This blog post shares the story of SOLMA Tea, the first ready-to-drink lactation support beverage company that was co-founded by Daniela Procopio.
As a first time mom, I had read all the articles about the “4th trimester” and was ready to tackle all things motherhood. Pulling all nighters? Not ideal, but I could do it. A massive blowout diaper? Sounded messy, but I would be prepared. Breastfeeding? Absolutely on board — I wanted to bond with my baby, plus, I had heard how natural it was.
What could go wrong?
What I quickly realized was that although breastfeeding was natural, it often wasn’t easy. Especially for first time moms. I was navigating a completely different field than what I had prepared myself for. When I embarked on my breastfeeding journey, I encountered latch issues, undersupply issues, and, honestly, just a lot of pain whenever I would breastfeed. I heard time and time again that if it hurt, it was because I was doing it wrong. I started to tense up every time my daughter wanted to breastfeed. The initial latch felt like an intense sizzle that was excruciating.
I remember after a particularly painful breastfeeding session, I started worrying that I wouldn’t be able to reach the internal goal I had set for myself to breastfeed because I simply couldn’t handle the discomfort anymore. And the idea of not reaching my goal sent me into a spiral. It was then that someone wise mentioned to me to take it feed by feed, and hour by hour. To stop worrying about what the feeding journey looked like next week, next month, or a few months down the line. To only focus on the feed at hand. Such a simple suggestion made all the difference to me. I stopped holding myself to an impossible standard.
With this approach, I was able to continue breastfeeding my baby. One feed turned to one day, and one day turned to a few months. Over time, my daughter and I both got comfortable with the breastfeeding journey and I learned how to get her into a breastfeeding position that worked for us both. The discomfort and pain that came on when my daughter latched slowly dissipated, and I started to actually enjoy breastfeeding.
After 12 weeks, I returned to work and started pumping whenever I was away from her in order to send her to daycare with milk. We had gotten into a good routine and things felt like they were getting back to normal. The first time I traveled for work though, everything changed. I realized that even though I was pumping to send her to daycare with milk, I hadn’t pumped enough to be away from her for a few days. I quickly researched ways to boost milk supply and stumbled upon galactagogues, or substances that can help promote milk production. I started consuming the mother milk teas that you steep, the powders you’d blend in drinks, the cookies with the galactagogue ingredients, etc. If the product had galactagogue properties, chances are that I tried it. These products worked for me. I found myself producing more each pumping session. Over time, though, I found myself looking for lactation products that I could consume on the go with no preparation. When I couldn’t find a product like this, I started thinking about creating it.
When the idea to launch SOLMA first came into my head, I quickly swatted the thought away. I had just had my first daughter, had a full time job that I enjoyed, and couldn’t fathom taking on something additional. The thing about dreams, though, is that if it’s on your heart, even if you try to push the idea out of your mind, you won’t be able to. When I decided to listen to the voice in my head that said “just try,” I decided to do just that. But how? And where to start? And how could someone without an entrepreneurial background navigate all the aspects that come with launching a business?
First lesson learned: Just start. Even if you don’t have everything figured out, put one foot in front of the other and learn as you go.
Although I was new to the entrepreneurial field, I knew the first thing I needed to do was form my LLC. I found a local lawyer that specializes in the food and beverage industry to help me navigate this critical and foundational step. It was important for me that my lawyer be in the field that I wanted to start my business in because I felt they would be able to provide some additional insight.
In parallel, I started researching companies that specialized in drink development. After finding a few in this area, I decided to work with a beverage developer in Kentucky to bring my idea to life. Our initial discussions helped them understand what exactly I was looking for in my beverage, what ingredients I wanted to include in the formulation, and what the taste profile I wanted to achieve was. The first few rounds of samples were interesting. They took everything I had mentioned and provided a sample based off of that. Over time, we were able to continue tweaking the formulas and each sample became closer and closer to the taste I was trying to get. This process took some time because there were various rounds of samples involved. By the time we had the formulations finalized, it was time to bring our idea out of the lab and into production.
Second lesson learned: Finding experts that are subspecialized in the industry you want to be in is incredibly helpful to understand the bigger picture and to figure out next steps.
Finding a co-packer to take our final formulations and produce the product was one of the most challenging parts of the whole process. Although there are a number of co-packers in the United States that we could use, a lot of them wouldn’t produce supplement products (SOLMA is a supplement product). Others that we found had very large minimum order quantities. What we needed was a co-packer that would produce our product and be open to producing small quantities of each SKU to start. We ended up finding a co-packer in Florida that was able to take our formulation and bring it to life.
Third lesson learned: A lot of co-packers won’t want to engage in conversation with you until the final formulation is complete.
From idea conception to final product development, there were a large number of steps that included trademarking the name, working on the product labels, understanding label requirements, creating a website, and detailing a plan for launch once the product was able to be introduced to the market. As someone who is continuously learning on this journey, the biggest takeaway that I tell everyone is to never lose sight of why you are embarking on this journey.
Fourth lesson learned: Have your “why” be your north star and never lose sight of that.
I am still continuously learning day after day about what makes sense to do and what the next step for SOLMA is. My journey has not been linear, and I’ve found that you can find champions who believe in you and your product to help bring your dream to life.
I’ve also learned that you need to find businesses and people you feel comfortable working with. Find copywriters that help capture your voice, find creators that are interested in seeing you succeed. Be vocal about your budget, your intent for reaching out, and what deliverable you need. Understand that it may take some time to find someone whose work aligns with your vision. Understand that some days are smooth sailing and sales continuously come in, and other days you have to pivot to figure out what makes the most sense to do.
Quick fire advice for entrepreneurs:
The beauty about being an entrepreneur is that I am constantly learning, growing and engaging with other people in similar business building environments. Because there is always so much to learn, reaching out to people who have walked a similar path and launched a product in your desired industry is a wonderful way to get mentorship to help steer the ship on days when the fog of uncertainty and doubt makes it difficult to navigate. If you have a business idea in your heart and are unsure of where to start, start with setting down a foundation for your business to grow from, and then, bravely, put one foot in front of the other and create tiny actionable steps to bring your dream to life.
This is a contributed piece by Daniela Procopio. Daniela is the co-founder of SOLMA, the first ready-to-drink lactation support beverage. A wife and mama of 3, she is always chasing dreams, deadlines, or little kids.
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