Liz Benditt: “Friends and neighbors all want to DO something”

Balm Box is disrupting the cancer gift market by connecting these two groups: Well-meaning adults purchasing gifts, with recipients who need functional help. Providing cancer patients with functional items BEFORE they start their treatments is a phenomenal, thoughtful, gift. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their […]

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Balm Box is disrupting the cancer gift market by connecting these two groups: Well-meaning adults purchasing gifts, with recipients who need functional help. Providing cancer patients with functional items BEFORE they start their treatments is a phenomenal, thoughtful, gift.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Benditt.

Liz Benditt is a FOUR time cancer survivor — therefore she knows a thing or two about cancer treatments. She channeled that experience to curate ideal subscription boxes and gifts that aim to help and heal. She’s using her 20+ years of marketing experience to completely re-think cancer-care gifting.

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 like to think of myself as a medical miracle. I survived four cancers over 8 years:

2009: Melanoma Skin Cancer

2010: Thyroid Cancer

2015: Basal Cell Skin Cancer

2017: Breast Cancer

By necessity, my approach to treating myself and my illnesses have changed over time. After experiencing VERY RARE side effects from thyroid surgery, I stopped automatically following ‘standard treatment’ protocols and took back control of my care and recovery process. I found that when I contributed to my treatment plans, I was better prepared for the inevitable side effects.

Although the melanoma was by far my most potentially lethal cancer, and the facial plastic surgeries for basal cell were incredibly painful, the breast cancer experience and treatment were the absolute worst. Perhaps I was overconfident about my youth and ability to fight it / overcome it, or it’s possible my fair skin was destined to react badly to radiation — it’s impossible to know. Regardless, despite thinking I would knock out radiation and be able to continue working full time and running half-marathons my body failed me and I was flabbergasted by my situation. There were two concurrent issues:

1. It was incredibly difficult to predict what tools I would need to go through and recover from radiation until I was in the middle of it, scrambling for bra-alternatives, aluminum-free deodorant, and burn salves. A nurse made me a mini-pillow to hold between my seatbelt and breast so that the belt wouldn’t chafe. There was no central resource, website, or retailer known for all this ‘stuff’ and I found myself up late at night researching page 20 searches on google and amazon looking for solutions. Most of the cancer-treatments and gifts online were pink ribboned cute/sassy t-shirts and mugs — I wanted relief not stuff.

2. Friends and neighbors all want to DO something … and they predominantly bring food/cook. It’s super nice and appreciated, but honestly my husband and son are extremely picky eaters and would have preferred takeout. I wasn’t able to exercise and would have preferred lighter / lower calorie fare. It was frustrating because it was all so WELL MEANING but in reality, not awesome to receive.

I’ve been contemplating various forms of Balm Box since 2017. After developing a business plan and gaining initial funding to support the hard costs associated with the startup expenses, I made the (oh so terrifying!) decision to keep my part time teaching position at the University of Kansas School of Business, but leave my full time job as a marketing executive and focus on Balm Box full time in Spring 2020. Who could have known that would coincide with a global pandemic?!

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

If you google “get well soon cancer gift” you’ll find countless pink-ribboned shirts and tote bags, chocolate, and flowers. American adults spend thousands of dollars a year on gifting; according to primary market research conducted by Balm Box, about one-third of adults 18+ have purchased a gift for a cancer patient in the past, spending on average 50 dollars-80 dollars.

People undergoing cancer treatments need myriad functional items — and rarely do they realize they need those items, until they need them IMMEDIATELY.

Balm Box is disrupting the cancer gift market by connecting these two groups: Well-meaning adults purchasing gifts, with recipients who need functional help. Providing cancer patients with functional items BEFORE they start their treatments is a phenomenal, thoughtful, gift.

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?

As part of our new business launch we conducted market research with almost 600 respondents. We asked cancer patients what items helped them through their healing journey. The idea of essential oil resonated heavily with many respondents. So — I ordered “Lavender Essential Oil” from a questionable website — after all, it was 30% cheaper than other varieties! Sadly, when it arrived it turned out it was “Fragrance Oil” NOT “Essential Oil” — with explicit warnings not to use topically. Oops! I re-ordered organic essential oil from a domestic manufacturer and now am the owner of 90+ bottles of Lavender Fragrance Oil. Friends and family now know what they are getting for the Holidays!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My grandmother, Anna, was a Holocaust survivor. Before the war, she was married and had a son — both died in the camps, along with her 5 sisters and their families. She was the sole survivor from a tight-knit family of over 30 people. After the war she re-married and had my mother — they immigrated to the United States when my mother was 9 years old.

Anna had every right to be bitter — she lost EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. And yet — she was one of the most joyous, grateful people I’ve ever known. She never wallowed in self-pity — she celebrated her new life, our family, and her second chance. She was warm, loving, and FUN!

Living with cancer four times as a working mother was tough — but I learned through my grandmother’s example to embrace the good and let go of the bad. There is no value in feeling bitter or questioning “Why Me?” When I was at my weakest, I could still be grateful for my incredible support network — my darling husband, healthy children, dedicated parents, and fabulous girlfriends. Seeing the good, even when you are at your lowest, is a gift — courtesy of my grandmother Anna.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

In general, I’m a fan of being disruptive. I’ve made a career as a change agent, brought into a variety of companies to challenge the status quo and/or create a strategic marketing function from scratch. Challenging legacy organizations, questioning the value of processes, spending, or business functions are my jam. The key is to start with “the why” and keep asking why, until the insight is revealed. Insofar as I am a fan of change, I’m not a fan of change for no reason. Unless we’re improving a process, product, or industry there is generally NOT a good reason to make disruptive changes.

Henry Ford changed the transportation industry with the automobile — while we all benefit in myriad ways from the speed of our cars vs. horse drawn carriages, we did not anticipate the environmental impact to the air we breathe.

I like to think the net benefit of disruption in most industries is good, or at least well meaning. The trick is being prepared for the inevitable unintended consequences of industries turned upside down and owning the resolution. To counter the problem they helped to create, the automobile industry is investing heavily in alternative fuel powered cars. I am hopeful we can enjoy both mass transportation AND breathable air!

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Take. A. Breath.

I am well known for being passionate. I get excited easily — it can be a blessing and a curse. When facing a steep challenge, I can rally the troops, and press forward with positivity and hope. I am known for my perseverance and intensity. However. That passion can also be a vice. Getting emotional — especially as a female executive — is a recipe for disaster. When faced with unwelcome news, impossible odds, or disagreeable assignments my passion can lead me astray. It’s necessary to STOP and “Take. A. Breath.” before speaking. I’ve avoided more than a few disasters with this advice.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

The idea of functional gifting does not end with breast cancer patients — we’re already looking at other ailments to expand and grow. From colon cancer to knee surgery to heart replacement, there are myriad opportunities to expand this concept — the challenge will be in deciding what to pursue first!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I know it’s very cliché, but women still contribute more overall time and mental energy to housework and childcare than men at home, limiting their ability to invest in themselves and their careers. This pandemic has shown the monstrous gap in childcare needs among US households — I look forward to the next Woman Disruptor to solve that problem!!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I simply LOVE podcasts. My favorite way to start the morning is to take my dog on a 3–4 mile walk and listen to podcasts. The combination of fresh morning air, moving my legs, and listening to interesting and/or thought-provoking news and stories is the best way for me to feel informed and get my brain warmed up for the day ahead. I am a HUGE fan of “The Daily” — the New York Times daily morning podcast. It is an ideal blend of topical and feature article news, often presented by the brilliant Michael Barbaro. I arrive in my office, alert and contemplative, ready to hit the day ahead.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I recently came across this unattributed quote, “Fear has 2 meanings — Forget everything and Run, or Face everything and Rise.” I actually jotted it down on a sticky note for my office and look at it daily. I am at a crossroads in my life and career, taking a huge leap of faith based on an idea that I could fundamentally change ‘get well soon’ gifting, making it better for patients and gift buyers alike. Leaving the security of full-time employment, cutting our household income in half, with two kids still in the house who will eventually need college tuition, in the middle of a global pandemic… it is A LOT to take on. It is terrifying and exhilarating. Run or Rise — those are the options — and every day, I proactively choose to Rise.

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 am a huge advocate for public education — teaching children to read, write, and think critically are foundational to living in a progressive society. If we churn out students without the skills to ask questions, think for themselves, and participate in their communities we will turn into a nation of mindless drones with limited capacity for creativity or innovation — essentially the antithesis of the American Dream.

I sit on the board of directors for Education First Shawnee Mission, an 100% volunteer organization with the goal of electing pro-public education candidates to public office in our community. There are special interest groups working to de-fund our public schools in favor of privatization. Privatizing public education would be a disaster, especially for lower income and special needs students. If I could inspire a movement it would be to gain universal support for public education.

How can our readers follow you online?

As the President of a small business, I also happen to be the Social Media Manager, Janitor, and Lunch Lady, depending on the time of day! Find me on Facebook @TheBalmBox, Twitter @BoxBalm, and Instagram @BalmBoxIG.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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