Tara Langdale Schmidt is the inventor of the VuVa Neodymium Vaginal Dilator, a pelvic therapy device that has helped over 22,000 women world wide. She also helps customers find the correct physicians and pelvic floor physical therapists in their area if needed.
1:22 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Find a solution to a problem to build a business for the long term
Tara talks about her personal health issue related to pelvic pain and how it led her to find a solution. Her business was borne out of her own need to find a solution to a vexing health issue.
4:56 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Take the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property rights and obtaining customer feedback.
Tara talks about the initial steps on how to start a business. As her business deals with physical products with intellectual property, she had to go through the steps of patenting (provisional and non-provisional) which is somewhat expensive and also uncertain. She also talked about the clinical trials and making of the product with injection molds. The initial rave feedback from the trials gave her confidence to proceed after 18 months.
8:00 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Tap into your network and you’ll find at least one person who believes in you.
Tara talks about how to be an entrepreneur and how to finance the company. She started her business in Florida. She tapped into her network and talked to Rob Smithson who owned a printing company. He believed in Tara and bought into the company as he knew other people struggling with similar problems. He introduced Tara to other people in his network and she got the necessary funding needed.
11:13 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Use Guerilla marketing techniques when traditional marketing & advertising is unavailable
Tara talks about the challenges of marketing and advertising for her company’s products. Even though the products help women address real health issues like sexual health issues and vaginal atrophy, social media companies like Facebook, Instagram etc. restrict her company from using retargeting ads and images of her products. Even though it’s still problem, Tara is using guerilla tactics such as podcasts and informational content to get through these challenges.
14:19 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Pricing and Distribution of your products are two very important decisions for any business
Tara thought she could get her customers by going through OBGYN physicians but she found that physical therapists dealing with women having pelvic pain are the best resource. She also talks about pricing the product fairly and how she didn’t listen to the advice she got from other men about pricing the product high.
17:56 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Entrepreneurs need motivation and your support network will provide you that motivation
Tara talks about the sacrifices she had to make in starting the business such as quitting her college midway and the health issues she had to deal with and how she persevered through all these challenges. She also talks about her parents support throughout and how her mother’s business background helped her.
21:57 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Your AHA moments may not always be solutions but problems themselves may be the AHA moments.
Tara has an interesting take on ‘Aha’ moments of breakthrough. She talks about how her challenges are her ‘Aha’ moments. The Aha moments of discovering that physical therapists understand women’s pelvic pain problems better than ObGyn doctors and advertising challenges related to her product.
25:52 Minute Mark:
Agile entrepreneur takeaway: Key entrepreneur tips are to patent your ideas and think through differences related to selling physical products such as shipping etc.
Tara gave some really good entrepreneur tips. She emphasizes the need to protect your ideas by patenting. She also talks about thinking through specific challenges related to shipping physical products such as weight, customs etc.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone welcomes to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and running your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance and possibilities. Today I'm excited to bring in front of you a very unique guest with a very unique company and a very unique product in the market. Her name is Tara Langdale Schmidt. Tara Langdale Schmidt is the inventor of the VuVa Neodymium Vaginal Dilator. A pelvic therapy device that has helped over 22,000 women worldwide. She also helps customers find the correct physicians and pelvic floor physical therapists in their area if needed. Hey Tara welcome to the podcast.
Tara: Hi how are you today?
Ramesh: Pretty good. Thank you very much for coming on the podcast.01:04
Tara: Thank you for having me it's always nice to have a platform to share my story and so we can help more women worldwide.
Ramesh: That's great. So, let me get started with the basics. So, if you could tell us a little bit about how you started the business and when you started the business and the business and the product itself.
Tara: All right well a little background. I had four years of, I’ve had a lot of surgeries and things like that for pelvic pain. But back in 2013 I was kind of at my wit's end. I had been told for four years by my physician to take Advil and drink wine when I was complaining of painful intercourse and it took a lot of searching myself on the internet to find the name of the actual condition I had, which was vulvodynia and that's just one of the pelvic pain conditions that can cause painful intercourse and I asked my physician, do I have this. He said I think you do and I said okay so doing a lot of research I found that, it was kind of an unexplained nerve pain condition, they don't know what causes it. So, I remember back in 1996 when my mom had fibromyalgia, and nothing was helping her, and they thought it was in her head and they didn't, they tried you know vitamins or they tried really strong painkillers and things, and nothing was helping her, and she met this woman that used Neodymium magnet therapy for her nerve pain. So, a light bulb went off when I read the word fibromyalgia and vulvodynia in the same paragraph online, I'm going to take neodymium magnet therapy and put it inside of a vaginal dilator. Which have, dilators have been around for over 30 years already. But there's no dilators with anything inside. So, I took a hollow set of dilators and put some neodymium magnets inside and within two weeks my pain had decreased within 60% during intercourse and then if you use the dilator right before intercourse for twenty to thirty minutes, it was about 90 to 95 percent gone. So, I knew it was a muscular issue. Because the muscles must, what happens is you start to associate intercourse with pain when it starts to hurt and so then your muscles start to clench and then you start to deal with another issue, which is muscle tightness on top of the nerve pain. So, if you can stop and relax the muscles before you have that fear of penetration and use a dilator first on your own, then you can really decrease the pain during intercourse. So that's kind of how this got started and I was like oh my goodness I am going to help so many people and there's no side effects, it's completely safe. It's not a Lyrica medication or amitriptyline or gabapentin that they're putting these women on. So, it's a win-win you know, and it's been proven to be successful, which is great.
Ramesh: So, Tara thank you for sharing your personal story. So, this business started from your own personal experience. So, did you have any business background prior to starting your own company?
Tara: I’ve always been of entrepreneur even. I mean when I was 11 I made my mom's first website. I had run another company where we had kiosks and malls kind of from the ground up with another business partner. I was general manager of restaurants. I've always been a leader and I just kind of fall into that role. I understand people and I understand that everybody has lives, and I appreciate my employees and I’ve always kind of been a leader and I just kind of take that role.
Ramesh: So, you're destined to be entrepreneurs.
Tara: Yes, yeah.
Ramesh: So, can you share how the initial struggles of starting the company. What are the process, the steps that you went through? A little bit of the journey initially please.
Tara: Yeah so, the first thing that you would want to do and what we did was you want to get some sort of protection. So, when you file for a patent or do a patent, first you do a patent search then you file a provisional patent. A provisional patent you have a year to file the non-provisional. A provisional is when you don't really know how you're going to make it, but you want some protection because you know you have a great idea. So, we filed the provisional and then we had within a year to file the non-provisional. I think a lot of people ask me, a lot of entrepreneurs ask me how much this cost. The whole journey for our patent was probably about $35,000. You can spend that and not get your patent and I just want people to know that. You can spend a lot of money and not get your patent as well. It cannot be awarded to you. So, I always tell people just because you spend the money, doesn't mean that you're going to get it. But so that was kind of the first thing we did was the non-provisional patent. Then we had to get the molds made. The injection molds, which can be very very expensive. So, we priced out getting injection molds made. We had them all made right here in Sarasota Florida. We started having our products made and then unfortunately we had to spend a lot of money on the molds before we could even test our product with other people. Because you need to make your product and it needs to be yours. So, we did that and then we started giving it out to people and we were just getting rave reviews. So, we're like we need to do a proper clinical trial. So, there's a company here in town called physicians care clinical research. We said you know design a study for us, because you know we don't know how to design a clinical trial. So, they designed a clinical trial for us with you're Michael Swore, who's a pelvic pain specialist here in town and when you do a clinical trial you have to go to the hospital, the actual clinical trial company has to go and submit the clinical trial through the hospital has to be approved through the IRB and it was. So that clinical trial was successful. It was a small group, because it was very hard to find women that had vulvodynia, aren't on antidepressants that haven't taken injections, that aren't on medication. It's basically impossible to find which was our study subject. So, after about a year and a half we finally said just give us the data for the 11 or 12 that had finished. But the data was so great, and this product is so safe, we were like let's just go ahead and we just you know launched it and it's been great ever since.
Ramesh: So, as I'm listening to your story two things popped up. One is your business is not like an online business, like a you know put a shingle up there and then start it. Right so yours involved investment up front, that's one and it took time for your first product to come out in the market. Be has you had to do other steps like clinical trials. So, let's first talk about the investment financing. How did you finance your business?
Tara: So, I was pretty lucky. I have a friend and he owns a large printing company. We do large format printing. We make flexographic plates, it's called trinity graphic and he is just a smiley bubbly person that knows how to get stuff done and he knows, everybody loves him. He has great relationships with people and I went to him and because I was kind of bored. Because I'm just a go-getter and I was like Rob I'm kind of boarding this before I thought of my idea. Do you have any ideas anything you want to do that I could run? He has this big factory and he said you know my factories running really smooth right now, I'm not as there as much as I used to be, I'm trying to think of something else. So, he gave me a paper and it all had to do with printing all these ideas. You know pick one, you can run it, we can get a store, this or that. And so, he gave me the paper and then we were travelling that summer off and on and when I was sitting at the doctor's and I thought of the idea, I'm like I got to call Rob. I'm like he'll just know how to do this. So I met Rob for lunch and I said Rob I was like I'm just going to talk about my lady parts for a bit and you're going to have to listen and I'm telling you that these women need help and this helped me and so he listened and he never once questioned me and he started talking to people in his factory and they're like my wife has a problem with that, my wife, my wife, my wife and then we met with the CEO of a large enzyme company called Enzyme Medica. He's been in the medical world forever, he's like this sounds very promising. So, we got kind of the green light from everybody and he just started writing checks and the majority of the company is mine, he said this needs to be a woman led company and I couldn't have asked for a better. He never once doubted me, and he's been my number one spokesperson, he talks about it everywhere he goes. So, I was very lucky I didn't have to, I still did a business plan. I still did a pitch deck and I did all those things. We did stuff together just in case we needed it. But I was really lucky when it came to the investment side.
Ramesh: Tara, I think it's a little different. In the sense we think ourselves as lucky, but you always were a hustler, right? So, you thought of your friend and you networked with that person before. So, all those things were leading up to your success. It's not that, I don't believe that just happen overnight. So, I mean I think your personality, you know your ability to hustle and think out of the box, I think all those things I think helped you find your business partner. That's fantastic.
Tara: Thank you.
Ramesh: Yeah how about the initial struggles, like in the sense are you waiting for the clinical data. You don't know how it's going to come. So how did you navigate those emotional ups and downs of, because you started the company in 2013, but you didn't have the product in 2016. That's about three years. So, can you tell us a little bit about what are the challenges you face during that time and how you navigated them?
Tara: Well you know this type of product, when I tell somebody I make vaginal dilator set, you know people do they're like what and then they kind of laugh at you and things like that. Most the time we got very good feedback, but sometimes people just didn't get it. There aren't a lot of other dilator companies on the market, which is great for us and then of course we're the only ones that have the magnetic component inside of our dilators. I would say the struggles were just getting our products made correctly the way we want it. Because you know the cap on the end how it seals things like that. Another struggle which we've had is marketing. So, we can't market our product like a lot of other companies and that's very hard. So, you're trying to get it out there on you know everything's marketed on the Internet you know mainly, and you're not allowed to advertise a lot of places. So, on Instagram, and Facebook and all these things where you're going to reach these women that are having these issues and that are just sitting at home googling trying to figure out what's wrong with them like I did, we have a hard time reaching them. Because retargeting ads, we're not approved for. Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest. I can have a Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest page, but my ads aren't approved ever, and it could be a picture of a you know 55-year-old woman with menopause just sitting there smiling and because it says it leads you to our website, it will deny you and, so I feel like, I see a lot of things. I see ads for women's you know sexual health items on Facebook, but we're not allowed to and we're talking about vaginal atrophy and menopause. It's really not fair and I see commercials on TV you know for ED for erectile dysfunction, they've even started blocking my normal posts that aren't even paid, and I don't have any pictures of the product now on my post. Just you know say I have in the past, but now you know I’ll talk about bad you know atrophy or vaginismus and they'll just block my initial post and not even an ad. So that's definitely our biggest struggle and was our biggest struggle is our advertising and I have you know, I’ll do a podcast, or I’ll talk about that and then I’ll get emails with advertising companies. I've hired the best, I’ve hired top marketing companies and they can't even get approved with Google employees, ex Google employees and things. So yeah that's been our biggest struggle I would say.
Ramesh: I mean it's a medical problem though. So, I'm a little confused why it is, but you are going through the problems, you know the first hand I guess. So, tell me the other thing is many entrepreneurs talk about the problems of finding their first customer. So how did you find your initial customers?
Tara: So, like I said a little bit earlier you know Rob would walk around his factory that had 50 employees and talk about it. So, our first customers we didn't charge. Cause we just wanted feedback. If you want to talk about truly our first customers and we didn't charge them, those customers. But the feedback was so great. You just start talking about it and when you talk about it, I could talk to five women and two of them will come to me after and they'll say I have this problem or my mom has this problem, or my sister has this problem. It was actually not hard to find customers and then we went to the APTA physical therapy trade shows. Which there's actually pelvic floor physical therapists. So, there's actual physical therapists to work manually on your pelvic floor, which is basically a basket of muscles and no one knows that and actually a lot of physicians don't even know that and it's sad and we went, and we met them, we talked with them at these trade shows. Because it's called the women's section of the APTA. So that was actually great because they're the ones who actually used dilators in the office and then they have women go online and purchase dilators themselves and so that was a good marketing channel for us was to actual meet the physical therapist. Because we realized we need to not mark it right now to the OBGYNs. Because they're not really, they're more you know medicine and surgery unfortunately at that time. It's getting a little bit better and, so we started marketing to the actual pelvic floor physical therapists and they you know it just kind of, we just grew very fast, very fast.
Ramesh: So fantastic actually you know from my business background I know about four things. One is a product, second one is a pricing, the third one is a promotion and the fourth one is what's called a placement or a distribution. So, looks like this distribution you found the physical therapy, it's a better opportunity for you than the doctors. Is that what it is?
Tara: Yes, yes and as far as you just mentioned pricing, you know so I'm dealing with the manufacturers who are men, my business partner that's a man and you know people were talking to a lot of men and these companies and they wanted to price it a lot higher. They're like look at the benefit you're giving people, you're giving, and I said but you don't understand, I said these women have IBS, they have lower back pain. They have like in sclerosis, they have all these other problems endometriosis that they're going to the doctor for such as myself. It's not one condition they have and we're helping it and then they're better. So, I wanted to come from someone with a lot of different medical issues, I wanted to make it affordable for these women and I don't think about oh I’m an entrepreneur and just the money side. I actually care about the customers and I think that that's why our companies became so successful as well. Because I think the customers can tell that as well.
Ramesh: That's great Tara. So, talking about success, do you consider your company to be financially successful at this point of time?
Tara: Yes, we have been now for at least about two years.
Ramesh: Okay so that's great. Let's talk about you as a person. I think you had to sacrifice few things in your life to get to where you are and what you wanted to do. So, can you talk a little bit about the sacrifices you had to make, about education, about personal life and things like that please.
Tara: Yeah so you know like its to talk dealing with all the medical issues and things, I was in and out of college. It was really hard to focus when you have so many different medical things going on. I had a car accident, back surgery, two cholesteatomas, tumor type cyst taken out of my ear you know deaf in last year, just things like that. All these random, very random random things and along with endometriosis. But I think College is good. But honestly the classes were so, some of them were so irrelevant to what I wanted to do that were mandatory. I felt like it was a little bit ridiculous. Also, one of the colleges that I went to got in trouble. A university here in Sarasota for things like promising people, you know you're all your financial aid will be taken care of and this and that and I had taken two months off from one of the tumor surgeries in my ear and in my head. So, they held my transcript hostage for about three years until the Attorney General made them give it to me. So that was a big chunk of when you're doing college you know and then somebody you want to switch, because they're doing you know they're doing wrong things, but three years later they got caught by the Attorney General and a humungous lawsuit with tons of students you know my transcript was held hostage and I'm not going to keep giving them money, when I knew that they had done, they were doing things wrong. You know that was a struggle and then of course I bartend in this entire time when I could and working every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You don't have much of a social life and then you wake up and you work on your business during the day. So, everybody else is out having fun, partying, doing everything like that but that was fine with me, because I knew I was going to be successful and guess what those people are still partying, and I have a successful company.
Ramesh: That's great Tara. Thank you very much. So, who's been your mentor and who have been your mentors through this journey or in your life?
Tara: Well my dad who passed away in 2011. He was always Pro Tara. You can do whatever you want, very proud of me. My mother ran a business on her own. It was mocha Express, it was called. We drove around to different refineries and big corporations in Washington State. She sold them coffee and muffins in the morning, Express. Back when Seattle's Best Coffee was around and, so we did that, I saw my mom get a small business loan you know herself and fell out all the applications and I always felt like there's really nothing that I can't do and then one of my biggest mentors would have to be my business partner Rob. Because he just, when you're in business I think it's really important how you treat people and I really expect the same treatment back and he just gets along with everybody so well and we get along so great. I just think it's great to have really good business relationships and you know that you treat with respect and that they treat you with respect vice versa.
Ramesh: Oh, fantastic Tara. That's awesome. The next couple of questions I would like to ask about the business. So what kinds of tools that helped in your business? We talked a little bit about a promotion, you are still working through them. But were there any breakthroughs that you had apart from Rob? Rob definitely has been a major breakthrough. In any specific strategies or things that you did that created the aha moment for you?
Tara: Well I would have to say like what I mentioned a little bit earlier like realizing oh my goodness there's pelvic floor physical therapists. Which I didn't know when I created the product. So yeah that was like who are these people and they use dilators all the time and I need to market to them. So that was great and then probably learning how to market when you're not allowed to market a lot of places. So, creating these Facebook pages, creating landing pages that go from one to another. It's all a puzzle and I was working on it yesterday my ad shut off. I mean it's literally a struggle every day. I would say that an aha moment for me would probably be, my aha moments I would have to describe them as different. Because when I have an aha moment I wouldn't say things are going better at that time. My aha moments are wow this is bad, and we need to fix it. So, we need to change the conversation like when I get banned from advertising, well I need to figure out a way to advertise and we need to put out an article that's saying that these platforms aren't letting us advertise and what's wrong with advertising about pelvic pain? So, my aha moments are more challenges that I find. I went to ACOG which is where all the doctors and OBGYNs you know are walking around. They walked up in the things that came out of their mouths. I said this is the problem. I had one doctor go, women that I see don't want to use their vagina anymore or you know what are dilators? Oh, my goodness you've been practicing I'm pretty sure for 35 years and you don't know what a... It was absolutely horrendous. So those are my aha moments where I realize I need to market to physicians more. But I actually have to teach them what dilators are for and then teach them that there is a resource of vaginal physical therapy pelvic floor physical therapy. My aha moments are more challenges I feel.
Ramesh: So, looking back are there any things that you think you should have done differently, could have done differently?
Tara: You know that's a good question. I really don't. You could say, this has been easy, and it's been hard at the same time. So, it's been easy. But I don't think I would have changed anything about it. I've had the best time. Helping women everyday and then getting an email, you know once or twice a week saying you know I got pregnant and I never thought I was going to be able to, it is so rewarding you would never think you're doing anything wrong you know. You're literally just helping people every day. I'm trying to think. You know we grew slow, so we didn't go get this big building and we didn't do this. I worked out of a small office then I grew to a bigger area in Rob's factory. Then I grew to a bigger area. So, we didn’t, I am not a money spender and we didn't do anything extravagant, we're not in debt and I really had a great time.
Ramesh: It's a fantastic. So, I mean personally I’ve learned so much just during this podcast, I'm sure our listeners also will do and then just talking to you, it's a very inspiring story. It's a motivating story. I hope a lot of listeners and I get inspired motivated and I hope a lot of people get to know about the you know the solutions to the pelvic pain. So, I really thank you once again for coming on this show, any last-minute thoughts, comments?
Tara: I would just say if you're thinking about being an entrepreneur, just double check your competition. Make sure that your idea is protected. But really look at your competition and pricing and I always tell people this because if you're doing a lot of things that have to do with shipping, always look at your product weight and in everything like that and it's cheaper to ship a pound of feathers and it is. You know I'd rather ship feathers than ship water. Because it's going to be a lot cheaper. So, there's so many things that you need to look at when you're dealing with a product that you have to ship in the mail. Just don't be an entrepreneur with anything that's really heavy, that's what say.
Ramesh: I see. So, the product positioning from with respect to competition, product pricing and the product to a distribution with respect to weight and those things and then the last one is a protection from a copyright and patenting perspective. Oh, that's awesome. So, these are the key things that people should think about. Especially for a physical product like yours.
Tara: Yes, yes physical products.
Ramesh: Yeah okay excellent very good. Tara thank you very much. So inspiring entrepreneurial journey. So, folks that's the end of the podcast here. Thank you very much Tara.
Tara: Thank you very much for having me.