HerSTEMStory: Sadaf Naz

Today, we are celebrating Sadaf Naz, founder of Her Ground; an online subscription-based delivery service providing feminine hygiene products. It allows customers to choose dates, delivery times and the desired package from its website. Sadaf took on the big challenge of building an e-commerce solution around one of the most taboo topics in our society. Her Ground was the only startup that got selected and subsequently won third place at GIST Tech-I 2018.

Read below to learn about Sadaf’s journey building Her Ground in her own words, as a first of its kind online store in Pakistan.

The biggest motivation for me was the size of the problem, I feel, I could touch so many lives and help women live a healthier and more confident life, so they can go on doing amazing things in life.

Sadaf Naz — Founder, Her Ground

Awards and Recognitions

Her Ground won 3rd Place Startup at GIST Tech-I 2018

Sadaf Naz won the Amazon Outstanding Woman Entrepreneurs Award for building Her Ground

Sadaf Naz — 3rd Place Startup at GIST Tech-I 2018 and Amazon Outstanding Woman Entrepreneurs Award

Her Journey

Growing up in a middle-class family in Okara, it was taboo to discuss menstruation. When I got my first period, my mother gave me a piece of cloth and told not to wash it in front of others because it was considered a sin. It was not until I moved to Faisalabad for college, where I discovered that you are supposed to use sanitary napkins. I kept thinking of this experience even after college. Once I started working in a Pharmaceutical company, I thought I could do something about it, especially when I learned about the more horrible experiences of shopping sanitary pads in Pakistan. These sanitary pads are being sold like illegal drugs, first picking them from a store’s shelf, packed in a khaki envelope and then taking them to the counter where every other male shopkeeper often makes the transaction very awkward for the female buyers. Many women in Pakistan go through similar (and in some cases worse) experiences around their periods, although it is a natural part of a woman’s life. In Pakistan, young girls are not educated about periods, especially how they can manage it hygienically and tackle the issues associated with it. That’s why every year approx 70% of our female population suffers from the Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Just the mere realization of these challenges and how they impact women’s everyday lives and the size of the problem motivated me to build Her Ground. I felt I could touch so many lives to make them healthier and confident so that they can go out and do amazing things. However, the biggest challenge was to start a conversation about female reproductive health and especially about menstruation or periods.

Starting Her Ground turned out to be a challenging experience. With no background in technology or e-commerce, I set out to launch a website where we could offer a subscription-based delivery service. When I could not afford to hire a web developer, I learned how to set up the website myself, add products, write content and promote it online. I reached out to a few online communities, watched YouTube tutorials and learnt to use Adobe Photoshop. It was a great learning experience for me, especially as it gave me confidence to go on to actually build an online business and grow my skills as well. Officially, I launched Her Ground on September 1st, 2017, at that time we were a team of two people, me and a delivery boy who was working part-time and delivering ‘Her Box’ to customers. ‘Her Ground’ is a social initiative and we are providing a subscription service to women which delivers feminine hygiene products every month at your doorstep. Initially, we added branded sanitary napkins on our online website. But soon I realized that girls living in smaller cities cannot afford the branded napkins. So, we found local manufacturers in Pakistan and got their products. The site also provides awareness on health, hygiene, and nutrition and currently has 337 subscription based customers and are projected to grow 10X every year. Every online sale helps us offer sanitary napkins at a subsidized rate to girls in smaller cities and villages. We are also looking at expanding our product line to add tampons and panty liners.

In October 2017, I got a chance to be part of the Plan9 Incubation Cycle. Plan9 is a six-month program which provides sessions on the growth of your startups and it also gives you a monthly stipend to hire more people. But unfortunately, in our cycle’s time, most of the Plan9 team were leaving and the remaining team could not give us enough time for learning and growth. At that time, I decided to work on my own as relying on any incubation program wasn’t enough. So, for the first time, I visited a school in a rural area of Okara and did a successful campaign on menstrual hygiene and how we can improve health by eating a balanced diet at home. The purpose to do a campaign in smaller areas is that majority of the women don’t have access to sanitary napkins, this is due to lack of knowledge about menstruation and hygiene. We provided sanitary napkins to those schools and these were relatively inexpensive and of good quality. Every month we are renewing that stock of sanitary napkins. That was a wonderful experience for me, I talked to so many young girls and it motivated me to do more awareness work with regards to menstruation and make hygienic products more accessible. With the passage of time, I did more campaigns in 4 schools, 1 college and 2 universities about menstruation, hygiene, and nutrition in general.

In December 2017, I got selected as part of the Acumen Fellowship Program. Acumen is a USA based initiative, working on how we can alleviate injustice and poverty in society through our work. That was a great opportunity for me to build myself and the Her Ground organization. Acumen had 5 sessions in different areas of Pakistan and they were very well designed. This fellowship program changed me and my thinking. It helped me understand how to create an impact in society. Through this fellowship, I met 20 outstanding people in Pakistan that are working on education, health, language, and empowerment.

In April 2018, I got a chance to participate in the GIST Tech-I competition. I was the only Pakistan startup that had been selected to pitch globally through this forum. I was so excited because it was my first ever international tour representing ‘Her Ground’. And I won 3rd place as well as another award for outstanding female entrepreneur.

In August 2018 we initiated a campaign in south Punjab with the collaboration of Idaara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi on puberty and body changes. I personally visited the cities like Muzaffargarh, Bahawalpur, and Rahim-Yar-Khan and did a session on female reproductive cycle, problems associated with it and which kind of precautions girls should take during periods days to keep themselves healthy and active.

Currently, I am a part of the accelerator program i2i, this program is helping me grow ‘Her Ground’ and make it scalable. I am very grateful for this past year and today it feels like i am just getting started on my journey.

Getting selected for GIST Tech-I and securing third place at the startup competition and winning the Amazon Outstanding Woman Entrepreneurs Award was the proud moment for me. For the first time in my life, I got a chance to travel internationally and win something for my country.

Sadaf Naz as part of 2018 Tech-I Finalists

Starting my own startup was the easy part, but building a solution and scaling it turned out to be more difficult. With no background in technology or e-commerce, I set out to launch our website. I had to learn many things on-the-go to run the startup many of them were completely new to me. That challenge offered me a huge learning and growth experience and helped me build my confidence.

Nothing can stop you from flying high. You can achieve any dream if you’re passionate about it. Just focus and work hard.

Sadaf Naz is an entrepreneur and the founder of Her Ground. She wrote her own story.

Huma Hamid, a tech-maker mom, President and Co-founder of Pakistani Women in Computing. You can reach out to her via LinkedIn and Twitter.

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Pakistani Women in Computing

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PWiC is a global community of women in technology fields and their allies hailing from Pakistan with the aim to connect, learn and grow together