YES Co-founders: Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox

Celebrating YES Founders Sarah Brooks & Susi Lennox this International Women's Day 2020

To mark International Women's Day 2020, we're celebrating the amazing achievement of YES co-founders Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox, by sharing the incredible story of how they sold their houses and set out to change the world from the inside...

‘YES’ Is The Word

Riding the crest of a body and sex positive eco-friendly wave comes The YES YES Company Ltd. and its co-founders, Susi Lennox and Sarah Brooks, visionaries in the world of pure and natural intimacy products. YES is a brand that has paved the way for a fresher, cleaner, environmentally sound and a more conscientious take on sexual wellness products such as personal lubricants, vaginal moisturisers and intimate washes. The ever growing range of products are developed in line with the ethos and values of the co-founders, values that place kindness, purity and respect with long-overdue thought into how a brand behaves in a world that is only just waking up to some serious imbalances, in terms of corporate behaviour, and ecological impact but also the way we care for and respect our bodies as they change.

YES Co-founders, Sarah Brooks and Susi Lennox

Adherence to these principles has not made for an easy road in the development of the business, but it has grown steadily from its inception in 2003 from a clear idea between two strong women to be a significant game changer with global impact in the intimate wellbeing market, employing 25 people in 2 locations with products sold in nearly 100 countries worldwide via online portals and traditional retail channels. YES has developed an impressive network of distributors worldwide, that share Susi and Sarah’s vision for products that are effective and safe without chemical compromise. The co-founders are proud that the YES range are the first intimacy products ever to attain certified organic status from the Soil Association in the UK. Many YES products are also Class IIa medical devices, with two of them, YES WB and YES VM, available on prescription from the NHS in the UK, making them the only certified organic medical devices on the drug tariff. The business is continuing its fast growth trajectory with a planned retail launch in the USA as well as new products coming online at regular intervals.

Laying the foundations

Susi Lennox and Sarah Brooks met over thirty years ago, in the 80’s. At the time, Sarah was working at Exxon Chemical Ltd and Susi was a management consultant, their backgrounds are hugely different. Described by Susi as the yin and yang of the business, Sarah has a degree in chemistry and styles herself ‘Head of Tricksy Things’, whereas Susi, the company’s ‘Alchemical Director’, comes from a background in English literature. They like to keep things whimsical in the company, as much as they are able, a fact that shines through their self-appointed titles and their inherently different but equally welcoming management styles. With a broad background in education, during the 70’s, Susi further developed her learning while raising her three daughters, studying the New Psychologies, qualifying as a Yoga teacher and a practitioner of complementary therapies. Her passion for meditation, consciousness studies and planetary issues informed the work she took into organisations with personal development programmes. Her experience in this domain opened a door into Management Consultancy allowing Susi to go on to work for a number of world-class organisations, including BP Ltd, Exxon Chemical Europe, Bayer AG in a variety of roles.This period of her career saw her travelling extensively and broadening her skill set, giving her a depth and range of experience that has proven invaluable in her current incarnation as co-CEO of a successful and growing health and wellbeing business.

For Sarah, one of the main lures of the management consultancy role was the freedom to act as an agent of change, particularly within larger companies where culture can - and often did - become entrenched and immovable. Sarah saw that the larger the business, the more difficult it could become for the individual to flourish and bring their entire self to work, so big business was missing out on the creativity, ideas and enthusiasm of their people by burying them under process and red tape, effectively stifling innovation and agility. Further Sarah saw that the impact of a strong corporate culture, that can from time to time feel at odds with personal values and ethics, can be gently soul destroying over time. Susi and Sarah’s awareness of the cultural impact on employees was a strong motivator in defining and agreeing the founding principles of YES. They decided to create a business that mirrored their own values, where respect for the planet, people (whether employees or customers), and the human body came first. Natural, side effect free and designed to match human physiology such as the pH of YES vaginal lubricants matching typical healthy vaginal pH, were the founding product design principles of YES. Susi and Sarah both benefitted from the management consulting experiences in other ways, as the business is organised in a flexible way, with the flattest possible structure, strong administrative practices (to limit the volume of process and paperwork) and an open communication policy that encourages discussion and actively feeds ideas. Sarah joined Exxon Chemical Ltd, after completing her chemistry degree, in the 9 years on Exxon’s management fast track, Sarah worked in Sales, Sales Management, Logistics, Quality Management Systems and later in Esso Petroleum as a General Manager of an Esso subsidiary, refuelling aeroplanes and as an Organisational Development Manager. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska initiated Sarah’s awareness of the ethical and environmental impact that businesses can have on the environment. The realisation that business must be a force for good and that we all, whatever a role in life, have a responsibility to tread lightly on the planet changed Sarah’s career instantly. Sarah left Exxon to join Susi’s consulting company and worked on various business improvement projects in Indonesia, The Philippines, Australia and California. Watching orangutans making their sleeping nests in East Kalimantan was an unexpected highlight.

YES Co-founders, Susi Lennox and Sarah Brooks

Returning to the UK in 1995 Sarah began consulting to Bayer AG, in Germany, in Pharmacovigilance (the management of drug side effects). Sarah, having worked on global drug side effect processes for Bayer, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline ad Eli Lilly, was well aware of the way drugs and healthcare products were marketed and monitored post-approval. That knowledge, combined with having been at Pfizer when Viagra was launched, imbued in her a hyper-consciousness when it came to the side-effects of both prescription and over the counter medications and treatments. The launch of Viagra specifically was something of a watershed moment for both women. The New York press printed letters from angry “Viagra wives” while older men were gleefully rediscovering their lost libido, their female partners were suffering, finding intercourse more painful, if not impossible, in later life as a result of menopausal vaginal dryness, which, in turn created an imbalance in the bedroom and disastrous consequences for relationships. The fallout from the launch of Viagra, as seen by both women and colloquially termed ‘the Viagra Wives Effect’ by them, brought them individually and collectively to a major turning point. They could see the effects of Viagra wreaking havoc on unsuspecting women and the feedback from the ‘Viagra Wives’ was heart-breaking; with tales of loss, infidelity and divorce. However, neither could understand why those women did not simply seek out a lubricant to solve their problems.

This thought evolved into an idea, a germ of a plan and so they began to research the market. It turned out there was little available and what was on the market was presented in such a way as to be distasteful and unappealing to the women searching for a solution to their newly discovered problem. A niche in the market had been exposed and Susi and Sarah set about making it theirs. As far as alternatives go, at the time YES was created, there was nothing available that was free from harsh chemicals, sugar, synthetic flavours, smutty language or that seemed to work very well. Sarah and Susi, working as they had in the pharma drug safety divisions, were in a good position to evaluate the ingredients used in competitors’ products. These chemical formulations largely relied (and still do rely) on a glycerine or silicone base and disquieting ingredients such as paraben preservatives and propylene glycol. It was disturbing to them then, and remains so now, to think that many of those ingredients have potentially harmful effects on the body, particularly the more vulnerable and highly sensitive intimate tissues. For example glycerine is great in cosmetic formulations, but the intimate mucosal tissues are not protected by a layer of skin, and high concentrations of glycerine can damage vaginal tissues. So, it became a personal mission for them both to create alternatives that respect the body’s physiology, and which are designed to be free from side-effects. It is thought that 60% of what is applied to skin is absorbed into the bloodstream, particularly if applied to the mucosa (inside the eyes, mouth, nose, vagina, anus and penis tip). Bearing this in mind, it can be staggering to see the care and attention people put into nourishing their external skin with organic face creams and moisturisers, yet, when it comes to more sensitive, more intimate and internal areas, anything goes. The obvious gap in the market, highlighted by their time in pharma, was ready to be filled. Sarah and Susi became determined to offer a natural, side-effect free and high-performing alternative, which would enhance, rather than compromise, women’s intimate health without using concerning chemicals or skin irritants. If we are what we eat, we could certainly become what we put in our vaginas.

Excerpt written for Successful Women In Business 2019