Turning a business idea into a fully-fledged business is no easy feat, but Co-founders of sexual wellness brand, Hanx – Farah Kabir and Sarah Walsh – have defied the odds and continue to prove it’s truly possible.
Their business was born out of a personal frustration that occurred when Farah took a trip to the Pharmacy. Now that frustration is profitable business which has attracted £1 million in funding and is revolutionising sexual wellness and positivity for women through inclusive condom and lubricant products for women.
Leaving their corporate and medical jobs behind in pursuit for their condom startup Hanx in 2017, lifelong best friends Farah and Sarah have disrupted what is now estimated to be a $10.7 billion global condom industry. So, how does your own idea end up becoming your main gig? We spoke to the two founders about defying the odds and how you can too.
Lifelong friends turned business partners
When speaking with the pair, their obvious chemistry shined through – it was therefore no surprise to find out they’ve been best friends since school. Sarah said: “We actually went to school together in York, and then couldn't keep away from each other. We also went to the same university. I studied medicine, and obviously worked my way up in my medical career, worked in obstetrics and gynaecology, so women's health, vaginas, babies – it's my specialty with also an interest in sexual wellness.”
As Sarah was working her way up through her medical career, Farah was working in a parallel profession – finance, which would later become a crucial stepping stone into their pair’s business venture. “I studied finance at university and then moved into investment banking, where I spent over seven years at Goldman Sachs.”
Where it all began
But working in different professions, an awkward run-in with a boss on Farah’s lunch break whilst purchasing condoms back in 2017 sparked a frustration with the sexual wellness world. “I had an awkward bump-in with my boss buying condoms on my lunch break. So I went to the pharmacy, a couple of doors down from the office, picked up a meal deal for lunch, and a pack of condoms and other bits that I needed. I went to the tail point with my boss behind me. I was absolutely mortified. And as a woman thinking, does he think I'm promiscuous?"
“That’s when we realised that there was a huge gap in the market and something that could really change”
“I was explaining this awkward bumping to Sarah, and how I felt and how shocked there aren't any real options out there that are geared towards women, or truly sustainable.” She added: “The offering was garishly packaged products promoting the man's conquest. And as a woman, you're baffled by the choice. You don't really want to be down that condom aisle for very long.”
Meeting Sarah for lunch in the city, Farah offloaded her frustrations. “That’s when we realised that there was a huge gap in the market and something that could really change” Sarah explained. “And with my experience in gynaecology and sexual health, and seeing first-hand women not wanting to use these products and huge stigmas and taboos around condoms and sexual wellness as a whole.” Farah and Sarah also believed there to be a lack of transparency around the ingredients of sexual wellness products. “No real offering that was both kind to the body, but also kind to the planet and sustainable existed. So we felt that we could really change that.”
Turning idea into reality
After their lightbulb moment back in 2017, both Sarah and Farah made it their mission to revolutionise sexual wellness, and to remove the stigmas and taboos surrounding sex. In order to refine their idea and turn it into a profitable product, their next step was to put their ideas to the test. “We surveyed over 2,000 women to figure out exactly what they wanted out of a product in a brand. Everything's in the packaging science. The ingredients are also important” Sarah said, adding that “The output of that survey basically was a product and a brand that’s speaking to [women] directly, not glossing over the realities of being a woman in the twenty-first century, and providing education in a really accessible way.”
With that, the two best friends quit their financial and medical professions and poured their combined life savings into creating the sex-positive, sustainable, gynae-backed sexual wellness products that would soon become a fully-fledged competitor within the $10 billion industry. Spotting the opportunity and taking the challenge head on, Farah explains: “We then went about finding a manufacturing unit that could create this product that didn't exist in the market yet – something that was all encompassing.
"So like two little school girls, we were visiting a science lab, we went to various manufacturing units across Europe and we found one that could deliver on a superior product that we wanted to bring to market.” And that they are. With their collection of condoms and lubricants, they’re now smashing taboos around sex, pleasure and health, whilst empowering people to own their sexuality.
Growing the business
“We had our first product when we launched the company online,” Sarah explained. With both a subscription offering and a one-time purchase offer, Farah and Sarah believe that building trust and authority isn't something that you can build overnight. That’s where your marketing strategy comes into play. Farah said: “And just through online, we actually do that in a number of ways through various marketing strategies, and one of those was to get into retail. And so we felt it was really important to focus our efforts.”
Farah continued: “It was just the two of us for a while honing in on the retailers and we convinced Boots as our first major retailer to launch our product alongside major brands. So it was a major win for us and that was in 2019. And I think that's what really helped solidify our brand and get our products out there.”
Sarah added: “I think especially as a medical device that has to pass all these regulations and people need to trust it, it’s super important that we were on the shelf so people recognize other brands who are more legit. So a heritage place like Boots was a huge milestone for us.”
Embracing different skill sets
Coming from different professions, Farah believes their different skill sets complement one another in their joint pursuit to turn their business idea into a reality, despite both being particularly busy in the early stages of their business. “Obviously Sarah has a medical background, an understanding of products and what really works for women. I have the commercial background.” She added: “I'm very good at numbers. And I think together that really helped us build and grow the business."
Their 3 top-tips for starting a business
So by now you might be feeling inspired to start your own business. So here’s three things Farah and Sarah wish they knew earlier.
1. Take a calculated risk
That means, according to Farah, “really understanding who your competitors are in the market and what makes your product different and what makes you superior.” This means getting really honest with yourself. If you’re going to quit your job she adds, “you really need to understand the landscape.”
2. Get support
Surrounding yourself with good people is what founders say time and time again. Sarah says: “It’s not an easy ride – it’s a real rollercoaster and there’s lots of ups and downs all the time.” Part of that is about hiring the right people. Sarah says: “Bring people on board that you trust and you know. Definitely as a small team as a startup, people really need to club together so your key hires early on really are important.”
3. Share your idea
Once you have an idea in place for your product, it’s key to get the ball rolling and talk to people about your idea. As Farah puts it, “try and get that first iteration out as soon as possible because the sooner you get it out there, the sooner you can get feedback and iterate on what is eventually going to be a perfect product for the wider market.” Finally she says “don’t wait until your idea is perfect before telling people.”
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