This week’s Spotlight is a fierce combination of entrepreneur, human rights activist, women’s rights advocate, determined go-getter and fearless leader. As Founder and CEO of Cora, a new period product subscription service, Molly Hayward demonstrates not only how to grow a business from the seed of a brilliant idea, but how to take it to the next level with a model that gives back and blossoms with the potential for social change in the process.
SALTED SPOTLIGHT: Molly Hayward
So, what do you do for a living?
Technically I’m the Founder and CEO of Cora. Cora is an online subscription company providing women in the U.S. with safe and healthy organic feminine hygiene products in a convenient and customizable monthly box. For every box shipped, a girl in a developing country is given a month’s supply of sustainable sanitary pads so she can stay in school, play with her friends, and be her radiant self, every day of the month.
But behind the lofty title, I feel like a seeker and broadcaster of truth on behalf of women everywhere. I am building a movement to ensure that no woman is ever disempowered by her period, and is in fact empowered by a deep understanding of, and reverence for, her female body’s natural cycle.
Who/what is Cora named after?
The name Cora was inspired by several different words, whose meanings and origins vary from the space and place where all things originate (like our wombs), to the Greek word for the female form, to the diminutive name for Persephone—the goddess of regeneration and the seasons (which mirror the menstrual cycle). I love when names have layers of meaning.
When did you start Cora, and what drew you to working in this particular sector?
I started working on Cora in 2012, after learning how significantly menstruation affects girls and women in developing economies who lack access to hygienic, affordable menstrual management products. I spent the first year researching, traveling, and building partnerships. In 2013 I launched Cora in Beta to test our subscription service and refine our business model. And last month, we launched publicly with our current crowdfunding campaign.
I’ve worked in women’s economic development, as well as social business, and love the impact that both can have. Cora is a beautiful union of those two things. I was drawn to this issue because menstruation is as universal to women as breathing, yet it a largely negative and disempowering experience for most girls and women. When I learned that girls miss school for days each month because they can’t afford sanitary pads, and that the products used by women in my society contain toxic chemicals and dangerous synthetics, I knew that I wanted to create a way to provide both groups of women with something better, and tie them to one another. I wanted to make our inherent interconnection tangible.
Some might say Cora is the female-focused TOMS of the world. Have they been an inspiration?
Absolutely! TOMS was the first to popularize the buy-one-give-one model, and it is a great way to ensure that our social impact remains proportional to the size of our company.
I like to think that we’ve improved on the TOMS model though. Instead of just shipping foreign sanitary pads to girls in developing economies, we buy sustainable plant-based sanitary pads that are locally made in small-scale social enterprise manufacturing cooperatives by women who would otherwise engage in sex work for income, thereby generating revenue for them and supporting the local economy.
You launched a crowdfunding campaign to get Cora off the ground. What helped you make the decision to go that route and to launch with Plum Alley rather than with one of the more familiar sites like Indiegogo or Kickstarter?
I decided to crowdfund as a first round of raising capital because I knew that I had lots of friends, family, and acquaintances who wanted to support the venture, and it gives them a more formal way to do that. I also wanted to grow Cora’s community of early supporters, and allow passionate individuals to become part of the launch of this company in a tangible way. Every person who gives becomes part of our very active, vocal, and close- knit tribe that believes in the need to liberate and empower women in this aspect of our lives.
What’s been your biggest challenge and your greatest reward (so far)?
Biggest challenge: Crowdfunding! Holy shit, it’s tough. I have a super supportive network and a great company, and it still requires a ton of hustle and heart. I’m learning so much from the experience about asking for what I need, trusting that I am supported by my community, and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.
What does work/life balance mean to you?
Not much! My work is who I am—it’s in my bones. I don’t have kids yet and I’m not married, so I don’t have those things to balance it with yet. My bigger challenge is taking care of myself—remembering to go to yoga, take a run, meditate, eat well. It’s more of work/self-care balance that I strive for.
Instead of seeking balance, I try to remember that everything has a season. Sometimes I work for a super long stretch, then I pour myself into family time or I just won’t open my laptop for a couple of days. I try to give my full attention to the things that are calling my attention the loudest and inspiring me the most in the moment.
How do you make it happen? As in, what’s your key to getting things done?
I set goals, set deadlines, I make lists, and I keep my girl friends and advisors on speed dial for instant inspiration and motivational pep-talks when I start to feel spirit-fatigued. Surrounding myself with other people who support me is crucial.
I’ve also learned not to be afraid to ask for help and then to hold someone accountable when he or she agrees to do it. I used to be so afraid to admit when I needed help because I thought it made me look like I couldn’t hack being an entrepreneur. Turns out, asking for help is usually really smart, and people recognize that.
What are two essential tips you would give to a budding entrepreneur?
1. You will feel fear. Acknowledge its presence, respect it just as you would any other emotion, and be courageous by doing the opposite of what it’s telling you to do.
2. Create a minimum viable product of whatever it is you want to make, offer, and sell, and then just ship it.
::now for rapid fire lighter fare::
Which woman in history do you admire the most? …would you invite to a cocktail party? …would want to play you in your life’s movie?
Simone DeBeauvoir, Danielle LaPorte, Angelina Jolie
Favorite self-care period remedy?
A hot bath. I lived in the UK for a while and baths are a part of everyday life for most Brits—a daily ritual for unwinding before bed. I often don’t make time for it, but when I’m feeling that total body fatigue and that hazy feeling that often comes at that time, just floating in that warm water helps me feel more centered.
Heels, flats or barefoot?
Heels when I want to feel powerful or sexy, flats when I’m feeling casual and carefree, barefoot when I’m out in nature or getting grounded. I’m a bit of a chameleon!
Salty or sweet?
Both at the same time! Sea salted caramel, anyone??
Hillary or Chelsea?
Hillary…I can’t help but love and admire the original!
Molly Hayward is a humanitarian entrepreneur, world traveller, and the Founder & CEO of Cora (corawomen.com). Prior to founding Cora, Molly was the Co-Founder and Managing Director of London’s premier high-end sustainable fashion label, Rebecca Street. Follow her @molly_hayward and on her blog at mollyhayward.com.