One way to get attention for your startup: Talk straight about vaginas
Naama Bloom struggled to get investors interested in her startup, HelloFlo. They were hesitant to put their money behind yet another subscription commerce company. They saw high costs and low margins. And, because most of them were men, they didn’t get periods.
Actually, it wasn’t just that they didn’t get periods -- it was that they didn’t get periods.
For a first-time founder trying to raise funds for a company that sends women a box of tampons every month, all timed to match their cycles, that was a problem. And so, a few months ago, after weeks of having the same conversations again and again and coming away disappointed, Bloom decided to go the boostrap route. It was a scary position to be in. Her husband, David, is the founder of food-ordering startup Ordr.in, so the family has two big debts to its name, and two young kids to feed.
But things were about to get better.
Today, after spending $6,000 on a video that she uploaded to YouTube, Bloom’s startup has suddenly made international news headlines by the dozens. She’s getting emails from women around the world telling her that the video made them cry; she has more orders than she can handle alone; and she is having to move quickly from buying tampons in bulk at Costco to going direct to distributors -- all because of a video in which an adolescent girl waxes lyrical about getting her “red badge.”
The video, which one enthusiastic blogger has called the “best tampon ad in the history of the world,” went public on YouTube at midnight on Monday and has so far attracted 3 million views. In it, a girl – who looks about 12 years old – gets her period at summer camp and becomes the “camp gyno.”
The girl becomes a kind of menstrual counsellor for other girls at the camp, who know nothing about periods. She enjoys the power trip for a while, but then the girls at the camp start getting tampon packages in the mail. The camp gyno’s power evaporates. She frets that she can’t compete with the packages, which also came with panty liners and candy.
“It’s like Santa,” she cries, “for your vagina!”
Bloom, who says she has not slept for the last three nights, would have been happy with 100,000 views of the video over the course of the month. She certainly wasn’t expecting the deluge of viewers and supporters the video has received. “It’s really the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me,” she says over the phone from her home in New York.
Before starting HelloFlo about six months ago, Bloom was a marketer at time-tracking startup Harvest. Her career had also taken her through startups during the dotcom boom to American Express. She called in friends and their contacts to help with production of the video. Many agreed to help for free and worked on the project in their spare time. In total, the video cost her $6,000 – all of which came from her own bank account.
She knew the narrative was risqué. After all, “The Camp Gyno” is not your typical tampon ad. The video shows the protagonist distributing tampons as if they were illicit drugs, and remarking to the camera that she was her peers’ Joan of Arc.
“It’s like I’m Joan,” she explains, “and their vag is the arc.”
But that unflinching approach to menstruation is also downright refreshing. It articulates exactly what those prospective investors didn’t get about periods – that they are a source of pride for adolescent girls, even if they’re also a source of slight embarrassment. Menstruation, especially at that age, is an emotional experience, not something to be dismissed with utilitarian efficiency. Someone, thought Bloom, ought to be talking straight to these girls about it.
“This is the way girls talk to each other,” says Bloom. “I have children, and my daughter knows that the vagina is called the vagina, and my son knows that the penis is called the penis.” The ad deals with simple matters of fact. “I don’t think that saying those words is controversial.”
Bloom has been getting hundreds of emails about the video, some from older women who said the video brought them tears of joy. They wished there was something like it when they were young, so they didn’t have to feel ashamed about their periods. There have also been, naturally, some messages from people who think the video is an outrage. But they are in the minority, Bloom says. “I was more prepared for the haters than I was for the lovers.”
Ultimately, Bloom wants to sell organic tampons and other feminine products direct to consumers via HelloFlo. The mainstream brands the company sells today are just a step along the way to that goal. She’s now looking to hire a couple of people to help her with the suddenly increased workload. Until now, she has relied only on the help of a couple of part-time software engineers.
And she still doesn’t know what she’s going to do about that funding.