My name is Greg Altman and I am the CEO and co-founder of Silk Therapeutics, a biomaterials company on the outskirts of Boston, Massachusetts. As an unlikely hero in women’s skincare, I have been experiencing success as a clean-beauty innovator and see potential to reshape the consequences of personal care products. Here, I share five of my key tips to inspire other entrepreneurs to pursue their passion and experience personal growth:
1. The customer is your “why”: For every endeavor in life, including business, you need to know your why—why must a specific technology exist, why was a company founded, why are we on this journey? At Silk Therapeutics, we say the customer is our why. Our mission is to provide everyone access to clean and effective skincare formulas without harsh chemicals and fillers that may cause a potential reaction. Much of what led us here centers around Silk Therapeutics’ co-founder, Rebecca “Beck” Lacouture, who experienced ovarian cancer at age 27. Beck found herself in a challenging position having to explicitly read every skincare product ingredient label while undergoing chemotherapy, and in most cases, throwing a lot of items away because of the allergens or synthetic toxicants included. At the same time, my oldest son developed a severe case of eczema and allergies that require a great deal of attention and “skincare.” Beck and I experienced this moment together of, “We can do better for those with sensitive skin.” Fast forward, we developed a unique, natural chemistry platform that helped us create pure Liquid Silk, allowing us to formulate without the use of harsh preservatives or micro- and nano-plastics. Together, we created a solution where consumers do not have to choose between effective and safe.
2. Follow your career purpose: I never envisioned working in beauty—for those who know me, this isn’t hard to believe. My initial goal was to become an orthopedic surgeon but a football injury late in college redirected my path. I took a pause and was able to discover where my talents best aligned with my passions. For me, it was at the intersection of improving human health, and biotechnology—a field where science is leveraged to improve health—and what I ultimately studied to secure my PhD. During my doctoral studies at Tufts University, I met and began collaborating with Beck. Surprisingly, we shared a career purpose and that has propelled us over the last 20 years together as colleagues, and business partners. Years ago, a mentor of mine shared great advice: “Keep your back off of the wall, so you can peer around the corner.” I truly feel if you keep an open mind, embrace change, and constantly evaluate if your personal talents are in fact aligned with your passions, you will find your true career purpose. Today, I have an opportunity to make a significant impact on human health, and it is truly fulfilling. Although unexpected, my career is a result of overcoming a dramatic shift where now, I have the potential to change an industry and contribute to a broader purpose.
3. Character is key: A large majority of the people who work at Silk Therapeutics are former colleagues and partners from past companies. I always make note of good character and prefer to keep these individuals close by. When we are interviewing new colleagues, I have an interesting exercise. I always ask my assistant to set up the initial meetings, not because I don’t want to make the time, but rather, I’m interested to hear about how he/she reacts to and treats others when they don’t feel they’re being watched. How are they engaging? Are they acting kind, respectful, and asking the right questions? For me, character is incredibly important. It’s great if you work hard, but are you a supportive, collaborative colleague; will you get the job done in an effective way? Decades ago, I had interactions with the Kraft Group, one of our largest investors—and greatest supporters—at Silk Therapeutics today. Although I don’t recall exactly what transpired, I’d like to believe my character was remembered all this time ago. Good character goes a long way.
4. Seek balance: My family is my world, and coaching Little League soccer is my sanity. What I have learned over 20 years of running a business is to work more effectively and diligently instead of pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. I’ve switched from 100-hour workweeks to 60 where I feel a better sense of balance, and I’d like to think my family enjoys having me around more. I also see this as a nod to employees, in that I support each in having a life outside of skincare; it’s not a distraction, it’s more of a requirement. Taking time away from work … is good. As long as colleagues are engaged, focused, and superbly productive in the workplace, I want them to value their personal life.
5. Self-awareness is critical: I try my best to be introspective, working to understand how others view my actions and ways I communicate. Whether it is through a partner, an executive coach, or a great peer network, taking part in a self-awareness exercise requires intense self-discovery, ongoing internal analysis, and opening yourself up to becoming more vulnerable. As a leader, it’s critical to understand how you operate and what your internal triggers are. Since I was 18, I’ve been 6’2″ and 260lbs. I don’t exactly fly under the radar. On most days in the office, I wear a hoodie and a pair of Nikes, sometimes a lab coat when I need to check on a formulation. However, I am aware of how I represent myself (and yes, when I need to put a suit on—which is rarely), who I am as a person, why I do the things I do and the interactions I have with others. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to understand my inner machinery, which has allowed me to further embrace those around me. When I have moments of doubt, I take the time to reflect, reassess, and reset. In many ways, being self-aware is incredibly empowering and for me, has led to greater self-confidence.
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