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Interview with Daye founder and CEO, Valentina Milanova

Valentina Milanova is the founder and CEO of Daye, a gynae health research and development company seeking to close the gender health gap with products like pain-relieving and STI-testing tampons. Since 2018, Daye has raised over £14 million in funding and in 2023 Valentina was featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30.

Was coming up with a business idea a struggle for you? How did you come up with the idea for Daye?

The idea for Daye came from my personal experience struggling with painful periods and the lack of effective, sustainable solutions on the market. As I learned more, I realized there was a huge gap in medical research and innovation when it came to women's health issues like menstrual pain. I wanted to create a company that would bridge this gender gap and bring new gynaecological health products to market, starting with a pain-relieving tampon, and later a Diagnostic Tampon for STI & HPV screening. The idea arose organically from an unmet need I experienced firsthand.

How did you turn your idea into reality?

I started by doing extensive research into the science behind menstrual pain and potential natural pain-relief compounds. I worked with a team of scientists to develop our patented pain-relieving tampon that contains CBD. In parallel, I networked extensively to find investors and partners who believed in Daye's mission. Raising venture funding, building a team with the right expertise, and working closely with manufacturers were all critical steps to bringing our first product to market. It took determination and surrounding myself with the right people.

How would you describe your leadership style and how has it evolved?

I believe in leading by example and empowering my team to take ownership of their work. As a young, female founder in the male-dominated health and technology space, I've had to project confidence and assertiveness to be taken seriously. At the same time, I put a lot of emphasis on emotional intelligence, open communication and creating a supportive team culture, perhaps more than the typical startup founder. My leadership style balances driving for results with cultivating psychological safety. It has evolved as I've grown more comfortable owning my authority while staying true to my values.

Founding a business involves a lot of collaboration. How do you work with others to shape your vision?

No founder can succeed alone. I'm very intentional about hiring people with complementary skills and expertise to mine - scientists, engineers, marketers, etc. I share my vision but give them space to ideate and problem-solve in their domains. We have formal processes for setting OKRs and brainstorming solutions but a lot also happens through informal conversations. I ask for input often and make sure the team feels heard. Externally, I collaborate closely with our investors, advisors, and partners, always centering our mission and values. Building alignment is an ongoing process.

Have you faced any difficulties founding and running Daye that you believe are due to your gender?

I've absolutely faced gender bias and discrimination, especially in fundraising as a female founder. Investors make quick judgements based on pattern matching and most successful startup founders don't look like me. I've been mistaken for a junior employee and had my expertise questioned in ways I believe my male counterparts don't experience. There's also a stigma around menstruation that I've had to navigate delicately in pitching a "taboo" product. I don't have the luxury of being a stereotypical aggressive, young male founder - I'm held to a different standard.

How can the business world and your industry improve women's representation and empowerment?

There's so much work to be done. We need more women, and diversity in general, at every level - more female startup founders, more female investors, more women in senior leadership and on boards. Lack of representation is self-perpetuating. Industries like femtech and women's health deserve more respect, funding and research. Workplace policies around things like parental leave, childcare, and menstrual leave need to better accommodate women's needs. We need to challenge biases and microaggressions. It's not enough to hire women, we need to listen to them, believe them, promote them, and fund them.

What do you think about terms like "girlboss"? What language should we use for women in business?

I'm not a fan of cutesy, gendered terms like "girlboss" or "She-EO". They feel infantilizing and othering, like we need a special label because the default entrepreneur is assumed to be male. I prefer more neutral language like founder, CEO, business leader, etc. Let our accomplishments speak louder than our gender. That said, I believe we do need to talk about the unique challenges women face and celebrate female founders as role models. I'm proud to be a woman in business. I just don't think we need to feminize every professional title.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Every day is different but I usually start early, around 5am. I try not to check my email or Slack first thing and instead take some time for myself - quick meditation, workout, coffee, walking my poodles. Then it's non-stop calls and meetings, either with my team, investors, partners or press. I block out a few hours midday for focused work like reviewing key metrics, writing, and strategic planning. Evenings are often spent at industry events or having dinner with partners. I'm working on setting better boundaries but right now it's quite intense. I'm responsible for many aspects of the business as we are still quite early stage.

How did you approach the risk of starting your own business? What's your advice for others?

Starting Daye was a huge leap of faith but I believed so deeply in the mission that I was willing to take the risk. My advice is to do your research, make a plan, and line up support, but don't wait for perfection. You have to take the leap at some point. Validate your idea by talking to potential customers and then go for it. The timing will never feel 100% right - you have to embrace the uncertainty. Having a financial runway helps, as does having a strong support network. Cultivate resilience and self-belief. The risk is worth it if you're solving a real problem.

What advice do you have for students looking to maximize productivity and reach their goals?

My top piece of advice is to ruthlessly prioritize. Get crystal clear on your goals and values and allocate your time accordingly. Cut out distractions and low-value activities. Also, take care of yourself. Burnout is real and neglecting your health and relationships is unsustainable. Build habits and routines that enhance your mental and physical performance. For me that's things like sleep, exercise, nutrition, therapy, and time in nature. Self-care is the foundation of peak productivity.

What's your ultimate career goal? What's next for you and Daye?

My ultimate goal is to build Daye into a global platform for gynecological health and research. We started with a pain-relieving tampon but that's just the beginning. We're investing heavily in R&D to develop new products and services, from sustainable menstrual care to at-home testing to digital tools. We're also conducting critical research to fill the data gap in women's health. Ultimately, I want Daye to measurably improve the health outcomes of people with vaginas and drive social impact at scale. Personally, I'm committed to being a visible female leader in STEM and using my platform to drive gender equality.


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