Reinventing How We Approach Menopause
FROM A CONVERSATION WITH KINDRA CEO CATHERINE BALSAM-SCHWABER ON THE REINVENT YOURSELF PODCAST
Sponsored by Kindra
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber grew up in Connecticut thinking she wanted to be a doctor. And after jobs in politics, news, movies, media, toys, and even crafting, she actually did end up back in Connecticut, working in healthcare. The CEO of Kindra, a women’s health and beauty company focusing on menopause, talks to CoveyClub founder Lesley Jane Seymour about breaking down taboos and building up women’s confidence to find what’s right for them.
Lesley Jane Seymour: So, Catherine, so fabulous to have you here. As I was saying to you earlier, I can’t believe with all the things that you did at Mattel and NBCUniversal, we didn’t run into each other when I was in publishing.
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber: I know it’s crazy, but here we are! Together, united through menopause.
LJS: Which, you know what? It’s actually better, I think, because it’s a time when you really have time to reflect and slow down and get to know people. And I think that’s what’s fantastic about it. So, let’s talk a little bit. You are a serial reinventor, I can see here. I always like to go back and just quickly understand where people come from. Where did you grow up? What did you think you were going to be? And how did you end up in media to start with? And then how did you move to Mattel and then into various other things?
But let’s talk about your early beginnings. Where did you grow up?
CBS: I grew up, actually in New Haven, Connecticut. I’ve come full circle. We just relocated back here about three months ago from Los Angeles.
But I grew up in New Haven and had, I guess what I would consider a relatively normal upbringing for the only child of two world-renowned intellectuals.
LJS: Were they professors?
CBS: Yes, they were professors and psychoanalysts.
LJS: Oh, my God. Two psychoanalysts and you survived? That’s amazing.
CBS: I always would say that I thought it was good to have two because they could analyze me. They could talk about me and analyze me together all the time without me having to be involved.
LJS: Well, that’s great. Because that’s a tough one. It’s a very tough one. But that’s fabulous. I’ve got a couple of people for you to meet who grew up in similar circumstances.
LJS: Okay. Keep going.
CBS: So from there, I went to college at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, which was awesome. And when I went there, actually, I was planning to go to medical school. That was my big plan. I mean, I grew up in a world where I actually didn’t know any businesspeople, really. I knew academics, and I knew doctors and all the families around us at that time were really laser-focused, mostly on intellectual pursuits, which was incredible. But it never occurred to me that there were other kinds of jobs, to be honest.
So I had a transformational moment, actually, in my very first week at school. I was in line at the used bookstore, which was student-run. And the line took so long that I decided I had to run that used bookstore, and I had to modernize the system. And I didn’t know why I needed to do it, but I did. And the only way to run the student bookstore was to become a student senator. So I abandoned my premed efforts. I called my mom and said I was going to take chemistry the next year, but that I really wanted to run for student senate.
And I ended up winning a seat on the student senate and running the used bookstore. And it literally changed the trajectory of my life because I fell in love with politics and business. When I graduated from college, I actually secured an internship at the White House in the Clinton years, where I worked on healthcare reform. And that was my first job out of college. And it also really opened my eyes to the idea of public sector versus private sector. And through that experience, I really felt like the way that we communicate is the most powerful tool that we have for changing the way people think about their lives, about what they want, about everything.
So from there, I ended up going on a long journey. But I went and I worked in Los Angeles for the first time. You’ll see that many times I have worked in Los Angeles. I actually worked on a movie called The American President, which was created by Rob Reiner. And while I was there, a group of my former colleagues decided that they wanted to start a business to really help transform the way that we tell stories around what were essentially like progressive issues at the time.
So if you imagine a story about Title Nine produced by a women’s organization that would run on Lifetime — that was the idea. So it basically introduced me to the idea of branded content before branded content even existed.
LJS: Oh, wow.
CBS: Yeah. And as that business was progressing, we ended up working on the local media strategy of the Clinton-Gore campaign in ‘96, which was absolutely incredible. So we sort of pivoted the business, because it was hard. It wasn’t an era where people were raising money, and it was a very different time, right? And I was so young that I decided from there that I wanted to go to business school, because I was running this company. I was 25 years old. I had no idea what I was doing.
And again, back to my kind of starting point where I had so little understanding of what business even was that I felt that I needed to be educated about what business was. So I ended up at NYU doing a program that was also affiliated with the film school, because I was interested in sort of content and communications and storytelling. And after that, while I was still in school, I met Tom Brokaw and ended up working for him as his what is now called anchor producer. But at the time, it was really a research assistant. He was amazing. He taught me everything about production, which was so vital to everything that came after that.
And from there, I felt like I wanted to work in a big company, and I ended up at AOL Time Warner just when AOL acquired Time Warner. So I worked in a thing called sales strategy that eventually became branded content and did that for quite a while, but really began to get jobs that were lining up a lot with my life stage.
And it was not intentional. I mean when I look back, perhaps I had the intent because it was really where my passion was. But in my 20s, I spent time at MTV, working on The Hills and in The Hills era, which was phenomenal. And then as I evolved into my 30s and I was trying to get pregnant and had my twins, I was the head of marketing at iVillage, which was the original women’s content and community, when it was owned by NBCUniversal. And I loved that job. And it was run by an incredible woman at the time named Jodi Kahn, who had a huge impact on the way that I thought about being a leader, and a female leader in particular, and being very emotionally open to the people that I work with, which I had before then not really been.
I felt like there was this idea of what it meant to have a corporate identity that didn’t really mesh with who I was as a person. So Jody really opened up the idea for me that I could be both who I am and a leader at the same time, which helped, especially in this phase. So as I evolved from there, I had the opportunity to go to Mattel, where I became the chief content officer. That was really incredible, because my kids were so young and right at the exact age for Barbie and Hot Wheels.
LJS: We had a room full of, I want to say, 30 or 40 naked Barbies with various things going on with them. I was trying to raise my daughter to not be stereotyped with dolls, but she wanted nothing to do with all the trains and all that stuff that my son had ahead of time. We could have tithed my whole salary to you. I’m sure we did.
CBS: Well, you know, what was so great about that time is that I was there during the transformation of the Barbie body, right? That Barbie could be so many more things for girls than the stereotype that she herself had been put in. That the idea that [Barbie] was the inspiration for everything that you could be in the future. And it’s funny because I remember I was a big Barbie girl.
LJS: Oh, man, I was obsessive.
CBS: Yeah, my Barbies were CEOs of companies, actually, even though I had no idea what a CEO of a company was. But she wore very awesome suits, that’s the thing I remember about her. Anyway, after Mattel, I ended up coming back to NBCUniversal, they bought a company that was based in Denver called Craftsy. And so we went to Denver as a family on what I would call a deployment, where I was really I was the GM of that business, and it was the first time that I was in a role where I was defined as an operator, even though most of my previous jobs, I had ended up becoming an operator, even though my title was marketing.
And when we came back to Los Angeles, I had this moment where I just felt like, I love the media business. But, I was going to turn 50, I was having my own perimenopausal challenges, even though I didn’t really understand that that’s what they were, and I wanted to go back to my roots of access to healthcare and supporting women. And I began a journey in Los Angeles of just trying to think about what else I would do. I was so far along in my career that it was hard to imagine stepping out of what I did to try something different.
And I thought that the best way to work on that transformation was to talk to as many people as I could about what they were doing, what was exciting to them. And through that process, I ended up meeting Carter and Courtney Reum who run M13, which is a fund in Los Angeles. And they were in the process of talking to Procter & Gamble about this line of products to support women on their menopausal journey. And essentially the three of us kind of joined forces to start what is now Kindra.
And it was right at the beginning of the pandemic.
LJS: Yeah, good timing.
CBS: But it was still at that moment where we didn’t realize that that’s what was happening. It was in those early days of beginning, just to hear rumblings of this crazy thing happening in another part of the world. And I planned to start this off in the offices of M13. And I was a person who loved going to the office. I was so good at going to the office, and it was everything that I knew about how to work.
And essentially, all of a sudden, I was running this nascent business with my kids home from school, the three of us with folding tables in the living room because I just didn’t know what to do, and we thought was going to be a totally temporary situation.
Obviously, it wasn’t. And now, our business has been growing like wildfire. It’s absolutely amazing. And I can’t imagine ever going back to the office full time.
LJS: Wow. So are you transforming? Are you going to not go back to the office? What do you think is going to happen?
CBS: We are officially virtual right now. I think that there is a period of time in your growth cycle as a business where you can be virtual. We are still in that place. But part of the reason that we came back to the East Coast from Los Angeles is that most of my team was on the East Coast time zone. And as I imagine our long-term future, it feels like it would be easier for us to coalesce on the East Coast, probably than in Los Angeles.
But it is hard to imagine, although I will say that when we have days together as a team that I can feel the pull of wanting to be together more, but also maintaining the flexibility of being at home. So I imagine it’s a hybrid for me. For most people.
LJS: I’m so jealous. We had to work this out. Like you, I had different life stages, I ran magazines based on my life stage, and when I had two little kids, I ran Redbook, and that was before you could have any kind of hybrid. So I used to lie to HR and tell them that everybody was full-time. Meanwhile, half of them were working part-time and we would have a schedule of who was in what day, and they all got their work done. I was like, hey, if you get your work done, I don’t need to see you the last two days of the week. I don’t need your face in my face. Be with your kids! And nobody left. There was no turnover because no one did that for anybody. And it works.
CBS: It’s crazy when you think about that. I mean, I look back on the amount of travel that I did —
LJS: Yes! And the dressing, and blow-drying my hair. I mean, when people say to me, what do you regret the most? I’m like, every freaking hour I spent blowing my hair every morning before I went to work. That was the biggest waste of time.
Let’s talk a little bit about Kindra. First of all, since this is all about reinvention, and one of the big issues with women obviously going through perimenopause and menopause. And a lot of women who are listening are in that situation. This has been a taboo.
It’s still a taboo. People don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to talk openly about it. I find it shocking that it’s still considered negative. That old is bad. How do we get women to embrace this time of life? I mean, I feel so freed. I have to tell you, I am so happy to be done with that stupid period. It is so liberating to have to go find yourself a freaking Tampax wherever you are, right? And in whatever language you’re wandering around trying to find one.
But how do we bring that positivity to us? To it? And let’s talk a little bit about the products that you’re doing and why you’re doing them.
CBS: Yeah, well, the current products that we offer are really focused on what women tell us are like the four most debilitating aspects of menopause, which are sleep disruption, brain fog. We have a product called Focus, which really helps with mental acuity and keeping yourself focused. We also obviously are focused on hot flashes, since it’s really the most obvious. It’s the one thing that is happening to you on this journey that you can’t necessarily hide and then vaginal dryness, which, as you know, is like the most common but least talked about aspect of menopause in so many circumstances.
The thing about that lotion that’s so great is that it’s basically like face cream, but for your vulva and vaginal opening that really rebuilds the barrier of your vaginal tissue, which is so important. We’re really approaching this from a health and wellness standpoint, because so much of this journey is about being able to feel empowered in your body. And that for myself, this journey has been not unlike after I had my twins when my body was not my body anymore, and that I really had to relearn how to feel amazing that I changed the way that I ate a little bit. I changed the way that I worked out. I spent more time focused on how I give myself the care that I need.
And so, I think that that is really critical when we think about the whole picture. Part of it is changing the conversation, which is our number one mission. But changing the conversation in order for you to be able to find the solutions that you need is the second part. We come to this from a position that education is the most critical thing that we can offer, and that by being empowered with the information, you can make better choices about how you feel like your best self during this new phase of life.
It is an amazing phase of life. Women are also often at the peak of their careers. They’re making more money, potentially, than they ever have. They’re having an opportunity to retire and have more time. I think that that’s part of why this phase can be so incredible, is that you actually have a moment, as you said, to reflect and think about the connections that you want to have or that you want to rebuild, to get back in touch with yourself, but also with people that you may not have been able to spend that much time with in previous eras because you were just in a different place in terms of your life.
So we think about our business in three critical ways. The first is education and information. The second is community, just like you, right? Being able to find other women who are having this kind of experience and hearing their stories. Community doesn’t always have to be me talking to another person or a group of people. But being able to hear the stories of women that help me find the path that is best for me, I think is so important when you think about what the role of community is in transforming this kind of stigma, because the more that you hear other people talking about menopause and the challenges that they’re facing, I think the more latitude you feel to be having that same conversation.
And then the last piece, of course, is solutions that work, which are our products. So when I think about transforming the lives of women, it’s really about empowering women to feel like they have what they need to make choices, to feel amazing, and it can take time. It’s a process. The hard part is you have to do the work. It doesn’t just magically happen. And I think that there’s no magic pill for this. It really is an opportunity for self discovery. But when you do the work and you find the things that work for you, then I think that’s when you get to that sort of Nirvana place of I feel great and free and stronger than I ever have.
LJS: And different things work for different people, is what I’ve found. Each thing is individual. Where does the name Kindra come from?
CBS: Kindred spirits.
LJS: Oh, hilarious. Yes. Well, the original name for CoveyClub was Kindred. Yeah, that was the original name. And then we moved over. We had a bad patent lawyer who couldn’t get the name because somebody had something that sounded like it, but wasn’t even close. She didn’t know how to fight for it. And when I got to Covey, I had a new lawyer and she was like, yeah, they’re going to turn us away because it’s Stephen Covey, but you’re going to tell them all the stuff you do on menopause, and we’re going to show that that has nothing to do with Steven Covey, and no one could ever think so. So she put forward a vaginal dryness story. And there was no confusion.
But that’s great because I thought that was a really great name. Now talk a little bit about, you’re estrogen free, right?
LJS: But you get results.
CBS: Yes. Part of the reason that we focused on products that were estrogen-free, and they’re clean and vegan and all of the things that you want to put in or on your body. But we wanted to make them accessible for everybody. So many women can’t use or don’t want to take estrogen. There are also members in our community who use estrogen products and also use our products because they don’t interfere with estrogen, because they’re estrogen-free. So they’re really just meant to be products for every body that goes through a menopausal transition.
And so they’re really accessible and effective. I mean, that’s part of the magic of having the development cycle from a team of such renowned scientists. Before we even opened our doors, we knew that the products were effective and safe. And we just see over and over again from our customers that they really work, which is amazing, and that women use them in lots of different ways. So the lotion, which is our number one best-seller, some women use every day. Sometimes they use a lot. Sometimes they use less, and it just depends on what’s happening with their body at that time.
Because to your point, everybody’s body is different, and you have to figure out what’s working for you. But also we’re talking about hormones. So it means that your body is constantly changing. So what’s working for you this year may not be working for you in a couple of years, just the way things move. Right. Exactly.
LJS: Can we talk a little bit about how we’re going to then reinvent this discussion about menopause? First of all, why do you think it’s taken so long? Viagra has been on the market for let’s see how long? I mean, come on.
Why is this? Because there were no women in the top top positions to even think about this? Do you have a theory on why we know? Oh, my God. My whole career has been based on dealing with the minority status of women, even though they’re 51% of the world. But we’re still treated as if we’re, like, 10%.
CBS: It’s really complicated. It’s funny. So we’re doing this program we just launched two weeks ago called Couch Conversations.
The first one was with Gloria Steinem and Gayle King joined us and a group of other incredible women. And in that conversation, someone said, it feels like everybody’s talking about menopause. And I said, it does because we are all talking about menopause. But the vast majority of women are not. And that I have the experience so often when I meet with groups of women, whether they’re friends or in a meeting or anything, where I’m talking about all of this. And then after the meeting, they come to me individually to talk about it. Like, oh, I’m having hot flashes. Can you tell me about your product?
LJS: Still taboo.
CBS: Yeah. Exactly. And I think that there is so much association with the idea that this transition makes you lesser than, or less sexy.
LJS: You’re no longer on the market because that’s all been done from a man’s point of view. Totally, totally. Everything was, what did men think of it, right? Exactly.
CBS: But I think that also it’s the lack of solutions or choices. Vaginal dryness is real. And the vast majority of women experience vaginal dryness, which probably means that intimacy is not as exciting and comfortable as it used to be, which means you have to work on finding solutions for you that still make it amazing and comfortable and hot and sexy. Right. And it’s going to be different. But I think that there is that mental chasm that we have to cross. which is another woman that I spoke to, she said, I was shocked that I just wasn’t ready all the time anymore.
LJS: Right. Of course.
CBS: And coming to terms with that is kind of the first step. But I think part of it is saying the likelihood is every woman you’re talking to over 48, just statistically, is having some version of this and that by sharing information about getting solutions, I think is the first step and also feeling like that’s totally normal. It’s normal to have those conversations and those anxieties. And what shouldn’t be normal is having to feel like vaginal dryness and hot flashes and brain fog and achy bones are normal. I think that’s where we have to try and shift the way that we think which is your new normal is just a different version of your old normal.
But you have to think about it. Viagra is the same deal, right? Like if you can’t get an erection, you go and you find Viagra and you solve it for yourself. And somehow men are very comfortable talking about that. But women are not because it all goes back to the idea that we’re supposed to be sexy and desirable —
LJS: All by ourselves.
CBS: Right. Exactly. And never talk about it.
LJS: It’s allll natural.
CBS: I think it’s a hard thing to overcome. But what’s interesting is when we talk to more and more women and we have conversations, even with a Gloria Steinem, that all women from the beginning of time have been working on this challenge. And some of it is our lack of revere for aging and older women. In some cultures, older women are the wise tribal leaders, and in our culture it’s really the opposite. So it takes a lot of work. I mean, I think that we have come so far, but we are still very much at the beginning of our journey.
LJS: I think that our generation is going to show the daughters that we have, that this is not the end and that if your reproductive era is over, it means nothing. And you can continue. I think a lot of it has to do with role models. And if we show it differently other than how our mothers were stuck. I think so much is role-modeling, and they will see different things, which I think is fantastic.
So let’s talk about where people can find Kindra. Is it only on the website? Is it on shelves somewhere? And then I know you have a little surprise for the CoveyClub readers.
CBS: So we are available online right now, all direct to consumer, and you can find us at Ourkindra.com.
And we do have a special surprise. So we have a special code for all of your listeners and readers, which is COVEY20. So when you come to visit us at the site, ourkindra.com. Then you can get 20% off your first purchase for whatever you buy, which is going to be really awesome. And we love getting feedback. So, we love for everyone to try the products and let us know what you think. We also are in the process of developing some new stuff actually based on our consumer feedback about oh, that’s great that they feel like that we should really be trying to address. And so we’re working hard to get that out too.
LJS: What’s the favorite product so far? What are people buying most of?
CBS: Well, I mean, the vaginal lotion is definitely the number one because it helps with so many things that are in the category of like the hidden dialogue. But a lot of women use it before they exercise before intimacy, feeling like things that are less comfortable, just to make everything more comfortable again. And as I said, it builds up the barrier and the elasticity. So it really makes you feel good over time.
And then the second one is our core supplement. So that helps with hot flashes, but also helps with brain fog, and then, let’s call it mood balance.
LJS: Oh, I know about that.
CBS: What’s great about it is, my number one symptom actually is I get really achy. I have a lot of joint pain, and the active ingredient is called pycnogenol, which is also known as French Maritime pine bark. And it really helps with my joint pain. It’s a super powerful antioxidant. I wasn’t expecting it in the beginning — I am not a crazy supplement taker myself. But now if I don’t take it for a couple of days, I can feel the difference, which I just think is amazing.
LJS: Wow, awesome. Well, thank you so much. That’s so interesting. I still can’t believe we haven’t run into each other. And I love the fact that you’ve looped back around to your hometown as well. That’s such a wonderful story. So many women who said, I’m never, ever going to come back here find that they do wander back, and I think that’s a beautiful story, and they can pick up threads that they left behind, and they can realize that it’s not the same town that they left when they were 20.
I’m really excited for our group to be able to try the Kindra products and thank you for that wonderful discount. And how long does that go for? That’s going to go for four weeks, right?
CBS: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So it’s a good time to practice some self care during the holidays, so it’s definitely a time to kick off new routines, which I know are hard to manage. But this time of year is more important than ever to be taking care of ourselves. As we know the intensity of how busy it can be to take care of everybody else. Right?
LJS: Yes, let’s get rid of that one thing we don’t need, which is hot flashes and being uncomfortable. So our little special with Kindra will run from November 12th through the 3rd of December. So go shop now, ladies. Try it out and make yourself nice and comfortable. Because these holidays are going to be really unique. We’re all going to be getting back together after a long time. It’s going to be good, and there’s going to be some tough moments, too, as we know. So take away that one problem that you have. And I know I got very cranky. That was my problem — I got really super cranky.
Thank you so much, Catherine. Thank you. I’m just so happy to meet you. And at some point I’m going to come up to New Haven and I’ll catch you for lunch.
CBS: Perfect. Thank you.
* From a conversation with Kindra CEO, Catherine Basam-Schwaber, on the Reinvent Yourself Podcast.