Solving the issue no-one else is ready to solve
Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick demo day 2022
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!
Maria studied history at UCL, and used to be an elite rower for ten years, competing nationally. She found that athletes’ safety and safeguarding was disregarded with regards to sexual violence and harassment. Maria tried to raise awareness through campaigns and politics to push for better policies in institutions to create safer environments. After she realised those efforts were not effective, she found the best way to make a change: start her own company and initiate the change herself.
For Maria and her co-founder David, their main goals are to reduce sexual harassment and provide a good sexual education.
After closing a successful funding round and launching the platform, we sat down with Maria to discuss her values, shared visions, and difficult decisions as part of her startup journey.
Emily: How did you decide to start Freyja?
Maria: It was during covid, I was with my friends, and we were discussing why sexual violence and harassment was such a problem. It became clear that the cause was tied to pornography. That’s what made me think, if we could fix those things in the porn industry then we could reduce the number of human rights issues. I had just finished university and had gotten a job offer, and I had to make a decision. I really liked the whole concept of Freyja and what we would be working on, and I had to tell my family and friends that I will not take that job and I will move to Finland and start my own company instead. Fast forward a few weeks to September 2021, I was in my apartment in Finland, and I got notified that the site was ready, and that was when it felt like things just got real.
Emily: Where did the name “Freyja” come from?
Maria: It was really random. My co-founder came up with it. We thought of doing something more mythological due to my history degree. Freyja is named after the Norse goddess of sex and fertility.
Emily: Why did you choose to solve this problem?
Maria: We’re a very big social project — our mission is to improve sexual education and reduce sexual violence. The thing that I found mostly frustrating regarding the problem we’re trying to solve is that it’s so obvious. Everybody experiences and everybody sees, but very little is done about this because the industry is considered so taboo. That really made me want to do something about it, because nobody else was.
We’re a very big social project — our mission is to improve sexual education and reduce sexual violence.
Emily: And what is the story behind forming the team?
Maria: I met my current co-founder, David, on a job ad online. He had the best application I’d seen, because he didn’t just hand me a CV; he explained why the cause mattered to him and why he wants to fix such an important problem. I met our other co-founder, Samantha, through my sister who introduced us. She used to work in the porn industry, and funny thing actually, we’ve never actually met in person although we’ve worked together for a year and a half.
Emily: What is Freyja’s secret team sauce? What qualities do you look for in your team?
Maria: What works well with us is that we are opposites. David fills the gaps that I can’t fill, and vice versa. My background is in human rights and people-side of things, and David has previous tech experience, so he can fill in the areas where I wouldn’t necessarily fill. Automatically, we both sit within different parts of the company so we don’t really step on each other’s toes. What I’ve had in other situations is that when team members are too similar and you have the exact same skillset, there’s more room for tension. There should be a good balance.
Other important qualities I look for are dedication and positiveness towards the project, especially in the early stages. If you have one person who’s negative and doesn’t believe in your mission, it’ll crush it really quickly.
Emily: Could you tell a bit about the highs and lows of the startup journey so far? What do you love about it the most?
Maria: It’s definitely very up and down. I don’t think I was prepared enough for that. Some days, you’re like, “this is amazing!” and there are other days when you really want to cry in the bathroom. It’s definitely been a good learning experience, and what I like most is getting to have so much responsibility and trying new things.
I feel like I’m doing 20 different jobs, which can be a downside, but it also means you learn really fast.
I’m really passionate about what we’re doing, so that definitely helps.
Emily: What would you consider your biggest success so far with Freyja?
Maria: The response from people, users and consumers. We now have a lot of brands, influencers, and charities coming on board, who really connect with what we’re doing. That shows we’ve hit the nail on something, because a lot of people connect to it.
Emily: What decisions are challenging and require you to go the extra mile?
Maria: The moderation and safety side is where most of our efforts go, and where decisions get challenging. As a media company, you have to make in-house rules, and that sounds simple to say but to actually do is hard.
Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick demo day 2022
Emily: What role did participating in an accelerator program play for Freyja?
Maria: It was helpful. We were talking to other startup founders and got access to mentors’ experiences in Red Brick. I’m quite young, and I did not have that entrepreneurial background yet, so it was nice to have that network.
Emily: Do you have a startup quote that resonates with you the most?
Maria: Don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing. Of course, you need to be aware of your competition, but when you start looking at them obsessively, it sets you back. It’s like what we’re told when we’re rowing, “put your blinders on”, so that we don’t look at other people around us and lose focus.
Red Brick Accelerator is supporting the growth of early-stage startups, ready to make an impact with their ideas. Check out the programs from our website and apply now!💚