How This After-Sex Cleanup Product Became A $1.4M/Year Business

Frances Tang
$120K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
Awkward Essentials
from Costa Mesa, CA, USA
started October 2020
$120,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
4
Employees
833K
alexa rank
554
followers
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How This After-Sex Cleanup Product Became A $1.4M/Year Business

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi! I’m Frances, the founder of Awkward Essentials and the inventor of dripstick, the world’s first cum sponge! We help solve awkward behind-the-bathroom-door problems—including post-sex drip and public toilet seat hovering. We’re all about embracing the inherent silliness of being human with humor, optimism, and community support.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I love having sex with my husband but didn’t love the next day's drip. I discovered it was a pretty common problem, yet the only solutions put forth by other folks involved using a towel, baby wipes, and toilet paper (which is great for the outside, but not so great for the inside). I googled it over and over again only to be sent to the depths of Reddit and yahoo answers (RIP).

The idea for dripstick actually came to me while I was baking. Every time I’d use that rubber spatula to scoop cake batter from a bowl, I’d think about creating a spatula for my vagina to get all the leftovers out. Inspiration strikes in unexpected places!

To re-wind, I graduated college during the other recession and had an incredibly hard time finding a job. Like most founders, I always had “ideas”—but was not great at executing them. Because I had such a hard time finding full-time work, I worked a ton of different part-time jobs and continued doing so even after finding full-time work. I’ve had over a dozen different jobs, from working in a commercial kitchen making macarons to being a Polynesian dancer. You can say I’m a multi-potentialite.

I started a few other businesses including a pop-up date night event company, a wedding photography business, and a SaaS company in the cannabis space. When my co-founder for the SaaS company unexpectedly bailed on me, it was a pretty low point in my road through entrepreneurship. I was really bummed.

I remember being in a co-working space telling a few other founder friends about what had happened, and that I had one last absolutely crazy idea left in me that I never told anyone. It was for dripstick, our core product. We ended up talking about it for hours and that conversation lifted my spirits and ignited my drive to explore this idea further. And here we are!

I’m going, to be honest—I am plagued by imposter syndrome. It makes taking action difficult. I needed validation along the way to keep things moving. The pivotal moment came (no pun intended) when I was accepted into an accelerator. This gave me the confidence I needed—if at least a few other people believed in my idea, that was reason enough to start. It also pushed me to deeply consider pursuing my idea more seriously.

It’s a sort of funny product that I took (and take) very seriously. With that, I told myself I would focus on shooting weddings on the weekends to support myself so I could work on my business during the weekdays. When you’ve got a vision you just can’t shake—like in my case, a tiny little cum sponge—you find a way to make it work.

The accelerator I joined was great! As with most business advice, the accelerator told me to validate the idea before spending money on creating a prototype—creating a landing page, doing some pre-orders, just something before dropping all my cash on an idea without any guarantee for success. The problem was, that no one understood the product. Because it is an invention and doesn’t exist in the world, people assumed it was the suction machine or wipe (despite explaining that it was a sponge to absorb cum after sex).

So, contrary to all advice, I went ahead and ordered the MOQ of my prototype. 20k cum sponges arrived and sat in my parents' house. I felt that if people could actually see and feel the product, they would understand.

There is literally a Reddit thread for everything. Use this to your market research advantage! The internet is a wild and wonderful place.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

As a one-person “company” I had little resources and capital. I first looked at why current solutions didn’t work. For example, a tampon would not work for the purpose of absorbing cum (I tried it… it turns into a weird slimy bullet thing…) because period blood is much less viscous than cum. So my product would need bigger pores to absorb—aka a sponge.

I looked at what materials and products already existed and were safe to be inserted in the vaginal canal (with limited resources myself, this was my way of leaning on the work of bigger companies). It turns out the contraceptive sponge (think Seinfeld) is made out of the same material as non-latex condoms—both of which are safe for the vaginal canal. I started there and looked for a medical manufacturing facility that could produce the same medical-grade sponge.

I am not a proto-typer or even a graphic designer, so honestly, I just drew what I wanted on a piece of paper and sent it over to the factory. Along the way, I talked to as many people as I could and asked for help.

Legal stuff (not the most fun, but definitely important) came next. I was connected to an inventors assistance nonprofit that could help me with the patent process. Well, like any terrible tinder date, I was ghosted by the assigned attorney. So, I had to find and pay my own attorney with my own capital. Another roadblock, but it didn’t stop me.

With an invention, there is the hurdle of not only having to bring a product to market but also explaining what it is and how it works. I remember looking for an anatomical plastic vagina (like in the doctor's office) on Amazon so I could make an explanation video, but it was so expensive that I couldn’t afford it. So, being the baker/sweet-tooth that I am, I filmed a Twinkie getting its cream removed with dripstick on the patio of my apartment with a friend’s iPhone. It was true to my humor and bank account. That video helped us go viral around the world.

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20K cum sponges did not fit in my dad’s car, so I had to open a couple of boxes, put them in trash bags (all individually wrapped!), and stuff them in the car crevices!

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This is me packing orders in my parent’s living room when the twinkie video went viral

I was literally the person who was constantly “working on my business” but in reality, I wasn’t doing the things needed to truly move forward. I was avoiding taking the risk of getting the prototype and going out there to talk to people about it. In short, DO THE SCARY THING! The scary thing moves the needle.

awkward-essentials
Behind the scenes of the Twinkie gif. I quickly learned that a cream-filled chocolate cupcake was not the way to go

Describe the process of launching the business.

Some context: the initial name of the business was come&gone. I still own those domains and every iteration of come&gone.com you can spell.

I threw together a website, email list, and social presence, and geared up to begin marketing. With a background in so many different things, I was able to pull together all the basics. I knew that the hardest part would be marketing my product and telling people that it exists, rather than hitting publish on the website.

When I was ready, I posted my hacked-together website on a few Facebook groups to get some feedback on whether it made any sense. The next morning, I woke up to non-stop notifications on my phone and a missed message. Someone from HuffPost UK had seen my post and wrote an article about my one-person “company” overnight. She had DM’d me but due to the time zone difference, I was asleep.

Orders were flooding in and the modern-classic startup story began. I begged my friends to come to help me pack and ship hundreds of orders (paid in pizza obviously). I cleared the box store out and had to go to a couple of locations to get everything I needed. Prior to the HuffPost UK story, I was ready to ship like 10 orders per month max, not the hundreds that had been placed overnight.

I got DMs from people around the world who had no idea I was a one-person “company”, demanding we ship to them because “We have sex here too!” That was the moment I realized I’d created a thing people actually wanted. They were willing to put their credit card information down. After that, I told myself if I saw re-orders, it was time to make the full jump.

Oh and while this was all happening, I was set to get married in two months. My founder friends (the very first people who supported the idea!) put together a last-minute bridal-hack-a-thon for me to give my non-founder friends a taste of the startup life and crowdsource brains to help me since I didn’t have a team!

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Here are some of my amazing friends during the bridal hack-a-thon! Is that my husband on Reddit? Yes…yes it is

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Second order just two weeks before my wedding (so I wouldn’t run out of inventory)

After the initial burst of customers and orders, I knew it would continue to take a lot of work to sustain this thing I’d found myself in. One of the big questions was whether I would be allowed to do paid ads since my product was sex-related. I reached out to a friend who had experience doing this to test it out, and it turns out we could (it’s just that every ad had to be, and is still to this day, manually reviewed).

I kept going and basically continued to drain my savings to keep things alive. It got to the point where I was at a crossroads and out of cash personally. This is when I decided to raise capital. I knew my chances were low, but if I wanted to go fast, this is the path that made the most sense.

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The initial website!

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

To be honest, a lot of paid ads accidentally go viral. Dripstick wasn’t built to be controversial—it was made to solve a problem. It’s utilitarian. But, because it straddles the line between sex and feminine hygiene (two super-charged topics), and it’s brand new, everyone has an opinion.

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Staying true to our brand and personality has guided us through some choppy waters. When I first pitched my idea during my accelerator I used facts, numbers, and statistics. That did not go over well (can still remember some of the horrified faces and at-you-not-with-you awkward laughing). I eventually evolved the pitch into an almost stand-up comedy routine rooted in my personal experience. That way if someone couldn’t relate, they could brush it off. If they could but were too embarrassed to admit it, they could.

We have all of the other basic marketing arms in place: Email, SMS, SEO, PR, organic social, ambassador/influencer, partnerships with other brands, and paid media. We also do sampling when/where we can. We are constantly testing new things, i.e. tested an ad in a print magazine once, and are always open to getting creative.

We just launched on Amazon; we debated for a really long time whether or not we should do it. I know a general sentiment is that it dilutes a brand. But we also knew that people were already searching for us there and that the conversion rate is much higher due to the trust factor (and Prime delivery, and familiarity with returns). We even had people in our comments say they purchased the product on Amazon when they, in fact, had not. We knew the copycats would come, and it would be smarter to own our terms and put a stake in the ground on Amazon before they did. Once we launched and found an agency to help, we saw 350% growth.

We are also starting to dip our toes into retail. Since we are a hygiene product, I’m a big believer that a lot of our awareness will come from being on-shelf.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We have a lot in the works right now that I wish I could share, but for now…

Almost 100% of our sales are coming from our D2C store. We just started Amazon so it’s a very small percentage on top of wholesale. We are a small team of 4 and we leverage a 3PL out of Texas. The plan is to continue expanding our product line to other products that solve behind-the-bathroom-door problems while continuing to push our core product as the hook! We somewhat recently launched our second product which is a disposable pee funnel. We have a thing for bodily fluids I guess.

Our long-term goal is to become a ubiquitous product like kleenex or chapstick. I can only imagine what the world thought when tampons were invented (I even think back to the first time I heard about a menstrual cup and had all kinds of questions).

awkward-essentials

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Everyone said don’t raise capital if you don’t need to. I can’t say we would be here if we hadn’t, but I can also confirm they were right. It comes with so much emotional and mental stress. It’s not like a marriage, it’s a baby daddy. They are never going away and they own part of your child (the business) forever.

At a certain point, you have to trust yourself and go with your gut. I like to take other opinions into consideration (not a bad thing by any means) inside and outside of our team, but at the end of the day, as the founder, you know best. Just because someone has more experience doesn’t mean they understand your exact situation. Advice often isn’t qualified.

There is a balance between overprepared and underprepared.

Hiring is really fucking hard. They aren’t lying when they say hire slow fire fast. To add to this, we were pressured into making full-time hires in-house. In retrospect, although agencies/contractors seem expensive, it’s much less painful to test and switch these instead of full-time hires! Always make sure there is an out clause in those contracts!

Find as many communities as you can. I’d like to think I know a fair amount of people in our small space, and I attribute it to always looking for groups and events that I can participate in.

Just ask. I would have never imagined we would be able to have Cindy Gallop as an advisor, but I took a stab at it and asked.

Some tactical stuff:

The forward intro email- This is a tactical article about how to go about asking for an introduction. Make it easy and provide context. Incredibly valuable and so few people do it.

Step by step how I raised - I often get asked how I found our VCs, this is how.

There is literally a Reddit thread for everything. Use this to your market research advantage! The internet is a wild and wonderful place.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’m glad you asked—I actually created and shared such a list for other founders. You can find it here.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

  • The $100 Startup
  • Startup Therapy Podcast (For my mental health)
  • Exit Strategy (They offer tactical, actionable stuff since Moiz (the host) comes from D2C, he knows what exactly to ask the D2C founders he interviews)

I used to listen to How I Built This. It’s extremely inspirational startup porn, but the more I kept going, I realized that it wasn’t actionable. Tactical is where it’s at.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I was literally the person who was constantly “working on my business” but in reality, I wasn’t doing the things needed to truly move forward. Like prepping the website, getting feedback, and planning social content. All of that is important, but what I was avoiding was taking the risk of getting the prototype and going out there to talk to people about it. In short, DO THE SCARY THING! The scary thing moves the needle.

People want to help, you just need to ask.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Growth marketing person. Marketing analyst. Must have a sense of humor. [email protected].

Where can we go to learn more?

Email us anytime [email protected] or feel free to email me directly [email protected].

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

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Frances Tang, Founder of Awkward Essentials
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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