Below is another in our ongoing series of interviews with co-founders of Latin America startup companies. Today we’re talking with May Alba, co-founder of rubberit.co, a condom subscription service. rubberit recently received funding from Mexican.vc.
LASB: Where did you get the idea for Rubberit? How long has the company been operating?
May Alba: Rubberit was born from a personal compromise towards my friends— people all around me, really. Not too long ago I lost a friend to the battle against HIV, and that particular event touched me deeply. At the same time, I’ve seen extremely brilliant friends and acquaintances having to cut their dreams short due to unplanned pregnancies, and having to transition prematurely into parenthood. All of this can be boiled down to a regrettable lack of sexual education in our country, paired with historic taboos towards sexual freedom, the consequences of which are grave, sadly.
My original intention was to create an NGO that would focus on solving those educational problems, but I quickly realized that there was also the matter of access and choices. Not having either—in an age when we pride ourselves of our ever growing mass communications capabilities and means of instant contact from one corner of the world to another—is utterly unacceptable.
We launched rubberit almost 2 months ago. It went from virtually being a back-of-the-napkin project in mid-Summer 2012, to pitching to Cesar and Santiago (Mexican.vc), to setting-up a rudimentary webpage (the first version of rubberit.co) to having our first paying customer as October rolled in.
LASB: Many people think that payment problems are preventing e-commerce from taking off in Mexico. How did you address payments?
MA: Our personal impression revolves around the fact that humans, the older we are, the more inherently reticent we become to the “new”. Throughout the first decades of Internet-based commerce in México, the majority of folks with access to both a connection and a credit card were older.
There’s a growing, shiny little light at the end of that tunnel, though.
As a younger class of Mexicans join the workforce and establish their own means of connectivity and spending, they are bringing onboard with them a less-apprehensive outlook towards what lies behind their oh so loved Internet. Especially when they can witness firsthand that the people running these new projects are folks like them, youthful and motivated, with laser-like focus on providing solutions to a series of problems that affect many.
Topping that off, we believe that rubberit is providing a service that fits perfectly the needs of this new generation of Mexican internauts: sexual activity is a fact of human behavior, and responsible sexual choices are a necessity, therefore access to sexual protection is a must.
Payments were indeed a concern of ours, honestly one of the first priorities set at the core of rubberit’s functions. It dawned on us that we are in the business of giving people choices, as many as possible, and this isn’t something that should be constrained to our catalog. We figured that we needed to level with our would-be subscribers, offering options like Paypal and direct credit card charging for the more financially independent, while also seeking a viable way to interact with those who lack of credit cards who’re usually teenagers.
MA: Rubberit 1×1 is a program where for every condom sold trough rubberit.co we’re donating one to rural localities, vulnerable urban sectors and low-income communities throughout Mexico. Pairing that with sex education programs and collaborations with NGOs and our rubberit 1×1 Partner: DKT Mexico.
We are in the business of giving choices. In Mexico this is quite the undertaking. There are 112 million people in this country, but they all can’t be reached through the Internet yet. At the same time, 44% of the country lives below the poverty line. This year, 17.4% of newborns will come from women under the age of 20. And approximately 7 in 10 of those pregnancies will have been unplanned.
These are staggering figures, a matter of Public Health and Public Programs are alarmingly falling short. I believe this is unacceptable. A great number of people in this country are being denied access to the choices that could foster their socio-economic advancement, and that is why the idea of rubberit 1×1 was born. It is important to us because we want to engage our subscribers, let them know that they too can have a positive impact inside our country, empower them to be instruments of change.
LASB: You’ve previously said, “We’re not a startup. We’re not entrepreneurs.” Why are you resistant to those titles?
MA: So far, in Mexico all it needs to be considered an entrepreneur is to type that on your Twitter account, people who actually work day and night to take Mexico to the next level are humble enough not to brag about it.
All of the sudden, you can’t swing a dead cat by the tail in Mexico’s urban sprawl without hitting someone over the head who calls himself an entrepreneur, like it’s the “IN” thing to do. Treating the process as if coming up with a new idea for a business and prepare a pitch for seed funding every week is a must. There’s a difference between preparing for failure and expecting it.
We’re not entrepreneurs. We are a group of folks who share a transformative vision. Trust me, people who actually change the world, the people that I’ve just met around mexican.vc couldn’t care less about the title, we’re problem solvers not entrepreneurs.
LASB: What has been the hardest part about launching your company? What would have done differently knowing what you know now?
MA: Ever since the inception of rubberit not a single day has passed where an amazing learning experience has taken place. Whether it has meant to learn how to code in HTML, or figuring out how to make a truly discreet package, or understanding how to effectively price our products, or finding out how sweet is the lady who sells tamales outside my building. I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything, neither I would have done one single thing differently because we’re in for the ‘Move fast and break things’ experience.
Day in and day out we run into situations that are strictly particular to what we have started. And maybe the hardest part about launching rubberit entails being patient. When you dare to change social archetypes that you find simply unacceptable, you want that change to take place NOW. But these are matters that take time. And through this process we are learning to develop better interfaces, we are edifying on customer feedback, we are sharing epiphanies that suddenly hit us, and most importantly, we are growing from the outstanding support of loved ones, and close ones, and even strangers who lend a hand, float an idea by us, or chirp in through Twitter to let us know they feel we’re on the right track.
I am simply thankful. And I’m doing my darndest to give back.