#CareerSpotlight: Susanna Quinn, founder and CEO of Veluxe
Ever wonder what it would be like to go beyond your comfort zone and launch your own tech business? Or what it would be like, as a young woman in the 1990s, to take a huge career risk and never look back? Or, maybe you’re like me and just want to discover how Susanna Quinn has managed to become a successful startup boss without sacrificing on her social life, her health, and her family.
We are always curious to hear the stories of women taking risks to follow their dreams and passions. With our “Career Spotlight” series, we take a glance into the lives of dynamic and pioneering women who are impacting the world positively, in many extraordinary ways.
Susanna Quinn is the founder and CEO of Veluxe, the on-demand beauty, fitness and wellness app which is empowering women by helping them save time and money without sacrificing on their health or appearance. She tells me that she is most productive in the late evening, when she finds it easier to focus.
That night however, we congregated around wine and one (ok, three) pots of ice cream to discuss her secret to success. Before Veluxe, Susanna has had multiple careers, beginning as a staffer on the Hill, then launching a real estate business.
Her key to self-confidence? Remembering your core (yes, she’s a big yoga fan). Her advice to success? Be persistent, and seek to be the person you want to attract.
Can you walk us through your journey to Veluxe?
I first built the concept of Veluxe to solve a problem in my own life. I wanted to find a way to get the personal services I needed without spending too much money or wasting time in commutes. So I started bringing providers into my home. I paid less and they made more, it was an economic model that worked and I knew it was a business I could scale.
It was my experience that I could find anything on an app, from a car to a home, and it became clear to me that this would be the best platform to expand my business.
While developing the app, I conducted interviews with potential customers about the kind of services they would want and what they would pay for it. I also met with service providers to assess whether they would go to people’s homes, and to understand whether flexibility or money would be most important to them –my goal is to develop a business that would be beneficial to both the client and the provider.
Once the app was launched, it grew organically, starting with 5, 10, 20, then 100 subscribers. I was the first to market this type of service, so even though I didn’t do advertising for the first year, we still grew 30-40% month over month, thanks to word of mouth.
What do you love about your job?
As a people’s person, it was natural for me to create an app which connects people. I love seeing those connections happen.
I also love the fitness industry and the beauty industry: Veluxe enables me to learn new things everyday about these sectors, and to get in touch with other entrepreneurs who are also passionate about these areas.
Interestingly, what I like about it is also what I don’t like: I wear so many different hats, doing fabulous things one minute and more tedious tasks the next. It can get overwhelming but it never gets boring.
What is your main strength?
I’m indefatigable, without a doubt. I don’t take no for an answer, I never give up. My husband jokes that I am like a boxer in the eleventh round.
I also have a very thick skin. This is important as a female entrepreneur, as men are still very much running things.
What has been your biggest struggle as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
Raising money as a female entrepreneur was challenging. I overcame it by becoming profitable. I worked hard to cut expenses and to ensure we would grow faster.
What is the biggest career risk you have taken?
I quit my job on the Hill in the late 1990s because of sexual harassment. There has been progress since then in terms of education and laws in the workplace. But at that time, I felt a level of harassment that I thought was unacceptable, and I tried various recourses but the situation didn’t improve so I quit my job and decided to become an entrepreneur. This was a hard decision to make because at the time I was dreaming of building a career in law and politics. Instead, I started a real estate business and I’ve never looked back.
What is the most exciting experience you've had in your career?
Building Veluxe from the ground up has without a doubt been the most exciting experience. It was so fulfilling to see the business develop from an idea, to a prototype of an app, to a working app and a flourishing business and life style brand.
Have you had mentors and how did they help you in your career?
After getting the idea for Veluxe, I quickly figured out who I wanted as a mentor and how to get to them. This town is full of politicians and journalists, but I didn’t know anyone else in the field of tech. However, I had come across a politician who had built and sold two successful businesses, and I knew right away he’d be a tremendous mentor.
I contacted a common friend, who put me in touch, and we ended up having breakfast a few weeks later. After our discussion, he connected me with Allen Gannett, who has been with me every step of the way, and Sean Glass, who has been a key investor.
Susanna’s secrets to self-confidence and success
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?
I’ve always been a “yes man” but as I’ve gotten older, in order to be the best CEO, wife and mom, I’ve had to learn to say no and prioritize. Knowing when to focus and prioritize is key to success.
Additionally, being persistent has served me well. Recently, I emailed a CEO of a company four times before I got a reply. People are busy, so if you truly want something, you’ll need to fight for it.
To be successful, you also have to surround yourself with the right network. I seek to be the person I want to attract: loyal, encouraging, decent. I try to be open to new ideas, and I always do my best to help my friends.
What would be your advice to young women who strive to be leaders in their fields but struggle with their lack of self-confidence?
One of my secrets to self-confidence has been to remember what is important to me. I could give a talk to one million people tomorrow and not have stage fright. Because I know that at the end of the day, I will still have my ideas, my family and my friends. Everything that I care about is still going to be there whether the audience likes what I say or not. Even if I make a fool of myself or don't know all the answers, I’ll move on and learn from the experience.
If you remember what truly matters to you, it will help you realize that even if you take certain risks, you’ll still have your core. You have a million redoes. Take advantage of it.
What is a daily habit you have that has been key to your success?
That’s the area where I’m the weakest, I don’t have a very structured daily routine.
I’d say daily exercise has been a key ingredient to my success. I can feel like the world is falling apart, I’m angry, unproductive, but then I spend an hour doing yoga or running and it changes my perspective on life.
How would you advise young women to find the right mentor?
Figure out what you want to do, find someone who’s been successful at doing it or at doing something similar before, and connect with them.
You’ll be surprised to see how much people who’ve achieved success love to help others.
Based on your experience as a staffer on the Hill, as a business woman in real estate, and now as an entrepreneur, what do women bring to positions of power?
Women are much better negotiators. We have a naturally empathetic instinct which helps in leading people and creating business cultures that are happier and more productive. For instance, a 2016 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY showed that in companies worldwide, having at least 30% of women in the “C-suite” adds 6% to the net profit margin.
I’ve seen this in action during the dinners I regularly organize with female leaders in media and a guest of honor: the women consistently tend to get better information from the guests of honor, as they are more cooperative with the guest and each other and therefore inspire trust.
Can you talk about women who have impacted your life/has inspired you?
Marla Beck, Dana Bash and Norah O’Donnell. These are three women who get things done, and yet nothing gives in their lives.
Marla built an incredibly successful business, and she’s been a great advisor to Veluxe. She truly has paved the way for female entrepreneurs on so many levels. I still remember sitting down with her after a year of meeting with men who constantly tried to poke holes in my business, and hearing this successful female entrepreneur tell me: “this is a great idea” or “that was a smart decision.” That made a difference to me.
There are a lot of smart, talented people but Dana and Norah give %110 percent all the time to everything. Dana started out organizing videotapes in the CNN library (before things were digitized) and is now one of the most successful women on television. Great reporter, great mom, great friend and in really good physical shape. Same with Norah. The other day, I was watching her coverage of Hurricane Harvey. She was in the shelters in Houston. And I remember when she covered Sandy Hook. She goes to places really outside the comfort zone of many people and is able to tell the stories that need to be told. But when both she and Dana are home, they are really present. Being a working mom is a tough balancing act - there is just no way around it — and all three of these women set fine examples.
What is your life motto?
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If someone doesn’t treat you with the respect you deserve, then don’t hesitate to cut them off. You don’t have to accept bad treatment from anyone, whatever your age, your gender, or your place in the hierarchy.
What is your hidden talent?
Cooking. As a CEO and a working mother, I really enjoy cooking because it helps me tune out while doing something nurturing for my family.
What is your favorite book?
“The Losing Season” by Pat Conroy. It’s a sports book about his losing season at the Citadel. Really great piece of literature.
I strongly believe that you learn more from losing than you do from winning. I’ve had a tremendous amount of loss in my life, and I have had to build myself back up on several occasions.
As difficult as these personal circumstances were at the time, these losses have moulded me into the person I am today.
About the author: Fannie Delavelle currently works on leveraging new technologies for social impact at the World Bank in Washington D.C. Previously, she was the trade and public policy attache at the Embassy of France in the United States. She graduated with a Master's from the London School of Economics and Sciences Po Paris in 2014. Connect with her!