In spite of the polite name it’s given, the “family planning” aisle at the drugstore is anything but discreet. There are dozens of products in loud packaging proclaiming that manly men should buy them, and a small selection of hot pink packages telling women not to feel embarrassed about buying them. And yet, few people feel like strutting down that aisle and over to the cashier after finally picking something up off the shelf–they’d much rather get what they need and get out before another soul can spot them in such a place.
Imagine, instead, being able to buy simple products in gender-neutral packaging without feeling that crushing embarrassment. Eva Goicochea and Dina Epstein made that very thing possible, and their company, Maude, is bringing a fresh approach to the sexual wellness industry.
An Entrepreneurial History
Goicochea earned her associate’s degree in advertising at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and then went to Cal State Sacramento finishing her bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communication Studies. Simultaneously, she fell into healthcare, working as a legislative aide on topics like access to reproductive services and basic coverage in underserved communities.
In 2008, she moved to Los Angeles, and worked in agencies for mission-based companies like the Natural Resources Defense Council and later at an organic skincare company that focused on fighting the toxin-ridden beauty industry.
In 2012, she joined Everlane within the first few years of the company’s founding, and ultimately became the company’s Social Media, Culture, and Hiring Lead. It’s there, she says, that she learned to love the process of building products from the ground up. This love led her to co-found her own company, Tinker Watches, which sells high-quality, attainably-priced watches with a minimalist design, sold by retailers like Madewell and J.Crew.
Then the idea for Maude arrived. What if she could apply her skills in product design, branding, and advertising to make sexual health, a public health issue, a more inclusive, less intimidating space? Lacking experience with manufacturers, she realized she needed a co-founder.
Enter Epstein. An industrial engineer with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Epstein had worked in product design and development for 10 years before co-founding Maude. She worked in the product department of luxury lingerie brand Kiki De Montparnasse, and became the company’s head of product development and intimacy before leaving for Doc Johnson, one of the largest sex toy companies in the world. The culture around this industry was to put it lightly, very unpleasant, and she wanted out. Epstein quit and founded Clark & Madison, a leather goods and travel accessories company, which she ran for three years.
Epstein and Goicochea had previously met at an entrepreneurial class. After keeping in touch, Goicochea approached Epstein with the idea, and the duo began working on Maude shortly after.
Disrupting a $17B Industry
The company launched with a direct-to-consumer website in April 2018 after about two years of development, and received pre-seed funding from XFactor Ventures, a venture capital fund from Flybridge with an all-women investment team.
Even though the global sexual wellness market generates $17B in annual revenue and is growing at more than 10% each year, startups within the space can have a difficult time receiving funding, according to Aubrie Pagano, an XFactor investment partner. There are concerns about margins and market size thanks to players like Trojan and Durex that seem to dominate the industry, not to mention a general unease about dealing with anything sexual in nature, no matter how well-intentioned the product.
But it’s exactly this dominance and timidity that Goicochea and Epstein sought to disrupt. While most of the industry focuses on selling to young, heterosexual men, about 40% of condom purchasers are actually women according to Pagano. With Maude, Goicochea and Epstein made a conscious effort to serve a different market: the “enormous white space,” they called it, of people who are age 25 and over seeking a gender-neutral, shame-free approach to sexual health.
This is why the packaging of every Maude product is designed with ease and comfort in mind. It’s minimalist, with a smattering of geometric designs throughout. The bottles of lubricant have pumps, and the condoms are individually packaged in buttercup-style containers that are a snap to open. It’s easy to mistake them for a container of hand soap and maybe a particularly stylish bag of laundry detergent pods. And in a world of neon-colored, sometimes strange-looking personal vibrators, Maude’s is as sleek and simple as they come.
Everything is designed by Dina and Eva in what they describe as a “startup meets studio” environment. Nothing is outsourced aside from the actual manufacturing of the products, which underwent rigorous FDA testing before they were put to market. The company also produces The Maudern, a blog discussing the science, history, health, people, culture, and design surrounding society’s slowly-changing thoughts and attitudes about sex.
Like any consumer company, building a brand will be key for Maude and it’s safe to assume that the company is hoping that its products and modern style will generate a healthy amount of word-of-mouth sales.
Disrupting major industries is a challenge that other entrepreneurs have fought and won, like how Warby Parker has taken on Luxottica, the eyewear conglomerate or how Casper transformed the whole mattress buying experience to the point where people were posting unboxing videos on YouTube.
The opportunity for Maude is there, in terms of changing the perception of the market with a stylish set of products and making the buying experience inclusive. If the company succeeds, then, Goicochea and Epstein’s mission of making people as comfortable with sex as possible will be fulfilled which will not only be good for consumers, but also the investors who were willing to take the risk.