Female Founders: Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness of Stryke Club On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Fear means you’re doing something right. Starting a company from the ground up is downright daunting. It is hard work. It is risky. It is scary. It took some time, but I have learned to harness and use the fear that creeps into my mind on a daily basis. This type of fear is good, it means that you are doing something that is worth doing well, that you want to see through until it succeeds. Stepping outside your comfort zone is when the greatest transformations occur. Taking a chance and succeeding outside your lane is electrifying, and makes you feel like you can tackle any challenge.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness.
Sheilagh Maguiness, MD is a board certified Dermatologist and Pediatric Dermatologist with a busy, full time academic practice. She has two energetic, school-aged boys and lives with her family in the Midwest. Dr. Sheilagh has spent over a decade caring for children with all types of skin diseases, from common problems to rare and complex conditions. She is an expert in the diagnosis and management of vascular birthmarks, atopic dermatitis/eczema, acne and inflammatory skin disease. Dr. Sheilagh has a passion for education and has dedicated herself to providing resources and education for patients, families and her peers in pediatric skin disease. Dr. Sheilagh stepped into the role of Chief Product Officer for Stryke Club in 2019, helping the brand deliver thoughtfully formulated and highly effective personal care products for the unique skincare needs of teens and boys.
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 am a board certified dermatologist, I work in an academic medical center caring for children with skin, hair and nail diseases. I completed my subspecialty fellowship in pediatric dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, where I trained with a phenomenal mentor. I now treat children with a range of skin conditions from common disorders like eczema, acne, and psoriasis, to rare vascular birthmarks. After being in practice for over 10 years, I have deep empathy and insight into the struggles of children and their families coping with disorders that carry the stigma of living with a visible difference.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Right before we launched Stryke Club, in March of 2020, we were given the opportunity to take part in the Target Brand Accelerator program. Stryke Club was one of the fortunate few to be selected from hundreds of brand applicants in the beauty space. Conveniently I live in Minneapolis, hometown of the Target corporation, but two of my partners also flew in from California to take part. As a physician with no business or finance background, it was both exciting and intimidating to be part of this group. I attended every segment I could during the week, and saw myself developing an entirely new skill set. We had the chance to interact with other innovative founders, as well as the Target team of experts, who all helped us clarify our vision for the brand. The experience was amazing, however throughout the week, stress and uncertainty seemed to mount daily, as Covid-19 descended and the nation started to shut down. We were forced to make our pitch early and then pivot to virtual to finish the program. It seemed as though this force majeure might derail our dreams before they ever got off the ground. But our time together at Target yielded strong connections that resulted in a partnership and brand presence at over 1000 Target stores, all in the same year that we launched our direct to consumer site. It was an absolute roller coaster, but we made it work and are very grateful for the experience.
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 have made dozens of ridiculous mistakes over the past two years with Stryke Club. When there are only four people in the company, each one needs to wear many different hats; this alone can lead to funny and absurd situations. I’m certainly not a chemist by trade, but I’ve had to read and process more chemistry and stoichiometry than I ever thought I would need — who knew undergraduate organic chemistry would eventually come in so handy! I have had to dig through industry patents and chemistry journals to learn every detail about our ingredients in order to get the formulations just right. When I first embarked on the formula for our patent-pending cleanser, I tried to get some of the parts-per-million dilutions calculated at home in my own bathroom. Holding an iphone calculator and surrounded by a mess of surfactants, disinfectants and containers, it looked like a hurricane had run through a home economics class. This process has been very humbling at times, but it’s been a fun — albeit steep — learning curve. I try to embrace the humor and learn from my missteps, including always double checking my math.
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?
This is so true, there are so many individuals and specific mentors who have helped shape me into the person and physician I am today. Firstly, my two boys and my spouse are my biggest supporters, they cheer me on and propel me forward on a daily basis. Having a partner who prioritizes my success and career makes it so much easier for me to get things done. I continue to practice pediatric dermatology at an academic institution while also working on Stryke Club. My career in pediatric dermatology would not be where it is today without strong mentorship. I have been extremely fortunate in my medical career to have had strong mentors, most of whom are women. When I set out to find a mentor in pediatric dermatology, my passion for helping children with vascular birthmarks led me to Dr. Ilona Frieden at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). After a few days of working alongside Dr. Frieden, I knew that her practice and values closely aligned with my own. She invited me to continue fellowship training with her at UCSF, and she has been deeply supportive of my career for many years. I try hard each day to implement the clinical and leadership skills I learned from her with my own residents, junior colleagues and other trainees.
Founding a company and formulating skincare products is a new direction for me, and one that I was very much afraid to step into. It seemed so foreign, and I felt I lacked experience. But our talented team of co-founders and good friends has made this new adventure surprisingly fun. Stryke Club was built by four moms, and we have 11 children between us. One founder, Nicole Brooks, is a licensed Child and Family Therapist. She had the crucial insight that while her daughter’s bathroom counters were overflowing with skincare products, she could barely get her son to wash his face, and he had no skincare products he felt were really his own. She and Stacy Blackman, our second co-founder and mom, have been lifelong friends. Stacy is a very successful businesswoman and serial entrepreneur, and when she and Nicole started talking it through, they realized boys need self-care just as much girls, but they lack the tools. The need for innovation seemed so obvious, they decided to start building a company together. Enter Darci, another mom, friend and long-term colleague to Stacy. Darci is a marketing and consumer packaged goods phenom, and immediately recognized the power of this simple idea. She joined as a founder immediately. As a long-time friend to Darci and an expert in adolescent skincare, I got the invite to join soon after. All four of us share the strong belief that our boys deserve better when it comes to personal care. Each member of our team brings a unique and irreplaceable skill set to the table. None of us could succeed in this venture without the other three working side-by-side.
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?
It is estimated that over the course of a female physician’s career, she will earn at least two million dollars less than if she had been a male in the same position. This is the case today, now, in 2022. If such income inequality still exists in the medical profession, you can bet the same is true across many other disciplines. The stark and unfair reality is that women are still undervalued and underpaid in the workplace, period. Through years of observing the same inequitable patterns at home, in the workplace and in society, women are conditioned to simply expect less and do more. Men are afforded more respect and more opportunities in the workplace, and have consistently been paid more for the same work. Women observe these repeating patterns throughout every stage of our lives.
My hope is that success will promote success. More emerging female leaders in the workplace, our government and society send a powerful message to girls and young women. Women have incredibly creative, breakthrough ideas for products, businesses or other niches every day. But girls and young women need to hear the message early and often that they can do it — women can lead, women are empowered, women can take their ideas to the next level by founding their own companies.
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?
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts within government, business, health care and other industries are important initiatives that could help overcome some of the obstacles facing women. Expanding access to mentorship, affording women more opportunities and implicit bias training for employees are important steps in the right direction. But as I alluded to just now, the more these messages and interventions come from female leaders, the more powerful they will be.
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?
This is really important and I’d like to take it one step further. I would like to tell you several reasons why more women in medicine should become founders. As women, we are all experts at multitasking. In our society, women unfortunately are still tasked with the lion’s share of housework, childcare and elder care, even while working full-time. We innately understand how to meet the needs of our family and friends. Being a female physician in an academic medical environment adds yet another layer of challenge and complexity to our lives. We must meet the needs of patients first, then resident trainees, medical students and colleagues all while advancing our careers and balancing home life simultaneously. This is a huge challenge. However, on this journey, women in medicine observe and internalize the skills and traits that it takes to perform at the highest level in all aspects of their lives. We have epiphanies, new ideas, and we know how to solve complex problems, saving lives and improving quality of life for our patients.
More female physicians should be taking their skills and ideas to the next level as founders. This is extremely important, even essential, in the health, wellness and beauty industries. At the end of the day, when I decided to embark on this journey with Stryke Club it was because I knew that I had the medical knowledge, experience and skills as a pediatric dermatologist to create something for new teens that could make a difference. I asked myself the question: ‘who could do a better job in creating a safe and effective acne care line for teen boys?’ The answer was pretty clear, this was something I felt ready for and compelled to do.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That is a great question, I can think of two myths surrounding becoming a founder that I’d love to talk about. The first one is this: ‘There are shortcuts to success’. After decades of hard work on my journey as a female physician, and now with several years building a fledgling company, I can confidently state that there are actually NEVER shortcuts to success. Founding a new company is complicated and messy, just like obtaining a medical degree and completing a residency! Creating an entirely new personal care brand from scratch has been a monumental challenge akin to an uphill climb on a winding dirt road. We had very specific ideas about how our line should perform from a scientific and efficacy standpoint, and how we wanted to present a self-care line for boys to the world. We’ve fought hard every step of the way to hold fast to our original vision and make it reality. It took our team a full year before we found a chemist to work with us on our particular formulation needs. I was told ‘no’ by literally dozens of cosmetic chemists, labs and contract manufacturers before we landed on someone who understood our goals. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this person was also a woman. Being a founder takes patience, hard work and the confidence to persevere, even when you’re told no time and again.
Another myth I am happy to dispel is that you will automatically start seeing financial returns soon after founding. This could not be further from the truth. Founding a company often requires significant financial commitments and risks to get the project off the ground. Founders often continue working mostly for equity until the company becomes fiscally solvent. This process takes many years. This is not to discourage anyone from following their dreams; the upside to investing in yourself can be tremendous. But founders need to be entirely committed — firmly believing in themselves, their products and the mission of their company, and being methodical and patient, in order for it to 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?
This is a great question, and one that I’m not sure I have the experience to fully answer yet. However, I do think that most individuals in their lifetime will have an important idea — one that could change lives for others or solve unique problems. It’s the process of turning that idea into a successful venture that is of course the complicated step. As my ‘regular job’ is as a practicing dermatologist in academic medicine, I see daily opportunities to solve skin problems for patients and families, and come up with innovative diagnostic or treatment ideas. Before Stryke Club, I often had kernels of ideas for new products or patient care options, but I thought I lacked the experience or knowledge to take those ideas to completion. In my case, the most important trait has been being open to new possibilities and taking risks: embracing the opportunity to work with an experienced team when it was presented to me. Risking failure while still believing in my skill set. This mindset helped me take that first step.
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.)
- Don’t get in your own way — remove the limits you are putting on yourself. When Darci first approached me about joining Stryke Club, I was very conflicted, and almost turned her down. I saw myself as an academic physician who couldn’t (or even shouldn’t) start a business. The mental picture I had painted for myself over the years was of an educator and caregiver, not a boss or businesswoman. I had doubts and fears. I worried I would fail, and hurt my founder friends’ chances of success. I worried that my medical colleagues would look down on me as somehow inferior or as a ‘sell-out’. But I took the plunge, and slowly a new picture has emerged. I can succeed as an entrepreneur, and still be the physician I want to be. Just because I didn’t learn it in medical school, doesn’t mean I can’t teach myself and do it well. Once I removed these self-imposed limits, I was able to take more risks and move forward confidently in both roles.
- Fear means you’re doing something right. Starting a company from the ground up is downright daunting. It is hard work. It is risky. It is scary. It took some time, but I have learned to harness and use the fear that creeps into my mind on a daily basis. This type of fear is good, it means that you are doing something that is worth doing well, that you want to see through until it succeeds. Stepping outside your comfort zone is when the greatest transformations occur. Taking a chance and succeeding outside your lane is electrifying, and makes you feel like you can tackle any challenge.
- Recognize and implement good advice. About a year into founding our company, my partner Stacy Blackman gave me some insightful advice. I had been hesitant about having a presence on social media, and could not picture myself as an expert who could provide meaningful content. Like many others, I worried about the permanence of online content, and that any little mistake might haunt me forever. During this time, Stacy gave me the following feedback, channeling Voltaire: ‘Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good’. Recognizing and internalizing good advice and feedback when it is given to you is important. I now wish I had incorporated it sooner. It’s ok to make little mistakes, especially in service of the big picture.
- You will be wearing many different hats. When you embark on creating a new business there is so much to be done. You might find yourself taking on roles you never imagined — like authoring a patent application, inspecting a product assembly line, or writing your company’s standard operating procedures document. You might be trying and testing things (in our case, our topical products) from home and arranging clinical studies. Not to mention financial oversight, marketing, advertising and the evolving role of social media in business. Most large companies have experts devoted to each area or title, but when you are a founder, you have to be ready to take on new roles, get creative, and learn skills on the go. I definitely did not anticipate any of this before I became a founder, so it would have been great advice to get at the outset!
- Success does not follow a straight line. When I reflect on my career, my successes certainly haven’t always followed a straight path. My medical training and early career took me from Canada, to California, to Massachusetts and then to Minnesota. A spouse and family materialized along the way. Life is what happens along the journey, so you have to leave yourself open to exploring new locations and opportunities during the ride. With Stryke Club the same is true, our pathway to date has not been a straight line. However we have continued to build, saying yes to new opportunities and directions when they present themselves — which is why we are currently working hard and gearing up for having our products on the shelf at Walmart, Urban Outfitters and through Amazon over the next few months!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
A career in medicine is a privilege, as you forge deep connections with patients and make a real difference in their lives. As a pediatric dermatologist I get to see the immediate impact that my care has on children and their family life, as improvements in skin diseases are so clear to the naked eye. This is a gift. At an academic institution, I help teach and mentor the next generation of physicians. Advancing care for children with skin diseases is my highest career priority, and where I strive daily to make an impact.
It is our hope and mission as founders that Stryke Club will make the world a bit more welcoming for teens, and in particular teen boys, who struggle with skin problems as they grow. We want Stryke Club to spark a personal care movement that boys can take pride in. We want to replace stigma and self-doubt with confidence and personal care empowerment. Changing the conversation on self-care for boys would be an amazing legacy to share with my own two boys.
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.
Advancing self-care and self-acceptance for teen boys would be a truly meaningful movement. I would be very proud if Stryke Club could help to reduce the stigma surrounding self-care for boys. When people feel more comfortable in their own skin, I believe they are more open and empathetic to others.
I also hope to inspire my fellow female physicians. Women caregivers have pivotal ideas that have transformed and will continue to revolutionize healthcare quality and delivery. If more female doctors are inspired and empowered to share their ideas and visions, all the better for women, children, families and society at large.
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.
There are several influential people whose careers I follow closely, and many women in particular that inspire me. it would be impossible for me to choose just one for a fantasy get-together. Strong women whose values and pioneering work have inspired me personally include Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Reese Witherspoon’s career evolution has really spoken to me lately. I’ve watched in awe as she’s grown from a talented actress into so many more roles, like producer, entrepreneur, businesswoman and cultural tastemaker. She’s succeeded in so many venues, and she does it with the clear and unapologetic goal of advancing the narrative for women: in film, in literature, in apparel. You name it, and she does it. I admire the way she has paved a path not just for herself, but for modern women as an advocate, mentor and trailblazer.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!