4 Female Founders Share Their Best Advice in Honor of International Women’s Day 

Last Update: March 26, 2024

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we wanted to spotlight the founders and leaders behind some of the most beloved brands we carry at Thrive Market—and the journeys they took to get to where they are today. 

In these conversations, we learned about the advice these female founders would give to their younger selves to help achieve their dreams, from using their voices with confidence to sticking with it even when things get tough. Read on to hear their words of wisdom and explore these innovative, inspiring female-founded brands. 

Cherie Hoeger, CEO & Co-Founder, Saalt 

Cherie Hoeger knew that women deserved better when it comes to period care products, which is why she decided to create Saalt: premium, reusable period and leak care products that replace traditional pads and tampons. As a certified B Corp, the company has a 2% social give-back mission to help end global period poverty. Since their launch in 2018, Saalt has also donated over 100,000 Saalt products to help women and girls in need in 50 countries across the world.

What’s some advice you wish you had when you were starting out?

Are you dreaming big enough? In college, I remember I used to do a lot of dreaming. I’d write down my goals, continuously add to my bucket list, and chart out the journey that would lead me to all the big things I hoped to accomplish in life. Little did I know that all that dreaming (combined with thick skin, late nights, and a lot of research) would prove to be the single most vital exercise to get me to where I am today. Spurred by a phone call with my aunt in Venezuela where pads and tampons had not been available in stores for years, one of my biggest dreams morphed into an idea, that idea led to plans, and those plans became Saalt. Your dreams are capable of becoming your reality, too. Oprah said it best, “The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” We have the power to shape our life to fit our greatest vision of ourselves, so dream big my friend.

How do you think being a female founder has set you apart in your industry?

Stigmas stifle progress. As a female founder entrenched in the menstrual care industry, I have a first-hand view into the glaring needs of a stigmatized market that has stifled women’s progress for centuries. Even in our modern age, cars are faster, phones are smarter, but period care products have largely remained the same for the past 40 years (since the invention of the pad with wings in the 1980s). If men had periods, we would likely have had more innovative solutions by now! 

At Saalt, we make products for women, by women. Our designers and product developers are female, and our entire team wear-tests and gives feedback on new products alongside customer focus groups. Every product we make is premium quality, sustainably made, and actually works to prevent leaks while being ultra-comfortable and beautiful.

Katlin Smith, CEO & Founder, Simple Mills 

Kaitlin Smith describes herself as a “an analytical, creative and curious person, a lifelong learner, and a new parent.” Smith is the CEO and founder of Simple Mills, whose crackers, cookies, and baking mixes you’re likely already deliciously familiar with. “Our goal is to revolutionize how food is made to nourish people and the planet,” Smith says, which is why the brand uses only purposeful ingredients that leave a positive impact on the industry and their customers. 

What’s some advice you wish you had when you were starting out?  

It’s all about maximizing your toolbox and pulling out the right tool at the right time. So often, we default to a tool without a moment’s reconsideration, assuming it’s the right one. In my case, grabbing the steering wheel became my default move, a habit I leaned on too frequently early on. 

Sometimes, stepping back proves more effective. Encouraging others, inspiring creativity, making that dreaded cold call, or even unpopular decisions can be a better tool. The magic is being able to step back, unreactive and untriggered, and think, What best serves our company’s goals and the individuals involved? That’s what fosters great leadership and builds exceptional organizations.

How do you think being a female founder has set you apart in your industry? 

There are a number of wonderful female founders in the food industry that are really changing the game, so I feel I’m in great company! One of the things that makes us female founders so special is that we’re often driven by more than just building a successful brand—we think about impact. We want to drive change through creating next-generation companies that will continue to create impact and leave a lasting mark on the world. 

I’m empowered by leaders like Julia Collins, the founder of Planet FWD and Moonshot Snacks, and Madeline Haydon, founder and CEO of NutPods, who made history by being the first to step up to the plate and lead by example. Collins has not only done wonders for the food and CPG [consumer package goods] space, but her work to help consumer brands manage their carbon footprint has set an excellent example for leaders and companies across all industries. 

Najwa Khan, CEO & Founder, Dalci

Najwa Khan’s health journey started in high school while watching an episode of Oprah. She was so inspired by the episode’s guest, Dr. Catherine Hamlin (who dedicated her life to helping women in Ethiopia overcome health stigmas and start their own businesses), that Khan decided to get her masters degree in public health. “After a decade working in healthcare, it hit me that the American food system is broken,” Khan remembers. When she was pregnant with her first child, Khan says that she “couldn’t stand the idea of living in a world where she was led to believe that being healthy meant giving up all sugar, carbs, and dairy, rather than giving up ultra processed, chemical-filled foods that mask their artificial nature by using natural flavors and sugar alcohols.” She went on to create Dalci, a line of brownies and other nutritious treats that prioritize wholesome, real ingredients. 

What’s some advice you wish you had when you were starting out?

Listen to your gut, go slow, and build a brand you believe in. As someone that came from a completely different [industry], I took in a lot of my inspiration from what I saw out in the world. A very pretty picture is painted by others and it’s not the truth of the realities of starting your own business. I want others to know that starting a business requires a lot of capital, a lot of your time and energy, a savvy marketing plan to help customers see the value you provide, and the ability to understand how to reach profitability. 

Before Covid, we lived in a bubble where we were led to believe in growth at all costs, to build fast, and sell big. This lie, I believe, still exists and as a new founder, I urge individuals to not fall for the appeal of fast growth. Less than 2% of funding goes to women, and even less goes to minority women (.041%). Build differently than what you see out there, build smart, and build a brand that truly does good for others. 

How do you think being a female founder has set you apart in your industry?

Being a woman, especially one that has gone through the miracle of childbirth, has allowed me as a person to develop a significant amount of empathy for people that have to care for others and themselves. The experience I had after having my son made me realize how difficult life was multitasking my job, my health, my son, my family, my friends, my home, everything. There seemed to not be enough time in the day to be healthy, to cook from scratch, to go to the farmers market and buy organic produce. It was this experience that showed me that even with all the knowledge I had about processed and packaged food, I still gave in to fast and convenient options because I had no choice. There isn’t a plethora of brands out there that follow the strict guidelines we set at Dalci when we make treats. So I had to buy the “best” chemical filled treat. 

Life is hard for all of us, and as a woman I think we feel it a bit more in certain households when we take on the caretaker roles as well. I believe my experience as a female founder allows me to see that building Dalci isn’t just about the bottom line and profitability, it’s about giving people the help they need when they have so much more to worry about then making sure chemicals aren’t in the foods they feed their family. 

Lin Jiang, Founder, Yishi 

Lin Jiang’s food journey began with what she describes as a “personal quest.” She wanted to recreate the comforting flavors of her mother’s traditional Chinese cooking, but she also had aspirations to introduce these flavors to a global audience. She leveraged her background in business to found Yishi Foods, a company that crafts Asian-inspired, gluten-free oatmeals and pancake mixes that cater to the “health-conscious and culturally curious”. “Yishi not only represents a bridge between cultures, but also embodies my journey from an international student to an entrepreneur in the food industry,” Jiang says.

What’s some advice you wish you had when you were starting out? 

I wish I had known the true value of resilience and the importance of embracing failure as a stepping stone, not a setback. Being advised to seek feedback early and often, to iterate quickly based on that feedback, would have been immensely beneficial. Understanding that no doesn’t mean never, but rather not yet, could have prepared me for the inevitable rejections and helped me persevere. Additionally, the significance of building a supportive network and finding a mentor could have accelerated my growth and provided guidance through the challenging times of entrepreneurship. 

How do you think being a female founder has set you apart in your industry? 

Being a female and Chinese-American founder in the food industry has given me a distinctive edge. My background has allowed me to approach business with a blend of resilience, cultural insight, and a commitment to inclusivity. This perspective not only enriches my leadership style but also guides Yishi to serve as a bridge between diverse culinary traditions and modern health-conscious consumers, setting a new standard for authenticity and innovation in our sector.

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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