This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
We’re so thrilled that you’re taking part, thank you!
Firstly, tell us a bit about you.
I’m Sarah, co-founder of HANX, and a gynaecology doctor with experience in sexual health obstetrics and gynaecology.
Farah, my co-founder of HANX is a chartered accountant and worked in investment banking before we started HANX.
We were both brought up in York, and also went to university at Durham!
I went on to finish my studies at Newcastle university, then went on to work in medicine full-time until we launched HANX, with a special interest in women’s health and sexual health.
We both now are full-time in HANX, building it into the sexual wellness brand it has the potential to be!
Tell us about your business, HANX
I set up sexual wellness brand, HANX, with my childhood friend Farah. Farah and I went to school together and also Durham University together, before going our separate ways in our respective careers (Farah in Finance and myself in Medicine).
We met for a long lunch one random Monday and started talking about that condom aisle. The garish packaging, the shame you feel being seen with condoms, the negative feelings they conjure. Sex is supposed to be positive, no? We felt that there was a lot to change in the condom itself, especially from a woman’s perspective. The tacky smell, the ingredients and sustainability, the need for vegan options, the way they are sold and look in your bag/bedside table/ bathroom, and ultimately the mission of the company you are buying from. After a whole load of research (whilst both working full-time) and manufacturer visits, we took the leap to quit our day jobs and go full-time on HANX then launched officially in September 2017. We now sell condoms as well as a water-based lubricant.
Every aspect of design was thought of in detail, from the ingredients, how they are sourced and the packaging look feel and purpose. HANX is here to make the world think differently about sexual wellness.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
Farah and I did a whole load of research into the market, and the product we were producing, while also working full-time in our busy jobs. Hence, we were making sure there was a market for what we were building, before jumping in whole hog!
How have you funded HANX? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We initially boot-strapped, meaning we funded the first bulk order of condoms (you can imagine that conversation with our families!!) and saved enough to have the ability not to work in our jobs, and also survive. As a product based company, and a brand, we soon realised we needed more money to fund product order, marketing and staff.
We have raised £1m to date, all through angel investors. This has been a tough journey, but we have met some amazing people on the way and learnt a lot!
We have an incredible group of individuals on board, all of whom believe in the brand’s mission and vision. They can offer more than just money, so we were careful who we took money from. For example, we have people on board who have built brands themselves, invested in many start-ups, grown global companies etc.
It’s difficult giving away equity in your company, but what’s the point of owning 100% of nothing when you can own 50% of something huge. Farah and I are very aware of the gaps in our skillset and where we need to ask for help.
HANX is a business which really challenges the taboo around sex, what challenges have you both come up against when confronted with perhaps more close minded individuals?
Our brand is opening the conversation around sexual wellness, especially for women, where we feel that has been closed for too long. This can make some people uncomfortable! Lots of people blush at even the word “condom!” We have had challenges with retailers, partners and investors due to this taboo.
As a society, we are definitely speaking more about sex and sexual health than we even have, and the movement towards better sex education is also improving. When we started HANX, and still today, we have barriers because of this taboo. However, this only gives us more fire to succeed and break down these barriers!
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
We had a successful launch at our co-working space, Huckletree, and such positive feedback from customers and press, we were so excited to be doing something that hadn’t been tackled here in Europe.
What has been your best investment?
People and branding. We have an amazing marketing guru, Emma, who is equally as passionate about HANX and what we stand for, and her creative and copy are fab. You just need to have a look at our Insta page to get a flavour 🙂
We also spent a huge chunk on a branding exercise, and website rebuild early this year. It was well worth the time and investment to ensure we were crystal clear with our tone of voice, look and feel etc.
You’ve had some really great PR – can you share how those opportunities came about?
When we launched, we had a PR agency support us getting big names to write about us! This is not our forte, so we were aware as a new brand we needed help to get our name out there. However, this was a big expense for a young company, so we soon had to stop the monthly PR and have since been very lucky getting opportunities through organic connections and people keen to hear more about the brand!
What impact do you feel HANX has on changing the narrative around women and sex?
That women have sex too, and it should be fun! At HANX we are opening the conversation around sex through our products, our podcast, our events, our blogs, and we have also launched a forum called “HANX Life” which allows users to talk about everything and anything around sexual wellness. It starts with us being more open about it, and talking about sexual health, in order to tackle the taboo.
How do you think the advertising industry can use language in order to start empowering women rather than objectifying them?
We need to allow women an entitlement to sexual pleasure, as much as we do men. This is applicable in advertising, the media, and pop culture. Let’s face it, it has been a pretty one way conversation thus far.
In order to empower women, we need to educate them and give choice which is exactly what we are supporting here at HANX.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
To be patient. Everything takes longer than you think! Well, in my case anyway, and I fell into the trap of feeling frustrated our plans were not happening quickly enough. However, with hindsight the barriers and set-backs have only fuelled our mission, allowed us to learn from mistakes and better the brand.
If you’re passionate about what you’re building, you need to keep working and pushing through the hard times. I am lucky to have Farah, and would recommend a co-founder to everyone! Someone you can trust, is as much into what you’re building as you are, and can pick you up when you’re having a rubbish day/ vice versa.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
Oh course! It has been a rollercoaster! There have been challenges around breaking the taboos, getting our products into retailers, ensuring we are not barred from advertising (as we talk about sex) and also around fundraising. The journey has only just begun, but we are so excited about what’s next for HANX.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yes we are very lucky to have a wonderful mix of mentors and advisors to HANX.
When we started and even before launch, Gaby Hersham (CEO at Huckletree) supported us with regards to start-up advice, pitching to investors and through Huckletree we have met other advisors too.
We have talented and experienced mentors who have built businesses themselves, tackled taboos in the industry (such as Emma Sayle, the CEO at Killing Kittens), legal background, as well as financial backgrounds. We also have a board that consists of individuals with financial expertise, and huge experience in building a global brand, with valuable retail experience too.
How do you see HANX evolving as a business? What does the future look like?
We aim to continue supporting people to have happier and healthier sex lives, and encourage positive sexual wellness for everyone.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend? (Please include hyperlinks)
I have to say the HANX Podcast!! It’s our first one, so there are a few giggles… From first dates to anal sex, we’re exploring the world of sex, love and relationships at the intersection of wellbeing. Each week we are joined by a new guest as we discuss the culture and influence of sexual wellness. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/knicker-box-glory/id1485760339
What advice would you give to other women looking to set up a business?
Do your research, be passionate about what you’re building, surround yourself with supportive people and take the plunge!
How can our readers support your business and mission?
HANX condoms (3 pack or 10 pack) and lubricant 50ml are available to purchase from Boots, Nasty Gal, Coco De Mer, Glow Bar, Amazon and online at hanx.co.uk. To find out more or to purchase HANX, go to hanx.co.uk.
About the Author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Co-Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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