In their 60s, Shirley Gines and Dorothy Cunningham founded men’s skincare brand Bosq. They tell us how they did it, and provide resources for those looking to create their own startup.
How did you two meet?
We met in Stanford dorm Roble Hall.
Why did you start a men’s skincare company?
Shirley: I had a 40plus-year career in tech PR in Silicon Valley, and many of my clients were startup founders. As a witness to this world of startups and market building, I worked alongside trailblazers of innovative technology that would become billion-dollar businesses. In this world, venture capitalists (VCs) look at three key factors before investing: (1) What problem do you solve and how big is this market? (2) Do you have intellectual property (IP)? and (3) Are you the right team to solve this large problem?
As a skincare obsessive since I was in my teens, I knew a lot about ingredients and what worked on my skin. I read about the science, and the lore behind ingredients from diverse cultures around the world. I was so intense about this knowledge that I spent time in the library before the internet in the mid-90s. So, skin health has always been a personal agenda – and I loved sharing what I knew with friends. When I attended my Stanford reunion in my late 50s, I got some attention for looking youthful from the women, who had questions on what products I used. I did note that the men’s skin looked terrible!
“Skin health has always been a personal agenda”
I decided then that I would start my own skincare line for women. But when I delved deeper into the market studies, I found an exceptionally large unmet need – only 1/3 of US men had a skincare routine and 70% were using women’s skincare products. The market is now $3.5B in the US, and is growing fast. This was the “aha” moment to start Bosq for men.
I reached out to Dorothy to be an advisor at first. She validated for me that men’s skin is vastly different than women’s, therefore products just for men was needed. And when it was time to formulate Bosq’s first product, I asked her to be my co-founder. A dermatologist co-founder would be one of the market differentiators for Bosq.
What was it like being at an accelerator program at 60?
OMG, this was our wake-up call. At this period in our careers, we are very confident about our ability to problem solve; and we thought, with our combined wisdom and know-how, we would be way ahead of the 25-year-olds in the accelerator cohort. But what we didn’t know was we don’t have all the knowledge about the best tools required to build a company for the 21st century! The lingua franca of marketing is now very visual. We are both terrific writers. Copy – we can write copy. But we sucked at: creating videos, creating graphics, combining graphics with the written word, and more. And btw, the gatekeepers at the VC proscenium to the actual check-writers in a VC firm – they’re typically millennials and GenXers who require a mighty visual presentation. Our cohort classmates were very facile and expert at visual creations. We were not. We had to hire out the next rev of our investor deck.
And some of the ideas of cohort companies – quite brilliant. We are in awe of our much-younger classmates!
“At 65, I have never felt more creative, energetic, smart, and optimistic”
What was it like starting a company at your age?
Shirley: At 65, I have never felt more creative, energetic, smart, and optimistic. And I see my life purpose and my Why so very clearly now. And I believe many other boomers feel the same! I want to obliterate the myth of decrepit old age. I sense David started AGEIST magazine for this same reason. We will not go “gently into that good night” when we have so much more to contribute in this incarnation. Fortunately, there are increasingly large numbers of scientists and technologists and the medical community who are providing the tools for us to increase our healthspans. Some biohackers would see 65 years old as only a third of a lifespan. I want to make sure that this span will be healthy and, moreover, you will still look good at 150 years old!
I know how to mete my time accordingly to avoid burnout. I am motivated more by agape love — a sense of making a change that will help life be better for my immediate friends, family, and the larger community. I am also more realistic: I do not expect immediate changes and results. I now have the patience to operate from “be here now.”
Shirley: Honestly, I do not see any disadvantages. All systems go is my attitude.
As co-founders, how do you balance each other out?
Shirley: I think we both operate from the problem-solving stance. I believe to every problem there is a viable solution. However complicated and impossible to solve the problem appears, there is always solution. Sometimes the answer may just be to wait and get a deeper understanding or more data to make a decision.
Dorothy: I bring scientific rigor to our process by only including product ingredients with scientific merit, by insisting upon product testing, and by ensuring product claim accuracy. I also bring excellent critical problem-solving and writing skills.
Unfortunately, anything that requires reaching out to others, whether by phone, text, email, etc. makes me extremely uncomfortable. Especially daunting are communications that involve any kind of fund raising, self-promotion, or marketing. Fortunately, Shirley excels in these areas with confidence, grace, and unbounding energy. She is the face of Bosq in the public square whereas I play a more supporting role.
“I bring scientific rigor to our process by only including product ingredients with scientific merit”
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Shirley: As a pre-VC/angel-funded startup CEO, I have to solve, be involved, and act to complete required actions to achieve milestones in all aspects of the business. Today, it is just Dorothy and me. She has a full-time dermatology practice in Boston. I bring in specialized experts as needed. Once funded, we can expand the core team.
Dorothy: I love a project and am never so energized as when I am learning or developing something new. As a result, I always have many balls in the air and am constantly challenged by time scarcity. I am looking forward to retiring from my solo dermatology practice in early 2023 and having more time to invest developing exciting new products for Bosq.
What advice would you give to other 50+ individuals looking to do a major career pivot or even start their own brand/company?
Shirley: Begin with a problem-solution question: What problem do I have that no one else is solving — product, service? What solution can I offer? Research the market and adjacencies of the solution you want to offer.
“I say this all the time: ‘Bosq is my K2’ “
First, understand that starting a new company is not starting a new hobby. A new company takes full commitment. Know this: starting a company is really hard! Liken it to climbing a very high mountain. I say this all the time: “Bosq is my K2” (the 2nd highest after Mount Everest).
It will be very daunting, and maybe seem almost impossible to do. It takes daily focus, courage, and real-time actions. It may appear as though you are not doing enough; it sometimes feels as though you are a failure; it sometimes feels you cannot do this one more day. It may take surrender to a higher power to conjure faith, funds, and the right people to feed the company so it can survive. And it will mean building many, many base camps so you can muster the energy and regroup before the next ascents and milestones.
I operate from this thinking: This too will get done. With excellence and moxie.
Dorothy: As the founder of Vanguard famously said, “Invest in what you know.” Know yourself and your cofounders’ knowledge base and skillset as well as less tangible strengths, challenges, etc. You are mature and experienced. Be clear and confident about what you bring to the operation. Have a nest egg to fall back on when there are funding challenges.
What are each of your three non-negotiables in life?
Shirley: To build a company requires you to be healthy in body, mind, and spirit!
(1) Spending time with family and friends. They are the unshakable foundation of my life so that I can do difficult work.
(2) Silicon Valley is known the world over for introducing “The Next Big Thing.” I truly believe that the NBT will be in discoveries in human biology and life sciences. Why go to Mars when there is so much more to discover about the human being! My health pillars based on science include good sleep, optimized nutrition, and daily exercise. I walk, run, do yoga (been doing this since 1980), and practice tai chi that I learned from Master Martin Lee, a Stanford SLAC physicist.
(3) I call this my Daydream and Learn time: daily “snacks of time” so I can read, listen to Swami Sarvapriyananda for lessons in Vedanta (Indian Hindu philosophy), or meditate.
1. Integrity: only promise what you can deliver
2. Kindness: especially important when you are taking care of people and their concerns.
3. Making things with my hands: I have thumbs for a reason!
Do you have any resources for our readers if they’re interested in what you two have done? Career change resource, link to the accelerator program, books you’ve read that have helped you, etc?
- Dorothy and I graduated in June from FoundersBoost Los Angeles, an accelerator program now in at least 10 locations in the US and around the globe – foundersboost.com
- Primetime Partners in NY funds boomers starting businesses that sell consumer products for boomers. They believe that this is an underserved market. “We are an early-stage venture capital fund that invests in, and builds from the ground up, companies that can transform the quality of living for older adults. We support the founders and organizations that create meaningful new products, services and experiences in the under-served, trillion dollar global sector of Aging. We accelerate business growth through our direct-to-consumer marketing expertise, our strategic distribution partners, synergies across portfolio companies and an engaged network of advisors. Also core to our mission, we unlock the talent and expertise of experienced older adults as founders and business builders.”
Signal is a free service that startups can use to build a list of VC and angel investors if they are raising startup capital. Signal’s filters are very precise and powerful; they spit out your target list in a flash.* investment categories* investment sweet spots and range* history of each investor’s record* locations* Twitter postings so you get an idea of an investor’s pet passions
- Many universities will have alumni startup entities as well. These organizations have a trove of resources and information to help alumni-founded companies.
- Stanford StartX.com: A non-profit community of serial entrepreneurs, industry experts, tenured Stanford professors, and well-funded growth-stage startups.
- Your local library has a trove of the latest books – all FREE! I read many books on the latest scientific and medical discoveries on longevity, anti-aging, and health. The two books that gave me the understanding to start my companies declared that the science and medicine for longevity and anti-aging are already here. This is no longer science fiction.
- My reading list that inspired me:
- Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To, by David A. Sinclair, PhD (Harvard)
- The Science and Technology of Growing Young, by Sergey Young
- I began studying the Hindu philosophy Vedanta, based on the Upanishads, in 2016. The Bhagavad Gita and Be Here Now by Ram Dass sit on my night table.
- One other needed resource will be how to get email addresses. Google resources/cost.
- Two other suggestions: research your investor target! Don’t send emails willy-nilly. Your company has to fit into his/her investment philosophy, space, and niche. Your inquiry must include an investor deck. There are many online articles on how to create an investor deck.
Connect with Shirley: