Info Diet offers a peek into the personally curated feeds and media habits of the people shaping the future. In each installment, a different builder spends two days chronicling everything they read, follow, listen to, and watch in order to stay ahead of what’s next. This time: Afton Vechery, co-founder and CEO of the reproductive health company Modern Fertility (now part of Ro), which provides fertility hormone essentials, including at-home tests and digital tools, for everyone with ovaries. Afton lives in Los Angeles and San Francisco with her partner and dog, Monster.
Sunday, March 6
7:45 a.m.: I wake up to a text from one of my closest friends who’s in charge of shipping the satellites for Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite internet startup. She can’t make our planned 9 a.m. bike ride, so my partner and I meet her family for coffee and a catch-up. We chat about setting up ops processes to deliver Starlink for Ukraine (!!!).
9:30 a.m.: Back at home, I dig into Ukraine news. First I head to WSJ.com and scan the homepage. I don’t read the WSJ every day, but it’s a go-to paper on weekends, which is when I typically get up to speed on global news. I find the headlines, and overall coverage, to be less sensational in tone, compared to other outlets. When it comes to current events, a lot of the best content recs come from text threads. A good friend from Romania sent a video from the Youtuber RealLifeLore that explains the Ukraine invasion in a logical and digestible way. I listen to it while making a cup of coffee.
10 a.m.: As my partner packs for a conference, I dive into my email (again) and scan a bunch of newsletters. I’m a very effective speed-reader, but I slow down for higher-touch pieces. Understanding cultural trends is important for any consumer-facing company, but particularly one like Modern Fertility, where the aim is to inspire a shift in behavior or change conventional wisdom.
OutOfPocket by Nikhil Krishnan is one of the more thoughtful, in-depth, and engaging newsletters on shifts within the healthcare industry. Just a quick skim this week because the topic isn’t my jam.
Sarah Shapiro’s weekly retail newsletter, another favorite, is a collection of must-reads about fashion and retail. This is link curation at its finest — helping me stay on top of #allthethings efficiently, with a little personality woven in. One article is about Bottega Veneta, a brand I love, and I devour it as a guilty pleasure. Modern Fertility isn’t a fashion brand, but it needs to be something that people are drawn to and want to consume. There are parallels across consumer categories, and lessons to learn from all of them. Fashion and retail are no exception — I love understanding the pace of change that keeps people interested and the relationship between scarcity and abundance that makes something desirable, even if it’s widely accessible.
I also subscribe to the Lean Luxe Debrief, which covers the modern luxury market, and ThingTesting, which provides interesting commentary on consumer behaviors, new brands, and our evolving understanding of what’s desirable.
After newsletters, I finally get around to reading that “vibe shift” story from The Cut, which I’ve seen shared more times than I can count in the past week. Of course, I can’t help but think about Modern Fertility. I feel grateful that we focus on an evergreen problem within an industry that’s so fundamental to society, vs. being in the business of whatever’s in at the moment.
Onto Instagram: I can’t browse without analyzing which DTC brands are spending money on retargeting and how they’re doing it. In general, I find the growing number of DTC brands motivating, because it drives home the idea that companies need to differentiate to win. It’s easier than ever to start a company today, but harder than ever to scale.
I reply to a DM from Cindy Eckert, one of our early investors who’s best known for bringing the female version of Viagra to market. She’s reaching out about different celebrities potentially getting involved with Modern Fertility. We did an event in LA where influencers, tastemakers, and celebrities came to experience our products and chat about our work. I now follow 30+ of the attendees, whose follower counts range from 10k to over 5M. I love seeing how they engage so authentically with their followings. The power of creators is baffling, in a great way. I am not super active on Instagram, but I like saying hello from time to time.
I love design accounts, especially from up-and-coming designers — with vintage, interior design, and travel and arts mixed in. Topping my list are: Studio Shamshiri, Kelly Wearstler, and Tappan Collective. Erin Robertson (discovered through a high school friend) designs incredible custom pieces. And Pickwick Vintage Show is a reliably great source for brands and stores in LA.
I’m also obsessed with the timelessness, beauty, and culture of ballet. It’s amazing to see dancers and creators reach a broader audience, redefining some of the more traditional interpretations of ballet while staying true to the art form. Must-follows are James B. Whiteside, Isabella Boylston, and Misty Copeland.
Time for some lurking in my favorite communities, starting with Farcaster, a new company (started by my good friend Dan). I’m using it to learn about NFTs, which I admittedly never thought I’d get into. Consider my mind changed.
Next is the Modern Community, our breeding ground for sourcing new product ideas. It also helps me stay to close to the daily questions and stories of our customers, who are sharing everything from their experiences with our at-home tests to their birth control gripes to their miscarriage coping strategies.
I read one more thing during the packing session: a study about the “changing tide of fertility.” It’s one of many journal articles in an ongoing list that I text to myself. A lot of them come from our clinical channels on Slack. Academic journal abstracts don’t always pull me in, but this is the most fascinating one I’ve ever seen. Reading it gets me excited about an opinion piece I’m working on (and need to get back to writing).
1:30 p.m.: After a jam-packed hour-long break (which includes a bike-ride along the boardwalk, a quick workout, plus tacos and beer), I sit down to work on … my taxes. I started doing monthly themes this year: “Personal Health January,” “Financial February,” and “Experts March.” I’m behind on Financial February, which means I can’t move on to my March priorities yet (getting back into trumpet lessons, finding a swim coach).
Then I spend some time researching global birth control access, inspired by a recent conversation with a friend about birth control bans in Iran (her home country). I was embarrassed that I didn’t know more about the issue. I read a pretty recent Washington Post article, and then two academic papers on the history of Iranian birth control policies.
Learning about artificial wombs has been one of my recent weekend passion projects. With any topic, I like to ground myself in both the public and clinical opinions (and standard deviations of each). So I read two Atlantic articles, both by Conor Friedersdorf, to get a sense of the mainstream narrative. Then I tackle a handful of journal articles and order some books (the physical kind) by professors I want to meet. I believe that politics and ethics, not science, will be the reason we don’t see as much artificial-womb advancement as we should in our lifetimes. There are so many interesting ethical conversations — for instance, is it OK to use an artificial womb to decrease the 50% mortality rate among babies born prematurely? What if the risk of life-threatening conditions increases as a result? How do we weigh these tradeoffs, and whose decision is it?
Monday, March 7
6:30 a.m.: I wake up and scan emails and texts, and then lie flat for a short meditation. People say it’s unhealthy to kick off the day by opening your phone and jumping into Slack and email, but that’s always been my default, and it’s not high on my list of things to change 🙂
I quickly read the WSJ before doing an at-home yoga class with a few friends. We typically all have to jump to 8:30 calls, but it’s great energy to start off the day.
9 a.m.: Time to kick off a day of back-to-back meetings. One of them is about my involvement with the Society of Science and Public, where I’m on the National Leadership Council. The first company I ever started, when I was 13 years old, was born out of my Intel Science Fair project, a competition produced by the SSP. I love that I can still stay close to the organization today. My call is with Dianne Newman, a molecular microbiologist at Caltech who’s on the SSP board. I brush up on her latest research before we talk.
5:30 p.m.: I start reading newly delivered raw data from our annual “Modern State of Fertility” report, in which we partner with a like-minded organization for research on a cultural element of fertility. This year, we’re working with the dating app Bumble to explore how fertility affects dating and vice versa.
Parsing these initial findings for key themes is like an instant energy shot — it’s SO fascinating to see human-behavior research related to something as core to our humanity (and also as personal and complicated) as finding a partner and becoming a parent. Here’s a sneak peak: 78% of respondents don’t think having kids is essential to leading a fulfilling life. When people with ovaries have so many avenues to invest their time and energy in, starting a family is often delayed or deprioritized. This only calls for more information and support in navigating fertility decisions.
6 p.m.: I tick off items on my to-do list while listening to Second Life, the extremely well-done podcast by Who What Wear founder Hillary Kerr. This episode features the stylist Karla Welch, an early investor in Modern Fertility who’s only impressed me more as I’ve gotten to know her. Karla recently started a company called Period, which sells accessibly priced, non-gendered, sustainable period underwear, in an effort to destigmatize periods. I think it’s awesome.
11:30 p.m.: I skip my nightly news check-in. Sometimes I just can’t handle going too deep on world news at bedtime, especially on weeknights before an early wake-up. I’ll catch up in the AM.
Get Afton’s Info Diet
- OutOfPocket, by Nikhil Krishnan
- Sarah Shapiro’s weekly retail newsletter
- The Lean Luxe Debrief
- “The New, New Bottega Veneta,” by Vanessa Friedman [NYT]
- “A Vibe Shift Is Coming,” by Allison P. Davis [NYMag]
- “The Changing Tide of Human Fertility,” by R. John Aitken [human reproduction]
- “Iran Doubles Down on Abortion and Contraception Restrictions,” by Miriam Berger [WaPo]
- “Iran’s Shift in Family Planning Policies: Concerns and challenges,” by Mohammad Karamouzian, Hamid Sharifi, and Ali Akbar Haghdoost [International Journal of Health Policy and Management]
- “Birth Control Policies in Iran: a Public Health and Ethics Perspective,” by Mehdi Aloosh and Yashar Saghai [Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health]
- “Artificial Wombs Birth a Complex Controversy” and “Liberation or Folly? Your Takes on Artificial Wombs,” by Conor Friedersdorf [The Atlantic]
- “Why Russia Is Invading Ukraine,” by RealLifeLore [Youtube]
- Second Life, hosted by Hillary Kerr
- Cindy Eckert, Studio Shamshiri, Kelly Wearstler, Tappan Collective, Erin Robertson, Pickwick Vintage Show, James B. Whiteside, Isabella Boylston, Misty Copeland [Instagram]