Startup Hero – Colette Courtion of Joylux

Colette Courtion founded Joylux (www.joylux.com) in 2016 after she became a mother and experienced both the joys of motherhood and the consequence of incontinence that results from childbearing. She had previously founded a skincare company and decided to apply some of the technologies that help skin look younger to a more intimate health problem—sexual health—that not only is the result of childbirth, but also menopause. Colette brought a meaningful change to the conversation of intimate women’s health—no small accomplishment for a startup.

Taking a page out of the playbook of Clarisonic and Sonicare (both from last-generation Startup Hero David Giuliani), she decided to go to market through a professional channel of doctors who performed vaginal rejuvenation procedures. With the usual problems facing a startup, there were ups and downs, but she persisted, building a great team and wonderful investor base. (Note: I am an investor, so not entirely unbiased!)

Joylux was recognized by the Angel Capital Association as last year’s most innovative company. Despite the many hurdles of starting a women’s health company, Joylux was beginning to get a lot of traction. Then came the pandemic. 

With the help of CFO Peter Weiss, they quickly strategized about what they would need to do. As Courtion shared, “There is an advantage of being an ‘older’ entrepreneur. I was there for the dot-com bust of early 2001 and saw what happened to Lehman Brothers during the 2008 crash. In order to survive, I knew that we needed to move early, fast, and make hard decisions.” Just like there is no immunity from the COVID-19 virus, there is no immunity to the economic result either.

She and Peter put together a plan and sat down with the management team to discuss. “We laid out the stark financial reality and shared the numbers. We asked that everyone first take a salary cut and then we discussed what roles we had to eliminate,” Courtion said. “We asked them to consider what they could do financially to help the business survive, gave them overnight to consider, and then we talked the next day. I’m proud to say the management team was thoughtful and creative. They came back with deep cuts—perhaps deeper than we might have done without their input. The key was that we came together as a team—everyone had ownership—for a plan to help the business remain strong.” 

The salary cuts were substantial. Senior management led the way with 50% cuts. But in one case, they recommended actually raising an employee’s salary. She was a phenomenal employee but would have suffered massively because her comp was commission-based, so they decided to change her comp model. “That brought us loyalty, as well as an even stronger commitment to the business.” 

Before COVID-19, Joylux had 15 employees; they cut to 9, and 2 contractors agreed to lower their number of hours. This was all done prior to PPP (Payroll Protection Act), which did not come through until more than a month later.

“After we cut expenses, I posed the following question to the team: If we could start over, what would you do differently?” Courtion said. “Each team/department went off and discussed what they thought we should do. A week later, they came back and presented what they would do, with the entire team participating.” Turned out to be more than just how the company should pivot in response to COVID-19—they implemented changes that had been put off because they were too busy, changes that made Joylux a stronger business. 

“The silver lining to COVID-19 is that it has given us a perfect opportunity to test things that might affect the near-term, top-line revenue, but will be better for us long term and make Joylux even stronger. We put in place a new way to do business, shifting from a wholesale business model with professional doctors to a more D2C business model,” Courtion said.

Like Sonicare Toothbrush and Clarisonic, the core strategy prior to the pandemic was to engage the professional channel, i.e. Ob-Gyns and urologists, for product validation and endorsements, but COVID-19 caused a pivot to a more direct-to-consumer focus. This was necessary while the pro channel was closed due to the quarantine. Courtion added, “The professional partner is still vital to our business, but how we engage with them changed. We quickly put in place a telehealth-like program to help them refer patients to the Joylux site for sales during the period their offices were closed. Being direct-to-consumer is allowing us to be much more creative. From telehealth opportunities to testing a membership business model, COVID-19 may turn out to be our catalyst for major growth.”

I asked Colette how she communicated the changes to her shareholders. First came shareholder Zoom calls to communicate the changes, followed by weekly email updates. She was particularly proud of her shareholders’ response. Although it was painful to do so, Joylux also decided to reopen the previous priced round from 2017. With the idea of raising $500K, they asked shareholders to each add $5,000 to their investment. In fact, most shareholders did more than their pro rata, and the company raised over $1.2M. That, along with another $200K from the PPP, gave them the cash cushion they needed.

“The business is doing very well. We lost 60% of our revenues overnight, but with the team’s quick shift to D2C, we have more than made up for it. We are seeing strong year-over-year growth, which is unprecedented for most businesses today. I am very proud of our team.” Asked about the future, Courtion added, “Even if the recovery is slow—12 to 18 months or longer—we are really optimistic about the future. We will attract new customers with a wider net.” Joylux has done best case/worst case modeling and believes that they are in a category (female sexual health) that will continue to grow. “COVID-19 will pass, but the need to treat these symptoms won’t,” she said, ending the discussion on an optimistic note.

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