August 26

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Sexual Wellness with Rosebud Woman Founder Christine Marie Mason

By Mimi MacLean

August 26, 2021


Christine Mare Mason, founder of Rosebud Woman

Six-time founder and CEO in the B2B software space, Christine Marie Mason turned her attention to her passion – sexual wellness and self-care. She founded Rosebud Woman, female body care and intimate wellness line, to meet women’s neglected needs and open up sexual and personal care dialogue. Her entrepreneurial success has led her to lead a multitude of TED Talks and events worldwide to share her advice and insight on how to grow a successful business in any industry.

Christine Marie Mason on the Badass CEO Podcast

Episode Contents:

Her Start & Finding Her Passion for Sexual Wellness

rosebud woman sexual wellness company
ROSEBUD WOMAN

Mimi:
Christine Marie Mason, is an eight-time founder, CEO, and unifier, bringing together bright, passionate, curious minds for creative collaboration and social good, a champion of women's wellness. Christine is the founder of Rosebud Woman, an intimate body care line that addresses the unmet needs of women and invites new conversations about self-care, sexual wellness, and power.

After a career in global consulting, Christine founded and grew multiple companies in the B2B software space. She served as a futurist and innovation advisor for global companies, such as Estee Lauder and Panasonic, and an advisor, investor and mentor to many technology startups. She's appeared on radio, TV, print and podcast, from NPR to Vogue, to TEDx, speaking to entrepreneurship, freeing the mind and body activism and sexual and intimate wellness. To get your top 10 tips every entrepreneur should know, go to the badassceo.com/tips.

I would love for you to just talk about Rosebud Woman. And it's rosewomen.com, right? Is where we would find your company? And how you came up with that idea and how it's kind of parlayed into a family business.

Christine:
Well, I've been starting businesses. I think I did my first venture when I was like 11. I did a newspaper in my school. So I've had that creative impulse to start businesses for a long time. And I think that basically, it's kind of a form of artistry. Like you see something in your mind and you want to make it into a living, breathing material reality. And I found that difficult to do in the context of a large organization. Like you always had a little piece of it, but you couldn't really turn it into something. And so, I got my first opportunity to start a business in the mid 90s, a real one with venture backing and I just got the bug and kept going.

So most of that was in tech, which we could talk about, but in the mid 2015, I really shifted my focus completely to being about health and wellness and consciousness. And at that time I was working on sexuality and tantra and female embodiment and plant medicine and all kinds of cool stuff. And I started making body care products at home for myself. And then I gave them to friends. And they were moisturizers, lubes, all that kind of stuff because the things that were on the market were very poisonous. And the tissue in the intimate areas of a woman's body is 10 times more absorbent than other skin on the body. Basically the lips and the labia are the same tissue. So anyway, I started doing it and then as I got more familiar with it, I had sort of the instinct that this is something that was not just about my personal pleasure, but also tied into healing a bunch of body shame and sexual shame and reintegrating this part of the body and to overall body care.

Finally, after three or four years of goofing around and doing, I was running another company. I finally decided this is going to happen and did a big research study, 3000 women to make sure that I wasn't going to spend my retirement money on something stupid. And with that data, I was more than encouraged to get it off the ground. And so now this is an intimate wellness company, a category we in part created that serves women of all ages in their central sexual and reproductive lives, a skincare and body care products and content and education that has a hidden agenda, not so hidden if you're reading my emails and blogs of unwinding body shame and sexual shame and making this like you are totally loving and enjoying and inhabiting your whole body. That's the short story.

Mimi:
That's great.

Christine:
And it went from nothing to millions of dollars in sales in about two and a half years. So I am pretty happy with the way people have been responding to the message.

Mimi:
That's amazing, because as you know, only about 1.7% of women ever reach a million dollars in sales. So you now have reached that echelon, which is unheard of typically. And so, why would you think that is the case? Why do you think you're one of that 1.7%?

Christine:
We had good timing, first of all. There were a bunch of things that happen. One is like my experience, this is my eighth company. So I think we avoided a lot of mistakes because just having done it before, but really there was something about it, I knew it was going to happen in 2014, but the timing just wasn't there. But there was a confluence of like, remember me too was hitting, this sort of anger of being objectified was hitting, the awareness of green and clean beauty and how the skin is the largest organ was happening, increasing tolerance for diversity and speaking to sexuality in general in the world was hitting. So I feel like the timing was excellent for the category as a whole. And then in terms of our company, there is complete integrity of voice, product presentation and price point across the board because we knew what we were about. So I feel that's kind of why women are responding to it.

Working with Family & Growing From Criticism

sexual wellness oil by rosebud

Mimi:
That's great. And now you were telling me that it's kind of become a family run business. You have your children working with you at different parts of the company. Can you talk about how you decided to start working with them versus hiring somebody else or outside people?

Christine:
I've done both, but I feel like when you start a company, the critical element with the people you're working with is trust, trust that they're going to show up and get things done, trusting their voice, trusting their training, trusting their values. And so it was very easy in the beginning in particular, like in the formulation and design stage to lean into my daughter, for example, who is a, she's not just like my daughter who is like a cool Instagrammer or something, she's actually a trained designer. She's a professor at Parsons School of Design, she's a painter, she's an artist, and she understands color and voice and forum. And so it was very easy to lean into her as an advisor. And then as we grew, to lean into her more and more until I actually hired her formally. There's that component.

And then with my son, he's been my business partner in other ventures since he graduated from college. He's just got a super optimistic high energy capacity. And when I started this, he was not involved. He was running something else that was his venture. And as that closed down and changed lanes, he started helping me out a little bit more. And then eventually he goes, we should just work together again. So they had the skillsets. It wasn't like I was recruiting them out of obligation. And then the pieces that were really missing were like, I needed someone who knew the industry and who knew sales. And so I found this amazing woman who has been with us since day one, who's become like family, who was running [inaudible 00:08:57] global sales.

Then another thing on the team was I didn't have the organic formulations, the physicians. So finding those people as well, looking for the best in the business, even in package design, the woman who came in to do the packaging was one of my daughter's friends from Parsons and she had done Fenty. So we really tried to go for the key drivers of the business, super high-end, with people who knew their stuff, even though they were family.Now, running a business with your children, you know all their foibles and they know yours, and it's hard to find the line of what's personal and what's not. And this idea like, can you see your family as they are showing up today and not see every time you look at them like a seven-year-old, or all the things that you thought of them when they were adolescents and treat them in full presence of their maturing, total adult, beautiful humans. So I'm learning how to do that. And also how to do that without making, because it's important, especially not just in that relationship, but to make sure that the other people in the team feel like they have equal access and equal voice. And so family businesses have a little bit of a unique.

Mimi:
Well, also you probably tend to be a little bit harder on your own children, I would think, because you probably can't always talk to other employees the way you might talk to your own children. So it's probably also getting used to that, I would think. I don't know. That would be my thought on that.

Christine:
You have kids. So if you ever decide to do a venture with that, we can have this conversation on those, but you're absolutely right. Your instinct is totally right, because one of the things is like, I can hear it in their voice when there's a little bit of obfuscation on something or like it's not quite, and I go right at it. And I would never do that with a person who has arms like, and I do invest in my own coaching. And so I got my 360 review for this year, from my employees. And one person mentioned this. And so I really did shut that down. Like try to really change that on team meetings and stuff.

Mimi:
Let's talk about that for a second. Because it's 360, do you do that anonymously or do they write their name on it?

Christine:
It's anonymous.

Mimi:
To do that, is that hard for you to then take that criticism or no? Are you okay with it?

Christine:
Well, I'm okay with it because the criticism helps me grow. And also the criticism is always like, I hear the criticism and then there's a cosmology or a worldview inherent in the criticism. Like what they think. There's always a, it should be different. And then I think like, do I agree? Before I take it to heart, I take it as input. And then is that something that I feel is correct? There are some people who want a lot more handholding and I'm sorry, but in an entrepreneurial company, that's not available. So that is often the case when somebody is coming out of corporate, that they're expecting training and onboarding and I'm like, no, you asked for what you need. So I would say the feedback is great. But also, I'm at a point where I know enough about how to run things that I can't take all the feedback and act on it, but it's very good at particularly in blind spots. I always hear something that I wasn't aware of.

Mimi:
You mentioned previously about hiring two great people, and I know that's a really hard thing for a lot of CEOs, is to find really great people. Do you have any advice about that? Like where did you find them, how did you vet them, any kind of lessons learned from that?

Christine:
Yeah, that's actually like, I'm not good at everything, but I'm good at finding people who are good at everything. And that's I think a core skill as an entrepreneur. And that's about asking, like who's the best person, who would you work with? I just went through my network and asked as many people as I could. Let me just back up a minute. There are a lot of things that you do in a business that are not key drivers of your success. For example, in my business, SEO is a nice to have. I like it, but I can take a long time to do that. Finance, accounting, that stuff is a nice to have, but it's not critical. But formulation and e-commerce expertise, that's critical. And so I want to either own that or have the very best people in that.

Christine:
So in those areas, I really go to the mat to try to vet people and get all their references and look at their prior work and do a little sample project with them. And sometimes I'll run the same project with two or three people simultaneously on a sample project, just to see and compare the experiences, like a video test, for example, and see how each person interprets the same instructions to know if we're speaking the same language.

Mimi:
That's a good idea.

Christine:
And then the bigger project goes to the company that's easiest to work with.

Mimi:
In that case, you're hiring them to just do like a consulting basis for those smaller projects. And then whichever one you pick, you would hire full-time?

Christine:
That's right. You consider it like a trial period, except that we're actually doing a very minimal or targeted scope of work. So defining which ones are worth investing in, which positions, knowing which ones you have to have in house and which ones can be outsourced, but with the same kind of focus, that was a really helpful step. I'm missing some people now, but that's for budget reasons. I know who I want to get to, but I'm not quite big enough yet.

Looking Back As An Eight Time Serial Entrepreneur

sexual wellness company founder quote

Mimi:
Yeah. So because you're a serial entrepreneur and you've done this now seven times, I think you said, or is this your eighth time?

Christine:
Yeah, this is the eighth.

Mimi:
Eighth time. What would you say looking back, I know you said you've definitely reduced the amount of mistakes that you've made. What would you say for any entrepreneur that's listening, what are the biggest mistakes that you could try to avoid or any kind of advice that you would give them to avoid those mistakes?

Christine:
Well, I feel like, look, if you're going to start a venture, people kind of expect an overnight success, but every deal is three to five years minimum. And there's a process of vetting your ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. If you pay attention in the world, every day you're going to see something that is an opportunity, a problem that needs to be solved. Keep a little invention journal, an idea journal, but deciding which one of those to do is a deep inquiry. Like, does it align with my values? Are these the kinds of people I want to spend time with for the next five years? I did a lot of years in the steel mills and foundries and heavy industrial equipment, and that's the guys I was hanging out with. Now I get to hang out with beauty influencers and plant magicians, people who are in the Reverend self-care, it's a totally different world, sexual coaches.

Christine:
So, to decide if that's the space and the industry and the contribution you want to make to the world is a big deal because that vision, that thing you're going to hold is what will keep you energized through the times when cashflow is dipping and the website goes down and all of that stuff. And so, I would say the knowing your why, and making sure that you're committed to that vision is really the most important thing. And then I did not do well early in my career on self care at all. And now the sort of that, remember that Stephen Covey stuff from the 90s?

Mimi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Christine:
You're the golden goose, oh, you're the golden goose, you have to take out of the golden goose. Now I see that daily silence and self care is really critical to the business. That it's the shadow of how you care for yourself and how you hold your nervous system that is reflected through the team. And so I would definitely practice more self care than I did then.

Christine:
And then what I touched on earlier about the integrity, knowing your customer and being focused on their experience from beginning to end and make sure that all the pieces reflect that. And that's not something that you can put on, you know what I'm saying? It's like when you start your company, you know what you want to do and you'll make all of your choices from that subconscious knowing, even if you're trying to put a spin on it. So I wanted to be, I tend to be a much more pluralistic person than a luxury person, and what I'm noticing is that even though I have a more lux price point, that I keep wanting to downmarket the price point so that more people can have access to it. And it shows up in everything. So I ended up being more mass lux than the high-end stuff that I was trying to do. Anyway, keep the integrity through all of the elements, every interaction that a customer has with you has a branding experience. So you can't really neglect anything on the front end in that regard.

Christine:
The next thing is everything takes twice as long or three times as long as you think, and the same amount of money. And so your job as the leader is to watch the market, keep the customer experience in high integrity. And that includes the product quality, meeting what the promise says, and then watching your cash. I really made it a rule to try not to dip below six months in working capital and that's been helpful. So that's some of the things. In the first couple of rounds, I was always scrambling on a very high stress around things like managing AP and managing AR and I just don't want to do that anymore. Such a distraction.

Mimi:
Yeah, the whole financial part of it is very distracting. So your other seven companies, did you sell them or how did you wind up exiting them?

Christine:
Yeah. One was sold to DocuSign in 2018. One was sold to Alcoa. They've all been either customer acquisitions or financial buyers.

Mimi:
Was it kind of like you were sought after, or you were like, okay, I'm ready to do the next thing?

Christine:
I do zero to 5 million. That's my specialty. So in most cases I do zero to 5 million and exit with my shares, hire a replacement CEO and then have them grow the rest, because once it gets to quarterly reviews and multiple layers of management, I find the pace difficult. In this company, I have been getting coaching to stay to 100 million in sales so that I can grow with it. It's a sort of a next level expansion for me. So, I tend to be exiting one while already conceiving the next.

Mimi:
And it's hard to do two, right?

Christine:
I'm doing two now. It's impossible.

Mimi:
Yeah. It's really hard to stay focused.

Christine:
Yeah, it's hard for everybody.

Mimi:
I like how you're talking about having like a CEO coach. Do you think every CEO should have a coach or someone to help?

Christine:
Yes. I think even if you're not a CEO coach, even if you're a middle manager or an entry-level manager, you should have a professional coach, because your emotional maturity, your ability to be present with what's happening, defines your response capacity in your professional situation. And learning how to listen and ask people, your boss or your customers, whether it's in-house or, you can benefit from that from the very beginning. And it's an interesting intersection of your personal development, your spiritual development, your personal growth and skillsets that help you thrive in an organization. And people think like, oh, I'm different at home and at work, but not really. We carry those same biases, traumas, experiences into the workplace. And so if you work on that early, like I wish I had done that in my 20s, you're going to thrive, definitely.

Christine:
Take a portion of your income, this is financial advice from somebody who's lost it all and made millions. If you can figure out a way to live at 50% of your income and then put the rest into savings and into donations and have a small category for supplemental investment in personal growth, you're going to thrive. First of all, you create a kitty for being able to walk away from any situation that you're in that you don't like, you can invest, which is the only way to my female listeners the only way that you're going to accrue capital, which is a necessary component of having impact and political situations and designing systems that create a world that work for everyone. So get the capital. And also you have this more fluid participation in the flow of giving and receiving in the world. And it's just those three things, just give you a much higher locus of control in your life and flow.

Christine:
There are a lot of things that… I read a study once that said men, by the time they're 50, have great IRAs and women have great wardrobes. And I think that we really have to start choosing differently in that regard.

Sexual Wellness and TEDX Talks

Mimi:
That's true. It's very true. That's great advice. I saw that you have given a TEDx. Can you talk a little bit what you talked about and how you wound up doing that?

Christine:
Well, you know what, I started going Big TED in 2004. It was really a very life-changing first day and continued to be big part of my life until the early 2000s or 2013, 2014. And what Ted did was it brought me into the space of people who were superbly passionate about their work across many domains, and that they were lit up, not by some performative, I've got to earn a living, professional ladder climbing, but that they really were driven off of something in their heart. And it made me like what is worth working on in the world, big questions. And at that point it was this global war for me, it was pandemic and it was consciousness, like the violence that we do to each other and how we treat each other. Those are the big threats for humanity.

Christine:
And so by working on the sort of disconnection or reconnection and consciousness question, it really got me into thinking about how we work and how structures that we work within treat the individual so work there. So in my particular case, I was looking on the dehumanizing elements of modern work and what would happen if we shifted that to leading from love and to really seeing the people who are in the office with you as these million dollar assets walking around and looking at them and listening to them and crafting work experiences that honor the full person. So that's what I gave my little talk about, was leading from love and how that's the revolution that we need. And yeah, I didn't have a book or a platform or anything to go behind it.

Mimi:
How were you able to do that? What's the process? Is it like you have to know somebody, is there-

Christine:
[crosstalk 00:23:19] All TEDxs' are dependently run. The Big TED is a highly curatorial thing. And then the regionals like the Paris, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York, they are run by individual committees and they get to pick based on their theme. So that's how I… There's someone heard about me and I knew them and they said, how would you like to spend this? And [inaudible 00:23:45] opportunity to a lot of extent, because at that point I didn't have anything that I was promoting other than this one little feed of an idea. But if you had a platform that you were trying to really have books or products or something, it's an incredible opportunity.

Mimi:
That's great. I also noticed about opportunity on your website. You have really great press for your new venture. How did you go about doing that? Did you know people, did you hire a PR person?

Christine:
Well, both. I started out with a very low PR budget, like $2,000 a month or something for someone who would do product submissions for holiday gift cards. And I talked to a lot of my friends, and in the TED network and in other places, there are a lot of great women. And we happened to know some people who were planning conferences. There was a group of women in San Francisco, Gina Pell, and Amy Parker who have something called, The What, and they were doing a conference for women. That was one of the first places we went and launched. We went to, there was a sort of a women's sexuality empowerment conference. And we knew the woman who was doing that and we brought our products there.

Christine:
And so for a while, we just really leaned into the network of women we knew and told our story at these conferences and that got us some early press, but there were also some kind of bigger hooks from the products, like when we went to name the company, there were over 700 euphemisms on urban dictionary for a woman's intimate parts and only like half a dozen were nice. And the rest were insults, which was like, what? How could that possibly be? And then sort of starting to tap into how the culture talks about a woman's intimate parts is reflective of how it talks about women in general, objectification, transactional, whoredom filth, all those kinds of things, and that really was an eye opener for how we wanted, [inaudible 00:25:37] such a contrast. It was like reverence and self love and appreciation and self regard. And so even that little hook was like, Hey, can I draw your attention to this fact? And that was the kind of stuff that really created the press.

Christine:
And before we started, the category was primarily lubricants and sexual aids. And we said, it's not what this is. It's not. And people couldn't wrap their heads around how a woman's body could be for something other than transactional interaction with another person. And the idea that it would be self-care and that you live with your [inaudible 00:26:14] 365 days a year, all the time that you might want some moisturizer, you might want some of these things was wait, what?

Christine:
So to go from sexual aids to intimate wellness was kind of a mindset shift. So that was also a little bit of a hook. And I find that with like now I get to talk to women across categories. I just interviewed this amazing woman, Nicole Hodges, who is talking about rebranding virginity, that virginity doesn't exist, that you are not a different person before and after. And for me, coming of age in the 80s, I was like, what are you talking about? That's mind blowing. But the more you can have a hook that tells a new story or that wakes people up, and it's not just about a cool product. I mean, cool products get good visibility and beauty editorial and things like that, but the more that you have a narrative that is about a concept, the more people will want to write about it.

Christine:
So I increased my agency list to be more practical and tactical for people who are building something, I increased the agency spend gradually 2000 to 5,000. I think 5,000, you get pretty decent coverage, and up to 10,000 you get, that's a pretty standard agency rate a month.

Christine’s Advice For Entrepreneurs

quote from sexual wellness company founder

Mimi:
Okay. That's good to know. I would assume as you do that, the 10,000, you're getting more of like a pure agency, whereas the 2000 is probably one person like a consulting?

Christine:
Or it's an agency and you're just taking their low-end service which is product submissions.

Mimi:
What would you say is your biggest obstacle right now?

Christine:
Supply chain. Biggest obstacle. Right now that's COVID related, but it really has… So a couple of things that happened with COVID that are not, we make in Los Angeles and they were shut down a little bit, but we were mostly unaffected on the production side in domestically, but we get our glass from Italy and that was months and months of factories being shut down, and all sympathy and empathy to all of our friends there who are impacted. Our ingredients come from all over the world. Some of these things are grown in the south Pacific. A lot of very esoteric ingredients are grown in India, which has been incredibly impacted by COVID. So there's that component. And then we have travel kits and some of the packaging elements come out of China. And if you remember early in COVID, there was also the China trade wars where we're getting tariffs and things weren't being let in on top of it.

Christine:
So a lot of the supply chain was disrupted. And now another COVID result is they printed 20% of all of the money supply in circulation was printed in 2020 and just given away. And now we're dealing with inflation. And so I'm dealing with inflation. People obviously know that cost of living is going up. Some of the government figures support that, but it's worse on the ground than is being reported, at least anecdotally for us, but people's income isn't going up. And so, my costs are going up every day. And so I think the combination of those two things of managing the economics and managing the supply chain out of stocks are my biggest problem.

Mimi:
Right. I'm sorry that you're going through that. It's hard. I think it's been a big struggle for a lot of companies to manage this COVID and supply chain and everything is just out of stock and taking so long. To end, what would you give, any advice that you would give anybody who's either thinking about leaving their company and starting their own business or in the process and struggling because of COVID, any kind of takeaways, any last minute advice that you would give out?

Christine:
Yes. Three things that come to mind off the top. One is, it's going to sound strange, but there are actually risk-taking genetic markers. Did you know that?

Mimi:
No.

Christine:
There are predictors of sexual behavior, entrepreneurship, extreme sports. You can get your 23andMe profile and see if your nervous system can handle the risk taking of going out on your own.

Mimi:
That's true.

Christine:
That's true, but it's also kind of, it's funny you can-

Mimi:
[crosstalk 00:30:07] It is funny, but what are you looking at? What is the marker?

Christine:
There are four different markers. I did 23 in years ago and it's in their sort of fun to know category of the report they gave us then. And I was like, oh my God, this explains so much.

Mimi:
Oh my gosh, [inaudible 00:30:22].

Christine:
So definitely genetically inclined towards risk-taking. I wrote a book a couple of years ago called Bending The Bow, which explores the life of great activists, which are also entrepreneurs in a way, like people who are 30 years ahead of a major social movement. And kind of looking at what they had as their internal qualities to sustain them, and then what they did to get off the ground. And one of the things was that we put a lot of pressure in this culture on the individual entrepreneur, the [inaudible 00:30:51], the sole unit, but every single person in the Bending The Bow book had a core group of five to six people that really banded together to get something moving. And that's been my experience as well. If you get four or five people, five people that say, who want to pull together to do something, you're much more likely to succeed. And the idea of like, I have to do it all myself is an old model of entrepreneurship.

Christine:
So I really would encourage you if you're going to do it to lean into sort of your, to find a few other people who are interested in doing it with you, or at least create an advisory council. And then it's not really about a skillset in terms of doing a job. If you can pick anything, whether it's in the community, it's volunteer work, it's a creative project, it's something that you have begun from start to finish, visualize manifested piece, pulled all the pieces together, that's more important than any particular skillset. So I would say, look for evidence of your own capacity in having done something that went from idea to manifest reality, and then see what you have to fill in around that. So those are some ideas.

Christine:
I also would say, do the research. I know you have a great idea. Do the research on whether the way you're thinking about it is validated, do people want it, is it a true need, how are they solving that need now, and think through it. Don't fall so in love with your idea that you push ahead in the face of data. There are some people who have really beautiful edge ideas who do that, but for the most part, I've left a lot on the cutting room floor through early research. So those are some ideas. I love this talk, [inaudible 00:32:29] I talk so much.

Mimi:
I know. You could talk forever. You're so informative and you've done so much with your life and you've been so successful. So thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it. This has been so enlightening and you're just so beautiful and smart and successful. So this has been just wonderful. Thank you.

Christine:
Thank you. And I wish everybody tremendous success to see what you dream of made into reality and ease in the process.

Mimi:
Yeah. Go for your dreams. Just go for it and don't give up, right?

Links

https://rosewoman.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rosebudwoman/?hl=en

https://www.instagram.com/the.rose.woman/?hl=en

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