How I landed it: FIGR founders Eloise O’Sullivan and Eloise McCullough
From colleagues to co-lube owners, here’s how these friends founded their own sexual wellness start-up
By Ruby Cotton
Content Producer / July 14 2021
Ever wondered what the brainchild of a sex store owner’s daughter and a design major would look like?
Introducing the Australian-owned and female-run lubricant company, FIGR.
After discovering they shared mutual physical side-effects from taking anti-depressants, a passion for spreading positivity around sex and even a first name, Eloise O’Sullivan and Eloise McCullough dedicated weekends and countless hours outside of their full-time jobs and study to build a self-funded startup in the sexual wellness industry.
Chatting with BEAUTYcrew, the Melbourne-based duo spared no detail of the rollercoaster ride they’ve had since founding their own business in the midst of a pandemic.
And despite their all too relatable honesty of logging on to Facebook only to see it “flooded with acquaintances standing in front of SOLD signs” while their “money is being trickled into a dream”, our conversation with O’Sullivan and McCullough will leave you itching to get cracking on that side hustle you’ve had brewing in the back of your mind for God knows how long.
So get your pen and paper ready, (or as these founders recently discovered, the shared notes app on your iPhone) and equip yourself with all the need-to-know-but-nobody-tells-you advice that comes hand-in-hand with being an entrepreneur.
From the top, where did you first meet?
We first met at our old workplace five years ago, an architecture and interior design firm. We became the token Eloise-squared almost instantly. We even coincidentally wore the same thing sometimes. Very cute.
Before FIGR was even a blimp on your radar, what were your first-ever jobs?
EO: Funny story, my first ever job was gluing condoms to lollipop sticks. I was 6-years-old and my father loved putting his six children to good use for his business. Who remembers Condom Kingdom?
EM: How do I compete with that?! I worked at my mum’s gift shop and the local post office. I guess that makes me responsible for packing and posting the orders.
And your current roles?
EO: Marketing and Office Manager for a building company is currently paying my bills.
EM: I’m a project manager at a brand and design studio.
Did you have any idea of the career path you wanted to go down? What led you here?
EO: I wanted to be somewhere in the pre-production of the film industry, so it’s been a bit of a turn. I went to study Film & Television production with a huge interest in scriptwriting. [However], my dad started a chain of sex shops, so working in them I gained a lot of knowledge in relation to peoples likes and dislikes that I wouldn’t of thought would ever come in handy.
EM: My heart was [always] set on industry design [and] I studied a Bachelor degree in design at RMIT. I can’t say the sexual wellness industry was part of my vision but I have loved every minute. Randomly, I’m actually in the middle of a part-time glass course where I’m creating all sorts of things — leadlight windows and kiln-formed glass objects. Again, not part of my plan at all, which leads me on to say: keep your mind open and try new things as you never know where it will take you or who you will meet in the process.
EO: Because I know Eloise is modest AF — without Eloise’s skills and vision FIGR wouldn’t look as incredible as it does. Yes, it saved us money not having to put the costs into brand development but that girl really does have the eye.
Are there any qualifications or experiences you think are helpful for people wanting to chase the start-up dream, particularly in the sexual wellness industry?
Both: We really are so lucky to have the internet, we have access to every niche thing there is to know when it comes to starting a business. Hate to quote Elon Musk, but you really don’t need University to learn stuff.
If you have a vision, passion and perseverance you’ll be able to start something incredible.
The sexual health industry really needs more women and non-binary business owners. This field is saturated with men-owned companies and there are a lot of them that market themselves as female-led. So buyer beware.
When you inevitably expand (because you will), what are some of the qualities you will look for in hopeful future employees?
Both: We’re constantly in awe of the generation below us. They are so progressive, digitally savvy and they look at things with a fresh perspective. Like many millennial startups, it won’t matter as to what course you’ve studied (if any), more to the work ethic they hold and creative contribution.
Do you have any tips or tricks on navigating the interview process?
EO: Ah! Not at all… I seem to be ok at them because I’m able to talk a lot of sh*t.
EM: Don’t ride your bike to an interview. Learn from my mistakes.
What was the moment you both knew you had to start FIGR?
It was a COVID-19 business baby. We were both in different states, chatting all the time about anything and everything.
The stars aligned when we were talking about antidepressants making us dry, however the lube we used gave us yeast infections (and the bottles always looked ugly). After a few brainstorming sessions on what we could do, Eloise M came up with the name FIGR and that was that.
Do you have any business mentors that helped guide you through the process of founding FIGR?
Fabienne Costa from YCL jewels was there from the beginning, offering her time to mentor us on how exactly to start FIGR. Hannah Parker Co-Founder of Fig Femme also gave us her time, contacts and overall support, and without that FIGR wouldn’t be where it is today.
Working and studying on top of FIGR, we can imagine you’ve got a lot to juggle. What does your typical day-to-day look like?
Instagram interaction takes up a lot of our time. We read a scary thing that one day of no interaction and your engagement won’t be the same for three months (someone please confirm). In preparation for our launch, there’s also been a lot of packaging sourcing, quoting, signing and paying that we’re tying up.
We work our day jobs and study throughout the week [and then have] a lot of rendezvous at Eloise O’s house after hours and on weekends. We call and text one another A LOT, on many different platforms. So working out who sent what message on what takes about three hours each day. We have recently discovered that you can share a checklist on the notes app (are we late to the party?) so best believe we’re getting off on that. Nothing beats the satisfaction of pressing that little checkbox.
What do you both consider to be the most challenging part of your roles?
At our current early stages, we’d both say making the time. It’s hard when your energy is being used five full days a week and all you want to do is come home and switch off. We know in the long run it will pay off and we welcome it with open arms. Admittedly, when your Facebook is flooded with acquaintances standing in front of SOLD signs and your money is being trickled into a dream, it can be challenging.
And your favourite part?
So far, the people that we’ve met. It is so surprising how supportive people are. Oh, and the development and testing of products is the coolest.
What’s one thing people wouldn’t expect you to be responsible for, but you are?
If you’re a completely self-funded business like us, you’re responsible for EVERYTHING. We have figured it out on the go, and we’re sure that we’re going to come across many more hurdles. Generating a barcode, navigating the world of importing (shoot us a message if you have any q’s), and working out storage.
When it came to launching FIGR, what were your absolute non-negotiables?
Plastic had to be a small contributing factor in our overall material. It didn’t stand with our values, even though it would be cheaper for us.
Price was also a major factor. We understand lube is viewed as a grudge buy for the majority of customers, so we made sure we were sitting under the $40 price point.We also wanted our lube to be made in Australia with Australian Native extracts and with kind ingredients for a vulva.
What is it about FIGR that makes it stand out amongst the other lubricants on the market?
We focussed on building a community first and the brand has evolved from there.
A brand needs to be much more than just a pretty logo. As our community grew and we learnt more about them we found our confident and fierce voice, this translated into our branding and applied (and continues to apply) to our tone of voice in our messaging, photography look and feel and collaborations.
Our main focus we have is on people. We’re not just selling lube, we’re creating a community and collaborating with like-minded people that deserve a voice and a platform. We’ve been really surprised at how vocal and responsive the community has been.
What was the timeline from the initial idea to having a physical product in your hand?
It was a full year from inception — even though our initial idea has insanely evolved into the product we’ve launched with. As soon as we landed on the idea that the industry was to be sexual wellness, a lot of opportunities and connections presented themselves.
Who are your greatest inspirations when it comes to your careers?
Christie Lafian from Suku Home. Eloise M remembers serving her at her cafe job many, many years ago, admiring her outfit to which she said she owned a small boutique. The empire she has built is absolutely jaw-dropping. Her vision, impeccable taste and gracious leadership is very inspiring.
If FIGR can become even a quarter as cool as Suku Home, we’ll be very happy.
If you could have your brand make a difference in someone’s life, what would you want that to be?
Well as corny as it may sound, if someone can start enjoying and feeling comfortable in the action of masturbation and sex, through the use of FIGR, we’ll feel like we’ve done our job. Sex positivity is still a hard thing to come by in 2021. So we hope to achieve just that.