‘Femtech’ startup Lily Bird spreading its wings in Reno
Company now looking to raise venture capital to address rapid growth
RENO, Nev. — The Internet of Things. Fintech. SaaS.
In recent years, Reno-Sparks has seen a surge of tech-based startup companies — craving more space, less taxes, cheaper living, etc. — unplug from the Bay Area and boot up in the Biggest Little City.
While the IoT, fintech and SaaS startups may make up a majority of the startups relocating to Northern Nevada, there are plenty other companies in lesser-known tech sectors that have migrated to Reno.
Look no further than Lily Bird, a startup in the subsector known as “femtech” — or female technology. Specifically, Lily Bird is a subscription startup that delivers bladder leakage products to women who experience this common symptom of menopause.
FILLING A GAP
Lily Bird’s founders, Sydney Larson and Jason Holloway, were living in San Francisco when they initially formed the company. For both, family members who struggled with bladder leak issues inspired their business idea.
“Talking to family members and also talking to a lot of women who experience bladder leaks, we realized it’s something that is extremely common but nobody wants to talk about,” Larson said in a phone interview with the NNBW.
According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 1 in 3 women in menopause experience bladder leaks. And about half of all women age 65 and older experience the same.
In all, roughly 25 million adults in the U.S. experience bladder leaks, with 75-80% being women, according to the National Association for Incontinence.
Yet, according to Larson and Holloway’s research, many women are not buying products.
“Only a very small fraction — about 10% — actually use products,” said Larson, citing a Wall Street Journal report in 2018. “And a big hurdle is that women don’t want to be seen in an incontinence aisle in the grocery store. They don’t want to run into their friends in the drug store or their tennis partner’s son at the cash register.”
Added Holloway: “We noticed there was a gap, for women, between needing products but not buying the products because they’re embarrassed to. And that gap affected women’s lives in a negative way.”
This inspired one of Lily Bird’s video ads on social media in which a woman is wearing a horse head mask, standing in front of a vanity mirror, applying blush to the latex mask as a voiceover states: “Sure, you could put on a horse head disguise before going to the store for bladder leak products … or you could just order from Lily Bird.”
The Reno-based startup allows customers to start a 10-product trial for 10 days before deciding to commit to a subscription. Larson noted that women who do go into stores to buy products are often unsure what will work for them.
“So, there’s a lot of purchasing a whole bag of something, using two products from it and realizing, ‘this doesn’t work for me,’” Larson said. “So we felt like there was a lot of opportunity to really improve the customer experience of finding the right product for you and purchasing that product.”
TAKING FLIGHT IN RENO
Despite living in the startup hub of San Francisco, Larson and Holloway said they decided to relocate Lily Bird to Reno because they “didn’t want to be a Bay Area company.”
Holloway moved to Reno to officially relocate the company in the fall of 2018.
“We wanted to be somewhere where we could hire a team, build a team, who would be really excited to be a part of a company and be in it for the long-term,” Larson explained. “And we looked around at a couple different locations. And Reno was one that really stood out.”
Holloway said he started the company out of his condo in Reno’s midtown, using the 600-square-foot garage as the boxing and shipping area, the first floor as a customer support office, and the top floor as his living space.
Holloway was quick to credit Reno’s startup ecosystem for helping the company settle in and spread its wings.
“It’s a place that supports us as a new business,” he said. “And I find that every time I turn around, institutions around us are helping us as opposed to making it hard for us to get through the day. That’s been really refreshing.”
Fast-forward to 2020, Lily Bird’s Reno operation now consists of two condo garages, equaling 1,200 square feet of storage area. The company now has a staff of four in Reno and is looking to hire another full-time customer support person, Larson said.
“This is a startup — it’s grown a little bit piecemeal,” Holloway added. “We’re probably not too far from at some point having a professional warehouse.”
Meanwhile, in March, the company opened a 6,000-square-foot distribution center in Louisville, Kentucky, in order to “reach the whole U.S. in three days or less” between its two operations, Holloway said.
“I think it’s really improved the customer experience,” Larson added. “And given all of the mail slowdowns with the coronavirus, I honestly can’t imagine shipping everything from Reno and getting to the East Coast in any sort of timely fashion.”
And, since the pandemic hit the states in mid-March, Lily Bird’s growth has not slowed down. Larson said the company has continually grown 25-30% in sales month-over-month since launching.
“We’re growing so much right now just generally, that it’s really hard to know if it’s a portion of that because of COVID and people want stuff delivered instead of going to the store?” Larson said. “Or is it just where we are at as a company from growing quickly?”
With that in mind, Holloway and Larson said they have reached the point where they are looking to raise venture capital to address Lily Bird’s growth. Notably, femtech startups as a whole raised more than $498 million in 2019, according to PitchBook.
“We’ve really gotten beyond the stage of proving our product-market fit,” Holloway said. “We’ve gotten through the stage of proving out the idea of ‘will anyone buy it.’ And what we want to do now is get the capital to take advantage of what we know to be true from the data that we have in order to grow the business.”
Construction could begin next year and require about 500 to 600 workers, with a permanent workforce starting at 150 to 200 people with potential to expand.