“If you don’t have a ruthless alignment with yourself, it’s not going to work,” said Gwyneth Paltrow, investor and goop founder and CEO. In the From Founder to Investor panel at the 2021 Carta Equity Summit, Gwyneth spoke with entrepreneur and investor Moj Mahdara about building a brand with a strong point of view, and about how goop’s platform has been central to her journey as an investor. In this conversation, Moj and Gwyneth also talked about how they’ve built relationships of mutual support with other leaders—and why it’s a good thing for founders to have other founders on their cap table.
This transcript has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Becoming a founder
Moj: My name is Moj. I am a serial entrepreneur, founder, investor, philanthropist, troublemaker, explorer, connoisseur of good food and fun people. That’s my new bio.
Gwyneth: I like it. I’m Gwyneth. I don’t know—I’m just always trying to be better today than I was yesterday.
Moj: Amen. That is the way, right?
Gwyneth: That’s the way.
Moj: When I was reading your full bio, I was thinking, “Why in the world would you want to start a company like goop and push everything you have into it?” Twelve years later, you’ve got TV shows, books, and a huge e-commerce brand. I know more founders than I can count who can say that your brand has put them on the map. Why was it so important for you–of all people, who could have literally done anything–to become a founder?
Gwyneth: I was called to it so strongly. It was so slow and so incremental that I didn’t even know what I was being called to do. I didn’t know anything about technology or how to create a brand; I just had tons of instinct and passion. It might sound crazy and arrogant, but I really believed that I had access to great things and great people, and I wanted to share that with others who might be interested in the same things. The degree of passion that I had when I thought about playing in this space, versus being on set, was just night and day.
So with a lot of trepidation I started, very gingerly, all those years ago. Then the business model and all of the different verticals followed. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to hold onto my hat. It’s been so fulfilling, so difficult, so humbling, so exciting–all the things. It’s been a journey where I’ve become so close to myself, through all of the hardest things that happen as a founder–all the scary times, the times you think, “Could this be it for us? Are we going to go belly-up?”—and through all the triumphs. If you don’t have a ruthless alignment with yourself, it’s not going to work. That ruthless alignment is an incredible opportunity to be alive and fully you, and to express that through what you do as a founder. So, I love it. I am still scared shitless all the time, and it’s fun.
Moj: I think for those who have the bug, there is no other bug. It’s a calling and an itch. You know my family well—my wife, Roya [Rastegar], is always saying, “Why can’t you just do this or do that?” And she’s right. I feel for her, sometimes, because there’s not a lot of stability in being a founder. There’s not a lot of consistency. You’re in an environment where you’re constantly pushing yourself to be relevant.
Dealing with criticism
Moj: What’s incredible about goop—love it or not, consumer or not, have spent money with goop or not—there is literally no one under the sun who has not been impacted by goop. Even if you’re not a “goop person,” you have been impacted by goop to have said, “I don’t want to eat kale” or “I don’t want this candle.”
I’m especially attracted to people who create big reactions in other people, who create that kind of energy in the world—and that’s certainly you. Maybe that’s a bit of the basis of this friendship, that we’re both like, “Hmm, what’s up with that person?” When you think about building a brand, most people are more measured: they have a deck, they’re putting their model together, they’re building their brand, and 12 years later, they’ve built a brand. Talk to us about how you’ve gone about doing that and the hard part of that. Because I don’t think people realize the commitment you have to your consumer and the extent you go to, to be protective of them. You’re pretty passionate about your goopers.
Gwyneth: I love my consumer, and I am my consumer. I feel a lot of kinship and alignment. I also feel very excited about the people who are not yet our consumer or think they would never be our consumer because as you say, wherever there’s misunderstanding, there’s opportunity.
When we started, it was “What is all this hocus-pocus wellness stuff?” But because we had such a commitment to being at the forefront, I think we did move culture forward. We would do something in great earnest, with no anticipation that there was going to be a backlash or reaction. We’d be like, “What? We’re just talking about gluten-free dinner or acupuncture.” But the reaction would be like, “What the hell is this?” And then I would feel like backing off, thinking, “Oh my God, this wasn’t my intention. Why do we cause such a strong reaction? And what does it mean?”
Then somewhere along the line—and I think this is relevant to your point of brand-building—I just accepted what our DNA was. I stopped being scared of who we were. And it’s like, that’s where the product-market fit is, in knowing your DNA and being OK with whatever that is for the brand that you’re trying to create.
For me it’s about: how can you be so sure about what you’re doing that you can withstand whatever comes your way? Because there’s a world of shit that comes your way if you’re a founder, whether you’re me or whether you’re that person with their deck trying to figure out how they’re going to raise capital for the first time. It never gets easy. So total, steadfast loyalty to the DNA of what you’re trying to do is key. And I had to find that in my own journey, because when we had a super-strong reaction to something, I would be like, “Wait, am I upsetting people? Am I doing the wrong thing?” And then I was just like, “No, fuck it. This is what I’m here to do. This is it.” And I think that’s really the most critical thing to building a brand.
Moj: You deal with a lot of criticism, and I don’t think anyone ever tells you when you’re signing up to be a founder, that you’re going to get criticism. It can be ugly. It can be intense. It can feel very personal. Sometimes there’s truth in it, sometimes there’s not. Where does your strength come from? Because you have dealt with it remarkably. You have pushed through every sort of moment that a lot of people would’ve run from, and you have leaned into it. Where does that come from?
Gwyneth: Well, I had a lot of practice being in the public eye before I was a founder and CEO. I’ve been famous since I was 22 years old—which is crazy to think about, when I think about my daughter, Apple, and think that in five years, she would endure that. So I was a kid, and there’s no way—when you start to get attention from people who don’t know you–there’s no way that when it’s negative, it can’t impact you when it first happens.
I had to develop a practice around creating a buffer between strangers’ words and my internalization of them. And I got to a place where—because I practiced so much and just had to survive, for so long, through crazy, vicious, unfair, whatever—I would practice a kind of unattachment.
Moj: Did you learn that from someone?
Gwyneth: I just started to cultivate it myself and think that if I don’t know this person, it has to be a projection. It cannot be about me if they don’t don’t know me. And then what became interesting later on is what you just touched on: Sometimes it’s not true, and sometimes it is true. And I was talking with my doctor about it, and he said that it only stings and hurts you if it’s a judgment that you’re already holding against yourself.
Gwyneth: So that’s why sometimes it bothers you, and sometimes it doesn’t. If someone were to come up to me and say something that is not true at all, now that my ego’s out of it–which took a while—I’d be like, “OK, they think I’m wearing whatever.” But if someone says something and I’m holding that against myself already, then it can hurt. That becomes an opportunity to really look at it and think, “Wow, why do I feel this way about myself? Am I impatient in this moment? Could I have said this better? Did I not see something from this person’s point of view?” And so it’s an incredible opportunity for growth. So it’s not that I shut out anything that I hear. It’s just that you have to be strategic in understanding: “What is going to help me?”
We see this projection all over social media, all day long. It’s people’s unresolved pain. People have to express it somewhere and unfortunately, it can feel really good to say something really shitty about another human being.
Moj: Yes and no. I really, really, really don’t understand it, but I get that people do it. I don’t know why, but‚—
Gwyneth: Because if you’re not resolved and you haven’t looked at yourself and you’re not accountable, it can feel like a release. People just feel relief for a minute that the anger, or the spin on something, is soothing their pain for a second.
Moj: Yep, it’s instant gratification.
Gwyneth: And then they feel worse after, unfortunately.
Investing on instinct
Moj: When did you write your first check into a company? This is another thing that I was reflecting on: you are an incredibly prolific investor, and have been investing in startups for a long time. You’ve invested in a number of companies that have gone on to be wildly successful. I’ve met a number of young founders whose lives you’ve had a huge impact on. So you’re famous, 22, you’re in the public eye, all these things; and you start goop, become a mom.
Gwyneth: Became a mom first, but yeah.
Moj: Became a mom first. Then at what point did you start investing in other people’s companies?
Gwyneth: I think that the first one was in 2011, because my first CEO at goop was this great guy named Seb Bishop. He was in London, where I started the company. He had created and sold an internet company, and had gone on to run Bono’s charity, (RED). Then he was looking to get back into commerce, so we paired up, and he was fantastic. And he had some deal flow because he had been an internet entrepreneur, and one day he asked me, “Do you want to invest in this thing called Pinterest?” And I looked at it and thought, “Oh, this is cool.” So I wrote a tiny check, and that was my first one in 2011.
Moj: That’s awesome.
Gwyneth: It was great. I wish that I had invested a lot more money in it at the time, but I didn’t know what I was doing and didn’t know what questions to ask. Again, it was instinct. It was like, “Oh, I like this. I can imagine using this for work, I can use this for life, I can use this for recipes and cooking.”
I’ve never had a particular thesis. I just look for companies where I really like what they do. I use their platforms or their product. And then there’s a lot of consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands that I feel really aligned with, that are trying to improve women’s health. So I invest across a lot of sectors now, getting more into Web3 and some SaaS. It’s really fun, and such an incredible learning curve. Because that really is what is at the heart of being an entrepreneur: You’re so thirsty to learn. You just want to learn all this stuff. Investing is a really fun way to just keep learning.
Moj: At the end of the day, whether it’s a thousand dollars or whatever the number is, why is it so important for everyone who has the means to take active authorship over their own investments? Why do you think that’s such a real thing, especially for your audience?
Gwyneth: I think we’re living in a time where there are tools that bring us that agency. You can manage your own portfolio very easily. You can, with apps like Robinhood, just buy straight into stocks that speak to you or that interest you. I think we’re moving into this age of radical agency. It’s part of the whole decentralization that’s happening more broadly. And we all have this opportunity to be fully autonomous and financially literate and to make all of those moves ourselves. I should say too, that I respect people who decide “I don’t want to do that. That’s not for me.”
But I love the fact that these tools are available. Especially, as we talk about all the time, for women and people of color who have historically been left out of these discussions. It’s so critical for us to all come together and figure out ways to create access for these groups. For women and people of color to be able to create generational wealth for their families, the way that white dudes have been doing forever. And I have a lot of passion around that, too.
Putting founders on the cap table
Moj: What makes you unique as an investor? Why should a founder think about taking a check from you versus all these other white dudes?
Gwyneth: First of all, I curse way more and I’m more fun. Well, I think there’s a couple of things: I have a platform as “Gwyneth Paltrow”—but even more powerful for the right brand, we have the goop platform, and we’re able to amplify what a company is trying to do. And it’s how I got my VC, Tony Florence. One day I talked about one of his portfolio companies on goop, and suddenly they had a giant spike in customer acquisition. And he asked “What happened on this day?” And the answer was: “We were on this thing called goop.”
So, we’ve been able to positively impact so many businesses. That, for me, is the most rewarding part. You alluded to it in the beginning—there are a lot of beauty founders who we’ve been able to support. So there’s that piece.
And in certain cases when I’ve invested a real chunk, I’m available to the founder. So I spend a lot of my day answering texts and questions and am like, “Don’t make that mistake. Don’t even think about that e-commerce backend.” So, it’s about a dialogue with another founder. I have that for myself with my mentors too, and have cultivated that group of people. But it’s really nice to be that for somebody else founder-to-founder, especially when you have your skin in the game with them.
Moj: I think that’s the thing that I’m the most excited about: founders having more founders on their cap table.
Moj: We should.
Gwyneth: And for those of you who are listening, Moj, during the early days of quarantine, created this group of beauty and wellness leaders. And we meet every Tuesday morning. It’s a very—I guess it’s not so secret anymore, now that I just talked about it.
Moj: It’s not.
Gwyneth: But the way that you approached it, the idea of competition between founders was quickly dispelled and you had this group of theoretically competitive people helping each other, sharing information. And you realize, “Yes, theoretically we’re in the same space, but you’re doing something completely different. Your vision’s completely different. My vision’s different. I have a different customer.” There’s room for everybody. And founders need to be on other founders’ cap tables. I think: What if I had a founder on my cap table who could have said, “Watch out for this, watch out for that.” I’m determined to find a founder to join my board in the next year or so, for that exact reason.
Moj: For a lot of companies, it’s the difference between success and a lesser degree of success. At the end of the day, CEOs answer to their shareholders and their boards. So I think that’s such an amazing thing to be able to come in and double down into a company where you not only bring yourself, but you bring in a group of many founders, many, many, many founders. And I think the most sexy LP bases on a go-forward basis are going to be LP bases that are diverse, that have a deep, rich—
Moj: Because I respect the capital, but I really respect when you talk to Mark Lore or other founders and think, “You’re giving advice that I would only trust through the mouth of another founder.” I don’t know that I would trust an equity investor to say those things. Even some of the things he was mentioning to us in this conversation that we had, I feel like founders just offer a different perspective, and I think one of the things that I really, really, really, really love about you is that you are such a founder. You are just a founder through and through. You may be “Gwyneth Paltrow” and famous, but you are a gritty, I’m-going-to-make-it-competitive, focused-on-excellence founder.
And that’s why we decided to squeeze in this project at the end of the year, because as Carta continues to evolve and becomes a marketplace for people to invest in other companies and for people to be able to diversify their cap tables, we both use this platform all day long. All the projects we work on are all run through Carta.
Moj: OK. So we’re coming to the final days of the year. What have you got on the horizon for next year?
Gwyneth: Well, I’m pretty crushed by the fourth quarter right now. It’s been so busy. It’s been great, actually, but we’re knee deep in planning for next year. This past year we had, as you know, a lot of getting the fundamentals right; it was really our year to grow out of startup mode and create a foundation for a company from which we can really scale. And we’re still kind of messy. I’m excited to get our technology right because it’s a huge opportunity for us. But more philosophically, I’m thinking: “What does it really mean to be omnichannel in 2022? What are ways of reaching the customer that we haven’t thought of? Are we going to be able to go back in person, and is retail going to be more of a thing or less of a thing? Are we going to be able to do more events, or not? And if we’re not able to, what does all-digital omnichannel look like?”
So, in thinking about our food business, that’s extremely exciting to me. I’m developing the CPG part of that business and how it all kind of ladders into the mission of goop, which is just: Get close to yourself. And so, once I get out of the dust of 2021…well, it’s been a hard year.
What are you going to do next year that you’re excited about?
Moj: Next year, I’m excited about my nonprofit, BeautyUnited, which we all worked together on.
Gwyneth: Yeah, love it.
Moj: I’m working on my book. I’m going to Kauai for a month to actually finalize the outline for my book, which…I’m finally in a place to write this thing.
Moj: I’m launching a podcast next year, which I’m very excited about, going deep into the bowels of Moj and friends. And launching a new project, which for now will just have to be between us.
Moj: But it’s something I’m super-excited about and it speaks to all of my learnings and experiences over the past seven years of raising money and building a company. At the end of the day, I think I just walked away from Beautycon truly transformed, and I think it’s been awesome to sit in that transformation for the past two years. So I’m excited to push myself out.
Gwyneth: And you’ve done an absolutely beautiful job of that. You let the reckoning sweep through you and you alchemized it into the best key learnings, and you were resilient and accountable and you found amazing vulnerability. And it’s just amazing to have watched you go through that.
Moj: Well, I thank you and my wife and my therapist—and I think being a founder can be like a religious experience if you let yourself have it. I do like those types of transformative experiences, so it’s been—I definitely would not say pleasant, but I like this version of me that’s come out. It’s fun. I never dreamed of it.
I love talking to you, as always, especially on something that we’re so passionate about and on which we want to bring many people along for the ride.
Moj: And I’m very grateful to Jane Alexander and the entire Carta team.
Gwyneth: Me, too.
Moj: And I know that this will be the first of many, many, many things we’ll be doing together.
Moj: Have the best holidays, everybody! Everyone, hope you’re having fun today at the Carta Equity Summit. And with that, farewell.