We were very intrigued when we heard about Spencer Gordon and his company Uqora. Uqora is on a mission to help women prevent UTIs. What impresses us the most about Spencer is how much he values listening to the stories of women. Our interview highlights this characteristic and makes us very excited to see what Spencer develops next.
What stories or conversations with women stand out to you as key motivators for starting Uqora? How did you know that you were meeting a widespread need?
I had two very close friends around the same period of time struggle with frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs), mostly due to sexual activity. I was struck by how serious, painful, and disheartening of a problem this had been for them.
They were very frustrated. They had to leave work to fill prescriptions, they were experiencing anxiety after sexual activity, and even calling in to their doctor to try and arrange for a pick-up on vacation. On top of that, they were concerned about the frequent cycles of antibiotics they had been taking, and for one of them, the UTIs were compounding into yeast infections due to the antibiotics disrupting normal vaginal bacteria.
Once I did a little research, the numbers were shocking. UTIs are an enormously widespread problem that many women struggle with, and while there is a lot of great clinical and university research out there, very little of it was being applied to a commercial product available to women who really need a preventive option. Everything was focused on the treatment, when women are desperate to have their symptoms relieved.
Through the experiences of my two close friends, the sheer size of the unsolved problem, and the many conversations I had with women, I realized that there was a huge opportunity to develop a preventive product for UTIs.
What challenges have you faced as a male developer of female products? How do you overcome these challenges?
I think the biggest challenge is just not being able to truly put myself in the customer’s shoes. I can try hard, but at the end of the day I don’t experience UTIs or truly know what it is like. What I do is communicate with as many women as possible to understand what their frustrations and complaints are, and even what it’s like to have a UTI. My girlfriend has been a big help and supporter in working through this with me. Developing an effective product wasn’t a challenge for me being a male, but reaching out to customers in the right way, and in an effective way, is a learning process.
What conversations have you had with current customers that have made you proud to work on Uqora?
Our feedback so far has been tremendous. What makes us feel the most proud, are the individual stories that have been shared with us about women battling UTIs, and the tangible difference the product has made in their lives. I can share a few anonymous quotes that our actual customers have sent us that resonate with me the strongest and really make me feel like our product is making a difference. These really highlight the whole frustration and problem of antibiotics as well. When somebody you don’t know is using your product and it is improving her quality of life, it really feels good.
“So far it's great! I've spent the last 8 months in near-constant pain, and even did a one-month daily antibiotic regime and that didn't work. Since I've started taking Uqora, I haven't had a single symptom, not one! Thank you so much for giving me my life back!”
“BLESS YOU for this product... it is just fabulous. I've had recurring UTIs and kidney infections since I was 5 and they almost always occur after sex. This product has given my boyfriend and I our lives back! I no longer have to make lunchtime runs to the doctor's office labs and my boyfriend no longer feels anxious whenever we want to get intimate. Thank you!”
"This product has been a amazing for me. I used to take 500mg of a really strong antibiotic to keep from getting UTIs after sexual activity. Last year alone I had 6 UTIs and 1 hospital visit for a kidney infection. Since buying Uqora, I have not had a single UTI. I use it only after extremely long workouts and when my bladder was not full enough after sexual activity….. Please let me know if I [can] offer a testimonial or anything positive for Uqora. As a sufferer of frequent UTIs for years and experiencing success with this - I am happy to help your company!! Thank you for a wonderful product!”
How did your training in molecular biology prepare you to develop Uqora?
Molecular Biology gave me a great foundation for approaching a problem like this. First, having been on the other side of research, I have extensive experience reading and analyzing scientific literature and clinical studies to see which studies have produced valuable and dependable results, and how those results can be applied. I have also spent lots of time studying infectious disease, and how bacteria like E. coli establish an infection to begin with. Finally, my biochemistry and human metabolism background give me the ability to assess which compounds might have the greatest effect while remaining extremely safe.
What does Uqora mean?
Uqora is a combination of phonetics that we selected over much deliberation for 3 reasons: 1.) We wanted it to sound clean and healthy, 2.) we wanted the name to be unique and memorable, and 3.) we wanted the name to be short and crisp. While I would love to say it means “UTI free” in Latin, the word Uqora has no actual meaning.
What women entrepreneurs or leaders inspire you?
Who first comes to my mind is Rashmi Sinha, who founded the Bay Area company SlideShare. What I really like is that she took a very formal education, a PhD in cognitive neuropsychology, and applied it in a non-obvious and impactful way: human-computer interactions and eventually idea presentation. Not to mention, SlideShare was a great success and was acquired by LinkedIn in 2012.
What advice do you have for other male entrepreneurs who are looking to make a difference in women’s health?
Nobody knows women’s health and needs better than women. I do think that men can be insightful as well as far as just looking at a problem from a different point of view. I don’t think I can give any great advice on finding a problem to solve, but if I did give advice it would be to listen as much as you can, and if you do have an idea you want to pursue, talk to as many women as possible to get their honest feedback.
In the next five years what innovation do you hope to see in women’s personal care/ health?
Great question. I do strongly feel that the biggest trend must be towards reducing the need for antibiotics treatment through healthy preventative products. I think Uqora is on this path, and I hope to have the ability to develop more products. There are many infections and complications, like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, that can be avoided, and we should push medicine in the direction away from treatment once you already have a problem, to not getting that problem to begin with.