July 19, 2022
Most individuals, when confronted with a health concern, consult a physician or, if they’re like some people, ignore the symptoms entirely. But that’s not how the efficient, go-getter Rachel Soper Sanders ’06 rolls.
In her case, she started a business – Rootine, a startup optimizing health and human performance with precision nutrition.
Initially, after studying at Vanderbilt University, Sanders began her career in investment banking where she learned about the healthcare ecosystem.
“I saw that technology and personal health data were being used in innovative ways in more chronic care and traditional health settings to improve how patients experience their healthcare and to improve patient outcomes,” she said. “At the same time, I was personally dealing with my own health conditions, such as stress, fatigue, and burnout. I was using a manual guess-and-check methodology to see what was wrong and how to fix it.”
Sanders viewed her health situation as an opportunity to take her knowledge of innovations in the chronic care industry and apply an approach focused on prevention and lifestyle changes to support common health conditions. Unsure about what that would entail, Sanderspursued her MBA at Harvard Business School, and spent two years researching the market to discover what the needs were and what problems needed to be solved. She launched her first start-up in the field of muscular-skeletal health, logging real-time training in start-up operations. There, she connected with her current Rootine co-founder, Dr. Daniel Wallerstopher, PhD who had spent 12 years building prevention-oriented nutrition products for consumers based on genetics and other personal biometric data.
Founded in 2018 and launched in 2019, Rootine’s mission is to enable people to leverage their personal health data to achieve optimal health through precision nutrition. Rootine combines at-home lab testing with known health data to deliver science-backed insights and tailored nutritional supplements based on those insights to meet the specific needs of each patient. Additionally, the service tracks the efficacy of the supplements through in-app progress tracking and quarterly blood testing, making adjustments to members’ formula based on feedback from the data. In fall of 2021, Routine also launched the Precision Health Club, a community of data-driven health enthusiasts, which ties the member experience together.
The company has nine full-time team members plus others who work on a part-time or contract basis. Based in the U.S., Rootine has grown an average of 200 percent per year since its launch and is on track to grow 400 percent this year. Its precision multivitamin membership is offered at $69 a month; the brand also offers three at-home tests: one DNA test for nutrition health and two different blood tests measuring vitamin and inflammation levels and mineral levels, which start at $100 each. Rootine’s competitors in the $700 billion dollar global nutrition market include Viome, Vessel, and Ritual, but Sanders contends her company’s unique value proposition is a winner. “We have better data science, a more precise product as well as a tighter feedback loop to understand what’s working and the dynamic approach to make it better,” she said. “Plus we have a unique brand and engaged community that resonates within our target market.”
According to NPR, applications to start new businesses in the U.S. hit 5.4 million in 2021, a new record, surpassing the 2020 record of 4.4 million. And, although many individuals have attempted to chase their dreams, entrepreneurship requires messianic zeal. If you’ve watched recent dramatizations and documentaries offering cautionary tales about rapid-fire start-ups of Adam Neumann of WeWork, Travis Kalanick of Uber, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, clearly you’ll see the hallucinatory vein running through these young founders, an insatiable just-won’t-quit optimism. And although Sanders shares their positivity, she’s far more clear-sighted and principled.
“As founders, we’re all dreamers,” Sanders said. “We’re trying to solve problems and build a better reality. And that’s the most exciting part of the tech and the start-up ecosystem. It also means that some people have more optimism than others – the ability to pick themselves back up when things go awry.”
Sanders readily admits that she not only lives in uncertainty but that she also thrives on it – a critical ingredient to the entrepreneurial spirit. “If you’re building a new future, you don’t have all the answers today,” she said. “There isn’t data that tells you it’s right or wrong. It’s the optimistic view of the future, of the reality, that you want to build. So if you have a mission that you believe in, that is how a lot of people get through.” One advantage Sanders counts on is her confidence and uncanny ability to make decisions with incomplete data sets. “That’s something thing that I’ve learned over time that’s hard to do, but I can do it well,” she said.
Another component of start-up success is a passion for the mission. For Sanders, Rootine was a chance to solve a personal problem in an area of business that mattered to her. To muscle through the challenges, Sanders uses this belief as a North Star to guide her. And although raising money for a start-up is a challenge – in fact, only 2.2% of venture capital goes to female founders – it isn’t the biggest headwind Sanders faces, and she readily rattles off the concerns that keep her up at night.
“I’m constantly thinking about growth, the high growth environment that we created today and continue to sustain,” she said. “Another issue is hiring great people, and hiring in this job market is hard right now. You want to create a great culture, building a place where people want to work and want to stay. And, then, of course, is fund-raising and making sure we have the capital to continue to push forward with our mission.”
To face these hurdles, Sanders has developed a mental toughness around leveling out the peaks and the valleys that occur in the arrhythmia of a start-up. To keep her grounded, she said she calibrates her emotions by not overly celebrating the high highs, just as she doesn’t wallow in the low lows.
Creating a positive company culture is at the top of her mind, and Sanders wants to build a place that’s innovative and allows for diversity in thinking. And although promoting a high-growth environment is important, Sanders does not want to attain it at the expense of the mental health of her or her employees. “I want to build the company without creating too much tension,” Sanders said, “an environment that is conducive to being both happy and highly productive.”
With a two-year-old daughter, a husband, and day-to-day demands, she knows that structure and balance are the name of the game. Recently, Sanders took more control over her calendar to allow for days when she is doing deep work and getting a lot of things done, and other days when she is making external calls. After a morning workout and playing with her daughter, she faces her task list like Eisenhower on D-day. “I really try to do the structured goals that I set for myself like setting quarterly and yearly OKRs (objectives and key results) – breaking down on a monthly and weekly basis what that means in terms of what we need to get done. More often than not, there will be a curveball or a fire that has to be put out.”
If all this sounds, exhaustingly buttoned up and methodical, Sanders is also a proponent of “doing one thing a day that scares you,” even if it’s as small as sending a cold email to a target advisor. And, like most founders, she understands that things that are new entail a fair degree of failure.
“I feel if you’re not failing every day in some capacity in a start-up, you’re not trying hard enough,” Sanders said, laughing. “I was on a podcast a few weeks ago, and we were talking about approaching things from a growth mindset. If you think about customer acquisition and growth, you’re pretty much batting three out of 10. That probably applies overall to startups. It’s really about trying and learning and not being afraid to fail. Because if you’re not failing, you’re not innovating at the rate you need to be.”
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