Under The Hood: Shilo From Emulait
Emulait's breastfeeding bottles are shaped like a breast to mimic the natural feeding experience.
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Under The Hood: Shilo From Emulait

Tell us a bit about how your entrepreneurial background led you to build Emulait and speak a bit about the ultimate vision for Emulait.

Shilo: My entrepreneurial journey began 20 years ago. A few years before Emulait was born, I was working on my first company which focused on blood glucose measurement for diabetics. We were pioneers in using smartphones as medical devices, making us a revolutionary company in this field. My second company took this up a level and focused on improving the enzyme at the heart of blood glucose measurement to ensure more accurate readings. I also co-founded a microbiome company focused on gut health.

Shortly after my daughter was born, I was inspired to develop a product that could help mothers facing breastfeeding challenges. Seeing my wife and daughter struggle with the feeding process, I was sure there had to be a better way. It took almost four  months of trying different bottles and lactation supports before resorting to a frenectomy, which is where the dentist snips a lip tie or tongue tie to allow for easier feeding. At this point, I asked myself, what if I could just use 3D printing to create a custom breast-shaped bottle that would stand in for my wife's body?

Our dentist said, "Listen, it could work but the technology and materials don't exist”." It took us six years, mainly waiting for the deep camera on the iPhone to be ready, but we developed the Emulait app that you use to scan your breast. The app picks up data points and contours, matching the scan to one of five shapes which were discovered through a clinical study that we conducted early on. Our results showed that we can cover almost 97% of sizes. Because the app utilizes data points, there's no need for an image and we avoid sticky privacy issues.

Another feature of Emulait is the option of matching the bottle to your skin color. The idea behind this is about representing the mother authentically - or as we say, making the bottle “yours truly”. It makes business sense and social sense to help mothers feel seen in the products they use, especially for something so personal like feeding. 

However the most important aspect of the bottle is how it has been engineered - the nipple is incredibly pliable and can stretch all the way into the baby’s oral cavity. Together with our flow control system, the baby needs to exert the effort they would at the breast in order to extract milk. No other bottle on the market achieves this feature and that’s what sets us apart. 

Emulait Bottles

This makes our product ideal for working mothers who want to combine  breastfeeding and bottle feeding, even when they're away from their baby. It's also helpful for mothers who cannot breastfeed for medical or lifestyle reasons, or same-sex couples who want to provide their baby with the benefits of breastfeeding. The baby maintains the skill needed to extract milk, lessening the likelihood of nipple confusion or bottle preference.

We wondered what the vision for this company was, as it's a very interesting company that straddles both the product and service industries. On one end, it's a consumer product, but on the other, it functions like a service. The journey begins with the scanning feature but actually we have an app platform which has been built to include care activities for mothers and their families. 

Our app allows a mother or caregiver to easily mark when she breastfeeds and it will track all necessary information like other foods (if the baby is eating solids), diapers and sleep activity. Our soon-to-be-released warmer takes the feeding ecosystem up a level. Its purpose is simply to heat milk to the perfect feeding temperature but its like having a personal assistant, as it gathers all the important data about when and how much the baby eats. This is especially helpful in America where mothers often have to return to work after only three to eight weeks of maternity leave.

Speaking of maternity leave, we offer six months of paid maternity leave which is unheard of in this industry. Our employee, let's call her Jane, is going back to work soon and will need to pump breast milk for her baby. She calls the caregiver frequently to check on the baby's eating habits and how much she needs to pump. 

We have a solution for this dilemma - our product can be synced with a smartphone, watch phone, or smartwatch. The caregiver can then easily track when the baby has finished eating and when it's time for Jane to pump again. This type of technology doesn't exist in the market yet.

What’s one thing about operating a DTC brand that you did not expect to be true?

Shilo: The power of social media is truly remarkable, and I must admit that it surprised me. Being from an older generation, I never fully grasped its potential until recently. 

Let me give you an example. When we discussed entering the American market, everyone said we needed $150 million for TV ads, billboards, and other traditional forms of advertising. That was the only way to make a splash and be seen by consumers. However, with the rise of social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok, all that has changed. Now, even small "mom and pop" businesses can reach their target audience with just $250,000 and a successful marketing campaign. 

Shilo From Emulait

It's incredible how much power these platforms hold and how they have revolutionized the advertising industry. As someone who didn't fully understand the value of social media before, I am pleasantly surprised and optimistic about what it means for businesses in today's world.

What’s one thing — an entrepreneurial lesson, a trait, etc — you learned in either your first or second venture that’s turned into a guiding principle for you.

Shilo: Build a small team but build the best team with the absolute best people. I don't believe in massive companies that have 60-70 employees. I believe in small teams with committed and seriously excellent people. Even if you need to pay double, then pay double. You will get very smart people and very productive people.

When did you learn that?

Shilo: Early on I noticed the importance of having a strong team dynamic in special units, particularly in the Navy SEALs. These teams are small, consisting of only six to eight individuals during operations. I firmly believe that this strategy works best - even if it means paying more for the right people. 

In my opinion, hiring too many individuals can actually harm a startup budget. You always need more resources and funds when you have more employees, making it easy to hire anyone who seems capable of taking on a new project. 

I strive to find the perfect fit for each role within the company. I understand that everyone is busy, but I make sure to involve team members in multiple projects if they are capable and willing. In my experience, the right people are eager to take on more challenges and push themselves further. By giving them opportunities and being generous with benefits such as company stock options, I ensure that they feel valued and motivated to contribute their best work. This is how I operate - with small and highly skilled teams comprising the best individuals.

Why did you decide to raise money for Emulait? What would you tell other CPG entrepreneurs about raising money?

Shilo: DTC costs money. It costs a lot of money, and everybody needs to know that it's true. You need good customer service, logistics, advertising, and more – it all costs money. So if you want to go into production, you'll also need to ship your product which will cost you. Customers in America love free shipping, which costs money.

If you have Amazon Prime, everything is free and people want this. But you still need to pay for your customers' needs - they don't just want free shipping, they also expect good customer service and sometimes there are returns. Our return rate is low compared to the market, but we still have some returns.

Emulait Bottles

In our case, we also invest a lot of money in innovation for new products. We have four or five new products launching in May utilizing tech and ideas. Packaging is another expense for us - if you go to CVS and look at the shell for batteries or pacifiers, they use cheap plastic. But for our brand, we want to give customers a premium experience so we invest in high-quality packaging similar to an iPhone.

This may be more expensive for customers, but as a premium brand we believe in treating our customers to the best possible experience. So overall, if someone were to ask me about the process of starting a new product or business in DTC marketing, my advice would be: prepare for expenses. If you think you'll need five million dollars to start, aim for ten - because this journey can be costly.

How about your tech stack - what leverage does Factored Quality’s tech and QC service give you at Emulait?

Shilo: It’s simple really - we want our customers to receive the best product possible. Factored Quality is our external quality assurance team. For example, we have a manufacturing facility in Indiana. Our team spends several months developing and perfecting our products. We have dedicated staff who inspect every aspect of the production process to ensure quality control. But we will still get Factored Quality to come in and review the product.

As the owner, the quality of the product is ultimately my responsibility. When needed I travel to our U.S factory or even further afield to China, where we source some basic materials. Having an extra set of eyes by way of Factored Quality gives us the confidence that we aren’t missing a thing.

1-800-D2C: Learn more here about how Emulait simplified compliance testing ahead of its European launch with Factored Quality. As the brand navigated bureaucratic processes, they leaned on Factored Quality as compliance experts to alleviate the administrative burden.

Emulait partnered with Factored Quality to:

  1. Serve as a liaison between Emulait and compliance testing labs
  2. Ensure reliable, cost-effective product certification across various countries
  3. Provide expertise in the baby care industry

Learn more about how Factored Quality has been a crucial part of Emulait's compliance journey here.

What’s the biggest personal entrepreneurial trait you’ve learned?

Shilo: I have always been an impatient person, so I had to teach myself how to be more patient. 

In startups, time is essential and it's important to give yourself time to overcome challenges. As a green entrepreneur tackling the first company, it can be overwhelming and stressful when faced with new challenges every day. But instead of getting stressed out, it's important to remember that tomorrow is a new day and the solution will present itself. 

Don't let stress consume you, just wake up in the morning with a clear mind and work towards finding the solution. In the beginning, it's easy to get caught up in other people's ideas and feel like you have to solve everything at once. But it's important to take breaks and not get too worked up. Just trust that every morning, the solution will come and everything will work out fine in the end.

Zoom ahead 10 years and say Emulait is a publicly traded company or valued in the mid-10 figures. Why will it have succeeded?

Shilo: In 10 years… I hope I won't be operating Emulait! I already have my next venture planned and ready to roll out. This is just how I operate - always moving on to the next opportunity. 

But in 10 years, our company will dominate the market and so many people will use our product on a daily basis. Our goal is to be the cultural and product leader in the market. We could spend millions of dollars a month on advertising, but that's not genuine growth because we are essentially buying customers. Instead, we focus on educating customers about our product and its benefits, and building a community around our company. We take time to ensure that our customers understand what we offer.

This is especially important for parents - they want to know that our product is safe and beneficial for their child. So instead of pouring money into advertising, we prioritize product development and innovation. Even though we've only been in the market for 7 months, we're already planning to release another product soon because we are constantly investing in improving and becoming the best. It will pay off - maybe not this year, maybe not next, but it will happen eventually. Our commitment to quality and innovation will make us number one in the market for many years to come.