Although Elina Furman spent more than a decade in the baby product space, she never really imagined that she’d break into the market with a new, one-of-a-kind product. But that’s exactly what happened.
While she struggled with postpartum anxiety and depression after the birth of her first son, during that time her son also had anxiety. Elina found that giving him a massage every night before bed was very effective in helping calm him. A lightbulb went off in her head. Kahlmi, the first-ever baby massage wand, was born.
In this interview, Elina shares the story of how she grew her highly profitable brand and offers a lot of invaluable insight and actionable tips.
Keep reading to find out:
- What professional experience prepared her to launch a brand
- What types of products she enjoyed marketing
- What she discovered about baby massage
- How she created her innovative product
- Why she took on a partner
- How parents initially felt about her baby massager
- How she grew multiple social media accounts
- Her top marketing strategies
- How she increased conversions 20x
- Her approach to content creation
- How she handles her email list
- Her favorite tools
- Her greatest challenge
- Her main accomplishment
- The advice she would give to other entrepreneurs
Meet Elina Furman
My name is Elina. I was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, and moved to the US when I was 8 years old. I published my first book right after I graduated college and then went on to author over 20 books and spent some time helming publications as an editor in NYC.
When I gave birth to my first son, I moved into the baby products industry with the launch of a daily email website for metro moms. This was back in 2009 and it was called A-List Mom.
Back then, email companies like Daily Candy were doing really well, and now we have so many great emails as well like Nice News, The Skimm, and The Good Trade, but that was the early days when email marketing came out as a major player on the content publishing side.
I then moved into marketing and worked as a CMO for some startups and baby brands.
Currently, I live in Stamford, CT with my husband and two sons, ages 10 and 15, and we enjoy living on the water, which sometimes calms and distracts me from the breakneck speed of running and building my company.
My company is called Kahlmi, and it’s the first baby massage product and wellness brand for families. I work about 7 to 9 hours a day on it, and 4 to 5 hours on weekends.
Why She Created Kahlmi
Kahlmi (pronounced Calm-ee) was born out of necessity and my desire to help other parents struggling with postpartum issues and those who are interested in natural baby wellness.
During my time marketing baby products, I always gravitated towards companies who understood that maternal and neonatal health were inextricably intertwined and approached product design from that standpoint. I loved products that helped parents gain more sleep and more connection and simplified those first and very critical baby years in a significant, impactful way.
When I first had my oldest son, I struggled with postpartum anxiety and some mild depression and felt overwhelmed most of the time. After helping to market and launch a few baby brands in the US, I decided it was time to go out on my own but had no idea what I wanted to do.
I knew the baby product industry inside out after 15 years working in this space, but I didn’t want to create just another me-too product or something that wasn’t going to shift the conversation in some way around maternal and childhood mental health.
During this time, my son, who is 15 now, was diagnosed with anxiety so I spent a lot of time thinking about our journey together in those early years. It really helped his anxiety to get a massage every night before bed. I wondered if anything could have aided us in his early years and what role baby massage could have played in my own mental health during that time.
I stumbled on baby massage during my research and was amazed to find out that while it was a very common practice around the world, parents in the US were not as aware of it. I also read a statistic that showed that many parents were nervous about performing massages on their babies and didn’t know about all the potential benefits.
That’s when I decided to become a certified infant massage instructor with the intention of reaching a wider audience and teaching parents how to massage their children. I wanted to dispel the idea that baby massage was complicated and to remove the learning curve for parents.
How Elina Created Kahlmi
It was around this time that I had the idea to create the Kahlmi, the first baby massager that would allow parents to instantly begin the massage journey and learn to care for their babies naturally.
While parents don’t need a tool to massage their babies, I wondered what would happen if we could enhance the massage experience for babies using gentle, baby-safe vibration. Babies respond favorably to vibration because it soothes them, helps them settle, and mimics the experience in the womb.
Plus, having a tool that could be displayed and was aesthetically pleasing would serve as a daily reminder for parents to massage their children consistently since the effects of baby massage are cumulative. Like vitamins for the body, baby and child massage needs to be performed daily for it to have the benefits of helping with sleep, building immunity, emotional regulation, neural development, etc.
I worked with one design firm and created a sketch of the basic design I liked. They helped me refine it and then I moved on to work with a sourcing company that developed tech products.
Ultimately, we redesigned the Kahlmi even more to get it production ready. I enjoyed working so much with this group that I ended up partnering with the owner, who now handles all my operations and fulfillment.
I’m a firm believer that the right team can take you much farther and I knew that my core strengths were in creative production, product development, and marketing. Having an operational partner really helped me focus on my strengths and allowed me to scale faster than I would have been able to on my own.
I connected with my current partner through my husband’s contact. One of the people who he worked with mentioned his cousin had a product development company and created his own products working with China. We connected and worked together for almost two years just on a handshake. We never thought we would partner at the start, but we developed a close friendship and trust over those years and knew our working styles, capabilities, and mindsets were compatible.
It’s so hard deciding to take on a partner, but we worked together for so long that we had no issues ironing out an agreement and deciding to work together to build out the Kahlmi brand.
How the Kahlmi Was Received by Parents
The growth was slow at first which was deliberate. Whenever you’re launching a new company, it’s important to create an MVP. There will inevitably be issues with the design and manufacturing for the first few production runs, so I wanted to make sure the Kahlmi was the best and safest product using only the safest materials.
That meant a lot of testing from a safety standpoint and also working with other experts, including physical therapists, psychiatrists, and pediatricians who advised me along the way.
The most important consideration, however, in the baby product world is, will babies and parents like it? If your core customers don’t absolutely love your product, there’s really no point in continuing.
For me, this was the most stressful part. I hoped that babies would respond positively to the Kahlmi baby massager and, after many tests and personal trials, I was thrilled to discover that Kahlmi was indeed a hit. Parents loved how instantly soothing it was for their babies and babies loved holding it and putting it in their mouth for soothing sore gums from teething.
Once I validated the product and refined some of the kinks in the manufacturing process, it was full speed ahead.
How Elina UseS Social Media to Grow Her Brand
Kahlmi’s social media growth has been significant.
In just one year, I have grown our social media channels to 850,000+ followers across IG, TikTok, and Facebook.
Kahlmi’s main mission is to educate parents, so reels and instructional videos were the most important part of the social mix. I had worked on building social communities in the past as part of my agency work, so I knew a thriving and active community on social media was the key to organic growth.
And because I was a solo founder, I knew I had to keep costs down, so building organically served my main goals in terms of educating parents and saving money.
I began by building out my TikTok presence. There was a real opportunity for growth on TikTok and provided you posted frequently, TikTok made it easier to grow a community quickly. I grew my audience to 470,000 followers in about 6 months.
At the time, Instagram was not a fast growth channel. They had no prioritized reels yet and videos of baby massage were not a priority, so I didn’t spend much time growing that channel.
Ultimately, Instagram saw that video had begun to eclipse static images and started pushing reels. I was able to repurpose a lot of my videos from TikTok to simultaneously start growing my Instagram channels, which I grew to 277,000 followers in 1 year.
Facebook came much later with videos and reels, and I grew this channel to 50,000 followers in just 2 months. People wanted high-value educational content, and baby massage was the perfect way to reach them.
Not only did I build up my organic following while working on manufacturing and prototyping the final Kahlmi baby massager, I also used my social channels to validate the market and do research since Kahlmi was a first-of-its-kind, category-making product.
Being on social every day allowed me to connect with real parents to find out their main pain points and really hone my messaging when it was time to finally launch.
It also allows me to do market research when developing new products. It’s amazing that you can get so many ideas for new products just by listening to your customers.
Elina’s Tips for Social Media
The key to growth on social for brands is to either provide entertainment, education, or both. It’s important to establish yourself as an expert and provide valuable education for your audience.
Start by posting a short video every day. You can shoot a longer 5-minute video and break it up into shorter ones. You don’t need high production value, just valuable content, good lighting, and a strong hook.
Make sure to save your videos without a watermark so you can repurpose them across other social media platforms. You also always need to have a strong hook for each video and a call to action to sign up for email, visit a website, sign up for email, etc.
Also, you will want to start with a purely educational mix that isn’t transactional, but then slowly weave more sales-oriented videos that highlight your product, course, or offering. Make sure you post 3 purely educational videos for every 1 sales video.
Once you’ve built out a strong social following, you can scale it by targeting the audience who has engaged with your organic content and serving them paid ads.
Elina’s Top Marketing Strategies
So far I have relied on building an organic following using educational videos about baby massage and baby care tips. I then convert my followers to email subscribers using free bonus guides and content. I also work closely with freelance publicists to amplify the brand.
One of my publicists specializes in broadcast opportunities, and that has been extremely successful in raising the brand’s profile through the traditional press. I also leverage influencers, and while that can be hit or miss, I plan to use a new platform called Bounty that allows you to organize your influencers through a pay-per-performance model. I’m excited to test it out.
Finally, I have sold my book Hack Your Baby, Naturally to a publisher for release in 2024. This will be an amazing extension of my brand and will establish my authority as a thought leader in the baby massage space.
When building a business, it’s important to think about building an omnichannel approach to marketing. There are so many social channels and ways to publish one’s content, I find that it’s helpful to join forces with some traditional publishers and media companies.
I would also mention that earlier this year, I happened upon a new company called Prodport which increased my conversions 20x. Prodport dynamically optimizes your product pages, both copy and photos and serves different versions of each page to different audiences. It also measures which product page performs the best. We saw a huge uptick in conversions after using it. And I love that everything is done on the backend and requires no coding or work on our end.
The Importance of SEO
I’m working on building out a very robust blog and content strategy, which will improve our SEO. Since education is so vital, strong content and educational articles are the natural way for us to build up SEO.
When it comes to blog posts and educational content, I lean on my experience as a certified infant massage instructor and aim to provide holistic and natural methods for baby and parental wellness.
I also work with many pediatric medical professionals who are on my advisory board and will be creating more content highlighting their unique methods and expertise. It’s important for us to create content around common baby issues and ailments like baby gas, constipation, baby sleep, and teething, and since the core Kahlmi baby massager product helps so much with these concerns.
Her Email List
We have a very active email program. The list has been grown organically by providing free bonus content and discounts and we encourage our social community to sign up for emails to stay in touch and get more bonus content featuring tips and advice.
I just brought in a small agency to handle some of our email marketing since every business should generate at least 20% of their revenue from email if you’re doing it right.
I grow the list as well through strategic partnerships and giveaways. We share the opt-in list and then try to convert new subscribers.
Growing Her Revenue
As for achieving our current revenue level, it took me about 6 months when we started shipping and 1 year prior as I was building out my social community during the manufacturing process.
We started shipping in June of 2022. And had about 4 to 5 months where we were out of stock and took pre-orders, so we’ve only been in stock for about 6 months total.
Elina’s Favorite Tools
My favorite tool is my treadmill desk.
Between taking care of the kids, the house, and running the business, it’s my only time to walk and get exercise and I have to multi-task otherwise I would never get to work out.
I also love Slack and Asana. Communication is so key for remote teams. My operational team is in Toronto and I have freelancers who I have to work with remotely over Slack. It’s been so helpful to stay organized and manage various projects.
Upwork has been very useful. I have found many freelancers through Upwork. As a Ukrainian immigrant from Kyiv ( I moved to the US when I was 7), I tend to want to hire Ukrainians not only because of what’s happening with the war, but also because they are extremely design-oriented, talented, and hard-working.
I hired an illustrator for my book who escaped Ukraine at the beginning of the war and moved to Italy. Also, my first designer, who established a lot of the design and inspiration for my overall brand, was from Ukraine as well and now living in New York, just 45 minutes away. It’s amazing what a small world it is and how quickly you can connect to talent from all around the world.
My e-commerce support group is also an important tool for me. I joined a small networking group with 8 woman-owned e-commerce brands that are running at +$1 million in sales.
We get together over Zoom once a month and share resources and findings like apps, fundraising ideas, agencies, and freelancers. It’s been so beneficial from a moral support standpoint but also for advice and new insight about pushing our businesses forward.
Her Biggest Challenge
The biggest challenge has been education and finding the bandwidth as a mompreneur. Since I’m creating a new category as the first baby massager, it takes time to educate parents on the importance of not only baby massage, but also to teach them why the Kahlmi baby massager is so useful.
While you don’t need the Kahlmi to massage your baby or child, it helps in so many ways since the vibrations are instantly soothing to kids and it eliminates the worry parents have about learning baby massage.
With the Kahlmi, they can start to soothe the baby instantly with no learning curve. And helps so much with congestion, gas, and teething in a way that regular massage can’t. One is not better than the other, but they’re meant to work in tandem to provide different sensory experiences. It also serves as a reminder to massage daily since the benefits of massage are cumulative and compound when practiced consistently.
Finding enough time to work has been very challenging. There really is no end to the mountain of work every day as a fast-growing D2C consumer brand.
You want to be everywhere and do everything all at once, but raising a family, running a household, and maintaining a social life are so important to creating a sustainable business that you can grow with rather than allowing yourself to burn out. So I try to focus on only the big picture tasks every day.
And while I do get impatient for faster growth, I have learned how to slow down and be more philosophical about the whole process and not run myself ragged trying to get to some imaginary finishing line.
My goals for the company may include a sale eventually but it would have to be to the right strategic buyer. I’m not looking for a quick exit.
Sometimes it makes sense to exit or sell due to demands and the need for additional support and resources, but my long-term goal is to build out the Kahlmi into a full-scale brand with many different wellness products and content offerings, and to maintain my creative helm as the brand’s founder and thought leader.
Elina’s Greatest Accomplishment
Honestly, my main accomplishment is being brave enough to risk my ego, money, my sanity, and my time on an idea and watching it bloom and take wings. It’s really like having children.
When you’re bringing a new idea into the world, there really is no blueprint. I struggled for a long time when deciding whether or not to launch the company and was worried that people wouldn’t love it as much as I did, but I get letters every day that give me confidence that I’m not just trying to market another product nobody needs, but one that is really making an impact.
I got one particular letter from a mom recently which brought me to tears. She told me that her son Ryder had a stroke at birth and he had been through all sorts of therapies to help him catch up developmentally.
The first time he ever used his right arm to pick up something was when he reached and grasped for the Kahlmi massager. She was so happy and we talked on the phone and were both pretty much crying. In the end, it’s those moments that make this crazy journey worthwhile.
I am also proud of getting my first patent and growing my social media to so many followers so quickly.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
I wish I had known that everything will take 3 times as long as you think and cost twice as much.
Also, I have been very careful with spending, but I probably spent a little too much on product development in the beginning.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
I would say whatever you’re doing, make sure you are differentiated in some significant way. Too many voices out there just do what everyone else is doing.
Be unique and find something authentically you and that you are passionate about because you will be devoting many hours to the business and need the passion to carry you through.
Also, marketing is the heart and soul of every company. If you don’t know how to market, learn quickly, and never expect that you can hire someone to grow the company for you.
Do your own customer service, call your customers, and run your own social media.
The learnings you get from this are truly priceless and will guide so much of your growth strategy.