As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Bridget Hunter-Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Impact Biosystems.
As a health and fitness enthusiast and with a background in engineering, Bridget and team set out to change the way people recover. She and her team of MIT Engineers and Athletes have created Pact, a personalized recovery system that is customized to your body.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I studied Mechanical Engineering at MIT and really fell in love with product design and development. I worked in consumer products for 6 years and got the full experience of bringing a premium product to market. I always had an established brand to stand behind and I was ready for the next big challenge of building up a new brand and building a company that empowers curiosity and diversity. I got a call from my old classmate Craig (now CTO) and the opportunity was a perfect meld of my love for hardware and my passion for fitness and wellness.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting story would be raising our Series Seed round while my due date for my first child drew nearer and nearer. We were able to secure two incredible lead investors, ended up over-subscribed, and closed the $4.5m round 9 days before my little guy arrived.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Starting a company (a hardware company!) in the middle of a pandemic. Definitely a risky move that we continue to laugh about. Designing, building hardware meant meeting in person which at that point was in Craig, our co-founder and CTO’s, basement. We were very cautious and were able to avoid any covid outbreak. We learned how important it was to be thoughtful and protect the ones around us. I was pregnant at the time and it was definitely a bonding experience seeing how much my colleagues cared about my and baby’s health and safety.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father and co-founder, Ian Hunter. He has been my biggest supporter and fan throughout my life. He encouraged me to start my own company at age 7 (where I sold handmade belts to my friends). It has been an incredible experience getting to build this company with him.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I meditate and/or do breathing exercises. This helps me stay grounded and focused during highly stressful meetings. It allows me to connect and understand different opinions in the room especially when tensions and stakes are high .
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Our entire exec team thinks in very different ways and it is this diversity that has led us to the incredible product we have created today. It is imperative as a leader to surround yourself with different minds that will challenge you and ask questions that you would never see coming.
But, it’s not just our team that we’re focusing on diversifying — it’s our entire industry. Existing massage gun products on the market are hyper-masculine in their design, features and marketing. Instead, we’ve built and scaled our team of predominantly female engineers with a culture and brand that respects and promotes diversity, and spent a lot of time on the brand/product, making sure it’s approachable, comfortable and not hyper-masculine.
There’s a reason the entire industry looks the way it does — and we’re not the only category like this. By diversifying our executive team, engineers, marketers, etc., we’re starting from a completely different viewpoint than the rest of our peers. I, and my team, believe that it’s both the best moral and business decision for Pact!
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
More diversity in these leadership roles. I hear from a lot of my male counterparts that they struggle with attracting and retaining diverse hires. That has not been an issue for us. From writing job descriptions to deploying beta surveys to potential users, our diverse team has a touch point on these to ensure we are creating a company and product that is inclusive, representative, and equitable.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Make sure the right people are in the right seats and steer where the bus is going. Ensure the mission and vision, short and long term, is clear and that employees, customers, and investors are all aligned with that vision.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
CEO’s have no work life balance. Not true. Balancing work with my family and friends gets me through any tough week. Being able to walk away from a tough conversation or decision, and spend time playing with my 6 month old gives me such clarity. My initial thoughts and reactions change when I have had time to ground and recenter. It has made me a better leader and person having my son with me on this journey.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This could be seen as a challenge or an advantage but I get to set a very high bar on respect. It only takes one sexist or derogatory comment to end a relationship. I get to have that power where as I feel it may be more challenging for males to make that call. When I was 8 I spent hours working on a science fair project in middle school and the principal came over and said “I don’t believe a little girl could have made that”. This comment has carried me to where I am today. Which is zero tolerance for males in power that will try and crush/undermine the hard word and determination of “little girls”.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I don’t know if I really knew what this job would be. But I love the fact that I get to wear 100 different hats on a daily basis and stay so connected with the team making it all happen. I did a little 3D modeling work the other day. I test all of our in-app recovery content. I dive in where I can until the team says “alright, alright, that’s enough” :)
Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Empathy. Ability to motivate others and empower your team. People who lack accountability or who are ready to point a finger at the drop of a hat should probably consider another career.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Lean in to your strengths and intuitions. Always be curious and data-driven but when something feels right or wrong figure out the why and how you can enhance the situation.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Fitness recovery isn’t a privilege. Personal health and wellness has never been more important, and yet, so many products in this space are designed with one type of end-user in mind. But, contrary to what some of the established brands believe, most people don’t want to be attacked by a Theragun — and do more damage than good. We’re reimagining the way fitness and wellness products are designed, and who they’re designed for. The Pact system is helping more people, both women and men, improve their fitness, health and wellness.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Bring people in on the process and development — This has led to establishing great partners. Having people try the hardware, try the app and give feedback. We looped in a famous athlete and his trainer very early on in the development of the Pact system that is helping us bring the personal touch of a trainer on a pro athlete’s body to the masses.
Don’t be afraid to pivot. — We have gone through several iterations of the product and everytime it has been the right decision to create something that is much better/easier to use/more impactful for our users. We made a tough decision in April to split the all-in-one (massager + scanner) product into two pieces. Although this created double the engineering work, it allowed us to optimize both the devices for their core functionality.
Be so deeply truly yourself. Don’t compromise to fit in. This is true for me as a leader, founder and CEO, but also true for our company. Developing as a leader and CEO means taking in a lot of feedback and opinions. Initially, I reacted to each piece of feedback and found myself constantly changing my demeanor, my look, my delivery of each pitch. It was exhausting. I finally realized that the most successful pitches or interviews or meetings were where I was myself.
Hardware is hard. Hardware in a supply-chain-constrained global pandemic is even harder. The delays due to shortages and shipping have been challenging. Fortunately, the majority of our prototyping and development work was in the US to keep on schedule but the pandemic has not made it easy. We’ve had to get creative and luckily we have access to some amazing machines in our co-founder, Ian Hunter’s, workshop — also referred to internally as Tony Stark’s secret lab!
Bring people in who believe in what you are doing. Not everyone we have hired or partnered with has been the “perfect fit” for the role but they believe in the vision and understand the power of this product.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
“The Scale (traditional weight scale) has been cancelled”. Or at least removing its power over people who are trying to reach health and wellness goals. Your goals can be met without that thing in your home.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do” — Steve Jobs
“Being so deeply truly yourself, as a nonnegotiable, is the answer to everything. … the world is constantly telling us to change ourselves. We’re always being pushed to make ourselves more palatable to the outside world, make ourselves smaller so we fit into the small boxes of expectation that society throws at us. … Be yourself so that the people looking for you can find you.” — Arlan Hamilton
“I know I am doing this for something much bigger than myself, and it is too important to get this right for me to buckle under the pressures of such disappointments.” — Arlan Hamilton
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sara Blakely — Sara has done an incredible job designing and marketing a product that people need, and once they try them, can’t live without. I truly believe we are doing the same with Pact and would love to hear about the biggest challenges she faced and how she was able to overcome them. And I have a great Spanx story for her.