The beginning of Aura: How we got here
If one year ago someone had told me that I would be developing a project in the menstrual space, that would have sounded completely crazy to me. But here I am. On this journey, developing a project dedicated to making the period feel better for every woman, for every girl, for every person who menstruates.
I have never been an outstanding feminist, or much of a social activist. But I have always known what I want: to create a project with a meaning. I was not planning or chasing it, I was simply waiting the right moment and the right idea to come to me, preparing myself for it by studying, working and living. Until one day it just came. It was during a non-stop 5 hour drive when it simply happened (I guess they are right when saying that the mind is most creative when exhausted). And thats when I thought, why is the period so boring? It is not a nice experience and nobody tries to fix it. From my consumer point of view at the time I knew how little is happening in that space, and thats why I spent the rest of the journey thinking about the issues related to the period and the possibilities to fix them. While analysing the period products available on the market, I thought of a company that totally shocked me a couple of years back: Dollar Shave Club. This company functions through a subscription model delivering to their customers simple but quality razorblades on a monthly basis. Dollar Shave Club went viral and in no time took nearly 7% market share of the shaving market in the U.S. and 30% of e-commerce sales, after which they were acquired by Unilever for an impressive $1 Billion. Well, razors are great but… Women have a much more relevant need that deserves attention and change. That is exactly the moment Aura was born.
OK, technically not. Before Aura even got the name Aura a lot of different things happened. At that point I only had the idea: a service delivering personalised sets of products for your period to your doorstep on a monthly basis to transform the entire experience of the most sensitive days of the month.
I guess the most difficult part for me personally was reaching the point of no return, that moment when you clearly decide I am doing it and nothing will stop me. That is especially tough as there are always “naysayers” around, people who say you are crazy, that it won’t work, that it’s not worth it and questioning your every step. But thankfully there are also people who motivate you, support you and push you forward, and now I know that you have to learn to be such a person yourself too.
To do that you should always remember why you do what you do and have your goal clear in front of you, always. Think about the people you want to help, the smiles you want to bring, the days you want to make better.
Once you get to that point the real work starts and you have to find the perfect fit for the market, something that people will actually need and want to get. That is when I started a very detailed market research to understand exactly how the market currently works, who are the actors in it, how do they interact and what is missing. At the same time I started talking to people: professionals, industry experts, researchers, entrepreneurs in similar areas and most importantly potential clients. It is hard to overestimate the usefulness of talking to people, without noticing it they give you ideas, help you make decisions and shape your project. For me at first this was happening through simple conversations discussing the topic, and in the end it lead to very thoughtful conversations focused on the grey areas of the service.
After the big picture becomes clearer it has to be all put in paper. At that point I started defining all the pieces of the puzzle, looking into every element of it and defining them, making initial decisions on how it is going to work, what is going to be special about it and how it is going to integrate into the whole. All detailed, from capturing the first clients to delivering the boxes, all written down and drawn in a big project map. When all the elements were defined I set up a clear action plan with categories and concrete things to be done on a big map, that were later given a priority and ordered depending on the relevancy to launch the first version of the service.
And wow, suddenly, when you least expect it, you look at the action plan and the fear goes away giving place to a clear vision, motivation and confidence of knowing exactly what to do.
First four positions in my action plan where: “define the initial wireframes and customer journey”, “define the critical uncertainties of the customer journey”, “perform a deep customer study” and “adapt”. That is what I did. I drew my first version of the process as it would be seen by the customer, including the first interactions, the web page process and the delivery. I went through it again and again making it as simple as possible until it felt right. After defining what elements of that process are critical for the model and uncertain at the same time, I started taking action to define them. As part of a deep customer research I built a survey with a series of thoughtful questions dedicated to understanding the habits and feelings of women related to their period focusing on Spain. And that is how, without expecting it, I found an infinite source of motivation, inspiration, empathy, disturbance and indignation.
The Reality of the Period
After all the research, conversations, answers and contacts, I suddenly realised that, although I am a girl and I face menstruation every month, I had no idea what the period is actually about.
I suddenly faced the real period, the one we as women are not educated about, the one we don’t understand and don’t think we need to, the one surrounded with stigma, the one making girls feel bad about themselves, the one bringing pain and discomfort, the one that relates to massive problems in the developing countries.
The period is a huge part of every woman’s life, that we all know. For approximately 36 years of your life you will have the period, a total number of 468 periods, that sums up into around 5 years of period. This is huge. And while some women may be more used to it or tolerate it better, there are so many others who don’t and have a bad time every month instead.
And I am not talking about the developing countries, or poor neighbourhood, where girls don’t have access even to the most basic goods to deal with the period, or where girls while on their period don’t go out of home and miss school, and where girls struggle to hide menstruation and are extremely embarrassed by it. No, I am not talking about that, because that is a huge separate topic. I am talking about our countries and the hidden issues the period so often represents here.
Now I have seen by myself how the period and its impact is underestimated in western countries and how bad that is. For example mood decline is relevant for 65% of women during their period. No, it’s not a myth. Same goes for fatigue, around 53% of women have it during their period. But what’s worse is that more than half of the women on their period have significant pains in one or more areas of the body, which is the reason why a huge number of women constantly take painkillers at that time and some even end up in a hospital. Did you know this? I certainly didn’t. No surprise that, because of that and the way the period syndromes are treated in the society, a third (!) of all female population becomes less social and prefers to stay at home during menstruation.
The society could do things to make women feel better at that time, but honestly, right now, it only makes things worse. Why? Because of the stigma around it. Imagine the surprised faces and nervous laughters I get from the audience when I go on stage and start talking about menstruation.
The stigma is much stronger than we believe, many girls feel uncomfortable when buying pads and tampons in stores and almost everyone feels uncomfortable talking about it openly.
Of course here men can and must help. Help to normalise the topic by being more open to it, more aware and more attentive with their friends, their girlfriend (many of whom experience a big discomfort handling the period in a relationship) and practically any women out there.
What I see as a terrible thing, is that the overall perception of the period in our society is a huge barrier for knowledge that women should receive about their female health and their cycle. I thought I knew enough about my cycle and my body, until I realised I had no idea what my period is actually about, what happens to me during the month and during menstruation, how to avoid negative symptoms and future health problems, how to enjoy my body. This knowledge is vert limited, while access to it may change lives.
The market and the free economy doesn’t help women to feel better during menstruation either, as it mainly foments the development of big companies that produce on massive and cost effective scale. This way around 75% of women nowadays buy their hygiene products in supermarkets, which almost always means they buy big consumer brand products. Those brands are not required to describe the composition of the products on the packaging, which is most of the time plastic treated with chemical elements.
This doesn’t only influence us but it also has an enormous impact on the planet, as an average woman using hygienic products of this type throws away around 11.000 of them during her life, which is 110 to 140 kg of waste.
There are alternatives, such as ecological and eco-friendly pads and tampons, menstrual cups and other products, but the awareness and access to those is limited. Even within the regular consumer brands so many women state it is hard to get products of good quality or find their favourite brands. This issue is especially relevant for expats, who “stuff half of the suitcase with favourite hygienic brands” when coming back from their home countries. It seems unbelievable, how such a relevant need of half of the population can be as underserved by the market.
What can best transmit the severity of this situation, are the words used by women who I interacted with during my research.
Every fifth woman actually used the word “hate” or “bad” when talking about how she experiences her period, while a disturbing 40% of women used the words “sad”, “uncomfortable”, “annoying”, “frustrating”, “angry” and “worried” in their answers. I find this shocking and unacceptable.
Our periods are beautiful, they are part of us and are a mean to bringing new lives to the world. We can’t leave this situation be this way and must change it. Today only around 9% of women feel good about their period. This number has to become a 100%. It is a long way, but it can become much shorter if we walk it all together.
What I have seen very clearly throughout the research and the interactions, is that every one of us is incredibly different and our periods are so too. Some women love tampons and hate pads, others love pads and hate tampons, some are fans of a menstrual cup and others would never use it, some of us don’t even notice their period, while others sometimes want to “finally cut the entire womb out”, some of us eat pickles during those days, while other start dressing up. We are all very different, but what we all have in common is that we all have a profound affection for the period as part of who we are.
Let’s then follow this feeling all together and fight for it, lets go together towards loving our period and enjoying our bodies, lets bring to life solutions and spread ideas to make the period better for every woman in every country.
That is what I am personally trying to do with Aura.
Aura allows you to select the products that best fit your period and once a month brings to your doorstep a beautiful box with all the products you need, a couple of nice surprises, and a portion of knowledge, motivation and excitement, all of this tailor made for you. I want to improve the experience of the period, make our most sensible days of the month feel better, give women access to all the products for the period out there, generate awareness regarding ecological, sustainable and healthy products, create a female space to spread knowledge, to help women understand and love their bodies, and create a community to support each other and bring together strong women with a common vision.
And I want to encourage everyone, and especially other women like me, to speak up, to take action and to start projects, maybe even very small ones, and believe in ourselves and in the change we can bring. Together we will be able to transform the period for every woman, erase the stigma around it and make it something to be proud of. Because we can. And because we deserve it.