Meet Cara Armstrong, an ER nurse turned CEO who aims to shake up the infant nutrition market with Baby Barista.
What inspired you to start Baby Barista?
My daughter Mia is my inspiration and my “why.” Mia was born with Down Syndrome and -- characteristic of her condition -- was unable to breastfeed. Early on, my husband Jack and I were still in the phase of accepting that Mia would have a disability, I found myself struggling with even ordinary tasks, like making bottles. Traditional bottle making is time consuming, messy and aggravating. When I learned that parents had been preparing bottles by hand for more than 100 years, I said: "This needs to change, this can change and I am going to be the one to change it!” That was the genesis of the Baby Barista mission.
What’s your mission?
We want to remove all of the friction and pain points from infant formula feeding. We have created a complete ecosystem to totally reimagine an antiquated process. With an affordable Baby Barista counter-top machine caregivers can have premium organic baby formula conveniently delivered to their door by subscription. There’s even a connected app that allows caregivers to prepare a bottle from anywhere (even from bed, at 3 a.m.). The app allows parents to track their baby’s feeding and to manage their formula supply. The result is an end-to-end feeding system, unlike anything that has previously been available. Baby Barista is perfect for millennial and Gen Z parents who embrace technology to solve everyday problems and simplify their lives.
What’s your background?
I’m a registered nurse and worked for 12 years in a busy hospital emergency room in Los Angeles. In 2018, I traded in my nursing scrubs for my CEO seat. I have never been happier or more fulfilled in my career. I have such a passion for reinventing the infant formula feeding experience, that building Baby Barista alongside a world-class team doesn’t feel like work at all. I’m also an active, committed disability advocate. I believe in the value and dignity of every human life. Compassion for every parent’s feeding journey is at the heart of the Baby Barista brand.
What experiences along your career path help you most in your current role?
There are so many transferable experiences from my days as an ER nurse that I carry into my life as a CEO. My time in the ER was especially helpful in learning how to triage a relentless flow of challenges!
(1) You must have the ability to pivot. In the ER, when a treatment plan isn’t working, the health care team has to be ready to pivot to ensure the best outcome for their patient. The same is true as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs have to be prepared and willing to recognize when plans aren’t working and to pivot to a better solution.
(2) You have to work as a team. No one saves a life alone, and no one runs a company alone. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented professionals who, as an added bonus, are kind, warm people who genuinely care about others.
(3) You have to be prepared for the unexpected. The ER is a never-ending stream of new challenges. You really have to stay on your toes because, at any moment, a patient could come through the door with an urgent, life-threatening emergency. In business, like the ER, change is a constant; you have to be prepared to keep your cool and press forward, particularly in the face of rapidly changing circumstances.
Tell us about the team you’ve built.
We have a fantastic team and we’ve worked together for several years. Lisa Silverstein has been with me for seven years, keeping us organized and compliant. Jud Currie is our VP of sales and brings incredible experience in this market. Previously, Jud was responsible for bringing Canada’s number one and two baby food brands to market. Doug Levinson is our brilliant business strategist that has been a college professor and worked both in the public and private sector. We also have a varsity advisory board with two Harvard MBAs, a world-class infant nutrition expert and executives that have worked at Google, Facebook, Disney, Amgen and the 3 largest infant formula brands in the world.
Cara Armstrong and Baby Barista team members
Describe your company culture.
Our culture is “baked into” everything we do, every decision we make. Family comes first … period. We’re all ready and willing to backstop each other, so that no one ever misses a once in a lifetime moment because of work. We also believe that everyone we encounter in our personal and professional lives is deserving of kindness and respect. Finally, operating with the highest possible ethical standards is a given for our team -- it’s who we are.
What brings you the most joy on the job?
Crafting a social mission into the DNA of Baby Barista that is centered around Down Syndrome Awareness and supporting the Down Syndrome community. People with Down Syndrome are still a marginalized people group. Anything I can do to proclaim their worth and to help the world appreciate their special value brings me tremendous joy.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my ability to persevere and build this company ... against all odds. Even in 2021, female founders are grossly underfunded compared to their male counterparts. Being able to accomplish so much with my team, while managing the demands of motherhood with the added complexity of having a daughter with additional needs isn’t easy ... but it’s deeply gratifying.
What are the top factors influencing your industry or company right now and how are you managing them?
Baby Barista is a David vs.Goliath story. In this industry, 86.6 percent of the market is controlled by an oligopoly -- a few large companies that have dominated the infant formula market for years. These big players really only have to compete with each other. That has led them to become complacent; they’re making a ton of money and they have no incentive to shake up the market, let alone to innovate. But the tide is changing, thanks to scrapy, brave startups who are using technology and cutting-edge nutritional science to improve the lives of all babies. We’re at an inflection point and we are thrilled to be the vanguard of this exciting movement.
"But the tide is changing, thanks to scrapy, brave startups who are using technology and cutting-edge nutritional science to improve the lives of all babies." - Cara Armstrong, CEO & Founder, Baby Barista
Why did you decide to raise capital through crowdfunding?
I know the founders of Fundify and appreciate how their mission aligns well with ours. Part of our mission is to democratize the infant feeding ritual in the family so that everyone can help -- not just Mom or the primary caregiver. We’re making it so simple to make a safe, healthy bottle that everyone can be involved.
Similarly, Fundify is on a mission to democratize startup funding and investing so that everyone has access to investing early in disruptive innovation. I trust the founders and believe in their ability to execute.
What are three adjectives you’d use to describe yourself?
- Courageous -- It takes great courage to put forth a company in an environment where only 2% of funding goes to female founders. It takes faith to step away from your career and go into a whole new area. This experience has forced me to face fears and insecurities and to overcome them.
- Sincere -- I genuinely believe in what we are doing. We’re tackling a very serious, important problem that so many parents and caregivers struggle with. This problem can be solved; the challenges of bottle-feeding can be nearly eliminated. Today's parents routinely turn to technology to help solve everyday challenges. Baby Barista is a shining example of how that can work.
- Joyful -- I approach each day with heartfelt joy and gratitude for all that I have. Having worked as an ER nurse, I see life differently. I’ve seen how quickly everything can change and know that every day is a gift. I’m joyful for each day that God gives me.
What is the most important habit of a startup founder?
I’d say self-care. When you’re focused on building a business and being on the battlefield, it’s easy to forget to take the time to care for yourself. But losing sight of self-care impacts not only us, but also our loved ones. It’s tough to balance motherhood, leading a company and being a vocal disability advocate. So, I think it’s really important to set aside time to take care of myself, too -- to honor myself physically and spiritually. I start each day with a hot yoga class to care for my body and mind. I strive to ground myself by prayerfully considering all the tasks put before me on any given day. As moms we have to remember that we don’t always come last -- we have to take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of others. Self-care isn't selfish.
What do you enjoy in your spare time?
I also love spending time with my husband Jack and our kids and watching them grow into amazing loving, caring human beings. Our daughter Amber is about to complete college at UCSB. She is a wonderful young lady that we are confident will do great things. My daughter Mia and son Jack both surf and I love to watch. My son Jack enjoys water polo, boxing and is a gifted singer. Mia is a SAG-Aftra actress, voiceover artist and model who continues to break down stereotypes about intellectual disability. Having a front row seat to our children’s unique passions and activities makes my husband Jack and me very happy. I also enjoy gardening, long walks, hiking and learning all sorts of new things.
If you were on stage in a spotlight before a packed audience, would you rather teach, sing, dance or accept an award? Tell us about that scene.
I would teach. I’m passionate about helping people understand the importance of “person-first language,” especially as it relates to people with special needs. As the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, I often hear people refer to her as a “Downs kid” rather than a child “with Down Syndrome.” People need to realize that someone’s disability is simply one small component of who that person is. They’re lots of other things, too -- maybe an artist, actor, surfer, a math-whiz, a good cook, a singer or dancer. By leading with the diagnosis, you miss out on seeing the full person and you trivialize the complexity that makes us all human. No one would think of saying, “look at that cancer child.” So why lead with a label for people with disabilities? God loves everyone; we should, too.
Learn how you can invest in Baby Barista, here.
This blog article is published by Fundify, Inc. The comments and opinions expressed within are those of the interviewee and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or Fundify, Inc.