Kate Torgersen, founder of Milk Stork.
Courtesy of Milk Stork / Paige Dunn
By Kate Torgersen
August 1, 2018

In The Boss, women share how they became successful and the lessons they learned along the way.

Milk Stork started on Mother’s Day in 2014 with two gallons of breast milk and a four-day business trip.

It was my first time away from home since returning from maternity leave, and I couldn’t figure out how I was going to supply my 8-month-old twins with breast milk. The twins and I had endured countless challenges with breastfeeding — latching issues, tongue ties, slow weight gain and nursing strikes. I didn’t want a business trip to derail all of our efforts. At the same time, professionally, I wanted to be back in action. It wasn’t the most important commitment of my career, but I knew that if I didn’t step up and shine, someone else would.

The trip was set for early June, and my twins were consuming half a gallon of breast milk each day. In order to feed them while I was gone, I would need to pump two additional gallons of breast milk before I left. I would also have to keep pumping while I was away, and somehow store another two gallons of milk in my hotel mini-fridge. The math alone overwhelmed me. But I was committed, so in the days leading up to my voyage I added incremental pumping sessions to my already busy schedule. I went from pumping every three to four hours for 20 minutes at a time to pumping every couple of hours. Then, while I was gone, I continued to pump relentlessly around the clock to maintain my milk supply and ability to lactate — all between business meetings. I also somehow managed to cram all of the milk I pumped into my tiny hotel fridge.

On the last day of my trip, I packed a soft cooler with four gallon-sized Ziplocs filled with ice to transport the milk. (It was too much to cool with a couple of frozen gel packs.) At the airport, I lugged my 25-plus pound, sloshing, dripping carry-on with milk, along with my purse, breast pump bag and suitcase to the TSA line. Then I endured an embarrassing inspection process, which required opening all of the milk containers and explaining (read: justifying) why I had “so much breast milk.”

Once I was through security, 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. On the plane, I continually checked on my stash out of fear that my milk wasn’t cold enough or the Ziplocs were leaking.

No, this is not a crazy or exceptional story. Forty-seven percent of the U.S. workforce is female, and most 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 offices around the country, despite all of the pain points. Speak to any breastfeeding mom who has had to travel for work, and she’s likely to have at least one breastfeeding survival story similar to mine.

That work trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was angry, and my anger made me determined to create a solution for this very specific and very frustrating experience that so many working moms face.

Milk Stork shipping kits.
Courtesy of Milk Stork

I called the smartest I person I knew for help: my dad, Mike Torgersen. A Silicon Valley veteran, he immediately started thinking through the complicated logistics of my plan as I tried to put my idea into words. When I was done with my rambling description, he responded: “So, where do we start?” Within a week, we had both put in $25,000 of our own money into a bank account and started building Milk Stork from the ground up. Since I was still working full time and had three kids under the age of three, I worked on Milk Stork during my free time, which was frequently while I was pumping or when the kids were asleep.

We were committed to creating a solution that would be completely frictionless for a mom in her hotel room. Our idea was to have a Milk Stork shipping kit awaiting our customers when they arrived at their destination. We didn’t want her to have to do any legwork. We didn’t even want her to have to worry about finding tape to seal the box that would ship her breast milk back home.

In order to achieve this seamless service, we created a user-friendly e-commerce platform and built out a complicated logistics and fulfillment platform on the backend. We needed to ship the packing supplies to the traveling mothers’ destinations and then ship the breast milk back to their homes for their babies. Since it’s really hard to freeze breast milk in a hotel mini-fridge, our packaging had to maintain the refrigerated temperature of the breast milk over an extended period of time. There was no existing example for our model, and finding a partner to help us execute our fulfillment needs was challenging.

I never expected motherhood to be my gateway to entrepreneurship.

We talked to a lot of people, and received a lot of nos. Many were doubtful that the problem we were trying to solve even existed. Slowly but surely, however, we found partners who were excited about what we were trying to build and believed in it. They helped us connect the dots and create our own unique logistics and e-commerce platform.

In August 2015, we launched Milk Stork and eliminated all of the stress that many new moms face when they have to pump, store, pack and transport breast milk. When women arrive at their hotels, everything they need to overnight their milk home is waiting for them. Milk Stork’s kits contain pre-labeled and pre-addressed pharmaceutical shipping kits that provide a minimum of 72 hours of refrigeration. They also include packing instructions and breast milk storage bags.

Within 10 days of launching we were contacted by a large consulting firm that wanted to offer Milk Stork to its employees. We hadn’t really considered pitching our service to companies that soon as we assumed Milk Stork would have to reach a certain level of demand before large corporations would be interested. We were wrong. As many working and traveling moms were using Milk Stork, they were requesting reimbursement from their companies for our service. This started to generate enterprise demand, and we realized we had to pivot our initial rollout fast. By December 2015, we had on-boarded five corporate clients including one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Since then Milk Stork’s growth has been exponential. Today, we are a venture backed, fast-growth company that supports over a 125 corporate clients and thousands of moms both through our retail site and our corporate partnerships. We’ve shipped hundreds of thousands of gallons of breast milk to babies. Right now, we are a team of four, but we’ll probably be expanding soon. I’m very proud of what Milk Stork has accomplished, but my greatest hope for our company is that we’ve moved the needle forward on normalizing breastfeeding in the workplace.

I never expected motherhood to be my gateway to entrepreneurship. However, in the last four years, I have come to appreciate that motherhood is my superpower and my greatest advantage when it comes to running a business. Neither comes with a training manual, and both require smarts, courage and intuition. Both are relentless and require deep wells of grit and emotional endurance. As both a mom and a founder, the stakes have been high and the nights have been long, but the experiences have been incomparable.

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