Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in his Harvard dorm room. Larry Page and Sergei Brin built Google in a rented garage. Tara Priya Chandra came up with the idea for her new business in a bathroom at the London School of Economics (LSE).
Just months into LSE’s Executive Global Master’s in Management (EGMiM) program – dubbed the alternative to the traditional MBA – Tara and her classmate Susan Allen started chatting about setting up a socially-impactful business.
Now, four years on, Tara is the mastermind behind Flo; a sassy, socially-conscious brand of organic feminine hygiene care. Flo sells 100% cotton, organic, eco-friendly and BPA-free tampons for the mass market.
Flo’s first retailer was Impossible, an online shop for ethical goods run by activist model Lily Cole. Early this year, Tara put Flo up on Kickstarter to crowdfund money for its first batch of 6,000 units. Already, Flo’s pre-sold around 1,500 units, secured two wholesale distributors, and had over 30 shops signed up to retail. Flo will be launching on shelves in in the UK and Ireland in July this year.
A San Francisco-born singer-songwriter, Tara signed to Asian and European Indie labels and toured internationally for three years prior to joining LSE. Her first album reached second in the R&B and Soul charts in Japan, and she had a number six single on Japan’s Billboard Hot 100.
She left her LA-based label and moved to London where she worked on her music alongside LSE’s flexible, part-time EGMiM. She released her second album halfway through the program.
At LSE, the idea for Flo began to take shape. Tara won the school’s Generate startup competition. She did the consumer research for Flo as her EGMiM dissertation.
Tara quit her job at a mobile app startup and went full-time with Flo in October 2016. Tara works seven days a week – what was her side-hustle, is now her full-time focus. Music is more of a nights and weekends thing.
Tara is not your typical business school student. But LSE is not your typical business school – the EGMiM’s uniquely theoretical approach sets it apart from traditional MBA programs. Tara only applied to LSE.
What do you hope to achieve with your business, Flo?
The mission for Flo is to bring affordable, accessible, and adorable feminine hygiene care to the mass market. If you talk to women about why they should go organic, they get it. Women understand that an organic product that’s natural and biodegradable is better – the appeal is easy.
But there’s no point in having menstrual products that are healthier for women if you can only find them in a Whole Foods, a Planet Organic, or online. Women just want to go to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, or a local corner shop, and pick a product up.
The organic market is so hot! It’s kind of strange that you can buy organic milk, apples, baby lotion, and baby wipes in major retailers, but they still haven’t had a mass market product for organic feminine hygiene care. That’s the goal for Flo!
What advice do you have for anyone looking to start their own business?
Research your consumer market and your competitor market. It’s very basic advice, but it’s crucial. I come across entrepreneurs all the time who haven’t done it. Second mover advantage is powerful, but you need to be differentiated in a strong way.
And ask for help! I got so much advice from people who run organic shops. They told me about the wholesalers they like to work with, how they stock stuff, how they purchase – that was really important.
Why did you decide to pursue LSE’s EGMiM over a traditional MBA?
I liked that the EGMiM program had a social science component to it. It wasn’t just case studies like a traditional business school; it also included a strong background in theory. The curriculum really stood out for me against traditional programs.
As a music recording artist, I wanted more control over the business side of my career. I wanted to be in London for music anyway; LSE seemed like a good move. The flexibility of the program was also a big deal. Honestly, it wouldn’t have worked for me to go and do a two-year MBA at Harvard.
What stands out from your EGMiM experience at LSE?
My classmates were just incredible. We had a CEO, a director at Barclays, a guy who’s in a regional COO position at Coca-Cola, a guy who runs his own biopharmaceutical company, an angel investor, a woman who owns a very powerful bank in her home country – all very kind, smart, and very experienced. It was great to learn from them.
There were also a couple of us in our twenties, at an early stage in our careers, getting a lot out of the program. I thought that mix was really good. There were only 23 of us in total, and we became very close over the two years of the program.
Would you be where you are today without LSE’s EGMiM?
No, there’s no way! The entirety of Flo came about because of my experience at LSE. I met my co-founder at LSE. LSE sponsored me for the two-year graduate entrepreneur VISA to continue to explore and develop Flo.
LSE was an environment that nurtured and encouraged entrepreneurial spirit – I’d never thought of myself as an entrepreneur beforehand. It made me feel comfortable to take the risk. Without LSE, I’d still be doing music in LA.
What are the highlights of your career in the music industry?
Touring in Asia was fantastic. Any time you’re performing for people who know your music and like your music, it’s such a special feeling. I played in front of a few crowds of thousands of people; that’s not something you forget.
I’ve also got to work with some amazing song-writers and producers who have taught me so much. A lot of them have crazy track records of number-one songs and selling millions of albums, far above anything I’ve accomplished. One of best pieces of advice I’ve ever got – in life, music, or business – is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you; that’s how you learn.