Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Sabrina Martucci Johnson, CEO, president and founder of the women’s health company Daré Bioscience, is putting her company’s name to the test.
“I’m Italian by background, and in Italian daré means to give – and obviously, in English, dare spelled the same way means to be bold,” Johnson says. “I really loved that interplay. When we thought about a women’s health company, we thought this was a great name — one that is daring and bold enough to innovate in women’s health and therefore giving women the great healthcare options that they deserve.”
Johnson stepped into the world of women’s health at an opportune time — there is a genuine necessity for innovation in women’s healthcare across the board and a huge unmet medical need, as well as a groundswell of activity by investors looking to capitalize on the femtech movement.
Since launching the company in 2015 and taking it public two years later, Johnson has brought one drug across the finish line already: Xaciato was approved at the end of 2021 to treat bacterial vaginosis in women 12 years of age and older. At the time, Johnson noted the approval marked not only a major milestone for Daré as a company but, importantly, for the 21 million women impacted by bacterial vaginosis.
“It is our goal as a company to accelerate the development of differentiated products that can improve outcomes and convenience for women,” she says.
With eight additional assets in the pipeline for a variety of conditions, Johnson is fulfilling the company’s vision to create a portfolio of products. “We didn’t want to build a company around one singular drug entity,” Johnson says. “Rather, we wanted to build a company around therapeutic unmet needs.”
In this episode, Johnson, a PharmaVoice 100 honoree, shares her view on why “her” is having its long-overdue moment, the unique initial financing of the company and the importance of having a solid network and being prepared for opportunity when it knocks.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcript of the conversation below.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice, powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus at PharmaVoice, meets with Sabrina Martucci Johnson, CEO and President, Daré Bioscience.
Taren: Sabrina, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Sabrina: Thank you so much for taking some time to speak with me today.
Taren: It’s great to connect with you again after being named a PharmaVoice 100. Can you please walk us through the Daré Bioscience story and what led you to start up a woman’s health company?
Sabrina: Thank you so much for asking. I always enjoy talking about Daré and why we’re here. My background is all drug development. That’s really where I’ve spent my professional career. But before Daré, I didn’t have many opportunities to work on women’s health indications, even though it’s an area that’s of great interest and passion for me. Shortly before starting Daré, I took a little foray and worked for a global nonprofit in the women’s health sector, and that really was what became the inspiration for forming Daré. What I saw in that experience was (1) there are a number of unmet needs in women’s health, but they’re unmet needs that are within reach. We generally understand how we may be able to address them; it’s really just a matter of advancing the innovation that exists.
And when I looked closely at the women’s health category to understand why that wasn’t happening, I saw an interesting disconnect between pharmaceutical companies that had a great passion and interest commercially in women’s health, and that had very robust franchises in women’s health and commitment to the category but they weren’t investing necessarily as heavily internally in development; they were really looking for that development to happen elsewhere. But without a company that’s truly focused on the category and focused on development in the category, some of that great innovation that I was seeing and opportunities to address those unmet needs that I felt existed weren’t going to come to fruition.
So that was really the inspiration for starting Daré. We really saw this opportunity for women, importantly, but frankly, all of our stakeholders, clinicians, investors, et cetera, and our pharmaceutical partners that if we started a company that was focused, solely and squarely on women’s health, and specifically with a very, very, very disciplined approach of starting with the unmet need, identifying the unmet need, identifying the target product profile to address that unmet need, partnering to bringing innovation in house that has the opportunity to address that unmet need, and then accelerating it through development, we would really become this great pipeline resource of first in category of first line product opportunities across likely a broad spectrum of women’s health conditions, not only for ourselves as a company, but importantly for those entities that have that commercial commitment in women’s health and are looking for new innovative products to bring to market.
So that was the why. That’s why we created Daré.
Taren: That’s a big why and it needs your fulfilling. So tell me what does the name Daré mean?
Sabrina: I’m Italian by background, and I really love the name Daré and the word dare and kind of the interplay between the two. So in Italian, daré – we don’t use the accent but pronounce dare – means to give. But obviously in English, dare, spelled the same way means to be bold. And so really loved that interplay. When we thought about a women’s health company, what a great name for a company that one is daring, being bold enough to innovate in women’s health and therefore, giving women the great healthcare options that she deserved.
So that was the background for the name. And fortunately, when we became listed on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange, the ticker symbol, dare, D-A-R-E was available. So we were very fortunate in that regard.
Taren: Wow. Did you think that would be available? I wouldn’t have thought. I thought…
Sabrina: No, we didn’t actually. We thought wouldn’t it be awesome if we could get the ticker symbol to really make our statement, that daring and giving, but it was available. So it all worked out.
Taren: That’s great. Well, congratulations. And I love that name. And I love the story behind the name. So thank you for sharing that with us. Women’s health is obviously having a moment. Why do you think that is? What has changed?
Sabrina: First of all, it’s about time that it’s having a moment. But I do agree that even just in the past couple of years and definitely in the six years since we started Daré – We started Daré in 2015 and went public in 2017 – but really, in the past couple of years, we totally agree with you that it does feel like women’s health is finally having a moment. And I think years from now we’re going to look back and say, well why didn’t it have that moment even longer ago. But it is starting to have a moment, and I think it’s a couple of things that are finally coming to fruition in the category.
First of all, I think there’s just much more awareness about some work on the regulatory side at the FDA about just making sure women are represented in clinical trials. And this started a couple of decades ago really in earnest, but it’s becoming, there’s much more vocalization around that. So that helps, it just builds awareness that women aren’t biologically the same as men, obviously, but therefore, we are expected to maybe have different needs, different therapeutic needs, even when we’re talking about the same indication. So I think that helps.
But fundamentally what’s happened is, I think just her voice is being heard more loudly and clearly. So that definitely helps, women are speaking up, they’re speaking up about their healthcare needs, they’re speaking up about the fact that they’re making the majority of the healthcare decisions, they represent over half the population and yet, their needs haven’t been as necessarily well served when it comes to pharmaceutical product options, for instance, but also in femtech and other sectors as well. So that definitely helps.
And I think speaking out about the fact that for many indications for women, these are conditions that are not life threatening, but they’re life altering, and therefore, the way that that condition is addressed matters to her, whether she’s going to be able to incorporate that treatment into her daily living and how disruptive is that going to be, and is she going to get the outcomes that she deserves and the convenience that she deserves. So I just think she’s been more vocal in general so we’re hearing from her a lot more.
And then the third piece of it is that often from an investor perspective, dollars of investment tend to follow where transactions are happening. An investor who is looking for return might understand theoretically and passionately even the need for healthcare products for women, that the markets exist, that the demand is there but ultimately, they also have to see that there are transactions in the therapeutic category that represent that. And we’re seeing more and more of that now with a number of companies doing deals and being vocal about the fact that they’re adding to their portfolios in women’s health and they’re looking for new opportunities in women’s health, all of that works together to create this, I think, wonderful, in a good way, perfect storm, to really elevate the whole category and amplify her voice and the needs that she has.
Taren: Well, it’s exciting times for sure. But as I know with all moments some of them are fleeting, so what is it going to take to keep investors interest piqued in this category? And when we look at the regulatory environment, we look at the insurance, the reimbursement market, all these things have to come into play.
Sabrina: That is so, so, so, so true. And we often even say internally the first step – albeit not an easy one – the first step is to get the product through the FDA and approved, but that does not in of itself dictate success. You also then have to make sure that she can access it. And all of that and the ongoing investment in the category, all of that is going to come from success.
And so taking a step back, what does success mean and how do you get there? So success means successful outcomes, approvals, products having successful launches, women having access to products that make a difference in their lives. And that’s one of the reasons that we feel it’s so important as a company focused in this category to keep our eyes on the unmet need. Because if you do that well, if you really bring forward a product that is truly differentiated from anything else that’s available today that is truly addressing an unmet need, maybe that this has never been addressed before or you’re really addressing it in a way that really has that opportunity to improve outcomes, improve convenience, ultimately, for her, all the other pieces should line up. Because by definition, that should be a first in category or first line product opportunity. There should be commercial opportunity commensurate with that. You should be able to get through the FDA and get the product approved because you’re demonstrating a risk reward benefit of your treatment. And then ultimately, to your point, insurers, market access, having it be available to her, what a payer is looking for is, is this really different and does it make a difference? And is it ultimately going to impact positively the overall healthcare costs and cost to their system?
So if you stay super disciplined about, does the marketplace really need it, is this an unmet need, is your product profile truly going to be differentiated; you should be able to check all those boxes. And then once all those boxes are checked, I think the investment will keep coming because bottom line, women make over 80 percent of the healthcare decisions and represent over 50 percent of the population.
So bottom line, there is a captive audience they are in. Many of these conditions that we’re working to treat in women’s health aren’t illnesses, per se, they’re actually something that every single woman is likely going to experience in her lifetime, like the effects of menopause, but even the need for planning and spacing pregnancies, contraception. There are also some interesting categories in women’s health that you have a captive audience, whether she wants to think about it or not, she’s going to have to think about it, and there’s a real opportunity to make her life better in terms of how you address it.
Taren: I love how you say that. It’s good news for all of us women out there, that there are companies like yours that are working to enhance our life. And as you said, some of them are not necessarily serious diseases. They certainly are life altering, as you noted, as well as chronic, this is our life we’re talking about and it’s a long life, and it’s a long period of time where we have to deal with one phase to the next phase, so we have to think about it. So thank you for that. You talked about taking the company public in 2017. Tell me about that and how exciting was that, how challenging was that? And what were some of the things you had to go through?
Sabrina: When you’re working in a therapeutic category that is maybe underrepresented in terms of pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies working in the category, and therefore, not as well known to the investment community, definitely contemplating any kind of financial raise, whether it’s through venture capital or through the public markets, it’s a little more challenging, because you have to educate, and that always takes time. And so for Daré and our vision for the company, which was always to build a pipeline, a portfolio of products, not building a company around one singular sort of drug entity, but really building a company around therapeutic needs and building a portfolio of several products. We have eight different programs at various stages of development in our portfolio.
Today, venture capital funding was not necessarily the optimal route to financing our company because often in that type of financing arrangement, there’s often a focus around one or two chemical entities or indications and not the breadth. So we pretty much from day one felt that it would be in our best interest, and ultimately for our investors’ best interest for us to be publicly traded because that really would allow for the kind of investment and flexibility in investment that our vision really demanded. And we also recognize that doing a traditional initial public offering may not be optimal for all the reasons I noted. We’re working in a therapeutic area that requires a lot of education, and getting those initial investors onboard might be a little more challenging if we went that traditional route.
And so we actually did what’s called a reverse merger, which allows a private company to merge into an already existing public company that typically has undergone some sort of distress. In our case, it was a company in the cancer space that had had unfortunately a couple failed phase 2 trials. It happens in healthcare. But they had the public listing, they had some cash, but they didn’t know what to do for their investors. And so to do reverse merging, you go through a process where that company in that case looked at over 90 different possibilities of what they could do and selected us, selected our business model and the promise of what we had so that we could merge into that company and ultimately become Daré.
Taren: It’s an interesting entrée into the world. That’s amazing. Not everybody has that experience. So that really, again, makes you pretty unique out there in the industry.
Sabrina: Yes. And I would say we had a team. A reverse merger, it is a complicated… it has its own complexity. So being a public company in general has its own complexities versus being a private company, but my background is all publicly traded companies. Our CFO was a former investment banker. Her background was taking companies public, and she was one of the co-founders with me. And so together, frankly, we felt more comfortable in the public world than we did in the private world but also knew what that meant, knew what it means to be public, what it means to manage that and all the regulatory filings and things that go with that.
Taren: Well, that’s exciting. Again, not everybody has done that. So you have some lessons to share there. Speaking of which, you’ve been involved in women’s health, as you said, for a number of years, and you belong to an elite group of women leading biotech companies. What does that intersection look like for you? What are those peer-to-peer conversations?
Sabrina: I have to say it’s… we’re a growing group or a mighty group. And it’s just like anything else in this world, we’re making progress, there’s more work to be done. And frankly, not just for women, but any underrepresented group that is underrepresented, disproportionately in a leadership role. And I will say, having said all that, I really look at it, like, a few things. One, for me, it’s a great opportunity and it’s a nice opportunity for my investors as well. There’s great data to show that sometimes women because we’re just any sort of minority in a leadership role, the burden is on you to do better, do better than your peers, not just as good as, but do better. And we really take that to heart. What we do at Daré is not just representing Daré but is really creating hopefully opportunities for more women leaders and more leadership from groups, whatever and whomever they are, that are underrepresented today.
So we’ve taken that to heart in a few ways. One, it definitely means we work hard to perform because we know that eyes are not on us only as just the individual company and the onus we have for our shareholders to do well, but frankly, we’re representing others. So we take that seriously. And hopefully, that has really shown in how we’ve executed against our milestones and objectives over the last few years and hit them and look forward to continuing to do that. But we’ve also taken steps to make sure that we’re doing our part to pull others up with us.
So our board of directors is a publicly traded company, we’re majority female. We have other minorities represented on our board of directors, that’s really important to us, in our management team in terms of the proportion of women. In our management team, we really work through partnerships and alliances, and not just to bring products into the portfolio, obviously, and the partnerships to help commercialize us as well, but also strategic partnerships with vendors with whom we work closely and really are an extension of our team. And in those partnerships, we really work hard to make sure that those partners represent our values, represent the groups that we are serving in particularly, and that’s true when we’re running clinical trials that the people that go out and do the monitoring of the sites, we want to make sure they represent the demographics of the population that we’re studying, whatever that may be, because they’re going to be working closely with the sites and we want everyone to feel comfortable and to be represented in what we’re doing.
So there are more and more of us, more and more female biotech CEOs. I had a great opportunity to convene with a number of them just a couple of weekends ago in sort of the first ever retreat to bring us together. And in a lot of the topic was (1) how do we all execute well – how do we help each other execute well? Because ultimately that’s what’s going to mean there are more of us when people can look at our results and see wow, like they delivered. But (2) how do we really sponsor other women, other groups that are not adequately represented; how do we help sponsor them and move them into positions where they can also demonstrate the value of having diversity. Diverse teams, in a number of different metrics, have been shown to exceed execution metrics compared to non-diverse teams. And so ultimately, it’s good for all of our stakeholders.
Taren: I love that you had that opportunity to get together with another group of women to have these really substantive conversations and executing absolutely, as you said, number one, and then widening the path for other women and other minorities to follow behind because one woman is a path, all of you women is a superhighway now, so we can really start to accelerate. So coming out of that, what were some of the action items? Did you guys come to any conclusions like things that are must-dos in the coming months?
Sabrina: We did. We did. We definitely did. And the action items and the ideas are still flowing. We’re still constantly communicating with each other. Some of the clear ones were really some very actionable activities we could do to make sure that we’re all networked within different organizations that look to get more women on boards, support other women moving into those opportunities, whether we ourselves are looking for board members or whether we ourselves are interested in board positions and really expanding that network. Some really concrete ideas around that concept of sponsorship, which is different than mentorship – a mentor is sort of a one-on-one kind of system of someone guiding and supporting, but sponsorship is really helping to pull someone or push someone into a new opportunity, and how can we be doing that more robustly in our various communities and then through networks with each other and through the right sort of representation in these organizations.
And then looking at how do we get more– there are more of us women leaders than we sometimes recognize or think about because we’re all working, it’s a very lonely job, you work very independently as a CEO. And so making sure that we’re also being mindful and thoughtful of like who else in our communities in this role, how do we bring ourselves together. Here, I love the superhighway, to not blaze a path, but to create multiple superhighways in our respective communities and then together. So yeah, a lot of action items came out of the meeting.
Taren: Great. And I look forward to hearing how this all evolves because I do think it’s a long road ahead, but it certainly is a doable and attainable road ahead. You mentioned boards and you serve on several boards yourself. So let’s talk about why these engagements are important aside from maybe the obvious that it shows more diversity. As you noted, more diverse boards, more diverse companies have better outcomes, they’re just flat out more profitable, they’re more successful. So how did you approach getting on your first board? What were some of the steps you took to maybe help other women have the confidence to go forward as well?
Sabrina: That’s a great question. And so I’m a big believer in general in the power of the network and also like pay it forward, it will come back to you. And my first public company board opportunity was very much a result of that power of the network and pay it forward, it will come back to you. It was really through someone that I had helped years ago, just out of the kindness of like we’re all in this biotech ecosystem, we should all help each other when we can, someone who needed some guidance on a transaction and around an area that I had some knowledge and expertise in, and he got networked to me. And I just helped him out, literally years ago, 2010 or 2011, and we had kept in touch over the years, and periodically, I was a sounding board for things here and there that came up.
And then he took a position with the board that had a product that he remembered, in my background was something very analogous to a product I had worked on years ago, and reached out and said, they’re looking for new board members, and just given what you’ve done with Daré and your background and the expertise you had shared in the past I know you have a really relevant background. So that’s really how it came to play. That it was all about just the power of the network and being out there, and then taking that time when there wasn’t an immediate return that I could have put my hand on, but taking that opportunity to connect with someone, to help someone who ultimately remembered. And then as with anything in life, once you’ve done one, then other doors open, like once you get on that first board.
So I would really say to women a few things – and I’d also taken one of those on board classes that anyone could take but one of those, like how do you learn what it means to be on a board and how to be a really good board member. So I had also done that and taken the time to do that. And so what I would really encourage any woman or anyone who’s underrepresented today on boards and is looking for those opportunities to do your part, to make sure you’re ready, and the things that you can control are taking one of those courses. There are so many of them available today through a variety of different sources, take one of those courses, so you do really understand what it means to be a good board member, what that entails, networks, like make sure everyone knows that you want to be on a board, take those opportunities to participate in forums, or put your name in those forums where they’re looking for people who might want to be on boards. And then also, don’t shy away from those opportunities to let people know what you’re capable of, even if it’s a favor to someone, pro bono work for someone because that just opens doors. It certainly did for me.
Taren: That’s awesome. And you talk about the network a lot, and it’s so important to have that network, and some people think of it as kind of like a dirty word, but it’s not. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who are smart, who are driven, and who share the same kind of values you do and can help you through different processes and phases of your own career. And it’s important to feed that network and not to do a favor expecting as you did as an immediate return, but in actuality, it came back to you like a boomerang at some point.
Sabrina: Right, right.
Taren: Awesome. That is great advice. And that’s also good advice to be prepared because if the opportunity presents itself, you want to make sure that you are ready to take advantage of that opportunity. So excellent advice.
Sabrina: And I would also add one more thing I just remembered too, but that people sometimes, again, in that sort of pay it forward mindset, don’t give this the credit that it’s due as something that can help you but serving on a nonprofit board. Sometimes it’s easier to get on that nonprofit board before you can get on your first private or public board or for-profit board. But those nonprofit boards are a great opportunity to flex your leadership muscles, get that experience, understand those dynamics, and it’s just a great way to start. If you’re really interested in being on a board, you should be putting yourself out there and trying to at least get on a nonprofit board to begin with because that should be doable.
Taren: Agreed. And there are so many that are available to when we…
Taren: So, yes, just take the plunge, I agree 1000 percent – not that that’s a real number, but you know what I mean.
Sabrina: I do.
Taren: I’d love to know what drew you originally to the life sciences industry? I mean, you’re obviously very talented, you could have gone to work making widgets and been successful. So why healthcare?
Sabrina: As many things in life somewhat randomly, I’m a big believer that when a door opens, you should walk through it. Don’t question sometimes just go. And I’ve clearly been that way since I was in high school, apparently. Very randomly, I actually was planning to go to college and study theater, but I was valedictorian of my high school and I think that just really was painful for my high school chemistry and physics teacher. And so he really encouraged me to look at biomedical engineering as a major and he knew that I was very into science fiction and I was very interested into theatrical arts and makeup art and things like that. And so he told me about biomedical engineering. And at the time, it felt very much like science fiction, it was artificial limbs and joints and creating like the bionic man, if you remember the bionic man.
I had watched this documentary about it on a VHS tape (which dates me). I watched a documentary about it on this VHS tape and realized like, oh, that is kind of cool, and maybe it would just be practical, like I can still pursue an interest in theater or whatever, but I could get a practical degree and get this biomedical engineering degree. So that’s how I first pursued the sciences and still thought someday I was going to be acting.
And then, I just serendipitously kind of fell into a graduate program in biochemical engineering, which was a little more now the pharmaceutical industry at the very early days of monoclonal antibodies and recombinant proteins. And then that also, to me, seemed like science fiction, like whoa, we’re going to create drugs out of biological systems, and this is amazing, and I can be a part of it. So that’s how it happened.
And then I never left… I just took my first job in industry and never left and have not regretted a day of it, loved it. I’m so happy that my career went this direction. Not everyone has that wonderful opportunity to work in an industry where we’re truly, truly making a difference in the lives of people, what we do develops drugs that impacts people’s lives whether they save them or they just help make their life better. And so I’ve always loved it and never looked back. I did change roles a thousand times. I started out in research and pretty quickly realized I don’t necessarily want to be on the bench side of it. I love the industry, I don’t need to be the one actually pipetting and transitioned more on the business side but have loved the industry.
Taren: I love that. Thank you for sharing that story. I can just see you now, theatrical makeup. And I’m sure your parents were also quite thrilled about…
Sabrina: They were. Trust me, yeah.
Taren: That’s great. And as you said, you’ve worn a number of hats and you’ve had quite a lot of success. What is it that you look to? When you’re putting together those high-performing teams, what are those characteristics you look for in those individuals? Right now, we’re in the midst of like, really, I hate to use this word, war with talent, but there is a shortage of talent out there. Talent people are in high demand. So what are those characteristics you look for?
Sabrina: Yeah, so there are a few things. So first and foremost, a culture of respect. So it’s really, really an important to me that everyone on our team not only accepts diversity of thought but embraces diversity of thought. We talked about the importance of diversity in terms of outcomes. And I really, really, really strongly believe that a high functioning successful team means that everyone has to really be open to any idea. And so what I found that often translates into in terms of the makeup of the team and their personalities is people who are risk takers, they’re comfortable coloring outside of the lines. Being a risk taker doesn’t mean you’re irresponsible, but means that you know how to assess the situation, understand the risks, how to mitigate the risks, and take them when appropriate. And that’s really bold. Our tagline, daring to be different, being bold, that’s all about people who understand the importance of taking risks.
We’re in an industry and in women’s health, where we’re often going to be first, first to an indication, first to a delivery mode, first to whatever. And so fundamentally, people have to embrace that diversity of thought and be comfortable being risk takers, sometimes like I like to say a lot internally, coloring outside of the lines but in a good way to truly be creative. And then calm, and I really mean that. People that can maintain a sense of urgency… We have a very fast-paced company and we make decisions very, very quickly, but don’t get ruffled.
And honestly, it really showed during COVID. We were able to execute, we did not miss a step. We did not miss a beat. We ran a phase 3 trial in 2020 during COVID. We started other trials, we filed, we got our first drug approved last year. And you can look back and say, well, yeah, you just followed your plan. No, we didn’t. We had to pivot all over the place, and just like everyone else and make decisions of let’s reprioritize this, let’s shift this like this, let’s put this resource here. And that all comes from having a team that everyone stays fundamentally urgent but calm, willing to kind of take risks, and understand what that means and how to mitigate risk and really open to all the ideas. And that was definitely a time of having to throw around a lot of crazy ideas on how we can do things, but that’s what it took.
Now the cost of entry is they have to be smart, they have to be knowledgeable in the area and high performers. That’s just the cost, but the team was really built on those three kind of tenets.
Taren: That’s wonderful. Equilibrium under duress, Freda Lewis-Hall, who was the Chief Medical Officer at Pfizer, she kind of coined that phrase. And so I always remember, it’s that calm. On the surface, you don’t know what’s happening under… the feet might be doing this and paddling, but on the top layer, everything is good, right?
Sabrina: Exactly. Exactly right. Yeah, because then you just keep your eye on the prize, just stay focus on what you’re trying to do. There might be 20… there’s 20 different paths to get to any end game. You just might be the 19th to try, but you can get there.
Taren: Wonderful. When you were coming up, we talked a little bit about sponsorship earlier. Did you have sponsor? Did you have mentors? And what were those relationships like?
Sabrina: I did. And I definitely feel incredibly fortunate for the people that ended up sponsoring me and really, throughout my career. Now, they all happen to be men but I think that’s great because these are men that like leaned in and really saw opportunity and wanted to help me get there.
One of them was the CEO at Cypress Bioscience where I spent 10 or 11 years, Jay Kranzler, who recognized my potential and he gave me my first big, I would say, professional opportunity. He put me in a CFO role, and I’m not an accountant and I had never been a CFO before. In fact, my title when he gave me that role was I think vice president of sales and marketing. So in many ways, as far as you can get from CFO as possible. So he really opened that door for me, which is incredible and several since.
And then Roger Hawley, who was on the board at Cypress was how I first met him, and he really was the person that really opened doors for us at Daré that allowed the company to get started. We would not have been able to start the company without Roger and Roger’s support. And he was one of the founders of Zogenix which is one of the transactions that happened this year, one of the products company sales that’s happened so far this year in 2021, very successful. And he sadly has passed away, but he’ll always be near and dear to my heart.
And then Bill Rastetter, who’s currently on our board right now and he was behind Biogen Idec and all the success that they had had in the early days and many other companies since. And he came on board with big believer in women’s health and in what we’re doing and that has definitely also has been a huge sponsor of me.
Taren: Thank you, again, for sharing. That’s great. It’s not a man versus woman thing; it’s being allies together and trying to make sure there are equal opportunities for anybody who wants to extend that leadership position. So tell me through the years, what are some of the best leadership advice you’ve ever gotten? And then what is some of the best leadership advice you give?
Sabrina: Yes, I have to say some of the best advice came early in my career, and it was from Jay Kranzler, which were a few things, and I do try to then share these words of wisdom to others. One, very early, he encouraged me to actually speak because I was very quiet in meetings, but I would write these long detailed memos in the days of writing memos to people. And he said, you need to have a voice at the table. If you want to be heard at the table, you actually need to have a voice at the table and speak. So I do remind people of that because then if people have great ideas and they see themselves as leaders, but they’re keeping it all internal, so speak up.
Take time to think. We often think of leadership as doing and making decisions and doing and making things happen, but to really do that efficiently, you have to take the time to think and pause and analyze the circumstances and all the possibilities. And with that thinking should come empathy, being able to understand, if you’re in a negotiation, what’s happening on the other side of the table, what are their needs, so that you can really put together a plan or a solution that really takes everything into consideration.
And then the third piece of that is inaction is action. So if you are not wanting to make a decision because you feel like you need more information or you’re waiting on something, that’s a decision to take no action. And looking at every decision in that way, I think, as a leader, is really, really important. And so having that kind of stomach to change, pivot, stop, go, whatever it may be based on the circumstances is really important.
So I would say those three things, the thinking and the empathy that comes with that, and it really goes hand in hand, the decision making, and then making sure that your voice is heard at the table.
Taren: I think those are three key pieces of advice. And I challenge all of us to thik about those as we go about our daily lives and as we ascend to those leadership positions because they’re so key to success. So congratulations, and thank you for sharing.
Taren: And since this is our WoW podcast program, I do have to ask you about the wow moment in your career that either changed the trajectory of your career or just advanced your career. What’s that wow moment that shaped your career?
Sabrina: Yeah, and for me that wow moment, it was kind of tied to some of the things I shared earlier, but I saved it for the end. One of the other gems of advice I got early in my career was to be myself, was to bring my whole self to the table and not be a persona of what I thought a particular role was. And that was also at that same time that I got that CFO opportunity, which really did open the door for me in terms of leadership opportunities, that’s what led to COO and then ultimately CEO, and really having the experiences to execute there and experiences around, raising money and doing deals and transacting.
And the big piece of advice I got when I first went into that role, and I was behaving like I was playing a CFO on TV instead of being a real CFO was that be yourself. You’re a smart person, you’re a capable person, and just bring your whole self to the table. People respond to that, people respond to people who are being genuine and sincere. And if you do that, you’re just going to be ultimately a better leader. So that was my wow moment.
Taren: It is a wow moment. Sabrina, thank you so much for sharing that because not everybody has that [inaudible 40:46] to be their real self and bring their whole authentic self because they want to be somebody else because they thought that’s what made them successful is not what’s going to make you successful. So thank you so much for sharing that, I appreciate it. And thank you so much for being part of our WoW podcast program. I’ve taken some notes and some great key takeaways. So thank you, thank you.
Sabrina: Thank you so much for the opportunity to share and be a part of this.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes, visit pharmavoice.com.