This content is the seventh installment in an interview series with the 2020 Target Takeoff Baby cohort. Participating companies are sharing, in their own words, details about their innovative companies. All interviews have been conducted by the Target Takeoff Program Management team.
Meet Pippy Sips.
Takeoff: What inspired you to start Pippy Sips?
Amberlee: Like most founders, my reaction to a problem is to imagine a solution. Some pain points are so frustrating, though, that they inspire you to do more than just imagine.
In 2016, I’d maxed out my maternity leave after the birth of my second daughter. Even though I was returning to work – running a fast-paced mental health clinic – I didn’t want to stop breastfeeding, which public-health acronyms (APA, CDC, WHO) agree is the optimal food source for infants.
A prominent feature of being a working, breastfeeding mom is lots of pumping. Now, I didn’t make up this phrase, but I wholeheartedly agree with it: “Pumping is the pits!” I was often exasperated thinking about the sheer amount of stuff I needed to pack, and about the potential pitfalls of the pumping day. Would I be able to get my expressed milk to the shared work fridge without employees stopping me along the way to discuss various clients in crisis? Would the conference room – the fridge locale – be closed because it was hosting group therapy? Was I going to be off-site, without access to any fridge? If so, did I remember my cooler and ice pack? Were those products going to keep my milk at the right temperature all day?
I often wondered: ‘Why hasn’t one of the big breast pump companies developed a product responsive to all of those issues?’
Well, one day I’d forgotten my cooler and couldn’t access the fridge. My mind wandered to distract from the frustration. I looked at my S’well water bottle and then at my pump and thought: ‘Why should I wait for someone else to make a solution?’ After confirming that this wasn’t just an ‘Amberlee problem,’ I came up with “Maia,” the award-winning system for cooling, transporting, and monitoring breastmilk.
Takeoff: What has surprised you about yourself as your business has grown?
Amberlee: Sometimes I’m surprised that a pair of married founders without MBAs or engineering degrees, who are raising two kids and working full-time jobs on top of building a business, have gotten this far. Making a hardware product has been a long process and, even with a stockpile of persistence and grit at our disposal, has at many junctures felt arduous if not impossible. Our naïve selves did not envision the years of R&D, fundraising, materials sourcing, more fundraising, redesigns for manufacturability purposes, even more fundraising, and everything else it took to get to the point where we were ready for production of our first run of Maia. I’m also surprised by the personal growth that each of us has made, and how that translates to more effective business operations. We’ve learned that I am the “gas” and my co-founder and husband Joe is the “brakes,” and that we can use this dynamic to always be moving forward, even if the specific speed we’re moving at is variable. Putting full weight on both pedals simultaneously is no good, however, whether driving a car or running a business!
Takeoff: What makes you most excited about working with Target Takeoff?
Amberlee: I am most excited by the fact that I’ve been a Target customer my whole adult life and now I actually get to work with them. I’ve had such good experiences in the stores and have been known to get ‘lost’ in the aisles for hours. My family will typically find me with a few unexpected products in hand! It’s not just me, though. Our kids will often plead in unison: “Can we please go to Target on Saturday?” As a young business with a new product, it will be so helpful to learn how to maximize customer satisfaction from a company that I know from personal experience has mastered the art.
Takeoff: As a founder, how are you functioning today that is different than how you were functioning at the beginning of 2020? What keeps you motivated?
Amberlee: The events of 2020 have been a shock to our system, affecting our family and business. Working (thankfully) from home, running Pippy Sips, and having two kids out of childcare for a stretch of months was quite a challenge. But as we have adapted to a new way of life, and as our children have (mostly) returned to childcare, we are able to find more synchrony and productivity. As a husband-wife team, COVID-19 has actually permitted us to spend more time together, which in turn allows us to bounce ideas off each other and split up tasks with greater efficiency. Believe it or not, my experience with breast pumping has been helpful with the ‘juggling acts’ required to navigate 2020; I often reflect on a quote from the host of the “Startup Parent” podcast, who says that if you’ve “breast pumped, you’ve been trained in project management.”
As far as what keeps me motivated, there are two main drivers. First, there’s my desire to help people: I know I have the solution to a problem faced by many moms and families, and I want to deliver it so I can affect real, positive change. Second, there’s my general unwillingness to quit something once I’ve started it. That’s particularly the case here, where we are hitting milestones and are so close to full commercial operations; barring something extraordinary, I cannot imagine stopping at this point.
Takeoff: What makes you most excited about the future of your brand?
Amberlee: I am excited that a key feature of our brand will continue to be empathy. Innovation in the breast pump accessories space is being driven by companies like Pippy Sips that are run by women who’ve personally experienced the pumping pain-points addressed with their products. Whether it’s through building out our team or thoughtful selection of interns or engaging with other companies in the space, I always want Pippy Sips to be connected to the current experiences of pumping moms.
For more information about Pippy Sips, check out pippysips.com