Claire Coder of Aunt Flow: “I am exceptionally remarkable at just one thing, persistence, and I believe that is the most important thing to be remarkable at”
In my opinion, what worked for me in my success was persistence. I am exceptionally remarkable at just one thing, persistence, and I believe that is the most important thing to be remarkable at. Frankly, creating products and running companies are hard feats and extremely expensive. It isn’t until this century that our society became comfortable with the idea of women taking the role as CEO and started to receive real funding.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Coder. Claire is the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow. On a mission to ensure everyone has access to freely accessible menstrual products, Aunt Flow stocks hundreds of businesses and schools across the USA with their 100% organic cotton tampons and pads. The 23-year-old founder has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient, Tory Burch Fellow, and recently became a Thiel Fellow.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
After getting my period at an event without the supplies I needed, I thought to myself “toilet paper is offered for free, why aren’t tampons and pads?” At that moment, I knew that I wanted to be on a mission to ensure EVERYONE has access to quality menstrual products. I dropped out of college the day after I had the idea for Aunt Flow. Now, for every 10 tampons and pads we sell, we donate 1 to a menstruator in need. I call this people helping people. PERIOD. ®
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I still get excited and surprised when new businesses order Aunt Flow menstrual products for their bathrooms. I get especially surprised when I introduce myself and folks say, “Oh yeah! I know that company!” I genuinely hope this childish giddiness that I get when this happens never goes away.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not reference checking a new manufacturer and wiring them $15,000… It was undoubtedly a scam and when I tried to file a report with my bank, they suggested I file a report with my local police department. We still have not been able to get this $15,000 back. I definitely learned from this, but it still was a hit to the bank account.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When I first started Aunt Flow, I was a wandering 18-year-old with no degree and little direction. I cried and ate a lot of Jeni’s Ice Creams, but my vision to change the world never wavered. I am inspired by Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. This wonder woman strides around with pink hair, did not go to college, leverages her ice cream company to make positive change, and she is also from Ohio. Jeni, along with her delicious ice cream, helped me get through a really tough time as she became a female founder figure in the Columbus community who I really resonated with as I embarked on my journey to start Aunt Flow.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
In order to run a successful business, I have to make sure I am taking care of myself and be in the right state of mind. My self-care acts include starting the day with a run, which is my outlet for all of my pent-up stress, anger, or pessimism. I leave it all out on the trail. I am also an unapologetically lover of sweets. A delicious sweet treat keeps me going, especially on the really tough days.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Based on my personal perspective on why young people are both motivated to create companies and embrace social enterprise companies is that we really recognize that our world is dramatically changing every day. Companies need to foster diversity in opinion and perspective in order to have a strong company culture. I believe it is not only important, but essential to create a culture wherein people come from different backgrounds in order for any progress to be made within a company. If everyone on my executive team looked the same, we wouldn’t get anywhere without having multiple voices heard at the table.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Talking about it and taking real, actionable steps to make change. The talk MUST lead to action. Aunt Flow is an all-inclusive brand, meaning we are inclusive to all genders. We took the action to remove “feminine hygiene” from all of our branding and replace it with “menstrual products.” We believe that menstruation should be an inclusive conversation, for both menstruators and not. The industry, in general, can be more inclusive to non-menstruators. The only way to make real radical change is to include everyone in the conversation.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An CEO is responsible for not only the outcomes of the company, but also to serve the team in a way that allows them to grow. At Aunt Flow, it’s my expectation that people work insanely hard, learn a ton, and then hopefully someday start companies of their own. I think you can measure a good founding CEO by how many people go on to do amazing things sometimes inside the company, but also after they move on as well. I think the dual focus on outcomes and serving the team is unique to a CEO.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Where do I begin? Well, for starters, as a female founder and CEO, we are often perceived as “cocky” instead of “confident,” and “bossy” versus “assertive.” A lot of people think that CEOs work an average 40 hours a week, but companies typically require far more dedication and time from their CEO than that. There is also the myth that CEOs are rich when in reality, you are making the least amount of money in the company when you start out. The lifestyle of a CEO is not all glitz and glamour like many people think. I’m hopeful many myths like these will continue to be debunked in the future as our culture begins to further progress and there won’t be such a polarizing light in which male and female founders are seen.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The overarching female mentality is that we are not enough, we don’t know enough, we don’t have enough, we are not old enough, pretty enough, savvy enough. Therefore we may not succeed because we are not enough. Wherever we are at right now is ENOUGH, and we CAN do it! Being a female entrepreneur at the age of 23, the biggest struggle is the idea that someone my age can’t be taken seriously. For instance, young male entrepreneurs are seen as ambitious and driven, whereas young female entrepreneurs like me are repeatedly told that we are “in over our heads.” If truth be told, we are even more motivated due to the obstacles we face to make our dreams a reality. These things are frustrating, but I continue to use my resources and strive to prove these ideas wrong.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
It is wild how many people believe I am personally rich, have all this time, and “work 4 hours a week.” HA! I have spent the past 4 years pouring every penny I have back into the company and hustling 80–90-hour weeks.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
In my opinion, what worked for me in my success was persistence. I am exceptionally remarkable at just one thing, persistence, and I believe that is the most important thing to be remarkable at. Frankly, creating products and running companies are hard feats and extremely expensive. It isn’t until this century that our society became comfortable with the idea of women taking the role as CEO and started to receive real funding. I have been working on Aunt Flow for the past 5 years, but it wasn’t until this past year that we were able to raise outside capital to meet the demand of our customers through my team and I’s constant persistence.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
It is all about execution. I often hear people talking about how they “want to do something.” Just do it already!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Menstrual products are not covered by food stamps or WIC. No one should EVER be forced to choose between food and tampons. That’s why we have donated over 500,000 menstrual products to organizations in the USA that support menstruators in need, along with changing legislation in 5 states in order to work towards providing a sustainable solution for tampons and pads.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
How do I pare this down to just five? There are a bunch of startup hacks that I had to learn on my own, but I wish I would have known them earlier.
1. Canva will be your graphic designer for the first year of business. (I still use Canva for any graphic design needs. I actually received a personal email from the company notifying me that I am one of their most active users #goals).
2. Pantone colors matter. When you finally find the colors for your business logo, immediately see if they translate to a Pantone color. (Colors on the web are HEX colors. When printing, the colors are converted to Pantone. To save an unnecessary re-brand, make sure that your HEX colors convert to pantone).
3. Always make sure to pre-print your postage online. Ditch the lines at the post office and save yourself some money! I use Stamps.com, and they offer some great pricing and services if you are shipping goodies frequently.
4. Mail-shake is an email service that allows us to send hundreds of thousands of emails in a single sequence, so I think it’s absolutely wonderful. We use it all the time for email campaigns.
5. Start using the E bates Google Chrome plugin to gain personal cash back for all of your business purchases. There are so many awesome plugins like Honey to keep you SAVING. Can you tell that an important aspect of running a startup is bargaining?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
One of the challenges we face is the stigma around periods. The problem is that periods aren’t normalized in society. Once we normalize the topic, then we can help reduce stigma. I think it also remains a problem because not everyone gets a period, as men do not, and therefore it is difficult for them to understand the specifics of why women and others get a period. If everyone got a period, then it probably would not be as “taboo” of a topic. We believe it is key to educate people that periods are a normal part of life for menstruators! Ultimately, the more awareness and access that society has to quality menstrual products and education, the less shame there will be.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dear friend and stellar poet, Sara Abou Rashed recently shared with me her working definition of success — “Finding a state of happiness and being able to maintain that state.” I absolutely LOVE this definition because it is a constant challenge. Every day I have the opportunity to work towards continued satisfaction, without ever becoming complacent.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Macklemore, hands down. Macklemore said it best in his song Same Love — “Fear is something we don’t know.” Let’s force the world to understand that periods are NOT gross! Unbeknownst to him, his values align so well with mine and Aunt Flow’s, so I feel as though we would be able to do some awesome things if we happened to collaborate in the future (fingers crossed!).
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.