Sara Panton, CEO of Vitruvi
Sara Panton is CEO of Vitruvi, an essential oils company designed for millennials by millennials that she and her brother started three years ago. They will be the first essential oil company sold in Sephora launching in 2018. Now you can find them featured on GOOP and sold in over 300 stores across North America. You can read more about her incredible company here on Forbes.
Sara is also one of my oldest friends, who I met when we were young girls living in a tiny town on Vancouver Island, and my mom was one of her teachers at school. She opened up for this interview to go beyond the title of CEO and go deeper to share some inspirational insight about what it's like working in the wellness & beauty industry, being a boss, and the tools she uses to stay motivated and push past her own insecurities.
SP: Absolutely without question -- There is a very strong priority to create and find content that feels like a girl or woman IRL (in real life). Even working with large companies like Sephora, when they ask for video content they want to ensure that it isn't scripted, and that it feels natural and that there isn't edited or harsh lights or fake sounding. This is the same for product photography and beauty 'looks', there is no longer the same desire for air brushed images of lashes that looks the exact 10x lengthening formula that never looks real. Consumers are craving real content and the beauty industry is very aware of it.
T: You work with a lot of men in the worlds of beauty and tech. Do you feel like there is equality in the workforce between men and women in those industries?
SP: Great question -- In my experience there is a lovely equality of men and women in the beauty industry and it tends to be a very inclusive environment with a large proportion of women in executive positions. The tech industry isn't the same, nor is the world of venture capital. This is slowly shifting both from an equality perspective but also because men are realizing that they aren't able to fully understand the scope of some of the deals that are coming across their desks -- they could miss large investment opportunities in industries they aren't personally well versed.
T: Do you have many positive female role models or mentors who you look up to?
SP: My mom for sure -- Because she is one of the smartest and kindest women I know. I don't have any women senior to me in business who I have directly as mentors nor who I look up to that I have met. However I have an incredible group of girlfriends many of which are running wildly successful companies. This means there are a lot of day time texts and late night phone calls that go back and forth as we are all learning, motivating and mentoring each other in real time.
T: You grew up in the small town of Metchosin on Vancouver Island, and you created a company that is now sold in over 300 stores across North America. What advice would you have for someone who has the dream of starting their own company but is maybe afraid to live it out?
SP: Don't do it unless what you want to build is what you think about 24/7 and something you actively work on in all free hours of the day. Then if you do both those things, get really really focused and build your first viable product, give yourself a timeline. Keep your head down and don't get distracted, don't go on Pinterest -- Build something real and then share it with as many people as you can when it's 70% of what you hope it will be one day.
T: What are some of the biggest challenges of being a boss lady?
SP: Finding the balance of being compassionate and direct.
T: This year Vitruvi is working with One Girl Can, a Vancouver based charity. Can you tell us a little more about how this came to be?
SP: At Vitruvi we create products with the intention of helping women take moments for themselves so they can take on the world with even more energy and passion. We were drawn to partner with One Girl Can because they share the same passion for helping women take care of themselves and take on the world through the beautiful model of education and mentorship. Having spent time in Africa, as well as working in rural regions of Kenya, I can confidently say that what One Girl Can is building with the women of Kenya and Uganda is truly unique and their positive impact will be felt for generations.
The goal for vitruvi has and will always be to give back to women on a global scale. That means making products for women domestically as well as contributing to programs that help women internationally. We're only getting started.
T: How do you find the time to take care for yourself when you are running a company? How do you handle that work-life balance?
SP: I truly believe there is no 'work-life balance' when you run a company. I prefer to live in a flow where the different parts of my day re-fuel and energize the other aspects of my life. I do a mini workout at home in the mornings, spend most of my day on my feet and eat really healthy. I take my dog for a walk at lunch to get me out of the office and a quick play on the beach afterwork. The power of drinking lots of water, learning how to breathe deeply, eating a plant based diet and getting fresh air goes a VERY long way. You don't need $100 smoothies, workout classes, and tumeric lattes to have balance. My work energizes me, and when it doesn't I get outside, for a power walk, go buy myself flowers, walk the beach and spend time with friends and those quick touch points get me back to the grind. The key is to be present where ever you are -- and to not fight finding a 'balance' because to me the thought of micromanaging something that is completely theoretical (ie. the balance) sounds very stressful and something I absolutely cannot measure nor win at.
SP: I think this is incredibly important to talk about -- I have a good number of them! I think everyone does, but I think the secret is to know which ones are futile and which ones are just silly. One for me that is actually something to work on is being nervous to be too assertive, to not come across as harsh, because my opinions usually come from a place of deep compassion. Learning to balance passion and delivery is one of my insecurities. The silly physical insecurities I think life is too short for, I've had all those and LOTS of them but I think when you find something you're truly passionate about you dont even want to waste brain space worrying about the shape of your nose or size of your calves -- You've got more important things to do. Onward and upward.
T: What is your secret power?
SP: A genuine interest in people's stories.
T: You and I have talked about struggling with anxiety and a lot of the Vitruvi products are beautifully designed with stress relieving rituals in mind. Can you share any other coping mechanisms you have learned that might be helpful for others?
SP: Belly breathing is what has helped me, and being aware of my energy. At times I've been at a fancy gala or a large board meeting and without anyone seeing I'll take my shoes off and have my feet on the floor to just get more grounded. I'll take 3 deeper breathes (not big deep yoga breaths... haha that would be alarming in a board room). Remembering to breath is sometimes all it takes.
T: You are incredibly self-motivated and independent. What do you think drives this?
SP: A fear of failure -- Which to me is defined as not exploring my fullest personal and professional potential.
One of the core values I implemented at vitruvi is...
"seek the discomfort of the unknown -- that's where the magic happens" if you're not uncomfortable you're not growing, as a shy perfectionist introvert you dont get a lot of momentum from life staying in your comfort zone. You need to be exploring, and constantly uncomfortable -- In the past 3 years I've been able to shift my perspective and now the only time when I don't feel at ease is when I feel too comfortable and I know too much of what is to come... that just means you're not growing fast enough.
T: Are there are any inspiring books that you keep coming back to?
SP: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People -- Steven Covey
Shoe Dog - Phil Knight: No other book Sean and I have read have helped to understand and relate what it means to build a fast growing company.