Being an entrepreneur or female executive is not for the faint-hearted. I am both. I am the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Ra Medical Systems, a medical device company that makes lasers and catheters to treat debilitating dermatological diseases, save patients’ limbs from amputation and improve the quality of life for people around the world.
In my experience, to take your place in the “C-Level,” be it at a company that you start or conglomerate that someone else founded 100 years ago, you have to have your own “Inner C-Suite.”
Conviction and creativity means hiring a welder if you have to.
It begins with conviction that you know what’s best when it comes to the things that matter most for starting and running your business. While you do not have to be the best at everything, you have to be the best at what drives the business and what no one else can do better.
Creativity is essential for rising to the top in positions that are usually filled by men. Having the self-awareness of your strengths and creativity skills – in the case of start-ups, this means serious creativity in bartering, trading, getting resources on credit and networking to bring in others to compensate for your weaknesses. All of this will make you a stronger leader.
In the early days of Ra Medical, the sales force was me, myself and I. Pharos, our excimer laser for psoriasis, vitiligo and atopic dermatitis weighs about 100 pounds and is the size of an airline food cart. While it is about half the size of the competitor and portable enough to easily bring to an office to treat patients in a hands-on demonstration, it was far too heavy for me to lift on my own in the same way that some of the “laser guys” at other companies could do, especially in a dress and high heels. Since the ability to put the laser into the doctor’s hands and do a live clinical training demonstration was something that our competitor simply could not do, it was essential that I figure out how to bring our lasers around the country on my own – cheaply, in rental cars.
With a used motorcycle ramp, local welder who did us a favor, some tie-wraps and discounted Internet mini-van rentals, we had an economic, portable, quick and convenient demo laser transport system that every sales manager, female and male, has used since. This became a core competitive advantage that enabled us to close high-ticket dermatology capital equipment sales on the spot. It is also a cornerstone of the clinical training and sales program for our DABRA Catheter and Laser for the treatment of Peripheral Artery Disease and embodies the core values of all products: better, safer, faster and less expensive.
But what exactly does courage look like when you’re an entrepreneur?
Of course, you will get nowhere without courage: both to succeed and fail. Courage is how you do a sales pitch for the first time when you know that there is a lot you still do not know; courage is how you tell a customer that he or she is wrong and that you have the ability to educate on what is better; courage is how to sign the paychecks for your employees without knowing how you are going to pay the utility bill next month. Courage is what keeps you going and drives you to find the solution so that you can pay your team and keep the lights on.
Being as changeable/flexible as a chameleon is key.
To succeed, you have to be a chameleon: be exactly what your customer needs on that particular day and time and something entirely different two hours later with a different customer. This applies to employees, employers, peers, shareholders, vendors and the guy whom you sit next to on the red eye flight home.
And the most important C is…
In the end, though, it comes down to caring – not just about your job but also about what your business provides to the world. It’s about caring for your employees and their families and for the people’s lives who you, your company and your product impact. You instill that in the people who work for you and in your family who love and support you.
My 5-year-old knows that every day I go to work to make lasers and catheters that save and improve the quality of people’s lives. She knows that I believe in what I do, and because I believe this, so does she. When I have to take overnight trips, she knows that it’s not that I want to be away from her; it’s that I am trying to make the world a better place for her and her sister and their children to come, both with the products that my company makes and the leadership role that I play in it.
She also knows that I care about the company that I have built and about the people who work for and with me. She knows that I am proud of what I do every day, and it is both a responsibility and earned privilege that people trust me to lead, manage and empower them to succeed.
Every day, I care that I set an example for her and her 2-year-old sister – and every day I show them that they can do anything that they desire for their own “Inner C-Suite” to accomplish.