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Making A Taboo Product a Mainstream Success, with the Co-founders of P.S. Condoms

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When you’re building a business, the stakes are always high. Now think about building a company based on a product that absolutely has to work 100% of the time and the other competitors in your category have been around for a century and own about 70% of the market. That might seem like a lot of pressure, and you maybe would assume that having to succeed under those circumstances would mean working in a pretty intense environment. But that’s not necessarily the case for P.S. Condoms. The young DTC brand launched its first product in early 2020 and has been steadily building a base of loyal customers ever since. And the co-founders. Rob Seo and Raja Agnani, have made sure to bring some fun and humor to the company along the way. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, I talked to Rob and Raja about what it’s been like to build P.S. Condoms and why creating a welcoming, open, and fun brand has been critical to the company’s success. Enjoy this episode! Main Takeaways:

  • Bringing Sexy Back: For too long, the idea of what is “sexy” has been co-opted by a few major brands. By creating a company that messages to everyone and encourages them to embrace their individuality, P.S. Condoms has opened up the opportunity to reach more potential customers.
  • Let’s Meet IRL: Most things are better in person or when tried first-hand. When bringing customers into the funnel — especially as a new brand — online channels will only get you so far. Meeting with potential customers at in-person events and giving them samples to use in their everyday lives is the most effective way to get people further into the sales funnel.
  • Keep It Clean But Still Creative: To advertise on the traditional channels, you have to follow certain rules. But those restrictions shouldn’t limit your creativity, they should enhance it. Use the rules placed on you as a creative challenge to find new and more interesting ways to connect with people. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“When you discuss things, people have different opinions on their favorite sports team, their politics, you know, different things. Everybody universally hates condoms. Every single person we talk to just does not like using them…And so that got us thinking, ‘Okay, can we do something different? Can we do something better and does something better exists?’ And so, we had to do a lot more research and figure out whether that exists and how to provide that experience. ” –Raja

“You look at Trojan man and that is like the epitome of toxic masculinity. Oh, you have to look a certain way. You have to be a certain way, to sound a certain way to be considered manly. I’m [thought], ‘You know what? I want to create a brand that says you don’t have to be any type of way, just be who you are, own being yourself and that in and of itself is sexy.” –Rob 

“Our goal is just to get them into as many hands as possible and get as many people trying them as possible.” –Raja “It’s such an easy product to bring humor to, so of course we had the brain humor to it. But we balance the lowbrow with the high-brow. I think the high brow signals, ‘Hey, we’re not lowlifes randomly putting out a condom brand.’ We put some thought into our messaging. We put some thought into obviously our product as a result. And this is something that you can and should buy and try at least.” –Rob

“The philosophy that we have is let’s not just add products to our portfolio just because we can. We want products that are actually going to make a big difference. So similar to our condoms, where we think it’s literally the best condoms that you’re ever going to try. We want things that are going make you say, ‘Wow, this is a game changing product.’” –Rob

Bio:

Robert Seo was born and raised in Maryland and went to UMD for undergrad. He joined the U.S Marines while still studying and in 2003, took a year off for Operation Iraqi Freedom with a light armored reconnaissance unit. After his deployment, he received his Bachelors in Economics with a Minor in Math and moved to NYC to work at UBS in investment banking. After a few years, he moved to South America for a year to learn Spanish and to do an Ironman Triathlon. After completing the race, he came back to NYC and worked at Goldman Sachs in its Principal Strategies Group investing around the world and across various industries before receiving an MBA from the Wharton School. After graduation, he moved to Korea for a year to look for startup ideas and moved back to NYC as the CEO and cofounder of Slidejoy. Slidejoy was acquired by Buzzvil in 2017. He served as the CEO of Buzzvill until he co founded P.S. 

Raja Agnani was born in Queens, NY, and has spent the majority of his life in Southern California. After graduating from UCLA as a Regents Scholar with a BS in Biology, he worked in investment banking at Jefferies & Company in San Francisco. Raja then worked at Relativity Media, a private equity-backed investment firm and media startup, where he evaluated and executed 25+ investments in top Hollywood films and other media entities.He left this role to pursue his MBA at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, Raja worked at Facebook, where he led business strategy and operations within the sales organization, and helped some of the largest advertisers in the world grow their businesses utilizing Facebook and Instagram. An entrepreneur at heart, Raja has always wanted to start his own company — combining his desire to create high quality consumer products and a passion for ecommerce, he co-founded P.S.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

  Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host Stephanie Postles Mission.org. Today on the show we have the co-founders of PS condoms, Rob and Raja. Guys, welcome to the show.

Rob:

Thank you. Great to be here.

Raja:

Yeah, thank you.

Stephanie:

Excited to have you on. So before we dive in I want to go through some background so people can get to know you a bit. So maybe Raja, if we start with you a little about who you were before PS.

Raja:

Yeah, absolutely. I’m originally from New York, based in LA right now. I met Rob about a decade ago. I started out my career in finance and pretty quickly learned that’s probably not where I want to spend my career. Rob and I met about a decade ago in business school and at that time was kind of thinking through some decisions. Ended up working in technology. I worked at Facebook for about five years. Worked on the ad side of the business. Really got to understand how they had built that business and eventually just saw myself wanting other be on the other side rather than talking to clients and advertisers about campaigns and their goals for marketing, I actually wanted to be those companies. I thought why not work on something like this and then Rob, if I you want to kick in to your background we can talk about that.

Rob:

Yeah, so I was born, raised in Maryland and went to University of Maryland for undergrad. I joined the Marines while I was in school and in 2003 I took a year off to take part in the invasion of Iraq. So I was there for about eight months. I served with the Light Armored Reconnaissance Unit. Went up through the border in Kuwait, took Baghdad, and then ran missions through southern Iraq. Once I came back, I finished up school, moved to New York to do investment banking with UBS for a few years and with current healthcare companies.

Rob:

Then after a few years I decided to move to South America because I always wanted to live in South America. I always wanted to do an iron man triathlon. So I put those two together. I was in Ecuador for six months and then the mountains in Colombia for six months and then finished the race in Brazil. Came back to New York, worked at Goldman on the prop desk for a bit and then went to Wharton for business school which is where I met Raja. Then when I saw his hair I was like, I got to work with him.

Stephanie:

His hair’s good.

Rob:

At some point. Yeah. Then after school I moved to Korea for a year because I always wanted to live in Korea and I was kind of looking at different ideas. I wanted to do my own startup. So I came up, well, I met my co-founders while I was there, moved back to New York. Started a mobile advertising company through an app and then after a few years sold that to another company based in Korea. I was the head of the US office for a few years and then decided that PS was the next thing that I wanted to work on. So here we are.

Stephanie:

Amazing. So Rob, was it your idea? And if so, what was the reaction when you were like, I want to do a [inaudible] Tell me a bit about that.

Rob:

Yeah, well. You know, like, yeah. Happily married right now with kids but before that-

Stephanie:

I like the clarification. I was wondering about that.

Rob:

I was single for like 13 years, you know, and for like 10 of those years I was using Trojans. I remember the first time walking into CVS in my college and buying a pack of condoms and not even thinking twice about that decision. But along the way it’s like, you realize nobody likes condoms. Everybody hates using condoms and I was just kind of thinking why is that? Why can’t we do better, you know? Doing a bit more research on the space, it’s like you look at three companies that are 90% of the market. Put that in perspective, like Google and Facebook are like 70% of market. Trojan alone is 70% of the market. Google plus Facebook is like 70% of the ad market and people are talking about bring them both down through anti-trust.

Rob:

So you have one behemoth in the industry, two other companies that have large market shares, and they’re all over 100 years old. So I’m like okay, well that’s it right there. Why, if they have this kind of share, why would they change anything? Why provide a better product when they don’t have to?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Rob:

That’s when I birthed the idea to Raja and Raja, if you want to take it from here.

Raja:

So Rob was visiting LA and I had already given my notice to Facebook saying I was going to leave and had already started thinking through some ideas on companies I wanted to work on. I definitely wanted it to be in e-commerce and Rob was like, we should start a condom company. I was like, look, I, also happily married. I had one kid at the time. I’m pretty sure I had one kid at the time and was just like, why would we do this?

Raja:

He ran me through some of those facts and I didn’t realize all those companies, each of them were a hundred plus years old. I do know, and we kind of joke about this, but as friends, when you discuss things, people have different opinions on their favorite sports team, their politics, different things. Everybody universally hates condoms. Every single person we talked to just does not like using them. They cause friction, the wrong type of friction in the situation. They’re milky. There’s like this weird residue. It smells gross. There are so many things that people just typically say, I don’t like them. They take away from what should be an enjoyable experience.

Raja:

So that got us thinking and just like okay, can we do something different? Can we do something better? Does something better exist? We had to kind of do a lot more research and figure out whether that exists and how to provide that experience.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I love it. It makes me think about other industries in general. Like how many are out there that are like this that people just continue to use and just think this is the best there is. What else can you do with it? I mean, Rob, I’m guessing you probably looked into other industries as well knowing your finance background. What other ideas maybe did you have outside of PS?

Rob:

Yeah. I mean, this was the main one that I focused on. I think, like it was appealing because there was obviously the product angle and I was like, okay, let’s come up with a condom that you’re just pretty much not going to know it’s there. Like it’s just not going to take away from the experience. Then the other part is, Raja and I are Asian-American men, right? And we’re not really portrayed as being sexy at all or quote-unquote “manly” right?

Stephanie:

What? You guys are sexy, come on.

Rob:

I know that. In my heart of hearts I know that. I’ve known that for my entire life but if you look at, let’s say the media or movies and stuff like, I mean let me bring the question back to you. When was the last time that you saw an Asian male lead in a movie who got with the female lead?

Stephanie:

Yeah, true. I can’t think of … Nothing is coming to mind.

Raja:

And they didn’t write it themselves.

Rob:

Right? That’s one thing that we wanted to change, right? I mean, Raja is a manly man. Like look at him. Beautiful, right?

Stephanie:

So dapper.

Rob:

He’s a beautiful man, he’s a manly dude. Like I’m a manly guy. I know what I’ve done. I don’t need somebody to tell me that I’m manly or not manly, right? If you look at Trojan Man, and Trojan Man is like the epitome of toxic masculinity. You have to look at certain way, you have to be a certain way, you have to sound a certain way to be considered manly. I’m like, you know what? I want to work on a brand, I want to create a brand that says, look, you don’t have to be any type of way. Just be who you are, own that, be yourself and that in and of itself is sexy.

Stephanie:

I love that.

Rob:

That’s what we’re pushing.

Stephanie:

That’s great. When you’ve been coming up with this idea, like what did the early days look like? You’re coming from backgrounds where you haven’t created products before? How did you even know where to start when it came to sourcing and product testing and all the things that come with that?

Rob:

Yeah, yeah. So we went back to our roots, you know? I went back to Korean and we talked to different manufacturers there and the thing is that outside of the US, so Trojan is a large manufacturer here but there’s other countries … like Trojan is a smaller part of the market globally, right? Durex actually has the biggest market share globally. So each country, it’s very local. If you go to different countries and you have different products and you’ll see that. So we went to Korea and we saw that there’s different manufacturers who are doing very different things from what they’re doing here. So that’s how we came up with our particular condom and our manufacturer to bring back here to the states.

Stephanie:

Got it. So you didn’t really create something completely brand new. It was finding what was already working and then bring that back here?

Rob:

Yeah. I mean, we have a little separate tweak to our formulation but, yeah, we work with a manufacturer that already existed and work closely with them to bring something to market.

Stephanie:

Got it. I’m guessing this past year and a half or so has probably been a big boom for you guys? Lots of people home, they need what you’re selling.

Rob:

Yes.

Stephanie:

Tell me a bit about what that’s looked like.

Raja:

I can take that. I think when we first launched and we weren’t really taking off very much until February 2020 things started going a little bit better and then March comes and we’re like, wow, what’s going to happen right now? What ended up happening was what you described. Things just really took off for us. Things went really positive even though, I mean, the big negative there is that the single people weren’t really meeting up with other single people. The dating apps were kind of not really active or people were doing Zoom dates. Zoom dates are phenomenal, I’m sure, for building rapport but not really great for our product. But what we saw was actually there’s a lot more couples buying from us. I think couples go through more thoughts around family planning when it comes to situations like last year and then as things have opened we’ve just seen huge booms in purchasing. So we’ve seen those huge upticks. This spring, I think, was great for us as everything sort of opened up and people started going out and hanging out again.

Raja:

But, you know, condoms are a really great product. I think we found some information where it said during the economic downturn in 2009 condom sales actually went up a double digit percentage. So they’re kind of resilient in that sense. People are going to use whether things are good or things are not great.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah. How did you go about finding your customers or getting found? I mean, as a new brand, that’s one of the hardest things to do is get out there, find customers, convince them to keep reordering. I saw you guys have this subscription model with your product. I mean, what did that funnel look like?

Rob:

We basically looked online. Traditional channels, Facebook, Google, Instagram, etc. But we think going forward like offline events is going to be a big thing for us. If you think about it, like our value proposition is that you just have a much better condom and once you try it you’re just like, I’m serious, for a long time I was angry that I had to use Trojans for a decade because it’s just missing out on, you know, like missing out like that, it’s disappointing.

Stephanie:

Yeah, a wasted decade. [inaudible]

Rob:

It is. I think once people try it you just, you can tell, you know? That’s, I think, going to be a big part of how we acquire customers in the future.

Stephanie:

So you could just send out one to every household and call it a day, right?

Rob:

Yeah, yeah. Pretty much.

Stephanie:

But I mean, that is a very good strategy. Like if someone tries it, they’ll know.

Rob:

Right.

Stephanie:

And we just had someone on the show last week who was talking about catalogs and direct mail is coming back so strong. I mean, is that kind of what you guys are also betting on and are there other things that you’re adding into that to kind of make it new and innovative? Or are you just sticking with the basics.

Rob:

Yeah. We’re looking at to direct but also just like events, you know? Especially within our target market, like the younger crowd, now there’s concerts like concert series. We’re working with a concert series called Breakaway so they’re starting out, they’re in like a few markets right now and they’re looking to expand that next year to many more. So working with them to basically just hand out our condoms and just do a little bit of education at the events themselves. You know? Yeah.

Stephanie:

How do you go about educating someone because to me it’s such a quick decision? You walk in, like tunnel vision, don’t look at me. Picking this out. Don’t judge me. How do you have enough time to even educate them? I mean, I was looking at your website which is awesome and we’re going to talk about that in a little bit but how do you do it when it’s in store or even at a concert when they’re like yeah, this is similar to maybe one that Planned Parenthood just handed out to me, too. Like they don’t know.

Rob:

Right, right.

Stephanie:

What are you doing to tackle that really quickly?

Raja:

Yeah, I mean, I think we try to convey our product features as much as possible. So letting them know that it’s thinner than other condoms they’ve used before. It doesn’t smell. It’s clear, it’s orderless. It’s 100% vegan. So most condoms that are odorless are not vegan. They contain a dairy byproduct called casein and actually it turns out that casein is what gives condoms that gross, rubbery smell that you probably associate with them. Since our product doesn’t contain casein the condom doesn’t smell.

Raja:

Again, some of those things, you have to experience it, you have to try it out to actually understand what that means. So our goal is just to get them into as many hands as possible and get as many people trying them as possible.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Rob:

An interesting thing is the casein is actually, like a lot of people might think that they’re allergic to latex but they’re actually allergic to the casein.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I was just going to say that I know most people think they’re allergic to milk or something but it’s actually the casein in milk and they can have maybe, I think like goat’s milk and Greek yogurt and stuff. If that’s wrong I feel like, Rob, you’ll tell me.

Rob:

Yeah. I don’t know about the Greek yogurt and the goat’s milk because that’s not, you know, I don’t drink goat’s milk. But in terms of latex gloves, right? People are like, I can’t touch latex gloves because they’re allergic to it. Well, they’re not allergic to the latex, they’re allergic to the casein because that’s what’s used in their process.

Stephanie:

Got it, got it. So tell me a bit, too, around the messaging that you’ve built on your website. I was going through it. It was great. Your website is awesome, for one, so kudos to you guys, but it also has a lot of humor around it and I was going through the thread of, let’s see, it was like the best conversations on social media, the types of reviews you guys are getting. First of all, whose idea was that and how do you think about leading with humor?

Rob:

Yeah. I mean we, it’s all of us, right? It’s just the nature of us. We have a couple other people on the team and so they contributed to it as well but I think the use of humor, it’s such an easy product to bring humor to, so of course we have to bring humor to it. But we like to kind of balance the lowbrow with the highbrow. You know, I think the highbrow kind of signals, hey, we’re not just these low-lifes just randomly putting out a condom brand. We put some thought into our messaging. We put some thought into, obviously, our product. As a result this is something that you could and should buy and try, at least.

Rob:

So, yeah. I think it’s all of us. The interesting thing with the comments or the reviews is that our customers will just kind of reflect what we present to them and they kind of get our tone, they get our voice. So the reviews we get are kind of ridiculous and very commonly, you just go through our reviews. We don’t curate them so like, I mean-

Raja:

Some of them are so detailed that I’m just like how is this person, how did they come up with this because they’re hilarious? They’re actually very funny people themselves but also, like TMI. It’s like whoa, like my wife would kill me if I was talking about this type of stuff on a random condom website but here we are.

Rob:

There’s like the best condoms this side of the Snake River or something like that. That one is so funny.

Stephanie:

I also like your responses on your guys’ social media where a person is asking about sizing and you’re like, our condoms fit anywhere between baby carrots and porn stars. So probably somewhere in between. That’s great. I mean, having someone witty like that, the only account that I’ve seen that’s continuously witty like that is Wendy’s which I so very much appreciate and Morning Brew is getting there as well, sometimes.

Rob:

Yeah, right. We do what we can. I do a lot of the responses there. I just sort of have fun with it. A lot of people, they’re ridiculous. People are just ridiculous and we like to keep it classy but, classy and fun. You know? Like not too crazy.

Stephanie:

Oh my God. How do you encourage people to even leave these reviews because I’m sure brands listening, they’re like I just want a normal review and they can’t even get that and here you guys have someone coming up with an entire book that’s actually witty. What are you all doing to encourage people to come back and actually leave these reviews?

Rob:

I think this, again, it’s just us. We’ll come up with different witticisms or whatever. As soon as you open the box it says slip into something more comfortable. Or let the good times unroll. Or catch you at the finish.

Stephanie:

I like it.

Rob:

We’re going to come up with a website soon but like, come for the condoms, stay for the double entendres. Like, whatever. Once people read that stuff they get a vibe from us and it’s just, PS is about connecting and that’s the best part of the message, right? It’s like the best part of an interaction and also we want our brand to be about that interaction with our customers and enabling interactions between them and their partners. I think it’s just giving off a vibe and then having them vibe off of us and then just responding in kind is pretty much the best way to do it.

Stephanie:

Yeah. You guys are definitely developing a community. To understand scale, Raja, maybe you have this answer, but how many condoms are you guys selling a day, a month? Like what does that look like so we can see where you came from?

Raja:

Yeah. I mean, I think when things started we were probably selling like one a day and we were like okay, cool, we sold a condom today. We sold one. But it’s definitely come a long way from when we first started to right now.

Stephanie:

When did you guys turn on the subscription model and how is that working for you all?

Raja:

Yeah, we’ve had it from day one as an option and so we knew people would want to try it first often before just saying I’m going to commit to this and subscribe to it. We started out with it and I think over time we’ve seen a good number of upticks from people who took the one time purchase and then eventually rolled it into a subscription and decided they wanted to just make it a more regular shipment that they’re getting. We’ve tried different things like quarterly subscriptions, eco-friendly subscriptions, like different things like that that help basically people want things how they want them and when they want them. So if they’re able to give us up-front notice that they want 36 condoms this month we’re ready to ship those.

Stephanie:

Wow. That’d be so impressive. 36 condoms in a month.

Raja:

You’d be surprised. We have no idea what some people do, which is like whoa.

Stephanie:

Wow, okay. I’m guessing you allow people, like you said, give them what they want when they want it. Like if they fall upon hard times they can pause it, they can stop it, they can restart it. I mean, that seems like what customers want these days. They don’t want to be locked into something like subscription programs maybe used to pull them into.

Raja:

Yeah, totally. We let them be flexible and we’re flexible with the timing. If they let us know, they can always cancel, they can always push back the next shipment. So we’re very, we’re easy.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love it. So when thinking about this industry there’s probably a lot of good opportunities for content that can be created to also lift up the brand and spread the message. Have you all explored this so far?

Raja:

Yeah, I mean, I think … I don’t know if you’ve seen our ads.

Stephanie:

I haven’t so tell me about them.

Raja:

Okay. Our ads are kind of, we try to push the limits without what Facebook and Instagram will let us do.

Stephanie:

Without getting banned?

Raja:

Without getting banned. We’ve managed to not get banned so far. Luckily we know some people internally but that’s not to say that some of our ads don’t get stopped. Some ideas that we have maybe have gone a little too far but I think that we’ve managed to tip-toe that line somewhat successfully but we try to bring in all the double entendres we’re talking about here. We try to bring them into our ads as much as possible. There’s a lot of limitations to what you’re allowed to do on those platforms. We can talk about contraceptive but we can’t talk about fun or pleasure.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Raja:

Which limits us a lot, but we try to find interesting ways to convey product features and benefits as much as possible without going too far on the other side.

Stephanie:

That’s an interesting angle that you have to play around the creatively of it, of just being like, look at this person’s face, they’re happy. Like you be the judge but I can’t tell you they’re happy and I can’t tell you what they’re doing. I mean, are you only in the US because I’m imagining if you’re in like Europe and other places I would think, I mean, they definitely talk about it very differently than how we do here?

Raja:

Yeah. For now we’re only in the US.

Stephanie:

Okay, got it. I mean, tell me more about who is creating the vision behind that content? Like how do you guys create it and also keep it, like I said, within the parameters where you’re not going to get in trouble? What are some ideas that you bounce around that are maybe fun and upcoming and how do you even come up with those to begin with?

Rob:

I guess like, so we have a Chief Creative Officer, he’s brilliant. So he and I will kind of do a lot of the creative side but everybody contributes. Like we’ll say, hey, something that we’re working on, do you guys have any thoughts on creating this, whatever? So everybody contributes. Yeah. I think something that you were talking about before, so we have this one ad, it’s like a ghost ad, talking about tiptoeing that line between what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate. It’s like, we have a ghost to kind of imply that hey, you could barely tell that it’s there, you know?

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Rob:

But it has like three holes in it, it’s like the eyes and the mouth right? So of course people want, the comments are like, there’s holes in it. I’m not going to buy this condom? Like, whatever.

Stephanie:

That was my first thought? I was like, do you want that on your ad? These are holy condoms. Read into that however you want.

Rob:

So we responded with, well, holes aren’t included. Those are for you to find. They love that one.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Rob:

I think that’s what it is. Obviously we didn’t plan for that but it’s just a process of, a are, what is the future? What are the things that we want to bring out? What’s a creative way of bring it out while toeing that line of being appropriately inappropriate and just kind of seeing if it flies.

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Rob:

And crossing our fingers [inaudible]

Stephanie:

Yeah. I can imagine. When thinking about going offline or maybe to different platforms, do you have the same rules or are they a little more lenient?

Rob:

No rules.

Stephanie:

No rules? Rob is going to get the company in trouble and Raja will make sure that doesn’t happen.

Raja:

[inaudible]

Stephanie:

Reel it in, reel it in.

Raja:

In terms of digital marketing, you’ve got the major channels all have the same rules, essentially. Snapchat, Tik Tok. Tik Tok might be more restricted, even. I think Google might have slightly fewer rules.

Raja:

They’re basically all the same until you start getting to the adult sites. The adult sites have no rules whatsoever. We can do anything we would want.

Stephanie:

Okay, what about mail and billboards and all the other things?

Rob:

In terms of outdoor, like subway ads, outdoor billboards. Like they do have similar restrictions so I think that’s where we kind of have to think a little more creatively to get onto it.

Raja:

All things considered, I mean, condoms are an FDA Class II medical device. We have to register with the FDA. We go through a lot of hoops to be able to launch a condom brand. While the humor obviously sometimes is a little crass but we’re definitely, we’re going by the books on a lot of things and we have to sort of often explain that to a lot of channels and a lot of other people. Like hey, actually, you know, we’re not just some random brand that decided to put some rubber together and see what could happen.

Stephanie:

That’s a plus. That would be a little scary. What did that FDA regulation look like? What was the process? Was it hard or was it semi-easy since you already had a product you were working with that worked well in other countries?

Raja:

It’s not necessarily that difficult. It’s just kind of another set of things, you know? I think anytime you work with a government agency it’s kind of like you submit all these documents and then you just wait. Then eventually, hopefully, things come back saying everything is okay. We have to work with manufacturers who are authorized by the FDA or cleared by the FDA to actually be able to sell these condoms and they get checked every year or two. The FDA actually goes and inspects their factories and makes sure that everything goes okay. They do all these types of tests, electronic testing, water testing, pressure testing, all this sort of stuff.

Stephanie:

Personal testing.

Raja:

Personal testing. Yeah, sometimes we volunteer for that. Then after that, so they’ve gone through the tougher side of it but on our side of it we have to still go through a bunch of checks. Every time we receive a shipment it’s a little more painful. Going through customs. Going through FDA after customs. Getting onto platforms, like getting onto Amazon. It’s just an extra set of steps for everything. We have all the documents but it’s just, every time we do something different we have to continuously reiterate that point over and over.

Stephanie:

Got it. So earlier I’m thinking about you’re talking about going through customs right now and Rob, you’re talking about the person with the review saying the only bad thing is it’s not made here. What was your guys’ thought about keeping it made overseas versus bringing it here? Maybe avoiding the whole customs steps?

Raja:

I mean, I think so if you look at the market, only Trojan manufactures any products in the US at this point. I think it’s about 15%, 10 to 20% of their condoms are manufactured in the US. So even for them the majority are manufactured in Asia. For FDA-approved manufacturers I think we’re looking at maybe five or six countries in Asia that make all of them. So we were kind of limited because we couldn’t just knock on Trojan’s door and ask them to manufacture for us. I think the last condom factory we read about disappeared three or four years ago.

Stephanie:

What happened to them? Trojan took them out?

Raja:

Yeah.

Rob:

We talked to them, right?

Stephanie:

They’re still here? Still alive?

Raja:

Got into a conversation with them about their factory. There’s a group of people trying to revive them and if they do we’re happily going to talk to them about it and yeah, we’d love to make it in the US.

Stephanie:

Yeah, okay. Cool. Before the conversation started we were talking about the branding of PS and PS condoms and Rob, I wanted to hear your thoughts around starting out with just condoms but having a bigger vision for the company. So tell me a little bit about what that looks like going forward.

Rob:

Okay. Yeah. I think in terms of our products, like right now we only sell condoms. We actually started with just the regular size condom and then we moved, we added the XL condom. I guess the philosophy that we have is let’s not just add products to our portfolio just because we can. We want products that are actually going to make a big difference. So similar to our condoms, where we think it’s literally the best condom that you’re ever going to try and a lot of people say the same. We want things that are going to make you say wow, this is a game-changing product. Again, that’s a word that we see a lot but but we want every product to be that way.

Rob:

Without, I think, without sharing too much Raja, I don’t know if maybe you … Obviously there’s going to be lubed but a lube that is going to help prevent some types of STDs. We didn’t talk about this, but condoms, or STDs are at all-time highs right now. We’re talking about 20 million cases each year.

Stephanie:

Wow, scary. I have to stay away from …

Rob:

Yeah. Unfortunately a lot of the comments that we get are talking about raw dog is the best way, what’s a condom? Ha, ha, ha. But that’s why STDs are at all-time highs. It’s not just pregnancy. That’s something that we were going to hopefully, knock on wood, come out with products soon. We’re in talks with that as well as other things down the line which, again, are going to be about changing the game rather than just, hey, let’s just have another product out there.

Stephanie:

Yeah, cool. Raja, anything to add to that.

Raja:

No, I think Rob hit every point we had.

Stephanie:

I love it. Okay. Well, I want to move on to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask a question and you have a minute or less to answer and giving us enough time, because there’s two of you, and I want to make sure you both can answer the questions. So, are you both ready?

Raja:

Yes.

Rob:

Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

Okay. I’ll start with Raja. What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

Raja:

Best piece of business advice? I think the customer comes first, at anything that we do, we put the customer first. We put ourselves in their shoes in terms of actually purchasing the product, in terms of the experience of receiving it. In terms of communicating with us. All of that. Everything we do comes from a customer-first perspective.

Stephanie:

I love it. Rob? What about you?

Rob:

I heard a wise man once said that the customer comes first.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh. I was going to say, you can’t say ditto. You have to have your own unique, authentic answer.

Rob:

I think it’s just, do business with people that you feel comfortable with. I think that’s just been very true for me. Whether it’s investors, whether it’s business partners, you know? Raja and I were friends before we were business partners. It’s kind of like dating now. It’s like we were friends before we became partners. [inaudible]

Rob:

In general, I think that’s the best advice I got is just work with people that you feel comfortable with. Bring people in that you feel comfortable with and it’s going to be all good. Because if you’re working with people that you just get a bad vibe from from the very beginning, then it’s just not worth it. I think that’s the best thing.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. All right. Rob, back to you again.

Rob:

Okay.

Stephanie:

What was time in the company history that you got most nervous? Scared, nervous, worried, whatever? Any stories, like the one moment that you’re like, I was actually quite scared about that.

Rob:

That’s a good question. I don’t know if I’m that … I think I kind of roll with the punches.

Stephanie:

I can tell.

Rob:

Here’s the way I think about it, right? In Iraq I just realized that I was, before we invaded and all that stuff. I was just super worried about like what if this happens or what if I lose my arm or what if blah, blah, blah, blah, right? All these scenarios just go through your head, you know?

Rob:

I was just like all right, well this is not sustainable. Right? I’m probably going to be here for months. This is just not a good way to live. So I said well, what’s the best thing I could do and I just figured I should just focus on right now. Like what is the best thing that I could do right now that’s going to increase my level and my likelihood of survival? Take care of myself, take care of my weapons, take care of my buddies, take care of everything. Just focus on right now and have somewhat of a plan, an idea of what you’re going to do. Trust your training, trust yourself and continue to move forward, right?

Rob:

That got me through the war and same with my first startup. I would say that’s when I felt a lot of like, oh my gosh, are we going to make it and whatever. But in the end, if you just trust yourself, you trust your team, you give yourself credit and just keep going there’s no way we’re not going to make it. You know?

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s good.

Rob:

Just got to roll with the punches.

Stephanie:

You just took my whole conversation and flipped it on its head and I’m here for it.

Raja:

How do I follow that up?

Stephanie:

But Raja, now you have to actually answer it and answer it for real this time. Don’t try and pull a Rob. You got to really answer.

Raja:

How does someone follow that up?

Stephanie:

No, you actually can’t, but we still want to hear from you.

Raja:

I think that there was a moment. So we worked on the brand, we started in 2018 just kind of figuring out what the brand, the voice, the tone, the name, all of that sort of stuff. 2019, we got our first shipment, our first order in and we got our website up and everything looked like we were ready to launch and then I get a frantic phone call from our customs agent just saying hey, you can’t sell the condoms. I’m like, what are you talking about? Like we are going to sell starting Monday and we’re going live. Like the website is going live and everything, it is live. I mean actually, it is live.

Raja:

He was just like, well, we got a little from the FDA saying do not distribute. I was like, why? What’s wrong? We’ve never gotten a shipment of condoms before. We don’t know what that’s like. Basically it had missed a checkpoint as it came into the country and so we had a whole other series of things to go through and it was just like okay, it just felt like a really, oh no, what’s going on? Is something wrong with them? Is something wrong with the shipment? As a first time thing it was just like, oh God, is this going to happen every time? It didn’t happen every time but it was just one of those things where it was like everything felt ready and then it was like okay, wait. We had to wait another month or so before we could actually do anything.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I can definitely see how that can be scary. Like is this my company history going forward? Like is it going to be like this? That’s a good one. You followed that up well. All right. Next one, Rob. What’s one thing you don’t understand today that you wish you did?

Rob:

Man, how many things. Like how the world works.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one.

Rob:

I think we could be or I think I could be a bit more structured on the branding side. I’ve never built a brand, right? I came from building a mobile app, which is very [inaudible] based to building a brand which has a life of its own, right? I think kind of learning and understanding more of how exactly to do that. I know that we’re going to get there and we’re doing it but I think just being better at it, faster, and being more knowledgeable about it right now is something that I wish I knew better at this moment.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Well, thankfully we have so many episodes that can help you with that. Just go back to number one and start going through them.

Rob:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Raja, what about you?

Raja:

Sure, let’s repeat it.

Stephanie:

Raja, what’s one thing you don’t understand today that you wish you did?

Raja:

Yeah. I think, so we did a trade show back when there were trade shows, which feels like six years ago at this point, but it was the beginning of last year. We were able to get in front of and meet with thousands of people. Like just all day and obviously with today’s day and age that sounds just crazy to me that we shook hands with, met with, handed samples off to thousands of people and we got to understand where there, like what made them react. You know, what was actually interesting to them. When you said it was 40% thinner how did they react? When you said it was vegan, what happened there? When you opened it up, showed them it didn’t smell. It was clear, odorless. All the things we tried, I think we … It would be great to get back to a little bit more of that. Like actually get back in front of the customer, understand exactly what’s working, what’s not working.

Raja:

We get a lot of communication through email, through chat, through our posts, but I think it’s just great to get in front of people and actually get that face-to-face interaction. I think it would be good to just get a better sense of what are the other things in life that our customers are looking for and we could potentially provide to them?

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. Even though about what you said. Some things are understand, like it’s not going to smell bad. Some things, like percentages, I’m like I don’t know what 40% would be like versus 80% different versus 1%. I’m not sure. That’s a tricky one to think about, especially if you have to try it to know. All right, Robert, Raja, this has been awesome having you guys on the show. Really fun round table. There could have been so many more giggles but thankfully I held it in and I stayed as mature as possible. But for now, where can people find out more about you guys and PS?

Raja:

Awesome, yeah. They can check us out at www.psgoodtimes.com or on Instagram at Psgoodtimes.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Sounds good. Thank you guys.

Rob:

Thank you.

Raja:

Awesome.

Episode 145