How a TikTok video gave two founders in their mid-20’s negotiating leverage in their pre-seed round

October 25, 2022, 10:45 AM UTC

Not many of the investors Cindy Belardo and Drew Jarvis spoke with last year were excited to talk about periods—that is until the co-founders’ TikTok video went viral.

Belardo and Jarvis, the 25- and 23-year-old co-founders of the 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 together over lunch a few weeks ago, she excitedly pulled out a bag with dozens of cups and various applicators the two of them had developed, and she flipped through a copy of the period-themed graphic novel Belardo had written.

When the two of them started pitching venture capitalists, an industry that skews predominantly white and male, few investors shared their same enthusiasm, not to mention even understood what a menstrual cup was. 

All that changed in April, when the founders posted 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 taking off, Belardo and Jarvis launched a pre-order page on their site, and they notched $200,000 in pre-order sales in a single month. (They now have more than $500,000 in pre-order sales.)

With proof of interest in the product, Belardo and Jarvis started having conversations with more investors and circled back to VCs who had turned them away or insinuated it wasn’t a good time. “I’d say at least 90% of those emails that we sent out were met with ‘yes—let’s set up a call in the next week or two,’” Jarvis says.

The initial traction “was definitely a differentiating factor,” says Michael Basch, general partner at Atento Capital, the investor that 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 pre-sale revenue in one month after a video about their menstrual cup product went viral on TikTok.
Courtesy of Sunny Period

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

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

Jarvis added: “I’m glad that 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 more confidence in ourselves and learn what to do correctly and learn how to advocate for ourselves.”

Basch says that Atento likely would have defaulted to taking a board seat, but that it was important to the co-founders to retain them, so “we were happy to support it,” he says. “We are investing in and betting on these two women being able to figure this out,” he says.

The move has given Belardo and Jarvis full autonomy in terms of how they initially position themselves in the market, and they haven’t shied away from controversial topics. The two of them decided early on to be inclusive of non-binary, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals in their branding, and use words like “menstruators” instead of “women” in their marketing materials. Last month they launched a campaign to “degender periods” and encourage popular retailers to drop words like “feminine hygiene products” for more inclusive language and introduce the word “menstruators” into the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

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

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

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

See you tomorrow, 

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.


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- Resolve Biosciences, a Monheim am Rhein, Germany-based molecular cartography company, raised $71 million in Series B funding. Patient Square Capital led the round and was joined by investors including EDBI, PS Capital, Alafi Capital, NRW.BANK, and others. 

- Merge, a New York and San Francisco-based API for B2B integrations, raised $55 million in Series B funding. Accel led the round and was joined by investors including NEA and Addition.

- The Coterie, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based financial technology platform for startup founders, raised $40 million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz.

- Proemion, a Fulda, Germany-based connectivity solutions company for mobile machines, raised €33.5 million ($33.1 million) in funding from Battery Ventures

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- Sensat, a London, U.K.-based infrastructure automation company for the construction industry, raised $20.5 million in Series B funding led by National Grid Partners

- Fermyon, a Longmont, Colo.-based WebAssembly applications deployment and management platform, raised $20 million in Series A funding. Insight Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Amplify Partners and other angels. 

- Gearflow, a Chicago-based parts marketplace for heavy equipment owners, raised $5.5 million in funding. Brick & Mortar Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Alumni Ventures, Newark Venture Partners, Watchfire Ventures, and Liquid2 Ventures

- Grafbase, a Stockholm-based data platform for developers, raised $5 million in seed funding. Next47 led the round and was joined by investors including Alven, Uncorrelated Ventures, and other angels. 

- ShoppinPal, a Modesto, Calif.-based integration platform as a service (iPaaS) provider for the food, hospitality, and retail sector, raised $5 million in funding. Mucker Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Menlo Ventures, Pitbull Ventures, Incisive Ventures, and other angels.

- Wispr, a San Francisco-based neurotechnology interaction company, raised $5 million in seed II funding. Neo, Triple Point Capital, MVP Ventures, NEA, 8VC, and others invested in the round. 

- Vara, a Berlin, Germany-based A.I. breast cancer screening startup, raised €4.5 million ($4.45 million) in Series A extension funding. VI Partners led the round and was joined by investors including EQT Foundation, Med360, Merantix, and Think Health.

- Scout, a Toronto, Canada-based seafood maker, raised $4 million in seed funding. Semillero Partners and Export Development Canada led the round and were joined by Almanac Insights

- Ottr, a San Francisco-based Web3 app for holding and securing crypto, raised $3.1 million in pre-seed funding. Race Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Circle Ventures, Slow Ventures, and Kamal Ravikant


- Grammer Logistics, a Stellex Capital Management and Mill Rock Capital portfolio company, acquired Logistics Management Resources, a Baton Rouge, La.-based transportation management solutions provider to the chemicals, industrial gasses, and related industries. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- SilverEdge Government Solutions, backed by Godspeed Capital, acquired Counter Threat Solutions, a Reston, Va.-based counterintelligence analysis, identity intelligence, enterprise IT, and data management solutions provider. Financial terms were not disclosed.  


- Booz Allen Hamilton acquired EverWatch, a Reston, Va.-based defense, intelligence, and deployed support government solutions company, from Enlightenment Capital. Financial terms were not disclosed. 


- Syncona Limited agreed to acquire Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, an Alachua, Fla. and Cambridge, Mass.-based adeno-associated virus-based gene therapies biotechnology development company, for approximately $23.5 million.


- Propeller, a Boston-based climate-tech fund, raised $100 million for a fund focused on planet-saving, ocean-based science, and technology solutions.

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