[Insight] A startup helps Nigerians have safe sex
In Nigeria, like many conservative societies, open conversations about sex pretty much remain taboo. As such, getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at clinics or purchasing condoms at retail outlets still attract looks of disapproval, or scorn in extreme cases.
The downside is that it’s also difficult to talk about important issues such as safe sex. But with her startup, Florida Uzoaru is hoping to change that.
In January, Uzoaru launched Slide Safe to discretely deliver STD test kits and sex products, including condoms and lubricants, on demand. The big goal, she says, is to increase sexual consciousness around safe sex and frequent testing for sexually transmitted diseases. With 3.2 million adults living with HIV in 2016, Nigeria, alongside South Africa and Uganda, accounts for almost half of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
The startup operates on the largest university campus in Lagos to ensure that students have easy access and plans to expand by partnering with hotel chains across the country. “The market demand for the test kit is very high,” says Uzoaru. Looking to avoid long waits in clinics for tests and a possible lack of discretion, customers are more comfortable buying Slide Safe test packs instead, she says.
Since launch, Slide Safe has sold more than 600 boxes which cost between $5 and $20, according to its founder. The startup recently graduated from a three-month accelerator program by Co-Creation Hub, Nigeria’s most prominent startup hub.
So far, Uzoaru has self-funded Slide Safe along her with two co-founders, Precious Onuobia and Janet Nwaoshai, but pitched to investors at Co-Creation Hub’s demo day event for fellow participants of the hub’s accelerator program.
Anonymity is crucial for Slide Safe as orders are placed via an SMS shortcode and delivered discretely while its packaging is “as anonymous as possible” so only those buying it know what it looks like. “It’s crucial we do that,” Uzoaru. That lesson was learned much earlier when she had to change the startup’s name from “Sex In A Box” because it made people uncomfortable.
But a trade-off for the anonymity offered to customers is that it poses a challenge for product discovery as Slide Safe is not very likely to benefit from casual word-of-mouth advertising like many other products. “It means that I have to work a lot harder to get to as many people as possible,” Uzoaru.
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