Shipping Breastmilk is Now a Thing, And We’re Pumped About It
Kate Torgersen is the mother to three children, as well as the brainchild of Milk Stork, the genius company she has founded with her father. The goal? To ease every nursing mother’s pain points with travel and breastfeeding. Her company transports stored breastmilk so that moms can keep living their lives as normal (or, as normal as it gets). Genius, right? Read the full story here.
1) How would you describe Milk Stork in a few words? How do you want it to make moms feel?
This is the first breastmilk shipping service available to moms. I want moms to feel pumping is a win and not a degrading experience. I want them to feel like they’ve achieved something when they’ve taken a business trip and continued to feed their babies. It’s hard, and I want them to feel like Milk stork is a badge of honor, that they’ve filled this cooler to feed their babies. They should be proud and it should feel like a win.
2) What other obstacles do pumping moms face besides travel?
Pumping moms live their lives in 3-hour increments. That presents a huge logistical problem for them because they can never be more than 3 hours away from a pump, a power outlet, or refrigeration; and they’re always lugging stuff around. There are so many logistical challenges for pumping, and business travel is just one of them. Wherever there’s a pain point we have an opportunity to solve it.
3) Was there a lightbulb moment when you knew you had to create Milk Stork?
It wasn’t a single moment. It started when I was planning for my first business trip away from my 7-month old twins and the logistics around getting two gallons of pumped milk back to them were daunting. I thought: “there’s gotta be a solution for this.” The annoyance was in my heart and soul before I left on the trip but it wasn’t until I was standing in the TSA line on my way back home that I started thinking of a solution. That’s when I started doing the calculus of how this would work and thinking about the logistics.
4) How did your family react to the idea?
The day that I got back I told my husband I want to solve this. He was like “Right now?! Really? We have two babies that are 7 months old, a 3-year old, you have a job, I have a job.” So, then I called my dad who is Milk Stork’s co-founder and COO. I said "Hey dad, I have this idea," and his immediate response was “Where do we start?”
5) We love that your dad is your co-founder. What if on that call to him he said, “Kate I don’t think this is going to work?”
I think when you have a crazy idea you know who to take it to and who NOT to take it to. I knew that he would be supportive. I don’t think I would have called him if I hadn’t known that.
I’m so lucky to have my dad as a co-founder. Every day he’s like “Isn’t this great?” I don’t think many people have co-founders like that. He’s always rooting for us, which makes it a lot easier. I’m a rollercoaster, and he’s like, “We get to hang out together every day!”
6) What does your dad bring (besides his eternal optimism) to the business that you don’t?
He is a University of Chicago MBA and a total quant. He brings systems… he’s really thought through the logistics and operations. I’m much more about, “What is the brand?”, “What is the moms experience?”, “How are we going to communicate this message?”. We’re a perfect pair because I’m more Marketing/Brand/PR-focused and he’s more about the Systems/Logistics/Analytics. Plus, he’s level and I’m not, so it’s perfect!
7) Was it a dream of yours to be an entrepreneur?
No way. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. And old friends from high school see my profile on LinkedIn and are like, “Really?!” After college I became a ski instructor, then I got my Masters in Fine Arts after my degree in Archeology/Anthropology. I never thought I’d be running a business. Especially with 3 kids!
8) You were working at CLIF BAR prior to starting Milk Stork. Did your experience there prepare you for running a business?
Definitely. Gary Erickson, whom I’ve known for 20 years, started CLIF BAR while running a small bakery. He had a big idea and went for it. Seeing him ask himself “If not me, who; and if not now, when?” inspired me to do the same. It gave me guts and confidence that I could do it. I also was at CLIF BAR at a time when it was very small and scrappy and you had to wear a lot of different hats to get stuff done. That is my daily existence now.
9) Any pearls of wisdom for other moms wanting to start a business?
Often, when people ask me, “Hey I have this idea, do you think I should go for it?”, I tell them get it out of your head and into reality as fast as you can. If you don’t make that leap it’s never going to happen. Whether it’s getting a logo or a business card, whatever that small step is, make it real. It makes you accountable to it.
I would also say focus on the things that really excite you about your idea. Every bit of your “me time” as a mompreneur is going to go to your business so you can't let it become another chore. You’re already up to your elbows in laundry and dirty diapers. It has to be the thing that fuels you instead of something that depletes you.
10) What excites you about Milk Stork? What specific things do you do that excite you?
As the business grows and becomes more complicated there are many things that excite me and many things that are harder too. One of the things that excites me is that we now have a team and I get to come into a place with a lot of different ideas.
Scaling it and helping more moms is exciting to me as well. I try to always stay focused on that. The bottom line is how do we help more pumping moms. My kids are 8 and 5 years old now but I’m still excited about pumping. Sometimes I laugh to myself because I feel like I’ve never really weaned!
11) You’ve recently raised money from outside investors. At what point did you realize you needed to?
When we realized we had to hire people. We launched Milk Stork in August 2015 but we didn’t do a round of fundraising until April 2018. In the beginning I was still working full time at CLIF BAR and doing work on Milk Stork at night. And my dad was working on it part time. It was just the two of us during that time, and we were doing everything.
What made me realize I was going to have to hire people is that it was impacting my family life. I didn’t have time to spend with my kids. There was no balance because I was spending all my time on the business. There was no "off switch" ever. There’s still no "off switch," but at least there’s more bandwidth now, which makes it easier.
In order to have the business realize its potential we had to scale and raise money to hire a team.
12) What’s been your biggest challenge this past year?
As you bring people onto your team you’re creating a culture around your company. I would say figuring out what that culture is. You’re creating a new family around this idea. You ask yourself, “Are they going to care for it as much as I do?”
Finding people who are really excited about what you’re doing is a challenge. We’re a team of 7 now and it takes time to find the right people. But once you find them, you know.
One other challenge is that we work with 400 companies that offer Milk Stork to their employees as a benefit. For a team of our size that’s a lot of clients. At the same time, it’s also a victory for us and for moms that so many companies offer our service to their employees.
13) There are parts of your business model that you can’t control. FedEx delays, for example, due to weather, etc. How do you manage mothers’ expectations?
We try to really be transparent about how our system works. For example, as we see weather-related issues arise, we notify moms.
There are just some things we can’t control and that is true with any business. You do the best that you can. And, you control what you can. It comes down to how well you communicate issues with your customers.
14) Any pumping success story you want to share of a mom using Milk Stork?
One of the first moms to use our service when we first launched was probably working in consulting. I saw her orders come in every week for 8 months. I could tell where her travels were taking her and it was 3 days at a time. I’m so happy we were able to help her. I do get emails from moms all the time, things like, “this is a game changer.”
15) How has connecting with other female/mom founders helped you during your journey creating Milk Stork?
I was lucky to participate in a two-day female founders boot camp a few years ago. We created an informal FB group afterwards. It’s nice to have a sounding board to ask questions, run issues by them, to have a safe community of mom & female peers - a tribe, I would say. Knowing that there’s someone else out there who can’t stay up past 9 because they’re exhausted, someone who is also trying to balance these two different lives is reassuring. It makes the chaos seem normal!
16) Have you ever envisioned your kids working for Milk Stork one day?
They don’t need to work for Milk Stork but what I hope for is for Milk Stork to serve as an example that, 1) you can build something, 2) if there’s something that you feel strongly about, you should go for it and, 3) you should always ask the question, “if not me, then who; if not now, then when?” I hope it serves as a life lesson to them as they decide what they want to do with their lives. I’m pretty sure my oldest wants to be a BattleBot operator!
17) Any complementary products or services being added to Milk Stork’s offerings in the future?
Yes, definitely! Nothing that I’d be comfortable talking about right now. We all know when it comes to pumping there is no shortage of pain points. We want every pain point to feel like a win.
18) What 3 words best describe you?
It changes on a daily basis! My 5 year old daughter, Zoë, gave me some great words. One day she ran into the kitchen and said, "Mom, I'm strong, smart, fast and brave." When she said it I was really impressed - those are some great words! Now, she tells me daily and I asked her if I could borrow them.
Her words are now my motto and I try to live up to them and believe in them as much as she does.
Thanks Kate for this inspiring interview and for taking one more pain out of pumping!