“Destroying the Menopause Stigma”: Debbie Dickinson and Markea Dickinson-Frasier, Co-Founders of Thermaband (Video + Transcript)

September 21, 2023

Like puberty, every woman will experience menopause – a natural evolution of the reproductive cycle. Yet, there is shame associated with aging and menopause which leads to isolation and suffering in silence.  Thermaband  founders Debbie Dickinson and Markea Dickinson-Frasier believe that you are in control of your comfort, and that empowering women in this important stage of your life is crucial. They will discuss how women’s perspective, voices, and ingenuity are essential. Numbers don’t lie, so know your numbers, lead with them, stick to your market segment despite pushback, and be empowered to “Make the Ask”. These entrepreneurs believe you should take advice with a grain of salt because female founders are often over-mentored and under-funded.


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Angie Chang: Today we have with us the co-founders of Thermaband, Debbie and Markea. I’m going to kick it off as I’m going to say welcome because I’m sure they have great introductions for themselves and welcome to ELEVATE.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Thank you.

Debbie Dickinson: Thank you. Hi, everyone. Debbie and Markea Dickinson here, dynamic mother-daughter duo. Happy to be with you this afternoon.

Angie Chang: All right.

Debbie Dickinson: Awesome.

Debbie Dickinson: We’d love to chat with you today about our innovative entrepreneurial journey, which really started with a hot flash, believe it or not. I remember that moment of realizing how unprepared I was for what is really a very natural stage of life. That has been the impetus for starting this business and for our innovation. I didn’t want my daughters to be as unprepared for this natural season of life as I felt. A little bit about our background too, you know, I practiced law for a number of years, worked in benefits and as an entrepreneur. And Markea?

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Yeah. I worked in supply chain and manufacturing for consumer goods company, Unilever. We actually were able to incubate the business while I was getting my MBA at Yale.

Debbie Dickinson: Excellent. Like puberty, every woman will experience menopause. It’s a very natural evolution of our reproductive cycle, yet we’re so unprepared and so little conversation, so we’ve been part of the movement to really normalize and de-stigmatize because many women say, I’m not there yet without realizing that menopause can start as early as in our thirties and forties and really lasts for the rest of our lives.

Debbie Dickinson: What we’ve done is try to de-stigmatize and normalize menopause and women’s health, open and active conversations about women’s health and mobilize, really created a community and joined a number of other communities as well.

Debbie Dickinson: We have a community, 70,000 plus strong women talking about health and wellness, educate, share information, learn as much as we can because that’s so important and really a platform for us to innovate.

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Debbie Dickinson: As dynamic women, we all are, we can create the solutions that we wish to see because our vision and our voice really matters. A quick background here, I’m not going to spend too much time. Over a billion women are in menopause and we’re tackling hot flashes and night sweats or what’s called thermal dysregulation, but the fact of the matter is that it significantly impacts our quality of life and health and economic outcomes, and very few of us receive the type of information and assistance that we need, so we have to be advocates.

Debbie Dickinson: Perimenopause, that’s the years leading up to menopause varies greatly in terms of what that is. Menopause is actually a single day that we’ve gone without our period for a full year, believe it or not, the technical definition of menopause is that one day. And then everything after that is post menopause, rest of our lives, lots of symptoms and things that can occur. At the end of the day, we just want to know what that is.

Debbie Dickinson: Next screen shares that there are 34 symptoms that we recognize in the US, 48 in the UK. A list is here. You can see it varies quite a lot when someone says, I’m not there yet is because they don’t realize that dry skin and headaches and bloating and depression and anxiety and that sort of thing may very well be related to fluctuations in hormones and menopause. We have to normalize, understand what’s happening and create these solutions.

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Debbie Dickinson: What we recognize very quickly is that the time is now for innovation and for women’s health, which has been vastly overlooked for so many years, and it’s only since ’93 that women were actually included in research studies and we know that our bodies are very different. We’re just going to talk now about our innovative approach, what we have done and our journey and are excited to share that. Markea?

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Awesome. The reality is we set out to really change the space in terms of the menopausal space and destigmatizing and normalizing, but it’s like how do you go about doing that? Right? How do you go from an idea to actually executing in different ways? Debbie and I talked about in the beginning with our background, we’re actually both non-technical founders and we’re building a very technical product, which really is, we’ll get into it a little bit, but really is this device that cools and warms your body for different reasons, different things that you might be experiencing. One thing that we’ll talk about in the beginning is, or one thing we’ll talk about now is really how do you go about building a product or a service outside of your area of expertise? We’ll share some tips and tricks of things that we’ve done.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: One is just being a sponge, you know, really learning, taking the time to learn, know what you know, know what you don’t know, and then find people that you can surround yourself with and know what you don’t know.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Building your village, you know, we wrote down some things, some types of people that have been really helpful for us, whether it’s clinicians, scientists, other founders that are in different companies or founding different companies, community groups.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We’ve really partnered with different menopausal groups to be able to learn from them in different areas, whether it’s investors, advisors, and then digging a bit deeper. It was really helpful to leverage accelerator and incubator programs.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Some of the ones that are listed here are some of the big names like Techstars and Y Combinator. One of the lesser known ones that we were able to leverage is Google for Startups, which was a really, really good, they actually have a women’s program and they have a people of color program as well.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: It was really helpful to tap into that network to really learn the things that we didn’t know. This is our first business and it was really helpful to leverage some of those programs. We also were able to leverage local universities that we had gone to, you know, tapping back into our universities. I went to Penn State for undergrad. Debbie went to Penn for undergrad, and it was really, really helpful to tap back into those networks and students and local innovation labs.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Another really helpful thing when it comes to more individuals has been to leverage freelance service marketplaces, so interns, being able to leverage interns from universities. When it comes to freelance service marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, how we got to our first iteration, our MVP was really leveraging an engineer that was located abroad from Upwork. It was really, really helpful not to spend a lot of money to really build that first MVP or minimally viable product. It was really helpful for us to go about it in that way in a very, very lean way.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Another helpful tip in terms of how the path that it took to get to our product really was staying true to your convictions. On the same note of destigmatizing, the reality is that women often are addressing market segments from life experiences that might not be always understood by different environments, especially male dominated environments.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We had several advisors and investors tell us that quote unquote no one’s going to care about menopause. “You know, you guys should pivot to a different market”, “pivot to athletes”, “pivot to different directions”. It helped us to be prepared and know our numbers when it came to standing firm in the market that we wanted to pursue. It also helped us to just understand the market segment overall because the reality is that we’re serving a very, very large market that if you’re not in it, you might see it as a niche, but the reality is that it’s a very large market overall.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: The other helpful tip that we wanted to share is where you start isn’t always where you’ll end when it comes to your go-to-market strategy, your market, your distribution, channels, those types of things. Welcome advice, but take them with a grain of salt is something that we also learned along the way. At the end of the day, you know your mission and you know your business best. It’s also helpful to learn to adapt, to be agile, but also making sure that you’re trusting your gut. At the end of the day, you know your business best.

Debbie Dickinson: Absolutely.

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Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Here we have our product journey, so I think it’s been really interesting. Early on, as you can see in the bottom left, we started iterating. There’s a very, very iterative path and we started iterating very early on.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We recognized that there was a problem. There was a pain point that women were experiencing, that people in general were experiencing where they’re uncomfortably warm or uncomfortably cool in a room more so than others that were around them.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Wee worked and we gave a seat at the table to women in this process to really advise us on what type of design they would like to see, what type of product they would like to be wearing. Those types of things were really, really helpful. We collaborated along the way and learned as much as we could about this market and what their likes and dislikes were.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: They wanted a very discreet product that wasn’t going to flash to the world like, “hey, I’m having menopause and I’m experiencing hot flashes”, but be very, very discreet in a way that they could kind of wear it and just navigate the world seamlessly and then also create a community.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Debbie mentioned over 70,000 women in our community, we’ll give more information afterwards about how to join on Facebook, but it’s been really, really helpful to collaborate amongst women and people in general along our journey and to collaborate them on the design, collaborate with them to create, test, and innovate in different ways, and then ultimately build a solution that provides immediate hot flash relief and digital health insights.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: This is our product. We also have a companion app as well, which is really integral. We created a wearable that offers, as I mentioned, hot flash relief and health insights, but also a digital health app as well. It’s still a work in progress, but we have stayed true to our convictions that the menopause market is a market worth serving and we believe that, like you, we can collaborate and create innovative solutions to help change the world.

Debbie Dickinson: Thank you. We welcome any questions.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Have any questions? Yeah. Lots of engagement in the chat, which is exciting. Folks are saying, my mom had early menopause, so this topic is definitely top of mind for me. Yes. We’ve chatted with several women that have experienced that as well. Debbie, would you like to address that question? Could you please share the accompanying app for your product? It’s not out on the market yet, but it’s called Thermaband Zone and it partners with the app in a way to provide quantitative and qualitative data in terms.

Debbie Dickinson: Yes.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Exactly. You wear it with the wearable and it provides blood pressure, heart rate, those types of things, and really helpful in understanding your body as you’re kind of going through this.

Debbie Dickinson: Yeah. Somebody mentioned that never connected increase in allergies to menopause. And we could actually put up the slide on the 34 symptoms because it’s often a surprise for folks. You know, it’s like there’s so many different things that could be happening with their bodies and it’s so important to check in with your physician, but just knowing that there could be a correlation with these things is very important. And again, my journey realizing how unprepared I was and how much I didn’t know really motivated us to create a community and to start having these conversations. And it’s really through conversing with other women and realizing how the ingenuity of recognizing that just a cool sensation really helped during a hot flash.

Debbie Dickinson: Some women were putting their hands on granite countertops, standing on a cold floor, hands in running cold water, head in the freezer, gel packs, all these different things. It’s like, wait, there’s a commonality here. We recognize that a cool sensation during a hot flash works. Why is that? Connect with scientists and physicians and recognizing that the science of thermo regulation and how that works, and then what is it that the market needs?

Debbie Dickinson: We recognize two things. One is relief and the other was insights, so we can advocate for ourselves and really enhance and elevate our standard of care. So we’re looking at those two aspects with the…

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: We’ve got a question here. What does the wearable actually do? Is it data? Is it somehow cooling or warming? Great question. The wearable actually cools and or warms your body. So you literally wear it on your wrist. Debbie might be actually wearing it. Wear it on your wrist and it cools on the inner wrist. It kind of connects with a pulse point on your inner wrist to provide cooling and warming relief.

Debbie Dickinson: And we can connect, you can send us email Founders@MyThermaband.com. We have had testers, beta testers and early adopters. Happy to connect with those who might be interested. A highlight an experience or challenge that we overcame in the innovation process. Oh my goodness. Where do we start? There’s so many. Fundraising, huge, right?

Debbie Dickinson: Move very scrappily, friends and family around, bootstrapping, so money and having what you need at each juncture. Got to move in a very agile way. That’s ongoing and we’ve overcome that in different ways along the way, including friends and family around and grants and that sort of thing, different funding options. Others is trying to get the resources that are needed.

Debbie Dickinson: Markea mentioned Upwork and Fiverr, so at different junctures, how do you find the talent? Leveraging different communities, other founders, technological I-Labs, whether it’s local I-Labs or through universities, so talent, access to the engineers that we need.

Debbie Dickinson: How to find a company to develop the product to help us design the product to manufacture, those types of challenges. We had a manufacturer actually pull out of an engagement, so that was very challenging. Scramble to find others. We’ve had a number of challenges along the way. It’s resilience. It’s being super committed. It’s recognizing that it’s par for the course. It tends to be somewhat thankless, so you have to be very committed to what you’re doing and purpose. You ride through those tumultuous times. But yeah, lots of challenges that we’ve overcome along the way.

Angie Chang: Thank you for sharing your entrepreneurial journey with us. It was super inspiring to hear you tackling and showing us how you’ve innovated. I look forward to joining the community. Thank you for sharing that’s on Facebook, so now I can look for it.

Debbie Dickinson: Excellent.

Angie Chang: And yeah, we will continue to hopefully hear about how your company is evolving and growing and how we can support, so…

Debbie Dickinson: Wonderful.

Angie Chang: … looking forward to hearing good news and bad from the Thermaband journey. Thank you so much for sharing at ELEVATE.

Debbie Dickinson: Thank you for having us.

Markea Dickinson-Frasier: Thank you.

Debbie Dickinson: It’s been a pleasure. Take care. Bye, everyone.

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