Inventing cannabis infused tampons & reimagining women’s health with Daye Founder Valentina Milanova

Updated: Aug 24

Joining me on the show today is Valentina Milanova, Founder of Daye - the company that’s reimagining women’s health.

Daye is a female health company bridging the gaps in healthcare through medical research and innovation.

They exist to raise the standards of gynae health by creating effective products and services that fit conveniently into woman’s lives. Right now they have two groundbreaking products available; the naked tampon and the CBD coated tampon to help with period cramps - and yes I’ve tried them, and yes my period was amazing and I’ll be using these from now on!

In this episode we cover how Valentina pushed past the critics and naysayers to bring her vision into a reality, her thoughts on working with agencies vs building an in-house team, and how she got a 20,000 person waitlist before launch with steps on what you can do to get started too.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Speaker3: So I'm Valentina. I'm the founder of Daye. In 2017, I first had the concept for pain relieving temple and over the past three and a half years I've been working to complete Finckel validation, build a theme and launch our first products to market. And they as a company where a female health research and development company currently based out of the biscuit factory in Bermondsey, where we have all of our machinery and design engineering, and we introduced our first two products. So the naked, hyper absorbent tampon that's free from any nasty chemicals package, sustainably sanitized to prevent the risk of toxic shock syndrome and the pain relieving tampon. So that's our tampon that has a cannabinoid coating which is absorbed to the vegetable mucosa. And that's how we're able to produce the pain relieving effect for our users. So as a company, we exist to we have the thing internally. We want to bridge the gender gap in medical research and innovation. A lot of people don't know that the gender gap in medical research and innovation even exists in the first place. We have a lot of information about the gender pay gap or other forms of gender discrimination against people who identify as women.

Speaker3: But one of the biggest pain points that exists in front of us as people with vaginas and female reproductive organs is that there hasn't been enough research into products that work for us. One super easy example. So, again, I just recently changed its prescription guidelines for ibuprofen because it turns out the two hundred and fifty milligrams recommended dose works for the male physiology, but not for the female physiology. So for the female physiology, you need eight hundred milligrams for the effects to kick in, which we've known anecdotally for a long time, because we hear a lot of women say, you know, when I'm on my period, they both ibuprofen as if it's Tic-Tac, I go to a whole pack. And that's because the way that the medication was designed and the way that it was tested was only focusing on the male physiology. So that's something that we want to rectify is a business. We want to create an engine of product innovation within the company that allows us to build and launch products that are effective, safe, designed for women.

Speaker1: Wow. That is just so mind blowing and crazy. I think I also read somewhere on your website or on your social media that it wasn't until nineteen ninety three that women could even be part of medical trials, which seems so recent.

Speaker3: Yeah. I mean nineteen ninety three was when the FDA made it illegal for researchers to not include women in studies for medications that were going to be administered to both sexes. So that's when people started, including women in their clinical trials. But a lot of the medications that we have readily available right now were developed and launched before nineteen ninety three. So most of the sleeping aids that we have, most of the painkillers, most antibiotics, they were developed and launched before nineteen ninety three. So they were never tested on the female physiology, which is why again, anecdotally we know of women reacting really severely to certain sleeping medications and having really intense sleepwalking experiences because of them. So part of the work I guess we do a they is also advocacy with regulatory bodies where we try and highlight the inadequacies that exist in the way that female health care is provided and obtained at present so that we can shine light on this issue and hopefully garner support for it being fixed.

Speaker1: Gosh, that's incredible. Wow. Holy moly. That is all just bananas.

Speaker3: Shocking and depressing, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Speaker1: Yes. I'm so glad you're tackling it. Thank goodness for you. Oh, my God,

Speaker3: You're too kind.

Speaker1: And I have to say just quickly before I keep going on, I just tried your well, I tried both the naked tampons and the CBD tampons. And I have to say I had a pretty good period.

Speaker3: I'd love to hear them.

Speaker1: I was grateful.

Speaker3: Oh, you're too kind. But some of the feedback that we get most commonly about days, I'm so looking forward to my next period. I'm so excited now to have my period because I have the tools that I need to manage it in a way that works for myself. And we very much want to design the product with this goal in mind that people will be looking forward to their periods and they would be looking forward to the experience of obtaining female health care. But we also designed the packaging so that it looks like it's a little gift from yourself to yourself that you receive every month and why? Why do we have to have such negative connotations around menstruation? It could be positioned in a really positive way, especially women have the tools to prevent pain or to prevent tampon leaks. So if you I don't know what your experience has been with our packaging, but we aim to produce this moment of joy when you open your box and just like a little reward from yourself to yourself.

Speaker1: I mean, I can definitely tell you I had a big moment of joy when I saw your packaging. And it's definitely on my list of things for us to talk about, especially once we get into marketing. I think your branding is just so phenomenal and so much fun. I really, really enjoy everything that you're doing in that regard for sure. But I want to go back and get started at the very beginning, pre twenty, seventeen pre day. What was happening in your life that got you interested in starting your own business and the light bulb moment for this vision?

Speaker3: Yeah, interestingly, I never saw myself as an entrepreneur. I never exhibited that I was going to become a founder or business owner. In fact, my father was an entrepreneur and he had moments of severe income uncertainty in his life, which obviously impacted the rest of the family. So I always thought entrepreneurship was probably one of the worst things that you could get into when I was growing up. But at the same time, I was somewhat unfortunate when I was growing up to face a lot of challenges. So when I was nine, I had my first period and I was too young for anyone to have had a conversation with me around what changes my body was going through and and what menstruation even meant. So when I had my first period, I went into absolute panic because I thought I had some disease. And I don't know if you remember your first period, but it doesn't look like blood. It's kind of brownish in color, which is exactly the kind of thing that no one tells you. I mean, even if someone had had the talk with me, I don't suppose they would have said it would look different than blood. And it has a different consistency as well. So I was like, oh, my God, what a shameful disease. What has happened to me? I'm curse by the gods. And also my peers were extremely painful. So what I was experiencing then as a child was these bouts of pain and bouts of weird vaginal discharge. I didn't feel comfortable bringing this up with anyone, not even with my own mother, because I felt so ashamed by what was happening to my vagina.

Speaker3: So for about a year, I kept having my period to complete secrets from anyone. And I didn't realize that it was happening every month because I didn't expect it to be happening every month. I just thought it was like random bouts of this horrible disease, which would be from going to school because I was in so much pain, I just had to sit in the box. That was the only thing that helped. Medication wouldn't help. So then a year in having my period, my breasts started developing, which is another thing that no one talks about, really awkward experience. They're very painful. And also it's usually the left or the right that come in first. They don't develop simultaneously. They're not symmetrical. So I had started developing my breasts. And then one morning I wake up and I go down to our living room and I switch on the TV and there's a morning show program about how to give yourself a self breast examination. So I proceed to give myself a self breast examination. The tiny breasts that I have, they felt like lumps. So what I was hearing being described on TV is a lump that you should check for was what I was feeling on my chest. So I convinced myself that this mysterious disease with the vaginal discharge in the vein, I also had breast cancer. And that's what gave me the impetus to go and speak to my dad and try and seek help for my quote unquote, breast cancer.

Speaker1: So young to be going through all of this

Speaker3: Horrible first period experience. And then when I was older, so when I was 15, I later found out that I had because I had a number of this on my ovaries. Another thing that people don't tell you about this. So, you know, some seats are filled with liquid, but other seats are filled with hair and teeth because you yourself go crazy. So they make hair and teeth. And if you can imagine, they're hard. So it's pressing against your ovary, producing a lot of pain. And I spent the entire grade, so I was between 15 and 16 when this was happening. I spent nine months of the school year in bed just completely incapable to move, going to like various doctors, a doctor, double checking whether I had a kidney infection or a yeast infection, whether I had stomach problems, and no one could tell me what was going on. So I later found out when I had to have emergency surgery because people told. Or maybe it's appendicitis, let's just take for appendicitis, it's this girl's in way too much pain. So then when they opened my lower abdomen for appendicitis, they realized, oh, wow, she also has these, like, crazy system, her ovaries, which then had to be removed. So this was another really disempowering, traumatizing experience. The female that I had when I was growing up. And I guess this was the part of my personal story that

Speaker1: Really

Speaker3: Formed the seed inside of my really core being that made me constantly think about, OK, how can I educate myself about female health? How can I become the person who has with every single research paper so that I can have an educated conversation with my doctor? If I sense that they're not providing me with the care that I need, how can I incentivize them to do that by just being very knowledgeable around the time when I form the habit of just reading lots of research papers, I subscribe to PubMed and start getting newsletters to my inbox with various research papers that were coming up on topics that I found interesting. Yeah, that's my personal experience that inspired me to found the company. But I always found it

Speaker1: Really

Speaker3: Challenging to call myself founder and CEO. I always thought that should douchy thing to say, OK, I'm just the person that had the original idea for the company. It's still hard for me to see myself as an entrepreneur. I still don't think I fully fit the mold.

Speaker1: Wow. Goodness, that is such a journey to have gone on to plant that seed. And so in was it twenty sixteen potentially when you decided to actually start the business and put together a product and a team and build out this vision. Was it twenty sixteen around about then.

Speaker3: So in twenty seventeen I was doing an evening MBA course in order to graduate we had to come up with a business idea that was going to be socially impactful. So I started researching the geographical area of northern Bulgaria. So I'm originally from Bulgaria and Bulgaria and I thought that if I, I knew northern Bulgaria was a very impoverished region. So I don't if I could come up with the business idea that would somehow revitalize that region, then by virtue of doing that, it would be socially impactful and I would have fulfilled my MBA task. So I started reading into the history of Bulgaria and what that area had traditionally been good. As any turns out, it's growing industrial hemp. So before the communist takeover in the 40s, northern Bulgaria was the largest European producer and exporter of industrial hemp, and it had an industrial hemp research center that was based there. And it was a Bulgarian scientist that initially synthesized cannabinoids. So I uncovered this like really rich but forgotten history of hemp research in the Bulgarian National Library. So, again, I just turned to my habit of reading research papers about industrial hemp with the view of creating a business concept that I presented my MBA class and move on with my life. My educational background is in law and economics. So I always imagined myself, you know, working as a journalist or working in a thinktank policy was something that I always found really interesting. So I never thought I was going to be a founder or an entrepreneur.

Speaker3: And reading about the properties of industrial hemp, there were two of them that really stuck with me. The first one being that hemp is one of the most absorbent natural fibers and that the extract from the flower CBD has potentially pain relieving effects. So and those were just two of many properties that I read about hemp. But those two really stuck with me. And this idea was born in my mind around combining the two of them and forming one product, which would be a more absorbent vein relieving temple. Initially, my journey was that I started sharing this idea with people around me when I gave my MBA presentation. It was dead silence in the room. People had their eyes wide open. Why are you talking about tampons? This is so bizarre. No one wants to hear about tampons like Taboo. This is a proper MBA. Yeah. Why is she doing that? She should have just presented some kind of an IP business. This is ridiculous. Who is this weirdo? And then I started sharing my concept with my friends, with people at work and people say, look, first of all, don't talk about tampons. It's uncomfortable. Don't do that. Second of all, if this was a good idea, Procter and Gamble would have invented already. But why do you think that you're so special that you would come up with something that the research massive research teams of Procter and Gamble wouldn't have considered already? So that really discouraged, gosh,

Speaker1: So many critics. Holy moly.

Speaker3: Yeah, that scares me hard.

Speaker1: Was this something that kind of powered you through or did you stop meeting people who were like, OK, I see it and I get it?

Speaker3: No, I wish I could. Say that the gear kept pestering me, so it was always in the back of my mind, it just wouldn't leave my head space. So then I decided, OK, well, you can still work on a company or on a product without letting people know. So what I decided to do was to just quietly start developing this regional product idea so that I could see whether I could make anything of it. And at that point, I moved back to London. I took a job in like early stage venture capital, which allowed me to have a little subsidy every month that I could dedicate to product development. I also live in Bayswater so I could spend my weekends in organic on West Palm Grove and I could just observe people around the dump on aisle and I could see their behavior. I could ask them questions. So late 2017, early 2018, I was working on the product development, the clinical validation of the IP securing the supply chain. I wasn't thinking about the brand yet because I was hoping that I was going to be able to partner with one of the large companies like Kimberly-Clark or Procter and Gamble or was was emailing every temple manufacturer that I could find on the Internet.

Speaker3: I was sending them handwritten notes saying, please work with me. I think this is a good idea. And the only reason why we ended up building our own machinery in-house, creating our own production was because no one, none of the temple manufacturers wanted to work with us. So that was early. Two thousand and eighteen. By the summer of 2019, we have preliminary clinical trial results, which were really positive. I was funding all of this on credit cards. So by the end of it, I had forty seven thousand pounds worth of credit card debt on. I started fundraising and then the way that I started fundraising because I worked in a really early stage venture capital firm, which people often think that that's how I had contacts in the investor world. But that's not really the case because I was a lowly associate and my job was to look for companies for this fund to invest in. So the way that I fundraise, really unconventional. You know, everyone says don't message to investors on LinkedIn, try and find a warm introduction. But the way in which I fund raise because I didn't have any warm introductions was by going on LinkedIn and that being investor venture capitalists and seeing what kind of people came up and then just sending the messages.

Speaker3: And initially I pitched Angels' technology accelerators, really anyone that would listen. And this experience was very humbling because people did not understand the business. And the most common question that I got was people saying, is this some kind of a charity that you keep talking about sustainability, you keep talking about social purpose. Is there a business in what you're trying to sell us here? But this whole process did allow me to perfect my pitch and also perfect certain elements of the business model and the way that everything was presented. So, yeah, and then in autumn 2013, we got our first term sheet. I signed it. And that's how we had our first venture capital investment, which was really shortly after, followed by another one from a US investor. And this allowed me to start building out the team because until then I was a solo person company. So this capital is what allowed me to start building the brand, start building the team, come up with a name for the company, things like that.

Speaker1: Wow. Goodness, that's such a journey. I'm so interested to understand a little bit more in terms of, you know, in the beginning you kept having all these people push back on you and be like, yeah, don't get it, don't get the idea. So you never really validated it. First, you would just like on that relentless pursuit of building something that you had an intuitive sense would be a game changer for women. At what point did you start, you know, finding your tribe in terms of women who were like, I want that, I need it?

Speaker3: I think when the idea was a bit more fleshed out, I mean, people were pretty split. Like on the one side, I would get people saying, what is this ridiculousness? Stop talking. And then on the other side, predominantly women, I would think have that makes total sense. Pain relieving companies like why hasn't someone come up with that already? So the feedback that I was getting, es