The original story behind TOM Organic is well-known: founder Aimee Marks, fresh out of university, has an idea. She wants to start an organic tampon business. A family friend loans her $10,000, and within a year, TOM Organic hits the shelves of its very first stockists. Now ten years in, Aimee shares a new story: how the business has grown in the past decade and the most important lessons she’ll carry into the next ten years of business.
In Part One of this feature, I shared some of the founding lessons I learnt in TOM Organic’s early days. In reflecting on more recent times, these are the five key lessons I’ve learnt (and continue to learn) through our business, team and community here at TOM Organic.
1. Find the benchmark and do it better
When TOM Organic began, there were very few organic tampon brands around. They weren’t accessible, and the product quality wasn’t on par with what we had worked so hard to create. TOM Organic was the first organic feminine hygiene brand sold in a grocery store.
It wasn’t just about being better than the other products in the market though: I would only produce a product made with the purest ingredients because I felt personally responsible for the women using them.
Being uncompromising on the product from the beginning has meant we haven’t changed the TOM Organic tampon from its first version – we launched with the best possible product available.
Just because you have a market for your product, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge how you produce your products, the materials you use and their impact on the planet – you should find the benchmark and do it better.
We continue to evolve in response to what our community asks for.
You’re going to see this come to life with the way that we’re innovating with new products – we’re working on expanding the options people have to choose from when they have their period, and it’s super exciting.
2. Be part of a bigger movement
In creating a product that has an associated taboo with it, we’re breaking down a lot of stereotypes and doing things differently at TOM Organic.
Alongside our relentless responsibility to always place our community at the intersection of health and performance, there are two key broader social movements that we want to stand for and that we’ve embedded into our ongoing approach.
The first is normalising the way women work and creating a new industry benchmark. We want to create a structure for business to seamlessly integrate into women’s lives. I was always a bit overwhelmed by wanting both the freedom of working on something I was passionate about and growing a family. Through building TOM Organic, I’ve seen how a business can run extremely effectively with an all-women team, all working flexibly, many working part-time, and who are parents.
The second and even bigger movement that we want to stand for is normalising tampons and periods. Using our brand as a platform to end these taboos supports broader conversations around sexual, mental and physical health and driving women’s empowerment on all these frontiers. We want TOM Organic to leave a mark on the world through accessible, and uncompromised products that create a lasting and positive impact on people’s lives and the planet.
3. Trust your gut
Because I didn’t have any experience in starting businesses and had no idea what the road ahead of me would look like, I’ve often gone with my gut. It was gut instinct that told me the post-university roles that I was interviewing for didn’t feel right, and that I needed to do something that was inspiring to me while I was feeling fresh and energised and brave.
Being in touch with my intuition has helped me in the way I lead the business – there’s no template or model or blueprint to go off, just my intuition and my vision.
Going with your gut doesn’t solely relate to interpersonal or leadership choices. I’ve trusted my instincts in our approach to finance, I’ve bootstrapped and taken on debt in the past to move us forward. Still, I also know what I don’t know. I’m the first one to put on my hand to say yes, we’re at this point today, and the business is ten years old, but scaling the brand to a hundred million dollar business is something that’s totally out of my depth. Knowing where my strengths are and asking for help with what I don’t know helps guide my decision-making every day.
4. Don’t sacrifice your own self-care
Something I wish I had learned earlier is the importance of self-care. I reached a point where I wasn’t living any of the business values because of the workload I had taken on and the pace of that workload. I was imparting our values of health and self-care on everyone else without realising the cost on myself.
Because I was never someone who got down or sick, I had difficulty even realising how burned out I was. But after two miscarriages and some worrying blood test results, I had some pretty clear data showing the misalignment of my values in my health.
When your body is failing you, it’s a pretty compelling reason to slow down and stop, but to be honest, it took me a long time to figure that out. I was trying to hold on to so many things in the business and feeling like I needed to be on top of everything.
I talk to so many founders and leaders who have had similar experiences – we’re relentlessly passionate after all! Being able to look after yourself is something that’s only recently becoming more prioritised and focussed. To me, it’s not simply about meditating or getting the right amount of sleep but about recognising what you need to do to take care of yourself and putting structures in place to do that.
5. Stay in possibility
Now we’re a decade into TOM Organic I’m still holding onto that sense of infinite possibility – the appetite for where you can be risky without knowing all the things that could go wrong. Sure, it feels a little different with the responsibility of the livelihood of 20 women that now make up our business, but to continue scaling TOM Organic, I know we need to stay curious and creative.
Our evolution of products and brand will only continue. In another ten years, I hope that each of our products and its composition is even better and that we’re uncompromised on accessibility, health, education and our connection to our community. We want to support women and their families through their entire lifecycle: from the first period to pregnancy, to old age.
Possibility is essential to cling onto because it’s not just about thinking of new ideas for your product or brand but being part of a collective momentum and inspiring possibility in others. One of my favourite quotes says “the true value of a leader is not measured by the work they do. The true value of a leader is measured by the work they inspired others to do.” That’s my true idea of success – for myself and TOM Organic.