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Building a sexual health and wellness brand for the modern consumer: an interview with Eva Goicochea, founder and CEO of maude

Alexis Hughes on

Faraday Spectrum interview series with maude
We had the pleasure of speaking with Eva Goicochea, founder and CEO of maude, a Brooklyn-based sexual health and wellness startup, founded on the values of simplicity and inclusivity. Launched in April 2018, maude is redefining the conversation and culture around sexual wellness with a line of sleek and simple sex essentials and a customer-centric approach.

maude: from inception to realization

Eva Goicochea's journey from being Head of Social Media, Culture and Hiring at Everlane to founding sexual health and wellness startup, maude.

After studying marketing, I had a stint as a legislative aide in healthcare by happenstance and it became formative. Later on, I went back into marketing, eventually landing at Everlane four months after they launched. When I left in 2013, I wanted to find a startup in healthcare / wellness that I was just as excited by as I was Everlane and I couldn't find one. While working with clients building their brands, I also started a watch company, Tinker, with two other founders and my husband (great experience for building product). Randomly, we were all kicking around this idea of maude, wondering why there was no better brand in the space and if it was something we should venture out and build. The lightbulb went off — this was the idea I had been waiting for. The rest of the team wasn't actually interested in launching maude, but I was full-in.

In 2015, I started working on the idea, moved to NYC in 2016, raised money in 2017, and went to market in 2018.

Brand loyalty vs. Brand affinity

With big brands like Trojan and K-Y dominating the sexual wellness market, introducing maude required a thoughtful approach and an understanding of consumer needs — which actually helped to set the small company apart from the long-standing giants.

We launched with condoms, two lubricants, and a vibe with the idea that we could solve for the chasm that exists in the industry. Sexual wellness has always felt like it's in two corners: clinical and maybe on the aisle where Trojan dominates — they own 70% of the market and they're very condom-focused. And then you have sex toys and these dark corners of seedy shops where you buy them, even though a vibrator, for instance, is actually a really necessary tool for many, many people. Universally, I was hearing from people — no surprise — that in both places, buying these products is incredibly uncomfortable.

And so I thought, “Why is there no DTC brand for all people where you can buy all of these essentials? These products need to be together. Plus, if we launch with one over the other we're going to get pigeonholed.” And so that's what we did. The past year has proven, also, that people were ready for a new condom brand in an industry with giants.

The thesis here was that because there's a monopolization, there's brand loyalty — people buy Trojan — but there's no brand affinity. And it made no sense to me, or when I spoke to other people, that the sexual wellness industry is so far from what a consumer wants.

Since starting the company, I've done so much more research about the history of this space, specifically condoms, and these companies that have dominated for over a hundred years. Moreover, the industry has been so tied to socio-political movements that somewhere the basics — the human side of sex — has been lost. For too long, it's been something tied to shame or family planning rather than “Sex is human, and all people need condoms for protection. They're the only form of protection against STIs and pregnancy, period.” It's super simple.
maude Staycation retail popup shelf
Photo: Nicole Franzen for maude

Building a human-forward company

Goicochea founded maude on a mission that deeply values their customers, giving them more reasons to invest in the brand and products.

There are two ways companies are led: one is by product, and one is by mission. And a lot of [direct-to-consumer] companies lead by product, essentially saying that their product will change your life. Sometimes that's true; sometimes they are great and innovative. But I think the reality is that the longevity of brands lies in its values and in its true mission.

We want you to understand maude, not because you know every product, but because you align with the brand for its values. The opportunity for any company, I believe, is in creating a community that cares about the mission. For us, it's being a human-forward company and changing the conversation and understanding around the idea of sex.

I used this as an example the other day, whether we love it or hate it: Starbucks created a new language for coffee. Pretty much in every corner of the world, you can find a Starbucks and people know what a latte is. That changed the language of coffee for most people. And that's what we want to do. (Which is going to take a long time.) So given that mission, let's look at the long view.

A strategy of subtlety: Making sexual health and wellness approachable and accessible

Many emerging sexual health & wellness and sextech brands make pleasure a centerpiece of their marketing strategies, which can be exciting for more progressive consumer demographics, but alienates others. In light of this, maude has taken a gentle approach to addressing sex and pleasure in its marketing campaigns and in the conversations it facilitates at events.

I often compare what we're doing to food. For instance, say you're sitting at the table with someone who drinks Folgers (no dig on Folgers) and you're trying to talk to them about third wave coffee. Talking about coffee from the angle of what you should do, or “This is better” or “We know best,” is not going to disarm them. What's going to disarm them is giving them a cup of coffee that's better and then creating common ground (no pun) from which you can then talk coffee. In short, shoveling ideas in someone's face is not going to make them more open.

That's why we don't take an aggressive approach. We want people to learn about maude, try the product, and make the decision for themselves. To date, we have a strong word of mouth and that organic change can't be forced.

Speaking of talking at people, I typically don't even use the word “pleasure” because I think the idea of pleasure is subjective. We create well-made products for your intimate life, and how and with whom you use them is up to you — we can't tell you what your pleasure is. I think there's a lot of appropriation of this idea of pleasure happening right now, and that in and of itself is actually quite exclusive, as is making the idea of sex political.

I'll say it a million times: Sex is human. One of the words I do love actually, is “leisure.” Leisure — or in this case helping you make time for intimacy — is what maude is here to do.
maude Staycation retail popup bed
Photo: Nicole Franzen for maude

Carving out space for sexual wellness in advertising

Categorized as “Adult Products and Services” on Facebook, what's deemed as appropriate for sexual wellness brands' ad creative is limited. While some brands have aggressively pushed back against Facebook's restrictions for this product category, maude believes in creating a new vision for advertising these products on Facebook altogether: one that works to celebrate and share the inclusive values the brand is built on.

We're not actively antagonistic against Facebook — of course we get shut down, and it's really frustrating that it's a blanket rule for “Adult Products and Services.” But we're not angry about it. The reality is that it sex is still taboo and it is still clinical, and it is up to us as a company to carve out a new third lane that creates the societal acceptance needed to eventually change policy. So, while there are other approaches, we're going focused and continuing to come at this from a common sense, matter-of-fact, friendly, happy way, with a long view. It's going to take time.

Staycation: an exploration of temporary retail

Staycation is maude's Summer 2019 pop-up shop in Brooklyn. A collaboration with a multitude of DTC brands, the space shows how the brands' products live well together and can integrate into a consumer's life.
maude Staycation retail popup sign and Floyd couch
Photo: Nicole Franzen for maude

Right now, as we're sitting in this space (our retail front across from our office), it feels more like an installation, and I think it works in that context better. You walk in and you get the idea of this “modern apartment” and where maude lives in your life. And that was actually the whole point — to give the right context. Before, when it was the winter studio and it was just our brand, people were still afraid to walk in, no matter how minimal and friendly the space was. Staycation has provided a greater vision for how we can live as a brand out in the world and allowed for us to actually pitch forward-thinking retail partners who are carving out a space for sexual wellness.

If somebody offered you $100 million for your company, would you take it?

No. The purpose and opportunity for maude is to change the language and culture of sex, and that is going to take time. If put in the wrong hands with speed, it's not going to happen and we'll never reach our real potential, which would ultimately be a disservice to our customers. In short, I'm in it to change history and I believe we will.

This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

Spectrum is Faraday's exclusive interview series, highlighting DTC brands revolutionizing their industries with innovative products and growth marketing strategies.