Rachel Sanders (MBA 2017) started her professional career working in healthcare focused investment banking. After spending four years working at Raymond James focused on middle market transactions, M&A, and the intersection of technology and business, she had a strong understanding of the opportunities to leverage technology to help people experience their healthcare in a better way. Driven by her own personal health experiences in where she constantly used a guess and check methodology to improve her health, she sought to learn how to solve health outcomes for more than just herself. “That is really the crux of why I went to HBS, and why I chose to get an MBA. I knew that I wanted to build something that would make an impact on people’s lives. “

Rachel spent her two years at HBS immersed in learning and soaking up as much information and experience as she could. “Using those two years as a time to experiment, to learn to launch something, but also to gain the skills on the operational side, and to expand my network. I was great at finance, I understood the healthcare market, but there was a lot of opportunity for learning while at HBS that I was really excited about.”

RC year gave Rachel the foundation to make decisions on the fly and with little information. “If you’re operating as the Protagonist, what would you do…the case method beyond everything else really prepares you for the cold calls that you experience as a Founder, and that preparation is hard to get elsewhere.”

Leveraging the HBS alumni network, Rachel secured an internship between her RC and EC years at naviHealth, Inc... a digital health company. This internship allowed her to make an impact at the organization by working on projects that shaped new product development and strategy, allowing Rachel to gain experience across strategy, product, and operations within the healthcare space. She took that experience into her EC year, where she was able to continue to build her network and flex her skills.

It was in her EC year that Rachel connected with Julia Austin, senior lecturer at HBS’ Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. Rachel credits her connection with Austin as the biggest influence in her journey to becoming a Founder. Austin became a mentor, which she remains today, introducing her to “Good for Her,” a cohort of female founders, and connecting Rachel into the startup ecosystem initially.

Through her relationship with Austin, Rachel connected with Alex Iskold, Coach and VC in Resident at the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at HBS and Managing Partner at 2048 Ventures [formerly Managing Partner of TechStars NY]. It was Iskold who would ultimately introduce Rachel to Dr. Daniel Wallerstofer, PhD, her Co-Founder at Rootine.

Launching Rootine

After launching her first venture during her EC year, Rachel started experiencing stress, fatigue, and signs of burnout. She started to look at not only her nutrition, but her overall lifestyle – what she was doing for exercise and her sleep patterns – to try to improve her performance. It was during this time that she connected with Wallerstofer, who had a PhD in biotechnology and had spent the previous decade building consumer facing nutrition products based on health data, starting with genetics, and then moving into blood levels. Collectively, Rachel and Wallerstofer saw an opportunity to build a precision nutrition brand that was more data driven, science backed, and truly personalized. “We came together on this mission to empower individuals to leverage their data to achieve optimal health.”

Rootine unlocks total body health through at-home lab testing, a precision multivitamin membership, in-app progress tracking, and an engaged, health-focused community. By combining science with health and wellness data, Rootine delivers a precision nutrition system that addresses each individual’s unique nutritional needs and provides real health benefits, differentiating itself from the competition.

Founded as a remote-first company, Rootine was positioned well when the pandemic forced companies to move to a remote work environment. With their technology already at scale, and the pandemic highlighting the need for consumer health at home, Rootine was able to harness this momentum and launch and deliver more, allowing people to live healthier lives in a more convenient way.

Female Founded & Future Focused

“Being a female founder is hard. Being a female founder having an HBS degree is helpful… having that network is really important.” Rachel immersed herself in the opportunities that the HBS alumni network provided her – leveraging it to better educate herself on key things like fundraising as a female founder and pitching fellow founders about Rootine. Those same founders from companies like Rent the Runway and Birchbox became resources for Rachel to use in building out her own startup. “That was one of the reasons I went to HBS, and it’s fun to see and be a part of the next generation of female founders coming out of it.”

Advice to Those Looking to Start Their Own Venture

You will likely make mistakes daily, and you need to use those failures as learning opportunities. “We do something wrong, whether it’s big or small, on a weekly basis. Have a process to understand how it went wrong, or how it could have been better, so that the next time you can do it differently. Creating the processes around that has been really helpful.”

Utilize career coaching. Rachel worked with HBS Career Coach, Matt Spielman. He was helpful post-HBS while trying to launch her 1st company and at the point where Rachel saw this new potential opportunity. He was able to help her determine where she wanted to spend her time from a career perspective and an opportunities perspective, and then assisted in creating the frameworks needed to make those decisions.

“When you’re in the ideation phase, it is really about understanding where the white space is, what is your hypothesis around your unique value proposition, and is this something you are passionate about and willing to spend the next 10 years investing in, because startups are not a short journey.” Once you have your hypothesis ready, put it out there to get as much feedback as possible – “talk to people in the industry, talk to potential customers, and just start pressure testing it. You’re going to get a crazy amount of feedback and you’re going to iterate really quickly.”

Build a team around yourself. “It’s really about figuring out what is your superpower versus what is your weakness. What do you do really well, what are you going to excel at, and how does that fit into what you need to make this business successful.”

Understand the funding landscape and all that entails. “Investors are like a marriage, you talk to them all the time, they’re with you on this journey. You want to get people that can be helpful, that can make introductions, that believe in your vision and in you. Are you entering into this business relationship with people, you know, that you trust, and that believe in you?”

There are several avenues for funding for founders – from venture to a newer type of funding such as revenue-based financing and grants – educating oneself on the financing landscape and all that entails is critical to be successful. Resources such as the HBS Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and Startup Hacks can help provide the information on early state funding for founders. “If you are a female founder, I always tell people, be very educated on what that means. Some people say to not think about it, I say, look at the pitfalls and avoid them, because it’s much easier to raise money if you’re aware of them.”