It’s not often that a conversation about startup lessons goes from profit margins and hardware production to vaginal dryness and erectile dysfunction. But that was the case last week in Seattle at a Startup Grind fireside chat event with Amy Buckalter, the founder of high-tech lubricant maker Pulse.
Buckalter has spent the past five years leading Pulse, a Seattle startup selling a motion-sensor lubricant warmer and dispenser that works with Pulse Pods, the company’s brand of FDA-approved personal lube.
Buckalter made the entrepreneurial leap after more than 30 years in leadership roles at places like Nike, K2 Sports, and Burton. But she’s never experienced a tougher job than founding and leading a company.
“I’m not sure anything prepares any of us for a startup,” she said. “There is nothing like this.”
Pulse is no ordinary tech startup. It has developed its own silicone and water-based personal lubricants which pair with a warming device that uses a patented induction heating process and clean delivery system.
“Nothing is off limits,” Buckalter said when asked about how Pulse employees address the MeToo culture at work, given the company’s products and industry. “They are very entertaining conversations, as you can imagine.”
Buckalter got the idea for Pulse from her own experiences as a woman approaching menopause. She’s learned how to pitch her company’s products to those that may not be able to relate. For example, after hearing her pitch one day, a male investor told Buckalter that women in their 40s didn’t want to have sex anymore.
“In my next presentation, I went right to erectile dysfunction,” Buckalter said. “I talked about the little blue pill and how it’s really changed so many men’s lives.”
Buckalter later told GeekWire that working at sporting goods businesses for most of her career helped prepare the CEO for an industry where less than 3 percent of venture capital dollars went to all-women founding teams last year. She said support groups have also been beneficial and said she hopes to encourage more female entrepreneurs to start successful companies.
“One of the reasons I hope this is successful is that I can’t wait to give back,” Buckalter said.
Buckalter said Pulse wants to expand beyond lubricants, perhaps turning its device into a comfort station that includes baby lotion, for example. There are also plans to add smart technology.
“‘Alexa, can you please turn on Pulse?'” Buckalter said, describing a possible use case with Amazon’s voice-enabled devices. “‘Alexa, I would like this music, this lighting, start the pod warming, and oh yeah — can you order me three more sleeves of pods?’ That’s how we see this changing and growing with iteration.”
Pulse employs six people and has raised $8.1 million to date from individual angels.
Buckalter also shared some lessons learned over the past five years from launching and building a startup:
The consumer decides. Buckalter said she learned a valuable lesson at Nike: it’s extremely important to spend time researching and testing to figure out what the consumer wants. It’s not about what the founder or leadership teams want. “For all of us who come in with any preconceived ideas of what we want something to be, you can create that for a hobby,” she said. “But if you want to create something for your target, the consumer decides.”
Don’t take it personally. When she first started to raise investment for Pulse, Buckalter ran into investors who didn’t like the idea. “You go out and raise money and you want people to love your baby,” she noted. At first, it was hard to take the negative criticism. “It might piss you off the first couple times, but you can’t take it personally,” Buckalter said. “Once I locked and loaded that thought, it made it much easier.” She also advised entrepreneurs to be as efficient as possible with their investor pitch meetings. “Time is money,” she said.
Hire a project manager. It’s one position Buckalter wished she hired right away. “It would have saved us time and money in the end,” she said. “It just keeps things on schedule.”