A Woman's Touch Sexuality Resource Center, located in Madison, WI, has provided science-based education on sexual health and pleasure since 1996, and is now a resource to health care providers and psychotherapists all over the world.
1. Give us a little background about yourself and your business.
Ellen is a social worker and sex educator by training and background. When she was ready to leave social work (officially, you never really leave) she noticed that women were opening up woman-friendly, feminist sex shops on the East and West coasts, but nothing in the Midwest. So she decided that was what she’d do.
Myrtle is a physician trained in internal medicine, and an epidemiologist. She was leaving medicine when she met Ellen and they decided to join forces and see what happened. She had no business experience, but she did know how to set up and run experiments, so when she set up the books, she set them up as a science experiment. It worked! In 1996 A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center opened its doors. The business has become defined by its focus on science-based education on sexual health and pleasure and is now a resource to health care providers and psychotherapists all over the world.
2. Is this your first business venture?
Ellen started a non-profit business providing in-home support for people with complex medical and intellectual disabilities in 1992. So this is technically her 2nd business.
3. Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? If not, what was the event that changed your mind about becoming an entrepreneur?
No, not at all. Ellen has always tried to create things to meet the needs that she sees, and the needs that people in our community say that they have. Sometimes that means starting a business.
4. What has been your biggest challenge?
Financing was very difficult at first. We could not qualify for an SBA loan because of the topic. Men told us that we would fail. Some even laughed at us. Once we found a woman banker who was willing to take a chance, we were able to get a very small home equity loan and that was how we got our doors open.
Our other big challenge has been the lack of reliability of suppliers and business partners. We lost a $2 million a year business because a partner refused to comply with FDA regulations. While we found a way to survive that major business shift, it was not easy.
5. What has been a success?
Our approach has worked well for us both online and in our brick-and-mortar shop. Our blending of our expertise in health, education and advocacy with a retail business has proven to be a valuable asset to the Madison area and beyond. Our ability to pivot when needed, our resilience, our good health, and our ability to figure out how to work together over time has also worked well.
6. Did you have a business mentor or was there a woman/women in your life that you could rely on for guidance while navigating entrepreneurship?
Sadly, not at all. We did have 2 (male) accounting professors who adopted us and helped us through our first, challenging, year. But we have not found anyone to mentor us or help us figure out the challenges we face.
7. Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Joycelyn Elders M.D. and Ruth Westheimer PhD have to be two of our inspirations. Both were women who spoke out about pleasure and the rights of everyone to explore that in healthy ways.
8. How do you stay focused and motivated during those times when being a business owner can feel overwhelming.
We both take tiny breaks, do yoga, meditate, and focus on some part of the business that we love when other parts are overwhelming. We also are able to spell each other when it’s really crazy, which helps. Working in the store always helps us find our motivation; we are so lucky to have customers who are very appreciative of what we do and tell us that often.
9. How do you choose the people you surround yourself with, within your business?
By their attitude toward others, their ability to put aside their own stuff and focus on the work that needs to be done, and by their willingness to communicate clearly when things don’t work.
10. What is your biggest piece of advice for women starting a business?
Recognize what you do well and what you will avoid doing until you are forced to do so, then hire people to do those things you avoid. Have enough cash to get you through your first year. It (usually) gets easier. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s not the right thing to do.
11. As women business owners, we are often tasked with “doing it all” in regards to work life and our personal lives; do you think this is a realistic expectation?
Not at all. We both believe that it’s important to learn to prioritize things and let some things go that are not essential. We also believe in balance; we have different strengths and abilities and we each do different tasks in our business (and at home, as we are also life partners) and stay in our areas of strength. It never helps to burn oneself out, so getting enough exercise, healthy food and sleep are essential to running a successful business over the long haul.
12. Favorite quote, song or poem.
“What You Can Do, or Dream You Can, Begin It; Boldness Has Genius, Power, and Magic in It.”
- Attributed to Goethe.