Claire Coder is a 21-year-old proud college dropout, entrepreneur and CEO (Chief Estrogen Officer) of Aunt Flow who is making headlines and changing the world one cycle at a time. Claire founded her company, Aunt Flow when she was just 19 years old after getting her period at an inopportune time during Columbus startup weekend in the fall of 2015. In that same event, she placed second in the pitch competition, and later raised $25,000 in Kickstarter, competed in TLC’s girl starter and was recognized as the youngest Columbus’ 40 under 40 recipient. Aunt Flow’s mission from the start has been to ensure everyone has access to menstrual products and to encourage positive menstrual education for young people while choosing a gender-inclusive culture by avoiding words like feminine hygiene.
I had heard so many great things about Claire and Aunt Flow before I decided to sign up for Columbus startup week, which took place two weeks ago. When I signed up to attend the week-long event and saw her name on the roster, I knew I had to listen to her panel discussions. Immediately, I was drawn to her positive attitude and charisma and I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. Meeting Claire was a high point of startup week as we worked together on a marketing collaboration and we chatted about her company.
Rick: The inspiration of Aunt Flow came fortuitously at 2016’s Columbus startup weekend, a 54-hour pitch event. You turned a negative experience into something great. Can you explain?
Claire: I got my period unexpectedly in a male-dominated business event. I went to the bathroom and there was everything from mouthwash to toothpicks, but no tampons or pads and I had to leave the event to rush home because I was in an uncomfortable situation. When I got home, the idea came to me that toilet paper is free. Why not tampons? There was an opportunity to create a sustainable solution to ensure everyone has access to menstrual products.
Rick: You were attending your first semester at The Ohio State University when you ended up placing second in the Columbus startup weekend and you decided to drop out of college. What drove you to your decision?
Claire: Just the idea of paying upwards of $60,000 to not really pursue my dreams was just kind of ridiculous. The fact that people get in college based on an exam score is almost as bullshit as people not having access to a tampon. It’s really hard to think big picture when you’re told you have to get a good grade on your ACT if you want to be successful, but big picture, it doesn’t fucking matter. I always thought success meant you had to have a college degree because that was what was instilled in me until I read Undecided by Simon Fraser, and it gave me the support to drop out of college to focus on Aunt Flow.
Rick: Aunt Flow’s mission is to create a sustainable solution, providing menstrual products to people in need. Can you explain?
Claire: Many Americans don’t have access to menstrual products as they are not covered by Women, Infants, Children Nutrition Program (WIC) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and they are rarely donated to homeless people. When women don’t have access to menstrual products, they have few options. If you’re living below the poverty level, you have to make a choice. Do you feed yourself or buy menstrual products? I created Aunt Flow to solve this problem by selling 100% organic cotton tampons and pads to businesses so their customers have access to menstrual products and for every 10 pieces we sell, we donate 1 piece to those in need.
Rick: How many shops, businesses (locations) are carrying Aunt Flow?
Claire: In just one year, we have stocked over 100 businesses across the nation with freely accessible menstrual products, and donated over 128,000 menstrual products to organizations supporting those in need.
Rick: Can you tell us about some of the most difficult challenges you face?
Claire: My experiences have taught me how to hustle and the value of fake it till you make it. I’m constantly saying I don’t know, but in reality, I’m saying we can do this. I can lead people to toward period positivity, but it is another thing when someone reports to you every day. It can be really difficult to get people inspired to come to work and make them feel cared for and loved.
Rick: How is Aunt Flow encouraging period positivity?
Claire: Aside from tampons and pads, we sell products that play on period euphemisms like “shark week.” I often lead talks about period positivity because growing up, my health teacher gave me a goodie bag with tampons and pads and I was forced to go home and figure it out myself. I am committed to educating young menstruators about menstruation through open and healthy dialogue.
Rick: What advice would you give others who want to start their own business?
Claire: Don’t start a business to make millions. You must start a business out of passion as you probably won’t be able to pay yourself right away. Working for free lasts longer if you are passionate about the project. Be realistic and understand that crowdfunding is hard.
Rick: Where do you see Aunt Flow in the future?
Claire: My mission accomplished would be that everyone to has access to menstrual products by the time I’m 30 years old.
Rick: If Larry Smith was here with us, what would you tell him is your six-word memoir?
Claire: College dropout. Business owner. Tampon fairy.