EP42 Menopause Has Met Its Match With the Founder of WomanessCheckable Health
Don’t miss today’s interview with host Patty Post of Checkable Health and Sally Mueller, co-founder and CEO of Womaness, a company that makes innovative products for women in pre- to post-menopause. The obstacles and opportunities Womaness has experienced in a newly developing market are plentiful, but they have persevered to reach both the retail and e-commerce markets.
During their conversation, Sally discusses the Womaness customer and how they use data insights to tailor their marketing and business plans. She also discusses the hurdles they face as a new company with limited time, working in an industry with apparent stigmas.
You’ll also find out how Womaness reaches its large target market when customers consume both digital and print media when you pay for PR, and what is needed to drive more e-commerce traffic to health and beauty products. Listen to this episode to hear how Womaness landed in spaces like Target and Ulta, plus learn from Sally’s industry lessons!
Topics discussed in this episode:
- The Womaness customer
- Advertising in e-commerce and obstacles for Womaness
- How Womaness found their key opinion leaders
- Brand awareness and how to reach customers
- Moments of perseverance and lessons learned
- What it takes to be a successful startup
Join the Womaness private Facebook group, The Afterparty.
Connect with Womaness:
Connect with Persevere Podcast:
Find Patty Post:
This episode was produced by Podcast Boutique http://podcastboutique.com
0:00:02.7 S1: Welcome to The Persevere Podcast, powered by Checkable Medical, and hosted by Patty Post, a female founder, entrepreneur, wife, and mother of three, doing all of the things. The strength to persevere in business is powered by passion, grit, and hard work. The Persevere Podcast is for entrepreneurs and business leaders who set out to innovate and change the world with their ideas. Whether it's fundraising your startup, product development, marketing, branding, or scaling your existing business, this podcast is for you. We'll discuss everything it takes to persevere and build the business you've always dreamed of. Let's make it happen. Welcome to The Persevere Podcast.
0:00:52.6 S2: We help founders create awesome products and help you not run out of money. Hello, I'm Patty Post, founder and CEO of Checkable Health. And I started this podcast because I was experiencing loneliness and solitude as a solo founder, and I literally had no one to turn to. And I also couldn't find relevant content that founders of high-tech startups really needed. So like the true entrepreneur that I am, I decided to do it myself. And thus was born The Persevere Podcast. So if you're new to this podcast, I love to interview entrepreneurs and hear about their stories of how they built their business. I love to hear how they persevere through those challenging times and the lessons that they learned. If this is the first time that you're listening or if you're a regular guest, I would really appreciate a five-star rating as well as subscribing to this podcast. So with that, I hope you are inspired by the story and... Let's get into it. There's so many options when creating products in commerce today, you could go digital only, you could do the QVC route, subscription, and you chose to go direct retailer, and was that...
0:02:09.4 S2: Knowing your background at Target, that makes a lot of sense, but I'm curious what your analysis was when you started with Michelle, and if you looked at other areas of launching the product.
0:02:23.6 S1: Yeah, I think, again, we wanted to be omni-channel, so we knew we wanted a successful e-commerce site. We wanted to eventually be on Amazon because everyone shops on Amazon, and then we wanted to be in the best retailers in the world, so between Target and Ulta Beauty, and we're in select GNC stores, too, with our supplements, it's been really great and so important to have that distribution. Not only does it help build more awareness for our brand, but it just pays off our mission of being all about accessibility. We don't wanna just be in e-commerce only, we really wanna be available for women, so there's all sorts of ways though, as you're building a brand to go about with the go-to-market strategy. So if I was to do it over, I might have done it a little differently. Now that I know a lot more about our customer, our customer really does love to shop online, she does want to still shop in store, but she likes the marriage of educational content and product, which she can get more easily online than she can in a retail setting, at least the way retailers are set up today. Maybe in the future, there will be much more educational content. Who knows, maybe they'll even have a concierge at retailers that are all about women's wellness.
0:03:50.0 S1: That's my dream. Yeah. It's been great to be in all three channels, and then we did launch recently on QVC, which was great. Yeah, we did our first live show in September, and that was really exciting. And we were the first, I think, modern menopause brand on QVC. Very cool. And it was really exciting to be a part of that movement of finally bringing women's health to every channel possible, and to be able to talk about menopause was really, if you can believe it, that was pretty earth-shattering.
0:04:28.7 S2: That's crazy to me. Even the host would be your target market. Right. I mean, your target market are the QVC users, and then the hosts are your target market too, and for you to be one of the first companies to talk about it is mind-blowing.
0:04:46.7 S1: I know. There's a lot of laws out there around what you can say, what you can’t say, that they have to respect, and even... I was just talking to someone about Big Tech today, you can't use the word vagina, it's very limiting on what you can advertise with Facebook, Instagram, even on Amazon at times, so it's very tricky. We can't always tell our real story because we have to soften the language. And our language, as you know, it's very friendly. It’s not vulgar. It's very friendly and it's just normal language, but even that sometimes doesn't get... Our ads are not approved because of them. So there's a lot of old stigmas out there that are still kind of reigning a lot of the tech companies unfortunately, but.
0:05:37.8 S2: So is it personal care that you have to really focus on instead of...
0:05:44.1 S1: I think it's easier with beauty; supplements can be a little tricky, and then of course, sexual wellness is tricky. We’re a total solution, so we don't wanna just talk about one part of our line, we wanna talk about the whole solution that we bring. Right.
0:06:03.3 S2: And each product is complementary to the other. And whatever you walk into, then you could keep on progressing with a product line.
0:06:13.1 S1: Yeah, yeah, I know. It will look different in the next five years, I think when finally…
0:06:20.1 S2: Let’s hope so. I think that it will. I think that there's a lot of other founders like you that are very committed to raising awareness of the issues, and not even... I hate to call them issues because when you're going through a phase of life, it's not an issue, it’s life. And that education piece, it's so that it can be trusted. Right, can we talk a little bit about that? From being a healthcare company, how are you finding those key opinion leaders and those trusted advisors? Is that from your time in industry? Or are you exploring all options? Share with us that.
0:07:00.6 S1: Yeah, I mean, I think we've been meeting so many experts, doctors along the way, and in some cases, they've helped to give us advice on product. We can't promote that because they still do research, so they have to kinda keep that church-and-state separation. But in a lot of cases, they are helpful with telling us what their patients are looking for, what ingredients to avoid, so it's just been a great network to build, and usually one doctor leads to... They have their own network, so many times we meet other experts, other key opinion leaders through them, and just networking on our own too. The world of women's health was new to Michelle and I. We had worked in different industries before, but nothing ever in women's health, so it's been so fun to learn that side and build that whole, just a whole another community of experts, almost like consultants for us.
0:08:06.6 S2: Yes, definitely, that's why I'm selfishly asking that question because I'm doing it with Checkable right now, building out that advisory board. And I've had really great folks to get us prepared for our clinical trial, but now that we're going to be winding that down soon, now it's the in-market opportunity. And when I look at what you’ve built, and that's why I have The Persevere Podcast, to raise awareness of what we're doing, but to interview thought leaders with Checkable Health because it's so hard to access. It's hard to take in as much information; we can’t be reading all the time. It's hard to find, get an appointment with your doctor, so you have a trusted brand and you’ve done smashing at it. Thank you. Hitting it out of the park.
0:08:56.2 S1: For me because I went to the Mayo Clinic, I early on LinkedIn with the doctor that was overseeing; she's an author. So ironically, my doctor at Mayo Clinic said, you need to reach out to her, I love what you're doing, reach out to her. She just kept encouraging me and I did. And she responded in like, five minutes. Amazing. And we did a Zoom, I'll never forget it, it was so exciting. Like, talking to this very senior doctor at the Mayo Clinic about my brand, she was so encouraging, she was so excited and just happy for me and thought it was great for women. And so then I said it was my dream to come full circle back to the Mayo Clinic because you're the reason why I started the brand. Yeah. So once I told her my story, and then she was like, oh yes, of course, we wanna definitely provide content, and so she loaned me one of her top experts. So it does take a lot of time to build that network, but I think women do wanna help other women, for the most part, and you just create this web of all these different connections.
0:10:15.0 S2: That is, as an entrepreneur, we have to be unafraid of asking for one, contacts and then two, once you get that contact, reach out to them because the worst that they can say is no. Right, right. But when they say yes, the reward is so big. I love hearing that.
0:10:35.7 S1: Yeah.
0:10:36.2 S2: No, it's very rewarding. And people wanna help you, especially when you're setting out to solve a problem.
0:10:41.8 S1: Exactly, exactly. That their patients are experiencing.
0:10:46.1 S2: Yes. Oh, totally. There's so many gaps in healthcare that I think that... And doctors just have so much on their plates right now, and to be a physician founder is nearly impossible. And when you find those unicorns, it's like, how do you have the time to do that? So I think that they're very supportive of us that aren't MDs, but we are going out to solve a problem the best that we can, and we need their help.
0:11:13.6 S2: Right, so creating awareness of an emerging brand is really, really hard, and we've talked about education, we've talked about launching into retail. I'm curious, when you first set out on this go-to-market strategy, can you tell us a little bit about that awareness campaign and what you did, and even what you would have done differently to build awareness around the brand? Yeah.
0:11:41.6 S1: Well, we always knew press was gonna be an important investment to make, so we had to find the best PR people, we had to really think about our story that we were pitching, and so that's where we really started, with let's get as much... Let's get the press excited about our story. Let's hit every possible angle, every possible publication, news outlet, we've been on local news, we've been on national TV shows, we've been in print publications, and it was so fun when we finally launched to see what some of those did to help our sales. Because then we're like, okay, bingo, we have to invest in more of this. Yes. And we know our woman is still consuming traditional media along with digital media. And that's why it's hard because our segment that we're going after is still watching the nightly news, she still likes print magazines, but she's probably now transitioning to digital magazines, and word of mouth is really important. So early on, we started an ambassador program. We didn't really know what we were doing, so we've kind of been fine-tuning that as we've gone, but I think things just take a while too. I guess I didn't realize how long things would take to get...
0:13:04.9 S1: Not executed, but just get the inertia behind some of the really good ideas. And it just, it takes so much longer. I had come from fashion, and it was like millennials and Gen Z, and if you find the right influencer and you have the right content piece, blow up on Instagram back then, or TikTok now, you're gonna light a fire under the brand immediately. Well, that doesn't happen as much with this, it's like a lot of it is that one person, that one woman at a time. And so we've made a lot of headway in a short period of time, but we just keep thinking about how far we have to go. You know, there’s 50 million women going through menopause just in the US, we're probably reaching still just a sliver of them.
0:13:52.1 S2: That's a huge target market.
0:13:54.2 S1: Yeah, it is, it is a huge target market, so how do we reach more of them? Especially with the situation going on at Facebook. Are a lot of women leaving Facebook? They keep telling us that's how they found out about our brand, but Facebook is very expensive right now, so what's happening? What's happening there? Is it because they're desperate themselves they’re charging more for advertising? So we have to go where it's efficient, too, to reach our woman; what works and what's efficient. So we're finding a lot of other ways to reach her.
0:14:29.5 S2: The in-person.
0:14:30.8 S1: And there's effective, yeah, the in-person. There's a lot that we can do storytelling-wise, YouTube is really great. It's not that Facebook and Instagram aren't still working for us, but it's just... It's gonna be interesting to see long-term what happens. A lot of brands are talking about diversification of media, but we also wanna make sure we don't get too diversified where we're not reaching, we’re kind of peanut-butter spreading everything. Because you only have so much money. So we really have to pick the right channels, but we know our woman loves a lot of other things in her life, it's not just showing up when she's searching for menopause. It's like, you know, she likes to cook, she likes to, perhaps she's into tennis or pickleball. You kind of think about the whole lifestyle of the woman and it opens up other ways to reach her. You have to really, it’s like an [?] graphics study. I love that, but it's hard at the same time.
0:15:36.3 S2: And there's so many options and then, you have a budget, right? Where are you gonna allocate budget to?
0:15:42.9 S1: Right, and not everything is performance-based, so even if you decide to spend money on something, it might not be tangible that it's giving you an ROI. It might just be building awareness, but you're not seeing it directly hit sales yet, but in the end, maybe it is helping sales over time. It's tricky as a founder and as Michelle and I holding the purse strings of the company, you've gotta make these right investments and there's not gonna be like the perfect solution, you just have to make the best decision possible.
0:16:18.2 S2: Right, and then you have to move swiftly. Part being a startup, you don't have all this time to sit and over-analyze.
0:16:28.1 S1: Exactly. Let's go. We're not a multi-billion dollar company that can take their time.
0:16:33.2 S2: When I hear you say that, something that we look at is our conversion, and that seems to be something that is perplexing sometimes because we’ll convert really well. But then other times, they will come and it's more of an information gathering. Have you seen that being in retail? You had mentioned omni-channel. Have you seen that that’s the best for your brand? Where are you seeing that they first get to know you? Is it digital or is it retail?
0:17:08.6 S1: It's primarily digital, I think. I think as we get bigger and more established at Ulta, they'll see us there maybe first. But I think overall, they're either searching for some solution and they happen to find us, or they hear someone talk about us, and it could even be a social post, could be an influencer or someone. And so I think what we…and press. Press has been a huge way to bring them into the, we call it funnel, and then once she's there, she might do research and then come back later, or she might buy right away. It just really depends. There's just a lot of different ways that we see her coming in, but I would say it's primarily digital
0:18:02.0 S2: That awareness with PR, it's interesting. We haven't paid for PR yet, and I had an advisor once tell me never pay for a story or you'll never need PR. And now that I'm getting to this phase of, okay, we’re, in the next year, we're gonna need to have a much bigger reach. Media is really the only way to do that. And people don't pick up, what is that, TeleReporter? Whatever it is, where you can just get it pushed to you, whatever it is you’re looking for.
0:18:39.3 S2: The chances of them picking up your…
0:18:40.9 S1: The wire. We've done that where we've put a press release out on the wire and they pick it up, like the Associated Press kind of idea. We’re not paying for the stories, either it's the agency person that's pitching the stories, securing it, has expertise, has those relationships. That's worth investing in. Agreed. But I wouldn't necessarily, at this stage, do pay-to-play stories where we'll do an advertorial for you, you have to pay $25,000 to get an article. It's a little too risky too, at this stage. Every $1,000 really does make a difference.
0:19:27.3 S2: Completely. So find yourself a good PR agency. And out of curiosity, did you go with one local in Minneapolis or did you go out to New York?
0:19:35.3 S1: New York. But I'm sure there's some good ones in LA and depending on your industry. But we have some great PR partners.
0:19:45.6 S2: They do a great job, Sally. Really, that's how I found you, through your great PR. So you are a 10 out of 10 in my book of how you are putting yourself out in the press.
0:19:57.2 S2: So the last question that I wanna ask is that this is The Persevere Podcast, so as entrepreneurs, we are persevering through the hardest of times, and looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently? And even though you did it, you persevered and you kept going, is there anything that comes to mind when I say that? Is it retail, building a team, fundraising, you name it.
0:20:27.1 S1: Yeah, oh my gosh, there's every day I think of things and I would have done differently, and that's a tough question to answer. And then I try not to look backwards because that can be depressing too. And then externally, people say, oh my gosh, you've accomplished so much, but let's face it, we're in a business where it's never good enough, right? You never meet your budgets, at least we don't. Never. We'd say we're gonna hit something and we try so hard and then some paper cut happens. We call them paper cuts. Yes, paper cuts happen, and something out of your control happens, a supply chain issue, or a product gets... We're on Amazon, so a product might get delisted from Amazon because they wanna investigate what... You've used the word vagina, so they're gonna investigate it. So they stop you from selling. Things that are out of your control. My team is so... They have so much tenacity, I would say, because every day there's something. And we try to anticipate everything, but some of this is unbelievable, you just can't make the stories up.
0:21:45.7 S1: I think there for sure are some bigger things that I would have done differently. I guess I would have known the timeline to build a brand like this when you're creating a new category, you're not just disrupting an existing category, it just takes longer. So perhaps I would have had a longer ramp-up time and thought about the fundraising differently. Maybe I would have raised more money up front 'cause I had so…I was over-prescribed in that round, and even the second round I was over-prescribed, but had I even raised more money at the beginning and had it last longer, that might have been a good strategy. Because I think when you really think about it, everyone... When I say, oh, it takes longer when you're building a new category, especially for a consumer that's been largely ignored and a topic that's stigmatized still, they're like, of course, it's gonna take longer. But no one said that at the beginning. Until afterwards. And it's like, Okay…
0:22:50.1 S2: I didn't know. We're all smart people here.
0:22:52.4 S1: But you get excited, and you get excited about the potential because it is a huge market, blah, blah, blah, blah, but you also have to remember that it takes longer than you think it's going to be. And there's gonna be a lot of hiccups along the way.
0:23:09.8 S2: Don't give up. Don’t give up, two times longer and two times more money, would you say than what you expected?
0:23:18.4 S1: Probably, yeah, it's just it takes a lot of capital to do this right and be efficient. We're even operating pretty efficiently, but it still takes a lot because again, we're changing a conversation. You have to reach this woman. I just got done saying all the different ways you have to reach her, and if you only have enough money or to reach her one way, you're not... Your volume, your revenue is gonna be that much smaller. So you have to decide, is it about revenue or is it about patience? Right now, all investors are talking about efficiency and profit. Okay. So we're on that, we're focused on that, but it's hard when you're creating a new category, especially only a year and a half old.
0:24:11.9 S2: And is that efficiency in the use of capital?
0:24:14.8 S1: Capital efficiency, definitely, how you run your e-comm business, are you profitable on the first purchase, do you break even, that kind of thing. So they're all looking at efficiency of advertising dollars. Investors have always looked at PAC, but it's become even more scrutinized now in terms of your break-even point on your e-comm business, because e-comm is, it's a great thing for us, it's been really wonderful, but it's an expensive channel too.
0:24:50.2 S2: Yeah, it's hard to get people to land on your website and then stay there and covert.
0:24:57.3 S1: Exactly. It’s not easy. What we need are more marketplaces that are driving the traffic, so they can be a great option, too, for our customers that wanna just see all of our women's health products together, or health and beauty products. So we need more.
0:25:17.4 S2: And you have a, I wouldn't say an expiration date, but you have a moat around the company right now because you don't have a lot of competitors 'cause you are creating the category, so you have... You need to be efficient in building that customer base as fast as possible.
0:25:34.4 S1: Yes, exactly. You got it.
0:25:37.4 S2: Well, you're doing a great job at it. You and Michelle, I love two co-founders working together too, I have to say I'm a little jealous and envious that you have a co-founder.
0:25:49.5 S1: It does help because we're there for each other through thick and thin. And there's a lot of thin, the days and the hours where you need that support, and then they're there to celebrate too, so it's been fun, and we have a great team.
0:26:09.0 S2: That's awesome. Well, I wish you the best of luck with this holiday season. This is a great gift to give to any woman in your life. Thanks, Patty. Gift card, get a product, tell your husband. This is a great gift for your husband to give. How thoughtful.
0:26:25.4 S1: I just had a husband reach out this weekend telling me that he got Womaness for his wife for Christmas, and he was so nice. We do have a really fun holiday quilted bag online with the travel size of The Works, and Let’s Neck, and a little fan 'cause we're all hot. Yeah. Not just literally, but figuratively. But yeah, there's some great gifts and don't be afraid to give, like you said, women, a body lotion or Let’s Neck or a vibrator.
0:26:58.7 S2: Yes, I love it. We are having a number of products that we're talking about with menopause, and I think that people should not feel bashful about having the conversation with them, 'cause it's nothing to be embarrassed about.
0:27:13.9 S1: It’s a normal phase in life.
0:27:15.6 S2: Like talking to our kids about puberty, don’t be embarrassed about it. We all went through it. Right. So let's normalize it. Thank you for the emphasis in the space Sally, the way that you are changing women's lives and your emphasis on education. Everyone please follow, we’ll with some links in all of our promotions, especially this great gift that you have for the holiday. And be sure to sign up for your newsletters, lots of education there, and we will be sure to check back in with all these new products.
0:27:49.1 S1: That's great. And we do have a private Facebook group called The After Party.
0:27:52.6 S2: Oh, great, okay.
0:27:54.2 S1: For women that wanna join a community, it's run by, well, a lot of community members that have kind of chimed in, but Ann Gobel on my team also runs it and she's 52 and very fun, and she's right there with ya, ladies. So yeah, I encourage women to follow, to join that because it's a really great place for community.
0:28:18.3 S2: Excellent. We'll post that too. Thank you for doing that community, I know how important that is for your brand as well, more importantly for your customers, so thank you. Thanks, Patty. Sally, it was an absolute pleasure to get to know you. Thank you for joining us today. And happy holidays to you and yours. You too, Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you. Well, talk about a fearless founder, Sally Mueller was fantastic. I think creating a new category is something that people really underestimate the difficulties of that, but when it is fueled by passion and you find this white space in the market and you're determined to fill it, that you are going to have the drive to succeed, and that's definitely what she's done. I really appreciate her emphasis on education, something in healthcare that we really need to build trust. Check out all the Womaness platforms, and we will look to them on all of this menopause education that we need. Looking at it from our different podcasts that we've had on the Checkable Health podcast. Lots of information here, ladies, it is a space that we could use more information on. So if you are a founder or if you know of a founder that would be really great for the Persevere Podcast, like Sally, talking about what she's done well, talking about some maybe missteps that she's had, and also that wonderful advice that she gives us, if you know someone that would be great as a guest, please direct message me, Patty Post CEO or at Checkable Health on all the different channels.
0:30:01.3 S2: Love to hear from them. In the meantime, if you'd like to carry on this conversation, we are on LinkedIn at The Persevere Podcast. I would love to hear from you. Sally, best of luck with fundraising. If you have questions for Sally, you can definitely direct message her on any of their channels as well, she's very, very responsive. So with that, keep on persevering with business, it is worth it. As a founder, it can be really lonely. That's why I created this podcast. So as a solo founder, you can hear other founders have gone through it and they've succeeded. So keep on persevering, it is worth it and you are worth it. The world needs what you are creating. I'm Patty Post signing off.
0:30:50.9 S1: Thank you for listening to The Persevere Podcast, powered by Checkable Medical. Head over to perseverepodcast.com for notes, links and additional resources from today's show. To continue hearing insights and gaining knowledge from those persevering, succeeding, and making their dream a reality, be sure to subscribe through your favorite app. Now go make it happen.
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