Revolutionizing Your Floss with Cat Cu
Conversation with Cat Cu, Co-Founder and CEO of Cocofloss
Revolutionizing Your Floss
May 15, 2019
1. What is your business?
I own a health and wellness company called Cocofloss. We create products that encourage people to take better daily care of their bodies while also making health fun. Our first product is the most fibrous and cleansing dental floss in the world. We are genuinely trying to rebrand the whole flossing experience by making it into something people look forward to instead of something people dread.
Our floss is called Cocofloss because the fibers are infused with coconut oil to moisturize it, allowing it to glide easily, and give it natural antimicrobial properties. The floss itself is a woven polyester fiber that is very strong, the weave we use doesn’t shred, it fits in tight spaces, and we feature great flavors like strawberries and fresh coconut without any sweeteners.
We officially launched in 2014. Now you can find us on Amazon, Goop, Anthropologie, and Nordstrom. People are drawn to our brand, so we have been able to build something in an organic way, which is amazing.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
My sister had been thinking about dental floss for years before I jumped onboard the floss wagon. I started my career in investment banking, which wasn’t a great fit for me. Then, I made my way over to a software startup where I focused on market analyses, finance, and investor relations. But I always knew I wanted my own company.
The culture of the tech startup where I worked was very entrepreneurial. I was an early member of the finance team where I helped to build the financial analytics infrastructure for the company from scratch.
The company put more value on being smart and resourceful than traditional companies that index towards process knowledge and experience. If you were smart, resourceful, and had common sense, you could go out and build new products, share your ideas with leadership, and execute upon your ideas end to end. So after my startup experience where I helped to build so much from scratch, I felt ready to go out and do anything.
Cocofloss was originally an art business. The original idea was to create a platform for commissioning art. Six months into that endeavor we weren’t getting much traction, so we switched gears. I approached my sister and we white-boarded some of the biggest problems in dentistry, one of them being that people don’t floss.
I thought the idea of building a floss company was so silly at first. I mean, I didn’t even floss!
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I talked to hundreds of people about their flossing habits – at happy hours, at the gym, at every social get together – and everyone had such a personal story about their flossing habit or lack thereof. I realized that oral care is top of mind for almost everyone. So many people feel guilt around flossing. They know they should do it but aren’t doing it daily and so there’s this dissonance.
That’s when we decided to do a 21-day flossing challenge. We created a Facebook event where anyone could invite their friends and challenge each other to floss for 21 days. Before the challenge, everyone filled out a survey so that we could better understand flossing behaviors and feelings towards flossing. Then we sent them Cocofloss samples in the mail to use for the next 21 days.
Through the challenge, it became clear that everyone wanted help building the habit of flossing daily. After the challenge, people actually craved flossing because they felt a new kind of clean feeling, which they had never experienced before. You need to know what clean feels like in order to appreciate it.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
The hardest phase of building the company was when we were just getting started. We were building a website, investing in R&D, manufacturing, shipping etc. We had no marketing budget, no salaries, we had very few paying customers, and we were investing everything we had into this idea. We were making daily trips to the post office with anywhere from zero to a handful of packages, and we were happy dancing each time an order came through.
We had to maintain conviction and trust our intuition that Cocofloss could provide enormous value.
5. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
I think we were about a year into the business when I came across another oral care startup. I freaked out a bit. I spent a ton of time thinking about our positioning and strategy, and I had a couple of sleepless nights.
In retrospect, I realize there will always be competitors. It is ok to freak out, at least temporarily, as it means that you care about your company. However, we don’t want to be fearful or reactive to competitors. They’ll always be there.
I think the key to success is to keep focused on our core values and strengths within our continuously evolving market environment. For Cocofloss, it’s our unique personality and commitment to quality that keep customers coming back.
6. Were your family and friends helpful or obstacles in launching your business? How so?
Our company is fully bootstrapped, and we couldn’t have launched Cocofloss without the help of our family and friends. When we got our first set of orders, my dad and I would sit together, watching documentaries on Netflix while packing Cocofloss. We’d pack for three hours a day. When packing needs grew to eight hours a day, I recruited my Auntie Loly and more friends!
7. How have you been able to grow professionally? What tools have you used?
The transition from founder to CEO is continuously evolving. I’m constantly taking on new roles. First, I focused on fulfillment and customer service, and then we made key hires. Then I focused on marketing and product until I felt stretched and had clearly defined roles. I keep hopping around and doing whatever the company needs. Once needs are clear, I hire folks who can do the job better than me, and I move on to the next thing. These days, my primary role is to develop the company’s vision and to orchestrate everything.
8. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
I’m most proud of the little things like feedback from customers. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from a customer who shares how Cocofloss has helped to improve their health.
I’m also so happy with the team we’ve built. As a manager, it’s so cool to see folks grow in their skills and responsibilities. Our teammates are all passionate about Cocofloss and what our company stands for. Cocofloss is very much an embodiment of our team’s collective values.
9. What are some of your current challenges?
Balancing flexibility and structure as our team grows. When we first started Cocofloss, there were no processes or structure. My sister and I hacked everything together as we went.
As we build the team, we need to make sure everyone is communicating effectively, collaborating, planning, mentoring, and supporting each other.
And as with any growing inventory-based business, we need more and more working capital, so that’s always top-of-mind.
10. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
Dental floss is a medical device, so we are regulated by the FDA. That means we have to register our products and pass certain facilities requirements. There are also marketing guidelines that need be followed.
In the beginning, the paperwork was taxing—lots of state and federal registrations, checks to be snail mailed, and paperwork to complete.
11. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself five years ago?
A friend told me that you should focus on building something that you think needs to exist. Create something that you authentically believe the world needs.
Conversation Date: December 14, 2018