Female Founder Stories: Somaira Punjwani, Founder of Medmonk (YC W12)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Medmonk lets pharmacists provide co-pay assistance to patients who cannot afford their out-of-pocket medication costs.

Q: Tell us about your background prior to starting your startup.
Prior to starting my startup, I was a pharmacist-in-charge (PIC) at a Walgreens in Miami, FL. Most of my patients were extremely sick and were battling conditions such as HIV, hepatitis c, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer, to name a few. I chose the pharmacy profession because I wanted to give my time and care to those who needed it most. I graduated with my Pharm. D. from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 2007. I was raised in Miami where I enjoyed a very happy childhood with both parents and two younger brothers.

Q: What’s Medmonk’s origin story?
As the PIC, I manually helped patients secure financial assistance for their life-saving medications. I created a spreadsheet of sources that could provide financial assistance. On average, it would take me about 40 minutes of phoning and faxing to assist a single patient. I was recognized by Walgreens for increasing sales for my location, and pharma reps would suggest my pharmacy for exceptional patient care. Patients were so happy that they would often break down in tears because they could finally access their medication.

This manual process took a lot of time out of my day. I knew that there were many more patients who experienced difficulty in paying for their medications and could use their pharmacists’ help, but I also knew this process was so time consuming that, given a pharmacist’s workload, it would be a losing proposition. I shared my solution with Abbas so that not only I, but all pharmacists could assist patients instantly, without disrupting their workflow. That is how Medmonk was born.

Q: How did you meet your co-founder(s)?
Abbas and I are married. Yong is Abbas’ friend from the University of British Columbia—they were in the same engineering undergraduate program together.

Q: Not many people know what YC is actually like. Tell us about your experience.
The experience was stimulating. YC was the highest concentration of great ideas being worked on by the smartest people I had ever met. Coming from a healthcare background, the breadth of YC really came through when I saw the number of industries our batchmates were impacting. There was a very strong sense of community at YC. Not only was each startup committed to improving its product, founders genuinely helped one another. Speaking with other founders inspired us to continue working through our toughest times.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
It is obvious to me that being a male in a client or investor meeting is an advantage. In such meetings I would find that my male counterparts’ voice would be more clearly heard and their responses would be noted with much less questioning than mine. I also found that most of the questions were directed to my male co-founders when I was clearly the subject matter expert.

Q: What was the hardest part about being a female founder?
Constantly having to prove oneself and having to earn a seat at the table.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
I think there are fewer female founders in startups because we live in a male-dominated society. There still seems to be a misconception that a woman’s place isn’t in the workforce. Even while working as a pharmacist—despite being the lead clinician at my pharmacy—I noticed my suggestions and ideas weren’t as readily acknowledged by senior leadership. However, when my male colleague expressed the same thoughts, his suggestions were not only welcomed, they were endorsed. When we witness men’s suggestions continuously being highly regarded and women’s thoughts repeatedly disregarded, it may lead us to believe that our ideas are inferior. As a result, this reaffirms the misconception that women should refrain from innovating and proposing new, unexplored solutions.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
I wish someone had encouraged me to take more risks, be disruptive, and to explore the road less traveled.


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