Bringing a tech startup to life comes with its fair share of struggles. For MaryEllen Reider, however, those hurdles were doubled when she founded Yarlap.
The award-winning women’s wellness device, created in collaboration with her medical engineer dad, helps women deal with incontinence by using autokegel technology to strengthen and tone their pelvic floor muscles. However, because Yarlap is a sex health product — one that specifically addresses women’s sex health — Reider had to deal with a disproportionate amount of red tape when marketing and bringing her product to market. So, how did she do it?
In today’s episode of The Female Founders Network podcast, brought to you by Invoice2go, Reider discusses creating her tech startup, how Yarlap works, and why, as she puts it, “if a woman’s quality of life is good, society is better.” Listen below, and continue for a transcript of highlights from the episode.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
MaryEllen’s childhood aspirations:
I was convinced I was going to be a magical princess until I was about 13. And then I took one of those tests where they’re like, fill out these bubbles and I’ll show you, based on your personality, what job you should [have]. And I thought I was going to be a pediatrician. In my heart, I thought I was gonna be a pediatrician. And then, according to that sheet, it said I was going to be either a librarian or a person in marketing, which I think are two drastic, different things.
Sylvie: I got “forklift truck driver,” so I think that shows you how accurate they can be. [Laughs]
How MaryEllen was inspired to start her tech company, Yarlap, because of her father-daughter relationship:
He and I have always had this relationship where it is about quality of life. And there should never be this issue of stigma. And I should never be ashamed about anything if it came to pelvic floor dysfunction, [or] if I had something that made me feel really uncomfortable, and alone and isolated.
My dad was always like, “It doesn’t matter. It’s part of your life, and you need to go and find somebody to talk to about it.” And, you know, “Find a doctor who will respect you and make you feel comfortable enough to talk about it.” So I’m really grateful that I had somebody in my corner advocating for me when I couldn’t really advocate for myself.
MaryEllen on how Yarlap was inspired by a family friend struggling with incontinence:
We knew that we had the resources, we knew we had the design tools, we knew we could do it, to bring that so that she didn’t have this issue. But, more importantly, [so that] other women never had to go through this issue — that they never felt this kind of almost hostage-like situation with your pelvic floor. And for us, that was really, really important.
So it’s not something that we went through overnight — we’re like, “We’re gonna do this, okay!” and it was a High School Musical-like jump up and cheer, and then it happened. A huge amount happened over the years — thousands of pages of paperwork. We have FDA clearance for a bona fide medical device, so it took a long time to get to where we were.
And once we were able to get that FDA clearance and do all of these things, [we were able to say]: “Here’s something that can really, really help you that aligns with what your doctors asked you to do. But you can do it at your own home and try it out, do what you got to do.” And that was really, really great.
How MaryEllen learned that Yarlap could help women of all ages — and society as a whole:
I always assumed that pelvic floor issues like incontinence only happened to older women. And my dad was like, “No, no, no, no, no, that’s actually very false! Go and do a little bit of research and figure it out, and see if you want to help bring this company to life, and do this with me.”
I was, at the time, doing an internship for Women International. And so I was very heavily involved in women’s rights [and] women’s wellness. And so this just kind of really, really aligned with what I was doing, what I felt was really, really important — what I saw in front of my face: that if a woman’s quality of life is good, society is better.
Within a few minutes of doing research, I realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s not just older women!” That was a big myth. That was super ignorant of me… I even talked to some of my friends, and two of my best friends had this problem. But they were like, “Oh, it’s not incontinence. Because that only happens to my grandma.” And I was like, “No, that’s not how that works!”
On being an advocate for women’s wellness:[19:17]
As women… [we] condition ourselves to feel that this is normal. This is the way your body’s gonna have to be. And it’s a new normal. This is just how the cards were drawn. And for me, it’s like, “No. There’s information out there.” And it has to be readily available. It has to be easy to understand. And, like you have to know that you have somebody in your corner who’s going to fight with you.
And so for me with the pelvic floor, I want to be everybody’s person in their corner. I want to be the person who’s like, “You’ve got this. You’re fine.” If you have any questions, I’m here to help you. I’m here to guide that conversation with the doctor if you want to have it. I will be in your corner to fight with you and be your advocate.
How does Yarlap work:
A lot of women, they’re told to do cable or kegel exercises for relaxation. They’re given written information and written directions on what they have to do when they go home, and they either forget how to do it, or they’re not doing it entirely, or they don’t do it at all. And they think that they’re using the correct muscles, but they’re not. They’re not getting the benefits, and then they blame the exercise. And it’s just like this negative cycle.
And for Yarlap, what it does is it goes in and it says, “Alright, muscles, this is what we’re doing. We’re doing the exercise. I’m going to show you how to do it.” It does the exercise completely for you and isolates the pelvic floor muscles for you, [and] does the pattern ratio that you are supposed to do. It does everything for you, without you having to do any guesswork.
How MaryEllen brought Yarlap to market as a tech product:
We had a lot of conversations, a lot of disputes, and a lot of really uncomfortable conversations with platforms…just because something is within the sexual realm, right? We’re working with something that is bodily inserted, [but that] does not mean that it is sexual in its component. You can’t censor it. If you do, it’s pretty hindering [for] women’s health.
MaryEllen’s advice for women starting a sex tech product or service:
For women or anybody who’s going into this area, don’t give up. Because you will get a lot of “No”s. And I think that there are some days where I’m like, “Oh, this would have been so much easier if I was doing something else.”
And then I’ll get an email where somebody will tell me how their quality of life has changed. We had one woman who emailed us and said that she’s finally able to hold her grandkid. Her grandchild is, like, six. And she’s finally able to do that without being terrified of peeing herself. And I was like, You know what? It doesn’t matter, the “No”s on the emails. I’ll take a few “No”s.
…I’m so proud to be part of that story, to be the tool that helped her get there. Because ultimately it was her that did it, but to be the tool that helped along the way. Alright, I’ll get rejected. It’s okay. But I would like to say, if anybody is working in this area, is trying to do it, you will get “No”s. It’s inevitable. You’ll get a lot of them. But don’t break down.
The Female Founders Network podcast, presented by Invoice2go, highlights women who lead and inspire others. Each episode will connect you with stories of women like MaryEllen and leave you with practical tips and advice that you can use in your own life and business.