First, “it is all about execution.” I often hear people talking about how they “want to do something.” My advice, and the advice given to me? Just do it already! Second, the bar should always be set high. Shannon Mihaley says, “The only time to set the bar low is for limbo.” Finally, 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 love this definition, because it is a constant challenge. Every day I have the opportunity to work toward continued satisfaction, without ever becoming complacent.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Claire Coder.
Claire Coder (Forbes 30 Under 30) is the founder and CEO of FLOW (Aunt Flow and Work Flow.) Coder launched her first company at age 16, designed a bag for Vera Bradley that sold out in 24 hours, and has her own line of GIFs. The 23-year-old founder has been featured in Teen Vogue, Forbes, and starred in TLC’s Girl Starter Season 1. When she is not jamming out to Macklemore, she is pretending like she knows how to run Google ads. Claire has spoken at numerous events including 36|86 Festival, Women of Toledo, Disrupt HR and The United State of Women.
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? Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
After getting my period at an event without the supplies I needed, I thought to myself, “Toilet paper is offered for free, so why aren’t tampons and pads?” At that moment, bloody underwear and all, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to ensuring everyone has access to menstrual products. Now, for every ten tampons and pads we sell, we donate one to a menstruator in need. I call this people helping people. PERIOD.®
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 checking the references for 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. The $15,000 has still not been returned. I definitely learned from this, but it still was a hit to the bank account.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When I first started Aunt Flow, I was a wandering 18-year-old with no degree and little direction. I cried a lot and ate a lot of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, but my vision to change the world never wavered.
I am inspired by Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s. This wonder woman strides around with pink hair, did not go to college, leverages her ice cream company to make positive change, and, like me, she is 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 today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption, especially in this industry, is positive when someone is taking real, actionable steps to make change and create a positive impact. The talk must lead to action. Aunt Flow is an inclusive brand, meaning we are inclusive to all genders. We took the action to remove “feminine hygiene” from all of our branding and replaced that with “menstrual products.” Reducing the stigma around products is also about knowing what is in your products. We took the action to source 100% organic cotton and create biodegradable packaging to ensure we are changing the world, one cycle at a time.
One of the challenges we face with Aunt Flow is the stigma around periods, which can make disrupting in this space more challenging, and maybe not so positive. Periods are looked at as “gross” or “unnatural.” And when you are trying to run a business with this stigma around your products, it can be difficult.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
First, “it is all about execution.” I often hear people talking about how they “want to do something.” My advice, and the advice given to me? Just do it already! Second, the bar should always be set high. Shannon Mihaley says, “The only time to set the bar low is for limbo.” Finally, 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 love this definition because it is a constant challenge. Every day I have the opportunity to work toward continued satisfaction, without ever becoming complacent.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
Word-of-mouth has consistently been the best lead generator for us. We’ve worked with a number of companies and schools, and through those employee and student connections, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in relationships built via word-of-mouth. One of our core values is to “surprise and delight,” and we work hard to consistently deliver for each customer. Companies know that when they work with Aunt Flow and Work Flow they will get dependable and trustworthy service, as well as high-quality products!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Due to COVID-19, companies were going remote and schools started closing, so we had to pivot quickly to be able to help our country in a time of dire need. This was when Aunt Flow’s sister company, Work Flow, came to life! As a registered FDA importer, we were able to leverage our supply chain and resources to start manufacturing surgical masks. Since then, in addition to masks, we have been able to produce cleaning wipes, gowns, hand sanitizers and more to support a number of incredible partners, such as the State of Michigan, Veterans Affairs, Dominion Energy, and many others.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Considering I am dyslexic, podcasts are more my jam. Some of my favorite podcasts are “How I Built This,” which I’d highly suggest for people ‘thinking’ about starting businesses, so they understand what it really takes. I appreciate the investigative journalism you experience in the “Serial” podcast, and I also listen to “The Daily” from The New York Times every morning to help me not sound like an idiot about current events.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I like to think that wherever we are right now is enough, and we can do it, whatever we set our minds to. 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, and so on. Therefore, we may not succeed because we’re believing we’re not enough.
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.” 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.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
When I first started Aunt Flow, that is EXACTLY what I had in mind! I wanted to be able to start something that would bring real change. Therefore, my ultimate goal in life is that I want to walk into any bathroom and never need to worry if I started my period because Aunt Flow menstrual products will be freely available. Until then, we are working hard to make that happen.
As I said in August during my session at 36|86 Festival, an entrepreneur’s biggest driver should not be financial. Personally, for the first two and a half years of FLOW, I did not get paid. I used all of my savings, all of my energy because I was driven by the desire to make a difference.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m @clairecoderofficial on Instagram and @clairecoder on Twitter. You can connect with me also via LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/clairecoder/), my personal website (clairecoder.com), or the sites for both Aunt Flow and Work Flow — goauntflow.com and goworkflow.com. You can also follow my company on Instagram (@goauntflow) and Twitter (@goauntflow).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!