Don’t concentrate on your gender too much. You don’t have to do anything special or be someone special only because you’re a female leader. Now, Of course, being a female leader will help you a lot when making decisions, but leadership is more about being someone amazing, someone strong, supportive and courageous at the same time.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nonna Kostanian. Nonna is the COO of Brushette Inc., an innovative company revolutionizing oral hygiene and the industry of technologically advanced oral care solutions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Nonna! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I came a long way before getting here. Most of my life was spent in search of something that I would really love doing. And by saying it, I don’t mean only the type of job or the workplace, but also the field of study — my main concern during the early years.
I was so young and the world had so many interesting things… and it was so hard to make choices. I was a very curious person having various passions from journalism to cybernetics, arts, crafts and accounting. Interestingly, many people might think that these are spheres not related, but they complement each other!
So after taking a course in arts and crafts in Belgium, Brussels, I stayed to live there. I am originally Armenian and we Armenians are spread worldwide, so we create and set up communities to keep our national identity. And it happened so that a very pleasant woman I knew, decided to introduce me to Mihran, her grandson, the CEO of Brushette.
It was 2015, we met, found many things in common and it decided to see if we can work with each other. And up to now, I’ve been involved in many types of activities in the company from accounting to negotiations and operations management. And I really loved what I’m doing. I really have the feeling that our company is changing the world for the better. And that’s why I feel like I belong here.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I just remembered a funny one that happened recently. I was just back to our head office after working several months in the European office in Belgium. It was the first day, I had just arrived and brought very fine Belgian chocolate with me, everyone tasted it and liked, and our CRM manager told me, “Thanks, Nonna, the chocolate is so good. When are you coming back again?” I have to say I didn’t even plan to leave.
We had a very good laugh that day.
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?
Once a customer placed an order on our website with a PO box address and our team was trying to reach out to the customer to get an alternative address as our shipping carrier doesn’t ship to PO boxes in the US. It turned out the customer had unsubscribed from all emails right after placing their order, so I tried searching for the customer in social channels so that we could somehow update the shipping information or at least inform that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill the order. The customer had a name which could be both a male and a female name. And I couldn’t find a related profile on social media. Later I found on the internet that that our customer was the director of an explicit short movie and I assumed the name belonged to a man, not a woman.
In my long message to the movie page admins I asked about the director with “he”, later got an email from our customer with a note: “P.S. I’m a woman”.
I was so intimidated and ashamed. And what I learned was that I should never allow my assumptions to take over, especially in things related to work.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our company is revolutionizing the oral hygiene industry. We have an innovative approach to everything we do because that’s the driving force of the new world.
Our main innovation is the patented detachable system of electric toothbrush replacement heads which allows the user to change only the bristle part, not the whole neck. As a result, the cost per price is lower and the product is more affordable to the user.
The second thing that makes our company stand out is introducing new standards of double food-grade sanitation of toothbrushes: UV sanitized brush heads are put into nitrogen-filled packet in which bacteria growth is stopped. This is a really important thing that makes me so proud of what we do! We have created the most hygienic toothbrush in the world!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have several new products on our roadmap, including an AI-powered electric toothbrush which will analyze the saliva and give a thorough report of oral hygiene levels on a daily basis.
In addition to this, we’re going green! Environmental responsibility is a key element in our agenda right now. We’ve adopted a mission of dramatically reducing our plastic footprint. Some part of it is a reality already, and we’re making efforts to become fully sustainable.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to?
Be curious. This is the only way to grow. Curiosity opens outer doors: to new knowledge, experience, exploration; and inner doors: to creativity, innovation.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Don’t concentrate on your gender too much. You don’t have to do anything special or be someone special only because you’re a female leader. No. Of course, being a female leader will help you a lot when making decisions, but leadership is more about being someone amazing, someone strong, supportive and courageous at the same time.
Don’t push modern trends of hyper-productivity on your staff. Focus on their individual needs, pains and dreams. Show an example and encourage communication among your employees because communication is the key.
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?
When I was a freshman at the University, I had a part-time job as a translator in a small NGO. The Chairman of the NGO, under the supervision of whom I worked was a great example of a leader for me. I have understood real leadership and achieved success having him in my mind. He’s a role model and still a source of inspiration for me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Very often, once in several months, me and several team members visit children in special care institutions to share our stories, our hobbies and tell them about the things we do as a way of living. Of course this is not a promotional type of story, but I am full of hope that our visits bring goodness to this little kids that need it so much!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Dream jobs don’t exist. There will always be something that you don’t like, be it the salary, the agenda, the staff, the rules, anything. There will come a time when something will start annoying or not being enough.
- Dream jobs don’t exist, but…
you have to come a long way collecting pieces of knowledge, experience, ideas and inspiration from different places, like mushrooms growing next to a forest path. The mushrooms you collect will be filtered out to become the core of the future self you want to be; the future things you want to do or passions you will later have.
- Once you lost your life-work balance there is a high chance you won’t be able to keep these two balanced later. Work on it and you won’t have to worry about a burnout.
- Not all of us are creators. I learned for myself that I am a creator. But I know that not all of us are. The biggest challenge is identifying yourself as a creator or as a non-creator.
- As a leader, be a giver. In chief positions people always get something: get work done, get results, get traction… and they tend to become receivers. I wish someone told me there is a danger of becoming a receiver and losing the balance.
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. 🙂
I think I could be an inspiration of a movement introducing cultural elements into IT workspaces (and not vice versa). Communication with and through culture increases curiosity. And then a chain of reactions is happening: communication, exploration, thirst for knowledge, creation, inventions…
Especially in large teams with people from different countries, backgrounds, nations work together, intercultural communication creates strongest bonds. What can be better than a huge amount of cultural discoveries happening within a team?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If there was wisdom in beards, all goats would be prophets.”
This Armenian proverb is a funny one, my favorite. Always reminds me that assumptions and implications shall be left out and excluded, because you “may drown in an ocean of a friend’s deceit and love of the enemy”.
We are blessed that 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 🙂
That would definitely be Bill Gurley! His approach to the healthcare industry is very impressive. I’m sure that will be a very productive meeting.