Secrets Of A SexTech Founder: Why We Created HANX
Ever wondered who's behind your favourite condoms? Welcome the world of HANX, baby. We're not a huge corporate juggernaut churning out bog-standard johnnies, and we're not related to Forrest Gump, either. 😉 For the latest in our Secrets of a SexTech Founder series, we grabbed a matcha latte with our Co-Founders and first-time entrepreneurs Farah Kabir and Dr Sarah Welsh to get the real story on why they switched their successful careers for condoms. If you're planning on turning your side hustle into the real deal, or dream of taking your awesome idea into reality, you need to read this...
Let's start from the top. What inspired you to start HANX?
Farah: “Sarah and I have actually been friends since school - we met over a bunsen burner! We’ve always got together to vent about the things we want to change in the world. One afternoon over a glass of wine, we were bemoaning our personal experiences with condoms and some of the horror stories from Sarah’s time in the NHS. 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 is the most surprising thing you’ve learnt from running your own business?
Sarah: "I always felt I able to cope with high stress and multi-tasking, having worked on obstetrics wards which can be high pressure situations. However, I’ve really learnt that I am far more resilient that I thought I could be. Things that would have felt very stressful in year one aren’t anymore - and I’m still surprised how well I can roll with the punches in areas I’d never thought I would e.g. manufacturing, packaging and beyond."
Spill: what's it really like to work with your best friend? How do you split up each side of the business?
Farah: "Given my background at Goldman Sachs, I naturally moved towards handling the financial side of running a business. I always have my eye on the broader sextech and intimate health market, so I also lead on the investment process which includes pitching to potential investors for HANX.
Sarah’s medical expertise perfectly set her up to lead on new product development, as her time in NHS sexual health clinics gave her incredible insight into what women really want when it comes to vaginal health. Working together comes so naturally to us. We always have each others’ back and there’s a great sense of balance between us. You need to be able to not just have exciting vision-based creative chats, but also to get into the nitty-gritty of the numbers and have tough conversations along the way, too. We couldn’t do it without each other."
HANX is your very first business. How did you find the transition from the NHS and Goldman and Sachs to the life of entrepreneurs?
Farah: “When we started HANX, we were experts in our respective fields of finance and medicine, but had never developed condoms before (like most people!). Condoms are a medical device, so we were immediately plunged into a whole new world of learning all about manufacturing and regulations to make our dream a reality. We were completely fresh to it all: we even turned up to our first factory visit in heels! However, our backgrounds actually prepared us perfectly for the role of entrepreneurs. Working in Goldman Sachs gave me the skills to handle high pressure situations - I can speak to absolutely anyone and be confident in myself and HANX.”
Sarah: “Working in NHS wards, you learn to be unflappable and also to multi-task. That’s been essential in terms of handling the logistical side of the business. I always loved meeting patients face-to-face and hearing about their health journey, and my experience doing that has really formed the basis of our condom design. I still love staying really close to our community, through surveys, chats in our DMs, meeting at events and even one-to-one calls to hear how we can better serve them.”
Money talks. We know there is still a gap between the VC funding for male and female founded brands, especially in 'taboo' industries. Has this impeded HANX on its journey?
Farah: “When it comes to investment, we’ve encountered outdated attitudes. We’ve built a passionate community of Angel investors, as at the start, VCs weren’t willing to take a chance on two girls who had no background in the condom industry whatsoever. We don’t fit the typical founder stereotype, we don’t work in trendy industries and as a woman from a Bangladeshi Muslim background, I find myself challenging preconceptions every single day. I’ve encountered assumptions that I don’t understand how valuation works, despite my background in investment banking, and even a sexual proposition in a pitch. It all just makes us more determined to find our people who get us and what we’re building - and we’re lucky to have some incredible backers, both male and female.”
So, what’s next for HANX in 2023?
Sarah: “Well, you already know - but we can give a few hints for the rest of the world, too. We recently launched our first ever pleasure partner, a clitoral suction toy, Cindy, which our community has been asking for them since day one. We have two more new products launching very, very soon, too which is really exciting! I can't reveal all but it's a really important step in our pursuit of delivering unapologetic sexual and intimate wellness for everyone, at every life stage. Stay tuned..."
- Why does running a sexual wellness business put off investors? Find out the inside story in our fundraising deep-dive in Secrets of a SexTech Founder.