Self-care is more important than ever — this has saved me. No matter how busy or stressful things get, when I go back to the basics and drink more water, sleep eight hours and exercise, it helps me be more productive, be calmer and more clear-headed. I had 12 hours of travel for a trip to NYC in two days for a panel last week. I had so much to do when I got back to LA, I was behind on emails and meetings, but the first thing I did was book a massage and take a walk.
As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bassima Mroue. Bassima is the CEO and co-founder of SkinTē, the first-ever collagen sparkling tea positioned at the intersection of beauty, food and wellness. With the launch of SkinTē, Mroue is uniquely able to merge her dynamic professional background as an executive brand strategist with her own personal journey to achieve optimal health and wellness. For Mroue, SkinTē was born out of personal necessity. While working at Nike Inc, and at the height of her career, her body started breaking down. She was on her way to Stage 4 endometriosis (not realizing it at the time) and learned she needed back surgery. Her surgeon and mom both encouraged her to consume collagen. With religious daily use, not only did daily consumption help ease her pain, it also helped accelerate her recovery following surgery at an unprecedented pace. Yet, she felt there had to be a better way to consume collagen while achieving similar results without the fuss of powders, pills or bone broth. And so, her journey to create SkinTē alongside a naturopathic doctor and a chef began and later launched in 2018. As the first brand to carbonate collagen, Mroue fulfilled both her need and desire for a delicious grab-and-go collagen beverage designed to unleash health and beauty from the inside out every day. Prior to SkinTē, Mroue served as President of the Sara Blakely Foundation and helped drive ecosystem strategy for Spanx, the beloved brand that revolutionized shapewear. Her commitment to the Foundation remains and Mroue currently sits on the Board. In 2014, Mroue founded BHM Consulting to partner with organizations poised on the edge of business and social transformation. Mroue also spent a decade at Nike Inc., working in various roles such as IT, Supply Chain and Strategy which gave her broad experience and ignited her passion for building a purpose driven brand. With Lebanese American roots, Mroue considers herself a global citizen and is a big believer in the empowerment of women as embodied by her TEDx Portland talk in 2012 about the power of the Girl Effect. Bassima is often invited to speak about female empowerment, the entrepreneurial journey, beauty and leading with purpose.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Bassima! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?
I have two amazing co-founders, a doctor and a chef, and based on our skill sets, I just naturally fell into the CEO role. I didn’t seek it out. But my love and passion for the SkinTē brand and our higher purpose are what attracted me most to this role! This brand is about unleashing health and beauty from the inside out, every day. We care about how people feel on the inside, so they can show up at their best. Our ingredients reflect this. What I love most about the CEO role for a startup is that I get to lead all aspects of the business at an intimate level and experience how it all comes together. I get to see the progress happening at a rate I couldn’t see in a larger corporate environment — it’s an exciting roller coaster ride and when your heart is in it, there is nothing like it.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what a CEO does that is different from the responsibilities of the other executives?
Inspire, make decisions with speed and conviction regardless of risk, and be the team’s emotional rock.
What were your biggest struggles throughout your professional life and how did you overcome them?
My biggest struggle in the corporate world was not being able to be as creative and entrepreneurial as I’d like — this has now been solved with SkinTē!!
What are the biggest challenges faced by women CEOs that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being underestimated. I can’t tell you the number of times in the early days of fundraising that I heard “the beverage industry is a monster.” What were we supposed to do with that? Quit? Not a chance. I was thinking, “If three men instead of three women started SkinTē, would they get this comment over and over?” It was incredibly rewarding to later see amazing investors come in and support us.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being a CEO?
I love pulling together a team of super smart people that align with a shared vision and see how it comes beautifully together, like an orchestra.
What are the downsides of being a CEO?
You really must get comfortable with the idea that all issues (negative) lead back to you and you need to own it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Fundraising was an emotional roller coaster for me. Asking for money was very foreign to me, and I struggled with it on so many levels. Early on, I was finding it challenging to close. I have an amazing life coach who has helped me over the years, and he made me do this exercise where I had to convincingly “ask for a strawberry.” I really struggled with this simple exercise! It helped me realize that the way I was asking for things, even though I was passionate, was masked in insecurity that others could perceive. It was all about my body language, and my own insecurities and fear of asking for money. Once I worked through the fear, I was able to raise the rest of the money (and more!) in record time. This was the most eye-opening experience for me, and it has really helped me in my role as CEO.
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?
I make mistakes every day and without them, I’d never grow. The funniest mistake was thinking we could launch way faster than we did. Ignorance is bliss. I’m so glad we thought that because we did all the things we needed to do to accelerate and learn, but it still took us twice as long to launch as we anticipated! It’s so funny to see our prior timelines. Learning that everything takes longer than you think is my biggest lesson!
Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I had no idea how much time and patience fundraising would take, and the emotional toll it would take. Now that I’ve been through a couple rounds of fundraising, I get it and I’m learning to embrace the process and experience, including meeting so many interesting people!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be a CEO, what specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful CEO and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be a CEO?
You need to have vision, a relentless drive, be comfortable making mistakes over and over, embrace ambiguity (and maybe be just a little crazy!). If you are uncomfortable with risk, I would suggest you run from this role!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Embrace your feminine qualities — collaboration, intuition, creativity — and foster a culture of abundance and growth.
Who has inspired or inspires you to be a great leader?
I am most inspired by people that have overcome challenges in life against all odds! People who get back up no matter how many times they get knocked down. It gives me goosebumps just saying it. That inspires me to no end — the power we have inside of us.
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 have a huge list and it’s so difficult to call out just one person, but I need to call out both my Mom and Dad. They are the most amazing humans in the world to me. They both grew up in Lebanon, in a war-torn country, with very humble beginnings and no education. They taught themselves everything from the ground up, they created a great life for four kids and gave them opportunities they never had. Even though my Mom was married at 14, she and my father wanted a different life for their children. They taught me patience, believing in myself and more than anything, compassion. I’m still working on patience…
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
There is so much to do — I have not scratched the surface and never will.
I have had the privilege to work for Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and an amazing philanthropist who focuses on elevating women. I am on the board of the Sara Blakely Foundation, and through that mission, I am able to contribute in a small way.
With SkinTē, our mission is to unleash health and beauty from the inside out, every day. We handpicked ingredients that serve that mission. For example, Hawthorn Berry was an herb used in ancient times to heal a broken heart… it’s used today for grief. It’s like a “hug from the inside out.” We have so many consumers tell us they feel calm and happy. People tell us that even the colorful stripes of our can make them feel good. We believe it all starts on the inside, and that self-care and self-love are what allows each person to then contribute to their fullest potential.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Self-care is more important than ever — this has saved me. No matter how busy or stressful things get, when I go back to the basics and drink more water, sleep eight hours and exercise, it helps me be more productive, be calmer and more clear-headed. I had 12 hours of travel for a trip to NYC in two days for a panel last week. I had so much to do when I got back to LA, I was behind on emails and meetings, but the first thing I did was book a massage and take a walk.
- Postpone the stress — there is always something to worry about. Don’t give it all equal weight and if you can postpone worrying about it, DO IT! There are so many priorities and by the time you get around to what you were worried about, it may not be as big of an issue. Learning that I can emotionally postpone “the worry” has been a secret weapon. To start this company, my partners and I self-funded for a while and I dipped heavily into my 401K. I was really concerned about my personal financial situation, but I would set a date, maybe six months out at a time when I could still react and decide to worry then. I was more worried about getting SkinTē off the ground so that took precedent. By the time six months went by, solutions started popping up for my personal financial situation.
- The people that support you early on may not be with you until the very end. This is the most emotional and hardest lesson I had to learn. You love the people that believed in you early on and helped you, but the company will change at such a rapid pace, and the skills need to evolve.
- Passion trumps experience… up to a point. I am a huge believer that you need to hire the most passionate people, and I always hire the ones with the best attitudes that can grow and develop. As a startup though, you sometimes really need the hard skills because there isn’t much time for a big learning curve. You need the person that can come in and make it happen based on experience, because you are at a vulnerable stage with limited cash flow. This has taught me a lot as I am a huge believer in coaching, but as a CEO of a startup, you don’t always have the luxury of time.
- Raising money will feel like a full-time job on top of your job. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with fundraising, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I grew so much, it really forced me to articulate the vision and value proposition clearly. And I had to really learn how to juggle the fundraising while launching the business.
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.
EMPATHY. If we could just live in each other’s shoes for a day, how quickly could we break down barriers?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” by Albert Einstein. This quote has pushed me into action and woken me up over and over again when I have been stuck in a rut, and it gives me courage and strength to do things differently and try new things no matter how scary. Every time I have changed jobs, or moved to a different city, broken out of an unhealthy relationship, this quote has been on my mind guiding me to the next phase.
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 if we tag them
It is my dream to meet Oprah. She has had the most profound influence on me. She represents INSPIRATION in every possible way.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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