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Female Founders: Adi Wallach of CalmiGo On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adi Wallach.

Adi Wallach is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of CalmiGo, the first and only drug-free device proven to provide immediate relief for all levels of anxiety, stress, difficulty sleeping and more. Adi is a biomedical engineer who developed CalmiGo to help with her personal struggle with severe anxiety. Like many of the 40 million Americans who suffer from anxiety, Adi’s condition eventually caused her to avoid some of her favorite aspects of life for fear of extreme anxiety, such as swimming and crowded places.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

CalmiGo came about because of my personal experience with panic attacks. I started having panic attacks when I was a student. Hoping to avoid medication, I turned to therapy, biofeedback, yoga, herbal supplements, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques to find some relief. While these tools and techniques helped me decrease the frequency of attacks, I found that it was very hard for me to use them during the attacks themselves. I was searching for something, anything, that I could take with me that would help me get through these moments of distress. When I was unable to find an adequate solution, I decided to dedicate my life to creating products that people could take with them anywhere they go and use to achieve immediate relief whenever they need it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A few months after I arrived in New York City, I was invited to a conference with Columbia University’s women alumni. One of the panels featured amazing CEOs, all of whom were Columbia alumni and shared how they sometimes find it hard to voice their opinions and make themselves heard in rooms full of men. One of them even shared that her VP, who is a man, used to quote her or to redirect questions to her because otherwise she wouldn’t get to speak enough. Hearing from these strong women about their experience was shocking to me. I realized that there are some difficulties that women in the United States are facing, that I didn’t face before in Israel, where women are less polite and have more ‘Chutzpah’. It really changed my perspective.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I made a mistake in the first investment agreement I sent to an investor. It was a small one but still something that needed to be fixed. Since then, I always make sure to have another pair of eyes checking important documents before I send them. In general, I’m a great believer in getting feedback and letting someone check my work, even when it is sometimes uncomfortable.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It takes a village to build a startup. I was very lucky to be introduced to Alon Matas, the CEO of BetterHelp, the largest mental health platform in the US, a few years ago. Our introduction was made by another entrepreneur who thought it would be interesting for me to talk with Alon and learn from his experience as a leader in the mental health industry. Alon was impressed by our achievements and the fact that we were able to create a product that really helps people with such a limited budget and suggested leading a fundraising round. Since then, he has been an investor of our company and a very active advisor. I can’t stress enough how much I learned from his experience as a B2C expert, mental health leader, and entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you are doing many things for the first time. Having someone at your side that has been there, done that, is priceless. It doesn’t only save you from mistakes, but it also gives you the courage and ability to dare.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

Thank you for referring to this EY report. I believe there is a difference between what holds back women from founding companies and what affects the fact that companies founded by women are less funded. Regarding the latter, I believe that some aspects of the fund-raising process, like the need to sell (sometimes sell hard), be very confident even regarding things that might have high levels of uncertainty, and some might say over-promise, are characteristics that are more common among men. We know that women tend to be more cautious, over-deliver but not over promise, tend to ask for less money and underestimate themselves, and this might hurt some funding processes that require you to sell a big dream. I believe that women today are more confident and that some investors have modified their due diligence process to allow women, who are great founders but struggle in the traditional fund-raising process, to shine. I hope we will continue seeing those changes in the process that will help not only amazing women founders but also great men founders who are facing the same difficulties.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think that a lot has already been done, and I’m very happy to see it. I think that as a society and in our education system, we need to encourage women to share their opinions and not avoid conflicts. We need to promote standing up for what matters and to be confident. To quote Sheryl Sandberg, I believe that a small change, but an important one, is to stop using the word “bossy”, that unfortunately seems to still be used mostly for girls, and instead encourage them to be leaders. Another thing that is very important in my opinion is to allow men to take an equal part at home. I’m saying ‘to allow’ because in my experience, in many workplaces it is still very normal for a woman to leave early but when a man does, it raises questions. I believe that as women we need to allow our partners to take an equal part at home, even if it means that some things will be done differently, and that as C-level managers, and society, we need to allow men to do that too. I recently sent an email to someone senior at Google and got a response that he is on paternity leave. I couldn’t be happier getting this email. This is the future.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

First, I think that women should feel comfortable with their choices. I want my daughters and my son to be proud whether they choose to be stay-at-home parents, or found a company. Founding a company gives you the opportunity to make a difference and to create something that you really believe in, both from the product perspective and from the company culture aspect. It is a way to take a dream and make it come true, and when you are the founder, you have a lot of opportunities to affect every step of the way and choose the people who will join this amazing journey with you. Last but not least, founding a company creates job opportunities for other people, and it is not only a way to support our community and economy but also to create a workplace that reflects your values and provides a fulfilling, supporting and enjoyable working environment. It is the most fulfilling experience I could wish for.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I recently read a few articles and comments that criticized founders who are successful. I would like to take this opportunity to say that starting your own company is a 24/7 commitment. Even if you have the biggest investors in the world behind you, even if you have the best team, it is a super intense job that usually requires more time than you assume. It requires a lot from you and from your family and taking a dream and making a successful company out of it is never easy. I think this part of having your own company is often left out after companies succeed.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Founding a company requires you to spend most of your time out of your comfort zone. You will do things for the first time without any guidance. It also requires you to confront conflicts quite often and negotiate. It is not a fit for everyone. Some people flourish in these circumstances, but some might suffer. I personally enjoy every part of it.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Network, network, network — it takes a village, and your network is going to be there for you and open doors for you. When I arrived in the United States, I didn’t know anyone. I made a rule for myself to join at least one networking event every week. I learned so much from the people I met and am grateful for this opportunity.
  2. Investors are a major part of your journey — and good investors will be there for you every step of the way. I have been very lucky to have amazing investors that are helping my company constantly. As a founder, do your due diligence and choose the right investors for your company.
  3. Send documents for signatures with DocuSign — this one is a bit funny and might seems small but made a real difference for us. I get no commission from DocuSign and don’t know anyone that works for the company, but since I started using it, I can’t stop. It is really an amazing solution that helps keep everything organized.
  4. Build a team — our company grew substantially before we were a big team, and we are still relatively lean compared to other companies with our revenue, but there is a limit to the growth you can achieve on your own and your team is what will make your company successful. I also added a co-founder at a relatively late stage of the company and it is one of the best decisions I took. It is not easy to find someone who completes you professionally and that you can fully trust, especially at a late stage of the company, but if you can do it, you’ll see that one plus one can make three.
  5. Hire a CFO or a CFO for hire as soon as you can — this is not a “sexy” topic, but the financials of your company are super important, and it becomes something that requires a lot of time and effort very quickly.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Our company creates drug-free products that provide immediate relief. Our first product is CalmiGo, the first drug-free product that provides immediate calm for moments of stress and anxiety. We have tens of thousands of users, from the age of 6 to 97, that use it to combat stressful moments, e.g., veterans with PTSD that use it to achieve calm and sleep better or kids and adults that use it while they have panic attacks. There is no better feeling than knowing that you can help people in such a substantial way. For me, it is worth everything and it gives us the energy to overcome any obstacle in the way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m very worried about the intolerance that I see increasing in the last few years. If I would start a movement, it might be about recreating the tolerance for different opinions and sharing diverse opinions in any medium.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Jamie Kern Lima, the founder of IT Cosmetic. I read her book and I am very inspired by her story and by her entrepreneurial journey. She started from zero, got so many “NOs” on her way, she was told people would never buy cosmetics from someone who looks like her, she almost stayed with no money in her bank account, and still, she never gave up. Her positive and optimistic character, authenticity, and modestness, despite her huge success, are inspiring and fueling.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.