Carolyn Witte and Felicity Yost
Business of Friendship
Come on and party like it’s World Health Day.
Which it is, and we’re celebrating by getting up close and personal (read as: social distancing) with Carolyn Witte & Felicity Yost, co-founders of the women’s-first wellness company Tia.
We talked to the entrepreneurs about their journey into the sh*tshow that is American healthcare, how to speak up for ourselves at the clinic, and how friendship fuels their partnership.
How did you meet?
FELICITY: We met in college at a very nerdy club called the Cornell International Affairs Review. It was all about bringing speakers onto campus and publishing a journal about international affairs.
How are you trying to improve women’s experience with healthcare?
CAROLYN: Our mission is to enable every woman to achieve optimal health as defined by herself. Tia started out as a digital health app you could text to get answers about your health. Now we operate clinics and have virtual care, mental health, primary care, and we partner with hospital systems.
FELICITY: Usually, the first issue starts even before you set foot in that clinic. How do I get an appointment, and how do I know I’m covered with my insurance? We are hearing more and more about women foregoing basic healthcare services because they’re afraid of the cost. That’s the first part we’re trying to make sure is easy. You can use our app to book an appointment, and there’s transparency around what the coverage is going to look like for you.
What inspired you to launch Tia?
CAROLYN: I was always passionate about global women’s issues. In school, I focused on Middle Eastern studies and wanted to become a foreign correspondent to help connect with women’s issues in the world. Post-college, I went through a set of women’s health issues that opened my eyes to all the ways the US healthcare system is failing us. I thought to myself, “The US healthcare system is as complicated as the Middle East conflict! Why is this so broken?” It became a rabbit hole.
FELICITY: The light bulb moment for me was when I was researching the long-term impact of birth control. This was in 2016 before a bunch of the IUD studies had even come out, and I realized there was no strong research on how birth control pills can impact women in menopause. I think that theme transcends women’s health because this area has been under-invested in and under-serviced.
How has working together impacted your friendship?
CAROLYN: It’s transformed our friendship into something that’s hard to put a label on. People joke, “I thought I knew my partner. Then we moved in together, and I really learned.” It’s kind of like that. When you go into business together, you start to see someone in an entirely different light. But I believe our friendship is the foundation of our partnership, and if we don’t create space for the friendship, the partnership actually struggles. So that has been a critical hierarchy.
FELICITY: I couldn’t embolden it more, but starting a company is really hard. I don’t think that either one of us would trade starting it with our best friend, and I think that has brought resilience to Tia. Something we talk a lot about is creating a culture of vulnerability and psychological safety. That really comes from our background as friends and support systems for one another.
What’s your must-know tip for women trying to advocate for their health?
FELICITY: Always feel comfortable asking questions and seeking more options because they are almost always available. The second thing that is super helpful is having a care advocate—somebody who can help you think through your choices. A lot of the way we look at health in America today is that it’s something to keep private and hidden, and that can weigh down on people during their decision-making and make them scared, ashamed, or confused. I’d love to see us evolve into a culture where we’re more able to talk about what the decisions are and what they might mean for us.
CAROLYN: My tip would be to invest in body literacy forever and ever. It’s a lifelong journey, and If you know when something’s right or wrong in your body—even if you don’t know why—that’s essential to communicate with others so you can do something about it. That confidence and awareness of your own body are critical when the healthcare system says, “Actually, you’re just making that up. It’s just this, don’t worry about it.”