Yousef Al-Humaidhi of Mighty Well: “Don’t underestimate the value of your own intuition”

By Penny Bauder | Thrive Global | July 28, 2021

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Al-Humaidhi.

Al-Humaidhi is an award-winning Kuwaiti-American social impact entrepreneur and venture debt investor. He co-founded Mighty Well to serve the needs of patients and caregivers working through the ups and downs of the treatment process. He has been honored by world-class entrepreneurial programs including Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab, MassChallenge, and is currently the youngest inductee in Babson College’s Hall of Fame as a Rising Star. Mighty Well creates innovative products in the Adaptive Wear market, which is expected to reach 393B dollars by 2026 (CBS News), for the 133 million Americans who live with a chronic condition. Mighty Well applies sportswear fabric technology to the medical industry and is building a digital supportive community of Friends in the Fight for our consumers. We are leading the global charge of helping patients and caregivers turn sickness into strength.

Yousef has also worked to create one of the largest private venture debt portfolios in the country with industry reach in technology, consumer discretionaries, and healthcare to name a few. He was the youngest member of the Wafra Capital Partners credit team, consisting of eight investment professionals managing ~4.5B dollars in capital. Additionally, Yousef is an MBA candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management where he is focusing on creating new innovations for the adaptive wear space to improve the patient experience in healthcare as a whole.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in an environment that valued knowledge, intelligence, and effort. My father, a serial entrepreneur, never sat still for too long and was always at work on new ventures. This ranged across a spectrum of real estate to luxury brands. My mother, a professor of biochemistry, taught me to be curious and think outside the box when approaching a problem. One example that comes to mind is when I designed an experiment for a science fair when I was ten. After completing it she challenged her undergraduate students to come up with a method of testing my hypothesis and, according to her, all fell short of what I designed and executed. My parents’ influence on me was immeasurable and has served me well to this day.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Undoubtedly, the organization that has impacted me the most throughout my life is KRC, or the Kuwait Riding Club, where I learned to ride. Unfortunately, I became acquainted with mortality at a very young age and as a result, I became quite an anxious and depressed child. After dealing with such loss and heartache at a young age I struggled to manage my emotions, and I found much comfort in KRC. Horses are extremely intuitive animals, and they’re highly skilled at sensing the psychological state of their rider. Thus, to be a successful rider, you have to learn to cope with and control your emotions. I often joke that I learned more to manage my mental health at KRC than I have from many professionals throughout my life.

There was one particular horse at this organization that I have especially fond memories with. This horse, Castol, was an extremely empathetic, but nervous horse, and he picked up on any of my emotions immediately. Prior to riding Castol, I had ridden mainly very calm horses, but Castol presented a brand new challenge. He was an incredible horse and was capable of jumping great heights effortlessly. And yet, when I rode him, he’d stop, and he’d refuse to jump. Castol hadn’t changed, he was still the same talented and athletic horse. It was me, and my anxiety, that he was sensing and reacting to. It was only once I learned to manage these emotions, that Castol and I began to succeed together. Consequently, throughout the years that I rode Castol my riding and my emotional health improved in tandem.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

When I think of how I’d like to make a difference, I think about making a positive impact, not just on humans, but on all living creatures. I love working to improve the patient community, and I’d love to continue to work to make their lives easier and more comfortable. However, I am also extremely passionate about improving the lives of our animal friends as well. In the near future, I’d love to begin to work with animal shelters, but if I look out long term, I dream of running an animal sanctuary.

It’s important to figure out what your “making a difference” looks like. Find your niche. For me, this is patients and animals. For you, it can be anything you like. I know it sounds overly simplified, but the best way you can make a difference is to find a problem you care about, and then try to find a solution. This specificity will provide you with a manageable goal, and keep you focused on that objective.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Unfortunately, illness affects more than just the patient. So, Mighty Well seeks to improve the lives of patients, as well as their caregivers, and anyone who lives in the sphere of disease. In the United States, 6 out of 10 people live with a chronic disease, and many more act as caretakers to their loved ones. We are trying to help everyone cope with the rigors and difficulties of illness and treatment.

Growing up, my grandmother struggled with a cancer diagnosis. Of course, this came with many physical and emotional challenges for everyone in the family. However, because my family is largely financially comfortable, my grandmother was afforded the best possible care. This is a luxury many patients do not have, and one I wasn’t made aware of until I met Emily Levy, many years later. She was someone who didn’t have all of the resources available, as my grandmother did. It was only after getting to know and care for Emily, that I came to understand the breadth of difficulties patients face when living with illness, particularly in the United States. I credit Emily for guiding me toward this realization. Once I understood how massive this problem was, I knew I had to do something. This understanding continues to sustain Mighty Well today and inspires us to push out, not only products, but information, content, and community.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The memory that comes to mind is the first time I saw Emily following her PICC line insertion. She was effectively scared of the device, and she didn’t want me (or anyone) paying attention to it or even acknowledging it. For someone who cared about her deeply, this was distressing to me. My immediate thought was how we could make this a more comfortable transition and experience for her. So, we began to design a product to do just that. Thus, the PICC Perfect was born.

During, and following the development of the PICC Perfect, I found myself with a heightened awareness of the patient community. It seemed that everywhere I went, I met someone affected by illness (both patients and caregivers alike). I knew we had to expand the availability of the device to the wider world, and help other people living with illness just like Emily. Today, we are lucky enough to have brought a wide variety of products to the market, allowing us to help a wider range of patients. Additionally, I will note, the second time Emily received a PICC line, she was noticeably more comfortable. My hope is that we have played a small part in her, and other patients’, relief.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I spent most of my life outside the world of healthcare, so, for a long time, I assumed illness was a relatively small problem. Especially growing up in Kuwait, I wasn’t knowledgeable of the struggles patients and caregivers in the United States face daily. I relegated the topic of sickness to my grandmother, people in hospitals, and individuals in wheelchairs. It wasn’t until meeting Emily that I conceived the notion of “invisible illness”, and began to understand the actual scope of the problem.

The truth is, if you’re lucky enough to live without illness, that probably just means you know someone who isn’t as lucky. As I mentioned, 6/10 Americans live with a chronic condition, from asthma to diabetes, to Chronic Lyme, like Emily. This realization was a large portion of the impetus for Mighty Well. We knew we had to do something to help not only patients but their caretakers as well. Today, we’re attempting to solve this problem a few patients at a time. In the years to come, I’d love to begin to help a thousand, or a million patients at a time. We’re taking the steps to get there.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

The first step we took was to recognize our problem. Emily needed something to cover her PICC line; a device that would allow her to live her life with comfort and dignity. So, we came up with a solution. We made that product. I know this sounds obvious, and perhaps oversimplified, but these two steps are essential for any blossoming entrepreneur. There are many businesses out there that falter because they haven’t thoroughly thought through and executed these two vital steps. Make sure you are specific on what you are solving, and how you are going to solve it.

The ensuing steps were prompted by the realization of just how many people struggled in the way that Emily did. Once we understood how many people needed these products, we began to look into manufacturing and funding. However, this was all catalyzed by the initial recognition of a problem, and the development of a solution. Following those two steps, there is no “silver bullet”. Entrepreneurship is so individualized to each business, that what comes next is entirely up to you.

Ultimately, if you are lucky enough to find yourself years into a business, the steps don’t end. They may get larger, and more consequential, but every day you’ll find new opportunities to adapt and innovate. We’re still in the process of turning Mighty Well into what we know it can be one day. I can only advise you to think of your business goals as a moving target, ever-changing and evolving.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One memory comes to mind, and it continues to guide my work at Mighty Well today. Within the first year of Mighty Well, when we were still tweaking the initial PICC Perfect designs, we connected with a mother through Instagram. She told us all about her daughter, who, unfortunately, was in treatment for Leukemia. She had been recently fitted for a PICC line, and all of their time was spent caring for this new device, minimizing the risk of infection, and preventing any mishaps. This meant that while her PICC line was saving her life, it was preventing her from living her life as well.

We knew we had to design a child’s version of the PICC Perfect. I remember when she tried it on for the first time, and she could finally play. We were at a playground, and she was able to go down slides and run around. Through this small piece of fabric, we were able to give the mother her daughter back and to give the daughter her childhood back.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

Of course, there have been many small mistakes along the way, all of which helped to inform and grow our business. Entrepreneurship is one big learning experience. Unfortunately, the only guarantee I can make is that you will make mistakes, and it’s important to become comfortable and acquainted with that feeling. However, when I think about this question, two specific examples come to mind.

Firstly, as a startup founder, make sure you are pursuing investments from the right people for your business. We’ve been lucky enough to have many investors who truly understand and support Mighty Well’s mission. However, I’ll admit, in the beginning, we didn’t always go after funding from investors who appreciated this. This meant that some of the advice we received wasn’t relevant to the kind of business we were trying to grow. It’s only recently that my co-founders and I have come to recognize that in such a new market, we are the experts. I look back on those years and wish that we could have trusted our intuition just a little bit more. Of course, don’t discount the advice you receive, but make sure to balance it with what you know and feel to be true.

The second mistake I can identify is when we began the journey with Mighty Well, we completely discounted the healthcare route. Initially, we wanted to bring products to market as quickly as possible. While there was a lot of merit in that thinking, I’ve realized over time that it’s vital for patients to get care from where they need it. If that’s online- great, but if that’s in a hospital, we need to make that available as well. While we are now making the transition to healthcare, I believe if we’d made this switch sooner we might have been able to impact more lives. However, I do believe this is a great example of entrepreneurial adaptability. It’s okay to make a mistake, but don’t let yourself stay stuck. Once you catch one, adapt. Don’t be afraid to pivot.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Without wanting to sound overly cheesy, the first person who comes to mind is my father. Growing up, and throughout adulthood, he’s been an incredible mentor. He was an entrepreneur himself, and I’ve always delighted in the stories he regaled us with. It seemed he was always off somewhere, doing something fascinating and important. So, not only does he have an incredible set of accomplishments, but he’s free with advice and guidance. He’s always helped me see what I can accomplish, and what steps I need to take to get there. From Day 1, he’s been not only my, but one of Mighty Well’s biggest supporters as well, and I credit him a great deal for where we are today.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Fortunately, or unfortunately, when you work in the sphere of healthcare, there are always people you are helping. Of course, we wish they didn’t live with an illness, but we are continually humbled by the individuals who allow us to play a small part in their journeys. We often receive messages, emails, and letters from patients or caretakers who describe how our products have improved their quality of life. One patient who comes to mind is an influencer who is currently living with and being treated for a brain tumor. A couple of months ago we caught a video of her ringing the radiation bell to signify the end of her treatment- she was wearing a Mighty Well Mask! To think that we could play even a small part in helping her feel safe is enough to motivate us when we go through difficult times.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Firstly, I encourage medical professionals to consult their patients. Many people work professionally in the healthcare field, and I acknowledge the great depth of their experience and knowledge. However, it’s time to acknowledge the “professional patient”. When someone suffers from a chronic illness, they’ve often spent years in and out of doctor’s offices, doing their own research, and of course, experiencing it every single day. I urge physicians to recognize that the greatest expert is the patient themself. Living with illness gives you expertise like no one else.
  2. I’d also like to embolden the medical community to innovate more. I feel that sometimes the industry can be resistant to changing and to trying new things. I also acknowledge that when someone’s life is at risk, change can seem scary. However, “good enough” isn’t good enough. Just because a device works, doesn’t mean the patient isn’t suffering from a greatly reduced quality of life. I’d like to see more innovation around designs that bring patients comfort and dignity, not ones that merely allow them to survive.
  3. Finally, politicians need to work harder to better accommodate the needs of the chronically ill. It is no secret that medical bills are the dominant cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States. Chronically ill Americans have to go through years of treatment just to manage their symptoms and function. Many are forced to pay thousands of dollars a month for their care, often not covered by insurance, further exacerbating their situations. Mighty Well tries to restore some of the dignity that the system as a whole takes away from them but with one piece of legislation, we can take a massive step forward in solving the underlying problem.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started Mighty Well” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

Firstly, your business will not progress until you can answer what problem you are trying to solve, and how you are going to solve it. Emily needed a product to keep her PICC line safe, so we made the PICC Perfect, and expanded from there. In larger terms, we noticed a hole in the market for products that afforded patients comfort and dignity. This was our what. Then, we consulted with patients, spoke to manufacturers, and developed products to fill that need. This was our how. From there, we’ve grown, raised investments, and expanded our product line. However, none of this would have been possible without the initial catalyst of “what” and “how”.

Secondly, don’t underestimate the value of your own intuition. Throughout your journey as an entrepreneur, you will receive thousands of pieces of advice and guidance. Some of these will be extremely valuable to you and your team, however, some won’t be as relevant. Learn to differentiate between what is useful for you, and leave behind what is not. Often, as a young entrepreneur, it can be tempting to follow every piece of advice you receive. It can be easy to assume that anyone with more experience will have the right answer. However, don’t forget to appreciate your expertise. This is a tightrope walk, a balance between confidence and pride. Listen to everyone, but, at the end of the day, you know your company better than anyone.

Thirdly, don’t be afraid to pivot. Your business will not look the same in a year as it does now, and that’s good. The world in which we live is constantly evolving, and so your company will need to follow suit. COVID is a perfect example of this. Early last year, we had just finished raising a round of investments from Morgan Stanley, and other investors soon followed. With a sizable amount of capital, we felt exhilarated with the directions and opportunities we could take Then- the pandemic. Sales dropped, anxieties roiled, and the excitement we’d felt quickly dissipated. We had two options: proceed on the path we had planned, or adapt to what the world and our consumers desperately required. We went with the second choice, and haven’t looked back. We developed the Mighty Well Mask, threw all our efforts behind the new product, and not only survived the pandemic but flourished within it.

Fourth, there is no “silver bullet’’. I wish I could give you my five steps to success, and guarantee that your business will prosper. Unfortunately, I cannot. Each business is so individualized, that the progression of your business is entirely up to you. While this sentiment can invoke some anxiety, it is also what makes entrepreneurship so exciting. I believe the best leaders in business will not only survive this uncertainty, but they will thrive in it. Additionally, the steps you take to succeed in business never end. Your company, in many ways, is like a child and will require constant care and attention. While the care an advanced company requires is different from that of a nascent company, it is no less crucial.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the need for passion. Passion to solve your problem and the passion to push forward through all of the difficulties of running your own business. If you are just trying to solve a problem that you don’t care about you won’t make it through the long nights and weekends. I got lucky, I found a problem that I wanted to solve and I have worked day and night for years to grow Mighty Well into the solution. However, far too often I see new founders starting businesses and solving problems that they don’t have passion for as an excuse to start a business. These founders will inevitably fail because every company, no matter if they are destined to be a local store or a retail giant, has bumps in the road and it’s your passion and belief in what you are doing that will carry you through it.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

If we are to learn anything from the trajectory of the world in the last few years it is that no one is going to come and save us. The people in positions of power like politicians either don’t care to improve the world or are small voices in a machine that simply wants to maintain the status quo. What has changed, however, is the fact that the change-makers are no longer the legislators but the entrepreneurs. We have the ability to effect change. It will take more than Mighty Well to solve the problems of the chronically ill and it will take more than companies like Tesla to solve global warming. Entrepreneurs with their passion and innovation will be able to change the world together and improve the lives of everyone. It is simply a case of getting up, starting your venture, and making it happen.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 

Someone who immediately comes to mind is Laurene Powell Jobs. Of course, more than just her husband, she is an incredibly accomplished businesswoman in her own right. However, what strikes me about her, is that I believe she is someone who could understand the problem we’re trying to solve and has the means to do so. Unfortunately, she, like me, is acutely aware of the effect that illness has on a family. If we could bring her into the Mighty Well fold, I truly believe we could change the world.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Instagram @mightywell_ or our website! I’m looking forward to connecting!

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

By MIT Sloan CDO