A Large Market, But Large Demand?
Women absolutely now have a choice of subscription tampon services, but the question is whether there is even a demand for this sort of service.
All three of the female founders have bootstrapped the companies; they haven't raised capital from investors and are instead investing their and their husbands' savings in the businesses.
As of this writing, Le Parcel had 1,500 subscribers and Juniper 100 subscribers. HelloFlo would not comment on its subscriber numbers. The female founders started on the projects with the help of others who are working in exchange for equity in the companies. They purchase the tampons, box up the packages and send them off themselves.
In our own informal survey of women, ABC News found that some were interested in the services, while others just didn't think it was necessary, especially if it cost more than just running to the store.
On the Internet, however, the criticism has been louder and harsher. One commenter called it the "Pets.com of the second Internet bubble." Another commenter said, "How is buying tampons any different than buying toilet paper?" Critics also point to services like Amazon's Subscribe & Save, which isn't only for tampons, but allows you to have a number of household items delivered on a monthly basis.
Nikhil Kalghatgi, a principal at SoftBank Capital, has similar concerns and says he isn't bullish on services that look to compete with Amazon.
"Among many other things, Amazon owns commodity products and wins on price and speed. Some new commodity product subscription companies allege to compete on convenience," Kalghatgi said. "Adding a subscription services to a commodity, which is by definition an undifferentiated product, like toilet paper or tampons, is not adding convenience. Imagine if you had a subscription service for everyone one of these types of products, that sounds like an inconvenience. "
Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, which invests in start-ups, also says she is skeptical. "The point of buying diapers online is that they're bulky. And the point of buying underwear online is either variety or people who really hate shopping or need to be reminded," she said. "But I just don't think having a spare box of tampons on hand is really that great of a challenge for most women."
Tao and Bloom answer that their new services solve an issue and have real value to women. "If only I could send Silicon Valley a Juniper box every time it gets all PMS-y at the launch of another tampon delivery service," Tao wrote in response to criticism this week. Bloom said, "To them I would say sending a one-pound box is better than sending dog food across the country." As for the Amazon comparison, Bloom says, " Amazon doesn't remind you it [your period] is coming, it doesn't get delivered to your door, it doesn't come with a fun treat."
While these companies ultimately compete, they do agree on something: that there is a market for their offerings, and that with competition there is more motivation to create a unique offering.
"This is a huge market. Half the world's population uses these products once a month," Bloom said. "In the end, I'm not surprised there are others in the space. I think it's a really good idea."