Dr. Monica Michel of SOMA MD: “Just because you get funding doesn’t mean your problems are over”

What makes a founder great is their ability to lead, to dream, and to time and time again get up and keep pushing forward. Women historically have faced more adversity than men, making them excellent founders. Women are innovative, courageous, and bold when given the opportunity to thrive. Our unique perspectives and experiences also give […]

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What makes a founder great is their ability to lead, to dream, and to time and time again get up and keep pushing forward. Women historically have faced more adversity than men, making them excellent founders. Women are innovative, courageous, and bold when given the opportunity to thrive. Our unique perspectives and experiences also give us an opportunity to create our own work culture rather than inheriting what was left for us.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Monica Michel.

Dr. Monica Michel MD is a wellness and mental health advocate, family physician, and the owner and founder of SOMA MD, an award-winning medical aesthetics practice. Believing in an outcomes-based approach to medical aesthetics, Dr. Michel treats every client with the end result in mind, delivering quality results that ultimately improve her clients’ physical and mental wellbeing. Driven by compassion and integrity, Dr. Michel is reinventing how we approach medical aesthetics and challenging the status quo by transforming lives, not just looks.

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?

I’ve always been a people person. Passionate about helping others live happy and healthy lives, I knew I wanted to get into medicine to help others and motivate women to get into the field.

I graduated with my medical degree from St. Matthews University in 2009 and quickly began my postgraduate medical training in general surgery, and later completed a family residency at Akron University. During this time, however, I realized I wanted to combine my love for medicine with my passion for beauty and explore medical aesthetics. I then graduated from the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and decided to open my own practice.

Now, as the founder of SOMA MD, an award-winning medical aesthetics practice, I spend my days consulting with clients and helping them achieve both physical and mental wellbeing. I’m proud of my journey and the business I’ve built, and I hope to show other women that it is possible and it is worth it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Like many, we were not immune to the pandemic. We were hit hard, and we ended up having to close our business for two months after only having been open for six. This was a huge blow. Although initially a setback, it ended up being a learning experience for us and allowed us to zero in on who we are as a business, what we represent, and how we want to operate.

Closing for two months gave us an opportunity to connect virtually with our community, which was very motivating and helped lift our spirits. We connected with other businesses and supported one another however we could. I can’t emphasize enough how important our community has been to us.

All in all, an interesting, challenging experience, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without having gone through it.

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?

For me, owning and managing my business was the biggest mistake and learning curve. It’s not realistic to both own your business and then manage your staff at the same time. You need that separation. It also makes it easier on your team and easier on yourself. Owning a business is no small feat — you’re going to be busy!

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 probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I’m incredibly grateful for my community. They’ve supported me and kept me motivated and optimistic about the future. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.

My family has had to sacrifice a lot for me to pursue my passion. I’m very grateful for their support as well.

Lastly, fellow business owners and those in the medical aesthetic community. Instead of viewing me as competition, they embraced me with open arms and have embarked on a journey with me of breaking stereotypes and revolutionizing the industry for good.

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?

There are many reasons why women are underrepresented in business, leading to fewer female founders. Speaking specifically to what’s happening now, women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, even more so if you’re a woman of color. Global venture funding to female-founded companies fell dramatically in 2020, with women often bearing the burden of child care, homeschooling, unpaid labor, and job loss. Although this was exacerbated by COVID-19, these issues are systemic and illuminate a more significant issue involving the system at hand, which caters to men.

We know women make on average $0.82 for every dollar men make. Not only does this make it harder to save money to fuel your passion, but it’s demotivating. If the annual gender wage gap were eliminated, on average, a working woman would have enough money for more than 13 additional months of child care, one year’s tuition at a four-year university, more than nine additional months of rent, and nearly seven additional months of premiums for employer-based health insurance.

Bottom line, more needs to be done to support women in business and encourage more female founders. Action needs to come from ourselves, our allies, and our government.

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?

Banding together, in my opinion, and approaching our societal failures honestly is the first thing we must do to reinvent the system. We need to challenge it, and we need to be vocal about how it’s not serving women. As women, we can do our part by talking with our peers, challenging our government representatives, and educating our allies about how they can better support our movement. We need to take stock of who we are as a society, not by our successes but by how we care for and support those that need it most. Women, especially women of color, need more support. We need to demand it.

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?

What makes a founder great is their ability to lead, to dream, and to time and time again get up and keep pushing forward. Women historically have faced more adversity than men, making them excellent founders. Women are innovative, courageous, and bold when given the opportunity to thrive. Our unique perspectives and experiences also give us an opportunity to create our own work culture rather than inheriting what was left for us.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

There are so many!

  1. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. You need to work hard, remain humble, and be prepared to face what in the moment will feel like insurmountable challenges.
  2. Just because you get funding doesn’t mean your problems are over. There are qualities and attributes that funding can’t buy, like product-market-fit and company culture. There are equally as many non-funding-related things you need to figure out before you seek investment.
  3. You’re going to have to do it all. Be prepared to put the work in, and realize that no job is too big or too small for you to buckle down and get it done. And you’re going to have to.
  4. You won’t be happy all the time. Yes, starting your own business is empowering, but it’s also terrifying, and just because you’re your own boss doesn’t mean you’re not going to hate your job from time to time. And that’s okay. As long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing, then it’s worth it.

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?

I think it’s key to ask yourself if you’re okay working alone and building your future. It’s going to feel lonely and isolating at times. If you need a team environment, you might not want to strike out on your own.

You also need tenacity, time, and unreal discipline. Although I do believe these things can be built and improved upon, if you need a little push to get a task done, entrepreneurship (at least not right now) might not be right for you.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Your people are everything. You will love the struggle and the grind that much more if you’re doing it alongside people who share your vision and passion. Hire and keep great people.
  2. Before you react, ask yourself if it will matter in five years. If the answer is no, then don’t sweat it now. Overreacting is one of the biggest causes of unnecessary stress, and if you’re a business owner, the last thing you need is more stress.
  3. Connect with your community. Your career journey doesn’t need to be one you go on alone. Join women in a business group or a female founders organization and lean on other powerful, driven women when you need a hand or motivation.
  4. Check-in with YOU. It’s easy to get busy, overwhelmed, and overworked. Take the time to check in with yourself to ensure that you’re on the right trajectory, that you’re truly happy, and you’re meeting your mental health needs.
  5. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. A career is a lifelong learning opportunity. Although you may be an expert at your craft, you don’t know it all, and it’s okay to get uncomfortable and ask for help. Even better, commit to learning something new as often as you can. Not only will this make you a more versatile leader, but it will keep you striving for more.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As both a family physician and medical practice owner, I’ve used my love for medical aesthetics and medicine to help people who want to improve their mental health with the highest-quality medical aesthetics treatments. My practice is unique in that we consult patients with the end result in mind, taking an outcomes-based approach to our work. You tell us exactly what you’re looking for, and we put together a tailor-made plan to help you reach your goals.

We counsel our clients to ensure that the treatment their doing is right for them, and we get to the root of why they’re seeking treatment. How is this going to improve their mental health, and what else can we offer to complement the service?

As a doctor, I believe I’m helping people every day, and I’m extremely passionate and proud of the work we’re doing at SOMA MD.

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.

There’s a mental component to everything. I’m a firm believer in taking care of your mental health like you would your physical health. I take this approach with my medical practice as well. If I could inspire any movement, it would be a self-care movement. Everyone deserves to have their mental health needs met, and more must be done on a government level to make mental health aid accessible to all. I’m committed to advocating for this and will not stop until it’s a reality.

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.

There are so many incredible women that are breaking boundaries and shattering glass ceilings. It’s hard to choose! I’d love the opportunity to connect with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What she has done for her community and for women, especially women of color, is incredible. From a business perspective, I’d love to sit down with Whitney Wolfe Herd and Kelly Steckelberg. I look up to them and the companies they’ve built very much.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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