Nadya Okamoto, founder of period care brand August

Nadya Okamoto Is A Big Believer In Sending That Cold Email

The August co-founder and influencer shares her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.

As graduating seniors know all too well, who you know can make or break a professional opportunity. For entrepreneur Nadya Okamoto, sometimes all it took to open new doors was a quick email.

“So many people I've looked up to and connected with got a cold email from me maybe eight years ago,” the 26-year-old founder of period care brand August says. “And now years later they’re investors in my company.”

Okamoto’s sense of ambition started young: She founded the nonprofit Period at age 16 while she was still in high school, then continued running it throughout her college years at Harvard. She also began using TikTok to spread the word about period poverty, amassing over 4.1 million followers. The path once graduation came felt fairly clear — until suddenly it wasn’t. In January 2020, she cut ties with the nonprofit amidst criticism about her management style, but her passion as an advocate in the period care space continued unwaveringly.

Her avenue of impact has shifted since then. Okamoto founded August in November 2020 after spending time consulting with top period brands. In her words, the brand’s mission is to create “better-for-you, better-for-the-planet period care,” including organic pads and tampons and a reusable heating pad.

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Okamoto caught up with Elite Daily following her appearance at the 2024 MAKERS Conference to chat about the highlights in her career thus far, how she’s learned to use critical feedback constructively, and the self-care hack she swears by.

Elite Daily: You got involved in the period care space while you were in high school. What inspired you to want to pursue this path?

Nadya Okamoto: I was honestly just inspired by the issue. I learned through anecdotal stories in my local community about what menstruators had to do when they didn't have access to period care. I also was just learning about things like the tampon tax, period stigma — which is a leading cause of absenteeism for girls around the world — and period poverty. It made me really angry, and that kind of anger has catalyzed a lot of passion that's taken me through my career over the last 10 years.

ED: How has that passion and anger driven what you've been doing at August?

NO: When I first started 10 years ago, I never thought that I would run a consumer brand. With August, we're able to live out a lot of the changes that I've always wanted to see in the industry. I wanted to create a best-in-class example of what it looks like to build [a brand] in a transparent way that destigmatizes periods and reimagines the narrative to be really positive and powerful.

ED: One of the biggest challenges of starting a new project, especially at a young age, is trying to fund it while also paying your rent. While juggling Period in college, and then later making August, did you have any side hustles?

NO: Oh my gosh, so many. When I was in high school, I was a legal assistant at a local insurance litigation law firm. In college, I was running for local office but also cleaning floors at a yoga studio. There was a time when I was doing five jobs. Eventually, I wrote a book and got involved in the speaking circuit, which helped me pay for rent and school costs.

Now I do have a salary, and I'm really fortunate to have opportunities as a startup founder, as well as my side hustle as an influencer. I'm grateful to have a platform; between me and the brand, we have over 5 million followers, and I'm able to really leverage that to bring in alternative income both to myself and to the brand.

ED: It's hard to discuss your professional background without including your time founding and running Period. What are some lessons that you've taken from that chapter of your life?

NO: I think that one of the beauties of being a teen entrepreneur is that you learn on the job, but that also means you make a lot of mistakes on the job. Having a platform means that you win very publicly and you lose very publicly.

Even the element of how I build and share space, that's something I've only really thought about critically in the last five years. Now that I’m done with school, I'm able to really give the time, space, and energy to my career that it deserves.

ED: What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs about making those mistakes and potentially facing backlash?

NO: My advice with any critical feedback is to look at it as an opportunity. I really had to learn how to take out the anger and defensiveness and say, ‘Hey, are there bits of truth that I can learn from? How can I use that as an opportunity to build on that feedback?’

I would also emphasize taking care of yourself, because I have a lot of friends who started around the same time in their career who weren't able to come back from places of burnout. For me, my biggest tool over the last three years has been to sleep as much as possible, and really look at sleep as a valuable use of my time.

Rest has become a huge part of what I've really learned to cherish.

I’ve gone years sleeping two to three hours a night. It wasn't good for me, it wasn’t good for my team, and it wasn't good for my work. I still have those moments, and I think it really hinders my work. So it's something that I've learned very recently in my career — rest has become a huge part of what I've really learned to cherish.

ED: Social media is also an important part of your personal brand, but you've noted in the past that content creation can be draining. How have your feelings on this evolved?

NO: I've been on social media for so long at different levels in my career. I've seen how it can bring so much light, joy, and connection into my life, but I've also seen how it can really tear down my sense of self.

I was actually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder a few years ago. A big part of the diagnosis was realizing that outside of social media, I had lost a sense of self and created a personal brand without really figuring out who I was outside of that.

Because I got to this rock-bottom point in my mental health journey, I had to really rebuild, and I took almost six months off of social media just to figure that out. Now that I've come back, I have a very different relationship with social media, and I think that you see that in my content. I was a period advocate and had never posted my period blood online until after that, because I got to this point where I decided I don't give a f*ck what people think.

Granted, I still get a lot of hate online, but I balance it by being thankful. Right now, the pros of being on social media outweigh the cons. When that stops, I'm not sure I'll be on it anymore, but right now, I am just taking it day by day.

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ED: Are there any boundaries you set with your online presence to maintain that sense of self while promoting your brand?

NO: A lot of it has to do with the intentions of what I'm posting, even with certain brand deals. Why am I posting this? What is the platform I want to build? Also, when is it an example of me taking up space? I used to feel like I needed to comment and talk about everything, but now I realize in an intention economy, it's better to be thoughtful about where I'm picking up space and where I can uplift and give space to others.

Time is so valuable, and if you choose your time to spend on one thing, it's an opportunity cost to another.

ED: Speaking of uplifting others, do you have any advice for graduating seniors on how to balance professional and personal passions while getting their degree?

NO: It comes with a lot of sacrifice. Time is so valuable, and if you choose your time to spend on one thing, it's an opportunity cost to another. I did not have much of a social life in college — I didn't have a lot of friends, I didn't go out, I didn't even do any extracurriculars that were school-based for the last two years.

I sometimes regret and envy the fact that people graduate college with a really good group of lifelong friends. But I chose my work over doing the college thing, and that's something that felt right in the moment, and it's something I'm thankful for. But of course it was a decision and a sacrifice.

I’m 26 now and have a very calm social life, but I don't want to push the false narrative that you can do it all. When you're trying to balance everything, it takes thinking critically and making active decisions for your life so you can release that sense of FOMO.

ED: What are the key things to keep in mind for a new grad who dreams of founding an organization like yours? What would you tell them to do?

NO: Network and cold email. I'm a really big believer in intergenerational mentorship, and for me, there are so many women entrepreneurs who I admire that I've built relationships with over the last decade. Being able to learn, connect, and have them as guiding examples and blueprints has been a huge part of what's gotten me to where I am today.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.