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How I went from an idea to pitching Rebecca Minkoff and the Female Founder Collective in 3 months - and winning

How I went from an idea to pitching Rebecca Minkoff and the Female Founder Collective in 3 months - and winning

Female Founder Collective Winner Sarah Kallile

The announcement from the Female Founder Collective. Still pinching myself.

It's been a week. Wow. I was one of six finalists given the incredible opportunity to pitch Lunnie to the Female Founder Collective's Big Pitcher competition last Tuesday - and I won. The impressive judges included FFC co-founders Rebecca Minkoff and Ali Koplar Wyatt, as well as Nyakio Grieco, Natalia Brzezinski, and Kelly Dill.

Back up five days before the Big Pitcher contest. I was nursing my daughter Annie before bedtime (very on brand!) and scrolling my phone when the email popped up that Lunnie was selected as a finalist. My jaw dropped and I silently screamed, not daring to wake my almost-asleep baby. I sat in her pitch black room with the sound machine whirring, absorbing the news by myself for 20 minutes.

Being selected as a finalist was an amazing early break for Lunnie. Just four months prior, I had the idea to create a better nursing bra. While breastfeeding my second daughter, I was fed up with my frumpy bra. I figured I'm a second-time mom and I know what I'm doing now. Certainly there must be some brand out there I haven't heard of making the type of nursing bra I want to wear. But when I asked my mom friends, I kept hearing the same thing - they hate their nursing bras, too. That's when a lightbulb went off in my head.

I needed to collect more data points to understand why moms dislike their nursing bras and what could be better. I created a comprehensive survey and shared it with mom friends. Within a few days, I received hundreds of responses. The feedback was ferocious. I created an online group, the Lunnie Hive, to dig deeper. I started conducting one-on-one phone calls with moms to listen to their experiences. Moms all over the country were finding the Lunnie Hive in different ways. It was spreading like wildfire and I became obsessed with this idea.

Lunnie Hive Only Pink Bag

The original "Sisterhood of the Traveling Bra" being passed around for user testing.

Using my decade of marketing experience at early-stage startups and big tech, I categorized the feedback and saw common themes emerging. I ordered dozens of nursing bras to analyze, feel, and compare. That's when I turned to my mom, a former garment industry professional and wildly talented seamstress, to help sew a prototype. I shipped her samples of bras I liked and she hacked together the first Lunnie nursing bra. I refer to my first round of user testing as the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Bra," as it is being passed around in a paper bag to moms in my neighborhood.

With so much information and different directions to take, I wanted guidance. I reached out to an old high school classmate out of the blue who is an e-commerce powerhouse and early-stage consumer investor at Fernbrook. Thank goodness Anusha Mohan picked up. She took a bet on me, my idea, and became my advisor. With her expertise, she has guided me in building Lunnie, connecting with other founders, and challenging me with new opportunities. That's what led me to the Female Founder Collective and the Big Pitcher competition. A fellow female founder, Sruti Bharat of Future Map, forwarded me the opportunity and I applied.

My friends keep asking me, "When do you find the time to work on this?" I'm currently a full-time stay-at-home mom to my two daughters, Lucy (age 3) and Annie (8 months). With the circumstances of the pandemic, we don't have outside childcare help. My husband is a healthcare worker and has been working onsite the entire pandemic. Lunnie is built on nights, weekends, and the occasional (and too rare) simultaneous afternoon naps. Thank goodness my husband is supportive and takes care of the girls as soon as he comes home. Working on Lunnie has become my "me time".

So, back to nursing my daughter in her room and letting the news of being a finalist sink in. I felt immense gratitude for the opportunity. With only a few days to prepare amidst a jam-packed schedule, I practiced and prioritized as much as I could. I pitched to friends and family as my "mock investors" and had them grill me. This helped refine my narrative and lean into the immense amount of research and data I've conducted to date.
The day before the event, the Female Founder Collective hosted a Pitch Workshop for the six finalists. The accomplished and inspiring Annie Evans, Divya Gugnani, and Kimberly Kreuzberger shared their best tips for pitching. I also had a chance to meet the incredible other finalists. The next day, the Female Founder Collective Founders' Day event kicked off with Rebecca Minkoff and Luvvie Ajayi Jones in an inspiring keynote. It instilled what I knew to be true – the best way to convey my idea for Lunnie was to be myself. I did the work, I had the passion, and I knew what I was talking about from personal experience.
Answering questions to Rebecca Minkoff and Nyakio Grieco during the Big Pitcher competition.
Then came the pitch. I spoke for one minute to the judges and conveyed the problem with nursing bras, the market opportunity, and why Lunnie was the one to solve it with our community-led brand. The judges were all warm and receptive to the idea, putting me at ease while I answered their questions for five minutes. And that was it. It felt like 30 seconds and 30 minutes all at the same time. My desk is housed in a corner of my daughters' playroom so I literally was pitching business moguls with a ball pit hidden next to me.
The next day, the winner was announced by Natalia Brzezinski during the closing conference keynote with Rebecca Minkoff. Luckily, my husband got home from work early and was able to watch while I held my two daughters on my lap. Natalia announced Lunnie as the winner and I felt my heart thumping outside of my chest. My eyes welled up and I squeezed my daughters tight.
This feels like a turning point for me. Motherhood has been the biggest blessing of my life, but I've been craving the ability to use my startup experience to build something from scratch. The pandemic revealed that drive in myself even more. I'm sure many moms can relate the desire to feel like their "old self". I've poured so many hours into Lunnie and go between wondering if I'm a genius or a little mad. Probably a mix of both. To get outside validation from an organization I respect tremendously meant everything.
Lunnie Celebration
My sweet mom friends AKA the original "Lunnie Hive" surprised me with these balloons after my win. Their support (and equal dislike for nursing bras) helped get me here!
So what's next? Using the grant money, I'll move forward partnering with a small batch manufacturer to take our prototype to the next level for production. I'll continue to build out marketing and branding, taking cues from the invaluable Lunnie Hive. And keep listening to breastfeeding moms every single day. Because moms deserve better solutions and I want Lunnie to be the one to build them. Together, we're creating the perfect nursing bra. And we're just getting started.
Sarah Kallile is the founder of Lunnie. She is the mother to two daughters, Lucy (3) and Annie (8 months). She is a born and raised California gal currently living in Ohio with her family.
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