Robyn McLean and Mary Bond of Hello Cup: Why you shouldn’t be afraid to go into business with a friend
Don’t be afraid to go into business with a friend. People told us going into business after a lifetime of friendship would end in disaster. In reality, it’s only made our friendship even better. We talk every day and bounce ideas off each other. We get to travel to all sorts of places and basically live the friendship dream. It’s seriously fun.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Robyn McLean and Mary Bond.
Hello Cup was created by founders Robyn McLean and Mary Bond out of frustration from the lack of quality, comfortable menstrual cups on the market. Mary’s medical knowledge as a registered nurse, complemented by Robyn’s marketing and journalism background made for the perfect combination.
Best friends since 11, Mary and Robyn sought out to start a conversation around sustainable and body-loving period care in a fun, engaging way. In a few short years, Hello Cup has rapidly gained a loyal international following for their incomparable fit and cheeky personality. Headquartered in New Zealand, this bloody brilliant duo has been ridding the world of single-use pads and tampons since 2017.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
ROBYN: Well interestingly it was our previous careers that made us feel like starting a menstrual cup business was a great fit for us. I’ve previously worked in journalism and PR so words are my passion. I love to be able to tell a story and when it comes to menstrual cups — there are a lot of great stories to tell around how amazing they are for both our bodies and the environment. I’m also a fan of having fun with words — so our messaging at Hello Cup has a light-hearted approach. Mary on the other hand has spent more than 20 years working as a registered nurse in neonatal, intensive care and palliative care.
We have been best friends since we were 11 and had always talked about going into business together but had never really found something that could tap into both our skill sets. After I tried my first menstrual cup, I called her to overshare my experience — although it was largely positive, I told her we needed to design a cup that would make people actually WANT to make the switch. To do that the cup needed to be super comfortable, high quality but also cool and not too intimidating. While we could quickly see that menstrual cups were total game changers, we also knew that most people with periods had been used to using single-use products — the education element and benefits of cups was something we would need to be able to get across to potential customers because as they say ‘old habits die hard’! Mary’s medical training has been invaluable at Hello Cup because we often get very personal questions and she’s always available to our customers via email or on the phone if they want to talk about something specific. It sounds a bit cheesy but it actually feels like starting Hello Cup is something that we were destined to do. We love it so much and our previous careers have set us up to create a company that is quite unique.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
MARY: Robyn and I live in different cities so that has been one of the major challenges. Starting a business without being able to have vital face to face time had its challenges early on. We very quickly learned to always FaceTime each other when we had a question or an idea. We FaceTime each other about five times a day. You can’t run a business via email. Too much gets lost in translation and it’s risky because it could lead to friction if someone interprets something you have written in the wrong way. Face to Face — even if it’s a video call — is essential, especially if you are working from different cities. We also needed to overcome the challenge of ‘who does what.’ For the first year, it was literally just the two of us so we needed to establish relatively clear roles so we didn’t get exhausted by ‘doubling up.’ I essentially ran the logistics and dispatch side of the business while Robyn looked after the creative aspect. It’s worked out well and as we have grown we have been able to employ staff to help in both those areas so we can work on overall business strategy and growth.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
ROBYN: Being kind. From the very outset, we didn’t want to play by the ‘rules’ that others told us we needed to adhere to. We felt very passionate about the fact that Hello Cups could change the lives of people with periods for the better. We weren’t motivated by wanting to make money, we were motivated to help people have a better period experience. We had people telling us that making a reusable product that lasted so long was stupid: our profit margin would be low because we’d only get repeat customers every few years. That didn’t faze us. We treat our customers with respect and empathy. Learning how to master a menstrual cup can be tricky for some and we make sure we are always available to answer our customers’ questions. This approach has led to Hello Cup having amazing ‘word of mouth’ recommendations. We show people that we are real and approachable and we appreciate that they have put trust in us by purchasing a Hello Cup. We don’t ever try and lure a customer in with false information. If we establish someone might need a cup from another brand or that a menstrual cup might not be right for them at all, we will tell them. It’s not about the sale, it’s about making a difference.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Founder?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. If you have a good idea, go for it.
MARY: The Hello Cup launched 6 months after Robyn and I first discussed making menstrual cups. We worked hard but we also made decisions quickly as we knew our timing was perfect and there was no time to waste. It was very clear that the earth was heaving under the weight of single-use menstrual products and that people with periods were demanding a better option. We then used the invaluable feedback from our customers to improve and innovate. At Hello Cup we will always be moving forward with new ideas to make periods easier and period products more sustainable.
2. Don’t be afraid to go into business with a friend
ROBYN: People told us going into business after a lifetime of friendship would end in disaster. In reality, it’s only made our friendship even better. We talk every day and bounce ideas off each other. We get to travel to all sorts of places and basically live the friendship dream. It’s seriously fun.
3. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
MARY: I never thought I would enjoy something that wasn’t completely nursing related. But the last 3 years have been incredible. It’s been challenging but we have both learned so much and have had a whole lot of fun along the way. The network of support we have had has been mind-blowing especially from other female business owners.
4. Have a business idea but don’t sweat about a plan
ROBYN: We have certainly had a few bank managers who have rolled their eyes at our lack of a business plan but we are passionate and driven and we never doubted we would succeed. We have recently spent more time around strategic planning simply because we know business growth equals more people using menstrual cups which is always going to be our driving force.
5. If you do something you love, doing it will consume you, so try to plan regular time away from your phone or laptop.
ROBYN: I need to work on this myself so I’m putting it down so I can read it and hopefully learn from my own advice! It’s very easy when you own a business to let it consume your every waking moment. I went to the beach today and left my phone at home. It felt weird but also I realized that I needed a bit of time to myself. It made the beach that much more enjoyable and not surprisingly, the sky didn’t fall in.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out?”
MARY: Try to add exercise into your day. It’s really hard but exercise makes all the difference for managing stress levels and clearing the cobwebs from an overworked mind. We also have just launched a mental health policy where our staff are able to take extra leave days in a “no questions asked capacity” to be able to take some time for their mental health and wellbeing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
ROBYN: Putting a celebrity might sound a bit cliché but I really admire the way Ellen DeGeneres approached life and people. She’s a grounded celebrity who is upfront and honest about her options. She engages with people from all walks of life in a real, compassionate and genuine way. I feel grateful to her for showing that success doesn’t mean you helicopter off to your private island and forget about people. We all need to be kind to each other and she really emulates that. She’s just awesome. I can’t share a story about her because I haven’t met her but she’s certainly someone I admire. And I love the fact she’s married to an Australian because Australia is pretty close to New Zealand where Hello Cups are made — so one day we might even be able to convince her to visit us!
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
MARY: We really want Hello Cup to be the most recognized menstrual cup company in the world. We are working on that by being true to ourselves and the company. We will not cut corners and we know that genuine meaningful success doesn’t happen overnight. We believe it’s something that will happen by us sticking to our guiding principle of being kind and being a company that cares. Our goal is to always keep improving and never to say we have 100% conquered something. We want to keep learning and keep growing.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
ROBYN: We hope our lasting legacy is to make people rethink their period options. Reusables have had a bad name for no reason. They are actually amazing — they will not only save you money but they are more convenient, easier, better for the environment, and last for years. We’d like Hello Cup to be recognized as one of the first brands to lead to the extinction of tampons. We hope that they don’t even exist in the future as they have nothing to offer over menstrual cups.
If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
MARY: We’d love to see people rally together to change how we gender periods. Periods aren’t just a female thing. For too long period products have been promoted only using women and we are leaving an already marginalized group of people out of the discussion — transgender men and non-binary people. We have been working with non-binary activist and model Rain Dove to increase awareness and to help us rephrase our own language. It doesn’t take much to say ‘people with periods’ rather than ‘women with periods’ but it means a lot to a group of people who often already feel they are being alienated. So let’s create a movement and spread the word that “People have Periods!”