Menopause Meets Its Match. Her Name Is Sally Mueller.
Womaness Co-Founder/CEO Sally Mueller brings a dynamic-yet-practical outlook to a long overlooked category
Gabe Kleinman |
It was all going according to Sally Mueller’s plan. She had an incredible co-founder in Michelle Jacobs, enough capital to book purchase orders for Target’s 2021 deadlines, and was gearing up for a bigger fundraise to fuel the launch of a modern menopause brand.
Then, in March 2020, everything came to a screeching halt.
“Just as we were going out to pitch, the world shut down. We started right when the pandemic hit.”
With venture capitalists sending mixed signals—a combination of “RIP Good Times” while simultaneously saying “we’re open for business”—those were strange days for entrepreneurs raising money. For a pioneer like Sally, it was clearly go time. Through the dark days of the pandemic she raised $4 million, and less than a year later was launching a stable of menopause products at Target nationwide.
For anyone who knows Sally, from her early days at Target to her early success with Womaness, it’s no surprise.
“Why am I not doing this for women like myself?”
Sally credits her parents with a strong work ethic, although she admits having to learn how to relax and “smell the roses” as her career has progressed. She also has her mother to thank for lessons in entrepreneurship.
“My mom was an entrepreneur. After being a school teacher she decided to go into the makeup business. She opened a cosmetic studio, and by the end she was at four in the Twin Cities. I learned a lot about women’s beauty, and ensuring women felt good about themselves.”
Her own journey as an entrepreneur began in 2019 with an awkward conversation about menopause at the Mayo Clinic. Sally knew she was in menopause, but had little idea that what she was experiencing was related to it. Her physician, seeing women with the same challenges every day, suggested a few local drugstore products to help with the symptoms.
“I went home that night, started doing research, thought ‘I am never buying any of this product.’ None were products that I wanted to invest in or use on my body. That was my a-ha moment—I should be disrupting this space. Why am I not doing this for women like myself?”
This all coincided with a time of professional reflection for Sally.
In 1987, two weeks after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, she began her corporate ladder ascension at this little shop called Target (when presented with the opportunity she’d never even heard of it, although friends proclaimed “They’re the fastest growing retailer in the Midwest!”). Through the years she’d learned an extraordinary amount given the breadth of work she undertook there: consumer insights, merchandising, research, licensing, in-store experience, inventory analysis, partnerships—you name it.
Her toughest assignment? Girls fashion.
“I still laugh about it today. Girls between 7–14, they’re the most fickle! One day denim skirts are the hottest trend, the next they’re dead. Retail trend management is what I thrived on.”
She was a part of, and led, so many elements that we all know Target for today, from strategic designer partnerships like Isaac Mizrahi (“I signed on seventy five designers in about eight years, it was just explosive…”) to the iconic brand itself (“We created this whole world of red and white…”).
After a fulfilling 23-year run, she was done—but not without learnings to guide her path forward. Sally’s last role overseeing all external partnerships had taught her that she enjoyed execution and wanted to do more of it—not simply hand work over to others.
So she started her own business as a brand consultant, which didn’t last long—and for good reason. Shortly after hanging her shingle she joined then-client Cherokee as Chief Brand Officer. There she learned a tremendous amount about building teams (from design to international supply chain), acquisitions, banking, board management, and more. Sally once more had the itch to build her own business (and did), notably helping Who What Wear move into consumer products. She then left her own business yet again (“You’ll see a pattern here!”), and ended up joining Clique as their Chief Brand Officer. After a few years there, it was time for her to end the cycle and make a brand for herself.
“I kept building these incredibly successful brands for others. I was left feeling a little empty, and not as fulfilled.”
And then came that fateful, reflective question after visiting the Mayo Clinic: “Why am I not doing this for women like myself?”
A Total Solution To Menopause
Way back in 2019, one couldn’t walk by a bus shelter or scroll Instagram without seeing a venture-backed challenger brand ad in nearly every consumer category, from toothbrushes to orthodontics.
“All of these legacy CPG brands were being disrupted. So I thought ‘I need to disrupt the menopause space.’”
On a fateful trip to New York, Sally met up with former collaborator Michelle Jacobs—the two had met over 15 years ago when Michelle was pitching Target, and she had subsequently hired Sally a few times as a consultant over the years. While they had never worked at the same company together, their shared projects were highly successful, from Joy Mangano at HSN to a “huge” Giggle program at Kohl’s. She credits their not having worked together at the same company as an advantage.
“I was telling Michelle that I wanted this to be my next calling, creating a total solution to menopause. She immediately said ‘I would love to do this with you, I’ve always wanted to do something with you.’ After several weeks of discussion, we agreed to take this seriously and start working together.”
And then they were off to the races, knowing that if they didn’t start soon they could miss the opportunity.
“If we missed that window we were going to have to wait a whole other year. And I didn’t want to be late. It’s the trend curve mindset that I have. I could feel it in the zeitgeist, that menopause was being talked about more.”
Over the past two years the dynamic duo has produced an extraordinary array of products now being sold across multiple channels, launched a community known as The After Party (what a name!), and were recently featured on national television.
“We’re getting an amazing reaction to the brand, to the messaging, to the product, to our mission. We are selling across all of our categories—supplements are a number one seller, our skin products are doing well, as is sexual wellness. Our retention is incredible.”
One of the most surprising elements of the company’s growth is the demographics with which the product resonates.
“We’re learning a lot about how to reach this woman, how to build trust with her. We’re also selling to a much younger customer than we thought. Women in their 20s and 30s are engaging in our site and buying our product. Our sales are almost evenly split. It’s so very interesting!”
While she’s surprised and delighted that the product is resonating beyond their initial target, she remains focused on the mission.
“We need to reach all 50 million women in the U.S. going through menopause.”
[For more stories like this, check out the World Positive Report 2021.]