When you’re a new mom and getting the hang of breastfeeding, you’ll learn all sorts of new things: how to travel when you’re pumping milk for your babe, what to do when you’re leaking and how to handle all the people staring at you when you nurse in public. As we learned from the working artist mom of twins whose tandem breastfeeding pic went viral, you gotta do what you gotta do for your kids. In this week’s entry in the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Courtney Uyeshiro, the founder of the Milk It Kit — a set of back-to-work survival tools for breastfeeding mamas — about how she turned a working mom’s idea into a work-from-home company.
Meet the Pro-Lactation Pro: Courtney Uyeshiro
Before Courtney launched Milk It Kit, she worked full-time in financial sales for an investment management firm that handled cash for start-ups and venture-backed companies. Working with start-ups and hearing their pitches inspired her to think about striking out on her own. “I knew I wanted to do something more creative and fulfilling,” Courtney says, “and when the idea for the Milk It products popped into my head, it was hard to ignore.” When she and her family moved to Boulder, CO and her second child was born, Courtney decided to take the leap and move the Milk It Kit from an idea on a Post-it note to reality.
1. Ideas are born from need. Courtney was always on the go in her sales exec role, heading to client meetings, conferences and events. As a breastfeeding mama, she found herself pumping everywhere — hotel bathrooms, her car, cafe bathrooms. “It was awkward, and I often wished I had a sign that I could put on the doors of these places to let people know what was happening and that it might take a while,” says Courtney. These experiences led her to brainstorm a better way to handle pumping on the go.
2. Survey your potential customers. Since Courtney’s company was aimed at breastfeeding moms, she spent time getting opinions from other working moms about how conservative (or not) they would like the breastfeeding signs and milk-bottle labels to be. “I surveyed hundreds of moms — friends, colleagues and friends of friends — that had experiences pumping at work. This feedback was crucial so the products did not just represent my interests, but those of a variety of hardworking pump-at-work moms,” explains Courtney. She developed the labels, wording, design and function of her products based on a combination of their feedback and what she thought would work best.
3. Focus on what’s already out there for ideas. Courtney worked with a graphic designer to develop the final look for the breast-milk labels and door signs while she researched the right materials for her Milk It Kits. Whenever she was out, she’d purposefully look at door signs and fonts, searching for what would work best for her product. Finally, she spotted what she wanted. “At REI, I saw the hanger on a pair of flip flops, and it caught my eye for the pumping-door sign. I loved that the thick cardboard was environmentally friendly, durable and classy-looking,” says Courtney.
4. Consider your product’s purpose. As a mom of three, Courtney knew the demands of pumping milk while traveling and working. The labels for breast milk needed to be waterproof, freezer-safe and able to be written on with a pen or marker. She also wanted the wording on her labels and door hangers to be office-friendly, while still making moms feel good about the time and effort involved in being attached to a breast pump. “I thought if moms had some positive tools with them, they may feel better and less alone about their decision to pump at work. Then the fun sayings started coming to me — ‘Not for Lattes,’ ‘Reserved for Baby,’ ‘Will Cry Over Spilled Milk.’ I also wanted to make the signs flexible for Mom’s comfort level, so many of the signs are double-sided, with one side that references milk/breastfeeding and one that does not,” says Courtney.
5. Get to know and inspire other #girlbosses. Running your own biz can be tough, so network with other women who are going through the same exact thing. Through trade shows and friends, Courtney connected with other mompreneurs. “It’s easy to feel alone when managing all the aspects of your own business, so networking in person and online can really help. It has also been a lot of fun to collaborate on giveaways with these companies to co-promote our brands,” says Courtney. Being a work-from-home mom has allowed Courtney to spend more time with her daughters, and it even got them into the entrepreneurial spirit. “They thought it was very cool when I received orders. In fact, it inspired my eight-year-old to create her own jewelry-design business. She and I sit side by side — me assembling Milk It Kits and her assembling make-your-own-necklace kits,” Courtney tells us.
6. Donate your less-than-perfect goods. Through the process of developing her product and finalizing the printing and materials, Courtney ended up with some breastfeeding labels and door hangers in designs she didn’t want to sell. Instead of tossing those products, Courtney donated several boxes of pumping door signs and labels to hospital lactation centers and public breastfeeding events. “It has been such a very positive experience,” Courtney says. “People are so pleased to receive donations.” Consider ways you can do good with your not-quite-market-ready extras.
7. Create a biz that fits your life. When you’re a working mom, there’s always a delicate balance between your job and your children. Part of what Courtney loves about the way she runs her company is that she can arrange her day around her three daughters’ schedules. When she first started Milk It Kit, Courtney went the route of hitting retail trade shows in the hopes of getting her kit into boutiques, but she soon realized that her product was much more geared toward online sales. Courtney shares, “Focusing solely on online sales has allowed me more time to work on promoting my business and more time with my three girls.” If you can, adapt your company to fit your lifestyle.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Build Your Digital Brand Online Class ($49): Join creative director and designer Caroline Winegeart as she helps you learn how to create a blog or website that embodies the brand of your particular business. Pair fonts and logo designs for a winning look that’s unique to you.
2. Start a Profitable Online Business ($199): In 14 video lessons under the direction of business coach Lewis Howes, you’ll develop a product that sells, design an online marketing strategy and grow your email list. Jump-start your next great idea with this online course.
3. Learn from Other Female Entrepreneurs (Free): Explore the goodies over at the Female Entrepreneurs Association for blog posts and videos geared toward the creative business owner, and sign up for their Members’ Club to get access to more courses focused on inspiring and empowering women to create successful businesses. Topics like “30 Days to Program Your Mind for Success” and “3 Tools to Save You Massive Amounts of Time” will get you focused and ready to meet your goals.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Milk It Kit)