During your next visit to the local drugstore, you might notice a little pink-and-blue gender prediction kit from a Plano, Texas-based company called IntelliGender, which claims the kit can determine the sex of a 10-week-old fetus with 90% accuracy.
The brainchild of two moms — one a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the other a partner at the commercial real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank — IntelliGender sold its first kit online in November 2006, and its sales really began to soar when Walgreens and CVS put the $35 product on their shelves in March and early June, respectively.
Yesterday, I caught up with Rebecca Griffin, one of IntelliGender’s cofounders, to ask how she’s juggling a family, a real estate career, and her booming new company — and to learn whether she’d take any funding.
It sounds like you already had a thriving career. What inspired you to start IntelliGender?
I have three boys and a girl, ranging in ages from 4 to 10, and I was always intensely curious about what the gender of each was, so I started researching how early it was possible to find out. What I learned what that in the 18th century, they determined whether a woman was pregnant by having her pee on both barley and wheat. If the barley grew, it was a sign that she was having a boy; if the wheat grew, it was a sign that she was having a girl. If neither grew, she wasn’t pregnant.
That sounds akin to using leeches to draw blood, which, apparently, some reputable doctors still do.
Right, and it’s been known for centuries that there’s a differential in urine. So armed with that knowledge, we set out to hire biochemists to work with us on this idea. From the idea’s inception to getting our first product sold took about two years.
What were your startup costs, and did you raise any outside capital?
I’d prefer not to disclose our startup costs, but we raised the resources from family and friends and I think we managed the process very well.
How many employees do you have?
Excluding manufacturing [the kit is made in Dallas by Swiss American Products], fewer than 10, and they’re on the marketing and management side. We’re still very small and nimble.
I trust that a lot of testing has been done, given that big drug stores are now carrying the IntelliGender test. Can you tell me a little about who’s been involved in verifying the results?
A lot of the proof derives from the hundreds of thousands of people who have done the test and know that it works; we ask them to return a survey to us. But we’ve also had multiple studies done, because we don’t want the mom to paint the nursery blue only to find out that the results are wrong. A pharmaceutical group out of Mexico has confirmed our findings; so has one at a 3D ultrasound imaging center in Ohio and another in Australia that we didn’t commission.
In these lab studies, the test has proven 90 percent accurate.
Yet the test, sold as effective as early as 10 weeks, advertises an accuracy rate of just 78 percent to consumers. Why?
There’s a lot of subjectivity involved, and a significant number of steps that have to be followed correctly to get the right result. For example, people sometimes take the test as early as six weeks, or they’ll go and purchase the test and take it that afternoon, when first-morning urine is critical. Progesterone therapy and unprotected intercourse prior to testing can affect the results. It’s also a color-metric test, and sometimes moms read the results with their hearts instead of their eyes. There are a lot of considerations that can affect the test.
I understand you started as an ecommerce business, then began hitting higher-end boutique maternity stores. Can you talk about that trajectory?
We started online in late 2006 and it quickly grew from there. Within 12 months, we were in 1,200 maternity stores throughout the country and Canada. Then in January of last year, we actually started hitting some of regional supermarket chains as well as doing more significant distribution globally, including in Portugal and the U.K.
As market research and consumer feedback continued to amass, we felt like we could hit major retail circuits. We’re probably on the eighth or ninth rendition of the test at this point.
Have you or would you consider outside funding to supercharge the company?
We currently receive a lot of interest from would-be investors. Fortunately, we haven’t needed to [turn to outside capital], but who knows what the future holds. We plan to continue to launch new products.
You say you’ve sold the kits to hundreds of thousands of customers. Can you disclose anything about your sales figures or revenues?
I can’t, though the product is selling very well. I can tell you that our Internet sales have dropped by 70 percent, but with our agreements with Walgreen’s and CVS, we’re reaching a significantly higher number of customers. As our brand awareness has increased, our overall sales have grown exponentially.
What kind of agreement do you have with both stores? Have they committed to selling the IntelliGender kit for a set amount of time?
In the retail market, it doesn’t work that way. They do a lot of homework before they put you on their shelf. They want to make sure yours is a product that’s well-received and that has market value, then you win the real estate on their shelves for as long as the product sells well.
How did you settle on $34.95 as its price point?
We did some pilot programs to test the price when we were solely Internet based. When we raised the price, sales fells off significantly.
A lot of retailers work of what they call their “everyday low price” of $29.95, but that’s also because in the U.S., it’s relatively easy to get a sonogram at a certain point to find out if you’re having a boy or a girl. I’m not sure if they have those options as readily available overseas. In Brazil and Australia, they sell the test for $100.