Lead(H)er: Kate Westervelt, Founder & CEO of MOMBOX
After Kate Westervelt gave birth to her first child, she was sent home from the hospital with plenty of information about how to care for her new baby, but little about how to take care of her aching and hormone-flooded body. She noticed the nurses bringing in rinse bottles, extra-large ice packs, sitz baths, and other tools to help her heal during her stay, but she had none of those items at home – she didn’t even realize that most of them existed in the first place.
So, when Westervelt left the hospital 72 sleepless hours and 13 stitches later, she and her husband made a pit stop at Target before finally heading home. She wandered from the newborn section to the pharmacy aisle and back, returning to the car even more exhausted and not totally certain that she had really purchased all the right items she needed to start feeling like herself again.
“I was blown away by just how hard the postpartum recovery period was, even with help from family, friends, and good health care,” Westervelt said. “I started to think about single moms everywhere, and others with fewer resources than I. How, if this was so hard for me with all of my available helping hands, were other women with fewer resources getting on?”
She had known to prepare the nursery and pack a hospital bag, but she had no idea that she’d need all of these products for herself. With so many perfect-looking Instagram photos that depicted postpartum in such a different way, Westervelt began to wonder if other parents were struggling just as much but keeping quiet out of fear that they were doing something wrong.
There had to be a way to make those first few weeks of parenthood easier. With delivery services for everything from razors to groceries, Westervelt was amazed that no one had created a box to help ease the shock of postpartum reality for others.
She decided that she would be the one to do it. Westervelt is now wrapping up two-and-a-half years as the founder and CEO of MOMBOX, a company that delivers carefully curated selections of products to support postpartum recovery. MOMBOX began selling one year ago and currently offers packages designed to support healing after vaginal and C-section births, with a separate add-on package for unplanned C-sections if the original box was ordered in advance. Each MOMBOX usually arrives within 48 hours of ordering, providing new parents with the much-needed help as quickly as possible.
“There's a lot of urgency in that postpartum period, whether you're learning to feed your newborn to keep them alive or whether you’re healing your own body,” Westervelt said. “You don't have time to be ordering a ton of products and wait for them to arrive and then try them, decide they don't work, and go on to the next product. So, we're going to take all that legwork out of it. We're going to put every resource that's worth anything in this box, and we'll deliver it to your house with urgency so you can, in a more succinct way, see what works and hopefully get the resources that you need quicker.”
MOMBOX is a natural extension of Westervelt’s career in women’s magazines, which she dove into in order to help women across the country connect with each other.
“Social media wasn’t a big thing,” she said. “There was no Instagram, and so I realized women connect through this medium of magazines.”
After commuting four hours back and forth from her childhood home in New Hampshire for interviews in New York City, she scored a post-grad internship at InStyle magazine. Westervelt moved to New York just days after receiving the job offer, and when her term ended, she took a job as a receptionist to continue living and networking in the city before landing a full-time role at Good Housekeeping magazine.
Westervelt took her editorial skills and the social media know-how she picked up along the way to Wayfair in Boston, where she and her husband decided to move to be closer to a family. There, Westervelt focused on tying the company’s lifestyle magazine to social media, using strategies like including hashtags in print spreads to show how shoppers could easily find their favorite products on Wayfair.com.
She started working on MOMBOX during her time at Wayfair and continued after moving to Purple Carrot as its director of content. Her entrepreneurial work would last from 8 PM to 2 AM, and then she’d get some rest and continue the cycle again, all while parenting her newborn.
“Everybody said that it's hard to build a business,” Westervelt said. “Every time I would experience a really hard low point I would say, ‘Okay, this is how it's supposed to be, and if I can get through this, then I know I'm one step closer.’ You're just sort of begging, stealing, borrowing wherever you can, and you take 20 steps just to move forward one in certain situations.”
The hard work has paid off, with the company breaking even this year after Westervelt bootstrapped it through much of its growth. MOMBOX is set to continue growing, with a new, breastfeeding-focused box scheduled to be launched in 2019.
“Not a lot of people are doing postpartum care right now, so there’s no playbook,” Westervelt said of the company’s future. “But it’s all part of the adventure.”
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you like to do in your free time?
My free time is usually when I take long car rides, so I like to listen to the How I Built This podcast on NPR. I also like to go to the gym.
How do you typically manage stress?
I put whatever is happening in perspective. In the startup world, the stress that you’re feeling is stress that you’ve created and you’ve welcomed in. It’s different from when you work for somebody else and you’re stressed because you’re trying not to get fired. So, my perspective is that this is good stress, and I would much rather be at a stress level 10 in my own company where I answer to myself than at that stress level for someone else.
How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
I drink probably three to four black cups of coffee. Plain old good stuff.
What’s one of your favorite spots in the Boston area?
I love Newbury Street. That’s actually where I had my first apartment in Boston. My husband was still living down in New York while I got started in the job at Wayfair, and it was the winter where we got 100 inches of snow and all of the commuting options were down. I just needed a place close to Wayfair so I could get to work, so I got this little studio.
What would you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?
When I started at Wayfair, they didn't have a really robust maternity leave policy. The company was built in a time where, based on the average age of employees, they didn’t really need much of leave policy. Then the average age of Wayfair employees went up to 30, and all of a sudden rather than ping-pong tables and snack walls we wanted childcare and parental leave policies.
It was not equal across the board per employee at the time. It was broken up by your rank in the company, and I was pregnant at the same time as my boss. We both sort of took a step back and thought, a baby is a baby is a baby, and it doesn't matter what rank your parent is in the company. You have the same needs, and you need that time to recover. So we went to HR and I suggested that we should look at other companies and how they're handling this and then use it as a recruiting and retention tool.
I caused a few ripples that turned into big waves. They ended up changing the maternity leave policy to a parental leave policy that gave everybody, no matter what your rank was in the company, generous time off, fully paid.
Then a dear friend of mine had a baby and when she didn't have to leave her baby at six weeks she sent me a message. ‘I couldn't imagine returning to work right now. Thank you for fighting for that.’
The day that the policy passed, that was the proudest moment and it had nothing to do with my actual work.
Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?
I did Semester at Sea in college, which is where you do your study abroad on a ship and goes to several countries, and this is one of the questions we were always asked. I have always known that I wanted to run my own business. I have always known that I wanted to do something in a way that affects women. So while I didn't have this picture painted completely, I definitely had the canvas ready to go when that opportunity arrived.
What’s your advice for recent college graduates?
I think perseverance is the number one thing you need in order to be successful in any job, especially if you're going to start your own business. I think the life cycle of a recent college grad at any job now is under two years. We jump around from job to job, and I did that a lot, and what I found was that the longer I stayed, the more valuable lessons I got. It's really easy to quit something on the hard days. But if you just keep going one foot in front of the other, that always proved more valuable than finding something else to do. I'm learning that now from building my own company -- it is all about perseverance.