5 steps to building a category-defining company: LOLA’s plan to become a lifelong brand for women
By: Natalie Sportelli, Content & Brand Manager
In this series, “How I Built it,” we’ll cover how founders have built (or rebuilt) crucial aspects of their business using a combination of trial-and-error, on the job learning, and key advice. Past posts discuss how to develop your brand’s voice.
When LOLA launched in 2015, cofounders Alexandra Friedman and Jordana Kier were laser-focused on creating the first on-demand tampon company using all-natural ingredients. In the years that followed, LOLA would launch a full suite of chemical and dye-free period products: tampons, pads, liners, period kits, and more.
“The moments our customers shared about using our period products early on inspired us to think bigger,” says Kier of LOLA’s early days. “The thoughts you have when you get your period, it’s not just this one moment in your life.” Women needed a feminine care brand that would be there for them, at each stage of their maturation. “As we encounter new phases of our reproductive lives, we encounter new questions,” says Kier.
In May, the company debuted Sex by LOLA, a line of condoms, lubricant, and cleansing wipes. “Launching [this line] was the next step in building a lifelong brand for women’s reproductive health,” says Kier. That big picture vision was part of the reason we decided to back LOLA’s seed, A, and recent Series B fundraising round.
Every entrepreneur wants to build a category-defining company like LOLA and own their sector, but what do founders need to do to get there? We asked Kier for her insights on what drives LOLA’s product innovation, the role of brand, and what all founders can learn from her company’s growth story.
Solve a personal problem
LOLA’s mission to provide transparent period products for women was inspired by its cofounders’ own struggle to find better options. Kier and Friedman knew the period conversations they were having in private were happening everywhere, but no company was stepping in to offer better solutions, or answer their questions.
“At the beginning, LOLA was very focused on the menstrual category, in particular, around tampons,” says Kier. “It was a product we were interacting with so frequently. And we had many expectations for the brand we wanted to build, with focuses on transparency and having a conversation around periods.”
Category-defining founders have deeply personal motivations for building their businesses. They are working to solve their own problems, and deliver those solutions to other consumers.
“We remembered being 12 or 13, and going through this first big milestone,” says Kier. “As we both progressed through our lives, it was so clear that there were still so many unanswered questions. We didn’t always feel like we had the resources we needed.”
On top of creating and delivering better period products, the company doubled down on facilitating dialogue around their customers’ stories and experiences. Taking that extra step to reach out to their customers and connect them to each other propelled the next stage of their business.
Use customers as inspiration
To determine its next step, LOLA turned to its customers to find out what they wanted most. Their answer: better sexual health products. That feedback inspired LOLA’s product innovation and its move into the items a woman needs as a sexually active adult.
“When we were really focused on menstrual, we started hearing feedback from our customers about their sex lives,” says Kier. “Maybe they were pregnant or had a daughter and they wanted to know the best products for her to use.”
Founders don’t set out to build a category-defining company. They deliver a product to market and discover new areas for growth based on their customers.
LOLA’s Sex line came from its fans. “What we were trying to do is listen to our customers and they were asking for recommendations for other brands for their sexual health. They would say: I would love to buy all that stuff from you.” So, once again, LOLA got to work.
Don’t rush new products
LOLA spent a year from pen-and-paper ideation to launching its Sex line last May. To replicate the success it had with its Period line, LOLA’s cofounders applied takeaways from what did and didn’t work before and determined how to nail down logistics for a whole new suite of products: ultra thin lubricated condoms, personal lubricant and cleansing wipes.
“We’ve seen examples of companies that have grown too fast with their product lines,” says Kier. “We’re a lot more nimble than big consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) at getting to market very quickly, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of putting in the right ingredients.”
Founders of category-defining companies don’t rest once they have a win. They are thoughtful as they move forward to figure out the solution to the next problem in their sector.
The company was “not in the business of launching everything at once” and moving too fast to a fault. “There’s a desire to do everything at once and get everything ready to go and ship,” says Kier. “It will never be that clean and pretty if you do it like that,” she adds.
Instead, LOLA relied on customer feedback and analyzed data around its users’ behavior. “You have to listen to what the data is telling you. Sometimes we think we can go on gut, but you need to have a very logic-driven decision with deployment,” she says. That’s why LOLA spent a full twelve months developing its second line, ensuring as best it could the new products would find the same success with women that its menstrual line did.
Stay true to the brand
Building out LOLA, the cofounders knew, would require maintaining the consistent brand and message that attracted customers in the first place. A huge factor in capturing lightning in a bottle again with the Sex line would boil down to not deviating from the qualities customers already loved about LOLA. “It’s all about the brand,” Kier affirms.
- For the product itself that meant: using natural, transparent ingredients, giving consumers a straight answer, sleek packaging, and the reliable delivery already expected of its period products.
- For the messaging that meant: a consistently candid tone of voice and the same attention to sparking conversations that went into the company’s dialogue around periods.
Brands that become category-defining businesses have a clear mission and purpose. As a company grows, it stays true to its values and maintains control of its brand, image, and messaging.
“We thought about launching Sex by LOLA in a similar way as the Period line,” says Kier. “We were working towards a product that was something you’d be proud to use yourself.”
Launch with confidence
The cofounders weren’t so worried about how the new line was going to be received once it was launched, since customer input and testing was baked into the company’s product strategy and process from the start. It was a feedback loop “that gives [customers] a sense of ownership,” says Kier.
Category-defining companies know their category better than any other business. They launch and succeed because of the conversations and relationships they’ve cultivated with customers.
“We’ve been really fortunate that we’ve positioned the brand in a way that feeds into how we approach our product development. It’s very genuine and driven by personal experiences from customers,” says Kier.
Even after reviewing feedback and doing deep dives on data, companies should know they will need to iterate once their product is live. “There’s something to be said for learning as you go and being okay with that,” says Kier.
“As Alex [Friedman] always says, ‘You need to be comfortable building the plane as you fly it.”