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Female Disruptors: Thyme Sullivan of TOP The Organic Project On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

I called a good friend from college after I first left my Executive job and she told me, “Success doesn’t make you happy, happiness makes you successful”. That was when I knew I didn’t want to seek another corporate role, I wanted to do things differently.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thyme Sullivan.

Thyme Sullivan is the Co-Founder and CEO of TOP the organic project. Her professional experience includes 27 years as a consumer products Executive with PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Nestle USA. She began her career driving a Frito-Lay truck and worked her way up to leading a high performing cross functional team with over a billion dollars in annual revenue.

A corporate re-structure gave Thyme the opportunity to follow her purpose and design her next chapter.

When Thyme and co-founder Denielle Finkelstein went looking for better and more eco-friendly period products for their daughters, they came away empty handed and the idea for TOP was born. They have built a successful purpose driven and plant-based brand by doing things differently and having fun along the way.

She was raised in Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a B.A. in Economics.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Denielle and I had come to a crossroads in our lives. We were both at the height of our careers, we were the breadwinners in our families and yet we were profoundly unfulfilled by making a salary vs. making a life. My job was eliminated and Denielle left her job at almost the exact same time. We are cousins but both lost our Dads early in life and had not seen each other in over 20 years, we reconnected on social media, met for lunch and the rest is TOP history.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

TOP the organic project, is a social impact brand that is bringing plant-based sustainability to period products. Founded by 2 Fearless Moms, Denielle & I left our Executive roles to build a brand with purpose that was inspired by our daughters.

Launched in 2018, we are doing things differently by raising the standard with better materials and better products, speaking specifically to Gen X Moms and their Gen Z daughters. We are starting the conversation to educate this next generation to become advocates for themselves and bringing some levity to a category that has long been ignored.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

That is an easy one, we made the mistake of trying to build our brand following the playbook from our corporate backgrounds and listening to the wrong advice. I had purchased a Tampon costume that I wanted to wear to get noticed and everyone said CEO’s and Founders can’t do that, hire someone.

I didn’t just wear the amazing tampon suit, I grocery shopped in it, went to yoga, went to lunch with friends and ran a 10K in Boston. We got noticed by the buyer at Wegmans and that was when our trajectory changed.

We recognized that corporate culture is inherently risk averse and to be a successful entrepreneur you have to un-train that muscle to stay in line and follow the rules.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

We are extremely grateful to have been a recipient of the Sara Blakely, Spanx and Global Giving Red Backpack Fund grant in 2020.

We are now part of her Red Backpack brigade, she is our mentor and entrepreneur hero. Sara is smart, funny, authentic and has made it her life mission to advocate for women.

She knows that it is OK to start small and dream big and everything is possible. Her unapologetic authenticity is what made us realize that we can change company culture and create abundance while still building a company for good. Most importantly we live by her motto, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we do serious things” and we know that we all have superpowers to do amazing things.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Yes, “disruptor” is overused and often misunderstood, it is not always the holy grail to success and in fact can be the demise of a startup. A true disruptor is an entirely new idea or category, think Uber, Netflix, Airbnb. Unless you are creating something completely new you are not a disruptor. And disruptor beware, you will have a lot of company soon as people try to duplicate your offering.

I prefer to think of us as a challenger brand and this is the sweet spot for success for startups in our space. One that comes to mind for me is Hello toothpaste. I have had the pleasure to get to know Craig Dubitsky (Friendly CEO & Founder of Hello) who executed his challenger strategy perfectly. No fear mongering, he simply highlighted the best features and benefits of his friendly brand which weakened the perceived strengths of the power players, Crest and Colgate.

Similarly our goal is to raise the standard of all feminine care by challenging the lack of innovation, transparency and connection with the traditional big brands.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

I called a good friend from college after I first left my Executive job and she told me, “Success doesn’t make you happy, happiness makes you successful”. That was when I knew I didn’t want to seek another corporate role, I wanted to do things differently.

Denielle and I met Cindy Eckert at a conference where she spoke about fundraising. She is another one of our entrepreneur heroines who went from being underestimated to unapologetic when she sold her company for a billion dollars.

She advised raising our seed round from Angel Investors vs. Venture Capital. We thought everyone starting a company went straight to VC, raised a few million dollars and grew happily ever after. She was 100% correct and we are so grateful for her advice.

A quote from Marie Forleo, “Everything is figureoutable”. Even with all of our Executive experience there were so many times Denielle and I had no idea how to tackle certain things. We are both learners and super curious, so we asked for help, we researched, we listened, and figured it out.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

When Oprah asked lady Gaga why she wore a dress made out of meat to the 2010 MTV Music Awards she replied, “I had to be seen to be heard”

The tampon suit is my meat dress, we needed people to see us to start the conversation. The greatest gift we can give to young women is the knowledge to advocate for their own health and wellness.

Just before COVID hit I had purchased 12 more amazing tampon suits and my dream was to do a flash mob in Times Square as a whole box of tampons. Both Denielle and I are fully vaccinated and as Walt Disney says, “All our dreams can come true!”

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Fundraising for women is far more challenging and fundraising as mature founders starting a period products company felt almost insurmountable. Only 2.3% of VC funding went to female entrepreneurs in 2020, down from 2.8% in 2019. We all need to send the elevator back down for more women as we rise.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

How I Built this with Guy Raz has been my go-to since day one. Everyone loves to hear a Founder’s journey and you realize that everyone makes mistakes along the way and if you don’t make mistakes you aren’t taking enough risk. It helps you understand there is no recipe for success, each entrepreneur has a unique journey based on the timing, market and circumstances. You see patterns of resilience, curiosity and grit and most importantly you can see yourself in these relatable stories.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I know I was always meant to advocate for women. TOP is making better and more eco-friendly period products accessible to everyone.

1 in 4 girls and women in the US have missed school or work because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products. That is ¼ of our population that will never reach their full potential. If we want equality it begins with meeting the most basic human health and wellness needs.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You become what you believe” — Oprah Winfrey. Why are some of the most successful people from such humble and unlikely beginnings? The most successful people I admire know that everything is possible.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thank you & let’s connect!

Thank you for your time, and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.

Female Disruptors: Thyme Sullivan of TOP The Organic project On The Three Things You Need To Shake… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.