Focus on the customer, not the industry. When I left professional services, I thought I’d have to choose a new industry. What I’ve learned is that I can always focus on the end consumer, whether in beauty, retail or health services, and find the common ground. As a marketer, the product matters, but the way you communicate with the end consumer is the same. Marketing tools and channels are all about conveying brand values and product differentiation. Once you know what your customer cares about, the task of marketing becomes much easier.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steph So. Steph is Extend Fertility’s Chief Marketing Officer. Prior to joining Extend Fertility, Steph was the CMO at Cover FX, a global color cosmetics brand. Her career has spanned across fashion and beauty with a focus on building strong digital brands with integrated marketing and storytelling. She built that experience across large and small brands with roles at Ralph Lauren, Shopbop and Estee Lauder. Steph began her career in professional services, serving as an Analyst at Goldman Sachs and a Consultant at Bain & Company. She graduated with honors from Stanford University and received her MBA from Harvard Business School. She resides in Manhattan with her husband and three young boys. Steph is excited to bring a fresh marketing direction to Extend Fertility. She is passionate about reproductive rights and education and is honored to share in Extend’s unique mission.
Thank you so much for joining us, Steph! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been interested in the customer experience. My earliest jobs were working in restaurants (I’ve held every role from host, server, bartender) and retail (I’ve been in the stock room and the sales floor). I loved talking to customers, finding out what made them tick and helping them figure out what product would best suit them. I moved to NYC to work as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs in the public finance division. While I loved the fast pace, I couldn’t connect to the product we were selling (Municipal Bonds). I was fortunate to be accepted to Harvard Business School, where I spent time exploring both retail and consulting as potential career paths. After spending a summer in retail, I quickly realized that my MBA would mean that I’d be expected to help on the strategy side of the business, but I didn’t feel qualified yet. Instead of heading directly into retail, I spent two years as a Consultant at Bain & Co, building an incredibly valuable strategy toolkit that I find myself relying on to this day. In all phases of my career, I have recalled that true magic of observing customers experiencing products they love. For the last 10 years, I have been able to work for many inspiring brands — Estee Lauder, Shopbop, Ralph Lauren, Cover FX and now Extend Fertility. I have found so many parallels between across fashion, beauty and now health services. I love the process of creating memorable and inspiring interactions between customers and brands.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Every day, there is an interesting story and it all comes back to our patients. At our monthly Egg Freezing 101 events, I most enjoy speaking with potential patients, helping them understand the egg freezing process and demystifying it for them. There is so much fear and uncertainty tied to fertility and it is exciting to empower young women to take control of their fertility and offer them an option to start their families on their own timeline. Female fertility can be a confusing and complex topic, but I love helping women better understand it. Our CEO and I also call every patient after their process with us and ask for their feedback. I find myself learning so much from each of these calls and I feel constantly inspired by the women who have come through our practice.
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 mistook our medical office for our laboratory. I always knew that our patients were seen in the medical office and assumed that our procedures (egg retrievals and in-vitro fertilization) happened in the same space. In my first week, I went on my first tour of our actual embryology lab and I was blown away! Seeing the precision and technology behind our process was so exciting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Today, there are many companies building disruptive business models, and I love being a part of one in the women’s health space. Our founders saw the opportunity to bring fertility preservation (egg freezing) to the forefront of the conversation around infertility. Before Extend Fertility, most fertility clinics were simply focused on helping those patients struggling to conceive a baby. Extend Fertility began with the singular focus on egg freezing, helping women be proactive during their prime reproductive years, rather than waiting to address fertility later in life, when it might be more challenging. With that idea, our practice has become a more positive and uplifting environment than a traditional fertility clinic. We pride ourselves on helping women take charge and control of their own fertility. We are a group of caring and supportive clinicians and we have built the largest egg freezing practice in the country. I think that unique combination of caring and expertise makes the experience at Extend Fertility stand out versus many other practices.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We’re in the process of relaunching our brand with a new, modern identity and bringing our IVF services under the same brand name. IVF is a next step for many of our egg freezing patients, and we are excited to continue the journey with many of them. We have also found that our unique clinical environment — a highly experienced and caring team combined with a state-of-the-art lab have delivered excellent IVF results to date. Infertility can be a daunting and difficult journey and we believe our truth-based care and clinical excellence can deliver results along with a better patient experience. One part of this is a new website that will help patients along the full fertility spectrum, from egg freezing to IVF, find information and resources to support them.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be a transparent and honest leader. Companies can change rapidly, and I have worked in many businesses that have had to quickly adapt to changing tides. Setting a team up for success often means preparing them to be flexible, supporting them as they work through ambiguity and acknowledging when you or the company doesn’t have all the answers.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Treat your team as you would your family. You spend just as much time with them! I know many leaders (men and women) who draw a hard line between personal and professional life. I’ve always believed that work/life integration is far more realistic than work/life balance. As a female leader, I try to model this behavior for the rest of the team. Finding a way to make your job work with the rest of your life is something that I believe every employee wants — it doesn’t just begin when you become a parent or a manager.
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?
One summer, having lived my whole life to-date in California, I took an unpaid internship in NYC. Even though I had no paying job, I took a risk and came to NYC, figuring I could do restaurant work at night. I was so lucky to be hired by Anne Rosenzweig, an incredible chef and brilliant restaurateur at her Upper East Side restaurant, The Lobster Club. She took a risk on me and it made NYC suddenly seem like a city where I could make it. Looking back, I learned so much about life in NYC, customer service, high-touch experiences and how to run an upscale operation from my summer working for Anne. I fell in love with NYC that summer, moved here right after college and have been here over 15+ years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My family and I are very focused on ways we can help others. My husband and I founded South Bronx United in 2009. The organization works with over 1,000 youth in the South Bronx, offering soccer, education and immigration support programs. My husband is Executive Director of SBU and I have sat on the Board of Directors for all 10 years. It has been so personally fulfilling to see an operation grow to have tremendous impact on countless youth and families in the South Bronx.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Careers are winding roads, not straight lines. When I graduated from college, I expected to build a career in business, starting with professional services. When I realized that neither investment banking nor management consulting were the best fit for me, I worried about not having a clear “path.” Since then, I’ve been building experiences across a wide variety of companies, never in a straight line, but always applying what I know to something new.
- You’ll have a love/hate relationship with risk. I’ve always felt that having a steady job was preferable over taking career risks. I definitely avoided small companies and startups at the beginning of my career. What I’ve learned to embrace is that “risk” is actually the excitement and opportunity to create something new. Having been exposed to large stable companies, I have built a risk-tolerance and actually prefer the pace and ownership of a start-up environment.
- Building teams is what you’ll love. I have benefited greatly from strong mentors and great managers, but I have learned equally from managers who were not supportive. As such, I have found so much satisfaction from building successful teams. I have been lucky to learn from the talented people I’ve worked with and I find those relationships even more valuable than the work we accomplished together.
- Focus on the customer, not the industry. When I left professional services, I thought I’d have to choose a new industry. What I’ve learned is that I can always focus on the end consumer, whether in beauty, retail or health services, and find the common ground. As a marketer, the product matters, but the way you communicate with the end consumer is the same. Marketing tools and channels are all about conveying brand values and product differentiation. Once you know what your customer cares about, the task of marketing becomes much easier.
- Creativity can come from anywhere. I had a manager at Estee Lauder who was one of the most creative minds I’ve worked with. She taught me to look for “newness” everywhere, across all experiences and industries. Since then, I find myself looking for new ideas everywhere and figuring out how to take insights from one experience and apply it to something totally different
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.
Extend Fertility is a part of a women’s health revolution. It’s a movement I’m thrilled to be a part of! I think that fertility has too long been wrapped up as a “women’s issue” when it is really a society and family issue. As women are more proactive in thinking about their fertility, I hope we can continue to break down the stigma around infertility and support women and couples who use reproductive technology to build their families. Women can do anything and should not be constrained by a ticking biological clock. I am constantly inspired by women who are pursuing advanced degrees, demanding careers and building their families on their own terms.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda
I’ve always loved this quote because, to me, it encapsulates hard work. My parents have always inspired me with their work ethic, believing that anything worth doing is worth doing well. This quote embraces a mentality of “going for it,” which is a big part of my personality, I have always had a bias for action.
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
Oprah, always Oprah. I watched her show religiously, she forever inspires me as a role model for what one can do with a great platform.
Thank you for all of these great insights!