Fundraise with confidence. It’s empowering to shift the mentality from thinking about raising money as a favor vs. an opportunity for the investor. Remember, you are giving potential investors the chance to take a ride on your vision and prosper. We were recently able to excite a group of investors and bucked the trend in female founders’ success in raising capital.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Sawyer, Co-Founder & CEO of Skura Style
Linda Sawyer is the former longtime N.A. CEO and Chairman of Deutsch Advertising and was instrumental in its transformation as one of the leading, premiere agencies in the industry. She is also a proud recipient of NY Women in Communications’ Matrix Award and was named by Ad Age as one of the ten most powerful women in advertising. She is also a self-proclaimed clean freak, and it was this passion that led her to leave her big corporate role to develop a brand and company that would disrupt the household sponge category.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ispent 30+ years in advertising, working at Deutsch for 27 years, with my last 12 years as North America CEO and Chairman. I had the privilege of working with many diverse industries and blue-chip clients, building the team from 40 employees to 1,000 strong. I always had an entrepreneurial itch and dreamt of one day building something from the ground up. As a self-proclaimed “clean freak,” I began Skura Style to offer a solution that intersects my personal passion for home design with one of the pain points that I experienced in my own home. I had often wondered why the kitchen sponge had not been upgraded in design and performance like the rest of the kitchen. One day I shared my sponge observations with my childhood best friend, Alison Matz, and together we kicked off our journey to build our company and create a smart, innovative sponge that you could actually love.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I often find myself at social gatherings, at the center of attention, when people learn about what I do. The conversation touches a nerve and unleashes the universal hate affair with traditional, gross kitchen sponges. People get quite excited about an upgraded sponge that is both aesthetically pleasing while offering so many benefits.
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?
When we first began our sponge reinvention journey, our early prototypes were solely based on improving the design aesthetics of the traditional sponge (made of cellulose and non-woven fiber). In our research, we looked at the materials and examined what causes the odor in a typical sponge and why it quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. We had an “aha!” moment when we discovered that we needed to use new, innovative materials that would enable us to create a sponge that was superior by every efficacy measure. The lesson learned was that challenging convention can often lead to discovering a better solution. Another valuable lesson is that being an industry outsider is a secret weapon for us, as most industry insiders would not have had this unique take to reimagine the kitchen sponge.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are two women disrupting a sleepy, underserved and neglected category. We are offering an upgrade to an inferior product found in every household, and our customers root for us. We constantly receive emails thanking us for solving this problem and our customers say they can’t believe they are using the word “love” and “sponge” in the same sentence. With research and development, we have changed everything about the traditional sponge, including how consumers talk about it. We are offering an upgrade to an inferior product found in every household.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes! We believe we are in the business of “kitchen well-being” and have plans to offer a suite of products designed to enhance the experience around the kitchen sink. All of the products will have Skura’s unique signature sophisticated approach to design, offer enhanced performance benefits above and beyond what is currently available in the market and solve specific consumer pain points.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
To thrive on the success of others. When your employees and colleagues are thriving, they want to go the extra mile and it becomes a mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Have strong bench strength, be a good delegator and empower individuals with authority and decision-making so they feel ownership.
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 attribute a significant part of my career inspiration to my dad. He was a package designer specializing in cosmetics and fragrances, and he had his studio in our home. Literally every night, I would go into the studio and read the marketing briefs. I would sit with my father and he often spoke about company meetings and the agendas that would unfold from them. My education on the working world and what motivates certain people and what doesn’t, provided me with an extraordinary head start on a career in advertising and brand building.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have found both joy and a responsibility in helping other women succeed. I have done a tremendous amount of mentoring throughout my career helping to empower women to give themselves permission to know that anything is possible. In this current chapter, my co-founder, Alison, and I have enjoyed the opportunity to inspire other women to take risks, embrace change and the challenges of reinvention.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Starting your own business is like going on a roller coaster ride. Be prepared and fasten your seatbelt! The highs are wonderful and the lows can make your heart sink. We have experienced days where in the morning we are solving for a manufacturing problem and in the afternoon, an amazing article breaks in a top tier media outlet.
- View setbacks as opportunities. There have been so many situations along the way in which something didn’t work out as planned. In every instance we found that the alternative solution we arrived at was far superior. We had a logistics partner that experienced financial hardship and we had to change gears. What seemed like a set back at the time resulted in a far more efficient and well-suited operation.
- Working virtually really works. We started Skura Style working remotely with a network of home office locations around the world. Initially we thought this would be a temporary alternative to a traditional office space, however we found that it is an incredibly effective and efficient way of working. It also enabled us to attract some of the best talent in their respective fields without worrying about geographic hurdles.
- Inspire others to believe in your vision. Prior to Skura Style, the sponge category was outdated and lacked any meaningful innovation. We had to inspire our supply chain partners that were stuck in the “old fashioned” way of thinking to take our lead in reimagining what a modern sponge could be. Our partners are now fully on board and have reaped the benefits of our vision.
- Fundraise with confidence. It’s empowering to shift the mentality from thinking about raising money as a favor vs. an opportunity for the investor. Remember, you are giving potential investors the chance to take a ride on your vision and prosper. We were recently able to excite a group of investors and bucked the trend in female founders’ success in raising capital.
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.
I have always said that if you want a great business idea, wash the dishes! If there is something in your life that you believe could be improved upon, chances are others are experiencing the same pain points. It doesn’t have to be some major technological innovation. It can be a small tweak that improves everyday life. All you have to do is go for it. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to create more available capital and funding for women and other minorities to enable them to pursue their passions and entrepreneurial pursuits.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Surround yourself with great people, multi-task, prioritize and use happiness for your barometer. This guidance has been an underpinning for being able to achieve past and present professional success. Happiness as a barometer has also helped identify what matters most.
We are blessed that 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?
It has been written that Bill Gates washes the dishes at home on a regular basis and understands the happiness and creativity boosting power of doing everyday chores. I couldn’t agree more and would love to have the opportunity to chat with Bill on this topic and more! He is the ultimate entrepreneur that continually reinvents himself and improves people’s everyday lives.