Brand Builders: Christina Sicoli & Caitlin Steuer, BlueMilk Studio
It was a truly special occasion to sit down with some of the “OG” members of our team. Talking with Christina and Caitlin brought us way back to our humble beginnings when we had a different name (!), were all Brooklyn-based, and spitfiring creative concepts in our tiny 4th-floor WeWork office. Their design and systems brilliance set such a standard for our team’s work, and now, years later, they are celebrating some big milestones for their own creative collaboration.
Christina Sicoli has an inventive mind for all things experience, and has lent her talents to dozens of projects across industrial design, robotics, digital product design, and product development. Seriously, the stuff she comes up with is magic! Having worked with a number of companies from startups to Fortune 500s from Canada to Brooklyn and back, she now calls Edmonton home with her husband and two little ones.
Caitlin Steuer is the GOAT when it comes to business ops and management. She merges a creative mind with an eye for efficiency, and you can always count on her to bring inspired, alternative solutions to the table. Caitlin has worked across the board in start-ups and corporate, and now lives in her dream city of Seattle with her family.
Together, Christina and Caitlin took their friendship and mutual obsession for good food, design, and parenting to the next level, and co-founded BlueMilk Studio in late 2021. Their products specialize in children’s books, toys, and accessories that inspire creativity and curiosity in the kitchen from an early age.
A two-person product studio, remote-based, and killing it on both creativity and sales—we can’t get enough of their story.
First off, take us back to your beginnings. How did this collaboration come about?
Caitlin: We met almost a decade ago in New York, and BlueMilk came out of us wanting to work together again. We felt confident in that we've both seen each other work in so many capacities over seven or eight years at this point. Like, what are some easy ways we can start testing ideas?
So we said let’s give it a shot, and since then it’s been a snowball of ideas. We’ve had some home runs, and we’ve had some others that go slow, but they are all adding up to be something really awesome.
Christina: Every time we worked together, it was always a perfect marriage of strengths. So we’ve always been like, let’s do something together. And I think we’ve been saying that for years. So, we decided to commit all free margin in our lives to take a shot at building something great together.
How did you land on this intersection of children’s books and food?
Christina: We’re both exploring this territory together as new moms. So we started there, and as we kept narrowing and narrowing that funnel even further into children and food, we just had so many more ideas.
Caitlin: Food felt like a no-brainer to both of us. We both like eating, and we both like good food. We definitely want to instill that in our children, and share with the world. It's such a fun, creative space and this niche just clicked for us.
You are both so complementary in your areas of expertise and strengths. Can you share more about how you divide roles and responsibilities?
Caitlin: When Christina and I were starting to think about working together again, it was like a marriage of the business side of things (me) and the design side of things (Christina). And then we have a ton of overlap—each of us works as a second set of eyes, ears, even brain. It’s that last 15% we rely on each other for. I couldn’t build systems without her sage questions and strive for optimization.
Christina: Because we'd worked so much together, we already felt like we knew our territories. So it was interesting. We've never written out what our roles and responsibilities are, but every once in a while we're like, are you covering that or am I? Then we’ll very easily know which side to field it to.
What inspired your name?
Christina: A long, long time ago, my husband and I were thinking of starting something, so I bought the domain, but then we didn’t do anything with it. It just sat there. So, when Cait and I were thinking about this brand, we had the opportunity to use the domain and thought great, one less decision. We’re going to roll with it.
Caitlin: I'm like, sweet, let's go. Let's keep moving. I don't want to go through naming. The name worked well enough, domain was paid for, and ready to go. I know how much energy naming takes and didn’t want to lose momentum. I wanted to get on with developing new products.
That’s such a brilliant take on naming. It’s funny how we’re all sitting on these domains for ideas that never quite come to fruition. So why not just recycle them into the next idea?
Christina: If you want, we can make up a really beautiful story about how we all love milk and the color blue.
Caitlin: The funny thing is it came back to haunt us in a weird way when it came to being able to run advertising. But in the end it pushed us to get it trademarked, and that has opened other doors for us, at least with Amazon.
Trademarking comes up a lot in our work with brands, especially with naming. Can you share more about how trademarking BlueMilk has impacted the business?
Caitlin: For me, it made the brand feel more significant. I don't think we were adhering to any sort of brand principles really until we decided to put that foot forward. We had to formalize what we put forth to trademark—as a children’s toy company, apparel, and then as a children’s book publisher.
And that opened up the ability to run ads on Amazon, with unprecedented access to data. The biggest win of doing the trademark is that I can see all the way down to the exact search terms that someone plugged into Amazon and if they added it to their cart, if they purchased it, or if it just got an impression. It accelerated our SEO work and confirmed our hunches around what customers were looking for and if we fit that need.
How do you choose what to launch next?
Christina: Interestingly, our fastest selling and slowest selling products were released at the same time. Had we launched them separately, we either would have thought we were geniuses at product development and overbet the next test, or got nervous about the success of this venture. Launching them together gave us balance and continues to be on of our biggest lessons: test first, then double down on what's working.
Two years in, what does a day in the life look like for BlueMilk?
Caitlin: We're arriving at a place where design and development processes are honed, our supplier relationships are steady, our inventory management is flowing, and we're flipping back and forth between optimization and product development. One day debugging product listings, adding keywords to meta data, upgrading images across channels, then the next we're on to researching and brainstorming the next new product. It's a really thrilling phase and we're so thankful for each problem scaling brings, haha.
Sounds like things are really cooking!
Caitlin: We actually have seen a big bump. Our growth has been crazy. We've been growing 30 to 40% month over month. It’s a nice small business, but it feels like it's going be something much bigger if we continue to grow like that.
Was there ever a vision to go this big?
Caitlin: We've taken the pressure off of it. We don't even use words like “roadmap.” We have a product idea, we determine what we’re willing to wage for that test, and we run with it. We’re able to clearly see the acceleration of business and cash turn over, which we hope continues and allows us to spend more time creating fun new things!
Christina: Both of us were in a transitionary stage, too. We had two kids at the birth of our company and continued to work between those things. So for me, it's been a big eye opener that you can have a flexible life. You can make things you love, grow something, and just have fun with it, without too much stress.
It’s refreshing to see a brand have such healthy growth and success, with founders who prioritize balance and not putting pressure on themselves. What are some other guiding lights for your brand?
Christina: One thing that we’ve been focusing on with our products is to be a leading force for making things that are fun, vibrant, and creative. I’m sure you’ve all seen, there’s this wave of “sad beige” children’s toys everywhere.
Caitlin: It’s been our antithesis.
Christina: But then on the content front, we try not to dumb it down for kids. They’ll eventually catch up and grow with it.
Caitlin: It’s our sense of humor, I would say. I think about how Disney keeps clever humor in their movies to make it enjoyable for everyone, and we try to do that in our books. Like a lot of our rhyming incorporates thoughtful humor.
Final question. What’s coming up next for BlueMilk?
Christina: We’re actually creating a fun take on the classic tile game for kids. So we've thought of a way that you can do matching in different ways, and also how to engage people of different age groups.
Caitlin: It'll be exciting to see how the market responds to it.
Christina: It’s called Moody Food. The idea is there’s cards with different food and their moods. So you can match in different ways. You can play acting games with them, guessing games with them, and we’ve structured it in a way that there’s open-ended play.
Caitlin: Variation was important to us with this product. We were trying to come up with a game that would bridge a bunch of ages—make it fun for adults, but also nonverbal children, and then kids up to second grade and beyond and get them involved. I'm super excited about it.
Moody Food and a whole bunch of other new releases from BlueMilk are now available to make playtime gourmet. Check them out here. Congrats Christina and Caitlin!
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