It’s pretty safe to say that most 19-year-olds have just started thinking about what they want to do with their life. After all, they just recently finished high school, voted for the first time, and most likely, they still have one foot in the door at their parents’ house.
So when the name Claire Coder started making headlines, people noticed.
Lots of people.
Aunt Flow, a buy-one give-one subscription service box for 100% cotton tampons has a unique mission: to create a sustainable solution that provides menstrual hygiene products to people in need.
“Considering menstrual products aren’t covered by food stamps or WIC, many of the 16.9 million people who are menstruating are also living in poverty in the United States. And they have to choose between tampons and food,” explains Coder. “When money is tight, people resort to using plastic bags and dirty socks to stop the flow. Dealing with the monthly visit is hard enough with cramps, but not having something to hold the flow is humiliating and messy,” she adds.
After graduating from high school, Coder did what most teens her age do: went to college. She found herself at Ohio State University studying comparative religion, but feeling no real passion about what she was doing; Coder decided to attend a Columbus StartUp Weekend.
A lot changed for her at that event. “I couldn’t spend a weekend pretending that I liked to code another fitness app. Honestly, the only thing I could think about were the cramps I had from my period,” she says. “I knew I wanted to create a sustainable solution for ensuring that everyone in the US had access to period products. It was hard enough for me to find a tampon in a sea of developers that weekend, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for menstruators experiencing homelessness,” Coder adds.
Aunt Flow placed second at Columbus StartUp Weekend in the fall of 2015, and consequently, Coder decided to drop out of college to focus full-time on her business venture.
Coder packed up her stuff, signed a lease for an apartment in Columbus, and worked two waitressing jobs while working on Aunt Flow during the spare moments she had.
Her initial business plan had one simple theme: build a company that will financially support her, and ensure that others have access to 100% cotton menstrual products. Coder started a crowdfunding campaign in May 2016, with the goal of raising $25,000.
From June to August 2016, Coder focused on planning suppliers, manufacturing, and logistics. Her vision finally came to fruition on October 20, 2016 with the launch of pre-sales.
And as is the case with any business, the newness attracts a lot of potential customers, and something inevitably goes wrong. So was the case for Coder, when day one brought 100 paying subscribers, which led to the website crashing.
Coder went back to the drawing board, fixed the bugs, and on November 20, 2016, Aunt Flow had a soft-launch. This time with a new backend and a website that didn’t crash, Coder brought in $7,000 in revenue her first month and sent out the first shipment on December 1, 2016.
People can go online, customize a box of 18 pieces for $13/month, have it delivered to their doors each month, and select one of the rotating charities to receive the ‘give-one’ box.
“Aunt Flow is the only menstrual company in the United States that is a true buy-one, give-one model. For every tampon or pad purchased, one of the same quality is delivered to the organization of your choice,” explains Coder. And this ambitious woman is making it her goal to donate more than 100,000 menstrual products across the US.
The rotating charities change each month as Aunt Flow features five organizations throughout the United States that support people in need. These organizations are the recipients of the ‘give-one’ boxes for that period. And with 300 current subscribers to her service, Coder is set up to donate more than 5,000 menstrual products in January.
Coder works out of her tiny apartment in Columbus, Ohio, and stores some 30,000 tampons and pads in a storage unit close by. Recently she brought on Lindsey McEntee for social media and community outreach, and Melory Mirashrasi, who focuses on expanding the brand, and this trio of young women is showing the rest of us that anything is possible.
“My number one piece of advice: Google it,” says Coder. “Also, don’t start a business to make millions,” she says. “The first few years, you will be lucky to pay yourself (my new year’s resolution is to put myself on the payroll). You must start a business out of passion; working for free lasts longer if you are passionate about the project,” she adds.
When it comes to money, be realistic and understand that crowdfunding is hard. “Thankfully, I have organized a variety of crowdfunding campaigns during my time and found that Crowdwise was a great platform to work with,” says Coder. “While other platforms take upwards of 10% and require a product gift for supporters, Crowdwise takes a mere 5% and does not require companies to give a gift when someone backs the campaign.”
“Starting a company is hard. Starting a company that only half the population can truly relate to is even harder. Starting a company that no one wants to talk about is fucking difficult,” Coder exclaimed.