Female Founders: Eden Laurin of Nyssa On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
…The ability to step back and take a breath when necessary, and the wherewithal to recognize when it is necessary. This could be with carved personal time, which will pave the way for your team to know they can do the same.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eden Laurin.
Chicago native Eden Laurin is CEO and Co Founder of Nyssa- which is solving for the ‘unmentionables’ of womanhood. Eden has a background in innovation and product development, also specializing in formulation and flavor design, and is Partner at James Beard award winning The Violet Hour. Upcoming through Nyssa, Eden is working to bridge minority led innovation and grow the landscape of feminist design.
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?
My previous career was in food and beverage with a strong emphasis on innovation — solving issues or making reality out of ambiguous ideas. And innovating without compromises has always been a standard. I was a Division One athlete (NCAA champions!) and later cut my chops in the restaurant industry, so hard work and hussle has been ingrained. And I have always been taught, don’t settle for a problem, solve it. My father crossed out the word ‘cant’ in permanent marker in our dictionaries growing up, true story!
Postpartum, I felt so deeply disappointed that I didn’t have resources, realistic expectations or products to help my body recover. And when I sat in the anger I realized that I had been systematically let down by Doctors, clinics, the medical community at whole throughout my womanhood, from puberty, on. It took the Fourth Trimester for us to suddenly realize that the curriculums being taught about our bodies, the design space from every angle, science and legislation do not make space for women and our changing bodies’ needs- when everything says ‘woman, just deal with it.’ for centuries. I knew that I could not just wait for the landscape to change for us, that we had to work towards solving it. So, we started Nyssa.
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?
We were pre revenue and had pretty much no idea what we were doing, but that barely gave us pause and this one time- we were pitching a pair of investors- a man and a woman- and the man sat with his arms crossed and his back to us the entire time, clearly peeved he was forced to take the meeting. We finished and he blurted out ‘ do you even have a proforma?’ I barked back, ‘of course we do!’ And then I slid my phone under the conference table and quickly googled the definition of a proforma.
We have had to teach ourselves supply chains, apparel, manufacturing and people saying that we couldn’t, we wouldn’t, but what about X, what about Y, calling out the things we were missing and how we could mess up. What they underestimated is the power of women looking to solve a problem for other women.
You can figure it out — don’t let anyone make you feel inadequate — stay true to your mission. Stay true what you’re trying to accomplish, even if your strategy or goals shift.
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?
We couldn’t have started Nyssa without the support and help of our family and friends. They are our first lab for testing ideas and products, they are who invested time and money with us and continue to be our greatest brand ambassadors. In particular, my Mother, Carolea- not having a college degree has not stopped her from owning multiple businesses, she is a powerhouse, very active with Nyssa, supporting in every way possible.
And a quick note about the non-helpers along the way: early on, I thought I had to convince them, befriend them, or that they deserved my time or energy, but they do not. Anyone who doesn’t give you the respect you deserve, or who isn’t participating towards your success- don’t respond to their next email. You don’t have the time for that.
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 profoundly systemic. We don’t have support systems for the women who carry the most weight in family planning and child bearing, we have gender gaps and education gaps that prioritize men in business, finance and positions that socially we accredited higher which then keeps women from access to controlling the funds. Without women as VCs or running the banks, we have a single-minded view to what makes a company ‘marketable’ and decisions are based on that single minded view so that the companies that are receiving financing, funding and support- are rarely women led. The number of times that we have pitched a Nyssa product or the Nyssa mission and have been asked by a potential investor, ‘but what is the market fit?’ COUNTLESS TIMES. Do you know how many times a female investor has asked us this? Zero. We might not blow up their skirts or be at the right revenue marker or a fit for their portfolio- but there is absolutely no woman that would say they don’t know why products and resources for women are needed.
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?
Continued programs that support minority led businesses and training programs, removing some of the smoke and mirrors to share the fundamentals of starting and running a business. There are organizations doing incredible work, but there is so much space there and so much ground to cover. We need women in leadership roles where they can prioritize mentoring other women. For women to be able to see paths to get to their goals is so hugely important.
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?
I’m not sure that I can- I think women should become founders if they want to but it’s grueling, comes at great sacrifice and requires a massive commitment to something that statistically is likely to fail. But if you read that sentence and still want to start a company- please, please do! We need a more equalized landscape.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The myths; that you’ll make a bunch of money. It may take 3, 4, 5, years until you get to a viable spot and that’s only if you do..
Another myth is that you have to be a jerk. You don’t have to be negatively aggressive. But you do have to be persistent. If you are already a jerk, you will probably become more of one, but if you’re not, you don’t have to change yourself to carve a space at the table.
Or that you can’t have a family, I believe you can integrate both. But you’ll have to be very conscious of the balance and build your company to what’s true to you and your team. And leave space to evaluate and pivot as needed.
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?
Passion. If you lack it, you probably are not going to stay up late at night to look up how to do some fundamental part of your business. Probably are not going to want to make the sacrifices likely necessary to build and sustain the business. That’s OKAY- more than okay! Although we need female founders, we don’t need unhappy people getting burned out with non-passionate ideas!
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.)
1.Grit. This is going to sometimes come in the form of public presentations while having roaring period pains, or teaching yourself coding to build your website, or pulling an all-nighter x 365 nights.
2.The ability to admit you are wrong, or at least not let ego get in the way of pivoting to a better idea.
3.A strategy. Obvious right? But why do we end up doing so many things without one! Strategizing on what you want to accomplish and how you plan to get there is not only crucial in business, but also for planning out your day to day!
4.Community. It takes a village to raise kids? Same with a business. If you can’t find a community that is rallying behind you and or your idea, time to check if it’s a good idea.
5. The ability to step back and take a breath when necessary, and the wherewithal to recognize when it is necessary. This could be with carved personal time, which will pave the way for your team to know they can do the same.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
By getting us to use the word ‘vulva’ with more regularity. Let’s know our bodies. Let’s look and see our power, and take back control over our bodies.
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.
Nyssa believes that action will create change, inaction just bows to the status quo. There are tremendous challenges that people face every moment, not sure that I can define what would bring the most amount of good for the greatest amount of people but will say- I believe that using language that gives voice to a population shared, lived experiences; using science and technology to improve the everyday lives of women around the world; to design to our bodies for what our needs are- this is our movement.
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.
Sophia Amorosa, we have always thought you are rad, and loved how you pivoted to sharing your lessons in entrepreneurship and business, to others. Plus, I’ve tried to capture your haircut for years.
Mellody Hobson, you are a personal mentor- it’s like you walk right into rooms marked MEN and own them. Your achievements are hugely inspirational to Chicago female entrepreneurs.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.