Milk Nursingwear continues our Mom Entrepreneur interview series by highlighting Sarah Wells, creator of Sarah Wells Bags. Sarah resides in the Washington, DC area where she runs her business of designing and creating stylish yet functional breast pump bags. Her family includes her husband, Greg, a “lawyer and super-dad,” as well as her two daughters, Madeleine (age 4) and Abigail (age 3 months). Sarah was born in Boston and raised in upstate New York. In 1998, she made the move to DC for college and never left.
Were you working outside the home before becoming a mother? If so, what is your background?
I spent 15 years working in and leading nonprofit advocacy organizations, aimed at improving health care for women and the elderly. I have a Master’s Degree in Public Policy with a concentration in Women’s Studies.
Please tell us about your products, and explain how they work.
I design innovative products to solve real-life challenges faced by mamas who use a breast pump during their breastfeeding journey. I have two products on the market now (with more coming in 2016!): stylish, functional and discreet breast pump bags (which hold all pumping equipment, accessories, purse items, laptop, etc.) and a just-launched wet/dry bag, “Pumparoo,” which enables moms to store their pump parts with milk residue in the refrigerator in-between pumping sessions, resulting in just one wash a day.
How did you come up with the idea for a breast pump bag?
In 2011, when Maddy was born, I was the Executive Director of a national organization and also an exclusive pumper. I schlepped an ugly black manufacturer breast pump bag all over the place and complained about it a lot. Friends and family encouraged me to do something about this mama problem and so I spent a couple of years, nights and weekends, working on a prototype, finding a manufacturer and working with my professional SCORE mentor. After I had everything in place and felt I had designed a better breast pump bag, I launched!
Did you find your bag filled a need?
Absolutely — coincidentally, around the time I launched my business, the Affordable Care Act required private insurance companies to start covering the cost of breast pumps for new moms. Shortly thereafter, many of the breast pump companies eliminated the (ugly) manufacturer bag from their insurance provided pumps. The need for my designer breast pump bags was there prior to health reform – and then health reform (no more free ugly bag) made the market for my bags skyrocket!
What made you want to start your own business? Is this something you had always wanted to do and just needed the idea?
I have always been an entrepreneur, just on a much smaller-scale. I even charged my two younger sisters membership dues to hang out with me (that might not have been the NICEST thing I ever did to them haha! But it was business savvy!). For the first part of my career, I applied that creative and entrepreneurial spirit to nonprofit organizations. I grew up in a family of public servants, so it was a natural course for me. When I hit on the idea for these products, I shifted gears into the business world.
How do you juggle motherhood and entrepreneurship?
The million dollar question! Entrepreneurs possess a lot of traits that are helpful in motherhood, like creativity and organization. My obsessive list-making at work carries over into my personal life and keeps us moving in military order. My 4-year-old is also really creative, so she and I bond a lot over that aspect of our personalities. The juggle is a daily struggle, especially now with a new baby/two kids; I enjoy that my hours are flexible, but they are still 40+ hours a week of work that have to fit in somewhere. I just take it one day at a time.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?
I would say scaling/growing my company. The first year was slower as I got to know moms and they got to know my brand; I purposely put just one bag on the market so that I could get mom input before I took a bigger plunge into inventory. That was an incredibly smart decision as many changes have been made along the way (such as adjusting bag size for new brands of breast pumps on the market). This second year, I have grown 1,000% over my first year; I’m blown away by the support of moms and a little overwhelmed by such fast growth. Things are moving fast now, and I’m trying to apply the same common sense strategies I did in the beginning of my journey.
Do you have any advice for future mom entrepreneurs?
Get a mentor! Look to your local SCORE chapter for a (free) professional mentor. I’ve been with mine for years now, and she has been instrumental in my success. Also, interview everyone you know or can find in your field; I’ve talked to probably hundreds of other mom entrepreneurs, especially in my early days, asking them about their lessons learned, etc. Information gathering and networking is key.
Milk Nursingwear recommends visiting Sarah Wells Bags at www.sarahwellsbags.com for the full line of these beautiful breast pump bags.