Valentina Milanova is the founder of London-based female health startup Daye.
We interviewed Valentina for our April 2021 Soundboard Session to hear her story, learn more about Daye, and find out what role mentorship played for her as she built her business.
What we covered:
Getting started: How Valentina went from working 9 - 5 in a venture capital investment company to creating Daye, a female health startup, with no prior experience.
Overcoming setbacks: Getting rejected time and time again by investors, navigating the male-dominated world of venture capital and building the right team.
Using mentors to your advantage: Find the right mentors, listen to the right people, and visualise your future.
Valentina moved to the UK from Bulgaria to study at age 19, at age 22, she started Daye while also working 9-to-5 at a venture capital investment company.
The first Daye product idea was the CBD infused pain-relieving tampon. Valentina tested her early prototypes with friends and family, and after some encouraging initial feedback, she knew she was onto something. Therefore, she began investing more time building the business and focused on networking and having conversations with investors.
“I would wake up at 4, so I would be at the office at 4:45/5 am. This way, I would have 3 hours or so working on Daye before starting my 9-5. Then, in the evening, I would meet with investors and other entrepreneurs and network about my company to get insight into other people’s experience and advice. I was mentored a lot.”
Valentina’s mission was to provide every woman with a more natural alternative to deal with period pain. To anyone who has dealt with crippling period cramps, this sounds like an admirable goal. However, some challenges started to arise when it came to speaking to investors. Valentina learned that she only had about 15 minutes to catch their attention before certain male investors would cringe when hearing words like “vaginal canal” or learning about how tampons work. “I knew I couldn't allow myself to smile because the moment my lips started curling, they would start laughing, then I'd lost them.”
Getting funding and telling the right story in the early stages is a challenge (as with any business). In the case of Daye, Valentina quickly learned how to adapt her pitch for investors and manufacturers (who were primarily male). In 2017, she finally locked in some of her first investors to get the ball rolling.
Finding the Right People
Getting investment was the first hurdle. Valentina’s next task was building the right team.
“When you're starting a company, you're going to have the alpha version of your team, the beta version of your team, and the final version of your team - and that's fine. When you're in the early stages, you’re not going to be able to attract all the right people on day one.”
Valentina went from being a one-woman show to leading a team. However, building the successful team she has today didn’t happen overnight. She shared a few stories from this time of her journey, but the most impressive one (to us) was how she found the designer in charge of the brand’s visual aspect.
Daye’s branding is beautiful. You can see this in all the brand’s executions, from their social media to the website, but namely the packaging. For Valentina, the unboxing experience is just as important as the quality of the product. She used the packaging to let women know they can have a positive relationship with their periods, should they choose to.
“If you want to celebrate it and look at it more positively, why not have this beautiful outer layer that reminds you that you can treat yourself during your period? What I want our products to be like is a little gift to yourself every month.”
But again, it wasn’t easy to reach this stage. Valentina had to stand her ground in front of investors who didn’t see the value of the unboxing experience and wanted to work with traditional branding agencies. Since Valentina didn’t have any brand-building experience, she agreed to try the investor’s way, but she took matters into her own hands when the outcome didn’t reach her expectations. Therefore, Valentina found an artist she admired on Instagram (who only had about 400 followers at the time) to help her create the meaningful brand identity she hoped would inspire and delight the women using her products.
“The biggest lesson I got from this journey is that if you want to build something truly different and something that has its authentic voice, you can’t outsource the soul searching work.”
On Mentors & Believing in Your Idea
Valentina’s story is truly inspiring because she managed to create an excellent product and brand from scratch. She talked a lot about networking early on, but what’s interesting to note is that, at times, she had to limit the amount of feedback she was getting. That’s because the mentors and people close to her tried to put her off the idea.
“People were sceptical of the idea of CBD tampons. They would say: “if it were such a great idea, someone would have invented it already. So why would someone with zero product development experience come up with something better than the product engineers in Procter & Gamble?”
This type of feedback discouraged Valentina at first, but she never lost her conviction on her idea. As a result, she started working on the brand and product in secret (from friends and family). She also became more careful about who she sought advice from and only spoke to people in a similar situation.
“When I did decide to work on the company seriously, I just spoke to every entrepreneur I could find, every investor, and just really tried to crunch their feedback.”
According to Valentina, mentorship is crucial, but you need to look for the right mentors. Moreover, it’s important to get perspectives from different people from various walks of life and learn everything you can from their journey. Lastly, you also need to be passionate about your project and know your goals.
“I think that’s a critical piece of the entrepreneur journey - you need to be obsessed with your idea. Otherwise, you won't be able to withstand the pressure you're put under.”
Tips for Future Entrepreneurs
Giving her inspiring journey and experience, we asked Valentina a few tips for our readers who toy with the idea of entrepreneurship.
“I’d say if you do have a stable job, try to accumulate as many savings as possible, so when you do come up with an idea, you don’t need to fundraise straight away. There are a lot of affordable coaching services available at the moment that will encourage that level of introspection that you need to come up with your idea (it doesn’t have to be a company).”
She also encourages everyone interested in a new path to create a detailed mental picture of where they want to go.
“Sometimes you just need to sit with different ideas like maybe you want to be an artist, maybe you want to be an engineer - try it out for a few weeks just picturing yourself in that role. What does your life look like? What would your day look like?”
Valentina is a firm believer in the power of visualization or, as she calls it, telling yourself stories. “I just tell myself to visualise what life would look like if everything were perfect.” For her, this experience is calming and inspiring - after all, how can you manifest the perfect world if you can't visualise it?