Swapping the medical career for entrepreneurial freedom.
Interview with Hajnalka Hejja.
|Interview by:||Pricilla Weixler||Edited by:||Valeria Pinto|
|Reading Time:||9 Min.||Date:||21.06.2019|
A career path that doesn’t sound as common as others: Hajnalka Hejja is a medical doctor who turned entrepreneur. She now works in digital health product development and is the CEO of Smarth Health UG, based in Berlin. Having had insights into the medical system and into the provision of information on essential health issues to patients, she discovered a lack in the information provided by that very system. She felt as if it needs more accessibility of information for women about reproductive health matters at anytime and anywhere. Therefore, Hajnalka decided to take education into her own hands, adapt it to the era we live in and combined it with technology. To sum it up, she created a female tech chatbot that consults people regarding the taboo topics in today’s society, such as contraception, diseases and many more. The company already reaches about approximately 30.000 people, especially women, worldwide and teaches them essentials and specifics about their physical health.
Q: Could you introduce yourself please.
A: I am a medical doctor by training, I finished university in Hungary and I am Hungarian starting a business in Germany. During my medical studies I did a lot of consultations with young people about reproductive health that concerns menstruation, fertility, contraceptives and so on. Once the Facebook platform opened up, I realized that this would be an opportunity to scale up all the things that I was conveying as a private person; a chance to give more information about reproduction and much more. I understood that it could be done in a different, scalable way. This is why I started Super Izzy AI. It became a female tech chatbot that runs on Facebook messenger. It is completely automated, it gives reproductive health advice, it functions as a contraceptive reminder and also as an educator for instance. This means that we have a lot of content about contraceptive, diseases, endometriosis, what to do when you miss the pill and much more. We try to be an educational site or portal to give room for conversation for women. We launched Super Izzy AI about two years ago and so far, the platform is completely free. Most of our users are coming from the United States and from the United Kingdom because it’s in English. At the moment we have around 30.000 users.
We try to be an educational site or portal to give room for conversation for women.
Q: Where did you see yourself when you were younger?
A: I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur necessarily. When I was 16 I actually wanted to be a lawyer but then I realized it wasn’t what I wanted and went into medicine instead. I didn’t have a professional image of myself when I was a teenager, I just knew that I wanted to study. I think the moment I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur was when started my first job at a startup in Hungary and I really liked building things and building up processes. This was when I was around 24 years old and I suspected that I might wanted to do something on my own one day, to try myself out as an entrepreneur and to build something from scratch.
Q: How come you decided not to become a doctor in the classical sense?
A: It was easy, I didn’t like it that much and I got a great opportunity with a company. The competitive sphere and capitalism were faster than hospital decision making. I applied to many places and they were the ones who wanted to hire me the soonest so I decided to do it.
Q: What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
A: I think the best is that you learn a lot about people. I cannot imagine another opportunity in which you get access to such a complex view of the world and of people. You have to learn very quickly and a lot about different things, for instance about loans when you are employing somebody or setting up a company. You have to understand company structures, you have to understand how technology works to a certain extent, of course, depending on the type of company. It is just a lot of learning. It is people management it is technology management. So many things can go wrong. Thus, it is a very unpredictable field. You have to learn to live with this unpredictability, which is hard. There are so many risks involved and many tough choices you have to make. I think you become a pretty complex and humble person in the end. These are some of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur.
It is a very unpredictable field.
Q: What motivated you to go there?
A: I was very bothered about my experiences in the classroom about reproductive health and I was bothered about not having the same opportunities as men just because of the lack of knowledge that we have. I am still bothered that a lot of women do not have the health care education to take care of themselves and do not know essential things and that they cannot make the choices. I am bothered because if we increased equality starting with reproductive health – starting with knowledge – I believe that women would ultimately have better chances in the work force, too. I think it is sort of part of emancipation and will strengthen feminism and this is why I started.
Q: So you were very much purpose-driven?
A: Yes, I would say that but I also just like creating things on my own. After a while it is a job and not only purpose driven anymore. You need to create a certain structure to be able to carry on day by day. I think creation itself is also a huge aspect, creating and building something new.
Q: It sounds as if everything went pretty smooth for you. If you think back – what were your biggest challenges?
A: It is never easy, the challenges just change. At the time when I was setting up the company and understood the legal framework and the consequences I remember that I was so scared. At any stage you are confronted with challenges and you need to decide whether to carry on, to do it or not to do it. Nothing was easy so far, I’ve been lucky in so many ways. I have great supporters and a great team but I wouldn’t say at all things are smooth. Nothing is smooth when you are running a startup, it may look like it sometimes but there is always a flip side to the coin. There may be highs as soon as a certain goal is reached but there are also lows which make it hard to carry on sometimes. It is constantly very challenging.
Q: How long have you been doing this for?
A: For approximately two years.
Q: How did your friends and family react once you started your own business?
A: My husband is also an entrepreneur thus he is very supportive. He started his own business before I started mine. I was also given advice from the outside. My mother is kind of the antagonist to that because she still doesn’t understand why I’m not working in the hospital. Some people understand and some people don’t. From a certain perspective it doesn’t matter what they think because I like what I’m doing and I’m a relatively happy person I would say. Therefore, the people around me don’t object, they are supportive.
Some people understand and some people don’t. From a certain perspective it doesn’t matter what they think because I like what I’m doing.
Q: So people didn’t try to talk you out of this unpredictable future you chose?
A: As I said before, even my closest family members such as my mother, question my decision of creating a startup. She still asks me when I am going back to the hospital and, I wouldn’t say never again – but definitely not in the upcoming years. I still like a lot of things about medicine but there are also a lot of things I don’t like about it. Right now I am fine where I am.
Q: Regarding your biggest challenges – you mentioned that it is always kind of like a fight.
A: There are different kinds of challenges – challenges as an entrepreneur, as a woman and many more. There are just different types of challenges, depending on time and other factors, it is hard to narrow it down to specific ones. I think one of the biggest challenges is when work intrudes the personal life and then, to balance work life and family life. Though, I guess it is hard for everyone who works and not specifically only for entrepreneurs.
Q: It seems as if you always did what you wanted to do.
A: Well yeah, at a certain point you always do what you want to do. As an entrepreneur you have at least some kind of control over yourself and your company.
Q: If you weren’t afraid of anything is there something you would be doing differently at the moment?
A: Probably, I would have started a family already, or just sooner. I am 30 years old now and if I wouldn’t be afraid of certain things, such as responsibilities or the circumstances, I would probably already have children. It is something that got a little bit postponed.
Q: That’s interesting because the technological field you work in seems to create that impression.
A: Yeah, this is why I feel so strong about the products and why I think it is really important to be aware about the choices you have as a woman starting with reproductive health. It should become a choice and my choice was to not do that.
Q: Do you think you would be in a different position if you were a man?
A: Yes, I would be in a better position. I experienced some disadvantages because I am a woman I guess certain opportunities would open up and things would generally be a little bit easier in society. I cannot change it therefore, this is what we have to deal with and be conscious about. I learned to shut offensive remarks about my gender out and I learned to fight for myself and I learned to put people in their place if they cross the line. It is also something that I had to learn and to grow to be able to do so. Before, it hit me, I was simply shocked about certain comments and I wasn’t able to treat it in a satisfactory way for myself.
Q: How do you deal with it now?
A: I just dismiss what they are saying as irrelevant. It is not that easy but you can get used to it.