Women in Business Q&A: Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier, Co-Founders, LOLA

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LOLA

Alex Friedman led analytics at Flurry Analytics (acquired by Yahoo in Aug 2014) and was a consultant at Boston Consulting Group in New York. She previously attended Wharton for business school and Dartmouth College for undergrad, and has over the years been actively involved in the Young Women's Leadership Network. Before co-founding LOLA, Jordana Kier received her MBA from Columbia Business School, during which she worked at Rent the Runway and Quidsi. Jordana was named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016. She graduated from Dartmouth College and is on the board of Drive Change, a 501(c)(3) food truck that employs and teaches transferable skills to youth in the NYC criminal justice system.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Jordana: I grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs: my grandfather, Ralph Kier, who came to the U.S. from Cuba with his wife and four kids (the oldest being my dad) when he was 34. He had nothing then. He moved his family to North Carolina and slowly built a small textile factory into a large company that my dad ended up running. They are the living, breathing embodiment of what hard work, integrity, and grit can earn you. I grew up listening to their stories about escaping Communism, learning to live and grow in a new country and what it was like as a first- generation entrepreneur, and those lessons are truly invaluable.

Alex: I grew up in New York City with two full-time working parents who gave me the best childhood imaginable - full of quirky family activities, strong role models and freedom to experiment without fear of failure - but who also made it very clear that one day soon I would be expected to support myself. I have always admired my parents for creating a safe space where I could grow and learn, but then demanding I take advantage of these benefits to succeed on my own. When I lead, I want my team to know they have support - I'm there for them whenever they need it - but to also realize that I expect them to be individually empowered to drive success of an outcome.

I've also worked for a lot of different types of leaders, and from each experience have gleaned valuable information of what to do and what not to do in certain situations. Even some of the most difficult people I've encountered in my career have taught me lessons about what it means to be a good leader. I once worked for a guy who gave me feedback after every single meeting -- what went well and what didn't. Made me nuts at first, but by the end I was better at my job and had learned not to take feedback personally. I take great care to be transparent, communicative and constructive with my team, whenever possible.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at LOLA?
Jordana: I spent my entire second year at Columbia Business School interning at Rent the Runway. Experiencing real-time the fun and fast-paced challenges of acquiring customers, building a brand, pivoting when necessary, and proving out a business model helped confirm my desire to build something myself and work hard to see it succeed.

Alex: Almost every job I've had has come with a script for half the work, and the rest I've had to come up with on my own. When I invested in venture capital managers, I had a clear framework to evaluate their investment capabilities. But there was also a more subjective determination - based on things like judgment and character. When making decisions at LOLA, we always do the strategic analysis. Be we also know that there are all these other things at play that are harder to screen and control. Thanks to my previous investing experience, I'm more comfortable knowing that when unforeseen variables come into play, you just have to roll with it.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at LOLA?
Jordana: Launching LOLA and seeing the market embrace our brand and mission. We saw women spending in line with their beliefs - recognizing that they deserved to know what was in their product - which was something they'd never had a chance to do in this category prior to LOLA. Also, when LOLA made it into Us Weekly's Buzzzz-o-meter!

Alex: Taking an idea from concept to reality. The fact that Jordana and I were sitting on a couch 18 months ago, just the two of us, lamenting the fact that we couldn't figure out what was in tampons to now, having a team and large community of passionate women talking tampons and changing purchase behavior to support their beliefs, is one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced. The hardest challenge has really just been taking this one day at a time; the momentum is so huge right now, and we've been presented with a ton of opportunities (extensions, partnerships, etc.) so we have this feeling of "let's do it all!." But we know that's not the right way to evaluate decisions. We just need to be flattered when some of these things come up, but stay focused on the best path for the company.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Jordana: Embrace the fact that you're tackling intimate, stigmatized topics and own the conversation.

Alex: Call us. We're hiring!

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Jordana: Nothing is ever as scary as you think it is. And, if not now, when?

Alex: Don't be afraid to ask for help. That goes the other way too, for more seasoned employees: support your team when they need it. Two years into my first job out of college, I was given the opportunity to run a full-scale consulting project for the first time. The key final output was a complex market model. On the due date, I subjected my model to a final audit and to my overwhelming dismay, I discovered a substantial error. Panic set in. Mortified, I told my manager. Pat lent a hand in every way possible; he stayed (extremely) late, working alongside me, cranking through hours of analyst work next to me, to ensure that the project could ship on time. That night, Pat taught me the value of being a supportive manager. He showed me that he was accountable for our team's output, for better or worse. His example is one I have kept in mind for the last 10 years.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Jordana: We work hard and we make sure to set aside time for things that are important to us, whether they be family, workout, friends, hobbies, or alone time. We are personally at our best when we lead balanced lives, so we make that a priority for ourselves and look for that quality in people that we may include on our team.

Alex: It's definitely a challenge, but for me, it all comes down to proactively managing my time for the life I want to have. Put things in the calendar - work, play, dinner, exercise - and then stick to the calendar as much as you possibly can. It will also remove any other feelings (e.g., guilt) if you're just like: every morning I go to the gym at 7:30am and that's just the way it is. And, your team will come to expect this of you, and will learn not to expect you to be available during that time.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Jordana: Not an easy question to answer! But the tension between family and career is something that we are extremely conscious of, for both genders. A highly professionally successful friend once told us - "you have to pick 3 things and focus on them. That's all you can really manage." Our values are very aligned and for us, work, family/friends, and staying fit are those three things. We try to find balance, make time for our passions (e.g., travel) and fit in other things we care about, too (e.g., hobbies, community service) but the so-called "myth of work/life balance" is something we know has to be actively managed. And we see that for new parents - particularly women - it's commonly one of the greatest struggles of a career.

Alex: Women need sponsors. For many, career success is in large part dependent on developing the right personal relationships and having advocates in the right places. Those relationships can be challenging to for women to develop across gender lines, and employers need to work hard to counteract the tendency of powerful people to support only those who are junior versions of themselves. For us, as two female founders of a venture-backed feminine hygiene business, we've experienced the importance of sponsorship in many ways, specifically during the fundraising process. Raising venture capital in a world where men control 90%+ of the capital put to work is an on-going (but admittedly fun) challenge. We are lucky to have a strong team and attractive business fundamentals. But we also have champions within the investment community who are our cheerleaders and supporters. We recognize the need to both push our way into what we need, and also be pulled from the right set of people.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Jordana: It's crucial to have people to look up to as well as lean on, whether they're in a similar industry or something totally different. We've been incredibly fortunate to have cultivated a network of amazingly accomplished advisors and are equally (if not more so) grateful to have friends who have dealt with our period talk over the last two years -- and who have happily bled into anything we give them.

Alex: I'm a mentor junkie - I will ask for advice from anyone who will lend an ear! Every decision I make is part gut-based and part experience-based, and when I don't have the experience, I ask someone. As Jordana mentioned, we have a great network of other founders who have encountered or will encounter a lot of the same stuff we face, so it's nice to have that group to go to for gut checks and advice. And we're happy to pay it forward!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Jordana: We're big fans of Diane von Furstenberg. She's a trailblazer, not only as a fashion designer but also a female business owner in an industry initially dominated by men. Her bold and feminine brand identity also really resonates with the ethos we're building at LOLA.

Alex: Every woman I've ever worked for has founded and run her own business. I admire Mindy Berman (founder of IGS) for her scrappiness, ability to attract talent to her team, and raw horsepower; Diana Frazier (founder of FLAG Capital) for her ability to access anything she puts her mind to; Alexis Juneja (founder of Curbed) for her on-going investment in herself as a leader; and Jarah Euston (founder of FresnoFamous) for her passion for growth and data-driven mindset. I also admire my mother, Elaine Friedman (founder of CFAL), who serves as my lifelong daily example if I didn't see what I wanted out there in the world, I should build it myself.

What do you want LOLA to accomplish in the next year?
Jordana: We want LOLA to provide a better feminine care experience in a relatable, straightforward, and transparent way. Our grand vision is to provide every product for all women throughout their entire reproductive cycle. We want to empower women to make proactive and informed decisions about everything they put in their bodies.

Alex: Everything! Haha just kidding. We couldn't be more excited for 2016! We want to build the brand and get millions of women talking about transparency and natural tampons. They're already talking about natural in all other product categories, so the time for tampons is now.