Founder Profile: Betsy Drach of Dot - Chicago
We chatted with Betsy Drach, founder of Dot, over a cup of coffee and a donut. We were so excited to meet Betsy and learn about her new menstrual cup company based out of Chicago. We loved learning about her mission and large dreams to help women all over the world. We want everyone to know about Dot and their one-for-one model donating cups to women in developing countries, so we are doing a giveaway with Dot here (open until March 30th). Below is our conversation with Betsy, an incredible and caring women.
Hi Betsy! What is your background that led you to where you are now?
I thought my big goal going into college was going into the magazine industry. I wanted to go to New York and work at a magazine, that was my plan. I went to a small school in Oklahoma and they did not have a really great journalism program. I decided to go the advertising route, because the more I learned about it, the more it felt in line with the type of storytelling I wanted to do. I decided to do advertising paired with graphic design, and what brought me to Chicago was an internship with an agency. I interned there for a summer, which turned into six months, and then I got hired on as a freelancer, so I was there about a year, which led me to a few different agencies.
I ended up working at an agency that worked a lot with the food industry. I got to a point where the biggest account we were working on was French’s Mustard, and it was really fun. I was art directing and working on fun photoshoots swirling mustard, but I wanted my work to mean more. I like mustard, but I don’t love mustard.
I started looking to see what else was out there. In that process, I met someone who works for World Vision in Chicago. They happened to be looking for someone with a background similar to mine, and it kind of worked out perfectly. They do global humanitarian work on a really large scale, but the team in Chicago focuses their efforts on clean water. The big part of my job is recruiting people to run races to fundraise for World Vision. 2,000 people ran the Chicago Marathon this past year for World Vision. I do anything that has to do with the design experience of our runners, from the first email they get to an expo to the video they might see to the t-shirts they receive. It’s an end to end experience that I design for them. It was a big shift from the advertising world to the non-profit international development world.
How did you end up starting Dot?
Around the same time I started working for World Vision, I started learning about the women and girls around the world that don’t have access to menstrual health products and how paralyzing it can be for them. They use unsanitary things like rags and newspapers and cloth and mud, just to prevent leaks so they can go about their day and stay involved in school and their community. A lot of times that’s just too complicated and difficult, so they just stay home. Over the course of their years in education, young girls a lot of time end up missing 60 days a year behind their male classmates, which feels so unfair. Because of a beautiful, natural part of their anatomy, they are forced to fall behind. A lot of organizations are providing disposable products, but that’s not really sustainable and runs out over time.
I took a trip to Cambodia and another to Kenya with World Vision and another organization, and the idea kept coming up in my mind and heart to make a change. These young girls need to be empowered to stay in school and the young mothers need to be able to start small businesses and work if they want to. Teachers in the developing world are mostly women and they often miss school when they’re on their menstrual cycle and that sets everyone behind.
Along the same timeline, I was introduced to the menstrual cup by my most hippy, green friend. I look to her for anything new, green, and environmentally friendly. She told me that I had to try the menstrual cup and that it was amazing. It’s comfortable, saves you money, it lasts longer, and you can wear it all day and all night. Finally, I tried it and I totally loved it. That was sort of the collision, in my hands and in my heart, of the ah-ha moment that this is what women in the developing world need, and this is what women in the Western world also need.
The one-for-one model is nothing new, but that’s the idea that came to me six years ago. I didn’t know how to start a businesses. It freaked me out. It was overwhelming and intimidating, but there were waves of the idea. I thought maybe I should write a business plan, so I wrote a business plan and put it on the shelf. It wasn’t really until a year ago, I had a daughter and was on maternity leave, that I had this margin of time, because babies sleep a lot and I wasn’t working full-time, that I had this idea to pursue Dot. I started playing with logos, designing a website, and researching silicone manufacturers in the Midwest, learning about an industry I knew nothing about. The silicone manufacturing industry is mostly middle-aged, white men, so I found myself having conversations about periods with middle-aged, white men who were very uncomfortable. I got really comfortable just saying it like it is and not beating around the bush, and kind of forcing them to be okay talking about it.
I found a great manufacturer about an hour and a half north of Chicago. It’s a small family owned company that do medical grade silicone manufacturing. I purchased a mold, which was described to me as a bundt cake pan, and the number of cavities in the mold determine how many you can make in one batch. We purchased a four cavity mold to start, and we’ll see where that takes us. That was the process of starting Dot.
How did the launch of Dot go?
From the time I got really serious about it to the time we launched was almost exactly a year. I switched my hours at World Vision to part time, and my other free time is focused on Dot. Last week [the launch] was awesome and the biggest takeaway was that this is an issue that a lot of people care about or are intrigued by. A lot of women have been really curious about menstrual cups. There’s a shift happening, and I think it’s making its way into the general public, outside of the super green, environmentally friendly world, into the mass market. People that are intrigued by it or are curious about it need that extra push to try it.
One of the coolest things last week was that there were two people who are menstrual cup users that saw Dot launch and posted on their social media that they love it so much, that if people are nervous to try it or can’t afford it, they will by one for them. That felt really cool to have someone believe in it so much that they wanted their friends to have it.
I knew that on one hand we could sell 1,000 in one day if we got attention, and on the other hand I could be crying in my apartment because I sold 5. We committed to giving away 1,500 cups regardless of early sales. If we sell more than that, we’ll give away more.
I partnered with Ashley Mary to paint our pouches. My whole goal is to have this business be for women, near and far. Ali Nelson is an illustrator, and I partnered with her to do the lettering and illustrations on how to insert the cup. I wanted it to feel pretty and artful and nice to look at, so she took on the weird challenge of drawing menstrual cups and how to insert them. Aimeé Mezzenga is so amazing. It was so incredible to bring together so many incredible women just for the launch.
What went into designing the cup? How did you become FDA approved?
We put a lot of research into designing the cup and making sure, as much as we could, to make it as broadly useable as possible. Hearing the feedback from women loving it and using it feels really encouraging.
Menstrual cups are in a category in which they are a basic design, and the overall basic design is approved, but each individual item doesn’t have to be re-approved. Each individual cup doesn’t need to be approved, unless it’s a super unique structure and design. It is considered a medical grade device, so it does need to be registered with the FDA, which not all brands are. That just adds a layer of credibility when the FDA is aware of your product and they know there are some regulations involved. We are registered with the FDA and the silicone that we use is approved for inter-body use, such as hearing aids, things used for dental work, and things inserted inside the body. Silicone is a material that causes the least allergies for most people.
You can go on to the FDA website and see if a menstrual cup brand is approved, but not all of them are. You can also see where they are made, and most of them are manufactured in China. It was really important to me for this to be a product that is made in the US, where I can go to the facility and see what they’re doing and see it being made with my own eyes. It’s a really quick process. It takes a few minutes to make one batch in a heating/cooling system. They inject the silicone, apply heat and pressure, and then they let it cool.
How do you want Dot to grow?
The big dream is to have a job program for women in Chicago sewing the pouches. I would love it to be for women coming out of homelessness, incarceration, single mothers, refugees, women who are having a difficult time finding work… The pouches are really simple to make and to have a big workshop that’s a really beautiful environment with a job program and resume building, to be a launchpad for women who need help in that area. Thus far, I just have a seamstress that’s making them who’s a family friend. Eventually when we increase production, my big dream is to have a way to serve women here in Chicago and give back to them, while providing the menstrual cups to women around the world and also here. There are women in shelters in Chicago and women living in homelessness that could really benefit from menstrual cups too. World Vision is the first partner that I’ll work with, but they don’t have to be the only partner.
How did you find the schools and communities to donate cups to?
A lot of people have asked me what happens if a woman doesn’t have access to water when you give her a menstrual cup. The cool thing about World Vision, it’s the #1 non-government provider of clean water in the world through wells, water purification systems, and water pipelines. I’m going to follow their lead of where they’re establishing clean water projects, that’s where we’ll start distributing menstrual cups. In communities that don’t have clean water, a menstrual cup still may be more sanitary than what they’re currently using, but it’s more sanitary if you have water to boil it.
It wouldn’t be extremely sustainable to send out a cup every time one is purchased, so we’ll send them out in large batches so that way all the girls in a school get one at the same time and can all be trained how to use it at the same time. There will also be training around anatomy because a lot of girls don’t even know how their bodies work. We’re working on curriculum for those programs right now and it’s looking like we’re going to start in Zambia.
World Vision has a very strong presence in Zambia. It’s a really great country to work with. They’re really culturally open to new products. Some countries are very culturally closed to anything being inserted into the body, so Zambia is more open to that. When it comes to customs and shipping, it’s a great country to work with too. Using that as the pilot program, we’ll identify schools and projects through World Vision that has great relationships there already. I’m pumped about that.
We’re shooting for this summer for our first round of distribution. It will mean having the cirriculum finished and teaching the teachers how to use it themselves and what they need to share with students and mothers. In one school, they’re teaching all the students, boys and girls, how to make cloth pads, so the boys can go home and teach their moms and their sisters how to do it.
That’ll be the culmination of everything, when I’m able to see the impact it has on girls and women.
I never thought I would start a business, especially one in the menstrual care category, but life is funny.
Betsy is offering $5 off of Dot cups with code GLOSSARY5. We hope you try out Dot. We have loved using ours so far. It's great to kind of forget about having your period while using the cup, PLUS, you'll be helping women around the world.