Despite our movement towards a more sex-positive society, the topic of vaginal health is still often left untouched. For example, even the medical treatment for a urinary tract infection (UTI) can lead to an environment encouraging yet another UTI.
This cyclical experience is what led Quim co-founder Cyo Nystrom to consider creating her own vaginal self-care products. In this Q&A, Cyo discusses crafting her own vaginal health products and how that led to her founding a business with a childhood friend, Rachel Washtien. The interview also touches on Quim’s research and development process, strategies to help their products reach their target audience, and more!
Scroll down for the full interview.
Ganjapreneur: How did you meet co-founder Rachel Washtien?
Cyo Nystrom: Rachel and I grew up together in San Francisco and met when we were five years old playing soccer in the Golden Gate Park youth rec league.
Why did you and Rachel decide to start Quim together?
I had been making infused vaginal health and sexual wellness products for for myself and some of my girlfriends. I never in a million years thought it would turn into a business but after a few years my friends kept coming back asking for refills and I’d get texts from friends of friends asking to try it. At that point I realized that maybe there was an opportunity to turn this personal project into a real business and started looking for a business partner. I know what I’m good at and what I either hate doing or just simply have no aptitude for so I wanted to find a partner who had a complimentary skill set.
Rachel had just gotten back from 9 months of traveling in South America and we reconnected at a friend’s birthday in Sonoma. She was talking about what she wanted out of the next chapter of her life and career and honestly a light bulb just went off — I knew she would be an amazing business partner and starting Quim would be a true adventure for both of us. I “proposed” to her the following week and we’ve been building ever since.
Did you study plant medicine prior to co-founding Quim?
I haven’t formally studied plant medicine but have always been interested in the medicinal benefits of plants and have been making my own vaginal health products since I was 23.
What does the R&D process look like from the moment that you have an idea for a new formulation to the product hitting shelves?
All of our products are born out of personal need. As someone who has struggled with vaginal health issues for over 15 years, I’m incredibly aware of gaps in the market. We’re not interested in launching “Quim versions” of existing products that are already available and effective. Once we’ve identified a need — both personally and for other folks with vaginas — we brainstorm what we’re looking to solve, if the product can have multiple use cases, and ingredients we’re excited about incorporating. From there we start working with our product development team which includes doctors, herbalists, and naturopaths. Depending on the complexity of the product, the process of taking it from idea stage to sample-testing stage can take anywhere from 4 months to a year. We’ll usually receive a couple of samples with slight variations in the formulation and begin a blind-sampling process with friends, family, and volunteer consumers. Once we collect all the necessary data points and ensure that the chosen formula is scalable with our manufacturer, we’ll move forward with production. Typically, we begin the naming and product packaging process with our design firm, DesignSake Studio, as soon as we’ve identified the key hero ingredients, size, texture, and rough estimation of MSRP. This allows us ample time to incorporate the upcoming product into brand messaging, make the necessary updates to our website, and secure all the packaging components from our suppliers.
What were your priorities when choosing a packaging partner for Quim products?
Sustainability, reliability, and cost.
Have customers shared any noticeable differences between the products that include THC and those that are just CBD?
In general, the effects of the products vary so much from person to person so it’s hard to say what the most noticeable differences are between the THC products and CBD products. Anecdotally, I think the THC products can bring a bigger WOW factor to sexual experiences and that the CBD products are incredibly helpful for folks working to overcome pain, inflammation, or dryness.
How does Quim strategize reaching their target customer demographic in the California adult-use market?
Since launching the THC products in 2018, we’ve learned that Quim is not a fit for every dispensary. And while that lesson was a tough one to learn, it’s allowed us to partner much more deeply with the shops that are a good fit. Our products require a pretty high level of education so we need to work with dispensaries that invest in staff training and prioritize consumer education, not just which products have the highest THC level per dollar amount.
How does the team identify which dispensaries will be a good fit for Quim products?
Since we’ve been in the market for a while, we already have great partners for most geographic locations. We generally look for dispensaries that catered to a more femme identifying audience that carry other high-end “boutique” products like Garden Society or Pure Beauty who are also deeply committed to both staff and consumer education.
Does the brand do trial buys or have any other strategies for testing a new retail partnership?
The California Cannabis regulations make it nearly impossible for a smaller brand like Quim to do trial buys but we do recommend that shops begin with a smaller initial order (one case of each SKU) and that we do a budtender/staff training the week before they launch Quim’s products to ensure quick sell through of existing inventory.
Do you educate retail staff on Quim formulations, uses, and selling points when introducing products to their store?
100%. We will only sell Quim products to dispensaries that are deeply committed to educating their staff members and typically train teams on a quarterly basis.
What has been the biggest challenge in launching a vaginal self-care product in the California cannabis industry?
Educating people on the benefits of putting weed in their vaginas! Most people come into a dispensary looking for flower, edibles, or vapes. If they are looking for topicals, it’s probably to relieve muscle pain of some sort. As a company, Quim has to overcome a number of taboos and really invest in helping people understand the intersection of plant medicine and sexual wellness.
Is Quim working on any new formulations and/or entering any new product categories?
Yes! We’re launching a number of new products this year and are so excited about bringing new plant-based solutions to the market.
What is a piece of advice that you wish you had when starting Quim?
Sometimes the greatest opportunities arise out of what appear to be the biggest challenges, obstacles, or setbacks. Trust your gut and have faith in the process.
Thank you, Cyo, for answering all of our questions! To learn more about Cyo Nystrom and Quim, visit ItsQuim.com.