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 new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
When Angela Sutherland and Evelyn Rusli noticed a void in the market for nutritious baby food with labels backed by scientific research, the pair decided to fill it by launching Yumi, an organic baby food delivery service that's garnered something of a cult following among wellness-minded celebrities, including Whitney Port, Jessica Alba, and Molly Sims, to name a few.
Although Yumi is dedicated to producing superfood-filled meals, the brand's co-founders wanted to go beyond simply offering parents an organic alternative to the generic, grocery store-aisle brands. "I felt it was important to not only offer a product that would make mealtime more convenient and enjoyable for parents but to also build a brand that would serve as a 360-degree support system for moms, a resource for addressing the many issues beyond food facing parents today," Sutherland told MyDomaine.
In this edition of Second Life, the co-founders of Yumi talk about leaving their established careers behind to start an organic baby food brand, including how they moved past the fear of change to start their own company, what life-altering lessons they've learned along the way, and why they have absolutely no regrets.
Tell us about your first career path.
Angela Sutherland: I've always wanted to build and scale businesses. Early in my career, I sought job opportunities that would give me hands-on operational experience, but, not surprisingly, it turns out that not too many employers will let a 20-something run their business. Fortunately, I did find one such opportunity with a private equity firm. There I was able to parachute into a wide range of businesses, leading turnarounds in companies ranging from industrial brush makers to seafood distributors.
I loved learning about the complex guts of business operations, and I developed a passion for finding ways to help companies grow and thrive.
Evelyn Rusli: Before I became an entrepreneur, I spent most of my time writing about entrepreneurs. I was a journalist at The Wall Street Journal and, before that, at The New York Times, covering innovation and startups. All in, I've spent about a decade in journalism. I think I was drawn to this profession at a young age because I've always loved the art of storytelling, and I think it's important to shed light on important issues.
How did you make the transition from your previous backgrounds to baby food?
AS: When I was expecting my first child, I spent many evenings consuming parenting books and reading articles about how to raise happy, healthy children. I came across the concept of the "First 1000 Days," a period identified by researchers and doctors as the most important nutritional period in a person's life. It lasts from pregnancy to age 2. I soon realized that the baby food available in the market didn't reflect what we knew to be important for our babies nutritionally. Most baby food products were high in fruit sugar, low in nutrition—and older than my baby.
I was inspired to create products that enabled busy parents to offer fresh, nutritious food to their babies during this critical developmental period.
ER: Given how important nutrition—and especially childhood nutrition—is to so many parents, I was absolutely shocked by the disconnect between what parents want and what baby food makers provide. I couldn't believe that such a large and important market need could be so totally unmet. I am thrilled to build a company with such an important mission—to change the conversation on infant and child nutrition. I come from a family in healthcare; my sister is a doctor, and my father was a pharmaceutical engineer.
It felt totally natural to me to want to jump at the opportunity to help children begin their lives as healthfully as possible.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
AS: We quit our jobs just a few weeks after our initial conversations about building a company. We rolled up our sleeves and just decided to do it. We founded Yumi, a nutrition and wellness company for babies. Our first product is a line of fresh, organic, nutrient-dense, low-sugar purrées. We obsess over every detail, from picking a wide range of nutritious and seasonal foods, such as dragon fruit and spirulina, to making recyclable boxes that are easy to collapse. Everything is prepared and shipped fresh to families' doorsteps.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers and why?
AS: This is my greatest challenge—and my most rewarding one as well!
ER: Absolutely agreed. After spending years watching other entrepreneurs build businesses, I was ready to take the plunge myself. It's the most rewarding and challenging thing I've ever done.
What triggered your need to change this time around?
AS: Feeding my child was such a source of stress, and I knew that if I felt this way, other moms were likely feeling that pressure, too. I asked some of my friends what they were doing for baby food. They were all cooking it themselves but really frustrated by the experience. These were women who rarely touch a spatula and who proudly live on delivery services, but they were cooking their baby's meals because they didn't feel comfortable with the options at the grocery store.
ER: The timing was right. I was hungry to test new skills, and I was passionate about the mission. As much as I loved journalism, I found myself increasingly drawn to entrepreneurship. After spending years writing about startups, it's hard not to see entrepreneurship as a powerful vehicle to create positive social impact at scale.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
AS: I love distilling complex problems into clean solutions. I'm forever a math nerd; I can't help it. Startups are so intricate. There are so many variables. I love applying logic and strategy to solving our puzzles. Of course, we don't always arrive at the right solution, but there's excitement in erasing, iterating, and finding ways to push the company forward.
ER: You have to be willing to be a little off-balanced, a little nutty, to start a company. I actually really like the full-tilt, intense nature of it. Sometimes it's a bit overwhelming and stressful, but most of the time it's exciting and purpose-filled.
What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
AS: Before you make the jump, everything feels neatly tied up in little boxes; after you make the jump, you realize that it's up to you to define the boxes. Whereas before in your life you could succeed with individual skills alone, when you are trying to build something from scratch, you realize how much you need to surround yourself with amazing people—your co-founder, your team. Making the leap has taught me that the best companies have a huge network of supporters who want it to succeed.
ER: There's so much to gain in the discomfort of change. Change is so discombobulating, so intimidating. But in those uncomfortable moments, you're tested in unexpected ways. Ultimately, you grow and learn a lot about yourself in the process. But the process isn't necessarily pretty.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
AS: Starting a new venture is terrifying—especially when you move into an entirely new industry in unfamiliar territory—but we have made it a priority to surround ourselves with a strong team and support system, which has helped us immensely in battling the many fears that come with building a business. As partners, we have a lot of confidence in our grit, capabilities, and our shared vision, but we've also been realistic about where we need help, and we have gathered the best minds to provide guidance and support.
ER: It's scary. The idea of walking away from a career you've spent your entire adult life building is terrifying. But I did a simple thought experiment. I asked myself: What would be the absolute worst outcome if I failed in this new endeavor? I imagined complete, utter failure. I imagined myself in the aftermath applying for less-than-exciting jobs. It made me realize that this "failure" was not so bad, at least not as bad as accepting the risk of not trying at all. I also realized that even after total, abject failure, I would still be walking away having learned A LOT about business and myself.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
AS/ER: We haven't succeeded yet, so this question is a bit hard to answer. However, we've certainly made plenty of mistakes. We've learned a lot about hiring. We've found that not everyone thrives in the startup environment; there's an element of chaos people have to enjoy. We have learned to do a better job of setting expectations and of screening for candidates who are really hungry for the thrills and challenges of a startup environment.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
AS: I love that I'm constantly learning. I've had to wear so many hats, and I've had to learn so much so quickly. It's a truly awesome experience to get to solve problems that help you build your dream.
ER: Even with all the stress, I wake up feeling energized and grateful that we get to do this every day. We have the opportunity to build something important and meaningful and put it out in the world for the benefit of others. Not everyone gets that shot.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
AS: I regret not starting something sooner. I think my whole life I was building up skills, beefing up my résumé with the belief that the added experiences would help prepare me for this experience. But nothing truly prepares you for entrepreneurship. Once you're in it, you realize how much you still need to learn—constantly. Yet, ultimately, it also had to happen when it happened. We had to find an idea with a real market need, and we needed to be passionate about delivering it. For me and my Yumi co-founder, that timing is now.
ER: Absolutely no regrets, it led me here, and I learned so much about myself and the world through journalism. If you gave me the choice of going to a top-tier business school or being a business journalist for a few years, I would pick the latter every time. I've talked to so many founders, and I've seen the failures and successes of so many companies up close. I've carried these stories and incorporated those lessons into my new life.