Men’s design improves pumping, storing, warming and feeding of breast milk
Time magazine put nanobébé on the cover of its innovations issue, and CNN declared it “a radical new baby bottle.”
BY ALYSON DUTCH
One night in 2013 while warming a bottle of frozen breast milk for his newborn son, bioengineer Ayal Lanternari realized that the baby bottle needed a drastic update. Later that day, he called his best friend.
The baby was keeping Lanternari and his wife, Anna, up at night as they tried to warm the milk and feed their first-born in enough time to stop him from crying.
Before long and with his friend’s help, Lanternari had invented his first product. Last year’s launch to retail of nanobébé, the first baby bottle for breast milk shaped like a breast, struck a nerve with mothers so quickly that he and his business partner, Asaf Kehat, skipped the multiple-failure process almost every entrepreneur must endure before finding success.
The two had put their heads and formidable professional backgrounds together to hatch a baby industry unicorn—but not before five years of careful research and development. After hitting the market, in less than 15 months nanobébé landed on the shelves in the nation’s top retailers at Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, BuyBuyBaby and is currently topping the baby gear charts on Amazon.
The wild ride to the top 1 percent of entrepreneurial endeavors started with a bang when the largest retailer of baby products at the time, Babies R Us, took the product only months before its demise but restocked it twice in only two months.
Nanobébé, now 40 employees strong, found its original capital investment from angel investors like themselves who had just welcomed their first baby and understood the need immediately. Month-over-month revenues have doubled consistently in the first year.
Many inventors know that creating radically new innovations makes the consumer education process harder and risks the possibility of a large competitor swooping in to do it better and cheaper, but Lanternari’s and Kehat’s product prevailed. Time put it on the cover of its innovations issue, CNN declared it “a radical new baby bottle,” and Ellen DeGeneres featured it on her Mother’s Day box of goodies.
As the brand enters its second year and the initial consumer dazzle settles, it is leveling out to intelligently play in the sandbox of market competition. But like Apple, Lanternari and Kehat brought to market a beautiful combination of sleek design with a fierce functionality so essential that it’s hard for competitors to come close.
Elite work background
Almost all new products to market are the result of someone who is attempting to solve a problem. People who have a background and good business sense in that area have a better chance of succeeding.
Lanternari and Kehat were schooled at the prestigious Technion Institute of Engineering, one of a handful of technology institutes in the world with an affiliated medical school and 60 research centers. This is where some of the world’s most influential computer scientists and engineers have made their mark in corporations such as Intel, have been awarded Nobel prizes, and in general made some of the biggest waves in the world of technology.
“This education was invaluable,” Kehat says. “We learned the art of conducting deep analysis before embarking on a new path. This really cut down on the challenges we faced from the beginning.”
A classic example of a productive partnership, Lanternari and Kehat bring diverse but very complementary backgrounds in health technologies. Together, they cover all that’s needed for the three pillars of any business: interesting product, smooth operations, and marketing that appeals to the right consumer.
Before his 3 a.m.-in-the-kitchen-infant-feeding light bulb moment, Lanternari was immersed in the world of curing cancer. He was a masterful project management and collaboration expert for Novocure, where he was involved with implementation of direct tumor fighting experiments as they relate to regulatory, testing and lab environments.
Kehat managed clinical trials and a massive crew of engineers for a cutting-edge spinal surgery medical device—Mazor Robotics—that sold to Medtronic for $1.64 billion. Between the partners, they divvy up their talents: Lanternari handles sales and marketing, Kehat capitalization and manufacturing.
The paradigm includes a team of in-house marketers, marketing/communications designers and salespeople. They utilize the braintrusts of outside agencies and consultants in areas in which they don’t have in-house talent. The board of directors, a group of entrepreneurs and executives who inspire the duo, serve as mentors.
Public health impact
The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Pediatrics Association each mandate breast milk as the primary food substance for infants up to age 6 months. According to the CDC, mothers 20 to 29 years old are 80 percent likely to breast feed; the likelihood for moms 30 and older is 86.3 percent.
Because many mothers need to return to work in a reasonable amount of time after giving birth, they need help to get this precious fluid to their babies without physically being there all the time. This was the market opportunity for Lanternari and Kehat.
There are some obvious and less obvious reasons for nanobébé being a product that is changing the face of public health—with infant nutrition one of its key aspects.
“To a bioengineer, the warming and freezing process of biological fluid as precious and nutrient dense as breast milk was something that could not be compromised by overheating or microwaving, which would kill the nutrients,” Lanternari says.
“The central concept was to make a concave, thin-walled bottle that made warming two times faster than a cylinder, the shape of every baby bottle since the dawn of time. With a thin wall, the milk is more evenly spread out and more easily warmed (in about 3 to 5 minutes). All it takes is a bowl of warm water.”
The duo also solved the breast-to-bottle problem.
“Babies expect the instant gratification of a breast, so naturally they grow impatient when hungry and Mom is not always available,” Kehat says. The breast shape of the bottle seems to have helped infants better sense that nothing has changed, as nanobébé consumer feedback indicates the bottle-to-breast transition has eased as a result of its use.
No doubt Steve Jobs would be smiling; the design is almost as appealing to consumers as the functionality.
The space-saving aspect of the design is something that moms chat about furiously on nanobébé’s heavily trafficked social media channels, which have reached a whopping 66,000 on Instagram and 142,000 on Facebook. They love the stackability of the concave bottles and the flat breast milk bags that simply slide into a multi-slotted holder.
They also can get outdoors without a lot of fuss and gear: A cooler the size of a large tomato can features flat blue ice packs that keep the nested bottles the right temperature.
Lanternari and Kehat live by a creed. “Changing lives inspires us, and it’s the most significant part of our career mantras. Knowing that nanobébé is actually affecting the future of public health is as inspiring as it gets.”
For other inventors, the duo provides the following advice: “Have courage to take necessary risks, and trust in your talent,” Lanternari says. “We had to risk that people might not try a completely new bottle shape, but we trusted that (given) the quality and benefits of our product, along with extensive outreach to parents, we would achieve success.
“It’s important to be thorough every step of the way and never miss any steps, whether small or big. Also, when you create something that matters to yourself and can also make a global impact, go for it.”
The partners feel that challenge is something to solve. “For us, it’s about patience,” Lanternari says. “Everyone wants something done quickly, but we wanted to make sure we created the best possible product.”
Another challenge is timing. “We have to, on an ongoing basis, be honing in on a very niche audience, those who are pregnant and the first six months their child is born,” Lanternari says.
As such, for the first year the company focused on those women. But as the product and operations got dialed in, attention turned to marketing—building reputation among young marrieds so that by the time they become pregnant, they already know about the brand.
As that secondary customer becomes familiar, the next move is to the tertiary consumer who are looking to give gifts to young couples and grandparents.
Finding joy, learning
There are so many moving parts and constant growth for nanobébé—which recently opened an office in Charleston, South Carolina—that for the partners, every day is different.
“I don’t have a typical day,” Lanternari says. “We just stay on our toes in case of any curveballs and take joy from all the amazing emails and posts our new nanobébé families are sharing with us of their positive experiences.”
The partners lean heavily on mentors who instilled in them the attributes of never settling and finding joy in more work, continuously innovating and expanding the product line.
“Even with trial and error, the only path to progress is to sustain your vision,” Kehat says.
Still best friends, Kehat and Lanternari surf and travel together. They have six children between them—most likely the future of inventing, if the fathers have anything to do with it.