Welcome to our Summer Spotlight Series, where we’ll be sharing stories from incredible and inspiring founders and CEOs all summer long. Starting and running your own business can be a grueling and often isolating job. By sharing the stories of founders and CEOs that inspire our team at Foundery5, we hope to build community and support other founders in this space as well.
This week, we’re sharing the story of Laura Brooks, co-founder and CEO of Napjitsu, an energy boosting brain health supplement that helps consumers optimize their energy and perform at their highest level about her journey as a woman entrepreneur.
A little bit about Laura:
St. Louis, MO
Job history before Napjitsu:
Started at The Clorox Company, then moved to Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP, then moved to Solid Gold Pet.
If she could have a superpower it would be:
“The ability to change people’s moods.”
If she could have dinner with anybody, alive or dead?
“I think I would have my grandma come back. I would love to just ask her more questions.”
What is the most rewarding success she’s had personally?
“Besides having two amazing children, it’s being able to do pull ups. I was scarred for life in second grade when we had to do the pull-up test and I couldn’t even hang for like three seconds. It was so embarrassing, and now I can do 10 pull-ups, full pull-ups, unassisted. When I was working on that goal, I had second grade Laura in mind.”
We sat down with Laura to hear about her success with Napjitsu, how she got where she is today, and the struggles and challenges she faced along the way. The interview below has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Trackmind: Your success at Napjitsu and who you are today, didn’t happen overnight. I’m wondering, what were the stepping stones you took to make the transition between your marketing background and starting at Napjitsu?
Laura Brooks: I love that question because it truly was stepping stones, and I did not recognize it at the time necessarily, and I’m very fortunate that I had extremely strong female mentors around the way that really helped me get to that next step. Back in high school I had my DECA teacher, Mrs. Har, get me interested in business and champion me to do competitions. Then in college, Dr. Martinez, my marketing professor, really gave me the confidence to step out of my shell and try to do something bigger than me. At The Clorox Company, I had Suzanne Sengelmann, who was our VP of marketing, and she really has had an impact on me. I channel her every day because she has the philosophy of “people first, employees second.” So I try to lead with her in mind. She’s a strong female presence that does not apologize for having a family and she’s incredibly successful.
[Suzanne] actually took me over to Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP, and so I thank her for that next stepping stone, getting me into private equity and smaller companies. Then I moved to Solid Gold and I had another incredible mentor, Julie Barron, who became CEO and took a chance on me and promoted me to head of marketing and E-commerce six weeks into the job. It really was that runway that got me over to go to Napjitsu and say, “You know, I’m ready for this,” and I still channel all those women today and lean on my network.
Trackmind: I love that you had these strong women in your life that led you on this path. I’m curious what your experience has been like as a female, and also a mom, in the business world. Do you feel like you were treated differently? I feel like so many people ask “Oh, how do you balance being a mom?” It’s like, well, no one asks men that question, right?
Laura Brooks: That’s such an interesting question, and I do want to actually answer the mom question, in a different way. I will be honest: I live in St. Louis to be close to my parents because I need that network. I cannot do this without them, and I have a very, very supportive husband who I thank every single day, who does more than his fair share of anything, thank goodness.
But, you know, us mothers, we are actually so well-equipped to lead companies because if you think about the skill set you have to have as a new mom – between the multitasking, the listening skills, the keeping your cool, the planning ahead, checking inventory in the house – all of those skill sets truly help set you up in a leadership position.
So, while people say moms take a step back after working, I really think that motherhood is really the training ground that actually should project us into leadership positions.
Trackmind: I saw that you posted an article today about the Women on Boards project and the statistics in the article are just staggering. The diversity and inclusion is lacking. I’m just curious about your work there. Can you share more about that?
Laura Brooks: Yeah. So Women on Boards is a phenomenal non-profit, and the mission is to put more women in board seats, especially first-time board members. You often get companies that want people on boards that have had board experience and so it’s just cyclical. So we’re on that mission to fill those seats and with a special nod to diversity and inclusion, and I’m on the search committee. Part of my role is when a sponsor company comes with an open position, I work with another team on our search committee to ensure we find the right candidates to try to get more women into the board seat. What really turned me onto this work was the 2015 stat that there were more men named John in leadership positions than there are women.
Trackmind: Wow. That’s crazy. What advice would you give specifically to a young female founder right now?
Laura Brooks: I’d say find your people. Find your tribe, and it does not need to be an all-female tribe either, but it’s important to have that strong sounding board. I would not be where I am today and I would not be able to continue to lead without a strong sounding board. So make sure you find those people that will be your champion and help you find those opportunities.
Trackmind: Amazing, that is great advice. So at Napjitsu, what was your biggest roadblock when you started?
Laura Brooks: I think one of the biggest problems you face as a founder is to balance when to brainstorm, when to focus, and when to pivot, because there’s so much passion and motivation at the beginning. There should be, but passion can go one of two ways: either you’re going to work in a silo because you have one single vision that you won’t let go, or you brainstorm and you entertain all of the ideas and you throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. The important thing for that founder or that leader is to find that right balance. I’d say the hardest part at the beginning was so much excitement. It was hard to find where to focus.
Trackmind: What is the most rewarding success that you’ve had with Napjitsu thus far?
Laura Brooks: Speaking with consumers one-on-one, for sure. That is the most rewarding part of my job. Every consumer that purchases from napjitsu.com, they’re invited to schedule a Zoom interview with me. So I probably have about three to five [interviews] a week.
Trackmind: Oh, wow. I love that you as a leader are actually personally taking the calls.
Laura Brooks: There’s nothing like hearing firsthand from a consumer. So I will take those 20 minutes out of my day, definitely. It’s an opportunity for me to hear why they purchase, what they like, what they don’t like, how they use the product, and what they want to see from us next. I value every single moment I have with a consumer, because it really helps me provide a new perspective. It’s also so rewarding to hear how Napjitsu has improved their lives because when you think of supplements, it seems like a functional item. “I take X to solve or prevent Y,” but in this case, Y is so emotional – getting better sleep, feeling more alert, feeling more energized, feeling better overall. That all leads to a better outcome for the consumer, so hearing firsthand from them is so rewarding.
Trackmind: What’s next for Napjitsu?
Laura Brooks: We have, gosh, a lofty mission, to create a world where everybody’s energized, well-rested, and always ready to perform, and there are so many different ways that you can enhance mental performance with supplements and lifestyle changes. So you will see us supporting consumers with arsenals of products, with scientifically proven ingredients. You’ll also see us continue to collect that very valuable consumer feedback so we can continuously improve our product offerings, our marketing, and provide the consumers with solutions that fit their lifestyle, and then you also will see us rolling out to select retailers very soon. We’re being mindful of where we’re going to ensure it’s where our consumers are shopping, but I’d say in later this year, you’ll be able to find us in stores in a good majority of the United States.