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Mary-Cathryn Kolb of brrr°: “Women are very observant, insightful and intuitive”

Women are very observant, insightful and intuitive. We are great at studying problems and finding solutions, and thinking of innovative ways to do things. We can multitask and get stuff done. We also understand the mindset and needs of more than half of the consumers in the country who are buying the products and services […]

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Women are very observant, insightful and intuitive. We are great at studying problems and finding solutions, and thinking of innovative ways to do things. We can multitask and get stuff done. We also understand the mindset and needs of more than half of the consumers in the country who are buying the products and services that businesses offer.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary-Cathryn Kolb (Last name pronounced “Cobb”).

Mary-Cathryn Kolb is the Founder & CEO of brrr°, a startup in Atlanta that develops innovative cooling fabric technology. brrr°’s patented method combines natural cooling minerals, active wicking and rapid drying to create a “Triple Chill Effect” that instantly and continuously draws heat and moisture away from your skin. Their fabrics are used by retailers including Southern Tide, Vineyard Vines, Greyson, Kit and Ace, Bigfoot Sock Co., Sheex bedding and many more. Next spring Reebok and Jockey will launch a program dedicated to our brrrº technology.


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?

Earlier in my career, I was a senior sales executive at Spanx and I had worked at several fast-growing apparel companies like Von Dutch and TOMS Shoes. I was intrigued by how these little tiny fibers could support our bodies, stretch and move with us, and help us feel our best. I started thinking about what else fabric could do to make us feel better, and what if it could actually help keep us cooler? The idea for brrr° was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Being part of a period of stratospheric growth at Spanx was mind boggling and forced you to pivot and change your mindset constantly. When I joined the company, it was starting to get traction and distribution with retailers, and then all of a sudden celebrities were name-checking Spanx on the red carpet at the Oscars and it became part of the daily uniform for women. And then they expanded into pants and swimwear and men’s undergarments.

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?

brrr° had huge success right off the bat, with great media coverage and orders from Nieman Marcus and other retailers. We got sucked into the fashion world, and I remember one day we had a meeting where we were having this intense discussion about color trends and hemlines and what would be most popular next season. It struck me that we had strayed so far from our original vision of creating cooling fabric technology, and I had to make some difficult decisions to get us back on track. I brought in a new senior leadership team, recapitalized the company, and doubled down on R&D. It was the best mistake I’ve ever made, and the best corrective move I’ve ever made.

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?

So many people have been incredible supporters and advocates of brrr° that it’s hard to name just one. Chevy Arnold at EY has been one of my most ardent and vocal mentors, and she has helped nominate or suggest brrr° for several awards, accolades and other programs that help lift us up. I appreciate that I can call her anytime to ask anything and she will have something wise or profound to say. I call her my “Fairy Godsister.”

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?

“Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World,” by Rand Fishkin. It’s brutal, it’s practical and ultimately it’s helpful and inspiring if you still have the guts to create a startup after reading it.

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

“Do the next right thing.” It means stay focused on what feels right for the business and for your as a leader right now, and get comfortable with the idea that what’s right is going to evolve and change over time so you need to keep adjusting too. Look for what’s right, and listen to your intuition.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m such a fierce advocate for women, and one of my favorite things to do is talk with a woman who is at the dawn of her career and share what I’ve learned about being an entrepreneur and a CEO, about what it’s like to try to raise capital, about running a team, about the obstacles she’s going to face and what she can do to overcome them. Anything we can do to pay it forward to the next generation matters, and when we take the time to coach women, it has a real impact on their future careers, aspirations and lives.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

It’s only been 100 years since women gained the right to vote, and women still only earn 81 cents for every dollar that a man earns. Women are still the primary child care providers and caregivers for elderly parents, and we do a disproportionate amount of managing family activities, cooking, housecleaning, driving to sports practices, and staying home with a sick child. Women entrepreneurs have a much harder time raising capital, and sometimes they have to fight to be heard in meetings, or be considered for promotions or to lead important projects.

Women need more support at home from their spouses and partners, and they also need more purposeful and intentional support from colleagues and advocate at work.

I feel incredibly lucky that my husband is truly a partner in every part of my life at home and at work. We work carefully to divide and conquer as we raise our kids, and we share the work of drop-offs and pickups at school and other activities, doing laundry, cleaning, cooking meals and running our household. Having a spouse with a genuine partner mindset is one of the big reasons that I am successful.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

We have a very inclusive culture at brrr°, where every single employee has a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion. I seek out their opinions and appreciate the input, and even when I don’t agree with it, those different viewpoints help influence and shape my thinking and my own decision making.

We do everything we can to support work-life balance and peoples’ needs outside the home. If an employee is working on an advanced degree and needs a more flexible work schedule or virtual work setup, we work really hard to find a way to make that happen — and that was true before the pandemic. If someone needs to take time off to care for an ill relative or to pursue a life goal, we will do everything we can to give them all the support and flexibility they need.

It’s also important to proactively mentor women by making time to talk about what’s on their mind, questions they have, problems they encounter and don’t know how to address. Sometimes those 15-minute conversations have the biggest impact in developing a future leader.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women are very observant, insightful and intuitive. We are great at studying problems and finding solutions, and thinking of innovative ways to do things. We can multitask and get stuff done. We also understand the mindset and needs of more than half of the consumers in the country who are buying the products and services that businesses offer.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

  1. Be the hedgehog, not the fox — In the old parable, hedgehogs are decisive and focused but the fox walks around all day checking things out and gets distracted.
  2. Delegate — Be relentless in getting non-essential tasks off your plate at work and at home so you can focus on higher-payback activities that create more value.
  3. Fail quickly & fail forward — When something’s clearly not working, identify it, own it, investigate what went wrong, and move quickly to change it.
  4. Hire the right people — Every employee should add distinct skills, expertise, passion and personality that enriches the culture of the company and makes the whole team stronger.
  5. Self reflect — Make time to think about how things are going, decisions you made and conversations you had, and reflect on what went well and what didn’t and what you would do differently next time.

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.

Create more angel funds and venture capital funds that specifically cater to women- and minority-owned startups and early stage companies!

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.

I would love to have lunch with Andrea Hoffman, the Founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs. She has faced significant adversity in her life, had real life problems and yet she still uses her entire platform to encourage and empower and be positive. Even when times are tough, you should learn from it and move on. She has done an incredible job of paying it forward.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check us out online:

Blog: https://www.brrr.com/news/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brrrcool

Twitter: @brrrcooltech

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/brrr-/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHhNN-WxmAYFvSfVH9kpX4Q

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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