Infant falls are a new and rapidly growing problem, with large organizations spending years and countless dollars in research and development to figure out how to address the issue. After her own daughter experienced a fall, “tired and new mom” Hayley Mullins designed the first Joeyband prototype in just three weeks. Today Joeyband is the only premiere product for skin-to-skin at home and in over 250 hospitals across North America, including academic and Ivy League institutions; and is heavily patented in 12 countries, with several additional patents in process.
In this episode:
- Why skin-to-skin contact is essential for infants and parents, yet is increasing the number of infant falls
- How Hayley’s experience as a new mom informed the design process
- Sarah’s journey from SheEO Activator to Joeyband partner
- The benefits of using a Joeyband for babies and parents, as well as the cost-savings for hospitals
- The importance of community in growing your business
- Advice for entrepreneurs starting out in the healthcare space
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Hayley: The difference between being a purpose-driven entrepreneur and just looking to make money. Because when you’re a purpose-driven entrepreneur or founder, it’s those stories that genuinely connect with you and get you through the day for when it’s a lower dip and able to contribute to a healthier mental health.
Vicki: Welcome to SheEO.World, a podcast about redesigning the world. I’m your host, Vicki Saunders. In each episode, you’ll hear from SheEO venture founders, women who are working on the world’s to-do list. These innovative business leaders are solving some of the major challenges of our times. Sit back and prepare to be inspired.
Hayley: I’m Hayley Mullins. I am the inventor and cofounder of Joeyband, which is a hands free skin-to-skin support system designed for new moms and their newborns. It supports immediate skin-to-skin and breastfeeding while preventing infant falls in the operating room, the NICU, labor and delivery, postpartum and at home.
Vicki: Wowza, okay. Let’s all breathe for a second. Who else is with us today?
Sarah: Also myself, Vicki, Sarah Cox. I’m what I call a business builder. I find entrepreneurs at the early stage and I help them grow their business. I am the president of Joeyband and so I work very closely with Hayley and getting our strategy and plan into market and executing.
Vicki: Awesome. So Hayley, you have a very well practiced intro, thank you for that. But let’s go a bit deeper on this. So why do we need the Joeyband and how did you come up with this idea?
Hayley: Oh gosh, okay. Well, I was mom of the year. My daughter was born and she was placed immediately on my chest, skin-to-skin, it’s standard practice now. I didn’t know the science behind it, but I knew that it kept her quiet and happy. And two weeks to the day she was born, I was at home, she was asleep on my chest. It was that beautiful peaceful moment that new moms dream of. And I took my hands off of her for a split second, and she startled and hit the floor. And I will never forget that sound. My husband and I took her to the emergency room thinking, oh my God, we are unfit parents, they are going to take her away from us. And the doctor looked at us and said it happens all the time.
Hayley: So I went home thinking this is not happening again, and I spent a ton of money on wraps, carriers, slings, baby wearing shirts, all of these products that are on the market but don’t do what we needed at the time. And I turned to my husband out of frustration and said, “Why isn’t there anything that belts your sleeping baby to you?” So designed the product, brought it to market, and within five weeks we had our very first inquiry from a hospital saying that they’d been searching for something like this, as well as an endorsement from La Leche League International, which is the world’s largest breastfeeding organization.
Hayley: And what we’ve learned since is infant falls are a very new but rapidly growing problem. And the reason is, is babies used to go to a nursery and now they are staying with their parents. We are rooming in, and we’re encouraging moms to do skin-to-skin. And we’re telling them to breastfeed, but we’re saying don’t hold your baby if you’re tired, and it just doesn’t make sense. So our solution came at a perfect time and we’re really thrilled about the changes that we’re making for new moms and their babies.
Vicki: So can you tell me a little bit about skin-to-skin, especially for people who don’t know this term and what it actually means? What are the outcomes around skin-to-skin? Why are we learning this now? Tell us a bit more.
Hayley: Absolutely. I’m actually going to defer to Sarah on this one. Sarah has recently been Kangaroo Care certified, so she’s the best one to speak about that.
Sarah: Yeah, sure. Skin-to-skin is actually a very scientific, simple practice. What happens with skin-to-skin is when the baby is placed on mom’s chest, and generally it happens immediately after birth, but the baby around its torso and back has what we call c-afferent nerves. And a lot of people don’t know this. Mom also has these c-afferent nerves, so when they’re connected and touching, what happens is that stimulates the release of oxytocin. So it goes, the c-afferent nerve triggers the right amygdala and that’s the place in our brain which is connected with love and feeling safe and comfortable and calming and soothing. And so that’s what stimulates the release of oxytocin. So there’s a ton of benefits for baby and mom, but also for baby and dad too. With mom, what it does is that skin-to-skin help thermoregulate the baby. So again, a lot of people don’t know this, but if a mom has twins in place, either baby, a baby on either side of her chest, her body will adjust to the correct temperature, can make that baby the correct temperature and what would be most comfortable for that baby.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s pretty powerful. The benefits for mom too is it reduces pain, it reduces bleeding. There’s been stories from hospitals where moms had been on life support on the ventilator and after delivery they’ve taken the baby and placed the baby directly on her chest. And within an hour, she’s been off life support.
Vicki: Oh my god.
Sarah: So it’s a pretty, yeah, it’s a pretty powerful form of science. With dads specifically, which is really neat too, and we’re seeing more and more of dads getting involved in skin-to-skin care. And what happens as the dad is it actually, skin-to-skin will rewire the dad’s brain for 30 minutes of uninterrupted skin so that dad can bond similarly with baby to how mom would, so be more responsive to crying, to feeding cues, etc. So that’s why hospitals are immediately placing babies on mom. And the more that they do, the longer term the benefit does. Baby’s brains in the NICU will actually grow at a rate around 15 to 20% faster, their brain development than not having baby on mom. And in the NICU, is a very expensive setting for families. So getting babies out even a day faster, especially in the US, what that means for the bottom line. So it’s a pretty powerful and simple way to take care of the baby.
Vicki: Wow. And so Hayley, how did you design this? How did you come up with it?
Sarah: I’m trying to answer before she does this, is that it is brilliant. The product, the way that she designed it is absolutely brilliant.
Hayley: I designed it based on what I wanted as a new mom. There’s all sorts of wonderful products designed for carrying your baby and walking around with your baby. What the market was lacking was something simple that you could use in those first few weeks of life with your baby where the baby wants to be on you nonstop. It’s called the fourth trimester. It’s normal. You are their natural habitat. But there was nothing that was easy to get on. There was nothing simple. And so what I wanted was something that was yoga type material because what does every new mom live in? It’s soft, it’s stretchy, it supportive, it’s comfortable.
Hayley: And then I wanted the most simple fastening that you could think of so we went with hook and loop. It wraps around mom or dad’s torso, it closes. And what’s really great is that it adjusts because your body after baby feels like it’s changing by the minute. What’s wonderful is that with the adjustability and the simple way to close it is that it can be used not only for mom and dad, for singletons, twins, triplets, but it can also be used that way in a variety of settings. So on the operating room table it’s easy to close. In the NICU it’s easy to get around the wires. And that all comes from being a tired new mom and wanting something simple and comfortable. So designed the first one on my mother-in-law’s sewing machine, took it to a wonderful friend of mine who was a pattern agent and said, “Does this exist? This product is something that I’m looking for, does it exist?” And she did a worldwide search and came back and said, “No, it doesn’t exist. You should really go ahead and do this.”
Hayley: So that’s where it came from, was that need, that personal need for something simple, comfortable and effective.
Sarah: And can I highlight something on that too? Because I think what makes this product so innovative is that it was designed from a consumer perspective. So i.e Hayley, so it fits really well into the consumer market for all the reasons that Hayley just described. But I think what we weren’t anticipating was how brilliantly that would also fit into the hospital space. And so when we look at Joeyband, even though we’ve got all this incredible data from some of the top academic hospitals and Ivy League institutions validating the product, it’s also perfect for moms and dads and their families at home too. It’s not so technical that it can’t be used in both settings, which is really unique.
Vicki: Yeah, that is really unique. I mean there’s sort of B to B or B to C. So direct to business usually has a different flavor than something that’s going to be consumer, right? And I think the new sort of holy grail with a lot of these products is something that fits for both. That’s just incredible. And so it sounds like that’s something you’ve got. So Sarah, I want to go to you for a second. So you came into our community as an activator and tell us about how you ended up with Hayley.
Sarah: I love this story. So I was a part of SheEO as an activator, and I’ll never forget it because I was a VP at a health tech company. And we were coming into venture season where we were reviewing some of the ventures and we have received the list of ventures that we could check with their business, learn a little bit more about, and then vote for ultimately. I had been going through the list, I was going a mile a minute that day. I kid you not, Joeyband literally jumped off the page. As soon as I turned the next page, that was the first company I saw in the middle of the list of all of these different ventures.
Sarah: And actually, Vicki, I remember contacting you. I said, “I don’t know if they’re going to win. I haven’t even submitted my top 10 yet, but can I reach out to this person, Hayley Mullins because I really believe that I can help her?” And that’s how everything started. I reached out to Hayley. Hayley was incredibly responsive right away. I think we met the next week and the rest is history. I was advising the company for about a year and then came on full time about a year and a half ago.
Vicki: This is one of my favorite things about our community, which is when you’re in there as an activator, you can jump in and support one of the ventures if you’re excited. And this happened to fit perfectly with your career goals. So I really love that too. Just the cross pollination of how we can help each other.
Hayley: Oh yeah, absolutely. And it came at the perfect time. I started this business with my sister Ashley and she had to move across the continent so it was just really wonderful having Sarah at that time. I was losing my partner to a big move and to have that support and that hands on in the trenches everyday with me, I wouldn’t have gotten that without SheEO.
Vicki: So let’s talk a little bit about the struggle, the struggle is real. How’s it going right now? What’s happening?
Sarah: You know what? It’s start up and again, the totally candid answer is it waxes and wanes. There’s days where you can’t believe how far you’ve come and there’s days when that new perspective forms, and then there’s days where you’re looking at it and you’re going, oh my gosh, we have such a long way to go. And that’s the honest answer. And I think just, I want to preface too, that’s one of the things that we love about SheEO is that it’s such a supportive community, but you genuinely seek those authentic answers. When you say how are you doing, you genuinely care on how we’re doing and how the business is going. We don’t have to sell that it’s perfect all the time.
Sarah: And so in terms of how the business is going, we have doubled our revenue, we have increased our footprint. We have new partnerships and contracts that we’re working with in different segments of the healthcare industry, which is huge. We’re working with Fortune 500 companies. Not just one, several of them. We’re growing, I would say every week, every day. But of course there’s those days, like I mentioned earlier, where you wake up to an email in your inbox and a mandatory cost has increased by 320% and it starts next week. So there’s always the ups and downs that come along with it. But this is where I think having a really great business partner and partners is so important because, so Hayley and I, were in the state yesterday where we were going a mile a minute and we’re like, oh no, how are things going? And Hayley looked at me and goes, “Do you want to have dinner with my family and then go to kickboxing?”
Hayley: It helps to punch things.
Sarah: I was like, “Yes, I do.” And that’s why you’ve got to pick the right, make sure that you have the right people around you for when you’re in that dip of startups. It’s just life. And it also helps when we’re in the dips to get emails from users and nurses and those always seem to come at the right time too, where you might be having a rough day but you realize that what you’re doing really does matter and it really is changing things for a lot of people. The universe seems to give us those tidbits too on those days where we’re looking at each other thinking, what are we doing? But it all seems to come together.
Hayley: You’re so right on that too. And I think that the difference between being a purpose driven entrepreneur and just looking to make money. Because when you’re a purpose driven entrepreneur or founder, it’s those stories that genuinely connect with you and get you through the day for when it’s a lower dip and it’s able to contribute to a healthier mental health.
Vicki: Ditto for me on all that you’re saying too. You’re having a super hard time and then a founder calls and says, “This made all the difference to me. Someone just reached out to me at the worst moment and they’ve helped me” and you’re like, oh. Yeah, I feel like it’s a little bit of a crazy, sometimes I wonder about this, right? You follow the bread crumbs, like I’m just about to give up and then boom something comes [inaudible 00:12:58]. I don’t know how that works. But being in community together and having a co, I mean having a cofounder or having others around you to support you is obviously a huge part of that. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you’re facing and how people who are listening may be able to help. What do you most need right now if you could prioritize that list?
Hayley: Money would be the quick answer, but really we want to increase our consumer footprint. We need to educate moms, we need to get our strategy out there direct to moms. We’ve received the validation from hospitals and the healthcare system, but we’re really looking for somebody who can help us on that marketing side and help us figure out what is the best route, the most economical way to get the message and the education out there. And because there is some education to our product, and I think one thing that people might be wondering if they haven’t actually seen the product is how does it differ from other products on the market. It is quite different, it’s four way stretch, carriers have stiffness in them in order to bear weight so this really mimics the womb, takes the pressure off mom’s shoulders, back, neck. And it’s very comfortable and really eliminate the need for a breastfeeding pillow, bringing baby to the breast versus mom having to crouch down. But we need somebody who can help us package that succinctly and get it out.
Hayley: And then we’re also looking for whether it’s it alone or some form of funding. We’re at that stage where we are growing very rapidly. And of course with that comes the growing pains of increased product costs, et cetera. So we’re also looking for somebody who maybe want to be involved on that level. Like I said, whether it’s a loan or another form of structure, that’s really what we’re looking for, is people who would love to get involved on that side.
Sarah: To Hayley’s point around all the growth that’s been happening in the last year or so. To date, we’ve been entirely self-funded, which presents its own challenges and wonderful opportunities too. But I think for the first time, we’re looking for strategic angel investors and individuals that can either help support on the consumer side as Hayley mentioned or perhaps even have connections into hospitals, because we’ve got a really great business model around the hospital side too where we can get those B to B contracts in place. And individuals who would sit on boards or who would be affiliated with larger healthcare organizations. I just wanted to shed a little bit of light on the hospital side too [crosstalk 00:15:18].
Vicki: Let’s talk a little bit about the hospitals because I mean, when I think of just getting into these giant institutions, sales cycle must be insane.
Sarah: It is.
Vicki: But how did you get into the first hospital and what are you learning in there and what are you seeing? Give us a little bit of flavor on that.
Hayley: Like I said at the beginning, falls are a new problem and why they’re a new problem is because babies are rooming in with parents. But what we’ve learned is that babies are falling at a rate of one in 666 births. That equates to about 15 falls per 10,000 births. And 10,000 births at one hospital isn’t unusual. What we also know is that the cost of care on a fall is automatically going to be one day in the NICU, which can range from $3,500 to $13,000 in the States as well as an MRI, which can be between one and $5,000. Again, this depends on the facilities, the location, all of those pieces. If the baby falls, it has 50% chance of suffering a skull fracture. If the parent decides to pursue legal action, and this we know from speaking with an expert witness, a skull fracture will cost the hospital about $10 million and a suffocation, which shouldn’t happen, the outcome there is just the worst case scenario, these babies can stay safe. But if a baby suffocates, that could cost the hospital about $42 million in legal.
Sarah: What is so brilliant about this product is that organizations, Vicki, huge organizations, were spending years and years in research and development trying to figure out how to address the issue of infant falls. So health authorities like the joint commission, just less than a year ago were issuing warnings about infant falls. And so every parent thinks, oh, this isn’t something that’s going to happen to me. And especially the first time parents. But it’s a very real issue. And in fact, it’s so real that the healthcare community is completely rallied around it as well.
Hayley: It is a very real problem. It’s a very expensive problem that people are looking for a solution to. So our first hospital, it was a NICU as opposed to labor and delivery and the infant falls side. But because everybody’s trying to increase skin-to-skin, increase kangaroo care, increase breastfeeding rates. My sister and I went to a healthcare conference in California very early on in this business and we set up, we set up our little 10 by 10 booth. We were like, oh, it feels really great to be here, we’re excited. We were not prepared. My sister and I were lined up six people deep the entire conference.
Hayley: We had nurses coming back to us on day three saying “I’ve been waiting three days to talk to you because we need something like this so, so badly.” And we were totally overwhelmed and I think it was at that moment that we realized that yeah, this is a massive problem in healthcare and we’ve got a real opportunity to change the way things are done. We got in front of the right people, nurses that are on the ground level and are the ones that are caring for the patients. And from there it’s really where we’ve grown. I think Sarah is best to speak about the learnings about that sale cycle with the hospital because it is certainly long.
Sarah: Yeah. But to emphasize that, for nurses to come back repeatedly to the booth to try to get attention from a health care company, that doesn’t happen every day. That really doesn’t happen. That’s a feat in itself. And I think just to build on that a little bit further too, again, there’s different healthcare organizations that are on, the manufacturing distribution side where they go around across the US and meet with all their hospital customers. And we were the first company ever in their history, and they’re a Fortune 500 company, to be invited as an outside vendor to present to those hospitals. So that’s, I mean, it’s just a testament of how incredible the product is and how it’s such a great fit for the market and the timing.
Vicki: Wow. And yet it’s still how long, what is your sales cycle?
Sarah: Oh my gosh, our sales cycle, it’s typically about a year and a month or two on the B to B side. But then sometimes you’ll get surprises, hospitals will pop up where they’ll say, “Oh, we’ve heard of your product, we applied for this budget XYZ internally and we can start tomorrow.” We’re completely, it completely depends. So you can imagine the challenges of forecasting pipelines.
Vicki: Sure. And you’re like more of that please. Oh yes, absolutely, we can deliver it tomorrow.
Vicki: Hayley, if we could just go back a little bit to the creation. First of all, these statistics are completely unbelievable. I’m sure most people are like, what, I had no idea? And your own personal experience around this, it’s amazing. And first of all, kudos for solving this. Oh my god, so desperately needed and thank you. Because I know it’s really hard to stick to these things. It’s like you create something and that’s only the very beginning of it, right? Then it’s like how do you actually create a business out of this? Can you talk a little bit about, so you identified the issue, you wanted to sew for it, and then how many iterations and prototypes and can you just give up a little bit of insight into that?
Hayley: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m not a very patient person. I think most people will agree with this. It didn’t take long. So I think it was three weeks before I had a final prototype. I made the first one, like I said on my mother in law’s sewing machine and then immediately took a friend of mine who works in fashion out for dinner and asked her if she knew anybody that could sew and source fabric. So she introduced me and I think it was the second iteration that this gal had made for us that we were like, okay, this is great, perfect, let’s go.
Vicki: Seriously, it was that fast?
Hayley: Pretty much, yeah. It was that fast. I knew what I wanted. She made some suggestions on how to improve the closure system. So using messenger style Velcro as opposed to a big patch of Velcro, and it was quick and I liked it. That said, we’ve made tweaks along the way. So one thing that we’re big on is we listen to feedback, user feedback. So clinicians and nurses, they made some suggestions. No, I should go back to the start. So we originally called this product Sleep Belt. It belted your sleeping baby to you, that’s all the product was intended to do. I just wanted something that would belt my sleeping baby to me so I named it Sleep Belt. So my sister and I launched this product just blindly, here it is, let’s go. And as soon as we started entering the American healthcare market, everybody said you need to get away from the word sleep. And we didn’t realize that sleep is a dirty word because they don’t want moms falling asleep with their babies.
Hayley: So even though it was designed for infant sleep versus maternal sleep, we took it, we changed the name to Joeyband, joey being a baby kangaroo and reflecting that kangaroo care. We’ve also, changed the length of the Velcro again based on feedback, making sure that it’s more universal, more adjustable, change the sizing, offer bigger sizing for certain demographics. Eliminating colors for use in the clinical setting because we used to have bright blue and bright pink for hospitals, but we were finding out that the lights were reflecting and blue was making the babies look cold. So we are really, really great at taking feedback and incorporating it into the product. It doesn’t need to be perfect first round. It can change with every manufacturing run. You can make tweaks, you can make updates. And I think that that was one thing that I always had in the back of my head, was I can’t sit on this forever because I just won’t get done. So we went fast and yeah. And we’ve made changes along the way, but it was one of those things where I needed it for myself, so I needed to get it done.
Vicki: Right. That’s amazing. What advice would you have for other founders who have an issue like you did? I mean, there’s something that happened to them. You wanted to solve this problem and you went at it. What would have made it easier for you if you look back now, if anything?
Hayley: That’s a really great question because I try not to look back.
Vicki: I hear you. I get that.
Hayley: I really try not to look back because there’s so many would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. I should’ve done this, we should have done that. I can’t look back. I think everything came to me as it was supposed to, came to us as it was supposed to. I think you just got to stay nimble. Don’t manufacture too many units at once because you might need to make changes. Keep your money. If you have money coming in, don’t spend it all on one big manufacturing run or don’t spend it, blow it all on on a PR firm that promises certain things before they deliver. There’s just been a lot of learnings in the way. We’ve had some missteps, some mis-spends, but we’ve always come back from it. And we have a really, really wonderful team that we are able to pivot and make changes as we need to.
Vicki: And Sarah, would you have advice for people who are listening who are maybe going to market in the healthcare space and wondering how to make this all work?
Sarah: I think about this quite a bit in terms of what’s helped us get where we are. And I think one of the big things that I see a lot of entrepreneurs, founders, business builders, we have a tendency to either isolate ourselves when we’re building something and just put our head down and not take that time to come up, or we just tend to integrate and socialize with the individuals that would be directly affiliated to the business. It’s important when you’re building to take a look and bring your head up and look around at the community and the collective and understand lots of different perspectives.
Sarah: And meeting with lots of different individuals when you’re building your business because you never know where these opportunities come from. And it sounds like a lot of work and a lot of unnecessary effort, especially I think because we have a tendency to be very goal oriented and if it’s not producing a result, we don’t have time for it. Again, reaching out into your community and meeting with different individuals in your community is a really important part to growing your business that I think we need to take a little bit more time for.
Vicki: Amazing. So we’re just coming to a close now and I, first of all, I am blown away by what you’ve done so thank you very, very much. And I know it’s super hard and you have lots of challenges along the way. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those texts and so thank you for keeping-
Hayley: Thank you!
Vicki: … persisting through, this is super, super tough. It’s really fascinating to me that the doing B to B and B to C, for those listening that’s like business directly with other businesses or business that goes directly to consumers. To do both of those together I understand is is kind of a challenge. But so for individuals who are out there who are like, “I have to have this”, how do they find you and what’s the best way to reach you?
Hayley: www.joeyband, J-O-E-Y-B-A-N-D, .com. That’ll take you directly to our clinical website. There is the opportunity for consumers to shop directly and if you do want one of those fun colors, pink or blue that I mentioned before, it’ll link you directly to our Sleep Belt site which still has those colors in stock. Easy to find us on the inter web and then we do have a handful of retail partners as well, but hopefully you’ll see it in the hospital where you deliver at.
Vicki: Is this actually happening, that hospitals are using these as soon as births are happening? Is it part of their internal process, or?
Hayley: Yeah, absolutely. The whole mission is to change the standard of care. And I say that quite candidly, we are changing that standard of care where it’s being used right when mom’s going into have her C-section as part of linen prep or immediately after labor and delivery and into postpartum.
Vicki: Wow, that’s incredible. Well, thank you both very much for all the work that you’re doing. We are cheering you on and I hope lots of the listeners will come and buy Joeyband and give it to all the new moms that they know that are in their community. And thank you, thank you.
Sarah: Thank you.
Hayley: Thank you so much, we appreciate you guys.
Vicki: Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. If this conversation resonated with you, please share it with a friend and subscribe on your favorite podcast player. If you’d like more information about SheEO, please visit us at sheeo.world. That’s S-H-E-E-O.World.