Female Founders: Emily Wright of dōTERRA On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Doug Noll

Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

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Joy is found in the grind. We don’t grow during easy times. We grow through struggle. There have been days that I have wanted to quit. The business has grown large enough that I could easily do that. However, I know I would become a shell of who I am today, if I wasn’t passionately engaged in creating beautiful impact around the globe. When we can embrace the journey of becoming, that’s when fulfillment is found. Don’t confuse happiness with joy. Happiness is contingent on external accomplishments. Joy is a result of the internal work of rising up to your highest potential. Seek joy!

As a part of our series about Women Founders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Wright.

A Founder and President of doTERRA, the world’s largest essential oil company, Emily has a relentless desire to source the world’s most pure and potent essential oils while lifting communities in the areas where they are sourced. She puts her whole heart into doTERRA’s purpose of helping the world heal.

Emily and her husband, Korey, are the parents of four beautiful children and three adorable grandchildren. They are her pride and joy.

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 was first introduced to the world of essential oils in 1998. I was a young mom of two looking for a way to better support my family. A neighbor knocked on my door one day to tell me about a new company he had heard about. He didn’t even know what the company was but had a feeling that I was supposed to work there. I didn’t know anything about essential oils at the time, although my mom and grandmother had a very holistic and natural approach to health, so I was familiar with herbal and other nature-based solutions. Soon after starting my job, I had some powerful experiences with essential oils and became convinced of their efficacy for me and my family. If you were to chart my path from that moment, you would see that the critical decisions I made were in pursuit of empowering lives. The experience I gained over the next decade, ultimately serving on the executive board, prepared me for a massive leap of faith.

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

I visited Haiti a few short years after we founded doTERRA to secure an exclusive contract for a Vetiver essential oil that contained very unique chemistry. I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. When I saw mothers rummaging through garbage trying to find food to feed their children, my heart sank. That moment was a turning point for me personally, and a turning point for our company in terms of how we engage in social good.

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 always worked in male-dominated organizations. When I began my professional career in the 90s, there were very few career-focused women in the state of Utah and even less so in the rural community where I reside. I am the only female founder of doTERRA. I am fortunate to have giants that I look up to who are my business partners and, more importantly, my friends. I used to think I needed to dress and behave like them to earn professional respect. I wore dark pant suits and was careful not to let my emotions show. Looking back at photos from those earlier days with all of us in black suits and white shirts is quite comical.

I have come to learn that my femininity is one of my greatest strengths. When I allowed myself to embrace that, I tapped into other strengths. I realized the importance of understanding how people emotionally connect to our product and culture, and I became more creative and passionate about the impact we were creating. I found my voice and started dressing authentically to who I am. The gray, black, and brown pant suits were donated. Today, the only pant suits I wear are bright colors of pink, orange, or green. I always seek to lead from an authentic place, which includes expressing who I truly am. I have found that by doing so, I give my colleagues permission to bring their best, truest selves to the table. That shift allowed our differences to become our collective strength as an organization.

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?

My business partner and doTERRA co-founder David Stirling absolutely changed my stars. During my time at that first essential oil company I worked for, I rose quickly in responsibility, but not in title. For several periods I acted as interim CEO and had half of the company reporting into me. My title was always Executive Assistant. I was told that I would never have a place on the Board because I was a woman. David joined the company, and after we had worked together for a few short months, he was asked to be CEO. He said he would do it on one condition — that I be given a seat on the Board because he couldn’t succeed without my help.

David and I founded doTERRA together and I have been grateful for his wisdom and friendship at every point along the way. It is interesting how we will rise up (or down) to how people see us. David inspired me to rise up, and now I’m committed to do the same for others.

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 there is a lack of support, generally. Women are often required to fulfill so many roles at home and in their communities, and many are very pressing or urgent on a day-to-day basis. For example, in the US it is estimated that as many as 70% of primary caregivers are female. So, when we look at a woman faced with the decision to care for her family, or start a business, she may feel she has no real choice. And a lack of support and mentorship often means that this potential entrepreneur doesn’t see a path forward. It is possible to have a family and start a business, but that is a very lonely path and one that has not been modeled very often. And then of course, there is the problem of funding, which is a whole other conversation.

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?

Increasing the visibility of female founders is a wonderful way to start! So, thank you for this opportunity. Having examples of successful female entrepreneurs would have been very helpful for me when I was dreaming up doTERRA back in the early 2000’s.

But back to the earlier point about funding for female-led ventures… there has been progress, but the statistics are still not great. Male-led startups raise an average of 5 times more than female-led startups. But there is some good news too. VC firms with female leadership are twice as likely to invest in female-led startups. So, one way to address the funding gap would be to have more women in leadership at financial institutions, whether that is banks or VC firms. This is a simple solution, but I have often found that the most straightforward solutions work the best.

I came across an interesting study that looked at bias in funding. The research suggested that when seeking funding, female founders are more likely to be asked questions about risk management, while men are asked about growth potential. If you put it in different words, the tendency is to ask men how they’re going to win and ask women how they’re going to not lose. How discouraging is that?

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?

We represent half the population and 80% of household buying power! The majority of successful companies have historically been led by a small portion of the overall demographic, simply because that is the group with the greatest access to the tools and resources needed to succeed. I don’t want to disparage any successful entrepreneurs — it is a difficult road and I want to congratulate anyone who is able to walk it. The point I do want to make is that diverse people have diverse ideas, and the world needs those ideas. To those reading this, please do not hold back. If you have a dream for a business, chase it!

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

One myth is that your idea needs to be completely new. We did not create the concept of essential oils. They’ve been around for thousands of years! But we did see a need in the market for purity, and we set out to do that. Along the way, we created the gold standard of quality for essential oils and have moved into avenues of science that have never been explored before to prove their efficacy. This has opened up space for people around the globe to turn to natural solutions when caring for their health and wellbeing that didn’t exist before.

Another myth is that you need to have everything figured out before you start. Of course, a good plan is crucial. But there is no way to anticipate every situation ahead of time. There hasn’t been a day in the 15 years of doTERRA’s history that hasn’t brought a new question, challenge, or opportunity. As long as you have a guiding vision, unwavering principles, and a work ethic that keeps you committed to your vision, you’ll find a way forward and solve challenges that you encounter.

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?

Being a founder may not be for everyone, but I do think that everyone has the potential to develop a founder-like mentality.

The most important trait in my opinion is the ability to dream big and never give up on that dream — even when everything tells you it can’t be done. If you can dream it, you can build it. You also need conviction. Being a founder is not easy. If you are not absolutely convinced that you are on the right path, I don’t think the journey is possible. The stress can be intense, and it is all- too easy to question yourself. “Is this the right thing for the company? How is this decision going to affect our customers, suppliers, and employees?” Nobody has all the answers, which is why I think conviction is so critical to help guide you to your decisions. You also must be willing to take big risks. When we founded doTERRA, we went all in. Failure would have left our families homeless. That’s how big our belief was.

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. The road to success is not straight or easy. It is long and riddled with many hills and valleys. When we started doTERRA, we took out home equity lines, cashed out our 401(k)s, liquidated assets, and lived on our savings. We thought we could pay ourselves a salary in about nine months, but it ended up being much longer before we could start paying ourselves a very modest salary. This required extreme sacrifice and a great deal of faith and conviction. Today I am grateful for that sacrifice. It allows me to have greater appreciation for our distributors as they begin their businesses and the sacrifice they put forth before success is found.

2. Expect resistance and know ahead of time how you will respond to it. Challenges will always come. Some are expected and others will surprise you. When we were in our second year of business, growth outpaced our inventory. We had to use all our resources to purchase additional inventory. This left us with just $5,000 and no ability to get additional funding because we didn’t yet have any capital assets. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but we refused to give up. A miracle happened and we brought on an additional partner who provided the capital we needed to move the company forward. He brought great strength to our business, and we have been grateful for his clear insight and leadership ever since.

3. Have a clear purpose, mission, and guiding values. When we began the company, we were very clear about what we wanted to accomplish and the values we held dear. It is easy to hold firm to your vision and values when you are a small company. However, as the company grew to over 4,000 employees and 10 million customers, we realized not everyone understood our reason for existing. This inspired us to go through an exercise of galvanizing our purpose, which is to “help the world heal.” We had accomplished our early goals and recognized we needed a new mountain to climb — something that would stretch us and make us excited about accomplishing. We determined our new mission was to Triple Our Impact by 2030. Next, we formalized our guiding values to ensure the culture that makes doTERRA so special will live on for generations to come.

4. Surround yourself with dreamers and doers. I was surrounded by people who told me I was crazy to start a business at the beginning of the Great Recession of 2008. Many expected us to fail. I found if I spent time with these people, I started to doubt myself. However, when I surrounded myself with people who were more accomplished than me, or who were dreamers like me, my belief and confidence grew. Be selective about the people you spend the most time with. Their belief or lack of belief is infectious.

5. Joy is found in the grind. We don’t grow during easy times. We grow through struggle. There have been days that I have wanted to quit. The business has grown large enough that I could easily do that. However, I know I would become a shell of who I am today, if I wasn’t passionately engaged in creating beautiful impact around the globe. When we can embrace the journey of becoming, that’s when fulfillment is found. Don’t confuse happiness with joy. Happiness is contingent on external accomplishments. Joy is a result of the internal work of rising up to your highest potential. Seek joy!

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

Thank you for asking this question! doTERRA is an impact company. We have been very intentional in creating our business to be a positive force on every level. I could talk about this all day.

We often summarize our intention as “sourcing the best and helping the most.” Many of the essential oil plants grow best in regions that are underserved. This gives us the unique opportunity to work with farmers, harvesters, and distillers in disadvantaged areas. We are deliberate in working with small-scale farmers whenever possible in order to maximize our positive impact. We currently support 380,214 jobs around the world through our sourcing efforts alone. Those jobs provide income and financial support for an estimated 1,176,749 people. Additionally, we invest in the communities where our essential oils are sourced. Through the doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation, we support community development projects such as constructing schools, health clinics, training facilities, and clean water systems. The impact of these projects over the years is perhaps impossible to understand fully, but to date we have impacted 1,500,000 people. We estimate that our sourcing has had a positive impact on at least 3,103,835 people.

I have met with hundreds of people who grow, harvest, and distill doTERRA essential oils and they have told me how the income from those jobs has changed their families’ futures. I have sat with them in their homes and met the children and grandchildren that they are able to send to school. Again, it is impossible to understand the full impact of something like that on an individual’s life, but the glimpses I have seen convince me that what we are doing is important.

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 believe that doTERRA is a movement for good! We like to talk about empowering lives on “both sides of the bottle,” meaning through the benefits of the products, the creation of the product (our sourcing efforts), and our person-to-person business model. Our products are used by millions of families around the world, helping mothers and fathers care for their children, and helping individuals take control of their health and wellbeing. I’ve spoken already about the impact we are having through our sourcing efforts. And our business model has provided an opportunity for millions more people to improve their financial wellbeing and to unlock human potential. I also love the communities that are created through our business model which creates a safe place for people to come together and have a place where they belong. So, to answer your question, I would double down on the movement we’ve already created! And I feel we are just getting started.

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 was able to interview Sara Blakley at our North America convention a couple of years ago. I admire her as a fellow female founder, and we had such a fun time talking about her Spanx journey on stage. Being a wife and mother and running a global business can be quite the juggling act at times, and I love connecting with other women who are going through similar life experiences. I would love to get to know Sara better. I love that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and I think we could be great friends.

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

About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.

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Doug Noll
Authority Magazine

Award-winning author, teacher, trainer, and now podcaster.