First, tell us a little bit about you - and what motivated you to start your business?
Sam: I'm 54, married to Jamie who puts up with all my craziness and is my biggest supporter.
I love science, have always worked in the Food Industry and working in the US for 10 years in my 30’s was both a career and personal defining experience. Working with one of the coolest juice and smoothie BCorp brands on the planet for the last 16 years, Innocent, purpose and doing things the right way is very important to me. I am driven and solution focussed. My own menopause experience was shocking and highlighted an obvious opportunity to make a hub to make the experience better for the next generation of women. With my good friend Heather we took it; meet GEN-M.
Heather: I’m 52, with two adult kids, Meg and Sam, a dog called Stanley and I am Perimenopausal. Two years ago, I reached a point of my life that had been a destination in my life-long plans since my early 30s.
I wanted to have the kids leaving home for all the right reasons, happy and secure as any young person can be, I also wanted to have exited my business that had consumed the last 15 years of my life as I passionately, persistently and purposefully worked with over 150 global organisation and some 15000 women to help more women develop their careers and reach their potential. I wanted to climb Kilimanjaro, trek to base camp Everest, tour India and head then to Peru. Basically, this was going to be MY time…selfish or not, it was what had kept me motivated through some hard years as any single entrepreneurial parent will appreciate.
Well, I ticked all those boxes…MY time arrived, and yet instead of feeling ecstatic, rejuvenated, re-energised, happy and fulfilled, all the things I expected of feeling like when I reached this personal destination, I felt incredible fatigue.
I was emotional to the point of crying over the simplest of things that might go wrong in the day to day running of our life ( my local store ran out of greek yoghurt one day, there were other options, but the brand I wanted was sold out, you'd have thought I’d received some traumatic news if you saw my reaction in the cold chill aisle!) I had a persistent ache in my shoulder, and my brain was continually switching itself off as one minute I was talking to someone and then the next, I couldn’t remember their name.
Not one to shirk from illness, I sort answers from my doctor. I was tested for thyroid problems for fatigue, run several tests for what I thought was the onset of dementia, checked out for cancer, you name it I was tested as I was determined to get to the bottom of why I felt like I did. But every result was negative, my periods we regular and so the doctor decided it was time to subscribe to antidepressants. I took them as I really had run out of options and me, my family and my friends needed to see the old me back as I really didn't recognise myself any longer.
Then my old friend Sam and I met for dinner, she was shocked to see the shadow of the vibrant friend she had last seen a year ago as we celebrated my 50th, and she immediately invited me to join her in Portugal that weekend.
A defining moment, as whilst there, she diagnosed me as Perimenopausal, a word I had never heard of before, but once googled, a word I have never been as relieved to read in my life. I had 28 out of the 42 symptoms, finally, I knew what was wrong with me and I could seek out support and help to get me back to feeling myself.
That search for support, solutions and services, and listening to Sam talk about her own Menopausal journey, was enough to make us both decide, something needed to change, accessing the information we deservedly needed to know about something that happens to 50% of our population at any one time, needed to be improved, its a disparate landscape…13 million women in the UK alone are currently going through menopause. And quite frankly we and them deserved better. So, GEN M was born.
How has your own menopause transition influenced your outlook towards work and life?
Sam: My menopause hit me like a steam train and I was woefully unprepared. It isn't a gender issue but a societal one. Education is key for women to take control of their menopause before it controls them. With education, women can help themselves and those around them wanting to find ways to support.
Heather: My own perimenopausal experience, made both Sam and I determined to try and ensure that the next generation, were not going to enter perimenopause or menopause, unaware or unprepared. We’ve both in our careers supported and encouraged women to optimise their potential and take their careers as far as they choose, and it seems terrible that something as game-changing as the menopause if not handled correctly can have a huge impact on your health, your career, your wellbeing and mindset and completely derail you.
This needed to stop. Obviously, not everyone’s menopause journey is the same, and some breeze through it, but evidence shows that it does have a negative impact on women’s lives and we need to ensure that the whole experience of menopause is better today than yesterday.
How do you define success for your business and yourself individually?
Sam & Heather: Our vision is to be the global home of the menopause, or as we call it as our working title, “M-oogle for the Menopause”. Enabling millions of women and those they live, work and are friends with to enjoy a better experience of menopause.
We aim to be the most inclusive menopausal platform that there is, encouraging anyone to visit, not just women, but partners, sons, daughters, work colleagues, friends, anyone who might want to support or help a person they care about through this part of their life.
Success has to be defined by the fact that we want to ensure we have created a site for time-poor busy people who can be signposted in a quick, efficient and effective way to the information they are looking for to help them with their personal experience of menopause.
Ultimately in doing so, break the taboo once and for all of this societal issue, engaging brands, manufacturers and retailers to understand and deliver better for women in midlife. After all, we all deserve better. - That’s what success looks like, and together, we believe #We’veGotThis
Has your definition of success changed over time as an entrepreneur and as an individual?
Sam & Heather: Having a clear purpose is key. Creating a responsible business to drive change in a sustainable way is our measure of success.
What correlation, if any, do you see between age and ambition?
Sam: None. I have always been ambitious and achieved much of what I have set out to achieve. Creating and launching GEN M is my ambition for my 50’s.
Heather: It never been about age for me, but an opportunity. If an opportunity seeks you out, whatever your age, you should seriously consider it, and if accepting of it, grasp it with both hands and take it. The opportunity to make real change to the change was too big a proposition to ignore.
What are your aspirations for your business over the next 24 months?
Sam&H: Reaching as many women and their supporters as we can through an engaging website with rich content and increased brand awareness. Partnering with responsible brands wanting to drive real change will enable us to meet our objectives and our measures of success will tell us if we have achieved this.
What do you wish your younger self had known about:
Sam: It’s not a dress rehearsal.
Heather: The hardest moments in your life, can actually be the most memorable, sentimental and enjoyable.
Sam: Celebrate what you have rather than what you haven't
Heather: Nothing compares to unconditional love. I’ve been blessed with two great kids who consume all the love I have to give, and who also give back in bundles… oh and then there’s Stanley, who actually has no comprehension of how being greeted first thing in a morning with a wagging tail, makes you feel the most loved person in the world.
Sam: Do not take this for granted. Prioritise eating well and exercise from an early age.
Heather: Think nutrition rather than calories. Think less of the scales and more about how you feel. Feel good on the inside and the outside will take care of itself.
Sam: Spend the time on what you love, what you are great at. Plug your gaps with people that are smarter, better than you to create a strong team.
Heather: Understand the importance of mentors and sponsors and seek them out at the varying stages of your career. Look for people who can support you, become the best version of yourself and deliver on the potential that they see in you but you might not yet see in yourself. Have faith, and believe in them, the right ones are often not wrong.
What would be your key advice to women transitioning through menopause today? What practical steps could they take to better support their bodies and minds?
Sam: Every woman’s menopause experience will be different. Take the time to educate yourself, understand your symptoms and connect with the experts, services that can help you identify the solutions for you.
Heather: I completely agree with Sam, and to those women who aren’t yet in perimenopause, prepare, prepare, prepare. Do not let menopause ambush you, you know its coming, accept it, research it and control it as best you can.
Finally, we all know that stress can exacerbate menopause symptoms and we’re all living with a constant underlying anxiety right now. What have you done to better support yourself in the last 10 months?
Sam: For me, that’s two things. 30 minutes of yoga before I start my day. Drink more water.
Heather: For me its been all about nutrition. My fifties have been the first real-time I’ve properly looked at what I’m actually putting inside my body, I’m embarrassed to admit it but I’ve spent a lifetime scales and calorie focused.
This is all about ensuring I now have a quality of life for life, and nutrition and supplements play a huge part in whether that has a chance of success or not.