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Ask the expert: My story on breaking the bias as a female business owner

Hi, female founders! In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, I’ve partnered with QuickBooks to share Megababe’s origin story, including the biases and doubts I faced… and ignored. This year's global International Women’s Day theme is all about how, collectively, we can break the bias. 

When starting my business in 2017, we launched with just two products: Thigh Rescue, an anti-chafing stick for your thighs, and Bust Dust, a talc-free powder for boob sweat (IYKYK). We were told that these products were “too niche” and that there wasn’t a possibility of scaling the business because not enough people needed these products. It was easy for manufacturers, an industry dominated by men, to tell three women that their products weren’t needed. Based on my experience of suffering through thigh chafe, and the similar experiences of my followers, I knew they were wrong.

Every spring, on @katiesturino, I would ask followers what they were using to combat thigh chafe, and every spring, no one had a good answer. Everything they mentioned was either ineffective, embarrassing to take out of your bag, or meant for boys and athletes. There was nothing on the market for a girl who just wanted to walk to the subway. And then it clicked. Though I had no beauty experience, I decided to make an anti-chafe stick that would be cute, clean, celebratory—and most importantly, effective. I asked my sister and my childhood best friend to join me and, while neither of them had ever experienced thigh chafe or had beauty backgrounds, they did. 

Despite the doubts, biases, and challenges we faced along the way, we powered through on our business journey together. This brings me to my first piece of advice:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

As a female business owner, it’s easy to start thinking you need to do everything on your own to prove you’ve got what it takes. But the three of us founded Megababe together. We decided to remain entirely self-funded, despite investment offers, because we’ve chosen to maintain control and grow at our own pace. We pulled from our individual savings and launched in the summer—just in time for prime chafing season and to pull my parents out of retirement. For our first two years, my parents supported us by helping fulfill all orders from their house in Milwaukee. (Picture big semitrucks from retailers backing up into my parents’ driveway to load up the product.) Once it became too big of a job for my parents, we invested in fulfillment centers. By asking for help, we grew strong enough and big enough to get out of my parents’ garage.

Passion for your product will get you everywhere.

Building Megababe took equal parts perseverance and equal parts passion. It was overwhelming doing product development, social media, marketing, PR, etc., for the business, but it was also worth it. Everything we make is meant to make the lives of our customers more comfortable in more ways than one. In my earlier years, I would have never talked about my thigh chafe, nor would I have been the person to create a stick that prevents it. Once I became comfortable talking about the “taboo” topics, I felt less isolated and quickly realized how silence only adds to the shame. 

Whenever we presented our products and were met with giggles or open mouths, I only became more passionate about breaking the bias and the silence. I had an executive tell me if we didn’t put anti-cellulite properties in Thigh Rescue, women wouldn’t buy it. Another executive said he had never heard of thigh chafe from his wife and that meant it isn’t common. Luckily, I had a platform that proved the exact opposite. I knew from my thousands of followers, many of whom are plus-sized women dealing daily with thigh chafe, that this was a product that would resonate.

I still use my Instagram to talk with customers and potential customers. If it’s something people deal with, let’s talk about it! If it’s something other brands won’t talk about, we’re your girls! We are always open to hearing from customers about the challenges they face and the products they crave to see in the beauty industry. We made our giant Dust Puff to easily apply powder all over your body, specifically because our customers wanted it. Megababe, just like the Katie Sturino platform, is about making people feel comfortable and confident in their bodies.

Differentiate yourself.

I mentioned how some retailers and manufacturers thought Thigh Rescue was too niche of a product. Well… let’s talk about the difference between being niche and white space. White space means you’re creating a new category; you’re creating something that isn’t even on shelves yet. As women, we had a point of view that was different from what was already on the market, and that’s exactly why we were so successful so fast. To be told by two major retailers within our first years that we had a white space product was a HUGE deal. Five years later, Thigh Rescue—and all our other solution-oriented products—are sold at major retailers and department stores nationwide.

Thank you for reading my story! I hope you enjoyed my (free!) golden nuggets of advice. Female founders and small-business owners, I’m cheering you on this International Women’s Day and every day. #BreakTheBias

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