Be Yourself. Don’t try to be what someone or society expects you to be. If I had done what was probably expected of me, I would have stayed in my job to provide a safe and secure future for my kids. I wouldn’t have traveled down this entrepreneurial path of uncertainty. I would have kept my idea in my pocket; continued to make homemade baby food because that is what my role was supposed to be at that moment, and I wouldn’t have been very happy.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman. As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Beth Fynbo.
Beth Fynbo is the President and Founder of Busy Baby. The daughter of an entrepreneur, Beth always knew she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps. After spending time in the Army and the corporate world, she became a mom and invented a problem solving baby product for parents. In four years, she turned Busy Baby into a multi-million-dollar revenue company and expanded the product line to six products.
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 childhood “backstory”?
I was the daughter of an entrepreneur; my dad had a welding shop my entire life. I never learned to weld, but I learned a lot from my dad. I knew that someday I wanted to have my own business too, but I also knew that it had to be the right business. Throughout my life, my dad told me many times that you need to make sure that you love what you do when you have your own business. There will be many ups and downs and if you don’t love what you do, you won’t be successful. Since I didn’t have a clue what I loved to do when I finished high school, I joined the Army. I spent time stateside in Colorado and California and overseas in fun places like Italy, Bosnia, Kosovo, Germany, Kuwait and Iraq.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
After ten years doing a variety of work all over the world, I came home to Minnesota, got a Business Management degree and a corporate job. Then, at age 40, my whole life changed. I became a mom, which turned out to be a lot harder than anything I ever did in the military! Shortly after my son was born, I discovered a problem that all new parents face; and to my surprise, there wasn’t a good solution. So, I invented one. The problem was babies dropping and throwing everything around them which is distracting and unsanitary. Even worse is the demanding screams you deal with everytime they want you to pick up what they just threw! So I invented a placemat that suctions to tables and highchairs. The beautiful part of my invention is that there is a tether system that allows you to attach baby’s favorite toys to the mat so they always stay within arms’ reach. I initially made a version of the mat for myself and one of my best friends, but never really planned on going any further with it until she had forgotten to bring it to a restaurant one night. She said, “I never realized how handy that mat thing is until I didn’t have it. You need to make that thing for real!” It’s almost four years later and somehow I’ve managed to grow a multi-million-dollar revenue company and expanded the product line to six awesome products that make life with a busy baby a little easier.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Probably the most noteworthy part of my story is that I got to appear on national television and pitch Busy Baby to the famous investors on Shark Tank! I didn’t try out or apply online like most people — I accidentally emailed a producer on the show. I had gotten his email address a year earlier when the show was looking for military veterans to feature but was nowhere near ready to apply at that time so I simply saved the email address in my contact list. Once I launched my product, I emailed every single person I could to share the news. To my surprise a Shark Tank producer responded and two years later I was standing in front of the Sharks.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Resourcefulness. I had zero experience in product development, manufacturing a baby product, ecommerce sales, or running a business. I was clueless when I started, but I learned how to be incredibly resourceful when I was in the military. That trait helped me research all of the things I needed to learn and find the right people to help me on my journey.
- Humble Inquisitiveness. I knew I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t afraid to admit it and ask anyone who would talk to me questions that would help me learn. I reached out to hundreds of mentors toI let them know what I was doing and admitted that I needed help and hoped to learn from them.
- Adaptive. Another lesson that I learned from the military was the ability to adapt and overcome obstacles. No matter how hard you train or prepare for a situation, things will seldom go as planned. For me, it was using satellite broadcast equipment in the desert. We trained with our portable system in Egypt and everything went well. When I got to Iraq and encountered dust storms worse than any blizzard I’ve ever been in, the dust cases didn’t stand up and the training didn’t matter. My equipment stopped working, but fortunately, one of the engine mechanics had some canned air that I used to clean everything and there was a good supply of trash bags to keep everything protected going forward. So far, I would say that very little has gone as planned or expected in this business, but I have always managed to adapt and overcome to get even better results.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Women have ALWAYS been strong, but we’ve just never been so empowered to stand in our strength. We’ve always been strong behind the scenes. Now we are stepping into our strength and it is uncomfortable — just as I’m sure other major changes in society were uncomfortable at first. Not only is it uncomfortable for the opposite sex, but it’s hard for many women who want to show their true strength, but don’t want to upset others.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
This is a tough one for me to answer because I have ALWAYS been strong and up front about it. My dad would NEVER let me stand in the shadows or be any different than the boys. He expected me to do and be and perform at my best always. I grew up feeling empowered to do what needed to be done at all times. I’m sure that I made several people uncomfortable throughout the years because of this and sadly, I think it was mainly women. Times are changing though. I was once called aggressive, brash or too bold. Now people applaud my drive and determination.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Own it! Be exactly who you are. When I can sense that people are uneasy, I’ll often address the elephant in the room and admit that I know I am ‘a lot’. I will then carry on to instill confidence that I know what I’m talking about and I know what needs to be done to achieve a goal or success. I’ll also admit when I don’t have all the answers and need help. I think that displaying this confidence as well as vulnerability lets people know that they can trust me to be honest and strong and also feel that I am indeed human just as much as they are.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Societal changes take time. We need to continue to be strong and celebrate each other’s strength. We also need to celebrate men when they display vulnerability. I think there is a lot of pressure on men to be strong 100% of the time and that expectation is dated.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
I was seeking investment at one point early in my business. I had gotten pretty far on my own, but had also just gotten the news that I was pregnant with twins and I knew I was going to need to get help in the business so I could give my children more of me. A couple of gentlemen in the local area expressed interest in helping me and taking my business to the next level. I knew I wanted their help, but the way they treated me just felt uncomfortable. They were very condescending and told me I would never be able to grow my business to a million dollars in revenue without them. At the time, I was pregnant and managing all the hormones and fears that come with growing a human so I almost believed them. I can’t say for certain, but I don’t think they would have said the things they said to me if I had been a man. That pregnancy ended with one healthy little boy and no investors — I turned the deal down at the last minute.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think women still need to work a lot harder to instill trust and gain confidence. When two people walk into a board room, a man in a professional business suit and a woman confidently dressed in an attractive outfit, most people will first assume it is the man who is the leader and the woman is the assistant. I catch myself with this kind of assumption sometimes and quickly remember that the position doesn’t matter, the gender doesn’t matter. We can all be strong in whatever position we are in. Gender role assumptions are just one more big societal change that is going to take time.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
No, because I’m a big believer in scheduling, boundaries, and sleep. I’m also VERY fortunate to have an incredibly supportive partner. For the most part I have always held 4–7 pm as sacred family time. If there is work to finish after the kids go to bed, I will do that, but most of the time I go to bed when they do. I often wake up early, before the kids, to get important work done. I schedule meetings when they are at school or daycare as often as I can and enlist the help of their dad to help me when important Busy Baby things come up. Early on I accepted that my business might not grow as fast as others because I set boundaries and didn’t work 24/7. I was able to achieve work life balance and guess what? The business still grew incredibly fast.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
Scheduling and setting boundaries is key.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe that in business, confidence is beauty. As a human, there are things I do to make myself feel better about the way I look, but none of it has anything to do with business. I place all of my energy on comfort and health!
How is this similar or different for men?
Men have more time to sleep in or do other activities when they don’t need to blow dry their hair and put makeup on!
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 Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be Yourself. Don’t try to be what someone or society expects you to be. If I had done what was probably expected of me, I would have stayed in my job to provide a safe and secure future for my kids. I wouldn’t have traveled down this entrepreneurial path of uncertainty. I would have kept my idea in my pocket; continued to make homemade baby food because that is what my role was supposed to be at that moment, andI wouldn’t have been very happy.
- Be Resourceful. No one actually expects anyone to know everything, be an expert, or always know what to do in every situation. There are resources everywhere to help with our ventures, learn something new, and to support us when we feel down. Whether it’s finding funding to start a business, learning a new skill to level-up in a career, or getting mental health help — there are resources everywhere and no one should hesitate to use them. Anyone who has found success has had help. I used a dozen resources to learn how to start my business from local resources to help me fund my business to mental health resources to overcome some trauma from my time in the military. There is NO SHAME in using resources. Reaching out for help is not an indication of weakness, but usually results in more strength.
- Trust your gut! I once read the cliff notes of a study that proved intuition is real and that we should follow it. Our brains are always working and absorbing everything around us, whether we are aware of it or not. It logs that information and the feelings associated with it. Whenever we have a ‘gut feeling’ about something, it’s usually because of a previous experience and it uses your body to clue you in on it. There are many times in my life when I felt something was wrong in my gut, but decided to make choices based on logic instead. Those choices were often not the best. Since reading the study, I’ve trusted my gut and have had nothing short of great results.
- Find a Tribe. I love the quote, “You are who you are by virtue of the company you keep,’ because it’s so true! When you surround yourself with other strong, supportive women, you become a stronger and more supportive woman! I have a tribe of other mom-entrepreneurs who I have come to love as best friends or sisters. They are strong, smart, supportive, and will always have my back. I also have theirs. There is a special power that comes from a group of women who treat each other this way.
- Love and be Kind. When I think of powerful people, the first ones that come to mind were powerful because people were scared of them. In our own recent history, we had a leader who publicly shamed people because they were different. A powerful, strong woman (or man) should be kind and give love. This is the kind of energy the world needs and if more powerful, strong women continue to step up and give it, the world will become a much better place!
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.
Oprah! She has been such an inspiration to me since I was a little girl. She is the best example of a person who has always stood strong in who she is, who has found ways to adapt and overcome, and who has also remained humble, honest and vulnerable.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.