Collective Conversations: Kegelbell is helping women live more comfortably
When Kegelbell founder and CEO Stephanie Schull discovered that a majority of women are challenged by issues with their pelvic floors — often debilitating enough to stop them from living their life to the fullest — she knew she had to do something. She decided to launch Kegelbell, the first and only externally weighted kegel device designed to help women regain the strength and integrity of the pelvic floor.
When Stephanie founded Kegelbell in 2016, she had no prior business experience, a very limited budget, and a small network. But her passion, persistence, patience with the process, and dedication to building relationships in the startup company eventually brought Kegelbell to the market. When it did, customer response was overwhelmingly positive.
In this edition of Collective Conversations, Stephanie, a member of the Startup Collective 2020 growth cohort, told us why she started Kegelbell, how she managed to have success on a limited budget, and what the future holds for the business.
What was your background before Kegelbell?
Before Kegelbell, I had nothing to do with the business world at all. All my life, I was in higher education as a philosophy professor. Philosophy is all I ever did or studied. My most recent position before founding Kegelbell in 2016 was the director of academic affairs at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. I was around a lot of great design, and that really got me involved in design thinking.
What is Kegelbell?
A marketing professional I met at SEED SPOT described it as a “vagina gym”, and that’s essentially what it is. It’s a weight system one uses to strengthen the muscles and the pelvic floor. By creating a weight system, women can now get the exercise needed in a much shorter time frame. Using Kegelbell, women can perform the exercises for five minutes three times per week, versus three times a day every day.
Why did you start Kegelbell?
I came across some research that showed 75% of women have problems with their pelvic floors, which was stunning. Most women are walking around with problems, but they don’t tell anyone. They just stop doing the things they love. The feminist in me wanted to do something about it.
Upon further research, I found out that kegel exercises work if they are done properly. But apparently, many women struggle to figure how to do these exercises or just can’t figure out how to do it often enough.
I wanted to make it easy for them to do Kegel exercises quickly and often enough so they could get on with their lives. I didn’t want people to continue living and dying with these problems while I waited around for someone else to fix it.
Once you decided to start Kegelbell, how did you get a working product ready for market?
It all started with a clearly articulated problem, which helped create an outline of what functionality and features needed to exist. From there, I just designed and drew a vaginal weight system.
At a tradeshow, I ran into a doctor of engineering, told him what I was considering, and he agreed to help me. He helped me with the technical drawings and connected me with a manufacturer.
But for me, the big leap was saying, I’m going to do this, I’m going to figure out manufacturing, I’m going to figure out design, development, FDA registration, I’m really going to do all this.
How did you find product-market fit?
I went to an incubator called SEED SPOT when I was in the idea phase, and they explained the importance of building a prototype, presenting it to people, asking questions, receiving feedback, and then tweaking the design. While I was doing that, I was learning how to communicate with my future customers.
We built about 50 prototypes, and I had people test them. From the information we collected, we realized the design was too confusing for people. So we had to do new designs and continue testing until we found a product that received better feedback and results.
How much growth and traction have you had since you started?
When I started, people told me that the idea is taboo and that nobody would want to talk about it or buy it. That was really wrong. I knew if the problem was that much of a pain point, people wanted it and would buy it. And sure enough, they did.
Even without much of a marketing budget, we grew through word-of-mouth and people just liking it and being excited about it. We had a waiting list that people were on for months after paying in advance, so there was a ton of demand.
This year, we are 200% above what we were last year, and sales are continuously growing. That’s pretty stupendous growth, especially with our meager means to communicate that we exist to the world. All of our other metrics, like conversion rates, customer satisfaction, and return rates are stunningly good. So we know at this point, it’s just about putting more gas in the engine so we can go faster and faster.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
It was a time-money problem. It’s going to take more time if you have less money, but it takes a lot of time to go out and find more money. But while it started as a negative, it became a positive to me because I was able to get this product to market and build inventory on just $360,000, whereas normally it takes $20 to 90 million to get a medical device to market. So, I learned how to stretch every dollar.
It was a challenge, but it’s made us stronger and more nimble. We have an even better story to tell about what we can do and what’s possible because it was improbable on so many levels. Now that we’ve overcome all these obstacles, I think that we can show people it’s the customer demand that made this exist, and that’s what’s going to make us grow. It makes us a good bet for the future.
What’s the next step for Kegelbell?
In the next few months, you’re going to see about 10 more products come out. Investors have been telling me one of the biggest problems is it’s a one-time purchase. While there’s another weight for super-strong overachievers, for the most part, customers don’t have to buy much over time. Then customers started telling me they wanted more from us, like supporting products and products to use in tandem with it.
Customers trust us and want to buy from us. Investors say it’s wise, it will help our growth, and I’m going to have fun creating more products. I think it’s just a fabulous next stage for us.
Why did you apply for the StartupAZ Collective?
I tried many years in a row to join. I knew the Collective had a great reputation for attracting the best businesses and then helping those businesses grow and kick it up a notch. It’s invitation-only, and every year, I interviewed, and they were very polite and would give me advice. Then after our growth in revenue this past year, they invited me in.
It’s been what I had hoped. The main reason I wanted to be part of the Collective is that I saw the quality of the local companies in it. They are strong and have great leadership. It has given me relationships, a network, support, and helped me get through hurdles and tough problems.
I had no business experience, which meant I had no network. It was lonely because I didn’t know who to ask for help. I didn’t know who to bounce ideas off. The Collective has helped a lot with that because I take things to the group and walk away with answers.
Do you have any advice for Arizona entrepreneurs?
Arizona has a massive network of people, and I didn’t know any of them when I started. Don’t wait to be introduced to people. Just jump in when you see events posted. Attend as many networking events as possible. It may seem like a distraction, but when you’re just getting started, you need that network. That’s how we were able to do what we did with so little money. You can cobble together what you need to be successful here. Just go for it and don’t hesitate.