Startup founders have infamously unpredictable daily schedules as they work to establish and grow their businesses. What does such an entrepreneur’s weekly, daily, or even hourly routine look like when sometimes there aren’t enough hours in a day? In the Startup Diaries, founders walk us through a week in their lives and show what it really takes to get a fledgling business off the ground.
Dr. Vansh Langer was interning at a Chicago hospital and pursuing a career in pediatric psychiatry when a sick infant arrived. The girl, who was adopted from Vietnam,was suffering from necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the intestines and often afflicts babies who are fed formula over breast milk, and her adoptive fathers were at a loss. When Langer caught sight of a patient breastfeeding in the hospital corridor, he explained the predicament and asked the new mom if she would share her milk. She agreed, and he fed the baby by bottle every few hours overnight, hoping the infant would benefit from the immunity boost.
“I’d just graduated medical school three weeks [prior],” he says. “And I got in a crazy amount of trouble because… not my patient, not my job.” But the baby showed signs of improvement, which he attributed at least in part to his breach of protocol, and that’s the moment he realized the importance of breast milk.
In July 2017, after stepping away from medicine to start a business that would make breast milk available to those who needed it, he officially launched BBy, a first-of-its-kind app through which new parents can purchase breast milk from nursing mothers. “I made a decision to take a break from medicine and give BBy a real shot,” Langer says. “I was like, If nothing else, I’ll go back to being a doctor—it’s not the worst job in the world!”
For the first year, BBy connected nursing moms (who are tested every 30 days for transmittable diseases) and parents directly, like a ride-sharing app, and customers had to pasteurize the milk themselves by heating it on a stove. But by August 2018 the growing business shifted to a direct-to-consumer model, with Langer and his team—he has two full-time employees and 10 interns—processing the milk out of a facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn; freezing it; packing it; and mailing it. (Milk arrives no more than two months after it’s been pumped.)
“There should be no pressuring anyone to breastfeed; there should be no guilt if you don’t,” says Langer, a WeWork Labs member at WeWork 142 W. 57th St. “Because the alternative should be that you can buy it.”
Today, Langer says, the company has more than 4,700 sellers (based mostly in the New York tristate area), who make between $750 and $1,200 a month, and more than 6,200 consumers in the Northeast, San Francisco, and Los Angeles (his West Coast test markets), who pay $1.75 an ounce. He plans to expand nationally in the first quarter of 2020, and he’s working with another doctor to create a condensed breast milk that’s shelf-stable. “We patented it and hopefully starting next year we won’t be shipping frozen milk anymore,” he says. “We’re literally creating formula that’s breast milk.” Below, Langer—who, for the record, was breastfed as a baby—shares a diary of a recent workweek.
2:30 a.m. I’m not a big sleeper, and Sunday night (or, technically, Monday morning) is especially hard. It’s the one night of the week I truly let my insecurities and doubts bubble to the surface. Did all our milk orders go out on time?
7 a.m. The sun is up, and so am I.
9 a.m. Shower and head to work.
10 a.m. Arrive at our production facility to thoroughly inspect our equipment, as I do every Monday morning. I bought our machines from an estate sale of a dairy farm in Wisconsin in June 2018.
12 p.m. Check email. I used to check emails 24-7, but I found that I was never giving my mind a break from work. Now I allow notifications only from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and check messages before bed on occasion.
2 p.m. Meet with our PR and marketing team about the nationwide launch and shelf-stable breast milk. We’ve already convinced people that buying other people’s breast milk is relatively easy and safe and not problematic. Now I’ve got to tell everyone, “Look, science is taking breast milk to the next level. You can take these TSA-compatible packages wherever you need to go.”
4 p.m. Call with a potential lead investor. I’m close to closing our seed round at $2 million, but fundraising hasn’t always been easy. When I first started, people looked at me like I had 17 heads. We’re a very weird product! But, thankfully, a lot of people in the VC area are starting to have children and they’re realizing, ‘Oh, wow, this is important.’”
6 p.m. I’m moving to a new apartment Wednesday, so I leave a bit early to pack. I only have the kitchen and bathroom left to go, and I’m hoping to finish in time to watch the Mets game. Hobbies are important for entrepreneurs; you need to be able to disconnect from your job. I watch the Mets and collect vinyl records and read a lot of books. (The Mets lose tonight, of course.)
11:30 p.m. Check email.
12 a.m. Talk to my best friend—well, I don’t talk so much as I ramble. When you’re an entrepreneur, it helps to have a confidant who isn’t involved in your business. With my thoughts in order, I drift off to sleep.
9 a.m. Wake up and go to the gym. I started working out in 2018—I usually go six days a week but can’t this week with the move—because I gained about 80 pounds in my first year in business. I was working 16, 17 hours a day, and on top of that I was going through a breakup. Instead of processing my feelings, I just suppressed them.
12 p.m. Stop by the factory to check on production.
2 p.m. Call with investors about finalizing term sheets. What is supposed to be a 30-minute call ends up lasting almost two hours.
4 p.m. Snack on some smoked meat while finishing up my to-do list. It’s not really lunch but it’ll have to do.
8 p.m. Back home and packing. I forget that cabinets have stuff in them—and some cabinets have more stuff than others!
4 a.m. Movers are coming in three hours and the excitement makes it hard for me to sleep.
10 a.m. Move is done! Now it’s off to the factory to get work done.
12 p.m. Answer emails from our PR and marketing team. (They need me to sign off on potential ads for Instagram and Facebook.)
2 p.m. Pay bills. I’m preoccupied by the slew of boxes that await me back home, so I go there to unpack for a couple hours.
5 p.m. Meet with an investor in TriBeCa. Our conversation goes well and I leave with a term sheet, but I won’t get my hopes up just yet. Raising capital is a cat-and-mouse game. We all know this.
8 p.m. Continue unpacking.
10 p.m. Doze off within minutes of hitting the floor (because, of course, I didn’t put my bed together).
9 a.m. Work out.
11:30 a.m. Arrive at the factory to check on orders and respond to email.
12 p.m. Milk emergency! One of the shunt lines to the bath pasteurizer snapped off, and the stainless-steel piping dumped the entire contents onto the floor. No big deal… just $8,000 worth of breast milk down the drain.
A melancholy mood wafts over the facility. Any number of things could have gone wrong, but I’m worried my Monday inspection of the machinery was lacking given how tired I was. We clean up and I recheck the machinery so that tomorrow’s final batch goes off without a hitch.
1 p.m. Everyone is demoralized. I explain to the team that this is the kind of problem a physical startup is going to have from time to time. Instead of crying over (literally) spilled milk, we should learn a lesson: We all should always spot-check the machines to the best of our ability.
3 p.m. I order the staff a late lunch to lift their spirits.
5 p.m. Everyone goes home happy. Well, almost everyone. Sometimes as the boss you have to boost the morale of those around you even when you’re not feeling uplifted yourself.
7 p.m. Back to unpacking. I’m leaving for Los Angeles tomorrow to visit my sister and her family, so I need to pack as well. I also very much want to watch TV and decompress.
8 a.m. Great workout this morning.
10 a.m. Get to the factory. I’m working a half-day today since I fly out at around 4 p.m. Yesterday, I told my team that if they could get everything pasteurized and packed by this afternoon, I’d give them off the week of July Fourth. After Thursday’s debacle, they do everything very deliberately and with intention, but they seem to be on track to meet the goal when I leave for the airport.
3 p.m. At the airport. Get word from the team that they got everything done. I’m not surprised. I never demand more from everyone than what is needed, and I’ve always preferred that my workers be totally productive for four hours than only sort of productive for eight. As an entrepreneur, work-life balance is my ultimate goal. While you have to sacrifice certain things if you want to be successful, you can’t sacrifice who you are. Otherwise, you’ll begin to contemplate why you do what you do at all—and then you’re screwed.
Growing from a few to a few hundred employees takes strategy and the right space.