The Cool Condoms: Making Safe Sex, Sexy!

The Cool Condoms: Making Safe Sex, Sexy!

Morehouse graduates bring us the first Platinum condom.

by Melanie Yvette, February 14, 2012

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The Cool Condoms: Making Safe Sex, Sexy!

For many up and coming young entrepreneurs, making money and building a brand is usually at the forefront of their mission. But for Jason Panda and Elkhair Balla, co-founders of b Condoms, finding a way to marry their entrepreneurial spirits with a social cause gave birth to a unique vision and lucrative company. EBONY.com sits down with Jason Panda to chat about the new and cool condom, coming to a store near you!

You did not start in this field, so what led you to become the co-founder of B Condoms?

Do you know about getting to a place where you’re not happy? Where you are not doing your life’s mission?

Yes, I sure do.

Okay, So I’ll start there. I am from Boston and growing up, my mom ran a detoxing center there. And I was always working at that detox center with her and it was good because it was the only African American ran detox center in Massachusetts. So she was ahead of it. I went to Morehouse [for undergrad] and went to law school at Georgetown in D.C., and was working as an attorney, extremely miserable. So I had gone into law, making great money, was working at a big firm. But I was not happy.

So [one day] I was talking to my mother, and I had told her I was not sure what the next thing was going to be for me but I was sure it was not going to be law. Somehow, we started talking about the Black community, HIV and AIDS and she had mentioned that it was interesting that all of these non-profits give away thousands and thousands of free condoms, but she had never heard of a black owned condom company.

So from there, you just decided that you would own this unfounded enterprise?

Yes. I thought about a brand that would kind of be like a real sexy luxury brand, but that could also be community focused and engaged in moving the community forward. So I approached my best friend, Elkhair and he was in the same place. Elkhair was working in investment banking, but he was also unhappy. So I told him I had an idea, not only that we could make money off of, but we could also help the community and do a lot of good as well.

What does the ‘b’ stand for?

Elkhair was the brain behind making the decision to name the company “b”. When we were really discussing this he was like, “ we need a brand that is exceptionally hot but that can be open and connect with anybody.” So you can “b” aware, you can “b” responsible, you can “b” exceptional, and you can “b” protected. You can "b" anything. And that was the whole reason we called it “b condoms”.

How did you find the manufactures for the condoms?

I had lived abroad, I worked in Japan, so I had already had some international experience.  I went to China, Thailand and Malaysia and visited many manufacturers to see which one I wanted to go with, which was Malaysia.  I wanted to make sure that what ever product I sent out to my community was not only the best quality, but I also just wanted to make sure that from beginning to end, the quality that I speak to is one that I had personally seen attempted.

So all of the investment into B Condoms came from the two of you?

Yes! Out of our pockets. All of the marketing, all of the programs that we were doing came out of our pockets, so we had to believe in it.

Did you both make this plan to save up for a period of time and then take off with B Condoms?

No. We knew that if we were going to leave [our previous jobs] we were going to have to go all in. We were like “our full times jobs are overrated now.” But we put everything on the line and we said if we’re going to do it, lets do it.

When did b Condoms officially launch?

We launched last year! December 1st, 2010. We are only a year and a couple of months in. We just have been real fortunate. We are the only ones really doing this. No one’s ever tried to do what we do: match public health and community progress and have a Black person own a condom company. You wanna talk about black history? This is it! It has never done before!

When making the decision about the brand, what did you learn your consumers wanted out of a condom geared to them?

One of the things early on that we recognized, is that people in the streets wanted a platinum brand. Everyone was rocking with Trojan but nobody was wearing Gold anymore. So we gave them the Platinum condom.

Do you believe the b Condom packaging, which is sleek and cool, will compel younger African Americans to use condoms?

Yes! Here is one of the things I learned. Number one, you can’t sell people on gimmicks. And number two, what works with African Americans, and this is coming from a marketing perspective but it is still my opinion, is that your brand has to be luxury. What I wanted to do was normalize the condom discussion by coming out with a brand that was hot.

And look at the packaging. The packaging is hot.

Yeah, it looks good and it’s sexy. It’ sick. Platinum is the new Gold. Get your game right! 

And you create a positive trend too.

Exactly, because a lot of the profit that we make is re-invested back into the community. We are one of the true urban reinvestment models.

How have you two specifically married your entrepreneurial spirits with social activism?

So I will give you the perfect example. In October 2011,we bought Jim Jones and Melyssa Ford to a high school in Brooklyn and had a focus discussion around condom usage, HIV and AIDS and how it affects the Black community. Trojan isn’t doing that. Lifestyle is not doing that. No one is doing that. It needs to be done. This is how we create change, especially for future generations. And that’s how we are reinvesting. You know now, we may not be in a position where we can cut people checks. We aren’t there yet. But if you match what we have been able to do in one year, put our track record against any of the others, we’ll exceed. We make up 14% of the population and nearly 50 percent of the AIDS cases.  I don’t want to knock anybody down, but we’re the only ones saying lets change this. 

Besides being able to give back to the community, what other rewarding experiences do you receive from your job? 

One of the greatest things that I have seen is the parents and grandparents to look at me and say, “I just like you to do what you’re doing”.  They just like what we’re doing.

You’d be surprised at how many people actually want you to do well!

Yeah, and don’t get me wrong you will always have your roadblocks. And as a company we have had a lot of setbacks, it wasn’t always easy. Because we weren’t “condom” guys, we didn’t have 40 years of experience doing this. But we became experts in the process and we trusted ourselves and we said if we bring some smart people on and you work hard and you work smart, and you’re willing to learn and you recognize when you may not be doing something right, you can fix it. And that was our motto. We said, “we’ll learn as we go”.

Do you feel like you are speaking to our generation about really chasing something bigger than yourself?

Yes! This is beyond the product. And now is the time to do it. A lot of our street and promotional teams are made up of students from campuses that are working for free. It’s because they believe in it. Its not me, they want to be apart of these teams. People want to come and support in any way. If each one teaches one, we can all kind of move together as one. And rock out with it. We can get right, because this is how it is supposed to be.

What is next for b Condoms?

What I do think is we will be moving a way from the traditional public health field and into the retail side, so we want to make sure we do that right and that’s where the money is really.

What are some of your proudest moments of this journey?

We were invited to speak at the American Public Health Conference and we’ve spoken at Morehouse. We have gotten a lot of good press. We were on the Michael Eric Dyson show. We got a couple of early clients to believe in us. As a Black leader, you need to find early adapters who will say “I like what you are doing and not only will I support you but I will pay for it”.

You all are going down in history!

 I honestly think so. Our story has yet to be written in our own way. Here goes the thing, African Americans make up 22% of the condom market here in the U.S. If you add Latinos and combine that, we are nearly at 40 %. Why shouldn’t we have a condom that we own, that speaks to us? We’re young enough, we’re working enough, and we know what can be hot. And our goal is just getting it to that point.

Have you ever turned down a deal or partnership because they did not speak to your vision or the mission?

Yes. I don’t get a long with people that try to take advantage of people, especially people who don’t have a voice. Sometimes, what you’ll find is that the only way that people try to take control and make you take on their vision of what they think you should be doing without realizing that you’ve built something on your own. And I built this with a team of hard working people that believe in me and we all roll together. 

But for me, as important as it is to bring on a partner, I need to build this to a certain point where I have a certain amount of negotiating power. If they get you before you have sales and before you have real clients, they are going to want it all. And you end up working for them. I didn’t take this risk to work for anybody.

 
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