Kate Torgersen is the founder and CEO of Milk Stork, the first-ever breast milk shipping company for business traveling, breastfeeding moms. As a full time, working mom of three kids she was committed to breastfeeding all of her children for the recommended 12 months. In 2014, faced with four-day business trip, Kate faced a multitude of logistical challenges to get her breast milk home to her twins. She returned from the trip determined to create a solution that would help lighten the load — both physically and emotionally — for working, breastfeeding moms. Kate launched Milk Stork in August 2015 — since then, Milk Stork has become a game-changing service for thousands of working, breastfeeding moms and an in-demand employee benefit for over 120 family-friendly companies including SAP, Viacom, Nissan and many others.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Why did you found your company?
For me, working motherhood was the gateway to entrepreneurship.
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 8 months old and I was faced with a 4-day business trip, I was stumped — I couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it breastfeeding and business travel work. To take the trip, I would have to pump two “extra” gallons of breast milk to cover my absence (of 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 to every couple hours. Then, while I was gone, I continued to pump relentlessly around the clock to maintain my milk supply (to maintain my ability to lactate). 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+ lb. 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 — not to mention the process of 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.
Once I was on the plane, I obsessively checked on my milk and the Ziplocs out of fear that my milk 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 came home angry… angry that breastfeeding was being marginalized and angry that breast milk was being treated as hazardous substance and angry. I was determined to create a solution for this very specific and very frustrating experience that so many working moms face.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
While my business trip story might seem like a “crazy” — or perhaps an 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… or unreasonable… or frustrating barrier in their effort to breastfeed their children.
And, 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 experience make it difficult for even the most determined working mom to maintain her commitment to breastfeed.
Today, 47 percent of the workforce in female. And, most moms are working moms. Additionally, breastfeeding rates are on the rise despite painfully short maternity leaves. By these measures, more breast milk is being pumped in America’s offices that ever before.
However, despite the preponderance of breastfeeding moms and breast milk in the workplace, the act of breastfeeding is still largely treated as a taboo topic.
As the first breast milk shipping service, Milk Stork has disrupted the workplace and HR space by creating a solution that specifically addresses the needs of breastfeeding women in the workplace. By addressing an acute pain point that so many working women experiencing, we are helping to support and normalize breastfeeding in the workplace, and the realities of working motherhood in general.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, the owners and founders of Clif Bar, have been great mentors to me. I had the privilege of working at Clif Bar for 18 years. In fact, the idea for Milk Stork was born on a Clif Bar business trip!
Gary taught me that if you have a great idea, you must chase it down relentlessly and and embrace the adventure it offers.
Kit taught me that entrepreneurship is a “learning endeavor”, not a “knowing endeavor” — success comes through asking questions, staying open-minded, and maintaining your moral compass even in uncharted territory.
How are you going to shake things up next?
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. And, I want to ensure that every working breastfeeding mom receives the support that she needs to feed her child in the way that she chooses.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I think the best advice you can get isn’t given, it is discovered. That said, the best words of “advice” I have ever gotten were 4 very specific words from my 4 year old daughter, Zoë.
One day Zoë came running into the kitchen wielding a plastic sword with her Wonder Woman crown and her Steph Curry jersey. She announced to me: “Mama! I’m fast, smart, strong and brave!
It was one of those breathtaking parental moments, when your child teaches you about the world and you wonder: “Where did this amazing kid come from!?”
Her words were simple, exact and powerful. And, her confidence in them was cellular.
And she was committed to them. What we thought might be a one-time declaration became her daily assertion — it is something she tells us (and anyone else who will listen) every day.
She is not shy about it.
She is not apologetic about it.
She knows it is true.
So, I‘ve adopted Zoë’s mantra as my own. Frankly, it’s best advice I’ve ever gotten. Her words have helped me rise to meet many great days and many difficult days. As a mom and as an entrepreneur, I can’t think of better words to live by.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
In 2016, when I was still working at Clif Bar, Gary Erickson, the company’s owner and founder, was featured in an episode of Guy Raz’s podcast, “How I Built This” and I had an opportunity to sit in the booth while Gary recorded his episode and told his story — Clif Bar’s story.
At the time, Milk Stork was just over 2 years old and growing very, very quickly. At the same time, I was still working full time and my kids were very young (our oldest was six years old and our twins had just turned three).
I was burning the candle at both ends to support Milk Stork’s growth — working at Clif Bar all day, then coming home for family time (dinner, lunches, baths, bedtime) and then working Milk Stork after the kids went to bed — often until 2 a.m. in the morning. I was exhausted and determined in equal parts.
In my 18 years at Clif Bar, I had heard Gary’s inspiring story many times. And, in many cases, I had experienced — firsthand — the moments that he recounted in his story. But sitting in that booth that day, his story struck me in an entirely new and different way. Hearing the story as an entrepreneur as opposed to an employee was emotional and transformative. It clicked for me. And, I finally understood — really understood — the stakes, the grit and the guts it took Gary to bring Clif Bar from an idea, to the achievement that it is today.
In general, I don’t really listen to start-up or business podcasts, but I continue to list to “How I Built This” so that I can hear the first hand, roll-up-your-sleeves stories of founders who have relentlessly chased down their great ideas and bucked the system.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Senator Tammy Duckworth, is my Wonder Woman! I would LOVE to buy her lunch!
Senator Duckworth’s grit and determination to take on huge challenges whether they be personal, professional or societal, is awe inspiring. Not only is she a political powerhouse, she is also a working mom.
As the first woman to give birth while serving in the Senate, she came back to work and created a resolution (that passed unanimously) allowing women to breastfeed on the floor so that they may continue to cast votes. Her resolution also allows all working parents (dads and moms) to bring children under the age of one to the floor.
She is an amazing human being.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
For anyone who is interested in witnessing trials and tribulations of working motherhood and start-up life, they can follow me at @milkstorkmama on Instagram.
Milk Stork can be followed at @milkstork on both instagram and twitter.
Originally published at medium.com