Meet Jill Angelo

By McKenzie Schwark
Features Writer
Jill Angelo Headshot

Jill Angelo wants you to know more about menopause. The CEO and Founder of Gennev, a platform for women’s post-reproductive care, talks with Ladyboss exec about the challenges of fundraising, the importance of consumer education, and how managers can better support their employees’ health.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

My name is Jill Angelo. I’m the CEO and Founder of Gennev, which is a women’s wellness platform for post-reproductive care and menopause. I live in Seattle, Washington. I grew up in the Midwest and lived in Fargo for several years and worked with Microsoft for several years. Five years ago I left to start Gennev because I saw such a gap in women’s healthcare, specifically post-reproductively. When women have a baby there is a lot of care for that, but after that there is a gap in a woman’s life when it comes to health education around the kinds of changes her body is going through. As we think about millennial women now, the oldest millennials are aging into perimenopause. I love what I do. It’s an incredibly fulfilling part of my life.

How did Gennev come to be?

I was at Microsoft on a sabbatical. I had always wanted to do something big for women. My philanthropic time was spent supporting women’s and girls’ development. When I met my cofounder, who helped build the Neutrogena brand, she was the visionary around caring for women in menopause. She’d gone through it, and once I met her I was so inspired and that work fit with my own passions. I left my corporate career and started Gennev. We started as an e-commerce storefront. When we started talking to women, we found the number one thing they needed was education. So many women move into this and never have a “menopause talk” or any kind of education about this phase of our lives. The first person I hired was a writer. We would interview women in this stage of life, and we began building a platform. Then we added doctors and health coaches, and now we have a full health and wellness platform serving patients across the U.S.

What was it like to go from e-commerce to an educational platform?

It was honestly really natural. Today’s consumer wants to be educated and understand what they’re buying and why they need it. In order for us to sell products on our site we really needed to educate our consumer on questions like: What is menopause? How does she know if she’s in it or where she’s at in this 10- to 20-year journey?

I’m a marketer by nature, so when you start to explore what consumers are looking for, we find women go online and search for these things. It’s typically discrete. Women don’t want it to be known they’re in menopause or shout that from the rooftops. We just started optimizing our educational content for search, and that’s how we’ve grown. It was a natural transition. Across whatever product or service you’re buying, today’s consumer wants to be educated and to trust the brands that they’re buying from.

I’m struck by two things you just said. Firstly, that menopause is a 10- to 20-year experience. I had no idea! And secondly, that it’s something women tend to hide. What are some of those stigmas that you’re trying to overcome with Gennev?

First, the stigma that menopause means you’re old or signals aging. Perimenopause symptoms start in your late 30s or early 40s. That means night sweats, mood changes, menstrual changes that are quite significant. That’s the start of perimenopause, and we don’t tend to think of it that way. Women just grin and bear it or live with it. That’s the second myth, that you have to just live with it. That’s certainly not true. Women can thrive through this. There are many ways to treat or mitigate some of the 34 symptoms associated with this time of life. The third myth that exists around menopause is that saying, “Oh, she’s menopausal,” to mean she’s cranky, she’s off. As our hormones shift, yes, it impacts our moods and anxiety. Some women say they’re quick to anger and never have been. Or they’re “raging” and thinking “This isn’t me.” Helping women understand and giving them tools to manage through it instead of writing them off as menopausal or depressed I think is important to help women start to talk about it and share and seek our treatment.

Why is it so important to have these open and honest conversations about this phase of life?

I think until we do, women won’t seek out treatment and will continue to suffer in silence. For my company to survive as a company we need customers, women who will seek out our educational services, products, and treatments. When you look at a company like Gennev in the hypertension area or weight loss area, you know if you have high blood pressure or need to lose weight. You’re more activated as a consumer to do something about it because you know what will happen if you don’t. It’s common knowledge. If I were starting a hypertension or weight loss company, I wouldn’t focus so much on the why. I would just market the products. In women’s health in particular, because there’s less education and more stigmatization, we have to do a lot to educate the consumer first. Part of that is starting the dialogue. When the mystery is pulled out of something people are more likely to talk about it and women are more likely to do something about their menopause rather than struggle. When you look at the parallels around different health scenarios, that’s why we focus so much on education, because we don’t have the luxury of the public knowing much about this topic.

Women-led startups receive just over 2% of VC funding. I would imagine things like funding and acquiring investors in this space has been difficult.

Initially when I was starting out, for about three years we were in a funding desert. I was having to educate investors on why menopause is a market opportunity and the potential for getting into this space. The market is massive. It’s larger than the fertility market. Half the population will experience menopause. When you think about the audience size it’s incredible. For a long time I had to educate investors on why this is important.

Female founders have a harder time raising funding, especially for female-focused businesses. On top of that, as an entrepreneur this is my first venture. I have a great corporate career, but didn’t have a track record for this new space. I had to break through a number of different challenges for fundraising for Gennev. In the last 18 to 24 months there has been a lot of attention on menopause. The market is catching up. We were early. When you’re pioneering something it’s always hard, and when you’re the first to do it it’s that much harder. Now there are menopause brands for products, communities, devices, and things that are coming out, which has raised the awareness in the market. That’s been making fundraising easier. It’s still a challenge because of all of the dynamics involved, but it’s gotten better.

How can executive-level women better support their own employees’ menstrual health care journeys?

50% of the women that use our services are professional women. These are women in their 40s and 50s in the prime of their careers that are going through this transition in life. When I talk to employers I always say, “Let’s start with educating your employees.” Gennev comes into companies, and we do virtual webinars or workshops so women have access to OB-GYNs and coaches that work with women going through menopause every day. That gives women an opportunity to ask questions, and that education is something any employer can offer, and we’re happy to partner with companies to provide that.

We’re a direct-to-consumer company first and foremost, but now we’re looking at ways we can embed ourselves into workplace benefits. Over the past few years, the workplace has done a better job at offering support through fertility and maternity benefits. But after that, a woman is pushed to work with a general catchall like telehealth or primary care services that a benefits package can provide. Oftentimes they’ll diagnose menopausal symptoms as depression, or offer a sleep aide if you can’t sleep, rather than offering hormone options or lifestyle changes that you might need to mitigate what you’re feeling.

What is one thing women can do today to prepare for menopause or take better care of their menstrual health?

We created a free menopause assessment to help women understand if they’re in menopause or where you’re at in that journey. It’s a great self-help tool to get personal insights into where you’re at. We ask about your quality of life impacts and symptoms, and then we give you an assessment of where you’re at in the journey and offer recommendations. Knowing more about where you’re at with menopause is incredibly empowering.