Summary List Placement
Claire Coder’s entrepreneurial journey started when she was 16 and sold homemade buttons on Etsy, eventually becoming a top seller on the e-commerce platform. Within two years, while still in high school, she grew the business to employ eight independent distributors and sell in boutiques across the Midwest.
Today, Coder, 24, is the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow, a gender-inclusive company that supplies 100% organic cotton tampons and pads, display boxes, and sanitary products to over 500 businesses and schools across the country. The company’s goal is to make menstrual products available to all communities no matter where they are, for free.
Dropping out of school to start Aunt Flow
Coder said she initially decided to go to college because it was the path that everyone in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio, was taking.
“I was never really great at school,” Coder said. “I was constantly trying to keep up with the classwork. I just wasn’t performing. But from the business perspective, I knew I could be successful — just not in the environment that I was currently in.”
“As I was in the bathroom, I was like, ‘Man, why do I have to fish out a quarter to solve this problem?'” she said. “‘If toilet paper’s offered, why aren’t tampons?’ And that was the impetus.” Soon after, Coder told her parents she was “leaving university to talk about menstruation for a living.”
Joining an accelerator and raising capital
Coder said she “squandered” the first two years, working odd jobs such as waitressing and posing as a nude model for figure-drawing classes to afford to purchase inventory to resell to businesses.
As much money as she could earn, she said, she reinvested in her company.
“For $250, you could get your first Flow pack,” she said. “And that was the start of the company. And, in 2018, at the end of that year, I had done a quarter million dollars in sales.”
Eager to grow the business further, she started doing research into how she could raise money. She read about “friends and family rounds” and “accredited investors” — things that were out of reach in her own network — and started seeking other avenues.
She applied for Techstars’ Accelerator programs in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, and was accepted into the New York program in 2018. Techstars invests $100,000 in each company coming through its accelerator program and provides a $20,000 stipend for living expenses. She moved to New York for three months with her first Aunt Flow employee, Anne Weigand.
At the time, Coder said there was no clear “total addressable market” for her idea, but she relied on investors believing in her traction and vision. It paid off: She eventually raised $1.5 million from Harlem Capital, Precursor Ventures, Breaktrail Ventures, and others.
“I made that sound very fancy and cute, but really it was a slog,” she said. “I took 86 meetings to raise this money. I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t know how to talk to VCs, but I had sales, so there was something there.”
Coder took her investment money back to Columbus, Ohio, where she now has 10 full-time employees and an office space.
A B2B model built on education and awareness
Aunt Flow’s model of selling directly to businesses and organizations has helped it stand out. It’s also the only company, Coder said, that’s developed a product dispenser that releases one tampon or pad at a time at the push of a button.
Because it prevents people from taking all of the product at once, the dispenser ensures that a free menstrual-product program is sustainable for each organization, an issue some of Aunt Flow’s customers had voiced to Coder’s team.
The law is on Aunt Flow’s side, too. States like Virginia, New York, and New Hampshire have enacted legislation in the past few years stating freely accessible menstrual products must be available to menstruators in middle and high schools across each state. As more states follow suit, Aunt Flow aims to get into more schools across the country.
Its company clients include Google, Twitter, Netflix, and Viacom. Coder said one of the biggest ways Aunt Flow makes an impact is through awareness and education. When selling to Viacom, Coder said her sales pitch evolved into an educational opportunity for the facilities director, who wanted to build a better world for his daughter. Aunt Flow was able to equip him with educational resources and talking points on all things periods.
Coder also often coordinates with facility directors who are unaware of what their organizations are charging for tampons and pads — or if they are aware, they often don’t know where to start to make the change to offer free menstrual products.
Selling in a market where no one’s in schools or offices
When office spaces closed in early 2020 due to the pandemic, Aunt Flow had to quickly reconsider its model.
“People are still menstruating, right?” Coder said. “But as a company, we rely on people menstruating outside of the home.”
To keep business up, Coder said the team collaborated with customers to adjust their order frequency and also targeted high-traffic, high-use bathrooms in places like the Greater Columbus Convention Center, concert halls, and stadiums.
Coder said closed offices have also presented a unique opportunity for Aunt Flow to complete massive installations of dispensers.
“We have hundreds of organizations stocking their business and school bathrooms with menstrual products, and we’ve really developed this industry that was overlooked forever,” Coder said. “That’s what I’m proud of.”
NOW WATCH: Why these Gucci clothes are racist
Originally published at https://www.businessinsider.com/how-24-year-old-college-dropout-raised-money-aunt-flow-2021-4 on .