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Amberlee Venti from Pippy Sips

Today, I’m here with Amber Lee, the CEO, and co-founder of Pippi SIPS, and, you know, let’s talk about it. Let’s just jump right in.

Let’s talk about Pippy Sips

Yeah, of course. So, I think this is a story that I often start talking about my second child and my experience in breastfeeding and pumping breast milk with her. But I think it starts with my first child the more I kind of analyze it. So, when I had my first baby about eight years ago, I had these butterflies and rainbow visions of how breastfeeding would go with my daughter. But when Layla was born, she was five pounds, 10 ounces.

She was not a preemie, but she was born very small. And I quickly realized that breastfeeding was not going to be sunshine and butterflies. It was going to be a journey for both of us. She had trouble latching. And so, I and my partner had to quickly kind of come together and look at the resources we had. And lactation consultancy was what we ended up seeking out, but also a lot of support from our family, from our friends, other women who had breastfed. And it took six weeks of trying to latch heavily the latch before we had a successful breastfeeding attempt.

But what I realized in that experience, that hardship was that this isn’t something that all of society has put up a lot of time, energy, and resources into making it easier for women and that it takes money and resource and privilege to have a successful breastfeeding experience if it starts rough. And so when I had my second baby four years later, the experience was much different. She latched right away. It was sunshine and butterflies.

It was all the things I imagined it to be. But what I returned to work 12 weeks later, after my maternity was finished, I quickly realized that the pumping experience was my hardship. And in this time with my daughter, I wanted to pump breast milk so that I could bring it home to her. And, you know, I had come back to work at a mental health clinic where I was in a leadership role.

I had a lot of responsibility. I had little time. I had little space. People often needed me. And there were a couple of other components that also made it difficult. The refrigerator where I saw my breast milk was in the room where we did group therapy and meetings so I often can access it. I had two kids this time, so I know the stress, the lack of sleep, the energy, the memory, all of those things were even compounded more by the fact that I had two kids and I was often forgetting all the things I needed it.

I forgot my battery pack, I’d forget the tubing, I forget the cooler or the icebox, the one in the cooler. And, you know, day in, day out. I was trying to pump, but I was always presented with the difficulties of storing and cooling my breast milk. And one day I was sitting there, I couldn’t get to the fridge, I didn’t have my cooler. And I looked at my swelled water bottle and that was the light bulb moment. I thought, why don’t we have something like this for breast milk all this time, energy, and resources it put into making this beautiful water bottle.

But breast milk was like a precious substance that nourishes our babies. We have nothing to put it in that is reliable, dependable, sleek, beautiful, and all the things I wanted in the product. And that was the beginning of the Pippi sips and my A Journey.

The story behind the Pippy Sips

That’s a great question, so we sifted through names for a long time, we had some silly names or we combined our daughter’s names, our daughter’s name, Fay and Layla, we were bouncing around faille and like, really silly having things. And then we came across the name Maya. I don’t even know how, but when we looked into the name more, all the meanings that came up with Maya from different languages were like everything that represented us as a company and the product. So, some of the meanings are mother, motherhood, bravery, strength. So, you know, as soon as we started to look into the meanings of Maya, we were like, this is it.

Collaborating with other companies.

his is the first startup I am a mental health professional by trade, so and I’ve been doing that my whole adult life. Before I went to grad school, I was working in social work and then actually attended Drexel University for Dance Movement Therapy. I graduated in 2009 and I have been in the mental health field since then. Yeah. So no, this is all new to me. Every step of the way feels new but exciting at the same time.

The impact of your background

For sure, I think as mental health professionals, you know, first and foremost, we’re taught how to empathize with others, you know, that that is the main duty of a mental health professional is stepping into the shoes of somebody else. So, although Maya is based on my personal experience, you know, I can transcend that experience to other women. So, when we started to survey women and ask them questions in person and online, I was able to step into the shoes of what other women had experienced with breastfeeding and pumping. That was different than my own experience. But how that could translate into a product and how we could make that product fit the need and be intuitive to all women, not just Amberly in her breastfeeding and pupping experience.

Hopes on applying in Launch Lane

So, you know, I’m a mental health professional, my trade, my co-founder, also my husband, Joe, is a lawyer by trade. So, this whole journey has been a journey of not knowing and not knowing things until we know them, which, you know, is it that has its power. But I think we have been seeking out mentorship and business expertise for a long time. So, what we say launch lane Khabab and what we saw about launch lane that we also really appreciated was their investment in minority entrepreneurs and health innovation. There was a lot that really called to us when launch lane came out for applications and we immediately applied because we wanted that support for our business growth. But also, you know, the expertise that launch lane offers.

Priorities shifted during a pandemic

That’s a great question. So, our priority remains to make Maya, we have to make this product, we have to get it into parent’s hands. But, you know, some strategies have had to change because now we’re in the same house 24 hours a day together with these little loud screaming, peeing beings around us. So, you know, it’s like in some ways it’s really good because I and my husband and partner were working. We were working in different spaces before. So, we had an idea for the business. We would have to text each other, call the person. And there’s nothing like real-time interaction for innovation and business development. I think the fact that we’re in the same space helps us. But at the same time, we have to make really clear boundaries. You know, we’re married, and we have kids and there’s a lot of intense feelings and emotions that come with all of that. And he put the business into the mix of that. And, of course, it can become more intense. So, I think being boundaries about what is a workspace and then what is family space and then what is relationship space, there’s you know, there’s a lot that we have to protect to keep everybody intact. And we’re working on it. All right.

How did your child cope up with school during this pandemic?

So, yes, we have a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, so one of them is school age. And so, we are doing homeschooling. It started as much more of a challenge. And that was the first one of the first big signs to me that I had to be sure my priorities and boundaries were clear so that I could help her to do what she needed to do. And the same for my husband. He had to make his priorities and boundaries clear so that he could help her so that it’s getting better. She’s gotten a lot more independent. I think in the beginning it was really about knowing how to use a computer. She’s a real smart kid. So academically, we were less worried. It was just really like, where do you find Google classroom? How do you log in? How do you open the slides? You know this is an eight-year-old, too. So, it’s like. You know, I barely know how to use PowerPoint.

Challenges on the product

Fundraising is always a challenge. I think, you know, no matter where you’re at in your company stage, how well you’re doing, I think, you know, one lesson we’ve learned is that we should always be fundraising. We should never stop. So, one thing that impacted us as we were going to apply for small business loans as a free revenue company. But now the small business lenders are focused on sustaining businesses that were already generating revenue and are now suffering because of the virus and the pandemic. So, you know, we reached out to those lenders with who it had started a relationship with to ask, are able to apply for these small business loans we had talked about. And we’re pretty much told at this time we’re focusing on keeping afloat the businesses that are suffering. So that’s going to be a huge hurdle. So, what we’ve just really tried to do is apply for as many grants as we can. That’s something, you know when I’m being boundary and prioritizing about getting tests done. You know, I put time away each week to apply for at least one grant or reach out to an investor group. Anything that singles dollars.

Launch Lane as virtual

It’s been great, you know, so originally, we had planned me attending the accelerator so that my husband and partner could care for our kids. And so now we both get to participate because we’re both homes. And, you know, we put the kids in front of a movie, and we go downstairs to our office. I put that in quotes because it’s a basement. And we sit around the computer together and we both, you know, it’s been it’s awesome because we both get to grow. Originally, Joe, just we didn’t plan on him. Getting to be part of this growth exercise that launch lane is putting us through. And I mean, not in a kind way. And now we’re both growing. And, you know, the accelerator is pushing both of us and seeing where we both need to grow, which is great because we’re so different. We’re like, you know, totally different people. So, Aaron, you know, hones right into what is it that Joe needs to tailor and work on and then looks at me and does the same for me. So that’s been awesome.

Things challenged while working virtually

Yeah, um, I mean, I think there’s always something a little missing virtually. I went to school for dance movement therapy, so I’m all about the body. And I’m not a professional tango dancer, but I have a long history of dancing and moving and expressing myself with my body and looking at how other people express themselves with their body. So, I think they’re missing that component. And I remember the first couple of times we were at the University City Science Center and I could look at everybody and read their expressions and how they were responding to things. So, there is that missing. But I do think that the vertical component is added accessibility so we can use this channel to reach out to each other and get pretty immediate feedback. Crystal Health, because of the virtual experience, invited me to participate in a fireside chat at the health tech conference you just did on Saturday. And that was with women and businesses all over the world talking about some tech health. And I think if we might not have happened if it was in person, I think it brought in minds together because it was so cool and that was exciting. And I’m not sure that would have happened. Pre pandemic, although Crystal is an all sides. So, she probably would have made it happen.

Experiences you’ve learned

Oh, you know, I think it just is a call to action a little bit for myself and our business. I think we were already working on a business and product to help parents. And now parents were trying to do it all. And we realized that that’s actually truly impossible and that we also realize, you know, I don’t want to get too political, but we live in a country, a society that doesn’t have a ton of compassion or understanding for the parent experience and things that we can work, care for kids at home, school them all at the same time and do it well, you know. So, I think the silver lining is that it calls to me my advocacy personality traits. So, I’m a mental health professional. But a lot of the work that I did came with this idea of advocating for people with fewer means. And I think in this situation, it’s really about advocating for parents and helping parents to have products or services that will make their lives easier, but also helping parents to be vocal to their employers and society and the legal. The same about, you know, I just think it’s not sustainable what we’re doing. how our society, our country, our employers, how are they going to come back and support us during this time rather than punishing us for the lack of productivity that they might see? I think I think that’s been a huge silver lining and a couple of things have come up around it. I got to speak for the Drexel Human Lactation Consultant program, and I talked a lot about that. And I want to kind of continue on that path of advocacy.

The thing you looking forward after the pandemic

Be near other people, I am an extrovert. I think I’m kind of an introvert like you were speaking about before living. I like my alone time, but I. I felt like such a weirdo when this whole pandemic started because I was missing random people from my workplace, like people that I wasn’t even that close to. I was just missing, like hearing their voices or having awkward interactions in the office space. Like, I felt just wild because I would these people would continue to come up. I’d see an email from them or get a call from them. And I’d be like, I miss that person. I need to see that person. So, yeah, as weird as it sounds, I’m just excited to see all people, even the ones I don’t like that much.

What is your superpower?

I think my superpowers multitasking and if I could ever hope to at a better time, this is like the perfect time to hone that skill because the first week of this pandemic, I did try to do it all. I’d say I’m scaling back a bit, but probably one of my most profound days as I was working, cooking Chile, helping my daughter on her violin, and playing Plato with the other daughter. And I don’t think I was doing any of these things very well, but I was doing them all. And yeah. So, this is reminded me of my ability to multitask.

Other plans in the future

We got to get this thing made, that is what I mean, we got our eyes on the prize and that is getting a minimum viable product to market. And we need all the help we can get in doing, you know, understanding how to market a first-time product, understanding how to fund first-time manufacturing for our product, and overall operating a business. I think my partner and I have business senses to us, and I have some operational and management experience. But I think overall, running a startup, we need all the help we can get.

Social media platform

Follow us on Instagram. We have a website, Follow us on Instagram, our handles pippy sips from Facebook and Twitter. But we do a lot of our posting on Instagram.

Thoughts about accelerators

Yes, of course, actually, but we were doing our tech prep for that from the health tech conference the other day, I was on we were stuck at a Google meet. We were in the wrong link, basically, but I was with two other entrepreneurs and one of the entrepreneurs had not participated in an accelerator, an incubator. And then the other one had and I and the one who have been in an accelerator incubator were like pushing them so hard to this other entrepreneur because we because she was telling us she was like, I’m a solar panel. I don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I’ve gotten this far and she’s pretty successful. But, you know, we were saying to help you in the journey and to kind of push, you into the next stage of your business, and an accelerator or an incubator can be so helpful. And I think it’s interesting because I think you meet so many entrepreneurs who haven’t done this before. That’s often the story. So, of course, they need help. You know, there’s an intuition to entrepreneurship, but you can always use other people to help you who have prior expertise in running a startup or working with a startup or business in general.

The advice can you give for people who start-up business

I think to be a well-rounded and well-rounded individual and business. So, I think one thing we learned with Launch Lane is that our personalities got us in many ways. Like we wrote a kickass application because my partner is an amazing writer and I read what he wrote. I did the first part of the application, but he did the second part. But it was the in-person interview and interaction that I’m almost positive that’s what got us. I could be wrong. I mean, Aaron and Inamine might have a different perspective, but, you know, we stood there with plates of food in our hands talking with entrepreneurs and business people. And we just kept it going and had people laughing, had people looking at our products, and had people interested. And I’ve always thought that is my strength. So, I was excited to be able to use it in an application. I think a lot of accelerators depend on just a written application, which is not always going to show what type of entrepreneur you are.