You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a series called Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about breastfeeding these days: whether to do it or not, where to do it, and when to stop. First of all, whatever you choose for you and your baby is 100% up to you. And if you do end up choosing to breastfeed, a busy career shouldn't get in the way. So while Kate Torgersen was a breastfeeding mom of 8-month-old twins when heading out of town for a four-day business trip, she knew she needed to come up with a solution that accommodated both of her commitments.
After lugging two gallons of breast milk through the TSA line, Torgesen made an unlikely career pivot and launched her own business, Milk Stork. Milk Stork was born out of Torgersen's own life experiences as well as her expertise in marketing in communications at Clif Bar, and it truly revolutionizes life for new moms with busy careers. To learn what Milk Stork is all about and how Torgersen went from being a ski instructor and archeologist to founding a company, read her full story below. Career advice and inspiring anecdotes ahead.
Courtesy of Kate Torgersen
Tell us about your first career path.
My career path has been guided by pursuing things that I love to do. After I graduated from college, I followed my wanderlust to Tahoe with a goal of spending as much time outside as possible. During my time in the Sierras, I worked as a ski instructor and an archaeologist. By my mid-20s, my passion for the outdoors led me to Clif Bar & Company.
In 1998, Clif Bar was really just a start-up and it was an exciting place to be. The company was growing fast, but at the same time, it was committed to doing business in a way that was good for people, the community, and the planet. With Clif Bar’s growth and its unique business model, I found incredible opportunities to learn and grow. I loved the creativity of marketing and, combined with my love of writing, I eventually found my way to communications.
With Milk Stork, as with Clif Bar, I have loved connecting people with products that solve real, pain points—whether it is helping working moms maintain their commitment to breastfeeding or a helping someone tackle a long trail run with a great tasting energy bar.
How did you make the transition from Clif Bar to Milk Stork? Tell us about the path there.
I began working on Milk Stork in 2014. At the time, I was working full time at Clif Bar and raising three kids all under the age of 5. There has been no downtime since I started. In the beginning, if I wasn’t at work at Clif Bar, or taking care of the kids, I was working on Milk Stork. The minute the kids went to bed, I went to work on Milk Stork until the wee hours of the night. In 2016 and 2017, Milk Stork grew exponentially. And, as it grew, the nights got later and later. There came a time when I literally ran out of hours in the day. That’s when I knew it was time to commit 100% to Milk Stork.
Tell us about your business.
In 2014, when my twins were about 8 months old, I was faced with a four-day business trip at Clif Bar. I was committed to breastfeeding them for at least 12 months, as I had done for my first child, and together, we had fought through a lot of breastfeeding challenges, including tandem nursing, a tongue tie, latching issues and weight gain issues, not to mention pumping relentlessly at work to maintain a-half-gallon daily supply to meet their demand. At the same time, I was committed to being all in with my job. And, while it wasn’t the most important business trip in the world—it was just a conference—I really wanted to attend.
As I prepared for the trip, I began troubleshooting the logistics and quickly learned that there were no services that would help me ship my milk back home. If I was going to do it, I was going to have to source dry ice and shipping materials at my destination and do it without a rental car. It was too just much to do on top of the conference and all of the pumping!
So, before I left, I pumped two extra gallons of milk to cover my absence (on top of the gallons that the twins were already drinking!), and then I pumped like crazy while I was away to maintain my supply. During the trip, I somehow managed to squeeze two gallons of breast milk into a tiny hotel fridge, only to lug it all home (and through TSA) on my last day along with 4 gallon-sized Ziplocs filled with ice.
Dealing with all that milk amplified the logistical challenges, constraints, and frustrations that many moms face when it comes to breastfeeding and business travel. I got back from the trip and was determined to create a solution. The day after I got back, I called my dad (Mike Torgersen, Milk Stork’s co-founder) and said “Hey dad – I’ve got an idea!” and we immediately went to work. Launched in 2015, Milk Stork is the first breast milk shipping service for business traveling breastfeeding moms.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers, and why?
Looking back, the biggest challenge for me has been that as my career progressed, it became more and more specialized to a certain area, and as a result, there were fewer opportunities to learn and do new things. As an entrepreneur, I am constantly doing things that I have never done before, which is exciting! Whether I am good at these things or not so good, I love having the opportunity to learn.
What triggered your need to change this time around?
The idea for Milk Stork is what triggered the change for me. Once I had the idea, I didn’t want to let it go. I figured “If not me, who?” and “If not now, when”?” And I went for it.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
Being an entrepreneur is like being on an amazing adventure. Trailblazing a path for my business means that I am challenged every day and always learning, and I am also doing something that I believe is important for working moms.
What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
When I had the idea for Milk Stork, I never would have expected that one day I would be doing it full time and that Milk Stork would be as successful as it is. I have learned that making a small shift—whether it is following up on an idea, taking a class, or learning something new—can propel you into wildly new directions.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
Milk Stork started as a small idea in a TSA line, and from there, the momentum grew. And I let that momentum take me, like surfing a wave. For me, this was helpful because it never felt like an abrupt change. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been tough decisions, but things had already been set in motion. So when the time came to go all in on Milk Stork, it wasn’t a question of fear, it was a question of timing and finding that perfect moment to stand up and ride the wave.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
It’s not a mistake, rather it’s a lesson… I’ve learned not to listen to naysayers and doubters. I have learned that connecting with people who support and believe in wild ideas, trying new things, and trailblazing new paths is time well spent and an investment in success.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
As an entrepreneur, I love that I get to wake up every day to a big, wild adventure that I have to figure out. And, I love that our particular adventure, Milk Stork, is helping to make life a little bit easier for working, breastfeeding moms.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
When I reflect on my previous career, I do so with appreciation and gratitude but I am excited for what lies ahead. I have no regrets.
Have a business trip coming up but still want to breastfeed? Pump and ship your breast milk overnight.
For more inspiring stories about women who've who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.