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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.

How leading DTC growth experts built their brands, and how they plan to grow in the future.

Alexis Hughes on

Exploring the future of DTC at Direct Currents

At Direct Currents this past April, Faraday gathered some of the most forward-thinking minds in the DTC space to facilitate conversations around brand-building and growth marketing strategies.

Over drinks and hors d'oeuvres, attendees from brands like Birchbox, Crabtree & Evelyn, Hubble, and Vroom chatted about their various marketing strategies, what was working and what wasn't, and how they're looking to expand in the future.

Later in the evening, we heard from Maria Molland, CEO of THINX, and a panel of executives from leading DTC brands Warby Parker, Burrow, Away, and Leesa. Moderated by Digiday's Aditi Sangal, the speakers discussed mission-driven brand strategies, omnichannel growth, and the importance of leveraging data.

mission driven brand

Building a mission-driven brand

In a time when people are inundated with ads from DTC companies across every channel, it's not enough to simply put product ads in front of consumers and expect them to convert. Brands that are growing intelligently have realized that the most effective way to reach new customers is to lead with their brand missions, rather than traditionally straightforward product marketing.

Direct Currents keynote speaker Maria Molland spoke on how THINX is focused on revolutionizing the feminine care industry by making sustainable menstrual products that can benefit women on a global level. More than just a feminine care brand, THINX has made their mission the basis of their marketing strategy.

maria molland thinx mission driven brand strategy quote

THINX and the other brands represented on the panel focus heavily on social media as channels to help build their brands because they realize that developing a strong presence on those platforms can have a massive influence on consumer trends. The media versatility and wide audience on Instagram in particular have proven to be useful resources for mission-driven companies looking to grow a loyal customer base. But more importantly, social media gives a brand the ability to convey that their customers shouldn't just invest in their products as commodities — they should invest in the brand as a lifestyle.

Direct Currents panelist Alex Kubo, Head of Intelligence at Burrow, said, "We're taking a much more conservative approach to building our brand and building a resonance — and kind of an aura — around the brand, rather than just preaching products and value props." Showing consumers that buying a couch can be more than just buying a functional piece of furniture has proven to be key to growing their brand.

mark chou away brand building quote

omnichannel growth graphic

Implementing omnichannel growth

Of course, mission-based marketing on social media can't be the sole driver of any brand's revenue if sustainable growth is the ultimate goal. Implementing and optimizing omnichannel campaign performance is instrumental to a successful growth strategy.

Intelligently growing brands have been diversifying their marketing channels as they hit the ceiling of what Facebook's audiences can do for them in an increasingly costly and competitive ad space. Mattress company Leesa has been leveraging direct TV ads as an acquisition channel, originally thinking it would be a "first-click equivalent." Nick Stafford, former COO of Leesa and recent founder of DTC growth agency Belay, noted that the addition of TV to their marketing strategy is actually "a very important part of the customer journey … More people were engaging with us in some other form, but then the TV was the thing that drove the purchase."

Brands are continuing to find value in podcasts as well. Different mediums allow for varying types of engagement — while Instagram is visual and often video-based for brand and product marketing, podcasts bring an audio perspective that Kubo believes "can really help create more of the voice of the brand, whereas channels like social and search are kind of like your opportunity to pitch one value prop."

Leveraging offline initiatives is becoming an increasingly important piece of DTC brands' brand-building and omnichannel growth. Burrow, Away, Leesa, and Warby Parker have all opened brick-and-mortar stores or partnered with larger retailers to push their products offline and give customers unique experiences with their brands.

Implementing offline tactics has come under fire recently, though, as traditional retailers have shuttered thousands of stores the last few years as in-store business continues to decline. In light of this so-called "retail apocalypse," it makes sense to question why the brick-and-mortar approach to retail is becoming a standard practice for DTC brands.

brian magida brick and mortar retail quote

Panelist Brian Magida, Warby Parker's Director of Performance Marketing, explained how the company's first customers would come to the founders' apartment to try on their first few pairs of glasses. What felt like a ridiculous thing to ask of a potential customer became an intimate experience their initial base found valuable. Years later, having opened almost 100 retail locations nationwide, Warby Parker continues to offer personable offline experiences that have helped to grow their customer base and establish their prominence in the eyewear market.

Unlike a traditional storefront, pop-up shops and showrooms give brands the opportunity to explore new markets at a lower risk. Recently, female-founded brands LIVELY, FUR, and Blume collaborated to put together a shoppable pop-up event in New York City, featuring a panel of the brands' founders.

Despite the success these kinds of pop-up shops and events have had, brands still need to be mindful about where they place these temporary offline initiatives, because there's not always the same draw as a full-fledged brick-and-mortar presence.

alex kubo burrow showroom quote

This intentionality around omnichannel initiatives extends to partnerships as well. Retail partnerships can be a significant source of revenue (and often built-in brand marketing) for DTC brands, particularly those without a brick-and-mortar presence of their own. Partnerships provide the legitimacy of an established brand backing their products, an alternative to going it alone with a pop-up shop or physical retail launch.

These days, partnerships between larger retailers and DTC brands can come in many forms. Nordstrom partnerships have become a great avenue for growth in brand awareness and in revenue for brands like THINX, Dagne Dover, and Bonobos. Meanwhile, Leesa has teamed up with West Elm as their exclusive mattress partner, placing more permanent products in West Elm stores across the country.

Perhaps the newest iteration of brand partnerships has come in the form of temporary retail that provides a single space for multiple vendors. Texas-based Neighborhood Goods and New York's Showfields are havens for consumers seeking out DTC brands in a retail setting. These spaces house a rotating selection of brands, from Rothy's to Hims to Solé bicycles to Eight Sleep, offering companies that may not have a traditional brick-and-mortar strategy the chance to gauge the reception of a physical retail presence among consumers.

No matter how brands go about leveraging offline initiatives — whether through partnerships or a physical retail presence or even a subway ad — implementing a true omnichannel strategy doesn't mean throwing money into every channel with the hope that there will be a significant ROI based on the pure volume of the retail or marketing efforts. It must be executed intelligently, with intention.

customer data iceberg

The importance of capitalizing on data

Leveraging customer data and market research help brands make smarter decisions and scale their growth more efficiently. Data drives personalization in ad content, where brands place retail locations, what product lines are introduced, and so much more. And while many like to say they're leveraging their customer data to the fullest extent, the truth is that most brands have only hit the tip of the iceberg.

To effectively build out a mission-driven brand with a loyal customer base and sustainably growing revenue, brands must focus on understanding who engages with them, where there are opportunities for expansion, and accurately measuring the impact of their marketing and growth strategies.

Brands that have a loyal following have built trust with their customers, whether that's through selling high-quality products, serving up relevant ads, or providing helpful customer support. This trust requires that brands know who their customers are and what they want as consumers.

Chou spoke to how Away leverages customer insights and primary market research to expand product lines that align with their customers' interests and create marketing content that resonates with their audiences — efforts that can greatly increase customers' trust in a brand.

Similarly, Burrow works hard to understand what drives people to engage with their brand. According to Kubo, "Part of [brand-building] is making sure we're speaking to the right people, identifying the right audiences, and hitting them with the right value props at the right time." This goes for marketing initiatives that aim to scale both online and offline revenue.

In line with this thinking, Magida advises brands to "really focus on measurement, and be true about measurement," particularly when it comes to evaluating campaign and retail performance. When brands intelligently leverage data, they're making sure to consistently measure the impact of their efforts. Experiment and see what works — and more importantly, figure out what doesn't. It's imperative that brands make an effort to learn from the data they collect from various marketing campaigns and retail initiatives, and to employ those learnings effectively.

mark_chou_quote_engineer_growth_paid_media

Often, customer data shows brands that their audiences are more likely to engage with them if they don't have to seek the brand out. Meeting customers where they are both in their journeys and in real life can have a significant impact on a brand's growth strategy.

As mentioned earlier, Leesa's use of direct TV ads was initially expected to drive immediate purchases. But because Leesa was smart about attribution and measuring their marketing efforts, they figured out how crucial this channel of outreach was to engaging customers who were actually already on their way toward making a purchase. The TV ad that found them right where they were at home was the final push they needed.

All in all, a brand can have a great mission and push omnichannel growth, but without carefully considering customer data, third party insights, or primary market research, success is often limited.

dtc launch graphic

Is DTC more than just a launch strategy?

There's been plenty of talk about the direct-to-consumer business model ultimately being unsustainable — great for a brand's initial launch, but not necessarily a smart long-term growth strategy.

The Direct Currents panelists' responses to these claims varied — Stafford doesn't believe any brand has to be a DTC "purist" and encourages companies to seek out growth opportunities that are "positive from a margin point of view," while Chou thinks it's possible to effectively grow an online-only DTC business. And these differing views are obvious in their brands' approaches to growth.

In the end, it seems only time will tell whether or not a strict DTC path can lead brands to success and stability.



The DTC movement, AI, and snowshoes

Macallan Atkins on

Last week the Faraday sales team took some time off from the usual day-to-day grind to reflect on the last year, talk about emerging trends in the consumer landscape, and get some much-needed exercise in the Green Mountains of Vermont—I'll admit they're a little greener in the summer.

faraday-sales-retreat-2019

We briefly talked goals and tactics (would it really be a sales retreat without some numbers?), but the bigger discussions revolved around Faraday's why — specifically, why data-driven companies will eventually dominate every consumer market. I'm not going to pitch you here, but I will share my biggest takeaways from the day...

  1. We've all noticed the direct-to-consumer (DTC) movement that's rendering traditional marketing channels obsolete. Bypassing distribution channels is better for the bottom line and gives brand-manufacturers greater control over end-customer data—that is to say, meaningful data—which smart brands are using to optimize everything about their business. Here's the big takeaway: the DTC movement is expanding beyond retail and goods to literally every single consumer market (i.e., consumer finance, real estate, transportation, home improvement—the list goes on). My fellow colleague, Riley, just published a great article about how the DTC movement is transforming financial services. Definitely worth checking it out for a deeper dive into this DTC shift.
  2. To echo Riley, companies who embrace this movement will thrive, while others slowly fade away. Intelligent use of data will distinguish the thrivers and faders, making it clear that AI/ML adoption is no longer a luxury—it's an absolute necessity.
  3. Here's my third and final takeaway: if your team ever plans a snowshoe expedition (which is probably just a Vermont thing) make sure to wear snowshoes that actually fit, or you'll end up tripping yourself constantly, as I did (Dad's gigantic snowshoes).

Regardless of your company's industry, we can all agree on one emergent truth: the future of consumer marketing requires AI/ML to stay relevant.