[7 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday all! We know it’s Friday the 13th today, but we are big believers in reframing historically unlucky days and making them lucky again.
To start your day off on the right foot, we have a super inspiring Friday Founder Interview for you. This week’s guest is Nikolina Lauc, the Co-Founder and CEO of GlycanAge.
"Launching in 2020 was actually great timing with all the new global consciousness around health, prevention, and personal at-home health testing."
Good Morning Nikolina! Thanks so much for joining me. Could you start by telling me a bit about how you feel your childhood has influenced you today?
Of course! Well, as a child, I loved animals and initially wanted to be a veterinarian. I loved saving animals, looking after them, and any stray dogs, cats or tadpoles in distress ended up in my care. One day, my grandfather hovered over me and said, “The same way you are looking after these animals, you will one day look after people.” By ‘people’ he didn’t mean my own children, but rather a very large number of people. My grandfather had a great influence on me...
That’s wonderful! Grandparents are so perceptive. How did you make your start in the health industry?
It was thanks to my sense of family duty, curiosity, and an excellent pitch by my father. Both of my parents are scientists, you see? My father is a molecular biologist specialising in a very important - but unexplored and ignored - field called glycobiology. He created a product that came out of pure scientific curiosity. My job was to find a market for it.
Wow! So you started up GlycanAge because of your father’s belief in the field! Was the timing important?
Absolutely! The brand name, company, and patents were registered by my father back in 2016. Since he is an academic and full-time scientist, and partly due to some technical and cost obstacles, not much happened until 2019. Finally, we launched our first product in 2020, and most importantly, we opened up the consumer market just before the pandemic hit! Launching in 2020 was actually great timing with all the new global consciousness around health, prevention, and personal at-home health testing. The longevity of this space is becoming more mainstream, and it’s set to become one of the largest consumer categories.
That doesn’t surprise me at all! So what does sustainability mean to GlycanAge?
Our focus is the sustainability and longevity of your future health. A lot of times people assume that if more of us live longer and healthier, it will be a threat to overpopulation and a burden on the environment. That is incorrect! Current data shows that as our population ages and lives longer, birth rates fall and people choose to live their lives differently. We have decided to become a part of the future and to have 2 or 3 kids instead of 4 or 5. Apparently, there is some biological reasoning behind this too; reproducing vs preserving.
That is really interesting! Do you think people are more conscious of the ingredients and materials in the products they use nowadays too?
Yes, we are generally more and more aware of what we put into our body, on it, and around it as well. We just published an interesting study on how different living conditions in urban and rural areas of India influence our glycans and immune health.
I’ll definitely give that a read! On the business side of things, what were your biggest challenges in starting up GlycanAge?
This is probably my fifth or sixth startup. I’ve been starting up businesses for 11+ years (actually 15 years if we count my teenage ventures). Every new business comes with its own challenges. With this one, we were doing something completely new by looking at a part of biology that most people didn’t even know existed. The biggest challenge was educating the market that this exists and why it could be so instrumental for their future health. Education and awareness are certainly ongoing challenges.
So, what strategies have been key to the success of GlycanAge?
Initially, we had a very scientific, serious, sterile, and clinical-looking brand and communication style. I think it was a little off-putting to consumers and even came across as scary. To overcome this initial fear hurdle, we added more colour to the brand and fun and warmth to our communication. This really helped us bridge the gap with consumers and it turns out that a warm and friendly approach makes people more open to learning.
That is awesome! What a great lesson to learn. From a personal perspective, what is your favourite thing about your job?
I learn something new every day! As a naturally curious person who gets bored easily, this means that I can potentially continue doing this for the rest of my life and never get bored! I also love working with my amazing team to build important products for our customers.
That’s lovely! What do you think makes your brand stand out?
The people behind it! We are a warm and friendly bunch that wants to make the world a better place. We have great science behind us, and an insatiable drive for innovation and discovery, coupled with care for the people whose lives it touches.
"We are fully committed to unlocking the full human glycome potential for health prevention."
Those things definitely make a difference to a consumer. Have you had a “pinch-me” moment since starting GlycanAge?
I think this one is still coming. I hope somebody will take a real chance on us and help us with the financing we need to turn GlycanAge into a household brand. There was a lot of research backing behind the development of the technology we use today (15M+ in grants, along with a dataset of 150k people who were followed over 20+ years in different biobanks and clinical studies). However, we’ve had no commercial funding as a business, apart from the investment of my savings and the resources from my co-founders. You can bootstrap a business, but it comes with a number of obstacles. I’ll get us there with or without the financial support.
You are incredibly determined! What inspires you?
The great women who came before me like Dame Stephanie Shirley. I am also inspired by the great women who will come after me, for whom it is my responsibility to leave things better than I found them.
I love that logic! Moving back to your work at GlycanAge, could you describe what an average day looks like for you?
I wake up around 7 am and drink my coffee or tea while I give myself space to think for 30-40 min. Then, I get on with the workday until about 8-10 pm. I try to find time to go to the gym throughout the day and see a friend for lunch or dinner. Before bedtime, I read a few pages of a book while drinking decaf tea. On cheat days though, I’ll put on Netflix and have a glass of wine with my partner.
It sounds like you work very hard, but you have a balance. Is that correct?
On some days, yes, I am really good at giving myself time to relax and think throughout the day. I live for what I do, but I don’t get stressed very easily and I know how to have a little fun with my work too. I try to take at least one-half day where I don’t work on the weekend.
And what words do you live by?
“I wish to do something Great and Wonderful, but I must start by doing the little things like they were Great and Wonderful.” - A. Einstein. I use this as a reminder to keep myself grounded at all times.
I hadn’t heard that one before. It’s beautiful! What’s next for GlycanAge?
I am very excited about our next product, which has an important mission around women’s health and menopause. For the next 10-20+ years, we are fully committed to unlocking the full human glycome potential for health prevention.