Inspirational Woman: Celia Pool | Founder of Sanitary Owl

CeliaPoolIf you use tampons you could soon be looked after by Celia Pool. If you are a mother who wants to start a business, you should talk to Celia Pool. After running the Evening sales at the world renowned auction house Sotheby’s, Celia left on maternity leave, got distracted by an idea and founded her own company.  Her distraction? Now she devotes her days to SanitaryOwl.com, the tampon subscription service. She started the company while bringing up her first child, and she is now heavily pregnant with her second.  

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently

I run Sanitary Owl, a tampon delivery subscription service. Yes, I never got that suggestion when I had career day at school! However, women need tampons and we deliver exactly what they want, when they want – it’s that simple. Women can not only build their desired box from different brands, absorbencies, and quantities, but they can also receive them through their letterbox with free postage. The business was set up last year with my co-founder Alec and we have been growing steadily ever since.  I oversee the operations, customer service and business development, but as with all true start ups, everyone pitches in with everything. Oh and I have a toddler running around and a baby due in a few weeks, which makes life interesting!

In fact, with a new baby, going through the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship was at the bottom of my list! However I found myself feeling so passionately about this issue that I couldn’t turn away from it.

Why did you start your business?

Because no girl I have ever met enjoys buying, remembering, or forgetting tampons – it seemed ludicrous that this service did not already exist. It happened when I found myself yet again rushing to my local corner shop to buy my tampons, straight after I had forgotten to buy them when doing the supermarket shopping for my family.  For some reason I had yet again relegated this essential product to the bottom of my mental to do list. Only this time I had a screaming baby strapped to my chest when I was legging it to my local shop so it was even more of a hassle. That’s when the idea started forming and then we just started to see if other women felt the same way. It turns out they really did.

What appealed to you about setting up your own business?

The appeal came from the belief in the idea. I never set out to start up my own business and was due to return to Sotheby’s where I worked previously. In fact, with a new baby, going through the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship was at the bottom of my list! However I found myself feeling so passionately about this issue that I couldn’t turn away from it. I never thought I would feel so strongly about tampons either, but this is a basic need for women and the many reasons why we ignore it are fascinating.  It is a grudge purchase that is as essential as it is inevitable. With such a vast number of girls using tampons, it should have been sent by post years ago, long before contact lenses, coffee and the other weird and wonderful things people get delivered regularly today. It’s a thrill seeing customers share this belief that tampons are better delivered.

Anything is possible! Indeed, my co-founder Alec often says that he thinks the skills a mother has are vital to a successful business together: the ability to multi-task, prioritise, and compartmentalise. Its amazing employers aren’t jumping on hiring new mums.

What has been your biggest challenge?

With the business its been changing women’s buying habits.  Nearly half of women admit to regularly forgetting to buy their tampons. And to be honest, who really wants to spend their increasingly precious time in the tampon aisle of the supermarket when you could spend a few minutes on our website and in 3 clicks never have to think about the 15,000 tampons you will get through in a lifetime again.  All this and you get it for the same price as in the shops. It’s a no brainer.

From a personal viewpoint, the biggest challenge has been juggling the perils of new motherhood with the busyness of starting a company. My daughter trying to stick her fingers in the wall socket always adds spice to meetings with our distributors – after two hours of discussing tampon stock codes, who can blame her! Yes, a start-up salary, or lack thereof, does not always stretch to babysitters. But with the support of mother’s networks, Google Campus and several other women-centric organisations such as Girls in Tech, it has been possible and I cannot be more enthusiastic about getting mums back into business – or even starting one of their own. Anything is possible! Indeed, my co-founder Alec often says that he thinks the skills a mother has are vital to a successful business together: the ability to multi-task, prioritise, and compartmentalise. Its amazing employers aren’t jumping on hiring new mums.

What’s been your greatest achievement personally?

Getting our first customers and keeping them. To date not one of our customers has left us which puts a big smile on my face. And teaching my daughter that tampons are not a toy…

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?

Watching someone else do it and wishing I’d given it a shot.

If a woman can be CEO of General Motors in the testosterone fuelled, muscle clad automotive industry then the days of shame and embarrassment about this topic should be left behind. Period.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

All the speakers and mothers I met on the Google Campus for Mums programme I went on earlier this year. Google sweeps up women, some with babies as young as 10 weeks, who have emerged from the fug of motherhood blinking back into the world and helps them get on the right path to starting their own business through a 9 week programme.  At no cost or equity from your company, you can sit back every week, with your baby on your lap (or in my case destroying their bean bags) and listen to fellow entrepreneurs and leaders in business give advice on all facets of bringing your idea to life.  A true gift.

What does the future hold for you?

We are currently growing organically, but are about to start fund-raising in order to accelerate our growth and provide an even better offering. This will obviously be an exciting part of the process and we’re looking forward to it.  Also, to help women not to view menstruation as the taboo subject it is. Whilst we at Sanitary Owl take a light-hearted approach to the topic of periods (just take a look at our name) we appreciate that a lot of our customers do not want to be so open. However, if we can just nudge that door a little and show them that it is not something to be embarrassed about, then they can decide if they want to be more open about it or not.  With women emerging in the higher branches of life, I think its about time that we had nothing to hide. If a woman can be CEO of General Motors in the testosterone fuelled, muscle clad automotive industry then the days of shame and embarrassment about this topic should be left behind. Period.

For more information visit: www.sanitaryowl.com

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