Growing up with a father who was a gynecologist
The importance of having open conversations on taboo topics
Issues that arise with menopause
What is Elda Health?
Is there societal pressure to have children?
The startup ecosystem in India
Normalising gynecological health
What’s next for Elda Health?
Enjoy the Journey Towards What You’re Building
Conceiving = Body + Mind
Your Basket Needs to Be Empty
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:05
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to India GameChanger today we are joined by Swati Kulkarni, the Co-founder and CEO at Elda Health. I hope I got all that right. Swati, thank you so much for coming to the show. How are you doing today?
Swathi Kulkarni 0:19
Michael, thanks a lot for inviting me in. I’m really looking forward to our conversation. I’m doing quite well. It’s been a lovely weather here in Bangalore, despite the rains, I think it’s a nice sunny morning after a long time. So yeah, it’s got to be a great day today.
Michael Waitze 0:32
Good for you. I was talking to some of my friends today in Bangkok, which is where I live, it’s raining there. And then I kind of picked out the window here as well. And it’s just like cloudy and raining too yucky. Anyway, before we get to the central part of our conversation, I would love to get some of your background for some context.
Swathi Kulkarni 0:48
Sure. I’m an average Indian woman, if I may. And I say this with a lot of respect for all the average women that we have in India, but I grew up in a slightly non traditional sort of household. My father is a retired Army gynaecologist and uh, you know, we’ve been different cities, towns in the country. So just the experience of meeting people from different you know, states different religions was extremely, I would say enriching and it’s a it’s an integral part of my upbringing. But I think the more interesting part was growing up with you know, dad who’s a gynaecologist. So a lot of these conversations were typically, you know, matter of fact, and very, very unlike what you’d see in, you know, an Indian household, especially for kids who grew up in their 80s and 90s.
Michael Waitze 1:30
Did you know that though, when you were a young girl, you’d sit around the dinner table, or even just like in the lounge, or whatever you call it, right? You’re sitting with your mom, your dad, your your family, and they’re having these conversations that to you seem kind of normal. But if you went over to somebody else’s house, you’re like, No one seems to be talking about this kind of, do you know what I mean?
Swathi Kulkarni 1:45
Yeah, absolutely. I think it happens. It happens even now, more often than not, you know, it’s some of these conversations are so normal, that I find it very difficult to, you know, to be discreet about them, if I may. But yeah, I think it was a very, very different sort of a setting in our household. And like you said, conversations over the dinner table in the living room would be very, you know, focused on women focused on how we should speak about certain things openly break taboos, and so on. And today, when I go to, you know, people’s places, I feel like in a number of at least circles in terms of my friends, my in laws that I was introduced into their families, I feel like we’re replicating what I saw when I was growing up, especially in my household, and hopefully, in a number of others,
Michael Waitze 2:23
it begs the obvious question, right? First of all, what were these conversations like when you were growing up, but almost more importantly, what’s the necessary discretion? In other words, if I was a 14 year old friend of yours, a male friend of yours, right, and I just came home with you to study calculus, or whatever we were doing, and I had broken my leg or hurt my knee, and we were sitting around, so I was having a medical problem. And I’m like, Oh, God, my knee is killing me. And I got this knee injury by this thing where I fell, or I was playing rugby, or playing cricket, or whatever it was, nobody would even think twice about it. Nobody would turn their head while you and I were having this conversation is 14 year olds or 13 year olds, nobody would care. So what’s the disconnect? Like I’ve always had this thought myself? Like, why is it that when we turn to, you know, gynaecology, or men’s health or things that are very, like, kind of sexual in nature, that we have to be so discreet? Like I understand, you know, I don’t want to share the intricacies of my sex life necessarily, but my health is like a completely different thing. It feels to me No,
Swathi Kulkarni 3:18
no, absolutely. I think the taboos associated with women’s health in general, especially whether it’s puberty, whether it’s, you know, during pregnancy, either before when you’re trying to conceive apart, and for that matter, even menopause is a big taboo in most households. And I’m assuming that’s not just in India, even my western friends, you know, these are topics that people wouldn’t talk about, you talk about a fracture that you’ve had, or you know, a pain in your neck or me without, you know, batting an eyelid because it’s very normal, it’s considered absolutely normal, right. But if you’re talking about periods, for example, or those with PMS issues that people have, trying to conceive sexual health issues, you know, when couples are aren’t compatible, or there is a lot of psychological baggage to what you bring, I would say not to the table, but to the bed, and especially menopause, as I’m building older in the space, but I think these are all topics that are very taboo. I mean, let me give you an example of this 14 year old my son coincidently is 14 year old and I see him talking to his, you know, friends at school, whether they are girls or boys, I think this generation is definitely different from what I’ve seen growing up, you know, a few years ago when my son was just nine or 10. I actually sat him down and spoke to him about periods and told him why it is important to sort of empathise with other women, right, and that I my little daughter was only five years old. And my son was really worried if she was going through that to the sensitization across the board for us as families at school, whether it’s education at workplaces, let people know that having your periods is as normal as maybe as normal or as important as your heartbeat. Like my dad always says, right? You’re a woman from the womb to the tomb. So the moment your mother has you in your womb, you know, and you have a tiny uterus as an embryo growing into a baby, the care starts From the, you know, from what your mom eats, how your mother’s treated as a woman, that’s how you continue to grow. And as women, I think, from our mother’s womb to the tomb to the reader last breath, I think it’s very important for us to understand that everything that’s going through the heart hormonal roller coasters that we are going through, and very, very normal. And it should be dinner table conversations,
Michael Waitze 5:21
I think. So I want to back up a little bit and give you my perspective, right? Because I often try to sit back and think, Why do I have a perception about something in the way that I do. And I go back to my grandfather and my grandmother, I could tell stories about like how much he needed her because he was my grandfather was brilliant, but left school when he was seven years old, because he stuttered in the 1910s. I think it was right. So they thought he was retarded. That’s what they told him. And he was like, he just ran away from school because he was getting beaten up. Turns out, he built a very big business, but he couldn’t write his own name, he couldn’t sign his own name. And he couldn’t do any math. My grandmother was an actuary. So she was slightly better educated and could do a little bit of math kind of thing, right. But because he needed her so badly, he gave this to his own sons as well, right? This idea that, like women are important and are meant to be treated in a very in a very specific way. And that’s with deep respect, because without her, he would not have been able to be what he was. And that was passed down to us as well. And I also grew up in a house with two sisters and a mother. So for me, all of these conversations seemed kind of normal, because there was always somebody in the house menstruating and always somebody in the house, you know, it was not like when I went to college, it just seemed like sure I get it. I lived in a coed dorm anyway, the point is that humans have been doing this, you know, women have been doing this forever. So it’s not like it’s something new that we have to get used to. It’s something that’s just there. And every man who has a wife, or a mother or a sister or a grip, like should know this, and should just be as comfortable talking about this as they are talking about anything. Does that make sense?
Swathi Kulkarni 6:44
No, absolutely. Michael, I mean, I’m so glad you said that. I think it starts from what you’ve seen the family, the fact that your grandfather, you know, appreciated your grandmother, and there was a sort of an equitable relationship between the two, right? It’s not about you know, who brings what to the table, because we are born with different skills. I think just bringing that mutual love and respect. And I keep telling, you know, my, my younger team, a lot of my colleagues do that there’s always love in the relationship. And I think what’s typically missing sometimes is the respect that we show whether it’s women in our lives or to you know, our colleagues may love him and colleagues. So yeah, I’m so glad you said that. And really heartening to hear that you’re you’re extremely comfortable with this. And I’m, I’m hopeful that people like us can actually make that change
Michael Waitze 7:25
in the world. Yeah, I mean, I’ve thought a lot about normalising these conversations, right, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you, but I want to talk to as many people that are doing what you’re doing as possible. So it just feels like you know, talking about cricket. I mean, it’s much more significant, but it should be just as casual or just as easy. Yeah, there was a very funny scene. I mean, in a very sort of sarcastic way in 1970s television. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this show called All in the Family. Yeah. So they did a whole show about Edith bunker entering or going through menopause. And it showed like the male perspective and Archie bunkers. I think if I remember correctly, one of the most famous things he said was he turned it he goes, I get it, you’re changing. How long is this gonna take do it now? And then we’re done with it kind of thing. You’re laughing, right? Because I think that’s the way most people feel about it. Maybe we can dig a little bit deeper and talk about what menopause really is when when it like on average onsets and just the things about it that you think are important that people should know? Sure.
Swathi Kulkarni 8:17
No, I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s unknown about menopause. And I feel that it’s only the last few years that people have even started focusing that this is a huge phase of a woman’s life. Okay. Oh, Michael, we spend as women one thirds of our lives in menopause. That’s how big the space is.
Michael Waitze 8:34
What does that mean though? Does it mean that so it’s not like a transition? It’s just like it’s a thing that then just continues until death? I’m asking ya know,
Swathi Kulkarni 8:42
so anything in life for example, you know, is a phase so you hit menopause when you have not had your periods for a year. Okay. When you say this lady has hit menopause, okay, but unlike just something that happens, you know, at a point in time, this phase as I would like to call it is basically something that starts way before you get to that stage where you say I’m menopausal, right I hit my menopause, I’m not happy it’s for 12 months. So it starts you know much earlier so there is a pre menopausal, you know, phase that you go through, there’s a Peri menopausal phase, there’s menopause and that is post menopause. Simplify this and tell you you know, just like I now tell my kids about menopause. See there is this very friendly hormone as I would like to call it, you know, my soul sister hormone that is oestrogen oestrogen that is there in our bodies, right? As long as I have oestrogen as a woman, I’m protected from a number of health concerns which you as a man may not be protected. For example, hypertension, you know, the possibility of becoming diabetic. You’ll see fewer women having that until a certain age because I have my friendly hormone oestrogen, that’s protecting me go ahead happens during your Terremark menopausal years is that oestrogen starts dipping. So then not only do I have my own female problems, which I’m messed with, I got all my problems. I also get all the other gender neutral problems. And you know, I’m more prone to diabetes, I am more prone to hypertension, just the moment the oestrogen starts dipping, I basically start seeing problems in three areas. First is physical problems, right. So those physical problems could manifest in terms of lethargy, tiredness, I don’t know, if you remember any of your, you know, either your mom or your arm. So your female, you know, family members who are in their 40s and 50s, you will see a sudden dip in their energy levels. And that’s also because we are hitting menopause, we’re getting closer to that product. So you will see issues with your skin and hair, you know, the lady sort of loses that last year in the skin and the hair, and so on. So these are all physical problems that you as a partner, or as a colleague can actually notice. Got it. But that’s not just that, right? There are some gynaec issues, which are more intimate to the woman. So you would have there’s a big joke about hot flashes, not many of us really know how tough it is. Imagine if you feel like you’re set in front of the furnace for a few minutes. And then that’s it, right? So if you’re in an air conditioned room, you know, there’s there’s absolutely low temperatures around you, you feel like it’s just so hot, and there’s a sudden flash of this heat, and a woman goes through it for a really long time. So hot flashes is a real problem that most women would menopausal go through. And it’s not easy for others to understand because they don’t see it. Yeah, you
Michael Waitze 11:17
can’t feel it, right. A man can’t feel it or someone who’s not going through it can’t feel it. Right. So it’s like, what does it mean? Yeah. And then there are
Swathi Kulkarni 11:23
other issues that are even more intimate, which we call the urogenital issues. For example, the vaginal dryness, you know, till oestrogen levels are high, there is moisture in the private parts of the woman, right. So she’s able to function normally, whether it’s intercourse, whether it’s general, urinary issues, the problems are at bay. But the moment the oestrogen level goes down, the lady is actually prone to a number of issues through vaginal dryness, sexual health problems, that is urinary infections, you know that she’s more prone to. So very often you’ll see women in their 40s and 50s, having urinary tract infections and so on. And this is because our friend friendly hormone is normal there with us.
Michael Waitze 12:00
Can I ask you this, though? So we spend a lot of time and I want you to see. So give me just a second for this right? We spent a lot of time talking about financial literacy. We talked, we spent a lot of time talking about, you know, financial inclusion as well in FinTech or other types of conversations that we have, you know a lot about this, right? But I feel like is it the case that so many women kind of wake up one day, and I’m obviously simplifying this without knowing that these are the that this is the result of low or falling oestrogen levels, and that they end up with these, they end up with these changes that they don’t understand. So even if someone is with them that you can’t even ask them because they don’t understand that either. So they need to have their own sort of health literacy before they can even share with somebody else. Does that make sense? Or do you know this? Because you grew up around it right? But like even even friends of yours girlfriends of yours girlfriends, obviously, no, none of this stuff, right? But even female friends of yours that have known you your whole life or that are 10 years younger than you would have no idea like why this is happening. Is that fair? And then they’re confused as well. No,
Swathi Kulkarni 12:56
no, that’s absolutely fair. That’s more than fair, Michael. And let me also confined that I didn’t know much about menopause until a few years ago despite being the daughter of a gynaecologist. Yeah. Can I just
Michael Waitze 13:06
jump in here for a second? I’ve always wondered this. And I kind of say this out loud, like for generations before yours, most gynaecologist, on average were guys. Absolutely, yeah. But they’re not going through any of these problems themselves. They’re just interacting with people that are having these health issues. So they don’t experience it personally. At some level, it must be harder for them to understand because they don’t have oestrogen. I don’t know. I mean,
Swathi Kulkarni 13:31
I would disagree with that. I don’t know. Right, but go ahead, man. I can make gynaecologists agreed to I think there’s empathy,
Michael Waitze 13:39
or whatever, super. That’s not the point. But this idea of like, feeling it, ya know, if I’ve never had tooth pain, even if I’m a dentist, like, I can’t, I never had that feeling. You know what I mean?
Swathi Kulkarni 13:48
I think so too. And that’s why I feel that, you know, we should have more women founders out there building companies for women, because if you have a credit period, if you haven’t gone through menopause, if you haven’t had these issues, you really don’t know what it feels like, you know, so I think I agree with you, Michael, on that one. Yeah, sorry. I interrupted you. Go ahead. No, but coming back to the point or knowledge about menopause. Yes, big white space, not just in the Indian context. We were talking to a number of women founders leaders across the globe, and I think it’s a big white space that needs to be solved. You were right on the point when you said that people don’t know about menopause I mean, forget about what’s going on with you know, what am I going through right with pregnancy? You know, these are the things are gonna happen. You know, this is what what I expect with puberty, you know, that you have your first period, you may have PMS and so on, but majority of the women who come to us at elder and we’ve got about 40,000 women as we speak today, who are a part of our community, majority of them had no idea about what they were going through. Yeah, that’s my point. Right? They don’t know what’s happening, right? So they don’t know that there is this hormone they don’t know what they’re going through is something that everyone goes through. So a lot of them are suffering silently and they suffering alone.
Michael Waitze 14:57
Yeah. So do you. Do you think All right, do you think that and let’s use your 40,000 Community sample as an example of this, right? But do you think like, you’re right, they’re doing through this alone and in a way, because they’re not even 100% sure that it’s happening to anybody else that there’s nobody to lean on to say like, Hey, do you have this thing? Like, who’s gonna ask this question? Are you suffering from vaginal dryness? From vaginal dryness, right? It’s like, again, that should be easy to ask, but very few people are gonna ask this question, right? They don’t,
Swathi Kulkarni 15:22
they don’t. So you speak about everything else. You complain about your work, you complain about your mother in law, but you have a fact of life. And I think if somebody is there to just shake people up and say, Hey, you’re not alone in this. I’m Secondly, you don’t have to endure this, right? Well, we keep telling our women, this is a beautiful phase of life. See, look at the many positive aspects of life, you don’t have to carry a sanitary pad ever. You can wherever and whatever, because you don’t want to have your periods right, you can be happy. A lot of women actually talk about a great sexual life after they’ve hit their menopause because just to worry about contraception and so on. But I think this positive aspect of how we want to have women go through menopause is what we want to build. That’s the awareness we want to talk about.
Michael Waitze 16:05
So what exactly is Elda Health since we’ve kind of alluded to it, but we haven’t really mentioned what it is and how long it’s been around and stuff like
Swathi Kulkarni 16:11
that. So we are a full stack digital healthcare platform for women and started off with a focus on menopause. Because we feel like this is the most underserved segment across the globe, I can conveniently tell you this, right. And with our lifestyle, increasing the quality of life increasing right at 1450. I feel like I’ve just started my life.
Michael Waitze 16:33
I’m way older than you. And I feel like I’m just at the beginning. Go ahead.
Swathi Kulkarni 16:36
So I feel like yeah, I feel the same way. Michael, I feel like we’ve just started our lives. I mean, we struggled to build skills, we struggle to learn from, you know, our experiences. And right now I feel menopausal women are actually telling themselves that, hey, we have a life ahead of us. And we want to do everything very well. And we want to be the healthiest of ourselves of our versions, right? I don’t think health is central to whatever we do. So Ella started with a focus on menopause a year and a half ago, okay, but it has a community of 250 Odd women, you know, in a WhatsApp group. And as you can see, in the last 18 months, we’ve actually grown really strong. If you ask me, What is the vision and mission of Ella Hill, say, we want to make every woman feel healthier and happier, you know, at every phase that she is in, and today we’re looking at menopausal women, and I can vouch for the fact that women come in clueless about what’s happening. They’re like, Oh, my God, this is happening to me. There’s no one else who’s going through this, because nobody’s talking about it. It’s taboo. And you know, in a country like ours, where, you know, our reproductive health is, is a reflection of how good we are. There are some cultures where wisdom is connected to, you know, age, but I think in most cultures, including yours, and mine, the younger we look is, you know, the better it is.
Michael Waitze 17:49
Can I Can I ask you this, though, because you mentioned this in passing, but I want to make sure I asked about this, you said that reproduction, like what is the what is the societal view and the cultural impact of like being able to have children not being able to have children? Do you know what I mean? And is there a secular change taking place in India, because that’s where you are, but also maybe globally with this idea of I don’t want to have children, but still just a backup, if you can’t have children, right? There’s always this sense, at least again, in the 70s 80s and 90s, when I was growing up of like, it’s that guy’s fault? Or if it’s this woman’s, you know what I mean? Like, there’s this feeling of I’m not worthy enough of something because I can’t reproduce. What is it like culturally, at least in your surrounding area? Yeah.
Swathi Kulkarni 18:29
No, great point, Michael, I feel like we just did a research on this right, as far as reproduction is concerned. And we speak to a number of women who are way into their 40s and be telling them that you are going through menopause, right? A woman who’s 46 year old, for example. And I remember you’d asked me this question. And what is that age of menopause? Right? Yeah, globally, on an average 51 year old woman would probably be hitting her menopause. India, on an average of 46 year old is hitting her menopause. Interesting. So it has, there’s a lot of cultural nuance to menopause to coming back to this point on, you know, how we perceive reproductive health as something that’s, that’s an integral part of what we are. Right? I give you my personal opinion, which is definitely not the opinion of the country or the globe. But as a mother of two beautiful young kids, and I had my first when I was just 25. You know, I’ve had several gynec health issues myself. So I can tell you that having a child was a choice for both my husband and I, there was no societal pressure at 25 Nobody forces you to have a baby, you’re getting married, even finding, okay, I think consciously choosing to have a child I feel prepares you for parenthood, you know, in a much better way, because
Michael Waitze 19:38
you’re least thinking about it, right? Like you’ve made this conscious decision you like the outcome of this activity is going to be that thing. So absolutely,
Swathi Kulkarni 19:45
yeah. And I think having children or being a part of the reproductive act, and not just a sexual life choice that the couple or the partners need to make, you know, I agree. So I think if you asked me my personal opinion, I feel like you know, reproduction has nothing to do With how we feel but I think from a societal point of view, even today in India, we see a lot of couples struggling with wanting to have a baby because there’s been parented pressures, there’s pressure and so on. So I won’t discount the fact that it still exists. And I’m still talking about the 1% of the Metropolitan, you know, crowd that we interact with. Sure. I’m sure it’s much deeper and bigger in you know, other parts of the country. The other thing that I would definitely like to highlight is that not just in India, but even globally, there was a study that was put up right, there is a sexual health concern, or there’s a reproductive health concern in a couple, it’s, it’s a higher probability that the lady or the woman goes and asks for help. was the man societally is not supposed to have a problem or it unless all the problems of the lady are ruled out? The male never gets himself tested? Which is so
Michael Waitze 20:49
strange, right? Yeah, it’s so strange when when my wife and I were trying to have children that want to back up and tell you this story, just so it’s not just about India, right? When I got married in Japan, and I and again, I find this really interesting, right, as a guy who grew up in a family with with a bunch of ladies like, to me having these discussions was not a big deal. But in Japan, I think similar to India, there’s not a lot of conversation around the dinner table about sex, sexual health, reproduction and stuff like that. Yeah. But I got on the phone with my father in law on New Year’s New Year’s very important holiday in Japan. And basically, he said to me, this is the first year of marriage. Okay. And we weren’t young. I think I was 33. I mean, it’s young now. But it wasn’t young men, if you know what I mean. We weren’t 18 and 19. And he just said to me, like before saying Happy New Year, which is what you would say it’s the first thing a Japanese person says to anybody else that they see on the first day of New Year’s right. Okay, much that omega dog as I’m as happy new year yeah. But he didn’t even say that. He said to me, photoshoot Euro scoring sheet masks, which means this year, you know, just do the right thing kind of thing. I’m like, Oh, my God, my, my, my father in law just said like, you know, I mean, conversation. Really interesting, but so straightforward. And I remember taking the phone and looking at my wife and saying your dad just said this to me. Is that what that means? And she was like, Yeah, I think so. So I’m just saying like, even even in the 30s, it was a little bit of pressure. So I get that. But go ahead. Sorry.
Swathi Kulkarni 22:06
I think it’s interesting. We had a similar conversation when, you know, my husband and I were getting married. And my father insisted that my husband would have a conversation with him, before he got married, when I got married, but that was just a father in law, you know, sort of figuring out whether this is the right guy. Before my marriage, my dad kept telling us that we should meet a gynaecologist and ensure that we plan our lives, you know, properly, and so on. So both, unfortunately, or fortunately, I should say, we went and spoke to my dad at that time. And, you know, one statement that just stays in my head, even today, as I’m married for 18 years now is that my dad just told us that, you know, planning a child is it’s the responsibility of both the man and the woman. Yeah. And you should try not to have accidents or whatever that is, but the responsibility, you know, just being mentally prepared. And whether you want to have a child or not, is also your your call, you know, nobody else should sort of have that. And I think very few families, Michael have this sort of a concept. Right. But I think that growing and coming back to the point of the woman still bears the burden of the child from the ability to conceive one yes to the burden of actually bringing up the child. I think even an Indian, you know, cultural setup, I feel even a lot of friends, American friends of mine, I see the same sort of setup, right? Yeah. So I but I feel I’m very optimistic about the fact that we are if not sprinting, at least inching towards an equitable world where, you know, all of us are looking at making conscious decisions about things like this. Yeah,
Michael Waitze 23:28
I agree. I mean, I used to say that if men had to get pregnant and give birth, there would have only been one generation of humans.
Swathi Kulkarni 23:36
Oh, man, I couldn’t agree more. I think I think that’s absolutely
Michael Waitze 23:40
true. But I want to get back to this idea of testing, right? So as you go through this journey, right, because your father sounds very progressive, right. And at some level, he has to be to do it, he doesn’t to do it well. But Further to that, you know, you’re worn your whole life, don’t have unprotected sex and make sure that you have the proper birth control in place and stuff like that. Because you don’t want accidents, particularly when you’re 18 or 20. Or you’re you know what I mean, you’re not in a stable relationship, or whatever your idea is, is the right family unit. I’m indifferent, frankly. But then when you try, it’s harder to get pregnant. And most people say it’s not like making French toast, we just have an angry crack. You know what I mean? It’s not that easy sometimes. Right? Do you think some of that downward pressure? And do you think that should be taught as well? Yeah.
Swathi Kulkarni 24:21
So I think it’s a complex problem. And, you know, I think that there are three, four aspects to it. The first thing is we should be taught all of this while we’re growing up to be a part of our education system. And it’s not just it’s not just about contraceptives. And otherwise, the concept of you know, women do have a biological clock ticking. I think that’s true. And we can’t sort of trivialise that. So pre planning, some of these things definitely helped. We have a lot of women who come in, you know, in their 40s, who want to conceive and they really want to concede, right, they prepared mentally for it, but physically, they may have some challenges and that’s how the superpower has made us as women. Right. So I think there is definitely a lot of education needed. And you know, it’d be good to go To be able to introduce that in our schools. I think the second aspect to this, Michael is the fact that you were mentioning right, which is it doesn’t happen overnight. No, no, when you’re trying to conceive. And this is a combination of the stress that we have and how the body responds to it. I don’t know if I mentioned to you, but I talked to the personnel a few years ago when I realised that I’m not able to and the person has a meditation technique, right, where you where you observe your breath, and for days together, go without thinking about anything else, but just, you know, yes, we have an 11 day course where we don’t talk to anyone. We don’t have eye contact, we just meditate for 14 to 15 hours a day. But I think even I mean, my recommendation even to women and our gynaecologist senior gynaecologist, who is a part of my co founding team also says this, right, that whatever, whatever happens first happens in your head. So when you’re trying to, you know, sort of conceive, just being peaceful, you know, being stress free understanding that you can’t control everything, you know, just enjoy the moment or this journey towards what you’re building. I think as a person who believes in meditation, I could vouch for that my gynaecologist who specialised in this my co founder, she believes in it. So I think there is truth to that, that conceiving is a combination of your body as well as your mind,
Michael Waitze 26:08
do you think as we move, I want to get back to sort of this startup part of this. But I’m very interested in this to think as the world becomes more and more scientific, right? And science, obviously ridiculously important, are we losing a little bit of what’s the right word, like our own personal internal connectivity, I don’t want to go so far as saying spirituality, right. But we’re just relying completely on science and removing this feeling of I need to empty my thoughts out so that I can be relaxed enough to do any of the things that I want to do or accomplish any of the things that I want to accomplish, right. Because if your stress level is high, you can’t hit the cricket ball even right? Because you’re you’re not focused enough, and then bring it all the way back to your sexual health, you probably can’t get pregnant or it’s hard to get pregnant as well. So both of those things seem very different. And yet both seem to be driven by like your co founder said, it starts in your head, and then moves into the rest of your body. Is that fair?
Swathi Kulkarni 27:00
Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right, if you say you can’t pour out of an empty cup of water from a stone, right? Yeah, you you need to feel fulfilled and comfortable wherever you are. But I’d also like to add that even science tells you that so at Elda, for example, whatever we do is very scientific, we don’t do anything that doesn’t have a proven sort of a system. But if you look at it, even scientifically, it is told that you need to be peaceful to you know, sort of prove whatever. So our women, when they come into our system, we start with a series of counselling for them, because your basket needs to be, you know, sort of empty for us to Shara blessings into it, right, you can’t have a leaky bucket, it can’t just fall through it. And if you have, if you’ve already filled it with, you know, preconceived ideas and notions, and how do you how do you pour into somebody else’s basket? So yeah, and, Michael, it’s interesting you to you know, I was really sort of amazed to hear your own story about irrespective of whichever part of the globe you are in. I think we all do we have full control over how we think I think the answer is no, you know, there’s a lot of you’re reacting to others. And thank you for sharing your experience. You know, in Japan, I think I would say that it’s similar across the board. Yeah.
Michael Waitze 28:05
My father in law doesn’t speak any English. So he’ll never listen to this. My wife doesn’t listen to my podcast. So
Swathi Kulkarni 28:10
I’m amazed. You should definitely show her the bit where you speak Japanese. I’m super impressed by how fluently you just said,
Michael Waitze 28:17
Oh, that’s nothing. That’s nothing. What is the idea? So a man is not going to go out and build a company like hell to hell? I mean, maybe he will. Maybe he won’t actually, there’s a guy in Bangkok, who built something called Mothercare. It always surprised me. And he cares about this a lot. But I’m curious if we want to back up a little bit from Elda itself and talk more about just women in the startup world as well. Like, what is the startup ecosystem? Like in India? For women? I don’t have any visibility on this at all.
Swathi Kulkarni 28:44
Yeah, so I think it’s it’s definitely an uphill task for most women, but we are seeing that change slowly and steadily. Okay. If you see, you know, it’s a it’s a single digit number percentage of women founders who get funded
Michael Waitze 28:57
to low single digit number 30, it’s zero.
Swathi Kulkarni 29:00
So I think, you know, I feel like that’s a bit demotivating overall, for even the younger generation that’s coming up. But I think the positive aspect of it is that in my last 20 years of, you know, working, I feel like we’ve come a long way, especially in the last few years, I see a lot of my women friends, you know, who are either in very senior positions, they’re, they’re changing the way corporates are looking at women. And I also am a part of these women founder cohorts. And honestly, Michael, I am so impressed and inspired by all these, you know, young young girls, you know, women of my age and much older, I feel like there is a change that’s happening, but it’s going to take like this, it takes a village to you know, bring up a child, it’s going to take the entire country the words to ensure that the women, you know, women are more empowered to make an impact. Another thing I wanted to add is that my own personal experience, you know, trying to raise funds for Elda as well as the previous companies, you know, that have been an integral part of 95% of the times I’m talking to male investors. So to explain what a woman goes through, you know it literally, I think that’s also my upbringing has also helped me because I’m actually shameless when it comes to talking about things.
Michael Waitze 30:09
But you shouldn’t be that. Let’s just say that. But are they embarrassed? You know, I mean, like, you walk in the Elda Health, it just says health. It doesn’t say, you know, gynaecological health when you walk in, and they’re like, oh, no, am I gonna have to talk about periods to this woman kind of thing? Do you know what I mean? Or do they like past that?
Swathi Kulkarni 30:23
I think we’ve had, we’ve had conversations where people have been very comfortable. I think it also makes a difference about how we normalise this. So when my co founders and I walk into a conversation, not just with investors, but other senior people, I think we normalise it and say, Hey, this is okay. And we’ve been very fortunate, because in order to investors who back and one of them, of course, is a senior woman leader, one of the few women leaders in India, so we’ve been lucky. But the other person or the partner that we have, you know, he has been extremely supportive of what we do at LDAP, his wife is going through this phase. So it was almost like meeting another friend and talking about something, it was not a pitch at all. So you know, I think sometimes it’s very, very convenient and comfortable. But most times men don’t understand this. And it takes us at least the first 15 minutes to normalise and say, Hey, it’s okay. Please ask us questions that even if you say what is the period, it’s okay to not know about it. Right? Let us get you understand this a little bit better. So yeah, it is it is at least in the women’s health space, I think it’s a little bit difficult for women founders, but women founders in general, I think the cultural nuances, you know, that a woman goes through whether it’s the cultural context or overall context are a little bit more complex than what men might go through.
Michael Waitze 31:29
Okay, do you feel what’s the right way to say this? This is a global thing, right? It’s not just unique to women in India, is there a part of your business that reaches out to people that are trying to build the same type of business outside of India, whether it’s in Japan, in the United States, in Canada, in Europe to try to figure out what they’ve done if they’re further along in the development of their business than you are? Yeah, I
Swathi Kulkarni 31:50
am in touch with a number of founders who are building in this in a similar space. And I feel like I think various parts of Europe and the US are a little ahead of us, because we’ve got more women in their 40s and 50s, who actually in the workplace than we have in India today. That number is increasing. But I think maybe a couple of years behind in that journey. I see a lot of women today in India also coming up and you know, asking for these. The challenges are similar. When I speak to founders or build similar startups in the UK or the USA, I feel like even women in the western world are trying to break these taboos, they’re trying to come out and say, Hey, this is this is real, you know, hot flashes are real. Issues are real. So let’s talk more about it. So
Michael Waitze 32:28
what’s next? I mean, once you build out this business around this core concept around menopause, what do you do next? Yeah, I think we’ve
Swathi Kulkarni 32:36
we’ve just barely scratched the surface and to even get to menopause. You know, we’re all in touch. 100 million women in India and a billion women globally, right. That’s the number of people who are going through menopause as we speak. So I think it’s a it’s a tall goal for us. And I think we will get there in the next few years. But I think women’s health overall is underserved. And as menopausal women start looking after their health, their young daughters who are just hitting their puberty will have more information about you know, how to take care of health and health. So I would say Elda does want to touch every woman who’s going through any phase of her life and make her life better.
Michael Waitze 33:09
That is, that’s the perfect way to end Swati Kulkarni, a Co-founder and CEO of Elda Health. That was awesome. Thank you so much for doing this today.
Swathi Kulkarni 33:16
Thanks for having me.
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