Here at LIVELY, we’re constantly surrounded by swoon-worthy women that are killin’ it in their careers. We're launching #WomenCrushWednesday to celebrate the boss babes who provide us with a constant flow of inspiration, support, and endless girl-crushes.
Up next, CEO of Thinx, Maria Molland
Where are you from?
I was born in Madison Wisconsin, but I spent my childhood in the Sierras of California and later in Marin County, north of San Francisco. I was 7 months pregnant in March when Covid hit NYC hard (where I was living), and I am without a partner so I wanted to be close to my parents for the birth of my son. So, I ended up driving across the country with my 3 year old, my cat, and my big belly. I gave birth in May in Marin, and now live here.
If you had to sum it up into 3 big moments — what led you to becoming the successful woman you are today?
1) My birth: I was lucky to be born to parents who pushed me to be curious about the world, and gave me the confidence to believe that I can do absolutely anything. I strive to be the parent they were to me.
2) My year around the world: I got into business school early, and I decided to quit my job, put on a backpack, and travel around the world for a year. It introduced me to new cultures, gave me a sense of the poverty that many countries and people struggle with, and ignited my interest in developing countries and how we all must strive hard to even the playing field for people who may not have been born into the life I was born into.
3) My struggle to have children while getting divorced and raising money: In my late 30s/early 40s, I lost a baby, and then went through 8 rounds of IVF. In the process, I also went through a nasty divorce while raising Thinx’s first significant round of capital. I came out the other side with two kids, a finalized divorce, and $25M of primary capital from Kimberly Clark. It made me realize that no matter how bad things are, as long as I didn’t give up, and put one foot in front of the other, it would be ok. In fact, more than ok!
Here at LIVELY, we think every badass woman has had to take a risky leap of faith to get to where they are now. We call this our YOLO moment. What was yours?
When I joined Thinx, the company was in the midst of a PR storm around its founder. One of the board members at the time told me that the board didn’t think I could do the job because I had a 6 month old baby, and they gave me a comp package that was way under market. Most sane people would have run for the hills, but I just believed so much in the product, the unit economics were fantastic and I really loved the small, passionate team. I knew it had all the ingredients for success, and I felt like I could add a lot of value and prove to the board that their reservations were unfounded. Clearly that has been the case!
Thinx’s product is so innovative and truly empowering. Do you feel as though you are making an impact on the women around you? And how so?
Absolutely. When Thinx came to market, there had been no innovation in the period care space since the 1930s! So it’s an understatement to say we were overdue to have another option that is better for the body and for the planet. In addition, I am so proud of our brand message which encourages all people to understand that periods and bladder leaks shouldn’t be a taboo topic. They are natural just like miscarriages and infertility. By encouraging all of us to talk about such things we are enabling women to feel more powerful.
From your incredible experience - what has been the greatest reward and the greatest challenge in being an CEO?
The greatest challenge is loneliness. For the interest of the business, I have to hold a lot of things close to the chest and I can’t collect feedback or debate them even with the other executives. I have always been more of a team player rather than an individual contributor, and I get a lot of joy and insight from my colleagues throughout the organization so I find this really hard.
In terms of the reward, it is seeing people grow. There were about 30 people when I joined the company and we plan on closing out next year with over 130 people. Many of those 30 people are still at the company, and to see how they have grown as leaders, and the impact their experience has made on the business, it is truly amazing. I know they are destined for great things at Thinx and beyond.
You’re a woman who has a lot on her plate — how do you prioritize your self-care and mental health?
I wish I could say well. I struggle with this one especially given I am a single mom of a 4 year old and a baby. I do try to get out and exercise everyday which is made a lot easier now that I am in California. I also am a power Audible user and I rarely ever read business books (not they are bad but my life feels like it over-indexes on business!). I like non fiction and exploring subjects I don’t know much about. As a company, we realize the importance of mental health and how many people suffer especially this year given the suffering around us. At the onset of the pandemic, we started shutting our virtual office once a month for a ME (Mental Escape) Day.
What's the best advice you've received from a mentor?
About 10 years ago, I was at a big company where I was doing very well, but I just wasn’t passionate about the product or what I was doing. I kept quitting for other opportunities that I also wasn’t excited about but had bigger titles and more salary. The third time I did this my boss and mentor at the time (who had kept me at the company by giving me new opportunities) told me “you need to stop running away from things, and start running towards something”. A few months later, I quit without a job to go to, and I spent the time figuring out where I wanted to run. That was the start of my journey as an entrepreneur.
When do you feel most empowered?
I feel most empowered when I take the time to share my story especially with my kids. I want them to learn from the mistakes I made, and also the things I did right. I want them to grow up to be confident. I want them to take calculated risks and swing for the fences, and make their mark on the world. Just the chance to do that, and experience them soaking it in is hugely empowering.
What are your thoughts on "following your gut"?
Through the stories I have shared, I think it is clear I follow my gut and it has usually worked out for me. That said, I probe pretty deeply to get to that “gut feeling”. When I joined Thinx, I spent a lot of time analyzing their financials and I spent a lot of time with the team before I said “yes”. This early March, I drove across the country while pregnant and ignored my NY doctors advice to stay in NYC but that was after doing a lot of research on how Covid was spreading in Seattle. The data showed it was going to take off in a place like NYC where we all live in such close quarters. And, I had an app with the daily covid cases in each city I drove through, and I would only stop in cities that had a very low covid rate as a percentage of the population. So, gut is important but doing so with as much data as possible.
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