Who made you “mom and dad”?
Our little one is called ‘Sparty’ (it’s a nickname short for ‘Lukas Spartacus’). (Andrea won the first name game, and Eric won the middle name game – just like our compound last names, we compromise in jointly naming everything ;). Born at 99.9th percentile long, he has been a 98-99.9th percentile tall baby ever since. Sparty is now just under 2.5 years old, and is an active, happy, and well-adjusted toddler. And now that he is sleeping through the night (it took us a full two years to accomplish this feat), things couldn’t be better. Sparty also first flew on an airplane when he was just 3 weeks old – to Austria, and to India with Eric when he was 6 months old. He is quite rambunctious and energetic – able to ride a 3-wheel scooter since 16 months (scooting at a brisk 10 miles per hour on sidewalks), also able to fast-walk (at adult walking pace) for over 2 miles at a time around same time.
What was a time you felt like you were doing this parenting thing really well?
Whenever he says ‘Thank you, Mommy’ when he receives something, or apologizing with ‘Sorry, daddy’ when he knows he did something wrong. And when he follows directions, even when that means not getting an extra cookie, but seemingly follows our reasoning.
What’s your parenting style?
No, really, we try to parent with a loving but strict approach. Try to understand where Sparty is coming from from an emotional standpoint, and try to expose him to a loving, nurturing environment.
We also try to raise him tri-lingual (English, German, and Mandarin).
You two do it all, together! In addition to becoming parents you founded a cutting edge startup, tell us more about that.
We created our startup Happy Vitals together out of our love as parents and scientists who want to help other families. Happy Vitals is a quantified health company for families, to test and assess mother and child health, providing families with the lab and digital tools they need to monitor and improve the long-term health of their children.
Our first Happy Vitals product line offers, for the first time, direct-to-home lab service testing of breast milk nutrition - for macronutrients, micronutrients, immunity – as well as fingernail testing for heavy metal toxins. With our simple and easy-to-use home kits, with FedEx home courier service to the lab, mothers can learn about the nutrient make-up of their breast milk, improve their diet and nutrition, and safeguard against exposure to heavy metals and other toxins that are harmful to a child's growth and development.
Happy Vitals’s higher social impact mission is to establish a nationwide landmark Happy Children’s Health Study - the first scientific project of its kind to study and unravel the early maternal and early childhood predictors of healthy childhood development, and early risk factors and causes of childhood disease (such as allergy, asthma, autism, diabetes, obesity).
Exclusive Happy Vitals discount for #startupmom readers: use startupmom2015 at www.happyvitals.com. (One per customer, limited availability, valid Nov 3-20, 2015.)
How did you come up with the idea?
Aside from being eager parents, we were both Harvard medical and public health scientists – and we are passionate about collecting data on health and risk factors of children – especially nutrition and toxins. However, we realized there is very little in way of biomarkers beyond the generic weight/length/head girth measures – which actually tell you very little about children’s actually health. And breast milk is one of the biggest black boxes in consumer knowledge. We conceived it over many discussions with our friends – and felt a quantified health company to deliver detailed biomarker lab information would be useful if it could be made convenient. And since nutrition in breast milk is at the very start of a child’s life - and are much more modifiable than genetics – we wanted to start with breast milk testing.
Furthermore, breast milk sharing is something many moms do – and often using milk from strangers or from milk banks – with little information about the source of the milk and its quality. Thus, we thought we could unveil the mystery and give scientific based information that people can directly use.
Has co-founding a business changed your relationship?
It definitely deepened our relationship with each other. Previously, we also worked together on several research projects. Being able to work on projects together is a defining feature of our relationship and our happiness.
When and how did you launch?
We had our soft launch for pre-order on Oct 13th, 2015 – offering pre-orders for tests, shipping in November. We put out a news release and engaging in finding more media leads in coming months.
We are also premiering at WEB SUMMIT (dubbed the world’s largest tech conference) in Dublin this week Nov 2-6th, as a premier ALPHA startup, and with an on-stage pitch in front of thousands in attendance.
(Click here for a peek at the original promo video.)
What do you love most about being #startupparents?
The agency over one’s life; and the knowledge to be working on something groundbreaking, that can change not one’s own life, but can bring a great service to potentially millions of people.
Also the flexibility in spending more with our son during the day is an amazing blessing when one of us works from home.
What inspires your work?
We are both scientists and parents. And in the world of medical research and public health, children’s health sits as one of those incredibly important issue but very poorly understood areas – e.g. what causes the dramatic recent rise in rates and prevalence of allergies, asthma, autism, early puberty, and countless other developmental conditions. We feel that we have the ability, scientific know-how, technology resources, and overall passion to take it to the next level for helping other families. Furthermore, Eric also survived a major tumor as a child, which had radically changed his outlook on life (see NYT article), and feels it is a life calling to predict/prevent childhood diseases and improve children’s health.
When and where do you get most of your work done?
Since we are still very budget-conscious and preparing for a big raise, most of our work gets done in our home office, in UberOffice for in-person collaborations, and in virtual meetings on a regular basis with our team.
Eric is fully devoted to the project during the day (and frequently working in the middle of the night), and Andrea works on it in the evenings and weekends. But Eric also spends a lot of time on the work networking.
What’s hard about being #startupparents?
The hardest part would be to accept the riskiness of a startup, versus the stability a traditional job would bring. We both have traditional degrees and past careers; by focusing on Happy Vitals, we are entering unchartered waters. This may mean a less stable upbringing for Sparty – and while we know we made the right choice, it was definitely not the easiest choice. When you are single, up and downs only affect oneself; however, with a family, ups and downs alike have potential for more ripple effects that could affect the family.
Meanwhile, behind every successful family story is a very supportive spouse. As dual-professional family, we’ve also discovered that having one person take risk with a startup, while the other spouse holds a traditional stable-income job with health benefits, is also a big plus. The other person’s income helps act as a temporary safety net for the family if the startup is slow to take off or doesn’t succeed.
What’s new and what’s next for the biz?
LOTS! We plan to diversify testing beyond breast milk nutrition and toxins -- but will share when ready! ;)
Follow Happy Vitals on and
More about Andrea here and follow her #startupmom story on Twitter.
And more about Eric here and his #startupdad story on Twitter.