Stairway to CEO podcast

Stairway to CEO

Lee Greene

Stairway to CEO is a podcast, hosted by entrepreneur Lee Greene, featuring untold stories from inspiring Founders & CEOs about what it takes to start and grow a business.

77 épisodes

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    From Candy to Quintessentials with Sid Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO of Quince


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What he learned about himself from an early job at Fry’s Electronics, what then got him into banking, and how he ended up starting Lolli and PopsWhy Sid learned so much from launching Lolli and Pops after buying a failing candy store chain and bringing it from the brink of closure to a continued successWhat mistakes he made in the past in leadership, what he learned from that, and how he has used his experiences to build QuinceWhy it’s important as an entrepreneur to understand a specific problem you want to solve, find a way to solve it, and recognize how important it is to be persistent in business and even in your personal lifeWhat is next for Quince and why he says you gotta try Quince to see how they have solved many problems in the supply chainTo Find Out More:onequince.comQuotes:“We liked the name. It was crisp. It was clean. And it represented a modernity about what we were trying to do.”“I think we are in the still very early stages of eCommerce. I think eCommerce is 15 to 20 percent of all retail. It's my belief that we will get to 50 percent of all retail is online. And, you know, that's trillions of dollars that are going to go offline to online and someone's got to be there to catch it.”“The magic in Quince is that instead of keeping goods close to you as a customer, we keep it close to the source of production. And the value of that is that I can create a real time signal from the time something sells to the factory.”“We're a company full of engineers, and so building all the tech to optimize for cost and to deliver things at an incredible price was quite an undertaking.”“The magic here is we're not producing on-demand, but we're producing near just in time, which allows us to get scale and match supply and demand really tightly.”“We can literally make goods salable the minute it comes off the assembly line. So, you know, typically one to two weeks, we can have goods ready to sell. And so that's a huge competitive advantage.”“We think curation is a really important part of Quince. So when you type in "sheets," you're going to pick between five or six different fabrications that we think most people want. But then we're going to give you the one best sheet.”“Finding mentors, whether it's the person that you report to or not, within an organization that can teach you is super valuable and finding those advocates for you in the organization is super valuable.”“You've got to be the architect of your own career. No one is going to do that. People help you, but you've got to be intentional.”“It's really underrated how valuable persistence is to an entrepreneur.”
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    Growth That’s Bubbling Over with Stephen Ellsworth, Co-Founder and CEO of Poppi


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:Why Stephen didn’t feel like he was cut out for corporate life and what that led him to do instead throughout collegeHow he met his wife and Co-Founder, Allison, and started working for her family in oil and gasWhat led to Allison discovering the health benefits of apple cider vinegar and the desire to make it taste betterWhat turned their first iterations of the product from a hobby to a business and why it was a huge game changer What hard lessons they have learned and what they have learned through the fundraising processWhat it has been like to grow their team from two to 50 people in just 18 months and what they have learned about leadership and team dynamics as well as  the importance of building relationships with those on your teamWhere you can find Poppi and what’s next for them in terms of flavor profilesTo Find Out More:drinkPoppi.comQuotes:“{Allison} read that drinking apple cider vinegar could really help to detox and reset her body. So that's where this whole concept really came about.”“‘How do we figure this out? How can we take this product from our kitchen and put it into a manufacturing facility and meet all of the qualifications and have all of the policies in place? How do we get it done?” So we just got to work. We just jumped right in.”“Looking back, I would have raised capital sooner. But that kind of just that wasn't the way that I was thinking about it. So we just made do with what we had.”“Early on we had talked to some of these co-packers, and their capabilities weren't there. They weren't willing to work with the product that was unpasteurized. A lot of them didn't want to work with vinegar because they felt like it would contaminate their lines. So being where we are now, obviously we just weren't talking to all of the right people.” “It was like, "Get equipment, let's scale it. Let's continue to grow sales and then reinvest in the business and continue to kind of bootstrap it.’"“I wasn't building on building a brand or taking it to market or putting together a promotional calendar to incentivize trial and do all of these other things to try and get people to try the product and build the brand. So I mean, that was honestly the biggest thing that I think halted our growth.”“The good thing and the bad thing is that Poppi is just been blowing up. At this stage of our business, we're growing faster than Vitamin Water did and Bai did.”“When you become a family and you're all pulling in the same direction, you don't mind picking up the slack for the other person because you know, when the tables are turned and you need someone to pick up the slack, they're there for you.”“It's all about Poppi being a mission-driven company rather than a maintenance-driven company.”“Making money should be a result of doing something good.” “I try not to have an ego because I want people to be able to speak up. And if it's not the best idea, know that we still love and respect you and are just excited that you're bringing ideas to the table as opposed to, you know, feeling like you're shamed because it wasn't the idea that we went with.”“Throw yourself in so far that the only path is forward.”
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    Making a Splash in Alt-Protein with Jacek Prus, Co-Founder and CEO of Kuleana


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:Why he became passionate about alternative protein and animal rights while in college How his time at Acton School of Business helped him learn a lot of what he needed to know about entrepreneurship and how he started an internship with ProVeg Incubator in Berlin, GermanyWhat led to the idea of a seafood alternative, specifically raw tuna substitute, and what the iteration process was like at the beginning What fundraising has been like for Jacek and his team, and what they have learned throughout the processWhy Jacek believes that making alternative proteins is not just about making a product “like” something, but actually better than that something and why the possibilities are more exciting that wayWhat strategies he has found helpful when hiring and ways he has been intentional about building a solid team at KuleanaWhat he learned from hard times, how he has overcome them, and why his passion for the mission continues to drive him through any pain and struggleWhat advice he has for other Founders and what is next and exciting for KuleanaTo Find Out More:Kuleana.coQuotes:“Going for raw tuna, I was like, ok, we'll have to actually innovate on the process to create products, and I thought that was just really, really exciting for me.”“Investing, in a very large sense, is a game of momentum.”“We can be something similar to, but also better than a product.”“It's a little bit of this fun game in food like innovating and making things better than, and at the same time, people like somewhat of familiarity with food. And I think that's what a lot of companies and Founders are trying to reconcile in the alternative protein space is how do you make it familiar, but you want to make it better?”“When it comes to hiring, it should kind of take a while. And if it's not, then maybe draw that process out just because obviously those are the people who really build that company. You only do so much. You do a lot as a founder, but it's really that initial group of people who multiply that impact.”“When people believe in it, they just work harder. They stick through the pain. So try to unravel that and identify whether somebody really cares about that mission”“It felt like something that needs to be done, and then it becomes a lot less about you. That's really, really cool because your pain then matters less. And when your pain matters less, you become more pain tolerant.”“If you look at professional athletes they have coaches, multiple coaches, right? It's like, why aren't professional business people having coaches? We should all have them.”“The reality is you start to recognize that if you don't prioritize your sleep and those other things, your work quality just drops tremendously and you make more mistakes.”“Some of the best advice I ever heard was, "Just do what excites you.’"“Sometimes as an entrepreneur, we feel like we have to invent everything, but it's a lot of times the best things are just small improvements and small iterations, or merging of multiple ideas and not feeling bad about that. But I think copy and paste is really underrated.”
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    The Taste of Sweet Success with Mayssa Chehata, Founder and CEO of Behave


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What her childhood was like and how she has always been a leader and had many interests and passions from an early ageWhat changed her focus from International Relations and Economics and perhaps leading to work in the State Department to working in marketing at the NFL instead and what she learned during her time thereWhat profound takeaways Mayssa gained during her time at Uber, Daily Harvest, and SoulCycle and how they have helped her today as a Founder/CEOWhy the idea for Behave came to her, what started her on the path to dig deeper into the idea, and what the first steps wereWhy Mayssa was frustrated with the traditional R & D approach to product development and had the genius idea of finding a pastry chef to help herWhat fundraising was like for her and what advice she passionately offers to those who are looking to build a business and raise fundsWhat lessons she has learned as a leader that have helped her enjoy her role and breathe life into her team as they continue to growWhy Mayssa believes that even the hardest challenges can lead to good things that help the company in the long run and what advice she has for other FoundersTo Find Out More:EatBehave.comQuotes:“Trying to do things that were more entrepreneurial and really owning projects and owning initiatives from start to finish, built a solid foundation for what it was going to look like to have an idea out of nowhere and turn that into a business and launch that business.”“You're pitching the partnership, but you're also pitching the business.”“I think in a partnerships role or a business development role, you almost have to take on that external speakerphone for the company in a lot of ways.”“Through all my experiences and through having built my career in a business development and partnerships function, for the most part, I've always felt that actually most business gets done just through friendship.”“My philosophy is that you will get so much more done by people liking you than by paying them or feeling like you have something to offer them.”“I knew that if we were going to do healthier, better-for-you candy, it was still going to have to taste amazing. When people reach for candy, it is an indulgence. It’s a moment of fun and joy, and I just knew that compromising on taste wasn't going to be an option.”“You have to go into it believing that you're going to raise the money. Actually, a lot of fundraising for me was shifting my own mindset.”“It's so easy to get trapped in this whole, very confusing web of what am I supposed to be doing? And I think the sooner that you can surrender and just say whatever feels right to me is what's going to be right for the business... And now I feel so happy that I was able to kind of let go of a lot of those shoulds.”“You have to also acknowledge that every other business that looks like it was built in a perfect Excel spreadsheet straight out of Harvard Business School was probably also a burning dumpster fire on the inside. You just don't see that.”“Just having people that are in the boat with you... I wouldn't have been able to get this far without that network and that support system.”
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    Coffee at Scale with Michael Mayer, Co-Founder and CEO of Bottomless


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What life was like as an entrepreneurial kid and triplet in Portland, Oregon, and what aspirations he had even back thenHow a pivot in college became helpful later in his career, what he learned from his time at Nike, and how he came up with the idea for BottomlessWhy Michael quit his job and jumped in to building out the concept and getting Bottomless off the ground, and what that experience was like for him and his Co-FounderWhat is so unique about the Bottomless system and how it is a truly customized way to never run out of high-quality coffeeWhy it took three times of applying to YCombinator before they were accepted in, why that is a good lesson for others wanting to apply, and what valuable lessons he learned thereWhat fundraising was like and why the first round was a total bust, but a valuable lesson that he offers to others who are ready to raise funds and want to succeedHow he has grown as a leader, what he’s learned from mistakes, and what it’s like to be a husband and wife founding teamWhat’s next in the near and far future with Bottomless and what further advice Michael has for aspiring entrepreneurs, Founders, and/or operatorsTo Find Out More:Bottomless.comQuotes:“One day we just thought, OK, how do you actually find out how much people have all the time? Just had this epiphany that weight is a source of truth for how much people have. And if you could just record that in a regular interval, you could actually solve the reordering problem for people.”“We actually are looking at your patterns and sort of dynamically figuring out essentially when we should order, so the likelihood of you running out is fairly low.”“The way that the actual coffee product works has evolved with contact with customers over the years.”“Trying to impress them with a bunch of clever writing is not as impressive as sticking to something and just sort of making progress on it over the long run because then they know you  really are serious about building a company around this.”“It was always just focusing on the problem in front of you and just trying to continually grow. And so that was a very valuable thing, and I saw people sort of transform their way of doing things from sort of a very sort of business plan, sort of what I might call pseudo entrepreneurial mindset to a very sort of hustle-oriented mindset.”“Make something, try to get people on it. If they don't want it, ask why and make something else. And then once you have people, try to grow it. If you can't grow, it solves a problem.”“If you're an early employee at a company that has gone nuts and IPOd, or you're a previous Founder that has found some success, like, yeah, sure, you can start something and just get funding right off the bat. But generally, the other people have really done a lot of work to prove what they're doing to get that sort of fundraising, even today in this fundraising environment.”“In particular with the type of company that we're doing, that's really sort of building something novel from scratch and having to do a lot of new things, it just requires a lot of focus. We have to be three times smarter and also work three times harder. And I think having your Co-Founder also be your spouse is a massive advantage.”“Our real goal is to figure out how to automatically replenish everything intelligently using sensors rather than people having to do it manually and try to store this information in their head.” “It's just the way that restocking is done broadly is broken and it's broken in commercial settings, it's broken households, and it's even broken into some industrial settings.”“I find it immensely gratifying to work very hard on something that I think is ultimately going to be very impactful for the world. It may sound crazy, but I legitimately think we're going to inspire a whole new type of technology.”
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    Pure Innovation with Ric Kostick, Co-Founder and CEO of 100% Pure


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:How Ric grew up in a family of doctors but had no interest in medicine so instead went into finance and businessHow he started selling his products online while the internet was still newWhat led to the creation of the company after he and his co-founder both had struggles with their own companiesHow challenges and losing a huge account led to a pivot that became a success in a new channelWhat advice he has for a healthy founding team and why good communication among the Founders and partners is not only imperative, but absolutely essentialWhat brought them to open up market in China, how it has been a unique strategy, and why that fits in with their overall missionWhat it has been like to open up their own retail stores, what lessons Ric has learned as a result, and what they have coming up in the futureWhy he thinks being a lifelong learner is a part of being successful and making a difference in the world around youTo Find Out More:100percentpure.comQuotes:“Why are all these companies putting these ingredients into the product? Because it makes them cheaper and it makes them stable.”“We led a lot of the innovations in the natural side of the industry. A lot of the preservatives you see in clean products today are ones we were the first to use in beauty.”“It's really an art when you're making a natural product. You have to be very, very precise on things to get it to mix extremely well.” “There are so many challenges as an entrepreneur, it's very rewarding, too, but you definitely go through a lot and I don't think it's easy.”“When you're working with partners, it's hard not to blame each other. You have to really ensure that you blame processes, not people.”“Trust is the most important thing. Our fastest years of growth are the years where we trusted each other the most, the three founders. Those were our fastest years when we grew 30-40 percent.”“It's our mission to improve the lives of six billion people and animals. China has a billion people and even more magnitude of animals on top of it. So I felt like we really need to stay true to our mission. And if we're really trying to stay true to our mission, we need to be where the people are around the world…”“I use China as kind of the model of eCommerce of the future because they bypassed the whole desktop computer phase. They went straight to mobile because nobody has desktops at home in China that I know of, so they bypassed desktop, went to mobile, and their eCommerce is extremely advanced because of that.”“The store of the future, the retail associates, are content creators.”“You have to be okay with failure. It can't bother you. It's got to be like water off your back. Nothing. Move on.”“Another key element of success is having a very strong network. If I need something or need access to someone, I can get it because of my strong network.”“Some people felt like brick and mortar is dead. I don't feel that way. I feel like you need both to be successful.”
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    Slow Up for Fast Growth with Leland Whitehouse, Co-Founder and CEO of Slow Up


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What it was like to grow up in a great family that valued homegrown food and home cookingHow he found his way into a passion for sustainable food while at Yale and had opportunities to not only be a part of farming but also part of helping others enjoy good foodHow he got a lot of experience and education working as a buyer for Fresh Direct and had a few light bulb moments noticing some gaps in the industry, and then came back to the Northeast to work for Happy Valley MeatHow his roommate had been learning a lot about the food industry as well and became the perfect person to co-create a solution to the healthy snack options conundrumWhat the product development process was like and how it all came together in a unique way with a final product that provides the answer to the problem they set out to solveHow they went to market and how they dealt with COVID coming at about the time they were set to fully launch What challenges Leland and his team have overcome and continue to work through What advice he has for aspiring entrepreneurs and what’s next for Slow Up in both retail and in the DTC spaceTo Find Out More:SlowUp.coQuotes:“There was a real live and interesting tension between staying completely committed to like really strict set of rules and values and ethics and growing quickly.”“We thought about what is the deal with the distance between how satisfying and exciting meals are and what we're living on in between meals?” “We heard over and over again that options that were healthy weren't tasty, and that options that were tasty weren't particularly healthy, and that everything had too much sugar. A lot of dissatisfaction and the nature of the dissatisfaction was pretty clear. So that smelled like a business to us.”“We just turned Chef Caroline loose and said, "Make something healthy and delicious that feels like a recipe, not a formula, and feels like it came to you from a chef.’”“The nucleus is that breaking that healthy/tasty compromise, using fresh ingredients like you would at a restaurant or in your own kitchen and coming up with a product that felt like a recipe, not like an extruded lab product.”“This has been an education for me in not saying, here's a delicious thing, how do we take it to market? But instead, like, here's a market, how do we make something to address it?”“We really think of ourselves, despite riding on the refrigerated bar coattails, as creating a new category. It's an unfamiliar product that really only resembles a bar in its shape, really not in its experience.”“Getting creative around where we belong in the grocery store, who the right buyer is, and who the right distributors are is part of the project.”“We like to say good food goes bad.”“Get a handle on the business first and then get a handle on what you think you can deliver, then take that and make the slide deck.”“You just got to jump in the cold water. I think that's the big advice. Hard to feel prepared, and with a little bit of the benefit of hindsight, pretty impossible to be prepared unless you've done it before. So just send it.” “There's always another hill to climb. Another problem to solve. Problems shift or grow or shrink, but they don't disappear. So once you've jumped in, recognizing that you just got to get comfortable in that. There's always another hill to climb.”
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    Rolling in the DEUX with Sabeena Ladha, Founder and CEO of DEUX


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What brought her family to the States from South Asia and what life was like with an entrepreneurial fatherWhen she realized that she needed to leave the big company world and become an entrepreneur herselfWhat her time at M13 was like and what valuable lessons Sabeena learned there about building a business well and getting started How DEUX launched what became a powerful test market via Instagram and why they knew early on that this was going to workHow she has learned to stay healthy mentally and keep herself as focused as possible, even with ADHDWhy fundraising for her was actually a lot of fun and what advice she has for Founders who are fundraisingWhy DEUX is on track to hit one million in sales during their first year and what advice Sabeena has for others trying to get that mark, including some of the unique ways she got her delicious product into people’s handsWhat’s next for DEUX and why you should just start when you have a great concept that you are wanting to move forward withTo Find Out More:eatDEUX.comQuotes:“It was just in my nature to be entrepreneurial. It was almost like I tried to fit into a box and tried to fit around the red tape, and it just wasn't working because it felt so forced.”“We didn't really have branding yet. We launched an Instagram, and we essentially said, "DM us to place an order, and Venmo us.’"“So there was, of course, the quantitative metrics that you look at of sales and follower counts and engagement on our social posts. But then there's also this quantitative, almost like feeling that you get, it's almost like this like magic sauce that you can kind of feel like, yeah, this is going to work.”“I don't think that doubt ever really goes away. You just figure out how to manage it and do your little mental health hacks to get over it. But it's kind of just like always living in there a little bit.”“Raising when you're a few months in versus raising just on a deck, a presentation, I think those are two very, very different things.”“It's disrupted what is so hard to disrupt, which is social media. And so that sort of relationship, I would say, has been kind of integral.”“That's the thing that I think is just such a core value to us is sure it can be healthy, but if it tastes like cardboard or kale, nobody wants to eat that if it's a dessert. So kind of marrying the two of, I call it, hedonistic health. But it's healthy and clean, but it's delicious. And I think that's kind of the fundamental I would say the core value of our product strategy.”“I think it takes practice and it takes reps to be able to have all of those high highs and have the low lows. And you have to go through them to kind of then even out and stay even-keeled.”“I need to do what a coach does to motivate my team to kind of have that energy and build that culture.”“Just start. We want everything to be perfect. We want to have the perfect brand and the best website. And we want everything to be pristine. And I think there is advice that I received that was if you're not embarrassed of your first product, then you're not doing it right.”
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    From Farm Life to GEM Bites with Sara Cullen, Founder and CEO of GEM


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What life was like growing up on a farm in Oregon and learning a lot about nutrition and agriculture and entrepreneurship and how that brought her to study at CornellWhy she started pursuing internships with the government, such as an Oregon Senator, and then in DC working on Capitol Hill before deciding that wasn’t the long term path for herWhat led her to the entrepreneurial fellowship called Venture for America and why that experience gave her so many learnings to take with her when she would later build her own brandsHow she traveled around the world for six months after the fellowship ended and what she learned from seeing farms in other parts of the worldHow her time with an angel group led to being the Co-Founder of a company called Plant Water back in 2016 where she was able to learn about how to build something from scratchWhy her learnings from building Plant Water led her to approach building GEM differently by creating an MVP product and intentionally building a community with which to understand, gain insight, and even look at as co-creators developing the product and the brand to meet needs more specifically and successfullyHow the community first model led to a quick and successful pre-seed funding round that came about very organically and quite differently than Sara had originally imaginedWhat great advice she has about fundraising and building your investor team through communication and relational partnershipsHow Sara and the team approached a recent rebrand, why they went about it, and what the process looked likeHow they have used a simple and small retail approach to continue to gain brand awareness, build a bigger audience, and gather more insight as to how they can continue to do things better and betterWhy their product is so different and why it mattersTo Find Out More:DailyGEM.coUse code word ​​STAIRWAY10 for $10 offQuotes:“I was always interested in our food system as a whole and how we can continue to improve it. And so I knew that was something that always was going to be a lifelong mission of mine.”“I learned most of all that it's about the people that you work with. When you get the right people in the room with big ideas and vision,  you work really hard, and you learn that you really can, there's a lot that you can do when you set your mind to it.”“I learned that a really good leader is one that is always willing to roll up their sleeves and be a maker at any point at the company.”“The really good leaders are the ones that really understand how important it is to invest in the people and those relationships.” “Everything is a relationship and relationships are all about negotiation.”“I knew that I needed to get an MVP out in the market, and I needed to build a community first and make sure that I understood their problems that I needed to solve.”“Through that community, I was able to optimize the product enough to the point where we could then commercialize it and get it to market. And so this kind of community-based approach was the best way for me to leanly iterate on our initial product.”“This community organically really showed like, wow, people are wanting this.”“Once I realized that the pathway to successful fundraising was to build the relationships with the right investors that aligned with my mission, vision, and values, and when I started to find those and unlock those, that's when it started to become more successful for me.”“Just as much as they're buying a piece of your business, you are selling them a piece.”“I believe that the most successful companies are ones that take a step back and look at their community first and invest in customer experience first and foremost early on, not just the brand.”
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    Formula for Change with Laura Modi, Co-Founder and CEO of Bobbie


    In This Episode You’ll Hear About:What it was like to grow up as the eldest of five in Ireland in a family of entrepreneurs who are third generation manufacturers of construction clothing and why she went into techWhy her dad encouraged her to go study business instead of dietetics and why she saw the wisdom in that laterWhat moved her over to California to work for Google and then AirbnbWhat her experiences at Airbnb taught her about how to create a healthy family culture within a company and not just grow fast, but grow well with a strong teamWhat brought about the need in Laura’s life for a company like Bobbie and what compelled her to develop a product and work on it for four years before launchingWhy she believes confidence and great referrals from past experiences are helpful in raising funds with investors, even if you don’t have metrics yet to shareHow fundraising has gone for Bobbie through traditional VC funding and also the nontraditional raising through Republic, which has including over 200 momsWhat the process of obtaining the FDA green light was like, what lessons came through it, and why it is the way it isWhat great advice she has on how to successfully lead a startup and what is next for BobbieTo Find Out More:HiBobbie.comQuotes:“Becoming an entrepreneur myself now, have I realized that the currency to join a startup is really energy. It's passion. It’s your connection to what’s being built.”“And it was during this I realized I love fast-growth companies. I love being in the middle of it. I loved being on call at random hours because that kind of adrenaline to be building something that wasn't just a massive revenue driver, but it was a culture changer is so impactful.”“I think that's part of an entrepreneurial journey, which is, you spot opportunities by seeing the ridiculousness of why certain things are the way they are.”“It continued to hit me that they are buying into my passion, my confidence, my ability to execute. What I had was, very fortunately, a decade of experience in the tech world and fast-growing companies to be able to point to to show that I did have a track record of getting shit done.”“We were very intentional about spending the two years prior to launching and building community. And often products and companies will say, ‘well you can't do that until you have a product on the market.’ And for us, it wasn't just about the product, it was about shaking the stigma, having the conversation.” “When we went to market, we had hundreds of moms who were dying to share that we had just launched. I believe that is kind of the secret sauce of what allowed the business to take off.”“It was an education of the industry that we are about to walk into. We are walking into an industry that is heavily regulated with massive companies watching your every move.”“The people that you find that are completely irreplaceable for you, you give them the world because they are worth the world. Your entire company goes around because of the people that you hire and how you recognize them, reward them, support them.” “There are hands down people that give me the sweats at night if I thought about losing them...because they truly are founders, owners, developers of this business more than myself. They are incredible.”“As a CEO, your job is to build the machine that runs, and every component of that machine is its people.”“How you support the exit of an individual in the business will say everything about your leadership.”

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