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Female Founders: Dr. Sandra Lee of SLMD Skincare On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Don’t be afraid to fail — failures lead to success and helps you to gauge how important that success is to you.

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

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee is known by most people as Dr. Pimple Popper. In 2015, Dr. Lee started an Instagram to give people a window into her world as a dermatologist. Although she had a hunch that people would find it interesting, she soon discovered there is a massive subculture online of people who watch “popping” videos and share them with each other across the internet. Today, Dr. Lee has her own television series and has posted thousands of videos across her social media channels, including YouTube, TikTok and Instagram.

To help empower people on their skincare journey, Dr. Lee developed her own line of skincare products called SLMD Skincare, which is available through her online store and at over 1,600 Target locations nationwide. She provides effective, dermatologist-approved products at an affordable price so that everyone can take control of their skin health. Dr. Lee has vastly expanded her skincare line since the beginning of the year, adding six products to the line in the United States and officially launching the brand in the UK in June.

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?

I’m Sandra Lee, MD — a board-certified dermatologist who has been in private practice in Southern California for over 15 years, and I’m known internationally on social media and television by my moniker Dr. Pimple Popper. I likely had earlier exposure than most to dermatology since my father is a dermatologist; now retired. Although my father never pushed me into any profession, I saw via example what a rewarding and satisfying career he had. We have similar interests and skills, so it was somewhat natural that I became interested and wanted to become a dermatologist. Dermatology is a medical specialty that is very competitive, and I feel very lucky to be a dermatologist.

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

I’ve had so many interesting stories because my career path has taken such a turn. It can still be stressful at times but it’s also exciting, fascinating and interesting. My husband said something to me once, which still sticks with me today. I was leaving my talent agency in Beverly Hills and was lamenting about how much work I had to do — I had five different responsibilities: one as a dermatologist, another as a television personality, another as a social media influencer and of course also being a wife and mother. He reminded me how lucky I was to be able to pivot in my career and use the knowledge, talents and skills I had developed to be able to share dermatology in such a unique way. I still fall back on these comments when I’m feeling overworked or stressed out. I’m so grateful to be in this position and to have fans around the world, especially those young kids who watch my TV show or follow me on social media and want to do the same thing I do. I feel very lucky to be a role model in this way and hope to see many future Dr. Pimple Poppers.

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?

In general, physicians do not receive business training, yet many of us end up running our own businesses or having our own private practices. Since I’m also a TV entertainer/celebrity, influencer and founder of a skincare brand, SLMD Skincare — all areas I’m still learning day by day — I’m certainly going to make mistakes. However, I’ve probably made the most mistakes with entertainment contracts and decisions. I try to trust my instincts and make decisions that come out of kindness as much as possible. It’s very important to make mistakes and to have failures. I’ve learned that the biggest failures in your life often lead to the most rewarding successes. I often remind myself that as long as I’m not making mistakes as a dermatologic surgeon — I truly value the trust of my patients — then I’m still continuing to grow and learn.

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?

There are so many people in my life that I consider my mentors — my parents, various instructors, senior dermatologists and even my patients. I’m grateful for all the people who have come into my life and told me their stories. I really try to learn from their experiences and incorporate what I can in my own life.

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?

I think we certainly need more support for female entrepreneurs — not just financial but social. But it’s often a complicated issue.

As a mom myself, I understand firsthand the challenges of trying to balance a career and family. It’s almost not possible without support on both sides, which for many women is all too often lacking. In the past, we’ve had to choose between being extremely successful in a career or being a present parent. I think we’re learning that the notion of “balancing” these is very personal. How well women are able to do this depends on how much help they have, and their own definition of what a “working mother” or “working wife” is supposed to be, which I believe can sometimes hold women back.

But honestly, I try to focus on the positive aspects and just do what I think is best for myself, my family and my career. All the pieces will fall in place.

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 parents and educators need to show young girls what’s possible — not simply tell them they have potential. There was never a doubt in my mind about whether or not I could succeed, because I was given the tools from very early on.

Beyond that, give women the support they need — initial investment, childcare and emotional support. It takes a lot of time, dedication, and support from family and friends to pursue passions and build businesses.

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?

Half the world’s population is women, and we have needs and desires the same as men. Historically and culturally going back decades and centuries, businesses have generally been created by men and this leaves out an important voice when it comes to furthering society and building economies. Women are much more independent these days and if we represent 50% of the population, we should have a say in how this world functions. Women bring a different perspective to boardrooms and different ideas to the table. Not to generalize, but women have different approaches to problem solving and relationship management and this can have a big impact on company cultures and productivity.

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

Myth #1: You have to downplay certain qualities in yourself to be taken seriously as a leader.

This is particularly true of the more stereotypical “feminine” qualities, like introspection, empathy and compassion. In my experience, the opposite is true: these traits allow managers to more effectively cultivate relationships with team members — the importance of which we are seeing more and more companies realize and embrace.

Myth #2: You have to choose between being a founder and being a _______ (insert wife, mother, runner, gardener, etc.).

It puzzles me that the notion that you can’t be highly successful in your profession and have a healthy personal life has stuck around so long. I founded SLMD Skincare because I absolutely love what I do. One of the perks of being a founder is being able to structure my organization and build a team that allows me to step away when I need to, to focus on other important aspects of my life. Founders who can’t do that don’t have the right support system to begin with.

Myth #3: Founders must always be authoritative, rather than collaborative.

While it’s certainly true that entrepreneurs must have a vision, I disagree with the idea that it must be completely uncompromising and enforced without question. I prefer to foster a company culture that promotes creativity and welcomes the unique perspective of every team member. Showing openness and respect from the top down isn’t a sign of weakness — it’s the basis for a vibrant, thriving company that’s capable of adapting to meet new challenges.

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? Ambition, drive, almost obsession with what you do. A lot of self- motivation

I want to make a distinction here: I believe that every person has a unique purpose — that talent, gift or quality that they are meant to share.

But being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and not everyone has the skills to begin with (though I do believe they can be acquired, in large part). You have to be not only willing to take risks but get a thrill from it if you’re going to win big. The other side of that is you have to be all right with failing sometimes. And with the idea that some people might not like you.

One of the most critical factors is you absolutely must love what you do. But that passion has to be combined with ambition and drive: to not only dream it but understand how to achieve it. As I mentioned before, adaptability, a willingness to accept when you are wrong and the ability to pivot are also important.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Be willing to work for what you believe in.

Think for yourself, don’t just eat what the others spoon-feed you.

Always ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box; I always try to think of ways to make something better.

Don’t be afraid to fail — failures lead to success and helps you to gauge how important that success is to you.

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

I hope my videos and television show spread kindness and acceptance of people that may look different and that people should not be judged by the appearance of their skin.

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.

Don’t judge books by their covers, or judge people by their “armor” — aka their skin.

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.

I would have loved to meet Anthony Bourdain — I love fascinating people who have led exciting and unconventional lives. In fact, I joke with many of my closest friends that they are all a little crazy — just on the edge of being a liability. I’m really drawn to interesting people!

Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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