Maria Wang-Faulkner is the co-founder of Fig, the company on a mission to empower all women to proactively own and manage their reproductive health through at-home health screening, digital coaching, and personalized supplements. Before establishing Fig, Maria worked at Google in New York, where she validated and launched early-stage B2C and B2B software products. She also worked with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in India, where she introduced drugs and diagnostics for infectious diseases in low-income countries across Asia and Africa. Previously, she was a management consultant, a lawyer, a human rights advocate, an adjunct professor on management and sustainable business, and a career coach.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): Hi Maria, give us some background about yourself and what led you to the work you’re doing with Fig.
Maria Wang-Faulkner (MWF): I’m in my mid 30s, and hopefully it’s fair to describe myself as relatively successful, but it’s been a bumpy ride to get here. I went through several major career changes, have three degrees, and lived across 4 continents in that time.
I’ve seen firsthand that the path to getting “ready” for parenthood is long and windy. The average age of first-time mothers has increased from mid 20s to the early 30s in the last 40 years, and even when you’re finally “ready” for parenthood, conceiving and carrying a healthy baby to term can also be bumpy, all the more so because we delay the decision to start a family. I’m sure dozens of women have struggled with infertility or miscarriage, or otherwise had difficulty in navigating the healthcare system.
I’m lucky to have two gorgeous children of my own, but it wasn’t always easy. My first pregnancy four years ago ended abruptly in miscarriage. I was seven weeks along, and my appointment with my OBGYN wasn’t until the eighth week, which is standard medical practice in New York. When it happened, I had to scramble to see a random set of doctors to confirm it, which was horrific in itself. I had no one to turn to for answers, because I hadn’t yet met my OBGYN. These feelings of loneliness, confusion, and helplessness are really common, and it shouldn’t have to be this way.
I wanted to address this, and because of my background in health and technology, it just made sense. Before starting Fig, I spent five years at Google in New York, and also had the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s biggest media companies. In New Delhi, India, I worked with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, introducing new drugs and diagnostics to emerging markets in Asia and Africa. I also have a history of working on issues like women’s rights and gender inequality, because I studied human development. My skill sets and passions came together, and it made complete sense.
Kr: What exactly is the Fig home testing kit? How does one use it?
MWF: The kit is a box that contains everything you need to collect a few drops of blood, and then it gets sent to the lab for testing.
In terms of the actual collection process, it’s a simple finger prick. I think it’s important to highlight that Fig actually offers the exact same fertility hormone testing that’s offered by fertility clinics. We actually run our blood tests through the largest accredited lab in Singapore, and it’s the exact same lab that your fertility clinic would use. We look at the levels of a set of hormones, and compare them to other women your age. If they’re abnormal, that can be a sign that you may have one or more health conditions like hypothyroidism, PCOS, or diminished ovarian reserve.
We’re not changing the science—that technology has been around for decades—but we’re actually disrupting the medical practice around this by making these tests easier to access, more affordable, and frankly, a little more judgment-free. You get your results within a couple days. We actually break down those results for you simply, and we figure out next steps. Once you get your results, if you have abnormal results or more questions, you have the option to have a tele-consultation with one of our partner physicians. We also offer a health coaching service that we’re currently building, where you can turn for very digestible evidence-based information; it’s accurate, reliable content and support.
Kr: What should women know early on about fertility?
MWF: I think when we hear the word fertility, we think of babies—if we are not ready or don’t want babies, then we think this isn’t for us. We don’t want people to have that misconception. If you have ovaries, then Fig is for you. It is a woman’s right to understand how to improve her overall health, and your reproductive system is integral to overall health. In talking to friends, I hear about women having incredibly debilitating PMS symptoms, for example, where they have had to manage their life around it. So setting aside whether or not you intend to have a family, having a reproductive system means that there are health factors that you should be aware of.
Secondly, I don’t think people know that women are born with all the eggs that you’ll ever have, and that declines with age. Age is really the number one predictor of how fertile you are. So being educated on this gives you the ability to make informed decisions around timing, or to consider and plan for alternative options like egg freezing.
Something else that isn’t well known is that there are some common conditions, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, that impact fertility and can be quite debilitating, depending on how severe it is, but it tends to go under-diagnosed. This condition is treatable with medication, but most women don’t know they have it, especially in Asia. We help women become aware of warning signs within your reproductive system or your hormone levels.
Kr: How are you getting women to care more about their bodies?
MWF: We’re starting by just talking about it to normalise reproductive health as another core part of your health and wellbeing. It’s the same way that you’d see a doctor if you got severe migraines or extremely painful periods. And the same way that you might proactively take the contraceptive pill to avoid getting pregnant, you might also proactively screen your reproductive health to preserve the option of falling pregnant one day.