A baby formula startup and the power of failing

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! All eyes are on Georgia, Google workers unionize, and an infant formula company fails—and tries again. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– If at first you don’t succeed… As we make our way through the first full week of the new year, I’m thinking a lot about how I want to approach 2021, and I’m sure many of you are too. After all, there’s so much we can’t control, so why not be extra intentional about the things we can?

With that in mind, there are some worthy lessons to be drawn from Emma’s latest Fortune story. In it, she tells the tale of Bobbie, a startup led by CEO and cofounder Laura Modi (formerly director of hospitality at Airbnb). Back in 2019, Bobbie was attempting to disrupt the infant formula market with its own version of the European-style formulas some U.S. parents prefer but struggle to get their hands on stateside.

But just 10 days into the launch of the company’s pilot program, the FDA came knocking. It seems that the company had run afoul of the agency’s stringent rules regulating formula intended for infants. The result? The fledgling startup would have to recall the product and start again.

In retrospect, Modi says the company’s missteps were clear—for one, the product’s packaging should have clearly stated that it was intended for older children (formula for older kids, who are also consuming other foods, is less strictly regulated). So, rather than attempt to resist, she says the company did everything it could to quickly comply with the recall and communicate with customers about the problem, hired a new head of regulatory, and went back to the drawing board.  

The company’s handling of the recall apparently impressed some industry watchers—including manufacturer Perrigo, which reached out to propose partnering to produce the company’s next product, and Sara Adler of Wave Capital, who had originally passed on investing in Bobbie but changed her mind after watching how the company responded to the FDA. Now, Bobbie has a new formula that passed FDA muster and hit the market this week.

While I myself am not planning any infant formula launches this year, I do hope to tap into the spirit of handling my mistakes (and regular readers know there will be some!) as gracefully and transparently as possible. Missteps happen, so how we react to them matters. We’d all like to be the one that dazzles onlookers by nailing everything on the first try—but you never know who might be even more impressed by a determined second shot.

Kristen Bellstrom
[email protected]
@kayelbee

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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