Power Women: Veronica Lee of Remrise On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman
An Interview With Ming Zhao
Your own path; Each individual’s path is different and focusing on your own path is more important and ultimately more fun. As an entrepreneur or leader you’re faced with constant doubt, whether it is self-doubt or doubt from others. Focusing on your own path and believing in that is a muscle that should be practiced and trained like anything else. At the beginning of my career I struggled with towing the line between the more known linear finance path and my own path. But I have realized that every time you follow your true north, good things happen.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Veronica Lee.
Founder and CEO, Veronica Lee, is on a mission to help you fall asleep and stay asleep safely and effectively.
After trying every over-the-counter sleep aids and melatonin supplement on the market with suboptimal results, Veronica took her Sleephealth into her own hands. Experimenting with her own plant-based formulas, Veronica combined Eastern herbs that have been used for thousands of years with amino acids and minerals that are often deficient in the western diet. These formulas helped her fall asleep quicker and get the restorative sleep her body had been craving. Today, Remrise has helped thousands of people in their Sleephealth journey and live a life with authentic energy.
Prior to founding Remrise, Veronica founded Midas League, a family office investment platform, after working in finance in investment banking at Merrill, corporate M&A at McKesson, investing at CDIB Capital. She’s also spent time at Goldman Sachs, Sherpa, and Maum Group.
She is a Bay Area native and currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and newborn daughter.
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 childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in Piedmont CA (in the SF Bay Area) and always wanted to start businesses. When I was a very young kid I’d always play store manager with my younger sister — turning my room into a “store” and giving her marketing flyers for “limited time sales” for toys, books and all items in my room. I watched my parents quit their engineering jobs to start their own real estate investment firm and always wanted to follow a similar entrepreneurial path. I went to UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School for undergrad, and then Wharton Business School for grad.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I started my career in investment banking with many sleepless nights and continued to struggle with sleep prior to and post business school (and of course during). When I found a solution that helped me get better sleep post business school (after many iterations) it really transformed my physical and mental health — and when I realized how many people in this country struggle with sleep I wanted to empower people to get better sleep to transform their lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
We launched Remrise into the public at the end of 2019 just a few months before the world was hit with covid. When we started to WFH and I realized the severity of the pandemic I felt a massive pit in my stomach. I had no idea how long this was going to last, there was so much uncertainty and we had to cancel all IRL events and plans we had. We had to immediately cut burn and really ask ourselves what was core to the business and how to make the core the best it could be. We shut off marketing, stopped development of our app, and went heads down into a period of R&D to make the efficacy of our product the best it could be. I was also supposed to get married a few months later and had to cancel / postpone my wedding and replan 3x. It was a crazy time, but like they say — what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We ran a successful 1200 participant placebo controlled, double blinded study designed with researchers from Harvard and Stanford across a 6-week period where we tested 35 different unique ingredients and 17 combinations (our team did this completely remote). We had compelling results where we found the winning formula which we then commercialized into what is our current product. That formula improved sleep onset latency by 45 minutes and improved sleep duration by 1.2 hours and was preferred over melatonin by 86% of participants. I also ended up getting married in September 2020 orchestrating covid-testing for all guests.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Authenticity and high integrity — I believe trust is one of the most important factors of business relationships whether it is with the team or external relationships and partnerships. I’m very transparent and honest with my team, and I believe that’s built a culture of trust and deep care for our mission.
- Drive — When I’m focused on achieving something I run hard at it. With my first startup Midas League, I built an investment platform for family offices, which was an opaque and tough community to break into. Within a very short period of time I signed on over 100 family offices onto our platform. (Of course I was not prioritizing sleep at this time.
- Empowering — I believe people ultimately thrive when feeling empowered. I hope to do this for my team every day, and also for Remrise to be more than a natural sleep aid but for it to be the source of empowerment for our customers.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Fear of change and lack of role models (both of strong women and men who feel comfortable with strong women). We’ve had a long history of stereotyping what women’s and men’s roles are, and it takes time to change that. It is also hard for people to see all the benefits the world would have with strong women if you haven’t had exposure to both men and women that embrace and empower that.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
When I was starting Midas League, my first startup, I had a very memorable conversation with one of the family office heads I was pitching to join the platform. When I started the meeting he interrupted me to ask my role. I’m the founder & CEO, I said. He responded with — Oh! I thought you were the Associate or Investor Relations Analyst. Then he proceeded to interrupt me several more times with comments about how “hard” this was going to be, don’t I want to focus on finding a husband and having babies and how it was going to be hard to do so if I was working all the time. I got to realize that he didn’t have much exposure to career-focused, ambitious women and so the world-view was limited. We’ve since become business friends and I believe he’s gained a newfound respect for strong ambitious women.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
I think it’s important for people to be thoughtful about why someone would feel uneasy around them to help make the dynamic more comfortable and constructive. I’m a big believer that work is much more productive and enjoyable when people are comfortable with one another — so it’s important for both men and women to foster comfortable working relationships.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
We need powerful role models of powerful women and men that are comfortable with powerful women. We need to shift the mentality from powerful women are threats to powerful women are incredibly valuable and additive to society, and expand the pot not take away from it.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
Recently I’ve been breastfeeding on my zoom calls which is tough because the video is either off (which is really not as effective as having video on IMO) or the camera is pointed in an awkward position. My team has been really supportive and awesome about it though.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Childbirth. Men definitely do a lot more today than ever before, but the physical, mental and emotional effect on the woman is truly significant. And to balance that with driving hard at work is hard. Also, the current suggestion on breastfeeding is for new moms to breastfeed for one year, and that is hard.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Always. When I started my first job as an investment banking analyst I was working constantly. I had a long-distance boyfriend who visited me for the July 4th weekend, and had made lunch and dinner reservations throughout the weekend. Unfortunately, I was called back to the office the whole weekend so couldn’t spend any time or any meals with him. I ended up crying in the office bathroom at the end of the weekend because I felt so bad I couldn’t spend any time with him and he had to fly back. With every job since then I’ve had similar struggles, and with Remrise I was recently pregnant and felt like I didn’t get anything on my baby to-do list done until very close to birth because I was focused on and prioritizing work. I took 5 weeks of maternity leave and while I love my work, I also wish I had more time with her. People always want more time to do more of what they love — I wish I had more time to spend with people I love and more time to do all the work I want.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
The tipping point for me was when I decided to really prioritize my sleep and general wellness. As mentioned above, when I got better sleep it really transformed my physical and mental health and was able to reach greater equilibrium across work and personal life. That being said, I’m not sure it’s ever truly “balanced”, I work really hard and I probably always will because I only do things I really care about and want to do. I’m lucky that I have a husband who also works incredibly hard so we’re on a similar rhythm there.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
When I’m faced with limited time and making trade-offs I probably spend less time and emphasis than I can on my appearance and also I’m a Silicon Valley startup founder :) But I do care about my appearance as I believe presentation matters. The same way we think deeply about the packaging of our product or the style of our website, the appearance of leaders reflect values of the company. The definition of “beauty” and appearance is different depending on what you value. I’ve never been super fashionable or made-up but I care deeply about wellness and health and natural ingredients so I care very much about looking (and ultimately feeling) well and naturally glowing.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think it is similar for men, except it seems a lot of the Silicon Valley men get a pass on this :)
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 Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1) Good sleep; I really believe good quality sleep is foundational to maximizing people’s potential in all areas of their lives. When I shifted my perspective from prioritizing sleep from the “sleep when you’re dead” finance industry mentality it made me healthier both physically and mentally, happier, more focused, and equipped to make better decisions.
2) Role models & community of powerful women; I was really lucky to grow up in a family with a power woman mother and power woman sister. I was exposed to my mother’s friends who were all power women. I was also really lucky to have worked for power women in industries that are predominantly male (investment banking and private equity investing) so I saw early on in my career what great women leaders could achieve in a male-dominated environment. As a result of pervasive exposure to power women growing up, I’ve always sought out circles of power women friends — those friendships have been instrumental to navigating life challenges both professionally and personally.
3) Gratitude; As a founder of a sleep brand, I’m often asked how I wind-down and let go of all the stresses of the day. I always end my day with running through a list of things I’m grateful for. When you’re driving hard throughout the day, you’re often focused on what more needs to be done, what additional opportunities you should be charging at, how to expand the business more. Being in a constant state of thinking of more is energizing but it’s great to balance that with feeling extremely grateful for the things that are already in place and that you have.
4) Empowerment; for oneself and for others. This is a core pillar of Remrise — each team member empowering one another, helping our customers feel empowered so they can thrive. Just as I believe quality sleep is foundational to maximizing people’s potential, I believe the feeling of empowerment really makes people fly. Sometimes it is just a minor shift in perspective to embrace that feeling.
5) Your own path; Each individual’s path is different and focusing on your own path is more important and ultimately more fun. As an entrepreneur or leader you’re faced with constant doubt, whether it is self-doubt or doubt from others. Focusing on your own path and believing in that is a muscle that should be practiced and trained like anything else. At the beginning of my career I struggled with towing the line between the more known linear finance path and my own path. But I have realized that every time you follow your true north, good things happen.
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.
Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper. They are so immensely talented. Beyonce is the Queen. A Star is Born depicted a beautiful powerful woman, and while the male in the movie was not fully comfortable with her becoming a powerful woman the dynamic and nuances of it were so raw and real. But in real life Bradley Cooper definitely appears to respect and embrace powerful women.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.