Some ‘aha’ moments are mundane, some are miraculous and some can be plain awkward — and Frances Tang‘s company Awkward Essentials is living proof. Personal experience led her to create the company’s signature after-sex cleanup product, then she brought the often awkward bedroom conversation to the boardroom to successfully raise $2.3 million to expand. It’s all part of her mission to normalize and solve our everyday awkward and taboo encounters. We chatted with the multipotentialite about her journey.
OwnTrail: Your nonlinear path has included roles as a hula dancer, cannabis tech founder, web series host and wedding photographer (to name a few!). What common thread connects these dots across your career?
Frances Tang: Most of the positions I’ve held throughout the years have started as interests or hobbies and turned into jobs. I’ve found myself so immersed in the activity that the switch from hobby to job was a simple one. All of these roles I’ve had a passion for, and that’s where the commonality lies. When I am passionate about a topic (ie women’s health) or love a hobby (i.e. hula dancing) I try to engrain that into my everyday life which has led me to this portfolio of roles that I am very proud of.
I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to dip my toes into non-traditional roles that most people wouldn’t ever dream of going after.
OwnTrail: How has having a nonlinear path helped you get to where you are today?
FT: I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to dip my toes into non-traditional roles that most people wouldn’t ever dream of going after. This has allowed me to gather skills that on a traditional path, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to gain or explore. I’m an avid believer in skill stacking – learning new, often unrelated, skills and combining them to make yourself more efficient or think creatively. This has allowed me to become what I am today, an entrepreneur.
For example, as a hula dancer I would emcee shows, which strengthened my public speaking skills, ultimately helping when it comes to pitching. As an event planner, I learned how to manage people, work with vendors, and move quickly. These are all skills I use to this day.
As another example, my company and product was inspired by my time as a baker, using a rubber spatula.
OwnTrail: You got fired as a matchmaker. What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?
FT: To trust my gut. I was hesitant during the final interview stages, but I was ready to leave the position I was currently in and was swayed by the allure of how the job was positioned. Marketing is very powerful!
[T]he brand was built to provide solutions for women just like me. I addressed head-on the problem my product solved, even if it felt “awkward” to others to talk about.
OwnTrail: Personality and humor resonate throughout your trail and the brand you’ve built with Awkward Essentials. At what point on your journey did you embrace authenticity so fully?
FT: When I first pitched my invention, before it even existed, I pitched it as any founder would — with numbers, statistics, and facts. It was an absolute trainwreck. I distinctly remember several faces in the room, with a look of open-mouthed, horrified shock. Pitching an after-sex cleanup invention with data probably wasn’t the best idea.
From this, I learned to change the narrative and focus on my own story and personality. After all, the brand was built to provide solutions for women just like me. I addressed head-on the problem my product solved, even if it felt “awkward” to others to talk about.
I shifted how I talked about the product and our brand completely, and ultimately changed how I marketed the company. We are unapologetically honest and not afraid to face taboo topics head-on. We provide a safe space for people to be themselves without having to apologize, and break down barriers when it comes to women’s health and less-talked about topics.
This attitude has opened many doors for the brand, including our most recent funding round.
I think there is a lack of education as well — many women don’t understand their own bodies, which shouldn’t be the case.
OwnTrail: As Awkward Essentials continues to grow, what surprises you about working in a still very stigmatized industry? What excites you about where sextech and femtech is going?
FT: I think what surprises me the most is that this industry is still stigmatized. We are living in an era of reform and change, we see it every day. Women are still fighting for equality and access to solutions for simple problems we deal with every day. It’s important for me to continue working to destigmatize these conversations and this industry. I also I think there is a lack of education as well — many women don’t understand their own bodies, which shouldn’t be the case. If our culture was more honest and open about sex education, there would be a better understanding of how our bodies work, how many holes we have, and products that may help provide additional comfort in uncomfortable situations.
What excites me the most is the growth in these categories. It’s no secret that there aren’t many companies out there that are focused on providing solutions to women’s health needs, but the potential is there. More and more we are seeing these categories talked about. I recently read a New York Times article that compared the revenue of the femtech industry in 2019 to the revenue of a ride-share app and the difference was astounding. However, the market is there for it, and I am confident more and more entrepreneurs will create companies to meet women’s needs. Being amongst a group helping grow this category is exciting and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.