how i get it done

How the 26-Year-Old CEO of Aunt Flow Gets It Done

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Serif Creative

Seven years ago, while attending an event as a college student, Claire Coder got her period unexpectedly. She rushed to the bathroom only to realize that she would need to pay 25 cents for a tampon from a dispenser. She wondered who still carried quarters, then she asked herself the question she’s been working to answer since: “If toilet paper is offered for free, why aren’t period products? They all respond to natural bodily functions.” 

Shortly after that, Coder dropped out of college to create Aunt Flow, a company that offers thousands of free period products in schools, airports, government buildings, sports arenas, and entertainment venues, among other places. While the company has now raised just under $17 million, when Coder started it, the topic of period poverty wasn’t a popular one, making it challenging to gain financial and practical support. Today, her investors include Nia Batts and Sophia Bush of venture capital firm Union Heritage Venture Partners, who see Coder’s work as an essential tool for helping to create a more equitable playing field for menstruators. Batts and Bush are two of five partners on the firm’s investment committee. Batts said she particularly enjoys working with Coder because Coder knows how to ask for what she needs for her business, something many founders struggle with. A study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that 64 percent of women reported struggling to afford pads, tampons, or menstrual cups in the last year. Twenty percent said they were unable to afford these products every month. Other research has shown that young people regularly miss school because they cannot afford period products. “When it comes to period poverty, we’re not just talking about making sure that kids have access to period products in school,” Bush said. “We’re talking about making sure that menstruating people have access to higher education, to transportation, that they don’t have to choose between their bus fare and the tampons that they need so that they can stay in school.”

As the founder and CEO of Aunt Flow, Coder travels regularly to meet with educators, students, government officials, potential investors and her industry peers. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Columbus with her boyfriend and 13-year-old Golden Sheltie, Paddy. Here’s how she gets it done. 

On her morning routine: 
It depends where I’m at, because I do a lot of travel for the business, but almost always I wake up and I go to the gym. That is like my mental health routine. I’m in Columbus, I will spend a little bit of time with my boyfriend as well as our dog, Paddy. I open up my email and see what’s in store for me for the day.

On handling rejection:
My entire first four years in business were rejection and an education on how I go about navigating rejection, whether it be people saying ‘we don’t believe that offering accessible period products is important’ or people saying no to investing. It took me 86 meetings of people saying no for me to raise my first 1.5 million dollars.

I recognize that a lot of it is a numbers game, and from a raising money perspective, it takes a lot of no’s to get to a yes. I am also wired by being told I can’t. When somebody tells me I can’t or someone tells me no, I get really fired up like, ‘Oh, well, I’ll prove it.’ That has allowed me to navigate 99 percent of the problems we face at Aunt Flow — listening to a “no” or listening to “you can’t” and turning it into an ‘I can and I did.’

On learning on the job:
My first pitch for Aunt Flow to investors was not the same as the 86th one, but every time I pitched it I iterated, I learned, I got better and my repetition time was short. I was pitching the same thing five times in one day, but iterating every single time, which I think is still important to this day because frankly, I’ve had the same job title for seven years — founder and CEO — but I have to keep getting better so that I keep my job title. 

Some people, when they know they need to learn a new skill, might read a book or take a course. For me, that’s not fast enough. I can’t spend a week in a course. I have to know something in an hour, so the fastest way for me to get up to speed on something that I don’t know — and I don’t know a lot of things — is by picking up the phone and calling.  I know it sounds kind of old school. I don’t text. I just call the person I think could potentially help me learn and adjust. Sometimes I might have to call four, five, or seven people. But I think that that has allowed me to be able to continue to drive the company forward from a small idea to now a venture-backed company.

On ambition and drive:
I like working, which I think is almost a controversial thing for a Gen Z to say. I think the Gen Z culture right now generally is like ‘less work, don’t let work consume you.’ But I love working and I think that that’s okay too. There are seasons where as the CEO I don’t love my job ,because sometimes it’s just not activities that I like doing, but the majority of my role I do enjoy. I really love being able to evangelize Aunt Flow. I love being able to find a really icky, sticky situation and call upon people and help our team navigate through to the other side, so I work a lot. I won’t shy away from that. I work 60 to 70 hours a week, but that works for me and I really enjoy it.

I love being able to work with other founders and entrepreneurs, so I typically have 1 to 2 phone calls every week with a founder that is working on a new project or new business. I have learned from calling people, so I make sure that I also pick up the phone and support folks when they need it. I close my laptop occasionally, I promise. I’m the coach of a softball team!

On the menstruation stigma and talking about periods: 
My mom’s an art therapist, so talking about thoughts and feelings was always part of our family dynamic. My dad is a land surveyor and identifies as the most right wing conservative, like part of the NRA, still hanging out in those circles. So you have these two life philosophies, which I heard all the time. Our dinner table conversations allowed me to learn how to navigate challenging conversations and also allowed me to accept a whole bunch of different sides of stories, which I think is important as we navigate the world. It’s just good to be able to listen to all sides and really thoughtfully approach different groups. The way that we talk to schools in New York City about Aunt Flow is very different from the way that we talk to schools in Salt Lake City, and that’s okay, but we know that the first step is a baseline, which is access to period products. Then from there, we add in different nuances based on where people are at.

On the people who help her get it done:
We’re small but mighty with 16 full-time employees. I also have probably 200 mentors. These are people I pick up the phone and call when I need them. That list should be a decent size, so that when you need them or when you have a specific problem, they’re ready. Nia and Sophia, who have a track record of investing in women-owned founders in the Midwest, ask such thoughtful questions that you don’t always get with investors, so you can tell they clearly understand the industry and the problem. Their partners, Derek Batts, Louis Carr, and Joshua Tooker, are also big supporters. They’re the Flow Bros.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

How the 26-Year-Old CEO of Aunt Flow Gets It Done