Sarah Kauss is the CEO & Founder of do-good, beverage bottle company, S'well. She is a Fortune '40 under 40' honoree and a member of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women ™ program.
Kauss earned a bachelor's in accounting from the University of Colorado Boulder and her MBA from Harvard Business School.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've always been a part of pretty flat organizations and gained confidence to tackle leadership roles at a young age by working with senior leadership. This experience, coupled with the fact that my parents were small-business owners, helped me understand firsthand the value of confidence, hard work and creativity to getting the job done. And, when it comes to your team, treat employees as part of the family and you'll always have a dedicated workforce by your side.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at S'well?
Every job has had some role in getting me to where I am now. However, I experienced my first taste of entrepreneurism at Ernst and Young, working with tech startups during the dotcom boom. I had one client, in particular, that was a cardiovascular equipment manufacturer producing the type of products you would use for open heart surgery. I remember thinking about the supply chain logistics and taking note. At that point, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur someday so I could produce something that would have a positive impact on society (and the environment).
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at S'well?
A definite highlight was being first-to-market with a beverage bottle that is truly better than others because of its quality, utility and general do-good purpose. The reaction we've had over the last four years from early adopters, loyal consumers and major brands has been so rewarding. Because of this, I've had an intense learning curve on the ins and outs of manufacturing and had to deal with the best challenge of all - keeping up with demand. Luckily, I have a passionate team of specialists who help keep S'well (and me) moving in the right direction.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Whether you're a woman or a man, it comes down to being prepared to give it your all. Risk isn't an easy thing to take nor is investing your entire life savings into a single idea. But, if you believe in it, have done your due diligence and are prepared for the best or worst outcomes, you'll end up on top. You'll either feel empowered by having taken the chance at launching your own company or (hopefully) your business has taken off and you're reaping the benefits.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm the wrong person to ask about work/life balance, unless you believe work and life are one in the same. I've tried to make it to yoga and take vacations to sunny places. But, at the end of the day, S'well is my passion project and how I want to be spending my time on a day-to-day basis. I even come down from my day by journaling about the business - reflecting on key moments, how I can do better and how we can be better as a team on behalf of our customers. For me, my life is my work and my work is my life - I'm okay with that for now. Ask me again in five years!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I've been lucky enough to not experience issues tied to gender in the work place, even in male-dominated industries like finance and real estate. Yet, I know there are many women who've not had this same experience. What I try to tell anyone feeling the pressures of being a woman in the workplace is this: Don't let your environment stop you from creating your own path. Take steps to change what's in your control and keep moving toward your professional goals. I've worked hard to carve out my own path and try to encourage everyone to the do the same.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I'm a huge advocate of mentoring as both a mentor and a mentee. Having been recognized as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman has provided me with the resources to cultivate a network of mentors that help me navigate some of the unknowns of a business startup. It's been a wonderful experience and reaffirmed my commitment to mentoring others. This year I'm hoping to help others overcome their challenges and strive for career success by participating in the U.S. Department of State Global Women's Mentoring Partnership.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I'd have to say Madeleine Albright. She's made the world a better place, while establishing a unique sense of style and purpose. From raising children to obtaining various graduate degrees to ascending to distinguished positions in the world of academics and political/foreign policy, she's become a source of inspiration as a multifaceted and accomplished individual for so many. You can't help but be inspired by all that she has accomplished.
What do you want S'well to accomplish in the next year?
Big things -- period. We saw 400% growth in 2014 and we plan to see even bigger growth in 2015. We've been in business for four years now and we are only looking up when it comes to new client partnerships, new product innovations and continuing forward with S'well's mission to have a positive impact on the world.
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