Lisa Lundy and Tara Elmore came up with the idea for Complex Creatures, after Tara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. After going through rigorous courses of treatment, Tara was finally given a clean bill of health, and told to come back for a mammogram after a year.
This whole experience left both sisters realizing they had not paid much attention to their breasts. They realized there was a lot they could do to improve their breast health, and that’s how Complex Creatures was born.
Complex Creatures makes products for the unique needs of breasts. The products serve as a reminder to make breast self-care an essential part of your routine. In honor of International Women’s Day, Kristen Carbone took some time to speak with Lisa Lundy.
Lisa shares more about her journey as a female founder, and what she has learned along the way.
Since you started Complex Creatures, what is the biggest thing you learned as a female founder?
Lisa: As a first-time female founder, I’ve had to unlearn many biases—many of which I even have against myself.
When we were trying to figure out our market size and addressable market for the breast care brand space, I got so frustrated with myself because I was unable to find research for something that reaches half the population. For a long time I thought this was because I was doing something wrong—but in reality it’s because the data didn’t exist yet.
The reality was no one had done the research before so there was nothing to find. I learned we had to do the research ourselves.
Dr. Britney Baretto’s work and research changed the game. It wasn’t until the Femtech market report that I realized that I wasn’t the only one who hadn’t been able to find the data to size our market.
How do you overcome obstacles in your journey?
Lisa: It’s just been about continuing to believe in the mission of Complex Creatures. This is a for-profit business, but at its core it’s a heart-led and mission-driven business. We keep putting one foot in front of the other and it genuinely feels like we were called to do this.
When I get messages seeing what our products are doing for people, I keep finding ways to build on the mission. I just got a text a few days ago from a woman saying our products have completely changed her relationship with her breasts. Feedback like this is pivotal and is what keeps me going when things get tough.
The keys to overcoming obstacles have also included bootstrapping, learning to ask for help more, and sometimes saying “maybe we need to slow down” and that’s okay.
What advice would you give to a woman who was just about to dive into being a startup founder?
Lisa: Before taking this leap, I would definitely ask yourself if this is really something you want to do. I like doing difficult things and I love challenges. But working as a founder is so much harder than I even imagined it would be. If you don’t love it and feel like there’s something else you could probably be doing—I would probably do that.
This business is all-consuming: you eat, breathe, and sleep it. It’s always in my mind in some capacity and I’ve had to give up a lot in order to pursue it. There’s always going to be some level of sacrifice for reward. My family and loved ones have to share a lot of me and it’s very challenging.
Is there something you would wish you’d known sooner about being a founder?
Lisa: It’s like having kids. I went through years of infertility and I desperately wanted kids. When people talk about what you give up, you can’t know until you experience it. It’s this kind of experience where you can imagine what it’s like and you hear about it and think about it. But you won’t know what it’s actually like until you try it.
Looking back it’s been a few years since ideation. We came up with the idea for Complex Creatures in early 2020 before the pandemic and we’ve been in the market for one year now. We’re always feeling like we’re behind and need to go, go, go—but that feeling does not help me or move the business along. It just creates anxiety and causes me to make rash decisions.
When I’m in that pressure cooker feeling it brings out my worst nature. I’ve had to work on myself in that way and in some ways really lean into my feminine more. I’m really wired, especially when it comes to work, in a very masculine sort of mindset. So I've had to really undo some of that and lean into more feminine traits and ways of thinking/behaviors.
That’s been illuminating and humbling. Sometimes I see myself becoming the boss I hated working for and I have to catch myself. I’m learning to embody Tricia Hersey’s “Rest is Resistance” movement where she discusses the ties of slavery to capitalism. She has a really powerful message and it ties into what is so wrong about white feminism and how it’s feeding into the capitalist machine.
Kristen: I think this is completely true and I have to tell myself, “don’t harden in a moment when you should soften.” The hardening, the ego, the sort of things I associate with men behaving in ways I don’t like—don’t do it.
Who are the women who have inspired you along the way?
Lisa: There are so many women that come to mind to be honest. There was a time early on in my career where I wouldn’t be able to say that. And leaning into the feminine didn’t have the capacity for that level of vulnerability.
My sister for sure. Tara is my younger sister. My earliest memory when my parents told me I was having a sister, I felt like she was my baby. I was so excited to have a sister and I felt such an intense love for her. It was terrifying when she was diagnosed. My family is really supportive and wanted to be there for her every step of the way. But there was a point where I realized there are parts of this fight that Tara had to do alone.
We can be alongside her and witness, but the hard work she is going to have to do by herself. And that was really painful to grasp, but it also made me totally transform. I saw her truest self come out of that experience. All the things that weren’t serving her—she released them and let them go.
Her commitment to rest, value, and what’s important really stick with me. When you’re faced with your mortalities that way, you learn to seize the opportunities. She is really intune to her intuition and her values and she knows when she’s in her truth and I admire that deeply.
How do you balance being a leader while also setting boundaries within the rest of your life?
Lisa: To be honest, I’m figuring it out. I work out of my house. Physical boundaries are not there in a way that they used to be. But trusting what feels good, and doing what feels good is key. Learning to say no to things that aren’t serving you and trying to be intentional about time and resources has also been crucial.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Lisa: We need all of us. Not just the women, but men and everybody else too. We need everyone to take small actions and help where they can. Remember to always be a little more aware of what is happening. The people who don’t want us to have these things are well organized and will really stop at nothing. But some of us will take for granted that things will be a certain way.
Kristen: I feel an immediate sense of kinship with the founders I’ve met on this journey. It’s like we have this army of women. I hope we look back on this experience and have changed it for the people that come after us. And I hope that we get a moment of ease.
Lisa: We’re frontier women and at the forefront of FemHealth and with breasts being the last piece that I can think of, we’re first in many ways. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and you’re always supportive. You should know when one of us rises, we all rise.