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What Sitting Next to Warren Buffett Taught me About Business

Culture

On Wednesday August 2nd 2017 I had one of the most significant experiences in my entrepreneurial journey. I was seated next to some of the most successful businessmen in America. To my left was Mr. Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a few seats away was Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, to my right was Dr. Michael Porter, esteemed professor at Harvard Business School and across the room was Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. I had to pinch myself, because this was beyond my wildest dreams. How did I go from whipping up shea butter lotions and potions in my kitchen for my eczema prone children, to sitting in a room with people whose net worth exceeds that of small countries?


Michael Bloomberg. Photo Courtesy of CNBC

They were all gathered to celebrate my success as a new graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program in Baltimore City. I was one of 59 local entrepreneurs graduating from this inaugural class, and I had the honor of being selected as the speaker for my cohort. This honor won me the best seat at an intimate brunch right next to Mr. Warren Buffett.

We began our company to solve the problem of eczema and successfully created a line of premium natural formulas that work wonders on dry skin. We use shea butter as our key ingredient and we source this butter directly from women who run cooperatives in West Africa. Our business provides economic access to women so they can feed, clothe and educate their children. I have always believed that the products we put on our skin should be good enough to eat; the simpler and cleaner the ingredient list the better it is for our customers and the environment.

During the years of building my business I have run into roadblocks, frustrations, and barriers not uncommon to many entrepreneurs. The issue of access to grow my company at times seemed insurmountable. Michael Bloomberg affirmed that small businesses like mine make up the majority of American jobs and that we are the engines of innovation and new ideas and we form the backbone of successful cities. So here I am sitting at a table slowly picking at my kale salad with successful entrepreneurs, experts and captains of industry who are telling me that my entrepreneurial abilities and the ability to create a brand like Shea Radiance is meaningful to the economy, and that is why they are providing support to small businesses not only here in Baltimore but in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas and many more.

Warren Buffett. Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

During our time together, I shared that the Goldman Sachs program allowed me to be very clear about our business opportunity and the value we were providing to our customers. I also shared my plans for growth and how I planned to finance it by seeking angel investors. Warren and Mike expressed their thoughts on equity and their concern that giving up equity could lead to losing control of the business and what made the business great in the first place. Warren told me that he started his business with a $2,000 loan and grew from there. I definitely took what was said about preserving the culture and values of our brand to heart. My vision for Shea Radiance is to be the gold standard for natural and organic hair and body care products. Our mission driven journey will attract not only customers but the most talented employees - creative, socially conscious team players from diverse backgrounds eager to help build the women-led supply chain that will provide an economic pathway for over 16 million African women to take control of their own economic destiny.

Warren Buffett. Photo Courtesy of the Huffington Post

However, I struggled with the fact that getting a loan from the bank is no easy task. It is a downright barrier for a business like mine where bankers are not equipped to assess the value of my business outside of the traditional parameters. My business is “too risky” for traditional banks and so I have had to look to the equity market for investors who share our values and understand what we are trying to accomplish. If they “get it”, there is an upside for them in a number of years for taking the risk. Bringing on angel investors should not mean loss of control if they are the right partners. Any investor that has a need to control is probably not a good fit for us.

I loved Mike Bloomberg’s insights on the importance of corporate culture. He talked about the importance of valuing each employee and seeing them as members of your team with valuable contributions. “Never ever give the impression that because you are the boss you are above doing certain types of work”. It’s important that your team knows that you not only value what they do, but you can do it too. As a manufacturer, his words rang true to me. Unlike most service or tech companies, my business requires a wide range of skills and talents, from the savvy digital marketing gurus to the sure handed and focused bottle fillers, labelers and box packers. As a business owner I am not far removed from many of these tasks and my team knows that I can roll up my sleeve at anytime to get the job done. Michael’s words tell me that as we grow and out of necessity I become less involved in the day to day operations, I should never be too far from the heart of what makes my business run, and that is the people.

Funlayo Alabi

I enjoyed hearing Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs acknowledge that the day-to-day entrepreneurial struggles are real. Even though he never started a company from scratch and always had tremendous resources at his disposal, he truly appreciates the struggle and tenacity of the small business owner. It was nice to hear people that I respect and look up to affirm the value of my not so glamorous CEO life. Listening to men who are successful and who in hindsight can confirm the principles that are time tested for building a sustainable and success enterprise was priceless.

5min read
Health

Turn Off Your Period: Why You Don't Have To Bleed Every Month

Let me share with you a female doctor and CEO's life hack: if you are not trying to 'make' a baby, you do NOT have to bleed every month. As doctors, we have seared into women's minds: you must have a period every month (if you are not on any medications). However, we now have the technology to safely and effectively "turn off" periods.


The idea of #PeriodsOptional first came to me when I was trying to get pregnant with my first child. Each month the uterus builds a rich blood filled lining to accept an embryo. But without an embryo, that lining gets shed, and the whole process starts over again. Basically, the only reason that we (those with uteri) bleed each month is because we didn't get pregnant. An average woman will begin her period at 12 years old, have two children in her lifetime, and remain fertile until the age of 50. That's approximately 35 years of incessant menstruation for no good reason.

Each time you build up that lining (endometrium) and slough it, you risk endometrial cancer. And each time you pop out an egg for that lining, you risk ovarian cancer. The only way to prevent ovarian cancer that we currently know of (short of taking out your ovaries) is to turn off the monthly egg-popping using birth control. Women who used birth control pills for 5 or more years have about a 50% lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to women who never used oral contraceptives.

Dr. Beverly Strassman, who studied the Dogon tribe in Mali, found that it might be "more natural" to have fewer periods. In the old days, we had about 100 periods in our lifetimes. Now, we have 350-400. Historically, we'd start periods at 16 (we now start at 12 years old), we'd have eight babies (we now have two on average), and we'd breastfeed for 20 months (we now do zero to six months at best).

Since the creation of the birth control pill, doctors have known that the one week withdrawal bleed (aka "period") is optional. Dr. John Rock, one of three co-founders of the birth control pill, was the one that pushed for a bleed one week out of four. It was to see if he could get the method through the Catholic Church. He said it was just to make the periods regular and thus Catholics could better utilize the rhythm method. He also thought that women would be more likely to accept the method if it was consistent with what they were used to. Thus since the beginning the birth control pill, women have been forced to bleed one week out of four. Needless to say, if I were one of the co-founders, I would have pushed for #NoPeriods or #PeriodsOptional.

Let's explore other benefits of skipping your monthly bleed:

  • You save money – we use 12,000 feminine hygiene products in our lives.
  • You save the planet from landfill.
  • You decrease your risk of certain medical conditions – ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and anemia
  • Certain diseases do better on stable hormonal levels – acne, PCOS, diabetes, seizure disorder, depression/psychological conditions.
  • Increased productivity – the number one cause of missed work/school in a woman under the age of 25? Her periods.

Using birth control to skip periods:

  • You can use the hormonal IUD, the implant, the shot, the ring, the patch and the pill. Note: You cannot use the patch for longer than 12 weeks in a row, because too much estrogen will build up in the blood.
  • You do not have to use "special pills" that come in 84 or 91 days packs. You can use any pill and just skip the last week (if it is a four week pack) or go straight into the next pack (if it is a three week pack). Though if you are paying cash, those are sometimes cheaper.
  • If you get breakthrough bleeding and have taken at least three weeks of active pills in a row, then you can stop the active pills for five days, have a bleed during that time, then restart on day six whether or not you are bleeding. This "cleans out the uterus" and allows you to start fresh.
  • There are 40 different formulations of the birth control pill. So if one doesn't work for you, there are at least six other progestins and two levels of estrogen to play with.
  • To skip the bleed on the pill, you want a progestin with higher progestational activity. Go to this chart that I created to review the options.

As the only female founded/led reproductive health company in the birth control delivery space, Pandia Health set out to make women's lives easier by sharing cutting edge, evidence-based women's healthcare. We commissioned a study of 1000 women ages 20-35 in the US to see what they knew about the topic. We found that:

  • 66% of women had never been informed by a doctor that they could skip their periods safely.
  • 46% have missed school because of periods.
  • 58% would turn of their periods if they knew it could be done safely.

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So make your uterus a happy uterus. A happy uterus is one that is not "crying" unnecessary bloody tears.