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Best Practice

Eva Goicochea

by Kelly Lack

April 14, 2023

In this new series, we invite business professionals and executives to The Malin for a conversation about what they do best and how others might follow their lead.

Éva Goicochea is precise, deliberate, and thoughtful when she talks to investors about sex, specifically sexual wellness. As the visionary founder of the modern, inclusive sexual wellness brand maude, she does it time and time again, and she plays it straight as if she were pitching toothpaste. And they listen. Since launching maude in 2018, Goicochea is one of only ten Hispanic women to have raised more than $10 million in consumer goods.

While maude is not her first business, it is the one she is most passionate and purposeful about—after having helped launch Everlane and founding Tinker Watches. Over the past few years, she has gained wide recognition for her work around sexual health and wellness. She was deemed one of Entrepreneur magazine’s first-ever 100 Powerful Women in 2019, selected as one of the Forbes Next 1000 in 2021, and won the CEW Female Founders Award in 2022—alongside the likes of Bobbi Brown and Jeanine Lobell. Here we talk with Goicochea about pitch prep, targeting VCs, and building a mutually supportive leadership community—because, as they say, it gets lonely at the top.

On having an idea—and actually making it happen. “This is a weird reference, but I always liken it to the movie Labyrinth. We’re ’80s kids! I know there’s an end goal, but I treat it more like a series of steps—there are a million steps—and it’s about pushing to get to the next step. Some are steps back and some are steps forward, but I haven’t hit a dead end yet. You can’t focus on the end goal. It will seem insurmountable. And if you have an end goal that’s not aligned with being good for people or the planet, there’s a high risk of failure. You really have to believe in what you’re going after.”

On working within a stigmatized industry. “Sex is an important part of everyday health for all people, but the current industry is fractured, approaching sex as either something clinical or taboo. Our take is really that sex is human and few brands have inclusively spoken to people. We believe sexual wellness should be approached like any part of wellness: The products should be safe, easy to use, and delivered in a friendly way making the customer feel comfortable and empowered. By elevating the design and marketing in an inclusive, healthy way, our goal is to help destigmatize sex and foster the next chapter in the industry so that sexual wellness can easily be understood as a part of overall wellness.”

On knowing you’re ready for investor money. “Companies that are VC-backed have acquisition potential. You can’t play in this category with no growth potential. Take condoms, one item we sell. You can’t set out to be a small condom business because the minimum order quantities are too high. And then there are licensing and FDA regulations. You don’t go through all of this planning to be a small business. You go big or go home. And some founders have deep-pocketed friends and family, but I didn’t have that. I needed investors. I hit the ground in 2017 and we launched in 2018. There was definitely a lot of cold emailing and knocking on doors. I leveraged my network, too. But I had to build the network first. I’d done a Harvard program, which anyone can take online, and did the 1776 incubation program.”

On determining who to pitch. “Our story is a little unique because many funds have a ‘vice clause’ that prevents them from investing in things like the sex industry, cannabis, alcohol. But in general, think about your business and its needs: Does a fund invest in your category? Do they have expertise in your category? Are they going to be useful to you? Like do they have operational or supply-chain experience? And cast a wide net. You might think we targeted female investors for maude, but we didn’t. Maude is a 50/50 split on the audience side, so we spoke with tons of male VCs. Maude is an inclusive brand, it’s our DNA, it’s really the whole point.”

On talking about sexual wellness to investors. “I treated it much like any kind of personal care, I walked in there talking like I would talk about toothpaste. It was more about making sure they understood the opportunity and the dynamics of the category. I didn’t walk in with any room for them to question the validity of the category. It was also helpful for me to find an analogous business, basing my framework on something they could understand in another industry. In terms of resources, the Harvard course was helpful in how to frame things, even the language to talk to investors.”

On creating a network for learning and leading. “I started a thing called Founders’ Weekend. Basically, 30 founders who get together once a year, and sort of group chat the rest of the year. We’re all on a Slack together. We’ve gone upstate. The point is to discuss anything… it could be fundraising, building teams, creating that community. I was getting asked a lot for advice and meetings, and I thought this was a better way to handle it. I’ve learned through this community that everybody feels like they’re searching in the dark and just want somebody to turn the light on. But no one has advice that will solve everything for you. This person might know about this thing, and that person might know about that thing. You just have to keep asking, researching, and pushing forward.”