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Maria Cho: “Treat your team like you would like to be treated”

I would love to start the anti-antibiotic movement. And what I mean by this is not the ubiquitous use of antibiotics for chronic bacterial disease/conditions when it isn’t needed. Antibiotics are great in that they were invented to save lives but there has to be a push by healthcare providers and innovators to use alternative […]

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I would love to start the anti-antibiotic movement. And what I mean by this is not the ubiquitous use of antibiotics for chronic bacterial disease/conditions when it isn’t needed. Antibiotics are great in that they were invented to save lives but there has to be a push by healthcare providers and innovators to use alternative medicines or approaches rather than just prescribe antibiotics. As we learn more about the body’s microbiome, which is the invisible layer of microbes both on your skin and in your gut that play both a role in overall health and disease, we need to take a wholistic approach to healthcare and skincare.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Cho. Maria is a small business owner and entrepreneur in the skin care industry bringing to market a disruptive approach to acne care through the use of probiotics to heal and nurture the skin to a balanced state. The product line is Phyla and you can learn more about skin health and other fun science at www.phylabiotics.com. Maria’s background is in the biopharmaceutical space and is a biomedical chemist by training. She brings these experiences coupled with a history of acne to her work every day to pioneer a safer and gentler approach to skincare. Maria admits to ongoing health problems caused by the acne medications that she has used throughout her life and is driven to bring a safer alternative to the world. She is a wife and mother of two fur babies and her passions include health and wellness and loving on people in her community.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Thanks so much for having me! And thanks readers for reading! It’s a fun question to ask as I grew up on the east coast of the US and lived in both Connecticut and Florida. My parents owned their own business and my brother and I helped with the business as kids. Their business was a service-based business so it was ingrained in me at a young age to always help people and put people first. Also, I was taught to work hard and never cut corners so you can be proud of what you are doing for people. Small things like this stick!

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

[Maria]: I am an avid reader so this is quite a difficult question for me! I would have to hone in on one, it would be For the Love of Country which I actually read recently. This book shares very vivid accounts of our military service men and women during combat, some who were injured or lost their lives. What resonated with me was the true selfless nature that these heroes demonstrated to their fellow service person and their country. My mind was overcome with great appreciation and respect for the collective teamwork and valiant leadership displayed in their service. It’s a reason it is called the service and not a job…

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

[Maria]: I actually have a quote that my grandfather had told me when I was 10 years old that I have always lived by. “Setting limits for yourself only let’s others be in control of your potential”. He taught me to believe there is no limit to what you can achieve or what can be achieved with the right people around you, supporting with you and working with you.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

[Maria]: I am a co-founder and COO of a biotechnology turned cosmetics company which launched a brand called Phyla which is a probiotic skincare line for people with acne prone skin. One of best friends is a nurse, as well as our marketing manager’s sister and our team wanted to do something to help the healthcare frontline workers in this “new” battlefield with a token of appreciate but also a product that might help them with their skin given the constant masks being worn to protect them from the virus. We also decided to make cloth face masks for their use outside of work which was piloted solely by my business partner and CEO Yug Varma. He picked up sewing overnight and overdelivered on this promise!

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

[Maria]: Honestly this came from a place of feeling helpless. It was right around the Easter weekend and we had a team meeting and just decided we have to do something! We needed to have purpose and help those that were putting their lives on the lines every day to save lives.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

[Maria]: We actually had a pharmacist reach out to us from Mount Sinai hospital and her email really resonated with us and we wanted to help! So the management team decided to pull together more resources and donate further to this hospital in particular. Given the impact to the NYC metro area, we were honored to support Mount Sinai.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

[Maria]: Not directly at this time but I think the biggest thing is just respecting the requests of health officials to maintain social distance to keep the elderly and those with compromised health conditions safe. Be kind to our frontline heroes as well!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

[Maria]: This is going to be emotional: I knew this, but not to the degree it impacted me.

  1. Know what you are doing is from your heart and don’t pay attention to naysayers: surprisingly enough we did have some people that thought we were crazy and weren’t kind to us during this time but hey, that’s not what we were concerned with.
  2. Treat your team like you would like to be treated. I know this sounds very cliché, but is very important to remember as a leader. I always strive to treat others in the manner that I would like to be treated, and it has made all the difference in our company culture.
  3. Go with your gut. My gut instinct hasn’t steered me wrong, and has been proven in many situations. I’ve learned to have full trust in my gut.
  4. Be available to your team- as a co-founder, it is easy to be separate from your team (especially while everyone is working remotely). It’s important for your team to have access to you and this helps improve company culture.
  5. Don’t settle. It’s important, as a co-founder, to stick with your vision and not settle for less. There have been times when my team and I have settled, and had to go back to the drawing board to get it right. Don’t settle and get it right the first time.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious during this tumultuous time? Can you explain?

[Maria]: Well my passion is helping people and having been living with anxiety for over a decade, this is both a personal journey for me as well as that of outreach to the community. Rather than 5 steps, it is really about consistency. Check in with people both near and far, family and friends. This check in can be by text, phone, email — whatever means you have to just say hey. Make time for self care and then share what you are doing with friends and family. For me this was starting my intermittent fasting lifestyle (thanks @ginstephens) and also reading books to learn more about topics I have always been interested in but never made the time to read! Share with friends what is the latest podcast you are listening to, or what is that Netflix show you are watching. If you do zoom meetings for work you won’t really want to be doing zoom happy hours, but this is also an option! Make the happy hour not about the alcohol but that it is a Happy hour to spend with your friends and loved ones. Keeping busy is important and often your anxious thoughts come to the forefront in boredom, but this busyness is not what it used to be, rather have this be a busyness to better yourself and those around you!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

[Maria]: Maya Angelou is one of my most inspirational figures and her famous quote resonates with me. “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”. To me it’s not the action that is key, but rather think of the lasting effect that action may make on someone’s heart mind and soul. Now this is really living!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

[Maria]: I would love to start the anti-antibiotic movement. And what I mean by this is not the ubiquitous use of antibiotics for chronic bacterial disease/conditions when it isn’t needed. Antibiotics are great in that they were invented to save lives but there has to be a push by healthcare providers and innovators to use alternative medicines or approaches rather than just prescribe antibiotics. As we learn more about the body’s microbiome, which is the invisible layer of microbes both on your skin and in your gut that play both a role in overall health and disease, we need to take a wholistic approach to healthcare and skincare.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

[Maria]: Lori Greiner. As a woman entrepreneur I would want to hear stories of how she brought 5 of her products from inception through launch and to ongoing growth.

How can our readers follow you online?

[Maria]: Thanks again and you can check out my business @phylabiotics on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter and also www.phylabiotics.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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