Just shy of a year ago, we interviewed co-founders of HANX, Farah Kabir and Dr Sarah Welsh about their new launch of HANX: Fix. Now we speak again to the co-founders about their latest launch, HANX Fix: Pill – a new independent online contraceptive pill service which allows women to take control of their bodies. They can choose from over 30 contraceptive pills and order online, without needing to book an appointment with a doctor or pharmacist
Tell Us About HANX, How Did it Start?
“My Co-Founder Sarah and I have been friends since school, and we’ve always got together to vent about the things we want to change in the world. We were discussing her time working in NHS gynaecology and our own personal experiences with condoms, when we realised that the standard product offering on the shelves just wasn’t speaking to women.
For a start, it featured garish, stereotypically ‘masculine,’ penis-centric messaging that made us feel like an afterthought in the equation (and embarrassed to be seen slipping them into our shopping basket). The product itself wasn’t working for us either, with many of the mainstream brands using ingredients including glycerin as a lubricant, which can cause vaginal yeast infections. We decided it was time for sexual wellness products designed with women’s needs in mind, with the ultimate aim of empowering people to own their sexuality.”
What Challenges Have You Faced?
Dr Sarah Welsh:
“In the early days, we were both balancing building HANX with our day jobs in the NHS and Goldman Sachs. Not a lot of sleep was had, but we were fuelled by excitement and coffee alone at that point! We knew we wanted to work directly with a manufacturer so we could really own that relationship, and when we were initially hunting down a factory who could create our product exactly to our specifications, we heard a lot of no’s.
People weren’t willing to take a chance on two girls who had no background in the condom industry whatsoever. Eventually, we found a brilliant manufacturing partner who saw the potential in our vision for the product but it was a long, and sometimes frustrating, journey.”
“Seeking investment as a female founder isn’t easy, full stop. As a female founder brought up in a Bangladeshi Muslim family, I don’t fit the typical founder stereotype, especially in the sexual wellness industry, and I find myself challenging preconceptions every single day. Whilst leading our investment efforts, I’ve encountered assumptions that I don’t understand how valuation works, despite my background in investment banking, and even a proposition in a pitch.
Change is happening, however there does remain a proportion of the VC industry that’s still dominated by white, male, middle class investors who don’t see the value in products that fulfil needs outside of their lived experience. Women spend a huge amount of money, and time, finding beauty products that are kind to our skin, tackle issues, have clean ingredients and crucially, speak to us on a human level. There just isn’t that same choice, or quality, in sexual wellness essentials, which creates a huge opportunity – but many male VCs just don’t understand that.”
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Did COVID-19 Impact HANX?
“When the announcement came that the UK was going into lockdown, we realised that sex outside your household was essentially illegal. Not an ideal situation for a brand best known for condoms and lubricant… With a team suddenly separated across the UK, we had to react quickly. We paused any unnecessary spend and pulled all our performance marketing to focus on a fast turnaround product launch. Within three weeks of lockdown, we launched a limited edition kit to support people who were struggling to access or choosing to come off hormonal contraception, partnering with industry leading brands including Pukka and Candy Kittens.
We can’t assume consumers are fickle. With the official advice to stay home and socially distance, there was no point pushing condoms in our customers’ faces. We didn’t pivot the entire business, but instead pivoted our focus based on what our custumers really needed, which was convenience and safety. Women didn’t want to go and stand in a queue for thrush cream during lockdown or struggle to access a GP appointment for bacterial vaginosis treatment.
We hunkered down and built the tech to launch HANX Fix, a line of vaginal health treatments that are dispensed online, dispatched same-day and delivered directly to your door. It proved to really further the trust that people had already in us, by giving them exactly what they needed, when they really needed it. We’re proud to be completely consumer led, with the launch of our signature condom and lubricant informed by feedback from 8000 members of our community. Our intimate health treatments were hugely well received, and created the foundations for the launch of our new contraceptive pill service, HANX Fix: Pill.
It was a tough year, but we saw some real positives, too. The boom in online grocery and beauty shopping helped us secure new online, and subsequently in-store retailers including Holland and Barratt, WH Smiths, Superdrug and Sainsburys. We also felt huge support from our community, both in our DMs and on our site, as many continued to shop online. Sales of our lubricant actually rose sharply during lockdown 1.0 as people explored solo sex. As a business, we’ve emerged more resilient, and more determined. If we made it through COVID, there’s practically nothing we can’t handle!”
Why is HANX Fix: Pill so Important?
“We launched HANX Fix: Pill in response to our customers’ contraceptive journey, many of whom transition from condoms to the pill when moving into a committed relationship. We’re a challenger brand powered by a small team who really understand the difficulties people are facing when accessing hormonal contraception – we’re experiencing them ourselves!
Demand on sexual health and GP services was high even pre-COVID, and with the current backlog makes it incredibly difficult to access appointments for hormonal contraception when you need it. We saw the need for a digital service that focuses on convenience, with no need to struggle to get a GP appointment, same-day-dispatch and delivery straight to your door. It’s a game-changing moment for HANX, and a real signifier of our intentions to holistically address women’s healthcare journey on a broader scale.
Whilst working in NHS sexual health clinics, I saw first hand the difficulties people face trying to access or change their pill. We wanted to create an accessible service that offers control, knowledge and choice to those who want to use the pill. Many people struggle to navigate jargon involved in dispensing hormonal contraception, so cannot vouch for what they really need from their pill. For instance, the emergency contraceptive pill has a long shelf life of up to three years.
Traditionally, it’s been been marketed as a product with a very tight timeline (up to 72 hours) to obtain and use following unprotected sex. We felt that the ability to order the morning after pill and have it on hand in case of future use, helps remove last minute panic. Many people face very real stigma when attempting to access it in person in pharmacies, so additional choice and discretion in this area is a hugely positive step forward for the contraceptive landscape.”