A strong vision, and much ambition – an Interview with female CEO and founder of PYRATES smart fabrics
By Hannah Neuburger
While participating in the first round of Tenkan-Ten, Regina Polanco, the CEO and founder of PYRATES smart fabrics seemed to be more than committed to a work/life balance, as well as keeping her team happy and healthy. Even though this seems to be the most self-evident view a founder (or any human being) should have, it gets difficult, while you are busy building your empire, leading a team, and making time for yourself and your mental state of mind. So, the question is, how does Regina do it? How does she make time for her daily workout routine, stay on track with her nutrition, never raise her voice at her team and maintain a healthy and happy relationship? It’s time to find out…
Regina grew up in quite a diverse way. She was born in Vienna, Austria, then lived in Madrid, Rabat, Nouakchott and Geneva all before she had even turned 18. Living in multicultural environments, Regina had a chance to meet many people of different cultures and backgrounds. She explains how it allowed her to become an open minded person and more accepting of how people do things. “It lets you see a different side to life”, Regina reveals. Her parents always showed and reminded her to smile at life and to be as independent as possible. “These experiences shaped me into being the female I am today”.
We want to know more about how Regina founded PYRATES smart fabrics, and how at such a young age, she shows to be quite environmentally aware, and interested in her surroundings. That, in this day of age, in a consumer-driven society, is more the exception than a normality.
“When I decided that I wanted to innovate in the textile industry while using functionality, I knew that it had to be from a natural resource and I knew that all innovation had to be made in a responsible way since one of the most polluting and contaminating industries is the textile industry.”
Regina got involved in quite a few R&D processes, where one lead to another, and she started her own business. “Suddenly it was too late to go back”. Since then she is the CEO and founder of PYRATES smart fabrics. A company that is not only known for great quality, and sustainability, but also for interesting designs, where each fabric and piece is examined by Regina, and her team before being shipped to where it needs to go.
We want to know more about how it is to be a founder. Does the reality of being a founder align with the expectations you had beforehand?
“I never had any expectations, I had no idea of what being a founder was like and today I am still surprised. Every day is different, none are the same. A strong founder leads his/her team, and is responsible for any and all decisions that are made. That is something to have to get used to.”
What was the hardest task/biggest problem in the first six months after officially having launched PYRATES?
“Not being able to solve anything, and everything being so slow. I had to be very patient, and sometimes remind myself to not give up, and that these problems in the beginning are normal.”
Starting a business, one often hears a “No”, but what one needs to learn is that “No” doesn’t mean “Never”. A well explained “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer, and way better than a bad “Yes”, and it will help a founder and young companies achieve, and find out what they are looking for much faster than without these upfront and honest responses. Remember, every “No” is a chance to learn.
How often were you told “No” before you heard a “Yes”?
“Always! I think the hardest part about waiting for a “Yes” is that you have to hear lots and lots of “No’s”. As a matter of fact, you hear so many “No’s” that after a while, you just expect to hear it. But be stubborn, trust yourself and take the leap! Try to stay emotionally neutral when hearing “No’s”. A mistake that business owners often make, is causing themselves heartache, and feeling emotionally drained, and attacked.”
What is the most difficult aspect of running a business, especially when it is an all-female team?
“For me the most difficult has always been learning to delegate, but running an all-female team is no different than running an all-male team. I don’t think so. One thing a CEO always needs to keep in mind, is to not allow drama, and really try to build a solid & fun company culture, in order to keep your team around, and motivated to come to work. When hiring, make sure to choose employees with similar values. I think it makes it easier to find mutual interests. What I do pay attention to is, I always want a diverse team that come from different backgrounds and education. This makes ideas to be built from different perspectives, and gives us a great chance to see many challenges from different angles.”
What do you appreciate most about the relationship between you and your team?
“Honesty. No question, or doubt. It is the most important thing for me. I don’t want to have to check and see if everyone is doing their work correctly, or if they are working the amount of hours that is fixed in our contracts. I want them to come to me with problems, because it is important to try to solve them together. If an employee is personally struggling, I rather have them take a time-out and be honest about it, than hide it, and continue trying to work under their circumstances.”
So you want your team to turn to you when times are tough, but whom do you turn to for advice when times are tough?
“Our investor Sebastien Lefebvre, a clear example of a successful founder. As well as, Emilio Risques, the Vice President for New Business and Innovation of EMEA ASICS, who was responsible for bringing ASICS from the top 18 to the top 3 most important sports brands in Spain.”
Over the last few years female entrepreneurship has grown to become more and more important. Studies are showing that when women gain access to their own financial freedom, they are lifted out of poverty, children begin to become healthier, and the overall economic status of a country improves. This is quite a powerful fact. In your eyes, how developed is female entrepreneurship and how much more can/should be done to make it the most normal thing in the world for females to be running businesses?
“Entrepreneurship for us females is not as developed compared to male, we just have to see the numbers, women constitute 52% of the total European population but only 34.4% of self-employed people are women, and only 30% of start-up entrepreneurs are women. Only 15% of companies founded in the EU since 2017 are led by women and only 12% of founders at EU companies that received venture capitalist (VC) funding are female. I believe the key is providing or improving financial support and training for women as well as access to growing networks of female entrepreneurs. I definitely think there is much room for approval, and that more females should dare to become leaders, and not care about what other people think how they should be living. Many people still think women are there to build families, and have children in a traditional way. There is definitely a more “modern” way to do all of that while running your own business and being a great leader.”
What advice would you give young females who are just starting their career?
“Don’t stop and don’t always follow every advice you get. Listen to your intuition sometimes as well.”
Besides being a female leader and a role-model when it comes to running a business, but always keeping her work/life balance in mind, we want to know more about how Regina spends her time while not building her empire of sustainability.
Tell me a bit about your free time when you are not at the office.
“I do sports, travel & spend quality time with my loved ones. Being active and having a healthy diet is fundamental in order to have enough energy in your day-to-day life. I know everyone says this, but make sure to sleep enough, and to take breaks when you have to. Always ask yourself before overworking: “What will happen if I don’t make this last call or write this last email today?” – Usually the answer is “nothing”. So go home, disconnect, do a little stretch, and give your mind the time to rest.”
What is your 10-year goal? Personally and professionally?
“Personally, be happy & healthy. Professionally, take PYRATES to the next level, being part of the change in the fashion industry, run hundreds of collaborations and PYRATES being considered as one of the pioneers of the textile revolution.”
What strategy keeps you focused?
“Worry as little as possible and work on a plan. Getting better and better but still a lot of improvement to be done.”
Regina starts looking at her phone, because she has a meeting in 10 minutes. She ends our interview with telling me that she does want to have children, and continue creating new things in the future. She not only wants to expand PYRATES smart fabrics internationally, but also wants to really make an environmental impact. “Startup-life can be a real burden filled with insecurities and uncertainties, chasing funding, hiring the right people, keeping your burn rate low, and so on.” Entrepreneurs have to take care of their mental health. “Happiness is underrated. It is so important for a good business. When entrepreneurs are not happy the company crumbles down around them. They need to be inspiring.”, she says. “Sport, I especially like boxing, is important, to cope with unhappiness and stress. Stress is a problem of perspective. You can train yourself to put things in perspective. You can decide not to be stressed.”
Regina looks at me and smiles. “I have a great life.”