In the spirit of this year’s International Women’s Day theme, Choose to Challenge, we’re doing a Q&A with two entrepreneurial rule breakers we admire RiseWell co-founder Kori Estrada and Sugarbreak’s co-founder and CEO, Scarlett Leung.
Scarlett worked around the world, growing progressive, thriving companies before deciding to take on the diabetes epidemic by developing a safe, effective, and natural way to manage blood sugar that puts the power back in the hands of the people, not the pharmaceutical companies. Just as inspired to take on tradition, RiseWell is a progressive, natural, non-toxic toothpaste company loudly backed by science and, as they put it, feared by cavities. Recognized by Forbes and Business Insider as the go-to trailblazer of luxury oral care, RiseWell has made its mark as a disruptor of the conventional industry by marrying science, style, and nature.
As Kori says, “Nothing great comes from doing what’s safe,” so let’s dig into it with these two powerhouses.
- What women came before you that you want to give a nod to? Who inspires you to challenge convention?
Kori Estrada: I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by women close to home that have consistently challenged convention. My grandmothers and mother are some of the toughest women I’ve known. In their own ways, they’ve taught me to embrace challenges head-on, chart my own course, celebrate failure, and never give up. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without these women.
Scarlett Leung: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Fonda, Stacey Abrams, and Jennifer Lopez. All of these women were trailblazers within their own areas and refused to be defined by societal rules of gender, race, and age.
- Why is preventative, proactive, and non-prescription care so important to you and women?
SL: Unlike most developed countries, the U.S. does not have universal healthcare, thus accessibility and affordability is a huge hurdle that prevents people from getting the care that they need. The average diabetic spends $85,000 on medication in their lifetime and we know that women are at a higher risk of death and complications. Quoting our scientific advisor, Dr. Pemu “If we could eliminate smoking, physical inactivity, and poor nutrition then we could prevent 80% of heart disease, 80% of Type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancer.”
KE: I’m a huge believer in healing the root of health problems. In many cases, prescriptions are just a ‘band-aid’ to the real underlying problem. Unfortunately, our healthcare system is set-up to incentivize ‘quick fixes’ as things like diet and lifestyle choices can take a long time to see results. Science-backed products, lifestyle, and diet can heal and prevent many health problems. After going through my own health struggle with PCOS, I changed my diet along with my everyday products to ensure they were functional yet avoided toxins that can be harmful. Health isn’t just one thing like nutrition or oral care. It is all-encompassing. Each part works together to create a healthier you in the long run that truly gets to the root of underlying health and wellness.
- Why are natural, non-toxic products important to you and women?
KE: Conventional products from cosmetics to skincare and even oral care products are full of questionable ingredients, including carcinogens, irritants, and hormone disrupters. The EU has banned 1,328 chemicals and the US FDA has only banned 11 chemicals! As someone that has dealt with a hormonal condition called PCOS for most of my life, I realized it was critical, in addition to diet and lifestyle changes, to focus on using better-for-you-products. Natural oral care with an active ingredient other than fluoride didn’t exist in the market when I was pregnant with my son, Leo. During pregnancy, I wanted to try to avoid chemicals when possible, but I didn’t have any options. So, for the health of fellow women and families, we created RiseWell.
SL: There is an increasing amount of research that shows the impact of using synthetic and non-toxic products on our health and the environment. It is ever more important for women because there is an impact on our reproductive health as well. We only have one body and one earth, so why not take care of it to the best of our abilities?
- What are the daily challenges you face as a female entrepreneur?
KE: I think one of the biggest challenges that female entrepreneurs face is their own self-doubt or imposter syndrome. Self-doubt is absolutely normal. Running a business is hard. Everyone has moments of self-doubt. When you’ve done something that no one else is doing, breaking new ground or innovating in an established sector, every entrepreneur that has succeeded had the same doubts, failed multiple times, and kept going. Embrace it. Keep going. I also think there is tremendous unwarranted pressure to do it all, all the time. I don’t believe in balance per se but rather juggling. I imagine I’m juggling several balls at once, some are rubber, some plastic, some glass, and I have to choose on a daily basis which ball I’m going to tend to, ideally not dropping the glass ones. Sometimes those drop too though, and similar to the resilience required around self-doubt, you just have to be okay with picking up the pieces and resuming the juggling game. It’s not always pretty and sometimes downright messy, but it’s part of the journey and it’s 100% okay.
SL: I just need to be better at everything and also work 2-3x harder, to prove that I am worthy of that exclusive seat at the table. It’s exhausting. Not only am I a woman, but I am also a woman of colour, so even in the best of circumstances, there is still an unconscious bias against everything I do. We have made strides in women’s rights and equality, but we are still making $0.82 for every $1 a man earns. It’s an uphill battle and we are going to make it to the top, but it’s just going to take more effort.
I also agree wholeheartedly with Kori’s advice on glass balls and rubber balls. It’s been really helpful to put things in that perspective for me as a perfectionist because it’s impossible to do everything perfectly as an entrepreneur, so I have to just tell myself if I haven’t dropped any glass balls, then I’m doing okay. Also, I want to add that you can assign your team glass balls, that are your own rubber balls so that everything important is covered amongst the team.
- What keeps you going during difficult times (Financial, personal, COVID, etc.)?
SL: I remind myself how less than 1% of venture-backed companies are founded by minority females and that the numbers have dropped further during the pandemic, so I need to show other women and little girls that they can also start a business. I also think about how many lives Sugarbreak is helping improve, so it’s imperative that I continue building this business so that we can help more people. Of course, there’s also plain stubbornness that I have no other option, but to succeed.
KE: I’m an extremely competitive person as those closest to me know. If you want to win, you have to accept the fact that there will be extremely challenging days, moments when you fail, and times when you want to quit, but nothing worth having comes easy. I want to set this example for my son which is why I have to live what I preach, no matter what. It is a fire that fuels me every day. I am also extremely motivated by the many stories I hear of other women and families out there struggling to find a cure to their infertility challenges or whatever challenges they may be experiencing. I believe that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, so I’m always going to focus on the solution rather than the problem and seek to support those in need however I can. Lending a helping hand and paying it forward keeps me going especially when my own struggles seem so overwhelming, to get outside myself and serve another, that reopens my heart and re-inspires me every time.
- What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
KE: If you’re not failing, you’re not really trying. Failure truly is the stepping stone to success. The faster you fail, the faster you’ll find a solution. Embrace failure, get out of your comfort zone, don’t take things personally, and be kind to others and yourself. I also think it’s important to ask for help. So often I notice a stigma out there about entrepreneurship, especially for female entrepreneurs, that it’s a lonely path and a dog-eat-dog world. But I don’t think that’s true. I have found more support through other entrepreneurs who have already walked the path, willing to share their learnings, especially other females. We’re all in this together, bettering humankind in our own ways, and success leaves clues. So why not learn from those before us, ahead of us, and all around us whenever we can. We’re all unique and can’t be afraid of or intimidated by the fact that there’s not enough room for all of us, there is more than enough room, and all of our unique contributions are needed and welcome.
SL: Take a leap and go for it. No one can run a business like you and there are lots of people out there who are much less qualified than you, doing what you want to do. The difference is that they took the first step.
- What would you say to your younger self?
SL: I would tell myself that I can achieve anything I put my mind to and that I am enough. I would also tell my younger self that I would be the CEO of an amazing startup because knowing that would have given me confidence in times of self-doubt over the years. Believe it or not, when I was younger, mainly due to my cultural upbringing, I thought that my greatest achievement as an adult was to become the best housewife possible. I look back at that and cannot imagine myself being a housewife today.
KE: I wish my younger self learned earlier that you can’t control other people or situations. The only thing you can control in life is you and your reaction to whatever life throws at you. Happiness is a choice. You create the meaning behind every life experience. This empowering mindset is everything. Changing the way you think affects your energy and actions. Change your thoughts and your life will change.
“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” – International Women’s Day, 2021
Empowered women empower others and we’re so proud to work with and learn from visionaries like Scarlett and Kori. This month and every month, we challenge you to seek out and amplify stories that inspire you—signal boost the work of women you admire, share their contributions, and seek out the work of all women, everywhere. We’re calling it now: The future of business is female, and the future of healthcare is natural.