From agency high-flier to menopause warrior – read the inspiring story of Menopoised co-founder Nikki Gatenby

Around five years ago, I attended a talk given by inspiring women in Brighton, and one woman in particular made a powerful and lasting impression: Nikki Gatenby, then Managing Director of agency Propellernet.

What made Nikki so memorable? It wasn’t just because she was brilliantly successful, nor was it due to her admirable sense of purpose – that was backed up with consistent action.

Instead it was her remarkable resilience and bravery at bouncing back from life-changing setbacks (including almost dying in a motorbike crash), and her positivity, ambition and drive.

Trethowans
Trethowans

Today, Nikki has teamed up with acupuncturist Jo Darling to create Menopoised – acupuncture-inspired, safe, effective, side-effect free products for a positive menopause.

I asked Nikki if she’d share her amazing story, and explain how she’s on a mission to change the lives of women the world over, with a passion for supporting all women to have a positive menopause, naturally.

How did your career start?

I’ve led marketing agencies for 25 years with a track record for taking them global. My journey has taken me from being based in London, Paris and most recently Brighton, where we transformed the SEO agency Propellernet, into a global powerhouse in marketing and tech. Hand in hand with being one of the top 15 best places to work in the UK for eight years running. 

The story is captured in my book, Superengaged, which turned out to be a best seller – I dreamt of this happening and it was amazing when it actually did. And unknowingly at the time it, was my springboard into the next phase of my career.  

Off the back of the book I had a number of people getting in touch to ask me to be a non-exec director on their boards and a coach within their business.  Roles which I dabbled in and I realised were something I loved.

Which is short version of how I now find myself with a portfolio career; working with a range of businesses, particularly agencies; their founders, board directors and leaders to develop their strategy and bring their business dreams to life. It’s a lot of fun.

What challenges have you overcome?

Many. It’s been an incredible adventure – not one without its show stopping moments. And I’ve learned so much along the way.

If I could take one thing forward it would be to ensure that I stop and smell the roses occasionally. When you love what you do it’s so easy to get wrapped up in it, go at full pelt and not realise quite what is going on around you. Until the universe makes you stop.

I’ve been stopped in my tracks three times – I think the universe is trying to tell me something!

What happened the first time?

The first time, was when I heard the words ‘I can’t find a pulse’ as I lay on the road in Battersea High Street on Tuesday 10 April 2007.

It took a few moments to realise that it was my elusive pulse that was being referred to and I’d been knocked off my motorbike on my way to work. It was 8.22am and I had become another road crash statistic.

As the police later attested, I’d been knocked off by a reckless driver who’d though mowing me down, would make her drive to work faster. Wrong. 

But I still wonder, was I concentrating enough, was I thinking about the million things I need to do at work, was I present and in control of my journey? Could I have been more conscious to what was happening around me? We’ll never know, but it does leave me thinking…

Over time, I got up and walked away and eventually went back to work in the London creative agency, where I’d been fast climbing the career ladder, having a wonderful time, working bloody hard and partying even harder; reaching the heady heights of Account Director at 25, going up the ranks as Client Services Director, on the Associate Board with a team of 100 people. 

I was leading the biggest pitch we had gone for – the Pan European business for an automotive client, operating in over 26 countries over the next 3-5 years.  It was worth millions. 

Little did I know, I was about to be stopped in my tracks for a second time.

How did you crash a second time?

Roll forward a few months. We’d won the Pan European business. I’d set up the French arm of the London agency to deliver the work from there. I was living the life of riley, in a stunning apartment in Paris, located by Jardin du Luxembourg, in the 6th arrondissement of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. 

We were working full pelt, it was a success, we had won the biggest piece of business in the agencies history and we’d celebrated like it was 1999. I was on 90 hour weeks, I’d not had a weekend off in a long time, my social life was in serious need of resuscitation and my fitness levels were through the floor.  I woke up one morning, unable to move. 

Now this time no-one had crashed into me, I had put myself if this position. I had become a burnout statistic. The crash was down to me. 

Once more, over time, I got up and walked away, knowing this crash and burn stuff had to stop. 

How did you launch Propellernet – and what made it different?

Shortly after, I made the move from London to Brighton. Staying in the world of marketing that is full of vibrancy and where I made lifelong friends. This time to lead an agency with a very different set of values, the key one being ‘wellbeing’.  

This isn’t anything to write home about in 2020, but a decade earlier in 2010, it was quite a shift from the norm in agency life.

And this gave me the platform to create the wonderful journey that took the agency from Brighton to global, from marketing services to technology products (answerthepublic and coveragebook) whilst being one of the best places to work in the UK.

And after 10 years, with the springboard of Superengaged to pursue a new career, I was heading into the world on non-exec positions in a range of businesses and excited at the prospect.

This journey gave me the space and freedom to explore where I wanted to go and it confirmed that working on a business with true purpose has become more and more important to me

Which brings me to my new venture – and it’s quite a step change from my previous role.

How did the pandemic lead you to Menopoised? 

After leaving my last role in December 2019 and before starting on my new path, my husband and I took some time out in New Zealand for two months 

And then, surprise! A global pandemic.  We came back from New Zealand via Singapore and Milan, unbeknown to us, being chased home by Covid-19.Two weeks later we were in lockdown.

I was stopped in my tracks for a third time. (Along with pretty much the whole planet).

Despite the tragic background and the world going ‘on pause’ for so many weeks, I’ve reframed my thinking to see that the time that has been created in this moment (months) of pause, has been a gift.

It’s enabled me to co-found a new business, one that had the potential to change the lives of women the world over – an opportunity that would never have had arisen in the same way, had it been business as usual. 

This brings me to Menopoised.

Where did the idea for Menpoised come from?

I’d been coaching a great friend of mine, Jo Darling, a brilliant acupuncturist specialising in the treatment of breast cancer patients.  I didn’t know this, but if you’re a young woman with breast cancer, the medical effects of chemotherapy can throw you into early menopause. Which is a lot to cope with all at once, cancer, chemotherapy and menopause.  

Jo has been working with a clinical oncologist to support these women with menopausal symptoms and has an 80% success rate in reducing the issues of hot flushes, night sweats, anxiety and the stress that ensues.

She had a lightbulb moment. Now menopausal herself, Jo was thinking that if she could help those with medically induced menopause, or early onset, then surely she could help those in natural menopause too.

So after one of our coaching sessions, I asked Jo to help me with my hot flushes. She had the most amazing response and she popped a small, but mighty magnet on the back of my neck, a product she was trialling in-clinic to reduce the heat of menopause. 

I was having 10 hot flushes a day, when I went to the doctor they said I wasn’t old enough for this to be the start of the menopause… But I was sitting in meetings and I felt my hair was getting wet from the intensity of the flushes.

I’m quite a strong character but I didn’t want to share it with my fellow board members, instead I would be in the room with sweat running down my back. It was bloody awful. And no-one wants to say anything because menopause is the last taboo.

So Jo included me trialling the ‘Menopoised Menopause Magnet’ – placed on the back of your neck to stimulate a point used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine to release heat.

It stopped the hot flushes within 24 hours. I was beside myself. 

What happened next?

Jo ran a small trial* to determine the efficacy rate of the Menopoised Menopause Magnet. She found that 80% of women benefited from a reduction in intensity and/or frequency of their hot flushes and night sweats. For some it stopped them altogether, which is amazing.

The research results were analysed by Sussex Innovation Centre. Data was collected by Menopoised. Sussex Innovation centre is a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Sussex

The Menopoised Menopause Magnet changed my life.

Jo and I continued to talk about the positive nature of what she was doing, the products she could create that could literally change the lives of so many women – myself included and we decided to co-found Menopoised together, to bring this joy to the world.

Jo often jokes, calling me Victor Kiam as “I liked it so much, I bought the company.”

And now Jo and I have co-founded Menopoised together.  We’re on a mission to change the lives of menopausal women the world over, by supporting all women to have a positive, menopause, naturally. 

Why do we need Menopoised?

Before embarking on this venture I had no idea of the lack of support for women in menopause, however the stats reveal a stark situation:

  • 100% of women go through menopause, it is not a choice.
  • 80% will have life limiting issues that directly affect mental health and relationships. 
  • Very few doctors are trained specifically in menopause – unless they elect to.
  • Only 3% of companies offer support.
  • Because for some reason, Menopause is the last taboo.

Lord knows why, when every woman will go through it in their life but it seems to be shrouded in silence. And this is where we have major issues:

  • The fastest growing demographic in the workforce is women over 50.
  • And as our workforce ages and women in higher positions, on the board and founding their own companies they are going to need support to continue to thrive.
  • Many are working longer than ever before because they want to, but also due to pension regulation changes.
  • But one in 4 women are considering leaving the workplace because the impact of menopause is so tough.
  • One in 10 actually do.

Something is clearly wrong – in the fastest growing demographic, we have the highest number of people leaving the workforce, along with all the wisdom and talent that goes with them. So it is vital that companies tackle this subject if they want to retain their talented women.

And we’re talking about so many people:

  • In 2019 there were over 4.3m women between the ages of 45-60 employed in the UK.
  • This means there are about 4.3m women in the UK about to start, are right in, or have been through the changes of then perimenopause and menopause – and all the joy that it will bring.
  • Many will suffer in silence, with the impact being that women are more likely to reduce their hours, turn down promotion, change to a different role or even leave work altogether which can have significant financial and other impacts on their lives.

I’ve walked into many, many boardrooms and all too often, I’m not seeing an impressive number of women in the room. 

The women who are there are impressive and they need to be able to stay in the room for as long as they want to. We all have a responsibility to support them to thrive.

So combining my personal experiences, Jo’s pioneering work and the clear necessity to support menopausal women the world over, Menopoised was launched, in lockdown.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention!

Find out more about Nikki Gatenby, her book, Superengaged and Menopoised

* The trial was conducted using the MYMOP, Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Profile, qualitative research system. MYMOP is a patient-generated outcome questionnaire. Trialists were asked to report the symptoms on a weekly basis.