Christine Dodson and Sascha Mayer are co-founders of the Mamava Lactation Station. Christine is mom of Isaac, 14, Manny, 13, and Julius, 11; Sascha is mom of Cal, 11, and Storey, 8.
We’re the branch director (Sascha) and the account director (Christine) of the JDK design studio in Burlington, VT. But we’re also designers and co-founders of Mamava Lactation Stations (mamava.com)—freestanding pods that feature seating, a fold-down table, a power outlet and lots of space. the first one debuted at the Burlington International Airport in August 2013. JDK incubated Mamava as part of an effort to design cause-oriented things. We have five kids between us, so the idea of a lactation station had been brewing for a long time. Initially, it was more of a problem to solve. But with the passage of the Affordable Care Act and legal protections for nursing mothers, Mamava became a viable business opportunity whose time had come.
Creating products is outside of our usual realm, but we had a very clear brief: The station had to be portable; it had to be a place for food prep, basically, and not a bathroom; and it had to be easy to clean. We did research with friends and colleagues about what it should look like, then did rapid prototyping with paper, sketches on foamcore and, finally, plywood. It was an utter failure! But then we arrived at the womb-like design we have now. We wanted to strike a balance between comfy and not comfy, since we don’t really want people hanging out in there.
There has been some criticism from people who say we’re trying to put breastfeeding women back in the closet! But most of us really don’t want to pump in public. We know from experience—Sascha’s first baby was a terrific public nurser, but the second one got distracted—that women need choices around this issue, especially when you add the craziness of travel. We’ve been waiting outside the Mamava in the airport for moms to come out. Whenever it’s a mom with twins she says, “Thank you! Doing this was really hard for me logistically, and this was a great experience.”
As for our own logistics, Christine’s husband is an administrator at Champlain College, just one mile from their house, so he has a lot of flexibility. That helps! Champlain College is also where we introduced the second Mamava unit. Originally, they liked the idea because three faculty members in the History Department were nursing moms. When they don’t need the station anymore, they can just roll it into storage.
Mamava didn’t happen until after we were done nursing—we’re certainly not superwomen! But now we get to share the project with our kids and husbands, including them in the trials and tribulations of the adventure. Because Mamava is related to a cause, it has heightened the kids’ social consciousness. And they sure know a lot about breastfeeding as well as entrepreneurship! they’re proud of us and realize that when we’re not with them, we’re working on something important for the world and energizing for us.
1. Network, network, network!** And then network some more. Some connections won’t lead anywhere, some will make you want to crawl into a hole, and some will provide exactly the resource/advice/additional connection you need.
2. The Internet is your friend. You can find answers to most of the questions you have about building your business plan, the competition, the opportunity and connecting to your audience right at your fingertips (and it’s open 24 hours).
3. Every business needs a brand. But remember, a brand is not just a logo. Brands are multidimensional, with rational, emotional and cultural aspects. Your brand is how you enter or start the conversation. It is the experience you deliver and also the story people want to share. A strong brand provides a buffer in a competitive marketplace.