Hey Kiara! Could you give us a quick intro of yourself and Marlow?
I’m Kiara, I'm one of the co-founders at Marlow. My role is primarily in marketing so I’m the one behind the memes on Instagram, the TikTok trends, packaging designs, and more. At a start-up it’s exciting that I get to wear many hats so I also contribute to our website design, product development, and operations & fulfillment.
Marlow is a one-stop shop for modern menstrual & sexual wellness, starting with the first-ever lubricant and tampon designed to be used together. Inserting tampons can be an uncomfortable process especially for those who are new to using tampons, for those who have pelvic floor conditions like vaginismus, for those with vaginal dryness, or for those who have a lighter flow especially towards the beginning and end of their cycle. We developed our lubricated product which allows for a smoother and more comfortable insertion experience.
And tell us more about what you’re building at Marlow.
We currently sell the first-ever tampon and lubricant designed to be used together. Each order consists of 100% organic cotton tampons with a sugarcane plant-based plastic applicator and compostable wrapper and a bottle of water-based lubricant engineered to perfectly coat the tampon in one easy, mess-free dip for smoother insertion. The products are delivered through a subscription model so that you never have to worry about running out. We’re the first to market to provide this option.
Beyond our product, our team of female founders have built a community of over 10,000 menstruators who are eager to engage in meaningful conversation and to break down the stigma around menstrual and sexual health. As menstruators ourselves, we know how ridiculous it is that menstruation is a taboo subject steeped in whispers and misinformation, and we’re determined to change that. We still find a lot of gendered branding, a lot of misinformation and a general lack of education. So our guiding light has been to create a brand that's inclusive and elevates the current standards.
Congratulations on launching! Let’s dig into the product development cycle. When you graduated, where did you spend most of your time?
When we first started looking at the menstrual product space, we identified the problem of painful tampon insertion through hundreds of customer interviews. From there, we sent out a package of lubricant and tampons to customers to see whether the lubricant created a smoother experience. We got overwhelmingly positive feedback that the lubricant made insertion easy and painless. However, squeezing lubricant onto a tampon was a messy process and felt like “arts and crafts in the bathroom”. This led us to design our cross slit valve on the bottle which helps evenly coat your tampon.
After finalizing the design of our product, we began to source manufacturers. One of the challenges we faced during our product development process was that our products are considered medical devices under Health Canada & FDA regulations. This required us to submit details to Health Canada around product composition and ingredients, quality management systems, and Standards of Procedure to obtain any relevant licensing. We also partnered with a Canadian research laboratory to test the safety of using our tampons and lubricant together.
Tell me about the Shopify build: How did that go?
Our team doesn’t have coding experience - we were learning everything from scratch. And in all honesty, while Shopify does make it easier to build a website, it isn’t completely “plug & play”. It does require some coding experience to be able to customize the product to meet your brand standards and optimize for user experience. It was a pretty big learning curve, and we had to collaborate with many individuals to get our website done, including with Storetasker.
First - we tried to develop everything in-house with our own resources. Eventually we decided to work with an agency to help create the first layout of our site. Then, Shopify 2.0 came out, and now, we’re transferring over to a Shopify 2.0 theme to increase our ability to customize our site. We’ve partnered with Storetasker to complete this, and with every new feature we add, we’re also leveraging Storetasker to help build this extra functionality.
How are you prioritizing what to build?
Since launch, we’ve transitioned from setting the site up to optimizing the site. So now we're looking at heatmaps of the site and where we see drop-off across the user funnel to determine which aspects of the website can be changed to improve the customer experience.
What are some of the learnings or breakthroughs you've had on the logistics part of the business?
One learning has been navigating through the supply chain challenges especially during COVID-19.
It's hard for any business to manage supply chains right now and that's affected our timelines significantly. For example, for our next inventory order, we have to order things way ahead out of time due to the backlog of simple unit components like the caps of our bottles. Shipments that would have taken 4 months can now take 10 - so it’s pretty critical to forecast appropriately.
Another learning has been to keep our operations really flexible right now. We’re still in our earliest days, and we need to maintain a “test and iterate” mindset. We are continuously collecting customer feedback to improve our product.
Lastly - What do you wish you would have known a year ago when starting out?
There are small things I wish I might have known - such as the impacts of supply chain on a business, or the regulatory requirements associated with tampons, but in all honesty, if I knew everything back then - I would have likely been too intimidated to jump into entrepreneurship. In a sense, ignorance is bliss, and I have enjoyed the process of learning, testing, and interating making mistakes as we go along. It’s all part of the start-up process.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom Kiara. Wishing you all the best.