How the Founders of LOLA Learned to Talk up the Feminine Hygiene Market Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier learned on the fly to turn their organic tampon company into a VC-funded reality.
In the Women Entrepreneur series My First Moves, we talk to founders about that pivotal moment when they decided to turn their business idea into a reality—and the first steps they took to make it happen.
In 2014, Jordana Kier was about to graduate from Columbia Business School and couldn't shake one very good idea: a better-for-you tampon that was transparent about the materials used. She bounced the idea off of Alex Friedman, who was working in tech and was then an acquaintance, and the two discovered a shared passion and slowly started workshopping the idea. Once they decided to go for it, both women fully committed and charged full speed ahead. Here's how they took LOLA from an idea to a fast-growing startup with more than $11 million in funding.
Step 1: Google.
Simple internet research and free tools gave them their start. "Google is really the answer to a lot of our early research and how we conducted surveys," Friedman says. The co-founders didn't have any previous knowledge of manufacturers in this space and knew only their own pain points with existing products on the market. "Once we started figuring who manufactured for big brands and who did small brands, it was clear that there was a real network," Friedman says. "We used Survey Monkey to conduct focus groups to understand purchasing behavior. The grassroots effort worked for the two founders, though they didn't know there were other options. "A year later someone asked us what focus group service we used, and we were like, what?" recalls Kier. "We didn't do anything fancy. We just emailed our friends and told them to find 10 other friends that would talk to us."
Step 2: Find your voice.
Friedman and Kier spent about 12 weeks nailing down the brand's look and voice, and it was during that time that Friedman stepped away from her fulltime job and committed to LOLA. "Leaving a stable salary is scary, it's a big change," she says. But it's one that ultimately paid off, giving the co-founders space and time to solidify specifics. "We knew exactly what we didn't want, but it was harder to envision what we did," Friedman says. "We looked at cosmetics, candles, moisturizers, to understand what we wanted this to look like. And we knew that communicating trustworthiness and transparency, based on what we'd heard from the community of women we spoke to, was key."
Step 3: Ask for advice.
The women got serious about networking and focused on creating relationships with people who had expertise they themselves were lacking. "It was really helpful to start building a network of advisors and mentors who could say, here's how to think about building this, here's how to plan for today, tomorrow and in two years," says Kier. They started with existing relationships, and asked for guidance, advice or even just additional introductions. "Most of the folks in our network today have come through warm introductions," she adds.
Step 4: Raise capital. (And educate your target investors.)
To get LOLA off the ground, Friedman and Kier crunched the numbers and figured they'd need about half a million dollars in capital. They made a list of everyone they thought may be interested in investing -- angels, venture funds -- and tried to figure out how to reach them, ideally through connections from their existing network. They cast a wide net, and it led to multiple meetings, but they didn't get traction until they reworked their pitch. "We didn't realize how much education would be involved when we were talking to mostly male audiences," Friedman says. "To us, the numbers spoke for themselves: It's a multi-million dollar tampon and pad category, there's a need for subscription, and the big brands are not meetings customers' needs. But a male audience had never held a tampon or even thought about this category." They started taking their product to the meeting, taking it out of the wrapper, and really teaching potential investors from scratch, and within two months, they had reached their goal, which gave them a full year of runway -- and let them rent a shared office space, build a website and hire some employees.
Step 5: Identify your strengths—and weaknesses.
To protect themselves from falling into the entrepreneurial trap of trying to simply do too much to get the business off the ground, the LOLA founders focused on what they needed to closely manage and build and what they could outsource. "For us, our core competency was going to be the brand, the product and the interaction with our audience," says Kier. "What was not going to be a core competency was logistics. We're a reproductive wellness brand. We are not a logistics company." She and Friedman briefly considered building out their own operations and fulfilling orders in-house, but quickly decided to work with a third-party provider. "It was 100 percent more financially viable than building it on our own," she says.
Step 6: Own your expertise.
Following LOLA's launch, Friedman and Kier realized that, much like some of their investors, their own customers were not used to discussing feminine hygiene and reproductive products—and they had a lot of questions. "As we continued focus groups, women were asking so much about what was in the product, how we'd get it to them, if it could affect fertility," Kier says. "They were looking to us as the experts, and we realized that we were starting to build a brand that could have that trust and offer medical expertise, so we wanted to leverage the medical community and make sure we could stay really honest with our customers." As a result, Lola does more third-party testing on their products than required. "We're really focused on building this brand around trust."