Heidi Zak

Heidi Zak embodies the fierce female founder: resilient, wicked sharp, and gregarious.

Peel one layer back, you will find a highly relatable mom with a direct, no BS attitude and witty sense of humor, who is humble, kind, and loves helping other people, especially women. Heidi puts 120% effort into everything she is passionate about: her family, her kids, and the breakthrough company she co-founded with her husband, ThirdLove.

We sat down with Heidi one evening in San Francisco, over a few glasses of wine and belly laughter, to learn what makes her tick, how she keeps going, and what it really feels like to not fit in. Here is her story.

Why did you start ThirdLove?

My husband Dave and I moved out to San Francisco, and were inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit out here, so we were throwing around business ideas. Then one day, I went on a last-minute bra shopping trip, at the mall (yes, the mall!) and I found myself in a Victoria’s Secret store surrounded by feathers and supermodels, and all I wanted was a bra that fit me well.

I was so embarrassed that I was spending money at a brand that did not resonate with me, that I hid the bag in my backpack. And I also asked myself: why am I in a mall? So, I went home that night, and said, “I got it, we should start an online bra company: better fit, better shopping experience, better brand.” I am pretty sure Dave thought I was crazy.

Tell us a bit about your public battle with Victoria’s Secret.

I woke up one morning, and there was a Q&A article published in Vogue with the CMO of Victoria’s Secret, and the headline was “We’re nobody’s third love, we are women’s first love.” I started reading this article, and my mouth dropped. All kind of craziness came out, from how nobody likes plus size models, to how they think women want to watch a 45-minute fantasy of supermodels in feathers.

He took a dig at us and what we are building, and I took real offense to it. We felt like enough was enough. So, we took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, as an open letter from me, to express my feelings about what he said, why we disagree, and what we are doing differently. It got a lot of attention, and created a lot of conversation between women and men alike.

How do you work with your husband?

The most important decision when starting a business is choosing your co-founder. The nice thing about founding it with your husband, sister, or college roommates, is you have an innate understanding of the person and how they operate, like when they are at their best, and how they act when they’re angry. If you don’t have to discover those things, it makes it so much more efficient. And you are aligned to make the company work, like when you make your marriage work.

The downside means you are involved in every part of your life together. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. However, the few times I have said things like, “I can’t do this anymore, it is too hard,” he has pulled me out of that, and vice versa. Luckily, we have not had those low moments happen at the same time.

You have a crazy job and kids, that is no joke. How do you keep it all together?

I know this sounds really bad, but I am just not social anymore. I do a pretty good job at being a good mom, and a pretty good job at being a CEO, and that’s all I can do. I don’t watch TV. I do everything at 120%, which I also see in so many women. The efficiency women bring with getting shit done is incredible. I don’t have great answers, it is the little decisions. I try to be at home every night to put them into bed, I try to travel a bit less, and to be fully present.

How do you turn it off?

I don’t. For the time I am with my kids, I really try to engage. But, my work is my life, and my passion, and it is ok to think about it all the time. When you have a passion, you always come back to it.

"Even in the worst times, I would not describe myself as defeated. When it is happening, the world feels like it is crashing. And then you realize it isn't quite as bad, or you can do something about it."

When you feel defeated, and just can’t keep going, what is it that keeps you going?

Even in the worst times, I would not describe myself as defeated. If I set out to do something. I will do it. If I say I am going to be somewhere, I will be there. I am never that flaky person who doesn’t show up. But, when I have those tough moments, I take a moment to look around me. There is so much positivity behind what we have built, and the impact we are having. So, I turn my attention towards all of these positive things.

It always seems worse in the moment. When it is happening, the world feels like it is crashing. And then you realize it isn’t quite as bad, or you can do something about it. When you start a company, the “end of the world” happens over and over again, so you are trained to do something about it, and it doesn’t bother you as much. I truly believe every problem in the world is solvable.

ThirdLove and RedThread are both brands that stand for inclusivity. Do you have a time when you felt you didn’t fit in, and how did you reconcile that?

Generally, any time I would go to any investment tech conference, I certainly didn’t fit the “mold.” I used to be intimidated walking into a room of all men, at a cocktail party, and now it doesn’t phase me. I walk up to the largest group, and once I use the word “bras,” I get all sorts of attention. I love offering a fresh perspective. When you are unique, you can leverage it.

Those moments also make me better at recognizing the importance of including people. It sucks to be the outlier, and they remind me to always make an effort to bring people in.

"One piece of advice for my kids: Work hard and be nice.

Nothing replaces hard work, and a work ethic. I am not the smartest person in the room, I have never been, but I have always worked really hard.

Always be nice. Kindness can make all the difference to someone. And you never know when that person will be back in your life."

Heidi's Picks

The Snap Jacket

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The Tee

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