Sierra Smith is the cofounder of Zorpads, Inc. a company that designs and manufactures odor-eliminating shoe inserts made from NASA tested technology. Her passion is scaling great ideas into even better businesses, noting that this shoe insert is just the first of a much larger pipeline of consumer goods to come from Zorpads. Sierra has a strategy and operations background working for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America as a management fellow, strategy director, and ultimately chief of staff to the CEO. She also worked for the retail start-up, Plan de Ville, to support building the necessary infrastructure and processes to scale the company. Sierra has a B.S. from the University of Notre Dame and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. She lives in New York and enjoys cool weather and hot coffee.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I am a proud Iowan with an engrained default to Midwestern nice, and the belief that everything will work out. The latter enables me to lead a life of entrepreneurship, where you have to be a bit crazy to believe that against all odds, your idea is amazing, and you will succeed. The former keeps me rooted in reality. It reminds me that leading is about rolling up your sleeves and digging in— always with a smile, of course.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Zorpads?
My background is heavy in operations and strategy, both for a large specialty hospital network and then for a small, luxury retail start-up. The goal was always growth—this could be the growth of a department, a new business initiative, brick and mortar stores, or just core company performance growth.
Now, in the infancy days of Zorpads, growth is the only thing that matters. If we don’t grow, we will go out of business. Our goal is 100%+ month over month growth, and while I’m still learning, I’m thankful for a history of flexing this muscle.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Zorpads?
I have found so much joy in some of the smallest moments. An email from a happy customer, a distributor who sold out faster than expected, a day at the manufacturing plant, a well performing social media post, and so much more.
The challenges, oh how creative a start-up can get in creating incredible challenges. We have had everything from a product shortage, to mysteriously missing shipments, to lost in translation conversations with international distributors. But it’s ok, because everything will work out, remember?
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
If you want to start a consumer goods company, do it now! The consumer product goods industry is ripe for disruption and needs women. It’s ripe for disruption because current large players carry so much overhead that the hurdle rates for internal innovations prohibit a lot of amazing products from getting to market. Conveniently, a start-up doesn’t carry the same burden and can get to market quickly and inexpensively through social and web channels. Even better, CPG companies are aware of this and are increasingly moving to an innovation acquisition model (think Unilever’s purchase of Dollar Shave Club) which creates great exit options for start-ups.
The industry needs women because we bring an incredibly powerful perspective to an industry that sells primarily to, well, us! Given this, female entrepreneurs are often better able to solve problems men aren’t equipped to solve, like odor eliminating shoe inserts that work in high heels.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
I used to think that a career is a long road to an ultimate goal position, but it’s definitely not. And there’s a huge danger in thinking that way, because you convince yourself you just have to get “through” everything to get “there”. The most important lesson for me was that it’s not about getting “there” or getting “through”, it’s about here and now, and enjoying every minute.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I believe there are two keys here. One is to select people or companies to work with that have a similar sentiment on the work/life balance you want to live. If you want a forty-hour work week, going to a culture built on 4am mornings just isn’t going to work. Two is to have your back-up. That person who can step in for you on the work front when you need to pull the life balance cord. For me, it’s an incredible cofounder. I know that if I needed to step out for something quick or even for an extended period of time, he will be there to step in.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Always sell yourself long! Women tend to naturally self-deprecate, a wonderful quality that enables our compassion and ability to build bonds with each other but can be detrimental to advancement in the workplace. Be confident and take pride in your capabilities, advocating for yourself is a good thing!
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I will never be able to thank my mentors enough. I believe the biggest difference, for me, is the added confidence that can come from an honest conversation with a mentor. From discussing options to work through a challenging issue, to weighing the pros and cons of an upcoming opportunity, to building out talking points to ask for a promotion. It’s much easier to sell yourself long when you know you have a support base who is cheering you on.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I am drawn to women who are powerful, honest, and genuine. They maintain the respect of their colleagues and industries while talking openly about their challenges. Most importantly, they use a leadership style natural to their personality and style. I feel lucky to live in a time where there are more examples than ever of incredible female leaders across multiple industries: Mary Barra, Sheryl Sandberg, Emily Weiss, Alli Webb, Indra Nooyi, Angela Merkel, and so many more.
I should also note there have been several incredible male mentors and leaders who have been infinitely helpful to my professional and personal growth and for whom I am incredibly grateful.
What do you want Zorpads to accomplish in the next year?
The mission of Zorpads is to solve every day problems with new, exciting technology. We started with shoe odor, but that’s only just the beginning. Within the next year, we hope to launch several more products.