How a TikTok video gave two 20-something founders a way to trade during their pre-seed cycle

Few of the investors Cindy Belardo and Drew Jarvis spoke to last year were happy to talk about rules, until the co-founders’ TikTok video went viral.

Belardo and Jarvis, the 25- and 23-year-old co-founders of Tulsa-based period-care startup Sunny Period, had been prototyping their product — a menstrual cup you can insert like a tampon — for four years. When Jarvis and I sat down to lunch together a few weeks ago, she excitedly pulled out a bag containing dozens of cups and various applicators they had both developed, and thumbed through a copy of the graphic novel. on the theme of the era that Belardo had written. .

When the two began launching venture capitalists, a predominantly white, male industry, few investors shared the same enthusiasm, let alone understand what a menstrual cup was.

That all changed in April, when the founders released a video of Jarvis explaining how to use the product. The video went viral on TikTok, generating nearly 50,000 likes and hundreds of comments. Within 24 hours of the video’s launch, Belardo and Jarvis launched a pre-order page on their site, and they made $200,000 in pre-order sales in a single month. (They now have over $500,000 in pre-order sales.)

With proof of interest in the product, Belardo and Jarvis began having conversations with more investors and returned to VCs who had turned them down or hinted that now was not the right time. “I’d say at least 90% of those emails we sent were met with a ‘yes, let’s set up a call in the next week or two,'” Jarvis says.

Initial traction “was definitely a differentiator,” says Michael Basch, general partner of Atento Capital, the investor who led Sunny’s $1.5 million pre-seed round, which closed. two weeks ago. Sixty8 Capital, Inicio Ventures and Debut Capital also joined the round.

Cindy Belardo (right) and Drew Jarvis landed $200,000 in presale revenue in a month after a video about their menstrual cup product went viral on TikTok.

Courtesy of Sunny Times

Sunny’s early sales figures allowed Belardo and Jarvis to be more selective with which investors they wanted to work with, the co-founders said. It also gave them an element of bargaining power often rare for young minority founders (Jarvis identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, and Belardo is Hong Kong Chinese and Puerto Rican). The two co-founders retained their seats on the board of directors, which the two women say they are proud to have negotiated.

“It helps us as a team to be able to pivot faster and maintain that control,” Belardo says, noting that mentors and other founders had made the recommendation.

Jarvis added: “I’m glad our raise last year didn’t work out because I think we were desperate. And we didn’t have a lot of leverage that investors could see. It gave us a chance to build our self-confidence, learn what to do right, and learn how to defend ourselves.

Basch says Atento likely would have skipped a board seat, but it was important for the co-founders to retain them, so “we were happy to support him,” he says. “We are investing and betting on the ability of these two women to understand this,” he says.

The move gave Belardo and Jarvis complete autonomy over their initial market positioning, and they weren’t shy about tackling controversial topics. The two of them decided early on to include non-binary, transgender and gender non-conforming people in their branding, and to use words like “menstruating” instead of “women” in their marketing materials. . Last month, they launched a campaign on “degendered periods” and are encouraging popular retailers to remove words like “feminine hygiene products” for more inclusive language and introduce the word “menstruation” into the Merriam- Webster.

The campaign immediately drew a lot of backlash and criticism from initial pre-order customers and social media followers. Belardo and Jarvis shared some of the initial correspondence with me, including aggressive messages advising them to “stay in your lane” or asking for refunds. Belardo and Jarvis say all of their investors have been overwhelmingly supportive of the campaign.

With the new funding, Sunny has started production, and Belardo says the company expects to start shipping its product in the first quarter. For Belardo and Jarvis, the funding is an important validation and a milestone.

“Most entrepreneurs don’t even have the chance to see their idea come to life,” says Jarvis, “let alone make sales from it, let alone have the confidence to fund you.”

Until tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
E-mail: [email protected]
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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