Flex is launching a feminine hygiene product - the menstrual disc. You can wear it for up to 12 hours and have mess free period sex. We sat down with Erika Jensen and Lauren Schulte to talk about how they’re changing the way women experience periods.
What YC Likes About Flex:
"It's not often that you get a chance to fund a product that innovates in a space that's immediately valuable to half the population on the planet. Lauren knows how to tell this product's story to women and is probably one of the most tenacious founders I've ever met. It's no surprise to me that she's been able to craft such an amazing consumer brand in such a short period of time. Also, it helps you have more sex, which makes it a no brainer to me—she's making something everyone wants."
-Kevin Hale, Managing Partner at Y Combinator
YC : How’d you come up with this idea?
Lauren: I’ve suffered from bacterial and yeast infections my whole life and no doctor could ever figure out why. Eventually, I realized the tampons and pads I was using were causing the infections. And then, I discovered that tampons were never invented to be inside the vagina. They were invented to stop bullet wounds in WWII and they’re still carried around by the CIA today.
I started talking to other women and found out that infections are a really common problem. No one talks about it because it’s embarrassing! After 6 months of talking about this idea, I started getting phone calls from strangers asking to order my product because the women I talked to were telling their friends. I didn’t even have a name or actual product yet. That was when I knew I had hit a really big pain point.
YC : How is Flex different from other feminine hygiene products?
Lauren The options widely available right now are pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. When women complain about cramps and bloat during their period, they don’t realize it’s caused by these products blocking up their vagina. Normally, you have air that leaves your body when you’re menstruating, but these products inhibit that, which is part of why periods are so uncomfortable.
Flex is designed to address this issue. It’s a disposable menstrual disc that’s made out of medical-grade inorganic materials that inhibit the growth of bacteria and don’t disrupt the pH of the vagina. This prevents infections or more serious things like toxic shock syndrome. It also sits in a different part of the body. You insert it at the base of the cervix like a NuvaRing - but it isn’t birth control - where it collects blood rather than absorbing it. This prevents leaking and it doesn’t smell, so you can wear it for 12 hours.
YC : How have your customers responded?
Lauren: The one thing we hear consistently hear is that they forgot they were on their period because it’s so comfortable. Women have been using tampons and pads for decades, and only recently heard about menstrual cups. But, they don’t like the fact that you have to rinse and reuse a menstrual cup. Plus, they’re difficult to insert and remove.
Erika: I think women were so used to using tampons that they didn’t even realize they were having a poor experience. They love Flex because it addresses so many pain points. We’ve tried Flex with hundreds of women and 86% of them have switched after just trying it once.
What’s really mind blowing is that we’ve gotten a lot of interest from outside the United States. We never made our messaging for an audience outside the U.S., but 30% of our pre-orders came from Europe and 10% from other places like China, Australia, and South Africa. It sort of just spread organically.
YC : Why do you think that is?
Lauren: Probably because the current market is based on products that are cheap to make and relatively cheap to sell. Most people spend between $7 to $12 a month on feminine hygiene products but our average order is $23. It goes to show that women are willing to pay three times more in order to have a better experience.
YC : What kind of challenges have you faced with bringing this to market?
Lauren: We recently acquired a competitor that came with distribution with every major retailer in the United States, like Walmart and CVS. Figuring out how to work with these retailers has involved a really steep learning curve. We basically had to learn how to manage these relationships overnight. We always thought that we’d sell this product online since Erika and I are both technical marketers, but retail was a huge opportunity.
YC : You don’t normally hear about startups acquiring other companies until later. How’d that happen?
Lauren: When I was designing the product, I tried every feminine hygiene product made over the last 25 years with other women to see what functionalities they liked. There was this product from the 90s that tested really well but was relatively unknown. The big pharma company that owned that patent didn’t really care about it, but I pitched them on a licensing deal because I could bring this product online for them.
They said no because they didn’t care about the product, so I designed around their IP and figured out ways to improve the fit and comfort. About a year later, they saw all the media attention we were getting and wanted to talk. That ended in my buying all the assets related to that portion of their business.
YC : What’s your long-term vision for Flex?
Lauren: We want to be the leader in innovation for women’s health. It’s our mission to lift up women and help them feel more comfortable with their body.