Founder Tammy Lee on Launching During a Pandemic
Tammy Lee, on stage at TCB Talks: Redefining Leadership in September 2019. Photo by Jordan Buckellew

Founder Tammy Lee on Launching During a Pandemic

The CEO of Xena Therapies discusses her change in strategy to avoid letting Covid-19 derail her rollout of cool therapy medical devices.

Tammy Lee launched a line of wearable cool therapy medical devices in February and one month later, she had to shut down Xena Therapies, her Red Wing startup, due to Covid-19.

“It felt like a kick in the gut,” Lee said in an interview on a new episode of TCB podcast By All Means.

It wasn’t the start she dreamed of for the first company she’s building on her own from the ground up, but then, Lee’s entire career has evolved out of unexpected turns—from TV news reporter to political candidate to corporate communications vice president to CEO and founder of medtech startups including Recombinetics, Nanocore and now, Xena Therapies, which recently launched two lines of cool therapy products made with phase change material that is formulated to 58 degrees to be more comfortable on skin than ice. Opal Cool focuses on wearable cooling devices for women, including a menopause vest and “Gal Pals” bra inserts; OnyxCool specializes in orthopedic pain relief, such as flexible knee and shoulder wraps. All of the products are designed to be worn while moving.

The first phase of the product rollout was to focus on hospitals and rehab centers, which shut down due to the pandemic, Lee said. Shifting focus to direct to consumer was tricky—“the product is so new, people don’t know to search for it.” Lee said she made the decision to ramp up online marketing. “While many were retrenching, I decided to double down on my investment.”

It’s slow going, but Lee said traction is building: OnyxCool orthopedic wraps will make their QVC debut this summer; Opal Cool is starting to get picked up by obstetrics and chiropractic practices. Lee estimates that the pandemic has set her business plan back only by about six months.

“I kept trying to spend my way through this,” Lee said of the Covid-19 crisis. “I didn’t want to lose the momentum we were beginning to get for the business.”

Lee said Xena Therapies has also used the slow down to reorganize in Red Wing for her team of 12. “We’ve come up with processes at the plant and used this time to the best of our ability to really prepare our business for success,” she said.

Listen to our full conversation with Lee, which traces her career trajectory and includes her perspective on raising capital, launching new ventures, and her theory on why OnyxCool has virtually no competition in the menopause market, which gains 5,000 new members every day in the U.S. alone.

“When women are running companies,” she said, “they think about products that will benefit other women.”

Listen to the full By All Means interview, and other conversations with Minnesota-based entrepreneurs and leaders, on most major podcast platforms.