Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of stigma around talking about sex. Just saying the word causes people to feel uneasy. Movements have tried to promote sexual positivity, but it’s a slow slog in our modern vernacular.
This discomfort can have drastic consequences that don’t just involve bad sex. Many women have a hard time advocating for themselves on topics as varied as endometriosis, sexually transmitted diseases, and menopause.
But three women are working to change all of that. They want to destigmatize FemTech once and for all. Kohe Lele is a startup dedicated to promoting a more positive discourse around all things sex.
Many Women Don’t Understand Their Bodies
How well do you know your anatomy? That mystery can turn into misery as it did for one of Kohe Lele’s cofounders, Gioia Lelli, from Amsterdam: “Women lack knowledge about their bodies. For me, it started with incessant yeast infections. Why was I getting them? I needed to understand my body.” But it was more than just the infections: Gioia realized that she’d been calling her vulva a vagina for 26 years. She didn’t know the difference, and she was an adult.
Gioia’s friend Camelia Brande, a pharmacist, explained the female anatomy clearly. That’s when it hit Gioia just how valuable this information was. If women understood their bodies, they could help prevent cumbersome diseases from occurring and recurring. Rather than be reactive, women can take a proactive approach to their feminine hygiene. But not everyone had a friend like Camelia. What to do?
Gioia was mulling over the idea with another friend, Lea Moser, a Swiss who lived in Canada. What if they created an online community to help educate women around the world? The idea was to start with blog posts and in-person workshops and go from there. Gioia circled back with Camelia, who had some reservations. “I’m from Romania and it felt intimidating. We didn’t have sex education in school. I needed time to decide if I wanted to be involved.”
It took Camelia two months to come back with a yes. Gioia knew that if her cofounder had reservations, this would not be an easy business to create. Perhaps it was a mixture of naivete or sheer confidence, but Kohe Lele launched soon after.
Kohe Lele’s name hints at this being a very non-traditional business. Kohe Lele comes from Hawaiian mythology and translates into “flying vagina.” The short version is that the goddess of fertility had a flying vagina and used it to save her sister. The founders loved the idea that vaginas can save lives, and gets right to the core of the founders’ ability to mix education and humor in an impactful way.
The founders’ first event was a live panel discussion about HPV at WeWork. They filled a room and knew that they were onto something. Lea, a seemingly buttoned-up lawyer, was excited about the challenge of building a business revolving around sex education. She just had one caveat: “Sex education is a mission very important to me. But it has to be about education. I do not want to sell sex toys.” Spoiler alert: They do end up selling sex toys, but we’ll get there.
In the beginning, the business wasn’t profit-oriented. The founders pooled their resources and time to plan events and build up a social media presence. Camelia explains: “We weren’t monetizing in the beginning because we came together with the idea that we are trying to gather information and learn ourselves. We all believe that by learning, we can share knowledge with others. That was truly our mission in the beginning. It’s such a touchy subject, and it changes depending on your culture, community, language, and region.”
The founders knew that their authenticity and humor would set them apart. They chose speakers who had a similar ethos. The more irreverent the founders were, the more receptive their audience was. It was a refreshingly different approach.
Real Talk – It’s Not Always Fun and Games
Kohe Lele’s original ethos was to be the equivalent of a fireside chat with your best friends. No pretenses, just lots of truth and “real talk.” Lea stresses that they gave women with first-hand experiences of illnesses like ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and endometriosis a forum to talk and answer questions in a supportive environment.
To find clients, Kohe Lele relied on word-of-mouth referrals and social media. Influencers quickly embraced them. Camelia explains, “It’s a small circle (women’s sex education) that’s very welcoming and open. It’s not as though someone won’t introduce us to someone else because they’re afraid we’re competition. It’s the opposite. Everybody’s super helpful. Everybody’s connecting because we all believe we can help one another.”
As the founders made connections, they stressed that although their tone was lighthearted, the subject matter was not. With all of the debates around the world, and especially in light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in America, women needed to support each other. Kohe Lele does that in the form of education by women and for women and their allies.
Lea says, “Talking about sex is not always the most open topic. But we provide approachable, fun, and humorous material and still include applicable information and resources without being stuffy. It is medically correct, but we use down-to-earth and approachable language.”
Eventually, the founders had to figure out how to monetize the business to at least break even. They met with friends and sketched a modified business plan between setting up talks and building a website. They divided their business into three distinct channels.
Pillars of Sex-cess
The idea was to meet customers where they were most comfortable. Gioia explains: “We have pillars. The first is education. The second is the ClimaxBox.” Yes, of course, a company named after a flying vagina will get straight to the point when it begins selling merchandise. Would you expect any less?
The ClimaxBox is a physical box filled with carefully crafted products shipped right to a customer’s door. “The idea behind the climax box is the ability to reconnect more couples in and out of the bedroom. We also created a backend called ClimaxWorld. This is a password-protected portal that explains all of the different toys and their uses. For example, the climax box included body paint. This may seem self-explanatory, but in the world, we were able to explain that you could use it to paint your partner, but it also explained the importance of consent.”
Kohe Lele launched its first box for heterosexual couples and hopes to provide different boxes down the line. Lea explains: “We wanted to start with a heterosexual couple just to see how it goes. Whether it’s a couple, two people, or even multiple people – the opportunities are endless. You can also find pleasure solo as well as with a partner.”
Merging Physical Products with an Online World
For the ClimaxBox, Kohe Lele launched with the female owner of a sex shop that is tailored exclusively for women. She helps source and order items for Kohe Lele. The founders then add all of the background information in ClimaxWorld. They’re hoping to turn this into a subscription service as time goes on. For now, the price of sixty-nine euros also includes a ten percent donation to Heels 4 Pads in Kenya that supplies menstruation products to African girls.
The last pillar of Kohe Lele is called the “FemTech Challenge.” Women are paired with different FemTech firms to help the companies improve their market research. According to McKinsey1, 2022 is “the rise of FemTech,” and in a recent article, writes: “Depending on scope, estimates for FemTech’s current market size range from $500 million to $1 billion.”
In the first FemTech Challenge, Kohe Lele partnered with an American company, Madorra, an Azerbaijan NGO, AWiS, and a Dutch company, Elemental. “Madorra is a FemTech solution improving the quality of life for females after menopause, AWiS supports local females in their STEM careers, and Elemental needed help to improve skincare during pregnancy,” Gioia says.
Kohe Lele is gearing up for its second edition and has not announced the participating companies. Gioia stresses the importance of partnering with companies that understand FemTech and align with Kohe Lele’s core values. If you’re interested in participating, you can apply here.
The founders of Kohe Lele want to stress that the site is not just for women. “Men are just as welcome on the platform as women. Everyone is welcome. It’s all about inclusivity.” In other words, Kohe Lele is a part of a sexual revolution and is looking to add to their ranks. Back to that McKinsey article: “Early movers (in FemTech) can stake out opportunities in prominent white spaces, including by leveraging tech to address women’s health issues beyond reproduction.” Mckinsey, meet Kohe Lele.
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