I had the pleasure of interviewing Carinne Chambers-Saini, co-founder and CEO of Diva International Inc., maker of the DivaCup. Over the last 15 plus years, Carinne,along with her mother Francine have completely disrupted the menstrual hygiene industry by providing the most eco-friendly, clean and comfortable way to address menstrual care today. Her journey of a lifetime began in 2001 and now in 2018, along with her 30-plus member team, Carinne is leading the company to triple digit growth over the last three years, outselling established brands and positioning Diva International Inc. as a company to follow.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
My mother Francine and I created the DivaCup (Diva) immediately after I graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University’s BBA program in Waterloo, Ontario, in 2001. It has been such a blessing to be able to work with my mom. I couldn’t have asked for a more incredible, passionate and dedicated co-founder.
We have been dedicated to our mission (to modernize the menstrual cup and make it accessible for as many people as possible) now for the last 17 years! Prior to starting Diva, my mom was promoting and distributing the menstrual cup concept for almost 10 years. I have been a user and involved with menstrual cups since I was 14 years old, and it is something I have lived and breathed for so long I can’t imagine a time when it wasn’t part of my life. Although the business started very modestly on the corner of our dining room table, the DivaCup is now known and sold around the world, and has disrupted the traditional menstrual hygiene category in a big way.
During my education, I was fortunate to have internships at IBM and Microsoft, which provided me valuable skills in business that really helped as we launched our business. The most important ingredient we had was our confidence in our product — we knew that a modernized, comfortable, easy-to-use menstrual cup could literally be life-changing for so many people globally. That was what kept us committed and focused for so many years, especially when we struggled to find manufacturers, distributors, and/or retailers who would work with us, simply because they didn’t understand the product or the need for innovation in menstrual hygiene.
Although my mom Francine is now retired from the day-to-day at Diva, we had many years of experiences together which have truly shaped who I have become today. In a way, I’m thankful that I was somewhat naive in business when we first started out, as we didn’t really understand the scale of the journey we were embarking on. We have faced so many challenges that probably would have created too much fear for us to even get started.
Despite the challenges, I absolutely love what I do, and what we have created and inspired. This is only the beginning, and I have an unwavering strength and confidence in myself now from all we have been through. This is how I inspire my team, and it has created a whole new realm of opportunities and ways to impact the world positively!
What is your definition of success?
A friend recently asked me how it feels to be successful. This was surprising to me as I hadn’t really thought about it. I don’t “feel” any different than before. To me, success isn’t defined by achieving a certain number of sales, or buying a house or car, or winning awards. I used to think that success was defined by how others viewed me, and whether they perceived me or my business as successful. But it’s not that either!
Recently I have done a lot of soul-searching, and have come to the realization that success for me, is being happy and healthy, loving myself, and serving and loving others. It’s also important for me to be doing something that I love and helps others. That is what fuels me and gets me primed for success every day. In that state, even the supposed failures and challenges are all part of the success!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we first started the business, I was still young in my career, and I did not really have all the skills or knowledge to be an entrepreneur. This was both a good and bad thing. Luckily both my mom and dad had entrepreneurial experience in small business. We didn’t have much when we first started out, but we had passion and determination that the DivaCup and menstrual cup concept would change the world!
Due to our lack of experience, I was under the impression that it would be easy to get into the mass market. I found the top trade show for the mass market, and convinced my mom that we should spend all our resources attending this trade show in San Diego called the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). At that point we had only exhibited at local consumer-based events and shows, so we were not really prepared for something at this level.
We did our best, but at that time we didn’t have any mentors, so we were not equipped when we arrived. We literally showed up to an almost-empty 10×10 square of concrete with two tiny roll-up banners and our beloved DivaCups. We managed to get a beautiful corner booth at the entrance to the hall, so we were ready to make a lasting impression in our matching hot pink suede jackets! To our complete dismay, we were shocked to find that carpets, lights, table and such were not provided. At that time, we didn’t realize you actually had to rent all of these things. Not to mention, we were surrounded by the biggest booths we had ever seen that were two storeys with massive signs and board rooms.
We had to think fast and with very little money left we took a taxi to Target so that we could outfit our booth and save the day. We ended up purchasing a carpet, a floor lamp, a folding black metal table with matching chairs, and a shelf. It wasn’t exactly what I envisioned for our first big launch into the US mass market, but we would have to make do.
In the end, we did make an impression. Our DivaCup was the buzz of the whole show and we talked with passion and confidence to every single person we could. We didn’t actually make any sales that day, but we learned a ton and it was an amazing start at getting our feet wet for this whole new world. We finally won our first national chain drug account eleven years later!
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
There are so many, it’s actually hard to remember them all! Although I like to remember them as learning opportunities rather than failures. Each learning opportunity has ultimately made it possible to build and scale the business.
In the early days of Diva, we were so frustrated because we had a difficult time finding anyone that would be willing to work with us to make the product. In our research, we decided the product should be made of one hundred percent healthcare grade silicone, because silicone is durable and very compatible with the chemistry of the human body. We also wanted the cup to be made in Canada. On numerous occasions, the people we were talking to weren’t interested in working with us or helping us create the product we had envisioned. Eventually, we did find someone to manufacture the cup, and it is definitely a critical part of our story. I tell the whole story in my book coming out next year.
Finding success with retailers was also a major challenge, since the menstrual hygiene category honestly hadn’t seen any real change or innovation in decades. Consumers and retailers were so entrenched in the mindset of using disposable products that getting people to think differently ended up being a much bigger challenge than we realized. However, encountering that resistance made us even more committed as we realized how much people’s attitudes toward menstruation were affected by stigma.
Getting through to retailers was also challenging as many of the decision-makers were older men who wouldn’t consider a new product. It was challenging to ask them to think seriously about periods, which has been a very taboo topic in our culture for pretty much all of modern history. We weren’t just fighting to bring a new product to market; we were also fighting against the period stigma that would lead many retailers to easily dismiss us.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are very proud of the company we have built, and with the market now having hundreds of competitors, it’s a valid question. I think what really makes us stand out is the high standards that we hold our company to. Not only do these standards reflect in the quality and care in the manufacturing of our product, but in all areas of our business. Our amazing team strives for excellence in all aspects of the business, and no matter what we achieve, we always challenge ourselves to push even further. We are really proud of our most recent achievement of becoming certified as a B Corporation.
What I love about our company is that the whole team really cares about our customers. The team goes above and beyond to solve problems and help our customers have an amazing period experience.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We’re working on some really incredible projects, but one area of focus right now is expanding our Diva Cares program, which is our corporate social responsibility program. We work with a number of non-profit organizations, such as PERIOD: The Menstrual Movement, to provide DivaCups to people in communities of need. Period poverty (when people struggle to afford menstrual products every month and often resort to unsafe or unsanitary methods of caring for their periods) is an issue that is, fortunately, receiving a lot more attention than it used to. My mom and I started making the DivaCup because we wanted every person who menstruates to have confidence and freedom when they have their periods. It’s extremely important to us that we work to find ways that ensure everyonecan enjoy that freedom, regardless of their financial situation.
Is your company working to be more sustainable? If so, how?
As I mentioned, one of the achievements we’re most proud of right now is becoming a certified B Corporation (B Corp). B Corp is a third-party organization that assesses the overall sustainability and social responsibility of an organization, and gives that organization a rating. What’s wonderful about B Corp is that once you receive the certification, that’s just the beginning; you’re asked to continue finding ways of having a positive impact on the environment and society, to keep improving your score. This continues to challenge us to be creative about how we can have a positive impact. It was important for us to pursue B Corp because it gives us the platform to be transparent with our audience and employees, so that we have even more accountability to keep being the best we can be.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I think one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is not empowering your team to do the job they were hired to do and trying to do everything themselves. As an entrepreneur, both my mom and I were used to being involved and usually doing everything. Stepping back and letting others do the work, was a huge transition for us. It can be a real challenge to let go. Once we started to do this, the company started growing in leaps and bounds. You are only one person and can only do so much. In the end, trying to do everything yourself actually holds the company back, and finding the right people that you can trust is key. Today we have an absolutely incredible team and together we are making magic happen! We are a family at Diva and we work hard to provide a positive and meaningful work experience for all. Everyone wants to be part of something they are proud of, and I definitely feel like we have that at Diva!
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?
There have been many people along the way that have been there at the right time to provide the right support. The person to whom I am forever grateful is my dad, John. From the beginning, he always supported my mom and her “crazy ideas”! When we decided as a family to start Diva, he was full on into his own entrepreneurial venture in the tech space. He totally supported us and worked many nights and weekends helping us with all the technical support and set-up we needed to make our business run. Every time our server crashed or we faced tech issues, he was right there no matter what he had going on in his business. Even now in retirement, he is fully committed and jumps in whenever there are challenges. He is a true Diva, and we would not be where we are without his support and amazing, caring nature.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Part of our intention with DivaCares has been to use our influence and platform for good, and to make our product available to as many people as possible. I also believe that the increased popularity of the DivaCup has had an important impact on stigmas and taboos surrounding periods. Our product truly challenged the status quo in the menstrual hygiene category, and it’s been incredible to see how many conversations about periods have started with “I have to tell you about this product that’s changed my life!” or “Have you heard about the DivaCup?”. The most amazing success story is that bringing goodness to the world is at our core, and we can now have an even greater impact as we are only just beginning!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
- Be patient, things take way longer than you expect.If we would have given up because of the challenges we had, that would have been such a loss. Persistence and determination is so important and if you know in your gut you are on the right path, it’s worth the wait!
- You can’t make everyone happy all the time. I have lost a lot of sleep over various situations involving the business. Often the difficult decisions are what make us better. They result in growth on so many levels. It’s impossible to please everyone at all times, so always do what’s best for the organization, its mission and values.
- Don’t lose sight of your mission and core values. Success in business doesn’t come when you’re focused on making money. The monetary rewards may come, but contribution and staying true to your values makes everything align.
- Your personal health is #1. It was easy to be so focused on our mission, that I created a lot of unhealthy working and eating habits which ultimately caught up to me. I was finally forced to wake up when my body wouldn’t take it any longer. I have now embraced a positive balance because it’s important to me to put my health as a top priority. In the beginning, I actually felt guilty for doing that, but I quickly realized that I can’t be any good to anyone if I’m not in my peak state. It is definitely a work in progress, but I have adopted many new healthy habits. This is the best I’ve felt in years, and I’m so excited to continue on this journey and inspire and empower others to do the same.
- Find a mentor and surround yourself with people you admire. Sometimes that means letting go of people who are not on your same path, and this has been a difficult lesson for me. I have learned so much from the positive and happy people that I have in my life today. Now that I have set this expectation, the most incredible people have entered and inspired me to be the best version of myself. Modelling others not just in business, but all areas of life has been such a gift and it has brought an incredible amount of satisfaction and happiness in my life. As a result, my cup is full and I can give so much more to serve others.
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.
We have already inspired a movement around menstrual advocacy and we’re starting so many conversations that are slowly breaking the taboos around menstruation. Our newest campaign, “The Inner Revolution™” is all about celebrating the power we all have within each of us and crushing the period taboos for good. I like to think big, though, and believe this movement can and will evolve into much more.
I have spent a lot of time this year connecting with people from all over the world and hearing their stories. The commonality I have found in so many people is that we are all carrying pain and fear from the past that has been holding us back from our true potential. What if the movement of the Inner Revolution is about releasing everything that is holding you back, and replacing it with love, growth and contribution? What kind of impact could this bring to the world?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Will Smith do an interview at the EY Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, California. I have always admired him, and seeing him in this candid conversation, I was really inspired. He had just lost his father the week before and didn’t think he was going to be able to make it to the event. The way he talked about the whole experience with such grace, strength and purpose really left an impact on me.
Although I am touched by many things Will has said over the years, one of my favourite quotes from him is: “The first step, before anybody else in the world believes it, is you have to believe it.”
This quote really resonates with me since we faced so much resistance on our journey. If my mom and I didn’t believe in how much the DivaCup would change the world, we would have been very discouraged and probably would have given up. We were committed to our belief that it really didn’t matter what challenges we faced. We always found a way.
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.
I have been watching and admiring Jessica Alba for many years, especially since she launched her company, The Honest Company. I always loved her as an actress, but I am so impressed with the mission of her business and what she has built. I can also relate to her being a mother as I am also a working mother. It’s not always easy to find balance in the ebb and flow of the craziness. I really admire how she has built this company, all while being an amazing mother, healthy and fabulous!