People are happy to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out.
Jenna Ryan is the CEO and co-founder of Uqora, the company dedicated to making effective, unique products for urinary health. Uqora has served over 50,000 people who struggle with urinary health, and has over 3,500 5-star reviews.
Jenna’s background is in technology. Before starting Uqora, she worked for eSignature giant, DocuSign. Jenna led e-commerce customer success before moving onto growth and marketing, and eventually product management at DocuSign. Sometimes she jokes that her best accolade, though, is a lifetime of UTIs. In 2014, Jenna had 8 urinary tract infections. She was sick of antibiotics, desperate to get ahead of the problem, and frustrated by the lack of options.
This experience inspired Jenna and her partner, Spencer Gordon, to explore better options. With Jenna’s background in e-commerce and UTIs, and Spencer’s background in biochemistry, the two of them started looking into the research. Uqora’s products have been developed with the best research available, in collaboration with scientists and physicians and urologists.
Jenna and her team have a considerable focus on research. UTIs are the second most common infection in the US, but innovation has been stagnant. Uqora is changing that. The company has invested in a pharmaceutical-grade clinical trial, run by a third-party to elevate the research available for urinary health and urinary tract infections. Uqora is also planning several other in-clinic studies, and is actively supporting additional third-party research that is unrelated to Uqora’s products but aimed at expanding the body of research around UTIs broadly.
Jenna and Uqora have been featured in Forbes, Mashable, TechCrunch, Inc, among other major publications sources. Uqora was also recognized nationally as the #1 startup for its measurable impact on the lives of women and families in the 2017 InnovateHer business challenge, earning the company a grant from the Sara Blakely Foundation to help Uqora amplify its impact.
Jenna and her team are based in San Diego, CA. Their customer base is comprised mainly of women in the US, but they do serve men too, and people in other countries. Their products are available exclusively at www.uqora.com.
Where did the idea for Uqora come from?
This is something that I’ve always struggled with, and I’m in really good company. Half of all women get UTIs, and it’s the second most common infection in the US. So that’s a staggering stat, when you think about the magnitude compared to how much it’s talked about.
But when I started down this path, I wasn’t really thinking about all the other women who were suffering from UTI. I was thinking about my own experience at that time. Like I said, I’ve always been prone like a lot of people, but in 2014 it all came to a head. I had eight urinary tract infections over the course of the year. I belonged to a great physician network and felt well cared for, but even still they could not offer effective prevention options for me. The only things on the landscape were cranberry juice and extracts, which I knew from my own experience weren’t working. And research has shown that it’s hard to prove whether cranberry is effective or a placebo in controlled studies.
I was also offered antibiotics for prevention, which is a slippery slope and just didn’t feel like an option to me. At that time, me and my partner (and now co-founder), Spencer Gordon, started to look into research that was coming out of top universities in the hospitals and found that there were some compelling studies showing there were ingredients that can really help promote urinary tract health. Spencer’s background is in molecular biology. My background is in eCommerce, and my experience with urinary health had obviously made a big impression on both of us. So that was really our starter kit.
We started to develop products based on the most compelling research we were seeing and partnered with physicians and urologists to make sure we were on the right path. We went to market with our first product shortly after that. We launched our first product, Uqora Target, which helps flush the urinary tract, in February 2017. Since then, we’ve grown a lot and have expanded our product line, but have always stayed very connected to our roots, and have helped more than 50,000 people be proactive about their urinary tract health since then.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up around 6:30 and do everything in my power to not immediately start flipping through my phone. On the days when I’ve successfully resisted the temptation, I’ll get up, stretch, make a cup of coffee, and spend a few minutes with my journal, outlining my intentions for the day. If I can spend that time reflecting before immediately jumping into email (which can be distracting), I find I’m more likely to have a productive, focused day. After that, I’ll usually hop on the computer for about an hour, check for anything urgent, and then try to knock out one-high impact item (saving email for later in the day). I’ll work out, then head into the office.
I spend a lot of my days meeting with my team, external partners, and triaging projects that come up. Unless something unusual is happening, I really try to unplug by 7pm. I really subscribe to the belief that productivity suffers after a certain point, and resist the temptation to measure my impact by tallying how many hours I’ve worked in a certain week. I think that can be a trap. But, generally speaking, I try to be thoughtful about my to-do list, making sure that I’m prioritizing by impact.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Lots of talking! Part of being in business with your partner is that you inevitably talk about your work all the time. We love Uqora, and have so much fun doing it. So it doesn’t feel like a chore. But with big, business-changing ideas, we’ll often have spent hours talking it through. Obviously most of our work happens at the office and a lot of these discussions take place in a meeting room, but I really value the fact that dialogue on big strategic initiatives can be a bit more fluid, and take place in a variety of different environments (on a hike, over dinner, etc). By the time the idea is ready to be put-to-action, we’ve usually had the chance to look at it from lots of angles and discuss it in a lot of different environments.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Antibiotic stewardship! Overusing antibiotics can be really dangerous, but for a long time, curbing the overuse of antibiotics wasn’t a big priority for the medical community, and consumers had very little awareness of the dangers of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop resistance to certain antibiotics. The more liberally we use antibiotics (for UTIs and all bacterial infections), the more quickly antibiotic resistance develops. The number of UTIs that are antibiotic resistant have doubled in the last 10 years (from 8% to 15%). It’s become clear we can’t just throw antibiotics at the issue anymore, hoping it will go away. And that’s not just the feeling among hippie health-types. Recently, there has been a ton of focus on prescribing antibiotics more responsibly (as well as consumer demand to take fewer antibiotics). I’m a big believer in preventative care, so I’m really excited to see this trend. Not to mention, it really compliments Uqora’s mission, since we’re all about helping people find their path to proactive urinary tract health.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’m good at momentum. Sometimes I compare myself to one of those dogs that need to be run a lot, like a terrier or something. It’s a joke, but it’s true that I just like to be a body in motion. I do my best work and have my best ideas when I have a lot on my plate and am also getting a lot of exercise and time outdoors. So, I really prioritize fitness because it makes me more effective, and I also don’t shy away from taking on a lot of work across a lot of different parts of the business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
For the most part, people are happy to help, so don’t be afraid to reach out. It takes confidence to ask for help, and it took me a long time to find my voice in that way. I was over that by the time we were launching Uqora, but sometimes I wonder what else I could have done when I was younger if I had been less intimidated by the whole “networking” thing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Talk to our customers all the time. And think about our customers all the time. Every new hire sits with the customer service team for some amount of time, no matter what their role is, because nothing is more important than our customers. I have a personal relationship with a group of customers that I’m constantly getting feedback from and checking in with—I think of them as our little think-tank. And across all sectors of the business, we have a super-tight feedback loop with our customers, and we’re so much better for it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I got a massage recently and it was worth every penny. At $100, you may be thinking that it was a well-priced massage—and you’re right! It was a really great escape.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We rely pretty heavily on Google apps. We use Google for email (and so for our calendars too). We also manage pretty much all of our documents, assets, spreadsheets, etc. in Google Drive. I love how collaborative Google’s apps are, and how easy it is to keep everyone in the loop.
I also like Boomerang, which is an add-on app to Gmail. We’re a real work-hard-play-hard team, and I really make an effort to respect my team’s boundaries. Sometimes I just can’t help but send emails over the weekend! But Boomerang allows me to schedule non-urgent emails to send first thing Monday morning so I don’t accidentally ruin someone’s Sunday over something that’s important but not urgent.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon — someone was nice enough to mail it to me last year. Truthfully, it took me a long time to get through it. That’s because every chapter felt poignant, and it required a lot of digestion time. It prompts really great reflection on brand positioning and the stories that make a difference.
What is your favorite quote?
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I can have an independent streak, and sometimes I can get in the “I’ll just do it myself” state of mind. But impact is amplified so much when you take the time to work through a problem (and then execute a solution) as a team.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.