How do you CCO? / Zoë Milgrom @ Eugene
A learning journey of how startup CEOs work.
We’re down to the last 3 interviews.
This week we’ve got a special branching out into Zoë’s job as a CCO (Chief Clinical Officer).
If you want to come along the CEO journey - hit subscribe 💥
#14 Zoë Milgrom / CCO @ Eugene
How do you CCO?
I co-founded Eugene in 2017 with Kunal, but didn’t have a title at the time. I have no legal, accounting, or “traditional” business background whilst Kunal is a serial entrepreneur. I kept hearing that I should have one and since I have a background in genetics and thus domain expertise in what we were building, we called me Chief Clinical Officer.
How do I CCO?
With a hell of a lot of passion.
I remind myself of all the customer stories and the impact we have in empowering the population to access proactive genetic testing.
The way I lead is with a huge heart and a healthy dose of vulnerability.
Stories and outcomes and keep reminding everyone of that, what we are building is literally about how we change lives. The reason I started was my awareness as a parent of the enormity of losing a child. It would be too much, I cannot watch on the sidelines when the option of preventing loss and suffering is possible. Genomics is currently such a niche part of health. Only 2-3% of people even have the opportunity to talk about genetics, and we’re making it mainstream.
I lead with a lot of humility. This is my first startup. There are a lot of people I look up to but my husband reminds me that everyone’s shit stinks. I often remind myself of that as I have a massive imposter syndrome issue.
I truly believe our team is at Eugene because we’re deeply aligned on this mission and they have the skills that we need. I want our beliefs and skills to push the boundaries with how fast we can grow whilst having a zero fuck-up policy - it creates a healthy tension in what products we work on and how we make decisions.
How do you split time as cofounders?
We met in December 2016.
We incorporated in 2018.
A year into that we hired a CTO as our third cofounder. She stepped down in April 2022, which was one of the hardest things that I’ve experienced as part of our journey to date. The upside of that was that Kunal and my role became more defined.
We do a lot of things together and very collaboratively - vision, strategy, growth, product and fundraising. We are both really good communicators and have a lot of clarity on the vision of Eugene. I like to focus on the nitty-gritty execution stuff while Kunal loves the big picture - it works well for us that we can also be a sounding board for each other.
As a female founder and subject matter expert in the healthtech space I am aware that I have clear advantages. When we raise in the healthcare space, I am able to have peer like convos which is super helpful as it builds trust quickly. For that reason, I do a lot of our external comms. Not because Kunal is not excellent, but because the healthcare industry is so complex. We ask ourselves who the best person is for each audience.
How do you set strategy and goals?
Our approach and cadence of this have evolved a lot. Currently, we set strategy trimesterly. As a leadership team we set new goals in December, April and August for the next 4 months.
December and January are always tricky months. A huge proportion of our team have kids. It is really important to us that we have a business where I can say to my team if your kid is sick take a day off.
We tend to set ourselves audacious goals and give ourselves time to achieve them. Ultimately, the end goal is the same, it just might take some more time. The last 3 years have certainly thrown us extra curveballs - but I’d like to think they’ve made us stronger and lean on data more than assumptions.
Before we have set the strategy for the upcoming trimester, each team meets to discuss gaps, blindspots, learnings, and opportunities.
We also survey the team for cool ideas that can be experimented with for next trimester.
We then create a 1-page strategic plan.
The meeting is online as our leadership team is spread across many continents and is typically spread across a couple of days to give us thinking time - I’m a slow thinker and have kids so this works particularly well for me.
The plan includes
BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goal
How we’re going to get there
Strategy - how do we enable all the goals and visions
Trimester priorities >> ideally across teams
Something that our team thrives on is cross-collaboration on initiatives.
We also have individual KPIs for each person in the leadership team.
ie talk to two customers every week
Every 4 months we have a “festival week”.
We bring the team together virtually or in person.
Each team lead does a presentation, we bond and the clinical staff shares stories to remind us why we do what we do and set team goals that align with the broader business strategy.
How do you run your leadership meetings?
After our CTO left, we formalised our leadership structures.
We have a team of 17 and 5 of us in the leadership team.
We have weekly meetings for our big business decisions.
We have a running agenda and work heavily on Notion.
We’re really into Brene Brown, so we start with a check-in.
We share the good news across the company.
Then specific updates that impact the teams.
We review operating metrics for example NPS.
We talk a lot about employee satisfaction, and whether the team is happy in their roles (on a personal and professional level).
We look at MTD sales.
Then spend the majority of the time on the decisions that need to be made.
We then end the meeting with the actions that came off the back of the meeting.
It takes us roughly 60-90 minutes.
Every month we take an extra 30mins to review and track our progress towards strategy and goals.