Cloudflare TV

💡 Founder Spotlight: Amanda Calabrese and Greta Meyer

Presented by Amanda Calabrese, Greta Meyer , Fallon Blossom
Originally aired on 

This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!

This session features Amanda Calabrese and Greta Meyer, co-founders of Sequel. Sequel is re-engineering life's essential products - starting with your tampon. Founded by two Stanford engineers and athletes, Sequel relies on fluid mechanics to finally give women the leak-free menstrual experience they need to perform at their best in the boardroom, the stadium, and beyond.

Both Amanda and Greta are Stanford University award-winning Product Design Engineering graduates and former world-class athletes. They focus on bringing performance-focused women’s products to a market dominated by private-label and legacy incumbents.

Visit the Founder Spotlight hub to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more!

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Founder Spotlight

Transcript (Beta)

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another segment during Founder Spotlight. Today, I'm here with another set of founders from a beautiful company called SQL.

Do you mind introducing yourself and telling the folks more about what you do in the company?

Happy to. I am Amanda Calabrese. I'm the co-founder and CEO of SQL. And Greta Meyer, the CEO and co-founder of SQL is here as well.

And what we do is we are re-engineering tampons using fluid mechanics and our experience as engineers and athletes to make them more comfortable and less prone to failure.

Awesome. So normally, I'm behind the scenes doing Cloudflare TV stuff.

But today, I'm here talking with Amanda and Greta.

So thank you for sharing that about your company. And can you tell me more about what sets SQL apart from other feminine products, right?

Their household names, their legacy companies that have been around for a while.

So what makes you different? Yeah. So we looked at existing products in the market and found that women were really unhappy with existing tampons.

We found that two-thirds of women that use tampons were using backup methods like pads and liners.

And so we looked at really why that was from a fluid mechanics perspective, saw that there are these channels and sometimes even just how the tampon is folded up into the shape that then allowed the fluid and even encouraged it to just shimmy down the side.

Rather than ours, what ours does is take the fluid and then extend the flow path.

So make it go around in a helical spiral. And we do that from mechanical changes in the tampon.

So we're not changing any of the materials.

It's really just a focus on extending the length of time that it takes to leak.

Okay. And how is that actually helpful for a user? Again, we'll talk about this.

The three of us don't actually know what this experience is like in real life because I think that this is something that's not really talked about, fairly taboo.

Again, content warning, we're going to be talking about menstruation and things related to that for the next 25 minutes.

Break it down into smaller chunks for someone who might be like, ah, fluid mechanics, what's all this?

Why does that matter? So basically when you think about what our product is doing, it's not exactly making it more absorbent.

So it's not like we're making a light tampon into a super plus, but it's more, if you think about using a regular tampon and you think about when it leaks.

So if you pull out your tampon, what we were finding is a lot of women were pulling out their tampon.

It was leaking and only around 20% of the fibers were being used.

So what we're doing is making sure that it's actually absorbing a larger amount of those fibers.

So we're not making a larger capacity, but we're saying before it ever comes to failure, it's going to absorb evenly.

And in stages, rather than you pull out your tampon, there's kind of what we like to call it as the red line effect of one red line down the side.

And then the rest of it is these kind of dry fibers, which then are super uncomfortable to the user.

So we are actually doing is increasing that confidence because you have a more predictable cycle and then also increasing comfort because the fluid is more dispersed.

And so why is it important or wasn't it important for you to innovate in this space?

Right. You know, menstruation, this whole process has been around for as long as people have been around.

So why, why try to make something new?

Yeah, I think the answer to this question really goes back to the emotional disruption that these products can have when they don't perform as they're supposed to.

So when Greta and I met and started working on this issue, it was never, you know, let's go out and redesign the tampon.

It was, why are we having these issues with our menstrual products?

Why is our menstrual experience so terrible the way that it is?

And what can we do to not have to dramatically change people that menstruates current habits and give them a better experience?

And so what you see, I think Greta mentioned this before, two thirds of women are using a pad in tandem with the tampons.

So the whole purpose of using a tampon is to have the freedom and, and not have to have this bulky liner.

We were both athletes.

And so not have to, I mean, I was a swimmer. I couldn't even use a pad.

Greta was an athlete wearing a white uniform playing lacrosse. And so it was very uncomfortable for her to run with that pad and tampon tandem system.

And so we, we recognized there had to be a better way.

We looked at the space and saw, we saw cups and that's a really high barrier to entry for someone who's not used to inserting a menstrual cup or getting that intimate with their body.

And we saw the pads, even pads leak sometimes.

And so we recognize that 70% of US women prefer pads, tampons, sorry.

They report tampons as their product of choice. And so we set out to understand the inefficiencies and issues with tampons and create a better way using our backgrounds, which was engineering so that we could create a better tampon experience.

One that wasn't going to distract a user from what they needed to accomplish.

So for us, that was our game day preparations, being out on the field swimming.

But for all the other people that we spoke to, that was also, you know, being a teacher or a firefighter.

We're getting out there in front of a boardroom full of people.

Yeah. That's the one thing that you don't want to think about.

And then I know, you know, again, just thinking back into my own experience, there's those horror stories of like, oh, you're somewhere wearing a really nice outfit or doing something really important.

And not only are you anxious about something happening, then the embarrassment of something actually happening.

Like I know I've lived through that. And that's tough. Yeah. And I think there's a lot of, I mean, there are so many promises in this space.

There's like a new brand coming out every day saying, we're going to give you the best menstrual experience ever.

We're going to give you the best tampon experience. It's going to be no leaks and super comfortable and high quality.

And we started to dig in there and say, what does high quality even mean?

What is better tampon even mean? And what is, how are you stopping leaks?

And as we started to pull back those layers, we realized that everything was private label.

All of these new brands making all of these big ginormous promises were actually under the layer of beautiful branding and great marketing were just the same products being bought at the same contract manufacturers overseas.

And for us, that was the biggest, I mean, that was the biggest impetus to say like, can we, we're designers.

We could design something totally new, much better and actually define like, what does quality mean?

What does that mean to us?

What does performance mean? Like let's start to define the things that truly matter to women rather than referring on these arbitrary statements that you ask a woman, like what is absorbency in your tampon mean to you?

And she's like, I literally have no idea. Like that chart on the back of the box, I have no idea how much I'm bleeding right now.

That is very true. Again, like in the certain instances we don't always know or incentivize to know or, nor is it easy to be aware of like what might be going on with your body and what's considered normal.

Yeah. That's really powerful. So, you know, going back to what you said about designing.

So like, is this something that you created yourself?

I know you're technically in different places right now. Like is this patented?

Is this FDA approved? Is there a plan or roadmap for doing that in the future?

Yeah, actually. So usually Amanda and I are in the same place where I'm in the lab today, which is really exciting.

We're, we're building our own machinery to create these products.

And to answer your question, yes, we have, we have many patents pending.

We have our first patent in the U S it's been cleared in several international patents that have been cleared which really differentiates us from the rest of the market.

Amanda mentioned private label. And I think that's one way to really tell if a company is making something themselves or if they're just selling something with a cuter different box and a different color wrapper.

So that's something that we focused on a lot is from the start is just how can we make sure that we're protecting our IP and having a really robust patent strategy that we're investing in.

And then we are to answer the rest of the question, we are manufacturing this.

That's something that's we're working on right now is doing a lot of testing on efficacy of the product.

But yeah, I think the IP is definitely something that is in our business strategy that you don't necessarily see in the rest of the market and smaller companies.

So, I mean, given all of that, where would you say that you are in your journey?

Are you growing? Are you iterating?

Are you still designing? Is it all of the above? Yeah, that's a great question.

So we have been going through R and D for the past several years. We now have a final device and we are doing our final testing in preparation to submit to the FDA.

So it is a class two medical device. I think that's something that is a reason why a lot of people don't innovate in the space because it's a huge, I mean, it's a huge undertaking, especially for a small company.

It takes a lot of understanding about exactly how the testing is going to be done, the manufacturing standards, all of the safety that we have to make sure that we maintain as a company.

So that's something that we are kind of in the process of developing our submission right now.

And so we're eager to pending FDA clearance, then we'll be focusing on launch.

I think we're taking that in stride, that the kind of longer development because of the regulatory structure that a lot of other companies and products don't have to do.

But that's kind of what I focus on. And then Amanda's been so great.

I think this is something that is awesome about our team.

The marketing ends up seeing that as a blessing to say, okay, let's make sure we're really pumped and really developing a perfect brand for launch so that we're ready.

So I think that's what we've been really taking this regulatory timeline and turning it into a positive where we can make sure our direct consumer launch is going to be as seamless as possible.

I love hearing that. So that's where you are now.

Let's actually go back to the beginning. So how did you two meet? How did all this start?

What's the origin story of, well, SQL? And I know that there's a little bit of a story behind the name because it wasn't always called SQL, right?

That's true. Greta and I met while we were students at Stanford. We were both in the product design, like the design school.

We were both product design mechanical engineers.

We had always known each other, very small major, but it wasn't until our senior year of school that Greta approached me with something that she had been thinking about.

She was on Stanford's Division One lacrosse team. She approached me and said, you know, I really want to dig into the menstrual space.

I really want to understand why these products are so terrible. That was something that immediately resonated with me.

I was an athlete. I still compete sometimes in the sport of lifesaving for the US team.

And it immediately resonated with me because I had no choice but to use tampons as a swimmer.

And so the fall of our senior year, that was the fall of 2018, we began working on, you know, starting with the need-finding experience.

We're design thinkers. We're trained at the design school.

So it's all human -centered design tactics. And the focus of the d.school is really, can we actually discover true human needs and create products that solve those needs, rather than having that flipped and create products?

And then we say, well, shoot, how do we sell these products? How do we make sure that people actually want this after we've already gone through the development process?

So everything relating to our design and the way that it's going to enter the world is very intentional because we stay close to our customers.

And, oh, sorry, go ahead.

I was just going to answer the name part of the question. Oh, yeah.

That is a story that a lot of kind of, a lot of startups have to go through these, like, okay, we want our name to evoke this, but this is taken.

So we actually started off as students with, our name was Tampro, alluding to, you know, professional pro athletes, perhaps, and with, combined with a tampon.

And then realized that this problem space, it's much larger than one product.

Also wanted to distance ourselves from the other companies that sound similar, as well as just, you know, we want to be a company that's tackling these larger issues, not necessarily just a one product company.

So then we moved to this new name called Tempo.

That was really, it was a positive change. It was definitely something that evoked a lot of movement, which we were really into at the time.

It was very upbeat.

It also didn't sound that much like other tampon brands. And then that, we ended up having some trademark challenges there.

So we pivoted once more to Sequel, which is our final name.

And we are now trademarked in that as well. But Sequel is really, I mean, it's about the kind of tagline that goes along with it, is it, it's the next chapter in women's health.

And it's us rewriting that story to be what we wish it was when we were playing sports.

It's also, I mean, we love it because it's pretty androgynous.

It's not like you hear a lot of kind of these flirty, cute little names.

And you're like, that's not what I want on my, on my period.

I want to feel like I'm literally, I'm a boss and I'm making, making my future.

So that's kind of the long-winded answer, but we're, we're pumped about launching our brand and think it's, it's really taking kind of this whole space in a new direction.

Yeah, no, I actually love that. Cause I think, again, just, it's hard to not think about something like your period is something that's a blocker or like annoying.

It's a hindrance. It's going to getting your way in some type of instance, whether it's like how you feel or again, the anxiety or the fact that you might, you know, literally make a mess, have an accident and potentially be embarrassed about just like living your life.

So I love that. I love that. That's, I mean, that's something we think about all the time, right?

Imagine the scenario where you're sitting at the boardroom table, right?

And so you're in the room, there's a bunch of guys, there's a bunch of people that are not on their period.

They're not menstruating.

And if you are an individual that is menstruating at that boardroom table, you are inherently at a disadvantage to everyone else there that is not menstruating, regardless of gender identity, regardless of who else is at that table, you are at a disadvantage.

And so that is something that we feel really strongly about elevating and making sure that everyone is on an equal footing.

So I'm curious about like the type of culture that you've been able to build to support this innovation, right?

Like you are literally creating a thing that did not exist before.

How is that possible? What type of culture supports that kind of innovation at scale?

Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing is really team culture. And so I think Amanda and I have brought in, I think there's a huge benefit to the fact that we've never done this before, but also we've brought in a lot of experts that are guiding us.

And so I think those mentors, people that have been at large CPG companies before, people who have built med device companies and also direct to consumer companies before, kind of bringing those all together to our own novel company culture is really important.

And I think it's also having a really open mind, right?

Like we want, like I mentioned, we want to not be just one product.

We want to have a suite of products. And so keeping our eyes and ears open to new problems we hear, and then also new potential solutions.

So we're always talking to other entrepreneurs that were like, we would love to work with this company.

This would be an amazing collaboration. We're not competitors. I think that's a really big thing for us is just to say like more, we need more women's health products, right?

Like end of sentence is just, there should be competition because that actually makes a better life for the consumer.

We want more choice.

We want more innovation in this space. So we're eager to encourage that and also ask questions.

I think going through the medical device process for the first time, there are so many things that our team has been just like moving really quickly on.

And I think that you have to have this kind of beginner's mindset to do those things faster than you've ever seen done before.

And then just kind of thinking about the past couple of years, you're in this rarefied area.

You're in this space where you're kind of one of the few people trying to innovate.

What have you had to pivot or change over the past year or so just to keep going?

Yeah, I think most of it because it's been all R&D has been, first of all, I mean, there's been a ton of supply chain issues.

There's a lot of logistic kind of weight that we're bearing right now because of COVID.

We're currently working on a lot of manufacturing and we were working in the UK and then we moved it domestically kind of in the midst of the initial wave of COVID.

And now we've moved it closer to us.

So I think there's a lot of those changes where you're just kind of OK, we need to be open to moving and making improvements as we can.

I think we're pretty good at making sure to like, OK, we're COVID safe, but we're also like we're not just going to like halt production because COVID is harder.

So I think we're pretty agile in that sense.

Other changes. I mean, Amanda, I think it's really like we were testing out our product in the UK and I think understanding the differences between those markets and kind of like hearing feedback about our product, knowing that that's a less likely to be applicator market and the U.S.

is more applicator. So I think it's being agile, being open to change, and then also really listening to your consumer through it all.

I think that's hard for us because we can't just like hand out tampons on the street and have people try them because it is a medical device, but constantly learning and kind of moving towards, OK, let's let's think about, OK, I heard about this awesome device.

What if we offered that next? Those kind of changes are also always, always fun discussions.

And so, yeah, that's one curiosity that Hank is kind of getting ready for this.

I noticed that, you know, you're a U.S. based company from that mistake and that you were doing things in the UK.

Like what are some kind of trends or things that you've noticed that that make the administrating folks in the UK different from folks here in the U.S.?

Yeah, there's I mean, I think in the UK, we actually saw people less likely to be interested in direct to consumers.

So I think that was an initial reason why to focus here, because we really wanted to to own our whole supply supply chain, learn about our consumers, not go directly to retail.

Also, like I mentioned, the applicator thing in the just in the EU, it's really people are much more likely to not have grown up using applicator versus in the U.S.

like majority is plastic applicator only, like cannot imagine using anything else.

That's a that's a really people are super opinionated on that.

The other the other thing I'm I'm not really sure. I think there's just a lot of that was probably the main one is just that the DTC and then also applicator.

Yeah, I think there's also I mean, both in the U.S. and abroad, we're seeing a strong emphasis on transparency of materials and what materials are being used.

I think we see a lot of comms around that. And something that we're really committed to doing is using environmentally friendly fibers, but also making sure that we're using the highest performing fibers.

And so we've we've been very intentional about the material choices we've made even before we started talking to women in the U.K.

and the U.S. But that was something that kept coming up over and over again.

So, I mean, we've talked a lot about the business, but I do want to kind of spend some time talking a little bit more about you two as individuals.

I know you both mentioned that you met at Stanford. You were both doing design stuff and you were both athletes.

Is there any other part of your personal journey or your identity that has informed what you've done or why you've even created SQL?

Yeah, I think, Greta, my background, even before college, during college, I think it's really funny the places where we've ended up.

We often talk about how we didn't recognize that we were a part of these startup communities or that we would even end up working at a startup or founding a startup.

I think some people show up at Stanford their freshman year and they're like, I'm going to be a founder.

I'm working on my next thing. And then I was definitely not that student that showed up.

Greta even interned for startups at Stanford and was never like, I'm going to be a founder.

But if you look at our backgrounds, I mean, both of our families have small businesses, small family run businesses.

Greta's father is a goldsmith.

My dad is an optometrist. We've had a multi -generational family business.

I was a scrappy kid teaching surf lessons in my hometown and didn't ever think of that as my own business and managed to be entrepreneurial in any way.

And Greta's done so many things building and with her hands and she worked in a chair factory one summer.

And so it's actually really funny to not, we didn't understand at the current moment, you know, oh, I'm working on this thing.

Maybe I'll be entrepreneurial. Oh, I'm building chairs this summer.

Maybe one day I'll be building machinery. But it's really funny to look back from where we are today and see how all of our experiences have contributed to what we're doing right now.

Yeah, that tends to happen. And that's one through line that I've noticed in talking with founders this week.

It's like, it may be, it was surf lessons or the lemonade stand or something else, but it's this thing that has been around for a little bit longer than, you know, their companies.

And so I'm curious about, like, I mean, I'm sure a sequel is very busy. Again, I'm sure your to-do lists are quite long.

What do you do when you're not sequeling?

That's a great question.

We, when we're not sequeling, when we're not redesigning tampons, I love to surf.

I love to ski. I mean, we both are like always outside. I think the moment the weather is nice, we're like running out of the office when we like check off all the things off our list to go be outside and cycle or swim or surf or ski.

But I'll let Greta fill in her activities. Yeah, I think very similar.

Just trying to be, trying to be outside. And that's something that is important to maintain that balance.

So I think we've been doing that. I think a lot of it is also like maintaining the creative balance.

I think there's a lot of bounds that are set now that we're building a brand and not just like brainstorming all the time.

Like we're much more directionally focused. So for me, it's things like, okay, you're painting, you're drawing, you're reading, and you're kind of like just trying to diversify what you're thinking about all day.

Yeah. You're living life so that you can have this experience to inform your work.

Yeah. I remember reading a book about like work culture. And I think this was maybe that Netflix book where there was this one designer or someone who was just like, look, I'm taking off a month every single quarter.

And every time that they came back, they would come up with an idea that would completely revolutionize everything else that they were doing.

So that idea of context switching in a good way.

Totally. Totally. And that's something that, I mean, we never take days off.

Like we are never like, which is like not, I mean, it's, we love what we're doing, right?

When you love what you're doing, it's easy to just keep working on it.

But I always find that if Greta's like, hey, I'm going to be out of service, I'm literally scaling a mountain today.

Or I'm like, I think I'm going to surf for like six hours today.

I'll be back online in six hours. We always come back refreshed.

And with the momentum, I mean, even further momentum to keep pushing on what we're doing.

And I feel like that's when we're able to exercise that creative freedom to add into what we're doing.

Yeah. I think one thing that we heard a lot early on is just about managing founder burnout.

And I think it's something that's super hard to talk about because you're like, oh, like I care so much about this.

I have so much riding on this, but at the end of the day, you really have to make sure there's an immense amount of pressure on yourself, not only from investors and family members, but also put on yourself by yourself.

And you have to recognize that and be like, okay, I'm going to actually be more productive if on this, whatever it is, either if it's a Wednesday afternoon or a Saturday morning, I'm going to go for a walk rather than staring at this thing that I can't figure out.

And then I'm going to actually be, like we said, more refreshed, more balanced to look, take out a fresh look at it later.

Well, that's like a perfect segue into the question that we're asking everybody, actually.

So I'd like to hear from both of you if possible.

So what advice would you give yourself?

So thinking back to past you, young Stanford you, given everything that you know now, what advice would you give yourself then before starting a tempo sequel?

Yeah, I mean, I would tell myself to start asking questions and I would say don't just accept like, okay, I'm taking the next class, I'm taking this class to graduate, I'm taking this to graduate, I'm just moving through kind of a process.

Ask questions, question that process and explore things that I'm actually interested in rather than just checking things off that list.

I think that's like twofold, like two pieces of advice there.

Yeah, I mean, I think as a student there, we had so much on our plates, right?

Like where we were maybe leaning, I think it was kind of like, okay, maybe we were just like trying to do it all.

It was our senior year, we were trying to graduate, we were trying to do all of these other extracurriculars and then we're like, I think we should start this business.

So I think for me, it's about compartmentalizing and being able to say no to some things earlier.

Rather like a lot of my senior year, I was trying to write this honors thesis as well as doing sequel and at the end, it was like, okay, obviously you're not going to be able to execute perfectly on both of these and so I ended up being just pursuing sequel for full-time as we know, spoiler alert.

But I think just recognizing those imbalances earlier and saying, okay, I've overstretched myself or these things are not all going to happen and I think that can be really helpful in a startup as well.

So applying that to a company, a lot of times you, as a founder especially, you're taught to really see the broader vision and that's why founders are so passionate because you see how your one idea can change a ton of people's lives in a really incredible way but at the same time, you won't execute on everything at once.

So you have to choose one thing first and I think that can be, it's super challenging because you're like, of course I want this other opportunity but that's actually going to make me less likely to execute on this other thing.

So I'm going to have to say no or later to this thing so that I can execute on the prize being that's going to be the number one.

Yeah, it's that idea of like urgent versus important and prioritization.

I think that you can't do everything at once and the idea of like a singular priority versus multiple priorities, it's hard to kind of prioritize multiple things at once, right?

But it's all about that.

Well, okay, so we only have about 20 seconds left. So first, I want to thank you for joining me today and like sharing your story and being so honest and open with us but is there anything else that you want folks to know about your company or what you have coming up next?

Yeah, I mean, thank you for having us and be on the lookout and stay tuned for SQL next year.

We will really, really excited to bring this product into the hands of users next year.

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