How This Revolutionary Hands-Free Breast Pump Is Changing New Moms’ Lives
While breastfeeding is a natural food source for many babies, it still can be a controversial topic, like when US delegates reportedly opposed a World Health Resolution supporting breastfeeding. Only just recently did breastfeeding in public become legal in all 50 states. Even the myths surrounding breastfeeding are misleading and confusing. And as many mamas know, breastfeeding is a full-time job — nursing at all hours, pumping in unusual places, or commuting with your breast pump in the car while stuck in traffic (our guide to pumping while commuting should help). Even breast pumps themselves are challenging to figure out. You have to set up the hard plastic flange cups correctly (ouch), and every ounce of your liquid gold (AKA breastmilk) is precious, but sometimes the bottles spill. Most annoyingly, you have to stay close to your pump’s outlet with a noisy machine, which makes it difficult to do anything else. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job, we talk with Naomi Kelman, the president and CEO of Willow — makers of a new, truly hands-free, virtually noiseless breast pump — about how this revolutionary product was made and tested by moms.
Meet the Breast Pump Pro: Naomi Kelman
Hailed as one of the best inventions of 2017 by Time, Willow is the first wearable breast pump on the market that’s been beta-tested by moms who wanted a better breast pump that’s more conducive to real life (read: portable). Kelman shares how she jumped on board with the brand and how she hopes that the milk-saving device helps more mamas have the freedom to pump safely and more efficiently anywhere.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Naomi Kelman: I like to get up super-early. My husband makes me a special coffee blend — half caramel pecan/half Starbucks. It’s super-smooth and delicious, but strong (which I like). I make a pot [of that blend] that I will drink throughout the morning. I’ll hang out in my pajamas and read the paper, and then I’ll clear my inbox for the coming day. My team knows I am a pre-reader/digester, and they usually send me a bunch of things I need to read for the coming day.
B+C: What inspired you to start working for Willow?
NK: I am very blessed in that I had parents who told me I could grow up to do and become whatever I wanted; and I believed them. Helping women and young girls to have strong self-confidence and self-esteem is a personal passion of mine. At a breakfast meeting just after Thanksgiving a few years ago, I met the founder of Willow and heard the vision of creating a breast pump that would let moms pump anywhere, anytime, any place. Three hours later, I was in, and we moved to San Francisco that Monday, where I became employee number four. I always had high confidence that we could bring Willow to the world, and I’m so glad we did.
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
NK: For most of my career I worked in large companies on large businesses. I was trained in very classical ways, which gave me a good foundation of experience to leverage once I became an entrepreneur. Throughout the many businesses that I’ve scaled and grown to significant size has been one common thread: Do fewer things, better. When I was young I thought that doing a lot of things, often in crazy, complicated ways, was the way to be most effective. Ironically, as I’ve gained more experience, I realize that striving for simplicity and doing only a few things, but doing them super-well, is a good recipe for success.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
NK: Surround yourself with great people. Hands-down the best part about my job is our team. Willow is a mission-driven team of serial entrepreneurs, innovators, and young mothers & fathers who care deeply about creating a breast pump that makes a difference in moms’ lives. They inspire me every day with their passion and commitment. We aspire to have more women in STEM fields and are proud that we have many female engineers. Our CTO is also a super-genius inventor.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
NK: The best part about Willow is meeting moms and hearing their stories. Moms have shared with us truly tragic stories of pumping in supply closets and public restrooms or not having any options when it comes time to pump to feed their babies. Breast milk gives babies the best start in life, and I am truly humbled by how far moms will go to provide for their children. At Willow, we want to unplug moms from the wall, let them keep their clothes on to pump, and give them their time and hands back. Pumping wherever, whenever moms want should be the norm, and it’s our goal at Willow to help moms achieve their breastfeeding objectives.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
NK: My heroes are the everyday moms who work super-hard to give their children the best lives they can. It’s the everyday and the small gesture that is the most impressive to me. I’m also inspired by the many women throughout history who have pioneered their field at a time where women in those roles and fields weren’t common. At Willow, each of our conference rooms is named for a different pioneering woman — from Katherine Johnson to Gloria Steinem and Ida B. Wells. It’s a constant reminder for our entire team that while the work may be hard and the task at hand may have never been done before, we’re in good company. My conference room is Sally Ride. I’m a pilot myself, and as the first woman in space, she is a big inspiration to me.
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
NK: Be a student of life. Be open to learning and improving, but don’t think you have all the answers yourself. You really can do and accomplish anything you set your mind to do. Negotiate hard for yourself, be your own biggest advocate, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve your dreams. I’m there (in spirit) cheering you on.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
(Photos via Willow)