Liz Stack
Brand & Community Manager @ Yotpo
October 17th, 2023

I recently spoke with two inspiring eCommerce founders (and Amazing Women in eCommerce Honorees!) – Sarah Fotis of Collective Laboratories and Frances Tang of Awkward Essentials – at a breakfast event on the roof of the Pendry Hotel in Los Angeles sponsored by our partners Klickly, Signifyd, and Chelsea & Rachel Co. They shared their journeys and invaluable insights with our West Coast AWIE Community in a conversation covering a range of topics, from the challenges of customer acquisition to the importance of customer education, retention, and mental health. Below are some key takeaways:

Sarah Fotis: Empowering Customers Through Education

Sarah Fotis, Co-Founder and CEO of Collective Laboratories, began by sharing her powerful personal story. Facing postpartum hair loss and later a stroke at a young age, Sarah’s experience led her to launch Collective Laboratories with a mission to destigmatize and treat hair loss with clean, effective formulas.

  • Education is Key:

Sarah emphasized the importance of educating customers about hair loss and scalp care. Collective Laboratories leverages a medical advisory board, including dermatologists, naturopaths, and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners, to provide authoritative content through various channels like YouTube, Instagram, and email.

  • Building a Strong Team:

In addition to creating content backed by medical expertise, Sarah placed experts in hair and scalp care on her customer care team. This enhances customer support and instills trust in the brand’s expertise.

  • Subscription Model Success:

Collective Laboratories saw remarkable success with their subscription-based business model. A staggering 83% of their customers are on subscription plans. By allowing customers to adjust their subscription frequency, they ensure a seamless experience.

Frances Tang: Navigating Unique Challenges in the Sexual Wellness Industry

Frances Tang, Founder of Awkward Essentials, shared how she created the Dripstick, a unique post-sex hygiene product for women and her brand’s hero product.

  • Advertising Challenges:

Marketing sexual wellness products is restricted on traditional advertising platforms. Frances and her team are combatting these hurdles using creative strategies (see: the Twinkies used in their brand imagery) and selective influencer partnerships to build brand awareness.

  • (Again) Education is Key:

Frances highlighted the crucial role of educating customers about intimate health and hygiene. Awkward Essentials invests in comprehensive content creation, including emails that cover basic sex education and product usage with a distinct brand personality.

  • Brand Authenticity:

Frances emphasized the importance of staying true to your brand’s voice and values. Awkward Essentials leverages a private Facebook group and personalized emails to establish trust and connect with customers authentically. Fun fact: personal plain text emails from Frances to her customers continue to be Awkward Essentials’ best performing emails, and Sarah has had a similar experience at Collective Labs.

Key Advice for Aspiring Founders

  • Building Founder Networks:

Both Sarah and Frances stressed the importance of building relationships with fellow founders. These connections provide a valuable support system and opportunities for knowledge sharing with people who can actually empathize with your professional challenges.

  • Trusting Your Instincts:

Frances encouraged founders to be discerning with advice. While external perspectives are valuable, trusting your instincts and understanding your business’s unique context is equally crucial, especially as a female founder.

  • Profitable Growth:

Sarah advised focusing on building a profitable business model. Acquiring customers profitably is difficult yet key to your success. Using testing, trial, and error to find channels that align with your brand’s message and audience can be a game-changer.

Sarah and Frances’s journeys offer powerful lessons in building customer relationships in a tough environment, fostering brand authenticity, and learning to trust yourself. I was honored to speak with them and humbled at the overflowing room of women from the AWIE Community that showed up to listen and connect with other women in the industry.

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