Unapologetically lead. For me, it has been challenging being a college student running a company because I do have less experience than other CEOs. I have found it is important to view yourself as equal to your peers because your age or gender doesn’t define your ability to lead a company. The second you undervalue yourself, you start to question all of your decisions. It is so important to believe in yourself and carry yourself as a CEO no matter your age or gender.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammie Hasen.
Sammie is a fourth-year biomedical engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology with a passion for feminine health and products. More importantly, she is a woman who is tired of products made specifically for women not meeting her needs. Sammie is the founder of medsur Inc., a company focused on innovating products for women that increase the functionality and usability of products on the market today.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and I have had the entrepreneurial bug ever since I was a kid. I was always coming up with interesting ideas and sharing them with my family. In fact, I created my first company at the age of fifteen, and although it was short-lived, it was my first real experience as an entrepreneur.
My family has always been supportive of my entrepreneurial spirit, even when it came to my subpar ideas. I am the middle child of my sisters, and we are all quite different from one another. I celebrate those differences because the feedback I get from them are coming from different outlooks, which is helpful in product development.
I used to have an affinity for the medical field, which is why I decided to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering. I realized that my passion was specifically innovating products for women, so now I can utilize all of my engineering skills to make that happen.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Spanx is an organization that significantly impacted me growing up because I was able to watch a woman unapologetically and fiercely run a large scale company. Sara Blakely started Spanx on her own and despite having been rejected by countless investors and peers, she kept going. Her determination and passion proved to me that I have what it takes to do exactly as she did. I have followed her work ever since I was young because it inspires me to keep going even when I hit road bumps along the way. I have always been passionate about products that are women-centric, which can be a tricky industry to excel in, so watching Sara Blakely navigate those waters fearlessly, helped me push forward.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
“Making a difference” means impacting peoples’ lives in a positive way on a small or big scale. You don’t have to significantly improve the lives of thousands of people to truly make a difference. Say you convince your family to switch from plastic straws to reusable straws, that is making a difference even though it might only be a few people changing their behavior. I am a firm believer that you can make a difference whether it is changing one person or a million people. No change is too small to be considered “making a difference”.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Believe it or not, birth control pills, tampons, female condoms, and IUDs, along with many other feminine products, were all designed by men. As I have grown up, I realized that a lot of products I use daily as a woman have major design flaws that decrease the comfort and ease of use. Frankly, I am tired that products exclusively used by women are being designed by men because, in most cases, men will never use the product first-hand. Men have dominated the feminine product space for far too long, and I want to be a catalyst for change. I founded medsur Inc. because I want to create a team of women that are passionate about designing products for women. I want to ensure that the designer is a user, so the product is designed with the user truly in mind.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
In 2019, I came up with an idea to decrease Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) in tampon use. As I was designing a protocol to test my solutions, I realized there are virtually no metrics on tampon use in women. I was honestly surprised at the lack of public research on certain mechanisms such as menses flow per second, the flow of tampon absorption, etc.. The lack of information highlighted to me the issue: if you don’t use the product, you might not know what to measure.
I started to do some deep-diving on the internet about the amount of products used solely by women that are also designed by women and was shocked to see how little that number was. This realization inspired me to create a suite of innovative products for women that increase the functionality and usability of products on the market today. I want to ensure that products used solely by women are designed by users themselves.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just 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?
I have always been full of ideas that span all industries, but my recent product, BCase, was the game changer for me. Being a college student, I am always running around with a fairly inconsistent schedule. I realized all of my friends are like this too, and on top of a crazy schedule, they had to take their birth control pills at the same time every day. My friend and I would go to dinner, and her birth control alarm would go off, so we would have to turn around to get the pills or she would skip them every time. I noticed she wasn’t my only friend who experienced this inconvenience, but at the time, I didn’t know how to help.
My “Aha Moment” was definitely one for the books because I was about to go to sleep and then all of a sudden I thought to myself: birth control pills should be attached to your phone! I mustered up the energy to type the idea into my notes app, and then next morning I got to work. The final trigger was when I was analyzing the data from my customer discovery, and I realized how many women experience the exact same problem of forgetting to take birth control pills. Once I saw this trend, I knew I was onto something special, so that gave me the fire to ignite this passion and make BCase a reality.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
The very first thing I did was find trusted mentors that could help guide me through the process. Once you have validated the market, the next step is to file your company whether that be a LLC, C-Corp, etc.. I view filing the company as a crucial step because you are able to get an Employment Identification Number (EIN) and create a business bank account. If you come up with an idea on your own, I urge you to sit down and write out what you bring to the table and what you lack. By doing this, you can identify possible hiring areas that could make the startup process as smooth as possible.
I am a solo founder, and there are definitely some great aspects to that, but at the end of the day, it is better to go through the highs and the lows with someone else by your side who has as much skin in the game as you. Being a solo founder is rewarding, but don’t be afraid to ask for help if you really need it.
Once you have established the basics of shifting your idea to a company, you should make a list of things that need to happen to get you from start to finish. This will make the whole process a bit less overwhelming because you can see each task that needs to be accomplished. I always send my lists over to an advisor or mentor to ensure I am not missing anything. Once you are all set up, you just need to focus on execution and building your brand!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I decided to run a Kickstarter campaign to pay for BCase manufacturing because it is a bit challenging to do a traditional pre-order for a consumer product of this kind. It truly was a nerve-wracking experience to lay it all on the line and see if people are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
I was scared to launch the campaign because I didn’t want to fail, but this is where it gets interesting. Within twenty-four hours of launching my campaign, BCase manufacturing was fully funded. I was humbled and excited that people saw what I saw in BCase, and that my passion was getting the support it deserved. Staring at the campaign page and watching the pledges come in was a life-changing experience for me. That day will be one that I never forget because it showed me that I am onto something, and it brought me one-step closer to improving the lives of women.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made as I started my entrepreneurial journey was definitely naming my company. Medsur Inc. was not the original name, in fact, it was PrevenTSS Healthcare because I was focused on decreasing TSS in tampon use. The original name was a funny mistake because I didn’t understand that the name left no room for pivoting. It was too specific of a name that if I pivoted away from TSS, it just wouldn’t make sense anymore.
My biggest take away from that situation is to envision where you see the company in five years, and if the company name doesn’t allow for growth, then reconsider it before you start branding. It is really difficult to rebrand, so the best advice I can give to you is to absolutely love your company name and brand identity before taking it to the public.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I couldn’t agree more that help along the way is a necessity. I have been lucky enough to find mentors that can help with almost any roadblock I encounter. For a while, most of my mentors were men, and personally, I wanted to find more guidance from women because of the industry I was working in. Once I was able to tap into my network, I found some incredible women mentors that really changed the game for me. Not to say I don’t appreciate every single mentor regardless of gender, but it adds an extra layer of inspiration on my end to work with fearless women leaders.
Some favorite moments I share with my mentors are whenever I receive incredible news and opportunities, and I get to share those moments with them. It is really great because we take time to celebrate the news, but then shift focus to what needs to happen next. Frankly, I would feel lost without my mentors because they are who I turn to when I need some guidance to keep moving forward. I encourage every single aspiring entrepreneur to start building their network of mentors now because it is never too early to build those relationships. Mentors are key to success, so find people that inspire you and help you work harder.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One specific individual definitely comes to mind. I created BCase to help women remember to take their birth control, and I needed help from women to test out the product before I could move forward. I received over forty submissions to beta test BCase, but I only had spots for fifteen. This one individual applied as soon as the application opened because, for her, birth control was the biggest struggle. She constantly would forget to take her pills because her alarm would go off at the most inconvenient times. She was so excited to test BCase because she saw it as the solution to her daily struggle.
I did a check-in about fifteen days into beta testing, and she was so excited to tell me how much BCase helped her. She no longer missed her pills because whenever the alarm went off, her pills were right on the back of her phone. This was such a surreal experience for me because I was able to hear first-hand how my product was impacting and improving the lives of women.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Advocate for equality. The barriers women have to face compared to their men counterparts are astronomically challenging. We need to work with our communities to make gender inequality a problem of the past.
- Educate people more on the disparity between genders in the workplace. There are so many statistics that show how unequal the genders are in the workplace, yet these issues are never really taught in school. This inequality should be taught in schools at all ages, not just a few, optional college courses.
- Apply for the position even if you feel unqualified. Statistically speaking, men will apply for positions whether they are qualified or not, but women tend to shy away from applying if they are missing just one qualification. Take the leap and apply because you won’t get the position, award, etc. if you don’t even try.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Talk to your customers. I spent six months building and testing a solution to Toxic Shock Syndrome in tampon use. I finally created a solution that was very promising, but I had not spoken to a single customer yet. I was accepted into Create-X Startup Launch in 2019, and the first thing they had my ex-cofounder and I do was get on the street and talk to customers. After walking the streets of Midtown Atlanta for days, we realized that no women truly cared enough about Toxic Shock Syndrome to change their menstrual health behavior. We learned there was actually a bigger problem within the space that we never noticed because we never asked! Getting customer feedback and identifying what the actual problem is will ensure you are building products that are truly addressing the pain point.
- Cash is king. Most people fall into the trap of thinking their idea/product is great because everyone is saying it is great. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome that people are saying it is great, but talk is cheap in that situation. It is hard to truly validate your product if you are only getting “yeah I would buy that.” If you give someone the option to actually buy it, that is when you can truly validate the product. Create an early access program or do a pre-order; do anything you can to prove people are willing to put their money where their mouth is. For a long time, I just asked people if they would buy my product when it is available, but once I created an early access program, I was able to see who was actually willing to pay for my product.
- Venture capital isn’t the be-all and end-all. When I started my entrepreneurial journey, I thought the only successful startups were the ones that raised millions of dollars from venture capital funds. Thinking the only path to success is through venture capital made my highs not feel high enough. I always felt like my startup wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t raising money on that scale. I started to read up on it a lot, and I learned a lot of people feel the same way I do. Turns out, going through funding for seed, series A, etc. seems way more glamorous than it actually is. Sure you raise a lot of capital through venture funds, but it is rarely discussed how much equity is given away. My mentors told me if I can become a profitable business without taking a dime of investor money, then that is no small feat. You don’t need to raise capital on the millions scale to be a profitable business. Don’t compare yourself to other companies too much because we are all on different paths.
- Keep up with your network. I am someone who has always enjoyed building my network and maintaining those relationships. The most important lesson I have learned is if you only come around when you need something, then you are going to quickly burn that bridge. A relationship is a two-way street, so you need to stay connected during the good, bad, mundane, or whatever else it might be. You can’t expect someone to help you or give you advice if you haven’t reached out in years, especially if you only reach out when you need something. I would not be where I am today without my network, and those are relationships I will cherish for the rest of my life.
- Unapologetically lead. For me, it has been challenging being a college student running a company because I do have less experience than other CEOs. I have found it is important to view yourself as equal to your peers because your age or gender doesn’t define your ability to lead a company. The second you undervalue yourself, you start to question all of your decisions. It is so important to believe in yourself and carry yourself as a CEO no matter your age or gender.
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?
If you see an area that lacks representation and could benefit from advocacy, don’t wait for someone else to take charge. Do it yourself. I know it is scary to make that leap, and yes, it does feel vulnerable to share your passions with the world, but just do it. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how or when to do it because there is no better person to make an impact than yourself, but you just have to believe in yourself.
There are times where it is hard to stay positive and move forward, but those times make the successes all the more impactful. If you are passionate about something, don’t let anyone take that passion away from you or slow you down.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Yes! Going back to the question about an organization that inspired me at a young age, I would LOVE to be able to chat with Sara Blakely. She is a woman leader who has impacted me the most and given me the courage to be my own boss. I want to discuss more on what is like to be a woman leader in a world vastly dominated by men. Getting to chat with her would be a game changer for me as a woman and an entrepreneur.
How can our readers follow you online?
First off, thank you for reading all about my journey as an entrepreneur! If my passions and/or story resonate with you, please follow and like us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn @medsurinc!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!