Real Moms, Real Money - Kate Torgersen
Mom of three, Kate Torgersen, was fed up with the woes of transporting breastmilk. After one fateful business trip, she knew this was a problem she had to solve. Shortly after, Milk Stork was born—the first breastmilk shipping solution for women.
Kate Torgersen says she had a "bumpy" journey to parenthood. "We had tried for a couple years, and it became clear that we were going to need some help," says the now mom of three. In 2010, she welcomed her son Jackson, and in 2013, her twins Finn and Zoë—all via IVF.
Though the experience was a "roller coaster," Torgersen felt incredibly lucky. And when the twins were just 4 months old, she felt content going back to work in communications for Clif Bar. There was just one glaring challenge: "I was breastfeeding, and breastfeeding twins is no joke," she says. "I was producing a gallon of milk every two days. It was just a tremendous effort to feed them."
Nearly a year after welcoming the twins, in late spring 2014, Torgersen was presented with a four-day business trip. She contemplated telling her employer she couldn't go. Torgersen says she felt grateful that Clif Bar would have no trouble accepting that, given their breastfeeding-friendly culture, but the mom of three was still torn. "I didn't want to lose out on opportunities," she says.
So she ended up going. "That meant I had to pump two gallons of breast milk before I left to cover my absence, which meant adding pumping sessions on top of the eight times that they were already feeding every day," recalls Torgersen.
In turn, she had to pump even more while she was away. "I had to pump every three hours, including the middle of the night," says Torgersen. "And of course that generated this huge amount of milk—two gallons—which then I had to not only just manage that on a day-to-day basis while I was at this conference, but I also had to get it home just standing in the TSA line."
Torgersen remembers packing packets, Nalgene bottles, and Ziploc bags. TSA asked her why she had so much milk. "They made me dump out all the ice that had melted," she recalls. "Once I got on the other side of TSA, I had to go to a bar to have the ice refilled—it was just a huge pain and one that doesn't need to happen."
On the plane, Torgersen found herself angry while thinking of the experience. "I came back and I was like, 'I want to fix this,'" she says. "It wasn't really that I wanted to start a company. I just wanted to fix this ridiculous gauntlet that pumping moms have to go through just to take a business trip."
Her idea: a breast milk delivery service for business traveling moms that would provide refrigerated, overnight shipping of breast milk to Baby back home.
When Torgersen landed, she called her father, a Silicon Valley veteran, to discuss first steps. "He was the guy that could help me figure it out and would be a cheerleader in trying to solve this problem," she says. "He had also seen me trying to feed three kids over the course of three years. So, he was very invested."
And given that the California-based mom was working full-time and raising three young children, she didn't have a ton of time to figure out the logistics. "I knew my dad could do a lot of the leg work on it," she says.
Still, Torgersen came up with the name—Milk Stork—as well as the branding, and she had business cards made. After putting in over a year of work, the company launched in August 2015. "We onboarded a first enterprise client by October of 2015," recalls Torgersen. "And by December of 2015, we had four more clients. That following year of 2016, we were onboarding dozens of clients a month." Moms were using Milk Stork and asking their employers to reimburse the cost, so those employers then became clients.
After three years, Torgersen began raising money, which required making a case that extended beyond Milk Stork's operation. "It was an effort to normalize breastfeeding," says Torgersen. "It was a lot of convincing people that this is an issue that women have."
Around that time, the mom of three was also able to leave Clif Bar and begin paying herself a salary. "The first paycheck that you get from a company that you started is glorious," she says. "It feels like such an amazing accomplishment."
To this day, Torgersen says she doesn't take that paycheck—and the ability to support breastfeeding, working moms like her—for granted. Here, her best tips for moms-turned-entrepreneurs.
Every Dollar You Spend Is an Investment
Torgersen says she's learned to think about how every dollar she spends will grow. This applies to time, too. "I think it's helped prioritize what's important to me in my life," she notes. "Have financial diligence to make sure that every dollar you spend is an investment on something that's important to you or critical to the health, welfare, and security of your family."
Embrace the Hard Parts
The Milk Stork founder points out that as an entrepreneur, you're turning all the gears—whether you're good at turning them or not. "It's really fun to work on the stuff that you're good at," she acknowledges. For her, those tasks include marketing, communications, and doing interviews.
But then there are aspects of the business that are always going to be hard. For Torgersen, that's operations and financial modeling. "But what's exciting about being an entrepreneur is growing into the areas that are not your sweet spot," she says. "I don't need to be the best financial planner in the world for the business. I have help. But just stretching myself in that way is hugely rewarding."
Baby Steps Lead to Giant Leaps
Torgersen's best advice for someone going through a transition—whether into motherhood or entrepreneurship? "It doesn't happen in one fell swoop," she says. "Give yourself time to make the transition. Baby steps lead to giant leaps."
That's because trying to make too many big changes all at once can often be too much to digest, she says. Instead, she advises taking steps in a new direction and letting the right path reveal itself. "Ease into it," advises Torgersen.
No matter the pace, though, Torgensen urges other moms to have faith in their dreams. "I hope that moms feel empowered in their motherhood to make the changes that they want in their life," she says. "If you have an idea, do yourself a solid and invest in that idea. Don't walk away from it."
Pay Attention to Your Happiness
Taking the leap to entrepreneurship has changed Torgersen's relationship to money. Although she admits she's not making what she made at Clif Bar, and she and her family have had to make difficult financial choices, it's worth it when considering the big picture.
"When I am thinking about my financial health, I'm really thinking about my happiness," she says. "We live a fuller life now with less. We've made difficult financial choices, but these were investments in happiness."
To that end, the entrepreneur is teaching her children to look at money in a similar way. "I want them to understand that it isn't always about getting rich," she says. "That's not the end goal here. The end goal is to live a life that's fulfilling. It's to make things. It's to bring value to other people. And by investing their money in those ways, it will enable them to create a life that's meaningful."