Meet Kate Torgersen, founder and CEO of Milk Stork, the first company to tackle the challenge of getting breast milk home for traveling business moms. Kate is the subject of our latest installment of the Inner Circle Q&A!
Fueled by grassroots word-of-mouth among moms, Milk Stork quickly became an in-demand employee benefit for many of the country’s leading companies and firms. Among the newest clients are Nissan, OpenTable and Paypal. Milk Stork is empowering moms returning to work to get the support they need from employers to enable them to do their best as moms and in their careers.
Melissa Campanelli: Tell me about your professional background.
Kate Torgersen: Before Milk Stork I had the privilege of working at Clif Bar for 18 years. During my time at Clif Bar, I oversaw the company’s field marketing efforts. In 2005, I moved over to communications and eventually into executive communications. With my role in executive communications, I had the opportunity to work closely with Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, Clif Bar’s owners, as well as Kevin Cleary, Clif Bar’s CEO. It was my time with Gary, Kit and Kevin that inspired me to pursue my idea and bring Milk Stork to life.
MC: How does Milk Stork work?
KT: Milk Stork provides business-traveling, breastfeeding-moms with an easy, frictionless solution to safely overnight their fresh milk home to their babies. To place an order, moms go to www.milkstork.com and indicate where they’ll be staying, where they would like their milk shipped, and then they choose the cooler kits that will best support their trip. Milk Stork ships the order to their hotel so it’s ready and waiting for the mom when she arrives. Then, she pumps according to her regular schedule, activates her cooler when she’s ready to ship or tote her milk home. If she’s shipping her milk, her cooler is pre-addressed and pre-labeled for overnight shipping, so all she needs to do is drop it off with the front desk or concierge to be tendered to FedEx. Most moms that are using Milk Stork to support business travel are being reimbursed by their employers, so we encourage moms to submit their Milk Stork receipt to their companies.
MC: Why did you start Milk Stork?
KT: I experienced the many pain points involved with breastfeeding and business travel.
In 2013, with the birth of my twins, I became a working mom to three kids under the age of three. At the time, I was working as an executive communications manager — a job I loved at a company I adored. However, with the twins, the transition back to work was tough physically, emotionally and logistically.
I was committed to breastfeeding my twins, Finn and Zoë, for at least 12 months (as I had done for my first child, Jackson). However, the three of us had fought through many breastfeeding issues such as latching problems, a tongue tie and weight gain issues, not to mention the challenges of tandem nursing and all of the relentless pumping I was doing to maintain their half-gallon-per-day demand.
So, when the twins were about eight months old and I was faced with a four-day business trip, I was stumped. I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make breastfeeding and business travel work. To take the trip, I would have to pump two “extra” gallons of breast milk to cover my absence (on top of the gallons they were already consuming). And, once I was on the trip, I was going to have to manage the two gallons of breast milk I would generate in a tiny hotel mini-fridge.
I ended up doing what most breastfeeding, traveling moms did at the time — to create two “extra” gallons of milk, I added incremental pumping sessions to my already busy schedule in the days leading up to the trip. I went from pumping every four hours for 20 minutes at a time to pumping every couple hours. Then, while I was gone, I continued to pump relentlessly around the clock to maintain my milk supply. Somehow, I managed to cram two gallons of breast milk into my tiny hotel mini-fridge.
On the last day of my trip, I packed a soft cooler with the milk along with four gallon-sized Ziplocs filled with ice (it was too much milk to cool with a couple of gel packs). I lugged my sloshing, dripping, 25-plus pound carry-on of milk (along with my purse, breast pump bag, and suitcase) to the TSA line and then endured an embarrassing inspection process which required opening all of the milk containers and explaining (i.e., justifying) to several TSA agents why I had “so much breast milk.”
Once through TSA, I ran to the nearest bathroom to drain the excess water out of the ice bags, and rushed to the nearest bar to replenish the bags with fresh ice.
I barely made my flight.
Then, once I was on the plane, I obsessively checked my milk out of fear that it wasn’t cold enough and that the Ziplocs might leak.
For me, that business trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was determined to create a solution for this very specific and very frustrating experience that so many working moms face.
MC: What was the white space you saw a need to fill? What’s the value proposition?
KT: While my business trip story might seem like a “crazy” exception, it isn’t. Most breastfeeding moms who have had to travel with breast milk have endured something similar. A moment when they have faced an unnecessary, unreasonable or frustrating barrier in their effort to breastfeed their children. For a breastfeeding mom who must travel for work, it isn’t just one difficult moment or heartbreaking compromise, it’s typically a series of them. Collectively, these experiences make it difficult for even the most determined working mom to maintain her commitment to breastfeed.
Today, 47 percent of the workforce is female. And most moms are working moms. Furthermore, breastfeeding rates are on the rise despite painfully short maternity leaves. By these measures, more breast milk is being pumped in America’s offices than ever before. Despite the preponderance of breastfeeding moms and breast milk in the workplace, the act of breastfeeding is still largely treated as a taboo topic.
With Milk Stork, working breastfeeding moms can more fully resume their job responsibilities without making difficult personal compromises and vice versa. As the first breast milk shipping service, we’re disrupting the workplace by creating a solution that specifically addresses the needs of breastfeeding women, and we’re shining the light on a population and a pain point that have been largely invisible to the greater population. In doing so, we’re helping to normalize breastfeeding in the workplace and advocating for the support of working moms in general.
MC: How do you promote and market your products and brand? Do you work with influencers or use any other social media tactics? Any brand partnerships?
KT: Our Milk Stork moms generate incredible word-of-mouth in both their personal and professional networks. That said, women breastfeed for a limited period of time, so there’s a constant flow of new moms entering the lactation space, while others cycle out. To keep the word-of-mouth engine going, we focus a lot on social media and digital marketing. For moms, social media is not only a lifeline for new trends, resources and information, it’s also their go-to for sharing and broadcasting their know-how, expertise and recommendations to their networks and peers.
MC: What advice would you give to women thinking about starting their own businesses, or at least side hustles?
KT: My advice is three-fold:
- Determine what excites you the most about your idea and focus on that first. The reality is that you’re going to have to invest a lot of your free time into starting your business. To keep the momentum going, you need to focus on the stuff that you like. That way, you’ll look forward to investing your precious free time in your business or idea, and it won’t feel like a chore.
- Get from the ideation phase into the making phase as quickly as possible. You have to get your idea out of your head and into the world. Too many fantastic business ideas never see the light of day because they got trapped in someone’s head. Once your idea is real, you’ll be accountable to it and it will start taking on a life of its own. Creating a business is a lot like having a kid — you bring it to life, but eventually you find that it brings you to life.
- Don’t wait for the timing to be perfect, do it now. If not you, who? And if not now, when?
MC: What’s next for Milk Stork? What are your goals for 2019 and beyond?
KT: I want to make sure that every breastfeeding woman who travels for work has access to Milk Stork through her company — in the U.S. and beyond.