Please introduce yourself and your business!
My name is Lara Solomon, Founder & CEO of Hoopsy. We created a sustainable midstream pregnancy test with 99% accuracy that’s also 99% plastic-free.
What’s your background as a founder?
I grew up in the UK. My Dad had his own business, and he was the person who shaped me the most.
He always taught us to think for ourselves, which made my first corporate jobs harder, but was a great skill to have as a founder. My first role was in marketing, working on Dettol and Lemsip. I then worked on Mr Muscle and Pledge before starting my first business in 2004. I have been a serial founder ever since.
My first business was called Mocks, selling mobile phone sock covers, I grew the brand to sell into over 2500 stores in both the UK and Australia.
In 2009, I wrote a book, basically a diary of my first four years in business, called ‘Brand New Day, the highs and lows of starting a small business’. There were things in business that everyone went through but nobody talked about, and they needed to be discussed.
In 2010 I started a social media agency called Social Rabbit after my success using social media in my Mocks business. I sold after two years, because I realised that a service-based business wasn’t for me. I took a 1-year maternity cover at an online travel company, then started a marketplace business for hairdressers and beauticians, which I ended up closing down after my Mum died. I then expanded a UK pet business to Australia before starting an adult poncho towel brand, LOLL, which was very much a lifestyle business.
In 2019, I went through the Antler incubator in Sydney and started an educational children’s personalised storybook business, Story Antics, which I sold about 18 months later.
What do your operations look like today?
I initially started Hoopsy with a friend I met through Antler, but after three months, she decided that she wanted to work on a digital business rather than a physical product, and we parted ways.
At the moment, the Hoopsy team is just myself. I am currently fundraising, and until that is complete, I won’t expand the team.
How did you discover the problem you are solving?
My personal relationship with pregnancy tests was through me trying for a baby, which was unfortunately not successful.
In 2021, after I sold Story Antics, I went to Spain and did two donor embryo transfers to try and get pregnant. In going through the transfers, I joined a number of Facebook groups for women trying to conceive, and I was surprised to see just how many pregnancy tests women were using, and that the majority of them were plastic.
As an ocean swimmer, I was very aware of the plastic pollution problem and couldn’t understand why pregnancy tests were plastic when they were literally only used for 5 minutes. As I looked into it further, I realised that there was no sustainable midstream pregnancy test in the market.
Plastic usage is something that really frustrates me. As a society, we use so much plastic for items that are single-use. I see so much rubbish when ocean swimming. Many plastics can’t be recycled because there is no demand for the product produced. And finally, so many items sold are packaged in plastic when it really isn’t needed.
Walk us through the specific steps you took to get started with your business!
My initial cofounder in Hoopsy came about from me chatting to her about my IVF treatment while she was also trying to conceive., As we talked more about the industry and the problems, we got to pregnancy tests, and it went from there, growing from shared experiences.
To build Hoopsy, the first thing was finding a manufacturer. This took a while and I spoke to over 100 different companies, because it was hard to find one who would work with me to develop the test we currently sell. Most manufacturers, when I asked for what I wanted, tried to give me what they already had. I needed them to work with me to develop the product.
The first funding came from my personal savings. I worked 4 days a week in a customer service role, which I intentionally chose as it required no brain power, while I started the business. This was for the first five months of the business. I then went full-time unpaid for three months before completing an equity crowdfund raise and being able to afford to pay myself a living wage. In total, I have put around AU$60,000 into the business.
The ‘this is happening moment’ wasn’t just one big moment, but lots of small moments, such as the first online order, meeting with Boots, getting the first pharmacy chain order, and getting the first lot of investment. I know that there are still lots of moments to come, such as becoming profitable, first supermarket chain order, and more!
I am still on the journey to success with Hoopsy, and I think the things that will help me succeed is surrounding myself with my tribe, both advisors and fellow founders, because the journey of a solo founder can be lonely, and you need people to bounce ideas off, cheer you on, and chat through challenges.
Speaking of challenges, one example of a problem that could have been avoided was when I applied for TGA approval (Australian medical device regulatory approval) and tried to do it myself. I should have got someone to do it for me. I didn’t realise just how complicated it was, and what was involved. It looked simple from the outside, but it was one of those things where they asked one question, but actually, there were three questions to answer, and unless you had done it before, you didn’t know that! As a result, we didn’t get approval, but I am sure if someone who does approvals all the time worked on it, we would have got it.
How did you acquire your first customers?
Some through social media, some through friends, some from the outreach that we did to fertility coaches, fertility acupuncturists & fertility nutritionists.
We sell to retailers, pharmacies, supermarkets, eco stores, and more, as well as direct to consumers through our website (70%) and Amazon (25%). We have this issue with Amazon that it is difficult to get user reviews, because women don’t necessarily want to share online that they are trying for a baby.
For retailers the process is still ongoing. It is a lot of following up, reminding the buyers we exist, sending out samples, and updating on where we are up to.
With consumers, we have tried all sorts of growth hacking tactics (ads on Google Shopping, Facebook and Instagram, influencer marketing, events, SEO, affiliates, blogging, podcasts), but what has worked best has been partnering up with other brands in the space. Whether it is period products, prenatal supplements, or IVF clinics, this seems to have been the best way to reach the right audience. This realisation has come about through a lot of trial and error, as well as talking to other founders in the femtech space.
What are your three most impressive accomplishments so far?
Hoopsy as a business has only been selling for the last year, so it is still very early in our journey. One of our big accomplishments has been the amount of PR that we have received, over 70 different media articles in our first 12 months.
One early achievement was getting the first version of the test to market so quickly, in 6 months. We were lucky that the manufacturer had CE certification for the pregnancy test, and therefore we didn’t have to go through the certification process.
How do you measure your social/environmental impact & keep it at the core of your business?
The biggest thing we measure in terms of environmental impact is the number of tests that we sell. For every test we sell, one less plastic test goes into landfill. To date, we have sold over 5000 tests, so it is still very early days.
If any, what impact have you had so far?
We have had impact in a few ways:
- The tests that we have sold have reduced the amount of plastic going into landfill
- Educating women on their fertility through our blog and social posts and our free online fertility community
- Raising awareness for sustainable home testing and our alternative to plastic
- Inspiring others to think about products differently
What has been the hardest lesson you had to learn in your journey as a founder?
Over the years, I have learned a lot from the various different businesses. I have realised that I cannot build a business if I am not passionate about it. It has taken me a while to get to Hoopsy, but I know just how passionate I am about it, and therefore know that I can work in and on it long term.
I also know that I need to use intuition as well as numbers to make decisions, but learning to trust your gut is hard because it is not easily measurable. One of the mistakes I regret the most is not selling my first business when I had the opportunity. I was in the process of getting divorced when I had the offer. It was an emotional time, and I said no. I now know that I don’t make good decisions when I feel emotional, so now, if I do feel like that, I will always sleep on it to make sure that I am making the right decision.
I think the importance of being around other founders is often not emphasised enough. There is so much you can learn from chatting to others, whether it is from their experiences, or skills that they may have that you don’t. I go to a lot of networking events to build a network of people who I am connected to and can call on to talk through things or ask for advice. I am happy to help others in the same way.
How did the experience of building a startup change you?
This isn’t my first startup, so it hasn’t changed me. To be honest, I have been running various startups for about 20 years, so I can’t really imagine life before 🙂
For new founders, I would say one of the most important things is to find your tribe and ask for help. In general, the founder community is really open and generous in terms of support and help, but you do need to ask.
What are your long-term goals for Hoopsy?
The goals for Hoopsy are to have a range of urine-based plastic-free tests, white label tests for other brands, and license our sustainable material IP to other manufacturers. In ten years, we will be selling pregnancy and ovulation tests in the UK, USA, Europe, Canada, and Australia.
In the next twelve months, the goal is to have a working prototype for the second generation of our test, where we have a provisional patent.
Join the movement to combine massive impact with profit-driven business models. Receive insights, updates and exclusive invites & opportunities straight to your inbox. No spam, ever.