(Photo: Courtesy HelloFlo)
Naama Bloom is the force behind those videos, a bit of content marketing for her company HelloFlo.com. Bloom was a marketing executive when she started noodling over the idea for a tampon/pad delivery service that would set you up with products at just the right time of the month. But HelloFlo has evolved into more than that — broader health care resources for women during pregnancy, post-partum and soon menopause.
I had an illuminating chat with Bloom about how she’s turning the behind-closed-doors business about women’s bodies into something a lot more practical and shame-free.
Margit: So how did you get started in the period business?
Naama: It started as just a fun, intellectual exercise, honestly. I had a job at a small software company and I was noticing all these subscription services popping up. One of them was for a company called Manpacks, which originally started to send underwear monthly to men. I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of genius,” because it’s a “grudge purchase.” It’s not a fun, exciting thing to receive, but it takes away a grudge purchase.
I thought, “What’s the equivalent for a woman? What do we have to buy every month that we just don’t like buying?” and quickly landed on tampons. Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone could knock on my door a few days before [my period] and hand me some tampons with a note that said “Put these in your purse right now?” That was really the idea: a reminder service that went one step further that made me put my product in my bag.
Margit: I think people often resist starting a business because they think, “I don’t know everything about this. I’m not the expert.” But what’s inspiring about what you’re doing, too, is that you thought, “Let me just try this. Let me see if it works,” and now you’re in some ways just re-educating yourself.
Naama: Yeah. People say to me sometimes, “Oh, it was so brave that you did this,” but it wasn’t brave because I was doing it as a little side project. It was never really my intention that this was going to be a full-time job. After releasing Camp Gyno and getting all the feedback, I realized, “Wow, not only do people want this, but I now need to learn as much as I can about this space.” So I did my own research, talked to women about everything related to their health all the time, enlisted OB/GYNs and an acupuncture practitioner who helped me through both of my pregnancies. Plus, every time I see my mother I’m constantly asking her menopause questions and questions about her aging body.
I don’t want to say it happened accidentally, but there was no way I could have predicted that Camp Gyno was going to go viral and that it was going to change my business overnight.
Margit: Lo and behold…
Naama: Yeah. The thing is I have those moments of doubt all the time. Even now, two videos in, I have those moments of doubt constantly. But then I get an e-mail from a 12- or 13-year-old girl saying, “It still hurts when I use a tampon,” or, “My mom won’t tell me about this.”
Margit: With some of the young girls you meet and their reaction to it, are they surprised that a service like this exists when they find out about it?
Naama: Some of them obviously get the starter kit from their parents, grandparents, aunts or whatever. And some would like to have the subscription, but their parents aren’t buying it for them. But the thing about the girls is that they find the content on the web, and then they write in questions. They have questions and they’re embarrassed. One the one hand, it’s really strange because if you look on Twitter and if you follow certain period hashtags – there are a number of them – they’re sharing more than you would think they would be comfortable sharing.
However, they still don’t know exactly how it all works. Discharge is a really common theme. No one ever talks about it: “What’s that stuff in my underwear?”
Margit: I finally saw the Jenny Slate movie, Obvious Child. Did you see that? She actually shows discharge. I was thinking, “Okay, wow. This is groundbreaking.”
Naama: Everything about that movie is groundbreaking. I just saw it also and was really struck by that because it’s part of her standup routine and there’s the scene where she’s lying in bed with the guy and you see it. I thought, “I don’t remember anyone talking openly about it. I do remember being embarrassed of it.
Margit: Absolutely. And I still am.
Naama: You know when it changed for me? When I was trying to conceive my first child and I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It explained that it’s cervical fluid and it’s there to help the sperm travel and it tells you you’re ovulating. As soon as I read that, it was like my world had changed because finally I realized every single person has this and there’s a real function to it.
Margit: Exactly. If we could reframe the whole conversation, noting that there’s utility to this stuff and it’s all part of the cycle of life. So you’re not only selling a product, but you’re also trying to change perception, too.
Naama: I would say that my business is moving in the direction where I’m 80% talking about content and trying to change perception and 20% trying to sell product. There aren’t that many options for women, not just about periods and 12-year-old girls, but I think the content that’s available for women around their bodies is not where it needs to be. I feel like you either have WebMD where it’s incredibly clinical, or you have message boards where it’s people diagnosing each other and creating hysteria. So there’s no one who’s just saying, “This is normal. This is what you’ll experience,” using the words that you use to talk about it.
The first time that Dr. Ross, who’s an OB/GYN, wrote something for me on post-partum, it was very clean and tame, and I said, “No, Sheryl, what about the fact that I couldn’t sit down after vaginal birth and that my nipples were bleeding? We have to talk about that stuff. I don’t want the advice that says, “Nap when your child naps.” That stuff is not helpful.
Margit: No, and yet there’s big business around that sort of content. People are obviously craving that information and churning out dubious information — as well as some well-researched pieces — but not much is from a standpoint where you’re really talking woman-to-woman, and not hearing, as you say, the kind of language that you use every day.
Naama: Right. I’m trying to give more “sisterhood” advice. I had mastitis six times after my first pregnancy. I couldn’t get rid of it. My doctor tried five different antibiotics. I didn’t even know what mastitis was until I got it.
Margit: What is it?
Naama: It’s an infection of your milk duct. It’s incredibly severe. It’s so painful. Your breast hurts to the touch incredibly and you get a high fever, chills and aching. It’s terrible. It’s relatively common if you nurse, especially if you don’t have an easy time nursing. But the literature on nursing is either from people who are very pro-nursing and lactation specialists who really believe in nursing, which I know is good for the child.
There is no one talking about the fact that, yes, it’s great for your child and it’s a great thing to do, but so is you not feeling like you’re going to die. It’s a lot of pressure. I heard a few things from people saying, “Do post-partum kits,” or, “Do something for post-partum,” and I thought, “You know what? This is an area that’s very much like your period. You know nothing until you’re well into it.” It would be so much easier if someone gave you the information in advance and told you about it, not in a scary way, but in a really honest way.
Margit: Right. Also around menopause, too, you’re starting to do more and more with that as well, as you mentioned.
Naama: I’ll be 42 in a few weeks and when I talk to women my age about what menopause is, people have no idea. They have no idea that vaginal dryness is a thing once you stop producing estrogen.
With urinary incontinence it’s just the same: two out of three women. That’s more than half of us who are going to be suffering with that. How do you make it so that it doesn’t feel so bad and that you realize that when you walk in a room, half of you are going through it, and that you don’t have to be embarrassed?
It’s not for nothing that Poise is one of the fastest-growing brands in the market. It’s because [urinary incontinence is] a real thing. The fact is that it’s two out of three women, so everyone has light bladder leakage. It’s not like a gush. My mom said, “I don’t have it,” and I said, “Okay, but you don’t menstruate anymore and you wear liners every day. So why are you wearing liners?”
Margit: That’s the other thing. With our moms, it’s just a generational thing where you just didn’t talk about that stuff.
Naama: I think the generation that’s coming up now – us and the girls behind us – are much less private, and also much more interested in getting information ahead of time.
Margit: It’s basic information that we don’t need to make secret and we should all just be prepared and everyone should just know it and it shouldn’t be a big deal.
Naama: Look, obviously when people start approaching menopause or perimenopause they’re seeing their doctor, but you go to your gynecologist once a year, and I can tell you – because I get e-mails also from grown-ups – that they’re not calling their doctors for everything. At least with something like light bladder leakage or urinary incontinence or vaginal dryness, you’re not necessarily going to call up your friend and say, “Sex hurts right now because I can’t seem to lubricate myself. Do you have that problem?” But chances are, your girlfriends are having that problem. You’re just not talking about it. I remember when I got Our Bodies, Ourselves. Total eye-opener.
Margit: Yeah, I know. All those pictures of women with mirrors! Yikes.
Naama: It was a life-changing moment. I have a 22-year-old working for me, and she doesn’t have that book. So who’s giving that information out? Our Bodies, Ourselves is still being sold, but they’re not buying books like that.
Margit: Is that really true? I’m just curious about that. It’s probably an Internet thing. All this information is “available on the Internet,” so it’s like why do you need a book when there’s so much health information out there?
Naama: But there’s not.
Naama: How much online research would you have to do to compile something like that? The other thing is people want their content in a different format. Part of the thing about Our Bodies, Ourselves is that it’s very encyclopedic, but we’re a generation that grew up using encyclopedias. If you didn’t grow up that way, I think you consume your information really differently. It’s more like, “I want to ask a question and find the answer,” rather than flipping through it. It’s my hope that, through HelloFlo, I will be able to have a resource that lives up to that.