Resilience — I keep reiterating this point, but the only way forward, the only way any relationship or enterprise keeps progressing, is if you keep showing up. If you stop, it stops. Resilience is key.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate McLeod.
Kate McLeod is the co-founder and formulator of her eponymous brand. A former pastry chef, she created the Body Stone, her hero product, in her home kitchen. Body Stones, solid cocoa butter based moisturizers that melt on contact with warm dry skin, are hand poured in her Hudson Valley workshop. Waterless, plastic free, and 100% plant based, they will leave you not only with a well nourished glow but also with a deeply restorative moment of soothing self care.
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 began in finance — on a rates trading desk back in 2008. I quickly discovered that, above all else, I am a maker. I love working and creating with my hands. Life and love brought me to culinary school across the pond where I opened a small bakery. In a hugely unexpected twist, my first love, who I had not seen or spoken to in 8 years, came to my door shortly before my wedding. I ended up back stateside in his NYC studio apartment a week later. It was a life changing moment that sent me on a completely different trajectory. It was in that tiny nook of a kitchen that I first considered using some of my favorite ingredients in a new way: to feed my skin and to heal my spirit. Everything else followed from there.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When 2020 began, we had just celebrated our one year anniversary and were actively looking for a larger office space. We’re different from most beauty/skincare companies in that we do not work with a contract manufacturer. Every Body Stone is hand poured in our workshop — so our ‘office’ consists of much more than desks and computers. We began in a small Brooklyn studio that was not equipped for any scale. Then the world changed. My husband, my six month old son, and I moved upstate to the Hudson Valley. About a month into the pandemic (April 2020), my co-founder and I found the perfect space upstate. It was a huge plunge. We had no idea how long the world was going to be shut down and, if we moved, we would sadly have to say goodbye to our team. We would be starting from the beginning — just the two of us — only this time, in the middle of a global pandemic and with looming, large purchase orders. We decided the reward was greater than the risk, and I booked a moving van and posted on Indeed. Today, we have created over fifteen local jobs in the Hudson Valley, our workshop has expanded 3x in the past year, and three of our first hires just celebrated their one year anniversaries. I couldn’t imagine us being anywhere else.
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 (in retrospect) day was a full-on comedy of errors. There is no manual on trucking, shipping, and receiving. When we began, I had no idea what a BOL (bill of lading) or ‘liftgate service’ was. Our first large bamboo canister shipment (every Body Stone is tucked into a reusable bamboo canister) arrived hours early; the truck was outside our office at 6:30 AM. My co-founder rushed in to greet the delivery. But we had no idea it was coming palletized and our building had no loading dock. This was the day after Labor Day and I had taken a red eye the night prior. When my husband finally heard the phone around 8 AM, I was informed that my co-founder had been sitting on the sidewalk guarding the goods and desperately needed to go to the bathroom. She was about 5 months pregnant and accordingly, could not lift anything. We had no trolley, no help, so I arrived, started breaking down the pallets and loading the boxes — all 125 of them — into the elevator. Box by box. And then out of the elevator and down the hallway and onto our shelves…box by box. Then, that same afternoon, our commercial grade freezer arrived but I had not specified liftgate service nor indoor delivery. They miraculously got the heavy load out of the truck and out of sympathy attempted to bring it inside. It got stuck in our doorway. There happened to be a flooring and furniture workshop a few streets over. Desperate, I knocked on the door for help. A group of men followed me back with power drills and amazing attitudes. Needless to say, everyone walked away with Body Stones. Lessons: You learn by doing. It is rarely worth saving money on shipping. Good neighbors are priceless.
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 am blessed because I have two: Justin, my husband, and Nichola, my co-founder.
Both of these relationships are supportive, challenging, and have been hugely rewarding sources of personal growth. They demand honesty and vulnerability. My husband gave me the push I needed to actually take the Body Stone off of our kitchen table and out into the world. Starting this — believing in myself — was terrifying. He has stood by me and believed in me every step of the way. Nichola is a champion of real time feedback and does not shy away from tough conversations. Those moments have not only strengthened our partnership and fueled change, they have turned us from co-founders into friends. I am incredibly grateful.
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 can only speak from my own experience, but for me it was two things: fear and my desire to be with my child. It’s scary to put yourself out there. I never set out to start a skincare brand. The Body Stone was the personal practice that got me through a time when I felt completely lost. I discovered the power of self care, the incredible power of your own loving touch to unlock the strength we have within. I am honored to share this ritual but the thought of doing so was terrifying. What if no one ‘got it?’ And then there’s the fact there’s no guidebook on how to start a company. There is no one telling you what to do or how to do it. It’s daunting. On top of the fear, the week we officially launched, I found out I was pregnant. When Ollie arrived, the thought of leaving him all day was terrible. I felt like I was being forced to choose between a strong commitment I had made to myself and my baby. Going back to work was very hard.
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?
I believe that this is a silver lining of this past year. In general, the one group of people that I speak to that still love working from home are those with new babies and very young children. Ollie was about six months old when the lockdown began, and all of a sudden, work was so much easier. I wasn’t losing 1–2 hours a day in a commute/getting ready. I wasn’t pumping; I could breastfeed during calls. My partner and I were both there for the giggles, the tears, and every dinner. And, most importantly, I could pop into the next room and see my baby — hug him, play with him — throughout the day. It didn’t feel like I was being forced to choose. I am incredibly grateful for the new acceptance of flexible working arrangements.
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?
Women have wonderful ideas! We have different life experiences and, accordingly, different perspectives. These different approaches — different lenses through which we see the world — are incredibly valuable and lead to greater balance and diversity in society as a whole.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Riding the New York City subway, it is easy to think that startups are born and explode overnight. It seems like there is always a beautiful new brand coating car or station walls. This is not reality. A business is just like any other relationship. It is going to get hard and in order for it to continue, for it to thrive, you have to keep choosing to show up day after day. It will almost certainly fail and can almost certainly continue on if you keep showing up. It’s a journey.
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?
I am not an expert on entrepreneurship, but I have met many. (My husband founded Hinge, so between the two of us, we have quite a few friends with different businesses.) The one thing I think they all have in common is that once they stumbled across the idea, they were obsessed. They literally could not stop thinking about it. They didn’t set out to start a company, but then this idea either came to them or was presented to them and they couldn’t do anything else. You need that type of obsession at the start, especially if it’s your first venture, because it’s going to be tough. Only crazy passion can fuel you through it.
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 Woman Founder?”
(1 & 2) Support — both emotional and financial. As I’ve mentioned, this journey is a roller coaster. Justin is incredibly supportive and also fundamentally understands what I am going through. We both have massive ups and downs. Starting Kate McLeod has given me so much more empathy and understanding for what he has gone through with Hinge. Secondly, financial support is necessary — we all have to eat. Starting something is a full time job that might not offer a salary up front.
(3) Passion — as I said earlier, only passion can get you through some days.
(4) Sense of humor — because it makes it so much easier when you can laugh about your freezer being caught in a doorway.
(5) Resilience — I keep reiterating this point, but the only way forward, the only way any relationship or enterprise keeps progressing, is if you keep showing up. If you stop, it stops. Resilience is key.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Our mission stems from my own first experiences with this practice. By ‘this practice,’ I mean the literal act of taking a moment to stop, put your hands on your body, and care for yourself. To me, nothing is more powerful; it is life changing. This is how I come out of my head and into my body, and in doing so, I feel and experience my emotions and check in with myself. This checking in, this softness, enables me to access a deep well of inner strength that I believe we all have. This is my method and I am honored to share it.
We are a plastic free, waterless brand. To date, we have kept nearly 100,000 plastic bottles out of landfills and tens of thousands of gallons of water from being shipped coast to coast. Think of the Body Stone as a concentrate. It is 100% plant based nourishment — no dilution. Simple, powerful ingredients. A little goes a long way; less is more. We are conscious about what we are putting out into the world and why and how we are doing it.
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.
Erica Chidi Cohen. She is a woman who has made it her life’s work to aid and empower other women through fostering community and spreading knowledge of sexual and reproductive health. Having experienced pregnancy, birth, becoming a mother, starting a business, a second pregnancy — all within the past 3 years — I fundamentally understand the importance of what she is doing. Work such as hers is critical to much of what we have discussed coming to fruition. I believe the number one thing every person needs to thrive is support. We can not do it alone. And that is her mission.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.