We caught up with Premium member Kristy Chong to find out how she went from working in PR to disrupting the entire feminine hygiene market with her startup, ModiBodi. For the uninitiated, ModiBodi is a range of sustainable, hi-tech undies that replace the need for tampons and pads. They’ve sold over 100,000 pairs and made $3 million in sales – not bad for company that’s only three years old. Here’s how she did it…
What were you doing before Modibodi?
For the 13 years before my idea for Modibodi, I worked in public relations for some well-known multi-nationals including McDonald’s, Sanofi-Aventis and Edelman PR. I was on maternity leave with my second child when I had the idea for Modibodi.
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
No, but I am naturally a problem solver and activator, and I always knew I wanted to start my own business. In fact, I nearly started a PR agency before the idea for Modibodi took over my life.
Where were you when you came up with the idea for ModiBodi?
I was living in Seattle, USA and I was training for a marathon when I realised that women had been putting up with failing underwear due to period and bladder leaks, or sweat, for far too long. Or for those who chose to protect ourselves, the solution was ugly, inconvenient, uncomfortable and a hazard to our environment – disposable hygiene. I just felt we deserved something better.
What were your next steps?
Once I realised how problematic the issue was, I couldn’t understand why with all the advancements in technology that underwear and disposable hygiene had not evolved. I knew instantly that I was going to have to create a whole new product category for women. I worked with scientists and garment developers, and it took over 18 months to create our patented Modifier Technology.
I am really proud that I took that idea and turned it into a product that can more conveniently, comfortably and reliably manage menstrual flow or incontinence, and reduce the amount of single-use products ending up in landfill and damaging our environment.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Modibodi is fashionable, sustainable, hi-tech, super comfortable underwear that totally replaces the need for disposable hygiene. It’s pee, period and perspiration proof and is for everybody!
Did you have trouble with people believing in the product?
When you create an entirely new product category, there will always be barriers, and we not only needed to build awareness of our brand but educate the market that there was a whole new way to manage periods and incontinence. While the first year’s growth was slow, it provided us an opportunity to test and refine the product on a small scale, and I am grateful for that year.
Within months of the second year, sales started to really take off because ultimately women were hungry for a better solution, one that could save them money, reduce landfill and provide a more sassy and comfortable option. We now have over 20,000 customers who have given us a rating of 4.8/5 on Google review, and who believe that Modibodi has positively changed their lives.
How did you first market Modibodi? Did you have a set strategy?
With a background in PR and having been part of the marketing team, I knew that the cheapest way for us to start promoting the brand was using my time to pitch the brand story to media. I also knew that selling online and using social media to communicate was going to be vital to our success, rather than traditional retail and relying on a shop assistant trying to explain what our product does.
From the beginning, I also set up an email newsletter as a way to drive repeat business. Our strategy has always been based on testing marketing channels on a small scale first and then investing more if the ROI is there. We are now in a position in which we can dial up certain activities, and we see a direct correlation in sales.
How many pairs of Modibodis have you sold? And can you share any turnover figures?
We’ve sold over 100,000 units within three years. We’re completely self-funded, and we’ve made over $3M in sales within those three years without additional investment.
Why do you think your business model has worked?
Because women want a more convenient, comfortable and sustainable solution that empowers them and makes them feel better about the choices they are making in the world. We have chosen to sell it online and use online earned and paid marketing channels, which allows us to connect directly with like-minded customers and educate those who may be a little unsure.
What has been your biggest challenge in business? How did you overcome it?
While I am driven by a challenge, running a business and growing at the rate we are without extra funds, can really stretch your capacity. Throw three kids under nine and a busy husband on top of that and some days it can be overwhelming.
“But what I do know is those times of anguish and fear are there for a reason, and while they are hard, I now understand that I am capable and it will work itself out.”
The biggest challenge in our business is balancing cash flow and projecting inventory to order because we have four-month lead times. As we are a growing company, we can grow 100-200% from one month to the next and completely sell out of stock.
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Trust your instincts when it comes to making decisions, and take extra time on those decisions that really require it and all other decisions make really quickly.
The swimwear and breastfeeding ranges are genius. Do you have plans to expand the range further?
Our award-winning breastfeeding singlet has sold out, and we are redeveloping this and expanding our maternity range. Our pee and period proof swimwear range released only weeks ago, is almost sold out, selling over 500 pieces in pre-order stage, it also had 300 women on the waitlist!
We are expanding our sustainable and organic range of underwear, and expanding into new categories again – we can’t say too much just yet!
Fair enough! So what can you reveal about what’s coming up in 2018?
The global expansion of Modibodi as a brand into new markets including Iceland, South Africa, USA, UK, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, new products in new categories that cater for all bodies and building a world-class business.
My goal is to not only build a large financially profitable business but to create a business that can deliver an affordable, sustainable solution to women in need who are forced to leave school or education because of their lack of access to feminine hygiene products.