A monthly makeup box subscription that shows up on your doorstep. A direct-to-consumer genetic testing kit. A magical spray that turns your…business…into something not-so-stinky. Birchbox, 23andMe, and Poo-Pourri are just a few of the 31 women-led companies at the center of Girls Who Run The World: 31 CEOs Who Mean Business by journalist Diana Kapp, on sale on October 15.
After Forbes released its 100 Most Innovative Leaders list last month — a list that only included one woman out of 100 — Kapp wrote an open letter (with 140 cosignatories, including Refinery29’s own founders) to Forbes‘ executives stressing the economic imperative of more gender inclusivity, so that no such list would ever be compiled again. Ahead, an excerpt from Kapp’s forthcoming book — which celebrates the innovations and successes of the women founders and CEOs who should have been at the top of the list.
Published with permission from Penguin Random House.
Suzy Batiz, Founder and CEO of Poo-Pourri
Business 101: Humor sells
HER BUSINESS: Sprays and potions that turn life’s stinks (human and cat poo, sweat-stanky shoes) into fresh, happy scents. And the latest addition: home cleaning products.
VERY FIRST JOB: Burger King, but I didn’t get to work the window, because I “wasn’t cute enough” [in the words of her twenty-year-old male manager. . . . Whatever!].
AS A KID, WHAT I WANTED TO BE WHEN I GREW UP: Fashion designer, but I didn’t even know that was a job.
A WEIRD THING YOU’LL FIND ON (OR IN) MY DESK: Incense and palo santo sticks (removes negative energy) and tarot cards or runes.
HIGH SCHOOL GPA: C–minus at best (total grading on a curve).
MY BEDTIME: Nine-thirty p.m. (I wake up at five-thirty a.m.)
ON MY BUCKET LIST: Visiting Bhutan.
A GUILTY PLEASURE: Mexican food, which I rarely eat.
FAVORITE CANDY: Salted caramel.
FAVORITE CHILDHOOD BOOK: Nancy Drew mysteries.
AN EXPRESSION I USE A LOT THAT PEOPLE KNOW ME FOR: “Anything is possible—find a way!”
HOW OFTEN I CHECK MY BANK STATEMENT: Um, never. I haven’t balanced my checkbook since I was nineteen years old.
A TOOL I ALWAYS WANT TO HAVE IN MY HOUSE: A thirty-foot-long duster. I have a cobweb now that’s in one of the peaks of my house and it’s driving me crazy. If you have a duster, please send it over.
ADVICE I’D GIVE TO MY THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD SELF: Nothing is ever as bad as it seems right now; it will all change. It always does.
Suzy is like a phoenix that rises from the ashes. Only in this story, Suzy rises up from a pile of POOP. She will proudly tell you that poop is her specialty. The product that has made her millions and millions is called Poo-Pourri. It comes in a little bottle that you spritz into the toilet bowl before doing your business. And voilà, the whole darn potty emits scents of citrus or lavender vanilla or eucalyptus. It is honestly quite miraculous, the job this tiny bottle performs.
Suzy grew up poor in a small Arkansas town. The only doll clothes she had she sewed herself. Nobody was thinking about paying for pretty smells. “It’s surely the reason I’m a natural maker,” she says. She had gaps in her smile from baby teeth that never grew in, and as she tells it, she really needed braces! But the family could never afford them. She only got her “train tracks” at age seventeen, paid for by a greasy burger-flipping job at Burger King. School, meanwhile, always beat her down. There was no nurturing of creative types; and her people smarts didn’t help her on pop algebra quizzes or get her through her English papers. School just didn’t make her feel smart. She quit college because her sixty-hours-a-week job as the youngest manager of an apparel superstore was impossible to balance with her coursework.
Looking for a creative outlet, she launched a handful of entrepreneurial ventures, all of them failures. A tanning salon. A bridal salon (she painted the windows black to make the white gowns pop—bomb!). Unable to make these businesses go, she filed for bankruptcy, twice. The bank took her car to cover her unpaid bills.
One night after she “swore off all business,” Suzy was eating dinner with some friends and family. The topic (somehow) turned to bathroom stink, and her brother-in-law, who knew Suzy was a wiz with scents and essential oils, wondered aloud whether odors could be trapped so they couldn’t sour the air. What happened then in Suzy’s brain felt like a spray of shooting stars. She has named the feeling “Radical Resonance.” It’s an instance of your universe suddenly aligning in a completely cosmic way, she says. You know it’s happening because you get goose bumps. You feel high on caffeine yet haven’t consumed even a sip of Diet Coke. And the idea clings to you like an obsessive middle school crush.
Tip: Falling on your face is
nearly a requirement for
succeeding. Most superstars
first fail majorly. Oprah was
fired from her TV news job and
even deemed “unfit for TV.” J. K.
Rowling was dissed by twelve
prominent publishers when
peddling Harry Potter.
You see, Suzy, the aromatherapy ace, knew the answer to her brother-in-law’s question. Yes, oils did “trap” other smells. And, Suzy thought to herself, a few drops of the right mix of oils in the toilet could potentially trap and neutralize those horrible smells. The revelation was HUGE!
And, put to the test, it worked. Suzy played around with oil mixtures for a year, and finally found a revolutionary formula. A few sprays into the bowl before going, and a film formed on the surface that held all the bad smells under the water. Think of all the embarrassment she could save everyone.
Next, to spread word of her invention, she decided to produce a promo video. She convinced a renowned creative team that had made other viral videos to work with her. The writers and videographers and Suzy spent days in a mountain cabin in Utah brainstorming ideas. What they came out with was a hysterically funny two-minute spot called “Girls Don’t Poop.” The video’s story line was so outrageous that Suzy could find only four actresses who would even audition. The chosen actress had to speak her lines from a seated position on the toilet. It was a potty-humor masterpiece. After the video went wild (40,921,176 YouTube views), Poo-Pourri sales increased by 90 percent. A viral homerun like that is as unlikely as the (very rare) white rhino. The spray sells everywhere from Target to Ulta Beauty to Urban Outfitters.
Suzy leads by intuition. She considers this a feminine form of leadership and believes it rare and distinct from the common male approach of straight-up number crunching and strategy. She says her best decisions are based on gut feelings, and a sense of “flow.” Right now, she’s feeling positive about a new partnership with Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop brand, to launch Poo-Pourri’s all-natural-ingredients home-cleaning product line, Supernatural, in 2018. The witty marketing phrase: “Clean Butt Naked.”
Tip: Take your orders from your
gut instincts. When you feel like
a rainbow just parked overhead,
charge forward. When you feel
like a nest of yellow jackets just
bombarded your bedroom, stop
She’s feeling a lot less flow when it comes to a line of cat litter spray. Her team had been nose-to-the-ground on the product for over a year, but the oils for the litter continue to clump. Then a cat around the office got sick, and product testers weren’t sure why. Frustrated, the team froze the project. Suzy didn’t care how much time they had already devoted. Only winning products in her line!
“A lot of people come to me with good ideas but not many with a great idea. When you have your idea, nurture it until it’s amazing…so good that people can’t wait to tell other people about it,” she says.
Suzy’s intuition and flow have her rethinking her first viral video, too, the one that made her famous…or infamous. Looking back, she’s now appalled that she further perpetuated the ridiculous belief that “girls don’t poop,” insinuating that it’s unladylike or shameful. It was “the wrong message entirely,” she says now. She’s released a new video called “Girls Do Poop.” Some lines from the new script: “Let’s start a movement, a bowel movement…” and “The powers are yours alone, to sit down and own your throne.”
Funny really does sell.
Text copyright © 2019 by Diana Kapp
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