Q&A: Ex-Microsoft exec Jill Angelo, on why she traded her laptop for a lube company
BY KURT SCHLOSSER on
Jill Angelo was a longtime Microsoft executive who spent a good portion of the 2000s leading the marketing agenda for the tech giant. But she always had a passion for female empowerment, and now the message she is promoting is one that drives a new Seattle-based company called genneve.
Genneve, which launched in September, offers a line of personal care products for women aimed at helping them cope with the symptoms of hormonal changes, specifically the alleviation of vaginal dryness, an issue that affects more than two billion women between the ages of 17 and 65.
As CEO, Angelo hopes the product line will bring relief to women and awareness to a problem that the company says will inevitably impact the sex lives of 1 in 3 women.
A companion blog on the company website, called the g spot, aims to further break down the taboo nature of what genneve is tackling by building what Aneglo calls a “brand experience” by being a robust resource for information, expert advice, women-to-women stories and more.
Angelo shared the inspiration behind starting genneve, what differentiates the product line and more:
GeekWire: What did you do at Microsoft and why did you leave?
Jill Angelo: Just over a year ago, I was a marketing executive at Microsoft. It was a fantastic job, working with super smart people, helping users discover products that genuinely made their lives easier and more productive, and leading an incredible corporate life. I’d always been in tech, first at an ERP-software company, then venturing to Microsoft via acquisition over 15 years ago. I traveled the world. I launched consumer and enterprise products. I worked with some of the most incredible leaders and pioneers in the tech industry.
But I knew there was something else I was meant to do.
I like tech a lot, but I’ve always been a passionate advocate for women, and not just because I am one! Women are smart, strong, ambitious, and resilient, but often we’re held back from being our best selves. I’m a student of this predicament, so why not figure out a better way?
In my heart of hearts, I want to help women claim their power and place — but that can be hard to do when you don’t even feel comfortable in your own skin. That’s what motivated me to start genneve.
What was appealing about the female personal care market?
Angelo: I’d been with Microsoft for more than 15 years when a mutual friend introduced me to Jacqui Brandwynne. Jacqui was the driving force behind building the Neutrogena brand, and she had a line of products for women’s hormonal health. Jacqui wanted someone to take on the business, and I saw an opportunity to make a real difference in women’s lives. I made the decision and, with the support of friends and family, I made the leap.
I knew I wanted to get Jacqui’s products into the hands of more women, because 1 in 3 women suffer from poor vaginal health — namely, vaginal dryness.
At 42, my hormonal journey has been relatively easy so far. I’m in the peri-menopausal phase of life, but I haven’t experienced the kinds of symptoms women talk about … yet. I don’t have biological children, so I’m learning like crazy from women who are moms about what their bodies go through during and after pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
I wanted to get involved because our approach to women’s hormonal changes is, well, disastrous. Not always, but let’s face it: Women endure a lot, and as a society, we rarely even acknowledge the struggles, much less provide support for the women dealing with them. We need to change that.
Periods, breastfeeding, menopause … these are natural things, yet women are taught to be embarrassed and secretive about them. Having healthy, happy vaginas is what we need to be talking about! Going through hormonal changes would be so much easier if we met them with empathy, laughter, open minds, and listening ears. And for those women who experience hormonal change for other reasons — cancer treatments, hysterectomies, prescription medicines, etc. — a community of support and information can be critical.
I’m building a company that’s approachable, trustworthy, and trusted. I try to bring all these traits to every conversation I have with women, and it works. We share, we laugh, we shake our fists, and then we put our heads down and get to work.
Where did the idea come from for genneve?
Angelo: I decided a brand refresh was in order, products and packages that reflect women’s new openness about the changes their bodies go through. With the help of a few brand-savvy friends, we decided that genneve would represent the woman we wanted to serve: feminine, classy, confident, and non-apologetic. She can put a tube of genneve Intimate Moisture next to her bed or in her shower, no embarrassment or explanation needed.
But healthy products in new packaging wasn’t enough. I asked a bunch of questions of my friends, I surveyed thousands of women, and I came to understand that there’s too much taboo and not enough education, support, and conversation around women’s hormonal health. Until that changes, too many women will still struggle unnecessarily, feeling silenced and alone.
We needed a media platform for women (and men!) to share stories, find information, and have an open conversation about the journey every woman goes through in her lifetime. It wasn’t going to be another academic, hard-to-understand health website, but a platform that carries a real, honest and open voice. As such, the g-spot was born to bring this taboo topic out of the shadows.
How does this differentiate from competing products?
Angelo: Our products are tried, tested, and trusted, and women can use them with confidence, but genneve is about more than lubricants and moisturizers. It’s about comfort. It’s about confidence. Other products in our category contain petro-chemicals and are formulated for short-term gain not for women’s health. It’s about enjoying their sexuality. It’s about all the wonderful things that can happen when women take back control of their bodies and are not ashamed to make that happen.
Beyond products, genneve is building a brand experience — through the g-spot — that women can connect with and trust as a source of information and community. When like-minded women come together with trusted experts, you build brand loyalty in a way that large consumer brands cannot. Over time, genneve will know the questions women ask, we’ll know the symptoms they struggle from and how it impacts their lives, we’ll know the feminine-care products they use and trust, and we’ll have a clear understanding of how to build that information back into innovation in women’s hormonal health.
Who is your target market?
Angelo: New moms (who are breast-feeding), peri-menopause and menopause women experiencing symptoms associated with hormonal changes. Age range: 30-75.
How many employees are there right now?
How much have you raised and who are your investors?
Angelo: $435,000 through angel investors — Mich Mathews, former Microsoft CMO & angel investor, and Nick Grouf, managing partner of Clementine Capital.