Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNA

Founded in 2016, the dedicated and very creative Olivia Cotes-James launched her own period-care brand, LUÜNA. Originally from United Kingdom, she moved to Shanghai, China with a job. She started to feel really uncomfortable about the fact that loads of women, including herself, had to bring tampons from abroad because of one solid reason that it’s incredibly difficult to purchase tampons, especially in China. With an innate understanding of market demand among Asia, she had the urge to produce a small range of period-care products that embrace transparency and are relatable. Her mission is to educate more open-minded and forward thinking women about menstrual health though her cutting-edge products.

We’re grateful to be able to talk with her about her marketing approach to win over Chinese Millennials; her easy and rather effective ways of managing high pressure from seed-round funding; in addition, we ask a few special questions on your behalf on how she handles her period every other day of the month.  

What’s your work schedule like?

Olivia Cotes-James: To be honest, I don’t really have a schedule. I definitely work every day. I like working on weekends the most because you’re not inundated with messages, so it means that I can catch up on all the stuff that didn’t get done during the day.

Normally, I wake up at seven and go straight to the office. After my arrival in the office, I make sure that my first two hours in office are not booked in with meetings or calls. Those two hours in the morning are sacred to me, even if it means just being with my laptop. As awful as that sounds, I really have to allocate that time to completing the most important work or replying to urgent emails. Then, my day is full-on meetings, either internal meetings, business meetings developmental partner or investor meetings. So, those two hours in the morning have become really crucial to me, and the idea is to be as productive as possible.

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNAWhat are your product development strategies on launching new period-care products? 

Olivia Cotes-James: We use our insights generated from our community that are replete with women who buy our products and love our brand so much, to develop new products. With their involvement, we are constantly able to decipher that they actually crave for our new products. I think that as a small company, we can get our ideas off the ground very quickly and we can be very adaptable. There is no bureaucracy that we are required to face. For example, if we start to see a trend within our community, such as our women wanting to go reusable but they don’t like using the cup, we then think about launching another silicon reusable product, which we will launching at the end of 2019.

What’s your marketing approach to win over Chinese Millennials?

Olivia Cotes-James: I think our marketing strategy really is just to lead by example. The first task is getting women to understand that the existing products are not safe enough. So, it’s less about the products itself and more about being particular about we put in our body. If you look at the type of women that are within our community; they are essentially a group of women who go on healthy diets, who make sure their face cream is made from natural substances, and who are willing to put in all their efforts into being healthy. However, when it comes to their menstrual health, it’s only an afterthought. Why doesn’t this type of conversation exist? I think people are so receptive to it. For example, I walk into a store to buy tampons. I always make sure that I say it really loudly to the cashier, “Where are your tampons?” People always look at you in a real weird manner, like “I can’t believe you’ve asked that loudly.” But there’s been a couple of times, where a woman in the queue said to me, “That was really cool – how you asked that question really loudly without feeling a sense of shame.” We always talk about LUÜNA – the chain of influence.

So, our challenge now is to scale that message, since we can’t go out and have a face to face conversation with every woman. Hopefully, we will make it an attractive prospect to start talking about menstrual health – starting the conversation about periods and making it fun and cool.

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNA

Have you ever had a breakdown because of stress or work overload before?

Olivia Cotes-James: Yeah, I think it happened last year. I had a really tough year last year at one point because I raised my seed round of funding very quickly, and was about to close the deal. However, I just had a gut feeling that I didn’t want to move forward with some investors that were behaving a bit rooky. So, I pulled out of some investment at the last minute… at that point, everyone needed to be paid  -suppliers, designers, staff – and then I didn’t have any money to pay them, which meant that I had to raise more cash in the short time span.

“You wouldn’t know how good you are at withstanding and surmounting struggle until you go through something like that.”

I think that point was the closest to a breakdown, but I wasn’t allowed to because that just wasn’t an option! Having said that, I was very, very stressed due to lots of sleepless nights – you know, wondering whether all my work would has amounted to nothing; wondering whether I’d made the right decision to reject the investment. I did question myself a bit during those moments, even though these are things that I now know were right decisions.

But the thing is – I really like the fact that I’ve had those experiences. Its effect has been so deep-rooted that if I’m really stressed about something at work, I take my mind back to that time and realize how resilient I am. I think you can go through your life thinking like, “Oh, I’m not that tough.” You wouldn’t know how good you are at withstanding and surmounting struggle until you go through something like that.

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNAWhat to do when you feel a burnout?

Olivia Cotes-James: I was really working a real lot earlier this year. I was routinely in the office maybe like till 1:00 a.m. in the morning on most nights. My office was in Lan Kwai Fong and it was obviously full of drunken people all the time. One night, I was walking through this crowd of drunken people and thought that I can’t change how much I have to work right now. But I can definitely change the environment of where I work. So, I took a couple of days and stayed on Lamma Island, which is where I now live. It just had a really calming effect on me. I was still working until 1 a.m., but it didn’t feel as stressful anymore. It might seem obvious to some people, but it was a really powerful moment for me because if you’re working that hard, you need to make sure your environment is full of positive vibes.

I’m quite lucky because I can sometimes choose to work from home, but I do know other people simply don’t have that luxury. So, I’d say to anybody who is feeling really stressed in their work situation – to have a proper thought about what your environment is like and what you can actually do to change that. I’ve spoken to a few friends of mine who practice this; it can be as little as putting a plant on your desk or putting something meaningful at work.

Essential things to keep you Zen at work

Olivia Cotes-James: I don’t have much time for myself at the moment, but I do take out some time, for example, to make myself a cup of tea. I do really love green tea. I also like drinking tea made by my friend’s brand – Zippy Sparkles. She does this really amazing blend. It is very delicious indeed. I think that this tea is a form of meditation for somebody with a really busy mind like me. I remembered the day I first made myself one, and I was like, ‘This has now been 20 minutes that I didn’t feel busy because it’s so cathartic.’ It just allowed me to not be on the laptop for 20 minutes and think about something else – which is not something I’d naturally think of.

4 Special Questions We Asked for You – When Olivia’s on period…

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNA1. Have you ever used your sick days for period cramps?

Olivia Cotes-James: I actually don’t get really bad cramps, but I do know people that do. So, my belief is that if you have bad cramps that can stop you from going to work, or they stop you doing exercise, you should immediately see a doctor. Not because anything is wrong, but because it might be something as simple as the need to switch your diet, or it could be that you’ve got a hormone balance. There are lots of books you can read that talk about some amazing women who have been able to get rid of their cramps using natural remedies. I truly believe that unless you have a chronic issues like Endometriosis or Polycystic ovary syndrome, women should not have painful period cramps. This is why LUÜNA exists because people just accept that periods are negative. But actually, they don’t have to be that way.

2. How do you fight tiredness?

Olivia: I don’t fight against my tiredness because you can’t, you really can’t. I also think every woman should respect how their body functions. As a woman, our menstrual cycles can be really powerful because you know when you should ask your boss for a raise. At other times, you’re more introverted and in that situation, you should cancel some of your plans and just stay home to look after yourself, not because you’re restricting your life, but because you’re respecting your menstrual cycle. I mean, women’s bodies do some amazing stuff every month. We have the most complex hormonal changes that go on and you can’t fight that. So, I just let it be.

3. How do you control mood swings?

Olivia: I meet so many women who say that they feel crazy during their periods; to me, they shouldn’t feel that way. You can manage your hormones using natural remedies. We shouldn’t just accept that we are crazy or emotional. Look, you will be a little emotional because our bodies, like I said, do amazing things. But that’s also going to have some effect at the same time.  When I talk to women whose lives are really disrupted, it always makes me sad that we aren’t encouraged to find effective solutions to this. We just tacitly accept and give in to the fact that we are going to feel upset and depressed during periods. There are two things that I strongly recommend to women who suffer extreme mood swings: dietary changes and exercise.

4. Ways to boost your energy?

Olivia: I genuinely do, as with any other time of the month, find that my energy is higher if I’ve done a bit of exercise, but it’s got to be the right kind of exercise. I wouldn’t go for a strenuous hike when I’m on my period, but I would definitely do some stretching. Sometimes, it’s not really about boosting my energy. It’s more about knowing what my strengths are at that time of the month. My strengths aren’t, ‘I’m going to be really energetic,’ like I’m known to be. They’re more like, ‘Okay, this is the time of the month where I’m just going to sit back and maybe not schedule so many meetings and look deeply into the creative stuff that I want to do.”

Olivia Cotes-James, Founder & CEO, LUÜNA

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