How These Cofounders Are Modernizing Motherhood Two Boobs At A Time
Jessica Canetti, Melanie Haber, and Marisa Vera are the cofounders of Milx, a company created to modernize motherhood, starting with their flagship Milx Bra.
With Milx, Canetti, Haber, and Vera are on a mission to help moms feel confident and comfortable nursing and pumping whenever they need to, for however long they want to, while still wearing something that’s stylish. The Milx Bra is a sports bra with nursing and pumping functionality, designed for the active mom. It works with all pumps, and the moisture-wicking spandex fabric conforms to boobs of different shapes and sizes and helps with sweat or leakage.
Between Canetti’s and Vera’s background working in marketing and business development at Google and Haber’s background working in the health and wellness startup space, the three co-founders have complementary backgrounds and have been able to build Milx together, while still managing their full-time jobs.
Since launching in late May, selling out of their first run of Milx bras and hosting free educational Milx Mom community gatherings for more than 100 moms in NYC, to winning TheSkimm’s “Get Off The Couch” pitch contest, these three moms and cofounders are just getting started on their mission to modernize motherhood.
The three co-founders share their strategy for growth, their biggest challenges in building a product that can work for all body types, how they’ve personally grown, and more in our conversation below.
How is Milx approaching things differently in the postnatal product space?
We’ve had hundreds of moms be a part of our innovation process. From conception phase, then during our participation in NYC’s Tacklebox Accelerator program, all the way throughout prototype development process, we asked our friends and personal networks, sought out volunteers on social media, and even walked straight up to nursing/pumping strangers and asked if they’d be interested in trying out our bra and giving us feedback.
We knew we were onto something when we realized our own personal pain points as new moms were ones that lots of moms shared: there were no combo pumping/nursing bras on the market that were stylish and functional that you could wear all day and even work out in.
We started by creating the bra of our dreams and then had moms test every prototype by wearing and using the bras for nursing/pumping, incorporating their feedback into each iteration of the product, until we built the Milx Bra. We also believe that education and community are vital to new motherhood, so we’ve incorporated that into Milx by hosting free nursing/lactation 101 sessions and Milx mom meetups around New York City.
What’s been the hardest part of building Milx so far?
We all come from marketing and branding backgrounds, but had no design or sewing experience, so it’s been a huge learning curve.
We knew choosing a bra as our first garment to make ever was going to be a challenge and learned early on that sizing would be the biggest hurdle for us to overcome. Being women, we knew women’s bodies are complex. However, we didn’t realize how many women actually deal with “niche” body types that are not accommodated by most mainstream bras.
For example, we learned a lot of women we knew had larger bust sizes but smaller rib sizes that made finding well-fitting sports bras very difficult. We also needed to account for breast size fluctuation that occurs throughout the day for women who are nursing and pumping.
In our own personal postpartum experiences, our chest sizes changed dramatically from birth to several months postpartum. We wanted our bras to accommodate these body changes so women could not only be comfortable all day, but also stay in one size for several months.
We first tried to make adjustable back straps, but the strap adjusters were clunky, ugly, and made the bra uncomfortable. In the end, we added four-way stretch spandex to our straps instead of bulky plastic adjusters so that the bras would fit whether your breasts were full or depleted. In addition to the stretch spandex, we made sure the fabric was moisture wicking and antimicrobial to accommodate for leaks and sweat.
Early on, we had to hire experts in the field to help us account for all these nuances. We learned from lots of mistakes with materials and structure, and relied on not only our testers, but our own intuition as moms who are wearing these bras day in and day out.
What has been the most helpful to Milx’s growth so far?
Moms! We started to spread the word about our brand by enlisting moms to host Milx Mom Meetup events in their apartments, which we still do today. We ask them to host 10 people from their neighborhoods and we bring in our lactation consultant to give a free nursing and pumping 101 tutorial. These events create not only a space for new moms to ask their burning questions about breastfeeding and pumping, but it’s a great opportunity to meet other moms in the neighborhood. We are creating small communities of moms all around New York City who believe in our brand and our mission, and these same moms have supported us and spread the word about Milx so quickly that we sold out of our first run in three months.
What’s your approach to growth moving forward?
We keep setting larger and larger goals. First, it was can we manufacture a working bra? Then can we sell a few hundred bras? Can we sell a few thousand? Our ultimate goal, of course, is being moms’ go-to postnatal lifestyle brand, not only providing useful products they need, but also being a trusted source that will help make moms’ lives a little bit easier.
Since our inception, we’ve always relied on moms’ feedback to build a product and community that they asked for. We’ll continue to rely on our mom community for growth both offline and online. Offline we’ll continue to educate moms through mom hosted meetups, in addition to partnering and hosting events with new and relevant female-run businesses who share our core values--for example, we recently did events with Fit Pregnancy Club and Stretch’d. Online we’ll continue to provide value by connecting moms, curating and posting lifestyle content, and, sharing helpful breastfeeding and nursing tips @milx.mom.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced as co-founders and how have you navigated/overcome them?
A funny and ironic challenge we’ve faced as a company built for new moms is that we all three got pregnant around the same time and had to create and navigate around a maternity leave policy. We all loved the idea of raising our kids together, but in theory, having three separate babies two months apart from each other while getting a business off the ground was definitely a challenge. We’ve been doing a great job of communicating efficiently, covering for each other, and giving the brand new mom as much time as she needs to spend with her little one and her family. We feel lucky to have a strong partnership, and as such, no productivity or momentum has been lost.
One of our other challenges was that we used to tackle all the tasks together! We share similar skill sets and in the beginning, we were all passionate about the same aspects of the business. It took us a while to realize that we needed to start delegating tasks out and own specific areas of the business, but once we did - we started operating more efficiently. There is plenty of work to go around. And, of course, we’ve all learned new skills vital to our business by stepping outside of our comfort zones.
How have you each grown personally as entrepreneurs since starting Milx?
Canetti: As a consumer, I expect a lot out of brands. At Google, I consult for large apparel retailers and see transactions from their perspective. But creating my own small business threw me into a new world where I was delivering apparel to consumers who expect a lot, but don’t know, or care, that we are a small company. Customer service is one thing we’ve really been focused on, and we are especially cognizant of the fact that new moms really need support and convenience, because they are often stressed and have no time to deal with exchanges or post office runs. We’ve built a small and mighty customer base in New York City and have luckily been able to go door to door hand delivering bras when needed--if a mom needed to exchange bra sizes, for example. The funniest is the surprise on customers’ faces when a nine-month pregnant woman shows up at their door with a bra! But personal interactions also have allowed us to meet our customers face to face and really bond since we have a lot in common at this life stage!
Vera: The statement “think like a leader but act like a student” really resonates with me because we have spent the last two years surrounding ourselves with fellow entrepreneurs, designers, and moms, who have discussed their personal struggles and victories with nursing and pumping. They have helped me grow, both professionally and as a mother, to evolve Milx. I understand now more than ever that you’re a more effective leader when you realize your limitations and incorporate the feedback of experts.
Haber: My entire life my mother has said: “the difference between those that do and those that don’t is those that do and those that don’t.” I’ve had many entrepreneurial ideas in the past that I never executed on due to not knowing exactly how to do it. But with Milx, I finally took a risk on an idea I felt passionate about without a clear roadmap. It’s hard work and there’s infinite trial and error, but I’m learning you don’t have to have it all figured out, you just have to start and keep moving forward.