In Conversation with Sarah Belzer of Coconu
Describe your business in a few words?
Coconu sells all natural, safe and effective personal lubricants, but our business is really about helping people increase their confidence and capacity for connection, intimacy and pleasure.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Health, wellness and human connection have always been really important to me as a woman, wife and mother. I’ve always been on a constant quest for self-improvement. I’ve focused on clean, healthy eating, going organic, and swapping out cleaning supplies and beauty care products for healthier versions. My brother and sister-in-law developed the first USDA certified organic coconut oil lube and with my background in sales and marketing, I came on board as a partner. An organic lube fits perfectly in my approach to clean personal care products and I love helping to bring more natural and safe products to market to help women and couples be their best selves.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I spent a few years in the Bay Area in medical sales, but when my sons were born, I realized I needed to focus on my family for a while. Now that my sons are older and with a desire to create and contribute something outside my family, I am able to build a business that combines all my passions for health and happiness, uplifting women, and doing good.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was young! During the time, I was focused on my family and raising my sons. I watched the world around me and knew that I wanted to be part of building something. I think you can do that in a lot of ways, including working for a larger company. However, the idea of being my own boss and helping grow something from the ground up was really appealing. I was so fortunate to end up at Coconu where I could believe in the product so completely. It’s made all the difference in this journey.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
We were a small business in every sense of the word! We didn’t have a marketing budget or even the capital to aggressively attract attention. We ran a grassroots marketing program, researching who to contact and sending out personal emails to editors, bloggers and influencers. Social media became a critical element of our marketing plan. As you think about your customer journey you need to understand where you can intersect with your customers in a way that feels genuine and organic and allows them to best understand the value you’re trying to bring to the market. Coconu isn’t here to fool anyone. We believe in better sex naturally and we believe that being respectful and honest about our message through multiple social media platforms has allowed us to reach our customers in a way that feels genuine to them. However, our marketing efforts did not always go as planned. It turns out that not everyone is comfortable talking about lube and sex so getting user generated content can be challenging. This continues to improve as people are getting more comfortable with personal topics.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
When I started in my role at Coconu I’m not afraid to admit that I applied “old school” business thinking to a market that’s clearly no longer old school. My inclination that for a small business to have success it must rely on traditional distribution methods was antiquated. I learned that we needed to pivot to embrace social media and a distribution model that was accessible and easily navigable for the public. It was a critical element to our growth.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m extremely proud of our partnership with OCRA. Yes, Coconu provides a product that we hope people will embrace. But in addition to our primary mission, giving back to a cause that means so much to me personally like ovarian cancer research is deeply gratifying. We make a donation for every tube of Coconu we sell.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question?
Tell me about the books currently on your nightstand! I love to hear what people are reading and I think you can learn a great deal from the discussion.
Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Hiring is one of the most important activities of any business. The right hire can mean an acceleration of success and a profound personal satisfaction. The wrong hire, well, you know the outcome. My advice is to distill down the 2 or 3 most important qualities you need and keep those at your core. Integrity, honesty and intelligence have been the 3 guiding traits in our most successful new hires.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The early days of the pandemic were scary for us and for small business owners everywhere. As things settled down we realized that the opportunities for personal connection were increasing and that Coconu could help in that process.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Our first goal is to make sure we continue to spread the word about healthy, organic personal lubricant. Beyond that our plans include expanding our product portfolio into other areas. We want to stay true to who we are and we think there are opportunities to bring other organic products to the market.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Slow down and breathe. It’s an important lesson that we can all learn. This pandemic has reminded me that panic and reaction is almost always the wrong response. We needed to slow down and understand what we could do to help and what our role was in the market.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I learn every day and hope to continue to do so. I think understanding how to effectively assure that our supply chain can support our growth was a key learning moment for me.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
There are so many priorities in my life between being a mom to three boys and a wife and partner to my husband, between maintaining my friendships and my close relationship with my family, staying grounded has never been a challenge for me.
Do you believe in work/life balance?
What are some of your best tips? It is so easy to work 24/7 when you are running your own business. I try to carve time each day for exercise, hobbies, and human connection.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m six feet tall!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Spend time each morning making a plan for the day and know your top priorities.
Take a break in the middle of the day and get outside even if it is for a 20 minute walk.
Use your timer on your phone and stick to a block schedule.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista is everything that I have mentioned above, ensuring I am a good role model to my three sons, a good partner to my husband, taking time for self care, and ensuring that I am leading my team to success and always supporting them.