Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland Nelson and welcome to another edition of Women Mean Business, where we’re going to take you up close and personal with extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. We’re live today at the Circular Summit and my guest is Cindy Whitehead.
Cindy: Thank you for having me Leisa.
Leisa: I’m so glad you’re here. You are the CEO of The Pink Ceiling.
Cindy: I am.
Leisa: Oh my gosh.
Cindy: There’s lots of pink ceilings we still have to crash through.
Leisa: I need to hear all about that, you know that. And then also Founder of Slate and Sprout Pharmaceuticals.
Cindy: That’s right, yes.
Leisa: I think you’re all of our hero, but first tell me about what you’re doing now and then you’ll tell me about Slate and Sprout.
Cindy: So today the Pink Ceiling was really born out of my previous exit. What is it that I thought we needed to do and I thought we needed to crash through some other pink ceilings. And so through strategy or investment I helped propel female focus or led ventures. I started that just last year and this year we’ve opened a Pinkubator and the Pinkubaotr is for mentorship. So as I looked at post exit I had a wonderful opportunity to go around to women’s conferences after 10 years of just grinding it out and building businesses for sale.
And what I found was certainly there’s still the problem of access to capital; by the numbers I think we talk about that as the biggest issue for female entrepreneurs. The unspoken problem I think is mentorship. And when I went to these conferences every woman would come up to me and say will you mentor me? So that’s really how the Pinkubator was formed. We’re a virtual mentorship program; we spend time with women every other week really walk in stuff – in stiletto stuff as it may be – with where they are in their business.
Leisa: Talk to me a little bit about mentorship. It’s becoming a controversial word mentor because what does it really mean? Is it coaching, is it sponsorship, is it business plan writing? What exactly do you mean by mentorship?
Cindy: Well mentorship for me is really rolling up my sleeves alongside somebody and answering their questions in real time. When I look back to when I was building my businesses that’s what I needed. I didn’t need coursework in a box. I don’t think entrepreneurship comes in a box, by their very definition entrepreneurs are very out-of-box people. And so I think that that’s really, as I see it, it is about propelling others; either pulling them along, pushing them forward or in all honesty I think it’s also mentor is candor. And so we look at them often for the secrets if you will. How do I get there? I think equally important is their ability to push you and in the Pinkubator it’s very important to us that we are very candid with our members on when they need to hit it.
Leisa: So how did you get to the Pinkubator and the Pink Ceiling? I know you had a giant exit, $1.5 billion between the two or something, which is numbers people only dream of. But tell us about those businesses and how you got out of them.
Cindy: I have a love for the pharmaceutical industry for what it can do for patients. I don’t necessarily love how they got it done.
Cindy: And so over a long career there I finally decided I’m going to go out and do it on my own terms so I created Slate, which was truly clean slate, on my own terms, go out and build a business. And I found this great product in men’s sexual health and built that product, had a great fast growth, ups and downs of a startup to be sure but ultimately built that. And during my time there was watching the science that was emerging for women and at the time there were 26 drugs approved for some form of male sexual dysfunction and not a single one for women.
Cindy: Which didn’t make sense on the basis on science. So ultimately I sold my first business to take on the women’s issue and I thought it’d probably take a woman to do it. So sold off that business, swallowed hard even though it was doing really well and took this on and ultimately got the first ever drug approved by the FDA for women’s sexual desire; so put one on the board. And when I did that, despite the fact that I had been rejected three times and had to dispute the FDA with all of our data, it turned around and sold it for $1 billion.
Leisa: that’s just amazing, who did you sell it to?
Cindy: I sold it to Valiant Pharmaceuticals.
Leisa: Okay, so now what, just more Pink Ceiling and mentorship? Do you think you’ll do another business?
Cindy: I am at my very heart an operator for sure but in taking stock it is an unbelievable exit to have come out of selling back to back two businesses, not taking a break in between the two, it was an opportunity to take stock of what it is that really gets me going. And I think I had three lessons; one, in getting that drug ultimately to the finish line I had a front row seat in what it means for women to advocate not only for themselves but for each other. So I knew that that had to be part of my continued path.
The second piece of it was I’m fueled by injustices; that’s really what makes me jump out of bed in the morning to go solve things. I think I was solving an injustice there that women didn’t have a medical treatment option, now I think the injustice that I’m looking to solve is how do we get women access to capital and mentors? How do we let them sort of see what they can be? And then the third part was really ownership.
The greatest joy of selling those businesses is seeing the transformative effect for those who bet on me and had skin in the game. And so Pink Ceiling is really those three things; it’s about advocating for women, it’s about fixing some of the problems that women entrepreneurs face and it is about creating ownership so that they have exits. If I summed it up, for Pinkubator I tease that our tagline is Make women really rich.
Leisa: That one I like a whole lot. So my last question for you is secret sauce; tell us what you would share with someone else to try to achieve the success you’ve achieved.
Cindy: My secret sauce is this straight forward; prepare to underestimated and then show up and kill them with competence, that’s how you’re going to get there.
Leisa: Thank you, that’s perfect. Thank you very much.
Cindy: Thank you for having me.
Leisa: There you have it, another extraordinary woman doing extraordinary things. I’m Leisa Holland Nelson, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Astoundz, your one search, one click, one company for all things interactive. We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Women Mean Business.
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