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Balanced Hustler: Meet Molly Hayward, Co-Founder + Chief Brand Officer of Cora

10 min read

Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle. 

The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.


Molly Hayward is the visionary founder of Cora, the modern women’s wellness brand whose mission is to revolutionize the female experience by acknowledging the power of female bodies and providing healthy, thoughtful ways to care for them. Cora creates fearless content and innovative products through an elevated brand to shift the way women perceive and manage their periods, bladder leaks and other natural experiences.

Molly herself has a deep knowledge of menstruation in both commercial and cultural contexts. She was the first entrepreneur in the menstrual care and women’s wellness space to establish a modern, pro-social brand, presenting the issues of healthier products and women’s global social justice to the mainstream female consumer. I admire her for helping to change the space, challenging the status quo and creating a brand that seeks to showcase how women are powerful—and that’s why she’s one of our Balanced Hustlers.

Fast Facts: Molly Hayward

When did you launch Cora?

2016

In one sentence, tell us why you founded Cora. 

To shift the experience of womanhood, for all women everywhere.

How did you get capital to start? 

For  the first 18 months that I worked on the concept for Cora, it was completely bootstrapped. When we officially launched and started gaining some meaningful traction, we approached Angel investors in our network and  raised our Seed Round.

Are you growing Cora to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years? 

This is  an absolute dream job, but being an entrepreneur can be a grind. It’s not sustainable as a balanced human being to go so hard and so fast forever, so I could see a time when I’d be ready to take some time for myself or slow down a bit to recharge.

How many hours a week do you work when you started vs now? 

About the same—a  lot!

How many employees do you have?

18

What two business goals do you have for 2019? 

  1. Scale brand awareness.
  2. Deepen our relationship with our customer.

How Molly Balances the Hustle

Let’s start with this: You’ve been a women’s rights advocate, traveling the world working for socio-economic empowerment. So, why period care? How does access to period care impact women, and what is Cora doing to support them? 

Throughout college and then into my early career, I was intrigued with economic development and social impact through business. As a volunteer in Kenya, I learned that girls there often stayed home during their periods. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to create a brand that could represent the modern, conscious woman, while helping to provide period products and education to girls in need around the world.

Millions of girls lack access to adequate menstrual products around the world. For every month’s supply of Cora sold, we give a month’s supply of sustainable pads to a girl in a developing country. We do this by partnering with an organization in India that supports adolescent girls’ education and produces an innovative, plant-based, biodegradable brand of high-quality sanitary pads. Produced in small, women-owned and operated mini-factories, organizations create jobs for women and a sustainable, affordable, local source of biodegradable pads for the women of the community.

We believe that every woman should have access to safe and effective ways to manage their periods. Since Cora launched, we have provided five million pads to girls in need in India and Kenya, as well as 100,000 products to women in need in the U.S. to ensure they can experience their periods with the health and dignity they deserve.

With Cora, you’re committed to both transparency around ingredients and to the health of the women using your products. Talk to us about why that’s actually kind of radical in a conventional-products world.

Today’s feminine care aisle is full of conventional products laden with chemicals and no ingredient transparency—mostly because the Food and Drug Administration does not require feminine care manufacturers to disclose their ingredients. Over the past decade, we’ve seen other categories (food, beauty, etc.) offer more healthy, modern and organic products. Yet, femcare has been slow to catch-on.

It’s pretty troubling given that products like tampons and pads are used in or near the most absorbent part of the body with extremely high usage frequency (the average woman uses 10,000 tampons used her lifetime). To date, we’ve eliminated 40 of the most egregious chemicals found in conventional feminine care products, which ensures women don’t have to compromise when caring for their bodies.

Walk us through each year and its process/goals/focus, since 2016, when you founded Cora. 

  • 2016: Test, learn, repeat. My co-founder and I launched Cora’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) business early that year, unloading dozens of pallets of organic tampons out of a 40-feet shipping container ourselves, boxing up orders and getting them out to our first waves of customers. Later that year, we made our first two hires, and landed a partnership with Target to sell Cora in stores. We also established partnerships in India and Kenya to provide pads and health education to girls in need.
  • 2017: Balance. We had not just one growing business, but three. DTC and retail were both scaling super fast, and we decided to launch onto Amazon as well, making us the first and only omni-channel period-care brand. By this point we’d provided roughly one million pads to girls in need in India and Kenya.
  • 2018: Growth. We continued to see incredible growth in all channels, and we were hustling to do as much marketing as we could, while working to expand our product line beyond just organic tampons. We launched our proprietary, woman-designed period pads, as well as our editorial content site, Blood + Milk
  • 2019: Scale. At almost 20 full-time employees, this year was about pouring fuel on the fire. With a solid foundation, we have been expanding our marketing, with a focus on telling more of the brand story and connecting more fully with our customers at every touchpoint. 10 million pads given, and counting.

How is Cora standing out in the industry, with so many other subscription services now available?

At Cora, it’s not just about making healthy, high performing products. We’re really working to challenge the status quo around how we’re experiencing and perceiving the experience of life in female bodies. Through our brand and our adjacent editorial site, Blood + Milk, we’re focused on breaking the pattern of stigma and shame that women unnecessarily feel about their bodies. Conversations about bladder leakage, periods and our bodies shouldn’t feel so taboo. When brands like Cora start to make these bold changes, we’ll start breaking down decades of shame and finally begin reframing the body-talk conversation into a positive one.

You partnered with Target to bring your products to their stores less than a year after you’d launched the company. How did you secure that partnership?

In our minds, Target was always  the holy grail of retailers for Cora. The buyer in our category there had heard about us from the press around our DTC launch, and was passionate about introducing natural and organic brands to the Target guest. We flew to Minneapolis for a meeting, pitched our hearts out and we were in.

You also have raised $36 million to date to expand Cora. What avenues did you explore to secure that funding? Can you share with us how it was pitching feminine care products to investors?  

We always start with our existing relationships and networks… whether that’s investors or other entrepreneurs. We’ve never cold called or emailed an investor. Every meeting was a warm introduction. Sometimes you’d speak to an investor who couldn’t get their head around how big the opportunity was, but for the most part the opportunity and the value Cora’s approach were well  understood, even by male investors who had little personal understanding of the category or experience.

You’ve also expanded into bladder liners. Talk to us about why that felt like a natural step from period care.

Through our research and countless interviews with consumers, we knew that bladder leakage is a health issue that greatly impacts younger women… to be exact, we found that more than 40 percent of women in their 30s and 40s deal with bladder leakage regularly. Yet, this younger generation has been grossly underserved by large consumer packaged good companies, marketing bladder as purely a senior issue.

At Cora, we wanted to disrupt this market (just like we did with period care), through inclusive marketing that normalizes the issue, provide healthier bladder liners that actually perform (we use a patent-pending material and channel technology), and creating clean, modern packaging (we heard from many women that the existing diaper-like format creates feelings of shame and embarrassment).

We know that when things get crazy as an entrepreneur, something has to give. What’s the must-do-for-your-sanity in your routine, and what do you let go of when things pile up?

After years of late nights and early mornings—and bone-deep exhaustion—I have come to value a really good night’s sleep. I go into the office pretty early, so I’ve started going to bed early too. I also practice breathwork daily, unplug on the weekends and go out for hikes or head to the beach near my home as often as possible to reset to the rhythm (and pace) of nature. When time is tight, I sleep less, drink more coffee (not a good habit!) and do my breathwork wherever I happen to be—on a plane, at the office, in my car. 

What’s next on the docket for Cora? Anything in product development or accessibility increase that we can expect in the next year?

We have some exciting products planned for 2020! We’re continuing to listen to our customer and give her the things she wants from us, so we are expanding our suite of period care even further, as well as launching several other women’s wellness products that have been high on her list of requests.

Molly’s Advice for Entrepreneurs

What do you want to leave our readers with? 

Yes, it’s a hustle. But there is also a lot of joy in the struggle. Through this journey, I’ve come to know and work with some of the most incredible people. They’re like family. And in the end, the  greatest joy (and what makes the hustle worthwhile) is knowing we’re changing the lives of girls and women around the world. You literally can’t put a value on that.

What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs? 

Know your superpowers. Follow the things about your business that give you energy, and try to cut out or delegate the rest.

What failure have you learned most from? How did you overcome it? 

The failure to show up as a great leader. I have learned that I fail my team when I fail to take care of myself first. I am reminded in those moments that our individual wellbeing is what generates the wellbeing of the whole. It starts with me being whole, and no amount of hustle can substitute for that.

What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?

It means valuing your own individual wellbeing as much as you value the wellbeing of your business, because in reality the two are inextricably intertwined.

Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.

About The Author

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty is an inspirational and educational speaker, clean beauty advocate, co-founder of Organic Bath Co. and founder of WELL Summit. You can find her on Instagram @wellsummit and @giannedoherty. Her weekly series, Balanced Hustler, on WELL Insiders is a deep dive into entrepreneurship.

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