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Female Founders: Maya Shaposhnik Cadena of Vetted Pet Health On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Don’t hire too early. I really thought that hiring early on would help me accelerate the business but at the earliest stages you still don’t know which direction you are going to grow in so it’s best to wait until you “desperately” need someone in a certain area. Then you can bring someone in because there is already direction.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Shaposhnik Cadena, the CEO of Vetted Pet Health. Maya is a three-time entrepreneur and fundraising executive. Born in LA, she has lived and founded companies in Tel Aviv, New York, and now Chicago. Her background is in operations, sales, and management but her true passion lies in empowering people around her.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always loved empowering people. I personally felt empowered when I did the military. I felt that the military trusted me enough to lead teams and complete missions that were critically important. Wherever I go, I strive to empower those around me and give them the support they need to reach their maximum potential. My love for pets runs deep. I grew up with dogs my entire life. At one point, two of our Pugs accidentally mated and instead of having 2 dogs, we have 7! My sister, who is a true role model for me, even served in the K-9 unit in the military. At one point, I was even privileged having a working-dog relationship, which I so loved and respected. When my husband and I got our first dog, a little French Bull-dog named Shor. I became exposed first-hand to the struggles of pet parenting. I kept going to my vet clinic asking for help, advice, and support. I found out quickly that they are totally under water and that the clinic is not your go-to for all things pet-related. I started to resort to Facebook groups, google searches, and Reddit channels where I learned so much about pet parenthood. But it was also very overwhelming and the advice always contradicted itself. Through this process I understood that there is so much we don’t know as pet parents and when I ran it by Veterinarians they also felt frustrated that no one is teaching us about this but did not have the bandwidth to explain to people what they could do for their pets in between annual vet visits to keep them happy and healthy for many more years. That’s when we decided to found Vetted Pet Health, a preventative health membership for pet parents that empowers them to give the highest standard of at-home care.

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

I met one of my best advisors because I “opened up” to someone on my flight from Chicago to Tel Aviv about some of the challenges of my company. I started speaking with the person sitting next to me on the long 11 hour flight. At first it was just small talk, but then we quickly started speaking about business. Little did I know that he was also an entrepreneur and was a few years ahead of us in the start-up curve. I opened up to him about the challenges and what I need to do to overcome them. I knew I needed help, specifically in digital user acquisition, but this was such a different world and I was learning about it, but not fast enough. He suggested I reach out to his friend, Doron Dvir, who used to be the head of user acquisition at Lemonade insurance. He connected us via email on the flight. I met Doron in person a few days later. He fell in love with Vetted and loved the problems we are facing. We quickly made him an offer to be on our advisory board and have been working with him ever since.

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?

Not telling people that we only serve cat and dog parents. This has led to some interesting chats on our 24/7 chat feature in the app. Think R SQUARED: Rabbits and reptiles!

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 would like to thank my co-founder, Ashley Brooks. She has been the best co-founder I could ever ask for. There have been so many times that she could see how much weight I was carrying on my shoulders and what it was doing to my ability to lead. She really empathizes with me and has “come down into the hole with me”. She has pushed me to achieve greater heights and has not let me quit on myself. She has also been such a great match for me in this crazy roller coaster of a ride. No matter what the obstacles are we have full faith in each other and trust each other to push through them all, one step and a time, and together.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I would say the greatest thing holding women back is support. Even though you hear of all these VC firms that are focused on women founders I have found that many of these women-focused investors will not lead rounds. This shocked me because what is the point of leaning on an investor to help you push through the most difficult stages if in your earliest stages if they are not leading. It makes finding that partner who can support you get through all the hurdles difficult. There are so many difficulties in being an entrepreneur that adding the fact that you are usually the only women in the room when it comes to pitching to any investor partners you add another level of complexity and you need to find a way to not let it affect you, or in the best case be a motivator to make you want to change the landscape.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

At the very least, I think VC’s should do everything in their power to recruit women partners so that there could be more women pitching to women. Out of 30+ VC’s I pitched there were only 3 that had women in the meeting, which made it a very interesting dynamic. I also think VC’s that focus on investing in women should lead the rounds. This to me is a level of leadership that we need in the space if we want to have the support we need to get through the challenging initial stages of a start-up. As a society, I believe that parents should tell their children that they can really succeed in anything they want, if they don’t give up and keep pushing forward with a growth mindset. I feel like I had this support from both of my parents and they always told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. That voice continues to accompany me through everything that I do today.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

In my time working with men and women I have seen that many women have a crazy ability to multitask naturally. This is a gift that can be invested in because as an early-stage entrepreneur one of the most important skill sets is the ability to multi-task and do many things at the same time. This is our added value and an advantage that most women possess (maybe because of the societal expectations we have on us). Other than that, women make up a huge amount of the population and can definitely create products and services that they were longing for. To me there is no doubt that if you are in desperate need of something then there must be many people out there that need the same thing. You can be that leader and serve that market.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Raising enough money will solve all your problems. This is not true. You can raise as much money as possible but if you don’t have a good strategy and many contingency strategies and a strong team then this will not lead you to success.

You need a plan for everything. No, this is not true. You need a direction and you need a goal but you do not need a plan for everything. I have seen too many people have analysis paralysis and this is debilitating. You need to jump into the water, take a risk, measure the results and constantly tweak until you find the right path. But honestly… just do it. Don’t overthink it.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I think that everyone can be a founder. If they love what they do and want to change and have impact in a certain space then everyone can be a founder. However, not everyone can be a CEO and not everyone can be a solo founder. I knew early on that I wanted to be a founder and a CEO, because of the skill set I possess. But I knew very clearly that I did not want to be a solo founder. I know I work best when I have a co-founder. So I decided to go out there and look for my “work” soulmate. That is when I met my co-founder, Ashley Brooks, at the Chicago Booth school of business. We clicked immediately and within a few weeks we decided to become co-founders. She is the CTO and possesses a whole other slew of skills that I do not. We lean on each other and help each other overcome the many hurdles of starting a business.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t hire too early. I really thought that hiring early on would help me accelerate the business but at the earliest stages you still don’t know which direction you are going to grow in so it’s best to wait until you “desperately” need someone in a certain area. Then you can bring someone in because there is already direction.
  2. Fire as fast as possible. I thought that firing in the 3–6 month range was good. I quickly realized that it is not true for early stage companies. When you don’t fire quickly you are burning capital, which is equivalent to oxygen in a start-up. You also burn time, the most important resource for an early-stage company, because you try to invest more time to prevent firing that individual. But the reality is that if you get to a place of firing someone it would be best for them and also for the company to do it sooner rather than later because the chances that you could invest enough time to help them grow is very low. I would say you should fire in the 2–3 month range if the metrics are not met.
  3. If you are looking for a co-founder, Don’t settle on one. Look for someone you feel safe with. Someone you feel like you could lean on and could be there through the difficult times. Someone who shares the same values as you. I think the best co-founder is one that has a totally different skill set than you and is willing to debate things out with you, rather than just “accept” everything you say.
  4. Don’t over think. Just do it. My co-founder recently told me that one of the best pieces of advice she ever got was to say: 1.2.3. And then jump. Now she says it outloud and just does it, without overthinking it. This allows us to move quickly and test so many assumptions so we make better decisions everyday.
  5. Take care of your mental health. This cannot be stated enough. I now truly believe that burnout is the number one reason why start-ups fail. So make sure you make space for whatever you need to be headstrong. Without that strength, your start-up will not be able to be steered to success.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I hope so. But what I hope for more is to continue to make the world a better place while I am here. I don’t want to stop or ever think “I did enough” — to me you can always improve and do more.

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

I would empower young girls to understand just how much power they really have. I would work with them to really engrain a level of self confidence that they need to maximize their potential in this world. I see so many women that have so much power and are oblivious or downplay just how much they can change. I want to look those little girls in the eye and let them know that I believe in them and am always here to support them.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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.

Sheryl Sandberg. I look up to her because to me she is a true definition of power. She has not excelled in one area in her life, but in multiple areas. I truly believe that successful people find a way to succeed in many different avenues, not just one. Through all of her trials and tribulations she found a way to success in business, having a family, overcoming some of the worst tragedies and still inspiring a whole group of women. Thank you for being you.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Maya Shaposhnik Cadena of Vetted Pet Health On The Five Things You Need To Thrive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.