A Beijing-based condoms start-up called Elephant this week received USD 5 million in series B funding. The founder of the company is a former employee of Xiaomi, a phone brand that is often mocked as a Chinese Apple imitator. In his 20s, the young founder is an ardent believer that Xiaomi phones’ success, owing much to its Apple-inspired marketing strategy, can be replicated in other areas. That his chosen area – condoms, is a bit far fetched doesn’t seem to matter to him at all.
“Meet consumer needs before they can articulate them”
Inspired by Steve Jobs’s “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” and the success of Apple products, companies these days like to boast that they design their products to cater to needs that consumers themselves were unaware of until the last moment. Elephant seems to be every bit a disciple of this school of meet-consumer-needs-before-they-can-articulate-them philosophy.
Let’s see what it has to offer:
- The outer package is a minimalist-looking, bright green-coloured cube. Each cub packs seven pieces, enough to sustain a typical user for a week.
- The cubic outer package is sturdily built that it is more resistant to pressure, which Elephant claims is superior to the often-flimsy packages that its competitors use.
- Subtle and inoffensive exterior design reduces the chance of unnecessary embarrassment. Someone uninitiated may be surprised when they realize what is inside the little cube. To take discretion one step further, couriers are told not to reveal the nature of the cargo to anyone upon delivery.
- This is a the highlight of the feature package – the case is one-hand openable, thus freeing the other hand for something more important in a moment of intimacy.
- The user-friendliness is further enhanced by the “butter case” design of the individual package, which enables the user to tell upside from down without having to turn on the light.
- Like phones, thinner is better: The current generation Elephant claims to be 0.03mm thin. For people who are obsessed with that measurement, rest assured the next generation of 0.01mm is coming soon.
- Twice as much lubrication, a feature said to be popular among homosexual users.
- Globally sourced materials and advanced manufacturing technology: The rubber latex is from Malaysia; the fragrance is from Holland; the manufacturing technology is said to be Japanese. As a result, the product’s “thermal conductivity” is said to be twice as “regular ones”.
- Rigorously tested. That includes 100,000 “pulls”, 7,500 “explosions”, 3,000 “squeezes”, and a lot more.
Can it make it?
Priced at eight yuan (US$ 1.27) apiece and retail exclusively online, Elephant clearly targets its products to China’s urban youth. However, social media chattering indicates the response from this group of people is not all that enthusiastic. High price obviously is a factor, so is the perceived “overhype” – despite heightened expectations, some triers report that Elephant failed to differentiate itself in meaningful ways.
That seems natural. Unlike phones, which can count on consumers to open wallets for the new release that has a sharper screen or a faster chip, there are not many tricks a condom maker can pull. 0.01mm thin is nice, but probably doesn’t matter that much for most. Compounding the fact is that sex is an realm where aversion to technology is stronger than, say, commuting tools and people’s attitudes towards condoms are overall different from their attitudes towards phones – after all, it is not something that you carry around and show your friends frequently.
Despite that fact that e-commerce is very convenient today, for something as available as a pack of cigarettes, the neighborhood 7-11 seems to hold absolute advantage than waiting at home not knowing when the courier will turn up.
Overall, the product seems to be appealing to the geekiest of geeks, whom, according to the Internet folklore at least, are not the most enthusiastic buyers of this category of products.
Then, there is hope
Condoms can be the precursor of something else. The idea of an Internet-based condoms retailer, in a country where traditional decorum clashes with opener and more liberal attitudes towards sex, produced just enough controversy for Elephant to exploit in its own favour without getting burned. This is corroborated by the frequent media coverage. If done rightly, publicity can be leveraged to make it easier for Elephant to enter another area. Its next product doesn’t even have to be sex-related. An Elephant phone, a remote controlled laser-shooting drone, or a motorised fingernail clipper, you name it. When it comes to the Internet marketing, imagination is the limit.