Women Of The C-Suite: “Have skin like a rhino” With Tania Boler, CEO of Elvie
Have skin like a rhino. You should never take anything too personally. It’s often hard to hear criticism about something you are so passionate about and have worked so hard for but sometimes some of the best change comes from the criticism and advice of others.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tania Boler, CEO and co-founder of Elvie, a British health and lifestyle brand developing smarter technology for women. Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert, passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues. In 2013, she co-founded Elvie with Alex Asseily (of Jawbone) to create extraordinary products that improve women’s lives.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve always been passionate about women’s health and worked in the field for over 15 years. Before Elvie, I worked in the UN and with various charities across Africa and Asia on everything from sexuality to HIV prevention. It wasn’t until I became pregnant myself that I realised there were so many women’s health issues that nobody seemed to talk about. I was shocked to find out that one in three women experience pelvic floor problems, such as bladder control issues and prolapse. There had been barely any innovation in pelvic floor technology and there was nothing on the market that appealed to women. So I was inspired to create Elvie Trainer, our award-winning Kegel trainer, to make strengthening the pelvic floor fun and easy. The small pebbled-shaped pod, which is inserted into the vagina like a tampon, connects to an app on your phone that guides you through five-minute workouts to strengthen and tone your pelvic floor. It now has more than 1,000 health professionals around the world recommending it.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve loved proving so many people wrong. When I started Elvie, I was challenged by so many people; how I’d never get celebrities to talk about this issue, how I’d never get into mainstream retail, and how the business as a whole would never work. I proved them all wrong. Elvie Trainer is now recognised and loved by a number of celebrities, we’re listed in countless major retailers and it’s becoming the go-to for new moms.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
With Elvie Trainer, not only are we innovating within product design but we are also, and just as importantly, changing the way we talk about real life problems. With Elvie Trainer, we have completely redesigned a previously ugly and medical device into a sleek consumer product and moved the conversation from a ‘yucky’ taboo health problem to one about feeling strong and good about your body.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! I’m very excited about our next disruptive product launch this year. I can’t say much about it just yet but it’s going to be a connected product specifically for new moms. We’ll be able to share more information very soon! After we launched our first product, we realised that most of the women’s tech already on the market was pink or had been turned into jewelry. Women appreciate good design just as much as men and it doesn’t have to be stereotypical ‘girly’ to appeal to them so we wanted to change this going forward. We know so many issues of womanhood can be improved by technology and there is so much potential in this space so our vision is to create extraordinary product that improve women’s lives.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
At Elvie we are extremely mission-driven. I sometimes joke that we’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid because the team are all really invested in our vision to improve women’s lives through technology at an unprecedented scale. I would say to other CEOs to ensure that they keep this DNA, even as they scale. Make sure their employees are passionate and focused on the company’s long term goal, if you’re all focused on the same aim, you will all get the best from each other.
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?
I had been working in health education and promotion for 15 years — both in the U.N. and at Marie Stopes International. I never planned or dreamt of running a technology company. I just saw a big health problem (pelvic floor issues) which was clearly preventable with better exercise, and thought that surely technology could make this easier? I was lucky to meet Alexander Asseily, the co-founder of Jawbone, early on and he was one of the first people to invest in Elvie. His knowledge of the industry and experience in creating connected devices has been invaluable. Specifically, in the early days of Elvie, hiring the right team was a tricky business. Alex encouraged me to hire the top engineers right from the beginning and was extremely helpful when I was selecting designers.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our goal at Elvie is to improve women’s lives through smarter technology. We’re creating solutions to very real problems, and in doing so we’re shifting the way a women thinks about her body and her health. One of my favourite parts of my job is hearing the feedback from women who say that Elvie Trainer has helped them regain control of their body and changed the way they think about their intimate health. With Elvie, we’re well on our way to changing perceptions around women’s health and reducing unnecessary health problems.
I’ve also had the opportunity to speak at large tech events, like The Europas and TechCrunch, which are traditionally dominated by men. I think it’s really important for other women to see female founders on stage because we need to be doing more to get women into STEM subjects and taking on leadership roles. We could all benefit from applying more female insight to consumer technology.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
1- Always raise more money than you need. From experience, everything costs more than you can imagine and more than you’d expect it to.
2- Have skin like a rhino. You should never take anything too personally. It’s often hard to hear criticism about something you are so passionate about and have worked so hard for but sometimes some of the best change comes from the criticism and advice of others.
3- Find the silver lining and run with it. You absolutely need to be an optimist in order to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes optimism will get you through difficult situations. If you’re not optimistic as a CEO, what are your staff going to be?
4- Hire fast and fire fast. As you scale, you will need to spend most of your time thinking about talent and adapting quickly as the needs of the company change. You need to be reactive and ensure that you have the best possible people doing the jobs you need.
5- Get good at sales! You need to be able to sell your company’s vision daily. I never thought I was much of a sales person until I started Elvie.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We need to be doing more to change the conversation around women’s bodies and issues that women face on a daily basis. Whether it’s incontinence, postpartum depression or female pleasure, women’s bodies have been shrouded in taboo for centuries. We need to celebrate and encourage women to talk more openly about womanhood so that we can recognise and create solutions to the issues that matter most to women. Normalising these conversations allows women to understand their bodies, giving them the freedom to live happier, healthier lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Feel the fear and push through it!” You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and do things that scare you, it’s the best way to build real confidence and skills. I would never have started Elvie if I had thought about all that could go wrong and how unlikely I would be too succeed. There are countless times when I have felt sick to my stomach with fear but you just have to find a way to ignore it.
Some of the biggest 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 :-)
It would have to be Sheryl Sandberg, the most powerful woman in business. She’s the COO at Facebook, and the author of ‘Lean In’ — which is the most inspiring book for any women in business looking for professional advice! “Fortune does favor the bold and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.”