With a successful background in private equity and investment banking, Angela Sutherland is no stranger to taking advantage of opportunities in profitable industries. As a mother of two, Sutherland has now set her sights on transforming one of the biggest industries in the parenting world: baby food. Last month, she launched her company, Yumi, a science-based early childhood meal delivery program with co-founder Evelyn Rusli.
Sutherland was inspired to create Yumi during her first pregnancy. Like many moms, she spent hours researching and obsessing over her baby’s health and wondering whether she was doing enough.
“There’s a lot of information out there on what you shouldn’t do, such as what cheeses or sushi you shouldn’t eat, but not nearly as much information on what you should do and eat,” Sutherland says.
After weeks of poring over medical journals and research, Sutherland finally came across something that resonated with her.
“Researchers and doctors have identified ‘the first 1,000 days’—the period from in utero to age 2—as the most important period in a human’s life for nutrition. And yet, I noticed that the market for baby food was full of products that were high in fruit sugar and low in nutrition.”
As a busy working mom, Sutherland found herself faced with what felt like a decision between compromising at every grocery store or cooking every meal herself. “I was convinced that there had to be a better way,” Sutherland says. It seems that Yumi is that better way. The California-based startup uses a holistic approach to baby’s health and wellness that is based in transparency and quality, and aims to empower parents with better choices and trustworthy information.
Sutherland talks with Mom.me about balancing her venture-backed startup and motherhood.
When did you start Yumi, and what has the process of working from concept to launch been like?
Starting a new venture is incredibly scary, especially when you are venturing into a new industry that is completely unfamiliar. My co-founder Evelyn and I have made it a priority to surround ourselves with a strong team and support system, which has helped us immensely in battling the many fears that come with building a business. The journey from concept to launch has been a long one. There were so many obstacles I never could have anticipated, so we had to be nimble and make adjustments along the way while still staying true to the overall mission and vision. Now that we have finally launched, it feels surreal.
What sets Yumi apart from other baby foods and delivery services?
We set out to be a definitive source for parents seeking to understand what they are feeding their children and why. Our meals are fresh, organic, packed with nutrition and delivered right to your doorstep, but we consider ourselves to be more than just a food company. On top of our holistic approach and our commitment to empowering parents, we are consciously making decisions that signal how we are doing things differently than the typical food company. For example, we created a children’s book that comes with your delivery, a counting primer that uses fruits and vegetables. We even customize our ice packs with a playful watermelon print on them. Every touch point matters, and every turn is an opportunity to surprise and delight customers.
As a mother as well as the CEO and co-founder of Yumi, how do you make it all work?
With a new company to grow and two young kids at home, no two days are the same and my schedule is often very hectic. As I look at my week ahead, I try to anticipate where I will be needed most and prioritize my time as best as possible. If I know something important is on the horizon for the company, such as a big event, deadline or work trip, I make it a priority to get in good quality time with my family beforehand. If there is an activity or appointment on the calendar for one of my kids, then I adjust my work schedule accordingly. Really, I just try to tackle one day at a time and enlist help from others where I need it.
Has there been anything about creating Yumi that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
I didn’t realize how inspired I would be by the one-on-one conversations and interactions with our customers, many of whom are women. When building a company, everything can feel so abstract—it doesn’t quite feel real until it’s in the hands of customers. As we spoke to our initial customers, it was really moving to hear how many of these women felt like we gave them time back—extra hours that they can now spend with their children, or take for themselves. It’s inspiring to feel like you’re playing even a small role in improving the happiness of families.
When did you first feel successful in your career as an investment executive?
In private equity, I was lucky enough to find a great mentor who believed in my ability to run companies and put me in a position to succeed. One moment that stands out was when I was leading the turnaround of an industrial brush company in Kansas, and it was the first time I was the sole person on the ground making decisions. I remember thinking to myself, “OK, I got this. I’m going to have to call the shots here, but I know I can do this well.”
How is your role and relationship to Yumi different from other companies you have invested in?
As the CEO and co-founder, this company feels like my third child. While we have great team members who help keep things running like a well-oiled machine, my partner Evelyn and I are involved in every aspect of the business and I find myself wearing many hats. I love the constant learning in starting a brand—not only of different skills but also different perspectives. Getting to problem-solve toward building your dreams is really awesome.
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your child about "girl power"?
I'm a big believer that a happy mom makes for a happy child. Your child may not remember a lot of things, but they will remember “Was my mom happy?” And this thought really sticks with me when I think about my career. I want my daughter and son to see that if you love what you do, you will be happier for it and more successful because of it. My mom was an entrepreneur, and I was raised to see women as capable of doing anything they wanted, and I hope to raise my kids the same way.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
Rather than looking at it as a balancing act, I try to live by “work/life integration.” In our modern-day workforce, most people don’t work within the typical 9-to-5 schedule, and the lines between personal and professional life can easily become blurred. Technology allows us to work anytime, anywhere, and it’s nice to take advantage of that under certain circumstances. There are times where I break from my workday to tend to my family, and then catch up on work later in the evening. I really just try to multitask, and maximize each hour in my day as best as I can. Keeping a busy schedule does force you to prioritize your time, and you often have to say no to things more than you say yes. I have sacrificed things such as time with friends (and sleep … so much sleep), but your time is your most valuable asset, and you have to spend it wisely.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Nothing can truly prepare you for entrepreneurship. Once you have made the leap, you quickly realize how much you don’t know, so it is a constant learning experience. But if you are passionate about your idea and the product or service you want to create, my advice would be to trust your instincts and have confidence in your grit, capabilities and vision. Also, be realistic in identifying where your strengths and weaknesses lie and surround yourself with people who have skills that you don’t. Building a strong support system is paramount; these are the people who help you build the bridge in getting to where you want to be.
Are there any new initiatives or products on the horizon for Yumi?
Right now our services are only available in California, so we are looking to expand nationally one market at a time. We are also developing a product line, which we hope to expand as we grow. We really want to focus on this entire period of early childhood development and nutrition so we could also offer products for pregnant or postnatal moms. Additionally, a big initiative for us will be building out content on our website, featuring tips, recipes and profiles on fellow moms. Our goal is to go beyond nutrition and offer a 360-degree support system for parents, during their child’s first 1,000 days and beyond.