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Women of San Francisco: An Interview with ThirdLove Co-Founder Heidi Zak

Today, we’re kicking off a new Unhooked series, Women of San Francisco. Each month, we’ll sit down with a new female founder, innovator or entrepreneur to hear her story, learn her advice for future female leaders and ask a few fun questions along the way.

Today’s conversation is with ThirdLove’s Co-Founder, Heidi Zak. We’ll discuss her vision behind starting an online-only lingerie company, what it’s like working with her (also ThirdLove) Co-Founder husband, Dave Spector and how she juggles two kids and a startup.

Q: What was your “aha moment” with ThirdLove? When did you know this was something you should take seriously?

A: A few years ago it was time for me to go bra shopping and, per usual, I was dreading it. I disliked the whole process, finding time to get to a store, getting “fitted”, trying on tons of bras to hopefully find one that fit, and then the bra would start to fall apart after just a few washes. I was over it.

I thought to myself, “there has to be a better way” - a way to use technology to easily shop for bras from home, and a way to design beautiful, high-quality bras at a great price-point. And that’s how ThirdLove was born!

Q: What is it like working with your husband every day, and did you have any hesitation about it at first?

A: Dave and I spent many nights post-work (while I was at Google and he was at Sequoia Capital) mulling over many business ideas. After a few months of iteration, we finally realized we had come across a really large opportunity and that we both wanted to take the plunge. We had met at business school and worked on a few projects in the past together, so knew each other’s working styles and felt confident we could have fun and would complement each other's strengths.

We actually don’t interact as much during the day as you’d think. We’re each on various calls and meetings and are generally focusing on very different things. We’re so lucky to share the awesome moments, the “highs” together. But the “lows” are extra low in our household since we’re both vested in the same thing. Luckily for us, there have been a lot more highs than lows over the past few years.

Q: What’s the hardest part of founding and running a startup?

A: Wanting to do everything at once, but knowing I can’t. There is a constant challenge to identify the biggest opportunity and spend energy on the initiatives that really matter. We’re focused on getting every woman into a great-fitting bra - that’s what I have to keep in mind when making every important decision.

Q: How do you find balance between family (raising kids), running a business, staying fit and finding time for yourself?

A: I would need much longer days to feel like I could have it all, or do it all. I’m a lot of things - a founder, a mom, a wife, and a friend. The key is understanding that, some days, some of those groups are going to get more attention than others. I’m still coming to grips with that, but you can’t devote 100% attention to each thing every day - and that’s okay!

Q: What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?

A: Most people are surprised to find out I’m an only child. My friends always say I seem like the girl who grew up with a few older brothers, probably because I’m pretty athletic, adventurous and independent.

Q: What piece of advice do you have for young women just starting out in their career?

A: Go after what you want, and don’t give up easily. And, don’t take no for an answer. When I was at MIT Sloan for business school, I wanted to get a summer internship in the retail sector. There were no retail companies that took summer MBA interns, but I knew I needed applicable experience to get a job when I graduated. So I put together a list of the top 20 companies in NYC that I wanted to work at, fired off emails and submitted my resume online. I wasn’t lining up interviews and no one was getting back to me, so I picked up the phone and cold-called each company, one by one - and it worked!

I was connected with the SVP of New Business Development at Aeropostale, eventually securing a summer internship and then a year later when I graduated, a full-time job. Little did I know I would end up being promoted to a Director and running their International Division before moving over to Google later in my career. Never take no for an answer and push for what you know you can achieve.

Q: What inspires you?

A: Knowing that our products are actually helping women everywhere. I wanted to create a company and products that made women’s lives easier, not just one that said it does. I love hearing from customers about how we’re making their lives easier, and that keeps me inspired.

Q: What’s next for ThirdLove?

A: Right now, we’re laser-focused on bras and underwear and designing product for women of all sizes. But we’ll be testing out some new categories in 2017 - so stay tuned!