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Lulu Ge is building the modern day Traditional Chinese Medicine platform to deal with women’s hormone health and chronic period pain, this is the the Elix blueprint (Part 1)

by Female Startup Club
November 21st 2022
00:44:40
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Welcome back to the show, it’s Doone here - your host and hype girl. This episode came from a really beautiful beginning that I want to tell you about. And you might know what I’m talking about if you... More
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Really felt like be sure to subscribe to the business of feelings on apple podcasts for new episodes every Tuesday and visit Wonder mine dot com for easy to understand articles that take the jargon and judgment out of mental health. This is Luigi for female startup club, welcome back to the show, it's Dune here, your host and hype girl. So today's episode has come from a really beautiful beginning, which kind of sounds weird and I'm gonna explain why, but I want to tell you about it and if you follow me on instagram, you might actually know what I'm talking about, but if you don't I'm gonna give you the recap. So a few months ago actually it must have been two months ago I posted out of total desperation for help about this crazy messed up period that I had which gave me hours of severe back pain, hours of vomiting and you know everything else that comes with that kind of thing.

It was an absolute period from hell. But the beautiful thing that came out of this experience is that I had hundreds of people reach out to me with their stories and advice and recommendations. And funnily enough a guy I know Justin Silver popped into my D. M. Recommending that I meet the founder of Alex Luigi. Now, Alex is the first digital platform to use modern technology to personalize traditional chinese medicine by combining time tested knowledge, medicinal botanicals and clinical research to empower self healing. It's been built on the principle that menstrual cycles are a vital sign for our overall health. And Alex formulates pure and potent liquid herbal extracts. Clinically proven to treat hormonal imbalances that are the root cause of painful and life disrupting symptoms. Just like I've been experiencing beyond the herbal treatments, Alex is committed to breaking women's health taboos and bridging the gap in health care knowledge through community events and their content vertical the wisdom.

So this conversation comes from a pretty special place for me as someone suffering in this space and I learned so much from lulu about how she's built her business and why she's built her business. We specifically talk about how she used an accelerator as a launch pad to get the business off the ground, building a product with word of mouth inherently built in, spreading like wildfire, creating a business rooted in heritage and culture and using that as your core content, marketing strategy and lulu's key piece of advice for founders. Okay, before we get into it, let me just say if you ever want to chat period stuff and I know this sounds weird, but if you ever want to chat period stuff, feel free to slide into my DM on instagram. I am so deep in the journey right now, I'd love to chat with you and I've shared all the insights that I received as a big juicy highlight on my instagram page. Alright, let's get into this episode.

This is lulu for female startup club. This podcast is brought to you by clay vo the email and SMS platform built just for e commerce brands. Start sending beautiful branded emails in minutes with a free account at Clay vo dot com. That's K L A V I Y O dot com lulu. Hi, welcome to the show, High dune! So excited to be here. I'm so excited to be here too. I love this part of my day, getting to meet with wonderful women like yourself. How's your morning so far? It's actually evening here in new york and it's been a fantastic day, We just got back from our quarterly Alex team offsite last week, so my brain is buzzing with all these great ideas, I'm excited to put into motion, Oh my gosh, where did you go? We went upstate to Hudson valley and it was gorgeous with the leaves turning color and we had a big Airbnb on the water and we all stayed together cook together, we did a sound bass session together, it was very lovely.

Oh my gosh, that sounds like absolute heaven. I would love to get you to give everyone listening a little bit of an introduction into who you are and what your brand and ethos is. Sure, so hi everyone, I'm luci and I'm the founder of Felix, we're building the first community and platform to personalize chinese herbal medicine for chronic care and our entire approach is helping people tune into the signals of their body and take a more holistic approach to healing themselves, love that, love that so much time as you know already I'm on this journey of trying to heal my body, I have so many crazy issues with my period and when I got recommended your brand, I got so excited, I got so excited even like about the product, but also about like your Ux experience, like I love the website, I love everything about it. Where does your story actually start? Let's rewind and go back to the very beginning.

What was leading you towards Alex? Yeah, well dude, I'm so excited you said that because I think you know sometimes healing is a word that can be stigmatized in a way and I think all of us in this modern society where in need of some form of healing one way or another and for me I didn't even realize that I was so chronically burnt out, I spent about a decade in a traditional corporate career and consulting and then I went in house to fashion and I was working like 12 hour days over caffeinated, sometimes, oftentimes actually skipping lunch, so my blood sugars would dip and then you know work hard, play hard, partying hard on the weekends and after several years of this, you know, I got the professional accolades, the promotions and started making more money, but my body just got to a place where it was one issue after another from sneezing and pull my back and realizing how much tension was in my neck and spine to going off the pill and experiencing post birth control syndrome with my periods going completely haywire, extremely painful bleeding and cramps and migraines.

It got so bad that I was actually calling in sick for the first time in my entire career because of my period and the first couple months I kind of just power through it and I was like, oh what is going on with my period doesn't feel normal, but you know, it's probably just I didn't think much of it until a couple of months continuously of powering through my period and not being able to I remember one month I was supposed to be at a board meeting presenting this big like post merger integration plan, but instead I was laying curled up on the bathroom floor and I just couldn't move and my boss at the time was a guy and I didn't think you would be very sympathetic to me, saying I couldn't show up to the board meeting because of my period, so I lied and said I had the stomach flu And I realized how common it is, that about 46% of us are actually nervous to talk about our periods at work and so when we do call in sick for a symptom we usually blame it on something else.

And that kind of sent me on a long journey to figure out what was going on with my period and eventually long story short, I found my way back to chinese herbal medicine and that's what eventually led to Alex, wow gosh, I feel you on that pain, I feel you, I'm there, I'm there every month. Oh my gosh, crazy, I love that you are able to take a real problem that you're having and really like suffering from and find the silver lining in building this amazing solution for not only yourself, but for you know thousands of other women who are suffering from these same issues every month. And these same moments, I'd love to kind of go back to, you know, I read that you were at Wharton and you were studying and you wanna start up competition or something and that kind of like kick started the whole process. Let's go back to that time. Like, you know, what were you pitching in the competition? How did that go?

I mean it obviously went well, but what was that vibe? Yeah. You know, to be honest, I never thought I would start a business. So when I found my way back to chinese herbal medicine and it worked so well for me and this was after going back to my gynecologist numerous times and her wanting to put me back on birth control and me not wanting to be on birth control or painkillers. And then the first month that I was on my personalized blend of herbs, it worked so well for me. I was like why doesn't this exist? Like why isn't there more convenient access for people to get care through herbal remedies? And I learned that what actually makes chinese herbal medicine effective is the personalization. It's not just like you walk into whole foods or amazon and you like pick a random herbal formula. It's that these practitioners over thousands of years have come up with a process called pattern diagnosis. So based on your individual pattern of sin systems, your diet, your lifestyle, everything from sleep to exercise?

All of that leads to a pattern which is the root cause of your symptoms and then based on your pattern, their specific herbal formulas that are best to help you heal at the root cause. And so you know, I at Saks while previous to going back to business school, my most recent roles at Saks fifth Avenue, I was using a lot of customer data to personalize the customer journey and I thought well this technology exists, why can't we just create a process where people can see an herbalist or chinese medicine practitioner online and take all of that data, create an algorithm where they could receive their own specific pattern diagnosis and formula. So that's what eventually led me to business school? I was like, okay, I've got this idea, I've never started a business, I'm going to figure out how we can make this work. And so that was essentially the morton startup competition. Was was pitching this idea of you know, how can we personalized clinically proven herbal care online, starting with menstrual and hormone health.

But the broader vision has always been, how can we really provide natural solutions for a whole range of stigmatized and chronic conditions. Amazing. And what does that look like though for like in actual practice? Like are you like how do you start this? Do you need to have like doctors, do you need to you know like are you going in formulating these tinctures yourself? Like how does it actually look like in those early days? Yeah, so actually the doctor that I went to was a really good family friend of my grandfather, my grandfather actually ran a hospital in southern china and the family friend was dr Shah hongshan who's written over 100 papers, 45 books on chinese herbal medicine. And so he when I had my period pain, he was the one that asked me all these questions like what's the color of your menstrual blood and do you get clotting? And so when I had this idea, you know it was in the beginning like really understanding from him why was he asking those questions and what did those questions mean about someone's potential pattern and then we kind of like took his knowledge and then we went through and existing clinical trial data because actually all the herbs even today that Alex uses, there's like thousands of clinical studies that already exist on them and just figuring out the ways that they best work in these formulas to address women's patterns.

So first it was you know, can we actually build an online health assessment that replicates the pattern, diagnosis and looking at the clinical research and then it was looking at the research on specific herbs and formulas and then it was you know we created actually a beta site called period pain free dot com to see, you know, these are kind of like not your everyday questions that your doctor might ask. So would people feel comfortable answering these very personal questions about their menstrual health, their clotting their bowel movements, thirst uploading a photo of their tongue. So we actually set up a beta to see um, and what we learned was that not only where people excited to complete the health assessment, but they wanted to learn more about what these things mean about their health. So that gave us the confidence to continue building.

And the beta really taught us a lot about, you know, the questions people had the education and materials and how to really manage expectations about how long herbs take to work with the body? Mm totally. And I really feel that because when I went through the online assessment, I was like, you know, the pool is strong when you're dealing with those symptoms every month, you reach a point where you're like, I'll tell you whatever you want to know for the hope that I get something that fixes this problem that I have. So I totally get that people would be like willing to to upload that information, which is interesting in hindsight. You can kind of like see that it makes sense. But you've got to try to understand when you won the startup competition. What happens then? Like were you given kind of some money or were you given like mentorship? Was someone kind of investing in you and taking part of the company to get started. What was that kind of arrangement? Yeah, we were really fortunate even before the start up competition to be part of wardens V.

I. P. X. Accelerator. Uh, so from the beginning, um, we were connected with mentors and advisors. Um, and it was incredibly helpful um, from you know how to how to think about growth marketing and analytics to how to approach the clinical research and the R and D to how to think about the business model. And after placing in the finalists for the start up competition, we were connected to gosh, I want to say at the time it was probably a dozen or two dozen potential investors. And And I'll be honest, even though we had warned business school connecting us to investors that first round that we raised was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my entire life. I think we probably spoke to over 90 individuals and funds and you know, talking to mostly white middle aged men about women's health issues periods and chinese medicine.

You can imagine some of the reactions that we received and you know, then we were also pre launch, we had some beta data, beta results data and we were also pre like significant revenue. And so I think that it was challenging for people to see the potential for the market because I think the market is vastly well as we know under researched and so the market size is undervalued and also it was difficult for people to see, I think how how big it could be. And let's just say like after we launched and gained momentum, that next round of fundraising was like a much different story. But that first round it was it was very, very challenging. But it was also incredibly great feedback for us. Yeah, absolutely. I've heard that before. You know, if you raised before you've had significant traction and significant proof points, it of course is more difficult for people to see that vision and to understand how much did you raise in the first round to get started?

Um, well actually, so to get our initial funding came from the V. I. P. X accelerator. And to be honest, it was my initial um, I put in my savings into it and I would say that's probably one of my biggest lesson learned is that if you can, if you can get two proof points without actually and spend your time and energy proving out your assumptions. Um, that gets you a lot further and to be in a lot better place to raise from whether it's angels or institutional down the road. And I think a lot of times, you know, especially for these like newer solutions, sometimes it's harder for people to imagine what could be and just having some data is extremely helpful, mm hmm, wow gosh, very cool. I want to talk about the launch and how you're actually getting the word out there and starting to build momentum. Especially in the early days. Yes, so we actually launched on March eight, the weekend that Governor Cuomo announced a state of emergency in New York City.

Oh my gosh yeah. And we launched to a 200 person sold out event where we were talking, we had two panelists, we had a female founder like product bazaar like a big uh fair and you know, we just had a very energizing half day event talking about how we can shatter the glass ceiling of women's health. And immediately after that event and we had a full launch calendar of all these in person events activations because part of our mission of Alex is to start more conversations about our health. So it was yeah, not something that we could have planned For. Oh my God wait first question. So you put on this event, you sold the tickets to 200 people. So you got everyone excited to be in the room together and that was celebrating the launch, that was your launch event. That's amazing. I love that. It was awesome. We had, you know my friend Polly who founded the sexual wellness company Unbound Babes, we have my friend Ellie who founded like mindful meditation in new york.

We had Kristin Canny Editor of women's health. Like there were such powerful conversations being had in the room and you know and then immediately after that we went into quarantine. So you know I think we we launched with a massive unexpected challenge of having to um well suffered the losses of all those planned marketing events and activations that we couldn't see through fruition but then also pivoting um everything to a virtual environment. Oh my gosh so you pivot to virtual, Does that mean paid ads influences organic content? What are the kinds of things that are actually shifting the needle and starting to get people to you know be in front of your brand? Yeah I mean you know what has always worked for us is authentic conversations with our community so even today half of our growth comes from what we call community activated word of mouth because like you said the process of going through the health assessment, understanding things like the color of your menstrual blood and your thirst, your ballot mints, how all these things are connected to different signals your body is giving you.

It's so powerful. So even from day one we've always collaborated with practitioners from health coaches to acupuncture ambassadors um to hormone health dietitians and that's really what has worked with us even actually in beta one of our interns reached out to an endometriosis advocate laura Parker who tried to products and she said Alex was the first thing that worked to help her with her endo pain and she has shared and helped the start I. G. Lives and so many conversations about how you know endometriosis is one of the M. P. C. O. S. Are the top leading causes of difficulty conceiving. But yet most people don't know about these issues until they try to conceive because you know for decades painful periods have been normalized by our society. Gosh yeah. Amazing to have voices like that, who are able to speak from a place of authenticity and you know help and educate other people who are probably following them going through the same issues and and looking for advice and guidance and support.

Amazing. I can see how that's like obviously a really core part of what you're doing and and having those voices in your community. So how you go through Covid, you go through this virtual environment, what happens when covid finishes? Do you kind of switch back on the RL events like how does how do you come out of Covid? Yeah I think the early days you know we really pivoted to online like we saw a huge connection between like stress and our periods. So we were really collaborating with brands on things like breathwork classes and um the connection between immune health and our period health and we built out a lot of content both on our social media channel and we have a blog called the wisdom on our website and you know I think in some ways like we are still, we're still kind of in the covid recovery and so we're excited to be organizing more in person events in 2023. But what our community is really loving are these virtual sessions where anyone from anywhere can hop on with an expert because what was so fascinating and beautiful about the past couple of years is, And I think people took this as an opportunity to really focus on their health.

So within actually three months of launching Alex, we were shipping products to people in all 50 states. And even today we have so many community members from places like Kentucky Montana Oklahoma. Like outside of those urban metro hubs that you think of as places where more conversations around holistic healing exist. And I think we're now really reaching people, especially with the educational content that may not have access I. R. L. To a practitioner or to this type of service. And so as we scale, it's like we want to bring in the I. R. L. But we don't want to lose that connection to so many people who need us who are out of the I. R. L. Parameters for now, mm hmm. It's kind of funny because, you know, covid happened, everyone's like freaking out.

But maybe for you guys, it actually was a silver lining because people were turning more inwards and more to their health and more open to exploring new things while they were at home, that that kind of product really like, you know, served people that needed it at that time definitely um one of our missions at Alex is really to democratize access to chinese herbal medicine and we really view that as through the educational content through formulas that are organic, ethically sourced, clinically backed um and also just to make this modality more approachable and accessible because even for me being you know, first generation american and speaking fluent chinese when I went off the pill and was and got my chinese herbal medicine formula from dr lee, I didn't know where to start to find these herbs organically. It took me several trips to new york chinatown to find The dried versions of these herbs and then I was boiling them down for 45 minutes a day, that's like the liquid concoction method and it was so time consuming.

But you know the liquid herbs are actually what is most by available and easily absorbed by our bodies because a lot of the herbal traditions go back to the concept of food as the medicine. So I remember as a kid, my grandma would add and my mother in law still does this like ginseng and jujube, be red dates and ratio mushrooms, two different soups and bone broths and depending on the season, you would add different nourishing and healing herbs into your soups and you really got all the nourishment, your body needed through the foods that you're eating. But you know, most of us today are probably not eating all these foods and super high levels of like fully iron B. 12 vitamin A, vitamin D. All these things that we need for healthy hormone balancing. So that's where the herbs come in. But even creating the herbs, we wanted it to be true to chinese medicine theory and bio availability. So that's why ours are still liquid and we source everything organic and we boil it down in our own facilities.

Sounds so amazing. I want all that nice stuff in my soups. That sounds great For you now in 2022, what are the kinds of things that are shifting the needle and are pushing you forward? Yeah, it's really about continuing to engage with our community. We actually just launched um an Alex community council, so I think of it as like an advisory council board um it's filled with our some of our most loyal and oldest community members. A few of them have actually been with us since our Period pain free beta in 2019 when we were shipping like mystery bottles of herbs in like these like brown bottles with like out a label and they just found us from the internet because they had tried everything and nothing would help their severe pain. So they figured why not give this a try and we're really excited for this community council to both help us in guiding future product development services, educational content and really be part of our, you know, how we on board and support new members, because we really view ourselves as more than just selling a supplement, but how can we be her trusted for friend and adviser from our first period to our last Hot Flash and really help her along this journey of hormone health that lasts a lifetime essentially.

Absolutely, that's a cool idea, having people who are part of your community to you know, be the big sister essentially and act as that role that brings people in warmly welcomes them into the new community, I love that. So yes, they're kind of like and on boarding community of sorts and you know what we find is that sometimes people want to, they want to get their questions answered by other people and our community members come up with like their own like health hacks and recipes, like we also just launched a private um kind of like a Q and A board and so it's a place where community members and people who are thinking about joining the Alex community can share, like wellness inspo their favorite recipes tips, how they're taking cycle balance, they can ask each other questions, I feel like we have so much to offer each other that we really want to create that safe space for people to do, so um and the safe space for those conversations, especially when you're, you know wanting to ask like something a bit more, you know, Not wanting to put it out to the world for everyone to understand, like to hear, but you wanna you wanna get that advice and you want to talk about it with some 100%.

Gosh, I love that we've spoken a lot about all the good stuff that's going on in your business and the highlights, but what we often don't talk about is the challenges that entrepreneurs are facing in business. What are some of the challenges that you've had to go through or what comes to your mind when I bring up challenges? I think what breaks my heart is, you know, Alex is in a category where oftentimes people have given up hope of searching for a solution. Um you know, there's stats that 55% of women report, they've interacted with a health care provider who didn't take their concerns seriously and they feel like they've been gas lit. And so the number one thing that we encounter, and I always tell my team our competition isn't another brand in the category, but our competition is really like this feeling that pain and all these symptoms in our body is normal and that's something that we just have to live with.

And so I think we're constantly dealing with that skepticism and the conditioning that women should just accept these things. Women in all people with periods and to be honest, like, I think we're also challenged by the political divide of the times that we live in. You know, Alexa's mission is to advance research and options within the sphere of women's health at the same time, we want to be an inclusive and safe community for all people with periods and you know, I think sometimes like that language it can be very challenging for us to navigate as a brand. And so does that mean like navigating how you communicate and talk or does that mean the interactions with customer service or or what does that mean? Like in an actual kind of practical sense? Yeah, I'll give you an example.

I think I was in a video where I mentioned something about how Alex is supporting all people with periods and then we had someone comment that Alex doesn't recognize as women and that we're reducing women to body parts. And I think we there maybe there was another message where we said people with uteruses and so um and then we had someone write in and say that you know, only women men straight, that no one besides the women, men straights and that as a brand, if we don't acknowledge that only women men straight, then we're not actually supportive of women were like okay deep breaths here, it's a lot to navigate. It is. So I think it's constantly for us, like how can we inspire our community to be open about supporting each other and like broadly defining what the community is, because I think there's more that unites us as people who have suffered from painful debility symptoms than that, which divides us, and the more that we focus on the things that divide us, the more I think we make it challenging for all people and anyone to get access to the care that they deserve, and I think unfortunately our country is just so polarized right now that it's difficult to have these conversations on a human level.

Yeah, absolutely, yeah, that's a that's an interesting one, and the world just seems to be very um like the online world specifically that, you know, people really have a voice online, people really love to get in there in the comments and yeah, I mean on the flip side, I think where um people being vocal is a great thing is um I think in the past year with all of the, all of the tensions and the events that have really just caused a lot of suffering in the asian community, I think a lot of consumers now want to make sure they're supporting brands that are culturally authentic and so we see a lot of people commenting on our social media post, like is this brand actually owned by a chinese person or a member of the asian community, and I love hopping into the comments there and be like, yes, hi, hi, hi, it's me, Hello, Right, when you think back about the lessons that you've learned in the last couple of years, building Alex, Is there anything that you wish you knew before you started or when you were just starting out, that you can pass on to anyone listening, who might be early on in the journey?

Yes, I think it's building something you're passionate about and you feel like needs to exist in the world is going to be the most rewarding roller coaster ride of your life, and so I think it's to expect and plan for those loaves, so to really, even before they come to really understand what it is that refuels you you and that nourishes you, and that feels like a warm blanket around your soul and to have those activities and those practices and those people and those spaces ready so that you can really care for yourself and be your own best friend along this journey, you know, and I think sometimes, like we as and I'm going to say women do too, we can call it whatever type of social condition from the time where little girls and there's a lot of research that exists here, we are socialized to give and to support other people and to um, you know, acquiesce to demand, and I don't think we are taught growing up to really lean into those things that really nourishes us as human beings and to learn how to prioritize those things, and I think to make it through the highs and the lows and to be resilient along this journey that's really important.

Absolutely my gosh, this cozy blanket analogy, I love that. What does the future look like for you? What do you want to shout about? We are so excited. We just wrapped up the first clinical trial on a personalized herbal supplement for menstrual health. So Alex was actually proven effective for up to 15 different symptoms of menstrual and hormonal health from cramps, migraine, hormonal acne bloating body aches to so many more like 90% of participants in our clinical trial experience improvement the first three months. So we're just excited to add to the body of clinical research that exists in women's health. We're also launching a lot of new communities health coaching educational programming in 2023. So just so many fun things to come wow, congratulations, That's so cool. Thank you, love that view. Hey it's dune here. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast.

If you're a fan of the show and want even more of the good stuff, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our free newsletter. We send it out weekly covering female founder business news insights and learnings in D. C. And interesting business resources and if you're a founder building an e commerce brand you can join our private network of entrepreneurs called hype club at female startup Club dot com forward slash hype club. We have guests from the show joining us for intimate. Ask Me Anythings, expert workshops and a group of totally amazing, like minded women building the future of DTC brands. As always, please do subscribe, rate and review the show and post your favorite episodes to instagram stories. I am beyond grateful when you do that.

Lulu Ge is building the modern day Traditional Chinese Medicine platform to deal with women’s hormone health and chronic period pain, this is the the Elix blueprint (Part 1)
Lulu Ge is building the modern day Traditional Chinese Medicine platform to deal with women’s hormone health and chronic period pain, this is the the Elix blueprint (Part 1)
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