Running a successful business involves mindfulness. Allow time for quiet, uninterrupted thought and use this time to think broadly. I have a special teal velvet “thinking chair.” Sometimes I make lists. Often I’m envisioning what I want to create.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cara O. Frank.
Cara Frank, L.OM., is an acupuncturist, herbalist, businesswoman, and author. She was raised in a health food store in Brooklyn, NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For nearly 40 years, Cara has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20, she enrolled in acupuncture school. In 1998 she went to China to study, where she fell deeply in love with East Asian Herbs. Since then, she has devoted her life to studying and teaching the topic.
Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia, where she maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of a warm and lively office. She is the president of China Herb Company and has recently launched China Herb Seminars. Cara is the author of TCM Case Studies: Eye Ear Nose and Throat Disorders.
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?
Thanks so much for inviting me here! My background was far from traditional. My parents were Beatniks in the East Village in the ’50s. I am named after my father’s Reichian therapist. My mother was macrobiotic in the ’50s, and she opened the 2nd health-food store on the ground floor of our Brooklyn brownstone. Later, it evolved into a natural foods restaurant, and as a teenager, I worked for her, so cooking and food were what I knew. Our house was filled with an eclectic stream of students, artists, draft resisters- everyone was welcome. Everyone was fed. It was warm, love-filled chaos!
When I was 17, I became ill with colitis. This was in 1977, and acupuncture was new to the United States. In fact, it wasn’t even legal to practice- there were no laws in New York State at the time. My stepmother took me to see a man who treated me with acupuncture, and I was literally cured with one treatment. Choosing my career was fully in alignment with my upbringing. I never had to shift my values. I was born for this work.
When I graduated High School, I moved to the Boston Area and began cooking in fancy restaurants, but I was bored. I saw a small article in a local paper, and on an impulse, I applied. This was in 1980. I joke that this was the Mesozoic era of Acupuncture. Disposable needles hadn’t been manufactured yet. There were virtually no books in English. But I knew I had found my path.
In 1988 I was investigated for practicing medicine without a license. I was living in New York, and the laws to practice weren’t enacted. So lots of us were doing it anyway. But I kind of took it for the team.
I closed up shop and moved to the Catskills. And then a friend gifted me money. So I decided to study Herbal Medicine in China. I chose a program at a hospital in Beijing and really fell head-first in love with herbal medicine.
When I returned, I moved to Philadelphia. I began to build an herbal pharmacy. A friend who owned an herb company asked if we could fill custom formulas for them. And another colleague asked if we could fill her formulas. And so, I founded China Herb Company, which to this day, more than 30 years later, is my other business.
A couple of years later, people began to ask me to teach- and so, since I’m in the habit of saying yes, I created a 300-hour herbal program. Later, as the field became more regulated, I created 660 hour nationally accredited programs at two acupuncture schools and student clinics.
A friend working for a Chinese publishing house asked me to edit and translate a textbook. I spent 4 years on that project!
My practice was always busy- too busy for one person. I began thinking about the community acupuncture movement. I wanted acupuncture to be accessible to everyone. I began to envision a hybrid practice with private and community acupuncture. Literally on a whim- I found a space in a rapidly growing part of my neighborhood and signed a lease. With no team, no plan, no budget. Let’s just say I lost a lot of sleep. Now, we have about 750 patient visits monthly, and I have a team of 5 other practitioners.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The pandemic proved to be a crystallizing experience for me and the practice. In the blink of an eye, I went from owning a business to leading a business. It’s different, and the latter is value-driven and heart-centered.
Beginning in late 2019, I was watching what was happening in Wuhan very carefully. The global acupuncture community began to share the successes of Chinese doctors using herbs with Western Medicine within hospitals. Because of their prior experience treating SARS, China had already amassed a great deal of clinical data showing improved outcomes with Covid patients. In fact, the treatment of epidemics has been recorded and studied for millennia. I gathered all the available information and, on Feb 5th of 2020, presented a lecture on Facebook live, sharing this. It wasn’t my work- I just wanted everyone to have all the tools possible so we could help.
In PA, we are considered an essential service, so we never had to close the practice. But we did close for a month in March of 2020. I had a lot to put in place: air filters, Plexiglas shields, new flooring, disinfectant procedures, and an exposure event process. We immediately pivoted to telehealth appointments. In the beginning, the focus was anxiety management and immune support. But it quickly evolved into the usual health concerns: IBS, fertility, headaches. Because herbs are our superpower, we have a powerful tool with which to help people from afar. Now- telehealth is a stand-alone service we offer.
My primary concern was the safety of my staff. We needed to stay healthy. I knew that if I prioritized my team, then the patients would be safe. I am forever grateful for their adaptability. We became a machine of safety rules to stay strong for the community. We navigated this- as a team. I included them in every single hard decision, and I really listened to their concerns. Because of this, our patients felt safe coming to the office. We were also treating active Covis via telehealth with the sole focus on keeping them out of the hospital. Now, of course, we are treating long Covid.
Then, in May-June, the Black Lives Matter riots happened, and Philly was gutted. It was traumatic for all of us. Normally, we offer free acupuncture treatments in a community crisis, but the pandemic precluded this option. How could we help? I decided I wanted to give. But to who? Black Lives Matter? Community Bail Fund. Nope. None of that felt right. I need to stay rooted in our values: health. I wanted to address disparities in Black and BIPOC disparities in Maternal wellness and health. So I donated 100% of the proceeds of our online vitamin sales for wellness and homebirth funds. This year, I was reading about period poverty. I became so upset about this. I decided to repeat my fundraiser. See this blog. I raised 250 dollars. Here’s a picture of me with a wall of pads and tampons. Honestly- it’s not a fundraiser, per se- I’m just donating the money.
Many practitioners became paralyzed with anxiety and stopped practicing. They studied herbology yet didn’t have the confidence to utilize this skill with the patients. I identified an opportunity to give them practical skills and also teach telehealth literacy. An accurate diagnosis from afar means you rely more on visual and verbal cues. So- China Herb Seminars was born!
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?
Oh geez- I don’t know any mistake that feels funny at the time. I’d say I have been the queen of making expensive mistakes. In the past, I was the queen of doing things the hard way. But I have a history of what I call cart before the horse: Jumping in without a real game plan. I mean- who on earth opens an office with no plan, budget, or team? I’m way more strategic now.
None of us can 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?
You know, I’d like to give a shout-out to Goldman-Sachs 10,000 small business program. Very few of us are born businesspeople. I call myself an accidental businesswoman. But I also needed to get my big girl pants on and hone my business chops. The guidance I received from them helped me improve as the owner of 3 businesses. Still, it helped me develop the culture I wanted to create for the women who work with me and the patients we care for. Plus, it connected me with so many local, national and global resources.
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?
Having a growth mindset involves knowing where to find support and resources: banking, grants, mentorship, marketing research. I have learned that there is so much support for women in business, locally and nationally. However, getting from bootstrapping to a business is not for the faint of heart. I feel that the culture of business, in general, is male-dominated: often rooted in competition. And there’s the reality that the lion’s share of childrearing still falls on women.
Unconscious gender bias, as well as race bias, also can play a role. But, for me, imposter syndrome has been my biggest struggle.
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?
- Do your banking with a smaller bank: a local bank that is interested in supporting the community.
- Reach out to your city and learn what grants, tax breaks, and incentives you can take advantage of.
- Are there small business incubators in your community? Ask for help. You’d be amazed by how people want you to succeed.
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 should become founders because of all the superpowers that make us born to lead: Being logical, yet intuitive, Broad, yet granular, strategic, yet nurturing. I find women collaborate more easily than men. In addition, I think that women are suited to build value-driven businesses that support them and improve the community for all.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Hmm- the myth that any of us does it alone. Six Fishes is great because my team is great.
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?
No- not everyone is cut out for the world of business. I see this a lot in my field: acupuncture. I think most practitioners don’t love running a business. Or they aren’t good at it. But, they love focusing on their craft: Chinese Medicine. Unfortunately, there are some brutal statistics of graduates who don’t succeed. But, the simple fact is, everyone can learn the rudiments of running an efficient small business.
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?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Put your health first: You cannot and will not succeed if you are running on empty. Nurture yourself, body-mind, and spirit.
- Lean into your superpowers and get help on the rest. We’re not supposed to be good at everything. Farm out admin or copywriting or whatever you don’t enjoy. Even if you can’t afford help yet, maybe explore bartering. Or check out resources like Fivrr or Hire My Mom for virtual help.
- Running a successful business involves mindfulness. Allow time for quiet, uninterrupted thought and use this time to think broadly. I have a special teal velvet “thinking chair.” Sometimes I make lists. Often I’m envisioning what I want to create.
- This leads me to: Name your goals: if you can say it, you can create it. And while you’re at it- be aspirational. Let yourself think so big that it takes you to the edge of your comfort zone. Then I like to make a mind map to break down the steps towards that goal. Plus- I make passwords out of positive affirmations.
- Have a mission statement: Honestly- it was one of the hardest things I ever had to write. I felt like I need therapy. But the point is to say, and own, what your doing, makes it happen.
- Be committed to lifelong learning. Stay curious.
OK- I snuck in an extra.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I honestly try to improve people’s health- body, mind, and spirit- by generously sharing knowledge with the community and practitioners to elevate them.
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 would like every hospital in the US to employ acupuncturists and treat patients using acupuncture and herbal medicine. The Cleveland Clinic actually created this!
One line of my mission statement is that “Chinese Medicine is a practical tool.” I mean it. It’s a safe and effective treatment for so many diseases. What could be better than a drug-free modality that is safe for nearly everyone?
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.
You know, the first woman I thought of was Harriet Tubman. Then Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now you know my heroes. But, moving to the present: I would love to share a meal with Dolly Parton. She’s so talented and entrepreneurial and generous. And she’s funny as hell. She’s a great role model.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
You’re welcome! This was a lot of fun!