Heidi Zak says she’s on a mission to find the perfect bra for every woman. For the last five years, the ThirdLove co-founder and CEO has built a business dedicated to using data, technology and real women’s needs to to find the right fit — right down to the half-size.
ThirdLove is so confident about the products it creates, that customers get a 30-day trial to see if the bra they purchase — designed with the company’s Fit Finder system — actually works for them. “For us, it’s really about understanding our customer and listening to what she is telling us,” Zak says. “[Creating] a bra for all women over time is really our goal.”
With the company’s Break the Mold initiative — a play on words, the company actually had to make their own unique molds to create those innovative half sizes — Zak wants to share the stories of female founders like herself and the accomplishment of ThirdLove’s customers.
“When you think about the lingerie industry, it’s dominated by one large player informing what sexy means,” Zak says. “It impacts a whole generation of women. Going against that, especially in an industry that’s very male dominated even though it’s female-focused, we had this idea of how to take that belief and really showcase other women who are doing really amazing things breaking the mold in their everyday lives.”
We caught up with Zak to talk with her about believing in your abilities and building a powerful network.
How have you grown and changed as a leader since launching ThirdLove?
It’s really important to believe in your abilities. For me, it’s been an evolution over the past few years. At the beginning I wasn’t comfortable in the role, to be totally candid, of running a company. I think it’s a very big undertaking and it’s kind of scary. To be honest, you don’t really know what you’re doing. It’s like it’s a whole new world.
Yes, you’ve been successful in your career, doing different things, running different teams, running parts of organizations. But it’s very different to have everybody in a room look at you and say, “What’s the plan? What are we doing and why?” You’re the rock there. I think having the belief that you can do it and that you’re actually competent to do it, it takes time.
What advice do you have for women to help them make the most of their professional networks?
The network is important, having people to reach out to and bounce ideas off of. But I think for many women, in order to ask for something you almost feel like you need to — I do, personally — have a little bit more of a connection. I find it harder to ask somebody [for something] who I might have just met once or twice, because it can feel inauthentic.
For me, it’s been about trying to find time to get to know somebody a little bit. Even one social encounter of substance [can be enough], just 10 to 15 minutes where you really feel like you’ve got some time get to know them. It’s about connecting on a personal level. That’s the biggest thing. It doesn’t have to take hours.
If you’re really busy with [kids and responsibilities] it becomes harder to go out for drinks and do the after-work dinner. Meet somebody for breakfast or lunch or just different times of the day [that work best for you]. If you have that interaction, then you’ll feel good about sending that follow up email three months later.
When was a time in your career that you made a mistake? How did you move forward from it?
It was in my early 20s. I had done investment banking for two years in New York and I was looking for my next career move. At that time the market was really bad in New York. This is 2002. There were literally no jobs to be had, few and far between. And I really wanted to kind of get operational experience so I was looking at retail companies and things more on that side of the business.
I got an offer from Seventeen Magazine for a financial analyst position. I was excited about the position but I also was doing what a lot of people do, which was I was interviewing other places and trying to like push out the offer letter process with them. When I went back to accept the offer within the time span of the offer letter, they had made the offer to somebody else.
It was a real wake up call for a couple of reasons. Just because there’s a contract that says something — it said I had until Friday at 5 p.m. But they hadn’t heard from me so they went ahead and made another offer.
What do you say to yourself to work through tough moments?
The more tough moments you have, the more you realize that they’re all just a moment in time. There are things that might have bothered me even four to five years ago when I started the company where I might have really gotten down on myself because of an issue that we were having that that don’t bother me the same way anymore. It takes experience to get there.
When you have a low point, when something is going wrong, it’s really about making sure, number one that you just address it right away. Understand what the problem is, make a decision and you solve it as quickly as possible. I think a lot of times when people are faced with tough decisions or things going wrong, you want to avoid it. Because it’s draining.
It’s the last thing on your list you want to deal with. It’s kind of like bra shopping, right? It’s not the thing you want to do. The hard thing is the thing that’s hardest to focus on. So I think making that a real priority, handling it and making sure that everybody’s on the same page and we all agree on the forward progress and what is going to happen next.
One of our mottos at ThirdLove is positivity and optimism. And really it’s about making every day a new day. When you walk out of ThirdLove and come in the next day, whatever happened yesterday does not matter. It’s about the future.