How This Mom is Taking on the $70B Baby Formula Industry
Laura Modi, a mom of three, has put her financial smarts toward becoming the CEO of an infant formula company. She shares her best tips for fellow parent entrepreneurs.
Growing up in Ireland as the eldest of five, Laura Modi began honing her financial savvy from the time she was a kid. "My dad, an entrepreneur himself, was always using dinner table conversations as a moment to educate us on how to think about money," says Modi. She and her siblings would also receive a weekly allowance, which they would have to fork over portions of for missteps like leaving the lights on.
The upshot: "When you are put in a situation where you're paying for your own behavior, your own accountability, it teaches you the value of money," explains Modi. She credits her family with teaching her the financial principle of compounding interest, investing, and seeing what it means to "put your money into something and get a greater return for it."
In fact, as a child, her grandfather had purchased Modi and her siblings their first stocks in Disney. "And every year, we would check in on the value of that stock and see a dollar become $2, $8, $10. At a young age, that was probably one of the more powerful things we were taught," she recalls.
Ultimately, all of these financial lessons were related to a greater goal: entrepreneurship. "I'll never forget my dad sitting me down and saying, 'Learn what's required to start and run a business,'" says Modi. He aimed to empower her to start and run a company she felt passionate about.
These lessons stuck with Modi who eventually moved to the U.S. and began working in tech, initially at Google, and then, at Airbnb. And in 2016, she welcomed her first of three children, a girl named Mary Grace. "Boom, I became a mom, and what's most important is her future and that I'm doing something to improve the lives of babies," says Modi.
While juggling work and new motherhood, Modi also found herself facing the heartache of struggling to produce enough breast milk for Mary Grace. "I thought I would do it for two years, the skies would open up, and it would be the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced," says Modi. "Then, I was just hit with the reality that my boobs couldn't do it, matched with society saying, 'Hey, you are a career woman. You should go back to work breastfeeding for 35 hours a week.'"
For a year, Modi says she experienced guilt, embarrassment, and frustration over formula products. "I needed to supplement, and I found myself standing in the middle aisle of a pharmacy, choosing a product that I would not feed myself, cradled between cat food and diapers," she notes.
The then new mom also found out that the $70 billion formula industry is male-dominated. "Women should be driving the charge on what it means to be able to replace your breast milk," she says. In turn, Modi was inspired to start her own infant formula company Bobbie.
"The scariest thing starting Bobbie was, 'Will I be accepted by others if I go on this journey?'" recalls Modi, who was then pregnant with her second child when she started the company. "I turned to my loved ones and said, 'I'm leaving a leadership position at Airbnb to make powdered milk.' But I turned that fear into fuel."
Even when Modi's initial timeline proved to be challenging to adhere to, and she hit bumps in the road, she was determined to see it through. "I constantly reminded myself that if I fail, that's OK," says Modi. "The biggest way to overcome failure is realizing that the worst outcome is not that bad. I haven't met a single entrepreneur who had regretted trying. The learnings, fuel, network, or transferable progress to the next thing is always worth it."
Modi adds that a parent's ride on the "fabulous roller coaster that is being an entrepreneur" could also serve to teach kids an important lesson on falling and getting back up.
Today, Modi can say she fell but got up and knocked it out of the park on her goal. The mom of three is the only female CEO leading an infant formula company. Here are her best tips for money-savvy moms and fellow entrepreneurs.
Pick Your Battles
For so many women, doing it all might feel impossible. For others, it might be empowering. But either way, it's not exactly realistic. "I believe women, especially moms of our generation are stuck between the future state of womanhood and historical expectations of the role of women and moms," she says. "We are caught between, 'Women can do anything' but 'Women can also do everything.' We hear women say too often, 'It's fine, I can do that also.' It's our responsibility to set it straight and not take on everything."
In other words, if you're going to start your own business, re-prioritizing could be key. "You need to change the expectations of what you will deliver on, and share the workload with your partner," says Modi. "Otherwise, we are setting ourselves up to fail. I said to my husband when starting Bobbie, 'If I'm doing this, I'm giving up cooking.'"
Focus on Compounding Your Wealth
Just as she learned from her dad as a child, Modi continues to emphasize the importance of always getting a return on your investment. "Do not have any money in a place that's not returning some value," she recommends, adding that there's so much power in learning about investment and putting your money somewhere it'll compound and create a high return.
This also applies to your time, especially as a parent, says Modi. "It's either the return on the connection, the love, and the time that you spend with your child," she notes. "Or it's the return on the savings and investments you're going to make from a financial standpoint. Both of these are investments, and I struggle to do any activity where I can't mentally start by saying, 'This is returning value.'"
Make Your Needs a Part of Your Routine
In the midst of entrepreneurship and parenthood, finding time to address your own needs can be incredibly difficult. "I actually get more stressed if I'm not focused on furthering the company or spending time with my kids, but I need to exercise, clear my head, sleep, and sometimes even take a night with my friends," notes Modi.
In order to do this, she advises scheduling your workout or social time early and "baking it" into a routine. "Treat it like a really important meeting," says Modi. "Every Thursday night is mine on the calendar."
Trust Your Intuition
"I believe moms have the best intuition on what will be successful," says Modi, pointing out that the only thing holding many parents back is uncertainty around how to invest.
She advises, "Search for a company you believe in on the public market. See how they have been performing over the last 52 weeks or year to date—which can be as a simple as, 'Has the stock been on the rise?' Put a little money into buying a few shares."
Even if your stock doesn't do well, you'll learn from researching the ups and downs, reading news about the company, and better understanding what drives stock price changes, notes Modi.
Embrace the Sacrifice
Juggling motherhood and putting your nose to the grindstone in your career or building a business can undeniably set the stage for frustration and possibly even envy of parents who aren't stretched as thin. But Modi warns against comparing your work to others.
"It's really easy when you need to work on the weekends to get envious of your friends spending hours with their kids," she says. "But don't compare. Take the hours you do have, and be completely present with [your kids] then."
Again, it's helpful to see your work as an investment of time and, if you're launching a business, money. "It's expensive to start a company while having young kids," says Modi. "On a regular basis, my husband and I need to talk about how we're doing this to invest for the future, and it means taking a hit now. I want to make a difference, and it takes time."
Ultimately, though, Modi sees her business as an opportunity to set an empowering example for her kids. "In the long-run, it will make me a better mom," she notes. "There's no return without some sacrifice."