How Eva Goicochea of Maude helped launched one of the world’s progressive sexual wellbeing startups
Today I’m chatting to Eva Goicochea, the founder of a sexual wellbeing company called Maude.
A brand that's championing the path for modern intimacy, sexual health and education. Eva started the brand back in 2015 and has pioneered the path forward for changes in how we see and speak about our intimacy, mental health and sexual wellbeing.
We managed to squeeze this episode in after a few tech issues - which is the story of my life right now - and an important meeting that Eva had coming up, so it’s quick but it’s got everything you need to know about building a brand in an industry that’s typically regarded as taboo - and shouldn’t be - and the challenges that come with it.
And while I have you here I just want to give a huge thanks to everyone that has taken the time to leave a review, it really helps others ears find us and have a listen. If you’re loving these episodes as much as I am, please head to the app and leave us a review!
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Yeah, so my career actually began in my early 20s, I studied marketing, but then in my early twenties, I fell into being a legislative aide in health care, which is a much longer story. I grew up in Sacramento and so I actually moved to New York and then moved back to Sacramento. And that's how that happened. And as a state capitol, they have a lot of you know, there's a lot of policy groups there. So I ended up moving to L.A. and getting back into marketing and worked with a few agencies on a bunch of brands and then landed at Evelin is one of the first employees. And when I left in about a year and a half later, I was really excited about joining a health care startup and I could not find one. And I've always been interested in sexual wellness. And so long story short, I think it was a convergence of this like health care beginning and then everything I had done for 10 years thereafter. And this space has not been really changed in one hundred years. So I'm really excited that Modocs is now.
Yeah, absolutely. And when you were getting started, what was the what were the first steps to launching this business?
Well, the funny thing is that the idea came about in twenty fifteen and in typical fashion I built a website first, which was not the way to do it. I don't
Recommend that because
We started getting inquiries about product and press, which was funny. But I think when you first start, you need to really think about the industry that you're going into and what the landscape looks like. My first recommendation is really to analyze what's happening in the space that you're going into and then starting to do some customer research. So we did a big survey early on. We purchased like some formal research so that we could understand. And I think you really have to build a foundation. And that took a year. Yeah. You know, you can go to market sooner for other industries, I think. But in this case, I really, really wanted to understand
What was happening. Yeah.
And so after that was the next step to look at getting capital and raising
Investment, or was it to
Find a manufacturer? What the next
Steps? It was
Both. I think one was to work on the product to make sure that you kind of
Had the business
Model and really what the unit economics were so that you could raise capital. So that's an interesting one, because I've gotten asked a lot about
And precede. And I think there are some basics that you need to know. You definitely need to know what your economics will look like, what the cost will be, and then you can kind of build out a model. And so then I raised half a million, which was really hard. It wasn't easy. It was definitely a friends and family round. We had some institutional
And then we launched the business in twenty eighteen.
Wow. And so what were the products that you launched with
You were trying to find like a manufacturer and all that kind of thing, how did you do it. What advice would you give for other people who want to go into product development of typically unique products?
Well, I think so. There are some really best in class manufacturers in our space that we went to. I think when you're starting to go into formulating products from scratch as opposed to, you know, for instance, condoms or cost to medical devices. So you can't really like you can't really build a condom from scratch, it would take a lot of money and time. So I think, again, it's the FDA. It's a medical device. So in our space, it's one thing because you're trying
To find FDA
Manufacturers and you're working you're trying to work with formulations that are really body safe and you work with chemists. If you're going into something completely new, I think there's much more research to be done. And I would recommend as as much as possible to get in touch with factories that have chemists where you can start learning about it more than just saying, I'm going to go build something off the shelf. There are a lot of brands that produce things that are not their formulas, specially around vitamins.
Wow, I didn't know that.
I know. Yeah. If you wanted to start a vitamin company, you would call up a vitamin manufacturer tomorrow and have a vitamin company pretty soon.
Yeah. Gosh. And and so how long did that process take then to build these kinds of things?
So it took took about another year, like we really started working on it in twenty sixteen and then from twenty sixteen through twenty seventeen, we were still working on product. And the reason that we raised money, aside from the fact that this is a very large category, was manufacturing. You have to have a lot of money to get it off the ground because the minimum order quantities or Mockus are so high. And that's another thing to consider when you're building a business
Is like, can you make
One hundred of something or do you have to make five thousand or something at once?
And did you have to make five thousand or something?
Well, originally the the factory asked us to do a million units.
Oh my gosh. Wow. That's a lot.
Yeah, it's a lot. So we, we got them down to one hundred thousand and then if you put them in packs of ten it doesn't seem so crazy, but it was. Yeah. That's one of the biggest challenges of product companies is really dealing with factories who especially if they're large scale factories. What you are dealing with when you're talking about medical devices, you're tiny. You have to really knock down the door to get them to pay attention to you.
Yeah. Yeah. And and then I guess it's like you also had you had the condoms, but you also have the vibrator, you have the bath time products. You have such a big range of things now.
It's a lot to be placing orders for while minimum one is for all of that stuff, which is also just a data see brand, not having the wholesalers to also fulfill on those.
I mean I think well so a couple of things. The first one
Was you asked
Me when what we launched, so we launched with two lubricants, a vibrator and condoms. And the idea was really to make these basics accessible in one place because typically you have to go buy a vibrator, maybe at a sex shop and the other products at a drugstore. So we were trying to put them in one place and then also reposition a vibrator as a basic because for a lot of people it's really a basic necessity. So that's one when we started to go into Bath and body,
We really started working
Formulated products from scratch. We weren't talking about dealing with the FDA. Say you're talking about dealing with a variety of bodies around. Like if you wanted to make it one hundred percent organic, if you wanted to make sure that the formulation of the stent was really safe to be used in other products, so started to bring about a whole other array of considerations. But the reason that we did it was because we had customers saying sex is great, but I'm really thinking about my intimate life in a broader way. Can you sort of make that better? And we want body products. We want scented products to other things. And so that's really why we did it.
That's so credible. I'm just wondering how you how you knew how to do all this stuff, how do you know that you need to go to the FDA to find these products? And, you know, where do you learn that? I read that you went to an online school through Harvard to do entrepreneurship essentials. Did you find some of that stuff out there?
No. I mean, I you know, I had my former co-founder was in product, but really when the company started taking office, when we hired our director of product, who's currently our director of product, he's fantastic. He's taken three hundred products to market and he knows how to navigate factories and he knows how to navigate these relationships because a lot of it is negotiation. It's sure it's also going through the process of actually making the product and knowing what questions to answer. But I think it's also about knowing how to like, you know, knowing where there's wiggle room with these relationships and then finding out starting to do some back channel research about like
How much you
Can trust them and who they are and who they
Worked with. So it's definitely
A relationship building. You know, Harvard was great for learning how to fundraise.
And I really
Recommend it because it was if you I didn't go to business school. I studied advertising. I studied organizational communications, which is helpful to building a business in another way. But I think just in terms of how to raise and how to think about your business, it was really helpful.
Yeah, I looked at the course. It looks great.
It was great. And I think it's it gave you a lot of case studies. And what's nice about it is that they chose case studies that were not
They were so
Different from one another that you got to pull a lot of
Of presented things that you might not think about when you're kind of in a startup world.
Yeah, really. So I want to talk about your marketing and how you typically launched the brand and how you've been acquiring new customers, given that it isn't a taboo space and platforms like Facebook and Instagram don't really allow for advertising on sex products.
Yeah, I mean, it was it was a learning curve. I would say that. I think one of the things that we did that I really recommend and I built brand
Books for so long that
It was easy. But I do recommend working with someone or if you could do it yourself, great. We built a brand book that essentially outlined
That we're not an
Explicit brand that's actually just not our DNA. And the reason for that is we believe sex is human and it's an everyday thing and there's a real need in this space for people to
Treat it that way. And so we navigated those
Platforms by making sure that our messaging was true to those values. And it ended up allowing for us to advertise more like we're not we're not trying to push the envelope of being explicit around sex. We're actually trying to do the opposite, which is to destigmatize it
So now we're
Able to advertise. We definitely cannot advertise the vibe. And of course, it frustrates us to no end. But the opportunity is also to make a vibrator
And that's what we're trying to lead the way on anyway. So it makes sense that we
You know, there are challenges.
Do you think that's something that also, given your background, working in things like policy and things that you're trying to push with those platforms directly yourself and sort of champion that path?
Well, I actually
Agree with some of the policies, and the reason why I agree with them is because it's they're blanketed policies to essentially prevent
That shouldn't be on
To not be on Facebook
Fighting that particular language.
I think that what we're
Towards is building
New language so separating, say, adult products and services, which in their case might
Be, I don't know,
It's for everything. It's like porn, it's strip clubs, it's all of it. And saying, look, there's
An actual category
That's really sexual wellness and health and that's a separate category. How can we define this?
Yeah. And so, yeah. And mental
Health and mental
Health. And I think that we're still really decent as a category in terms of how we're thinking about this.
Yeah. And in marketing, what's working for you at the moment in acquiring new customers and finding new audiences?
Press works really well for us. We have a great affiliate program and we also build a lot of content. I think that giving your customer
Giving them a takeaway is really important when you're building a brand, because it's really easy to forget, you know, that people don't care about your brand as much as you do. You need to be relevant to them and you need to be giving back to them in a way that makes it relevant.
So that's what works
For us, is
Like constantly updating
Content and creating advertising that resonates with them
And mixing the stuff that
Doesn't and then also really building up press relationships. We have worked with some agencies before and it didn't work because a lot of the writers just wanted to talk to us directly. So I recommend holistically thinking about the message that you want to send and trying to build the relationships to do that.
Yeah, I was writing a piece of your content today about the 50 euphemisms and sex. The squat thrusts in the cucumber patch was hilarious. I read them out loud to my to my roommate is
Like I mean, it's funny because that's kind of a departure for us. But it was funny to I think there's a need for
Need for levity right now because I think we are all
Feeling a bit.
Overwhelmed and I think we wanted to sort of insert some type of comedic relief.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's a nice lead into what I wanted to talk about next, which is what's going on in the world at the moment with covid-19 and what that impact has been on your business and what's happened as a result for you guys.
Yeah, I mean, so it's actually affected us in a really positive way, to be honest, because before we were dealing with our customer, really after six p.m., if you think about it, people aren't really unmarred during the middle of the day. They don't want to open it up, even though the website's not explicit. So suddenly our relationship with our customer kind of became 24/7. And the way that we work internally is that every person has a day to do customer service. So we're all on the front lines and now we're talking to our customer all the time. So that's one thing that's changed is just the cadence of communication.
The other thing
That's changed is I think people are really
Literally faced with
Their sex lives in
Intimacy, whether they're alone or they're with a partner. Like you're thinking about it because you're home and you're you're really analyzing like, what does this mean in my life? So it's been a really interesting shift for us. But it also helps us think
About how do you create messaging
That is talking about how you incorporate intimacy into your everyday, whether it's
Sex or not. Yeah, so
It's been a good thing for us. But it is is it is really hard to navigate just on the operational side
Because you're selling out of stock or because you can't order new stock
Or selling out of stock. We've dealt with supply chain delays. The vibe has been so popular that we're like we're actually all e-mailing customers directly and just trying to give them updates. That's one thing. I think it's also navigating how you get your team to feel safe.
Half the team
Goes to work because there's you know, we're fulfilling and half the team is in and making sure everybody's OK is really important. Then, you know, another thing we've done, which I think is fun, is we took a vacation, which was our last year. We did an activation with twenty four other brands and it was in real life, it was a studio space. In this year we put it online and it's essentially content for how to navigate staying home from now. It's 30 brands
And it's they're all related
To home Holmer Wellness.
Been a lot of pivoting, but I
Think it's it's a good way
To reflect on what it really means to interact with your customer.
Yeah. And I've been reading a lot of the press that you've had coming out recently, which is just a lot on all the big platforms. And it seems like it really is a topic that's super prevalent for everyone at the moment.
It is I mean, and it's interesting the way the press covers us, I posted a lot on LinkedIn because it's often the way that our investors and shareholders are getting the information, although it's a lot for other people.
But I think it's interesting
How we're getting positioned with some of the products like the Bath products. We just were in a couple of press pieces for the tub kit for Mother's Day.
I mean, we wouldn't
Be talking about the vibrator, per say, for Mother's Day, although all moms deserve a vibrator. But I think it was interesting how successful it was. But it starts to it really, I think, blurring the lines between self care and intimacy and
And all of these things is really what we've been trying to do. And so now has presented this time to have all the products get their own moment, which has been interesting. Yeah.
You know, and with the five
Talking about in the house earlier, the coloring and the branding and the feel of your brand is so special and unique in that it's obviously not the the hot pinks, it's not the black. It has such a nice feel to it. It looks good visually.
Thank you. Thank you. Why did you
Decide to do that?
Well, the idea was really to bring inclusively to the table in a way that meant so we've been asked like, are you gender neutral? Are you for women? Are you for men? And the answer is not. It's actually that we're for everybody. And the reason for that is because of what I said, which is sex is human. It's not about being so forward thinking that we're constantly challenging gender norms. I think that's absolutely a part of the conversation. But that's not really the point. The point is to create products that feel universal enough for anyone to use, no matter what they look like or what how they define themselves. So that's why we really chose to have a neutral palette and kind of use the language that we use. And we don't show a lot of people in campaigns. We show them through our content. So exclusivity is our number one
We think about that. And that's where the debate comes from.
You can really feel it in the brand.
What advice would you have for other women wanting to start a brand in a temporary space or traditionally to a space that's a little not as saturated?
I think the first thing you
Have to ask yourself about any brand doesn't matter if it's taboo or not. Is is it needed in the world? Is there an audience? And are you solving a problem? Because if you're just doing it because you think you would like it, it's such a hard path to navigate starting a business that I think you need to make sure that there's a need for it. The second thing would be to go through the exercise of your brand book or at least go through the exercise of what your language is going to be, because the language becomes the key component to how you can navigate taboo, taboo sort of spaces.
And one thing
I've done very thoughtfully, I think, is saying no, like we've been asked to be on sex tech panels and
In order for us to change the industry, we can't look like the industry all the time. So even though it may seem obvious to participate in some of that stuff, if that's your category.
Try to define
Your category, maybe try to get on panels that are not about it and, you know, explicitly so, that's what I would say is like define what you're doing and why and stick with it.
Yeah, that's nice advice. And for looking towards the next few years, how do you see the industry changing and what would you like to see change?
I think the industry is rapidly changing where we've said for a long time that the sexual wellness aisle is kind of the last frontier in personal care, and you're going to start to see that I'll change literally physically. You will see the aisle start to change. I think the way beauty has changed the way you can shop for beauty and bigger retailers. But this category is next there. That's one piece of it. I think that will also lead to the stigmatization and sort of normalization of talking about these products on a regular basis. And then the other thing I'd like to see from the industry is what I said before. I want people to understand that sexual health is so intrinsically tied to your mental well-being and your physical well-being that it needs its own category. And can that change policy around advertising platforms or actual policy out in the world around sex ed, which is a topic we could have an entire discussion about separately?
Sex ed is a really tricky one. I've