how i get it done

This Baby-Formula Founder Considers Herself a Wartime CEO

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Courtesy of Bobbie/Yulia Reznikov

Laura Modi was a well-paid, high-powered executive — at Airbnb, and before that, at Google Finance — when, in 2018, she surprised everyone around her and decided to leave her secure and admired position to start a baby-formula company … while pregnant. At the time, she had no formal background in the formula industry, but as a parent, she knew what the market had to offer and what it was missing: a European-style infant formula manufactured in America. Now the founder and CEO of Bobbie, the only female-founded and mom-led organic-infant-formula company in the U.S., Modi shares the challenges inherent to working motherhood, particularly in an industry beset by crisis. Originally from Ireland, Modi lives in Washington, D.C., with her three children, all under 6 years old, and husband. Here’s how she gets it done.

On her morning “routine”:
With three kids under 6, it is usually chaos. Inevitably someone will wake up in the middle of the night or earlier than one would hope. I usually set two different alarms; the first alarm is what I’ll use if I get a full night’s sleep. If do, I wake to the first alarm and allow myself to work out or have some quiet time. A workout, for me, is lots of stretching and maybe a light jog. If some of the kids wake up overnight — they wet the bed, they’re teething, etc. — then I’ll give myself the extra 45 minutes to sleep.

On doing anything but not everything:
I can’t run a company and also have three kids without having some sort of help. My nanny usually arrives around 7:00 a.m., and together we tag-team the morning, making sure that the monsters get fed and changed, ready for school, and out the door. During that time, I find myself drinking about three different cups of coffee, trying to get myself fed and changed as well. If I said it was smooth, I would be totally lying. I think we are setting women up to fail by believing that they can do everything. I do fundamentally believe that women can do anything, but they can’t do everything, and we have to lean on one another. I have a fabulous team, and that team supports me to be able to do my job. In return, I’m very, very grateful and recognize the position that they take on. I need another mother in the house.

On finding motivation in war ballads (and chocolate):
There is no typical day right now. We are in the middle of an infant-formula crisis, and we’re a very fast-growing company. Our team is also 100 percent remote, and we’re doing this during a national crisis. Once we realized we were in a crisis, I woke up and realized I needed to lead a certain way. I enter my day right now almost as a CEO during wartime. My executive assistant usually arrives first thing in the morning, and we will walk through a typical schedule of what the day looks like, and because we’re in wartime (and probably to her chagrin), I play a lot of ballads of war, ballads of rebellion and uprising. Nothing prepares you more than having those chants happening before you enter a meeting.

Around 2:00 p.m. every day, I need a little bowl of frozen chocolate chips. I don’t think I’ve gone a day, in multiple years, without eating a good, healthy handful of chocolate chips. If they’re not frozen, it’s just not worth it.

On the worst advice she’s ever gotten:
Throughout my entire career, the most common piece of advice I would get is “Stay put; it’s safer where you are.” What they were essentially getting at was that every move I’ve ever made in my career, on the surface, it looked like I was taking a step back, or it looked like it was way too risky. When I moved from Google to Airnnb, which was small at the time, there wasn’t a voice among friends or family supporting my decision. In hindsight, it was the best move I could have made, and I feel the same about leaving them to start a powdered-milk company. At that time, I was a mother, I was pregnant with my second, and the constant advice I continued to get was “You should just stay there; it’s safer.” Again, hindsight’s 20/20, so everyone looks back now and forgets that they said that.

On the financial boys’ club:
About ten years ago when I worked at Google, I used to day-trade on the job, and I became addicted to investing. I became addicted to the unknown world of the stock market, and the fact that I felt like I had access. It provided me with a lot of opportunity, once I got into that world, and it set me up to be able to purchase my first home. I also realized, when I looked around, that many women were not put in a position where they understood money, where they understood how to grow their wealth. It became a very personal passion of mine to be able to support those around me in understanding money and feeling comfortable talking about it. I believe that money has been an old boys’ club, especially the world of investing. Women are often put to the side, and it’s often because of access and knowledge. One of the things that we did, because of our desire to put financial independence back in the hands of women, and especially moms, is that for our series A, we gave an opportunity to our own customers, mothers of the business, to invest in Bobbie. Now, we have 200 moms who are customers of the business who are also investors.

On feeling like she’d “made it” professionally:
I was in a cafe recently, and I was wearing our Bobbie sweater, and a mother came up to me and she said, “Wow, do you work at Bobbie?” She wasn’t asking just because she knew the brand; she spent the next 15 minutes telling me how Bobbie changed her life. It was only after that that I told her I was also the founder of the business, and we had a heart-to-heart. That really touched me, to walk away from someone spotting the business in the wild and proclaiming their love for what we have done. To provide peace of mind and change their first year of parenting was everything.

On the division of labor in her household:
We’re dealing with that tension on this every day, and anyone who tells you that they have it solved is just lying through their teeth. It is a constant battle. I find myself taking on the invisible work. I take on our kids’ scheduling. I go to bed at night thinking, Is my nanny going to be here on time? Is the kids’ schedule there? When are the playdates happening? I know my husband’s going to bed thinking, I wonder what I’m going to have for breakfast tomorrow? He’s not putting his kids to the forefront because he knows I’m doing that. There will always be a lead parent. You can’t have two people leading in that respect. I believe he has a lot of work to grow, to take on some of that invisible work, but it’s first on me to be able to let go of it.

On maternity leave:
For my first child, I took a full maternity leave, which was four months, from Airbnb. I had my second child two weeks after I had raised the first round of funding for Bobbie. I think Bobbie was probably my second baby at that point. I made a very deliberate call to get extra help in the household immediately to support me so I was able to move between work and the child. I took several weeks off, so I had a lot of close bonding time, and I was able to soak up everything I needed for that second baby, but I was still going to bed every night thinking and dreaming of Bobbie. I found myself probably going back earlier than most.

With my third child, we were in a position as a business where I had an excellent team in place, and my co-founder had the reins. Most people were kicking me out at that point; they were like, “You need to go take the time. Please do not call into this meeting.” It’s a fine balance, and I think you need to go where your heart is. Some women will have a baby — and I’ve seen this at my company — and they need more time than they planned. We’ve also had mothers at Bobbie who say they thought they were going to take four months and then after two months, they’re dying to jump into certain strategy meetings. You will find out who you are as a mother when the child comes, and you will know where you want your head to be.

On rating her days from 1 to 5:
I started this habit several years ago where I check in on how I’m doing personally and professionally. It takes a few minutes, and I fit it between getting ready for bed, brushing my teeth, and falling asleep. I rate my day on how it was personally and professionally, on a scale of one to five. It’s addicting, because it allows you to go to sleep having just taken a moment to say to yourself, How was today? I may have had a terrible day professionally but a wonderful day personally. When I say it’s addicting, I now struggle to fall asleep without having that personal-professional check-in.

This Baby-Formula Founder Considers Herself a Wartime CEO