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Move over, frozen peas
Generations-old taboos have resulted in meager offerings for pain management and health of intimate areas. Today we chat with Suzanne Sinatra, the founder of Private Packs, who seeks to solve that problem.
Welcome to The Leap, where women and nonbinary entrepreneurs open up about what it took to get to where they are now. In 2018, women founders received just 2.2% of the $130 billion in venture money invested in the United States. Given these odds, it’s time to get real about what it’s really like to be a woman founder. From raising capital to imposter syndrome, we explore what it takes for women to enter the world of entrepreneurship.
Today we chat with Suzanne Sinatra, the founder of Private Packs, a line of wearable, reusable, user-friendly therapy packs contoured to fit intimate body parts. Though hot and cold therapy for pain relief has been around forever, there are currently very limited options for such treatments of private regions, other than plugging in that clunky old heating pad or shoving a sweating ice pack down your pants. This, Sinatra decided, simply wasn’t cutting it.
Sinatra came up with Private Packs as a remedy to this issue, realizing that people deserved a wearable, discreet, and comfortable solution that allows them to live their lives freely—with no strings (or electric cords) attached. (Her brand’s first product? Designed to instantly relieve vulvar pain and discomfort.) Recently fully funded on Indiegogo, Sinatra discusses some of the challenges she has faced in her founder journey so far, what it’s like to crowdfund, and how a cancer diagnosis affected her entrepreneurial path.
Did you go to college? If so, what did you study?
After high school, I went to Humber College in Toronto where I earned my associates degree in Fashion Merchandising. Later, I completed my Bachelor of Arts and Science degree at Dallas Baptist University.
What were you doing before work before starting your company?
I started my career as a Junior Analyst at the boutique investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin, and Jenrette that was later acquired by Credit Suisse. I left the firm in 2002 and changed careers, becoming a Meeting Planner and worked for the Wall Street Journal, LG Electronics, Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and, most recently, Deutsche Bank in 2017.
Where did you first get the idea for Private Packs?
After I left my marriage, it took me a while to get my mojo back. In an attempt to honor my body and relieve some stress, I planned a day of pampering for me and my vagina. That’s just how I roll. A Brazilian wax was on the agenda, but I didn’t expect the esthetician to remove all of my skin down there. When I got home, I searched for relief, and what did I find? A bag of peas in the freezer. I couldn’t stoop that low, so I went with a frozen water bottle and waddled over to my laptop. After searching online for a vaginal gel pack, I realized there was nothing like this available. But, I needed something like it all the time! Whether I was sore after spinning, pre-menstrual and feeling crampy, had a UTI, or just [because of] painful sex—intimate areas need care just like any other part of the body.
What did your journey to launching Private Packs look like? And how did it affect your relationship to financial stability?
The waxing accident that became the catalyst for Private Packs happened in 2014, but it didn’t become a real company until January 2017. I had a steady income which allowed me to pay for expenses that are required for most hardware startups: prototypes, molds, product samples, patents, and so on.
However, eight months later I found a lump in my left breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before my original crowdfunding campaign was set to launch. I was unable to work because chemotherapy made me so sick. Cancer is very expensive, [and] I blew through all the money I had saved for Private Packs and ended up on welfare and food stamps eight weeks later. I hit rock bottom again but this time I was racing against the clock because the cancer was spreading, the tumors were growing, and I was getting weaker everyday.
Luckily, I had been broke before so being financially unstable was familiar, but my confidence took a hit and it humbled me because I had to learn to ask people for help. Even though I didn’t launch Private Packs that September I still had a lot of building to do, and build I did.
Letting go of a steady paycheck is terrifying for most people, did you have a safety net or a back-up plan before launching?
Letting go of a steady paycheck is not a big deal when you have nothing. When I returned to New York City in 2011, I left my beautiful Dallas life, house, dog, and spouse with the clothes on my back and one suitcase and slept on my friend’s floor—jobless, homeless, penniless, and directionless. I hit rock bottom for the first time and it was rocky for awhile—years! I gradually got back on my feet. However, I became comfortable with not having a safety net and I live that way today. It has served me well because I savor every win like a perfect Cosmopolitan.
What’s been your plan to profitability—have you been raising capital? How are you financing your brand?
Private Packs launched on Indiegogo and was 206% funded, which will fund our first production run. Doing a crowdfunding campaign was a response to the many New York VC’s and angel investors that told me that they would consider investing in Private Packs if I proved product-market fit. That gave me a swag of “I’ll show them,” and it ended up being an amazing marketing tool to introduce the brand to the masses and have our community share their intimate pain stories with us. Most importantly, it showed me that I could launch a company.
I didn’t go to an Ivy League school and I don’t have previous startup experience. I’m just a girl who got her vag ripped off and decided to do something about it because I knew in my heart I wasn’t the only person that experienced private area pain. Next year we are launching our e-commerce store and I plan to hire a team and then raise money.
What’s it been like being a woman entrepreneur?
Being a woman entrepreneur is amazing and perfect for Private Packs. I believe [my] being a woman makes people comfortable sharing their TMI stories. [People] being vulnerable enough to tell me— a perfect stranger—their deeply personal, sometimes downright horrific vaginal pain stories is awe-inspiring—and I don’t think would happen if I wasn’t a woman.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, how have you dealt with it?
I experienced imposter syndrome twice. When I first started, I didn’t think I could do it because I had a steep learning curve—women’s health and business. What helped me dissipate the story in my head that I wasn’t enough was that I gradually became more confident in my business when I spoke about it and watched people stay interested because my passion showed.
The second time I had imposter syndrome, it hit me harder. It was right after my mastectomy. I would look in the mirror bare-chested and just cry for days because I didn’t know how I built a business around women’s health yet didn’t take care of my own. I felt like a fraud because I’m telling people to do what I didn’t do for myself. My lack of self-care cost me my breast. I didn’t and still don’t feel whole. However, I now say: Don’t be like me and not take care of yourself because it can cost you your life.
What’s currently your biggest business challenge?
Raising money. At our stage, investors invest in founders with passion and commitment, which I have in spades. They also invest in familiar products and services because it’s what they know and because it gives them something to compare us to. But Private Packs is such a new concept that it would take an investor to look beyond the horizon and see the value in these products and our company mission.
What’s been your company’s biggest victory so far?
The biggest victory thus far is having our campaign 206% funded. We didn’t have committed checks or a lot of press mentions, and we still exceeded our goal. Over 60% of our backers found us on social media! Proud is an understatement of how I feel.
What does your self-care routine look like? What keeps you grounded and sane?
First, I see a psychotherapist every week. Secondly, I lift weights two or three times a week for an hour session with an unbelievably attractive trainer. Third, I love hanging out with my friends and I make time to visit and have phone calls and Facetime check-in with my friends around the world and family in Canada. My two nieces and three nephews keep me grounded and hanging with all them on Friday nights make me happy, whole, and unbelievably lucky.
What are some resources that have helped you on your journey?
Two books that have helped me are Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World, and LEAPFROG: The New Revolution For Women Entrepreneurs. I also love Foundr Podcast.
What’s your advice to someone who is considering taking “the leap”?
Don’t do it for the money. It is not enough to keep you emotionally and mentally in the game of building a startup. Having your business tied to your mission and beliefs make the tough times easier because you're doing it for a bigger purpose than your bank account.
Passion and drive is that extra drop of gas in the tank when you are on empty after pitching 300 VC's and consistently hearing no. It keeps you going when all you can afford to eat is mac and cheese because you need the money to pay to get your logo designed just right. I wanted to give up on Private Packs at least 20 times, but I didn't because I kept hearing stories about [people with vulvas] in pain, and that kept me going.