In my conversation today, my two guests are Gayatri Muthukrishnan, PhD and Sanjana Roa, PhD the co-founders of Miyara, which is a digital community hub that provides support, resources and services for women who are experiencing perimenopausal and menopausal changes and are seeking direction and support with how to adjust and improve their health.
In this episode, Sanjana and Gayatri share their professional and personal experiences with women's health at the midlife stages and their thoughts on how this taboo topic is rarely spoken about - even though it’s a life change that every woman will experience.
Let’s dive into this topic.
Hello dear listeners and welcome to Narratives of Purpose, you are now tuned into a new episode showcasing unique stories of changemakers of people who are contributing to make a difference in society. This show was created to amplify social impact by sharing individual journeys of ordinary people who I believe are making extraordinary impact within their communities and around the world. My name is Claire Murigande, I am your host on this podcast. If you want to be inspired to take action, then look no further. You are in the right place, get comfortable, and listen to my conversations. On today's episode, I have two guests. I will be speaking with the co-founders of Miyara; Sanjana Rao and Gayatri Muthukrishnan, both scientists by training currently based in Zurich, Switzerland, Sanjana and Gayatri startup Miyara is a women's guide to midlife health. Their platform includes a 'Knowledge Hub', downloadable resources, and experts including fitness, lifestyle coaches, clinical dieticians, as well as psychologists. Our discussion will focus on midlife women's health, and the importance of sharing information, transparency, but also openness around conversations about women's health. And for this episode, to reach more people, I invite you to take a moment and share your feedback by giving us a review on Apple podcasts, or on Goodpods. This will help other listeners find our show and further amplify the stories we bring on narratives of purpose. All right. Now, let's get started with Sanjana and Gayatri, I hope you enjoy this conversation and learn a thing or two about bringing awareness to women's health.
Ladies, Hello, how are you doing? Welcome to Narratives of Purpose.
Hi, thank you for having us here, Claire.
Hi, Claire. Thanks for having us. It's great being here today.
So before we go a bit deeper into what Miyara is and all the offerings you have on your platform. I'd like you both to introduce yourself. So let's start with Sanjana, can you tell the audience who you are and give a bit of background for our listeners?
So to tell you a bit about myself, I grew up in India. And I moved to Germany about 15 years ago to pursue my PhD in biochemistry, after which I moved to Switzerland for a postdoc at the University of Zurich. And during that time, I was interested in health communication. Being a scientist, I felt like there was very limited knowledge given to people about their health, and there was a lot of misinformation about the pandemic, which widened that gap. So that is kind of where I started with health communication. And at about that time, maybe about two years ago, I came across an article on LinkedIn, which actually was written by Gayatri and you'll hear more about her in a minute. And it was about a topic that was very close to my heart, which was antibiotic resistance. And I just, on a whim, just got in touch with her, sent her a message and we started discussing ideas on how we can bridge this gap of health communication and bring more awareness to people. And that's how we started working together in the first place. And from then on, we've been really keen on education and awareness. And then we wondered somewhere along the line who we are targeting? Who are we giving this information to? Should we be a bit more specific about the information we're giving? And who in the family looks at health and manages the health of the family? This was also a time that I myself was going through changes in my physical and mental health as I was growing older, and I just felt that I was not being supported by the information around me and as a scientist, I just felt that that was a no go. I needed to be better supported by information and awareness and... I'll let Gayatri go on with that idea.
Hi, everyone I'm Gayatri. I have a similar background to Sanjana. So I've also done my PhD in bioengineering from the US Penn State. And I moved back to India for my postdoc when I worked in cell biology. And I moved to Switzerland six years ago. In the process of looking for jobs and applying, I started writing about health. And it was a similar idea that I read so many articles, I understand so much of the science, but I don't think everybody gets what the scientists do and how it is relevant to them. With that idea, I started freelance writing in health communication. Also, being a creative person, as a dancer, I started doing this through dance two, incidentally, and during this time when I was working in both communicating science through dance, and through my articles, Sanjana contacted me and I was like, "Oh, this is such a cool idea!" Actually doing this in a more serious way, as an entrepreneur, building a company out of this, and it is something that I hadn't thought of earlier. As we were working together and figuring out what kind of health communication we wanted to do, Sanjana pointed out that our own health came into the picture. We were going through health changes, and we wanted to address those. And we were like, "Why are we reading it just for ourselves? Why don't we talk about this to other women?" And this is how our focus slowly shifted to women's health. And not only just women's health, women's health, and midlife. We were at the stage that our kids were already two/three year olds. So we were past the postpartum to some extent. And now what next? And that's when this whole idea of Miyara, as a platform for women came about.
And there's one thing I just want to read, because I like one quote that you have on your website, when you describe your vision and your mission. And you say that you are driven by the quote from Michelle Obama that says, "Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women."
Absolutely. And I think that's really what drives us because if women don't take care of themselves, then that is, you know, what, what happens to the rest of society.
And that really ties into the fact that this topic that we are focusing on, which is perimenopause and menopause. It's such a taboo subject. And actually we've been looking at the data and in 2020 a survey came out by The Female Founders Fund, and they found that 78% of women actually said that menopause interfered with their lives. And 64% of them said that they were unprepared for menopause. And another survey in 2021 in the US actually said only 9% went to their mothers to ask about their own menopause experience. So no one is talking about this life stage. So there's this huge gap of information and I think we are placed at the right position to be able to fill that gap.
So tell me about Miyara, give us a sense of how you built this and what is your objective with the way you put Miyara together as it is?
The way we have designed Miyara and the way we envision Miyaya is an end to end health platform to support women through perimenopause, menopause and beyond. And the idea is to give them access to evidence-backed information, and products and solutions to help them through this menopausal journey. We're scientists by training, both Gayatri and I, so I think that evidence-based information is really one of the tenets of what we follow. So this could be in the form of our bi-monthly newsletter, blog and personal stories that women have shared with us. What we've realised is not only promotes awareness about the topic, but helps women who are in that life stage.
And one main thing that women in perimenopause and menopause need to realise is they still need to go to the gynaecologist, they still need to follow up with appointments because at some point, you're too busy in your own lives with the kids or your work, you're in the corporate environment in a senior management position. You just don't have time for these things. And what we want to say is, please follow up with your gynaecologists, go to four-yearly appointments, follow up with the tests. But more importantly, there are a lot of these symptoms, especially in the perimenopause that require lifestyle interventions. That's why we, on our platform, provide services. Because lifestyle interventions can be from nutrition to fitness to mental health, we want to look at it holistically so we provide customised plans, because perimenopausal women and even menopausal women, they can have many different symptoms. So there are more than 34 symptoms. But each woman comes with a different combination of symptoms. So it's not a one size fits all programme that we can give to these women
I was just thinking, we've mentioned menopause and perimenopause, and perhaps some of our listeners don't know exactly what that is. So maybe we could just rewind a bit and give a definition, right? What is perimenopause and menopause?
Menopause is actually one day and it's 12 months where you've not had a menstrual period. perimenopause is the transition period, which could be anytime between five to eight years before this menopausal day. And so it's perimenopause, the day of menopause. And everything after that is post menopause. So that's really how you define it. And in fact although the global average is 51 years, in India, for example, the age of menopause, the studies have shown it's actually 46. So you can imagine women already start experiencing symptoms of menopause five to eight years before, then that's in their late 30s. So that is why it's so important to prepare and take the right steps so that you can cruise through this time of your life.
I also saw that on your website, you work with different experts. So it can be health coaches, psychologists or nutritionists. Can you explain how you collaborate with them and what is their contribution to Miyara?
Our fitness expert is Anupama Gopal, and she closely works with us in providing these customised training plans. And similarly, our nutritionist, Soumya Peeru. Apart from that, we have collaborated with other professional companies that provide those services. And they are closely partnered with us in understanding who our customers are and what their needs are. Apart from that we do work with a few other experts who train women holistically, like if you were in context of mental health, brain health, even working in terms of mindset, we did a workshop with a coach who works on mindset in menopause.
So you mentioned a workshop. And we also talked about webinars, who are the people actually attending your events?
Yeah, so actually, I wanted to mention that it is a global platform. One of our big target markets is India, where both Gayatri and I come from, but actually, it's really interesting, because we've built a community with people from all over the globe, we have people from the US, from Australia, from the UK, Singapore, all of them are part of our community. So it's actually a really nice mix. And it's extremely interesting that from Switzerland to India to all over the globe, people are interested and want to attend our webinars. And of course, like Gayatri said, in the workshops we are trying to curate experts, based on people who really know the topic, because a lot of what we've realised is even in the medical system, a lot of gynaecologists don't really talk about it. It's a challenge, I would say, it's one of the challenges that we have to find the right people. And we're on the right track, I would say.
It's good that you mentioned that Sanjana, because I was just going to ask you, how challenging is it or how much effort and resources you need to put into that, because it's a global community, as you say, but you're also working with experts. So can you walk us through a little bit of his whole journey? What has been the most difficult for you? And how have you gone about that?
So like I said, it's a global community. But I think what we initially tried to do is we started out in India to get a proof of concept of the fact that our programmes are what women want. And once we started seeing some data on how women are appreciating not only the awareness part, but also the customised, wellness programmes that we have for them. So in terms of women telling us how they have built more sustainable habits into their life, they've started training, or they've started eating better, they've started looking at the ingredients of what they're eating, and they started sleeping better. What we haven't mentioned is that even hydration is such a topic, so we are really coaching them on the different aspects of their lives. So we started out in India and now on the next phase, we want to bring these not only these customised wellness programmes to Switzerland, where both Gayatri and I are based but also go to corporates and any organisation that wants to retain women in the workplace and talk about menopause in terms of awareness and sensitization.
So who are you targeting in terms of corporates and how do you want to collaborate with them? Given your experience so far and what you have been able to do through your proof of concept and how you're building up your communities. We do want to
We work with corporates and even other organisations, which have a considerable number of women. But the main idea is also being sensitive and aware, which cannot be just for women, it has to include men. We need to include men in this conversation. And that's one reason we want to reach corporates is because the first phase, we want to have this conversation that this life stage exists, the women are going to go through it, they can thrive through it, but they just need a little extra support. The second stage is actually providing the women themselves who are going through it, the support and some basic ideas or workshops saying, "these are the different symptoms you might go through. This is how it might be in the workplace, and these are different scenarios you might encounter." So how do you overcome these scenarios? Through lifestyle interventions. Also making them aware of the necessity to reach out to doctors when required. Apart from that these customised training programmes are something we can provide each woman as and when they need it.
And actually, I would like to mention this: We've been talking and there's a latest report by McKinsey and LeanIn about women at the workplace - The Broken Rung. And actually what has been said is that for every 100 men who are promoted from entry level to manager, only 87 Women are promoted and only 82 women of colour are promoted. I mean, if we're talking about equality and diversity and inclusion, we need to have menopause as a conversation at the workplace.
I think your approach is also very interesting in the sense that you want to first have the conversation because it all starts with the conversation awareness. You know, "what is it exactly? How does it feel?" And the fact that people mostly shy away from speaking about it because it's a taboo. Nobody knows about it. And if you don't know, it's difficult to speak about something you don't know about, right?
Yeah, I just want to bring out one more point. So corporates are now addressing pregnancy, the requirements for the family, and the thing there is that you can actually see women going through pregnancy. But when it comes to infertility or menopause, you can't actually see these women going through the struggle. And it needs to be spoken about in that sense, because you can't actually see them going through the pain.
And also from the point of view of their long term health, and we are really a platform that believes in healthy ageing. So women take the necessary steps in their 20s, 30s, 40s, they can have a healthier life. And actually, there's data that women spend a third of their life post menopause or something like that. So why not enjoy that third of your life?
I wanted to ask you something about building up this platform and going the entrepreneurial path. What is it that you're learning from this process in this whole journey so far, and that keeps you going actually?
I think the first thing is resilience, as both of us who have worked in academia and done projects in very basic biological sciences, we realise that the resilience we have learned from that is what takes us forward in this entrepreneurial route. And the other thing I think is super important is being agile, which again, I think we have learned from our research, one experiment doesn't work, you think of a different way of answering your question, or rethink the problem itself and go back to the board. And that is something that we have learned. And we have done, I think very well. And that has helped us come this far with Miyara. Because we try something and as soon as we realise that it's not working, we go back and we're like, "okay, so what does the customer want?" And that's a very important question that we need to keep asking ourselves every couple of months: are we giving the women what they need and what they want? And then take the next step that we want to as Miyara.
This brings me to the quote by Thomas Edison, it says, "I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." So it's kind of like that for us. Along the way, of course, imposter syndrome is something that we deal with on a daily basis, not only as women but also as founders. So they're like daily ebbs and flows, which happened. And a lot of people have given us advice, and I actually want to thank the people who've been openly sharing their advice, but what we've learned along the way is to be picky about whose advice we take. I'm sure they all meant it in the right way. But you know, at the beginning, we used to actually listen to everyone's advice. And that was a muddle in our head at the end of the day,
I liked the fact that you say you're picky with the advice. So may I ask how do you pick the advice then?
One way of deciding that is the person - from what angle are speaking? What is the mindset with which they are coming? When it comes to especially women's health, we understand women better. I think, in some context, when men talk about it we know "okay, they don't really understand what we're talking about and what we're going through," and no offence to them. But they come up with really good business advice, in terms of what works and what can work and what cannot work. So even with the same person, we could pick one advice and not pick the other one even from the same person. One anecdote is initially, we really were working with this antibiotic resistance topic. And we spoke to a doctor who is actually bringing awareness and who was working in antibiotic resistance. And we realised that we need to really take his opinion into account when we were talking about that and working with that idea. So it's kind of understanding whose advice is important in which topic.
What I would like to ask you now is if some people are listening, and they want to start their own journey, and they have this idea and they want to really go for it, what would you advise them to do? How should they start? And given your experience what has worked for you that you would advise someone else?
Yeah, my first thing would be, figure out who you want to work with? Who are your clients, who are your customers? Who are these people? And really talk to them to see if the question you're addressing is something that they want to be addressed and how they want it to be addressed? Because sometimes you go in with an idea of a question that needs to be addressed. And you also already have a solution for that. But probably the question is important, but the solution might not be what the customer is looking for. So I think you really need to go with an open mind, and talk to these people that you're working for.
And I would add to that by saying, be passionate about what you're doing. And I think from both Gayatri and I, you can see that we're very passionate about it, because every day we bring in the same level of intensity and some days, of course, are good, and some days are not so good. But you have to keep pushing on. And that, again, brings me back to what Gayatri said about resilience, and that you just need to have a lot of that. It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be worth it.
I have two more questions on something you said, Gayatri, in your advice you say "speak to your customers and listen to what they have to say on your idea or your solution". How do you connect your customers? I know you're active on social media. But do you have different platforms where you interact with your own customers?
So we have a very active Whatsapp group, and we have a Facebook group too. The WhatsApp group is very interesting. So we provide awareness through that group, but also we get feedback from the women in that group. It really helps also that we run these weekly challenges. And that's when we get the most feedback. Because when we run the weekly challenges, the women have questions to ask, like, "why this challenge?" Right now we are running a sugar free challenge, not completely sugar free, but no added sugar. So women have asked us "Can I add this form of sugar?" You're like, "no", but they ask "can I have fruits?" We say "Well, yes." So the women are really thinking now about what sugar is. And we realise what they know, and what they don't know through this process also. And so that gives us a lot of feedback. And we are able to give them a lot more through the process.
And also, another thing that we've done is personal interviews, we've actually reached out to people and talked to them. And I think that has been the most telling part. So we've also done surveys and things like that. And that is one way of doing this. But we actually talk to a lot of women and ask them like non probing questions, but still, we have been able to get a lot of information. And that's been really valuable for us. And right now we have customers in Canada, in India, in Switzerland. So we've been working very closely with these women. And this is how we're learning and this is how we're building our product. And I think that's been the most valuable thing for us so far.
And looking ahead, saying the short term, mid term and future, what is your vision for Miyara? How do you see this evolving? And what will it look like?
Two days ago, we had a brainstorming session on where we want Miyara to be in five years and I think what we align on the fact is we want to be global. We want to help women and the way we help women right now is through supporting them to midlife health but I think it could be all across the board. So I think that's kind of where we see Miyara in five years but definitely with a big focus on science and education and awareness. But one more thing I would mention is also first of all shout out to our current team. Anupama Gopal, Soumya Peeru are also working closely with us. And of course, on the scientific content, it's Ayshwarya. So first of all, shout out to all of them. But we're also looking to grow and expand our team. So that's also something that in the short to medium term, we are going to be active in looking out for people who share a similar vision with us.
And there's also one thing I wanted to mention; You received an award recently - Hidden Figure Awards. And my question now is how did that feel for you? Is that even more encouraging, what's the impact for you and for Miayra in helping you grow?
I mean, it was, first of all, quite surprising to be in this community of Tech Face and Women In Tech Switzerland and be honoured for what we're doing in health. First of all, we connected with a lot of interesting people in that event, and we're hoping to take those conversations forward. And we hope to use that momentum with the Hidden Figures Award, and drive positive change in Switzerland as well, because like I said, we're now shifting gears and planning to scale in Switzerland as well.
And I must say, it was very encouraging. Because every once in a while, you need the public approval of what you're doing. Because, going back to the fact that as entrepreneurs, you need resilience. And it helps a lot when you have this kind of award or recognition. And people talk to you about it. In building that resilience, you can work through your passion and the resilience and move the company forward.
And I must say that I think we informed more than a few women that they could be in perimenopause at the event. So I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, but but we tried to put a positive spin on it.
Coming back to the fact that this award was given by Tech Face and it was a tech based organisation giving this award. One thing for scaling up that we plan to do in the future is develop a more robust tech product, because that was going to be really important in our scaling up Miyara.
Now, to conclude, I always ask the two same questions to my guests. So the first one is, do you have any recommendations for listeners of a book or movie? Dare I even say a podcast? I don't know. Something you think is interesting, an all time favourite of yours or something that you think people should absolutely listen to or read? Let me start with you. Sanjana. What is your recommendation today?
So one of the book suggestions I would give is Invisible Women. I don't know if a lot of people have read it. It's by Carolyn Criado-Perez. As a woman, you should be really upset after reading that book. And I definitely was. It exposes the data bias that women have faced in building basically all products from the phone that is placed in your hand to crash test dummies. And actually, there's been something done recently about that. So that's great. But you know, it just exposes the inequalities in a world designed for men. If you haven't read it yet, please go ahead and pick up a copy of it.
And how about your Gayatri, what is your recommendation?
So there's one book - Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. As female entrepreneurs or even women in corporations, I think any woman should read it to understand when they need to lean in, take support, take advantage of what they have been given and how to work through the whole society that has been built around men. Like how Sanjana talked about Invisible Women. And this is more in that context of women and women in workplaces. Another book I'm currently reading is Dear Female Founder. It is edited by Lu Li and it is basically a collection of 66 letters of advice from women entrepreneurs. I was given this book as a birthday gift from my husband. It was really nice and I just started reading it and already after the first 10 letters, I'm like, "wow, I need all this advice."
And my second question is, do you have someone in mind who you think would be a great guest for this podcast and whose journey you'd like to listen to?
So there's another female founder, Sonali Quantius, she works on pregnancy and postpartum mental health. She has developed her product for these women. And I think her whole journey is very interesting and how she's gone through developing this, and she's going to go forward with it. So I would love to hear more about her
And how about you, Sanjana?
So I'm also going to talk about another female founder. Her name is Ira Guha. She's built a company called Asan, which is a social enterprise. Their first product is a high quality menstrual cup. And what is interesting is their one to one donation scheme to combat period poverty. The company is now in India and in the UK, but I think her plans are to scale globally.
So now it's the end of our conversation. I'd like to also leave you the stage! So if there's something you'd like to add that we didn't address, please go ahead.
Yeah. So first of all, thank you, Claire, for having a and bringing this very important conversation to the forefront. And hopefully through platforms like Miyara, and other ones that already exist, women and men can have a more holistic picture about this life stage and be able to drive this discussion wherever they are - at home or at the workplace.
Yeah, again, thanks, Claire. Your podcast is really interesting. Your guests and you're bringing awareness on many different topics through this so thanks a lot for that. And like Sanjana said, talking about women, women's health, all works towards this gender equality and we clearly need to keep having these conversations.
It was really great to speak to both of you, thank you so much for taking the time and I'm really excited to see how Miyara is going to evolve. So I am going to be watching closely. Hopefully, in a year, you can come back and tell us more about what you're up to. So thank you so much for taking the time. Because women's health goes way beyond fertility and pregnancy, as a team of scientists and women, Miyara is taking a holistic approach by addressing physical, emotional and mental well being. You can learn more about Miyara on their website at miyarawomen.com We have shared the link for you in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in today. I appreciate you taking the time. That was episode 42 "A Conversation with Sanjana Roa, and Gayatri Muthukrishnan on guiding women to midlife health." Remember to share this episode with your network and with your friends. If you're enjoying our show, we would love to get your five star rating on Spotify. We are also always keen on hearing from our audience, so feel free to connect with us through our social handles. You will find us on Instagram at narrativesofpurpose_podcast, as well as LinkedIn at Narratives of Purpose Podcast. You can also leave us a voice message anytime on our website at narratives-of-purpose.podcastpage.io. Until the next episode, take care. Stay well, stay healthy and stay inspired.