7wireVentures Presents: Top of the Ladder Featuring FOLX Health CEO Liana Douillet Guzmán

Liana Douillet Guzmán

For most, a deeply entrenched and highly regulated industry is a deterrent. For Liana Douillet Guzmán, incumbent systems represent insatiable opportunities for innovation. Her roles at Axiom, Blockchain, and Skillshare make clear she has built a career around disrupting the status quo. FOLX Health presented yet another opportunity to upend an entrenched industry – and a mission that resonated deeply with her.

We connected with Liana to learn more about her take on work-life balance, her journey to building a once-in-a-generation healthcare business, and much more in our latest Top of the Ladder feature.

Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

My upbringing was multifaceted and full of love. I spent the first half of my childhood in Puerto Rico in a part of San Juan called Río Piedras. My mom was from Connecticut and my dad from Puerto Rico. While their relationship ended in divorce, my younger brother and I were constantly surrounded by love. In Puerto Rico we lived in a multi-generational home with my grandparents. It was an amazing “it takes a village”-style upbringing for which I feel very fortunate. At an early age I developed a genuine admiration for those much older than me and an understanding of what it meant and looked like to age. The second half of my childhood was spent in Connecticut where I developed a nuanced understanding of my multi-cultural background and an appreciation for the joys that both sides bring to my life.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

For the longest time I thought I was going to have a career in law. Growing up, people complimented me for being eloquent and for fighting for what I believed in. As a young person who experienced the inside of a courtroom through the lens of Law & Order, I figured I was in store for a fast-paced career filled with impassioned courtroom speeches. After college, I moved to New York and took a job as a paralegal to gain more exposure to the field, and I quickly realized my Law & Order visions were far from the day-to-day reality of contract negotiations and redlining. Much to my dismay, my love for storytelling was better suited to a career in Marketing.

What does work life balance look like for you?

I don’t believe that any given minute can have work life balance. Instead, it’s about deciding what percentage of your minutes you’re able and willing to spend on one or the other. With that in mind, I do my best to try to bring structure and intention throughout each facet of my life to ultimately create the space to be present for whatever it is I’m doing in that moment. For instance, I’ll typically sign off each evening for a couple of hours to be present as a mom: I make dinner, I help my kids practice piano, we go over their homework, we go through their bedtime routine – and I work to ensure that I’m not looking at my email during that time. When they’re down for bed, I’m back online with my team and fully focused on FOLX. In order to do any of that, I also have to make sure that I’m taking care of myself. I aim for 8 hours of sleep a night and to move my body for 30 minutes each day.

As the former CMO of Skillshare and COO of Blockchain, at first blush, running a digital health business may not seem like the most obvious next choice. Can you share a bit about what attracted you to healthcare, what makes you passionate about FOLX?

I often say that the entirety of my career has been focused on deeply entrenched and heavily regulated industries. Law, education, finance. Over the years I’ve developed pattern recognition and familiarity with disrupting incumbent models to usher in a more modern, consumer-oriented system. When viewing my professional journey from that lens, a move into healthcare feels quite linear.

Interestingly, it was my passion for FOLX and the company’s mission that attracted me to a career in healthcare. When I met with A.G. Breitenstein and the rest of the team, I felt this intense spotlight on my own broken healthcare experiences, most of which I had believed to be par for the course. While I’m a member of the community, I’m also acutely aware of the privilege I have relative to so many others who’ve suffered through overtly discriminatory and violent experiences when simply trying to receive care. It lit a fire in me.

The idea that I could be a part of creating a better experience for my community was deeply compelling – that I could do so while building a once-in-a-generation business was an undeniable opportunity.

How are you leveraging your fresh perspective to lead the business?

In healthcare, injecting a fresh perspective often means convincing people that having a consumer-focus and developing an authentic connection to community is important. I don’t have that challenge at FOLX. Our team is deeply passionate about the community we serve. The value that I’ve been able to bring to the business is a sense of focus and prioritization. When there’s so much passion and so much room to make a difference, you can find yourself lost in a sea of opportunity. With a team of our size, we just can’t do it all. In fact, if you try to do everything all at once, you’re probably going to end up doing nothing well. The perspective I bring helps focus the passion we have and ruthlessly prioritize our objectives so we can drive impact.

2022 has been a challenging and painful year for the LGBTQ+ community in ways that cross health, political, and social dimensions and likely in ways that have affected the daily lives of your members. How has FOLX responded to these challenges and provided support to its members and the broader community?

I have seen firsthand that the power of creating a safe space for people to access both affirming and expert healthcare has made life changing impacts on our members. Our community faces an incumbent system that lacks an understanding about their medical needs and a dearth of providers they feel comfortable receiving care from.

78% of our members did not have access to affirming care prior to FOLX and 71% actively avoided seeking care due to fear of discrimination.

In response, we developed an entirely new and evidenced-based care model, providing seamless access to primary care, sexual health care, mental health care, gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy, and destigmatizing community resources.

For the first time in their lives, our members have access to providers whom they trust and with whom they want to work in partnership to drive forward their holistic health goals.

We take our position within the community very seriously and have used our collective voice as an organization to dispel false narratives about LGBTQ+ care. The misinformation on monkeypox earlier this year is a prime example of one of the many reasons we exist. As the virus began to spread, we felt it was our responsibility as a queer and trans healthcare provider to serve as a source of truth and a non-stigmatizing space for our members to receive education, counseling, evaluation, and referrals. Being able to quickly mobilize and empower our community in this way was powerful.

We are proud to have led FOLX Health’s $30M Series B financing round! Can you share a bit about what excites you about the future of the company and what users can expect in the coming months?

Today, we are the only solution that offers care for the full LGBTQ+ community with in-house clinicians. What excites me most about the future of the business is the major opportunity we have to continue doing what we’re doing, but at greater scale. We’ve seen a lot of inbound interest from employers who have invested a lot in creating inclusive benefits only to realize they are inclusive on paper but not in practice, and their employees continue to struggle to find affirming providers in network. If we can provide these services through employers, we can increase the people who have access to affirming care and resources in a pretty meaningful way.

What’s your superpower?

My superpower is my confidence in who I am as a person. It allows me to be comfortable admitting when I don’t know something or when I’m wrong and to constantly be learning from those around me. It gives me space to hire great people and to get out of the way so they can do their job and succeed.

What book are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Reading for me is truly an escape. Since the pandemic, I’ve found myself gravitating towards more uplifting content and this novel has been a particularly charming and funny detour.

As a family, we’ve been reading the Percy Jackson series with our kids and we’re just starting the final book!

What is one piece of advice you would offer to other entrepreneurs?

You can’t do it alone, so surround yourself with great people who share your passion for the mission and who want what’s best for the business over everything else.