As an entrepreneur, Cindy Whitehead has a distinguished career. In the last decade alone she has built and sold two pharmaceutical businesses for more than $1.5 billion dollars, including Sprout Pharmaceuticals, creator of an FDA-approved drug for low sexual desire in women, dubbed the “female Viagra.” Since selling her companies, Whitehead has turned to a new endeavor focused on mentoring and investing in women-led businesses. Whitehead is a pink force to be reckoned with, and here she shares the importance of female mentorship, what her typical day looks like and much more.
The Pink Ceiling is focused on investing in women-led businesses. Why did you choose to leave the pharmaceutical world and begin this new endeavor?
After building two companies to extraordinary exits, I took stock of what it was that I enjoyed the most about those experiences. Here was the trifecta: First, I was moved by witnessing firsthand the change that can come when women advocate for each other. Second, I knew that doing the right thing is what fuels me to jump out of bed in the morning. Finally, it was clear to me that my greatest joy came from watching the impact of ownership on others. Take those three things and you have the Pink Ceiling/Pinkubator. Female focus, doing the right thing to fix a deficit that still remains in terms of mentorship and funding for women and propelling owners to transformative outcomes, then watching how they pay it forward.
What does an entrepreneur need to do to pitch their business to you?
They need to spend time with me through my Pinkubator. Money may come easier from passive investors playing the odds, but my investment means I’m rolling up my sleeves alongside you to help propel your success. I need to observe that you have the DNA to get there.
How do you decide what companies to invest in?
People. The most remarkable ideas will not execute themselves. People execute ideas. It’s why I am determined to spend time with founders through the Pinkubator—to witness their focus, passion and commitment—before I invest. Also, I have a penchant for geeks!
What do you feel are the biggest challenges for women entrepreneurs today?
By every stat, it’s access to funding. I believe the lesser discussed issue, at least when it comes to female entrepreneurship, is access to true mentors. Through the Pinkubator, we’re tackling both—my passion pursuit is the mentoring. I believe there’s a compelling truth in the expression you cannot be what you cannot see.
What does your typical day look like?
Is there such a thing?! How’s this…Wake up. Read news on twitter. Tweet. Get on phone with team. Fall behind. Tweet. Leave late to airport or office. If traveling then rush with pink luggage to give talk or interview. If in office then rush to meeting with inspiring entrepreneurs, preferably at Pinkubator glass table. Feed off their positive energy. Apply to problem solve, mentor, create paths for others to be successful. Tweet. Home late. Laptop for a couple hours. Social media therapy in bed. Remind myself to fall asleep after 1 a.m.
The Pinkubator is a spinoff of the investment company. Why did you decide to launch the space?
Pinkubator is a membership club for female-led or focused businesses to gain access to regular, real time mentorship. For entrepreneurs who join us virtually, we host every other week video chats, share ideas and questions through a private Facebook group and have special sessions with experts—many of whom I count among my mentors. For women who join us onsite, those perks are enhanced by daily access to the Pink Ceiling team, the ability to meet those expert speakers in person at our events as well as the coolest pink ceiling’d workspace in the Triangle. Did I mention there’s rosé on tap?
How many entrepreneurs are part of the space? Can you tell us about a few of them?
We won’t exceed a few dozen at any given time. Four of the local companies that I’ve invested in also have access to the space. Our model isn’t butts in seats or overselling available desk space. It’s mentorship over a three-month minimum period and considering investment after that exposure. It’s early for me to say much about our members, but I will declare that we have two women with patent-protected health technologies that I think you’re going to hear a lot more about.
You’ve amassed a group of partner resources for your members. Can you talk a little bit about who’s involved and how they contribute?
I’m really so excited about this part of the Pinkubator. If there’s one thing I’m always asked about besides mentorship, it’s who I trusted for services when building my companies. First things first, my team is there—people who’ve been with me through multiple companies working on branding, PR, go to market, etc. They work as The Pink Ceiling consultant group, now but Pinkubator members get deep discounts with them for services as well as their free time on the virtual chats or onsite brainstorming sessions. Then there’s the external partners I trusted. How awesome is it that the law firm I’ve used for years, Parker Poe, is paying it forward alongside me by offering access to free office hours each month with my members? I would have given anything in my early startup days for a free conversation with a corporate attorney! We also just got a special member discount rate on a crowdfunding platform – they’ll be learning directly from their CEO as one of our guest experts. I think we’ll continue to surprise on that front.
Tell us why #unapologeticallypink is on the wall and what it means to you.
It makes me smile to be asked this question. Call it a personal mantra or perhaps the mission statement on the wall. Pink, for me, represents owning it as a woman. Not apologizing for your femininity. I’m also keenly aware that the woman in a hot pink dress with a manicure can also be particularly underestimated. Pink doesn’t fit in the sea of gray suits after all. Women can either lose their ‘pink’ in response to that or they can harness the underestimation, embrace the ‘pink’ and kill with competence. They can move from underestimated to #unapologeticallypink. That caption describes my entire professional career!
What book would we find on your nightstand?
Right now, “Shoe Dog,” the memoir of the creator of Nike, Phil Knight. More inspiration to “just do it.”
What apps or websites are you loving right now and would recommend?
I just learned about TeuxDeux for optimizing the To Do List. All I can say is watch out world. I’m checking things off! Bonus: I was able to customize mine to pink!
I am attempting to master Buffer for social media postings. I’m only about a year on social media—don’t make fun though, regulated industry realities! With as many things as I want to say on Twitter, I fear for followers during my cross-country flights. Trying to pace out the deep thoughts. Follow me @cindypinkCEO and see if I do master it!
Zoom for talking to my virtual pinkubator members via videochat! The conference call should be dead by now. I suspect if all meetings were zoom’d they would be half as long because people would be genuinely engaged not checking their email while half listening on a conference call.
HotelTonight is my last gem. With my last minute travel and (confession) pickiness—this site is outstanding. You know just what you’re getting, and they include some of my favorite properties at really discounted rates! Supply and demand at its best.