Gina Bartasi, Fertility Authority, Woman Entrepreneur
There is no doubt that Gina came out of the womb wheeling, dealing, selling, scheming and managing. She shouts entrepreneur from the second you meet her. She launched Fertility Authority after realizing at a lunch with a group of women that they were all spending a fortune on fertility, herself included, and thought there must be a business here. As I said, her brain has been wheeling and dealing since she came out of the womb.
Gina grew up in a small town in North Carolina. Neither of her parents went to college and were total entrepreneurs. Her father was a contractor and would buy speculative properties and build homes on them and her mother would sell them.
She has worked for as long as she can remember. After graduating high school she went to UNC, Chapel Hill finishing in four years. During her time there she waited tables and was smart enough to wait tables at the only high end restaurant in the area where people left enormous tips.
Gina graduated in 1991 and the country was in a recession. She took a job right out of school selling advertising. She was offered no base salary, no health insurance but 15% of everything she sold. She took the job and by the time she was 26 years old she was making over $125K a year. She bought a house, a great car and was doing quite well. She built up that worth over 5 years from 21-26 building a mans company. She decided it was time to leave and make it on her own.
In 1996 the Olympics were coming to Atlanta. She could not decide if she should go to Atlanta and start something or move to NYC. She had an interview with Conde Nast in NYC. She got off the plane and went directly to the interview in a white suit quickly realizing that everybody in NYC wears black not white. The interview went well. They wanted her to work for Gourmet magazine but she wanted to work for Vanity Fair. They wouldn’t budge so she planted herself in Atlanta to start a business that she could call her own.
When she launched the first magazine under the Leader Publishing Group she figured out that in Atlanta she would not be able to sell advertising as the CEO because she was only 27 and a woman. As a ruse, she put account executive on her business card. At one point while she was making a sale to one of the guys at the top of a company he said to her that he had played golf with the CEO of her company the week before. She did not correct him but instead shot back with “what did you shoot?”
She took the profits from the first magazine she launched and funded another magazine called Catalyst, then two others called Atlanta Woman and Atlanta Jewish Life and also began to do custom publishing for other publications in Atlanta. During this time she also started at 5013C naming the top entrepreneurs in Atlanta. She was 32 and running her own multi-million dollar profitable company. The cat was out of the bag as she was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Small Business Person of the Year finalist and a finalist for Woman of the Year in Technology.
Then Gina met a woman who was all business her entire life and gave Gina some advice. She said she was 52 years old, incredibly wealthy with no children and not married. She told Gina, do not do what I did.
Gina decided that she would never find someone in Atlanta but she would in NYC. She took a share in East Hampton for the summer. She’d fly to La Guardia every Friday night and take the jitney out to her share. One night her roommates were giving her a hard time about schlepping up there and then going to sleep by 10pm. She said she would prove them otherwise and went to the TalkHouse in Amagansett for a show and stayed until the lights went up meeting two twin brothers at the bar, one of them became her husband.
Her life changed. She had a business and apartment in Atlanta and a place in NYC. She kept that going for 10 years eventually selling the business in 2006. She had structured the business in a way that it took on a life of its own with good people running it and she put herself in the Chairperson role. Very smart. Looking back she says that she should have sold sooner that owning an asset that someone else is running for you is not easy.
Gina got married in September 06 in and she was 37 years old. She knew that she wanted to have children so she went to see a fertility doctor from the very onset. He said that her chances of getting pregnant were slim to none. She thought to herself, what are you kidding me, I can do anything. She spent the next 18 months selling her business, yoga, meditating, eating healthy to prepare her body to get pregnant. It was not happening.
That summer she decided it was time to start another business. She was sitting at the pool with four other women while the boys were playing golf and realized that everyone of them were going through fertility treatment. She started to add all the numbers up in her head and thought there is a business here. She went into the house and got on register.com and bought the url for Fertility Authority. It was summer 2008.
Gina started to raise money. All the people who said yes to $100k on 9/12 said no by 9/14. Madoff had wreaked havoc on the people who were giving her capital. She figured she could boot strap the business with the $250 she came up with and that $1m was not in the cards. All her colleagues took equity instead of cash and now that $1 worth of salary is worth $4/5. 12 months later she raised another $250 and then another $250 eventually getting to that $1m mark. It took time.
As the economy picked up in 2010 Gina realized they needed to grow. So they approached EHarmony to buy their private chat room called fertile thoughts. She flew out to Pasadena until they agreed on a price without any money in the bank. She got them to take a check a month over an extended period of time.
The business started out as an advertising model, think WebMD for fertility clinics. That worked and then they began adding a subscription model to the business like ZocDoc for the fertility industry. They told the doctors that we can help you build your brand and we will drive traffic to your site but that is not what doctors want. They want patient referrals, aka a lead generation business. Fertility authority evolved into that with a call center where they match a client with the right physician. One of the doctors in the IVF business called Fertility Authority the 800 pound gorilla.
On a personal note, Gina has two 26 month twins. She is looking to take this business international. The one thing that she said to me that really stuck is the importance of women freezing their eggs. Nobody talks about this. It is a growing business. If you are over 30 and don’t see kids happening in the immediate future, freeze your eggs. Do not be in the position that Gina was at 37 years old where she was told she could not get pregnant. Time, money and heartbreak happens again and again. Having those eggs frozen when a woman is young and fertile is an incredible technology gift that can be a game changer for many.