

Kate Ryder

On lessons from journalism she’s applied to building Maven:

There are actually more similarities to journalism and entrepreneurship than you would think. Working as a journalist definitely helped me learn how to operate in unstructured environments and inspire others to get excited about bigger ideas.

I’ve also made sure to have a network of really smart advisers to help me grow Maven—kind of like my sources when I was a journalist—who guide me toward the right answers across the different parts of the business.

Kate Ryder

On preventing burnout (In 2016):

Now that we have a baby, what keeps me from burnout is playing with him, uninterrupted. He’s my zen time.

During the week, I try to get home at 6:30pm and be with him for two hours, not online, not checking my phone.

And then after he goes to bed I go back online and finish working. I might be spending a little less time on email, but I’m much more focused, and whipping through stuff.

Kate Ryder

Fundamentally, raising money is a sales pitch. If you’re making a sales pitch, you need to know why a buyer is going to buy. It’s having an intimate knowledge of how VC funds work, how they make money, and how they make decisions—these all equip you as an entrepreneur to better speak that language.

Kate Ryder

Thanks for reading!



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