Take on some of the biggest companies in the world – tick. Help the AIDS epidemic – tick. Launch a product, now stocked nationally, all within a year? Tick.
The man behind this small business with a big heart has accomplished a hell of a lot in little over a year.
Graduate studies in international marketing and logistics management lay the foundation for this start-up, and it was during a class in March 2012 that 26 year-old Dustin Leonard dreamed up the idea for HERO Condoms.
“Getting wins keeps me really excited – getting another pharmacy chain on board, that sort of thing. Every week I see a huge difference compared to the last, and that keeps me going. But it’s difficult,” he says.
A fan of the ‘one-for-one’ concept in marketing, whereby one product is donated for every one sold – Leonard wanted to apply the concept to his university marketing assignment. Believing there was space in the real world for the idea, Leonard has managed to turn his assignment into a viable business with a humanitarian cause.
Leonard jokes that armed with his idea as well as a mix of delusion and unwavering optimism, the business kicked off with a solid market research phase.
Botswana was selected as the country to partner with – it has political stability and an educated populace, yet a high incidence of AIDS. “While in Botswana, we found the existing condoms being donated through NGOs have product quality issues, which is making them unpopular and results in unprotected sex,” Leonard says. “The people there told us if they were presented with a better option, they would certainly be using condoms.”
So what exactly did the people want? Leonard and his team of supporters needed to conduct a survey to find out, and what better way than to throw a concert, and survey the crowd. The number one local recording artist was hired, and the information gathered was invaluable in designing a custom-made condom specifically for Botswana. (For the record, the research found people in Botswana favour vanilla and strawberry scents.)
Leonard says that turning the idea into a real business, with a tangible product that is actually available in stores has been a 24-hour a day, relentless labour of love. Waking up in the middle night and jotting down notes on his iPhone has been a matter of course, and Leonard says he has learned to hear ‘no’ a lot.
“Most times it’s because someone see’s it as creating more work for them and they don’t want to have to deal with it, or they’re pessimistic – but it’s kind of like a game. If you hear the ‘no’ you’ve just got to completely dismiss it and think, ‘Well how do I get the ‘yes’?’ Maybe if I talk to this person, or if you modify your idea in some small way, you may be able to turn it into a ‘yes’,” Leonard says.
“We’re taking on some huge brands in the industry, but we’re confident Australian consumers will appreciate having the choice to do good while buying condoms,” he adds.
The product is now available in pharmacies and stores nationwide, and HERO expects its first shipment to Botswana to be made by December. Rolling out the campaign will be done in style, marked by an 18-wheeler mobile concert traveling to all 12 districts of Botswana to let people know where they can find the free condoms. Partnering up with active and reliable NGOs will ensure supply is constant, and people can access the free condoms easily, making it part of their routine, and knowing it is a product they like. Complete with strawberry scent.