Working with an overseas manufacturer will present challenges. We source our fabric from Italy and our bra factory is in China. We have a wonderful partnership with our manufacturer, but COVID happened. The factory closures and subsequent global supply chain disruption resulted in a 6 month production delay pushing our product launch to October.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Betts.
As a busty D1 collegiate soccer player and personal trainer Catherine Betts had to wear 3 sports bras to prevent the bounce. Determined to create a solution, she applied her degree in neuroscience to build a better sports bra. She resides in beautiful Truckee CA with her husband Tim, baby Davey and daughter Cayley where they enjoy the mountain lifestyle.
The daughter of a tech entrepreneur, Danielle Rees grew up in Silicon Valley and moved to Tahoe after graduating from Stanford. While running the local Girls on the Run nonprofit, she co-founded the first women owned ski manufacturing company. An avid skier and mountain biker, she thrives on the entrepreneurial energy of midtown Reno and access to the outdoors.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! 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 come from a family of entrepreneurs- I guess you could say it’s in my blood. My dad and grandfather are both inventors and my brother and sister are also entrepreneurs. I have been coming up with ideas since I was young- at 16 I tried to patent a shin guard concept.
My personal struggle to find a supportive and comfortable sports bra was the inspiration behind founding Betts Fit. During puberty I developed a thyroid condition known as Hashimoto’s disease. The summer before my junior year of high school I developed into a 34DD from a B cup. As a competitive soccer player I had to wear 3 sports bras to prevent the bounce. As a result I developed debilitating neck and shoulder pain, postural problems and nerve pain. I knew I wasn’t alone with this problem.
My struggles continued after college in the fitness industry. As a personal trainer I found myself stuck in a sports bra for 12 hours a day and having to choose between comfort and support. At the time I could either wear a bra that supported my breasts doing high intensity workouts but hated wearing a compressive bra all day or I wore a comfortable sports bra that just didn’t provide the support I needed. Working as one of the first employees at TRX, I was inspired to develop my own fitness product. After studying neuroscience for 4 years, I set up a bra lab in my parents’ basement to start R&D for developing the now patented Betts Fit sports bra. -Catherine
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Many people ask about the research and development of the patented Betts Fit adjustable technology. I love problem solving and was determined to find a solution to support women’s athletic performance. Seven years ago I started developing prototypes of our product. I not only didn’t have a design background, but I didn’t even know how to sew. But I had a vision and trusted myself to figure it out as I went along. I literally started by cutting up existing sports bra designs and modifying them with ribbon and ace bandages. I taught myself to sew and worked with bra designers and pattern makers to create the beta version of the product. I worked with an excellent patent attorney and applied for and was granted 4 patents for the utility and design of the 3-way front adjustable sports bra. With 28 components it took 8 hours to sew one bra. I set up a bra lab in my parents basement and individually sewed 250 bras on an industrial sewing machine- all while pregnant with my daughter Cayley. I knew I couldn’t scale the company and started researching manufacturers and am thrilled Betts Fit has partnered with the best bra factory in the world. -Catherine
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?
The funniest mistake has to be when one of my earliest prototypes failed in a soccer match. The cord lock completely came undone and so did the rest of my bra. The inner lacing slowly unclinched until I was fully exposed under my jersey with no support. I had to run off the field and grab a backup bra from my bag. I learned that things often don’t go as planned and to always have a plan B. -Catherine
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?
Absolutely! I am grateful for all my supporters, but I’m not sure I could have moved my business forward without my co-founder. We first met at a pitch competition where she was a judge and I was pitching my business to hundreds of women. Danielle is passionate about supporting female founded companies especially those that design products for women. I was drawn to her experience co-founding a women’s ski company and she was inspired by my story and product. Danielle and I hit it off and learned that our strengths compliment each other well.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Being an entrepreneur can be anxiety producing, even when you’re not launching a product during COVID. At Betts Fit we believe movement moves mountains- the benefits of regular exercise are not just for our physical health, but for our mental health as well. My favorite stress reliever is to get outside in nature- trail running, mountain biking, or cross country skiing. When I’m feeling stressed, I get stuck in my head. My daily meditation and gratitude practice help me tap into my heart space. For a quick grounding practice during the work day, I take 3 deep breaths and reflect on an experience that brings me joy or activate my 5 senses. -Danielle
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The business case for diversity is clear- diverse leadership is better for the bottom line. Companies with more ethnically and racially diverse executive teams are 36% more likely to outperform their peers on profits (McKinsey). Companies with diverse teams have 19% higher revenue (Boston Consulting Group); are 70% more likely to capture a new market (Harvard Business Review); and are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market (Josh Bersin).
Equally important is the social justice case for diversity equity and inclusion. At Betts Fit we believe in collaborative leadership and that our company is strengthened by the contributions of individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives. We believe companies must address barriers that have led to unfair conditions for marginalized populations. -Danielle
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 40% of the US population is Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), yet they comprise only 26% of outdoor participants. There are numerous barriers to entry for BIPOC communities to participate in the outdoors. We signed the Outdoor CEO Diversity Pledge to pledge our commitment to diversifying the outdoor industry. As we grow our team we commit to 1. hire and support a diverse workforce and executive leadership; 2. present representative marketing and advertising in our media; and 3. engage and support broadly representative ambassador and athlete teams. Five years down the line, it’s our hope that there is a more diverse representation of BIPOC and LGBTQIA on the trails and in the boardrooms. -Danielle
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
At Betts Fit we built our company based on a collaborative leadership model. As a small startup both co-founders are intimately involved in every facet of the business from product development to marketing to sales and customer experience. As we grow our company it is the role of the founding team to hire and lead a team whose strengths and skill sets complement our own. We believe that pooling ideas as a team generates more creative and innovative solutions than any one individual contribution. In contrast to the top down command and control hierarchy of traditional corporate org charts, the role of an executive leader is to use the power of influence to engage and align stakeholders. Leadership must focus equally on relationships and results as success depends on building a culture based on trust and mutual respect where all team members can contribute fully to achieving collective goals. -Danielle
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the biggest myths I’d like to dispel is that we have to continue to follow old paradigms of leadership. The traits typically associated with effective leadership endorse stereotypically masculine attributes like assertiveness, ambition, and competition and simultaneously discount stereotypically feminine traits like warmth, nurturing, and collaboration. We need leaders who model the agentic and nurturing qualities we all share as humans so that our team members can bring their whole authentic selves to work. We hope to inspire other entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to adopt policies that support their staff living their best lives. We believe the best way to lead is by example. You don’t have to work 60+ hour work weeks and sacrifice your health and wellness or never see your children to run a business. As CEO you set the pace for growth for your company and decide how you want to integrate work with your life. -Danielle
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Imposter syndrome. Women are more likely to hold a false belief that their successes are a product of luck or fraud rather than skill and experience self doubt and a lack of confidence in their abilities. Imposter syndrome even affects high achievers who are extremely successful Research shows that men not only exaggerate their past performance but are overconfident in their abilities. One study showed that 60% of women who were considering starting a business did not because of lack of confidence in their own knowledge. -Danielle
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
One of the main reasons I wanted to be an entrepreneur was to have the freedom to work from home while raising a family. Over the 7 years I have been building my company, I got married and had two children. I’m incredibly grateful my daughter’s preschool is open, but I won’t glamorize startup life. Working full time with my now 7 month old, and 3 year old by my side day in and out is difficult. The reality is that it is much harder than I ever thought it would be. Especially during COVID where getting support from friends and family is near impossible. I’m extremely grateful for the time I get to spend with them, however, I do sometimes miss the regular 9–5 schedule. Some days I feel like I can’t get 10 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete a task.
And again, I know I’m not alone. Many women working from home are managing their children’s online schooling, chasing toddlers, or rocking an infant to sleep in between (and during) zoom calls. I’m inspired by their strength and resilience and hope our product provides one less thing to worry about. I often put on leggings and a sports bra in the morning hoping to squeeze in a 15 minute workout at some point during the day. With the on the go adjustability it’s easy to adjust the bra for high impact activities- whether squat jumps or chasing my daughter.-Catherine
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe in strengths based leadership. Effective leaders not only have the intrapersonal awareness of their own strengths, but build a diverse team of people whose strengths compliment their own. By adapting a growth mindset, I believe anyone can develop their strengths and inherent leadership skills. Those who cannot trust others and lead from a place of fear will not be as successful as collaborative leaders. -Danielle
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Embrace your feminine qualities as well as the masculine. The world needs leaders who bring their whole selves to work and have the courage to show vulnerability and care for their team members well being. -Danielle
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As a female founder I have personally experienced challenges fundraising while female. I’m sure you are familiar with the statistics on venture capital funding- women received just 2.8% of total startup investment. (These numbers are even more dismal for people of color- 1% for Black founders and less than 0.5% for LatinX founders). It’s not a pipeline issue- black women were the fastest growing entrepreneur group before COVID. One way to address this systemic bias is to increase the number of female investors and female role models. In 2018, I partnered with Dr. Kelly Northridge to launch the Audacity Institute, to provide education, support and funding to underestimated founders. We allocated 2 Million in small business relief funding to women and minority owned businesses in Reno in 2020 and launched a capital campaign to provide appropriate capital to startups led by founders from underserved populations. -Danielle
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
This question is challenging and I think it’s because most entrepreneurs would not have started their companies if they knew all the challenges they would face.
- Working with an overseas manufacturer will present challenges. We source our fabric from Italy and our bra factory is in China. We have a wonderful partnership with our manufacturer, but COVID happened. The factory closures and subsequent global supply chain disruption resulted in a 6 month production delay pushing our product launch to October.
- Inventory based businesses require a lot of capital. All the more reason why I’m passionate about reducing barriers underestimated founders face to raising capital
- It will take longer to build your team than you anticipated. Back to the challenges in raising capital. Bootstrapped businesses are slower to grow their teams.
- Because of this you will need to become a generalist. You will need to learn a little about everything- from accounting to advertising, shipping to customer service, product design to website design. And you’ll be creating your own social media content for longer than you thought possible.
- Get clarity on your why. It’s the reason you get out of bed every day and take one step closer to achieving your goal. -Danielle
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 love this question! At Betts Fit we believe in making decisions from a place of love and not from fear. Building this product has definitely been a labor of love. I love positive affirmations and would love to design an apparel line of t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc with the words “Love Always” across the chest. I imagine if everyone set out to live their life thinking “love always” first and foremost that our world would be a much better place. -Catherine
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
I have not experienced anything close to what Frankl went through as a Holocaust survivor, but his message resonated with me. I experienced 2 decades of intense pain and suffering from what I now know were extreme cases of celiac disease and hypothyroidism. My symptoms ranged from debilitating fatigue, weight gain, joint and muscle pain, to gut wrenching stomach problems. My health challenges helped me develop compassion for myself and others. Having an autoimmune disease enabled me to connect more deeply with my purpose as a health and wellness coach, personal trainer and designer of a sports bra that reduces pain and discomfort. -Catherine
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.
We’d love to sit down with Serena Williams who has inspired us not only as an athlete and mother but as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. -Danielle
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.