“Learn what questions to ask.” With Tyler Gallagher & Tara Youngblood

On the most basic level, I want people to understand that they aren’t broken. Sleep, health, and wellness are not one-sized fits all. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet and we are all different. When we take ownership of ourselves, be the CEO of our minds and bodies, we can be empowered […]

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On the most basic level, I want people to understand that they aren’t broken. Sleep, health, and wellness are not one-sized fits all. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet and we are all different. When we take ownership of ourselves, be the CEO of our minds and bodies, we can be empowered to be anything we choose to be. Sleep has been my path to start this conversation but I can’t wait to give back HOPE. I have been at a place where I felt like I didn’t have hope and I am determined to reach every human being in that place and find a way to guide them out.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Youngblood, a Charlotte-based Sleep Geek and Sleep Science Expert, Co-Founder of the Chili Technology and best-selling Author of Reprogram Your Sleep.

After the death of her son in 2008, Tara Youngblood suffered from insomnia and depression. Determined to find her way out, she spent over 10,000 hours studying the science of sleep. Applying her analytical skills from her physics and engineering background, combining multiple disciplines — including alternative medicine, and sleep diagnostics — her research led to a solution and over a dozen patent filings.

Tara Youngblood is the co-founder of Chili Technology, a company providing restorative sleep products. She contributes to the strategic direction and daily operations of Chili Technology. Their OOLER mattress pad was named Product of the Year for 2019 by Tech News World and the chiliPAD was named a Best Wellness Product for Powerful Moms in Business by Forbes.

As a sleep geek and expert in sleep science, she works with leading international researchers to further studies on sleep and explore ways to make sleep easier. She has connected over 70 research papers to the effects of temperature and sleep quality as the basis for over a dozen patents and sleep studies. Her book, Reprogram Your Sleep, is a best seller on Amazon.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Mypath to this role is very organic. My husband, Todd and I started this company 13 years ago. Our kids were young. We had been entrepreneurs for 7 years already and had a cadence to our partnerships and roles. Todd has clocked over 2 million airline miles. I was the one that kept things going on the ground, at home, in the business. I sat in almost every seat in the company from account to graphic design. Learning what I needed, to solve the latest problem. My role from a leadership perspective seemed supportive and in the background. I got to watch, keep that eye on the bigger flow.

Strategically, I was the person pushing the vision, new markets, asking the tough questions. I was able to stay put and research, dive deep into the market, science, patent process, and long term objectives. Todd was running our supply chain and managing inventory levels. Both were needed to get us to where we are today. I have always felt that my zone of genius is identifying market niches, and understanding how to apply learnings, technology, and process from other markets and products.

On a personal level, understanding my sleep, not only helped to evolve our Chili Technology products, and patents but it helped me to recover and sleep after the loss of our child, Benjamin in 2008.

My vision for a future of sleep-driven health is a mash-up of my personal struggles to find what works and how to make that path easier for everyone. Sleep is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It is broken for too many people. When our hardware solution started achieving rapid growth it enabled my vision for a science-based technology solution.

Our company was at a crossroads. Todd has been the CEO and President. He led us through the early years of sleep tech and our hardware innovations. But the patented ecosystem I had worked on in the background was ready to serve up to the world. Gender roles, business history had Todd in the lead. But the future was my vision, my passion, my leadership as we evolved from a hardware solution with almost no engineering to a company where the engineering department is the largest and fastest-growing.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

There have been so many different challenges over the years. The life of an entrepreneur, small business owner to mid-sized company holds many pitfalls. Cash flow is a problem at every step of the way. We have learned to be ruthless when it comes to managing profitability. The book, the lean startup, among others is all about testing, tracking and managing your numbers. Everything has metrics of ROI, risks versus reward. Understanding what pays the bills versus what might be a good opportunity at a future date.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

GRIT. I think that the timing from when a new product and market hit a tipping point and start to hit the mainstream is very delicate. The balance of market and product evolutions and the flow of media, science, and information around that area is luck.

In 2007, when we launched ChiliPad we thought that we were selling a comfort adjustment of temperature to the mature mattress market. The sleep Tech market was pretty much nonexistent. The selling metrics, platform and product lifestyle of the mattress industry didn’t match us at all. The mattress market had a bed in the box that continues to pressure the brick and mortar mattress store model.

We pivoted to e-commerce and found our home. We ended contracts with our dealers and had to learn this new frontier of e-commerce. This GRIT to hold to our commitment to ourselves, our customers, to hold out for the right distribution and path to adoption wasn’t intuitive based on the metrics of 2007. We held out and held in despite the struggles until we got traction. Since then we have 10x ed.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It is going to be hard to let go. What you did to get you here won’t necessarily help you be successful as a CEO. I feel as if I have done almost every job along the way. I am a roll up my sleeves and get it done person. When someone asks for something, I want to say yes. But learning to delegate more, trust and verify, and just because I can I shouldn’t. This past fall, knee-deep in the development of our new eep app, while writing a book, getting ready for a TEDx, trying to push market levers with podcasts, while having a leadership position pushed every limit for me. But it was a great exercise in letting go. Learning what I could trust my team to do, and knowing when I was needed to jump in.
  2. Stay in your zone of genius. Gay’s Hendricks’ book, “The Big Leap,” first coined the phrase, “Zone of Genius.” When I think about how the roles that both Todd and I have filled over the years, it could be easy to lose track of what is the zone of genius for each of us. In the early days, I was accounting, yet today, Todd runs most of our books. It keeps him close to the numbers so we can manage things like the cost of goods sold, demand, profitability, etc.. Not being in the weeds has allowed me to look at the larger vision, direction, and mapping needed to take our company to the next level and beyond. It doesn’t mean that you are stuck in one place. You will have to respond to needs about recognizing core competency in yourself and finding the balance of what needs to get done and what are the things that are best for your zone of genius to influence and stir. My background gives me lots of categories I can do, my constant goal today is to surround myself with genius’ that complement mine and create a team that can act on the vision and mission I believe we can accomplish.
  3. Learn what questions to ask and how to ask them to get the right answers. This one really comes from a book called Traction. It is meant as a handbook for entrepreneurs. When you ask one of our staff what are there KPI’s, what are their numbers, they all can give you an answer, from repair and receiving, shipping and customer service, even social media has clear, trackable goals. Just asking the question too general or without visibility to how this person’s output contributes to the whole doesn’t empower each employee to own their outcomes, understand what great looks like and see when there is a risk in their piece of the greater pie.
  4. The constant wheel of evolution, progress and the process needed to stay on track. As with all fast-growing companies, we chase process, metrics, and opportunities, how do you stay ahead of what might kill you if it is working today? We have adopted a “we are growing in dog years” response to all initiatives. Is this scalable? What does this look like when you double in a year. I feel that the software and engineering metrics of cycles and production are helping us to be able to constantly evolve. We live and breathe and move like an engineering company as a higher percentage of process, hiring and initiatives this year than last and will continue this trend as we try to stay ahead of growth.
  5. The right people for the right speed of growth. As a starving small business, we were scrappy, hiring interns, young hungry mostly inexperienced staff. But you need time to nurture and grow them. You have to have an environment that tolerates more mistakes. Leadership has to have the time and patience to mentor. We have totally abandoned this but as we hire today, we are more prone to hiring the do-er that can bring a zone of genius we don’t have in our toolbox. They have to hit the ground running and contribute asap.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Being a sleep geek, I have to answer sleep. It is becoming more acceptable to “sleep your way to the top,” but a lot of people don’t respect the role sleep has in reducing stress. I am a morning person. I know I am better in the morning than burning the midnight oil. I catch up on the weekend mornings before I mess with my bedtime. Lack of sleep is tied to almost all things about brain health and I need my brain at its best. Put sleep first and you will be able to accomplish more and with better clarity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

This has to be my husband and business partner, Todd. We have had tons of moments in our partnership. I have wanted to quit my job lots of times, but it comes back to the fact that we complement each other with our zones of genius. When it started to be apparent that it was clearly more my job as CEO than his, he found the humility to let being CEO go and supported me taking the reins.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

I continue to want to grow in my public persona. I am naturally a physicist, a geek, an introvert, it is my passion for my vision that makes it impossible for me to accomplish my business goals without growing publicly. It is hard, I am not a supermodel and natural in front of the camera. I feel and see my every flaw. But I truly want to change the way the world sleeps.

When I was broken, depressed, and falling apart after my son died, I couldn’t sleep. I taught myself everything I could to dig myself out of that hole but it is a hole too many people are stuck in.

Suicide rates, especially among teenagers and college students, including depression and PTSD in veterans and the mental health in this country, still comes with a stigma. Depression and lack of sleep share a very lonely space. My vision and the vision of my company is to reach people where they are, help them to understand sleep, health and how to create a personal path out of the hole they are in. They are not alone and I am determined to pull them out.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

To change how we view health and wellness. I want to make every person the owner of their health and wellness, and give them a community to flourish in because it is personal and lonely when you are not thriving in sleep, diet and fitness.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

On the most basic level, I want people to understand that they aren’t broken. Sleep, health, and wellness are not one-sized fits all. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet and we are all different. When we take ownership of ourselves, be the CEO of our minds and bodies, we can be empowered to be anything we choose to be. Sleep has been my path to start this conversation but I can’t wait to give back HOPE. I have been at a place where I felt like I didn’t have hope and I am determined to reach every human being in that place and find a way to guide them out.

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