How We Started A
Vegan Sexual Wellness Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
I am Sarah Welsh, medical doctor and co-founder at HANX. I have experience in Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Sexual Health, and a Diploma in Fertility, Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.
Being passionate about smashing taboos around sex, pleasure and health, whilst empowering people to own their sexuality, I launched HANX with my childhood friend Farah, in 2017. We wanted to create an inclusive sexual wellness brand that empowers positive sexual health.
Currently, HANX sells condoms and lubricant, both of which are kind to the body and kind to the planet. Our products are vegan certified and as natural as possible. We are opening up the conversation around sexual wellness through our educational content and no-filter forum, HANX Life!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I studied Medicine at Durham then Newcastle Universities. I graduated in 2012, and after my junior doctor years I went on to work as a doctor within women’s health. During this time I became interested in sexual health and taught sex education in schools.
Farah and I set up sexual wellness brand, HANX, after meeting for a long lunch one random Monday. We spoke about that condom aisle, after Farah had bumped into her boss buying condoms. We discussed the garish packaging, the shame you feel being seen with condoms, the negative feelings they conjure, and also the increased need for protection against STIs and non-hormonal methods of contraception.
Sex should be a positive thing, yet it was still a huge taboo, especially for women.
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 aspects, as well as the need for vegan options . We wanted to change the way they are sold and look on your bedside table or in your handbag. Ultimately, we wanted to focus on the mission of the company you are buying from.
After hours of research (whilst both working full-time) and manufacturer visits, we took the leap to quit our day jobs. We went full-time on HANX then launched officially in September 2017.
Every aspect of design was thought through in detail, from the ingredients, how they are sourced, the packaging look feel and purpose.
We now sell condoms as well as a water-based lubricant, whilst building a community proud to be open and honest about sexual wellness.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
We faced many challenges as a small company, from raising money to getting our name out there as a new and trusted brand. HANX were lucky enough to be chosen for the Huckletree Alpha programme, which was invaluable in opening doors to other partners, investors and mentors.
As a medical device, our condoms and lubricants go through rigorous testing, and finding the right manufacturer that could encompass everything we needed took a lot of determination and patience! We are so happy to have persevered and not settled on anything. As a young company, it is important you stay focused on your vision, mission and surround yourself with supportive and experienced people.
Who is your target market?
Anyone that cares about their body, the planet and enjoys sex!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
As a small business we have to be savvy with marketing budgets, and creative too. Social media is a fantastic tool to shout about what we stand for, engage our community and also educate.
We have previously done fun campaigns such as gifting HANX condoms at tube stations, alongside a little card explaining and depicting one of the many types female orgasms on it! We have also gifted roses with HANX attached over Valentine’s Day.
Press coverage is important as a new brand, so we have been lucky enough to gain feature pieces on HANX and founder interviews too.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
At HANX, it is a very flat culture, and everyone is treated equally. Prior to lockdown we were based in a co-working space, Huckletree, which has a fantastic community, and really supports start-up culture.
Now, we are ensuring regular Zoom calls, touching base regularly within the team, and supporting each other both in the work we are doing and personal challenges that are inevitable.
Being open, honest, fair and collaborative is how we work. HANX also champions itself on acting responsibly in the work we do, products we create, community we build, and how we act as individuals. We trust and respect the partners and teams we work with. I feel strongly that consistent hard work and passionate teams build successful businesses.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The variety, meeting and working with a whole host of inspiring people! Learning every day, and seeing my vision grow into a reality that helps others.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Not being able to switch off! It is an always on way of life.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, gives an honest account of how to build a successful start-up in the real world. Horowitz uses his inspiring entrepreneurial story and offers advice and practical wisdom. In terms of podcasts, The Twenty Minute VC with Harry Stebbings, is a concise and informative podcast with some amazing guests and great advice on fundraising.