Kathryn Cross Founder of Anja Health – A Startup Focusing on Cord Blood Banking
For the young Kathryn Cross, building Anja Health was much more than just a startup idea. For Kathryn, it’s a life mission. Having experienced losing a loved one who could have been helped if they had access to umbilical cord blood for mixed-race individuals, Kathryn was aware of the promising future in store for this segment of the health care industry from a very young age.
Kathryn Cross is on a mission to spread awareness on the use cases of umbilical cord blood, cord tissue and placenta and how by banking these at birth, parents can better prepare themselves for the future of their children.
I have been helping pregnant parents learn the importance of being able to freeze those precious stem cells, right at birth, because you never know what could happen later on.
Listen to the full podcast and learn all about how she’s singlehandedly building her startup Anja Health from the ground up.
Kathryn’s Book Recommendations:
Where to Find Kathryn:
Follow her on Twitter: kathrynjc7
Find her on TikTok: kathrynanja
Find her on LinkedIn: kathryn-cross
Where to Find Anja Health:
LinkedIn: Anja Health
In today’s episode, we have Kathryn the woman behind Anja. Kathryn welcome to the show.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and what are you building?
Kathryn Cross [00:00:27]
Yeah. So my name is Katherine Cross and I am the founder of Andrew House. So we basically help pregnant parents freeze their umbilical cord so they can use its stem cells for future disease treatment purposes.
And where did the idea of Anja co come from and what’s its backstory?
Kathryn Cross [00:00:45]
Yeah. So my younger brother, he had cerebral palsy from a near-drowning accident when we were both younger. So when I was three and he was one, um, and then as a result, my parents were looking into different treatments. Um, a lot of [00:01:00] alternative treatments, my mom’s from China. So she even took him to China at one point.
Um, and really the main thing that she could find to help with cerebral palsy. Is, um, the fact that you can use umbilical cord, blood stem cells. So essentially, um, cord blood stem cells are stem cells inside of the umbilical cord and placenta. Um, and as a result, they are really regenerative. Um, they can be used to essentially replace and repair damaged cells and to have all different types of use cases.
So things like earlier this year, the third person ever was cured of HIV using cord blood. Um, and then there are various other diseases that it has been used for too. Um, and cerebral palsy is one of the potential use cases for it. So my family started looking into, um, a cord blood match, but we couldn’t find one for my brother.
So. I’d always been exposed to the space and known about its importance. Um, and usually if you’re a person of colour or mixed-race at all, it’s really difficult to find a match. So for that reason as well, it’s really important to me, my brother [00:02:00] and I are half Chinese and half white, which I think is a pretty common mix, but even so, we weren’t able to find them out.
So, um, yeah. Now I have been helping pregnant parents learn the importance of being able to freeze those precious stem cells, right at birth, because you never know what could happen later on. Um, so essentially trying to prevent that from happening to other people. So when my brother passed away last year, um, I was really inspired even more so, to create this business.
Um, so yeah, I named it after him. His name is Andrew and the company’s name is Anja Health.
Brilliant. And how was the initial service? How did he get the resources and funding to build it to where it is today?
Kathryn Cross [00:02:43]
Yeah. Um, so I went the, um, re fundraising route, so I fundraised, um, right.
How much have you raised so far?
Kathryn Cross [00:02:54]
Yeah. So I initially I raised 400 K around there, and then I took an additional investment from [00:03:00] YC. Um, and then currently fundraising, um, once again, so yeah, we’ll see how that goes.
Um, could you walk us through the process? How does this work? Let’s say, uh, I want to do it for my, uh, kid, uh, how is the process, could you walk us through that please?
Kathryn Cross [00:03:21]
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. So we would send you a kit. So we have a kit. Um, I actually have one here that I can show you, but, um, essentially this is the kit, um, and it contains all of the materials that you need for collection.
Um, and so, um, yeah, you would just bring that with you to birth. There are also instructions inside. And so typically a nurse or midwife can follow the instructions. Um, and from there we’ll be able to perform the collection. Um, so the whole collection process just takes about 10 minutes. You just stick a needle into an umbilical cord, watch the blood flow, and then you can put the cord and the placenta inside of containers.
Um, and [00:04:00] then from there, um, the, they can call us and we will come and pick up. In about 12 hours or so. Um, and we, so we meet them typically at the hospital. Um, and then we will bring it to our lab, uh, which is based in New Jersey and that’s where it’s processed and stored.
Um, so when you say you come to us, how’s that look, I mean, you’re using a postal service, or Do you have your own, you to do the collection?
Kathryn Cross [00:04:27]
Yeah. We’ve partnered with a shipping company that specializes in biological goods and can serve nationally.
Right. So anywhere in the US will apply. Right. Um, so that’s your geography. All right. Cool. Um, A quick question would be, um, with that, when you say storage, uh, how does the storage work, uh, what you using something like Nitrogen to store it, or how does that work?
Kathryn Cross [00:04:52]
Um, yeah, so vapour and Nitrogen, uh, and then stored at extreme temperatures. Um, so typically around negative 190 degrees [00:05:00] Celsius. Um, and so it’s similar to freezing eggs or sperm or embryos things like that.
Is there an expiry date? like it’ll last for X amount of years, or it will be there forever. How would that work?
Kathryn Cross [00:05:14]
Yeah, so far there isn’t any evidence that it would go bad by any means. Um, so yeah, there’s pretty much an assumption that you can continue to store it for a lifetime.
Superb, and, uh, in terms of payments, I see that you have an instalment payment plan, right? Uh, so you pay x amount each month, upto a certain number of years.
Could you walk us through the payment process?
Kathryn Cross [00:05:36]
Yeah. Um, yeah, so the plans are currently $35 a month over the course of eight years to cover 20 years of storage. And that’s just for umbilical cord blood. Um, or if you wanted to add on cord tissue as well, then it would be the same deal, but for $65 a month, for eight years to cover 20 years of storage.
And then, uh, if you wanted to do all three and the placenta as well, then that would be $85 a month. Over the course of eight years to cover 20 years of storage. Um, and you can also choose to pay those upfront. Um, but typically our most popular option is to do the monthly option. Um, and the most popular option amongst those categories is to do all three because you get the greatest variety and volume of stem cells and you can collect it from more resources.
Um, and there’s also a different type. So the, um, in cord blood contains stem cells that are really inclined to blood regeneration. Whereas the cord tissue contains stem cells that are really inclined to tissue regeneration. And then the placenta also contains stem cells that are really inclined to tissue regeneration.
Um, so yeah, because of that, it can help, uh, treat a number of ailments, um, and just expand the opportunity.
Cool. I mean, um, when you say instalment plans, uh, are you partnering with a third party to provide the finance? Oh, you’re taking on the whole finance. Uh, [00:07:00] to give instalments, how, how does that work?
Kathryn Cross [00:07:04]
Oh, the payment plan. Yeah. Um, yeah, we’re not working with anyone, uh, to help finance that. Um, yeah, we just, uh, it was kind of, yeah. Assume that parents won’t churn too much. Um, so yeah, we just work with parents and their financial situations to ensure that. Um, that it’s something that we can accommodate. So, um, yeah, typically we haven’t seen, um, too many parents that have had complications that we can’t work with financially.
Um, so yeah, for now, we’ve just been financing ourselves. Um, but I think in the future, there’s potential opportunity to finance it through other means.
Cool. Um, I saw an article on motion, Washington Post. I’m quoting you as well. Uh, probably know this, uh, about, [00:08:00] uh, social media platforms, not letting you use certain words.
Could you tell us a bit about that?
Kathryn Cross [00:08:05]
Yeah, I was in it. Is that how you found it? And that’s awesome. Um, yeah. Yeah. So, uh, yeah, we, I, because I have, TikTok, I talk about cord blood banking, um, and my personal story, my brother, everything like that. Um, and so, uh, yeah, Taylor Lorenz posted a piece on her Instagram about how she wanted to get better insights into ad-libs that people had to do to avoid censorship, um, and sort of the culture behind the lexicon on Tik Tok.
Um, so yeah, I reached out to her and, um, yeah, it was lucky that she chose me to feature, but essentially I’ve yeah, I’ve experienced. Quite a bit of censorship on Tik Tok, honestly. Um, I recently broke ground with a hundred thousand followers and it’s become a little bit less. Um, so I think I, I honestly don’t know.
I feel like the TikTok and the whole algorithm is just one of those great mysteries, but, um, I think, yeah, there are certain words that I can’t use. Or for instance, if I’ve, um, green-screened a uterus, sometimes that has gotten flagged, um, or if. Talk about, um, just like medical waste in general. Um, then yeah, sometimes it gets flagged.
So I think that’s
Flagged as in what happens when you get flagged, take down the video or they don’t promote the video, how does that work.
Kathryn Cross [00:09:35]
Yeah take down the video or have a filter in front of it that says warning, this is sensitive content. And then the user has to purposefully click and say, I still want to watch, um, or they’ll ban me from posting for a day or two.
Um, so yeah, I’ve had to sort of think about what, uh, how to frame educational content in particular. I’ve tried to reach people on TikTok but I haven’t had too much success. Um, but from what I can gather, it seems like [00:10:00] if you just clearly frame it as educational content, then, um, it won’t get flagged as often.
So that’s something that I’ve been struggling with because it is obviously educational content, but I think it just still gets flagged for, um, like nudity, essentially. For instance, if there’s there’s one image, in particular, that’s gotten me flagged quite a few times and, um, It’s not like a real image, its a drawing, but it’s a uterus and you can see like the birth canal and vagina and everything.
So I think for that reason it gets flagged. Um, but yeah, you can’t even see a full breast at the top, so I dunno. It’s sort of beyond me.
Right. Uh huh. All right. Um, do you have any competitors in the market right now doing the same thing or is it just your service right now?
Kathryn Cross [00:10:48]
Uh, yeah, there are quite a few cord blood banks.
Um, a lot of them are sort of older. Um, so I think where I really pride myself on being able to do is putting a contemporary spin on things. Um, [00:11:00] so yeah, there, there have been quite a few around, um, for a couple of years, so yeah, there are others in the space.
So what do you find as your biggest challenges right now at this stage?
Kathryn Cross [00:11:16]
I think, uh, biggest challenges right now. Um, it’s just really thinking about hiring and what, what the future of that should look like. I think that’s really the most crucial part of being a founder, um, is really thinking about just hiring strategically. So. Yeah, for instance, I was just speaking with one of my other founder friends yesterday about the importance of hiring slow and firing fast.
Um, so yeah, the firing fast part, I think I struggle with, um, because I always feel really bad. Um, and then the hiring slow part, I think is also a struggle, um, in a sense, because you have to just adjust the team every time you add on someone new. Um, yeah, for instance, the friend that I was speaking with yesterday, they just raised a massive round.
And so they just started hiring immediately and they had like four or five new people on, in a month. But I think each additional person, um, exponentially changes the dynamics on the team. So you just have to be able to observe how it shifts, um, when each person begins. So, yeah, I’ve just been trying to adjust to my. Um, expectations for what the next hire should look like based upon each additional hire. Um, cause for instance, I have had some hires that honestly do like more than I initially thought that they would. So maybe I don’t need a second hire or things like that. Um, so yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.
Cool. Cool. And, um, how did you find your first users? Do you have users on board now? Are you on any positive?
Kathryn Cross [00:12:55]
Yeah, we have quite a few. Um, so we’ve now banked cord blood [00:13:00] in almost all 50 states. Um, we have a birth in Alaska coming up, um, and then we just had, uh, Hawaii we’ve banked in all 50 states yeah.
So how did you find the initial customers? How did you get to them? Uh, what it, what was your marketing.
Kathryn Cross [00:13:18]
Yeah. So honestly, on social media, um, and then word of mouth a bit as well. Um, so yeah, I think, uh, just continuing to build trust with my followers, um, I think especially because of my personal story, a lot of people are resonating with it.
Um, so yeah, that’s been very interesting,
um, being a female founder, uh, do you find that challenging in any way or holding you back?. Especially when it’s fundraising may be, uh, in other aspects.
Kathryn Cross [00:13:51]
Yeah. I mean, I think, um, so I went to Wellesley, which is a historically women’s college. Um, and. Yeah, I think there [00:14:00] there’s definitely a ton of hurdles.
Um, but because I went to Wellesley, I think it made me much more confident in being a woman. Um, and just the, the network that we have and the fact that, um, I, whenever I think of leaders is normally a woman just because of my education at Wellesley. So I think it’s interesting. I noticed my friends who go to co-ed schools when they refer to a doctor, generally, they’ll say like he, as the pronoun, um, or if they refer to a founder, generally, they’ll say he as a pronoun, but for me, my default pronouns for most leadership positions or she, um, just because I’d only been exposed to female leaders.
Um, so yeah, I think that really helps. Um, so I would definitely recommend it. Uh, non-co-ed experience. Um, cause I think that that can really shift your mindset. Um, but yeah, I mean, I think with, with things like fundraising, um, of course, the VC landscape is very skewed, um, [00:15:00] to be CIS male. Um, so yeah, I mean, even things like once a VC told me that he felt like my projections were too, um, too meagre, essentially.
And I literally told him, I feel like if I were a man, maybe they would be more advanced projections because men always have these goals that are more than realistic. Um, and projections are sort of. Useless. Um, so yeah, I don’t know, little things like that. I mean, obviously, that wasn’t a huge deal. Um, but I definitely don’t have a problem calling things out when I see it, even if it’s small like that.
Um, so. Yeah, I think it’s interesting. Or even doing YC. I was in the past batch of YC, I think dispatchers 12% women. Um, so when I would go to events, it would obviously be very different. Um, although I noticed I, I need more women when I’m in LA versus SF. So I think SF just tends to be skewed, particularly male.
Um, and I noticed that when I’m in those more like SF type male-dominated environments, um, where I’m like literally the only woman at some events, I get interrupted a lot more. Um, which is something I was never, um,
Kathryn Cross [00:16:14]
Um, like you just did!
I mean, I’m keen to hear that. I mean, uh, how do they interrupt you? They don’t let you speak.
Kathryn Cross [00:16:24]
I mean, I think just like, I don’t know. I, I spoke with a couple of other people about it because I would call them out as well. I was like, why are you guys always interrupting me? Um, but my, my, yeah, a lot of my friends said that that’s honestly just how guys talk. Like, just like in the middle of my sentence, they would cut me off.
I could never finish a story. Like there was always, I remember one day I was, I had lunch with three guys. We’re all founders. And I was trying to tell this one story and I had to tell it six times to finish the story. And it wasn’t even that long, but they just.
Got it. [00:17:00] Um, and how do you see, I mean, what are your projections, uh, or plans for the CFO and yeah,
Kathryn Cross [00:17:06]
Yeah. Um, our annual goal, of course, is just being able to reach more parents. Um, so yeah, that’s a big one. And then also, um, working with just birth professionals as well. Um, so really just thinking about how we can raise awareness on cord blood banking.
I think our biggest thing is just picking for informed birth. Um, so the idea that a lot of people walk into pregnancy, um, even dads as well, and they are especially dads, they, they just feel pretty lost. I don’t think there’s a lot of, um, information, uh, that, that seems like. The clear choice. So a lot of people I think get really confused.
They don’t know what to think. There are so many different nuances within pregnancy and decisions that you can make. Um, and everyone wants to make the right ones. So I think a lot of, um, parents that I, that I’ve spoken with tell me that they feel, um, almost like pregnancy apps sometimes speak to them.
Like they’re stupid. Like. There’s just a bit of information on, make sure you eat a lot of protein and then your baby is the size of this fruit at this time. Um, which is helpful in a sense, um, because of course is a good reminder to eat protein and such. Um, just, it’s just sort of a generic reminder and doesn’t actually address a lot of the questions that people have.
Um, so yeah, I’ve, I’ve been really trying to think about how we can push for just informed birth, where people feel confident and every step of the way, um, of their pregnancy. And they can just always know who to turn to. Um, so yeah, there might TikTok, for instance, has been kind of interesting. I’ve gotten quite a few DMS where people will ask my second opinion on.
Medical questions. Um, which obviously I’m, I’m not a physician, so I’m not qualified to answer those questions, but I think it just speaks to the fact that they feel so lonely and they’re in their pregnancy journey. Um, or if not lonely, they just don’t really know who to turn to when they have these kinds of questions.
Like some parents have told me something along the lines. I don’t want to sound stupid in front of my doctor. So I just want to make sure with you first. Um, so yeah, I’ve been trying to think about all of that.
You’re planning to use any other marketing platforms, maybe paid marketing anything else apart from social media, or you’re going to go all-in on social media.
How do you see that going forward?
Kathryn Cross [00:19:28]
Yeah. I mean, I think all of the above, um, so far as I’ve been growing the business, um, obviously had to be scrappy. So, um, yeah, I’ve just been initially starting here, but yeah, I think everything, um, that you could think of, we’re going to try.
Cool. What’s your background before on job?
Uh, do you have any medical background at all?
Kathryn Cross [00:19:50]
Um, not so much a medical background. So yeah, we have, um, quite a few advisors that have medical backgrounds, so two physicians, um, and then also a, um, pharmaceuticals background on our team. Um, so yeah, we’ve been, um, we resort to anything medically related, uh, to them.
Um, and they helped me vet our lab, um, and everything like that. So ensuring that it’s FDA approved and ABB accredited. Um, but my speciality is really on the marketing and design end. Um, so I’m doing everything else within the business, um, aside from that portion. So. Um, yeah, I previously founded a marketing consultancy.
We were helping early-stage startups and small businesses, um, with their go-to-market and UX design. Um, and then I was also a product designer at Google CPN. Um, and then yeah, in college, I was really thinking about going to law school. So at one point I even worked at Goldman Sachs, as a legal analyst. Um, yeah.
Um, so if you had advice to give to your younger self that seven years, 12, 13, what would it be knowing what you know now?
Kathryn Cross [00:21:03]
Uh, it would honestly be to explore tech as an option earlier. Um, I mean, even this week I posted on quite a few Wellesley Facebook alum groups. Um, Saying that there really needs to be more awareness about the alumnus I go into talk to because, um, for instance, I I’ve been trying for a couple of weeks now to get Wellesley’s publications, to feature me and my story.
Um, and they just keep saying no, because they get so many ideas and what have you. But, um, I dunno, every time I see their publications, it’s just someone studying abroad, which is not stellar news. Um, so yeah, I posted on a couple of Facebook pages talking about how there’s just is really little exposure.
I was exposed to tech because, um, I was on Twitter and happened to follow some UX designers because I was one. And so, um, yeah, I, I don’t know. I think it just, um, yeah, it’s unfortunate. Um, so now I’ve been trying to get alums together, um, who are entrepreneurs as well, and also tried to be featured. And, um, perhaps we can instigate some change within that.
And yeah, we’ll see.
Excellent. Um, so the last question, um, could you name three books non-fiction Kathryn
Kathryn Cross [00:22:25]
Yeah. Um, I think books by Ryan Breslow, um, he’s more recently become more controversial on Twitter. Um, I think his books, uh, hiring and fundraising are really great.
Um, also, uh, the great CEO within, um, and then also the social animal by David Brooks. I always thought was really interesting. Um, just about how, yeah, humans, how the, the average human works specifically
Well, Kathryn, thank you for being here and sharing with us with your journey. And that is a wrap