Sometime ago Tess Brooks, an MBA student at Harvard Business School, was having a little heart-to-heart with one of her closest friends, when the conversation slowly geared towards the hush-hush topic of physical intimacy. Brooks was surprised to find out that her friend was so embarrassed by the fact that she was hurting during sex that she would not bring it up with her partner, and barely had the courage to tell Brooks herself. We’ve all been there – sitting quietly and contemplating whether our bodies, desires, and experiences are normal with the ever-so-judgemental voice in our heads, asking: “What is wrong with me?!”. The result of these ruminations can lead to two outcomes: either you accept your sexuality and decide to ‘own it’ or you suppress it and deny that the problems exist. Unfortunately, the latter seems to prevail.
Relax, this is not gonna be sex ed class all over again. I just wanted to let you in on a little secret called Confi – Tess Brooks’ social startup that wants to empower women to take control of their sex lives. Short for ‘confidante’, ‘confident’ and sounding strikingly similar to ‘comfy’, Confi is a content platform that seeks to create a comfortable space for women to ask all the embarrassing questions that have been piling up through years of silence. The inspiration behind it was clearly the conversation Brooks had with her friend, but it wasn’t until she started talking to more women about these issues, when the idea of a social enterprise was born. It turned out that many women, even ones in their late twenties and early thirties, had questions they were afraid to ask, but there was no go-to resource. Having identified the need, Brooks decided to build it herself and in March 2015, Confi was born.
During the short couple of months since its inception, the company has focused on building two things: content and relationships. As they wish to provide credible advice, the members of the Confi team insist that each and every content piece they post is approved by a legit M.D. But as content is to be built, the more impressive part are the superstar doctors the company has ties with, including Kirti Patel, who has become a regular on the Boston startup scene. Asked how they managed to build such a great advisor network, Brooks says that it all comes down to knowing one doctor, as MDs are generally happy to introduce you to their colleagues. In addition, they have established partnerships with various health centers on different Boston campuses, and always looking to expand! “The one thing about our business is that we can’t promote via social media”, says Brooks. “People are not likely to share information that has to do with sex on their timeline, so we will rely primarily on word of mouth, such as friends sharing information with each other”.
Sounds great, but what about monetization? Brooks went on a spiral, trying to figure out how exactly Confi is to turn profit in the future. “In the beginning, I thought about advertising, but then I was pitching the idea at a startup competition in Harvard and all the judges cringed when I said that”, she recalls. With advertising dismissed, Brooks decided that maybe Confi could let users purchase a 30-minute slot of a doctor’s time to talk about their problem. “The issue with that was that since the appointment is online, most of the times the session would end with the “You should go see your doctor” advice”, she explains. “Therefore, it would have been a waste of both time and money”. After much searching, she had an Eureka moment and decided to focus on e-commerce, selling small kits of condoms, lubricant and pregnancy tests, disguised as a make-up bag. “We found that a lot of women are embarrassed to buy condoms and pregnancy tests”, says Brooks. “They wouldn’t even buy it on Amazon, since they wouldn’t want it in their record.” The reason for that? “There’s a lot of emphasis on women being sexy but not sexual”, continues the founder.”We want to create that space where women can safely buy these products and not be afraid by judgement or overt display of sexuality. However, we are focusing on building trust first.”
Postponing raising investor funding, Confi is trying to build a substantial user base and is expected to reach 10, 000 users by the end of August. In the fall, Brooks is preparing to pitch at the New Venture Competition, organized by the Harvard Rock Center which is currently backing her company. But her grand ambition is to take Confi global and help women all over the world take charge of their sex lives. “We’ve been getting a lot of international requests, especially from India where sex seems to be even more of a taboo than in the west,” elaborates Brooks, who comes from a very worldly background herself. Having worked as a consultant in Bain, Brooks spent the early part of her career travelling across Latin America and advising businesses from a variety of industries, and she credits this experience for having equipped her to found Confi. Even though the company is still rather small (a total of 3 employees), Brooks has a vastly ambitious vision for the future. The ultimate goal? To make Confi the place women visit before going to Google.