Entrepreneurship is a popular career path, and future business owners are always looking for inspiration and guidance. The Fisher community was recently able to hear from an entrepreneur operating in a unique space. Claire Coder shared her inspiring and ongoing journey to becoming the successful businesswoman she is today.

She is the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow, a for-profit sustainable solution to ensure everyone has access to menstrual products.

Coder was on campus talking to Fisher students about entrepreneurship as part of the Fisher Leadership Initiative’s “Leading Through” speaker series. The series is designed to bring industry thought leaders together with students to discuss today’s business challenges, successes, opportunities and innovations.

Claire Coder 2
Claire Corder

The 21-year-old shared the inspiration for creating Aunt Flow, which struck in 2016 while she was attending Startup Weekend in Columbus, a 54-hour pitch event for startup companies.

Her period arrived and she found herself in an uncomfortable situation.

“I go to the bathroom and there’s mouthwash and lotion and toothpicks, but the only tampons and pads that were available were the ones you roll with toilet paper,” she said. “And so I’m rolling my own tampon and I’m like, ‘This is ridiculous. Toilet paper is offered for free, but tampons aren’t.’ And so that was my light bulb moment of ‘Oh my gosh! There is an opportunity here to create a sustainable solution to ensure everyone has access to menstrual products.’ ”

After committing $20,000 of her own money to start Aunt Flow, she found the new venture to be lonely and daunting.

“I was just burning cash; I had a job at a marketing company, but it wasn’t really paying what it probably should have paid,” she said. “So in 2016 during that time, I was really focusing on my basic needs. So if you talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’m down here just trying to figure out how to eat.”

Step by step, she eventually stabilized herself financially to the point she could focus on Aunt Flow. She used her fundraising experience working at The Calling Center at Ohio State and applied those cold-calling lessons to raising capital for her new business.

“It taught me everything I needed to know about sales,” she said.

“By the time I started, there were already three other tampon subscription boxes that were launching,” she said. “One of them has now raised $13 million. And they were eating me alive. By the time I finally got myself together, the competitors had just swooped in on the space.”

Coder, knowing something had to change, performed a customer analysis and realized about half were businesses making orders for their bathrooms. She reached out to them to collect more information.

“They were ordering them for their offices because they believed if toilet paper was offered for free, they believed tampons should be as well,” she said. “And so that’s really how we got into the business model we’re in now, where we’re stocking business bathrooms with tampons and pads. A lot of people think of a pivot as a down point or a business mess-up, but this was really just responding to market trends rather quickly to make sure we still advanced and were quickly accelerating to the top again.”

Next speaker: Ken Cooper, global head of human resources at Bloomberg

Kelly Mayer, who will graduate in May with her master’s degree in human resource management, was moved by Coder’s determination.

“It was great to hear an honest account from Claire about some of the struggles she went through starting her own business,” she said. “Even when she was at her lowest point and considering giving up, unexpected things came out of the woodwork that ended up making it all worth it. It was really cool to hear things always work out if you have the motivation and desire to keep working toward your dreams.”

Coder also offered tips on how creative collaboration can prove fruitful. Aunt Flow does not have room for a marketing budget, but Coder works with her donation partners to have them tell the Aunt Flow story.

She also urged women to take advantage of opportunities aimed at them, such as looking at women-only networking groups and understanding other gender-related advantages.

“We’ve literally been side by side with another company, we were priced higher, but we won because we are a certified woman-owned company,” she said. “Our product quality was the same, everything else was the same. We won because of that. In addition to that, there are female-focused funds. You get money for being a woman.”

Students walked away from the event both impressed and inspired.

Shweta Ambwani, a data analytics major, said she was taking notes throughout the presentation.

“I’m 21 too, so to see someone who is such a go-getter and doing her own thing is awesome,” she said.

Danielle Ferguson, a fourth-year communications major, said she was considering interning for Aunt Flow and is a big fan of Coder.

“I really respect her,” Ferguson said. “I truly admire her for being so passionate and driven at the young age of 21.”