“I believe everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to access procedures and treatments that can impact their lives. A simple operation can be life-transforming for a burn victim or a child born with a cleft deformity, and I want to help shed light on health issues that are often taken for granted in the United States. Part of our mission is to bring basic surgery and reconstructive care to communities in need and I’d like to inspire people to help that cause. We work with a non-profit focused on bringing reconstructive surgery capacity to developing countries, to sponsor educational medical trips to remote locations, raise awareness of global need, and encourage our doctors to become involved.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Seery, the founder & CEO of RealSelf.com, a online community for people to learn about cosmetic treatments, share their experiences, and connect with doctors. Founded in 2006, RealSelf attracts approximately 10 million unique visitors each month and helps facilitate an average of 500,000 patient-doctor connections each month.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
RealSelf was born from a desire to turn the lights on in a category that was primarily filled with one-sided marketing. We help people get the real stories about cosmetic procedures through first-hand reviews, ratings and photos from those who have been there while also helping them find and connect with the right doctors.
The idea sparked when my wife came home with a brochure for a $1,500 laser treatment, and after attempting to do more research, was disappointed by the lack of information available — yet she could easily find out about hotels on TripAdvisor or restaurants and dry cleaners on Yelp. I was working at Expedia at the time, and recognized the need for an unbiased resource for something as expensive (and serious) as a cosmetic treatment. I talked to my friend and mentor Rich Barton, who founded Expedia, raised seed funding and founded RealSelf to help empower people who are making emotional and impactful decisions regarding their bodies.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
There was little humor at the time I was sued by a company called Lifestyle Lift which sold a branded facelift on late night infomercials. They absolutely hated RealSelf for the transparency we brought to the market because their “procedure” wasn’t getting very high marks in patient reviews. Like most people would, I had a sense of panic being served a federal lawsuit as CEO, but then I talked to a board member, who calmly told me, “You have just been handed a gift.” I quickly learned this was undeniable proof we were now relevant and our bigger purpose was clear.
In the suit, LifeStyle Lift alleged trademark infringement. The lawsuit brought an unprecedented amount of attention to RealSelf — in a good way. We were standing up for consumers’ rights to share their opinions anonymously and we received an outpouring of support from doctors who supported RealSelf bringing greater transparency to their industry.
Needless to say, Lifestyle Lift no longer exists. Transparency wins!
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1-Perpetuate purpose. People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. RealSelf is interesting because the majority of our users and members are women yet the majority of people in our product and technical teams are men. We use member stories to share their perspectives, fears, delights and demonstrate how RealSelf helps people make some of the biggest decisions of their lives. Our team doesn’t necessarily have to be a RealSelf user to understand how their work provides meaningful support to people.
2-Be transparent. People shouldn’t have to work in the dark or guess to make stuff happen. Creating an environment where information, business results, and plans are openly shared helps foster a shared consciousness where people have both hindsight and foresight to move fast and make better decisions.
3-Hand over the keys. As CEO, there comes a time when you realize there just aren’t enough hours in the day, week or year to be involved in every decision. If you hire the right people and give them access to all the information and tools, you need to get out of their way. In the early days, I used to be involved in nearly every decision but now I intentionally steer clear of certain decisions and give our leaders the space to make calls.
4-Start and end with empathy. Before I started RealSelf, I was an executive with a history of working with data and insights to make data-driven decisions, using logic. Managing people requires much more than your head and the data you put in it. You need to lead with heart, which requires empathy for what other people are feeling and where they come from as well as an appreciation for how they receive information and what ultimately motivates them. I am constantly trying to put myself in the position of others to better understand where they are coming from. I don’t always succeed, but when I do, it makes for much better interactions, communication and results.
5-Listen loud. As founder/CEO, I have more history than anyone else at the company. While that can be a blessing, it is often baggage. As new people with different backgrounds and experiences join the company, I seek them out. I want different perspectives and ideas at the table because, as I learned a long time ago, I don’t have all the answers. It’s hard to really listen, however, when there isn’t a culture where people are comfortable questioning the status quo or voicing minority points of view. Being able to truly listen, and listen loudly, means giving every employee permission to use their voice and really be heard.
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. 🙂
I believe everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to access procedures and treatments that can impact their lives. A simple operation can be life-transforming for a burn victim or a child born with a cleft deformity, and I want to help shed light on health issues that are often taken for granted in the United States.
Part of our mission at RealSelf is to bring basic surgery and reconstructive care to communities in need and I’d like to inspire people to help that cause. We work with ReSurge International, a non-profit focused on bringing reconstructive surgery capacity to developing countries, to sponsor educational medical trips to remote locations, raise awareness of global need, and encourage RealSelf doctors to become involved.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
At an Amazon shareholder meeting in June 2011 Jeff Bezos said that Amazon was “willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”
That quote has always stuck with me. I’m a self-proclaimed nonconformist. I chose to attend a college that didn’t have a greek system or a football team and when I traveled after graduation, I did it solo. These decisions gave me the confidence to embrace my independent philosophy and ultimately start a business around what was (once) one of the most taboo subjects around — plastic surgery.
Instead of worrying about turning some people off (which I did — I distinctly remember a reporter saying they would rather eat their own head than write about liposuction) I focused on creating a trusted community where people can find the information they need to make smart, confident decisions about cosmetic treatments.
While RealSelf has had its own share of misunderstandings, we have stayed true to our mission and have become one of the leading and most trusted online aesthetics communities in the world.
Originally published at medium.com