We’ve teamed up with bloom to bring you Moonshots: 10 women shooting for the moon, 10 questions on how they’re doing it. First up, Meika Hollender, co-founder of Sustain. Check back next week for Moonshot #2.
How did you know this was the right path for you?
Like most people, I grew up dreaming of starting a condom company with my dad. No? Just me? I’m kidding, but I did grow up with Seventh Generation, the leading natural cleaning + personal care products company, as an ‘older sibling.’ 30 years ago my dad founded Seventh Generation because he wanted to use business to make the world a better place, to create complete transparency around the ingredients in the products we use in and on our bodies, to do good and do well. In many ways I always knew I’d end up working in the natural products space, but my passion for women’s sexual and reproductive health came a bit later. When Seventh Generation launched their line of organic cotton tampons about ten years ago, I got extremely involved in launching these products and got increasingly interested in reproductive health and what’s in the products going inside our vaginas. Flash forward to three years ago when my dad asked me if I wanted to start a natural condom company with him. When we then decide to focus the brand on women, it really just felt like fate. A friend of mine actually said to me, ‘this is what you were born to do,’ and that really rang true.
Do you believe we’re ever really ‘ready’ to do something? How do we start when we’re stuck?
I think there are a lot of things in life—having kids, starting a business, etc—that you can always find a reason for ‘why it’s not the right time.’ When it comes to jumping in and starting a business you need to ask yourself this question: ‘do I feel like no matter what happens, whether I succeed or fail, I will feed proud of the work I’ve done?’ I can honestly say that no matter what happens with Sustain, every single day I feel like I am making a positive difference in the world by helping women have the tools they need to take control of their sexual health. That’s what keeps me going, that’s why I do what I do, and that’s what inspires my employees.
Doing courageous things requires losing our excuses. What excuses did you have to get rid of to get to where you are now?
For me, I think it’s a little less about excuses and more about trade-offs. Working for yourself and building a company comes with many different things such as a lack of structure, a pay cut, and a harder than ever challenge of balancing work/life because they end up blending together when you do what you love. After a few years working on Sustain, things that were trade-offs in the beginning like sleep, not taking good care of myself, have become things I am super disciplined about now in order to keep myself going.
What have been your biggest challenges so far, and how have you overcome them?
Selling sexual wellness products as a young women has been challenging in so many different and unexpected ways. Sex is so taboo in this country, that whether you’re trying to raise money or advertise on Facebook, you face more challenges than other more traditional categories. However, these challenges are why I do what I do. Without challenge, nothing changes. Sustain’s mission is to break the taboo surrounding women and sex and empower them to take control of their sexual health, and in order to do this, we will forever be met with an uphill battle.
From the outside it looks like you’ve made it—but what are some of the things that you still feel insecure about? That you haven’t quite nailed yet?
When I started Sustain I made the mistake of never wanting to ask for help because I felt like I needed to know how to do everything (not sure how much of that was because I was so young, but probably some of it!). Three years in, there are still things I’m insecure about every day, because as Sustain grows, there are new things I need to learn how to do all the time (i.e. how to build a condom subscription service online???). What’s important is how you handle the insecurities, learning to ask for help, and building a team of experts that can help balance out what you don’t know and can learn from.
What are the things you’re super proud of?
Earlier this year, as Women’s Health Week was coming up, I started to think about how this week every year typically focuses on diet, pilates, oil pulling, and meditation apps. Sexual health, always without fail, gets left out of the conversation. So, I decided to do something pretty ambitious: on women’s health week I launched a campaign, Get On Top, to get 100,000 women to pledge to practice safe sex. I got 10 NYC wellness influencers together to film a video to talk about sex and take the pledge. We ended up getting Fast Company to launch the campaign with us, and within hours of our launch, we had thousands of women from all across the country taking the pledge!
How do you motivate yourself on the tough days? What keeps you moving forward?
I get to do what I love. Every day I work on creating a company that I believe is helping women all throughout this country feel good about being sexual and practicing safe sex. It’s our mission, products and purpose that propels me forwards, no matter how tough the times are.
Regardless of how busy you get, what are your non-negotiables?
Meditation, exercise, almond butter and spending time with my family.
What advice would you have given yourself at the beginning of your journey?
Be patient with others, be kind to yourself and invest in a travel eye mask.
What advice do you have for other women who are shooting for the moon?
I think something that I struggled with early on is that it’s really important to admit that you don’t know everything and surround yourself with people who do know the stuff that you need to know. Because when you start a business, especially as a female founder, you already feel like you have to be overly confident and really prove yourself to a much higher extent. That worked a little bit to my disadvantage at first; I didn’t want to find other people who had done what I needed to do better or faster. Obviously, it’s a balance, but I think that asking for help and surrounding yourself with really smart people, and learning from them, is really important.