Women in Business: Courtney Nichols-Gould, Co-Founder, SmartyPants Vitamins

Women in Business: Courtney Nichols-Gould, Co-Founder, SmartyPants Vitamins
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Courtney has worked in, around and with startups almost her entire career. Having most recently served as COO of Clear, the fast pass for airport security, from its inception through its successful launch and beyond, she previously served as interim CEO of www.wemix.com, president of Mail.com and still serves as an advisor, investor and board member for various stage start-ups such as Dadlabs.com, Poprule.com, and Re:Char. As co-founder and Co-CEO, Courtney uses her experience in building companies from the ground up to identify the best partners, distributors, advisors and talent to make the company and its products examples of businesses that win with heart and soul intact. She is very committed to SmartyPants improving the lives of its customers as well as children around the world through its partnership with Vitamin Angels and charity:water. In addition to building things, Courtney is a devoted supporter of charity:water and an advocate for the water crisis in general as founder of CampaignWater, a 501c3 dedicated to raising public awareness of the global water crisis through its support of media. She is a lifelong equestrian, a long time new yorker now living in the ever-flowering neighborhood of Venice and is a proud stepmom to two kids, Kylan and Oliver.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Being in start-ups since the beginning of my career, I don't get easily surprised by obstacles. They are an expected part of building something new. It helps that the people around me accept that hurdles are a part of business and view them as things that energize action and serve as catalysts instead of sources of stress or anxiety. And being the only woman in the room from the beginning of my career (thankfully less so these days) certainly made me resistant to accepting "no's." The reality is if you are an outsider/minority, you are going to be held to a much higher standard, which ends up being pretty great training. I don't think it's an accident that Excellence is one of the three core values of our business. It is hard to argue with high performance.

How has your previous employment experience prepared you to lead SmartyPants Vitamins?
My previous job was as COO of CLEAR, the first fast pass in airport security, which launched in 2003. As you can imagine, this business was not short on government regulation (Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security), politics (local airport authorities) and operational challenges (airports are not easy places to launch a business). My boss at the time and founder of CLEAR, Steve Brill, is the master of taking on big hairy challenges with powerful forces aligned against success and doing it anyway (he also founded Court TV). I learned how to take on an incumbent industry and win. It has been incredibly instructive when taking on the supplement market, which despite public perception is subject to government regulation. The complexity involved makes it very challenging but also serves as a competitive barrier to entry. It's never boring and that keeps it fun even when it's really, really hard.

What have the highlights and challenges been since founding SmartyPants?
It took us a long time to get the product we wanted. We were the first to start looking at the gummy category in a new way. Typically, and rightly so, gummy vitamins were considered barely-virtuous junk food. We saw the opportunity to change people's expectations when it came to not just gummy vitamins, but vitamins as a whole. But that means we are always pushing our partners and our retailers. The highlight has been the reaction to what we are doing. We solved a real problem for people and are paving the way for people to get a little bit healthier every day - whether its customers of our products or recipients of our matching nutrient grants, through our partner Vitamin Angels. Vitamin Angels is a nonprofit committed to helping at-risk populations in need - specifically pregnant women, new mothers, and children under five - gain access to lifesaving and life changing vitamins and minerals.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Never, ever, ever give up. Thank you, Mr. Churchill. And hard things scare most people away so do the hard things, the field is a lot less crowded.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I am not sure I can pick one thing. In my experience, having a network was an issue. I do think that's changing, but people hire people they know. I don't think its intentional sexism, but it happens. I will say that you want to inoculate yourself against any inherent bias by over-performing. I found sales is a great place to start for any group worried about discrimination -- numbers don't lie. You consistently beat your goals; you will find LOTS of opportunity. If sales doesn't speak to you, make sure you outline clear goals with your employer every quarter so you can demonstrate inarguable performance.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I don't draw much distinction between professional and personal mentorship. It's all life. I was fortunate to have some early examples of 1) drive in the face of adversity ─ thank you former Texas Governor Ann Richards and 2) character, especially when it's hard ─ thank you David Talbott and finally, herculean persistence driven by a clear sense that what you are doing matters irrespective of the power of the forces aligned against you ─ thank you Steve Brill. These people instilled in me a commitment to my passions despite outside events, which is the best life training I could hope for.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I will always be grateful to Ann Richards and her Chief of Staff, Mary Beth Rogers for setting an example of what women can do. As a young girl growing up in Texas, there weren't lots of women in power, the day I saw Governor Richards speak, my life changed.

Wendy Davis and Kristin Gillenbrand also come to mind. All the women who spend their days saying the unpopular things that we all know are true. The women and men fighting to end the unacceptable levels of violence that women live with every day around the world. And, my mother, who has been an example for me of how to both put others first, but not to the exclusion of taking care of yourself. She is a leader who inspires others to care about those who were not given a fair shake in life and I carry it with me to work every day.

What do you want SmartyPants to accomplish in the next year?
We always have had the same goal ─ to make more people a little more healthy every single day. How we accomplish that changes. If you have access to resources, we make best-in-class gummy vitamins you can eat with pride!

However, I believe we must be equally accountable to those without resources with that same mission which is why we have made a matching one-for-one nutrient grant for every bottle sold since we started the company. With our extraordinary partner, Vitamin Angels, SmartyPants has reached 500,000 children to date with lifesaving and life changing nutrients. In 2015, we will reach our goal of helping one million children within five years. Further, we have set a goal to make 10mm matching nutrient grants in the next three years. Everyone deserves good health and vitamin A supplementation has been identified as one of the easiest things we can do to address global childhood mortality. For 25 cents a year, you can give a child a year's worth of life saving vitamin A. According to the Copenhagen Study (compiled by world's top economists), there is no more efficient solution to undernutrition.

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