Tovi Riegler is the cofounder of CureDiva. Tovi created CureDiva in 2013 to help women in need as she, herself, is a survivor of breast cancer. Tovi was first diagnosed in May 2007 at the age of 37 and then again in October of 2013. She currently resides in Israel.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My hometown is best known for drug trafficking and the county's biggest jail. My father was a truck driver and my mom a housewife. Aside from me, none of my immediate family graduated college. During my first year of high school, as a 14-year-old, I attended a wedding of one of my classmates. Nonetheless, I made it out.
The above statements, although 100% true, are misleading. I grew up in a household that lacked for nothing, and was filled with art, books and interesting conversations. I got the best education money could buy. My father is an artist but also a businessman, my mom speaks and reads in three languages and I can honestly say - I had it easy growing up.
Through the years, I've seen people struggle to fit me within their stereotype, often forgetting where I am from because it didn't fit perfectly in their minds. Thus, I learned early on the power of stereotyping - and they are powerful indeed! After all, these pre-notions of ours help us make quick and often correct assumptions. But I also learned just how misleading they are. So I never forgot to keep an open mind - about people, places, processes or what have you, as if I know nothing in advance. I am always also acutely aware that I don't necessary have the whole picture, thus I try to learn more and I actually listen without prejudice and provide people with the opportunity to be heard. Strangely enough with most people just this, actually listening, makes me a leader and mentor.
How did your previous employment experience aid your position at CureDiva?
In retrospect I prepared myself for this role with 360 degrees of experience. I have been a startup girl for most of my career, joining companies at the latest with 35 employees. I moved through the corporate world and in the process, experienced the different challenges a company size presents, from WiZeUp.com's three people to SAP and its size. I have moved from technology positions to the business side (marketing, operation and business development) and I raised funds for a startup and later sat on the other side as investor and corporate buyer. I am an internet veteran, but with deep understanding of how to build business processes. And then there is the "other side" - since I worked through a year of treatments - chemo, radiation, hormones and operation- I had only myself to rely on to find many of the products we now offer at CureDiva.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My way is to simply be 100% at work and then 100% at home. Some people may mistake me for a workaholic but people who know me better will vouch that I never work hard- I work smart. The reason being is that I always care while working, but when home I am emotionally invested at home and don't give my job a second thought.
I say emotional separation and not total cut, because at a certain point I have had to carry a Blackberry (a.k.a crackberry) with me and might even answer e-mails and such. But I would do so without the emotional investment by still keeping my work out of my home.
I never fell for the " spend time at work" trap. I don't care about the hours - I get the work done. As an employee I wanted to be measured by results - and I expect the same from people working for me. Its not how much time you spend that matters to me - its what you achieve.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CureDiva?
Finding the right people to make it happen was a challenge that we met well easily - when Efrat, Ester and myself joined forces with Gil and Dan to form CureDiva, I could see that the vision we all shared would become reality. We passed on investors when we didn't see eye to eye with them and thus gained true partners from the very beginning.
My personal challenge came later. As the company moved forward, my health took a turn for the worse - it's hard to let go of the reins, but I transitioned from CEO to director and found myself once again in need of the products we sell. It was a somewhat sad event to be hospitalized with cancer when the company launched and was made even more significant when once again I desperately needed products to cope with my operation and treatment. Knowing that I have a store where I can get it all, and so can many others, really is the highlight of the whole thing.
What advice can you offer women seeking to start an online business?
This may sound like a cliché, but find something you would like to do better or think is missing from the market. Research to make sure the market is there and the need/want is not just yours. And I will say that again: research your market. Then just do it. Yes, it's that easy.
Take e-commerce for example. It's very easy to open a store online. Unlike the Internet of yore, (can't help myself as someone who worked on e-books sold online back in 1999) you can find the technology to run on very easily. It's not about getting it done; it's about what you offer. Getting a product and service online has never been easier or cheaper. Finding what will people want to use or buy or play with is the challenge I see in online business today.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it's the same old work- life balance. I don't think, however, that I have something new to say. Maybe only to note that it's all too often that time is spent working and achievements are forgotten.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
David Gray, the CEO of WiZeUp.com, told me that I am a people person and changed the course of my career from technology to the business /people side of things.
Until a certain age I considered myself a geek - better in a room full of computers. I am all about technology. I started working for WiZeUp.com as a Director of Technology harboring this misconception. I was the tech girl for an e-book company addressing the higher education market in the USA.
After the first meeting with the publishers, David insisted I join another meeting and then meetings with investors. I didn't suffer but I was truly puzzled. I asked him, "Why me?" He told me that I am a people person, and working with him proved to me that he was indeed right. I do enjoy the company of fellow coworkers and getting to know a new person is more fun than a new gadget. Mind you, I am still somewhat prone to fall for a new gadget too.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Oprah Winfrey - I first learned of her in 1999 when I lived in New York. I was part of a book club. And I remember one of the girls specifically asking that we don't read the "chicks in pain" books of the Oprah Book Club. Now I am not a TV person and never was, but I read a lot. Despite that request, I found myself reading White Oleander and other books Oprah recommended. Aside from taking my revenge for being made to read "chicks in pain" books by means of a Dorit Rabinyan book which included a description of hair removal (ie: chicks in pain), I was left at awe with how influential a one-woman TV show can become. I kept reading about her from time to time and what I read truly impressed me. And I am not merely talking of her position on lists of wealth and influence and as a self-made woman at that. I liked how she also used her influence for others' benefits.
What are your hopes for the future of CureDiva?
The first thing that comes to my mind is that I wish people were no longer in need of our business and that a cure for cancer, and one with no nasty side effects, is finally found. But while I and many others continue to fight breast cancer, I hope we manage to become not just the leading destination for existing products, but also for innovative new products - a beacon to call forth new products and services that will make coping with breast cancer easier.