Headquartered in Redmond, Washington Solomomo was founded in 2018 by a group of technology innovators who want to help people optimize their skin health and feel beautiful. Led by serial tech entrepreneur Cindy Engstrom, Solomomo is building the skin care regimen of the future based on the actual condition of a person’s skin. With their motto, “The truth is beautiful™” they strive to make people feel confident about the products they use to achieve the outcomes that they want.
Inspirations, Innovations & Tragedy: The Journey
Cindy came to Seattle in the late 1990s as a creative person, a great manager but with zero technical background. None of the recruiters knew what to do with her. She had just come off a retail start-up company and was eager to transfer those insights into new technology experiences. But she didn’t know how to code. Her resume showed President as her last role and she was still quite young. It was a very discouraging prospect and not a sentiment she had any skill to deal with. It was when a clever recruiter figured her out and she landed a position on a consulting team working with mobile operators. She learned so much about the industry from the team leaders and started to dip her toe into the tech world. She says, “I still to this day revisit lessons they taught me.”
The founding team at Solomomo are true innovators who have done a lot of interesting projects together over the years and have been on leading edge teams in gaming, mobile phones, and digital advertising. They love creating something that has never existed before. Cindy started the company with Eric Engstrom, her late husband, business partner, father of their four kids, co-inventor of DirectX and a brilliant inventor who has 100 patents to his credit and still a few forthcoming from Solomomo filings. Cindy shares heavyheartedly, “It has been a heart-breaking path since we lost him but to see his brilliance persist in the technology vision and to know how proud he would be of us for persevering has given me strength and joy to keep going.” Cindy founded the business because she believed that many women shared her concern about how to determine whether they are utilizing the best products and services to get their desired results. Cindy used to frequently struggle to determine what was best for her. She knew there had to be a novel strategy that did not already exist and that’s where Solomomo was born. Cindy shares, “As personalized medicine was advancing, it made sense that personalized skincare could be a massive multi-billion-dollar market opportunity.”
"A great leader must have perseverance, commitment, focus and fun. Within these categories, you must lead with compassion."
Makings of a Leader: Traits, Challenges & Inspirations
Being a very creative person in a tech start-up setting made the transition to becoming a leader natural for Cindy as she puts it, “When you are building something that has never existed before it is hard to explain it and you have to keep explaining it time and again! People attracted to start-ups want to build something revolutionary and they want to follow a well-articulated vision from the person driving the product strategy. The majority of successful tech companies are founded by the person with the product vision.” She feels that a start-up leader has to be a great communicator with incredibly high energy, be trustworthy, and possess business savvy. Cindy ran her first company at 27 years old, then she participated on executive teams at start-up companies, learning continually from the CEOs and peers. Then, she shifted gears and started two of her own tech companies.
Starting a venture can be a scary prospect for most people but for Cindy, the real challenge was finding the talent. There is a distinction between a ‘steady state’ company and a ‘start-up’ company. At a start-up company oftentimes, there are so many unknown variables, there isn’t any bandwidth for training and team members have to be able to push themselves. People who are not start-up ilk literally cannot operate in a setting that calls for driving ahead through the unknown in spite of being uncomfortable. Cindy shares her experience, “I would say for me it has been challenging to find the right people who understand that there isn’t a playbook. We are writing the playbook each day! But when you find the right people, that is when the magic happens.”
Growing up Cindy was inspired by her business-oriented Dad, Cher and Geena Davis. Cindy wanted to be just like her Dad when she grew up. She says “I couldn’t wait to get my own briefcase, wear a suit to work and head to the office every morning. My Dad loved his work and he loved teaching me about seeing retail experiences through the eyes of the consumer.” Cher has been Cindy’s idol her entire life primarily due to her incredible talent, business acumen, and longevity. She still inspires Cindy to this day. On the fictional side, Cindy is a huge Wonder Woman fan. Cindy shares, “As a young girl, I adored Wonder Woman for her strength and grace. Lately, I’ve been admiring the work Geena Davis has been doing with her institute’s powerful founding manta If They Can See It, They Can Be It.”
Looking back to the day in her MBA program at Marquette, during an organizational behavior class, Cindy received her most unexpected lesson in leading for growth. Her professor said, “You need to treat people equally but differently.” She was so thoroughly confused because she had not yet been out in the wild managing an organization. When she got out there and had a large team, she learned the essence of this sage statement. The best leaders figure out what drives each person, what makes a team member feel like they delivered value and feel proud about their work. These same insights were validated when she became a mom. She says, “I have four kids who are all very different and each driven in their own ways. Being their Mom has made me a better leader professionally.
Sincerity, Improvements & Achievements: The Cindy Way
Cindy shares, “Our earnestness at Solomomo to help people makes me so proud. We are stepping into a massive industry, and we’ve worked hard to build relationships with other companies and to genuinely demonstrate how we want to be additive to their businesses. It always amazes me the reception you can receive when you lead with such a fundamental offering of ‘here is how we want to help you.” The same can be said for Solomomo’s investors. They have been encouraging and supportive. At the same time Cindy had to deal with the horrific sadness of losing Eric and their team’s ability to keep going, but as Cindy proudly shares, “Eric and I used to have a saying from the movie Creed ‘one step, one punch, one round.’ You just keep going no matter what.”
Cindy has had a long and arduous journey but her ability to keep on learning has helped her grow professionally as Cindy points out, “I love learning. I read as much as I can each day. I constantly ask people for their thoughts. When you ask in a considerate way, people are delighted to share their knowledge. I seek out the best of the best and I get so very lucky that people will answer my questions and share their insights with me. These chats happen early Sunday mornings or whenever someone will grace me with their precious time.” Cindy early in her career and in her leadership, journey had decided that she would not allow the notion that she might get rejected to stop her. It was a very liberating moment for her and that was grounded in the advice she received from her mom years ago when she was a teenager and giving modeling a try. She would return from a long day of go-sees and didn’t think she had landed any jobs (and she didn’t) but what her mom said to her has stuck with her over the years: “You just weren’t what they were looking for today. Don’t take it personally,” shares Cindy. “As a start-up CEO you are constantly raising money and talking to companies way bigger than you and often you deal with rejection. You have to stay buoyant, you have to stay confident. Of course, I do get disappointed but at the end of the day I often also hear my Dad’s voice joining my Mom’s sage advice in my head ‘just shake it off and move on’.”
With those lessons in mind, she continued her journey, now at this point in her career she has the Malcom Gladwell ten thousand hours under her belt in the start-up category but she feels her learning is far from over and she has to keep learning, networking, and keep studying consumer behavior because that fuels her innovations. She feels that this learning and the individual catalog of skin insights will drive Solomomo’s success, “As we build our personalized database of skin insights and with the longitudinal nature, imagine what we will learn! And imagine how we can help people. I can barely contain my excitement for the direct correlation of how our technology can determine the precise custom skincare products for each individual.”
Sustainability & Personal Life: The Delicate Act of Balancing
Surprisingly, fulfilling your company’s sustainability goals and finding the correct balance between work and family life requires finesse and panache to be there and put in the effort. Solomomo’s sustainability efforts are directed toward helping customers fine-tune the items that are best for them, thereby reducing waste. More accurate amounts allow individuals to utilize only what they require. Solomomo’s long-term objective is to create bespoke skincare products that may be purchased at local Med Spas making it a single point of collection that helps in minimizing last mile traffic.
And when it comes to her personal life she shares, “I feel unbelievably lucky that I get to do what I do. As a solo parent, it can get tricky sometimes in terms of how I want to devote my time and I am extremely deliberate about my time management. I love being with my four kids. They make me laugh harder than anyone. But they also deserve the support they need from me to chase their dreams. Our beloved nanny Alyse also is a huge part of making life outside of my work run smoothly. She and I are a great team. I couldn’t do what I do without her.” Having the dual responsibilities of CEO and single parent Cindy starts her day early at 5 AM and sits at her desk for a few hours. She blocks out time each morning to make breakfast for her kids, talk about their day and drive them to school. It makes her heart very happy to know that she got to see them head off on their respective days.
Cindy signs off with these inspiring lines, “A great leader must have perseverance, commitment, focus and fun. Within these categories, you must lead with compassion. You must be brave and you must make people feel safe.”