Sonsoles Gonzalez of ‘Better Not Younger’: “Reframe your definition of success”

Reframe your definition of success — Whether you are in a big organization or starting something of your own, feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important factor in staying motivated. Recognizing and celebrating small wins will be important for yourself, as well as for others in your team. It might be something as simple as increasing […]

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Reframe your definition of success — Whether you are in a big organization or starting something of your own, feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important factor in staying motivated. Recognizing and celebrating small wins will be important for yourself, as well as for others in your team. It might be something as simple as increasing the number of reviews or getting a product formula to work like you wanted it to. Small becomes the new big.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonsoles Gonzalez.

After 25 years working on haircare brands for global beauty companies Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal, Sonsoles Gonzalez decided to leave her corporate life behind to become what she calls a “fiftypreneur” to launch Better Not Younger. Her vision for the company started when she started struggling to find products that worked for her changing hair. She saw an opportunity to create a brand for women that would reflect today’s 40+ consumer who believed that beauty is not defined by age with products specially formulated to address the changes that women’s hair faces as they age.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a Latin environment where traditional beliefs were that a woman’s primary responsibility was to be a good mother; to be the nucleus of the household. We had to be amazing cooks, take care of our house, nurture and discipline our children and be there for basically anything the family needed. I always knew I wanted a career. But I also felt constant guilt that this choice meant I may not end up being fully there for my family. One day, I happened to go hear a speaker on campus, who said “There will always be someone who’ll try to make you feel guilty for any decision you make. Don’t pay attention. Do what you feel is right and that fulfills you and be comfortable with your decisions, because you’re the only one that has to live your life.” I never looked back.

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

My favorite life lesson quote has to be that “Success has no age limit”. No matter what society tells you, just because we reach a certain age or lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s too late to achieve your dreams. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of research that shows that older entrepreneurs have a better chance of success than their younger counterparts. Why? As a fiftypreneur, I believe I’ve gotten better with age in so many areas: more confident in my power, more aware of what I’m good at (and what I am not), and more resilient when faced with the invariable setback. My network is better. So is my experience in pulling together a talented team and the expertise I’ve gained across all areas of running a business from supply chain to logistics, accounting to formulation. Aging has definitely unlocked my potential; this would not have been possible in my 20s.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Passion and determination — Since early on in my career, I’ve always put real passion into my work. On my first day at P&G at the of age 22, I was asked to go to the grocery store to buy 300 bars of soap from competition that needed to be shipped to a lab for testing. Not for one moment did I ever think, “What? This is what I went to college for?” I remember not being able to find the amount they’d asked me to buy at the first store, so I spent all day going to dozens of stores until I found the very last one. I walked back to the office carrying 40 pounds of bar soap feeling like I had accomplished so much. And that’s still how I approach every task no matter how big or small. If you’re going to do it, do it well. Even at BNY, when we were first starting out and I had to physically pack every order myself, I did it with love and care.
  2. Courage — I was always a risk taker and above all, followed my instincts. When I started Better Not Younger, I had never started a company before, didn’t really know what I was getting into, how much it would cost, or who I could count on. Plus, all the upfront investment money came out of my retirement fund. I took a huge financial risk. But I knew in my heart there was a real need out there, not just to give women my age access to haircare that was specifically developed to address the changes their hair was going through, but to help change the narrative around women to aging to be more positive, and more reflective of how women 50+ were really living their lives today.
  3. Adaptability & Pragmatism — I can work in almost any environment and under any circumstances. Moving from Latin America to P&G headquarters in Cincinnati, OH was a huge change on so many levels– I all of a sudden had so many resources, so many people to meet, way more office politics…not to mention the cultural and lifestyle changes that come from uprooting your family. But I adapted, I stayed curious and humble. I quickly learned how to navigate the culture. Failure was never an option.
    Looking back now, it is hard to imagine a situation that requires more adaptability than going from being a lifelong corporate executive to an entrepreneur.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter? And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I worked at P&G for over 24 years in progressively senior executive roles on billion dollar brands with budgets in the several millions of dollars range. I worked in Latin America, North America and also held global roles, as the President of the Pantene brand, for example. After that, I moved my family to Spain to take on a position leading Loreal’s Consumer Product’s Division for the country. So, basically I had worked at huge organizations with offices around the world, abundant resources and budgets, for my entire career. I led teams of over 100 people, some of whom I never met in person. I never saw a cellphone bill, had a personal assistant to manage my day and an ever-growing 401k. I was the opposite of an entrepreneur. Reinventing myself has probably been one of the most fun parts of this journey. I’ve had to immerse myself in this totally new world of start-ups, where measures of success can be very different.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

Six months after “retiring” from L’Oréal, a medium-size hair care company reached out me to see if I was interested in becoming their CEO. I was excited. After all, that’s what I was good at, what I knew. The first round of interviews ended, and the team offered me a tour of their offices and their warehouse. As I walked around, the thought suddenly hit me, “What am I doing here? I don’t want this job working for someone else again. I want to create something of my own.” That is the first moment I decided to start my own company, and it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

You keep moving, stay humble and ask a lot of questions.

My mom grew up in a very conservative society in Spain during Franco’s rule. Women were prohibited from attending university for other than humanities and although she earned a degree in Literature and Philosophy and spoke 5 languages, she always regretted not having the opportunity to have a career and be economically independent. As a result, she was an avid reader with a restless curiosity. Even in her later years at the age of 77 as she was battling illness, I still remember her in front of a computer Googling words she didn’t know the meaning of from an anthropology book she was reading.

She passed that relentless curiosity on to me, and I think to succeed today, one has to become a lifelong learner because, as an example, even though I spent over 25 years running global brands, I’m in a position where I’m having to write the playbook for how to reach and engage women over 40, because very few marketers have ever done so. And the digital landscape is ever changing, I learn something new every day, I force myself to stay updated. I’m comfortable asking dumb questions, and sometimes being slow at learning things that I know come so easy to younger people.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

Better Not Younger is celebrating its second anniversary in-market this month (March 2021).

In the last 2 years, we’ve gone from maybe 30 orders a month in the first few months to well over 5,000. We are growing 20–30% month over month. We are showing up more and more on lists of “Brands that are disrupting” and showing up in far more articles around brands who are getting it right in talking to the 50+ consumer. There have been a lot of high notes over the last 2 years….one of the greatest moments was when we received our first PO (purchase order) from Sephora within our first 6 months of launching. One of my favorite stories was related to that, i.e. when we needed to ship their first order — a total of 8 pallets of our Better Not Younger product. Sephora (like all big retailers) are very particular about how these pallets need to be assembled, labeled, etc. It needed to be perfect, so I gathered up one of my business partners and my husband and the three of us headed to the warehouse. We spent hours identifying all the products, loading the boxes onto pallets, labeling, etc. when we discovered a mistake that caused us to have to undo everything and start all over again. We worked all night to get those pallets ready to ship. We were exhausted, but what a huge sense of accomplishment!

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 are so many people who have helped me over the last 2 years, too many to name. In fact, one of the most surprising things I learned is how many people are happy to selflessly jump in and help. Day to day, I am most grateful for all our Better Not Younger team members, every one of whom goes above and beyond their role to grow our brand. I’m also grateful to my core team, who has been with me since the beginning, Augusto (our CFO/COO) and Ashleigh (our CMO) who remind me every day how far we’ve come in such a short time 😊

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Last summer we decided to test pilot offering free samples to consumers directly from our website. Prior to this, we had been using third party sampling partners. The first two days of our test went great, with lots of women ordering the samples which would then ship for free. Side note, I have it set up that every time an order comes in on the website, the app on my phone makes a cash register sound. The 3rd day of the sampling test, my phone literally wouldn’t stop beeping — it was non-stop. While it sounded exciting, we soon realized that our free sample offer had been picked up by third party sites that promote freebies and all of a sudden we had thousands of orders of free samples coming from the same person. Needless to say, that test ended quickly lol.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

I did when I was younger, to be honest. Every promotion, every new assignment would always bring some level of anxiety or doubt as to whether I’d be able to do it (according to the Peter principle, people rise until they reached their level of incompetence). But, as I’ve gotten older, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m more self-aware of — and confident in — my strengths, and I play to those. And in those areas where I know I’m not the strongest, instead of beating myself up, I surround myself with — and lean on — those that have those complementary skills.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

I don’t think I fully appreciated the network that working at P&G and L’Oréal provided me with until I set out on my own. It is probably one of the best “assets” I have invested in. I have yet to find an old colleague, boss or peer that has declined an offer to connect and help. As I mentioned earlier, over the last three years, I have discovered a level of generosity I didn’t even know existed. And my approach is always to listen and try to gain at least one piece of knowledge or advice from these connections, and then act on it. So far it has worked well. And by the way, if anyone ever needs to talk to me, or wants a bit of advice or perspective, I’m always available.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

In my prior roles, I’ve never had to put myself out as the public face of the brand. I’m not a natural self-promoter, tend to be quite shy, and my previous roles didn’t require a lot of public appearances outside of the usual company Town Halls.

But with Better Not Younger, from before we even launched, I knew I had to be the face of the brand. My personal story is about being Better Not Younger, the reason the brand exists. Like the 50 million women over 50 out there in the US, I am dealing with reinventing myself, my career, dealing with changes in my own hair due to aging, and seeing how brands and the media misrepresent women my age. I’m out there every day challenging myself and putting myself in uncomfortable situations like Facebook Lives, podcasts and on-air appearances, and I’m coming out stronger. My wish is that every woman has the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone, reach her full potential, and live life on her terms, and that’s honestly what keeps me going.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

#1 — Reframe your definition of success

Whether you are in a big organization or starting something of your own, feeling a sense of accomplishment is an important factor in staying motivated. Recognizing and celebrating small wins will be important for yourself, as well as for others in your team. It might be something as simple as increasing the number of reviews or getting a product formula to work like you wanted it to. Small becomes the new big.

#2 — Hire people that not only are talented, but that can work independently.

In a start-up, you’ll have very limited resources. Everyone needs to understand that there is no formal training, so the ones that do best have a “go figure it out “ mentality. There’s not much time for “ramping up”, and the learning curve is steep and slippery. You need to look for people that are curious, goal oriented, and seasoned enough to work independently but know when to check in and align with the broader team. I made a huge mistake once, hiring someone with lots of experience but with an expectation that we I (or someone else) would be very closely partnered with her day-to-day. Sadly, 2 weeks into the job, I had to let her go.

#3 — The voice and the face of the founder is just as important as the products we sell.

One of the biggest learnings of my CPG career, was that great products sell themselves. That’s why when I created my own line, I put a lot of time, effort and money into developing high quality, clean, cruelty-free formulas that do what they say they will. In the past, success was all about expanding distribution…getting great products into as many points of access as possible. But today, people want to know who’s behind the brand. Understanding my story, who I am, and why I created these products, is just as important to women. They relate to the fact that I personally share the same hair issues that they are experiencing. They want to know how I feel about ageism in the workplace. A brand is truly so much more than a product or positioning in today’s world.

#4 — You will often feel like the smartest person in the room — and at other times, the stupidest.

There is lots I learned from my years working for large beauty companies, which has undoubtedly helped me in this venture. But marketing and technology changes every single day. Years ago, we would review our ad performance maybe once a quarter. Now, we do it every single day. Sometimes I meet with “experts in the field”, and I have no idea what they are talking about. Other days I’m speaking to hundreds of women, or other female founders, sharing the fundamentals of how I built my brand. So, whether you’ve been around forever or are just getting started, be prepared to upskill yourself everyday.

#5 — Don’t let anything or anyone distract you from your purpose.

There will be good days and bad days. There will be more cash or less cash in the bank. Sales will be great, then fall off a cliff. But at the end, if there’s a real need there, you have a solid offering, and you stay focused on quality execution, the rest will come.

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?

Age diversity in the work place. People are living to be 90, 100. They are expected to retire at 65, but reality is many are being laid off in their 50’s and it becomes so hard for them to find new work. And all this wealth of experience goes to waste.

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. 🙂

It’s too hard to choose just one person, because my most enjoyable times are spent in the company of a group of inspiring women from diverse backgrounds. But given current COVID limits, I’d have to choose Oprah and Arianna Huffington. For sure!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I would say connect with me on LinkedIn, or follow us at Better Not Younger on LinkedIn, Instagram or facebook. I try to personally post once a week across these channels to keep our community updated on the latest goings on.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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