halioua began 2020 with $5.1 million in funding. By way of thanks she sent all of her investors, including Rosen, fluffy toy puppies wearing company bandanas. She secured an office on the edge of downtown San Francisco, but the lease began in March, the same month the Bay Area became the first part of the US to enter pandemic lockdown. Her company’s formative months, and first hires, took place via Zoom, Slack, and eventually socially distanced meetups. Halioua raised another $6 million and hired scientists, veterinarians, and an expert in getting new animal drugs past the FDA.
She embraced the role of dog company CEO—painting a mural of a giant German shepherd in Loyal’s office and ordering shirts with the slogan “Save the dogs, save the world.” She adopted a fluffy white husky named Wolfie, whom she has described as her cofounder and Loyal’s chief evangelist. Her management style, she says, was informed by her bad experiences at Oxford. When she talks to her team about her goals or beliefs, she tries to pair her statements with evidence to convince her workers that the boss is being straight with them. “Even if you don’t trust me, you still know this is true,” she says.
Halioua’s new science team, including a scientist who previously led aging research at pharma giant Regeneron, helped refine her original idea. They identified a compound they believed could be given to young dogs of the largest breeds, such as French mastiffs, to delay their accelerated aging process. They found a second compound they thought could target processes that cause cognitive decline and kidney problems in older dogs of all sizes.
As her company gained traction, Halioua noticed certain patterns in her business interactions. She tried to recruit women investors but found it difficult because there weren’t many to ask. When she met with investors who were men, some would try to flip a business meeting into a date, and others would confidently explain science to her that she knew inside out. Mostly she brushed off such moments—her time at Oxford had lowered her expectations of those with more power and prestige than her.
She often felt different. Describing herself as an “Oxford dropout” helped convince people to take her seriously—never mind that she had left her PhD in part due to dissatisfaction with a harassment investigation, a circumstance missing from the dropout tales of archetypal boy geniuses like Mark Zuckerberg. She listened to hundreds of Silicon Valley podcasts to try to learn the industry’s patois. She trained herself to smile less and wrote in a blog post aimed at women entrepreneurs: “I come off as more of a grump now, but I am a grump who has the money she needs to build her company.”
In the spring of 2021, Halioua published a blog post about her Oxford PhD supervisor titled “The Gifts of My Harasser,” leaving him nameless. She described the paradox of one of her worst experiences laying a foundation stone for her later successes by teaching her to be skeptical of social hierarchies and institutional power. “It’s been two years since I left. I am not broken anymore, but I still feel the cracks,” she wrote. “His abuse shattered my preconceived notions of how the world worked and cleared a path I otherwise never would have found.”