Founder Focus: DAME, the first reusable tampon applicator
In a bid to cut single-use plastic waste from period products, DAME is a British start-up who’ve just launched the world’s first reusable tampon applicator, D.
Leaving behind an ordinary job as a project manager to start DAME, Celia Pool and her business partner, Alec Mills, are on a mission to save approximately 12,000 pieces of plastic from entering the ocean/landfill per woman who switches from regular applicators.
Recalling male investors inability to look her straight in the eye during pitches and the rejection she received from one who thought she’d be too ‘distracted’ as a mother, securing investment hasn’t been easy for Celia but with Waitrose onboard (D is now available nationwide in-store), things are looking green for the start-up.
We caught up with Celia and Alec to find out where the idea for DAME came from.
WHAT WAS YOUR EUREKA MOMENT?
It was more of a slow drain rather than a leap out of the bath moment (niche Archimedes reference). We ran a period subscription service called Sanitary Owl delivering popular brands of tampons and pads to women around the UK. After a few years, we saw the amount of plastic, chemicals, and waste in these everyday products. 100 billion period products are thrown away each year and nearly all of them go to landfill.
We were contributing to the problem so we told our investors we’d stopped believing in what we were doing, told a few thousand customers we weren’t going to send them damaging products any more and started to think of a solution.
WHAT WAS YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH?
“Floor 2, please”. The average tampon user will have one inside them for 7.5 years in total. The vagina is highly absorbent, yet most tampons are made from plastic and toxic materials. DAME tampons are made from organic cotton and fully biodegradable, and our applicator is reusable. We believe women and the planet deserve better – now there’s a sustainable choice for the millions of women who use tampons every day. *Ding*
HOW DID YOU TEST DAME?
We launched on Kickstarter and it went crazy, selling in over 50 countries. We were picked up by over 100 publications, trended globally on Twitter, and were fully funded in just 3 days. On the back of this, we’ve been approached by nearly every major supermarket and pharmacy in the UK, which was a great sign that we had something worth pursuing (and that sustainability is going mainstream).
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE THINKING OF STARTING A BUSINESS ON THEIR OWN?
Find the pain point. Test cheaply. Fail often. Ask the experienced.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR OR ARE YOU ONE?
Our chairwoman is the ex-CFO of L’Oreal and great for bouncing ideas off, we also have a fantastic network of advisors and investors who we often ask for help. They’re key for the top level decisions that could fundamentally change the course of the business.
WHAT IS THE ONE BOOK YOU RECOMMEND EVERYONE READS AND WHY?
As someone designing and marketing new products, I really enjoyed James Dyson’s autobiography Against the Odds – it’s an amazing story of persistence and believing in what you’re doing.
I also love Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing. He’s an avid environmentalist and the founder of Patagonia who pioneered the concept of using business as a force for good. He effectively created the framework for the entire B Corp movement.
Both books are about rethinking the way we do things, and champion quality products that are built to last – things we believe deeply in at DAME.
WHAT IS THE MOST WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT THAT YOU HAVE MADE?
People. We have a really good team of like-minded individuals who share our values and believe in what we’re doing. Knowing that we’re all swimming in the same direction helps with everything we do.
WHAT ONE FAILURE ARE YOU GLAD YOU EXPERIENCED?
Spending thousands on our first website before we knew what we were building, overcomplicating product offerings, acquiring the wrong sort of customer… we make more mistakes than tampons, but the important thing is to learn from them.
WHAT PIECE OF COMMON INDUSTRY ADVICE DO YOU OFTEN HEAR THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH?
‘It’s all about the bottom line’. It’s not and chasing profit encourages short-termism, when it’s been proved over and over again that purpose and people create more sustainable businesses in every way.
A really good example was when we needed help packing sample packs. It was a simple task but time-consuming so we asked in the local homeless shelter if anyone wanted to help us. We now have an ex-soldier, Ray, who helps us out one day a week. On the back of his work with DAME he’s now built the confidence to apply for his citizenship card, and we’ve found ourselves the best man for the job.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR MORNING ROUTINE?
Wake up at 7.30. Eat a banana. Bike to work. Try to help make the world a better place, one tampon at a time.