“Things are changing.” With Penny Bauder & Rachel Braun Scherl

I do believe that we will forever be changed in terms of our personal and physical interaction. I am a hugger (of people I know personally and like), and I think that will be considered unacceptable social behavior. I can’t imagine the future of air travel. As part of my series about the “How Business […]

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I do believe that we will forever be changed in terms of our personal and physical interaction. I am a hugger (of people I know personally and like), and I think that will be considered unacceptable social behavior. I can’t imagine the future of air travel.

As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Braun Scherl.

A champion for women’s health, Rachel has passionately focused on driving the conversation on the business of women’s sexual and reproductive health.

Since co-founding SPARK with her longtime business partner, Mary Wallace Jaensch, she has built an international client base that includes multiple divisions of Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Pfizer, Merck, Bayer and Church & Dwight, among others. With her passion and commitment, Rachel has successfully launched, built and revitalized companies around the globe, based on the belief that sustainable, profitable growth starts with a sound strategy and is continually driven forward by connecting with customers, building partnerships, and creating revenue.

Rachel spends a great deal of time speaking publicly, loudly and passionately in an effort to drive the conversation around the business of female health. She is regularly featured at leadership and entrepreneurship events at colleges, universities, corporations and conferences, including SXSW, CES, Stanford University Graduate School of Business, The Fuqua School at Duke University, Yale School of Management, Rutgers University, Barnard College, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, and BCG, among others.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Inmy family, we have what is called a summary rule — which means that the retelling of a story can’t take longer than the actual event. Given that I have been working a long, long time, that gives me about 25 years to tell my backstory, but I will be brief.

When I graduated from Stanford Business School, my objective was to run J&J. My first job was in product management on the storied TYLENOL brand. I adored that job. I felt as if I was working on the crown jewel of the company. And I was quite certain that I was working in healthcare. In fact, I have worked for or with Johnson & Johnson and alumni from there for 20 years. The relationships I formed there have been foundational to my entire career in terms of mentorship, business-building and clients, who have hired SPARK over and over as they move to new roles at other companies.

I moved from product management to consulting first for a large company and then a boutique — always parlaying the corporate relationships into client work. I learned a few core lessons very early on — I was great at building relationships, I loved to sell, and solving complex problems energized me.

I founded SPARK 20 years ago and built an international client base that includes multiple divisions of Johnson & Johnson, Allergan, Pfizer, Merck, Bayer and Church & Dwight. And then a decade ago, I had the opportunity to buy a product that improved arousal, desire and satisfaction for women. My partner and I raised venture capital, created a company, and a vagipreneur® was born. A New York Times journalist coined that term and since then it stuck to provide a great descriptor for a person in the business of female health.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I remember early on in my consulting career when conference calls were relatively new, I made a ridiculous mistake. The client had gotten off after we had presented the results of a very successful strategy project. And as teams often do, we had a meeting after the meeting to review — but we stayed on the same line. Turns out, the client hadn’t gotten off the call and heard the meeting after the meeting which was not inaccurate, but definitely was unprofessional. Two things happened. We never got work from that client again. And we never ever made that mistake again.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I have a couple of go-to sources that I like to read or listen to everyday. I like to be inspired by people overcoming personal and professional adversity. I admire total guts and lack of fear. I have a few favorite TED Talks, which motivate me to challenge myself — for example, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why. I try to challenge myself to always have an answer for that question for my business and my choices. What is the goal? What is the benefit to the company, customers or me? I also enjoy Cindy Gallop’s Ted Talk Make Love Not Porn, which turned out to be the catalyst for the launch of her business. Cindy has a take no prisoners, fearless approach to her business and her life. Sometimes when I am in a challenging situation, I ask myself What Would Cindy Do (WWCD), dial it back to fit my style and then go.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

My focus has always been to drive topline growth for my company, my clients and any company that I have had the pleasure of working with. What changed is focusing on the business of female sexual and reproductive health which I have been doing for the past 12 years. Not only is my purpose to grow businesses, but I feel like I am making a contribution to getting these products and services available to customers — through advising them, helping them fundraise, creating strategic partnerships, connecting businesses within the network and promoting the industry as a whole. People’s lives are made better by many of the new products that have been developed to resolve any challenges women face from mensturation to menopause. And these solutions don’t only help women. They help the people in their lives.

Some of my greatest moments came when I was running Semprae Labs, whose lead product improved arousal, desire and satisfaction for women of all ages and lifestages. One of the days I was answering the phone speaking to customers, I picked up the phone and a woman literally screamed (not at me, but to me) into the phone, “This stuff really works. Thank you God.” So everytime I had to leave my kids when they were little to go on a business trip, when they cried, I would make all of us feel better by saying, “Mommy is going to do God’s work.” I was lucky enough to have moments like that all the time. People would e-mail or call that they had their first orgasm in years or that the product saved their marriage.

That is job description.

Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

Whenever I am asked what or who inspires me, I always refer to one of the many sports movies I watched with my dad growing up. Now in many families, these particular movies wouldn’t be considered family entertainment, but, in ours, any come from behind, dig-deep, training movie (think Rocky I-V, Rudy, Breaking Away, Brian’s Song) was fair game. Far and away, my primary movie inspiration from my dad was delivered in the classic 1976 movie, Rollerball. In the movie (for those who haven’t seen the original — please skip the remake), grown men on skates, with sharp gloves and weapons play the brutal sport of rollerball, a deadly version of roller derby — literally until the death of the other team. Before each match, the referee reiterated the rules to the participants: “No time outs, no substitutions.” Loosely translated, there literally is no quitting in rollerball.

And the same applies to entrepreneurship. There is no one on the bench to take your place. Your best effort is required. Every day, you need to get in the game, play hard, play fair and focus on the most important initiatives your business needs — for as long as you can. The success of your business depends on your tireless efforts.

So how do you survive a game of rollerball or the experience of building a business? How do you come out of the other end, not only alive, but not too bloody — and prepared for the next battle? How do you work hour after hour, week after week, month after month, year after year — with the same energy, focus and enthusiasm as you have at the opening bell?

  1. Prepare for the Unexpected
  2. Have a Long-range Plan with Short-term Goals
  3. Get in the Best Shape — emotionally, physically and financially — that you Possibly Can and Have Reserves

Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I would say the hardest part is the monotony. The work itself is varied and interesting, but the days have a certain “Groundhog’s Day” quality to it. I have spent a great deal of my career with literally constant activity of a variety of kinds — travel, meetings, assignments, etc. I also find that I spend a great deal of mental energy quite concerned about family members, especially my mom and mother-in-law, and who are susceptible given their age and health conditions.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?

I don’t spent a great deal of time watching the news on TV. While I do read articles all day, I find that much less stressful than the non-stop talking heads. I refuse to talk politics with family members, because I find it stressful that people are drawing such stark lines between caring about people and caring about the economy. From my perspective, they can’t be untangled or separated so easily. And finally, I encourage myself and others to focus on the day or week ahead, rather than trying to figuring out when we will have more freedom of movement and return to normal. We are faced with so many unknowns and inconsistent messages that focusing on the end date seems to be an exercise in futility.

Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?

Creative problem-solvers and fast-responders will succeed. We have seen many examples of companies and leaders that have transformed their manufacturing lines from their primary business to PPE products. They will continue to do well and find ways to survive. Nimbleness and forward planning will be keys to success.

How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?

I do believe that we will forever be changed in terms of our personal and physical interaction. I am a hugger (of people I know personally and like), and I think that will be considered unacceptable social behavior. I can’t imagine the future of air travel.

Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?

I do and will continue to provide as much support and advice to young entrepreneurs and to people in my space. I have been even more aggressive about connecting businesses that could help one another as well as vendors that could benefit more potential customers. I have really enjoyed the “Quotes from Quarantine” series as a way to stay connected, learn, inspire and be inspired by people in related businesses. I might change the name, but I hope the concept will continue. I try and will continue to increase my efforts to be supportive and trustworthy.

Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?

Be the kind of colleague, friend or associate you need. Model partnership behavior. Build others up. Share best practices. Be kind. Be supportive. Be human. And never lose your sense of humor.

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

Say what you mean and mean what you say; Make a decision from a steadfast set of values that guide how you treat people, how you interact, and how you behave.

People are counting on you. Your success and the success of those around you depend on your efforts. You have to be 100 percent in the game. You have to play hard, and even more importantly, you have to play until you can’t play anymore.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find out more about me on my website and follow me on instagram for the latest news.

Visit Rachel Online

Follow Rachel on Instagram

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