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A baby formula startup and the power of failing

January 5, 2021, 1:48 PM UTC

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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

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Purple state. All eyes are on today's Senate runoff races in Georgia, which will determine which party controls the Senate this cycle. But the elections, too, are putting attention back on Stacey Abrams and a rumored rematch against Brian Kemp for governor in 2022. Politico

- Union ABCs. Two hundred workers at Google formed a union open to employees across Alphabet companies—a move that could reshape the tech industry. The unionization builds on years of worker activism, including the 2018 walkout over sexual harassment. New York Times

- Electoral vote. As a group of GOP lawmakers prepare to contest Electoral College votes on Wednesday, some Republicans are speaking out against the "dangerous," unprecedented move. Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are among those to question their colleagues. 

- A state of firsts. Delaware State Sen.-elect Sarah McBride will be the highest-ranking transgender politician in the nation. In this profile, the soon-to-be lawmaker gives a tour of her home state and provides a model for other aspiring trans leaders to work for change within the communities they come from. The Cut

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: The Cut named as editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner, a former editor at the publication who left to serve as EIC of Teen Vogue. Independent director Irene Lee Yun Lien will become chairman of the board for Hang Seng Bank, making her the first woman to serve in that role. Hootsuite hired Melissa Murray Bailey, former head of sales for LinkedIn, as SVP of global sales. Macy's promoted SVP and general business manager for beauty and center core merchandise Nata Dvir to chief merchandising officer. 


- Like and subscribe! YouTube, led by CEO Susan Wojcicki, has had a fraught relationship with media companies and Hollywood studios concerned about content reposted on the platform. But Kelly Merryman, VP of content partnerships, has helped rebuild those relationships and take YouTube from "pariah to partner." L.A. Times

- A strong voice. Shirley Young broke several barriers during her career. In 1963, instead of accepting a severance package when she became pregnant, she led her employer, Grey Advertising, to develop its first maternity leave policy; as VP for consumer development at GM in the late 1980s, she pushed the automaker to invest in China. Later, she became a cultural diplomat determined to bring the U.S. and China together through classical music. Young died at 85 last week. New York Times

- Life in exile. From Lithuania, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya talks about her decision to run in her husband's place after he was jailed and life in exile. "I was 100% sure they would reject me, because they know I’m his wife," she says of running against Alexander Lukashenko. "If I had known they would accept me, maybe I would have thought again." Financial Times


Pat McGrath is the first makeup artist to be granted Damehood The Root

Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger tests positive for coronavirus Texas Tribune

How author Jacqueline Woodson gets it done The Cut


"I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet, and all of our protected land."

-Rep. Deb Haaland on her nomination for Secretary of the Interior

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