How to Disrupt Period Care Products with Saalt's Founder Cherie Hoeger

Updated: Aug 24

Joining me on today’s episode is Cherie Hoeger, Founder of Saalt.

Saalt is a company aiming to modernize reusable period care. In 2018, Saalt launched its flagship product—the Saalt period cup—with the vision of making cleaner, more sustainable period care accessible to everyone. Leading Saalt's social impact efforts, Cherie began networking with impact partners to provide their period cups to underprivileged girls and women so they could confidently manage their periods, stay in school, and lift themselves out of poverty.

Now in their third year in business, Saalt has donated over 12,000 cups in over twenty-two countries to create a wave of informed cup users who then act as mentors for other donation recipients.

In this episode you’ll hear how Cherie and her husband got started

  • How they got their impactful start by launching the brand to their focus group of 1000 people

  • The way they’re driving growth through impact and education

  • And why Cherie urges everyone to consider becoming a B Corp business

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

So I'm Cherie Hoeger. I'm the founder and CEO of Saalt and we are a period care company aiming to modernize reusable period care for the mainstream consumer. So we want to be able to present those reusable options as something clean and sustainable. And something appealing to major consumers will also be core, which means that we take a triple bottom line approach to everything we do. We want our products to be clean and sustainably sourced and ethically made and also performed really well for that mainstream consumer. And as part of being a beat cop, we have a two percent give back mission. They give back two percent of our revenue to fund initiatives of natural health and also education and sustainability.

Gosh, I've been reading all about you and your business, obviously, prior to this call, and I'm just so impressed and so in awe of what you've been doing, I'm really excited to dig in and learn all about it.

Let's go back to where this story actually starts. What was getting you excited about starting a business in period?

So the spark for salt came from a phone call I had with an aunt in Venezuela. She'd gone without pads and tampons for years and the political instability there had caused these huge shortages of basic consumer staples like food and hygiene supplies and grocery stores were literally empty. Everyone who's been through the pandemic this past year knows what that feels like. A little bit more to see those shelves and how fast they can clear. And that dependence on disposables really kept me up at night. I have five daughters and I immediately thought of my five daughters and what I would do in that situation. So that led to a lot of research into what reusable options that were out there. And that's when I was first introduced to the period cup. And I learned that it was cleaner, it was non-toxic. You could wear it for 12 hours at a time. It lasted 10 years. And I just thought, where has this been my whole life? And so I bought several cups to try out, but couldn't find one that really worked well with my anatomy. And I also found that there weren't many cups that were us made out of high quality medical grade silicone that were FDA compliant. And so I wrote to my husband and to help me create a custom model on a 3D cad and got to work creating this cup that I hoped would be best for beginners and also the mainstream consumer. And it took about 14 iterations to get it right.

Oh, wow. Goodness. So 3-D printing the like at your house, for example?

Well, we actually if it wasn't a 3-D printer, so we did a 3D cad and it's modeling our 3D car. Yeah.

And we hired a freelancer to help us do that. But if you think about it, when you're creating a silicone menstrual cup, you found a supplier who made medical devices. But the mold itself cost twenty five thousand dollars of an investment just to have that mold created because you're literally etching that mold in steel at the steel mold that is liquid injected with silicone. So we had to make sure that it was right, which is why it took 14 iterations. We had to be super confident in our product. And because we're going to have a small and a regular size, then that's another twenty five casebooks. Fifty thousand of our own retirement funds that were invested into this product. So you can imagine how nerve racking it was to be able to get this right. And when we finally pulled the trigger, it was a big step. That's what you do as an entrepreneur, is you have confidence in your product and you decide to move forward.

Wow. Gosh, yeah. That is a really big step. How did you actually go about finding the person that was going to produce the silicon mold and produce the products for you?

Yeah, that's a great question. It just takes a lot of research. I like to say as entrepreneurs, there's no magic ticket to how you do things. It's really just a lot of problem solving. So we did interview a lot of manufacturers. We found a great one that had us sourced silicone that was us made. They actually made medical grade parts for different hospitals and also for aerospace parts. So a very, very good supplier that we could really trust. And then also hiring that freelancer to help us create the design. And it just takes a lot of research and interviewing, really.

And a moment ago, when you were saying your business, did you have to think about the way that you were going to manufacture and produce these kinds of things with that in mind versus just going out and just potentially sourcing from who knows where or doing it a different way? Did it change the way you operated from the very beginning?

Yeah, absolutely. Because there's a deep core if you want to make sure that you're providing products that are both good for, well, everyone's bodies for everyone and the environment and all of your stakeholders. So you actually have language written into your bylaws, into your operating agreement, saying that you measure the impact of your decision on all stakeholders, not shareholders. So it's not about just profit, it's not about that. Bottom line is about people, planet and profit all. It's a triple bottom line approach. And so we do we wanted to measure how these products would affect the environment, how they would affect our customers and make sure that they were done in a clean way that sustainably sourced and also use through ethical methods. And that's what the class is all about.

Amazing when you were going to do the moult, the silicon mold, did you prove out the concept and validate the idea before going ahead and pulling that trigger, or is that something that came next?

That came next? And that was the tough part. Now that I remember, we did do a little 3-D print, but it's not something that you would actually test and put inside of.

Oh, my God, I hope not.

I remember we started a focus group early on on Facebook with the goal to get a thousand members to join. And the idea was if we could get at least a thousand people who resonated with our new brand and mission and also our product, then we would have something that we could sell. So that's often called the proof of concept stage in business. So we started hosting these lunches in Boise and also in other states to recruit people to join our group and we bribe them with free food and asked them to bring their laptops and invite their friends to join. And then once we reach those thousand members, we would ask them all sorts of questions. So you say, how do you like our branding and packaging and what do you think about this marketing idea and which cup color do you like best? And we would ask these questions to get real feedback from real consumers. And then we also want to see how they liked our new cup design. And we had them test that our prototype once we had prototype. And I remember how nerve racking it was because you would have someone who would say, hey, I'm having trouble with the cup and you get so worried you knew there was that learning curve.

But I didn't know if it was the learning curve or if it was the cup design, but then that same person would come back and they would rave about how comfortable it was and how easy to use it was. And it was this roller coaster of emotions to hear this real and raw feedback from our customers. But it was so important because it prepared us for the problems that we needed to address as a customer service team and also really helped us gain confidence in our product that it really worked for people. So it was pretty amazing. And then once we did launch and this gets to our launch Facebook, they had tested those prototypes. We had a thousand people with a thousand sources of feedback for that product. And then when we launched, we gave them and gifted our packages. And on social media, they were able to show us their unboxing experience and share it with the world. And it really helped us launch so that when we put our website out there, it wasn't just crickets. We had a team of a thousand people who were helping launch at the same time.

Oh, my gosh. Wow, that's crazy. Thousands a lot. Just to clarify, when we're thinking about the number side of things and starting a business, it was around fifty thousand dollars, you said, for the mold, then I imagine you've invested in the product and then you've also essentially paid for shipping to a thousand people. Can you share kind of an overview of what kind of capital it really took to get started when you factor in all those kind of early beginning moments?

Yeah, so we've been fortunate enough to be self-funded, for the most part, the stock. But we did take out SBA loan to fund the inventory because that was the biggest expense. So we did fund our design and a lot of the kind of the early stage branding. But then we took out the SBA loan for inventory and that was about eight hundred thousand dollars. So we are also part of an angel investor community here. And I know that a lot of startups go ahead and take investors. So you have the venture backed startup and those can be really successful. And I've seen them not be successful. And the trouble with taking venture capital is that investors are always looking for an exit strategy. So they're not always invested in your long term strategy as a business. They're looking at that short term gain and how fast they can exit. And we were really concerned with that, especially because we have that two percent give back mission of the corp, and that's called mission lock, where an investor might want to change that. Well, what if you give one percent that you can have higher profits? And we didn't want that to be dictated by the investor. So we really wanted to retain full ownership and are proud to have been able to do that to the SEC. But it was a little harder, right, to get your loan. So when we're looking at that first SBA seven eight loan, the underwriters really wanted us to cut that impact budget because they were most concerned about the debt service coverage ratio. And so that two percent can be quite a lot. Right. So we had to convince them that that two percent was actually going to be a Win-Win, both for the company and our consumers and then our partners, and that we're going to be able to attract world class suppliers and attract world class talent by being a B corp. And that is certainly been true, but it took some convincing.

How long did it take for you to kind of get that money piece in place?

We had to show that we had a viable product, which is why it took our own funds. First, I'm trying to remember how long it was. We launched in February of twenty eighteen. We've been working on it since twenty sixteen and we were able to get the SBA loan in twenty seventeen right before our inventory purchase. So yeah, it was after we'd already created that design and invested our own funds into creating the design.

Got it. And then that loan was a. To give you the money to invest in the product investment, yes, we had to be very deliberate in showing where that money was going.

It had to be used for inventory, a factor stipulation. So that was the only thing we could use it for.

Oh, OK. Right. Wow. Good one. Very exciting. So going back to the launch, you've got a thousand people who are going out there and doing the unboxing, they're already hyped about your brand. They love it. They've been part of the journey from the beginning. And I guess that's like what they say about building those first 1000 true fans of the brand. You pretty much did that in the lead up to launch. You have that already ticked off. What happens next? What happens after you launch this brand to the world? What was it like? You know, the reception of it to everyone?

Well, it's a lot of spreading the word and finding ways to do that. So one of our focus group members actually came up with the hashtag Pass the Salt. We said this is a product that's really word of mouth. You need to be able to be introduced to the product by a friend or a trusted mentor or a trusted influencer. And so we use that hashtag, pass the salt. We love that. We thought it was brilliant. I love that. And we did turn to a lot of social media and a lot of influencers because we knew that we could rely on those first thousand people or we could also. Well, it was both those relying on those first thousand people and it was looking at those influencers and getting them on board, sending them product to try having them become converts and then sharing that with their audiences. So we are very social media heavy. We are 80 percent mobile. So 80 percent of our customers are on mobile. And so we continue to be and we're always ready messages. It's also a lot of education. So I came from a technical writing background before starting school and I wrote textbooks on fitness and wellness.

And I realized that in order to really cause behavior change, you had to take this really ambiguous information like nutrition, for instance, that's just all over the board. There's so much information out there. Find what's credible and put it into these chunks that are consumable for mainstream consumers to then make decisions and make good choices. And when I saw the metric up market and when I saw the stigmas with period care, I realized this was just an education issue. People needed to be educated. And actually that stigma really represented both our biggest challenge and opportunity because challenging the fact that we had to overcome the stigma and opportunity in that we could retell the story in a different way and we could show it as something instead of something that was gross and reusable. We would show something that was clean and sustainable would actually be better for you and the planet and actually a cleaner period experience. And so we really took that stigma head on, especially in our branding and our messaging and our voice and our imagery, and showcased the cup as this beautiful high end product that opened like a beautiful lipstick, high end lipstick.

I love that, I love that and do you think having that education piece and that style of language in that tone of voice is really what lifted the brand off when people were coming in and kind of converted them into being customers?

Very much so. This is something we have tested with our focus group. We would put out different language in some ways a little bit more authoritative in other language, was more approachable and hands down the approachable voice was what customers gravitated to, and we actually have a name for it. So we like to call it your best friend's older sister. And the reason why is because when you're learning about period care as a teen, you don't always want to go talk to your mom right about it. And then your best friend, well, she's going through her period at the same time you are. But your best friend's older sister now, she's cool. She knows she's been through a lot of cycles before. So you could turn to her to know how you should cover your period care. And so that's what we call the voice, your best friend's older sister.

I love that. That's so cool and so true. I love that voice. Something you said before that sparked something in me that I wanted to ask you just to go back a little bit. Why aren't we? Or is it now the case that in schools where only really given the option of pads and tampons, I certainly didn't have any knowledge really of menstrual cups until recent years, in recent times. Is it something that's talked about in school, this kind of period care?

Not very much. It still has a lot of strides to gain and headway. So there are areas, for instance, we have an incredible partner out of Australia. Her name is Demi and her social handle is Bright Girl Health. And she loves to teach about reusable products. She loves the Salt Cup and she teaches at two girls in school. But it's not the case. Usually those school programs are funded by big programs like Tampon Playtech. A lot of well here in America, a lot of the big conglomerates that are disposable companies. And so you don't see a lot of reusable. And that's something that we want to change. We are currently developing a school curriculum that we're hoping will be also be able to get out there to school to introduce young girls to reusable from from the get go when they first start their periods.

Yeah, I imagine that's a really that'll be a really fulfilling day when you get that happening in schools. Love that. So back to marketing. Sorry, I went off course for a little bit. This after the launch. And you know, the word is starting to spread. What were the kind of pivotal moments where things really started to take off and it started spreading further than that one thousand customers?

Yeah, I would say it was our launch in Target. So that was probably the number one thing that really set us off as a brand. So we launched into Target stores nationwide and only our second year of business, which was pretty incredible. That doesn't usually happen. And Target had really been our dream retailer. So we were debating back and forth on packaging design. And what we keep coming back to is that it had to be target worthy and Target is inclusive nationwide. Right now. It's a pretty trendsetting retailer here in the US. And the way it came about was that my husband, who's also co-founder, joined me at a trade show in Florida and it was essentially speed dating with retailers. We picked twenty six retailers in forty eight hours and one of them was the target buyer. We had the twenty minute meeting with Target Buyer and you can imagine how nervous we were. I'd only pitch to one other grocery buyer and she was pretty stone faced and so I went in really prepared. But to my surprise she was a very progressive thinker. She had been passing around menstrual cups around the