As a child of Pakistani immigrants, Komel Caruso, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was driven to live up to the mantra her father instilled in her after coming to this country with just $100 in his pocket—with hard work, anything is possible. She is doing that and much more as cofounder of HerMD, a cutting-edge, comprehensive women’s healthcare practice that recently opened its Millburn location. With a concentration on gynecology, menopause, sexual health care, and aesthetics—HerMD is revolutionizing how we treat women’s health beyond pregnancy, offering access to patients in one place where they can voice their concerns and be heard. We sat down with this West Orange mom of two to talk about the personal story that inspired her to open HerMD with her Ohio-based sister, Dr. Somi Javaid, how a podcast during the pandemic was critical in shaping the practice and the delish new Montclair restaurant where her family goes not just once, but twice a week. Komel and her sister, Dr. Somi Javaid (who lives in Ohio but keeps monthly hours in the Millburn location), co-founded HerMD after witnessing their mother’s mid-life health emergency that doctors dismissed.
Tell us about HerMD. It’s a very unique concept. Why did you feel a practice like this was needed for women?
HerMD was founded based on a very personal story that Somi and I share – we nearly lost our mother due to repeated dismissals in the healthcare system when she was just 45 years old. She is alive and well today, but unfortunately, her story is all too familiar for women. We are often dismissed in the healthcare system, we are underrepresented in 3 out of every 4 medical research trials, and our pain is not believed. All this has led to an average of an 8.5-year delay in diagnosis for women.
We’re very proud to provide women with the care they deserve at HerMD. While only a fraction of healthcare providers nationwide are certified in menopause and sexual health, we’re proud that 100% of HerMD healthcare providers are trained in those areas. All of the medical services provided at HerMD are insurance-based. Each location also has an on-site lab, ultrasound, and minimally invasive procedures. Our team at each location consists of a board-certified OBGYN, women’s health nurse practitioners, and an aesthetics team of nurse practitioners, RNs, and PAs.
What was your career like before opening HerMD, and how did you and your sister decide to become mompreneurs together?
I worked at Kaplan Test Prep, Story2 (a start-up), and Applerouth. And while those were some of my best professional and personal experiences, I often wondered when I started my career – where is this all going? I soaked up everything like a sponge and worked in many cross-functional roles, learning about branding, sales, business development, marketing, customer service, operations, lead generation, event management, and storytelling. All of that brought me where I am today, and when I co-founded HerMD, I realized that each of those experiences needed to happen so I could take it all and apply it. Our thought initially was to open a stand-alone women’s healthcare practice, but we quickly started to see the demand and the urgent need for the type of care we were providing and, in 2020, launched our Series A fundraising to expand.
Then, COVID hit, and our focus shifted to taking care of our team and our patients safely. But, as founders, we knew we had to focus on other strategic initiatives, and one of them —launching our podcast—was a pivotal moment. Our podcast, HerVoice, focuses on patient stories. We had our brave patients tell their stories of sexual dysfunction, menopause, fibroids, survivorship, and the impact it’s had on their lives. They shared their stories of dismissals in the healthcare system. Often, they were told it was “in their head,” or they “should grin and bear it,” or to just “drink some wine” —and that there were no treatment options.
Through the podcast, I truly began to understand our patients. They didn’t have a safe space to go to see a provider or a safe place to go to talk about everything where they felt no shame or stigma. There are three pillars upon which HerMD is built—educate, advocate, and empower. We support those principles through our spaces, patient education, provider education, and events so women can get the care we all so genuinely deserve.
You speak a lot about how your upbringing influenced your decision to start HerMD. Tell us about how you grew up and how that has affected your business.
Our parents were immigrants in the 1970s, and my father came to this country with less than $100 in his pocket. But he came with his dreams, and I admire him very deeply. He and my mother left their country and started living here without a safety net. He had no choice but to succeed.
Our mother was the inspiration for HerMD. After her repeated dismissal from doctors, she became so sick that she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, where she was rushed immediately into emergent quadruple bypass surgery. Her condition was so severe that if the heart attack had come, she would not have survived. That experience had a lasting effect on all of us. For Somi and me, it led us directly to HerMD and our mission.
Komel speaking at a HerMD event.
What topics do you think are missing the most in the conversations surrounding both women’s sexual health and menopause? What should every NJMOM know about this part of our health?
What I think is most needed is an honest discussion of symptoms and treatment options, including hormone replacement therapy. As a society, we have done women a grave disservice by whittling down menopause to hot flashes alone and ignoring women’s pleasure, accepting pain, and essentially stigmatizing anything related to female sexuality.
The reality is that there are so many great options for many of the most dreaded symptoms women face as they age. Things like hot flashes, brain fog, painful sex, incontinence – these are all widespread experiences that affect our quality of life and that we do not have to grin and bear. HerMD is working to normalize conversations, empowering women to address these topics with their providers, partners, families, and friends!
What have you learned about yourself through your journey as a NJMOMpreneur?
I have learned to use the power of my voice and believe in myself. Often as an entrepreneur and even more so as a female entrepreneur, we suffer from imposter syndrome. Most importantly, I have learned that your family and children matter most. Being an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs—you can feel successful one day and that you have failed the next. But, when you see your children, spouse, and family, you realize what matters most.
Tell us about some of your favorite local NJ businesses and what you love most about them. Where do you like to visit with your family around the state?
One of my favorite businesses is Perch Home in Maplewood. The items they carry are local and authentic, and each is picked with love. I also love Artie’s – the pizza, the pasta – need I say more? The owner, Fred, has done a fantastic job with the food, the service, and the vibe. Boschetto in Montclair is new, but my family and I have started going weekly, sometimes twice a week. The food is incredible, and the owner, Ryan, has created something special there. Pineapple Express BBQ in Montclair is another family favorite. We love to go in the summer and enjoy the outdoor patio, complete with lights, cornhole and giant Jenga.
What piece of advice do you have for other aspiring NJMOMpreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to use your voice, to fail (we often learn the most from failing), to take that chance, to have your moments alone or with your children or with your family—work will always be there. The stronger we are emotionally and mentally, and the happier we are, the better we show up in every aspect of our lives.