Editor’s note: We get so many questions from our community about where the idea for LOLA came from, and how we built the amazing brand and community you see today. Today, our Co-Founder, Alex Friedman shares her story about how she decided to quit a “safe” job to join the tampon biz!
It was 2014, and I had played it safe since college going from consulting to investing to grad school. All of the companies I worked for had been around for years, achieved product-market fit years before I joined, and, for the most part, were profitable.
Then I met my now co-founder, Jordana Kier, who told me about her crazy idea to start a tampon company. It was certainly the first time anyone had said anything like that to me! It was fascinating from the first moment she said it – why hadn’t I ever thought about what my tampons were made of? Why were all tampon brands so stale and unrelatable? Why had only men been running tampon brands since tampons were invented?
Then I met my now co-founder, Jordana Kier, who told me about her crazy idea to start a tampon company.
After discussing the idea for a few months, and working together on a couple of projects to build out the early foundation of the business, she asked me to be her co-pilot. It all happened pretty quickly, us linking our careers. We had a rough sense of each other’s work ethic, communication style, and intellect; but in the end, the decision to work together boiled down to a gut feeling that we’d be compatible business partners, and friends. In sum, after at most 90 days of knowing each other, we decided to partner up over Chinese food and beers in Chelsea on a random weeknight in the fall of 2014.
Before deciding, I started to slowly talk to my family and friends about the idea. My then-boyfriend now-husband was the captain of team tampon from day 1, enthusiastically encouraging me turn our life upside-down and build a vagina empire. It wasn’t necessarily the career balance we had envisioned, but together we figured, let’s try it on and we’ll see what happens.
My parents were on board, too. I could, of course, see in their eyes a glimmer of “she’s lost her mind,” but I also saw pride that all of their hard work to prepare me for a career that I loved was paying off — that I was confident enough to build something from scratch.
But not everyone thought it was a great idea at first. My sister — whose opinion I value very highly — pushed back hard on the idea. Why would anybody care what their tampons were made of? What were we doing that Amazon or one of the big brands couldn’t do? Her tough love was critical. I remember struggling to come up with smart counter-arguments to all of her points (and it was lucky I had, because they all came in handy when we had these very same conversations with investors). After a lot of back-and-forth, she extended her support to me and has been an incredible champion of the brand ever since.
But not everyone thought it was a great idea at first.
So my friends and family were on board, but was I? What did I know about starting a business? Would I have to eat ramen for dinner for a decade? Would I tank my career? Could we even raise money? Did people think I was losing my mind? Was I losing my mind?
Normally, this would be part in the startup fairy tale where you risk it all and cannon ball in — just close my eyes and take a leap. You know the words: “you only live once,” “you might as well try it out,” “you can always go back to what you were doing,” insert your favorite cliche advice here. But that’s not me. I wade into things. So I spent eight months working two jobs.
That time gave me the opportunity to feel out my partnership with Jordana (did we mesh?), figure out my personal financial situation (could I survive on no salary? half a salary?), test our business model with consumers (did women want/care about this product?), and test my own enthusiasm for embarking on this seemingly crazy adventure (after months and months of working past midnight every night to get LOLA off the ground, did I still want to pursue it?).
After eight months, the verdict was clear: Jordana and I are a match; I can afford to be frugal; every woman wants to know what’s in her tampons and a more relatable brand; and yes, even though the entire process was foreign to me, and taking such a huge risk was out of character, I was obsessed.
The final thing I needed to feel really good about before officially taking the leap, and leaving my secure, full-time job, was how we would finance the business. I distinctly remember how uncomfortable this process was for me. It was probably the most uncomfortable part. Asking people for money is never easy, and it wasn’t something I had ever done before, but it was essential to getting the business off the ground. And, to no one’s surprise, when you are raising money for something you believe in that you own and want to build, it suddenly becomes way less scary.
Jordana and I started talking to angel investors. We had never heard an entrepreneur pitch a business in our lives (except on Shark Tank), and here we were, selling a vision. A LOT of people passed (and probably laughed about our pitch at the dinner table that night), but a few people (mostly men) were charmed by the fact that our pitch involved soaking tampons in a glass of water (many of them had never seen a tampon before!) and said they’d give us money. And then, it snowballed. We suddenly had people offering us real capital to get this business off the ground. It was overwhelming and exciting. We were honestly terrified. So we did what we had to do: I quit my job, we took the money, and we haven’t looked back.
So we did what we had to do: I quit my job, we took the money, and we haven’t looked back.
It’s been 1 year and 10 months since that moment. We are now 8 women strong, have an incredible community of customers and allies for which we are thankful, and continue to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive in our company’s DNA. It’s been an adventure to say the least, and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come.
All that said, the experience of not having a safety net or a clear path, of taking a massive risk to build something out of nothing, is still a bit foreign. It never fully settles in. But despite the discomfort of ambiguity, I think it is actually what drives me, keeps every day interesting and exciting, and in the end, may be the part I love most.
Because at the end of the day, that uncertainty is potential and opportunity. Whatever LOLA becomes, it is ours to create. And that, I’ve come to learn, is more than worth the journey.