AB/Community with Hitha Palepu
AB/Community is an interview series featuring some of the amazing women we work with. Read on to learn about who they are and what they’ve gained from coaching.
Meet Hitha Palepu, the CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals, an early stage investor/advisor, and author of How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip and #5SmartReads.
Describe yourself in 1-2 sentences.
I’m Hitha Palepu. While I’m known for being an author/entrepreneur/investor/mother, my life’s work is truly to help every woman reject other’s expectations and narratives of her and step into her own power. I do this through the books I write, the events I speak at, and in the content I create and curate on #5SmartReads and my Instagram account. I am a work in progress and do my best to share my journey honestly.
In 2014, you left the pharmaceutical industry to focus on growing Hitha On The Go and pursue other projects. How did you prepare for the leap from steady job to entrepreneurship?
Had I known how hard it would be, I might never have taken the leap!
I was very privileged that my husband had a steady income and benefits, and I took on some consulting projects to contribute financially while building Bridge2Act. Regular check-ins with both my B2A team and with my husband to measure our progress against goals and see how we were all feeling helped keep us grounded and the communication open. When it was time to wind down the company and for me to discuss the next move, it wasn’t as jarring or emotional as it could have been if we haven’t prioritized our frequent, vulnerable, and honest communication.
I brought this same practice when I returned to pharma in 2018, as the CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals. It’s something I will prioritize as part of the culture I build in whatever I do next.
You recommend future entrepreneurs save up enough money to support themselves for six months, with another three months of projected income lined up. How did you make this somewhat daunting financial goal a reality?
It was certainly easier for me, given that we could comfortably live on my husband’s income alone and I do want to be open about that privilege.
I had leveraged some of my long-time partnerships from blogging into consulting work. I was the interim marketing director for Hudson+Bleecker during their holiday promotions in 2014, negotiated sponsored content with a few agencies well in advance, and helped my old boss on an hourly basis on decks and financial modeling.
Looking back, I didn’t prioritize enough rest or solo time for me (I was also expecting our first child!) and assumed I could and would work even more than I previously had at SciDose. I spent most of 2015 burnt out, stressed, and with postpartum depression in my focus on bringing in money. If I could go back, I would increase my rates and take on fewer projects, and prioritize my schedule around time to recharge and connect with my son.
You got into investing because of a cold email to a company you loved, and that led to you investing in and advising other companies. What gave you the confidence to be an investor and advisor?
Like anything else, investing is about relationships! That first email birthed a friendship between myself and the MM.LaFleur founders, which led to the investment opportunity. Before I was an investor in many of my portfolio companies, I was just a fan of their products or services and reached out to connect and get to know the founders better. Investing is a two-way street, and founders perform their own diligence on prospective investors.
My goal is to add value however I can and that goes beyond the check for me. And having built a strong relationship before I’ve made the investment is what’s given me the confidence to build this career. It comes down to people helping people.
You’ve cultivated an extensive support system that you call on for help. What advice do you have for someone who’s worried about asking too much of her support system?
A quick check-in always helps. Before I dive into my request, I try to always ask if they have bandwidth to offer insight or feedback or advise on a specific situation. If they do not, I completely respect that and move on. If they say yes, I also offer a few scenarios to request help - a voice memo, an email, or a phone call - and I let them choose what would be easiest for them.
You’ve been working with Antoinette for awhile now! What inspired you to try coaching?
I met Antoinette at a workshop she hosted at a meditation space in New York. I knew I wanted to work with her at that moment, but life got in the way (I was pregnant with Rhaki at the time and was closing our seed round before I gave birth). While I was on maternity leave, requesting a consultation with Antoinette was one of the things I committed to do. We had our first session on my birthday (July 2nd), and she’s been one of my most trusted advisors and an incredible support.
What are some of the goals you've accomplished since your work together?
From the beginning, the focus of our work was to reconnect me with myself.
I have the tendency to define myself by my work or my roles - work ones, family ones, as a friend, etc. Meeting myself again - just Hitha, not Hitha the mom/wife/entrepreneur - has been rewarding but also some of the hardest work I’ve done. And it’s a work in progress!
Right now we’re working on prioritizing rest and reconnection with myself in this moment. Antoinette checks in on me to make sure I’m going to sleep early, taking baths and relaxing without my phone. I need that external accountability, and she is so supportive and warm and makes me feel really safe.
What’s one of your proudest breakthroughs?
The first quarter of 2021 was one of the most professionally fulfilling of my life - I closed a major deal for Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals, researched and wrote my second book (coming out this fall!), and somehow managed a near month of remote schooling in February. I’m incredibly proud of these accomplishments, but I’m more proud of recognizing that I need rest and space this spring and summer.
Before working with Antoinette, I would have jumped into something new and continued my old habit of hustle-burnout-hustle-burnout. I don’t know what exactly is in store for me during this pause and period of rest and I confess that it seems scary in that it’s so new for me, but I’m really proud of recognizing that it’s what I NEED and to claim it wholly.
How can we follow along your journey?
You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @hithapalepu, and on Clubhouse @hitha. I also invite you to sign up for my newsletter at 5smartreads.com!