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Women at Work: Sara Cullen, Founder and CEO of GEM

Women at Work: Sara Cullen, Founder and CEO of GEM

Ever wonder what it’s like to walk a day in someone else’s shoes (or spend a day in someone else’s job, as the case may be)? Us too! In our “Women at work” series, we’re talking to some of the most accomplished women we know about how they got to where they are in their careers, what advice they’d give their younger selves, and any tips & tricks they’ve picked up along the way

Name: Sara Cullen
Job Title: Founder, CEO
Age: 29
College major: International Development

What does a typical day look like for you?

Working a startup can cause your days to become unpredictable – always changing and full of meetings late into the night, so I try to maintain my morning routine as much as possible. Often times, I wake up around 6am, eat a GEM, and then move my body for an hour. Before I look at a computer or emails, I give myself 30 minutes to mindfully make and eat a breakfast bowl (typically involves some kind of fruit medley or smoothie) and journal with coffee. Then by 8am I’m at the office prepping for my day.

What role has your gender or racial identity played in your career to date?      

When you look at the statistics around the gender inequality in fundraising, it’s astounding. Less than 15% of VC dollars go to gender-mixed teams, even though those teams outperform all-male founding teams by 63%. I’m building a company that is changing the narrative around women’s health and it’s not an easy feat when you find yourself pitching this big vision to largely male investors everyday. I’m fortunate that the majority of our investors to-date are women, and it is something I’m going to continue to strive for as we grow the business.

How do you define success and how do you measure it?       

Success to me is not an end point, but a continuous journey in evolving, growing, and pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you’re trying your best and putting yourself out there, that is success.

Can you share the best professional advice that someone has given you along the way?

In my very first job, a mentor sat me down and taught me the power of empathy in a professional environment. When your colleague, manager or co-founder is in a bad mood, try not to take it personally. You never know what is going on in their personal lives that may be affecting their daily work. Remembering this has helped me humanize frustrating relationships and move beyond the superficial to build more meaningful and productive work relationships.  

What advice would you give your 25-year old self about navigating your own career?

To advocate for yourself. I used to think that if I put my head down and did honest work, the reward would come. But ultimately, life isn’t exactly fair and not everyone plays by the same rules. You can’t give everyone an unyielding benefit of the doubt. In the end, you are your best advocate.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by close friends and a community of women founders. They are the ones that inspire me everyday to keep going.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?    

When women young and old write in saying that GEM has helped them feel better, brighter, and more confident in their own skin. It’s what keeps me going.

Rapid Round:

Someone might be surprised to learn: I played horse polo in college!

Favorite book you’ve read in the last year: Haruki Murakami’s Men without Women. His characters are driven by curiosity and his stories unfold with a mix of tragedy and humor. Each short story moves at a rapid pace and unfolds with existential nuggets that make you question yourself, love, and the pursuit of it all.

Favorite quote: “If you start to walk on the way, the way appears” – Rumi

Favorite health hack: GEM, of course 🙂

Favorite life hack: Experience childlike wonder – take a walk in nature. Dance like a teenager to your favorite song. Notice and be curious about everything you see.