Piraye Beim, Founder and CEO of Celmatix Inc.
Celmatix Foundr & CEO, Piraye Beim, on building a fertile future for all women
The phrase “game-changing” gets bandied about a lot in entrepreneurial circles. And certainly, in this era of landmark technological change, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to people and products that have changed the way we live.
We’re about to introduce you to a woman who raises that bar to life-changing. Someone who is paving the way for millions of women to have more personalized, accurate fertility care. One who has truly moved the medical sciences needle. (Pun intended).
Piraye Beim, is indeed a rare woman. A mother to two, soon-to-be three, a world-leading genetic scientist and Founder/CEO at Celmatix – the New York biotech firm putting big data through its paces with some remarkable results.
Since launching in 2009, Celmatix has released two world-first products. The first is Polaris, a cloud-based platform that uses big data to optimize the treatment of fertility patients. Its creation was what Beim refers to as a “happy accident” on the way to solving their number one goal – building the first genetic test for reproductive health. Fertilome, the realization of that mission, was released early this year.
Today, Celmatix are well on their way to empowering an entire generation of women to proactively manage their fertility. And Piraye Beim is just getting started.
Right scientist, Right time
Beim has been camped out on the bleeding edge of medical science since her days as a grad school cancer researcher. Rather fortuitously, Beim’s first year in this role coincided with the year scientists first decoded the human genome (aka a complete string of cell DNA, comprising 23 pairs of chromosomes).
At the time, the landmark milestone was achieved at a cost of several billion dollars. Today, scientists routinely generate whole genome sequences for around a thousand dollars.
Being at the coalface of both the post-genomic era, and the early days of personalized medicine, infected Beim with the idea that, before any individual makes an important health-related decision, they should be able to learn what is happening for them at the deepest possible level.
“Cancer used to be treated on origin of the tumor,” Beim explains. “Today they really want to understand, on a genetic level, what has gone wrong with the cells. Based on that, doctors can then target a very specific medication that will hopefully be more effective for that tumor … It was the sequencing of the human genome that enabled medicine to move into that precise zone.”
Beim’s work soon took her down the path of early stage development, and she became one of the world’s leading scientists on the genes required to create a high-quality human egg. But it wasn’t until Beim attended an IVF Conference in 2009 that she finally had her ‘aha’ moment, while hearing about the profound emotional impact infertility has on women and their partners. Until then, her professional training had demanded Beim consider these issues from a purely scientific point of view.
“I knew the precision medicine revolution was happening in oncology and I thought, who is bringing personalized medicine to fertility, and to women’s health in general? The answer was no one. No one was taking a really big swing at it.”
A Leap of Faith
Celmatix was born several months later in the Tribeca living room of Beim’s co-founder and grad school roommate, Laura Ban. While leaving a coveted academic post to start a company with zero funding or savings seems reckless in hindsight, at the time, Beim was driven by her deep conviction in the work. “I took the leap because I thought, this has to exist. This is so important,” she says.
Being at the top of her game professionally gave Beim a clear advantage. But, as she recalls it, one of the main reasons for Celmatix’s early success was the burgeoning shared economy. Not only was cloud computing taking off in 2009, but so were co-working spaces and virtual resources. Importantly, shared resources extended to the niche field of genomics.
“We were very creative in leveraging other people’s hard resources so we could stay lean. In some ways, we were a unique case study for what we call biotech 2.0. Traditionally investors see biotech and health care innovation as something that is capital intensive, and requires a lab. But we proved it doesn’t. You can get a biotech company off the ground with the risk profile of a technology company.”
Nowadays, Celmatix has an 80-person team and their own assets, but the company was largely built on this foundation of shared resources and public data sets. Their first product, Polaris, heavily involved these data sets in the early days, after the team stumbled upon the idea while researching the genetic test.
Beim and her team were finding it difficult to determine the right genetic bio-markers, because existing research failed to take the full spectrum of female fertility in account. The only way to get a better handle on it, was to acquire more information, which they did, collating large digital medical data sets related to fertility outcomes. The data was sliced and diced, and used to create multivariate algorithms that could build accurate predictor models for treatment.
It was ground-breaking stuff, and when Beim eventually presented their work to the medical industry, clinicians were desperate to get their hands on it.
“What was really cool, was our networks were saying ‘wait, you can make these predictions?’ It was a much richer data paradigm than was being used in genetic counselling at the time. Most people were counselling based on age and on a cycle level, not a journey over time. They said we would love to counsel on a journey level! With big data, we can look at all the possibilities and craft the best solution to help someone get a baby.”
Seeing the level of passion their data breakthrough inspired prompted Celmatix to develop an interface to deploy their models in a commercial setting. Demand snowballed, and, as the company had proven how effective they were at building medical technology, Celmatix soon branched out into digital records management within Polaris.
“We’ve evolved into a rich counselling platform that welcomes the patient from the first point of contact, brings all of their information to life, and allows the physician to use it … And we get smarter as we learn more about a patient. So, if they fail a treatment cycle, we learn something new about how they respond, and the models get smarter, and more personalized.”
The Business of Medicine
After eight years in operation, business is booming for Celmatix, with the company reaching another milestone with the 2017 launch of Fertilome. Billed as the world’s first comprehensive genetic test for risk factors associated with fertility, Fertilome is a landmark achievement for Beim and her team, as it is the test they set out to develop in 2009.
Over the years, Celmatix has raised an impressive $19 million in funding, however Beim has chosen not to publicize the company’s valuation. It’s a “distraction,” she says, from keeping your eye on other more telling factors, like the health of your capital and whether key employees and stakeholders have the right incentives.
“I think we are very healthy … We have 80 employees and growing across four US states … our platform is in use at 12 centers and growing, and we’re expanding internationally. About one in ten patients counselled in the US last year were on our platform, which is a huge point of pride for us because we have a small direct sales team … Physicians are also very passionate about this. They grab other physicians at medical conferences, pull them into our booth and say look at this, it’s so cool.”
The question of profitability versus growth is a fine line, Beim says, as startup companies can easily find themselves being judged on profits, instead of potential. With Celmatix, Beim has always tried to balance a deep investment in R&D with not allowing the company to become “a one trick pony.” (I.e. being so focused on reaching profitability with one product that they fail to develop others).
“If we haven’t invested in the next thing, and a competitor comes along, we’re in trouble … For me, with the advisors we’ve had, our Board and investors have urged us to walk a tight rope between growth and profitability, and to make sure we don’t let either side get too out of control. I think that’s right.”
A Woman’s Work
When quizzed about the secret to Celmatix’s success, Beim’s largely credits the passion people have for the issue. It’s resonates, she says, because everybody has a story about a friend or family member who has struggled with fertility, if not a personal story.
“I think the mission has really helped to move us forward. We’re in a very competitive place, in New York City, where we compete for designers, engineers, and for every kind of talent. But we really haven’t struggled, because the mission we have … this story about fertility and the questions and lack of answers people have, it’s so impactful and it’s not really discussed.”
One thing that is regularly discussed, however, is how Beim manages being a female entrepreneur and mother in New York – a question she fields on a regular basis. Her response? She tries to view her challenges as advantages.
“The fact that I’m a female founder, a mother, I’m pregnant, all those things people perceive as a disadvantage, has forced me to build a team of really awesome people around me. To get out of my entrepreneurial personality of wanting to command and control and be a perfectionist, down to the smallest little detail … and forced me to collaborate, to delegate and to trust people.”
Another factor working in Celmatix’s favor is the insights Beim and many of her colleagues have into the issues at hand. While she now has two children, with another on the way, Beim recalls several times when, as Celmatix was making some of their early discoveries, she was living the same experience as millions of women after an early pregnancy loss.
The fact that they are developing these life-changing products for themselves and for their daughters, makes it even more important. “It’s personal,” Beim says. “It’s not just something we have a technical edge on, we have personal insight.”
Piraye Beim on…
Growth vs. Profitability
“When you’re building a company, there’s so much you can’t control. There are forces beyond you in the economy, and you don’t want to go all in on one thesis … and then suddenly the ground shifts below you and that’s not a popular business model to fund. On the other hand, if you’re so focused on profitability that you don’t invest in R&D and innovation, and don’t think about what’s down the road, and how to build a pipeline to that, you can get judged in a different way.”
Being a Mother & Entrepreneur
“I’m not magic, I have a team, and you need a team. I’m also very lucky because I have two wonderful, very healthy children. I want to acknowledge that people with special needs children, or people who don’t have the financial means to build a team at home, those barriers are real. It would be unfair, and not genuine of me, to not be open about the advantages I’ve had that have allowed me to do well in both domains.”
“What I’ve learned is you can trust your team if you build the right one. I think we’ve had a stronger organization as a result … Another thing that allows us to recruit and retain amazing talent in a competitive market, is the strong commitment we have to people. We aren’t an organization who says ‘who cares the human cost, we’re moving the world forward.’ For us, they are one and the same. We’re moving the world forward by progressing individuals as well.”
Head over to Celmatix.com to learn more about Celmatix products, or to find your nearest participating fertility treatment center.
This podcast episode was brought to you by Pipedrive.
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- How critical it is to your success to be a part of a shared community
- What the business of medicine is like
- The importance of understanding the story of your customers
- How Piraye settles the debate between growth and profitability
- How to find the time to be both a parent and a game-changing entrepreneur
Full Transcript of the Podcast with Piraye Beim
Nathan: This episode is proudly brought to you by Pipedrive, the CRM built by salespeople, for salespeople and trusted by over 30,000 companies around the world. They have an amazing product, and if you’d like to check them out, you can go to pipedrive.com.
Hello, guys. Welcome to another episode of the “Foundr” podcast. My name’s Nathan Chan. I’m the CEO and publisher of “Foundr Magazine” and the host of the “Foundr” podcast. I’m coming to you live from Melbourne, Australia, hometown, homegrown, home born. And it’s currently 1:30 a.m., burning the midnight oil, just doing a whole ton of recording in prep for a little bit of a U.S. tour which I’m really, really pumped about.
I’m gonna oversee the printing of the book. If you haven’t checked out, for all of our community members that did support our “Foundr Version 1.0” book, thank you so much. You will be getting the book in April and we are on track, and on time, just putting the final touches on the book. And I’m gonna oversee the printing in Winnipeg, Canada. I’m really pumped, and I can’t wait to share it with you guys. I know you guys are gonna absolutely love it. If you haven’t checked out the book, make sure you do, “Foundr Version 1.0.” If you go to Foundr Mag, foundrmag.com/book, you’ll be able to check it out.
That’s what’s happening with me. So going on a little trip and things are working really well with just the team, and the growth, and the goals, and everything that we’ve set for the year. So really feeling the momentum, we’re working on some really cool things for you guys and really gonna scale-up content free and premiums, you know, we’re both literally 10x-ing on both sides, free and premium. So, yeah, really exciting times, guys.
So now let’s talk about today’s guest. Her name’s Piraye Beim, and she is an incredible founder. She’s the founder of a company called Celmatix, and they’re a New York biotech firm putting big data through its paces with some remarkable results. So, you know, she’s creating world first products. One of their products is called Polaris. It’s a cloud-based platform that uses big data to optimize the treatment of fertility patients. So she’s doing incredible work and she talks about all sorts of growth strategies. And this is a really, really interesting niche and market that I’ve never spoken to someone that’s serving. It’s all about big data. It’s all about genetics. It’s all about science and how she’s growing this company is really, really cool. I know you guys are gonna really enjoy this episode.
So, guys, if you are enjoying this, I just realized…this is funny, I just realized that I never tell people to subscribe. And I have a feeling, you know, almost 150 episodes later, I should have been doing that for the past two years because if we did, we’d get a lot more downloads. So if you are enjoying these episodes, please do subscribe. Please do share them with your friends, other founders that you’re friends with, you know, your crew, anyone that will get value. It helps more than you can imagine. The more you spread the word, the more you help our mission.
Our mission now is to produce content that impacts the lives of tens of millions of people on a monthly basis. This is across our whole platform, the blog, the podcast the magazine, our social content, our video content, you name it. So that’s what we’re working towards in the next couple of years. So, please, do help by sharing, if you can, and that’s enough rambling from me, now let’s jump to the show.
The first question I ask everyone that comes on is how did you get your job?
Piraye: So I made my job. My husband jokes that I’ve never had a real job, which I think in many ways is true. I am the founder and CEO of Celmatix, personalized medicine company focused on fertility and women’s health, leveraging big data in genomics to help people make more proactive decisions about their fertility. But before I founded Celmatix, I was in academia. So I was a student, graduated for my Ph.D., and then did a post-doctoral stint, and then really went straight from my postdoc into founding the company. So, I guess, that’s my best answer.
Nathan: Yeah, gotcha. So, I guess, to found this company, you had to come up with some sort of, I guess, proprietary technology to be able to analyze this data and everything like that?
Piraye: Yeah. So right now, we’re in year seven. So I founded the company in 2009, actually co-founded it with my graduate school roommate, Laura Bandak. And the idea came to me really from the research I was doing. So, in my graduate work in New York City, I had previously been a cancer researcher. So I was lucky to start grad school the year that they decoded the first human genome, and that cost billions of dollars. And just to give you some sense of how quickly the field has moved, we routinely generate whole genome sequences now for around $1,000. So I was really generation one of the post-genomic era.
And a few years into my Ph.D. work, I worked on a project, which in retrospect was really the first personalized medicine project in pharmacogenomics and oncology, so cancer’s really easily treated based on origin of the tumor, so a breast-cancer, or a brain tumor, or a lung cancer. And how cancers are treated today is that they really wanna understand, on a genetic level, what’s gone wrong with those cells, and then based on that, they can target a very specific medication that hopefully will be more effective for that tumor. So as a result, they may treat a breast cancer the same as they treat a colon cancer, if they have the same thing that’s going wrong under the hood, if that makes sense. So that’s really…that’s called precision medicine, personalized medicine and it’s genomics, you know, and the sequencing of the human genome is really what has enabled medicine to move into that really precise and personalized zone.
So, I was lucky to work on one of the first projects where I was a graduate student at Cornell’s Medical School in the Upper East Side in New York City, and they had patients coming in with lung cancer. And we noticed that patients who had a particular mutation, which is a genetic alteration in their tumor, were more likely to respond to a drug than patients who didn’t. So I kind of, early on, was infected with this assumption that before you make a really important health decision or a treatment decision, you really want to understand on a genetic level, you know, in the deepest possible level what’s going on.
And then later, as it happens in life as a scientist, my area of focus took a turn and I really started to become one of the world’s experts in the genes that are important for making a high-quality egg in a human, in a mouse, in mammals, and then what all of the other genes were that were necessary in all of those stages of early development to get to a viable embryo that could yield a healthy outcome.
So then with that, I was really studying the molecular genetics of early development, and I happened to be in Cambridge the year that they were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first successful in vitro fertilization experiment. So the first baby wouldn’t be born until 10 years later, but the first paper was a nature paper that came out in 1969. And in that symposium, it was the first time that I had really heard pain points that patients were going through. So they were talking about patients who were undergoing in vitro fertilization, which is a really expensive and difficult procedure to go through, and they were talking about how they were failing round after round for unexplained reasons. And they started to describe these patients and I thought, “Wow, they sound a lot like the mice that I worked in graduate school.”
And, you know, I knew that in oncology, this revolution, this genomic revolution, personalized medicine was happening, and I said, just kind of naively, “Well who’s bringing personalized medicine to fertility and more broadly to women’s health in general?” And the answer is no one was really taking a big swing at it.
And so, in retrospect, at the time, it did not feel crazy, but in retrospect, it was a bit of a flight of insanity to leave my academic post in Cambridge and just start a company with, you know, zero funding, zero savings but, yeah, I just took the leap because I thought, “Well, this has to exist. This is important. If nobody’s applying personalized medicine to fertility in women’s health, then, you know, I’ll do it.” So that’s kind of how I got my job.
Nathan: Gotcha. This is really fascinating. So take me back, 2009, you realize that there was a problem here that you wanted to solve, and it sounds like you have a pretty strong competitive advantage in the sense that, you know, you said that you know this stuff better than most people in the world. So what happened next? Did you just get a lab, and you and your co-founder and you just started researching? Did you have to raise capital? How does this work?
Piraye: Well, so another thing that was really cool about the timing of Celmatix is just like I happened to have started grad school when we decoded the first human genome, I happened to start Celmatix at a time when the sharing economy was really picking up. So this was the early days of cloud computing. This was the early days of co-working spaces. This was the early days of Dropbox and, you know, all these things that you can leverage in the virtual world.
When I got started, we assumed we would need a hugely capital-intensive, you know, laboratory research project, etc. And what we learned was that actually in that year, in 2009, when we found the company, you could accomplish virtually everything you needed to accomplish until you actually were ready to commercialize a test virtually. So I started the company in my friend Laura’s living room. You know, there we were, and on her couch on laptops, and that was our team for a while, you know. And we got a lot done.
We leveraged public databases for a lot of the insights. We found genomics platform providers who were not doing a ton of outsourced sequencing, but they were thinking about that and now it’s the standard. Nobody buys their own machines anymore. I mean, some people do, large institutions do, but a lot of people outsource to centers. And I was getting on planes and flying around. We actually shipped some of our first samples to Iceland, you know. So we were very creative in leveraging other people’s hard resources so that we could stay very lean.
And so, in some ways, you know, people have said that we’re a unique case study for what we’ve called Biotech 2.0, which is that traditionally, investors, individuals see biotech and healthcare innovation as something that’s capital intensive, requires a lab coat and a lab, and we’ve proved that it doesn’t. You know, you can actually get a biotech company off the ground with the risk profile and some senses of a technology company. You don’t have to build huge server farms, you can leverage the cloud.
And look, we were on the bleeding edge of all of this stuff. I remember when parts of AWS wouldn’t talk to each other and we were really figuring this out from scratch, a lot of these systems from scratch, but we were in one of the first co-working spaces. Eventually, we evolved into WeWork, which is now a very well-known company, but we were one of the first inhabitants here in New York, but we were in a kind of pre-WeWork co-working space after we graduated from the living room. Yeah, so that’s how we got our start.
Nathan: Yeah. Okay. I see. And how did you work out to create your first product? Like, what did…you said that you could find a lot of the things you needed online, but what happened next?
Piraye: Well, so for the initial experimental design and some of the proof-of-concept, we could do a lot of that virtually. What we also did was we started building clinical partnerships with medical centers. So our first partner was Cornell University, here in New York City. After that, another large clinic, Army of New York, came on board. Now we’ve got something that we call the prime initiative or the personalized reproductive medicine initiative which is institutions from all over the U.S. that enroll patients in our clinical study. They get a tube of blood with consent from the patient. They give us the clinical and outcome data. And then we outsource the sequencing of that. So we don’t need a laboratory for that. Then we do the data crunching, and in the big data work internally, again, leveraging cloud computing. Then now, we’re an 80-person company, so we’ve got our own servers and we’ve got our own office and things like that.
But in the early days, you know, we were doing experiments, so it wasn’t all public datasets. But our first product really was a happy accident on the way to building our genetic test. So the original mission of the company was to try to bring genetics into the picture, right, for people to be able to make these life-defining decisions about, you know, “Do I do IVF or not? How many cycles do I do? Do I stop? Do I keep going? Do I get an egg donor? You know, do I do embryo screening of my eggs?” And then more broadly than that, for any woman to say, “Is it okay for me to wait until 35? Is this enough eggs for me to put away if I’m freezing my eggs, etc.?” Right? So that was really the original mission.
But doing that experiment, you know, discovering those genetic biomarkers is a hard experiment to do because one of the things that we realized early on is when people do these types of genetic experiments, they often do what we call a case-control, which is that they have a group of people who have a disorder, and then a group of people who do not, and then they say, “What’s different.” Okay?
But when you’re talking about fertility, fertility is such a spectrum, right? Some people have one miscarriage, some people have six miscarriages. Some people get pregnant on their first in vitro fertilization cycle, some people get pregnant on their eighth in vitro fertilization cycle. So it’s hard, you know, aside from diagnoses, which are also very squishy in our space, right? Endometriosis is a condition that impacts 10% of all women. It’s not very well understood. Last year. it got less than $10 million of funding from the U.S. government, from the NIH. So it’s very heterogeneous. So it’s hard to do case-control experiments around fertility.
So what we wanted to do instead was we said, “Okay, let’s take a step back and let’s just partner with collaborators and let’s get large electronic medical record datasets related to fertility outcomes. And let’s look at all of the data, let’s look at the whole toolbox that physicians have right now so that’s hormone levels, sperm parameters, metrics about a woman’s endometrium, how long she’s been trying, how regular her periods are, all of that kind of data. Let’s get all the data that we can and try to get a better handle on the spectrum, right, and in the time to live birth or the time to conception when you start fertility treatments, etc. And then let’s discover the genetic biomarkers in the context of multivariate algorithms that can really take into account all these heterogeneities,” instead of just having this case controlled like, “People who got pregnant, people who didn’t get pregnant,” right?
So that’s what we did. We were barreling down the road of genetic biomarker discovery and then realized, “Wait, case control is not the way to go. This is too complex.”
So then we did a step back and we built actually one of the largest and richest clinical data, outcome data sets of non-genetic information and we started to build these predictive models. And one of the sets of models that we built were a set of models that would help when a patient walked in the door at a fertility clinic for a physician to understand if they were to continue having time to intercourse at home or if they were to continue having non-in vitro fertilization cycles or if they were to start IVF and then if they added embryo screening or didn’t, etc., if they waited into the future, what did all those timelines look like. Because what wanted to do was then try to understand what are the genetic factors that power our insights beyond the existing toolbox that physicians have.
But what was really cool was we were presenting this data at medical conferences, and the doctors in our network said, “Wait, you have these analytics? You can make these predictions? This is way richer of a data of paradigm then we use in counseling right now,” because it turns out that, you know, most people counsel based on age and they also counsel on a cycle level, not on a journey level. So so much of fertility, it’s not about, “I tried for a month and I didn’t get pregnant,” it’s about, “I tried for a year,” or “I did multiple IVF treatments, and now maybe I’m starting to learn this is not the best route for me to achieve, you know, the family that I’m going for.”
But they said, “We would love to counsel on a journey level. We would love to counsel with big data and to tell somebody, instead of…for a 35-year-old and one cycle of IVF, “Here are your chances,” to be able to say, “Wow, let’s look at all the possibilities. Let’s look at the whole journey and let’s really craft together, using data as our guide, the best solution to help you get to a baby, right? Not just now, but for the whole family that you’re planning,” right, because it’s not just about getting to a pregnancy now it’s about, “How do we make a smart set of decisions over the course of your reproductive lifespan to help you get to the family size that you want,” right?” So anyway, so doctors were very passionate about that.
So then we said, “Okay, well, we can build an interface.” So then we kind of became a technology company because we had to deploy these big data models in a commercial setting. And then the physicians got so excited, they said, “Oh, well, you guys are pretty good at building technology products, can you solve these other technology problems that we have, so we still do intake on paper.” You know, when you go to a doctor you get handed a clipboard, you know the clipboard?
Piraye: Every time you go, and you still fill in the same freaking information, and you say, “Okay, didn’t I just fill in this clipboard?” Well, we’re trying to move away from that, right? We’re trying to move to a place where you have one integrated electronic medical record that follows you around, etc. So imagine if you’re going through a fertility treatment, you get a 25-page clipboard, you know, and it’s a lot of information and there’s a lot of attrition between the time that somebody calls a fertility clinic and the time they actually see a practitioner because there’s so much information you have to put together. It discourages people, it’s a barrier. It also leads to poor counseling because the physician then has to go through all that information. You know, when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, you hear them shuffling through the papers in the hallway, imagine if they’re, like, shuffling through 25 pages of your medical history.
So then what we built was a kind of patient concierge that, in a HIPAA-compliant way, would allow patients to digitally capture all this information so that a physician could really digest it and come up with a plan before the patient even walked in the door, and then they could layer the predictive analytics reports into the conversation.
So we’ve kind of evolved into really this very rich counseling platform that welcomes the patient from the first point of contact, brings all of that rich data to life, and then allows a physician to really maximally use that intake data and then the treatment level data that they’re getting. And the platform gets smarter and smarter the more we learn about a patient. So if they fail a treatment cycle, you know, we’ve learned something new about how they respond to hormone stimulation, for example, and the models get smarter and more personalized to that patient.
And then the next step for us now, you know, seven years into the research we’ve been doing, is just now bringing genetics into it, which is really exciting for us.
Nathan: I see. So when it comes to, I guess, the process, how do you guys…like, how do you charge for something like that in terms of, like, a business model? What does that look like?
Piraye: We did a lot of thinking about this as well, and where we landed was that the genetic test will be paid for by the patient, and this is not a novel business model. So there are genetic tests that already exists that guide reproductive decisions. So carrier screening, you know, companies like Counsyl, etc., pre-implantation genetic screening of embryos that’s paid for by patients, and then also there’s non-invasive prenatal testing of fetal abnormalities and aneuploidies. So people already pay for genetic tests, right? If you have hereditary breast cancer in your family, you might pay for a breast cancer, you know, BRCA gene test or something like.
This so similarly, our genetic test will be paid for by patients, but the analytics platform is a license that the clinics pay for because for them, they’re able to deliver such a better patient experience and they’re able to deliver data-driven counseling and personalization. And for the fertility clinics, you know, that’s important to them, that patient experience. It’s already really hard to go through fertility treatments, that these clinics that are on our platform recognize that, and they wanna make that journey just a little bit easier and a little bit more transparent for the patient. So they pay a license fee.
Nathan: Got you. So it’s B2B and B2C?
Piraye: Yeah. So I don’t say that it’s B2B, I say it’s B2D where we sell the doctors.
Nathan: Got you, got you. Okay.
Piraye: B2D is a little different than B2B.
Nathan: Got you. All right, this is fascinating. So talk to me around the traction that you guys have now because you’re a software company too and you have this algorithm. You, obviously, you know, are constantly working on this software. So can you talk to us about traction that you’ve had thus far, like where we’re at right now around patients that you’ve helped, growth rates of the company, raised capital, yes or no, valuation? Yeah, I’d love to hear.
Piraye: Yeah, so we’ve raised capital from institutional investors. We have not been public about our valuation. I personally think valuation is a distraction. I think the important thing is just the health of your cap table, whether the key employees have the right incentives and all the stakeholders have the right incentives, and I think we have a very healthy one.
Yeah, so we’re backed by venture capital. We have about 80 employees now and growing across, I guess, four different states in the U.S. And we have a laboratory now in Brooklyn and we’ve actually just signed a lease on an additional laboratory in New Jersey’s, so we’re expanding on that front too. Our platform is in use at 12 centers from coast to coast and growing. We’re about to expand internationally, in 2017. And we have had about 1 in 10 patients in the U.S. counsel donor platform in the last year, which for us has been a huge point of pride because we have a small direct sales team, and it’s really been a lot of word-of-mouth.
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Besides having an amazing product that’s solving a massive problem, what else, because this is what you’re clearly doing and you’re doing amazing work, I’m just curious, what else could you contribute to the growth? What has been incremental that has allowed you to get to where you are today?
Piraye: Our biggest vision is that right now, women make life-defining decisions about whether to freeze their eggs, whether to do fertility treatment, and when to start a family based off of age. I mean, that’s really the metric that women use. And what we know from our data sets is that that’s a risk, right? So plenty of women can get pregnant in their 30s, even their early 40s, but most women cannot. And so by just going off of generalized metrics of, “Yeah, I think my fertility will decline around 40,” you’re gambling. And we have women who have gone into menopause, you know, as early as 24, you know, 21 in our data sets. And so, we think it’s really important for women to make those life-defining decisions based off of their personal biology, and genomics is really at the root of that.
So I think that that mission, it resonates with so many people. It’s been that…we’re in a very competitive market in New York City. So we compete for designers. We compete for engineering talent. We compete for every kind of talent, but we really haven’t struggled. When I go to some meetings and I listen in the New York ecosystem about the challenges to building and scaling technology and biotechnology companies here, I often hear that it’s really talent. And like, look, talent is the cord, it is the everything at a company. But we have not had that experience and, you know, so I want to acknowledge that it’s there. But I just want to say that I think that the mission that we have, it resonates so much.
So, for example, we had an employee who came, and he later was on vacation with his wife on safari, and he came back and he said, “It was amazing.” Here we are on safari and I start to tell somebody what I do, and then all of a sudden, the entire circle around the fire is listening to me. And then everybody starts sharing their story about their miscarriage, or how they’re struggling with fertility treatments or their friend is struggling, or their family member’s struggling. This story about fertility, and the questions that people have, and the lack of answers that they have, it really is so impactful. It’s not discussed. And so, I think the mission has really, The other thing is that I can personally relate to this. This is my age group, right? I started the company when I was 30, I’m 37 now. And also, in the last…I’m on my third pregnancy. I’m actually currently pregnant, due in March.
Nathan: Oh, wow, congratulations.
Piraye: Thank you. This will be my third child, fourth pregnancy. I had a pregnancy loss early on. And so, I really…as I was making the discoveries, as I was helping articulate the vision…a product vision, etc. as a founder, I was living all of these questions. And there’s just something you mentioned that I have this advantage because I have this technical expertise, right, that I understand the genetic factors on a level that most people don’t or at least didn’t when we founded the company.
But I also, from a product standpoint, really understand it and our head of product is in similar age grouped and kind of has been building her family, and my co-founder, you know, in the early days, as well, was going through this journey. So I think part of it is that we’re building products for ourselves and for our daughters. So this is really…it’s personal, you know, it’s not just something that we have a technical edge on. We have a personal insight and edge on this.
The other thing that I would say is that people often say to me, you know, “How did you succeed despite the fact that you were trying to build something at the bleeding edge in New York City?” So the New York City ecosystem is really starting to boom, but it really was not when we started the company. So I get asked, you know, “How did you get this coming off the ground, despite being in New York?” And then I get asked, “How did you get this company off and going despite being a female founder, or despite being pregnant, or despite being a mother.” Right? So people assume that these things are a disadvantage, and again, I don’t want to minimize the challenges. right? There are challenges.
But one of the things that’s been really amazing is how when working on solutions to overcome these challenges, we happened upon other things that I think ultimately made us the great company that we are. So when you think about building a company in a new developing ecosystem like New York…and I know there are people who are now trying to replicate these models, you know, the Boston model, or the San Francisco model, in Minnesota, or in Missouri, all over the…in Detroit, in Miami. And I think one of the great things about being in a disadvantaged ecosystem, if you will, is that it really forces you to be lean with capital.
And so we’re hoping to get to profitability next year, and that’s unheard of for a company that typically has had our lifespan and is working on, you know, the types of things in the types of ways that we’re doing, but in a sense, we were challenged by our environment to be more lean and to be really, really conscious of every dollar that left the company. It wasn’t a luxury, you know. It was a necessity. And so I think there are things about New York that had forced this to be, but the good news is we are now a much more stable and sustainable organization as a result.
And then thinking about the fact that I’m a female founder, I’m a mother, I’m pregnant, all those things that, I think, typically people would see as a disadvantage, it has forced me to build an awesome team around me, right? It has forced me to get out of my entrepreneurial personality of waiting to command and control, and be a perfectionist down to the smallest little detail. It is the cliché. I am the cliché. Anyone around me would acknowledge that, but it has forced me to collaborate. It has forced me to delegate. It has forced me to trust people because I have been in these periods of kind of physical incapacitation, right, where I’ve had to say, “Okay, well, I have to trust my team.”
And what I’ve learned from that is you can trust your team if you have the right team. And so I think even though…I feel like our organization has a benefit of all of the crazy things that you would associate with a Steve Jobs, right, just driven, focused, demanding, perfectionist, opinionated, etc., except for I was forced out of all of those zones into a place of collaboration, and team building, and consensus building, and delegation, etc. And so, I think, we’ve had a stronger organization as a result.
And then the other thing is that I was really moved, in Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” when she told an anecdote about what she was pregnant, and she was in the parking lot and walking to Google, and it was such a long walk, and she thought, “Oh my gosh, we need pregnant lady parking,” and asked the founders, and they said, “Sure.” And she made the point, you know, this is why we need women in leadership positions because it’s not that male founders or CEOs won’t do things that are family-friendly or female-friendly, it’s that it doesn’t occur to them. They can’t relate. And in that moment, she felt the sense of shame to think, “Oh my gosh, all of these women at Google who have had babies, who have never spoken up about this,” right?
And so, I think, for me too, we have a lactation suite in our office, we have paid maternity leave, and secondary caregiver leave. You know, we have become a very humane organization as a result of the fact that I can relate, you know. And it’s important to me that people are supported in those ways that I needed to be supported in during all of these important life transitions. And so, one of the things that I think allows us to recruit and maintain excellent talent in a really competitive market is that people feel that strong sense of commitment to the humans. You know, it’s not just…we aren’t one of these organizations where, “Who carries the human cost? We’re moving the world forward.” For us, they’re one in the same, right? That we’re moving the world forward by progressing individuals as well. That’s really important to us.
Nathan: That was a fantastic answer, thank you. A couple more questions. I had to ask, you’re right, a lot of people say that being a parent, or a mother, or running a company is just not ever possible for them, when you have a family, etc., etc. What would you say to people that often say that it’s a hard barrier to entry to overcome?
Piraye: I think it is a hard barrier to entry to overcome, for sure. And one thing that I wanna stress is that my situation is unique because I’m not the breadwinner of my family. So my husband is able to support me in my goals of entrepreneurship and being a mom, and being able to also move the company forward. So I have caretakers. I have a team at home in addition to a team at work, right? I think that’s really important for me to be very transparent open about because I do think sometimes people say, “Oh my God, you’re doing it all. How do you do it? You’re magic.” I’m not magic, I have a team. You need a team.
And I’m also very lucky that I have two wonderful healthy children, right? And so I do wanna acknowledge that people with special needs children or people who don’t have the financial means to build a team at home, right, that those barriers are real. So I think it would be unfair and not genuine as me to not just be open about the advantages that I’ve had that have allowed me to excel in both domains, if you will, right?
But, you know, to that point, I think this is an opportunity for us to have a conversation on a societal level about is that fair? Do we really want just women who happen to have a spouse or, you know, a family, or a previous career where they saved up and they have this other source of capital that can help them build the team at home to help them continue to be focused at work, is that fair? I don’t think so. I mean, this is why I think we need universal daycare. We need support for working moms because I do think that we lose the potential of more than 50% of population when we make those things very real barriers for mothers to succeed. So that’s my best answer for that.
Nathan: Yeah, look, I really appreciate the transparency. All right, last question, then we have to work towards wrapping up. In terms of profitability, this one is something that I always wrestle with it and I always like to ask because we’re a bootstrap startup and was being profitable very early on. So my question is to you, when you’re raising capital and, you know, you have investors, how do you know when is the right time to turn on the switch and stop sacrificing growth for profit?
Piraye: I think it’s a really fine line, right, and I think that…maybe a way to think about is how you think about debt, right? Debt is great. Debt is what drives the U.S. economy. It keeps systems fluid. It allows you to grow fast. Debt can also be the end of you, right? And so I think it’s the same thing for an early-stage company that’s trying to balance getting a profitability, creating a sustainable platform with growth because the reality is when you do get to profitability, depending on your sector and what your goals are, what your exit strategy is, you know, that may not be the best choice for you. You may be judged on those profits versus being judged on the potential.
I think for us, it’s a tightrope, and we have always tried to balance a deep investment in R&D, and really making sure that we’re not so focused on getting a particular product to profitability so quickly that then we kind of become a one-trick pony of like, “Great. Well, we got to profitability. We have this one product. But now, we’re gonna get judged as a multiple of that, and we haven’t really invested in the next thing, and here comes a competitor, and now we’re in trouble.” Right?
So I think that, to be fair, it will have been a pretty long journey, eight years in our case, you know, we’re hoping to get to profitability. But some health…healthcare technology and healthcare companies in general, I mean, startups in general, they’re given a free pass on that one a lot. You know, profitability, it’s all growth, it’s all growth. And at least for me, the advisors that we’ve had, our board, our investors, you know, the advisors that advise us on commercial aspects of our development really have urged us to walk a tightrope between growth and profitability, and make sure that we don’t let either side get too out of control. And I think that’s right because there’s a lot of things, when you’re building a company, you can’t control.
You know, there are forces beyond you and the economy, and you don’t wanna go all in on one thesis, right, that you never have to worry about being a profitable company, and then suddenly the ground shifts from below you and that’s no longer a popular business model to fund. You know, and now you’re in trouble because you haven’t built a sustainable anything.
On the other hand, if you’re so focused on profitability that you don’t invest in R&D and innovation and think about what’s one year, two-year, five years down the road and are we building a pipeline to that, then I think you can get judged in a different way.
Nathan: Yeah, this is a great insight, so thank you so much. Well, look, we can wrap there but where’s the best place people can find so Celmatix and a little bit more about yourself?
Piraye: The best place to find out more about Celmatix is on our website, celmatix.com. People can find the nearest fertility center that is using our products. They can learn a little bit more about our products and we’ll be making ongoing announcements over 2017. We’ve got a lot of very exciting things coming up. So they can put their email address in there as well and stay in touch with us. So that’s probably the best way.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, thank you so much for your time. You’re fantastic and I wish you all the best.
Piraye: Thank you so much, Nathan, I really appreciate it.