Interview: Thinx's Hilary Fischer-Groban on Balancing a Mission With a Product
The VP of Brand discusses her path to Thinx and how the company builds connections with its customers.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with Ranu Coleman, who is the Senior Director Of Brand Marketing at Azazie, the DTC wedding and formalwear maker, and Blush Mark, the DTC women's fashion app and online retailer.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Hilary Fischer-Groban, who is the Vice President Of Brand Marketing at Thinx, the DTC feminine hygiene product maker.
DTC Magazine: Finding your way to a digital-first or DTC company tends to include more biography than many career journeys. How did you find your way to Thinx?
Hilary Fischer-Groban: For me, making my way to Thinx was a journey about finding a brand that makes a helpful product I believe in, with a business model that is successful and scalable. I have a diverse background from grassroots non-profit work and research to legacy retail businesses. I’ve always loved working for powerful brands, and businesses on a mission. I got an MBA, and that helped show me the value of an organization that values data and informed decision-making, but also sees value in taking risks for high growth both on a business and personnel level (ie room for my growth as well).
I took my job at Thinx after taking some time off to assess what type of role and place would best inspire me in today’s marketplace. I knew I needed a tech-forward and design-forward brand, and Thinx is both of those and more. I met with six people on the team, including our CEO Maria Molland, before I joined, to feel confident this was a tight team who was ready to get things done.
DTC: For reasons that say good and not-so-good things about society, women-led brands are often cast as notable. How does the make-up of Thinx's leadership drive conversation and innovation in unexpected ways?
HFG: The world can be extra critical toward women and their ambition, and there’s no question these stories drive a lot of clicks and intrigue. Thinx is no stranger to this. However, our product requires thinking outside the box, and our ambition as a brand needs to lead with passion and appetite for risk. There is no way to play it safe and come up with a product as life-changing as ours. Walls usually don’t come down if you gently knock first.
As a leadership team, we are a group of women, men, people of color, and individuals who spend a lot of time on how to make this quite personal environment stay respectful to our team. We need the spirit of innovation, and sure, we are talking about blood, discharge, and pee a lot of the time, but we need to balance that with accountability for how we take care of each other and our customers, and respect each other’s boundaries in the process.
Structurally, we are a very meetings- and discussion-driven team, which we feel leads to greater communication and idea-sharing. Even during the transition to working from home, this has been a part of our design we maintain through weekly all-hands, large cross-functional meetings, and lots of conversation prompts. We share * a lot * of links and inspiration, from other brands in the underwear or menstruation/incontinence space, to art, science, and culture, to make sure we’re getting the best ideas all the time.
Once you know about a simple product that improves a potentially super frustrating part of your life, there is an immediate connection.
DTC: Social change is a big part of the Thinx equation. What are some of the ways that this dynamic boosts brand loyalty?
HFG: Our product inherently drives social change, and this isn’t something we could shy away from if we wanted. Talking openly about menstruation, incontinence, and all our bodies’ leaks is something we need to do to sell our product and stand out in the market.
Periods are something that happen (pretty much) once a month for decades, and bladder leaks can be a daily occurrence for many people, and so a lot of folks are thinking about this all the time. Once you know about a simple product that improves a potentially super frustrating part of your life, there is an immediate connection. So many brands, products, and health organizations ignore these incredibly normal and important bodily functions entirely so by speaking up about the need for better solutions, and tackling the barriers in the way, we are able to tap into the unmet needs of just about half the world. We hope that by trying our product first, and having an amazing experience, coupled with our fantastic customer service, and followed up with our supportive content around health topics, and our ongoing innovation, all together means we will have customers for life.
We offer products that work for ages 9 to 99 as well, starting with Thinx (BTWN), period underwear for tweens and teens, and transitioning to Speax by Thinx, our line of absorbent underwear for light bladder leaks, so you can truly grow up with our family of brands.
The act of our company simply existing changes the rules of what polite dinner conversation is.
DTC: Relatedly, there's been a historic tendency to tread lightly and delicately around issues of women's health. What are some of the challenges in making the argument for bold branding and advertising?
HFG: People need to know what they’re buying and feel ok asking questions! We don’t talk about period underwear and incontinence underwear using euphemisms, or pretend that our product doesn’t involve blood, discharge, fluids, and urine. Once you open up that line of dialogue by talking plainly and respectfully about your core functionality, customers really open up and trust your brand more so than before.
Personally, it’s something most of us working at Thinx Inc. learn early on when we join. Any time someone asks “What do you do for work?” you end up having a 10 minute conversation about how heavy their flow is, or their partner’s postpartum leaking. Often these are conversations people have never had in their lives, or they are sharing details they’ve never shared with anyone. The act of our company simply existing changes the rules of what polite dinner conversation is.
The flipside is that we struggle with censorship, like in our recent TV campaign last fall, and earlier in our subway campaign. As we grow and expand into new markets, we are always looking at where our target’s comfort area is, and pushing 10% beyond that. Not 100%, but just enough to capture attention.
There’s no substitute for great products that work well and improve people’s lives though, so don’t shout mission at the expense of customer experience or quality.
DTC: Without giving away any trade secrets, what advice would you give to a company that potentially sees a social mission that's relevant to its product, but may be hesitant to fully embrace it?
HFG: There has to be a strong overlap between causes that your products align with and causes your customers can get fired up about. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those, go for it. It will keep your team and your customers inspired and engaged.
There’s no substitute for great products that work well and improve people’s lives though, so don’t shout mission at the expense of customer experience or quality. Ultimately, we’ve needed to learn a lot about the right balance between our social mission, and explaining how our product works. You have to do both, and be willing to have some tough conversations about what really converts.