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Exclusive: Zola founder Shan-Lyn Ma appoints a co-CEO

June 16, 2022, 1:09 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! The FDA nears final approval on vaccines for young kids, women feel unprepared for menopause, and Zola adds a co-CEO. Have a great Thursday.

– Business partners. For almost a decade, Shan-Lyn Ma has single-handedly led the weddings platform Zola. (The longtime CEO’s cofounder, Nobu Nakaguchi, now serves as chief design officer.)

Ma is part of a generation of founders who are in this moment reevaluating whether they should continue to lead their businesses; Glossier for example, which is one year younger than Zola, recently announced that founder Emily Weiss is stepping down as CEO.

So for Ma, this feels like the right time to reexamine who heads the company—but not step away completely—with the corner office addition of longtime executive Rachel Jarrett, Fortune is the first to report.

Co-CEO arrangements can be tricky. Researchers have found that two competing executives on an org chart can lead to “destructive power dynamics” with each leader jockeying to be, or simply appear as, the foremost executive.

But if any company should be prepared to be dually run, it’s Zola. The wedding business, after all, is centered on partnership. “We spend a huge majority of our day thinking about couples … and how they’re looking to create a successful partnership,” says Ma. “You want to be inspired by your partner and feel like they’re helping you become better.”

Zola co-CEOs Shan-Lyn Ma and Rachel Jarrett.
Courtesy of Zola

Ma and Jarrett met when both worked at Gilt Groupe in the early 2010s. In 2016, Ma turned to Jarrett when she needed a seasoned operator to help run and scale Zola as it expanded its offerings to include registries, invitations, wedding venues, and vendor bookings. Zola has raised more than $150 million in venture funding since its 2013 founding, according to Pitchbook. Until now, Jarrett has served as president and COO rather than co-CEO, but both say they have already been running the business as equal partners in practice.

The pair say they have taken steps to avoid the common pitfalls of co-CEO arrangements. “We always align the two of us behind closed doors before we ever walk into a room together,” says Jarrett. “We’re never sending mixed messages to the company.”

That strategy was tested last month, when Zola suffered a cybersecurity attack that threatened customers’ finances. (Zola says all funds were restored to users.) The co-executives relied on “trust built up over 11 years working together” to separately handle pieces of the crisis, they say.

Ma currently oversees technology, finance, talent, and legal operations, while Jarrett runs marketing, product, and merchandising. And Ma is thrilled to have someone to carry some of the load. “Being a CEO can be a lonely job,” she says. “It can be particularly challenging when it feels like there aren’t a lot of people in the company you can talk to.” So are co-CEOs the new startup trend? “I’m surprised more people don’t do it,” she quips.

Emma Hinchliffe
emma.hinchliffe@fortune.com
@_emmahinchliffe

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ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Finally, FDA! An FDA panel yesterday recommended Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children between six months and six years old. The long-awaited decision means vaccines for the youngest children could be available by next Tuesday. USA Today

- Not-so-helpful feedback. A new report by augmented writing software company Textio finds that female, Black, and Latinx employees are more likely to receive unactionable feedback in performance reviews, preventing them from successfully growing in their roles. While feedback for men tends to focus on the substance of their work, women are 22% more likely to receive critiques on their personality. Black women were 4.5 times more likely to be described as “overachievers” than white men. Fortune

- Act fast. Lina Khan’s appointment as Federal Trade Commission chair last year sparked hope for progressive lawmakers, who thought her tenure would bring the commission’s focus back to its antitrust roots. Though Khan has taken some action in her first year, like reviving an antitrust suit against Meta, Republican lawmakers are stalling the confirmation of a fifth FTC member, keeping the Commission in a partisan deadlock and preventing Khan from taking action on much of her agenda. Bloomberg 

- Undereducated and unprepared. A new survey from health care company Bonafide shows the majority of women in the U.S. feel underprepared for menopause, including symptoms like hot flashes, sleep problems, brain fog, and increased depression and anxiety. Forty-one percent of respondents said they would feel more supported by the men in their life if there was more education on menopause and discussions about women’s health. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: President Joe Biden has tapped former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as the next director of White House Office of Public Engagement. IBM has promoted chief of staff to the chairman and CEO Kate Woolley to general manager of its Ecosystem business. The nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice announced Stacey Geis will be a litigation vice president. Stacey Cunningham, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, will serve as an adviser to Uniswap Labs. Soumi Saha will join Premier as senior vice president of government affairs. Monica Caldas is joining Liberty Mutual Insurance as executive vice president and chief information officer. Clockwise has appointed Vicky Thomas as its new vice president of product.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Jan. 6 effectsRep. Liz Cheney has been at the helm of the House inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection as one of the only two Republicans on the investigation committee. Her role and critique of former president Donald Trump have sparked rebuke from fellow Republicans and from Wyoming voters as she navigates her political future. NBC News

- Uptick in abortions. The number of abortions in the U.S. increased 8% between 2017 and 2020, ending a decades-long decline, according to new research from the Guttmacher Institute. Exact reasons for the increase weren’t identified, but the expansion of Medicaid coverage for abortions in some states and funds to help pay for the procedure likely contributed. About 35% of abortions performed in 2020 were in 26 states likely to ban or restrict abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Wall Street Journal

- No laughing matter. Netflix reached a settlement with Oscar-winning actress and comedian Mo’Nique on Wednesday for a 2019 lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination. In 2020, Netflix lost a bid to throw out the lawsuit, which claims that the performer was offered $500,000 for a special with the streaming giant in 2017—a sum that was far below the millions it offered to white comedians. Deadline

- Momternships. Advertising company MullenLowe is partnering with HeyMama, a professional networking group for mothers, for “momternships." These 10-week, $25-per-hour internships are for mothers returning to the workforce, and don't require any previous experience in advertising. They can also be completed remotely. AdAge

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PARTING WORDS

“In some kind of way I became the villain, and I don’t know if people don’t take it seriously because I seem strong. … Do I not seem like I’m worth being treated like a woman?”

-Rapper Megan Thee Stallion on the misinformation and online harassment she’s faced after discussing a shooting in 2020 involving singer Tory Lanez.

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