Goodbye Tampons: Lauren Schulte Is Changing the Way You Have a Period

We recently delved into what really goes into your tampons, and yeah, we were appalled, too —who knew that’s what we’ve been putting into our body for years?! On top of the — I’m gonna say it — nasty chemicals, tampons are uncomfortable, can worsen cramps, and can cause yeast infections. That doesn’t exactly sound like fun, does it?

This same logic brought CEO (and fearless leader) Lauren Schulte to develop The Flex Company, a disposable menstrual disc that lasts up to 12 hours. These little things are magic, and Lauren’s story of how she made it all happen is absolutely inspiring. She went from working corporate jobs to get her through school to creating a company from the ground up that is now sold in Target across the U.S. Yeah, we know, she’s pretty amazing! We talked with Lauren about what went into creating her company, what being a business owner is like, and what’s in store next for The Flex Company.

 

Name: Lauren Schulte, CEO & Founder of  The Flex Company
Age: 32
Location: Venice (LA) California
Education: Bachelors in Marketing from Georgia State University

 

What was your first job and how did you land it?

 

I started working when I was 10 to help support my family (I’m the oldest of 5 kids). I babysat neighborhood kids and cleaned houses for $3/hour. My first “real” job was at IBM when I was 19. I got the job because I knew HTML and had built websites during my teens as a freelancer.

 

Had you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?

 

No way. I wanted a stable, corporate job. We’d struggled financially growing up and I was really focused on making my own money at a young age so that I could put myself and my younger sister through college.

 

 

How did your education prepare you for a role like this?

 

When I was in undergrad, I had an academic scholarship, but had to work full time during the day at corporate jobs to pay for books and other living expenses. The hours were grueling: 8am – 5pm at the office, and 5:30 – 10 pm at school. It took me a little longer to graduate than my peers, but that work ethic conditioned me for the long hours as an entrepreneur.

 

You’ve struggled with periods and infections in the past — like most women! What made you want to finally do something about it?

 

FLEX was born out of a personal problem: I hate tampons — they leak, they smell, they worsen cramps, they’re uncomfortable, and they gave me terrible yeast infections. After. Every. Period. And I was using organic tampons.

When a few of my friends told me about menstrual cups for the first time in summer 2014, I was immediately intrigued by their promises. I couldn’t believe I had never heard of them before (at the time, 99% of women I asked had never heard of them, either, but this is before the first menstrual cup Kickstarter and media aftermath).

I did a little research and discovered none of the brands were reaching millennial women (literally or figuratively), and as a consumer marketer, this sparked my quest for information on the space. I had to figure out why these devices weren’t more widely known, and why tampon companies weren’t investing in new innovation.

But when I tried my first menstrual cup, I was even more frustrated by how difficult it was to insert and remove.  When I tried getting my friends to use menstrual cups, they had a similar experience to me, and as much as they love the environment, many couldn’t get behind the idea of rinsing and reusing.

Living in Silicon Valley, I was surrounded by entrepreneurs solving crazy problems; people discuss colonizing Mars over brunch. I couldn’t figure it out: why wasn’t anyone working on this problem? I got obsessively curious, and spent a year studying the feminine hygiene market, testing products, and hosting focus groups. It was during that process I discovered that the modern tampon (and menstrual cups) were invented in the 1930’s, and that most women I spoke to were quite literally aching for something different.

Something really magical happened. By talking about this problem every day, I found my passion. Women (and men) were so relieved to ask questions and share stories about menstruation and women’s health. I decided to dedicate my life to making better products for women.

After a year of research I quit my lucrative marketing job. The trigger? In one week, I received two phone calls from out-of-state strangers asking me to order my product. They had heard about me by word-of-mouth through a fourth-degree connection. I didn’t have a website, a team, or a name, and I hadn’t even finished product development.

 

 

During college I had to work full time during the day at corporate jobs to pay for books and other living expenses. The hours were grueling, but that work ethic conditioned me for the long hours as an entrepreneur.

 

 

Tell us about FLEX. How is a menstrual disc different from a tampon or menstrual cup?

 

Calling a menstrual disc and a menstrual cup the same thing would be like calling eyeglasses and contact lenses the same thing. They both serve a similar purpose (collecting menstrual fluid) but the form factor and how they work with your body are quite different. This blog post on our site details all the differences.

 

78% of FLEX customers tell us they’ve forgotten they were on their period when using FLEX; 70% reported that they felt they had less cramping while using our disc versus traditional period products.

 

What was the first step in creating The Flex Company?

 

The first person I shared my idea with is a successful serial entrepreneur who had just sold his first company for $1 billion. His advice to me: “Don’t be afraid to tell everyone you meet about your idea.” That advice sounded counter-intuitive but it served me very well. Telling others about my idea helped me find early users, recruit a team of talented people who are smarter than me, and eventually raise money.

The next thing I did was make a list of all of the things I wasn’t good at but knew were important for launching a business. Then I found people who had those skills and convinced them to work with me.

Then I got to work. I used the Y Combinator application to create an early business plan. It helped me understand what investors would be looking for. Even though I was self-funded, I found creative ways to get as much traction as I could before going out to raise money.

 

How did you turn an idea into a product?

 

There were a lot of starts and stops. I spent a year researching the FDA, the product development process, the feminine hygiene market, and manufacturing. I knew how to measure a market and sell a product, and understood the basics of product development and manufacturing from my time at Autodesk but recognized that I had a lot to learn.

I did my own research and talked to dozens of experts in each of these areas, who graciously took the time to teach me. I worked with a few industrial and mechanical engineers to get our early concepts going, and simultaneously bought every type of feminine hygiene product I could find online. I gave the products away to women and collected feedback and hosted focus groups to find out what they liked about existing products and what they would change.

We eventually landed on a concept that’s similar to a diaphragm, and the product tested really well with women. We used that as a baseline for our design, and identified changes we could make to improve the product experience. We eventually brought an industrial designer in house to partner with our manufacturer to perfect the final product.

 

 

I made a list of all of the things I wasn’t good at but knew were important for launching a business. Then I found people who had those skills and convinced them to work with me.

 

 

What was the hardest part about starting a business? The easiest?

 

Companies that manufacture their own products have a chicken-and-egg problem — you need capital to manufacture a product, but investors want you to demonstrate product-market fit (that people will use and love what you are making). How can you demonstrate that people will use and love your product if it’s not manufactured yet? That was a major hurdle that I had to overcome.

The easiest part of starting a business was finding a passion in my mission and day-to-day work. My conviction to serve our customers gets me through the difficult moments.

 

Obviously, a lot of research had to go into developing this type of product. How did you make sure you were creating something that was safe?

 

Because of the issues I faced with tampons, the safety and efficacy of FLEX were most important to me. All materials used in FLEX, as well as the final product, have been tested by a third party for biocompatibility. We used the most cutting-edge technology to develop FLEX and medical-grade materials that have been used by doctors inside the human body for decades.

 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

 

Nothing beats hearing from our customers that their lives are forever changed because of our product. I also get a lot of joy from my team. They’re incredible humans and we have a lot of fun at work, even when we’re working insane hours or going through a challenging time. Being surrounded by a group of people whom I admire and can laugh with makes work enjoyable.

 

 

How has The Flex Company grown since the beginning?

 

We’ve more than doubled our revenue each year since launch and have expanded to retail locations throughout the U.S. including Target.

 

What has been your biggest success so far? What are you most proud of?

 

I think manufacturing our product less than 10 months after raising money was an incredible feat. It’s a type II medical device and we have a bespoke manufacturing line that we own, so everything is custom and highly regulated. And I’m most proud of building a team of brilliant people who live to serve our customers.

 

 

We’ve more than doubled our revenue each year since launch and have expanded to retail locations throughout the U.S. including Target.

 

 

What advice do you have for aspiring business owners?

 

1. Tell everyone you know about your idea 2. Recruit people smarter than you to work on the problem 3. Make something people love; validate this by testing with real customers who will pay for whatever it is that you are making.

 

What’s next for your company? Do you hope to create more products?

 

We’re working on releasing an all-new product Spring 2019 and have a few others in the works.

 

 

We know you’ve just shared an exciting announcement for the company, a new product called the Flex cup. Can you tell us a little about that? Why was it a natural evolution for Flex?

 

At our core, we believe people deserve more options for period care that aren’t simply window dressing (old products that are rebranded). To us, more options means that we must design new products that address real customer pain points. I knew from the start that the menstrual disc was just the beginning of our journey into innovation.

Our company has been working to develop a better menstrual cup for the past two years, but our disc business was growing so quickly that we weren’t able to produce anything that we felt was a game-changer in comparison to other cups on the market. But when we saw the Kickstarter for a new cup called Keela, we loved that it addressed the core pain point of menstrual cups: difficult removal. It features a pull string that attaches to the top of the cup so when it’s pulled, it indents the side of the cup and easily breaks the suction that makes other cups so challenging to take out.

We immediately reached out to see how we could help. The co-founders instantly felt that we had a shared world view on our vision for innovation and our mission for serving customers. What started as a loose friendship blossomed over time, and eventually we decided it would make the most sense to join forces. FLEX is helping Keela produce and ship their Kickstarter orders, and from there we will start producing The FLEX Cup. The Flex Cup utilizes the same pull string design, but with new manufacturing processes.

We are selling the FLEX Discovery Kit, which will come with 1 FLEX Cup and 2 FLEX Discs. The benefit is that people who are frustrated with other period products, or curious to try new ones, can get both products for the same price as menstrual cups that have been on the market for years. The FLEX Discovery Kit is available for preorder now at flexcup.com and will be in retail in 2019.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

 

Practice self-love. Everything good begins there. When you love yourself, you then have more energy to invest in helping others.

 

 

Lauren Schulte is The Everygirl . . .

Guilty pleasure song?
Justin Bieber – Sorry

Go to outfit?
Rag & Bone black jeans & Vince silk top (either black or white), with white Keds

Dream vacation?
Riding a motorbike through northern Thailand on the Mae Hong Son loop, staying in little towns or villages along the way

Last movie you saw in theaters?
Notorious RGB

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Oprah (clearly). She’s been an idol since I was a young girl and to me epitomizes what it means to be a values-driven entrepreneur.

Show Comments +