This is the first installment of a new and exclusive series here on Feminine Collective called “Women Who Inspire.” As an ongoing series, it will feature women from all walks of life and will endeavor to tell the creative and inspirational stories of their daily lives.
Recently I interviewed Kate Torgersen, Founder, and CEO of Milk Stork, a company that focuses on helping working mothers maintain their breastfeeding schedules by providing for the pickup and safe delivery of their breast milk back to their respective homes. Kate is not only a sterling example of the American entrepreneurial spirit in action, but she is also a shining illustration of how working women can help other working women manage their pressing and sometimes maniacal schedules. Her answers to my interview questions are below.
JMA: How did you get the idea to start Milk Stork?
KT: When my twins were about eight months old, I was faced with a 4-day business trip. The twins were my 2nd and 3rd babies, and I was committed to breastfeeding them for at least 12 months, as I had done for my first child. Together, we had fought hard to maintain our breastfeeding relationship–for them: they had overcome a tongue tie, latching, and weight gain issues. For me, it was all of the challenges of tandem nursing and maintaining my milk supply–I was producing a gallon of milk every two days, and upon my return to work, I was pumping relentlessly to keep up with their demand. The three of us were “all in” on breastfeeding.
The “working me” was also committed to being “all in” with my job. And, while it wasn’t the most important business trip in the world, just a conference, I really wanted to attend.
As I prepared for the trip, I began troubleshooting the logistics and quickly learned that there were no services that would help me ship my milk back home. To send milk home, I need to create a DIY solution that would involve sourcing dry ice and shipping materials at my destination without a rental car. I knew immediately that dry ice in a hotel room was more than I could deal with. And so, I had to pump 2 “extra” gallons of milk before I left to cover my absence (on top of the gallons that they were already drinking!) and then I had to pump like crazy while I was away to maintain my supply – and then, I had to manage 2 gallons of highly perishable breast milk, in a very small space (my hotel fridge). At the end of the trip, I lugged all that hard-earned breast milk home in 8 Nalgene bottles (it was so much milk I didn’t want bags to get smushed) along with four gallon-sized Ziplocs filled with ice (I didn’t have enough gel packs to keep it all the Nalgene bottles cold). It was so heavy! And it was a nightmare bringing it through TSA.
Dealing with all that milk really amplified the logistical challenges, constraints, and frustrations that many moms face when it comes to breastfeeding and business travel. Though the twin-factor had intensified these issues, I knew that breastfeeding moms everywhere were facing the same challenges.
I got back from the trip and was determined to create a solution. The next day, I called my dad (Mike Torgersen, Milk Stork’s co-founder) and said: “Hey dad – I’ve got an idea!”. I explained the Milk Stork concept to him, and his immediate response was “Where do we start?!” – within a year, Milk Stork was born and, in doing so, Milk Stork became the first breast milk shipping service for business traveling breastfeeding moms.
JMA: How exactly does it work?
KT: Rather than write a long description, this video might best provide an overview of the service.
JMA: How would you describe Milk Stork’s ideal customer?
KT: I hope that Milk Stork can support any mom who is breastfeeding and has to travel away from her baby. That said, I spend a lot of time talking with employers about the many challenges that working, breastfeeding moms face and how Milk Stork can help support their employees. So, the ideal customer is really family-friendly companies, who will be using Milk Stork to support their business traveling, breastfeeding moms.
JMA: Exactly how many corporate clients do you currently have?
KT: Milk Stork currently supports employees at over 100 companies from small, professional firms to Global Fortune 500s.
JMA: What were some of the trials and tribulations you went through as a mom trying to start a business from the ground up?
KT: There are so many! Being an entrepreneur and a working mom is hard! With three kids and a full-time job at the time, my biggest limitation was time. It’s a cliché, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. That first year, Milk Stork was really built while I was hooked up to the breast pump—20-minute increments several times a day—pumping was the only “free” and “alone” time that I had to work on it.
There were also many business challenges because we were doing something that had never really been done before. We had to create everything from the ground up–including an e-commerce platform and a shipping and fulfillment platform that could accommodate our unusual logistics–specifically, shipping from a warehouse location, to the mom’s location and then, on to a third location, where the mom wanted her milk sent. There were no “cookie cutter” solutions that could do this. Lastly, there were a lot of trials and tribulations simply because Milk Stork provided a service that involved breast milk. When it came to finding vendors, partners, business services, we faced a lot of skepticism and, in some cases, discomfort around breastfeeding and breast milk. The partners that we have today believed in our vision from the beginning and were as passionate about helping working, breastfeeding moms as we were. They have helped us grow to where we are today.
JMA: What was it like to have your dad help you start your company?
KT: Starting a company with my dad has been an amazing experience. Imagine working for someone who is always cheering for you! I am spoiled when it comes to his enthusiasm and support! When I came to him with the idea for Milk Stork way back in Spring of 2014, the first words out of his mouth were “Where do we start?!” And since then he has been as passionate about this business as I have been. I feel so lucky that we have had this chance to build something this important, together. And, as business partners, our relationship as father and daughter has grown in such a unique and wonderful ways, and vice/versa.
JMA: What advice would you give other moms who want to be entrepreneurs?
KT: Get to work on your idea immediately and don’t leave it in the dust. Many business people might disagree with this but, my main advice is: start tackling the thing that excites you the most. For me, the first thing that I did was not to develop an intricate business plan or start testing proofs of concept. Instead, it was to come up with a name, a logo and then, to start working on the actual mechanics of how the service would work. As a (very) busy, sleep-deprived, working mom, having a name, and logo made Milk Stork real and tangible, and working on the things that excited me the most, propelled me and my creative momentum which otherwise might have been difficult to muster.
JMA: In your opinion, what are some of the other obstacles that working mothers face in their everyday lives?
KT: There are so many challenges – but the big ones are the workload and pay disparity. A recent study found that working moms are clocking 98hr a week, this is an incredible amount of time when we consider that there are only 168hrs. in a week, and hopefully those moms get to sleep for 56 of them. Combined with the Motherhood Penalty (working moms make, $0.71for every dollar that a man makes), means that working moms are really running uphill when it comes to their careers, work/life balance, job satisfaction, and compensation. While the challenges are many, I am heartened and hopeful from the conversations that I have had with Milk Stork companies who are eager and motivated to support, attract and retain their working moms. Hopefully, these leading edge companies are the beginning of a sea change.
JMA: You have been quoted as saying “I think we as a society, companies, co-workers, and fellow moms can do a better job supporting working moms and their babies.” From your experiences as a working mom what are some of the ways that we as individuals can do just that?
KT: Working moms are now one of the fastest growing employee segments in the US and, today, Millennials are taking the lead as the next generation of working moms. As one of the fastest growing employee populations in the country, working moms are not only essential contributors to individual organizations but also to our larger economy. Not only that, research indicates that motherhood is an asset, not a liability when it comes to employee performance.
Recognizing the contributions that working moms bring to their families, companies and the country – I’d like to see companies offer flexible schedules and expand benefits that support employees who are caring for dependents–for instance, childcare, elder care, etc. Flexible schedules and innovative benefits will help working parents (and, working moms specifically) manage the complexity of that 98hr/week workload and also hopefully reduce household expenses. And, of course, it goes without saying, equal pay must be achieved.
When it comes to moms supporting other moms, I am excited by what I see with Millennial moms. This new wave of working moms is highly informed and connected in a way that has never really existed before–whether it is supporting one another through the trials and tribulations of parenting, sharing parenting hacks or talking about their working-mom experiences. As a community, they are actively asking for and advocating for the support they need to thrive at home and work. Milk Stork is a great example, the majority of our enterprise clients came to us because a working mom asked for support. They are vocal, connected, supportive and increasingly unified – it is exciting!
JMA: Where do you see your company in five years?
KT: In five years, I’d like to see Milk Stork offered as an employee benefit everywhere to help support every breastfeeding mom who needs to travel for work wherever and whenever she needs to travel.
JMA: Thank you, Kate.
KT: You are welcome.