“Fuck the unicorn. Be the workhorse.” – Cindy Eckert (formerly Whitehead)
Cindy Eckert (@cindypinkceo) is an entrepreneur with $1.5 billion in exits who currently serves as the founder and CEO of The Pink Ceiling, an investment firm and consulting enterprise nicknamed the Pinkubator with a mission to invest in, launch, and build other women-led or focused businesses. She believes that access to good advice alone is not enough to change the ratio of men to women in business, and that is why she personally invested more than $15 million in 2017 alone to support the development of nine portfolio companies.
I should mention right off the bat that if you’re a guy, don’t let this bio turn you off in any way. I wanted to have Cindy on the show because she is a good CEO and entrepreneur, very much regardless of gender. The negotiating techniques, the approaches to deal-making, everything that we talk about applies to entrepreneurs, period, full stop.
Earlier in her career, Cindy was the founder of Sprout Pharmaceuticals, home of Addyi, the first and only FDA-approved treatment for low sexual desire disorder in women, which was sold for one billion dollars and then reacquired in a crazy story with incredible terms that we will discuss in this conversation.
Please enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Cindy Eckert!
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Want to hear another podcast with a great entrepreneur? — Listen to my conversation with Sir Richard Branson, the world-famous entrepreneur, adventurer, activist, and business icon. Stream below or right-click here to download.
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
Connect with Cindy Eckert:
- The Pinkubator
- J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference
- Slate Pharmaceuticals
- Sprout Pharmaceuticals
- Sexual Medicine Society of North America
- Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
- Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable by Seth Godin
- Conditions: Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), Sexual Medicine Society of North America
- Conditions: Erectile Dysfunction, Sexual Medicine Society of North America
- CEO of Company behind Addyi Says Female Sexuality Is about Biology, Not Just Psychology by Neesha Arter, Women in the World
- Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
- The FDA’s Statistical Review and Evaluation of Addyi
- Best Efforts, Contract Standards
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William L. Ury
- Getting Past No: Negotiating in Difficult Situations by William Ury
- Why Valeant Gave Up on the ‘Female Viagra’by Polina Marinova, Fortune
- The Tres Commas Scene from Silicon Valley
- Undercover Colors Creates Polish to Reveal Date Rape Drugs, Nailpro
- Lia Flushable Pregnancy Test
- From Injury to Impact: Duke Student Engineers Make Strides in Wearable Tech for Athletes by Ibanca Anad, WRAL TechWire
- Cindy Whitehead Wants You to Join the Billion-Dollar Founders’ Club by Macaela MacKenzie
- The Entrepreneur Behind ‘Female Viagra’ Wants to Make Women ‘Really F**king Rich’ by Polina Marinova, Fortune
- The Five Temptations of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
- Fijian Superstitions by Alicia Phillips, Bloom Where You’re Planted
- Fear-Setting: The Most Valuable Exercise I Do Every Month by Tim Ferriss, TED Talk
- Cindy tells us her 2015 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference “do or die” story. [07:43]
- What is Cindy’s favorite business, and why? [09:41]
- How does a company instill exceptional pride in its workforce? [10:51]
- Cindy’s soup-to-nuts, three-minute commercial. [12:45]
- What does Cindy listen for when asking questions during an interview? [15:13]
- As an undergrad, how did Cindy’s business professor drive her to excel? [16:45]
- How does someone start a pharmaceutical company without a scientific background? [18:06]
- In what ways did Cindy strive to make Slate, her first pharmaceutical company, differ from other pharmaceutical companies? [19:01]
- Cindy is a card-carrying member of the Sexual Medicine Society. [20:47]
- The fortuitous story behind Slate’s development of the first long-acting testosterone (and why it was half the price of anything similar on the market at the time). [21:39]
- How Cindy tests an interviewee’s aptitude for cultural fit. [24:46]
- The six specifics Cindy seeks from a potential hire. [25:53]
- How does Cindy avoid false positives during the interview process? [26:55]
- A quirky (and possibly bold) story from Cindy’s personal experience. [28:38]
- Duck Balls? [29:55]
- Cindy gives everyone nicknames. Why? [30:42]
- Are the people so bequeathed with nicknames ever allowed to veto them? What are some of these nicknames, and how have they come about? [32:38]
- While nicknames and other constructs of irreverance can be a bonding experience among peers, what advice would Cindy give to those afraid to offend in these sensitive times? [34:38]
- What is Cindy’s nickname? [37:41]
- Cindy’s best approach for maintaining sales morale that ran counter to typical pharmaceutical techniques. [38:36]
- How is first contact made with a sales prospect, and how is a unique relationship cultivated? [39:31]
- Cindy’s team learned and borrowed from Zappos’ business model. What other businesses were especially influential? [41:58]
- If Cindy were teaching entrepreneurship to college freshmen, what book would she assign as required reading; what project would be mandatory? [42:42]
- We discuss Noah Kagan’s recommended exercise for getting comfortable with discomfort. [43:49]
- A story about Cindy’s boldest choice: fighting the FDA with her second company, Sprout. [45:40]
- Cindy explains Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder and what Addyi does to treat it. [47:04]
- How similar was Addyi’s genesis story to Viagra’s? [49:53]
- Why was Addyi on the verge of being shelved, and how did Cindy’s company wind up acquiring it? [50:19]
- How do royalties work in the world of pharmaceuticals? [54:59]
- What drove Cindy to get Addyi through the hoops for FDA approval after initial rejections? [56:40]
- The road less traveled for FDA approval. [59:29]
- Were the FDA’s initial reservations regarding approval of Addyi the result of being too paternalistic about a drug marketed to women? [1:00:55]
- As someone who’s sold two of her own, what advice would Cindy give to an entrepreneur on the cusp of selling their company? [1:02:50]
- What is a best efforts clause? [1:04:04]
- When selling a company, your transaction attorneys are your most important asset. [1:05:16]
- Desperation is a poor position from which to negotiate. [1:06:21]
- How did Cindy and her team at Sprout celebrate the FDA approval of Addyi? [1:09:48]
- How did Cindy prepare against the possibility of another rejection? [1:12:45]
- Another point on selling a company you care about: “Be a little bit reluctant to give it up.” [1:14:07]
- Improving deals by letting the opposition negotiate against themselves. [1:16:10]
- How did Cindy make the most of negotiating the sale of Sprout in an auction-style environment? [1:18:27]
- How did it come to pass that Cindy’s initial investors had the opportunity to buy Sprout back — after selling it two years before for one billion dollars? [1:21:15]
- What’s next for Addyi? [1:27:02]
- Rules Cindy routinely breaks as best practices. [1:27:44]
- What is The Pinkubator? [1:29:39]
- What Cindy learned from taking capital to fund her first company from someone whose practices didn’t align with her own. [1:31:01]
- What Cindy did to relieve herself of this misalignment, and how she secured further, stable investment without making it her full-time job. [1:33:07]
- How did Cindy vet investors? [1:35:52]
- What is The Pink Ceiling? [1:37:22]
- Examples of companies and products that benefit from The Pink Ceiling’s help. [1:37:44]
- What should people know about Raleigh, NC? [1:40:06]
- “Women need a voice. We need power, and money is power. Money is power to start to change things.” [1:40:50]
- Being aware of rules we’re following that we’d be better off breaking. [1:43:30]
- What class would Cindy choose to teach? [1:45:49]
- On startup founders putting in the time to earn self-confidence. [1:47:53]
- What does Cindy say to those who believe women who should dial back their femininity in the business world? [1:50:25]
- How Amanda Palmer co-opted ammunition from a hater for personal empowerment. [1:52:48]
- What book has Cindy re-read the most? [1:54:18]
- The last time Cindy cried tears of joy. [1:55:10]
- An unusual habit or absurd thing Cindy loves. [1:56:55]
- Cindy talks about growing up surrounded by superstition in Fiji. [1:57:54]
- What Cindy would cover if she had to give a TED Talk about something nobody would expect. [1:58:37]
- What does Cindy do to get back on track when she’s feeling overwhelmed or unfocused? [2:00:23]
- What would Cindy’s billboard say? [2:02:09]
- How has one of Cindy’s failures contributed to later success? [2:02:49]
- Getting in contact and parting thoughts. [2:04:07]