By Julian Stern
Updated May 01, 2014
Credit: © L. Condoms Images

From inventors and designers to bakers and brewers, there’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs. This series offers insight into how great ideas get off the ground and into your life.

Talia Frenkel woke up early recently for sex…er…sexual health.

“I had to be an STD expert in an interview,” she explains. As the founder of L. Condoms—a genius new company that aims to be the Toms of rubbers—Frenkel juggles many roles. After the interview, she worked on a manufacturing order (L. is already available in CVS), a college student–discount campaign and the launch of one-hour L. Condom delivery in Manhattan (now available 24 hours a day). Then, the former Red Cross photographer hopped on the phone with us to share how she started a company that very well may change the way we buy, enjoy and distribute condoms. Here’s her story in nine steps.

1. See Some Shit.

“I have a background documenting disaster and humanitarian crises as a photojournalist [for the Red Cross and the United Nations], so I was photographing tsunamis, earthquakes, fires and floods. Then I photographed the effects of HIV and AIDS on women and girls, and for the first time, I was photographing a completely preventable disaster. The fact that there were condom stock-outs that lasted for two to three months at a time, in nine out of 10 countries in Africa, was just shocking to me.”

2. Act on the Most Casual Ideas.

“It started as a joke that there should be a one-for-one condom company. But the more we joked about it and the more we told other people, the more it resonated with me that this could be a sustainable solution to the issue.”

3. Bug Your (Smart) Friends.

“I had no idea what I was doing. I think I literally Googled ‘business plan.’ But having lived all over the world, in Paris and Cairo and Jerusalem and New York and Los Angeles, and now in San Francisco, I realized I did know a bunch of people whose brains I could begin to pick. I think an important part of being a CEO is surrounding yourself with people who are better at doing things than you are.”

4. Do Your Homework.

“It took three years to finally bring a product to the market. It involved talking to a lot of manufacturers, saying, ‘How does this work? What are your minimum order quantities? What would it take as far as casing for your latex? What do you think about upcycling your excess latex into flip-flops?’”

5. Document Social and Financial Returns.

“When I was speaking to the first couple of investors, I had already developed a business model, really looked into the costs associated and taken those first substantial steps to make it a real business, so they weren’t just investing in an idea they wanted to see happen. They were also investing in a model that made a lot of sense, and had both financial returns and social returns.”

6. Start Simple.

“For me, what was important was sourcing the best raw materials and creating the best-quality product. Flavors and textures and promises of added pleasure would have taken away from what was important, so the styles that we chose are really straightforward: Classic, Large, Ultra Thin and Do Each Other Good, which is ribbed and has a special shape based on what we found to be the most popular style.”

7. Focus on High Impact.

“The way we identify a high-impact area to receive donations is by asking, ‘Does this community, village or country have a high HIV prevalence rate? Is there a lack of access to condoms in that area?’ Once we’ve identified that, we go through a rigorous vetting process for each organization, because the last thing that I wanted to do was send condoms and hope for the best, potentially having them sit in a warehouse or a clinic somewhere, where they would eventually expire.”

8. Move Product.

“Condom aisles are awkward. So the first thing we did was launch subscriptions—condoms delivered to your doorstep on a regular basis. That was successful, but what about all those impulse purchases? Again, it kind of started out as a joke: ‘What about one-hour condom delivery?’ In San Francisco, there are all these incredible bike messengers. And we immediately thought about Manhattan, just because everything is on-demand there. So that’s available now, and then we’re excited to expand into more bike-friendly cities after that.”

9. Enunciate.

“In a bar, when I tell someone for the first time that I have a condom company, there’s always this moment where they think they misheard you, and they’re like, ‘Did you say condo company? Real estate?’”