RECESS CEO Jackie Stauffer: “Empowerment is different from management. This stems from my parents. They gave me a lot of leeway, but it was always understood that I was responsible for my actions”

Empowerment is different from management. This stems from my parents. They gave me a lot of leeway, but it was always understood that I was responsible for my actions. If I made good decisions, I got to reap the rewards, but if I didn’t, I knew there would be consequences and held accountable. It taught […]

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Empowerment is different from management. This stems from my parents. They gave me a lot of leeway, but it was always understood that I was responsible for my actions. If I made good decisions, I got to reap the rewards, but if I didn’t, I knew there would be consequences and held accountable. It taught me confidence, accountability and ownership. I manage my teams the same way. You will be amazed at what your team can do when you’re not instructing them, but rather supporting them and giving them a foundation they can lean on and build from.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Stauffer. A lifetime athlete with a love of health and wellness from a young age, Jackie channeled her passions as a marketing expert for global luxury lifestyle brands including Estee Lauder, Equinox and Food52. Her entrepreneurial spirit is what drove her to carve out a new category and create RECESS. Jackie experienced her “a-ha” moment while working out on her lunch hour, frustrated that she didn’t have time to wait in the shower line before returning to her desk. Inspired by the shared dilemma of the women waiting with her to shower, Jackie knew there had to be a way to combine convenience, efficiency, and personal care. She combined her love of problem-solving with over a decade of marketing expertise to craft a product at the intersection of fitness, travel and personal care, and RECESS was born.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Jackie! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Of course. I think like most founders, our brands are born out of necessity and frustration. For me, health + wellness has been ingrained in my life; exercise has always been my place to reset. As a young professional in NYC I was working a lot, and was squeezing in workouts at lunch, which was a luxury, but at the same time, eventually found that I was constantly coming up with “buts”. I want to workout at lunch but I have a date tonight, or I want to workout at lunch but I have a big meeting right after and I can’t show up with wet hair. I didn’t have time or patience to wait in a 20+ minute shower line, but I wanted to be able to get on with my day and still feel refreshed and confident. I started researching the market and buying any wipe or travel-sized product I could find. Sadly, most didn’t work for me since I have sensitive skin, and even if I found one product that I liked, I still needed others, so I was still carrying tons of stuff with me every day, and found the entire experience and brand offerings disjointed. I figured with the boom in boutique fitness, wellness travel, and the challenges of daily life, there was an opportunity to create a brand that solved the whole head-to-toe problem.

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

Most of my career has been spent in retail and hospitality for offline brick + mortar destinations. While the internet is a wonderful thing, it doesn’t replace the value of that in-person customer experience. I remember meeting with potential investors before we launched and one of the most common questions I got was, “what is your plan for Facebook ads.” I have seen Facebook advertising be very effective for some brands, but there are also a lot of challenges with it. Facebook ads are a wonderful amplifier, but they aren’t a standalone strategy. There are so many ways to reach customers and from the beginning. We felt strongly in our gut, and based on what our product offers, that putting RECESS in brick + mortar locations, specifically where the customer would be in-need, was going to be our primary marketing pillar, and one that would also be profitable.

It has been refreshing to see this strategy work, especially as brands that have taken a Facebook-first approach, are now trying to diversify their marketing or quickly branch out into brick + mortar. We’re only a year old, and have offline partners we’ve been working with for months like SoulCycle, Free People, The Now, and many more. We plan to stay on this path and use digital as an amplifier, with brick + mortar being our dominant marketing channel.

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?

Our deodorant wipe is our best seller. It’s also aluminum free. Even though we put “aluminum free” on the main packaging, we forgot to put it on the individual wipe package itself. We frequently put out individual ones at events, or a friend might pass along to someone to use, and we didn’t realize the call out was missing from the wipe packaging! It was a good reminder to a) slow down (as hard as that is at a startup) and b) always get more eyeballs for proofing help, especially on items that are relatively permanent. You never know what an outsider will notice, that you would otherwise miss. As a founder you are so close to your business it’s sometimes easy to miss something that should be really obvious.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are creating a category! We call it personal wellness. It is challenging to create a category and a behavior, but we believe so much in what we’re doing. We’re saving people time and making their lives easier. I frequently get asked who our competition is and I explain there is no brand dominating on the go wellness. While we’re not the first face wipe on the market, we are the only brand creating a seamless head-to-toe solution for today’s lifestyle.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have a lot in the works! It’s under wraps for now but working on some exciting developments as it relates to partnerships and our product assortment. We’re always communicating with our customers (consumer and business/retailer side) and gathering feedback to implement.

We’re really excited about our partnership with SoulCycle. We did a beta pilot with the brand last summer in the Hamptons, and we’ve collaborated for the upcoming season to do the same but with a few upgrades, we curated special dispensers that will create a better experience for the riders as well as the teams that work in-studio.

Overall, RECESS is dedicated to making the in-between moments easier and cleaner. Our products enable people to take time for themselves each and every day, and squeeze in that yoga class before work that they’d otherwise skip since they yoga studio has no showers. Our line offers an elevated approach to clean beauty products that go where you go and make it easier to live well.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I love sharing advice from past experiences. If something was a challenge for me then I came out of it with key learnings that I’m able to pass on to the next person, ultimately making their experience easier. A few key pieces of advice that I practice consciously:

  • It’s not about you. Be humble. Be open. If your team is killing it, you’re killing it. Empower your team, teach them to make their own decisions, let them make mistakes. Lastly, find peers or mentors for your own development.
  • Be honest. For better or worse, I’m always up front with my team. I tell them when I’m pumped, when I’m bummed and when I’m frustrated. This gives insight into the bigger picture, especially as it relates to what success looks like. Junior employees are so psyched to learn, make sure to nurture them. If employees know what they’re working towards, it’s easy for them to get on board even if they’re putting in long hours, so long as they’re invested in the mission.
  • Don’t tell them what to do. I know it sounds counterintuitive but let them lead too. Leadership can be cultivated at any career stage, and is title agnostic. Don’t spoon feed what you want; give them the context and the goal, but let them have fun with it an ideate independently, in addition to executing. It won’t always be right, but that’s a wonderful opportunity to teach and give feedback. And who are we kidding — none of us are always right. Better to learn the feedback loop early on. I’m grateful to my corporate background which taught me that most processes are iterative (and to be ok with that).
  • Focus on the soft skills. Whether it’s for you or your team, attention can frequently be centered on the hard skills and metrics. If you’re the smartest person in the room but you can’t communicate or work with others, your value will be drastically limited. Communicate effectively, be empathetic to what others are going through, know when to drive and when to ease up. Teach professionalism like being on time, coming to meetings prepared, how to manage up and sideways, not just down. These are the skills that make leaders stand out, beyond the metrics + tangible accomplishments.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

You can’t do it all. Hire, empower and trust the right people. You cannot sit in every meeting, or be on every call. Let go of control and be comfortable knowing that you have a strong crew to handle it. The key to managing a large team is hiring the right people.

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?

There’s no one person but I have a GIANT squad and network of incredible people around me, that together have become that power player. I have advisors who’ve made incredible introductions, founder friends who’ve troubleshot a challenge with me, side-by-side, business partners with varied experience, all sorts of amazing creative people in various industries whose brains I get to pick at any hour, day or night. This network is my go-to, and the broad inclusive nature of it, allows for even more creativity and energy.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I always pay it forward. No matter what the situation is, I always offer to help. I share introductions freely, guidance for students starting their careers, advice for anyone trying to get into health + wellness world, etc. It is so rewarding to watch others achieve their dreams.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Empowerment is different from management. This stems from my parents. They gave me a lot of leeway, but it was always understood that I was responsible for my actions. If I made good decisions, I got to reap the rewards, but if I didn’t, I knew there would be consequences and held accountable. It taught me confidence, accountability and ownership. I manage my teams the same way. You will be amazed at what your team can do when you’re not instructing them, but rather supporting them and giving them a foundation they can lean on and build from.
  2. Lead by example. I get that everyone says but more people need to do it! If you want your team to eat a proper lunch each day, or not eat at their desks, lead the way by eating lunch in the common area of the office, or better yet, leave the office for lunch! If you want your team to have a positive mindset and be focused on problem solving, show them you operate that way too. Whatever you want your team to do, you need to model the same behavior and put your money where your mouth is. You can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.
  3. Trust your gut. Your first instinct is usually your right one. Hire smart. This is a biggie. You kind of always have that sneaky funky feeling when you’re going down a path that might not be the best one. Sometimes you make decisions due to timing, price, a recommendation, etc. I’ve absolutely hired the wrong people or the wrong partners because I prioritized urgency/time ahead of the right partnership. You learn from it, so I won’t say there are decisions I regret, but the lesson is to always trust your gut, regardless of the urgency. Getting the right person in the door is worth the wait.
  4. Take risks. Make recommendations. I love to encourage creativity and the possibilities, rather than the things we “can’t” do. It’s easy to think about the potential risks or failures with trying something new (i.e. we need the tech team to do this and they’re backlogged, or can’t do this because our copywriter is on vacation, etc.), but I encourage those around me to think past that. In your dream state — what would you do? If the idea is big enough or meaningful enough, there’s always a way to get it done. Make crazy suggestions, it’s ok if they’re not “right”, but sometimes they work out. I remember a teammate at Food52 who I loved working with would pull me aside and say “Jackie, this is what I need to do this and this is why we need to do this.” Her belief in what she was fighting for was so strong, that I always went for it and it almost always paid off. Encouraging your team to push the boundaries, will push you too.
  5. Be yourself. Sure, at a larger companies with 100 layers or HR, this might not be quite as easy as you have to play within corporate rules, but in today’s workplace, I find that being yourself and being accessible is the best way to earn your team’s trust and have productive working relationships. After all, we’re humans first, employees second. There were a number of times where I *might* have gone a little off script as a manager, but felt it was really critical for my team to be in the loop and have context as to what was going on in the bigger picture.

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. 🙂

Give! If every person could make 1% more effort on giving, imagine the impact that could have! It can be a financial donation or the gift of your time/resources, i.e. work/donate to a charity, provide advice, be a connector, donate clothing, etc. Just focus on doing one thing and encourage a friend, your family, or colleagues to do the same.

We love The Ocean Cleanup. Helping clean up plastic in our oceans is a real way to keep our ecosystems alive. And on a smaller level pick up trash when you see it! If you’re walking on a beach, bring a canvas tote with you and pick up all the trash you see. It’s those little acts that add up to so much more.

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

Just keep going. There will be so many things that happen in life, good and bad. Some are based on luck and others on hard work, while others are disappointing or outside of your control. Learning resilience and a positive outlook, no matter what life throws your way is a winning characteristic to have in your toolkit.

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? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Sarah Blakely. I respect her so much. The fact that she was physically in a Neiman Marcus store herself, moving merchandise from the hosiery department to the clothing department to ensure visibility of the brand, means she is a woman after my own heart. She is resourceful. Not to mention, she followed her gut to create a category that now seems so normal and ingrained in our life, but at the time, was really new and innovative. She’s my dream lunch date.

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