In the Spotlight: Emily Blomberg, founder and CEO of Caboosee
By Olivia Barrow
The origin story of Caboosee sounds like the classic American inventor’s tale.
In 2012, Emily Blomberg was hanging out with a group of other mothers of infants and toddlers, and one mom wondered if her child needed a diaper change. She picked up her child and sniffed her butt. That was inconclusive, so she attempted to peer into the diaper through the leg hole of her child’s onesie.
Emily commented to the other moms, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a slot in the onesie so you could just peek in the back of the diaper?”
The other moms agreed, and Emily couldn’t get the idea out of her head that night. She searched high and low on the internet for a product that would make it easier to check a baby’s diaper, and found nothing.
So she decided to make her own. Her journey so far has involved a race to claim a patent, a duel with a shadowy rival, three manufacturing partners, and brief glimpses of the tremendous potential of her Northwoods Wisconsin-based brand.
I hope you enjoy this edited transcript of our conversation.
Q: Tell me how you brought your idea to life. Did you just start by googling clothing manufacturers?
I started ripping up onesies, sewing them back together, and putting them on my son. After a bunch of trial and error with the design, I finally got someone who was a better seamstress than me to sew it.
I figured out how to manufacture it overseas by looking online and got the first batch made in China.
It ended up being a complete disaster. The snaps were falling off as soon as you unsnapped them. The elastic wasn’t tight enough. But through that I learned how I needed to perfect my design.
I switched to a U.S. manufacturer, but in the U.S. you have to do all your own sourcing. They don’t get your tags, labels, or fabric. All they will do is sew it together. I did three orders from them, but I did not like that process. So I’m currently working with a manufacturer in India. I have a contact who lives in the states who is from India. I met her through Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. She goes back to India a couple times a year. We’re just now starting to make samples of the new line. I’m really hoping I can get it out before Christmas, but with all the delays from COVID, the process has been taking a lot longer.
Q: How did you settle on the name Caboosee?
My original name was Peek A Poo, but that was stolen from me. Someone else trademarked it before I could and their product was the same as mine. Same font, same everything. So my lawyer says she thought they saw my product and copied it. But my patent beat them, so she said the best thing to do was switch names.
It was very emotional when my name was stolen. It put me back to square one.
But I picked the name Caboosee—some people call a butt a “caboose”—and I got a U.S. trademark on it. I really like my current name. I feel like it goes with my brand better as my brand has evolved. Peek a Poo is pretty cutesy, and I’ve moved away from that. Now I’m designing modern clothing for the modern baby. Peek a Poo would have narrowed the brand into one product. Caboosee can be a whole brand.
Q: Are you working on other products under the same brand?
As a brand, I’m very passionate about efficient, beautiful products, and bringing more joy into motherhood. I have a couple other products I want to launch. One is a large swaddle blanket, large enough to double as a nursing cover, blanket, or playmat.
And I’m also making a smaller version of it that you can loop a pacifier through, or use as a bib, or teething rag.
I’m going to bundle it all as a starter mom kit.
Q: What opportunities have you had to test your products out in the market and get feedback?
I have an Instagram account for the business with 8,000 followers. That’s where I do most of my marketing. From brainstorming with Amy (Gannon), I came up with a campaign that had me selling 20 to 30 outfits per day for about a three-month period.
I looked on Instagram to find moms who posted pictures of their babies. I would direct message them and ask if their baby wanted to be a baby rep for Caboosee. They would get 60% off if they sent me three quality pictures after their purchase.
That went over huge. So then I started playing with my percentage. If I offer 50% will they do it? 40%?
Q: What has been the biggest challenge in the manufacturing process?
The hardest part has been the cash flow. You get just enough cash to make the product, then you have all the product, and no money to market it. Now what do I do? I have not put a lot of money into Instagram ads because i feel like I need to hire someone to do that. There’s so much detail about how to run the ads. You could easily throw thousands of dollars away and have no return.
Q: Have you tried to get outside funding?
I have. The last time I was told we don’t do products, we only focus on tech. It’s hard as a woman, as a product company. I’m confident in my pitching and in talking to people. I do think part of it is I don’t know how to get to legitimate investors. Besides Googling—which can lead you down a real weird path.
We’ve put in 20,000 of our own dollars since 2012. I definitely have risked a lot. You get to a point where you say the business has to pay for itself, otherwise what am I doing.
Q: What is the next big milestone you’re looking forward to? What needs to happen for you to get there?
I’m feeling more confident in my current manufacturing situation. If I need something new, they can start making it right away. That’s the other issue with product—you run out of it!
Q: How has Doyenne helped you along the way?
Doyenne has been a big help connecting me with other entrepreneurs. Being as far away as I am, I don’t get the benefit of going to all of the events.
Amy was a big help. She could always talk me down when I was in that spot of “I don’t know what to do! I’m going to quit.”
The Evergreen grant was a huge thing. It came right when I needed it. I had just made some new product and I had borrowed money from my in-laws. They’ve always wanted to support and invest and I hadn’t let them. But it made sense this time, and they put enough in so I could purchase. And with the Doyenne grant I was able to pay them back right away.
Q: What else have you learned in your journey?
I think it’s OK to step back and take a breather when you’re feeling unmotivated. That’s what I did starting in March when COVID happened. I couldn’t move forward with manufacturing. I couldn’t even talk to anyone there. So I just took a break.
After doing that, I feel very refreshed. I’m really excited to get my new product made.
It’s OK to step back and re-evaluate and take a breather. People are still going to be there when you come back, and it can be refreshing. It can give you joy again.