chelsea and brooklyn heights
jordana kier & alexandra friedman
Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman are the founders of LOLA, a revolutionary company that's bringing women 100% natural tampons straight to their door. We had a candid discussion with these Birds about opening the door to healthier choices for women, and the challenges of starting a business in a field that’s still often considered taboo.
Both of you were born and raised in New York?
JK: We are both from the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
Oh, wow. You're like "New York" New York! It must be amazing to grow up here.
AF: We've never seen grass ever. What is green? What is nature? [Laughs]
JK: I think it gave us both so many opportunities. I’m a pianist, so music has always been a really big part of my life. Having access to the amazing arts and orchestras in the city has always been really special.
Everything is right on your doorstep.
AF: Exactly! I loved it. I think contrary to what other people think about growing up in New York City, you actually do get exposure to the outdoors. I was very sporty as a kid, even though I'm not now. I've played on a lot of teams in Central Park.
How did you meet?
JK: We were introduced by mutual friends about two and a half years ago. It’s kind of crazy that we hadn’t met before because we grew up 10 blocks away from each other, and also went to the same university. We went to Dartmouth, but at different times. I studied music.
AF: I studied political science and Spanish.
JK: Both degrees are very unrelated to tampons!
So how did you start your tampon company?
JK: Well, we had been tampon users for decades. [Laughs] We were very familiar with the product and had never thought about what was in them. We’d also been thinking for a while about the situation all women go through sometimes, when you are completely caught off guard by the arrival of your period. Why can’t we get tampons delivered to us any time of day? In New York you can get everything delivered! Why didn't tampons just arrive in the mail?
We started doing some preliminary research into the tampon industry, learning about the products that were out there. We realized we couldn't figure out what was in the tampons we were buying. At that point we decided to launch our own brand of tampons, made out of 100% cotton, so that we would know what was in them. We wanted simple, natural ingredients and a label that was easy to understand. The big issue in the industry is lack of transparency about what's in the products.
AF: The FDA doesn't require any tampon brand to disclose what’s in their products. Tampons are considered a medical device, which don’t have to list all their components or ingredients.
JK: The FDA doesn't require it, and so big brands choose not to disclose everything. If you ever walk down an aisle in a drugstore, the boxes say things like, "This product may contain cotton, rayon, and/or polyester." It was just all of this "and/or" and "may" that was really bothering us. When you go to a restaurant, you'd expect to see the full ingredients list in what you're ordering because it's what you're putting in your body. Alex and I were pretty shocked that we had overlooked this product that we interacted with every single month.
What were you both doing before you met and started this company?
AF: It would be really funny if we just met and were like, "Tampons!" [Laughs]
JK: I was in business school. I graduated in 2014 and was beginning to think about starting a company. I met Alex shortly thereafter, and we started really creating the company together.
AF: I was a few years out of business school, and at the time I was working at an ad tech agency. Before that, I'd been a consultant and an investor.
So you're both business-minded ladies. Where does the name Lola come from?
JK: There are two reasons why we liked the name Lola. One, it evokes a woman that is sophisticated, somebody you trust but is still a little sassy. Two, it’s also the name of my husband's grandmother, who was a really amazing woman. She was educated in the 1920s and always spoke her mind. There was a nice personal connection there.
I guess there is also a third reason. You look at all these other brands on the market and their names all end in 'x'—it's all a bit harsh. We really loved the idea of creating a real persona. Somebody that you could trust. Lola is us, the two women behind the brand. We wanted that to really come through to every customer we interacted with.
What were the main challenges of starting this business?
AF: The hardest part about starting the company was starting the conversation. We got comfortable really fast with talking about tampons and vaginas publicly. We found that periods and tampons weren’t really talked about amongst women, and especially not in front of men. There are a lot of historical issues with getting people to talk about this topic, and that's a big reason why women don't know what's in the product. Women are conscious consumers in all of their other product categories. What's in your food? What's in your face cream? What's in your shampoo? Those are things that come up and aren't awkward to talk about. For some reason, tampons have flown under the radar. So what we wanted to do was get the conversation started. We got on a plane and went to California, then to Chicago. We also talked to friends in New York. We held a lot of small focus groups with women.
Just women you knew around the country?
JK: And their friends, and their friends' friends. We wanted to really build a base of women that would resonate with this idea and also spread it to their friends.
AF: We wanted to really get them talking. Why weren't they talking about this topic? Were they embarrassed? Why were they embarrassed? When they learned they didn't know what was in their tampons, did they care? Basically we wanted to know if we were the only women who cared about this.
JK: We also talked to them about making delivery part of our company from the beginning. We wanted to create a service that provides women what they want, when they need it.
The embarrassment factor is really interesting. It’s such a huge thing when you’re younger—you’re buying tampons and quickly hiding them into your shopping basket under other things!
JK: Everybody has those stories. We heard some really embarrassing ones in our focus groups. Creating those little communities where it was safe to share was really important to us. It provided an opportunity for women to step outside their experiences and say, "Why was I embarrassed? I shouldn't be."
AF: I think we have fun with all those embarrassing moments now. Like, if I have my period and I need to go to the bathroom while I’m on a train, I carry the tampon in my hand through the train cars. People look at me like I'm doing something weird.
JK: Why am I bringing my whole suitcase to the bathroom just to smuggle a tampon in with me? Letting those behaviors go is so freeing. Own it more.
AF: We work in a co-working space, and we're constantly saying “vagina” and “period.” There are mostly men around us, but I'm unfazed.
How do you go about even making a tampon? How did you actually get started as a small company?
AF: Early on, the key is to partner with third parties that really know their stuff. So we're working with a manufacturer in Europe that has been manufacturing feminine-hygiene products for decades, and they've been an amazing partner to us.
JK: The other really important thing was to get the word out in every which way we possibly could. A big part of it was our pre-launch ambassador program. As we went through the whole process of doing focus groups and talking to as many women as we could, we got them excited about the brand and what we were trying to build. We’ve seen a ton of organic growth since then with our referral program, where you can earn free product if you tell your friends. And we have a lot of investors who are ambassadors, too.
JK: We launched last July. So we've only been in the market for about 10 months.
What are your goals for the brand?
AF: We’re trying to build the brand to be bigger than just tampons. Tampons have been our focus for the last year, but we want provide all the products and content that women need through their reproductive lives. So when you're 14, when you're 25, when you're 40, when you're 65, when you're 80…. we want to have the products you need, made of natural ingredients and packaged beautifully—unlike what exists in drugstores today. We want to deliver it to your door. We have a very long list of ideas for all the different products that could be modified to be more transparent with consumers.
How has New York influenced you, both as women and as entrepreneurs?
AF: I think the main thing about living in New York is that I've never really lost touch with anyone in my life, because people pass through all the time. It’s such a destination.
JK: I think there's something really honest about this city. You can strike up a conversation with anybody and they'll tell you exactly what they think. I feel like we're able to be our real selves and build a company that doesn't shy away from having difficult conversations. New York has been such a big part of fostering that dynamic.
Have you faced any challenges being women starting a female-focused company?
JK: I think we were really surprised that these products had not been spearheaded by women in the past. I think that’s one of the reasons our message has resonated with our customers. Big brands are often filled with boardrooms that are predominantly men. That seems backwards to me.
AF: We found that both men and women are receptive to the brand and want to talk about it.
JK: Men are just really curious. This hasn't ever really been talked about in front of them before. I have a male doctor friend who was like, "Oh, wait, you don't use just one tampon through the whole period?" And I was like, "That's crazy."
JK: Like, “You went to medical school!” [Laughs]
Where do you live now in New York?
JK: I'm in Chelsea and Alex is in Brooklyn Heights.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
AF: A really good piece of advice that I've been given, and that I now give, is to take everything one day at a time. I think this is most relevant to people with early-stage companies. We're dreaming big, we have a big vision of what we want to achieve, and we're talking to investors and selling that vision. But then when it comes down to it, it's just the two of us in a room thinking about how to actually get there. You really have to break it down step by step and figure out what to do each day, otherwise it's really overwhelming. You can't just run at something without knowing the itty-bitty stuff.
JK: Another thing we say a lot is that nothing is ever as scary as you think it is. If you have an idea, then you’ve got to give it a shot. The worst that could happen is that it doesn't work out. The other thing that I try to subscribe to—I don't always achieve this, but I would like to—is take all the time you have to make a decision. I think it feels very much like you have to make a call instantly and live with the decision. But, at the end of the day, time can be an asset if you use it in the right way.
What does New York mean to you?
AF: It means opportunity. New York really is a melting pot of ideas and people from all over the world. There’s nothing you can't find here. As entrepreneurs and business owners, we’ve found that really amazing. Anytime we have a question or a creative idea, there's always somebody to talk to about it.
JK: I think that there's a certain hustle that everybody has here. It pushes you to work extremely hard and to never be complacent.
Get on the Lola bandwagon and get your tampons delivered straight to your door!