A Leap of Faith

Girl Power, Women Inventors

Millybutton has been on a fast track to manufacture since September 2015 when Amazon invited us to launch on Amazon Launchpad. But the journey that got us there, and the path that still lies before us, has been filled with many twists and turns.

Up until that point we were not intending to manufacture for a variety of reasons; our main concern being the price per unit to manufacture was too high. We felt licensing our patent to a company with manufacturing and distribution in place would be a better option.

We signed a contract with a company that said they would help us license in the Medical Industry.

We were invited to an event they were hosting anticipating helping them pitch our product to prospecting companies. With their prep and encouragement, we ended up giving an impromptu presentation to Amazon.

We were so confused—we didn’t have a manufactured product—why would we pitch to Amazon?

To our incredible surprise Amazon loved the Millybutton, even though we stood in front of them with a broken prototype—they believed people would like both our product and the story behind it. Our minds were blown! At the end of the day Amazon encouraged us to go manufacture so we can launch on their new program called Amazon Launchpad. This was an amazing opportunity that we were in no way expecting.

However, what comes up, must come down.

We were totally freaked out because we had no idea how to get a product to market or how we were going to fund manufacturing. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! So we did what many starry eyed, first time entrepreneurs would do—and took a leap of faith.

However, there were still seemingly mountainous tasks to overcome. We had a patent on a product that was too expensive to make, no business model, no idea what kind of company we wanted to be, we had no idea of our true potential.

Little did we realize the resources available to us in Pittsburgh!

My mother had been part of a Chatham University’s small business program a few years’ prior called MyConsulting Corner at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, Anne Flynn Schlicht and Robert Graham ran the program. We reached out to them, and to this day I am impressed at how accessible they were and how they dove right in. They suggested we look into a local accelerator, to get advice and direction.

Having no idea what an “accelerator” even was, I met with the head of AlphaLab Gear during open office hours. All I could think was, “Wow, this is such a cool concept—I can’t believe we have one of these in Pittsburgh. This is not the same city I left in 2000.” Although we are not a part of an accelerator, we now find ourselves submerged in the Pittsburgh startup arena.

I used the local Tech Shop and redesigned the Millybutton to be manufactured locally, cutting our startup costs in half. We have competed for one accelerator, launched our website, presented at the 3 Rivers Ventures Fair, and developed a workable prototype that is not going to fall apart.

Currently, we are participating in the MyPath Program through Chatham University’s Center for Women Entrepreneurship. Through their mentorship and guidance, we have figured out our financing, secured an intern, developed a team, and found affordable local manufacturing.

I continue to be amazed by the startup community in Pittsburgh. There are so many resources: classes, lectures, and groups. The people who have helped us along the way are unbiased and very committed to seeing everyone succeed!

We continue to fumble along figuring things out as we go, only to be asked new questions by our mentors, who push us every day towards success.

Millybutton has taken on a life of its own, and I couldn’t be happier. If Amazon had not opened that door for us, believed in Millybutton or encouraged us to manufacture, we would have missed out on this great adventure, and on this opportunity to gain valuable life experience.

Remember, always surround yourself with people smarter than you. You do not have to know all the answers, or be good at everything, but you do have to know when and how to ask for help.

And if you’re lucky enough to be in Pittsburgh, you’ll have an amazing support system at your disposal to challenge you and to catch you when you fall.

Share this Blog Post:

For the Love of Lactating!!! A Breastfeeding Story

Embracing my Stink Boob, Neenees, and Boobas

When my first baby was born, I was basically clueless about what breastfeeding would be like. I took a prenatal class and studied Lamaze and blankly stared at my mom when she said that doctors in her day suggested “toughening” up her nipples with a rough cloth before the baby was born.

Say what?

Needless to say, I went into the experience pretty blind, with my sights on an un-medicated birth and, naturally, breastfeeding. Things went alright in the hospital; I recall deliriously looking at my new little person and trying to figure out how her tiny little nose could manage to get air while she was pressed up to my breast. I had lactation counseling support and no significant latch issues…except for the fact that I was so innately concerned about my baby getting fed that I would push through pain even if she wasn’t quite latched correctly.

Heading home from the hospital was exciting! And then my milk came in.

I have a vivid memory of ugly crying with my nursing bra unhooked, my enormous (for me) breasts exposed to whichever family member might attempt to help me through my hormonal breakdown. I was healing from the birth, engorged, exhausted, my baby wouldn’t sleep anywhere but in my arms, and the fear of SIDS or some other catastrophe had taken over my thoughts.

Things had definitely gotten real.

Thankfully, after a week or so of baby and I getting to know each other (and sleeping in the middle of the queen mattress without blankets, on my back, with her in the middle of my chest; it worked for her and seemed “safe” enough for my anxiety) we settled into a routine of nursing on demand—basically every 1.5 hours around the clock. It was the only thing that would comfort her and I went with it.

Amidst adjusting to life as parents, my husband and I named my right breast “stink boob” because it would leak more than the other and my nursing pads on that side would get a sour milky scent. We would laugh and it was better than crying over the roller coaster of emotions, physical pain, and exhaustion I had been through postpartum.

Physically, breastfeeding did get easier over time, and I really enjoyed nursing my first-born as a toddler. She called them “nee nees” and offered my breast to many of her stuffed animals and dolls. I breastfed her until she was over two, my second I nursed for eight weeks (another story), and I am still feeding my third child, now a toddler, with my “boobas.”

Marie P.

To share your breastfeeding story, contact us.

Share this Blog Post:

The Power of Storytelling

Midwives, doctors, doulas, and lactation specialists will all tell you one thing: breastfeeding does not come easily to everyone.

But if that’s the case, why is it so hard for moms to talk about it?

Although Millybutton aims to remove some of the obstacles breastfeeding moms face in order to make the experience a little bit easier, there’s another obstacle we’d like to help them overcome: being brave enough to share their struggles and true feelings about motherhood.

I find that when I’m discussing Millybutton one-on-one with another mom, they almost always share their own personal breastfeeding story with me. Needless to say, I have heard many wonderful stories over the years, and whether they be funny, sad, heartbreaking or heartwarming, I am always so grateful to the moms who share them with me.

The honesty of these women has made me realize that storytelling is how we can connect and learn from one another. Their stories have inspired me to share my own experiences, not only on my blog, but with my loved ones as well. I want other women to experience how walls break down when you let yourself be vulnerable.

I think when moms are brave enough to share their stories, it empowers all of us. Whether you’ve just read about another mom’s experience that resonates with your own, or you’ve shared your story and you’ve gotten feedback from other moms who have gone through the same thing, it reminds you that you are not alone.

And, perhaps most importantly, that we are all in this together!

Share Your Story With Us!

I would like to invite all mothers out there to share their breastfeeding story with us. We will post one breastfeeding story every Thursday at 11 a.m. on Millybutton’s blog. This Mother’s Day we will be posting the first shared story.

This is a judgment fee zone! Millybutton is an empathetic company; we do not provide breastfeeding advice, or preach to women about what they should or should not do! Above all things, we want to empower breastfeeding mothers so they can reach their personal breastfeeding goals (whatever they may be!) and ultimately sustain them. Millybutton Unsnapped will be a place where moms can share their experiences so other moms might read it, learn from it, and be inspired by it.

If you’re interested in sharing your story, here are some quick Do’s and Don’ts:

DO:

1. Keep your story at about 500 words or less.
2. Be honest! The stories that can help others the most are the ones that are sometimes the hardest to tell.
3. If you want to remain anonymous and still share your story, just let us know!
4. Write it as if you’re talking to your sister, friend, mother, or other close loved one.
5. Fill out the release agreement form.
6. Send your story and release agreement to info@millybutton.com as attached word documents.
7. Title the subject line as “MILLYBUTTON UNSNAPPED STORY”

DON’T:

1. Use your story as a means to criticize other women and their breastfeeding decisions.
2. Be afraid to have fun with it!

Share your story with us today!

Share this Blog Post:

Crawl Before You Walk

I’m about to be very honest with you; it took a lot of courage for me to post this “blooper reel.”

As for why it was made in the first place, and why I decided to release something that’s so goofy, let me explain.
Recently, I had to create several videos of myself promoting my product and company. I was told it would be, and I quote, “Super easy, no big deal, don’t worry, just use your phone.”

Ha!

What you will see in the video is me trying my hardest to create a simple one minute introduction of my company that, in actuality, took me three hours to make. We eventually called it quits because we were literally running out of daylight.

This was my first time being filmed, and it was not an aspect of starting a company that I took into consideration before taking this leap. I think it is safe to say that I don’t think being in the film industry is in my future. However, this experience was so valuable to me, as I learned a few extremely important lessons. First and foremost: I hate being on camera!

Even the set-up itself was uncomfortable. My creative husband duct taped a selfie stick to a tripod and filmed me as I stood tip toed on a child’s stool for better posture and position. I now know that for future filming sessions, I will be comfortably sitting down!

I am one of “those people” who wears their heart on their sleeve. So it came to no surprise that my anxiety and nervousness coupled with the urgency to get it over with is apparent in every take. Most of these “bloopers” are of my husband trying to make me loosen up by just laughing at ourselves and the situation. I love him to death for this!

He was able to help me see that when I get nervous I become really uptight. I then become the dreaded ice queen and she is no fun. It is up to me to create a fun work atmosphere, so I have to let go of my fears and face them. I have to let my guard down in order to be authentic.

Letting everyone see this blooper reel is part of that process. Think of it as ripping a band aid off. I am learning to not take myself so seriously and set realistic expectations. I need to just let go and have fun with it! I hope that this video shows that I am human, and am still in the process of figuring this all out. Being an entrepreneur challenges me, but thanks to my amazing support system, I am able to power through, and accomplish things that are way out of my comfort zone.

You know, my daughter gave up playing with her Legos that day and watched me struggle instead. I will make a point to remember this experience the next time she struggles with her homework, a sport, or something she has to work hard at accomplishing. I hope it will serve as an example to her that it is okay to struggle and not get it right the first time. To keep at it, even if it takes three hours. To step out of her comfort zone and learn something about herself and the people around her. To laugh—to please never forget to laugh. And to remember she has people around her that love her and they are always willing to help.

Share this Blog Post:

Family Ties

I have a newfound respect for family owned businesses.

Just imagine working with someone you have known your whole life; let’s say it’s your Mom! Some days are unbelievably challenging. We often get loud and intense, mainly because we are a lot alike. Similar to a pendulum, we swing from one extreme to another into non-verbal communication. It is true when they say “that silence is deafening.” I was recently told that communication is 60% body language, 30% tone of voice, and 10% words. Even when no one is speaking, the emotions and feelings are self-evident. This intensifies when you work with your mother; you can’t help but read her body language, anticipate her reaction to every word said, and question every decision made. In a way, I have spent a lifetime studying my mother, and her me. I thought this closeness would be to our advantage. Maybe not.

I have been told by her that I come on too strong, I’m overbearing, a little hard to take, too loud, and more difficult to deal with than when I was a teenager. All of these are difficult to hear from your mother. But, what if she is right?

Seeking outside expertise, I attended my first entrepreneur meet up called ‘Unstuck Pittsburgh.’ Believe it or not, the topic of the day was, “Constructive criticism and how to give it.” It is one thing to give constructive criticism on a project or a paper, but it crosses a line when addressing someone’s personality. Family members do not want to be personally criticized. For a moment, imagine that the person you are criticizing is your mother. What if it was your daughter? It’s personal because you are close to them. I wished my mom could have been at this meet up. We could have worked on this together and had a few laughs.

I spent the better part of a week venting and stewing over my mother’s words. I was totally distracted. That Saturday afternoon, as I sat at my computer, still working on millybutton, my daughter came to give me a hug and a kiss goodbye. She whispered in my ear, “Mommy, please don’t give up on millybutton. I love you.” I did not even realize how defeated I felt until she said that. Soon after, I realized I have to be careful of what I say and how I say it because I am a mother myself. My 7 ½ -year-old daughter gets a front row seat to our process. I sometimes wonder if she thinks arguing with her mother is okay. Will it become commonplace for her to go toe-to-toe with me? Someday, she could be working with me. I can only hope that exposing her to this mother/daughter working relationship will benefit her. In a perfect world, my daughter will look back and be proud of us for creating millybutton. I am determined to set a good example! For this reason, I feel we need a Family Business Coach, a concept I only recently discovered. Hopefully, they can teach us to leave the baggage behind and move forward with realistic expectations and goals.

Please don’t get me wrong — my mother is a great partner and has been for the past seven years. We’ve had a lot of fun creating millybutton together. This is an experience of a lifetime for both of us. I sometimes wonder if my mom doesn’t feel appreciated. This is a woman who raised 4 kids and worked as a full time as a registered nurse (3rd shift) for 35 years. She put me through college and has always given me wings. At age 60, she decided to invent a product with me to help other mothers. To do this, she had to learn to use a computer and even took classes. Now she handles our books. She is great at research and even helped write our patent and business plan. At the INPEX invention show, she presented the millybutton and won an award for our product. At 67, my mom conducted an impromptu presentation to Amazon, and crushed it! In addition to all of this, she recently took up a new hobby — her first experience with organized sports — rowing on a dragon boat team. I am so proud of her and thankful that she is my co-founder. I would be lost without her. I can only hope that, in my retirement, I will be as amazing as she is.

At the end of the day, “I love my Momma!” I would be heartbroken if all our good intentions and hard work were unsuccessful in reaching our dreams. I hope my mom and I can find our balance and be the role models we know we can be for my daughter.

Share this Blog Post:

Wake Up Call

2:00 A.M. — I’m awake, anticipating my 4:00 A.M. alarm for my part-time job at Trader Joe’s. I am haunted by an unexpected question from a judge during a local Pittsburgh Accelerator Competition. I’ve been second-guessing my response. The answer that I gave has been keeping me awake.

A female judge had innocently asked, “Do you work on Millybutton full-time?” I thought of my hard-earned masters degree in architecture, currently unused. I visualized the buildings I had designed, my schooling, and all of my accomplishments that were unseen in this moment. I felt embarrassed, so I hesitated before I answered.

“No.” I finally responded. “I work at Trader Joe’s in the mornings, and then I work on Millybutton while taking care of my 7 year-old daughter.”

The judge waited expectantly without offering any acknowledgement to my response. So, I continued to explain that I get up every morning at 4:00 A.M. to help unload a tractor trailer and stock shelves — an experience similar to moving into a new home every day. I nervously joked that it is like getting a daily CrossFit workout, hoping desperately to lighten the mood. Then I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

I finished by telling the judges and all who were listening, the truth. “I’m exhausted!”

As I lay here now, I cannot help but ask myself, “Was I embarrassed — embarrassed to admit I work in a grocery store?” How can I be embarrassed about putting everything I have into my family, the Millybutton, and my job? I am an ordinary person who read a book on inventing and created a product with her mother called the Millybutton. Our inspiration came from my personal struggle with breastfeeding in a corporate office setting. We are determined to make a product that makes mothers’ lives easier, to give them the extra hand that I wish I had when I was breastfeeding. Our team is passionate and driven. We have come a long way, but in some ways, it can feel inconsequential when considering what we’re up against.

Could it possibly have been because I felt out of my league? The competition is fierce when you are standing in a room of professionals that already have funding, many with impressive degrees, credentials, talents, and mentors. Students from CMU & PITT have amazing high-tech products with impressive teams that included their professors. I hoped my presentation conveyed my product knowledge, passion, and commitment and that would be enough to help me succeed. Even though I lack the traditional elements of an entrepreneur, I bring unique experiences to the table that set my business and me apart, including my job at Trader Joe’s.

So, why do I work at Trader Joe’s? I mean, besides the fact that I actually get paid more to work there than as an adjunct architecture professor at a local university? More importantly, Trader Joe’s is a gratifying place to work, and, as an entrepreneur, the retail experience is invaluable. I have learned how to hire the right people for a job while simultaneously trusting them to take the ball and run with it. This causes them to take ownership and pride in their work, which results in increased accountability and productivity. A winning situation for all involved.

What other things make Trader Joe’s so special and gratifying? Well, for one thing, the people rock! This includes my co-worker and, “sister,” Karen, as she says in her NY accent, who is one of my best buddies. She is a mother of four, has blue hair, and is unbelievably cool! Trader Joe’s employees work hard, but as a team, they laugh together and have fun creating a great work environment. Working at Trader Joe’s gives you an opportunity to have a positive daily impact on someone’s life, and isn’t that what is most important? Customers regularly confide in Trader Joe’s employees and share personal details of their lives. I think this occurs because we are open, warm, always happy to help, and not judgmental.

This same positive connection that I have with my customers at Trader Joe’s will transfer to the breastfeeding community. I have a strong connection to my target market, because I was the target market. We will be able to identify and anticipate needs more easily. We have a product that is created, “by moms-for moms,” and there is something to be said for that.

I believe my time with Trader Joe’s will benefit me as an entrepreneur. So, I thank you Trader Joe’s. This job has been a blessing and a rewarding experience that will help me succeed, no matter what or who I’m up against.

This leads me back to the provoking question, “Am I embarrassed to work in a grocery store?” No way!

The alarm rings. — This experience has brought to light the reality that I need to work on Millybutton full-time and sadly say goodbye to Trader Joe’s. If I am going to make my dream into a reality, I have to give it all I’ve got.

Share this Blog Post: