If you’ve been paying attention to the Ohio startup scene for long, chances are you’ve come across Claire Coder’s name. Born and raised in Toledo, she moved to Columbus for college, where she briefly attended The Ohio State University before shifting her focus to Aunt Flow. The gamble paid off, and her company is now making period products more accessible for people nationwide by providing them for free in bathrooms and vend-dispensing systems in corporate environments such as Google and Netflix, universities such as Princeton, entertainment venues across the country, and even K-12 school districts. Since its founding, Coder has been on a Forbes 30 under 30 list, designed a bag for Vera Bradley that sold out in 24 hours, and has her own line of GIFs. We talked to the talented entrepreneur about her exciting trajectory, bringing philanthropy to her business, and what comes next.
Most readers will recognize you from your work with Aunt Flow, but you were founding companies when you were a child. Tell us a bit about your entrepreneurial journey pre-Aunt Flow.
I like to say that I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I started my first “business” — a lemonade stand, of course — when I was 7 years old and started my second when I was 16. This time, it was a bit more real. I started a company called “There’s a Badge for That,” which made custom buttons and badges. It really allowed me to understand business fundamentals, but that was just a high school business, and I was on a mission to change the world with Aunt Flow. Changing the world isn’t easy, and it requires a ton of risk. The first risk was leaving The Ohio State University after just one semester. I went all-in, and it was just the start.
How do you describe Aunt Flow to someone who has never heard of it?
Aunt Flow is on a mission to ensure that everyone has access to period products, coming up with the most efficient solution for providing those essentials for free to employees, students, and guests. We offer organic cotton tampons and pads, and we have developed patented free-vend dispensing systems to help distribute them. Thousands of businesses have joined the menstrual movement with us, including corporate partners like Google and Netflix, K-12 school districts, universities like Princeton, and entertainment venues across the country.
What’s the backstory for how you came to found Aunt Flow?
I came up with the idea for Aunt Flow after getting my period in public at an event without the supplies I needed. I thought to myself, “toilet paper is offered for free, why aren’t tampons and pads,” which became a slogan for us at Aunt Flow. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to ensuring everyone has access to period products.
What’s something that you’ve learned about yourself along the way that makes you a great entrepreneur?
I am exceptionally remarkable at just one thing: persistence. And I actually believe that’s the most important thing to be remarkable at. To be frank, creating products and running companies are challenging things and extremely expensive. It wasn’t until this century that our society became comfortable with the idea of women taking the role as CEO, and I started to receive real funding. So, in my opinion, persistence was the key to my success.
Aunt Flow is a for-profit company, but you have philanthropy baked into your mission. Tell us a bit about the importance of that philanthropy and why it’s important to you.
For every 10 period products sold, Aunt Flow donates one to nonprofits. Menstrual products are not covered by food stamps or WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), but no one should ever be forced to choose between food and tampons. That’s why in the past two years we have donated over 3 million period products to organizations that support menstruators in need. We call this “People helping people. PERIOD.”
Founding, building, and growing a successful company is impressive in its own right, but what career accomplishments or landmarks with Aunt Flow make you especially proud?
At Aunt Flow, we’ve changed the way that 365,000 girls in Utah schools will experience their first period thanks to our program providing free tampons and pads. Locally, we upgraded the shopping experience at the Apple store and Easton Town Center, ensuring no one needs to leave the mall early due to an unexpected period. We’re working to transform language from “feminine hygiene” to “menstrual products” to be inclusive to all menstruators. All of this has happened in just six years, and we’re just getting started.
Entrepreneurship can be a grind. On a day-to-day basis, what keeps you motivated and moving forward?
Founding a social enterprise that would become a sustainable solution and help menstruators has been a dream of mine, and I am proud to say it is now a reality. Being a successful CEO of a for-profit company with a mantra of “People Helping People” really makes me feel good about what I do. And what makes it even better is that I get to enjoy what I do every single day.
It’s been so rewarding to see that so many people have lifted this business up — from our first customers to our volunteers to our investors. We are successful because of the Columbus community. It truly takes a village.
Why has Columbus — and more broadly Ohio — been a good fit for your company making a national impact?
I’ve lived in Ohio my whole life! I often travel back and forth between Columbus and New York now, but Columbus will always be home for myself and Aunt Flow. The central Ohio community has helped lift this company up from the start, and I will always be so grateful for that.