Today we’re going to talk about breast milk. You may not think that has anything to do with business travel, but we’re here to tell you that it does. In fact, the correlation is important, which you’ll come to understand in this illuminating and life-affirming interview.
From the outside, breastfeeding can look like a beautiful bond (And it is). But it’s also fraught with issues that most people don’t know about. Low supply, over supply, latch problems, plugged ducts. Also, pumping milk is incredibly time consuming.
For a nursing mother to take a business trip, she has to make sure that the baby has enough milk while she’s away, keep up with her pumping schedule to sustain her milk supply, refrigerate her pumped milk while on the go, and get it all back home—because that stuff is liquid gold. This is all on top of missing her wonderful baby and needing to perform well during her meetings or events.
“I was thinking there has to be a better way. Immediately when I got back from my trip, I started working on Milk Stork.”
Kate Torgersen, Founder and CEO of Milk Stork
Today, we hear from Kate Torgersen, founder and CEO of Milk Stork, an innovative startup based out of the San Francisco Bay Area that allows breastfeeding moms to pack their breast milk at refrigeration temperature in lightweight coolers and ship it back home overnight from any location in the US.
How did you come up with the idea for Milk Stork?
I breastfed my first child for a glorious 18 months. It was all rainbows and unicorns. And then I had twins. We went through a lot of breastfeeding issues and challenges, but we made it through. When they were 7 months old and I was faced with a 4-day business trip, I didn’t want to throw in the towel. I didn’t want this to be the reason that they weren’t breastfeeding.
I increased my pumping sessions to try and create the extra milk they would need. While I was away, I generated two gallons and I had to cram it into a hotel mini fridge. Because there was so much milk I couldn’t use gel packs to keep it cool on my way home. I had gallon-size bags of ice and all of the milk in plastic bottles in a soft cooler.
“There are some professions and roles that are always going to require business travel…We’re all going to be better off if we keep working moms engaged in the things they’re passionate about, whether that’s working a job or running a marathon.”
I had to take all of it through airport security. After they inspected it and asked me to dump excess water from the ice packs, I had to go replenish the ice from a bar in the terminal. As I was going through this process, I was thinking there has to be a better way. Immediately when I got back from my trip, I started working on Milk Stork. We launched in August of 2015.
Why did you feel it was important to serve breastfeeding moms who travel for business?
There are some professions and roles that are always going to require business travel, such as consultants, sales representatives, and attorneys. By supporting breastfeeding moms on business trips, you’re supporting working moms to do their best, not just in their jobs but as moms. In my mind, the world needs more visibility into the contributions and accomplishments of working moms. Companies benefit from working moms. The world benefits from working moms. We’re all going to be better off if we keep working moms engaged in the things they’re passionate about, whether that’s working a job or running a marathon.
Creating a human being in your body and then feeding it for a year, that’s the most empowering thing that ever happened to me. You go through that experience and then you go back to work and there are so many difficult barriers in the way, and we should be eliminating those so that women can carry that empowerment forward.
“People don’t know what’s involved in breastfeeding. You’re constantly in a position of having to explain yourself because there are so many institutional barriers.”
What other issues did you experience as a woman who travels for business?
I don’t feel that I ran into any major challenges with business travel before becoming a mom. But as a breastfeeding mom, there were always so many. Pumping on a plane, pumping in bathrooms. Trying to find a place to pump. You’re always on the lookout for an outlet and a door that can be closed. Refrigeration is a huge challenge when you’re pumping. You’re not only going from outlet to outlet on this constant quest, but you’re also wondering where you’re going to find refrigeration.
People don’t know what’s involved in breastfeeding. You’re constantly in a position of having to explain yourself because there are so many institutional barriers, like the difficulty of carrying it onto a plane.
“Being in the startup space, you really have to be comfortable in the fact that nothing’s figured out yet. You’re building a plane while flying it.”
What other products or apps would you recommend for breastfeeding moms who travel for business?
Pumpspotting will allow you to find places to pump while you’re on the go. Willow pumps are pretty breakthrough for pumping on a plane. They’re cordless and rechargeable so you don’t have to worry about an outlet. And the design offers more discretion and privacy. Not just for traveling, but for breastfeeding moms in the workforce, Willow is a great solution.
And who doesn’t like TSA Pre and Clear? If you’re a pumping mom, it’s definitely smart to have either TSA Free or Clear so you can move through security faster.
What is your top advice for startup founders?
Being in the startup space, you really have to be comfortable in the fact that nothing’s figured out yet. You’re building a plane while flying it. You need to have bravery and you need to have humility.
Humility allows you to challenge the status quo. You can ask questions if you’re humble which you can’t do if you consider yourself to be an expert in everything.
When I have to tackle one of the things I’m not so good at, I flip the switch in my head and think, okay you’re going to be brave now. Bravery allows you to perform when you feel uncomfortable.
“Entrepreneurship takes grit and emotional depth. There’s nothing that’s prepared me for that better than being a mom.”
What have you learned about yourself along this journey?
I’ve learned that being a mom is great training ground for being an entrepreneur. You have an idea, you bring it forward in the world, and then you have to give it lift. Just like motherhood, there’s no training manual. You’re running on gut instinct. You’re figuring things out as you go and you’re digging deep.
The one thing that moms have especially is grit. Entrepreneurship takes grit and emotional depth. There’s nothing that’s prepared me for that better than being a mom. You work faster, you work better. The stakes are higher. Motherhood brings it to a different level.
Learn more about Milk Stork.