Lauren Cascio is co-founder and COO of Abartys Health, a health insurance tech company that has created a system that allows seamless data flow and communication between insurers, doctors and patients. After battling through a tough and abusive divorce, Lauren began to focus her time on her two passions; technology and healthcare trends. She began to read, take online grad courses and taught herself PHP, before going on to co-found Abartys Health. Lauren was selected by Walmart as one of Puerto Rico’s most promising women business leaders and was a finalist for Forbes’ 30 under 30 list.
1. How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I was young I made some really bad decisions. I became pregnant at age 20 and married the wrong guy soon after. It was an extremely unhealthy, abusive relationship that only got worse, but that I nonetheless put up with for years. By my 26th birthday, I’d hit an absolute low. With two young kids, an abusive husband, living paycheck to paycheck, I wasn’t sure how and if I could escape as a single mother. But I simply decided I had to – I had to trust myself and to figure it out, step by step.
For the sake of my kids, for the sake of feeling fulfilled, I began to start teaching myself things, to explore subjects I was interested in – like technology, corporate wellness, and insurance – and I started to put my ‘new self’ out there, making connections in my community and beyond. There were, nevertheless, many extremely tough days still – both emotionally and financially. But I managed to trust myself and stay optimistic. Bit by bit, from the ashes of that toxic relationship, I rebuilt my life; and then with Dolmarie, Abartys’s cofounder, I built the business I’d dreamed of. To have been broken, and to then have found the strength to put things back together … that gifted me a trust in myself and my capabilities that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. I became this very capable, independent woman and leader.
2. How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?
It taught me that I don’t want to work for anyone 😉
3. What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?
One of my biggest life challenges was actually the highlight of my career. My divorce was the end of the darkest stage in my life. I was a newly single mom of two, living in a foreign place with no family, working unsustainable hours, and broke; I needed a distraction from everything, so I took on the challenge of learning to code a website. That is when everything began to unfold. I became so focused on the things I wanted to accomplish that I began to not care about what others thought of my ambitions.
This new version of myself allowed me to put myself out there and network, which led me to Dolmarie (the next highlight). We met in January of 2015 through a mutual friend and it was “startup love” at first sight. We were so in sync in so many aspects of our lives. I prepared this presentation that explained my beliefs and the deep-rooted issues in healthcare that I passionately wanted to help tackle…and from that very moment we began working together. Both of us were still in the process of emerging from some tough circumstances, we were both ambitious and passionate about similar things, and we just clicked. We incorporated the company later that year.
4. What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Do not let yourself be deterred by cultural and family expectations. If you’re going to be successful, odds are you won’t have time anyways to care about gender expectations. Just stay focused on your business goals and how to improve your product.
5. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
- How much I have to learn – knowing this allows me to be open to constant feedback and criticism.
- Perspective – keeping things in perspective allows me to manage the delicate balance between disappointment and excitement that comes with having a start-up.
- Procrastination and priorities – not everything is an emergency. Items can wait, get to the most important stuff first.
- Teams – connecting with them has been key, they have become family. We have a very high comfort level and confidence in each other. This has been crucial in the start-up phase!
- To carry myself with confidence. This is an important ‘outfit’ to wear with clients, investors, peers, family, and friends.
6. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The truth is, there’s no such thing as balance; it just doesn’t exist. But that’s not to say that either side, personal or professional, has to suffer. As a single mother, my days are crazy, and there’s never enough time to dedicate all the attention to each thing you’d like – but you just have to be at peace with that.
I am lucky enough to have loving, supporting kids and family. I’m honest with them about my impossible schedule and their flexibility allows me to manage my different responsibilities. I expose them to my office life, and I always have to carve out a little time on the weekends and vacations for calls and emails. I think in the end this exposure will allow them to ‘think outside of the box’ too and become creators! It is part of my parenting philosophy.
In the end, having had to overcome such obstacles and to survive, and to raise two kids alone while simultaneously launching and scaling a company – you reaffirm how strong you are just waking up and making it work each day. And for that, in my professional life, little phases me. When we hear ‘no’ from a client or from an outsider, it doesn’t shake me. I’m always certain I can find a way to get it done.
7. What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Not being taken seriously and being underestimated. Though I believe this is not gender specific. It also exists across races, ages, and ‘educational pedigree’.
8. How can we encourage more women to start their own business?
Exposure to positive role models, a shift in society, and ensuring early education. Education is key here, and it must begin as early as possible. Entrepreneurship and basic business skills should be taught to ALL kids in primary school. Later in life, women and moms should also have access to programs that allow them to educate themselves, and launch new careers.
9. How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal
I had the amazing opportunity of being part of Puerto Rico’s accelerator program Parallel18. Until that time we’d been so focused on perfecting the inner workings of our startup that we had paid little attention to how the outside world would perceive us as a company. Parallel 18 mentors provided us a much-needed wake-up call and they helped us get our ‘local company’ ready to scale globally.
In my personal life, I surround myself with people I admire and I only keep ‘good’ people close to me. I have been unconventionally mentored and inspired by friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and family. I try to learn from every person that is close to me; they inspire me in different aspects of my life.
10. Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Whitney Wolfe Herd (negative experience into positive initiative) , Sara Blakely (Humility and Balance) , Sheryl Sandberg (Keeping it together), Aileen Lee (Positive direction in VC investing), Jennifer Doudna (work in CRISPR and the potential impact on humans)
11. What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next
Hmmm, in the next 12 months…difficult because it is so short term.
- Keep our growing team inspired
- Scale the company to $9-digits
- take 1-2 full months (kids in tow) to work remotely from somewhere?!
- Start running marathons again
- Inspire other disadvantaged creators to become entrepreneurs
12. What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?
Passion! Even when you’re facing your toughest moments, when you’re struggling to hold it all together – the team, kids, clients, investors, vision, family, friends, health – if you are still inspired by your goal, that will give you the strength to keep moving forward. On my worst days, what keeps me going is the fact that I really am passionate about making healthcare more transparent, affordable, and accessible GLOBALLY!
Keep everything in perspective. The macro will keep you balanced during this wild ride!
Care less about what others think and don’t be afraid to take risks. Know your goal and go after it (with blinders on).
Be authentic. This is a general life suggestion.
Surround yourself with talent! Hire people you trust to get the task done.