It’s about your customer, not the product you’re making: Early on when I was raising money for MarketXT, I became very focused on the features of the product. It was not until I focused on the benefits to the customer and consequential market opportunity that arose that I was successful in raising my first A round.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Satow.
Michael Satow is the CEO and co-founder of Bonafide, the women’s healthcare brand with a unique research-first approach to non-drug products. In addition to Bonafide, Michael has been responsible for its parent company, JDS Therapeutics’ since its founding in 2011. An entrepreneur, Michael joins JDS Therapeutics from similarly named, but totally separate JDS Pharmaceuticals, a specialty pharmaceutical company which he also co-founded with his father Phillip Satow. JDS Pharmaceuticals was sold for $125 million in 2007.
Michael began his career as an attorney in private practice and as an enforcement lawyer at the SEC. In 1997, Michael founded and served as CEO of MarketXT, the first retail after-hours stock market, with backing from Morgan Stanley, Salomon Smith Barney, and other businesses, it sold for $100 million in 2000. For his work with MarketXT, Michael was named one of the Top 10 American Innovators by US News & World Report. From 2000 to 2002, he served as CEO of Mirror Worlds Technologies, a knowledge management software company.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks for having me! As an entrepreneur, I’ve always been passionate about bringing to market innovative consumer- and patient-centered solutions, especially in categories where stigma meant research and development was either overlooked or underfunded. Some years ago, my younger brother took his own life and this traumatic event opened my eyes to how little people discussed mental health and how damaging that stigma was on finding solutions. Out of this tragedy, my parents founded the Jed Foundation which focuses on the mental wellness of young people, and my family continues to be very involved to this day. In addition, my father and I were driven to merge our personal passion and business expertise to launch a pharmaceutical company dedicated to developing drugs for psychiatric conditions, including Lithium, which has been shown to effectively prevent suicide in patients with bi-polar disorder.
We quickly learned and took action on several things: first, psychiatrists didn’t broadly know enough about Lithium, so we invested time and resources into healthcare provider education; second, Lithium is a mineral, and we recognized the potential for natural ingredients to be potent treatments and invested in research for both mental health and women’s health treatments. We realized that, in fact, there are many drugs used today that are based on natural ingredients. We sold the pharmaceutical company, but soon after launched a new venture built on these two foundational learnings. That’s when Bonafide was born.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
That catalyst I mentioned for where I ended up today was that my brother took his own life. And while this was, obviously, an incredibly challenging time, it was also the moment where my personal and professional paths merged. In 2004, my father and I were motivated to channel our experience to find solutions that would help people with symptoms similar to those my brother experienced. Since then, we’ve used these experiences to find alternative solutions in other underfunded and stigmatized areas of healthcare. When we started Bonafide with the idea of educating mainstream physicians about the benefits of alternative health treatments, and we weren’t even going to compensate them, there was a lot of skepticism that we faced.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think everyone’s drive is shaped by a combination of experience and a desire to make a meaningful change. And when you’re doing something that you really believe will help people, it’s much easier to power through the difficult times because you have direction and purpose to help keep you focused.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, things are going very well. That isn’t to say that the road has always been easy. When it comes to Bonafide, I may not be the person you’d expect to launch a menopause-focused women’s health company. That being said, I’m committed to creating hormone-free treatments that are developed to meet both physician’s and patient’s needs to make a significant positive impact in women’s lives — no matter how difficult. I believe our unique expertise and approach can help a lot of women be healthier and happier and is doing so for tens of thousands of them already.
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?
Back when I was a young lawyer at the SEC, I was late for work one morning. When I finally arrived, I had a message from my boss saying she needed to talk to me. So I freaked out and ran down the hall to my boss’ office, where a meeting with 10+ people underway. I ran right in, sat down, and apologized profusely. It turns out those ten people were very senior members of the SEC, and they looked at me as if I had no business being there, which I didn’t! I learned my lesson: never be late!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Despite a $600 billion market opportunity, the menopause sector of women’s health has been massively underserved. At Bonafide, we’re committed to filling this gap with non-drug solutions that fit the needs of the 70% of women who would prefer to try hormone-free treatments before hormone replacement therapy.
Bonafide stands out because we’ve found a way to open mainstream physicians’ minds to realize the benefits of non-drug approaches that hadn’t been thought about as valid options. As a company, we’ve achieved this through investment in R&D and dozens of clinical studies that validate our ingredients’ efficacy.
Once we presented the results, doctors were willing and excited to take the time to learn about our solutions, especially as an increasing amount of their patients ask for alternatives to HRT.
Since supplements are not approved by the FDA like drugs, it only seems reasonable that women would want a trusted intermediary to determine if taking something is safe and effective for them. That is the essence of our approach, to have their own doctor do that for them.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
For me, innovation is central to keeping work energizing and fulfilling. When you’re working towards something new and groundbreaking, the day-to-day challenges feel smaller, and the wins feel bigger.
Within women’s health, in particular, there’s a significant need for innovation. Beyond a lack of pharmaceutical funding in the space, menopause startups worldwide have raised just $254 million since 2019 and in the United States, which is very small compared to other sectors. As a result, only 60% of women seek medical attention for menopause today, and of that group, 75% are left untreated. Untreated symptoms lead to lower quality of life as well as lack of sleep which has health consequences, especially as we age.
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?
That would have to be my father. He spent his whole career in pharmaceutical marketing, and being able to learn from his years of experience was central to my success. It’s hard to choose just one story but at Bonafide, he’s consistently reminding me to question: what is the benefit to the customer? What is she missing in the experience?
By seeing those questions through, we’ve found that women really trust the recommendation of their doctor. And that shows us, when we’re developing, researching, and testing these products, that we need to make sure we’re earning both the trust of our customer and her doctor.
At Bonafide, our product development is less about bells and whistles and more about meeting women’s unmet needs, and I have my dad to thank for that perspective. We’re thinking of all the symptoms of menopause and methodically developing proprietary, hormone-free, non-drug products for each of them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Since starting my first company in the psychiatric space, I’ve remained committed to furthering research and progress in areas that are often overlooked, underfunded or stigmatized. In addition to incorporating these ideals into my entrepreneurship to bring consumers effective solutions, I’ve always devoted a percentage of my time to being on at least one board of an organization I support and admire.
I’m currently on the board of the JED Foundation, a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. In the past, I have also been a board member of My Sister’s Place, which strives to end domestic violence and human trafficking by providing free education, outreach, and confidential supportive and legal services.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s about your customer, not the product you’re making: Early on when I was raising money for MarketXT, I became very focused on the features of the product. It was not until I focused on the benefits to the customer and consequential market opportunity that arose that I was successful in raising my first A round.
- Find and build your moat: To start a business that requires capital investment, it is critical that those investments be defensible. If any other business or person can just copy what you’ve done, it will be very difficult to make a return.
- Pick your partners carefully and hire well in the beginning. I have lived through several challenging partnerships (whether companies or individual hires) where the respective goals and approaches were misaligned. Resolving issues such as these take away time and effort, rather than waiting longer and choosing correctly.
- Make decisions planning for success. For example, when you launch a product, buying lots of inventory may be expensive, but you will be unable to succeed without it.
- Create a culture of mentorship and accessibility. My own experience as an employee early in my career made me realize how important this is to attract and retain great people and also make them into huge assets for the business.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that nothing is ever as bad or as good as it seems. This means that when some seemingly terrible event happens, (for example a big launch by a competitor) or some amazing thing happens (for example a big new client), neither one will have nearly as much impact as you think at that moment. If you remind yourself of that, it will save a lot of heartaches and you will make better decisions.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
My goal is to create more space to talk about stigmatized issues. I’ve personally seen that conversation can be hugely impactful — both professionally and personally — in mental health and in women’s health. You can encourage one person to talk about a taboo subject, but until you’ve created a space for the conversation to live and continue to grow on its own, it won’t scale. Changing people’s perspectives on misunderstood topics necessitates creating a space of safety and comfort to share their experiences.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit Bonafide’s website: hellobonafide.com, and follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-satow-00316/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you again for having me!