Posted: Thu 7th Nov 2019
Sarah Welsh and Farah Kabir first had the idea for HANX while chatting about a female friend who had been "caught" buying condoms by her male boss. The fact that women were still made to feel embarrassed about buying condoms felt bizarre.
They realised that existing condom brands only served to emphasise the trope. The garish colours and testosterone-heavy branding appealed solely to a male audience, despite women being just as invested in contraceptive measures.
In 2017, they launched HANX, a vegan sexual wellness brand with a feminine side. Since then, HANX has raised nearly £1m and been listed in 450 Boots stores.
The "all or nothing" moment
Prior to launching HANX, Kabir worked as an investment banker and Welsh as a gynaecology doctor.
The business started off a side project on weekends and evenings. When they found themselves missing out on too many opportunities. Welsh went down to part-time hours, but they eventually reached a tipping point - either they did it properly or not at all.
"We had no funding and we were leaving reasonable, respectable jobs to sell condoms," she explained. "It was all or nothing, so we had to be sure."
To test their theory about a gap in the market, they created a Typeform survey. They surveyed over 2,000 women through friends, family and Welsh's medical networks. The results were "pivotal" and encouraged them to make the packaging and vegan aspect a core focus for HANX.
The survey also validated Welsh's experiences of working in a sexual health clinic. She saw first-hand what existing products were doing to women, whether in the form of irritations or recurring STIs. She wanted the HANX brand to become part of the solution, both physically and psychologically.
"There's the psychological side, so we really wanted to educate women and change the perception around sex. I think a brand like HANX can tackle that - we can talk to people in a way that's relatable," Welsh said.
The brand balancing act
Welsh and Kabir spent a lot of time working on the brand before officially launching. To tackle a stalwart like Durex, they would have to move into a market that hadn't been disrupted for a long time. Buyer confidence was key.
"We knew we needed to be trusted. Because we're a medical device, a lot of our communications were a little more serious. We were less fun than we are now," Welsh remembers.
"Now we've relaxed into it and become a bit more tongue in cheek. We talk about sex and find our consumers respond to it more when it's fun. It's about getting the balance right. It's about being fun, educational and informative, and getting the safety side right too."
Part of relaxing into the brand means that they are more confident about pushing boundaries. Whether it's sex, feminism or culture, HANX is defining itself with sharp social media quotes and euphemistic slogans. Their new lubricant product, for example, takes inspiration from The Little Mermaid, saying: "Darling it's better down where it's wetter."
Building a support network
The business is growing but, as Welsh explains, it's taken a lot of perseverance.
"We've launched in Boots now, but that took us a year. Getting a listing is a long game. You have to build relationships, make sales and keep people warm, which isn't my background. We believe in what we're doing - we just need to get the marketing right," she said.
The support from family and friends has helped the team to stay motivated, as has finding the time to eat healthily and exercise. Above all, Welsh believes having someone who really understands what you're going through is crucial for new businesses.
"Having a co-founder is great. If you don't have a co-founder, make sure you have another entrepreneur who understands the difficulties. There are loads of startup communities that can help."
Her advice for other businesses going through the tough first year?
"Keep going. Persevere and keep hustling until you get there. Everything takes longer than you think."