Nix is taking the guessing out of hydration with a single-use sensor that analyzes sweat during activity. It informs athletes, soldiers, and laborers, when, what, and how much to drink to perform and feel their best. With five patents licensed from the Harvard School of Engineering, Nix is leveraging its sensor platform toward a pipeline of proprietary and partnered programs beginning with hydration and extending to other consumer use cases in areas such as beauty, sports, nutrition, and infant care.
Before founding Nix, Meridith Unger helped launch six life science startups with several venture capital and venture creation firms. Meridith received her A.B. from Bryn Mawr College where she received the Anna Pell Wheeler Prize for Mathematics, and her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She is a Kauffman Fellow as well as a Harvard Business School Blavatnik Fellow. Meridith is a college basketball player-turned-runner, and has run seven marathons on her way to completing all the World Majors with one more to go.
Are you a natural leader? What do you find easy about leading a team? What do you find difficult?
I seem to have certain qualities that make me a natural leader, and others that I’ve had to work hard on. I was blessed with a voice and physical presence that is substantial and commands attention, and an outward confidence that others are comfortable following. But I am also conflict avoidant and sometimes struggle to have the difficult conversations.
What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
We have worked hard to establish and maintain a culture of Radical Candor (it happens to also be the title of a great leadership book). We hold genuine, personal relationships with one another in the highest regard, and value support, kindness, and generosity. It’s what lets us support each other as we stretch and try new things. But we also value candor, honesty, and vulnerability. It’s how we hold each other accountable. You can’t have one without the other. If you are supportive and kind but too shy when someone’s performance falls short, it’s disingenuous. If you’re hard and unforgiving and also honest about people’s mistakes, you’re inhuman. It’s a balance.
“If you are supportive and kind but too shy when someone’s performance falls short, it’s disingenuous. If you’re hard and unforgiving and also honest about people’s mistakes, you’re inhuman. It’s a balance.”
How do you find people to hire that truly care about the organization the way you do and how do you know you’re bringing on the right team member?
There comes a point in every recruiting process where I try for the “relationship breakthrough” with the candidate, typically by asking about their personality traits, weaknesses, etc. It’s a simple, non-scary way to assess their emotional intelligence and self-awareness. If they can communicate with me with both confidence and vulnerability at the same time, that’s a great sign. This is more important to me than their hard skills in a lot of cases.
When you first started hiring employees, how did you delegate tasks, create a company structure, and make sure everything worked efficiently as you grew?
At first, being highly organized is a luxury, and there were a lot of days where delegation had more to do with “who has time for this?” than “who has done this before?” Now, I try to empower employees who have proven themselves to articulate the future direction of their own roles.
“If they can communicate with me with both confidence and vulnerability at the same time, that’s a great sign. This is more important to me than their hard skills in a lot of cases.”
Do you have a business partner? How did you find them? How have they added to the success of your business?
I had a co-founder who was a wonderfully experienced senior marketing executive at some highly relevant companies. He was very well connected, charming, and despite meeting in a professional context, we became fast friends. Unfortunately, his risk aversion and later-stage in life caused him to have to depart Nix, but the friendship we had built endures.
What do you think are some major differences between someone who is an entrepreneur and someone who works for someone else?
Every entrepreneur has one daily pattern in common: every single day we are doing things we’ve never done before, and finding answers to questions we never asked before. This takes a personality that is comfortable and confident in the face of uncertainty and that embraces vulnerability. This is the single-most important difference between an entrepreneur, and someone who works for them.
“Every entrepreneur has one daily pattern in common: every single day we are doing things we’ve never done before, and finding answers to questions we never asked before. This takes a personality that is comfortable and confident in the face of uncertainty and that embraces vulnerability.”
As a biotech company, how do you make sure your team has the right balance of business experience and tech expertise?
Most of our business team has a background in a high-tech industry, so getting knee-deep in the data has to be comfortable for them. For those that don’t, we rely on our relationships to communicate what each employee needs to understand to be successful in their role.
What other wearable tech ideas do you have for the future? Can you give us a peek into some of your upcoming products or where you think the industry as a whole is headed?
Everyone talks about consolidation and seamlessness as two major trends in wearables and biosensors, driven by the beliefs that people don’t want to wear multiple devices, and the more passive these sensors are, the better. This has driven a lot of folks to slant toward smart fabrics, but there are still major technological challenges. We strongly believe in the patch form factor and have a few tricks up our sleeves with respect to custom analyte sensing approaching to expand well beyond hydration into other “consumer diagnostic” applications in nutrition, women’s health, infant care, skin care, oral health care and more.
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