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The birds and the bees (and business)
Founder, Fundraising Heavy Hitter, Public Speaker and Market Strategist
Entrepreneurial time is different than business time (hint: we are talking lightning speed).
Women with satisfying sex lives are healthier and live longer.
Even when you have a dedicated customer service team, spend time answering customer questions.
Lesson: She Works with Rachel Braun Scherl
Step #2 God's Work: The birds and the bees (and business)
We ultimately raised $21 million to recreate this company. We took the product, we took the formulation and the patent, and we basically changed everything else. We changed the scent, we changed the packaging, and we changed the business model. It had primarily been retail. We kept the retail and grew Walmart to about 2,000 stores and we also built a direct-to-consumer channel.
This all happens, as I said, in entrepreneurial times. In six months you build a manufacturing system, you change your packaging, you develop advertising, you build a website, you make it transactional, you get cyber security on your credit cards, you setup customer service, and everything happens very quickly.
Again, I would say the first two years--we were at this for four years--are a bit like a blur. I imagine it's what my friends who have twins tell me, that you don't remember anything you just have vague, cloudy memories. We worked hard. We were heads down for the first six or eight months. Every time we had a board meeting they would say, "Have you hired anybody?" and we'd just say, "It's still us," because we had such a short hand and we have such a short hand. At this stage of working together, we finish each other's sentences. We know how to take off where the other one has put something down.
We know how to finish where someone else has left something. The back and forth was really interchangeable in our styles. Ultimately, we built an organization, we built a customer service department, we built a distribution system, we continue to build and expand our retail relationships, and generated an enormous amount of PR which was really, really exciting.
I didn't plan on becoming a pioneer or a voice for any kind of movement. I wanted to buy this product, build a company, and really help women because in the end what this product really does is it increases the sensation and satisfaction for women.
Now, there are a lot of actual scientific studies that say women who have more engaging, satisfying sex lives look better and live longer, so it is actually good for you. The other piece that we really loved was the interaction with customers, actual users. It was fun to interact with Walmart but when I talk about customers, I'm talking about the end consumer. We had a very active communication both online and with an in-house customer service center and we would get calls and emails all the time, "Zestra saved my marriage." "My husband's smiling again." "I've had my first orgasm in 22 years."
Did I think I was transforming the world when I bought this company? I had a very pragmatic focus on product that served a huge need and represented a big opportunity, all of which turned out to be true. I didn't bank on this other piece, which was just sort of a bonus. And by far, my favorite testimonial that I ever got when I picked up the phone one day. I made everybody, Mary and I, always rotate through customer service. While we had people dedicated, we spent time every week speaking to actual consumers because we thought that was important and given the nature of the product and given the language and vocabulary that we had developed, for a number reasons, we thought it made sense.
I pick up the phone one day and I speak to a woman and she says to me, "This stuff really works. Thank you God." I'm like, this is a cool job. I said to myself, “This is a cool job.” When my kids would get frustrated because my schedule was so demanding and they were little at that time they'd say, "Where are you going? Why do you have another meeting?" and I'd say, "I have to go out, I'm doing God's work."
What's interesting that I didn't know before is that when you run a female sexual health company all the sudden you're the most interesting dinner companion. When people would ask me what I did and I would say, "I consult to Fortune 100 companies," "I work in Pharma," the conversation sort of ended there. It got to a period where I couldn't go anywhere without people talking to me about this.
And there are just a couple of stories that totally stand out. I remember being at a gym that was in a different town at six in the morning one day. A woman next to me who's working out taps me and she says, "Do you have your car?" and I said, "Sure, do you need a ride?" and she says, "No, I heard you have that stuff in your car," like I was doing drug deals in the back of the gym.
I had an experience where I was picking my son up from school one day and he was still small enough to be in the backseat and a woman that I know, I would say that she was an acquaintance, not a friend, comes over to my window and starts to describe to me something about her medical history. Now, one of the interesting things about the product, about Zestra, is that it was hormone free so it was particularly safe for women who had suffered from cancer because the last thing that you want is to add any foreign hormones to your body and in the clinical study there were women in the study who had been cancer survivors. It was a real selling point.
This woman came over to my car window and she said to me, "I don't know if you know but I'm a two-time breast cancer survivor," and I said, "I had no idea. I hope you're health is good. I didn't know that. I hope everything is going well." She said, "I want to ask you about the product that you have." And I kept turning to the back seat and saying, "My son is in the car. I'll call you." She would ask me another question about an issue with some aspect of her sexual function and I kept going like this, "Okay, I'll call you. I have a lot of good information about this. I promise. You know what? I have my son in the car. I promise I'll call you when I get back to my office."
This went on for what felt like days. It was probably 10 or 15 minutes. I finally somehow escape, I roll up the window, and my son from the back seat says, "Really mom? That's how you're marketing? Talking to the mothers of my friends? That's a strategy?" This happened over and over and over and over again, at parties, in front of my kids. I finally just had a hard and fast rule. If you want to talk to me about your personal life and your intimate life, that's okay. You are not to do it in front of my kids. They shouldn't have to be subjected to that.
There are plenty of people who are interested in it from a business perspective and that's generally where the conversation would start, more often with the men. But then it was like being back in that locker room and someone's making jokes about hanging from the chandelier and why doesn't he do that anymore. I thought I had a thick skin before, now it's made of kryptonite.