Connie Zack is the co-owner of Sunlighten, the manufacturer of the first and only infrared saunas to offer near, mid and far infrared technology. Connie—who has a background as an executive marketer with Procter & Gamble’s pharmaceutical division—started the company out of passion and will, and with no background in infrared saunas or even in the fitness or wellness categories. And while it was challenging at first to let go of the stability and job security that comes with an established global company, she was able to capitalize on her passion and leadership abilities to ensure success in her new venture.
I had the opportunity to interview Connie recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: What made you decide to start Sunlighten?
Connie Zack: My brother started Sunlighten because he was chronically ill and it was the technology that we have mastered at Sunlighten, the infrared light therapy, that helped him recover and healed him. He was sick from heavy metal toxicity, with vertigo, constant fatigue and had spent all his money on doctors and treatments with no success. We heard about infrared heat and that you can potentially transform cells. Over time, it cured him.
Griffin: Oh wow! What a wonderful way to start a business—when you see a need.
Zack: Yes, he was really sick and this was my inspiration. Aaron, my husband and business partner, joined him to help people be more proactive and be healthier. We wanted to get the word out to the community on how valuable and how healing infrared light therapy is to the body, using my brother as proof because it really healed him naturally.
Griffin: Tell me about that. What is it about infrared light that provides such healing powers?
Zack: There are three different parts of the infrared spectrum: the far, mid and near wavelength. It was the far, specifically, that helped heal my brother. He thinks he got heavy metal trapped inside his body from his mercury amalgam fillings. We were raised with a lot of fish so it could have been that as well. His dentist suggested that “There’s this technology that’s called far Infrared light therapy and if you can get enough into the body, it may be able to help detoxify, and have you sweat out this heavy mercury that’s trapped inside your body.”
Griffin: What about your energy and leadership style? How many employees do you have?
Zack: We have about 120 Sunlighten associates globally but most of our associates are here in our headquarters in Overland Park, KS. We have team members overseas to help us with manufacturing and quality control.
We assemble everything over in Vietnam then ship it back to the United States to distribute to customers. Our wood comes from the United States, our heating technology (our secret sauce!), comes from the United States—and other parts source from around the world.
Griffin: How do you market? Through retail or how does it work?
Zack: Yes, we market to every single channel. We sell directly to consumers, we work with businesses, we work with thought leaders, we work with our international customers.
We have an entire range of infrared spectrum saunas including a handheld wand, Luminir, which is focused on delivering different parts of the near infrared spectrum, all the way to a big cabin that has far infrared, mid infrared, and near infrared separately. Almost 20 years ago, there was no way we could do everything but today, we do it all: research, develop, manufacture, put it all together, market it and bring it to the consumer.
Griffin: What would you say defines you as an individual and how did that impact the success of this company?
Zack: My personal mission was to leave this world a healthier place as a result of what we do at Sunlighten. I believed that 20 years ago and still believe it today. I have a responsibility; I have knowledge that our product can help you be healthier, can help your cardiovascular system. It can help your immune system, it can help detoxify your body, purify skin, take away pain and inflammation… and with that knowledge and those products, it’s my responsibility to help everybody incorporate them into their daily lifestyle. That’s my personal belief and I’m staying on that path.
Griffin: It’s a good vision. Before you joined the company, what were you doing?
Zack: I was at Procter and Gamble in the pharmaceutical division. At the time, I was in the gastrointestinal division with that same passion of helping people. I was working with Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation (CCFA) and doing anything I could do to help them have a better quality of life.
My pharmaceutical background taught me that every drug, no matter how wonderful it is, affects the body differently and can create side effects. It’s often about risk versus benefit. We want to see people live as healthy lives as possible, in a non-invasive natural way without side effects. With Sunlighten technology, you’re in the comfort of your home sweating out the impurities without having to change the way you feel.
Griffin: What advice do you have for women jumping from a corporate career into entrepreneurship?
1) Really, really be clear on your goals. I’m very passionate about knowing what you want to accomplish in your personal, your family, and your work life. You know what’s most important to you. Everything should support and follow that.
2) Don’t have two different goals. A lot of women separate their family goal and their work goal. You need to prioritize based on what’s important to you. When I’m the best leader at Sunlighten everything follows from that. I’m the best mom, I’m the best wife. It is not separate. I’m the same person at home and at work and I need to ensure I’m supporting my one goal.
3) Enjoy what you are doing. Making a difference is what drives me. Where we have been is great but where we are going excites me even more as I know how powerful it is and how much it can help people. It can be overwhelming but I really enjoy what I do, I appreciate our customers and I thoroughly enjoy the people I work with on a daily basis.
Bottom line: Take some time to think about what really matters to you. What wakes you up in the morning and inspires you? Then, build your business around that.