Female Founders: Jessica Mulligan of Winged Wellness On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Find like-minded people to work with, not like skilled people. Working with a team that shares your values and thought system can be hugely beneficial. Equally important, especially in a startup situation is to make sure your skill sets do not overlap so you all can bring needed value to the company.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jess Muligan.
Winged’s singular mission is to help women feel good. They think that with products formulated specifically for a woman’s body, plus a supportive community of Winged women, we might just be able to do that.
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?
I found myself working in the natural products industry right out of college and loved working in an industry that promoted a healthy way of living that more and more Americans were adopting. I spent the first twelve years of my career at NeoCell, the first ingestible collagen brand in the US. I started as an entry-level account executive and rose through the ranks eventually leading all of the commercial-facing parts of the business (sales, marketing, and innovations). It was a great adventure, and one I felt very blessed to be a part of. To be selling a product that could genuinely help people feel their best, I realized this was what I was determined to do for the rest of my life and my early career experience would lay the groundwork for my future business in the cannabis industry, Winged.
In 2017, seemingly overnight my entire life changed. In a short period of time (three months), the brand I had been leading for over a decade was sold, the owner of the brand (who was my mentor) passed away unexpectedly, and many employees were laid off. My long-time boyfriend and I split up and my dog, Frank the Tank, passed away after 16 years. I was rocked.
Everything that was my identity was rapidly stripped away and that period and all the change that it brought caused debilitating anxiety that lasted for a solid year. It manifested in all aspects of my life — my sleep, my relationships and my ability to perform at work. Through this difficult and uncomfortable time, I found healing with CBD and other adaptogenic herbs. I dove deep into the research and learned how that the body has an endocannabinoid system and by balancing it, one could have better stress responses. The relief I had found was so palpable, I was sleeping through the night for the first time in almost a year and my general feelings of constantly being overwhelmed became a thing of the past. I felt comfortable in my own skin again, which I hadn’t felt in a long time. I wanted to share that relief with other women, and it was from here that Winged was born.
Winged offers formulas that are specific for a woman’s body and our brand is rooted in mood. We believe that when a woman feels good, she is unstoppable.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I had a designer when we were first getting going and we were not seeing eye to eye on the design at all. My hairdresser, who had become a good friend, Tiffany, called me to see how things were going. I told her how excited I was about how everything with Winged was going, except for the packaging, and how I was disappointed the designer and I weren’t syncing. Tiffany knew my aesthetic probably better than anyone; when I remodeled my house 6 months prior she was my sounding board for all decisions made in the house — every color, tile, textile. Tiffany casually said to me maybe her and her new boyfriend could design something and I didn’t think twice about it. Three days later she called me sounding very excited and asked if I was home because she had to come over and show me. Tiff had come up with the designs, color ways and even the Winged animals for our packaging, and with her boyfriend’s technical skills they presented the Winged branding. Amazing, right? The lesson from this is sometimes the best surprises come where you never thought about looking. Don’t close yourself off to possibilities
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?
I can’t think of anything truly hilarious that has happened with Winged but I do have a funny earlier entrepreneurial story. During grad school I started a stainless-steel water bottle company called UTURN. I decided that in addition to bottles I wanted to design and get manufactured sustainable lunch boxes for kiddos. I decided to call them “Munch Box” which I thought was super cute and had each one engraved with that name. I searched the web to make sure that there weren’t any products similar in name, filed with USPTO, and obtained the trademark. I ordered 10k lunch boxes from India, which was not an insignificant amount of money for me to lay out. As the lunchboxes were about to clear customs, a friend sent me the urbandictionary.com definition. Let’s say it was not PG rated. I’ll let you google the meaning, but I still laugh about it to this day.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am forever grateful to Al Quadri, the man who founded NeoCell. When I was just 27 he decided I should be the VP of Sales for his company. I was terrified to accept this big role, but his belief in me made me rise to the occasion. A lot of “fake it ’til you make it” in those early days, but slowly grew into the position. I said so many times through the years that he gave me wings before I knew I could fly, and how beautiful that my brand is now named Winged. I will always be so grateful to the belief he had in me before I had it in myself. It’s my everyday goal to try to be that person for the women on my team.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I don’t necessarily think that women are held back from founding companies, but the issue is that they are held back from getting VC funding for those companies. 40% of the businesses owned in the US are woman owned, up from 20% in 2018. This is the good news. The bad news is that female founders secured only 2% of venture capital in 2021, the smallest share since 2016l The real issue is how to get investors to invest in women and push aside the patriarchal mindset.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
The Government has a program called Boostin Female Founders and its awards grants for up to 400k to female owned businesses. I think continuing on this path while encouraging VC’s to employ more women in decision making roles can help women secure the funding they need to launch and grow.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
The data clearly shows- we are good at it. Women led startups outperform male led startups in revenue- more than twice as much per dollar invested. Women outform in profitability as well. Women are quick to adapt and are often nurturing leaders which in today’s great resignation is not an if but a must for talent. We often outperform men when it comes to building culture and social responsibility. And lastly, women are able to move mountains. Anyone who has seen a capable woman in action will agree with this.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I think resilience, the ability to self manage and motivate as well as have an imagination are all key traits in founders.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Find like-minded people to work with, not like skilled people. Working with a team that shares your values and thought system can be hugely beneficial. Equally important, especially in a startup situation is to make sure your skill sets do not overlap so you all can bring needed value to the company.
- The business you start with is not the business you end up with. Businesses iterate as they learn what works and doesn’t. I still believe it’s a good exercise to do a business plan, however looking back on it a couple years later and chances are you will have deviated quite a bit. That’s a good thing- you are learning and adjusting as you go.
- Know which of the “small stuff” is important to pay attention to and stop worrying and spending time on the rest. It’s really easy to get caught up in things that aren’t going to change the trajectory of your business- like business card design. Don’t obsess about the small stuff that isn’t important, but do obsess about every aspect of customer experience, no matter how small.
- Remember to stop and celebrate the wins and just how much you have accomplished. Entrepreneurs typically have a hard time stopping to smell the roses, but something I have learned from the most successful people in my orbit is how important that is. Celebrate the wins along the way, take the time to be with people and experience things that fill you with joy. Work will be there when you return and you will be a better leader and business person if your life is balanced.
- Be kind. Always. And when you aren’t, own it and be accountable. I think this one says it all.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am always thinking about how Winged can be a platform for good in the world. Our work to help underprivileged young women has been at the forefront of what we do as an organization and we will continue to work to make lives better for the women through our partnership programs.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I hope with Winged we are creating a movement of women embracing one another, feeling comfortable in vulnerability and dropping the veil of perfection. I believe this release, coupled with a healthy lifestyle, will cause less anxiety, less depression and affect not just the women positively, but everyone in their orbit.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Female Founders: Jessica Mulligan of Winged Wellness On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.