It’s important to not be a perfectionist before you start or launch anything, then you won’t get anywhere, so I try to be pragmatic instead.
Julie: Co-Founder and CEO of Ruby Life ltd., the company behind Ruby Cup – a sustainable menstrual hygiene solution for girls and women worldwide has a broad background with several years of experience in business administration, supplier management, financial planning, and social entrepreneurship for both private and public companies.
Julie has a Bachelor Degree in Business, Languages, and Culture and Master courses in Supply Chain Management with minor studies in Sustainable Business at the Copenhagen Business School. I have also studied in Argentina and worked as a trainee for the Trade Commission of Denmark in Barcelona. On the volunteering side, she has worked as a mentor for small start-ups focused on the immigrant youth in Denmark and is currently a member of PWN (Professional Women’s Network).
Where did the idea for Ruby Cup by Ruby Life ltd. come from?
The idea of Ruby Cup surfaced at business school. My co-founder was already using a menstrual cup and introduced it to me. It was an eye-opener, I didn’t know about its existence and had always used tampons – and never thought about that there might be other solutions out there. The menstrual cup was a life-changer for me in dealing with periods, made me feel so much better and healthier.
Studying sustainable business strategies and social entrepreneurship, we had a passion for starting a business focusing on making the world better. So the menstrual cup let us to research menstruation and we discovered how completely ignorant we were to the major obstacles menstruation poses for girls and women in low-income communities. Millions do not have access to menstrual products and can simply not afford to buy pads or tampons every month.
At the same time, menstruation is a taboo subject in these communities, it’s not something that is talked about and a girl often find herself in the situation of starting her period having no idea what it is – imagine the fear, and the shame associated with leaking. Many girls try to hide it as best they can and end up staying home from school, leading to school dropouts. It’s a big obstacle to gender equality because girls, just because of their periods, miss out on education vs. boys.
Ruby Cup sprung out of the above – our menstrual cup is called a Ruby, because we want to destigmatize periods and make it something to treasure – not be ashamed of.
Ruby Cup is healthy and last for 10 years – it’s a sustainable solution that can take girls through the majority of their academic career without menstruation being a barrier.
Since the girls cannot afford to buy Ruby Cup, we fund the donations via our Buy One Give One program. It means that every Ruby Cup we sell to a paying customer, includes a donation to a girl in need.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
It’s rare that a day look the same for me. Some days are full of meetings with my team and online, since we work with partners in all kinds of different time zones. Other days, I’m traveling to see partners. No matter the program of the day, it’s a productive day for me, if I’ve spent the majority of my time on things that matter for the future of Ruby Cup. There are always a hundred exciting ideas on the table and the hard part is to weed out the noise. Toughest thing to learn as an entrepreneur, I think. At least for me but I’m learning everyday.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas tend to surface for me when I put my work down. It may sound contradictory but many times, the ideas with most clarity appear when I zone out of work and think about something else.
Also, being Danish, I come from a culture that traditionally embraces very flat/horizontal business structures. We brainstorm, throw ideas at each other constantly and everyone in the team as well as external customers, partners, ruby cup users – both paying and receivers of donations are listened to. It’s a very inclusive and transparent approach that I value highly and it keeps us away from getting stuck or arrogant.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The global conversation about menstruation – everything related to periods from the challenges it poses in low-income communities, to the environmental harm and waste created from disposable tampons and pads, to the tampons taxed as luxury items and the toxins and harmful ingredients often found in these products. It’s a conversation that has been more or less nonexistent in the past century but in the last 5-10 years, it has been on the uprise – which is awesome. To change anything, the silence has to be broken as a first step.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur you constantly get pulled in so many different directions. It’s positive because new ideas surface all the time and can be implemented without a lot of bureaucracy very fast. But I’ve learned that if I don’t take a time-out or a step back quite often, there’s also a risk of failing to see what really matters.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a worst job. But I’ve had the most boring and repetitive job I know: Newspaper route when I was 12 years old. What I learned: hmm – to appreciate that work is not all fun and games and money doesn’t come easy.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change anything. Not said with an arrogant meaning, because I’ve made many many mistakes but I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t made those mistakes.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
It’s important to not be a perfectionist before you start or launch anything, then you won’t get anywhere, so I try to be pragmatic instead. I often ask myself: is caring about this detail really important for reaching my audience or increasing sales in the end?
But it’s a balance, so I always spend time on prioritizing what requires a very pragmatic approach and what requires a little more care for detail.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
The Buy One Give One program: Ruby Cup was built on the foundation that we can do good and make social change happen while at the same time offer an excellent product. That is what we strive for everyday and how the business has grown and continues to grow.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I lived in Kenya, where we started Ruby Cup, our first business model was to employ women from low-income communities to sell Ruby Cup – a direct sales model we believed could make Ruby Cup an income-generating product for women on top of being sustainable. We failed to see the inherent conflict: A sustainable product also means a one-time sale, so the woman would lose a customer every time she sold one vs. selling soap or food that creates returning customers.
We had to kill that strategy entirely and figure out another way to get Ruby Cup to those in need via business. The Buy One Give One program became the new strategy based on our learning.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
If someone could work out the master app for the ‘private people offering business services’ trend that would be awesome. E.g. I currently have my Airbnb app, my Uber app, my Dogbuddy app, searching for a house cleaning app as well. What if all of those solutions (more are coming, I’m sure) could be managed via one app?
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Adopting an abandoned puppy from a dog shelter. There are so many unwanted dogs out there, so I would urge everyone considering adding a dog or any animal to the family, to look for adoption possibilities before buying from a breeder.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Google for Work: It works with 99% of everything you need.
Slack: We’re highly dependent on daily online communication and all the conversation threads created everyday was scattered on too many different platforms before. Slack makes it all easy to organise and overview in one place.
And last but not least, Whatsapp: Primarily because it’s a tool used and available to most of our partners in Africa. It allows for instant contact with almost anyone, no matter how remote they are.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Makes you remember life, love, friends and family amidst the busy business life :).
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
So many! Very hard to pin out a few but:
My parents for always making me value trying to understand people and finding common ground over conflict.
Not a person but a philosophy or way of thinking: Existentialism, the idea that you are responsible for giving your life meaning, not society or religion.
Some dear Kenyan friends and workmates, who continue to fight for their rights, cause or business despite unspeakable challenges without a hint of complaining or self-pity. They put my challenges in perspective and motivate me everyday.
Joseph Stiglitz for questioning how we measure growth.