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Women on maternity leave need support. Emissaries is building them a village.

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


A stepmother of two with a little one on the way, Michelle Feiner understands the pressures felt by the working parent. In fact, she spent 7 years freelancing, mainly for maternity leaves, in NYC, Silicon Valley, and LA. It was that experience that led her to where she is today; running a cutting-edge talent-matching company called Emissaries.

In Michelle’s case, recognizing the changing environment in the US—one where extended and paid maternity leaves were becoming more prevalent—led her to a bold hypothesis: perhaps there was space for an agency that helped companies do just that. Maybe there was a huge market for it.

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After a shot of tequila and a cocktail napkin business plan (no, we’re not kidding), Michelle set the wheels in motion.

Her experience with some of the most innovative and iconic companies in the media, tech and entertainment industries—NBC Entertainment, Tastemade, Condé Nast, Time Inc., Hearst, WSJ., among many others—gave her drive, knowledge, and confidence that she’s the one who will make this happen.

Now, Emissaries has been featured in the likes of Fast Company, Forbes and TechRepublic, to name a few. It’s all happening.

An emissary is one with a special mission to represent another person. And Michelle’s mission? We’ll let her tell you that herself.

What happened first: deciding to be an entrepreneur, or getting the idea for Emissaries?

Michelle Feiner: I definitely had the idea for Emissaries first, though I like to think I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a kid.

I got the idea for Emissaries when I spent seven years freelancing in Manhattan, in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, mainly filling maternity leaves. There was such a demand for my time that I was often booked several months in advance and I had to decline a lot of work.

It made me think, “I could scale the idea of maternity leave coverage.”

Plus, maternity leave fill-ins were always my favorite type of freelance project. Not only were the expectant and new moms incredibly appreciative, so were their co-workers to not have to take on that added workload. I’ve never felt more valued in my career.

Supporting women, families, colleagues and companies was the catalyst for me to create Emissaries.

Did you have an “ah-ha!” moment?

Michelle Feiner: Definitely. Years passed since I originally had the idea for Emissaries back around 2010. In the summer of 2015 several U.S. companies announced enhanced parental leaves policies and they were getting a ton of press for it. It made me think the U.S. market was finally ready for a recruiting agency specializing in parental leave coverage. There are agencies like ours in the U.K., Europe and Australia but I’m glad I moved quickly because as far as I’m aware, we were the first U.S. recruiting agency to specialize in parental leave fill-ins via a nationwide network of seasoned freelancers.

Were there steps you took to test your idea: to make sure there was a need for it?

Michelle Feiner: Yep, that’s one of my favorite business mottos: find a need and fill it. Not only is Emissaries a new business – it was also a new model and it supports a new social norm. I consulted with HR professionals, employment lawyers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and women who recently took maternity leave. I researched similar businesses and models in both the U.S. and abroad. I still read about industry trends and news on a daily basis – Google alerts help me to stay on the cutting edge because family leave, female leaders and the gig economy are all hot global topics at the moment.

That’s one of my favorite business mottos: find a need and fill it. 

What makes Emissaries unique as a recruitment agency?

Michelle Feiner: A lot! Unfortunately, many recruiting and staffing agencies and recruiters have a bad rap. When I was freelancing I never used a recruiting or staffing agency to get gigs simply because they took a cut of my rate. The best freelancers get constant job and gig offers; it doesn’t make sense for them to give up a portion of their pay.

It does make sense for them to sign up with a talent-matching agency like Emissaries if it helps them get access to new clients. Thus, we purposefully never take a cut of freelancers’ pay.

I’m also very excited to announce that in October we’re launching a new freelance marketplace. Unlike other freelance marketplaces, no additional fees apply for hiring, we don’t promote project bidding nor do we take a cut of freelancers’ pay. Plus, all of our talent are vetted for in-demand skills and they must abide by our talent checklist in order to avoid employee misclassification.

Emissaries was structured to attract the best freelance talent across industries. Many of our freelancers have won industry awards, worked for Fortune 500 brands and are not signed up with staffing agencies. Also worth mentioning: our pricing for companies is often more affordable vs. the competition and this is in part because there’s an element of social change to our business.

Did you ever doubt your idea? And how did you overcome that feeling?

Michelle Feiner: Totally. Building a business is a ton of work! On top of that, changing a social norm is an uphill battle because many U.S. companies still don’t have awesome parental leave policies. I’m often working with women who are the first at their company to have a baby or get paid leave or hire a fill-in. We’re paving new roads here, people! I’m a firm believer that you get what you ask for. If you feel your company should support expecting and new parents more, devise and present a better plan. I actually wrote another Motherly piece that will help you with this. Knowing that my business is paving new paths for working parents, workplace equality, work-life integration and the growing independent contractor workforce is incredibly rewarding, motivating and squashes any doubts.

When you decided to “jump,” what happened?

Michelle Feiner: It was a random weeknight during the summer of 2015, and my husband and I were out in Santa Monica at The Misfit. We capped off dinner with a shot of tequila at the restaurant bar. We were talking for the thousandth time about my business idea. I finally got the courage to start Emissaries over that shot of tequila! True story!

We wrote the very basic and initial business plan on a cocktail napkin. Cliché I know but awesome story, right?

Did you have a “village” and how did that contribute to Emissaries success?

Michelle Feiner: Speaking of my husband, he’s also an entrepreneur and a very successful one. I’m so proud of him. He moved to the U.S. from Israel when he was 22 years old. His first job in the U.S. was as a day laborer digging trenches which goes to show you how he literally built his career with his own determination and bare hands.

Another cliché for you: he got his first business deal after a pitch in an elevator and now he runs the U.S.’ premier enterprise-grade networking solutions provider for the modern home. He just turned 40 and his business made it into the Inc. 5000 list the past three years in a row!

And our Emissaries village; currently, we have nearly 1,000 seasoned and vetted freelancers in our nationwide network. Once the marketplace launches that number is bound to grow quickly. Our freelancer network is a constant source of inspiration and feedback. Additional vital elements to our success include a strong digital presence, a lawyer who specializes in our industry, an accountant who is on top of it, solid press relationships and beautiful branding.

How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?

Michelle Feiner: I’m a step or bonus mom to two amazing boys, 9 and 7 years old. I’m also expecting a girl in late November. Becoming a mom has enabled me to better relate to the concerns of expecting and new parents—a key audience to our success.

Is there any one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?

Michelle Feiner: I’m pretty sure I have Mark Cuban to thank for this wisdom, but when you’re starting a new business, you should be an expert on the industry. Reporters and editors should know you and vice versa. You don’t necessarily need a publicist. When reporters know you, they can directly connect with you when they’re looking for a quote or content on a particular topic. I received a lot of press for Emissaries without the help of a publicist. So, start a bunch of Google alerts, read about your industry daily and introduce yourself to reporters on LinkedIn or Twitter. Press provides market awareness, validation for potential clients and better search rankings, too. The results are worth the effort, as everything should be when you’re building a new business.

When you’re starting a new business, you should be an expert on the industry.

What does the word “motherly” mean to you?

Michelle Feiner: Motherly means being compassionate, supportive and encouraging. Some of the best leaders have similar caregiving qualities.

Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby and creator of the ultimate bamboo baby carrier. She is a regular contributor to Motherly and is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.



Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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