How did you come to develop your product?
We started out with the idea of developing underwear; my business partner is a fashion designer and we both used to alpine ski race and coach, which requires a lot of specialist garments. From there we got talking to family and friends and got led down the track of learning about the issues of bladder and bowel control - what's medically termed 'incontinence'.
We very quickly realised that if we were going to develop undergarments for this market they needed to achieve several things - they needed to be fashionable, because there are a lot of psychological issues associated with the subject; they needed to be highly functional in order to give the wearer confidence to go about their normal activities; and third they needed to be discreet, so they look and feel like normal underwear and don't restrict the kind of clothing you wear.
Fulfilling our vision of trying to help people who experience bladder and bowel control problems was underpinned by the fact we had to come up with a product that would tick all those boxes. It took about two-and-a-half years to design the product and develop the technology so we could make a product to meet those needs.
So how do you now start to brand and sell it?
We're very fashion oriented and that's informed our approach a lot, because we've wanted to create a product that is fashionable. People who purchase these types of products usually buy pads or nappies, which are generally utilitarian, but instead we've wanted to offer them the same kind of purchasing experience and product that you'd get when visiting a fashion lingerie retail store or website.
To achieve that aim we've developed a broad range of cuts, colours and styles to suit a broad demographic. We've taken the approach that why should people be satisfied with the status quo? Let's do something really creative and break the mould in terms of what's currently out there on the market.
So your primary sales channel is online?
Initially we're selling through our own online store, and we're selling internationally on that. That's a critical path for us because it enables people to buy discreetly. About 80 per cent of our customers we anticipate will be women of all age groups so are already fairly active online shoppers.
In the future we'd love to see the discussion become more mainstream - a bit like depression has become - but we're also pretty cognisant of the fact that at the moment it's a psyche thing. People usually just don't like to admit that they have any problems and that's understandable, but for something that affects as much as 25 per cent of the population in New Zealand there needs to be more awareness.
Operating online is fantastic for us because if offers people a very discreet and personal way to purchase the product and seek information about these types of issues.
What strategies have you been using to drive people to buy your products?
We launched a whole new website for our new online store on 1 February, and as part of that search engine optimisation is really important. We've been very fortunate in that in-house we've got a lot of expertise around that kind of thing. And we've got quite a diverse advisory board, which offers insights from a multitude of backgrounds.
Not everyone wakes up in the morning and decides they're going to make incontinence underwear, so for us it's been crucial to get people on board who can understand and relate to the issue, and can share in the vision. Getting the right people involved who can give us the right advice is important, and has given us a lot of confidence.
Has it surprised you how sensitive an area this is to work in?
You'd be astounded at the responses we get from people. I don't think we've had one negative response when I've told people about what we're doing and the journey we've been on with it. We've spoken to hundreds of people and everyone is very respectful - even those who aren't aware of the issues.
And obviously those who have had personal experience, either personally or through friends and family, are instantly captured the moment you start talking about it. For them, there's an understanding of the hardship and discomfort it can cause and to know they are able to openly talk about it with you and that there are people working on new solutions to help is heartening.
What advice would you have for anyone else looking to develop or market products in an area that can be touchy to talk about?
It's about listening to people, understanding them and being respectful of the fact that for a lot of people even opening up to admitting they have any problem can be a big thing. That shouldn't be taken lightly.
But there is a huge amount of reward personally that comes from seeing your product out there, and seeing it helping people. We've done a lot of testing, trials and pilot studies and seeing the reactions from people is hugely rewarding and that's what keeps us going.
No startup venture is easy, but when you're trying to break the norm and do something totally different it's even a little bit harder.
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