Today my guest blogger is a Latina mother, Priska Diaz, who came to America at 17 from Peru, not knowing a word of English. She worked three jobs to put herself through college, and then earned a master’s degree in packaging design from Pratt.
When she had her first child, Priska attempted to breastfeed and after a week was told to supplement with bottle feeding. From there, an idea grew! Priska walked the floors and streets (and eyed the ceiling) while her newborn son screamed with gas after bottle-feeding. Her infant so became colicky, she spent years redesigning the baby bottle, using the principle of a syringe so there is not a drop of air inside, and a patented nipple to avoid breast confusion. The result? A million sold, and they are just hitting Babies R Us this month.
I asked Priska to tell us what it's like to secure funding, launch a product, raise children, and keep your sanity. Here is her story:
After waiting together for the bus at the corner with my son Carlton, now 8, and Adriana, 7, and reviewing in my head the schedule for getting two kids to and from school/doctors appointments/playdates, I run to Home Depot to prepare for the afternoon.
My chaotic life: Grabbing liquid nails, screws, six-inch planks of MDF, I run home to use my tiny electric handheld saw to turn the lot into a radiator shelf, painted white to match the kitchen. I also make a pit stop at the Stop N Shop to buy frozen pizza dough and corn starch.
Today’s after school activities: making pizza dough, and homemade Play Doh using corn starch, and of course, making a big mess on the kitchen table. I assign the kids tasks while I run to my laptop to communicate with the Babies R Us buyer, do my invoicing and process orders. I love arts and crafts. I came to New York from Peru when I was 17 and spoke no English, worked three jobs to put myself through college and got a masters in packaging design from Pratt, spending six years on assorted “craft” projects.
The idea: At 32, when I had my son Carlton, I got out the Krazy Glue, rubber bands, and plastic bits and created my first Bare Baby Bottle prototype, giving birth to Bittylab shortly after. Unmedicated childbirth was easier than balancing work and children. But my business life would not work without the chaos nearby, without being able to wear my workout clothes all day and nap on the sofa between craft projects and dinner.
Carlton’s colic inspired the business. The pediatrician told me he was dehydrated and undernourished and I’d have to supplement breastfeeding with a bottle. Then he cried, and cried as colic became a daily (and nightly) norm. I thought about how syringes don’t let in any air, and used that as my guiding principle to create the Bare Bottle, which lets a baby draw in milk in the only completely airless suction process on the market. Then I redesigned the nipple so that a baby has to latch on like he does on the breast. Because having suffered through his nipple confusion, and preference for a bottle, I wanted to find a solution.
The first step: I showed up at the biggest retailer in the baby category and met with the senior buyer who, after seeing how Bare worked, raved about the bottle’s uniqueness and innovation. She encouraged us (my husband and I) to get it into production. ASAP. It took three and a half years to develop a working prototype. Molders in the US turned us down. In 2010, when Carlton was three and my daughter Adriana was two, Bittylab became my full-time job. I filed patents and did the ABC trade show. The prototype attracted a lot of attention. Between 2011 and 2016, we had 15 meetings with Babies “R” Us who understood the bottle and loved it.
Funding: A small business loan from Community Capital allowed us to place the order so Bare bottles made it to 185 Babies “R” Us stores in February 2016, meeting the deadline.
Fastforward: Now I ship to 200 Babies R Us stores (hence the weekly conversations with the buyer), but am still on the corner at 3 p.m. waiting for that school bus. Launching a product took seven years of perseverance and belief in myself when a lot of male product engineers scoffed.
Learn as you go: We wanted to keep the warehouse in NY, and tried DIY distribution. When the first 20-foot container showed up in our Elmsford office we realized we didn’t have the necessary tools and equipment for a fast unload and I ended up climbing into the truck tossing boxes to my husband, which he put away one at a time inside “The Lab,” as I call our office. It was overwhelming and literally backbreaking. That’s when we found a California warehouse equipped to palletize and shrink-wrap and ship the boxes wholesale.
Work life balance: I schedule all my business appointments from 9 to 3 as much as possible. We’ve just sold $1 million in retail sales. The goal is one million units. As Bittylab grows, I plan to hire talent that can take the business to the next level, at the same time it will give me more time to spend with my kids and family.