Combine a mother and daughter, legal and business education and incredible experience to create Thermaband – a new way to manage hot flashes. In this episode, Debbie Dickinson and Markea Dickinson share their story of becoming mother-daughter entrepreneurs creating Thermaband. They discuss how they navigate the challenges of being entrepreneurs in the women’s health industry, especially as “people in color”. We’ll hear about their unique approach to communication, how they deal with disagreements and conflicts, and how they maintain a healthy balance between family and work. They also talk about how they came up with the idea of Thermaband, the development process, and how their business has grown over the years. Tune in to hear from this dynamic duo on how they face down hot flashes and the challenges of a mother-daughter relationship while navigating the joys and complexities of business.
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Thermaband: A Mother/Daughter Dynamic Duo Face Down Hot Flashes
In A Hot Flash: Debbie Dickinson And Markea Dickinson Tackle Menopuase
This is a new one for us. We’re speaking to mother-daughter founders. It’s a business show on women’s health, but the mother-daughter relationship breaks through across all categories. I’m excited to hear how they navigate this because being an entrepreneur, as we know, is hard. Sometimes being a daughter to a mother and vice versa is complicated. I’ll be fascinated to hear how Debbie and Markea have figured this out as they build Thermaband.
They both come to this project with such an incredible background. It almost seems like you have to be a lawyer to do anything these days, so we got the box checked. We have somebody who graduated from a top business school. They have put together their talents, mother-daughter aside.
We’re curious how they did this to put together and create this Thermaband business. We’ve spoken to partners, technical advisors, medical cofounders, and all different kinds of combinations. It almost sounds from speaking to them like their partnership, this mother-daughter bond, and understanding of the personal professional have been one of their superpowers. It has enabled them to raise money from institutional investors and the likes of Google, Angels, and other friends and family.
Yeah, but Rachel, this goes back to the story we hear all the time. This is a personal mission for somebody who’s suffering from a symptom of hot flashes. It’s a personal mission for her daughter, who has to watch this and is probably imagining she’ll have to go through that. It also is so fascinating to me that we have so many different options to treat this iconic symptom of menopause, and yet, we are still looking to find a better mouse trap. Let’s talk to Debbie and Markea, and see what they’ve got to offer.
We are so excited. We have had partners on before, we’ve had cofounders, but we’ve never had mother and daughter cofounders. It is our pleasure to welcome Markea Dickinson and her mother, Debbie Dickinson. The company, Thermaband, was founded by the mother-daughter team of Debbie Dickinson and her daughter, Markea Dickinson-Frasier.
The company is Thermaband, which makes Thermaband’s own smart personal thermometer that uses temperature-regulating technology to make women experiencing menopause more comfortable. We are so excited to hear your story and how a mother and daughter, one who I’m assuming is not in menopause, have decided to create this. You’ve garnered so much interest and attention. How did you get here?
This is my favorite topic, women’s health and mother-daughter. We’re super excited. How do we get here? I say it started with a hot flash, and then Markea reminds me that I started with that because then it was that moment that says, “What is happening with my body? Why was I not prepared? I feel like a ten-year-old schoolgirl. Am I going to die? Am I up or down? Am I going to be a shriveled raisin on the floor because I’m literally combusting?”
That first hot flash was a significant experience because it was traumatic. Out of that, through conversations with a family member who says very calmly, “Yes, that was actually a hot flash and it’s going to last about ten years.” She wanted to know what we were going to have for dinner. I was like, “Wait a minute.” Markea reminds me that was the moment because she was right.
Especially for women of color. On one end, it’s, “What’s going on with my body? Why was I not prepared? I’m not alone,” recognizing that there was so much stigma and it was the shame, isolation, all the types of things. We had to normalize. We had to create a community. We had to have open and honest conversations multi-generational. That’s a big piece.
I have two daughters in their twenties and I did not want them to have that moment that I did at 51 saying, “What in God’s name is going on?” It was those two moments that said, “We got to do something.” Through my own exploration, recognizing that a cool sensation when I had a hot flash, helped. That came from advice from other women who explained what they were doing.
You put your hand on the cold running water, you stick your head in the freezer and you put your hand on a granite countertop. You have cooling gels, cooling pads, and all these great things that are great when you’re home. When you leave the house, I had a hot flash in a car. All these great gadgets that I had at home were not available. I said, “What I need right now is something.”
I’d already discovered that the wrist was very effective. The neck was good, but it was very obvious and was not very discreet. If I had something on my wrist that could give me that same cool sensation that’s portable and discreet. It was born out of that revelation. I called my daughter, who was, at that point, a second-year student getting her MBA at Yale. I said, “You’ve got to help your mom. We’ve got to do something here.”
I’m just so curious. How did you arrive at this? I know what the a-ha moment was. I know you were in school. What were you doing beforehand that you had the real wherewithal and the capacity to do this?
For me, and then I’ll hand it over to Markea, it’s one of those things that everything comes together and appears so well. I’m a Benefits Attorney. I’ve been a Benefits Professional at a pharmaceutical company. In the business space as an entrepreneur, I was very interested, even after practice in law, with accessories for women and jewelry. All of those and strategy. As an entrepreneur, skills, sales, and such that has been very transferrable to what I’m doing now. I’ll let Markea speak to her skillset.
My background is in supply chain. I have always been passionate about making sure that we get the right things to the right people at the right time. Never would’ve thought that it would’ve been my mother whom I was creating a solution around. I’ve always been passionate about entrepreneurship and trying to find the white spaces that people aren’t talking about.
Trying to find areas that folks aren’t really focusing on and then creating a solution that can help. Never thought it would’ve been hardware. Never thought that it would be with my mom. All these things happened, and it was nirvana because I was getting my MBA at Yale. It was awesome because I was able to incubate the business with her at Yale.
Leverage engineers, menopausal experts, scientists, and gynecologists, and then also socialize the idea throughout with peers. What I realized is that hot flashes are far more pervasive than natural menopause. What I realized is I had one friend in particular, a classmate of mine, that was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. She was experiencing medically induced menopause and hot flashes. I have another friend who has bad anxiety and would like a cooling relief solution. The more that I socialized around people that were on campus. The more I realized how much potential this solution had to be a superpower for people that were frequently uncomfortably cool or warm. She was anemic, so she had her own experiences, often cold.
I’m quite partial to Yale. One of my kids was born in Yale New Haven Hospital, and went there for school. My previous business partner of twenty years went to Yale as well. You have that Yale blue chip brand behind you. You also were selected as a recipient of the Google for Startups Black Founders Funds.
Out of the gate, you guys attracted important institutions behind you. How did that happen? I know you went to Yale, but that doesn’t mean that they support everyone who goes there in a business venture. Google obviously is the holy grail. How did you make those relationships turn into real backers and supporters of your business?
I forgot to mention I had Wharton and Harvard. We’ve been fortunate. Harvard Law School and Wharton as well. What I found initially has changed. This was 2019 with this idea. It was very difficult initially to connect as an alum with the entrepreneurial ecosystem at most schools. When you’re a student, it’s a little easier.
Markea, as a student, was interested in entrepreneurship with ecosystem and environment that flourishes and encourages ideas and innovation. It was a perfect marriage. Yale embraced what we were doing. She was there with lots of options. She was the boots on the ground and tapping into those resources, as I hear, based in Florida. It was a developing community in terms of various networks that yielded opportunities. We were connected with product developers and engineers.
I’d love to hear how the device works. I know it’s cooling and heating. I know it’s super high-tech, and obviously, you had great engineers on board. How does it work? Does it change skin temperature, body temperature, or is it more of a sensation?
It’s interesting. In terms of effectiveness, if you think about you’re hot and you hang on to a cold glass of water, an icy glass, or whatever. It’s a mind-body connection from the standpoint of the receptors. There are many receptors all over the body, as you know. Introducing a cool sensation stimulates the hypothalamus.
It’s one of those situations where through the skin temperature and the ability to regulate that perception of comfort is related to both temperature and touch. There are different things we can do. Using the temperature, whether it’s a cool or a warm sensation, stimulates that thermoregulatory center and the perception of comfort.
Even the body temperature may not change. Skin temperature may. It can be different for each person. Especially understanding that a hot flash is like a false response or a trigger that the mind is just cooling us down. The thermoregulatory center, it’s the fluctuation. You can speak more to this with the fluctuation in hormones. It kicks into this response to cool us down, then you enter this cooling sensation. What we’re hearing, what I felt initially, and what many are experiencing is it’s a different kind of a hot flash. It dissipates, so that helps.
So much about menopause, I know Alyssa is clearly an expert in that space, as are you. You have these crazy pedigrees, the two of you. Harvard, Wharton, Yale. You have the mother-daughter dynamic, which could be spectacular and complicated. I’m sure you get asked that all the time. Your black female founders which, based on all the statistics, makes this even harder.
What do you attribute to how far you’ve gotten? Obviously, besides smarts, intellect, and focus, which goes without saying, but you’ve jumped over lots of hurdles. I’m wondering how your relationship has helped that. Maybe it created some challenges. I just find it fascinating. We could do a whole weekend on mother-daughter dynamics before you even get into business. Tell us a little bit about that, because you started with some interesting challenges.
I love when Markea goes first because then I’m like, “I’m not crazy here. I’m not making this up.” You go first, Markea, the challenges of a mother-daughter.
By the way, I did ask you this when I met you in person in San Diego.
It’s been a really difficult and taxing journey. I think it’s been helpful to have each other. My mom is someone that I would go to, regardless if I was doing this with her, or if I was doing it by myself, or with another founder. It’s helpful to have her in the throes of it all, and it’s helpful to have that trust, love, and shared passion for being a resource for women that have been underserved for so long.
Sharing that passion and purpose with her has helped us overcome the challenges that we’ve had. We’ve had lots of naysayers. When you pitch to 100-plus investors, you get told several nos. I think it’s helped to reframe our mindset in terms of viewing a no as a redirection. Mindset shift has helped quite a bit with our journey.
When you say that a no is a redirection, having also gone to business school, that seems like from the first day. You take that as consumer research, put it into your head, and use it to pitch better, know better, or have a new idea the next time. Where are you with the product in terms of commercialization?
We are now developing at the design to the manufacturing phase, so we are manufacturing domestically. Initially, we thought we’d offshore, but the economy, pandemic, and everything else taught it best to do that here. Manufacturing. It’s fabulous to have early adopters. We launched presales and we’ve been testing all along. Great insight. We’ve been able to incorporate that from a design standpoint as well and are looking to get it in the hands of our early adopters later this year, like midyear.
Is this something that you anticipate users would use along with other solutions? Let’s say hormone therapy or other medications. Is it more of a standalone device? Is it kind of a little of everything?
Yes. The fantastic thing is we’re talking half the population and every woman. It’s for a long time. We started in 2019. It’s now about 5 years, then it was a person saying 10, and it’s like, “We know it is 10 to 20-plus.” Post-menopause is the rest of our lives. What’s fantastic is recognizing that women are not homogeneous. It’s nice to have something like this that can be used independently or can peer with anything. Literal introducing temperature and insights.
This looks very complex and I would imagine it has been expensive to develop. Are you planning to have this covered by insurance? Is that something that’s on the horizon? I know people always ask about that in my practice.
Yes, that is something that’s on the horizon. Understanding what that path looks like, initially direct-to-consumer, and just looking for ways to make it affordable.
What will it retail for when it is launched?
Discount right now for early adopters because they’re fabulous and they’ve been a part of this journey. Between $299 and maybe $355, we have a sweet spot in there.
Where do you anticipate it selling? I imagine it’ll launch direct-to-consumer. Do you have plans for retail? I imagine you have lots of opportunities to partner with other like-minded brands serving the same population.
Yes to all the above. Initially, eCommerce on the website had partnerships and affiliates. Early adopters and such. I’m looking at prestige retail opportunities as well. Evaluating that and seeing what is a good strategic path in terms of timing. We can’t do everything on day one, but it’s nice to have opportunities and then see what makes sense as we expand.
Here’s a hot flash. Crunchbase, overall, companies led by Black females receive less than 1% of investment dollars.
Alyssa, we’ve talked about this before. You don’t deliver babies anymore, but you do see a lot of women who are perimenopausal and menopausal. You talk about their primary complaints. How many times a day would you say someone comes in and talks about hot flashes? What are some of the options that you can offer them?
The question is, how many times ever does somebody not come in complaining of hot flashes? It’s incredibly common. Your current stat that’s always out there is 80% of women in menopause are suffering from hot flashes, and a very high percentage of them are not asking for help. I think we are having this conversation because it’s now becoming cool, acceptable, and necessary to speak about it.
We’re having this conversation the day after the Super Bowl, and I’m sure that we all noticed that there was a hot flash commercial that was a little bit cryptic for people who aren’t in the space. Asking about vasomotor symptoms and what does that mean? It shocked me that the people being interviewed on the street during the Super Bowl did not necessarily know the meaning of that.
Kudos to you for having a novel device. Hormones are the gold standard. We do use hormone treatment for people who are suffering. It works, but it’s not for everybody. There are other pharmacological options like antidepressants and other medications that have been helpful. They all come with baggage and potential side effects.
There are herbal supplements, some of which work quite well and have been well studied. We have lifestyle management, which happens to be probably the most important regimen that we all should be practicing, whether it’s diet, exercise, or stress reduction to help with these symptoms. Whether we’re using a wonderful device or a medication, those things come in super handy. Education, of course.
We’re hardware and software, so immediate relief. Where people who are having, whether it’s a discomfort, it’s impacting lifestyle, it’s impacting work. They’re uncomfortable with personal relationships and intimacy work, and it goes on and on. Immediate relief using temperature, which, as we mentioned, can supplement anything.When people are experiencing discomfort, it's impacting their lifestyle and work. They're uncomfortable with personal relationships and intimacy work, and it goes on and on. Immediate relief using temperature can supplement anything. Click To Tweet
We have folks who have used hormones for X period of time. This peer as well, or maybe they did something for a certain time, and then they’re doing something different. Through the connected app, are those insights and lifestyle modification. Just in, “What’s happening? What am I doing? Is this a stressful day? What did I experience relative to these thermal?”
Can you tell us a little more about the app and what it collects? I’m so accustomed now to my patients bringing in apps. Whether it was for fetal kick counts during obstetrical care, or menstrual habits, or you name it, there’s an app for that, as they say. What does your app really track?
I’m glad you said that because that technology was understanding the appetite for Information and data. For folks saying, “I need relief,” and would love to have it in a tech and discreet way, a very effective, I’d want to know what’s happening with my body. The events. “When did I have a hot flash or a cold flash? What can you tell me?”
It’s quantitative and qualitative. We can qualify that this was a hot flash, whether it’s intensity, duration, or frequency. Other information relative to stressors, as you mentioned, dietary, alcohol, and other types of things. What are the triggers? Just to understand what that correlation is like. Also, biometrics. With that, it’s partnering and talking with physicians.
What’s helpful for the user in terms of heart rates, blood pressure trends, and things of that nature? We know there’s a correlation between VMS symptoms and health outcomes. It’s an iterative process relative to what information is helpful as we manage our own care. What information is helpful for clinicians who tell us?
When the patient comes in and says, “I’m experiencing something.” They know what’s happening at that moment and whatever she may have said about prior experiences or whatnot. It’s nice to have that continuum. To have something that can show what happens tomorrow or the next day with certain interventions. We want to be the symptom management and elevate that standard of care and insights.
I have so many questions. I have a couple that is not necessarily sequential. Both have business backgrounds. What are each of you in charge of? How have you identified what your power allies are as business partners?
A lot of it comes down to our background and areas of expertise. It’s nice that I have more of the execution lens from a supply chain standpoint. I handle the logistics, the operations, the more granular tasks. Debbie is more on the fundraising side, the strategy side, visionary, ideation in terms of where we want the brand and the product to go, product development, and the user, of course.
Going back to the user. You’re collecting all this data, and obviously, this is a big issue right now with data privacy when we’re talking about tracking apps. What can the data be used for ultimately? An individual woman and her physician, or being able to recognize patterns? Is there a clinical use case for the data that’s being collected?
That is an element that we’re super excited about. In addition to being a Benefits Attorney and Privacy Attorney, so keeping information private is paramount. We recognize that when we’re surely not aware that any device or tracking that correlates the VMS symptom with biometrics and such. We’re hoping to make an impact relative to research in this area.
There is information that is super helpful because ultimately, this is for our direct customer. There is a pain point, “Here’s immediate relief. Here are insights.” Out of a personal request that says, “I want to know what’s happening with my body and I want to be able to share that with my clinician.” It’s working and understanding with clinicians to say what is helpful. How can you elevate that care with insights that you don’t typically have? Beyond that, on an aggregate, how might we make a difference with women’s health which has been underserved and overlooked for too long?
I’m curious. There are so many data collection options for health, whether it’s for women’s health or not. As a clinician, I would love someone to come in with a little chart saying, “I am having ten hot flashes between these hours each day. I’m not sleeping because I’m waking up with a hot flash.” Have that visible on a graph or a chart. I’m guessing that your app addresses that.
We’ve got our Oura Rings. We’ve got our Apple watches. We have all kinds of tech devices for our health. I know yours is distinguished, but how does it fit in? How many things can we wear? I’m wondering where it fits in.
What we’re doing is different. There are a lot of things that we can buy as an accessory that looks cool. We have people that literally stop in. Either they don’t notice I’m wearing it, and they say, “As a founder, you need to wear your product.” They’re like, “Wait, but you are wearing it.” It’s designed to be discreet, but ultimately it’s in the insight.
Our clients, who we are serving. There’s something about a device that gets information and there’s something that’s going to give me relief. It’s active and passive. We considered a lot of things. Through interviews and such, we realized that the risk is very effective. We’re looking at integration. There’s a lot of information, so it’s integrating with other devices and that’s an important route.
At the end of the day, we’ll have choices. Whether we are peering things together, as a consumer, we’ll make choices, and that’s perfectly fine. Some might choose to track steps, heart rate, and what I’m eating, and all the different apps. There are others that say this is important. What has been overlooked is the menopausal woman. As Markea said, it’s not just the natural menopause, it’s the medical and surgical. The hysterectomy is with both ovaries removed. I can go on and on. The cancer patients and such. To have something that addresses us.
Any FDA clearance or involvement in this?
I’m working with regulatory experts. We’re careful if anything shifts and changes along the way, but it really is what we are claiming. It’s relief and insights. Not necessary. Perhaps in the future, we might dig into that more based on other things that we might choose to do. For now, it’s providing a product where it’s an immediate relief and insights on the wrist. Based on our understanding of demand, and then expand from there.
The hardest question is, how did you decide to call each other by your first names rather than otherwise? Was that a hard thing to do?
If we’ll get off here. She says, “Mom, what are we having for dinner? Where are we going?” It’s the business hat, and that’s part of why this works. We recognize that there’s the mom-daughter and the cofounders. We try to have that space. When we’re in the workspace, there are certain things. For Markea, it was important to say, “In a business meeting, I don’t want to come in and talk about mommy this, mommy that.” We’re fighting hot flashes and whatnot, and then she comes in saying, “But mom.” Black lives and whatnot, it would be flipped. It’s like my Jamaican accent. It’s totally subconscious. We navigate spaces and places very seamlessly.
I did have one more question before we close. It’s been a particularly difficult fundraising environment. We’ve all looked at the statistics. We’ve all looked at the statistics for women. We’ve all looked at the more dire statistics for women of color in terms of fundraising. You have friends and family and you have Google. Have you raised other money? How has that process been?
We have several VCs, Angels, as well as individual accredited investors. It’s been difficult. Markea said, “You talked to a hundred people and you get several noes.” We didn’t get several noes. We got a lot of noes. We were able to get a few yeses, and it’s difficult. Generally, especially female founders, but as you may know, less than 1% when it comes to funding for founders of color, or especially Black female founders. It is not easy, but we’re determined and passionate about what we’re doing. That’s one of the challenges.When it comes to funding, only less than 1% comes to founders that are people in color, especially Black female founders. Click To Tweet
So many challenges. It’s so complicated. The business is complicated and devices are complicated. We talked about mothers and daughters. What is a piece of advice that either of you would give to founders who think their situation is complicated? For people who have gone through it, the story isn’t over, but it’s certainly on an uphill swing with a lot of momentum. What advice would you give to people who are just in the trenches getting frustrated?
We are passionate about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s one of those things where it seems impossible if you put it all on paper. Analysis paralysis. You just got to get started. You have to recognize and believe that you have what it takes you. You are enough. You can fill with, whether it’s advisors, contractors, friends, or whomever. Anything that you’d need to fill from a skillset.
You can get accelerators and I can go on and on. We’re non-tech founders and we’re building this technology, but where are we to start and say, “What does it take to be successful?” This list would be so long and voluminous that we probably would still be writing that long list. You just have to be bold enough to say, “I’m going to do it,” and believe that.
There is a talk about irrational optimism that says, “We will do this.” We’re going to go over, go around, go through, or go under, but we’re going to move through each obstacle and succeed. Part of that is passion and purpose that comes with saying, “This is so important. We have to do this.” All the learnings along the way are part of the journey. Just keep one foot ahead of the other.Thermaband: A Mother/Daughter Dynamic Duo Face Down Hot Flashes Click To Tweet
We will be watching with wide eyes. Best of luck to you both.
Thank you so much.
We’ll be cheering you on. Maybe I’ll call my mom and see if she wants to start a business.
I love it. That’s right, we’ve inspired several to do that.
Better yet, maybe my daughter will call me and say, “Let’s start a business.” I hope to see you both soon. Keep up the good work.
Lovely to meet you. Thanks a lot.
Nice to meet you. Thank you so much.