In our “Starter Story” series we invite femtech founders to share their stories of how it all began. How did they come up with the idea? Where did they meet their cofounders and what was the hardest part of going from 0 to 1?
In today’s Starter Story we get to share Coral‘s founding story as told by founder & CEO Isharna Walsh. Coral is an app designed to help users cultivate their sexuality and transform their relationship with sex.
When did the idea for your startup first come up?
A few years ago I was in a long-term relationship that fell into a sexual rut. I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I picked up a book. I started with Emily Nagoski’s “Come as You Are” and just kept going, reading all the sex-positive, pleasure-centric research I could find and talking about it to anyone who would listen. The more I brought it up, the more I realized that I wasn’t alone — everyone felt like there must be more to sex than what they were experiencing, but nobody knew what to do about it.
The research is overwhelmingly clear that a healthy sex life is essential to human happiness (one study even found that having sex once a week has the same effect on your happiness as a $50,000 pay raise). Yet we don’t talk about sex, we don’t learn about it, and there’s so much shame around it. At the same time, porn teaches us that mind-blowing sex should just happen effortlessly. So unfortunately we blame ourselves when it’s not good, or if we don’t want it all the time. (Not-so-fun fact: “sexless marriage” is the most common marital concern searched on Google.)
It was such a clear, massive problem that affects everyone. I couldn’t stop thinking about how to solve it. I called up the sex therapists and researchers who I most admired, and they all said they wished they could help people on a much bigger scale than individual sessions and classes. So the idea for Coral was born: I started creating a simple prototype for an app that would normalize and promote sexual wellness as a vital part of well-being for everyone.
When and how did you take the decision to take the plunge and turn your idea into a business?
My own personal journey and understanding of sexual wellness took a few years, but once the idea for Coral hit, I just couldn’t imagine not starting the company. Ignoring the problem felt harder than taking the risk to make it happen. I quit my job and gave myself 6 months to secure enough funding to give it a real shot.
I was 29. At that point I’d worked as a management consultant, at a high-growth tech startup, and at a venture capital firm — so I’d helped a lot of other people (mostly men) launch and grow startups. I hadn’t actually thought of myself as someone who has the qualities that make a successful entrepreneur, but I realize now I was getting a crash course in the mechanics of venture-funded startups that helped immensely when I decided to take the leap.
How did you meet your co-founder?
I started the company with a technical co-founder who was great at getting us from zero to one. Since then I’ve brought on engineers with more diverse skill sets to help the company scale.
What were the biggest challenges for you personally and your company going from 0 to 1?
Mustering the courage to quit my job and found Coral was just the beginning, but maintaining a clear direction and focus has truly been the biggest (and most rewarding) personal challenge. There’s no roadmap. I repeat: there is no roadmap! You’re forced to learn as you go, even as the final decision maker.
For the company, the biggest challenge was finding the right product design to bring our content to life. Coral is on a mission to create a meaningful impact in people’s lives, and finding just the right way to package that was tough. We worked so hard at it, though, and it’s really paid off. One year later, we’ve helped over 200,000 people experience boosted confidence, stronger intimate connections, and new frontiers of enjoyment. It’s been such an incredible journey.
Do you have any advice for others, who are just getting started?
Everything everyone says about entrepreneurship is true! It tests you on every level, and every day brings a new challenge, so you have to find ways to keep yourself healthy. I think anyone starting a business has to accept that a huge part of their brain will be dedicated to what that they’re trying to create in the world, but self-care is an essential part of that journey. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, including your body, it’s going to be that much harder to sustain the energy and drive you need to succeed.