Lessons & Growing Pains from Building a Niche Motherhood Brand
from founder Li-an Delos Reyes
Li-an Delos Reyes is a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist and the founder of Milksta – a line of nutritious, delicious, and guilt-free lattes formulated for nursing & pumping mothers to naturally boost their breastmilk supply and boost energy through plant-based lactogenic food ingredients. While Milksta continues to reach more moms and babies, Li-an launched another advocacy-focused vegan brand: Brother Sprout.
Even before I had kids, I had always thought of motherhood as a life-changing event. There’d be new challenges, a new human (or humans) to love and nurture, and a lot less time for hobbies, rest, and sleep. But, what I didn’t imagine is that motherhood would spark advocacy and entrepreneurship in me.
My first startup, Milksta, was born from my struggles breastfeeding my second son. I breastfed my first son without any problems, so what I had with my second son was bizarre, frustrating, and beyond-words painful. I took pills meant to help my body make more milk, but they only caused me intense headaches, sleep problems, and an extra-challenging postpartum recovery.
During this same period, a family issue led me to fly back to my hometown in the Philippines. Little did I know that coming home would bring to light the solution to my breastfeeding problem and spark the beginning of a new moringa-based product line for moms everywhere.
Moringa is a common backyard plant in the Philippines known to have many health benefits, including improved milk flow for lactating mothers. With my mom’s help (she is a nutritionist-dietitian), I consumed moringa prepared in different ways – as ingredients in drinks, pastries, soups, and dishes. I didn’t expect it to work at first, but it ended up surprising me in a very good way. Soon enough, I had enough milk not just to breastfeed but also to donate milk!
Since then, I have experimented with different moringa blends that preserve the plant’s lactogenic benefits and also taste delicious. My initial plan was as unambitious as reaching a hundred moms at most, but positive reviews and orders slowly started coming in! Now, I’m happy to say that I’ve created 4 blends loved by thousands of moms: Decaf Creamy Coffee Boobie Latte, Boobie Choco-Latte, Mooringa Tea Latte and Pink-a-Boob Tea Latte.
My Milksta journey is a wonderful one, but things aren’t always smooth sailing. I learned hard lessons and made difficult decisions along the way. Here are some of them:
1. Your business is allowed to be a beginner
I learned that as long as you aren’t lying to your customers or putting them in harm’s way, it’s absolutely okay to be a beginner. It’s okay to struggle at first, whether it’s with your work process, your marketing, building a team, improving your store, or even getting comfortable being the face of a brand!
As a mom, I often associated growing pains with pregnancy, but running a startup taught me that businesses, too, have these growing pains. I firmly believe that some pains are necessary and even healthy, as long as you use them to grow, develop courage, and make positive change.
2. Niche down to nail down
We live in a society where expansion is almost always perceived as a good thing. However, the truth is that it isn’t the best route for all businesses, especially if it distracts you from your actual goals and the people you’re trying to help.
I’d be lying if I say that I didn’t try to pursue expansion too soon. I did. Thankfully, my team and I quickly realized that we were getting distracted and it was becoming more challenging to connect with our ideal audience. Niching down is what ultimately helped us nail down how to reach more leads, have more customers, and grow our community of moms helping and supporting each other.
There’s a good time and place for expanding, and I still look forward to evolving Milksta (or developing other startups) to extend help and value to more people. The key, I learned, is to stay anchored on your brand’s mission.
3. Be better to serve better
My mom was the first person to help me formulate lactation blends. Our knowledge and skills combined was enough to launch Milksta – until it wasn’t anymore. Different moms have different stories and breastfeeding struggles, and that inspired me to upskill and become a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (CBS). I didn’t plan it, but this enabled me to help more mothers beyond just birthing to a brand that was born to serve lactating parents.
Amazingly, as I got to know more moms through my capacity as a CBS, I also gained some insights on how Milksta can serve moms further. This birthed a series of projects, including webinars held in partnership with other motherhood brands, an infant massage expert, and fitness and lifestyle coaches.
Aside from science and technical skills, I also learned that social listening is of utmost importance. These two are particularly game-changers: reading reviews and keeping up with what the moms are posting on our online community. While some reviews can be painful to read, most of them carry helpful tips on how we can improve and make our customers happier.
As a business grows, more rooms for improvement will also open. Thankfully, you don’t have to enter all these rooms alone. Hire people who are great at the business aspects you cannot take care of, especially those that could affect product quality and customer service. Also, don’t wait for burnout to hit before getting the help you need!
4. Brands for women can’t ignore insights from women
I know this one is obvious, but not all brands take the time to really identify with the people they’re trying to reach. At Milksta, one of the things that helped us build customer relationships is having women staff (most of them mothers) handle customer service and conduct customer interviews. These women are like my target customers turned teammates, and that made things a lot easier for me. I don’t worry about how they communicate with our customers; I feel at ease that we share the same values.
Additionally, doing regular interviews opens us up to a better understanding of the customer journey – our source of info being the customers themselves! I truly believe that businesses, particularly managers and directors, can achieve a next-level understanding of customers by connecting with them in real, personal ways (via interviews, etc.).
As the heading says, brands for women can’t ignore insights from women. I believe the same thing rings true for brands targeting any other group.
I have had plenty of ups and downs launching and running Milksta, and all the growing pains are so worth it. The advocacy to help mothers and babies is a powerful fuel for me; Milksta moms can trust that we will stay true to this cause!