No one talks about how stressful starting a business can be. I remember one night early on a girlfriend of mine asked me if I would go grab a drink with her, for the next two hours she complained about her current relationship and the entire time I was rocking back and forth in my seat, those were two hours I was not spending with my business. I have since learned time management is the best way to relieve stress and that meditation was more than just a fluffy San Francisco buzzword.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elyse Kaye. Elyse is the Founder and CEO of Bloom Bras — a line of patented active-wear for the well-endowed woman. Bloom Bras launched in November to great success selling out within hours twice in the past month alone bringing in over 240,000 visitors to the Facebook page in just three weeks without spending. She has spent her career leading innovation and marketing teams launching dozens of brands and hundreds of product lines. Recent successes include the turnaround of the Four Paws® Brand for Central Garden & Pet, the launch from ground up of the House of Marley Brand from HoMedics and the expansion of licensed brands for Black & Decker through her product development consultancy, AHA Product Solutions. Elyse holds several dozen patents. Elyse was a contributing author in The Product Manager’s Handbook and gives talks around the globe regarding building a brand, bringing innovation to life and female mentorship. In her free time, she is a certified fitness teacher and enthusiast.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I spent the first 20 years of my career building brands. I knew all of the reasons why I never wanted to start my own consumer product company. I wrote the business plan for Bloom Bras out of frustration after years of trying to find a sports bra that worked. It is I brought together NASA and a celebrity corset designer to bring my vision to life, I did this as a passion project for myself. When I started testing it with other women, I was shocked with the response. The average bra size in the USA is now above a D. We launched on Kickstarter with a video which I created in my kitchen. From there our Facebook page blew up and I then had to actually get the product developed. Through a chain of events I got connected to a group in Sri Lanka to help me create sustainable fashion. We are now the most body inclusive sports bra line on the market ranging from. It is my personal goal as well as the mission of Bloom Bras to empower women of all shapes, sizes, and periods of life while they are moving.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Oh my gosh I don’t know where to start! The most exciting thing that has happened has been my interaction with thousands of women who all have similar stories of uncomfortable relationships with our breasts. As we go through different stages of our life our breasts fluctuate in size. Watching as women I know and don’t know try the bra on for the first time is such an amazing experience. Several women have been brought to tears because they have never found a product that works for them, this keeps me going everyday.
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?
The funniest mistake I made which I learned so much from was when I did a pop-up in NYC at the coolest location. We had 300 people who had confirmed they were coming. I had paid influencers and PR people to help support the day of the pop-up, yet I arrived with the catering team, photographer, and bartender only to find out no one else showed up. It was an expensive lesson but it taught me some valuable lessons about how to deal with the highest of highs and lowest of lows, because as an entrepreneur we face these on a daily basis. I am fortunate enough to have an amazing support system to pick me up when I am down and help me celebrate all of the wins both big and small. This past month we launched into Macy’s and we now have partnerships with Universal Standard, REI, and more of these alignments are taking place on a day to day basis. But it is because I grew the brand holistically one consumer story at a time.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I spent years working on products that were not going to change the lives of people, there also was no upside or downside for me if they succeeded or failed. When I set out to start Bloom Bras, I created a list of attributes about my leadership skills and then filled in the areas of weakness. It’s imperative to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and have been there and done that before. When people say you are so lucky you work for yourself, I have to laugh, I have never been more passionate, stressed out, or broke in my entire life. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. I tell people all the time you have to be willing to put 150% all the time. It will take everything you have and more, but I would not trade it for the world.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As the CEO you have responsibility of proving your vision and bringing in the people who can help to execute it. There is nothing more valuable than a great hire, but not all of them will work out. So it is imperative to understand all aspects of the business. As a startup there are days where I am determining the state of a business card to the brand vision of where we will be 5 years from now. I speak about body positivity and size inclusivity as a side passion, you just never know where a day is going to take you. It is also really important as the CEO to be a good role model, both to my employees and to my community. We are all given the same amount of minutes in a day and have to best choose how to use each one of them. It is easy to get distracted by the shiny and new or what is happening in your personal life, but as a leader it is important to separate all these things..
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
The thing I enjoy most are the people. This includes the people I work with on a daily basis, as well as being apart of an incredible community of female founders. Being an entrepreneur can be very lonely and without those people in my life I don’t know that I would be able to wake up every morning, like I do, excited about where the future is heading. Watching the growth of the company and brand has been the most rewarding professional experience.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
It takes everything you have from finances to personal life to relationships, when you are in the startup phase. It can be tiring and there are days where I ask myself what the end game is. However then I get a love letter from someone who has come back and bought several of our bras and is buying them for their aunts and sister and immediately my mindset shifts. There is a thing called “imposter syndrome” that most entrepreneurs experience. I have never wondered if this was a good product or if I was on the right track, but there are several times where decisions need to be made on the spot that you wonder am I really cut out for this? I have a meditation practice every morning where I announce all of the things I am grateful for and set my intentions for the day. This helps to keep me grounded when things are tough. It also helps me to give myself a pat on the back to see how far I have come.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO. Can you explain what you mean?
The myths are that you will have vacation time and that you will be flying around on private jets…ha ha. You do not need to go to the best business school nor do you need a ton of money from a napkin sketch, it is the entrepreneur who sets out with the visions and who is willing to put their blood sweat and tears into it, that will have longevity. Another myth is that once your business is flourishing you can retire. The entrepreneur mindset is always moving forward. There has never been a day that I took the leap into entrepreneurship that I haven’t thought about what my company will look like 5,10,20 years from now.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I started I did not think about how long things were going to take, everything takes a lot longer and is a lot more expensive. We read about these overnight success but what we don’t hear is that they were 7–10 years in the making. I try not to get frustrated and know that everything I do is an experiment, some things are going to stick, some things will not. I have to quickly pivot because we don’t have time to get upset or excited about those results. We have to take them and learn from them and then move on.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
I think it is someone who has an even temper and strong conviction. An entrepreneur must have thick skin and the ability to look beyond what is happening today. If you are heading into this with doubts, you are normal, however if those doubts turn into I will do this tomorrow or here are the reasons I can’t, then don’t take the leap. There will never be a good time and excuses will continue to pile up. However if you are willing to jump into it, it is the world’s most exciting ride!
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
First of all, I don’t think we can think of ourselves as women leaders, we are visionaries. However it has been incredible to me to see how my group of female founder colleagues have bonded together as a support system. I recently hosted a dinner of about 32 direct to consumer, e-commerce, and brand founders. We went around the table and talked about what stage we were at, what we had to offer, and what has worked in our company and where we had questions. A few takeaways for me were for several women this was the first time they had been out of their house in a week, for others we didn’t know who to ask questions when it came to our business such as Where do you do your shipping? Where do you do banking? The third thing that came out of the colleague dinner was a new customer base, I don’t mean that in terms of sales, but women to spread the word. I try very hard now to support smaller business even if its a couple dollars more just to support these hardworking individuals who put their time into growing their business over ordering something on Amazon, I will do it everyday. In return the majority of our sales have all come from word of mouth and when women unite we do really amazing things! I am so honored to look around and to see some of the women who started at the same time I did have huge success.
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?
My parents have been the constant cheerleader for me in this journey. I was taught from a young age I could do or be what I wanted. When I told them I was going to pursue this crazy dream of mine to create a bra company for curvy women they did not question my decision but instead gave me the wings to fly.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Everyday of my life. There are different levels of making the world a better place when I see the look of a woman’s face who have never been able to walk into the store to buy a bra, it brings tears to my eyes. We have a mission to empower all women to feel good while moving. Separate we have a give back program that works with breast cancer survivors. The company is named after my grandmother who gave me several things who I am today, including my love of travel, my love of food, and my large chest. Eventually, I lost her to breast cancer. When I ran my first half marathon I had no skin left from the underwire chafing and hooks digging into my back. At that same race I met a woman who was a 3 time breast cancer survivor, her words were “I do not care if someone has to drag me over the finish line. My mind has never been stronger and my body is catching up. If breast cancer didn’t kill me, this run will not kill me either.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- No one talks about how stressful starting a business can be. I remember one night early on a girlfriend of mine asked me if I would go grab a drink with her, for the next two hours she complained about her current relationship and the entire time I was rocking back and forth in my seat, those were two hours I was not spending with my business. I have since learned time management is the best way to relieve stress and that meditation was more than just a fluffy San Francisco buzzword.
- Everyone makes mistakes. My biggest mistake I’m living through right now is that I didn’t separate my personal and business finances from the beginning.
- Your customers are your best method of advertising. If you cultivate those relationships it is amazing what they will do for you.
- Do not get distracted by shiny new things. Launching one thing properly takes so much time, effort and thought if you take your eye off the ball even for a few minutes it can cost you hours on the other side.
- Learn from all of the success and failures.
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.
For me it is inclusivity is not just a buzzword. There are so many brands making a lot of claims, but actions speak louder than words. As I stated earlier it is the goal of Bloom Bras to empower all women of shapes, sizes, and stages of life to feel good while moving. This can mean walking or going to zumba or having the comfort and support to run a half marathon.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You sleep when you die. I think we all have a million things going on in our life. How we use each minute is precious, that includes spending the time doing things that make you happy, spending time with family, and having a healthy lifestyle. I have never been one to sit still which has benefited me as I launched this company.
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
Sara Blakely of Spanx. She is my business idol. So much of both how she built the company as well as the demand she created from consumers inspires me daily. I have gone back and forth on fundraising or not, to date I am self funded. It is incredible to watch how she has remained relevant and stayed true to the brand as a leader. I send her personal letters and messages on a regular basis, so hopefully she doesn’t think I’m stalking.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.