Naama Bloom had two small kids at home and was working full-time for a software startup when she quit her job for an idea.
It was 2013 and at the time, subscription-based companies like Birchbox and Citrus Lane were blowing up. Bloom started asking herself: What’s the one thing women would be willing to pay for every month, no matter what? The answer was obvious and soon she had the perfect name for her business: HelloFlo.
HelloFlo includes a subscription service that sends pads and tampons to women each month. Parents can also buy period starter kits for their daughters. When the company launched in the spring of 2013, business was there, but it was slow. Bloom had about 40 subscribers. At the time, she was also doing part-time marketing consulting and envisioned HelloFlo as a fun side gig. “It just felt like playing,” she says.
But when Bloom uploaded HelloFlo’s first video ad “Camp Gyno” to YouTube, almost overnight, everything changed. “Camp Gyno” quickly went viral. To date, the video has nearly 10 million views. Thousands of women started writing in asking for more products. Procter & Gamble reached out and Bloom struck up a partnership with Always, which sponsored a second video, “First Moon Party“–this one bringing in nearly 30 million views to date.
But the wildfire success on the face of a viral video turns out to be a lot more complex when you crack open a startup and check out its inner-workings. “From the outside it looks like this highly successful company,” says Bloom. “But I’m two years and still bootstrapping.”
HelloFlo is Bloom’s first crack at entrepreneurship and as a first-time startup founder she’s had to learn what works and what doesn’t the hard way: through trial and error. She shared her company’s story and some of the lessons she’s learned so far with Fast Company.
As soon as Bloom came up with the idea of a subscription service for pads and tampons, she started talking to every woman she could. At the time, she didn’t have a company name or business plan. But she did have an insatiable curiosity to pick the brains of every woman she met. “I basically hijacked every conversation,” she says. “If my husband and I had a conversation with friends over dinner, it ended up being about the women’s periods.”
All of these conversations were crucial to Bloom’s figuring out what the company needed to do. When nearly every woman asked if the care package would include chocolate, she worked that into the plan. She talked for hours with a friend whose 11-year-old daughter was anxious about not getting her period yet, which gave Bloom the idea for the period starter kit–now the company’s top-selling product.
But while Bloom was talking to countless women, she still had nothing to show for herself when it came to actually having a company. “One day my husband said, ‘You need to either do something about it or stop talking about it,'” she says.
Bloom started with the basics. She put her background in marketing to use and came up with the company name HelloFlo. She hired a designer to create the company’s logo–a winking smiling female bust with long flowing hair that’s reminiscent of the Starbucks logo. Those crucial details–a name and logo–gave Bloom some momentum. “I needed to see something to know that it was real,” she says. “I needed some sort of identity so that I could build around that.”
Bloom made the Camp Gyno video on a shoestring budget of $6,000. She was only able to spend so little because almost all of the people working on the project, other than the actors, were willing to work for free. Bloom had to make a lot of asks like that in the early stages of the company–reaching out to everyone she knew who might be able to help. She got in touch with someone she’d worked with years before whose father worked at Procter & Gamble, asking if she could put them in touch. That meeting is what eventually helped lead to the company’s P&G partnership. “You’ve got to be comfortable asking,” says Bloom.
And also: comfortable not getting a response. Before Camp Gyno came out, Bloom reached out to everyone she could in the industry. “No one got back to me. I was nothing. I was a speck of dirt,” she says. But while she didn’t hear back from people at first, after Camp Gyno went viral, the calls started rolling in. “How can we tap into this?” people in the industry were calling to ask.
Part of the beauty of HelloFlo’s video ads, besides the fact that they’re hilarious, is that they unabashedly talk about vaginas and periods in a way no tampon or pad commercial ever has. It’s that candidness that spurred so many women to write in and share their own stories and ideas.
Bloom quickly realized the most valuable thing the company had to offer wasn’t its subscriptions, it was the conversation it had started. “I got thousands of emails from women from around the world thanking me,” she says. They were also writing in with questions. In response, Bloom created an “Ask Dr. Flo” feature on the company’s website where doctors and experts answer questions sent in by women–everything from “What is discharge?” to “Why can’t I get pregnant?“
“I started to realize that more than anything what was most powerful was these conversations,” says Bloom.
All this interest from women convinced Bloom she’d be a shoe-in when it came to finding investors to help fund the business. And she was getting desperate for money. Bloom was working on HelloFlo full-time, but had no way of paying herself. After about six weeks of talking to investors and getting a string of rejections, Bloom decided she needed a different approach to grow the business. She’d been planning to develop her own line of products and focus the core of her business on subscription services, but as a first-time entrepreneur with no experience in manufacturing, investors were rightfully skeptical.
Bloom decided to shift her focus to developing partnerships with bigger brands like Always that could help provide some much-needed capital. And instead of focusing on subscriptions, she looked to product sales for revenue. “You have to be thinking revenue first,” says Bloom.
Two years into running HelloFlo, Bloom is still very careful about her spending. She only started paying herself a salary this year and has hired just one full-time employee in addition to a co-founder who works another a full-time job. She also makes use of interns as much as possible. “I’m stringing everything together with spit and bubblegum,” she says. That and brilliant viral videos.