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Trailblazers: Rachael Kim, CEO And Founder Of Project Untaboo

Rachael Kim and her trail on OwnTrail

Originally published on Forbes.com

This Trailblazers series takes a look at the pivotal milestones that make up the life trails of inspiring women from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. We all know what social media profiles display about the end results women have achieved. This series is intended to take a deeper, more authentic look at the journeys they have taken to get there. 

Rachael Kim is an innovator, community builder, entrepreneur and equal opportunity champion. She founded Project Untaboo with the goal of shifting the existing paradigm in the period care industry through transparency, eco-awareness and research. Rachael is passionate about connecting, supporting, and building relationships that go beyond mere introductions. 

After learning more about the trail that Rachael has blazed, I got the chance to ask her some questions.

Rebekah Bastian: You shared how uprooting your career and traveling globally gave you a new, more optimistic perspective about humanity. How did this experience create a shift in you, and do you think there are ways people can find that shift without pushing themselves out of their comfort zones?

Rachael Kim: After spending 10 years consulting internationally, travel offered the emotional and physical reset necessary to define my next chapter. Simple, intimate experiences away from home reignited my faith in humanity, such as breaking bread over the classic Asparagus a la Flamande (Flemish Asparagus recipe) with a new friend and his mother in their home. Their welcoming and vulnerable spirit left an indelible mark on my life, especially as an entrepreneur.

Coming from a small farmland suburb of Seattle, none of this would have happened without pushing through my comfort zone. It’s never easy, but here’s the best part: It ultimately empowers my ability to choose new paths. This empowerment is what I want to bring to individuals in their period care experience through Project Untaboo.

“After having difficulty accessing period care products when I was backpacking across four continents, Project Untaboo was born to empower travelers with periods to discover the world, boldly.”

Bastian: You started Project Untaboo to empower women around period care. How do you feel your past experiences and your passions combined to set you up for success in this social venture?

Kim: After having difficulty accessing period care products when I was backpacking across four continents, Project Untaboo was born to empower travelers with periods to discover the world, boldly. However, we recently pivoted to focus on an even larger problem— solving access to trusted and easily consumable educational content for individuals with periods for preteens to adults. At a young age, I was taught that it was okay to not participate for a quarter of every month due to my period. It’s a crippling mentality that unbalances the table for others as early as age 7. Project Untaboo is my way of shifting that mentality — driving period equity through self-awareness, body-awareness, and eco-awareness. My global security and data privacy experience gave me the tools to understand how to frame products, build customer trust, and bring creative ideas and innovation into complex categories like femtech and period care. 

Bastian: The period industry has traditionally been very opaque and often hasn’t centered womxn’s needs and experiences (with the recent shift from blue liquid to red liquid in advertisements being seen as revolutionary!). What reactions have you heard as you have led the way in global period care for womxn?

Kim: Even after menstruating for 23 years, I’m continuously (re)learning what’s “normal” as we increase access to information, awareness, and actual conversation.  When I see the case against menstrual blood ads dismissed in Australia or @radillustrates Instagram posts, it gives me hope that we’re ready to destigmatize the very cycle through which humans exist.

Common reactions we hear about Project Untaboo range from “I keep thinking of you when I have my period,” and, “I could have used this when…” I’m usually jumping for joy because it shows that our work is not only solving the access problem; it’s also memorable. 

“I believe giving back is how you share your own power so that others can amplify their own, pursue their dreams, and pay it forward.”

Bastian: You talked about the support network you built in order to balance the demands of running a business, taking care of yourself, and being there for your team and family. What does that network look like, and how do you support each other through these challenges?

Kim: As a first-time entrepreneur with a preliminary startup network, having a multi-layered support system that focuses on giving back is critical to both my well-being and to our accelerated journey. I believe giving back is how you share your own power so that others can amplify their own, pursue their dreams, and pay it forward. It’s a virtuous cycle.

Many organizations share this ethos, including Future for UsGo PaladinWTIAWeWork LabsFlatiron School, and Female Founders Alliance. Being in close ranks with phenomenal womxn of color helps stabilize the founder journey—we listen, problem-solve, and advocate for each other. I’m eternally grateful for a fantastic team who believes in our mission and volunteers time selflessly. With over 60% of our team having periods, one of our strengths is the equity and alliance across gender identities to build the future of period care together. 

But remember: You anchor your own network so you’ve got to take care of you. As an extroverted introvert, I block out time to have a coffee in the park or explore Seattle’s hidden corners (at early hours to socially distance, of course).

Bastian: You’ve taken some big leaps in recent years, guided by your own needs and your passion for helping other individuals with periods. What advice would you give to others that are considering big moves and social entrepreneurship?

Kim: My biggest leap was going all in on myself to start Project Untaboo. I asked myself several questions before embracing the “euphoria and terror” of entrepreneurship:

“Above all, just try. Who knows, you may just surprise yourself along the way!”

1. What gets you up in the morning? This is what pulls you through the hardest times when you’re holding on to sanity by a thread. Sharing my reason for getting up in the morning with others helps me focus during volatile periods (no pun intended).

2. If not now, then when? There is never a “right” time to start, so what can you put in place according to your risk appetite knowing that 70% of startups fail. An action plan provides clarity.

3. What are your fears, and are they temporary? To lead, we need to embrace our fears. If I understand the driver, I can accept it and understand how this plays out in my decisions while leading a team of 10 in a competitive landscape. If I am not solid, my team won’t be. Resilience starts from the top.

4. What does social entrepreneurship mean to you? Your definition will be different from others and hopefully it’s tied to your first answer. At Project Untaboo, our definition of social entrepreneurship is both simple and big: Helping humanity. 

Above all, just try. Who knows, you may just surprise yourself along the way!

Passionate about period equity, entrepreneurship and building your personal support network? Connect with Rachael to start a conversation, ask her a question and/or appreciate her journey.