DiscoverHitting The Mark
Hitting The Mark
Claim Ownership

Hitting The Mark

Author: Fabian Geyrhalter

Subscribed: 20Played: 178


Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.
27 Episodes
Learn more about Farmgirl FlowersSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show, Christina.C Stembel: Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be here, Fabian.F Geyrhalter: Oh likewise, likewise. So last night, after I put together my first draft of questions for this podcast with you. I usually end up diving deeper and do much more research once I get home. But I have to admit last night I had a really long day in LA traffic, and I just decided to pour myself a glass of wine and recline into the bathtub instead of doing more research. But then I grabbed the first magazine, which happens to be the November edition of Inc. And what greets me? A two-page ad for Capital One and you are the star in it, so.C Stembel: Can't get away from me, even when you tried.F Geyrhalter: It was hilarious. So I got both. I got more research time and I got relaxation time and that's how it works in life, right?C Stembel: Exactly, that's amazing. Best of both worlds.F Geyrhalter: I know. So how did you get into the business of selling flowers direct to consumer? How did that idea come up and when did you actually take the leap into full-on entrepreneurship?C Stembel: Yeah. It came up back in 2010. I should mention, though, before this idea I had probably 4,000 other ideas, none of them about flowers though. I like to kind of dispel the belief system that we tend to have, especially about women in creative businesses, that it must be their passion in life. I must have grown up frolicking in my grandmother's garden. Because that wasn't the case. I wanted to start a business, though, and I wanted it to be able to be big. I wanted to do something good. I wanted to solve a real problem, and I want to be able to actually change an industry, to actually innovate in a space and not just do something the same way that it's been done over and over again. I live in Silicon Valley, so I saw so many people doing really innovative, cool things. So that kind of opened up the floodgates of my brain, thinking, "I could do that in an industry, too." And so I came up with the idea for Farmgirl and for flowers in particular because I was working at Stanford University and one of the departments I oversaw did events for the law school, and I saw how much money we were spending on flowers. So first I just started researching the space from that perspective of why do flowers cost so much. And I very quickly went down several other rabbit holes, research when I found out the eCommerce space was really comprised of three companies that dominated. And it would bring me back to an actual problem I had in my life, which was when I would send my mom flowers in Indiana, I was forced to use one of those companies because she lived too far from a local florist. And I hated the whole process. So I was like, "Oh my gosh." I started researching that and I was like, "Oh, it looks like so many people hate that whole process." They don't think that the value prop is good for what they're spending. They're not getting a bouquet that represents them as a consumer. What they see isn't what they get anyway. When they order something, they think it's going to be this and it's that when it comes. It ends up costing $80 and it looks like it came from the grocery store for $10. And they weren't happy with the customer experience of, if they weren't happy then they had to go offshore to a customer service department somewhere that would try to rectify it but just send an equally lackluster bouquet again. So there was just a lot of similarities in what I was finding in researching that other people's experiences aligned with mine. And I thought, "Well this looks like it's an actual space in an industry that needs some change, and nobody's done anything since the mid nineties." Now, with nine years of experience under my belt, I kind of understand why... people probably had very similar ideas before me and didn't do them because perishability is really, really hard. But with my naiveté back then, I thought, "I'm the first one to think of something to transform this industry, and let me try it." So I laid out all the problems as I saw it and came up with a solution, which was the Farmgirl model where we limit the choice for consumers, and that allows us to reduce our waste by about 40% which allows us to use higher-quality stems that don't look like they came from the grocery store and create beautifully designed bouquets in house. So even if you're sending then to Bremen, Indiana or to Dubuque, Iowa, or somewhere really remote, you can get a designer quality bouquet shipped anywhere in the United States. So I looked at In-N-Out Burger as my inspiration because back in 2010, yeah. Nobody was doing less is more. Everybody was doing more is more back then. So they were the only one that I could find that was really limiting choice to consumers but they were doing it really well and they had created a really great brand. And so I thought, "I'm going to be the In-N-Out Burger for flowers." So that's what I did.F Geyrhalter: And it's interesting because when we chatted just a little bit before the podcast, you said that you liked that my podcast has this hyper focus instead of being everything for everyone. And I kind of created my entire consultancy around that too, that more focused, and I think it's fair to say better options, fewer options, is a holy grail. There's a lot in there because you can actually hyper focus on what you give your clients. But one thing that I think is extremely interesting about what you ended up doing is that everyone comes to think that the flower industry would be, no pun intended, but a green industry, right? But it is totally not the case. It's actually exactly the opposite, right? There are huge problems.C Stembel: Huge, I mean it's, like you said, I would have thought that, and I thought, "Well, they're flowers, and they decompose," and all that. But all of the things that go with the flowers are not compostable and many states they weren't even recyclable, like all of the plastic wrap and all those things, which is why we came up with alternatives to as much as we possibly could to make it greener and better for the environment. Everything we do is how we can make it better for the environment and better in all ways.F Geyrhalter: So it kind of is farm to table part two. So now it's not only the food on your table but it's also the flowers on your table.C Stembel: Absolutely, absolutely. And knowing the ripple effect of knowing... even the food, like the packaging the food comes in. It's things that I had never thought about before starting this and now I think about, I'm very, very focused on.F Geyrhalter: Let's dig a little deeper into that because you actually wrap your hand-tied bouquets with reused burlap coffee bags, right? From local roasters. Because they all have them. How did that idea take shape? And I also wonder, are there enough cool burlap bags as you start taking over the world?C Stembel: Yeah, we are actually running into that problem right now, so we're having to expand our thinking on that as well. We're on a hunt for more burlap sacks, so if you're a roaster in the area and hear this, please let me know. So it actually started with wanting to create a brand, actually. So I think this is... the burlap sacks were to be better for the environment. But also, the second part of that was when I was thinking about how I was going to present my product. Even when I was creating this flower company, I never wanted it to be just a flower company. I wanted to create a brand around it. I wanted it to look very different than everyone else. If someone saw one of our bouquets, I wanted them to know it was one of our bouquets without seeing our name on it. And so I put a lot of thinking into how can I do that? How can I create a Nike swoosh on our flowers, because flowers are flowers. So how do I do that? And so the packaging was where... my first foray into creating a brand was through our packaging. And the burlap was the start of that. I came up with 14 different ideas of ways to wrap our product, thinking of what looks the best and also what's best for the environment and then I just polled a few of my friends to see which ones they like the best. And it was almost unanimous, everyone like the burlap the best. I came up with that idea because of potato sacks, actually, not coffee bags. Because I'm from Indiana and we don't have coffee there. So I thought, "Potato sacks." But then when I researched California, where I'm at now, I was like, "Oh, nobody grows potatoes in California." But what we did have was coffee roasters, and so I thought, "Let me just reach out to them and see if I could buy their bags." And what was really fortunate that a few of them donated them to us to start and have continued. Some big ones, even Peet's Coffee donates their coffee bags to us now.F Geyrhalter: Oh, wow.C Stembel: Yeah, it's been great because we can also help them. They don't have to put them on a container to go back to South America. So it helps the environment even more, helps them cost wise, and we can upcycle them. People love to upcycle them again after we send it to them too and send us pictures of that. But it was really to create a brand and it worked. One of my first moments where I felt like the company was going to make it was about a year and a half in, and I had take a... it was still in my apartment, the first two years I did it in my apartment. And I was walking into my car with three bouquets because someone had called, 7:00 at night and asked for three bouquets. And you'll take whatever order, even if it's a midnight when you're starting out because you need the money.F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely, exactly.C Stembel: And yeah. And I was walking to my car, which in San Francisco if you're familiar, you usually have to park like a mile away from your house, of course. So I'm walking, hoofing it to my car with these bouquets and three women were coming towards me on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, and one of them exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, is that Farmgirl Flowers?" Just by seeing the burlap wrap on the bouquets. And I was like, "It is." And she's like, "Oh, I love Farmgirl Flowers." And all three of the women start talking about how much they love Farmgirl flowers. And they knew it from the burlap wrap, that that's who-F Geyrhalter: That's amazing. Because you're like, "I'm the farm girl."C Stembel: It was. So I got in my car and I bawled eyes out. Yeah, yeah. I usually am just like, "Oh, I work there." Because then it makes it sound like it's way bigger than just me in my apartment. But you know...F Geyrhalter: That is such a... I mean that's such an amazing brand moment because it really, like you said, I mean, that's when you realized it actually is a brand now. It's not just a start-up, it's not just flowers you would never notice. And you didn't have to put a swoosh on it. You didn't have to actually spell out and put a logo on it. Which sometimes, being branded like that can also backfire. And so what's interesting to me is it sounds like, and I'm cheating because I read that, but it sounds like you totally bootstrapped your business. You actually were scraping by, running a business-C Stembel: Literally. Yup.F Geyrhalter: Literally. And so you had to invent. And so when you basically start to come up with these pieces of brand essence by yourself or maybe with a few friends around the table. When you had to decide, how do we wrap our flowers? And you said you had about 10 different ideas. And you decided on burlap because of it being a natural fit, no pun intended, for your brand. Did you at that point, and maybe even it's just in your head, did you have certain guiding principles for your brand where you said, "Everything we do with Farmgirl flowers has to be A, B, and C? Has to be natural, has to be sustainable, has to be... whatever." Did you have any of that?C Stembel: I think I did, but not in a very formal way. The one guiding light that I have for my company is that I want to create a company that I would want to buy from, sell to, and work at. Those three things. And so it's kind of like my golden rule for the company. And so any time I have a decision to make that I'm not sure about, I run it through that lens. And I'm like, "Well, would I want to work at a company that doesn't have benefits? No. So I need to get benefits for my team." Or, "Would I want to work at a company with this much waste? No." So all those things that makes it very easy for me to decide what to do from there with that lens. I think for when I was creating the brand around the product and still to this day, it really is just that we're creating a brand and products and an experience overall that all of us that work at Farmgirl would want to buy from and would want to get at that product. So it's very much a reflection of when I came up with the aesthetic, even, for what our bouquets would look like, I got all the flower books and I looked all over Google and looked at what all the fancy florists that people were writing about were doing. And I was like, "That's not reflective of me. I don't really like the styles of those bouquets." So I just created one that I would want to receive. And so it's a very informal but just... I still am very active in product development. Me and one person on our team create almost all of the products that you see on our site. And it's very much, what do I want to receive? And then when we don't know, we ask our customers now. So we just did a survey for when we started doing holiday products this summer, and we thought we would get a couple hundred responses from our customers. We were just like, "Hey, tell us what you think, what products did you like? What do you want us to bring back? What new things do you want us to create?" And we had thousands of responses. We were blown away because they weren't like, A, B, C, D. They were like fill in the blank and tell us. And people spent so much time telling us what they wanted and sending us pictures and things. It was amazing. We actually did not budget enough time to read them all because we were like, "Oh my gosh." So we all had to get... all the managers, everyone's taking a couple hundred a day. And that, I think, is a true reflection of... people buy from Farmgirl not just because they love the product, but they love the whole company around it and I feel so grateful for that. We did a survey last year to find out why people bought from us and the number one was just about tied, and it was they like our product and they like our company. Those two reasons. It wasn't because... and I was like, "What? Our company has to do with why you're buying from us?" They just really like our brand that we've created, which is exciting because that means that we can do other things besides flowers, too.F Geyrhalter: Right, right. Which you start doing. I see some hints of that on your website.C Stembel: Absolutely. Yup. Definitely.F Geyrhalter: So in the end, what do you think you actually ended up creating with your brand that is bigger than your offering?C Stembel: I think what we created, and hesitate to use this word because, you know what I'm going to say, because it's so overused, but we actually created an authentic brand. Authentic circa 2000, or 1995 before everybody started using it and not really knowing what it means. We are never going to be that polished company where it's really a couple white male founders sitting in an office in the financial district that's outsourcing everything to other people to make, to 3PLs. That's not us. We have so much heart into what we do, and we show the behind the scenes every day on our Instagram stories. We talk about our failures with our community. We fail all the time. I make bad decisions, we learn from it. Our most opened email was last New Year's Day where everybody was sending out their emails about, oh, what an amazing year, thank you for everything. And I sent an email that's like, "Wow, this last year sucked. It was so bad. All these things went wrong. And you know what? We're going to make this year so much better." And telling how we're going to make this year better. And people loved that. We got people writing in in droves to just thank us for just keeping it real. Because I think we just see shininess around us all the time now, and it's not real. So we like to show shiny moments when they're real and when they're happening. And we like to show all the unshiny moments so people know that they're not alone. This happens to us all. We had a peony debacle. We call it peony-ageddon here. This year at Mother's Day that almost floored us with hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses and stuff. We tell the stories so people know that we are truly approachable and we have a heart behind making their bouquets. And when people want to choose where to place their dollars and their support, they want to choose companies that they want to support with their dollars. And we're really fortunate that that tends to be us because we keep it real with them.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And that's going to happen more and more with the next generation. And it's a wonderful shift in the world that otherwise sees so many problems with transparency and authenticity. I think there's a huge shift right now, and it's great to see you be a part of that. And what I actually really enjoyed is somewhere in your many, many interviews, I read that you called mission-driven, you called it actually integrity-driven in a recent interview. And I really like that. I hadn't really heard integrity-driven being used as a phrase too often, but it feels much more approachable and human than mission-driven actually to me.C Stembel: Yeah. I think mission-driven, anybody can pick a mission, right? And I actually found that I was having problems as we were growing and scaling because we had a mission. We had a lot of missions when we started out that aren't our missions now. Because I found out I was wrong about things. One example of that is, when I started Farmgirl with a very clear goal of helping support American flower farms, and we only sourced domestic grown flowers. And I found that I was completely wrong. It was horrible- not even just from supply wasn't there, but a lot of the American farmers still to this day will not sell to me. And the only reason they won't sell to me that I can come up with is because I'm a woman. Because they sell to all my male counterparts, even younger businesses that are male-owned. But it's a good old boys network. And so I was fighting so hard and begging people to take my money, and it was horrible. Horrible. We were going to have to close down because I couldn't get enough supply. And even of the orders that they guaranteed us, we were getting 26% of our guaranteed orders. So I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. So I was wrong. And so saying I'm a mission-driven business and my mission is to support American flower farms and then to find out that that's a, not possible, two, not wanted, made me feel like I was failing in a big way. I don't need to be mission-driven on this one mission that anybody can pull out of a hat and say, this is our mission. I want to be integrity-driven. And every step of the way, I want to use really good integrity to make the best decision for our company and our consumers and our vendors and our environment, and all of the things I really care about.F Geyrhalter: So that's a fascinating example that you just gave and it's also mind blowing and it's also wrong in so many ways. How-C Stembel: Yeah. Amen.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, amen. So if this is the way that you decided to go, and obviously especially in the beginning in the first years of your business, I am sure that you very loudly talked about your mission, right? So that people say, "Yes, I want to support a female-founded company that supports only American farms." It just makes so much sense. And then suddenly you had to pivot and say, "Oh actually it ain't so." A, how was that being perceived and was that the beginning of the transparency and integrity-driven where you just say as it is. And B, where do you now source your flowers and how does that still fit in to your integrity-driven business?C Stembel: Yeah, that's a really good question. Yes. That was absolutely... it was the scariest moment of my life was when I hit send on the email where I sent a letter out to all of our customers and I put it on our social media to over a million people at that point, was really nerve-wracking. I was sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas at a show when I had to send it out. And it was November 2016 when I realized that we were not going to make it through another Valentine's Day if I didn't change something, which is only three months away, right? So I had three months to completely change our supply chain sourcing model, which was hard. So I went down to South America, I had really great friends in the industry that connected me, when I would go to and say, "Tell me the most value-aligned farms that I can work with." And they gave me great names and I went and met with those farms and started sourcing internationally and sent that letter on January 25, 2017. And the fact that I can remember these dates when I have so much in my head shows how-F Geyrhalter: It's ingrained.C Stembel: Yes, it's ingrained in me. So January 25, 2017 was one of the scariest days of my life. Because you're right, we had gotten almost ten minutes on The Today Show talking about our local mission. We had New York Times. We had all of these amazing publications that had written stories on us based on this mission of supporting local. And to change that entire story was so scary.F Geyrhalter: Oh yeah, unbelievable. Yeah.C Stembel: Yeah. So I just decided after thinking about, how am I going to do this, and researching what other brands do and what other companies do when they need to make a huge pivot like this. And really didn't find a whole lot. So then I just thought, "Okay, what seems right to me is to be honest and transparent and just tell them the why." And I didn't tell them the full why because still at that point I had a lot of shame, which I'm embarrassed to even admit right now. That I thought the reason I couldn't make it work was somehow my fault a bit. And now I don't have any of that looking back on it. I have a lot more wisdom now to know, hey, you can't stop a train as one person if they don't want to stop. They're just going to run over you. So I told everybody, I sent out that letter, and then I waited with bated breath. And it was amazing. We got hundreds and hundreds of emails back from people saying, "thank you for taking the time," because it was obviously a very long letter because I don't do anything super short.F Geyrhalter: And that's a wrap for today.C Stembel: Totally. So I talk a lot. So I explained where cannabis has been legalized, we can't get enough flowers. And people don't want to sell to us and I've been told that I just need to slow down our growth in order to let farms keep up and that's just not a solution for us and all of these things and just shared that. And our amazing customers and fans, they were so supportive, and they were just so thankful that we told them the why [inaudible 00:22:49]. We didn't just pull the wool over their heads or start doing it. And that was so amazing to see and that I think that made me even double down, like you said, on the transparency and honesty with our consumers because for them to come along with us on this journey, they want to feel a part of it and that they can trust you. And if we're explaining why before we're making a major decision and that it's not like we're selling out to save a dollar. We're doing this because we need to in order to stay around. Then they were very understanding and amazing and so supportive and wonderful. So it was a great experience that could have been a horrible experience, but it worked out well. And now where we're sourcing is we're sourcing a lot more internationally with, like I mentioned, cannabis has really changed the landscape, especially in California, where 80% of the flowers are grown. People don't like to talk about that story but it's really real. And also I just have to say that the international- we have some really great domestic farms, a few really amazing domestic farms that we work with. And we will always work with them as long as they want to work with us and keep growing flowers. However, the international farms, what I have found is that they just treat us with the respect that we didn't get here as mostly females. And it's really refreshing to have farm partners that are values-aligned and they do amazing things for their teams. Amazing things. And also want to grow with us. And that I don't have to beg them to treat me with respect and take our money. And so I have no qualms because I think I also vote with my dollars just like our consumers do. And as a company, we still buy from some of the farms... one of them I had to threaten a gender discrimination lawsuit to get them to even sell to us. And I hate that I have to give them money. I need their flowers, but the fact that... if you have to threaten to sue somebody to get them to sell to you? And then you have to give them money? That's not voting with your dollar.F Geyrhalter: Unbelievable. Well, and actually, to interrupt you here for a second, I heard you say on CNN, nonetheless, that you feel it is a tremendous benefit being a female-founded company. So this is interesting in context of what you just told us. So something must have flipped around and even though you had to go through this horrible hardship, which, quite frankly, was threatening to your livelihood at that point. I mean, people who are not entrepreneurs, they might not understand why you say it was the worst day of your life because people say, "Well, it was was when you got cancer or when something horrible happened." No, this is about existence. This is existential fear, right? So you still feel like it's a tremendous benefit being a female-founded company, which I hope that is true and I love it because I had back-to-back female founders now for the last couple of episodes. And I think it is more and more the future, hopefully. But can you expand on that a little bit?C Stembel: Yeah. I think that there's certain things that I feel very... I feel that it is a tremendous asset in the flower space or in a creative space because I know what consumers want. So 80% of people that buy flowers are women buying for women, which is crazy to me because I'm the only larger scale female-founded eCommerce B2C flower company out there. They're all male-owned. And I think that's a huge asset to me because the things that they don't take inspiration from our company on is making the bouquets in house and really making the bouquets special. They're amazing at marketing and technology and things like that. But they're not fixing the real problem, which was ugly flowers, in my opinion. So I think as a woman who understands what women want, that's a huge asset. And the fact that my team is over 60% female run as well, we know what our consumers are going to want and that helps us. Where our male-owned competitors I don't think understand that they have to actually make beautiful flowers to get customers to come back at 62% rate like we have and to be able to spend less than $10 on customer acquisition cost because you don't need to keep re-acquiring customers because your last ones are always ticked off that they didn't get a good deal and they didn't get a great bouquet. So there's things like that that I think are a tremendous asset to being a woman in this space. I think almost everything else, it's harder. I just want to be really honest. It's harder. We've been bootstrapped the whole time, not because we didn't want to raise capital, but because I couldn't raise capital. I've gotten over 100 no's. I have spent 30% of my time for over three years trying to raise capital and finally got to the point where I'm like, I'm not even taking a meeting anymore. I'm so tired of spending so much of my time when I have less than a two percent chance of raising capital as a female.F Geyrhalter: And to be-C Stembel: Statistically speaking, you know?F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and to be fair, this was going in two ways against you. One, most likely because of all of the clout that goes against being a female founder for sure. But on the other hand because you also had that integrity where you said, "No, I'm not going to go for the bottom line. No, I'm not going to go A, B, C, D, E. And after that there's the door. Thank you for your time."C Stembel: Absolutely. My team are all full time with benefits, 401K. We're not going to do things just to improve the bottom line and make everybody independent contractors or... we're not going to do things like that. And so that definitely negatively impacts our bottom line, which is not what investors... because they're looking for a very quick return. We're also always going to think at the longer term plan. I make decisions that on this quarterly report would look horrible because it's going to help us next year or the year after. And so I'm not going to play this game of fudging your numbers just to look good for investors. I'm looking for the longterm plan to build a really viable, sustainable, longterm really great company that creates really good jobs, nontech jobs, as well. And that's not that attractive to investors that need a really quick turnaround with a 10x return, you know? So there's lots of reasons that we don't fit the model and the patterns of what they're looking for. But also as a female, un-pedigreed female. I don't have any college degree, I didn't work at any of the big tech start-ups before. So I also need to be really realistic about what my outcomes and options are. And it's just better to get my 30% time back and keep growing at 50-80% growth year over year like we are every year and keep doing that by investing our profits back into the company, so.F Geyrhalter: And I think it is the right thing and the only thing to do today. And I gave a keynote last week in Vegas and it was a group of healthcare staffing CEOs. And I basically told them what you just preached, right? That there's a new way of doing business, and it's about transparency and it's about solidarity, etc. etc. And afterwards there was a big Q&A and one person said, "This is all fine and good and you're talking about a lot of start-ups that do that, but how could mid-sized companies start to do some of that? How can we suddenly turn into a transparent company? And I think it was a really interesting question, right? Because if you from the ground up create a company that has that at its roots, it's so much easier. Obviously Fortune 500s, good luck. But the small ones, the small to mid-sized companies that say, "Hey, I believe in what you say and I would like to do that, but how can I do that?" What would your thoughts be? How could a company that is not built on those values, how could they slower start to inject those and actually make them actionable? Putting you on the spot totally here, because you know what? I was put on the spot?C Stembel: That's a really good- no, that's a great question. No, you totally, no...F Geyrhalter: Karma, I forward it on.C Stembel: And good job to the person that asked that question because I think it's a great question. I mean, I've always said that there's not may moats that we have here at Farmgirl. Our competitors all order our bouquets, reverse engineer... they can do whatever they want and they can see all of our packaging that creates this amazing brand and unboxing experience and they can replicate it. And they all do. But the thing that they can't replicate is the heart that we put behind it, and that really shows. And so that's a great question because I've said that the moat that we have is that it's really hard to make a pair of low-riders into Mom jeans. Once you're a thing, it's really hard, especially if you have people that have been there a long time that this is the way they do things. I used to work at Stanford University before this, and it was basically a government job is what it felt like where just people had been there forever doing the same thing over and over and over again. And one of the negative responses I got from a superior, one of the bad feedback I got for my performance was that I forged ahead too quickly and didn't wait for everybody to catch up. And that was a negative on my performance review. And I looked at her-F Geyrhalter: Congratulations on your negative.C Stembel: Thank you. That's what I told her, I was like, "That's the nicest thing anybody's ever told me." Which is not the response she wanted. So I think it's really challenging, especially if people have been there forever. The only thing I can think on the spot that I would probably try if I had that situation where I was going into a medium-sized company that wanted to be like a Farmgirl, let's say. I'm just going to do it in the flower terms because that's where I'm at. But they'd already been doing this for 20, 30, 40 whatever years the way they had been doing it, is I would probably have to create a whole new department with new people to help influence change instead of dictate change. Because otherwise you're going to blow up your whole culture, right? And so it would have to be a slower process, which I do not do well with. Actually my team, the people that come here that need to take a long time to analyze and overanalyze everything don't work out here very well because I'm usually like, "We're going to try this and we're starting it in two months." A whole new process for... we did our whole supply chain in three months, we changed.F Geyrhalter: You have to, yeahC Stembel: Yeah. You have to move so fast here. But at big companies that have already been, or medium-sized companies that have already been around for a long time, I don't think you can move that fast without really disrupting your culture, unless you need to disrupt your culture and then maybe you want to.F Geyrhalter: Well, and I think it might not even disrupt the culture. It might just positively color the culture in a different way. I think that the idea of maybe even starting with operations and slowly adjust operations to do something better and then have it bubble up to the top so then you can talk about the story. Because everyone just want to talk about the story, right?C Stembel: Well and talking about the story if it doesn't actually... that's I think where a lot of the big companies... that's great point because where I see that they get called out on their fake authenticity a lot is because they bring in this marketing team or an agency, right? To tell this really cool, hip, new story. But it's not actually what they're doing.F Geyrhalter: Exactly.C Stembel: So you're right. Starting with operations and actually changing how they're doing things, and then tell the story afterwards so it is truly authentic and not just that they're trying to be cool.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. See? Together we can do this answer really well.C Stembel: Yeah, it's great. Totally.F Geyrhalter: As we're slowly coming down to the end, one question I really like to ask every entrepreneur, what is one word that can describe your brand? If you have to put your entire brand into one word, I call it your brand DNA. How could you sum it up in a word?C Stembel: One word would be heart, definitely. And I think it's on so many different levels. So everything we do, we do with heart. We say that all the time at Farmgirl. We're never going to do the easy wrong. We're always going to do the hard right. And we're always going to make sure that everything we do, we're putting our whole heart into. And that's what I think customers relate to. And I know that from their feedback to me. Anytime I'm ... I did a speaking things this weekend, and the people that came up to me afterwards were talking about their experiences with Farmgirl. And this happens everywhere I go, if I'm in a crowd of females anyway, not men. But if I'm in a crowd of females, everyone comes up and tells me their personal experience they had with my company and my brand. And it has to do with number one, we're really fortunate that we're celebrating people's life moments. Really important moments in their life, where they be really amazing and wonderful or really sad, too. So we already have that. But then in addition to that, we have the whole experience of when you receive a Farmgirl bouquet, it's not just the flowers, it's the whole packaging, it's all the collateral cards as we put in extra. We put a little enamel pin that has a story with it, usually about my life. We have one that's a grit pin or a be a work horse in a sea of unicorns, that's also another one that people love.F Geyrhalter: And a feminist pin too, right?C Stembel: Yeah, feminist. We have take the bull by the horns. We have all ones that have a personal story of when you're having a hard day put this on, it's going to give you strength. This is about remembering to do the hard things even though they're not the fun things. Things like that.F Geyrhalter: So good.C Stembel: So we do these... it's a definite holistic story when you get your Farmgirl bouquet. And they tell me every single feeling they had when they opened every single part of the collateral. And they tell me about how the flowers made them feel and feel loved and special. And I think that that heart that we put into it shows and kind of transfers to the person who gets it. And I think that's really special that we get to do that. We get to show people that they're loved and that they're special and make them feel even more so in what we bring to them.F Geyrhalter: The heart that we put into it shows. That's your perfect Valentine's Day message.C Stembel: Yeah, totally. We're shooting that this week so I'm going to go tell them after this.F Geyrhalter: That's right. So after everything you have self-taught yourself about branding, and obviously it works and it comes from within, it's intrinsic. And of course now you've got all kinds of data and there's so much more to it, I'm sure, at this scale that you're working at today. But what does branding mean to you today?C Stembel: We don't have all the fancy tools that all the big companies have, and I don't think I want them, honestly a little bit. Because I like just being able to feel things. I like being able to think about things and ask our customers. I don't ever want to get to the point where I'm just taking industry data and being like, "Well, everyone's saying this is what consumers are wanting now," and stuff. I want to be able to keep that connection with our customers that then influence who we become as a brand, too. And I think that branding to me, number one it's my favorite thing about what I do. Absolute favorite thing about what I do is the brand that we get to create because I feel like it's kind of like a love letter a little bit. And we get to show our emotions and our heart on our sleeve to people and I think that that's really amazing and I love doing that. So it's my favorite part. I also think it's probably the most important thing about what we do. I don't ever want to create a company that doesn't have that, that doesn't have heart. And I use this a lot, but I never wanted to create a company that sold toilet paper. Not that there's anything wrong with it, I just didn't like-F Geyrhalter: Oh, you never know. There could be toilet paper sold with heart.C Stembel: It could be, it could be. I've seen some recent ones, I'm like, "Wow, that's a good idea with toilet paper." But I just wanted something that I personally could create a brand around and create love around and connect with people about. And so I think that that's what brand is. It's really showing your heart and showing on your sleeve a bit and connecting with your customers.F Geyrhalter: That's beautiful. It's so true. It's so true, especially with today's companies. I do have one last question because I'm sure everyone listening would have that same question. What's your PR secret? You have been on CNN, you have been on Hitting The Mark, okay maybe that not, but still, you've been Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and anything in between. Was it hiring the perfect PR agency or just hustling your way in by using your unique story? I mean, both are very difficult.C Stembel: Yeah. I think it's that we have a good story and we photograph really well because flowers photograph really well, which is really lucky for that. But it is having a great PR agency, too. We have a phenomenal one in New York, Jennifer Bett Communications, that I can't say enough about. And they're wonderful and they work with us on what we want our story to be out there and who we want to be telling it. And so they've been wonderful to work with. So it's definitely not all... people think that we're just lucky and it's free and everything but we put a lot into it too.F Geyrhalter: Oh I'm sure.C Stembel: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: And thank you for sharing that. That was great.C Stembel: Of course.F Geyrhalter: Listeners-C Stembel: It is money, so.F Geyrhalter: That too, of course. Exactly, exactly. Listeners who fell in love with your brand just now, where can they get some Farmgirl flowers for the holidays?C Stembel: Why thank you for asking, that's a great question.F Geyrhalter: Well you didn't see that coming.C Stembel: Totally., on our website. And then we also ask that you just follow along with our journey on Instagram and Facebook too, if you want to see more behind the scenes every day. We like to show you how we're making each bouquet and fun things about our company there as well.F Geyrhalter: And I think you have 133,000 flowers, is that correct?C Stembel: I think we're at-F Geyrhalter: Or is it 311 now? One or the other.C Stembel: Yeah, I think we're three something-F Geyrhalter: There you go.C Stembel: On Instagram. And probably about the same on Facebook. I think overall, it's a little over a million between all the channels.F Geyrhalter: That's awesome. That's really, really amazing. Congratulations on everything. I'm so thrilled that you were able to share your insights and your story with us on the show. I know you have a jam-packed schedule, so we really appreciate your time.C Stembel: No problem, thanks for having me. I really enjoy talking about this. I don't often get to talk about brand, so this is really refreshing and wonderful.F Geyrhalter: Excellent, thank you Christina.C Stembel: Awesome, thank you Fabian.
Learn more about Base CultureSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 This was Jordann Windschauer Amatea, the third mom entrepreneur on Hitting the Mark back to back, who successfully conquered the food business and another amazing inspiration to anyone who wants to move a passion into a business and subsequently into a brand with heart and soul. Jordann founded Base Culture as a bakery, catering to the healthy, pure and primal lifestyle that could be summed up as the paleo diet. She wanted to live a healthy lifestyle but have a brownie. So she baked it until it was perfect. She could not find a co-packing facility. So she created her own and waited two years to have it built and finalized while keeping hundreds of stores and journalists interested in her product title. What I learned about Jordann is that she is stubborn and passionate, and those two traits may just be the key ingredients to her success. Today she's working out of a 44,000 square foot facility, and her range of products can be found in over 7,000 stores nationwide. And now over to my conversation with Jordann. Welcome to the show, Jordann.Jordann W A:                Thank you so much. Excited to be here.F Geyrhalter:                 So you started your company Base Culture at age 22 which was only five years ago, and it came from your obsession with the paleo diet. Tell us a little bit about the origins of your brand.Jordann W A:                Yeah, so I had graduated from college and joined a CrossFit gym and they were doing this paleo challenge where I honestly didn't know what paleo was, but I figured I should participate and get involved in the community and what they were doing to make friends and get involved. So I jumped in and did 30 days where you eat meat, vegetables, seeds and nuts and fruit. And after that was concluded, I felt so much better. And so I don't have like a celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but overall I did realize the impact of eating this way versus the college diet, which probably isn't the healthiest. And so I notice things in my life were changing. I had more energy with consistent levels instead of having highs and lows throughout the day, and I was sleeping better at night. I wasn't tossing and turning and things like that. So I realized that there really was something to this and it wasn't just about weight loss or physical appearance or anything like that. It was more how I wanted to live my life and wanted to continue down this journey. And so that's really how I gotten introduced to paleo right off the bat. But then I wanted to continue following this lifestyle, but I realized to do so that I needed to figure out a solution for my sweet tooth and for products that I know and love and grew up eating like sandwiches and banana breads that I missed in my everyday life when I was on this lifestyle for paleo. But it didn't exist in the marketplace. And so that's why I started creating the products. It was very much for selfish want or desire that I was filling a void in my life and kind of created what it is today just by bringing it to the marketplace and introducing it to my friends and family and kind of word of mouth started spreading organically. So that was my introduction and do this whole lifestyle that is all around paleo but kind of stumbled on the business through that.F Geyrhalter:                 How do you move from baking treats, which I'm sure in the beginning you did out of your apartment or your dorm room, right? How do you go from baking them to actually selling them? I mean, are there any FDA issues even early on? And just for our international listeners, which is actually more than half of our audience, FDA is the Food and Drug Administration here in the US. How did that go? Where did you start selling, first of all?Jordann W A:                Sure. So when I originally started selling it, I was actually just selling it on Facebook. So I would post when I was going to make something, and I had a regular day job at the time. So I would be working at my desk job from nine to five, and then I would work out from 5:30 to 6:30, and at some point during the day I would post on Facebook saying, "I'm making brownies tonight. Who wants some?" And then people would place their orders on Facebook, contact me through a message, and send me their address and then I would deliver it to them on the weekend.F Geyrhalter:                 That's insane. That is completely insane.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 There is no FDA involved there. You could be a complete crazy stranger. Yeah, I mean, wow. There's a lot of trust in humanity after all.Jordann W A:                There is. There is definitely something to say about that for sure. Doing that, I was operating under the cottage food law, which allows you to make food out of your apartment. And so with that, I guess that legal standpoint, you can't sell to someone and ship it to them. So that was one parameter I had to work with. So it had to be hand-delivered. And then the other parameter was you can't sell to retail stores because they do require some certifications. But if you just sell basically like at a farmer's market type setting or if you deliver the products to the person by hand, then you're clear to do whatever you want. And so I took advantage of that and I would make all of these products throughout the night and then like I said deliver it on the weekend and sell on Sundays at a farmer's market and just tested the waters. I mean, truthfully at the time I didn't realize that this could be a business. I didn't realize what legs it had, if it had any legs at all. It was just something fun for me to do. And I found enjoyment and baking at night. And I'm not culinary trained or I don't have a history in baking. It's just something I enjoyed doing growing up with my mom. And so just kind of reliving those days and getting in the kitchen and figuring out recipes that worked, I found a lot of joy in. And so I just followed that and started organically selling. And my advertising was word of mouth, but it was very grassroots.F Geyrhalter:                 And was it mainly catering to the friends within your Facebook groups that actually followed the paleo diet? Or was it just anyone that says, "Hey, I like your brownies." I'm sure I would like your brownies. So how did that work?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so it originally started with people that were specifically interested in paleo, and then once they tried it, they're like, "Holy cow, this is just a really good brownie. But it also checks off the boxes for being paleo or grain free or gluten free or dairy free or soy free or non-GMO." It has all of these attributes. But at the core base of the product I'm eating, it's just a really good brownie. So it wasn't like they were sacrificing taste or texture or that experience of indulging in a sweet treat for the alternatives of what you would consider a healthy product. And so once they realized that, okay, wow, this is awesome and I really enjoy this, I think a word of mouth started spreading just on a really good product that was healthier, better for you. And so as time continued, my core paleo group of people that were buying for the purpose of paleo started expanding, and now we're seeing that really just people that want to live healthier lifestyles are our key customers. Because yes it does check the box or paleo, but it has so many other answers within the product itself. So it kind of is migrated out to just that want to eat better food that is nutritionally-focused and has that deliverable aspect to it.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And I think for a startup founder, having that built in tribe in the beginning though, like that small subgroup that you wholeheartedly can support, must be so amazing because you can literally get a relatively small audience in a huge place like the US with its, I don't know, 329 something million people and you would have a loyal tribe of like hundreds of thousands if not millions. And so it wasn't even a trick you utilized. It was just a passion, which you are the third female founder who happens to be an entrepreneur who happens to be a mom and who happens to have gone into food and beverage without any experience just based on passion or a need. And it's really, really inspirational. So I love having you on, and I love hearing hearing that story. But looking back, what was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, okay, my little startup is actually turning into a brand?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So I actually had some unexpected news coverage. This was still in the days of my apartment when I was baking there. And I recognized that there were a couple of news anchors from a local news channel following me on Facebook and Instagram or following the business. So I reached out to them and I figured, if you don't ask, you'll never get. So I just sent them a message and said, "Hey, do you guys want to do a story?" And one of the anchors responded and said, "Yeah, we're really interested in this paleo thing." This was back when paleo was kind of making it a name for itself, but not really. And they wanted to learn more about it, and they recognized what I was doing in the Tampa area where I'm from. And so she said, "Here's my number. Give me a call. Let's set something up." And so I did. I went in. We did a segment and it aired in Tampa like they said it would. But what I didn't recognize was that they have a network pool of companies that they work with around the country. So they put this story in their network pool and it was picked up by other channels and played multiple times for a week straight. And so I had national news coverage that was completely unexpected and I had people calling, trying to place orders. I had retail stores asking if they could buy it to sell it to their customers. And it was obviously way more than I could handle or even do in my apartment. And that was really where I saw, okay, is this bigger than what I anticipated or is this something I want to take advantage of and go forward with? And it was at that time, I remember what restaurant I went to with my dad and I sat down with him, and I remember the table we sat at, and I told him how exciting this was and how much support I was getting from the community and what had happened with the new segment. And I explained what I wanted to do with it and how much passion I had behind it because I recognized that I was helping people, not only people that wanted to live this healthy lifestyle, but people that needed to eat this way because they did have gluten intolerances or sensitivities to foods and that they didn't have access to products like this. And they were "suffering" or having to sacrifice for products that they really wanted or just wanting to enjoy. And so with that, I explained all of this and he very quite frankly told me, and in the most loving way possible that I had a hobby and a business and I was doing both poorly, and I needed to spend more time on my business and less time on my hobby if that's the way I wanted to go and the direction I wanted to head in. And so that was, I think, really the pivotal moment for me where I decided that I am all in, blood, sweat and tears. I'm diving in headfirst and this is what I want to do with my life. This is my passion. And so at that point I got out of my apartment and went to a small commercial kitchen and rented some space and started turning it into more of a business.F Geyrhalter:                 So first of all, I love what your dad said. It is so wonderful and it's so true. And so now fast forward and you were about to get there. I read, and this is fascinating, I read that you couldn't find a co-packer to package your line of products. So after eight months, after eight months of looking, you actually took it into your own hands and built your own facility, which I guess today is 44,000 square foot in size today. But that move sounds amazingly stubborn, inspiring. And those are extremely difficult to pull off. Did you have a hard time finding a co-packer because you needed a facility to not package any goods that may contaminate your pure products? How was that?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So there was a couple of reasons why we decided to build our own facility. One reason was because of the contamination issue. So our products are certified non-GMO, gluten-free, paleo, kosher, and it's made in an SQF level two facility, which stands for safe quality food. And so I wanted those certifications around the products wherever they were going to be made. The problem was there wasn't a manufacturing plant in the country that could deliver on those aspects. And so to make sure that the products were consistent and of the highest quality and standards 100% of the time, I knew the only way I could guarantee it that was if I kept my hands around the process from start to finish. And then furthermore, because our products were so unique to the industry, there wasn't actually a manufacturing plant that had the processes set up to make the products. Because in a typical bakery, they're used to working with yeast and flour and sugars and all of these things that usually make up baked goods. But ours are made out of seeds and nuts and they're sweetened with honey instead of sugar. There's no preservatives. They require to be frozen to extend their shelf life. And so it was a very different process so that these manufacturing plants were used to. And so, I didn't understand it at the time because I was like, "Hey, I'm going to pay you. Why can't you figure this out?" And I truly get it now because we do have our facility. Like you said, we did take on that responsibility and build it ourselves. So I understand when you have a process in place, it is so pivotal to make sure that whatever products you're making within your process don't screw up what you're already doing. And our products would have totally done that for these manufacturing plants. So with that, I decided, and again, I sat down with my dad who, he's an entrepreneur himself. He's not in the food industry, but he's very business minded. And now he's one of my business partners. But I sat down with him again, and I was like, "I really only see the way forward is if we build our own plant, and that's really the only way we're going to be able to grow this." And at the time, I had a lot of interest from bigger retail stores, but in this industry, you can't get anyone to promise that they're going to send you a purchase order. That doesn't happen. If they want your products and they're going to place an order, you're expected to deliver in two weeks. And so I had this interest, but I couldn't say, without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that they were going to order if we build this facility because there was going to be a gap when the facility was being built before we could deliver it. So it might've been a little presumptuous, maybe a little naive, or ...F Geyrhalter:                 Optimistic.Jordann W A:                Just blinded by passion, I don't know. But we started looking for a facility. We were looking around the country, and actually one popped up in Clearwater where we are now, which was 20 minutes outside of Tampa, where I'm from, and about 20 minutes away from my dad's house in St. Pete. And so the stars aligned, and it was an old U.S. Foods distribution plant. So it was set up with food in mind, so we didn't have to do any external changes to the facility. We just did internal renovations. But from permitting to move in, we did lose about two and a half years to complete the project from the branded side of things.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah.Jordann W A:                But I did continue to go out and pitch to the connections I had made to make sure that the relationships were moving forward and make sure that they understood that we were actually doing this thing, and that one day the lights would turn on, and I would be able to actually sell them food and not just talk about it. And so, thankfully I was able to make those relationships last so that, when we did move into our facility, let's see, it was February of 2017 when we first moved in after the construction was complete. From February till July, we got those certifications that I mentioned in July, we hired a national broker to help us sell the products, and then in August, in September we did a rebranding to make our image and kind of give it a facelift to go to the market and officially launched then in October of 2017. So even though I started the company many years prior to that, there was really only a hundred stores buying from us up until that point. So it was a big undertaking financially, emotionally, physically, all of those words, to get to a place where we could actually grow the company.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, I'm sure.Jordann W A:                And then, from October to the end of 2017, we went from a hundred stores to a thousand stores. And then we were well on our way to growing quickly.F Geyrhalter:                 Were you self-funded at the time when you took over that facility?Jordann W A:                We were self-funded. A majority of it was self-funded, and we had a small business loan from a local bank.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay, okay. So you talked about when you did your rebranding, which was the smart thing to do at the time, when you were just about to really roll out, and as you told us, that happened very quickly when it happened.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 How was the name derived?Jordann W A:                So it's kind of funny. When I originally started the company, I'd called it Paleo Box because I thought I'm making paleo food, and I'm putting it in a box, and I'm selling it. There really wasn't genius behind it. It was very literal. But about five minutes after I called it Paleo Box, I realized I couldn't move forward with that name for two reasons. One, it was actually already trademarked, and you can't do that. And two, I didn't want to necessarily put the products I've created in a limiting a platform. I wanted to be able to create a brand that could grow and fluctuate with the consumers' interests throughout time. And so, with that, I realized, all right, let's rethink this. Let's figure out what what am I truly trying to get across to the customer? And the idea behind paleo, while I believe paleo is a wonderful lifestyle to follow and that there's no gimmicks, it's just nutritionally based eating that, if Dr. Oz or someone of status or just the public eye gets online and says paleo is the worst thing in the world, which I don't believe they would, having the name as the name of the company would be detrimental.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And so I wanted to create a broader platform for us to grow on. And so, with that, I realized, well, paleo is really just taking all the complications out of eating and bringing it back to its base, its core, what it is when it's found in nature. And so that's really where base came from, and culture's the idea of what I'm creating around this type of lifestyle. We want to create this movement and this cultural like following of our customers. And by doing that, we're going to provide them the tools they need to live their healthy and active lifestyle. And so that's the origin of Base Culture, of how that was created.F Geyrhalter:                 And it is a name that stands out more than it fits in in the refrigerated aisle of a Walmart or Whole Foods.Jordann W A:                Totally.F Geyrhalter:                 So it's super interesting, right? And on your website, and I believe it's kind of your tagline, you say Base Culture is simple, natural, primal. It kind of reads like a manifesto. What does that mean to the brand, and how does it inspire its future?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So it's really who we are. We bring our products back to a simple standpoint. When you look at a normal brownie, and when I say "normal," it's one of those pre-packaged, very artificially made, or has a lot of preservatives in it. You look at that, you look at the ingredient deck, there are a lot of ingredients in there that you don't understand or you can't even pronounce, and you don't know what you're putting in your body. And that's not who we are. We're the exact opposite. You can read everything on our ingredient deck. You know exactly what it is, you know where it comes from, and it's products that you can trust. So making our products simple was truly important, not only from when I started in my apartment, but now that we're making thousands and thousands of products a day and sending it out to stores all across the country every single day, that hasn't changed. And that was really difficult for us to go from my kitchen in my apartment and the recipes that I've created to this large manufacturing plant, being able to produce on such scale, to maintain that process and that philosophy from the very start has been really key to our success. And it's that simplicity that we fall back to every time, and natural again. It's just a natural way of eating. It's no gimmick. There's no special pill that you have to take to be this way. It's just natural. It's what we were intended to do. And the primal aspect of it plays on the paleo word, and so paleo is kind of nicknamed "the caveman diet." It's what our ancestors used to eat. It's what you could find in nature, and so it's that raw form of eating. We just do it in a way and put it into a form that's recognizable in the bakery context. And so it has the ability to satisfy that sweet tooth or to indulge or "indulge," right? Because it is still very healthy and nutritional for you, so it's like indulging without the guilt.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. How was that rebrand effort? So you came from Paleo Box. You moved on to a new name, strong tagline. Everything went really to the heart of what you're trying to do without putting you into a corner like paleo so that you can't expand in the future. How was that process of rebranding? How involved were you? Were you working with a single person? Were you working with an agency? Tell us a little bit how everything kind of came together and also how important after that process, do you think that brand-infused thinking was to the success of your startup?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so we actually went through three different agencies before we found the agency that we moved forward with.F Geyrhalter:                 Ouch.Jordann W A:                And so it was a long process.F Geyrhalter:                 You're not the only one.Jordann W A:                It was not easy. The hardest part of it was I had this image in my head of what I thought the company should be, but also keep in mind, I was like 24, so what do I really know without any experience, without any knowledge of the industry, without any advice from some successful people in the industry. This was just truly gut feeling and gut reaction. But I had this picture in my head of what I thought the company would look like and what it would feel like and the way it would talk to the customers and the personality would develop. But conveying that to the agencies in a way that they could take it from my brain and put it on paper was a hard process. And I think, not to discredit the agencies that we spoke to, the first three agencies, it was probably mostly my fault because I wasn't able to articulate exactly what I was looking for. But through that process, I got more fine-tuned in my messaging, and I got more directive into the creative aspect. And so, when we found ... we worked with a company called Idol Partners, and they're out of California, and we still work with them today. They were the agency that ultimately brought Base Culture to life. And we invested tons of money just to get to that point, probably more money than we had. I know it was more money than we had to spend at the time. But the way we came out of it and the image and the branding that we had once we were done through that process with Idol, it was an image, and the packaging was mature, and it was an image that could be brought to life. And it was something that demanded attention in the retail stores and grabbed the attention of the retail buyers that were giving us the opportunities to go into the store. And so it made us look much more mature than we actually were. And it gave us the ability to grow faster because of it. And so it was a hard process. It was a long process that had to be done. And that's really I think what gave us the ability to develop the platform in which we've gotten to today. We actually, as of two weeks ago, started doing a brand refresh. We're still working with the same company, Idol, to do this, but now the products have been in the industry for two years, and we've seen little things that need to be tweaked or just changed a little bit. And so we have more information now than I did two years ago because of that. And we can go back into our design and make those changes to really even accelerate our growth faster. So, of course, with time you learn, and now we have the ability to do those fine tunes.F Geyrhalter:                 And now that you spent a good amount of years, talking, thinking, doing branding, some subliminally, a lot of it through an agency, and a lot of it just by yourself, the way that you talk about the brand. What does branding mean to you now?Jordann W A:                Well, I think it's ... It's everything. People say, "Don't judge the book by its cover." But in the consumer product world, that's exactly what people are doing. You have exactly three seconds to grab someone's attention, and maybe they don't, maybe they do, but your packaging, your branding, your image, that's what you have to hang your hat on. Of course, the product has to be spectacular as well, but someone's not going to try the products without seeing the packaging first. That's your first moment of impact. And so, with strong branding, it's everything. Your messaging has to be clear. It has to be concise. It's who you are. It's exactly what you breathe and you eat and you sleep and you dream. And that has all has to be captured within that package or within your brand, whether it be on the shelf or on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever platform you're promoting the products on. So, if your branding isn't anything but exactly what you want, it will come across untrue or won't accomplish the work you want it to do for you. And so I think things have developed over time and little pieces have fallen into place where it just feels right, and that's what you have to go for when you're developing the brand. And I've figured that out just through trial and error and over time and realizing what is important to Base Culture, what's not important to Base Culture, what resonates with the consumer. How do I get a message across in a way that will be impactful, that they will be willing to trust Base Culture to give it a try? And will that develop a loyal customer and how to build on that. And so branding's your lifeblood. It's everything from start to finish and the continuing relationship you have with the customer.F Geyrhalter:                 Talking about branding being your lifeblood, you literally are very much the brand as a person, which creates transparency and a real person rather than a brand image to root for. But now that you're a mom, how does it affect your personal life? Or is the baby just part of every Instagram story?Jordann W A:                Yeah, it's been an interesting transition from being just entrepreneur to being mompreneur, I guess, if you want to call it that.F Geyrhalter:                 Is that frowned upon? Is that a term that's actually frowned upon? Is that a term that is actually embraced, "mompreneur"?Jordann W A:                I think it depends on who you're talking to, truthfully.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay.Jordann W A:                Because there are some people where you tell them you have a family, and you have this life outside of the business, then it's like, "Well, if you want to be successful, you need to dedicate your entire every waking moment you have to the business."F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, Jesus.Jordann W A:                And while that's true to an extent, you have to make it work for your life because hey, it's also your life.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And then, in the other breath, there's plenty of people that are super supportive of this transition that I'm going through, and I've gotten a lot of people reaching out to be supportive and offer encouraging words of advice and how they've done it too. Because I'm not the first woman to have a baby and run a business. It's not unheard of, and it has been done before. It's just a matter of adjusting mentally and physically to the other demands. And so, thankfully, I'm one of eight kids in my family, and I have a lot of babysitters built in. And so I'm able to work out of my house a lot, which is great. But then I also have my siblings there to help support and watch my baby while I'm working or taking calls. They're able to help [inaudible 00:31:35] if I'm too busy doing emails. And so I've got the support internally from my family to help build my new family. And then also Base Culture is ... I kind of joke, and I say Base Culture was my first baby, and now Eloise is my second baby. And so I became a new mom and a second mom all at the same time. But it's just a balance. It's figuring out what's working for you and what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And it's wonderful. But I swear she'll be our very best sales girl when she's able to talk. I think Base Culture will be her first words.F Geyrhalter:                 If she wants to or not.Jordann W A:                Right. I was sending emails on day two of her life from the hospital bed. So, it's been a key part of her upbringing thus far. I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon. But she'll be well-versed within the consumer product industry very early in her life.F Geyrhalter:                 And there's some entrepreneurs that from from the get go say, "You know what, I don't want to be the face of the brand." I just want to run the brand. But no one really needs to ever see me, get to know me. We have a personality for the brand, we have a message, but I do not want to be outgoingly the brand as a person." And given the chance, would you not be the face of the brand if you had to do it all over again. Or do you feel like it is really what makes it so authentic?Jordann W A:                I think that for Base Culture, it really does give it life. This isn't just a story where I stumbled across a recipe, this was based off of my life. Truthfully, this was because I wanted this product. And that's how we were founded. And I think if I weren't involved as intricately as I am, the branding will lose its appeal. It would lose its lust, and it would have more of a flat effect than a robust. And so for Base Culture, and other companies operate differently and there are plenty of success stories that the founder isn't as involved on the branding aspect. But I think I wouldn't do it differently if I were to do it again. I would still be as involved as I am. And it's really fun for me, honestly, that's my favorite part, is going out and having the meetings, or doing podcasts like this and talking to people. Because I am so passionate about it. I would hate just to be doing the work behind the scenes. I think that would be boring for me. Having the ability to go and sit on panels and talk and answer questions, and dive deep, and explore the realms of where, where I am in my personal life and as it relates to Base Culture. This is my life, it is what I do. It's more than 50%, well more than 50%. I would say more than 80% of my days is focused around the company. So yeah, it's been fun in developing myself through the company, and the company through myself.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's your passion. And I read it in an interview where you were asked a question, "How do you define success?" And I'll quote you here with your answer. You said, "I used to say that when we make X amount of money, we would be successful. However, today we hit that X dollar amount. The goal then changed to something twice as much. It was after this happened about five times that I realized that success is not measured by the amount of money you are making, rather it is measured by the difference you are making in other people's lives along the way." How do you see that difference you're making with your brand? The impact you're having? where do you get to witness that feedback when you're out there?Jordann W A:                Well, first of all, I've never been quoted before, so that was really cool.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. It's the only one I have.Jordann W A:                No, it was very good. Yeah, we see people sending us responses that they dive in and they're vulnerable, and they open up about the way our products have impacted themselves. And we see this through Instagram. We see it through Facebook. We get messages through our email on our website, and we get comments on our pages, on our website as well next to the products. And so they're available for everyone to see if you go onto our website, and just scroll down, you can see all the comments. But this support, the honest truth of what people see in our products and how it's affecting them, from someone that has an eating disorder that hasn't allowed themselves to have a dessert, or a bread for years and years, because they don't think that they can as a person, do that. That they stumbled across our products, they read the ingredients, and they were able to convince themselves that it would be okay to have a brownie, because how clean and how pure the ingredients are. And they indulged and they had it and they love it and they're coming back to it. And that truly changed it. It was a pivotal moment in their lives. We see people reaching out saying their child has autism and that they have to eat this clean lifestyle, this clean way of eating. They have to do that because of the disease that their child has. But because our products don't have the artificial sugars, they don't have the additional bad ingredients in it that a lot of products do, especially in the baked goods category, that they've been able to enjoy a brownie. It's a kid enjoying a brownie. While that might not seem as monumental to many people, it is impactful for someone that has never been able to give their kid a brownie in his life. And so those are just two examples of ways that I've seen these products not only change lives, but really be a part of their growing future. To really have that ability to provide products. And at the end of the day it's like, "Oh, you have a bakery." Well yeah, we do have a bakery, but we stand for something more than just baked goods. We're giving these customers opportunities that weren't available to them before. And we're growing with them, and we're developing more products for them. And that's why we do it. That's the main reason. Because we can add things to people's life to make it easier for them to live healthier and happier. And so that's truly, that's when success is. We can keep shooting for higher goals. We can keep shooting for more money. We can keep shooting for a bigger facility, or we can keep shooting to make a difference in people's lives. And at the end of the day, that's what drives me forward. Because, like you said in the quote that I had passed along in another interview, that bar of success, that'll just keep getting higher and higher and higher. And if that's what you're hanging your hat on, then you're always going to be disappointed. Because it's just going to keep growing. And so to find that satisfaction in the daily drive, because this is a hard business. It's definitely not easy. It doesn't come easily. You have to work at it every single day. But to be able to find success, and that rewarding success is really truly what makes the difference for me.F Geyrhalter:                 And if you would distill all of that into one word that can describe your brand, I call it your brand DNA, what would be that one all-encompassing word that your brand could stand for.Jordann W A:                Freedom. I think that's the word I would use if I were to pick one.F Geyrhalter:                 Go deeper. Freedom for the actual customer, for the consumer to to at last be able to eat, to eat-Jordann W A:                Exactly. Exactly. Not having the stigma around baked goods and snacks any longer, but be able to enjoy something that they truly want. It's a brownie, it's a bread, it's a banana bread, it's a pumpkin bread. It's almond butter. But it's freedom to let yourself enjoy it and to actually enjoy it. Not just settle for a "healthy product", because you have to eat that way, but we should want to eat this way. And freedom from a nutritional standpoint. Not having to worry about the ingredient deck, not having to worry about what you're putting in your body, but knowing that you're putting actual food in your body that it can use as fuel. Instead of stores fat. So freedom comes in a lot of ways, but especially when it comes to indulging and snacking and having dessert, there's a lot of stigma around it when you're trying to live healthier, or you need to live healthier for your own self. And freedom to do that in a way that you can enjoy, I think is the one word and how I would describe it if I were to take one word.F Geyrhalter:                 It's really refreshing, because when you think of freedom as as a brand DNA, you usually think of Holly Davidson, so you just brought it into a new decade. I love that.Jordann W A:                Right. Exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 It's like this is what freedom means today. As we're getting to the point of wrapping up this show, this episode. Do have any final, piece of brand advice because you've been through different agencies. You worked really hard to get this done. You're also a very young entrepreneur. You did everything without any big knowledge of your field that you entered, in marketing and branding and all of it was very fresh to you. Do you have any brand advice for founders as a final takeaway?Jordann W A:                Yeah, I would say trust your gut, whenever you're in doubt, trust your gut. Listen to yourself. You know your brand better than anyone else. You know that there might be other people out there that have more industry experience and more knowledge based off history, but no one will ever know the brand better than the founder. It is your baby. It's your life. It's exactly what you think about almost all of your days. And that will give you the gut feeling you need to drive a brand forward. Whether it be the image that you're painting as the packaging, or the voice you're trying to create on social media. That that gut feeling, and that gut check is truly your guiding force. And like I said, there isn't someone else that can tell you what that is. That is part of you that will always be yours. So to trust in that and to really dive into what that means for you, will help guide you whenever there's a question.F Geyrhalter:                 I so 110% agree with that. And that's also how I work with companies on their brand. I'm a brand therapist, that's all I do, right? I just get it out of the founder.Jordann W A:                Right.F Geyrhalter:                 Because I am not going to create the strategy, they create the strategies because they already have it in them. It's just me who has to align everything for success. So I really loved what you said.Jordann W A:                Well and that's a hard thing too.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely.Jordann W A:                It took us so long to get to a place where branding was... It took three agencies to actually articulate it. It's not an easy process. But for founders to go through that rigorous step, the steps it takes to find who you are and what you are as a brand is so important. And so the role you play is monumental.F Geyrhalter:                 Because more agencies have answers than they have questions. And questions is really where the answers lie.Jordann W A:                Exactly, exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 Listeners who fell in love with your brand, with what you talked about, who want to buy into a lifestyle that is more natural and more and more primal, and in a way more logical. Where can they find your products?Only in the U.S. I assume, but are there certain regions? Are there certain places where they can find it?Jordann W A:                Yeah, we're a national in the U.S.. Our products are in both natural and conventional stores. We're national with Whole Foods, so any Whole Foods in the nation. We're also in Sprouts, we are also in Kroger and Albertsons, Safeway, again throughout the whole nation, so not regionally focused. We're also in Walmart and H-E-B hour in Wegmans, if that's your shopping preference. We're also in Fresh Market. We actually just got placement there. We'll be there at the end of this month. So that's some exciting news. But really we have a lot of locations. We're in almost 8,000 stores across the country. So I encourage you guys to go on our website, which is and type in your zip code on our locator page. And that'll show you exactly where our products are near a store by you and what products are sold there. So you can go into the store knowing exactly what we carry at that particular location. Because we do have a wide variety of products, not every store has everything we carry, but we're working on expanding our distribution. So that'll help guide you to exactly what you're looking for.F Geyrhalter:                 Jordan, congratulations on your amazing success which happened so quickly. And congrats on being a new mom and now you've got-Jordann W A:                Thank you.F Geyrhalter:                 ... wow you've got two babies. And thank you so much for having been on the show. I know it's a busy lifestyle currently for you, So for you to spend those 40 somewhat minutes with us, we all really appreciate your time and your insights.Jordann W A:                Absolutely. It's been an honor talking with you. Thank you for having me on. This is my pleasure.F Geyrhalter:                 What an inspiration for any entrepreneur, but also for me to get back into the all-natural diet. Thank you for listening. Please rate the show and show you support via so we can make this podcast, 100% community-enabled and sponsor free. And you get to hop on an hour long Google Hangout group call with me once a month, where I can give you entrepreneurial brand and creative advice worth much more than the $15 and 95 cents you'd spend to support this programming. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting The Mark.
Learn more about Brazi BitesSupport the show____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: That was Junea Rocha, who founded Brazi Bites. Since our last episode, we know it takes no culinary background to create a food product that sells like hot cakes, or in Junea's case, like hot cheese bread. I had such a great time hearing her story, from being a civic engineer to running her brand with her husband. Killing it on Shark Tank, making Inc's fasting growing private company list in the US for the past two years, spending three grueling years on the road selling and testing their product, to today, where they run 8000 stores. And you will soon know why, as you will be able to witness her drive, her contagious energy, and learn from Junea's vast branding and positioning knowledge. Not only if you're in food and beverage or branding, or if you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship from your cushiony job. No, even if you are just a consumer, this is a fascinating conversation. Welcome to the show, Junea.J Rocha: Thank you. So happy to be here.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, thanks for being here. I want to start us off with a big question that also tells us a bit of your journey. What did branding mean to you when you were back in Brazil, or even while working nine to five as an engineer in Portland? Basically in your past life. And what does it mean to you now that you brought a product to market successfully?J Rocha: Well, before I started Brazi Bites, I would say I never paid attention to branding. I was a receiver, right? I was a consumer. I was a purchaser, and branding was impacting my life, but I never noticed it. It was seamless because I was impacted by my shopping patterns, but everything changed once I decided to launch my own company and understand, "How would people choose to buy my product," and really started to learn. So I would say I didn't know much about branding, I was just a regular consumer shopper because I would say, before I started Brazi Bites I was an engineer and in construction you really don't get into branding. It's not a very creative field. It's very hard work and intense and important, but not very creative, and so ... Starting the company, knowing branding, and getting deep into it and focus on it has been critical to the success of our company.F Geyrhalter: And what does it mean to you now, when you think about your brand, the word branding? A lot of people think about the logo and they think about packaging, but to you, what does it mean today, looking at your company?J Rocha: I would say in a simplified way, the foundation of the brand is the logo. Is your side and your package and your promotional materials, but the branding, to me, is more than that. It's the promise to our consumers. Our branding is, it tells the consumers what they can expect from us, what they can expect from our products, and it differentiates us from our competitors in the marketplace.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And going back to what you just said, you talked about having been an engineer, right? That was your traditional, original path. So everyone wants to be an engineer today. You've been one, and then you wanted to create cheese bread. Can you think of any ways, because I'm just so intrigued by that. Can you think of any ways that being an engineer helped you on this totally different path?J Rocha: So many ways. I would say, I'll share with you for just a couple seconds why I became an engineer and how I got here, because I think it's important to understand the path and the decisions I made. But when you grow up in Brazil, and a lot of emerging markets in Latin America, it's not unusual for your upbringing, especially in my time, in the eighties and nineties that your family will look at you and pretty much give you three options. You're going to become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer.F Geyrhalter: Totally.J Rocha: I swear, right? You probably know about it.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, same in Austria. It was the same thing, right? There are three universities you can go to. Which do you want?J Rocha: That's it. It's like, "Which do you want," and I was always really driven and wanting to do some creative things, but engineer was that path because I wasn't going to be a lawyer and doctor wasn't for me, so I became an engineer. So fast forward, I go to college, I graduate, I get a job, and then I start working on it. And then for almost ten years I worked as an engineer, here in Portland, Oregon. And so starting my career and my development as a professional in that field. Then I go ahead and leave that career and start a cheese bread company. So how did that translate and help me? So, when you think about being an engineer, it's all about problem solving. It's all about starting something and finishing and working through massive obstacles. That's what an engineer does, and as part of my career there, it was very much also focused on project management and problem solving. So now we go, "Let's start a food company. Let's try to break through the noise of the marketplace to create a brand, to create a product that resonates." All of that problem solving skills, all of that start and ending and completing tasks in a very organized way that was effective and then lead to the next thing and the next thing just totally resonates. It helped me a ton.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and you engineered the best cheese bread north of Brazil, so I guess it must have helped. Actually, would Brazi Bites stand a chance in Brazil where there is this sea of competitors? Would you ever go there with your brand?J Rocha: I don't have any intentions of going there, and I'll tell you why. The cheese bread in Brazil, and in several countries in South America, is treated like a commodity. It is so spread and there's so many manufacturers, and the quality has gone down over the years. But then because of that, new artisanal companies have spun up. So it's such a dynamic market, it's so competitive and saturated, and I that's not a field that I want to play. I love what we created here in the United States with this product line, and there's plenty of business in North America for us.F Geyrhalter: So no Europe either?J Rocha: We talk about going to Europe and that's not a no forever, we just ... There's some manufacturing challenges and currency challenges that need to be tackled. Food can only be sold by a certain price and then, depending on the economy dynamic at a given time, it becomes hard to export, so those are some of the things that we need to...F Geyrhalter: And it's not like you're in a small market here. There's plenty to be done so...J Rocha: Absolutely, there's so much, and we're still relatively small, and while it seems like we're big to us from where we came from, there's a lot of people that don't know about us. There's still a lot of consumers to be introduced to the brand in the US.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. There are so many listeners who have an idea for a startup, but they have a cushiony day job, which many of them don't love, yet they can't make that jump over to entrepreneurship. I can't blame them, but they just can't get themselves to take this big risk. What was it that enabled you to do it?J Rocha: One of the things that, it just kind of pushed me ... And it's such a hard thing to do. There were times during the transition. We didn't jump from A to B and it was a clean jump. We started with two jobs. We started testing. We started to see our assumptions in the marketplace before I left my career, and my husband and co-founder, the same thing. We also staggered our departure, so we could manage the bills at home and things like that. Also, one thing that I kept going back to that drove to my core to be able to get myself to do it was the thought processes that I kept thinking about my life in the future. And so I kept thinking, "That company that I work for," a lot of people were there for 30 years, 40 years, and I kept putting myself in that position and going like, "Okay, this is a good job. Well paying career. I'll be able to be comfortable," this and that.J Rocha: Then I kept picturing myself as some of the folks there in 20 years and 30 years, and then I kept picturing myself doing this crazy thing and trying and potentially failing, but really seeking an opportunity that I thought was real. That deserved to be pursued, and then the thing that kept going in my brain was this, "If I, in 20 years, what do I want to look back on? Do I want to look back and regret that I tried, or that I didn't try?" So if I failed, would I look back and regret that? And so in my heart, I kept thinking that, "In 20 years, if I look back, I would most likely look back with regret if I hadn't tried."F Geyrhalter: Yup.J Rocha: And I know that's more of a feeling-F Geyrhalter: No, it's a philosophy. Yeah, and I think it happens to most entrepreneurs when they take the jump, that they just say, "Well, is this really what I want to do all my life, or do I want to take that risk?" Because quite frankly, and I'm working with one such bootstrapped entrepreneur right now who quit his cushiony day job, and he's like, "Look, all my savings are in this. We have to create a brand around it, and if I fail I have nothing, but I always know I can get another job," right?And I think that's the attitude. You still-J Rocha: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, you have to have that mindset of, "If I lose everything, maybe in two or three years, and I spent all this time, will it still be worth it?" My answer kept coming back to yes because I would have tried. If I just stay and look back and I just felt comfortable ... That's what life is about. But you have to be ready to accept both outcomes.F Geyrhalter: Right, right. And do it in a smart way where ... You have two lanes, right? You're still doing your day thing and then you start seeing successes with the startup. And it's also a financial calculation, and I love the way that you've done it. Are you still working with your husband?J Rocha: I am. I am.F Geyrhalter: And he's also still your husband.J Rocha: He is my husband. I'm happy to share that.F Geyrhalter: Very good.J Rocha: We started the company about nine years ago together as co-founders, and we're both very actively involved. Over time as the company grew, we separated our lanes quite a bit, and so I'm on the marketing side and he's in operations side, so we don't work as close together as we used to in the early days of the company, but we work in the same office and it's great. We love working in the same office and working together.F Geyrhalter: Well first, congratulations, because that's double amazing, right? And I always think it's such a fascinating scenario, because I had a few married co-founders on the show, and then I actually had one pair of twins. Twin sisters that worked together, which is really fun too, but the question that I ask myself, and I'm sure some of my listeners ask themselves the same question. How do you leave work behind? Do you have a regimen or does it come naturally or does it just happen, and business and pleasure are intermingled at all times?J Rocha: You don't leave it behind. I would say it is intertwined. It's just life. Business and the company is life. I would say when we were growing the company, the intensity was so high. It greatly benefit us because it was just us and a dog. We didn't have a kid at the time, so it was just us babying this brand and this company and building it. So we would work 24/7. Work was done in the office or the facility, we would sit talking and strategizing and so passionate about things. So it's almost like we got double the time without even knowing, and we're able to advance the company faster. Nowadays, the business is more complex and we have a two year old that wants a lot of attention and needs a lot of attention, so we're able to turn off and break a little bit more, but when we're building, when we're bootstrapping, when it was that sort of, you don't know what's going to happen. That up and down of the journey before you get your company stable. It was nonstop. I think at some point when you're a couple or twins or have that dynamic, one person usually calls the shot and says, "You know what? I'm done for the day, I can't talk about this anymore, let's have dinner." Usually in our relationship, Cameron, my husband is the one who's like, "You know, I'm done. Give me a break, I need an hour." I can just keep going. I would just talk business 24/7. I just get into it. But he's helped me balance things a little bit.F Geyrhalter: Exactly, it's about the balance. That's so important. Let's talk about the product. So you're selling cheesy bread in the natural food space. Now, that is pretty choosy. Tell us how that came about and if that positioning is an actual benefit or sometimes a hurdle for a product like yours?J Rocha: Yeah, so let's talk about what the product is, right? So the company started to sell Brazilian cheese bread in the United States. So Brazilian cheese bread is the most popular snack food in South America, and in Brazil it's really a staple. It's been around for hundreds of years. It is a commodity there. It happens to be made with tapioca flour, which is naturally gluten free, right? So when we had the idea to bring the product to market, I would say branding is so critical hearing that conversation, because we were not the first ones that had the idea of bringing this product to the United States. It's a very well known product, it's not a product that I invented, but what we did, we said, "Okay, this product ... " When Americans go to Brazil, they fall in love with the cheese bread. They come back and they experience the culture and the beaches and all the amazing things that Brazil has to offer, but one of the favorite things that they talk about is the cheese bread, so that gave us one more sort of, "Check that box, there's an opportunity here." Most of the cheese bread available in the US at that time was only available in an international market, so you'd have to buy a dry mix and you have to mix all the ingredients at home, and there were cases of Brazilians and Americans going to Brazil and flying back with this frozen dough or this mix. I was like, "Okay, something is off. We've got to bring this here." So the idea was, how can you bring the concept of Brazilian cheese bread to the US market for Americans in a way that they understand, and they can understand what it is and how to consume it, and that it's fun and it's delicious, right?F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).J Rocha: And out of who I am, I love the natural food space, I care about the food that I eat. I'm not a total health nut by any means, but I eat clean ingredients, no preservatives. I care about where my food is coming from.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so when we were creating the concept, we were like, "It has to be delicious, it has to be simple, it has to be natural," right? And so that was a natural fit into the natural foods industry. It was more about who we are as people and as founders and what kind of product we wanted to sell, because I wasn't going to be able to give my heart and soul to something if it was packed with preservatives, if it didn't taste amazing, you know?F Geyrhalter: Right. No, totally.J Rocha: It would make sense. So that led us ... Another thing is, when you think about the natural foods industry, nine years ago when we started the company, and still today, when you look at all the CPG that are coming in the marketplace in the United States, there's paths of entry into the industry. Conventional stores are opening up a little bit but honestly, it was the only path to entry into the marketplace. Stores like Whole Foods for example, and local co-ops and regional grocers, we're the ones and still are the ones interested in what is unique and what's new, what's innovative. What's that husband and wife founder team coming up with? It's sort of the path to entry.F Geyrhalter: That's really, really interesting because I never thought about it that way, and that's a great positioning that you actually have people that would listen in the beginning, right? And you went on the road for three years hustling, right? Store to store, event to event, it was like a Brazi Bites roadshow. How grueling was that, and what did you learn that you later added to your brand design or your brand language or what did you learn about the audience? It's like, I don't know, 1095 days of consumer research. It must have been invaluable to you.J Rocha: That is just critical to everything of who we are today. So when we brought the product, launched the brand and started knocking on doors, we went through that motion of, like a new product, you're getting lots of nos, you're getting people not understanding, and so we knew we had something special because we knew that cheese bread resonated and it was delicious and it was hitting the mark, being naturally gluten free. Oh, I just said the name of your show…F Geyrhalter: It was a pun. We trained this. We practiced.J Rocha: Amazing. So we know it was hitting the mark with smaller audience, but we also knew there was some challenges there. How do you break through to a larger audience? How do you get out from being just so small and grassroots? So we ended up just doing the hard work, which is doing every single show that was available. Consumer and retailer shows. We ended up just being on the floor of grocery stores, week after week after week, just tireless hours. We would just flee. Cameron goes to the store, I would go to another store, and then we'd meet up and then four hours at another store, and so what that did is that ...It was all about listening, and I was absorbing how people are interacting with the brand. Were they getting the product? Were they getting the name? Were they getting the logo? Were they getting it, right?F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so during those times, we started to gather some of the most important intel that drove the growth of the company. When you're on the floor, it's just amazing what happens, right? The feedback is so real and it's so on time, and because we were just running a fast growing company and it was just us making all the decisions, we could [inaudible 00:20:36] it very quickly.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so changing the messaging, changing even the name of the product. At some point we called it Cheese Bread Snacks. We didn't want to put the word Brazilian in there, but then we realized that there was a huge value that we're missing out on, and brought that back. And tweaking the colors of the packaging. There was a time that people were right in front of the packaging in a grocery store and would color off and I can't see, we're like, "Okay, there's a problem there. We've got to fix that." And so all those things being fast, it was incredible, and it got us to where we are today. I would say, as I mentioned to you, we were not the first ones. We didn't invent this product. But we were absolutely the first one to break it into a larger audience and create a true category, and it was because of all of those learnings and those moves during the early days of the company.F Geyrhalter: I absolutely had a feeling. And today, you're so branded in very fun, loud, Latin inspired colors and graphics. The design language looks like it caters to kids and families, so it's a very non-traditional look. Again, for the natural food space, in which you entered, in which you still are, how did that packaging came about? I know you changed it a lot, but what story do you try to tell today through the name, through the logo, and through the packaging?J Rocha: You know, we definitely landed on a brand identity, exactly like you mentioned. We started looking at all this stuff that we had learned on the road, and how can we represent that in our branding, in the look of our packaging, to give our best chance of success? So there were things like who we are. We're fun, we're bold, we're delicious. We wanted a colorful packaging, but we also wanted to show that we were natural, that we had a family recipe that cared about ingredients that were wholesome and delicious. So all these things that we wanted to balance, when we were rebranding, you probably remember those days where every natural foods ... You walk into Whole Foods, everybody had that craft look.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And in the freezer section also, everything was white, and so we were looking to fix some of our challenges that we were seeing to give our best chance of success, but also to break away. To differentiate from the competitors. We wanted people ... When you're a frozen foods company, think about this. You're walking in front of a freezer door, you already have that glass door. That's another obstacle for people to see you and find and discover you, so how can you pop, right? So that was one of our biggest challenges, and so we came up with this really bold color pallette to differentiate ourselves and there was so many things to tackle at that time, because it's like, "How can you do a bold colorful pallette, and still be a natural foods company and represent all of your values?" So there's a balance of design elements that go into it and a lot of thought and process, but we did a really good job and the brand really resonates. Nowadays, the bold palette is really out there. We don't like to say we invented it, but we were one of the lead food companies at that time to bring the bold, colorful packaging to natural, and now it's pretty spread.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, I noticed the same thing, and for your brand, the great thing is you can own it, because you earned it by just being a Brazilian brand, right? The idea that you actually embody the beaches and the parties and the carnivals and the fun, right? In your packaging. And I'm sure that has something to do with why you wanted it to be that Latin inspired, because it is your history, versus other brands that just want to cater to kids and families.J Rocha: Yeah, the whole thing about kids and families, it was a natural transition. So this product in Brazil is consumed by all, right? So because it's a commodity, it doesn't have a target audience.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And it also is enjoyed as a snack and appetizer, but Brazilian culture is, as you might know, it's a very ingraining to family gatherings and friends gathering. There's a lot more social gatherings than here in the US, right? So you literally can't have a product that just caters to social gatherings and make it huge, right? The cheese bread there is that. When we started to sell it here and listen and understand how people are interacting with the product, we saw that there was a little bit less of that just because culturally Americans are not gathering with their neighbors and friends and all that kind of stuff every single weekend, but there were other things. We start hearing, "My kids love Brazi Bites. My kid is obsessed with Brazi. My kid can make Brazi by themself. My kid is ten years old and he loves Brazi." So we started hearing that, and we're like, "Wait a minute, we're not a kid food company, but kids definitely love our brand, so let's create a packaging and a brand identity that they can resonate with as well."And so parents can resonate, kids can resonate. So that's what took us there. It was honestly on the floor and hearing, and we're like, "Wait, kids are loving this, let's focus on that more than, this is a party item that pairs with alcohol and this and that."F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: While it's great with beer and wine and such, there's this whole opportunity on the family side, and it's much bigger.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and it doesn't leave the other audience out of it, because those are the parents, and they would still eat the product. And I guess that's also how you made it into Costco, and I'm so intrigued by that. Tell us a little bit about the Costco stock tap on your site. So you can check on availability of your product at local Costcos. To me that's really fantastic, and a smart idea how you go about that. How does doing similar things, basically to get Costco to restock your products regularly, right? That's kind of part of the idea, right?J Rocha: Yeah, so that's definitely been one of our trade secrets.F Geyrhalter: So let's talk about it now.J Rocha: Let's talk about it.F Geyrhalter: Just you and I.J Rocha: So we have a lot of business with Costco. Costco's a great partner and a supporter of our brand, and it makes total sense, right? We make a delicious product that's cheesy and it can be packaged in bulk. And Costco does a lot of frozen business, right? People go there to find frozen items. To stock up for family. So it's no wonder that the brand really resonated and was successful within Costco. But there's some different dynamics. Unlike a regular retail space like Whole Foods, Kroger, and Walmart and Target, when you get your shelf space, you're pretty much guaranteed that space for about a year. If your product does well, you just keep going, right? There isn't as much of a threat. Costco operates more on, they like ins and outs, they call it, which is they're going to bring something for eight weeks, 12 weeks, and then they're going to be out of it and then they bring it back six months later, and so forth. And then, in addition to that, the Costco breaks the country into regions, so each region pocket of the country, you have to sell to a new buyer and tell your story again. It becomes very complex, and then member they may not know. You're in LA, you go to your Costco and I'm promoting Costco, you expect the product to be there. It may not because that regional buyer didn't bring in the product and so forth. We realized after a while, our fans and Costco members really love Brazi brand and wanted to buy the product, but they would be impacted by these ins and outs and they were frustration, right? From them. So the consumers would call our office and say, let's say we post something on Instagram and say we're in Costco in LA or we're in Costco in Seattle, and then somebody in San Francisco, who doesn't have the item, goes like, "How dare you not be at my Costco?" And so they were putting all of this energy on us, almost like it was our fault. Like, "Why don't you want to be in my hometown?"F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so we wanted to shift the dynamic. We said, "Look, we are with you. We understand you. We listen to you, and we're working on it so hard to get there, but there's different dynamics that we're dealing with. Let's shift your energy and redirect it to Costco."F Geyrhalter: That's so good.J Rocha: Right? So we created that website to give our fans a tool to help us be on shelf where they want us to be on shelf. So that has helped us. It's been on of that tools that we've used with Costco, but look, at the end of the day, you can do all the marketing tactics that you want but the product has to resonate. It has to sell on shelf. I think that tactic only works because the product doesn't resonate and…F Geyrhalter: Oh, for sure. Yeah.J Rocha: And you're just trying to move some things around, and empower.F Geyrhalter: But it's fantastic because you're really empowering your fans to do the work for you, which that's what the best brands do today. When you actually have people that want to have your product on the shelves, and they have to do the legwork because you can only do that much, and it's really great. Let's talk more about opportunities. I have to bring this up, right? Let's talk about Shark Tank for a minute. You guys absolutely rocked it and got bombarded with offers. Whose offer did you accept? I didn't research that much. Whose offer did you accept, why, and how did it treat your company?J Rocha: So the show was incredible, being a part of it. I'm sure several of your listeners are familiar with the show and watch the show, but the viewership is incredible, and we went on the show because we were raising money at that time. We were looking for an investor, and also we wanted the exposure.F Geyrhalter: Of course.J Rocha: We had been in business about four years, and we were out there. It was that time that we were doing the groundwork, we're in about a thousand stores. We were already at Whole Foods, and some Krogers and so forth. But we really needed that bump in exposure, and the show did just that. The Sharks taste the product and just fell in love with it. Couldn't believe how delicious it was. Couldn't believe that it was gluten free. They were just really love everything that we had built, and the consumers watched that and were intrigued and wanted to try the product.J Rocha: And so at the show, we got three offers, which is amazing.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: …when you get as many offers, it just makes for a more fun episode. The viewers are more intrigued, and it's just a better dynamic. So we had an offer from Mr. Wonderful, we had an offer from Lori, and we had an offer from Damon. So three Sharks. There was a point in our episode where they were fighting over it and it was really cool.F Geyrhalter: And different percentages, right? What's the cut that they're going to take? And they went down on cuts, right? To get you to be their choice, right?J Rocha: Totally. Being on the show, and when that shift happened, it's almost like a shift of energy. You're trying to sell, sell, sell, and you're really grasping…F Geyrhalter: And then you're buying, buying, buying.J Rocha: And then the moment they start fighting for you, that's just like, "Wow," it's like, "Okay, cool. This is going to be good." And so at the end of the show we ended up shaking hands with Lori, who is really famous on QVC and she's done a lot of consumer products. Over time, as we were working through the kinks of the deal behind the scenes, we decided to not do the deal, which is not unusual for the show.F Geyrhalter: Interesting.J Rocha: That happens a lot. You get the negotiations involved and you really get to know one another, but we really enjoyed getting to know her and her team, but ultimately didn't do a deal.F Geyrhalter: Very interesting. And I had a gentleman on the show who completely bombed on Shark Tank. He bombed. They basically laughed him out of the show, and his product was moving like crazy the weeks and months afterwards, right? So it's the exposure that is worth so much, but obviously the production teams that the people just go there for the exposure, so it's ... You guys played it so well, it's amazing. I know our time is slowly coming to an end. I'm obsessed with one thing, and I want to make sure I ask you that. I'm obsessed with defining what I call the brand DNA for and with my clients, and on this show, I let the founders I interview give it some thought for their own brand. Everyone gets so sucked into the product-centric day to day that I feel it not only gives us an insight into your brain but it may also help you with your continued marketing and branding to surface that one special word. Your brand in one word. So for Sapos, it could be happiness. For Everlane, it would be transparency. What is that one word that can describe your brand today?J Rocha: The one word that describes Brazi Bites today, I would say it's fun.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. All-encompassing, right? And talking about the target audiences again, and it's little bites, and it just provides that piece of fun that's so easy to do too. Which is great because you literally just put it into an oven like a pizza, so that's really neat.J Rocha: Absolutely. It's all encompasses of who we are, what we're about, and what the audience and the experience of the product and how we run the company and how we connect with our consumers. Fun is the word today.F Geyrhalter: And you know what's overly bizarre is that of all the founders I had on this show, but now I think it's been about 24, 25, this is the first time that fun becomes the brand DNA. Which is amazing, right? Because it seems like a lot of brands should be fun. Do you have any piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway? We talked so much about your brand, about your journey. There were so many nuggets that we got out of it, but is there anything that, for fresh founders that are just getting started, any thoughts that you want to share?J Rocha: I think the things that was most successful for Brazi Bites was that piece of, you create your brand, you put all of your ideas into the branding, and then you've got to put it out in front of people as fast as you possibly can, and start adjusting and improving and this and that. That would be my main advice. Get in front of people, put it out there, and then see what happens, you know? That is where the ticket is, because if we are just sit back in our office and we just make all of our assumptions through a computer all day, we're not going to make the right choices for our company. So where you're meeting the consumer, it's at a retail store or an event or something. Maybe even in the digital world, you can do that today, but what kind of feedback are you getting? What kind of questions are you getting? It's going to lead you to build the right brand.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely, yeah. I hear that over and over and over again. That customer research, however you do it, is so key. And that's why so many young brands, they pivot very quickly, because they don't even pivot with the product. They just pivot with how they talk to the customer and how the packaging looks and how the brand works and what it stands for. Where can listeners get their Brazi bites?J Rocha: So we're in thousands of stores nationwide, in the freezer section. Nowadays, we make Brazilian cheese bread. Multiple flavors, and we also have a brand new line of mini empanadas. They're amazing. Both product lines are available throughout the country, so to find us, just visit There is a locator there. It just will tell you exactly the store near you with exact assortment. And you can find this at a store near you.F Geyrhalter: Awesome. Well, thank you Junea for your time and insights. This was such a blast. And I know what I'll be having for dinner tonight.J Rocha: Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely.F Geyrhalter: There you have it. From Brazil to civic engineer in Portland to selling products in 8000 stores. I so enjoyed my conversation with Junea and I hope you did the same. Thank you for listening, for subscribing, and for rating the show. And thanks to all the podcast supporters who became monthly members on It's awesome to see what positive impact our group calls have on everyone's business, and I'd love to see you join us too so I can make this podcast 100% community enabled. Just head on over to and look for Hitting the Mark to learn more about this initiative that powers this show. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
1 Year Anniversary Special

1 Year Anniversary Special


There are 782 minutes of combined insights and inspiring journeys we had to edit down to arrive at this 32-minute special, which hones in on 5 key areas:Brands challenging the normThe importance of people – Your tribe and your cultureInvestors' viewpoints on brand thinkingBrand DNA - your brand in one wordAnd to finish it off, not-to-be-missed brand advice from these successful entrepreneurs and investors that we needed to bring back up front and center.Show your support for Hitting The Mark, and if you have been listening and have not rated the show yet, please do so wherever you listen to podcasts.Thank you, and enjoy!_______________________________________________Here is who you will be hearing from on this episode:BRANDS CHALLENGING THE NORM:3:15 - 5:35 = Liquid Death (Mike Cessario)5:35 - 7:13 = Wilkmazz (Sam Mazzeo)7:13 - 8:59 = Antis Roofing (Charles Antis)8:59 - 10:21 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)10:21 - 13:02 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE – YOUR TRIBE AND YOUR CULTURE:13:37 - 14:11 = The Futur (Chris Do)14:11 - 14:30 = Double Dutch (Raissa & Joyce de Hass)14:30 - 14:36 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)14:36 - 15:36 = Parlor Skis (Mark Wallace)15:36 - 15:49 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)15:49 - 18:18 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)INVESTOR'S VIEWPOINT ON BRANDING:18:47 - 19:35 = Angel Investor (Frank Demmler)19:35 - 21:18 = Dormitus Brands (Mark Thomann)21:18 - 22:26 = New Crop Capital (Chris Kerr)BRAND DNA – YOUR BRAND IN A SINGLE WORD:23:23 - 23:29 = The Futur (Chris Do)23:29 - 23:31 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)23:31 - 23:32 = 4th & Heart (Raquel Tavares)23:32 - 23:34 = Bureo (Ben Kneppers)23:34 -23:35 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)23:35 - 23:37 = Antis Roofing (Charles Antis)23:37 - 23:38 = Beboe (Clement Kwan)23:38 - 23:39 = Idagio (Till Janczukowicz)23:38 - 23:39 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)23:39 - 23:40 = Liquid Death (Mike Cessario)23:40 - 23:43 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)23:43 - 24:04 = Bureo (Ben Kneppers)24:04 - 24:35 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)24:35 - 25:01 = Idagio (Till Janczukowicz)25:01 - 25:28 = Beboe (Clement Kwan)25:28 - 25:53 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)NOT-TO-BE-MISSED BRAND ADVICE:26:26 - 26:46 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)26:46 - 27:02 = The Futur (Chris Do)27:02 - 27:20 = Barrel Bourbon Foods (Matt Jamie)27:20 - 28:10 = Cameo (Devon Townsend)28:10 - 28:22 = Tiny Beans (Eddie Geller)28:23 - 29:23 = Double Dutch (Raissa & Joyce de Hass) 
This marks the beginning of 3 back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. All 3 of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve-balls that is hard to make it in: the food industry. And out of sheer co-incidence, 2 of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm.We kick it off with Raquel Tavares, the founder & CEO of Fourth & Heart, who migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early 80’s. She currently lives in Los Angeles and is a mother of two young boys.  Raquel is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of 4th & Heart, which also happens to currently be the 4th fastest growing Food & Bev company in the country.If this quote by Eckhart Tolle, which appears on the Fourth + Heart web site, speaks to you (as much as it inspired me), then make sure to not miss this episode: "Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be."Links mentioned:Fourth & HeartFourth & Heart on InstagramHitting The Mark Patreon PageFINIEN Brand ConsultancyHappiness Won____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to episode 23 of Hitting the Mark. This is also the beginning of three back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. The only exception will be a very special episode, that I will sneak in between, which will mark the one year anniversary of this very show. All three of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve balls, that is hard to make it in, the food industry. And out of sheer coincidence, two of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm. We kick it off today with Raquel Tavares, the founder and CEO of Fourth and Heart, an artisanal food brands based in Los Angeles, set on a mission to modernize ancient pantry food staples starting with a line of grass fed flavored, pure spreadable butters, known as ghee. Raquel a devout Ashtanga Yogini, snowboarder, lover of all things food was born in Brazil and later migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early eighties.She currently lives in LA with her family and is a mother of two young boys. She is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of Fourth and Heart, which also happens to currently be the fourth fastest growing food and beverage company in the country. She prides herself on the ability to tackle family, work, self and play. She wants to milk each minute of each day. And that being said, I'll make the most of each minute while I have her on the show.Welcome to Hitting The Mark Raquel.R Tavares:                     Thank you for having me.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. I rarely have locals on the show, so this is fun. My company actually started out of a garage in Venice Beach on Rose Avenue, which I believe is also your stomping grounds and we don't even know each other. So I read about you in Forbes, I believe, but ever since I reached out, you also made it onto the Inc. 5,000 list on number 70 with a three year growth rate of 4,279 percent. So first off, congratulations on your tremendous success.R Tavares:                     Thank you. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter:                 You're one of those few startups that must have found it so much harder to launch since you're not only introducing your brand, but you also had to educate a fair amount of your potential customers about ghee, what it is, its benefits. So please share the power of ghee with our listeners. What is it, what makes it so good and what makes it so good for you?R Tavares:                     Well, when I was thinking of what I wanted to do, and eventually came to me and what I thought of ghee or what I thought ghee could do is basically do what coconut oil has done as an ingredient. Meaning all of a sudden coconut oil went from being something that we've put topically on her skin and then all of a sudden you see it as an ingredient in chocolate. Then people are popping popcorn with coconut oil and then came MCT oil. So, so on and so forth. And then of course it went into beauty as well. So I loved ghee because it's shelf stable and lactose free and dairy free. And I really just thought of it as a shelf stable butter, which is what it is.And some of the other benefits, the health benefits are that it's easier for your body to digest because it doesn't have the lactose in the dairy. It has a unique fatty acid in it called butyrate, which is something that's found in the lining of your gut and helps your body to assimilate nutrients. And over time what happens is people eat a lot of processed foods and that starts to kind of deteriorate in the lining of your gut. And therefore this replaces that. And really, I just call it the golden ingredient, the gift that keeps on giving really.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, we're actually using it at home. It's a very smart choice, but how much education about ghee did you have to include in your launch? Did you launch locally here in LA where obviously the thirst for wellbeing is pretty unquenchable or how did it all start off?R Tavares:                     Yeah. So I started drafting the business plan in 2012 and it really took a while to get through the iterations of the different flavors that I wanted to do. Eventually in 2014 is when I sold it for the first time at the Echo Park Craft Fair and it was in Christmas and that was the first time I had it in front of consumers. I was able to hear what they had to say about it. And it's always important to see it live because you know if it's authentic, then at that that weekend we sold about 3,000 dollars in ghee.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh my God.R Tavares:                     Which was so much money at the time and it really blew my mind. So that kind of gave me the beginning feeling. I had a proof of concept. So then after that I sold it into different stores in Los Angeles. So yes, I launched it locally, initially selling everything myself. And then it was in, later in 2015 where we got our first distribution, national distribution.F Geyrhalter:                 And when you sold it yourself, was it just basically in jars and just hand labeled or like laser printed or how did you sell it? I mean it must've been very, very low key at that point, right?R Tavares:                     No, actually, yeah, it wasn't. If you know me, I don't like to take anything for granted when it comes to aesthetic.F Geyrhalter:                 There you go.R Tavares:                     Pretty much holds true and if you come to my home, everything is merchandised effectively. Same thing with the product. I really wanted to bring forth something that would be marketable at a grocery store level because I did not intend on selling it at farmer's markets. I intended to go directly to buyers because I felt buyers of grocery stores would know if that, if it had legs to stand on. So it was branded and in the jar, the same jar that it is today and they were Italian jars that I sourced, beautiful packaging. It was a different variation of the packaging, but nonetheless, it was still beautiful under the brand name Tava which was the first brand name. But I had to change it to Fourth and Heart after getting a cease and desist.F Geyrhalter:                 I was curious about that. Is that how it happened? Okay, interesting. Very interesting. Well that's a curve ball you didn't necessarily expect.R Tavares:                     No, not at all. But the branding was so important because ghee, it does have the education curve. So when you have that beautiful packaging and branding, at the very least it piques the curiosity and it increases the odds of someone wanting to try something as what can seem like a very obscure ingredient. So that was just so important to have beautiful packaging.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's interesting because even when you were still, working on the Tava brand name, your packaging already won awards. I saw it on Dieline, which is a pretty big, packaging design website. So you were very, as you said, you were very, very design focused. But then with Fourth and Heart, you also did a complete redesign of the entire branding, right?R Tavares:                     Yeah, I did. Originally, when I first founded the company at my yoga studio, there was a young guy that I met there and we started talking about packaging. He was starting a beverage company. He then said that he really loved this agency in Boulder, Colorado called Moxie Sozo. And I called them and they were out of my price range at the time, but I made a note and I said, okay, we'll go back to that. So when I got the cease and desist, we had just done a small friends and family round and I was able to afford a rebrand. So at that point I thought, you know what, let's take advantage of this situation rather than fight a cease and desist and create something even better than we have now, that would be even more marketable to the masses. So that's how Fourth and Heart came to life.F Geyrhalter:                 I see. And let me read some of your brand's copy on your website. Fourth and Heart is an ode to the heart chakra. It's the intersection where most of us get stuck. We think through everything and we really feel our way through it. Our intellect gets in the way. I find the most lasting decisions are heart choices, not hard choices. Fourth and Heart hopes to inspire others through the passion we put into our product and to inspire heart decisions, not hard decisions. We move forward with bold intention and with your hearts in our hearts in mind, we want what we put into our product to move you, motivate you, inspire you.So the brand name is rooted, I suppose in Hindu yogic and chakra, Buddhist tantric traditions. You also ran a successful yoga studio as you mentioned, which you sold in 2008 was the Yogi tribe also your first audience? And was it kind of inspirational to a lot of, not only the language that you use in the name, but also some of the design aspects of your brand?R Tavares:                     Yeah, I think it just comes natural to me that I think that way because I've done yoga for such a long time. I've been practicing yoga for going on 25 years now and so it's kind of in my veins, in my bones, if you will. So it wasn't that the yoga community was my first audience really. It was just that the art and science of yoga is kind of part of my fabric and therefore it just spills over into the brand because the brand is very much a part of me. And I effectively, I wrote that copy for the website.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh great. That's awesome. I love to hear that.R Tavares:                     Yeah. I'm a writer. I love writing too as well. So I thrive on writing and I thrive on creating and it just so happens I'm lucky enough to be able to put all of my favorite things to do into Fourth and Heart.F Geyrhalter:                 And you have a marketing background, correct?R Tavares:                     I do. Yeah, I well, I was a marketing director of marketing at a telecom company way back, well, way back now in San Francisco. And I ran a partner marketing department there.F Geyrhalter:                 Which doesn't sound quite as inspiring as Fourth and Heart.R Tavares:                     It was a great, amazing job actually. I love marketing but, and gave me a good of flexibility. So it was great. But no, of course Fourth and Heart is for sure my passion and one of those things that I'm fortunate to be obsessed with because they say you have to be obsessed with what you do in order to really be able to do it well and every day.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely. And I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who actually quit their careers and you were at a good point in your career, but you quit it to launch a brand and then especially I have a lot of respect for those who actually go into retail. And then even more so who are not afraid to deal with the FDA and go into food and beverage, which is really, really difficult. But on top of it, you're a woman, you're a mom to two boys. You recently though closed a successful series C round, raising 7.6 million. How do you do it? Like your brand has health and self care at its heart, no pun intended, but do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all and suffer some minor anxiety attacks like so many founders do or do you have a trick? Do you have a trick on how you balance mind and body while running your brand and your life and I guess the life of two others? Right.R Tavares:                     I wish I had a trick that was a one size fits all.F Geyrhalter:                 Yes. That's what we need. That's what everyone needs.R Tavares:                     I wish there was an answer for that. I absolutely have bouts of anxiety and it is definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'd say it's as hard as being a parent is because it's something you create so it's like an emotional piece of your person, but at the same time you have to be able to run it like a business. And you can't, you have to actually be able to remove yourself out of that attachment, so to speak. But I would say the way I handle stress and anxiety and balance, everything is with a lot of help. So like I have people helping at home, I have people helping me in the office. It's not a one woman show by any means.So I would say it's me leaning on people and listening to people, sometimes taking advice, sometimes not taking advice, and it's usually, it comes in a wave. So it'll be full throttle, running a thousand miles. And then you know, I always say it's like you're running through the forest and then boom you hit a tree and then you have to sit down and probably just take a beat and then get back to it. Because sometimes there's like a lull and it's calm and everything's going well, and those times I have to sit down and really appreciate those times. Because cause I know the other uphill is just around the corner and there's a lot of unforeseens in food. So it's important to have that downtime where you really meditate and do yoga and take care of yourself. I would say that's the foundation of being able to deal with the accompanying anxiety.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And it's beautiful that it's part of your entire brand messaging, right? So even when you work, you can kind of be reminded by those thoughts. One of those beautiful quotes you have on your website, which you didn't write it's by Eckhart Tolle, who I'm also a fan of myself. He said life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be. And I think that's kind of a nice summary of what we have just talked about. Your tagline is fuel happy. How did it come about? I mean obviously it sounds like most probably you came up with it, but how did it come about? What made it the guiding light for the brand, fuel happy?R Tavares:                     So full disclosure, I did not come up with it.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, perfect.R Tavares:                     My branding agents actually did come up with it, but it was definitely a team effort and a lot of brainstorming involved. But I liked it because it was really just about, I always believe that food should be first fuel for your body, and that basically what you put in is what you get out and effectively, pardon the cliche you are what you eat. It's true. So I felt like that embodied all of that messaging, which I find to be very true.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's great. It's punny, right? The idea of feel happy, fuel happy, and there's a lot in there in two words and as a brand strategist, I can appreciate how much you can get out of two words. It's really great.R Tavares:                     Yeah. Not easy to do. Right. We have to appreciate that work, that's for sure.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Yeah. Talking about one or two words, and I know you knew that this is coming because I usually warn my guests of this one, but what is one word or two words that can describe your brand? I call it the brand DNAs. So Everlane would be transparency. For SAPOs, it would be customer service, or Tony Hsieh would call it most probably happiness. What would it be? What would Fourth and Hearts one word or two word be that could actually describe the brand in its entirety?R Tavares:                     I guess at this current stage where the brand is now it would be wanderlust.F Geyrhalter:                 Huh.R Tavares:                     Or wonder or wonderer, because the brand, we really want the brand to evoke a sense of curiosity and following your bliss. But who's to say where the brand will go?F Geyrhalter:                 Right, right. But I like that. I think that's really interesting. And I think it's interesting because A, the way that the company is currently the brand is expanding into a lot of different, sub product, and I saw a lot more products on the website yesterday than I did a couple of months ago. And I also liked that idea of you actually having to be someone with an open mind to try those type of products and actually exchange some kitchen staples for something totally new. It's a great brand mantra and I agree it doesn't need to stick around forever. Right.What was the big breakthrough moment? Obviously we talked about when you tried out your product at basically at the market, which you didn't really try it out as in like here it isn't in a self made jar, but you already had it designed, it was ready, you just needed to get feedback. But what was that one big breakthrough moments where you just figured, you know what? This is turning into a real thing into real brand, into a major player. When was that moment where you just patted yourself on the back and said, you know what, I think I just made it now?R Tavares:                     Well, I don't know that I feel like I've just made it because I feel like if I embody the feeling of making it, then it will potentially trigger something. It's like if you repeat something over and over again or if you tell something to someone that something has happened that you start to think it did happen and then you won't make it happen. I don't know. It's like this weird theory. So there was a moment where I thought I feel like this has legs and it was probably after 2000 and or a full year of revenue in 2016 and we were in all Whole Foods. So I feel like after we completed a full year of revenue and I knew that the product kept moving, that's when I knew that it had legs.But I always like to feel that there's so much more to grow into then not disguise the possibility for the brand. So it's kind of like a... I think of it in two ways, but sometimes I have to actually remind myself to think of how much we've done and where we've gone and how incredible it is. Because sometimes you get lost in the weeds of the work day. So it's important to sit down and remind yourself of the accomplishments.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Sometimes you should listen to the intro that I say on the podcast for instance, and actually let it sink in rather than, oh, that's the staple. That's always like that. I mean, seven million dollar funding, you're in Whole Foods, all kinds of stories. It's remarkable and it's especially remarkable while you still have two boys and there's a lot going on. So I'm very, very impressed. Food and beverage founders that I talked to when they know, when they get through the Whole Foods challenge basically, and when they see that after a couple of months at Whole Foods that it's actually picking up and people are repeat customers. That's pretty much it. So it sounded like it's a lot. It's that that was very, very much how it was with you as well. What does branding mean to you? It means a lot, I know, but what does it mean to you?R Tavares:                     Well, it means identity. It means communication, education. There's so much that, inspiration effectively with our brand. That's what I want to do is the, to inspire, to educate, to build the brand identity and so people can also identify back with the brand, and form a connection with the brand as well. And I feel like we've accomplished that so far with existing group of consumers that we have and fans and family and all of that the next phase is going into not, away from the low hanging fruit, so to speak. But I feel like we still have a lot of work to do with our existing community as well. So, yeah, I would say the brand means those four pillars. Educate, inspire, communicate and build identity.F Geyrhalter:                 I love that. And how do you engage with your tribe, so to speak? I know you're doing recipe videos, which are like unscripted, fun, quirky and I know you're extremely active in on Instagram. What are some ways where you feel like there's a really good dialogue going on between you and the people who actually appreciate your product?R Tavares:                     I would say social media would be number one. I will go in myself typically on weekends and just start responding to people, correspond with people there and I'll just usually let them know that is me, if it's me speaking. So I would say there, sometimes I'll go to live speaking engagements at the consumer trade shows as well. I'm communicating often with the consumer. And I would say those would probably be probably be the three times. And then, if it's just an external dialogue wherein I'm just speaking, it's typically on podcasts.F Geyrhalter:                 Right. I see that. I hear that.R Tavares:                     Well, yeah, we do do videos as well. It's just that we paused last year a little bit on the marketing front because we had to focus a bit internally. However, next year we'll be kicking that up again. And my goal is to create eight potentially an IGTV show where I'm doing interviews myself, short interviews with some of our investors or fans or influencers, something that would just be quarterly, to keep it manageable. But we're going to be kicking that, taking that off next year, early next year.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fantastic. That's really cool. What is a piece of brand advice, if you have anything like on top of your mind for founders that might be following your footsteps that might go into a category like food and beverage or just brand advice for any founder as a takeaway? What have you learned in the last years of making your brand into a reality?R Tavares:                     So advice I would give to new new entrepreneurs, I would say that if you're a creative and you have a feeling that you know what you want, that I would be very authentic in your voice and go with your intuition and try to get the message across of what you want to see with a really great professional who can design what you have in your mind and put it on paper. I often actually just sketch it and then I give it to a designer to bring to life.And then if you can also, if you can afford it, I would recommend doing a small consumer study to understand what messaging is important to the consumer to see on the front of the packaging, the back of the packaging. If not, it's not that important. You can probably Google it and then if you're not, if you're a finance operational type, I would find your favorite brands out there and pulled them all together and figure out who did their design, and go to that agency and tell them what you like and what you don't like and get your vision through that way.So I feel like it really depends on what kind of founder you are and lean into that where you can and get support where you need it.F Geyrhalter:                 Great advice. When you talked about consumer studies, do you actually hire a company to do consumer studies or is it something where you basically just say, like you go out there and you just interview people?R Tavares:                     No, we do, we have, it's kind of like a hybrid situation. But yes, we have done consumer studies now that we have more at stake. So, and now we're really curious as to what the consumers are thinking.F Geyrhalter:                 For sure.R Tavares:                     For example, we have a chocolate spread called Chocti, right. And on the packaging, I wanted it to be a hybrid between adult-like and child-like. But at the same time, I didn't really think about how is the consumer going to use this? How are they going to see it? Is it going to be a family, is it going to be a single person? And what we found out after we after the fact, is that probably should have done something more fun and bright and white. And there was probably some hiccups that I could of solved for if I didn't just go with my own wish. Right. So that's kind of an example where I could've probably used some more pragmatic research in the design of the Chocti. But we were still pretty young when that came to life. So, it's just kind of growing pains, but if you can hit it on the front end, that's what I would say to do. Even if it's just like your own, 12 of your best friends in a room with 10 good questions. That could work.F Geyrhalter:                 Totally. Yeah. If you have to bootstrap it, bootstrap it, but if you can afford it, the more information you can get upfront, the more success you will have quickly. Absolutely. Where can me, myself and I find that the chocolate spread and more important, where can our listeners find your products?R Tavares:                     Well, you can find everything in Sprouts. And Whole Foods has all of our products as well. Kroger or Gelson's and Wegmans if you're in the East coast, Publix and then Amazon, of course. Amazon has everything.F Geyrhalter:                 Perfect. Very good. Excellent. Well, thank you Raquel, for making the time to swing by the show. I really appreciate your thoughts on branding and marketing and the entrepreneurial advice that you shared with my listeners.R Tavares:                     Well, thank you so much. I'm honored and flattered to be here and I love what you've done as well, so thank you so much for your time.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, thank you. And thanks to everyone for listening. Head on over to to show your support. Just like Florian Felipe of Los Angeles who joined this community on the Brandster level, and Devroni Liasoi Lumandan from Malaysia for upgrading to the Co-Brander level. Join the group and learn about the many perks you receive for supporting the show at podcast is currently brought to you by Finien, a brand consultancy, creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more at Finien and also dive into an assortment of my brand insights while you're there. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we, once again, we'll be Hitting that Mark. 
President Obama praised Scott Harrison, and so have Arianna Huffington and Michael Bloomberg. Without a doubt, I knew he would be a charismatic and smart guest. But having Scott share his inspirational story and dive into the details of how he built the brand, and how branding was actually a crucial component of charity: water's success, went beyond my highest expectations.Scott is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world. He is also the New York Times best-selling author of Thirst, a story of redemption, compassion, and the mission to bring clean water to the world. In the 13 years since he founded his organization, charity: water has mobilized over 1 million donors around the world to fund more than 38,000 water projects in 28 countries and bring clean water to 10 million people.He was ranked number 10 in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in business. And in this episode you will witness why.To get inspired, not only for the ways in which you build your brand, but for the way you live your life, give this episode a listen. Links mentioned:charity: waterTHIRST - the bookSpring - the videoHitting The Mark Patreon Page ____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting the Mark. President Obama praised my next guest, so has Arianna Huffington and Michael Bloomberg. Today I'm fortunate to have him on the line. I usually spend around two hours prepping for my guests the day prior to the taping. And then, at night, I listen to some past interviews while on the treadmill. This was different. When prepping for my next guest I got so sucked into his stories that I spent the majority of my day diving into the rich and fascinating journey of Scott Harrison.Scott is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world. He's also the New York Times best-selling author of Thirst, a story of redemption, compassion, and the mission to bring clean water to the world. Harrison spent 10 years as a night club promoter in New York City before leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship in West Africa as a photo journalist. Returning home two years later, he founded charity: water in 2006. In the 13 years since, the organization has mobilized over 1 million donors around the world to fund more than 38,000 water projects in 28 countries and bring clean water to 9.7 million people.Scott has been recognized on Fortune's 40 under 40 list, Forbes' Impact 30 list, and was ranked number 10 in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in business. He's currently a World Economic Forum young global leader, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children. Out of sheer coincidence though a mutual friend I got introduced to his wife, Viktoria, who is also Vice President of Creative for charity: water, who in turn made this interview happen since Scott was already somewhat familiar with my work to some extent, just seeing my books on branding lying around the house. Welcome to the show, Scott, and thanks so much for making the time.S Harrison: Hey, thanks for having me. This will be fun.F Geyrhalter: So, Scott, your inspiring story has been told many times, and as of late also in your best-selling book, Thirst, which I picked up a few days ago. It's a fascinating story and a remarkable journey. Could you share a little bit of it with our listeners? Like how did your career begin, and how did you end up running one of the most trusted and admired non-profits in the world?S Harrison: Yeah. Well, I guess I'll start early on. I was born in a very middle class family in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey. When I was young, when I was four years old, there was a terrible accident in our house. We got carbon monoxide gas poisoning from a heater that leaked. My dad and I were lucky enough to find the leak and we recovered, but my mom, after passing out one day unconscious, just never recovered. She became an invalid. Her body's ability to just function normally in the world ended with this carbon monoxide poisoning.I grew up in a pretty sheltered Christian home taking care of mom. An only child. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. I was in a caregiver role really. Then at 18, maybe no surprise, woke up one day and said, Now it's my turn. Now it's my turn to move to New York City and to do all the things I wasn't allowed to do. Now it's my turn to take care of myself. I joined a rock band which was a terrible idea because we broke up a couple of months later because we all hated each other.But I found that there was this unique profession in New York City called a night club promoter. And if you could get the beautiful people into the right clubs you could make a lot of money drinking for a living. I was 19 years old, a couple of years before I was even legally allowed in these nightclubs, I started throwing fashion parties and music parties, and pulling crowds of people together, doing deals with the clubs. I thought this was the greatest life ever. I mean I was chasing girls. I was chasing fashion week around. I was chasing the cars and the watches and all these things that I thought would bring fulfillment and happiness.The next thing I know 10 years is over. I'm 28 years old. I've worked at 40 different clubs in New York City over a decade. And my life is terrible. I have a cocaine problem. I have an Ecstasy and MDMA problem. I've got a serious drinking problem. I've smoked two to three packs of Marlboro reds for ten years, so I have a coughing problem. Gambling. Strip clubs. Pornography addiction. I mean, you name it, every vice that you might imagine would come with the territory had found its way to me and I'd taken it on.I had this really extreme contrast of a life that looked great on the outside. Going to beautiful dinners with fashion models at 10:00, and going to the club at 12:00. So then this life that was really rotting on the inside. Often I wouldn't go to bed until 12:00 or 1:00 or 2:00PM the next day, taking sleeping pills to try to come down off a high.I had some health issues. I read about this in the book. One day half my body goes numb. Maybe to a listener, no freaking wonder. But I go see doctors as you would and get the MRIs and the CT scans and the EKGs, and they can't find anything wrong with me. And I just really have a moment where I'm faced with my mortality. I realize, Boy I've made a mess of my life, and if I continue down this path I'm leaving the most meaningless legacy that a person could leave. I drink for a living. I get others wasted for a living. I'm doing nothing to serve others. I'm doing nothing to serve humanity.And I also realized I'd come so far from the foundation of spirituality and morality of my youth. And I wanted to come home. I wanted to find my way back to that. So that was 28, and one day I decide I'm going to leave night life and I ask myself the question, What would the opposite of my hedonistic, disgusting, sycophantic life look like? I thought, Well, serving others on a humanitarian adventure. I'm going to go do that. I'm going to go serve people without being paid, and I thought it'd be cool to go to Africa and do that.I found out this was very difficult when you're a nightclub promoter that gets people drunk for a living, because serious credible humanitarian organizations aren't exactly interested in taking you on. So I got denied by 10 or so famous organizations that everybody would have heard of.F Geyrhalter: To do volunteer work, which is pretty amazing.S Harrison: Yeah. I didn't even want to be paid.F Geyrhalter: We don't want your free work.S Harrison: Right. But I looked toxic on paper, right? So finally one organization said, Hey look, Scott, if you're willing to go and live in post-war Liberia, West Africa, and if you're willing to pay us $500 a month you can join our mission and you can be our photojournalist. I'd actually gotten a degree at New York University in journalism and communications just because it was the easiest degree I thought I could get. I was a C-minus student. Never even say the diploma. I just sent it straight to my dad because I felt like I owed it to him for saving up.So I on paper was technically qualified to do this job or this role. And I said, Great. I've got some cameras. I can write and I can't wait to see what amazing humanitarian work you're doing and how you people are, I'm sure, saving the world. So it happened very quickly, Fabian. I would up a couple of weeks later in West Africa embedded as a photojournalist with a group of humanitarian doctors and surgeons who would operate on people who had no access to medical care from a giant 522 foot hospital ship.The ship would sail up and down the coast of Africa bringing the best doctors and surgeons to the people who needed medical care. Thousands and thousands of people would turn up, and we would help as many people as we could. My third day in Africa, my third day on this mission, I was faced with the reality that there was so much more need than we could handle. 5000 sick patients turned up for 1500 available medical slots and we wound up sending 3500 people home.I would up just falling in love with the work of these doctors. Their heart, the purpose behind it. I had an email list of 15,000 people. So I had in a way a little bit of a built-in audience. Now granted these people had been coming to parties at the [inaudible 00:09:47] for Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine for years. But I was able to tell them the stories of these patients of these amazing doctors. I learned that the same gift for promoting nightclubs, the same maybe skill that could get people excited about spending $20 on a vodka soda, could also be used to tell more redemptive, important stories, and also be used to raise money.I wound up doing a year there. That turned into a second year. And in the second year that I was back in West Africa, in Liberia, I saw the water that people were drinking in the rural remote areas. As I traveled around the country I just couldn't believe that there was no clean water. People were drinking from swamps. They were drinking from ground ponds, from viscous rivers. I learned that half of the country was drinking bad water, and half the disease in the country was because of that bad water.So I really started evolving into what I was interested in. If you'd asked me in the first year it would have been surgeries and medical procedures. If you'd asked me in the second year it would have been, Hey we need to get people water so that they're not sick in the first place. Let's get to the root cause of this, not just treat the symptoms.So all in, it was two years. It was a life changing, extraordinary experience. I came back to New York City at 30 with a completely new lease on life, a new purpose. I'd shed the vices. I quit smoking before I joined the mission. I quit drinking. I quit drugs and swore off porn and all that stuff obviously. I just wanted to change everything about my life. And now I had my issue. I wanted to help see if I could bring clean drinking water to people around the world that needed it.F Geyrhalter: And what was that one big breakthrough moment where you knew that this is not going to be a small non-profit? This is actually turning into a brand with a huge following, and it's going to affect millions of people. When was that moment when you knew now we're going over that curve, you know?S Harrison: You know I think I was pretty clear early on about the importance of branding to our success or to any sort of scale. So, okay, the different between mission and vision for us. So the mission was going to be let's bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet, and we'll know that we've achieved our mission when there are zero people left dying of bad water. Zero children dying in their mom's arms because they had to drink from a swamp. Zero women being attacked by hyenas, or lions, or crocodiles at the water source. So that's the mission.However, I had the advantage of being 30. The term social entrepreneur wasn't invented yet. And I really didn't know any better. I was just hanging out with everyday people who worked at the Sephora store. Or they worked at MTV. Or they worked at Chase Bank. And I realized that most people that I talked to didn't trust charities. They didn't trust the system. I learned that 42% of Americans said they don't trust charities, and 70% of Americans ... This is a more recent poll by NYU… 70% of Americans said, We believe charities waste our money when we donate.So I thought, this is actually the bigger opportunity. The vision for this thing is going to be reimagine, reinvent charity. How a charity should think and feel and act. How a charity should connect and serve its supporters. So we had a mission but then the vision would be this bigger thing that we did, and it would require effectively rebranding charity to take the cynical, skeptical, disenchanted people and say, Hey take another look. We're doing something very, very different here. We think we're actually speaking to your objections and the reasons why you're not giving. So "charity:" kind of on the left side being the vision and then "water" being the mission.F Geyrhalter: Right. And how did that come together? So when you instill trust in people and you have to change the stigma around charities not being trustworthy and how money goes to salaries, how did your business model, for instance, address this?S Harrison: Yeah. The biggest problem people had was they don't know where their money goes. I would just hear a version of that time and time again. You know, I give to a charity. How much is actually going to reach the people that need it? Is any of it going to reach the people? And I thought, Well, what if we could make a promise that 100% of the money would reach the people that need it.F Geyrhalter: Which is crazy.S Harrison: Which is crazy.F Geyrhalter: Right, yeah.S Harrison: And it really, on face value, it's a really dumb idea. Because if every donation goes straight to, in our case building water projects around the world, well then how would you ever pay for your own salary? Or your team's salary? Or your office costs? So I deeply believed that I could find a very small group of people and get them excited about that, about paying for the unsexy overhead costs, if they knew, again, that they were opting in to pay for this and if we were able to run a really efficient organization.So I literally opened up two bank accounts with different numbers 13 years ago. And said, 100% of the public's money is only going to go in this bank account and it's only going to build water projects, that we are going to prove. We're going to use photos and GPS and show satellite images. We're going to put trackers on the drilling rigs so people can just feel so connected to 100% of that money.And the other bank account, I'm going to go to entrepreneurs and business leaders and say, Hey, look, we have overhead costs, do you mind covering those? Because I can get you a great return on that investment and you're going to help me build a movement of clean water and restore people's faith in charity.So that was idea #1. The second idea was really just proof and finding ways to connect donors to the impact of their donation. So if a six year old girl gave $8.15 could we track that $8.15 to a village in Malawi and show here a picture of the project that that $8.15 went and supported? Could we even show her the names of the other people who made up the rest of that water project? So proof just became this core pillar.The third was really building an epic brand. You know 13 years ago if we were doing this podcast I would have told you that branding was going to be key to our success. And I would have quoted from the New York Times, a writer named Nick Kristof, who said that toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than all the world's life-saving causes.F Geyrhalter: I can see that. Yeah.S Harrison: I thought it's true and it's broke, and right? Colgate and Crest are better marketers. Doritos can spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Junk food companies, literally killing us and our children. But yet the most empowerful life saving causes on the planet often have anemic brands. In fact, there's almost a poverty mentality. You know if our brand looks too good maybe people won't want to give us money.F Geyrhalter: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.S Harrison: So you saw a lot of beige out there in the sector. You know dropped panel ceilings, florescent lights, cubby holes with the fuzzy linings on them. And I thought, man, the brands that we all look up to, the epic brands, the Nikes, the Virgins, the Apples, the Teslas, these are imaginative, inspiring brands. These are brands that don't use shame and guilt to peddle their wares. These are brands that try to call forth greatness and innovation and beauty. And I just didn't see that in charities. I saw charities trying to make people feel really bad about how much money they had and then guilting and shaming them into giving.While that may work in a short term for fundraising, it's not how you build a brand. Nobody goes and tells their friends about the charity that made them feel shameful. Or guilty. But you do go tell your friends about something that you're inspired by. So brand was really going to be this third core pillar. And that would look like attention to detail, valuing design, trying to hire the best designers and convince them not to work at Apple but to work at a place like charity: water and use their design skills for good.F Geyrhalter: Unheard of, yeah.S Harrison: And then the last thing was just making sure we worked with local partners to get the work done. I thought for our actual work, providing clean water to people around the world, to be culturally appropriate and for it to be sustainable it had to be led by the people in each of these countries. So by Ethiopians in Ethiopia, and by Kenyans in Kenya, and by Indians in India. Our job would be to create a global movement, energy and awareness around the clean water crisis. Use 100% of the money and track those dollars, but then empower the locals, now in 29 countries, to lead their communities and their countries forward with our capital.F Geyrhalter: Amazing. And obviously you care deeply about design, right? Your organization has been praised for its imaginative approach to branding. I just got a chance to review your 86 page brand guide last night. It states the following. It states: We believe a strong sense of brand can set us apart and amplify every message we send. Very much to what you just said, but when you started you had pretty much zero money. Zero experience, right?, in not only the non-profit space.S Harrison: But we had good taste.F Geyrhalter: That's right. And that can set it apart, right? But you didn't have experience branding necessarily, right? I mean as a nightclub promoter to a certain extent, flyers, stuff like that. But people don't care that much. How did then the visual brand come together? How did you arrive at that really now iconic bright yellow water can logo? What was that journey like?S Harrison: Well, so the first person that I hired was someone to help me go and work on the water projects, go and find the partners and figure out who we should send this money to to get impact. The second person I hired was a creative director, a designer. I later married her, so that's the story for the book.F Geyrhalter: Good choice.S Harrison: And she became my wife. But for a charity to make an early hire as a designer is unheard of. I mean that's normally hire 30. It's hire 60. Sometimes it's hire never. You know you hire some agency and you shop the whole thing out. So I just believed that brand would need to be the core of this thing, and it should be the second person.So when I hired Vik, she was working at an ad agency. She was working on Toyota campaigns and Clinique and she hated it. Her agency's motto was Create Desire, and it was basically sell people more things that they don't even want, certainly don't need, and then we make our clients rich. So she had come across charity: water. I'd done this outdoor exhibition in New York City where I put dirty water from New York City ponds and rivers into big plexi tanks and I showed people what it would look like if we had to drink the same water that people were drinking around the world.F Geyrhalter: That was a great campaign, yeah.S Harrison: Yeah. And she volunteered at that, and at the end she said, Hey, I'm a designer. Can I be useful? I'm like, Absolutely. Can you show up tomorrow? And she was an animator. She was a graphic designer. She wound up teaching herself how to shoot, edit video. And just really the all in one designer, then VP of Creative later. So it was really the three of us at the beginning kind of concepting these campaigns. How do we raise awareness? How do we get people to think differently about water?So I think it was just valuing that really early on, and then she wound up staying with the work for nine years and building up an amazing team and an amazing creative culture. You know, it's interesting. My wife, Viktoria, left a couple of years ago. She's now a brand consultant and starting her own business just trying to teach brand to other startups and other non-profits.She walked in the office the other day. There's 100 people here and we have a stunning 35,000 square foot office in Tribeca, New York and there's huge 14 foot light boxes and donated TV screens with images and with video loops. She walked in and was kind of like, Oh my gosh I don't know a lot of the people anymore. And the design looks even better than I ever remember it. And I'm like, Yeah, that's the testament to the culture. We posted a job for graphic designer at charity: water. I think we had 480 people apply at a non-profit. So that's really the culture.So it was valued at the top. It still is. I'm still pixel pushing every once in a while. I'll go over and I'll change a color or complain about a font. But I think that's the difference because a lot of non-profits are run by academics. Or they're run in a much more institutional way that doesn't value the creativity and the aesthetic.So it was two things. It was having the good taste. I couldn't do it myself. And then hiring and then putting the money in that direction for years that's helped. The jerry can you asked about. I absolutely resisted that. I didn't like the yellow jerry can. I didn't think anybody would know what it meant. And Vik always saw it as our Nike swoosh symbol. You know this is the symbol for water throughout so many countries around the world. The jerry can is not going away. And we want the water in every single jerry can in the world to be clean water. You know, it's the yellow can. I argued it for maybe a year.F Geyrhalter: Oh, wow. Persistent.S Harrison: And in the vein of my wife, typically right. And it turned out that she was. It's been a distinctive mark for us.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. It's a little bit like the name where it feels at first a little generic, and then you can own it. And you own the entire history that's behind that simple image. Right?S Harrison: It really is. I mean I laugh about that. Right? It's a charity that helps people get water. I mean at least you know what we do.F Geyrhalter: So let's talk about that. Let's talk about that, because I wonder was it intentionally picked to allow for an extension into anything else than water at some point?S Harrison: Yeah. So that's why the core. So charity: would be the core entity, i.e. the vision. This effort to bring in new donors, to inspire generosity, to speak to cynicism around charity. Right? Build this huge community of givers who wanted to help people, help end suffering around the world. And then water would be the first initiative. Right? We were going to do that. We were going to live out the vision through the mission.F Geyrhalter: How long could it take, right? A couple of years then we should be done with water.F Geyrhalter: Check.S Harrison: I thought the next year I was going to imitate Richard Branson and I was going to launch charity: educaton, charity: health, charity: malaria, charity: justice, charity: shelter.F Geyrhalter: Well, I'm glad you didn't. We're all glad you didn't.S Harrison: I actually registered a bunch of domain names. I think I still own Geyrhalter: Because all the ones you haven't registered, they will be registered by the time that the podcast airs I'm sure.S Harrison: Yeah. Yeah.F Geyrhalter: They're going to sell it to you for millions of dollars, Scott. That's what they're going to do.S Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. So that was the idea at the beginning. And then as it happens, first of all you realize how difficult it is to do one thing well. Also, by the way, Fabian, there are 663 million human beings without clean water. So we just passed through 10 million that we've helped. So that's 10 million of 663 million. So 1/66th of the problem, or 1.5%. So we're at the very beginning of this journey and our impact we hope.And the beauty is as we got deeper into our first mission, our first initiative, charity: water, we learned that water impacted just about every other thing we were interested in doing. It impacted women and girls and gender equality. It is only the women and the girls that are the ones getting the water. It radically impacts health. 50% of the disease throughout the developing world, caused by bad water and lack of sanitation. It dramatically improved education as we could bring clean water and sanitation to the one in three schools worldwide that don't have clean water. I mean imagine sending your child to a school with no clean water and no toilet. Imagine sending your teenage girl to that school. Well, she doesn't go four or five days a month to a school without water and toilets and falls behind in her studies.So water became like this onion that the deeper we understood the importance and significance, the more we realized we were accomplishing so many other things. We were ending so many other aspects of human suffering by doing the one thing well. So 13 years later there's still no plan to brand extend. But, you know, as generic as the name is I think we've been able to own it through campaigns and through design and through, I mean gosh, we've probably made 800 to 1000 videos in house over that last decade or so.F Geyrhalter: I feel like I watched 100 of those yesterday. You get sucked into it.S Harrison: Some of the old ones are a little painful.F Geyrhalter: I don't think my Google search got me that far. So it's all good. Let's talk about storytelling a little bit more. I mean, it's key in the non-profit world. We talked about that most lead by using tools of shame and guilt. But hopeful storytelling in contrast has always been a tremendously important aspect of charity: water. And where other people use statistics, which are a far contrast to personal stories which lead to empathy more naturally, you guys you tell unbelievably sophisticated and personal stories. I heard one of those. I think it was on MentorBox, of giving a drilling rig a Twitter account and mounting it with cameras to tell its story while raising funds for it. And things did not always go quite as planned with the rig's journey. But you still shared those hiccups or failures with your tribe. Can you tell us that story, and perhaps how other brands can learn from the transparent way that charity: water tells its stories?S Harrison: Yeah, gosh, I feel like I've got to be careful not to use any of the buzz words.F Geyrhalter: It's a branding podcast. Go for it.S Harrison: For authenticity.F Geyrhalter: I did empathy. It's open. The door's open.S Harrison: Yeah. I mean I think if you're trying to solve for trust people just want to know how things really are out there. And if you present a picture of everything works all the time, and everything always goes well, well, people just know that's not how life works. That's not how any company works. That's not how any organization works. I think over 13 years we've just been honest and vulnerable about some of our challenges, whether they're broken wells out there. Whether it's drilling wells and not being able to serve communities like you mentioned.So in that specific story, we had crowd funded a well deep in the Central African Republic for a tribe of Bayaka Pygmies. This is a marginalized tribe. It's an oppressed group of people. They never had clean water before. In fact, the well driller that we were working with had gone in three times before and failed. A couple by hand, not finding water deep enough. Once with a small rig. He was sure that this time with the proper equipment, with a million dollar drilling rig and our money, he would be able to go and succeed.And we really believed him. We got thousands of people to learn about the Bayaka tribe, about their heroism, and their courage, and how they take care of their kids, and what the families are like. Just how extraordinary these people are. And we asked people to give money and said, Hey, please help. We promised that if we raised enough money to help them, then we would fly back and we would drill the well live via satellite so people could see the payoff. And what happened was we got another dry well. We tried, and we tried, and we tried for a couple of days. And we just broadcast the failure. We didn't sugarcoat it. It wasn't a happy ending. We wound up pulling away, leaving the village no better off than we found them. And perhaps worse because we'd raised a sense of hope. And we'd lit about $15,000 on fire in front of our supporters.But it was one of the most popular videos we ever shared because it was true. We've all been in car accidents. We've all maybe made a bad investment or a bad decision. And this wasn't for the lack of trying. This was actually a tenacity and a courage that was to be commended by our local partner in the effort of never giving up on these people, of never giving up on this tribe. But this time didn't work and all this money was lost.I just remember the emails coming in. It was sympathy but it was more respect, like, wow, we respect you guys for just being honest with us, for letting us know how hard it is out there to do what you're trying to do, by not sugarcoating it. And we will continue to give to charity: water. We know it didn't work this time, but if you want to go back we're in it again. And we actually did go back a year later, and we were able to finally successfully drill for that community in Central Africa with even more and different equipment. And then send that video around of eventual success. But I think just being willing to live with the reality of the moment and to share that built a lot of community.F Geyrhalter: And that's radical transparency, right?, which kind of by now even became a little bit a buzzword. But for you guys that is something that is really entrenched in how you actually run.S Harrison: Yeah. I was saying that 13 years ago on stage and to anybody that would listen. Radical transparency. Hyper transparency. I mean I just believe that the great businesses and certainly the great non-profits in the world, they will thrive on being honest and having integrity, on sharing their successes, sharing their challenges, and also sharing their failures.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And it's also important to you share the impact any specific group investing into your organization has, right?, if it goes right or wrong, but just to show what is happening. So data plays a huge part in charity: water. I watched your keynote from Inbound last year and you promised to share the impact that specific audience, if they would donate, right?, the impact that they would have on communities after five years.Now the way that I actually first learned about charity: water was the campaign you did together with Depeche Mode during their Delta Machine tour. Obviously a huge audience around the world. I believe a total of two million people attended once that tour was over. And the partnership continued in the Spirit tour a few years back. Did you have a system in place back then to track how much, let's say, the Copenhagen audience contributed versus the Paris audience? Or how many wells were built based on this one tour?S Harrison: Yeah, the Depeche Mode money was actually raised primarily through-F Geyrhalter: The watch, right?S Harrison: ... a partnership with Hublot. Yeah. A partnership with Hublot. However, they did have a campaign online and I remember all the band members donated their birthday. The fans were able to contribute to their birthdays.F Geyrhalter: Talk about that a little bit. Talk about that initiative because that's something most people are probably not familiar with, and it's such a great ... We're getting sidetracked but let's go there for a second.S Harrison: It was a simple idea. Look, it was a simple idea. We have birthdays every year. Our birthdays are typically about us, celebrating ourselves. We get gifts often that we don't want or need. We throw ourselves parties. Often other people throw parties for us that we don't necessarily even enjoy. And I thought, What if we could reclaim the birthday as a moment of generosity? And what if we could make our birthdays about others, and involve our friends, and our family, and our community in significant change around the world?I said, Look, here's this sticky marketing idea. Let's turn them into fundraisers and let's have people ask for their age in dollars, or pounds, or euros. So I tried this by doing my 32nd birthday. I said, Hey, if you've got 32 dollars please donate 32 dollars for my 32nd birthday. 100% of the money will go help clean water and we'll prove exactly where every dollar goes.To my surprise, my goal was $32,000 which was ambitious, but this idea spread and I ended up raising $59,000. Then a seven year old kid in Texas took the idea and he said, I'm turning seven and I want $7.00 donations for my birthday. He started knocking on doors, telling the story, talking about water. Wound up raising $22,000. A seven year old kid. We had 80 nine year olds donate for their birthday, asking for $89. It was kind of a beautiful multi-layered idea because so many kids around the world are dying before they reach their fifth birthday because they've had dirty water.We realized that as we donated our birthdays, people could actually have more birthdays. They could live longer. They could live healthier. They could thrive with clean water. And our friends don't want to get us crap anyway. You know, we don't want to get our friends an iTunes gift card, or a wallet, or a handbag.F Geyrhalter: Especially the iTunes gift card.S Harrison: Or scarves. Or socks. Or whatever, right? So people would much rather give to a cause that you care about. So this movement has helped us now get over two million people clean water around the world. Over 100,000 people have donated their birthdays. They've raised over 70 million dollars. In fact, if anyone is just interested in learning more you can just go to Even if your birthday is 13 days from now or 11 months from now, you can learn more. You can pledge. And we make it so easy. I've done eight birthdays now. My son did his first birthday when he was one, and people just love it. They love being able to see the impact of seeing something that was really focused on us turned to help others. Depeche Mode donated their birthdays. Will Smith donated his birthday. Kristen Bell donated her birthday. Tony Hawk. The founders of Twitter and Spotify and people at Apple. It's been amazing. Everyday people. Kids donating their birthdays to huge executives. It's helped us raise a lot of awareness and raise a lot of money.F Geyrhalter: And it's one of the reasons why you're one of the 10 most innovative people in business today, most creative people in business. It's those little ideas that come so quickly and afterwards they have such an impact. As we are coming slowly to an end here, I need to ask you this one question. What is one word that can describe your brand? So I know you believe in simplicity. It's important for the organization. This is brand simplicity at its core. Everything charity: water does. Everything it stands for all condensed into that one word that I call your Brand DNA. Can you think of that one word?S Harrison: Yeah, yeah. Inspired.F Geyrhalter: Great.S Harrison: We are trying to inspire people. We are inspired by the stories of courage and heroism. We're inspired by our local partners. We're inspired by our volunteers. We're inspired by the beneficiaries out there, the women that are walking for water, that are providing for their families under dire circumstances. We're inspired by our donors. We're inspired by our team members that we get to work with. It's my favorite word for the brand, and hopefully we're able to continue inspiring others to join us.F Geyrhalter: And I think you just have. In your book you state, and you stated this earlier in the podcast too, that good branding is key to charity: water's success. What does branding mean to you?S Harrison: I mean, gosh, there's so many definitions. I think branding is the perception. It's how people think of us. Does charity: water bring a smile to their face? Do they trust us? Do they believe that we are a bunch of hard-working, intelligent, passionate people that are doing this for the right reasons? That are trying to use our time, and our talents, and our money in the service of others? In the service of clean water? It's all of these little, little ideas and moments and brushes with a person at charity: water, or the brand, or a video, or an image, or a quote, that adds up to the brand. I think, I guess branding is the things that we do to not protect that but really move it forward. To continue inspiring. To continue designing with excellence and integrity. To continue telling stories that move people towards a greater generosity, and compassion, and a better version of themselves.F Geyrhalter: It's the sum of it all. Absolutely. I want to urge everyone to pick up a copy of Scott's book entitled Thirst. Proceeds go to charity: water.S Harrison: That's right. Yep. I don't make a penny.F Geyrhalter: You will do yourself a favor just to unlock the engaging digital component of the book, which is so cool. I got so sucked into this yesterday. It's a wonderfully curated and displayed content. But Scott, what do you want listeners do to help your cause? Where else would you want them to go to be part of the change?S Harrison: So there's a video that we made as we turned 10. It's called The Spring. It's really our story. It's an exercise in storytelling and branding. It's now gotten over 20 million views across platforms. But people could watch that. They could learn about The Spring, which is this new community we're building now across 110 countries of people who are showing up for clean water every month, in the same way that they might show up for Netflix or Spotify or Apple Music.So it's a community called The Spring and you could share the film. You could watch the film. You could join us in The Spring. Or you could just post it. So many people have learned about charity: water coming across a video, specifically this video. So that's at ... It's pretty easy to remember. It's just Geyrhalter: We'll link out to that.S Harrison: Or even So I'd say learn a little more. I think it's one thing to hear me talk about it. It's another to see the images, to see the video of people suffering and the need. But also the amazing relief. You get to see wells being drilled. You get to see people drinking clean water the very first time in their life. I would say it's an inspiring video, I think. So we'd love your help. Watch it. Maybe join us in The Spring, and then just help us share it. Because so many of your friends don't know about this issue, have never heard about us. And this is how we've grown really, through word of mouth.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Thank you, Scott, from the bottom of my heart. I know you need to go. Thanks for taking the time during your hectic schedule and for sharing your stories and advice with our listeners. I'm forever grateful for the time you spend with us and for the positivity, the inspiration, and the hope you provide through charity: water.S Harrison: Of course. Well, listen, come visit in New York City. I'd love to show you around headquarters, and thanks so much for just investing time to learn about us and doing your research. I really appreciate it.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Well, my pleasure. And thanks to everyone for listening, and please support this podcast so we can turn advertising free and solely listener supported. Just like Yacoub Yassin from Cairo, Egypt, Chris Wertz from New Orleans, Abda from Karlsdorf-Neuthard in Germany, Devroni Liasoi Lumandan from Sabah, Malaysia, Pablo Valles (who I do not know where he’s from), Rod from Fort Mill in South Carolina and last but not least, and this is just too awesome, Viktoria Harrison from NYC whose husband you just listened to for the past 45 minutes, and who has been integral in the creation of the Charity: water brand. Wow. This is amazing, and what a truly international group. All of these new subscribers joined on the Brandster level and are now part of my monthly group calls. Join them by heading over to to show your support. And please leave a quick rating and review wherever you listen to the show. Hitting the Mark is currently brought to you by Finien, a brand consultancy creating strategic verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more at The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. And I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting the Mark.
Music to me is, and has always been existential. From when I was a little boy growing up with a concertmaster – in many of the world's most famous orchestras – as my dad, in Vienna, and constantly visiting his workplace, the famous Musikverein, to today where I am a music aficionado, an avid vinyl record collector as well as a (fairly amateur) music producer. Music is a passion, or 'addiction' as my wife would say, and a great source of joy for me.Having Till Janczukowicz on this show was a big personal pleasure. His classical music streaming app, IDAGIO, is constantly running a fine line between catering to the young and the old, the classical novice versus the expert, and it is a fascinating branding game.Till discusses how classical music, as a brand, was intimidating, and how he and his team are breaking that wall down, out their offices in Berlin, Germany. And how classical music's role and perception in society has changed over the years, and what role technology played in it.We discuss how to showcase music visually, with all of its nuances, is an extremely difficult task, one that IDAGIO mastered from day one.So many fascinating takeaways in this conversation, one that struck with me, and that should give you an idea on how deep we are diving into not only the brand discussion, but also the entrepreneurial journey as a whole: "The bigger you grow as a corporation, the more you have to bring things that are on a subconscious level to a conscious level."A delightful conversation that truly inspired me, and I believe it will do the same for you.To support this show, please head to Patreon.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to HITTING THE MARK.Today we welcome a guest who I have been looking forward to for a while now. The subject hits home in many ways. Not only is this founder based in Berlin, Germany, hence you will get a double-German accent episode today, but his is the world of classical music, which is the same world in which I grew up in, back in Vienna.Till Janczukowicz is the founder of IDAGIO, which is often described as being the Spotify for classical music.Till has more than 20 years of experience as an artist manager, producer, and concert promoter. In 2000, he established the European office for Columbia Artists Management, heading it up as managing partner for 11 years. He was responsible for organizing several of the Metropolitan Opera’s European tours, and his personal clients included conductors Christian Thielemann, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, as well as pianists Ivo Pogorelich and Arcadi Volodos. In 2008, he founded the Abu Dhabi Classics, a performing arts series merging culture, education and tourism for the government of the United Arab Emirates. That is where he arranged debuts for the New York, Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics; the Bayreuth Festival; and Daniel Barenboim, Simon Rattle, Zubin Mehta, Yo-Yo Ma, Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, and countless other musical and artistic luminaries.I am thrilled to welcome you to the show, Till!T Janczukowicz: Great, pleasure to meet you and to be here.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. So as I mentioned in my intro, this is truly a pleasure for me since my father was an amazing violinist who spent most of his life as a concert master and some of Vienna's best orchestras from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, the Kammer Orchestra, all the way to the Vienna Philharmonics, and appeared on over 50 records and radio productions. So he was also a sound purist who loved his audio gadgets the same way that I do now. He would've cherished to hear this conversation today.So listeners who are not classical music fans may wonder why. Why was there a need for classical music in an app form when you can find plenty of classical options on Spotify, Apple music and Tidal? Let me quote an article from Vogue that explained it perfectly well, "It all comes down to Metadata." While Metadata for most popular music is quite simple, there's the artist, the song, or track, the album it's from. Classical Metadata might encompass everything from the composer, the orchestra, the conductor, the choir, which may have its own director, various soloists, the title of the piece, along with perhaps some sort of number or nomenclature to indicate it's placed within the larger symphony of work.Then artists opus number, or in the case of composers like Mozart Bach whose works are ordered by their own system, their Kochel or BWV number. So it's not simple. Yes, there is a big need for it.Till, your biography talks a lot about the amazing journey you have taken prior to starting IDAGIO in 2015, but tell us a bit about the founding story behind IDAGIO. How did it all start? Give us the romance, the hardship of your startup's early days.T Janczukowicz: So where to start? Let's start with the Romance, maybe-F Geyrhalter: That's a good place. Let's start positive.T Janczukowicz: The very early Romance, but what I would say is that I was lucky and only looking back, I understood that I was lucky. I was offered to piano when I was six years old and that captured me immediately. So once I started to play the piano for the first time without knowing anything, I knew and felt, "Well, that's my life. I'm going to spend my life with this music that fascinated me.I could even say, probably I've never worked. I never felt I was working in my life. At the very end, it comes down to a variety of attempts to promote what fascinated me, in a very, I wouldn't say egoistic way, but it was a very obvious thing for me. Classical music captured me. It opened stories for me. It created images and so on.So I started to be a pianist at the beginning. Thanks god I became friends with a real pianist, Krystian Zimerman, when I was 18 years old, who by the way... You are from Vienna, it's probably you were even still in Vienna these days. He recorded the Beethoven Piano Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonics Leonard Bernstein in the 80s. So Christian became a good friend. I saw what he did, I saw what I did and said, "Okay, he's a pianist." So next step for me was then he wanted to push me into management. It helped me a lot.But first of all, I started to be a teacher during my studies, made some money. But I'm coming from a family of teachers and so, "Okay, my dad was a teacher, my mom was a teacher, my grandfather was a teacher. So do you really want to sign a contract at your end of your 20s and that's going to determine what you're going to do until the end of your life?" The answer was no. So I didn't want to become a teacher. I wrote a little bit, but also as a writer I saw, well, you can speak about it in part, but you can't really change things.So then I went into management and now I'm coming to your question to the necessity of IDAGIO. As a manager, my perspective was always a B2B perspective. If you manage a great conductor, or a great soloist, your touring orchestra, it's about, first of all, building brands. Any young artists you see or any unknown ensemble or new music you see, as a manager, you have some possibility to make these people famous, to assist them to find out how they work and how you can help them.What I saw then having spent my life in management, putting on concerts in all parts of the world and we can cover that a little later because there were many fascinating learnings. But the main thing for me was that, if the future of music listening is streaming and the all-genre streaming services aren't designed for classic music because as you said, they are around pop music and they're pop driven where you only have three criteria: The song, the artist, and the album, my clients are going to be invisible in the digital ecosystem.So the moment there is no digital structure that could trick down a recording where you have a conductor, you have an orchestra, you have singers, you have a soloist, you have the composition, and so on. The moment that doesn't exist, I saw that as a luxury problem from the user's perspective because you can still curate and so on. Maybe yes, it's a problem for aficionados, but at the very end, I want to push a button, and I want music to play without a huge cognitive investment that I like, fine, but even there is a huge group of aficionados worldwide that suffering from bad metadata, and bad usability of classic music streaming platforms.But if you look at it from an artist perspective, this is a real threat because if you can't be tracked down in the digital space and people don't find you, you cease to exist and with you, the entire genre ceases to exist. That was a motivation from you, I said, "Well, you have to do something." The main question at the beginning for me was, "How can we use technology in order to maintain that music genre that was the passion since I first encountered that.There was not at the beginning, the idea of, "Well, I have to found the best streaming service for classical music." That was the result of a chain of it durations. For us it's rather the beginning than the end.F Geyrhalter: It was really more of an action cry, right? It needed to be done in order to... in the biggest terms possible, save classical music for generations, right? To me, that's where it gets really interesting to think about who the audiences. When you think of classical music, many think of an older audience, but you're obviously a digital tool that already eliminates, I would say, the too old for tech audience, right?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: You also clearly understand that you have to capture the hearts and souls of the next generations as the IDAGIO or IDAGIO... You and I had a little chat prior to this, it could go either way. So I don't feel guilty. The IDAGIO Instagram account, for instance. It nicely shows that it's going for the next generation. It's 29,000 followers. You have features like a relax playlist, which are perfect gateway drugs to anyone regardless of musical preference, right?T Janczukowicz: Sure.F Geyrhalter: Who do you cater to and how do you capture them in your brand communications? Do you constantly run that fine line between young and old, and classical novice versus expert?T Janczukowicz: Well, there are various levels to answer that. When I left my peer group, the classical music world that had been spending my life in, and started to enter into tech, I was, of course, reading a lot and all these blogs and I traveled to San Francisco, went to Silicon Valley just to be there to talk to people, to understand what it's all about.The first thing I learned, or the first thing at least that I remember is that one of the most failures of startups is to solve problems that don't exist.F Geyrhalter: Right.T Janczukowicz: For me, it was obvious that this problem does exist, both from a customer or user perspective and also from an artist perspective. So that was the beginning. Based on that, we did build our own technology, make a data model and so on and so on. Based on that, we can now, answering your question, cater for all varieties of audiences.What was interesting for me to see that after having spent 20 to 25 years in that world, more or less looking at things and reacting to things through my instinct, the assumptions I got over the years, they were confirmed in real numbers. Because the classical world is not really about numbers, it's about opinions. It's about being right, everybody is right. Everybody knows everything, it’s very controversially, very ego driven also.Now, I entered in a world where its numbers, "Okay, what you say is nothing more than a thesis, let's prove it." So that was totally new to me and very fascinating. What we found out that there are five, 10, 15, 20, maybe 50 use cases of listening to classical music and you can, of course, go and start segmenting classical music listeners.But interesting, is also to me that you can probably break it down into use cases because there are use cases that you would probably apply to an aficionado that sometimes also apply to a millennial listening to classical music and vice versa. So, for example, you mentioned this mood search we have and why do we have it? I wanted a tool where everybody, who opens the app and comes in contact with classic music, they can execute an action, move something, just touch screen with a finger, remove the finger, but already make a choice. So it can go to relaxed or meditative or joyful and so on. Then it's simply a playlist opening up with joyful or relaxing or focusing music.However, this is a use case and also some aficionados' life, because also aficionados are sometimes, I don't know, ironing their shirts, or cleaning the home. So this is the first thing I wanted to highlight because it was very interesting to me.Secondly, there are, of course, the obvious different segments. You have, the fact that classical music around the globe as a genre that's aggregating the high achievers. Classical music has always been, the music genre of the emerging communities. If you look at South America, you give underprivileged kids instruments and playing Beethoven makes their lives meaningful from one day to the other. So this is still system up. Gustavo Dudamel is one of the most known represented-F Geyrhalter: Well, he's here in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's now. So yeah, he's close to home.T Janczukowicz: Exactly.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, exactly. This is something that at the same time you have 50 million piano students in China these days. [] for example, used to say that the future of classical music is in China, which I wouldn’t say the future of classic music, but also be in China. But we see that a lot of young people in the Nordics, in Europe, but also in the United States are more and more turning to the classical, but they see and look at classical music in a different way, because especially in Germany... You're from Austria, central Europe, classical music is a heavy, serious thing. You have to gain some knowledge before you really understand it, which I believe is total bullshit. If music is great, everybody understands it immediately.The new use case that's coming up that I am listening to classical music because it helps me focus, it helps me calm down. But another word that I see in classical music as belonging, because if you listen to classical music and if you listen to a great concert with friends and a social environment, it also makes you feel connectiveness. You are connected with other people, you're connect with the musicians on stage. You are connected with the people you are listening with.So there was a very nice quote, which is very famous, but I heard it first from Yo-Yo Ma who once said, "The great thing about classic music is that it makes you part of something bigger than yourself." This is a very, very needed and a great value proposition.F Geyrhalter: I think, playing devil's advocate, that could be said about pretty much every musical genre, right? Because it is a very communal tribal idea. But with classical, just the idea that a lot of it happens in ginormous orchestras. There's so much where one person talks to the other via their musical instrument and jazz is kind of one step up from pop where you've got a couple of people that need to perfectly sync in an orchestra, make this 10, 20, 30 fold. So there's something by just the structure of classical music where it's more communal from the get go, I believe.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, I mean, jazz, I would say goes very much in the same direction, because it has various levels, but if you're looking at what is constituting music, first of all you have a melody, number two, you have rhythm, and number three you have harmonies. Then you can have one melody, which is the case in pop music, but then you can have two melodies, two themes.Then it starts with something that probably 70% or 80% of classical music have in common, which makes it so fascinating. You have two themes, and very often in the Sonata form, the first theme is male and the second theme is female.F Geyrhalter: How chauvinistic?T Janczukowicz: It's very chauvinistic, but everybody apparently seems to like Beethoven sonatas or Mozart symphonies where exactly this is happening. Then you have an exposition where the first theme, the male theme is being presented and after the female's theme is presented.Then you have the second part where these themes start to interact and to talk to each other. Sometimes there is tension and then comes down and so on. So it's very, very close to storytelling without words. This is something, probably, I said that earlier, what captured me at the very beginning, and I think it's a fascinating role because you can close your eyes, but you see stories, you feel stories, but you don't need to know when Beethoven was born, you don't need to know what is an overture. You don't need to know what is an aria. Just close your eyes and listen to it. This music is so appealing to everybody.I think one of the mistakes that classic music or classical music has made over decades is, is building this huge wall around it. Because if you go back to Mozart or Bach, it was entertainment music. It's agenre that comes from the courts and the people were eating and drinking and laughing and walking out and coming back. Something that the middle-class that occupied classic music for themselves, started to forbid. This created an intimidating...Let's say when we speak about branding, a part of this brand that is intimidating and it's not necessary because it's so embracing, and it's such a great genre.F Geyrhalter: I so agree with you. I so agree with you. Coming from a household where we constantly went to the Vienna Musikverein to see my dad play and others, it was always a big deal. Even though it's my dad on stage, and it's just normal, we go to his workplace, right?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: There's something, there's an aura around classical music that feels like it's a cloud that should be broken. It feels like... I love how you talk about it. Even though I did not really realize that, but as I started looking through your brand work, through your website, through your app, it actually really is what you're doing. You're breaking that stigma. You're breaking that wall down, and I think it's beautiful.While we talk about musical terms, let's talk about IDAGIO, the brand name, for a second. It sounds a lot and pretty obviously to me like ADAGIO, which only has one letter replaced. ADAGIO for our non-musical listeners signifies a music played in slow tempo. So what was the inspiration for the name? Walk us through that a little bit.T Janczukowicz: It's very end simple. We needed a name, first of all, and we wanted the name to be self-explanatory. So we wanted something that people around the globe would associate with classical music. So ADAGIO, as you said, it's an international word. Many albums are just having one title, which is ADAGIO. If you have music that calms you down.At the same time, we wanted something that people understand context of technology. This is, I. The funny thing is that we had a law firm working for us this time and they were also representing a very famous American brand that has created many new devices that are starting with an I-F Geyrhalter: Whatever that could be.T Janczukowicz: Whatever that may be, and they called us back after three days said, "We checked it. You can use the name. No problem at all." So IDAGIO was born. That was the funny incident.F Geyrhalter: That's hilarious. Yeah, and it's not always the case. I heard of other firms that try to use names that started with I, and couldn't do it based on that same conglomerate that tries to own that one letter. But obviously, those are words where the, I, has more of a meaning in front of it with IDAGIO. It is a word. The, I, itself is not as meaningful.So, great. Well, I'm glad I got that quiz right. I'm proud of myself. How did you and your team obviously derive the brand's visual aura, so to speak? I use the word aura specifically since the gradient based imagery surrounding your brand has a very meditative feel to it. Even talking about IDAGIO, the idea of slowing down. Then you have the nifty mood selection feature, which we talked about in your app. Overall, you really crafted a beautiful slick visual identity that mixes the atmospheric, like in many of the Instagram posts with the harsh and crisp in the actual logo or the line work that apps dimension to the gradient artwork.Now, for everyone listening, unless you're currently driving a car, head on over to @IDAGIOofficial on Instagram to see what we're actually talking about. Till, how was the look derived? I think it just really found its groove, no pun intended, back in May on Instagram where everything started to have this very distinct and beautiful look. Can you talk a little bit about how this came about?T Janczukowicz: I think there are three factors probably, and, of course, none of these factors was conscious during it was there. Only looking back, you're connected in a meaningful way. Probably the first thing is that my grandfather, who offered me the piano, he had a Braun stereo system at home. We all know that Braun was one of the decisive branding and visual influences for this very, very famous brand we have been speaking about. I remember it was that it was the first thing.The second thing, as an artist manager, I was always in the second row. So that means you work as a catalyst. You are doing a great job if you work invisible. So you mentioned the Abu Dhabi Classics I created. The star was the series. If you manage an artist, if you build the career of a conductor, the conductor is the star, not yourself. You are always in the background.I think this is a thinking that also my co-founder was aesthetically a very big fan of minimalistic architecture. We said, "We want a look and feel that really highlights the musicians and the music and that's not dominating them. I think that's the second aspect.The third aspect is that, we had, at a very, very early stage, I think, our designer was a part of the founding team. He started on day one. I think he was one of the third or fourth people we hired. Because we believe it's very important that you reflect the beautiful and fascinating and special role that you also described. We were just speaking, that you going to the Musikverein with family when your father was playing. It's a fascinating thing. We wanted to translate that into a user interface and into a look and feel that respects the music and the artists.F Geyrhalter: Which is really, really difficult to pull off. It's very easy to look at and then criticize or get your own emotions about it, which by the way, I would never criticize because I think it is brilliant. It is so easy to look at something after it has been established. But to showcase music visually with all of its nuances, is an extremely difficult task. So bravo to that. It's really, really well done and it was one of the reasons why I got sucked into your brand.So while we talk about that, we might as well talk one more second about the actual icon, about the logo. It's a play on the play button and there is a horizontal line to the right of it, right below it. Tell us a bit about the idea behind it. Obviously you are not the designer, but I'm sure that that you played a role in signing it off and adopting it. What is the key idea behind it?T Janczukowicz: Well, I don't want to take a credit of others. My role was to not say no to it. Let’s put it like this, which at a minium I disliked it or I liked it, but my thinking here is rather, and thinking big, I was designing all this myself five, six, seven years ago. I had the first ideas of IDAGIO and I was very proud of, I don't know, copying some letters from an Italian luxury brand and I showed it to our designer when we hired him and he laughed at me. He was right there laughing at me.So I understood. I don't really understand this. I can express what I wanted for the brand and I could express how I believe it may look like, but he really did it. Then I think it's at the very end minimalistic thinking. I think when it comes down to that. Not something that disturbs and then some people get some agencies from outside before and they we're proposing a logo with some music scores and all this, a key, so it's really...I think we are in a different world.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.T Janczukowicz: Yeah. The icon that we have. Maybe one other thing. It's a little bit high level, but I was thinking when you were talking about... Again, I'm seeing in front of me your dad sitting on the stage of the Musikverein and what was the classic music 20, 30, 40 years ago, and what has really changed? Because also we were talking about different customer segments.When I started to work as a manager, that was '96, that was still a period where a conductor was still a maestro. He was the icon, you couldn't reach him, you couldn't talk to him. The entire management approach was to create a myth, create something that's unavailable because the less it's available, the more people want it. This is something, and this is an understanding of value. It's to the old world, which is an old world value thinking.I think in the digital world, and this is a big shift, in the digital world value is being created by being visible, by being transparent, by showing with as many people as possible what you are, who you are, what you do. So this is a total paradigm shift. If you look, for example, at a Karajan, you could not reach out to him. A Schulte was the same running the Chicago symphony orchestra for many years.If you now these days at young comebacks like Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the music director of the Philadelphia orchestra, music director of the metropolitan opera Andris Nelsons, music director of the Boston symphony and the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig Germany. It's a new generation of open minded and more communicating conductors.What was very interesting to me, I had a meeting with the Juilliard School of Music in New York some months ago. I didn't know that when you are making your degree there, if you leave school, you don't have to only play, you also have to moderate the performance. The way how you talk about the music you play, as an artist, is also being judged. I think it's a very interesting thing.But this is all owed to transparency that came through technology. All the scandals that we are seeing and witnessing these days, it's not that humanity has apparently become immoral, just our ways to measure things and to see things are much more granular than 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago.This is also an aesthetic shift in classical music and this is also creating a new type of classical musicians. I find that a very interesting thing to see how technology even has some impact on the way you perform classical music.F Geyrhalter: That is absolutely fascinating. I agree. I've never thought about it that way. But just like everything else, classical music is being touched by it and it's great to be on the forefront of that like you are. While we were talking a little bit about philosophy here, what does branding mean to you? The actual word, branding. How do you see it?I know we talked a lot about emotion, we talked a lot about how people feel something rather than just listen to something. But maybe even in the classical arena, like where you are, what do you think when you think of branding?T Janczukowicz: Well, I would spontaneously say branding is an aggregated public perception. If it goes well and first of all, you have a good intention and you succeed in running the brand, the way you want, then it's probably aggregated trust that says, "Well, yeah, I can turn into this complex thing without making a mistake, without failing."Because I've heard of the brand from, whomever, my brother, my peers these days, then through, through, through advertisement because I think trust is getting more and more local, and we less and less trust governments and we less trust corporations. So I rather trust my peers because I'm so over flooded with information and bombarded by visual things that want to get my attention.But I think branding for me done right it's something of, well, yes, I can go. It's a safe harbor, safe place for me. I can recommend it. I can package that when I talk to other people pass it on to others and recommend to others.F Geyrhalter: You talked about trust and failures. I'm not as familiar with the entrepreneurial scene in Berlin, but here in the US we love to talk about failures. There are entire business book sections dedicated to it. Even though in my eyes it's blown way out of proportion, there are great things to be learned from mistakes that startup founders have made or witnessed during the early days of the brand formation.What was an enormous fail that you went through with IDAGIO in the very early days? Was there something where you just look back and you're like, "Okay, that was a fail, we could have prevented this, someone can learn from this?"T Janczukowicz: Well, I have to say, I think we were lucky in leaving out many mistakes you can potentially make. But, of course, there were mistakes, but there is not this story where I would say, "Well, this is really, really, really, I'll never forget it." I think it's rather a pattern.What I've learned over the years is that, if you do something for the first time and being an entrepreneur and forming and building something new has to do a lot of with trial and error. Probably the biggest mistake that I'm trying to avoid more and more is that I wasn't listening early enough to my natural instincts. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I'm more and more convinced that this is the right thing. It sounds like cliché, but this is a principle that you can break down into any daily decision. If you feel something, but...and this is a personal problem that I have because everybody is, of course, different. I'm coming from the world of the arts. I'm rather intuitive, some people say visionary, but at least I have ideas. Some of these ideas have worked out in my life so far.But I'm also analyzing it. But if I feel that something is right, I start to do it. The bigger you grow as a corporation, you more and more have to bring things that are on a subconscious level to a conscious level. Then it has to arrive on the conscious level and then you have to explain it to everybody. Then you have to also give ownership to the people with whom you work with your team, because you are nobody with a team.You can form the North star, you can say that the direction and give a vision and the mission, I think in our company everybody is on that mission and people coming to the office, to our premise here in Berlin they say, "Oh wow, this is a great chemistry here. It feels good to be here." So that's the thing.But we're not talking about the good things, we're talking about failures. Of course, at the very end, nobody wants to fail. But thanks God, I was brought to this life by really an American entrepreneur, who was the owner of Columbia Artists, Ronald Wilford, and he was a typical American self-made man. One of his quotes was, "I didn't learn anything and that's why I can do everything."I think this is a good thing and this, and the combination that when I met him after our job interview in '96 where we even didn't perceive it as a job interview, but afterwards we had the first meetings. They will tell, "We are in an industry of ideas." Usually, we all have a lot of ideas and if you fail with 10 ideas, it's bad, you're gone. If you make one of the 10 ideas work, it's really great. If you make two of your 10 ideas work, this is highly above average.I think this is a mentality that's very, very un-German and having inhaled this kind of thinking for 16 years, I got more comfortable with the idea of making failures because, a young artist is like stakes you buy a company, you see something and you believe all to be there in two, four, six, eight years. Sometimes you're right and sometimes you are wrong. Then you have principles to figure out and to understand why you may be right.But going back in a nutshell, re-listen to yourself and if you feel something, you're really convinced, do it, whatever others say.F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, absolutely.T Janczukowicz: But listen to them, then think, but then do what you feel.F Geyrhalter: And the same holds true for data, because I'm sure, at this point, your app has been downloaded over 1.5 million times, I think it's the latest in 190 countries?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: So you must have so much great data about your users at this point, and I know you're using it and you have studies made about listenership and about what classical music means today. But on the other hand, you have to balance that out with not always listening to customer data and just solely basing decisions on your instinct as well. It's always a fine line that an entrepreneur walks.T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: On the flip side now, we talked a little bit about failures. Now, let's climb over that hill to success. When you look back, what was that big breakthrough moment where you felt like, "Okay, the startup is slowly moving into a brand." People start using the name, the app becomes part of daily life. When did you know that you had something that would become a major player in the music world? No pun intended. May it have been a funding round or the Salzburg Festival where you launched or early user feedback. What was it for IDAGIO where you knew that this will actually be a success?T Janczukowicz: Well, I think in order to do something like that, you need a certain, what we call... I don't know how you may be able to translate that in German. There's a nice word, Gottvertrauen. I don't know how you translate it. You put your trust in God. You have to do something. Everybody was, "Oh, you're going to fail, you're stupid." But to trust, you trust that it will work.So this is something that was always there. However, I, would say two things. One thing was quite early. It was that we were indeed launching, not the app, a minimal viable product, even not the beta at the Salzburg festival in 2015. We were launching there and we were sitting on stage in the premises of the festival upon invitation of the Vienna Philharmonic.Then some days later there was an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. They wrote, it was 2015 and they wrote, "If they're not going to run out of money, they could change the way how people listen to classical music." This is something, I remember, we were by far not yet there, but having read that and then securing the next funding round, the combination of those two things that we say, "Okay, we are on the good way. Let's put it like that."F Geyrhalter: Right. That’s amazing. For our international listeners, which is not the majority of our listeners, I think we have 6% German listeners. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is the authority, not only in Germany but it reaches through all of the central Europe. So that is a huge deal. To go back to when you talk about Gottvertrauen, the idea of you trust in God, just to make it universally accessible. It's also for atheists. That idea that you just trust in the universe, right? You have this ideology where you trust in the universe.All right, Till, we're coming slowly to a close, but none of my guests can get away without answering this particular question. Mainly because I believe it is such a great exercise for any entrepreneur to give some thought to as they keep building their culture and brand. I gave you a heads up on that. If you could describe everything about your brand in one or two words that would turn into your brand's DNA, as I call it, what would it be like? Examples could be freedom for Harley Davidson or happiness for Coca-Cola. What would that brand DNA be?T Janczukowicz: I have to answer that with an anecdote and then I try to answer your question.F Geyrhalter: Perfect.T Janczukowicz: There was a young Romanian conductor, Sergio Celibidache, amazing, amazing conductor. Was for many years the music director, legendary music director of the Munich Philharmonic. He believed he would get the job of the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, then Karajan got the job. I just have to say that because he said Karajan is like Coca Cola.F Geyrhalter: I think I know that story from my dad actually because it's so classic.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, exactly. So sorry to... But it's not exactly an answer to what you asked, but I had to raise that. If you would allow two words that are not very romantic, I would say, what people should think in three, five, 10 years when they hear IDAGIO, it's classical music. If you would ask me to really distill it down to one word, then I would rather turn to what the classic music does with people. Then we could say happiness because it brings happiness. It gives people a more happier life because it makes you healthy.There are all these studies, classical music connects when you're growing up the right and the left half of the brain in a more meaningful way. You learn empathy, the social skills and so on. You could say health, but probably if we could nail it. Ask to really nail it down to one word, I think it's belonging.I think it's belonging because, if you look at what happens, we come alone, we go along but we have this 60, 70, if you're lucky, 80 years. To overcome this, this illusion of loneliness and classical music has this power to really connect you with other people. You don't need to touch them. You don't need to look at them. You close your eyes, but you feel connected with other people. I think this is probably best described by the word belonging.F Geyrhalter: That's beautiful. I knew that belonging would come back up because you had talked about it in the beginning. It is such a perfectly emotional word to really capture the brand beyond, right, really the entire genre. Where can listeners find IDAGIO if they are intrigued enough after listening to us for the last 45 minutes to give it a try and perhaps even become converts to the magic of classical music?T Janczukowicz: Very easily, on the internet, In the app store, there's an Android version. Anybody, for example, who has a Sonos device. There's been Sonos implementation of IDAGIO. But I would say go to the internet and there you'll find all the app stores to find IDAGIO and the different partnerships we have also with hardware manufacturers. Yeah, that's probably the easiest way.F Geyrhalter: Excellent. Excellent. That's the beauty of owning your name online. So I know you launched the company at the Salzburg Festival or the Salzburger Festspiele in 2015.T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: That is exactly what I would be heading next week. So watch out for me Till. If you're in Salzburg, you might run into me at one of the many Festspiele locations.T Janczukowicz: Cool.F Geyrhalter: Thank you so much for staying late at your office in Berlin to have this conversation with me today and to share your stories and your thoughts on branding with me and my listeners. We really appreciate your time.T Janczukowicz: A great pleasure. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter: And thanks to everyone for listening, and please hit that subscribe button and give the show a quick rating - it only takes 5 seconds and it helps the podcast’s visibility and growth.And if you really enjoy it, please head on over to to become a sustaining member supporting this show.There has never been a more important episode in which to give the theme music some credit. It was written and produced by Happiness Won. If you want to know who is behind Happiness Won, then also head on over to and you may find what you learn amusing.I will see you next time – when we, once again, will be hitting the mark. 
If you look at a cannabis product by Beboe you would not think of weed, rather of art, design and fashion. This was derived through great brand thinking and design.Clement Kwan has reached great heights of success yet decided to follow his heart and, together with Co-Founder Scott Campbell, launched a luxury brand in a segment that has not seen much sophistication before. Today, the Beboe brand has its own store within Barney's in Beverly Hills and has also carved out its own clientele.Listening to Clement's fascinating story from growing weed in college to make tuition, to becoming an M&A investment banker in Silicon Valley, to holding the president of Net-a-Porter position and learning how he yet turned to where his heart told him to go is inspiring on many levels.But it is also an episode about the sheer power of great design, honest storytelling and how having a deep understanding of a particular audience can make any product succeed, even in a market that did not know it was ready for it.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting The Mark, episode number 20 of Hitting The Mark to be exact. What an inspirational journey it's been for me, and I hope the same holds true for you. I know for a fact that it has been an inspiration for the latest supporters of the podcast, Nathan Cain from Little Rock, Arkansas and Lav all the way from Serbia. Both are monthly supporters on the Brandster level, which means they will partake in my next monthly group call in September, which I'm greatly looking forward to. So thank you Nathan and Lav for your support. And I'd love for you too to turn into a Patreon by clicking the support button on, so we can try to keep this show advertising-free and community-supported. For this special 20th episode, I'm thrilled to welcome our first guest from the new green economy. Indeed, we are talking THC and CBD, a space that has been on a fast rise and one that has been a fertile playground for entrepreneurs with a keen sense for branding. On the forefront of this movement is the bespoke brand Beboe and Co-founder Clement Kwan. Beboe is a lifestyle cannabis brand founded in 2016 which the New York Times has called the Hermes of Marijuana. Beboe includes cannabis vaporizers and edible pastilles and caters to discerning consumers. Beboe merged with Green Thumb Industries in late February of this year, 2019. Kwan started his professional career in tech mergers and acquisitions and transitioned into business development and executive roles across the fashion industry working for companies such as Theory, Diesel, and Dolce & Gabbana. In 2012, Clement joined the YOOX group as President of U.S. Operations. Kwan graduated from UC Berkeley. Welcome to the show, Clement.C Kwan:Thank you very much, Fabian.F Geyrhalter:Let me start off by saying what a great pleasure it is to have an entrepreneur like you on the show who clearly understands and strategically utilizes the power of brand in everything he touches. So without going any further, let's start off with the question of all questions, what does branding mean to someone like you?C Kwan:Having worked in the fashion and luxury world for so many years and having built Beboe with Scott Campbell, branding really is emotion, and it's a incitement of emotion, which is really, I think, fascinating to see. Not to go off into a tangent, when I was at YOOX and running the U.S. operations, I decided to chat with and communicate with our 10 largest consumers. These are people who spend at least $250,000 per year online. And I decided to call and/or have tea with them. And what I realized was one lady in particular, who spent exactly $274,000 per year, told me that she doesn't drink. She doesn't do drugs. What she does is shop online as it makes her happy. So from that moment on, I really realized that a brand incites emotion, and any good brand incites emotion either through aesthetics, story, or just some X factor that you can't really describe. So not to get really hippy-dippy or too Venice on us, but there's just juju involved, and we can attest it to emotion.F Geyrhalter:Totally, no, and I love that story. And sorry for jinxing the YOOX name. I read the story behind the name YOOX, so I figured maybe it's just the letters, but it's not Y-O-O-X, it's YOOX. This was a great way of describing branding. It really comes down to emotion. And it's interesting how you say it's something that you really can't touch. It's something that you feel, and it's really hard to talk about how it's being derived. And that is one of the reasons why I love doing this podcast, to kind of talk to different people that have done it successfully and to get a little bit more out of them of how they actually did derive it with their companies. So let's back up a little bit. I read in Forbes that you grew pot to get through college, so that's on the air now, but it's also been in Forbes, so it's okay. That was back in Berkeley when you were a student. And then you pivoted into a fashion career at Diesel and Dolce Gabbana. It seems like Beboe is the direct result of equal parts fashion, design, branding, and cannabis. How did Beboe start?C Kwan:So when I was at Berkeley, I was actually studying corporate finance and decided to grow weed just because I really didn't have any money for tuition. So I met a really nice hippie who decided to teach me how to grow marijuana. I already loved gardening and have a green thumb, and this really presented itself as a wonderful opportunity to not only fulfill a passion but also to make money, which I needed. So I did that for about three and a half years, and then I actually became a tech M&A investment banker in the Silicon Valley from 2000 to 2001, which basically made me stop growing marijuana. But I have always had a passion for it, and I vowed to myself in 2000 when I stopped, that I would get back into it in one way, shape, or form. So after the tech market exploded, I decided to move to New York in late 2001, beginning of 2002, to get into the fashion world because I was raised by a single mother. My single mother took me shopping very, very frequently and asked me really insane questions like, "Does this color look good on me? What looks good on me? Does this fit well," et cetera, et cetera. So I sort of fell in love with fashion just because I was bonding with my mother. So tech market exploded, moved to New York and then first job was at Theory. Then went to Diesel. I helped do a repositioning of the brand for America. Then moved to Milan for seven years and took the license back for D&G or Dolce & Gabbana. And then I became the president of YOOX NET-A-PORTER, the biggest online luxury retailer on a global basis. So long story short, I had children in 2014, and I basically had to look myself in the mirror. Having done what I've done in both banking and fashion, I knew that my passion was marijuana. So after having a child, I was thinking to myself, "If my son asked me, 'What should I do when I grow up'," the wonderful romantic answer is, follow your passion. And I looked at myself in the mirror, and I'm like, "Wow, that's a wonderful thing to say, but if you don't do it, it's very disingenuous to say." So at that point, this is late 2014, I decided to really embrace that passion, not be ashamed of it. And sort of, the universe opened itself up. And I met Scott Campbell through Tom Kartsotis who founded Shinola and Fossil. We bonded over our love for marijuana, and then we decided to embark on a journey called Beboe. We didn't quite know what it was, but we did know that we wanted to build something that was aspirational, something more aesthetically pleasing, something lower dose. And we wanted to have two, I guess, different form factors, which is inhalable and ingestible, and we just incubated the idea. And that's literally the genesis of Beboe. It wasn't to say, "Let's build a luxury brand. Let's target women." We just have a genuine love for the plant and just so happened to have great experience building luxury brands and businesses. Scott Campbell has done a lot of work with Marc Jacobs, Mr. Arnault, Hennessy, all the brands in the LVMH stable. So we both come from that sort of pedigree and wanted to build something that was considerate, beautiful, and really for ourselves. So that's a very long answer to your question.F Geyrhalter:No, that's beautiful. And Scott, who's also a tattoo artist, right, and a tattoo artist of a certain pedigree. I think he tattooed everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Robert Downey, Jr. so very, very high end tattoo artist. But he created the intricate patterns that became such an important part of the brand language of Beboe. But I assume that at some point in that journey, you must've engaged a packaging design and branding firm, right? Can you walk us through that process a little bit? When did you start to actively invest in branding with the startup?C Kwan:We did everything in-house.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing.C Kwan:Scott has always assembled a wonderful internal team of packaging people, and he's also very hands on. So everything that is Beboe was done in-house.F Geyrhalter:Because you started with a team, right?C Kwan:We started with consultants and just friends. So yeah, we didn't have any focus groups. We didn't have any agencies. We didn't have anything really. We did everything internally.F Geyrhalter:And that's why it is authentic. And because of your combined background, again, the parts of design, fashion, brand, right, and cannabis, it feels like it is a brand that can happen intrinsically, not so with a lot of other founders who don't have any of that brand or design kind of background. Where did the brand name come from?C Kwan:Beboe is actually Scott's grandmother's name. So when we were in the course of thinking of a name for our company, we had so many different ideas and suggestions. And ultimately, what we were trying to do with Beboe is inject a little bit of fun, sexiness, and levity into the industry that was male dominated, very juvenile, very traditional, stereotypical stoner. So Scott told me a story about his grandmother, Be Boe, and how his mother, when he was from the ages of seven to 14, she battled cancer. And every week, the grandmother would come, Be Boe, and bring brownies, one, sort of, set for Scott and his sister and the other set for his mother. And during this entire time, he had no idea his mother was battling cancer because Be Boe injected levity into a very shitty situation because she was making marijuana brownies for his mother and normal brownies for Scott and his sister. So that story unto itself was both inspirational because she literally injected levity, fun, everything into really a bad situation. And we were like, "Wow, we should do the same with Beboe." Not that grave, but let's have Beboe inject a bit of sexiness, fun, and levity into the marijuana industry. And that's where Beboe came from.F Geyrhalter:And change the idea of what the industry stands for and who is actually the user of today's cannabis products, right? With that one simple story, which is so emotional, talking about emotions, right, you captured a lot of the spirit of the brand. I really, really like it. I love that you actually talk about this on your website as well.C Kwan:Fabian, sorry to interrupt, going back to the first question about what a brand is, this is what a brand is. So we have a genuine passion for marijuana, growing it, selling it, I mean, pretty much everything, right? There's Be Boe, and that's very emotional story of a grandmother, a person really just making a bad situation wonderful or very, very, tolerable, and then our experience. So I think it's this emotion and this sort of genuine passion that is injected into Beboe, and I think that's what makes a brand a brand. It's our personality. It's us. We couldn't even script it, right? We can't do a focus group. It's truly an extension of us.And he's covered in tattoos. I'm covered in tattoos, but yet Beboe is loved by women and really aspirational, fancy women. And we're like, "Wow, how did that happen?" But it comes back to, I was raised by a single mother. Scott had a very good relationship with his mother and grandmother. So there's a strong female presence and impression on us.F Geyrhalter:It's one layer after another, right? You keep adding these layers to the brand that are all authentic, that are all part of what you're trying to create. And then at some point, all of these layers together, this beautiful cake, right, and everyone can't resist, right? So it's kind of this idea of just adding one little piece at a time. Like you said, you can't script it. Even when I work with entrepreneurs who don't have this intrinsic idea of what the brand needs to be, they really know what they want their product to be, but they don't know what their brand needs to be. And I really, all I do is I just derive it out of them too. It's like, I can't create a story for them. I can just help tell their story in a better way and try to create authenticity that is already inside of them but just kind of get it out of them. It's really therapy. I mean, that's pretty much what it is. You mentioned you were also president of NET-A-PORTER, which you just don't even include in your bio because of everything you accomplished in your life. So congratulations, that's a pretty, pretty big deal, and it feels only natural to talk about another high end fashion powerhouse. So let's talk Barneys for a minute here. I used to be a Barneys fanatic, then I married a smart woman, and now I'm more of a Barneys three times a year kind of guy. But what a fabulous and inspiring institution Barney has always been to me and to most designers around the world. And before we talk about your current Beboe collaboration with Barneys, so totally between you and me and whoever's listening, what do you make of the Barneys bankruptcy? I mean, right after Dean & DeLuca, you mentioned you lived in New York for awhile, what is going on in the world of high end shopping?C Kwan:I don't even think it's just Barneys. It's pretty much the industry as a whole. Going back 10 years, there's a lot of money in the industry and not from a consumer perspective. It's from the institutional investors where private equity pours a lot of money into the industry, an industry that at certain echelons is very non-democratic. So all your luxury brands are now getting private equity money. Before the money came in, every distribution was very selective. It's about scarcity. It's about the consumer experience physically in the store. And post-money, obviously private equity has a horizon, right, three years, three, four years, and then exit. So a lot of pressure has been put in on the industry to get sales, make profits. But this is sort of the price of scarcity and distribution. So if you walk into any store, if you go onto any website, just look at the assortment of products on the sites or on the floor. It's the same thing. So it's because every brand is now selling to every store. Before it was, "Okay, I'm going to sell to Colette, Corso Como. I'm going to sell to a one department store in the U.K., one department store in America," and now, everything is everywhere, and it's accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week on social media channels. And I think that the day of reckoning is sort of coming where I think there's too much accessibility, and I think there's going to be a pull back. And I think for whatever reason, Barney is going through another transformation or evolution, and then you're going to start seeing many others doing the same thing. So Barneys being a leader, taking the bandaid off and doing what they need to do. And a lot of it is predicated on rent hikes, especially on Madison Avenue. But I think it's a good idea for every retailer to look at what works, what doesn't, and really look for that point of view again, both online and offline. So why are people shopping on one site or store versus the other? Before Zara, Colette had a very distinctive point of view. Sozzani has a very distinctive point of view in Corso Como. And then you have, your Bergdorf Goodman has a very distinctive point of view. But I think there needs to be a refinement again, an evolution in the industry.F Geyrhalter:I love how you were able to spin this into something that can be seen as something pretty negative, but it's fertile ground, right? Something can happen, and something needs to happen. And I got my first first idea of that when I worked with Ron Herman of the Fred Segal empire, and then I saw how unique this was, what he was actually creating. And then obviously, it got sold, and now, it's at the airport, and now, it's everywhere, right? And so I think there's something that is happening currently with that accessibility that I totally agree with you. It ruins the pleasure of finding a certain curated shop and having an experience and finding something that you can find anywhere else. There used to be the time where you brought back something from your travels and it's kind of, it doesn't make sense anymore, right? What you get in a museum store in New York, you get in a museum store in Paris but interesting, interesting observation. And your brand has an actual store named The High End, which is a brilliant name by the way, within the physical Barneys Beverly Hills store. I think it's on the fifth floor. And within High End, the store within a store, you can pick up a $60 box of seven pre-rolled joints amongst many other gorgeous products of your brand. How did that amazing collaboration come about, and what did you learn about your first Barneys customers, who I assume would be very different from your customers before? But that's only assumption. And I also wonder, was that the time that you started to pivot the brand to cater mostly towards women? Or like you said before, it was kind of intrinsically that it was catering more towards women, but was that the time where you actually realized, "Oh, my God. Wealthy women love our aesthetic. They love our product."C Kwan:Ever since we launched, just due to the nature of the branding, the aesthetics, the form factor... I mean, it's a rose gold vaporizer. It's more expensive given our experience and background. I mean, if you look at it, Scott and I have sold dresses, purses, to women for a good 12 to 13 years. I think subconsciously, we only know how to market to women, but we just never articulated it other than building something like a Beboe. So we've always captured the very aspirational female consumer, not by design, but just by nature. I don't know. It just organically happened. The tagline for our brand is probably, my wife or my girlfriend loves Beboe. So yeah, we've always had that aspiration of consumer from 25 to 65, and it was predominantly female, and it just happened by chance. So when Barneys came around, it was just a natural fit, not only because they've known us for so long as Scott and Clement in our different iterations, but Scott also has a very dear relationship with Matthew Mazzucca , the creative director of Barneys. And from there, they wanted to do something in cannabis. We had a great idea on how to do it, and then we just had a great meeting of the minds. And eight months later, The High End was born. But it's not very difficult. It wasn't a stretch by any means because that customer that shopped at Barneys was already buying Beboe and/or had a friend that was using Beboe so very natural relationship.F Geyrhalter:On your website, on the Beboe website, at the very, very end, hidden within the about section, you are also offering brand consulting. What does that entail, and who do you work with, and how did it become part of the part of the Beboe brand?C Kwan:It's not something we really focus on too much, but it's there for humanitarian reasons, humanitarian in the sense-F Geyrhalter:Tell me more.C Kwan:Humanitarian for the industry. So we are extremely open people. What we've created wasn't done in a lab. The IP is us. And what we have realized was when we created Beboe four years ago, we created a product that was counter to what was happening in the market. What we realized was, being a grower myself and dabbling in, let's call it the gray market, there's a lot of people in this industry that have paid their dues, that have been in it for 20 years, that have paved the way, that have gone to prison. They're like the OGs of the industry. So what we did was, and I'll make this short, took this product, and I went to these OGs, and I said, "Guys, listen. In order for our industry to move forward, I respect everything that you do because I've done it. But in order for to really grow and evolve, give this product, which is bourgeois, more expensive, lower potency, and you've never seen anything like this, please help us support it and/or just don't hate on it. Because once this new consumer comes into the industry, they're not going to stop at just Beboe. They're going to try other brands, and then they're going to start asking local politicians and the industry as a whole for more information. And this is what's going to drive change." So having said that, we are where we are because they supported us. Now, there's a whole other generation of people and entrepreneurs trying to do what we've done, and instead of not helping, we want to make sure that the people with the right ideas and the right ethos and obviously, good people, are able to succeed because rising tides floats literally all boats. So let's just have consulting out there so that we can help people flesh through ideas, share with them the pain points that we've gone through, and just, let's help evolve this industry in the right way and be a thought leader and a leader as a whole. And that's what consulting is about.F Geyrhalter:As we come slowly to the end here, one of the questions I always love to ask founders is if you can describe your brand in one word, so I call it the brand DNA. So it's one or two words that are all encompassing of the Beboe brand. For instance, for my brand consultancy FINIEN, our brand DNA is clarity. And for Everlane, it would have to be transparency. What is Beboe's brand DNA?C Kwan:Empowered. It's empowered because I think every person who uses it feels empowered. Every woman that works for us is truly empowered. I mean, our entire team is built up of women, and they are the heart and soul of our brand, and it's not by design. So we cater to a female consumer, and we only have females working for us, which is, it's a beautiful thing. So the thing that we always preach is that, do not let an industry drive you. You drive an industry. Whatever problem you have, you have the authority and the initiative to get it done, fix the problem. You are empowered and financially empowered, everything empowered. And I think we just don't say it. It just happens. So yeah, I think even people who use our product feel empowered when they use it. They're able to discreetly use Beboe, and they feel great because they've empowered themselves to get high. It's mommy's little helper, so they're empowered to be better parents. I don't know. People feel empowered when they have our products in their hands, where they work with us, when they interact with us. Yeah, I think that's what we're really the most proud of.F Geyrhalter:It feels very, very right. And also when you look at the packaging, and you read some of these life lessons and wisdoms that are hidden within the packaging, it is about empowerment. Even though you say you don't mention it, you don't spell it out, it is subliminally spelled out throughout your entire brand. Do you have any other brand advice? And you have already given a lot for founders in any space, as a final takeaway, maybe a lesson you may have learned the hard way, something that can just empower, to use the word, fellow entrepreneurs that are not quite at your stage yet.C Kwan:Ultimately, and I think if I had a startup in the fashion world or something that was little bit more traditional, I would have a big fuck up or something like that to share. But I think we have been fortunate enough to build something in the wild, wild West where we charted our own course. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that kindness goes a long way. And I hope that every entrepreneur that starts something is kind, not only to the people and the partners and the world as a whole, but kind to themselves, kind that there is no right answer to what you're doing. There are sometimes parameters, but you're going to mess up. You're going to definitely mess up. But it's just being kind to yourself and your mental health, your physical body, because ultimately, that's very, very important.F Geyrhalter:And talking about kindness, when I reached out to you, Clement, I read a Forbes, I think it was a two, three page article about Beboe, and I reached out to you completely blindly. I think it was via LinkedIn or maybe I found your email somewhere on the website. And very often I just pretend the emails go out, and I don't hear back. And the more high profile of a publication I read about someone that I invite on the show, the likelihood is slimmer that they actually get back to me. You got back to me saying, "Hey, Fabian. How are you? Sure," period. I think it was something like that. And I'm like, "That is kindness," right? The idea of the first thing you say is how are you, and there's this spirit that comes from you that is, obviously, shows across your entire brand. So really, really appreciate it. Listeners who live in a state where they can legally obtain cannabis, how can they get a taste of Beboe?C Kwan:You can find it in California, in Colorado, at your favorite dispensaries, and/or go to Barneys, and you can find it there. And then soon with a wonderful partner like GTI, we will be expanding into 10 to 11 other states in the course of the next 12 to 18 months.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing. That's fantastic. And thank you, Clement, for your time today. It was such a pleasure, and it was really fascinating to have you on Hitting The Mark. I really appreciate it.C Kwan:Thank you very much, Fabian.F Geyrhalter:And thanks to everyone for listening, and if you enjoy this sponsor-free podcast, please help keep it that way and become a sustaining member by hitting the support button on or by going to Our theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
If you think of a roofing company, you think of small businesses that have a hard time staying in business. Lots of competition in a tough service environment with high employee turnover rates and low customer retention. One thing you would not think of is branding.This is where Charles Antis comes in, who founded his namesake company Antis Roofing & Waterproofing in 1984 and soon thereafter started to inject it with personality and the stigma that it needed to be bigger than just the service offering he provided. Charles himself turned into a conscious capitalist, who has donated every single roof installation of every single home built by Habitat Orange County since 2009 and was honored with the American Red Cross Corporate Hero Award.This is the story of a roofer who turned into a leader in corporate social responsibility and who sees himself as a futurist. Charles shares with us how leading with cause will shape an amazing corporate culture (Antis has a 93% employee retention rate) and drive new business, all while giving real meaning to what you do.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting The Mark. Every two weeks, I sit down right here with you and with a contagiously inspiring founder, just like today, or a shockingly transparent investor to talk about the art and the heart of a brand. It all started as an experiment, and once listeners like yourself started tuning in, it soon turned into this biweekly labor of love that, in return, requires a lot of time from researching future guests and curating the flow to reaching out and dealing with the logistics of the scheduling the podcast, the editing the show, creating assets, pushing it on social, et cetera, et cetera. You know how it goes. Good things take time. If Hitting The Mark provides you with inspiration, and you're slowly but surely forming an addictive habit of listening to it every two weeks, please show your support to offset some of the cost so I do not have to bring on interruptive sponsorship messages because I really, really would not like to do that, and I don't think you'd enjoy it, either. Instead, I want to thank you on the air, connect with you on monthly group calls, have you submit questions for guests upfront, and simply have this be 100% community-supported. This marks the beginning of a new community-enabled and community-driven era of Hitting The Mark. I'd love for you to check out the brand new Patreon site, which I link to in the notes or simply go to and hit the support button to learn more about the different levels and perks that come with your support. Now without further ado, I welcome a founder who has been at it for 30 years. It is not a new brand, nor one that is shockingly innovative or disruptive at all at it relates to the services it provides, but Charles Antis, founder and CEO of Antis Roofing and Waterproofing has built a brand on the power of good, a long time before it became a mainstream business etiquette and, to an extent, most can only aspire to. Charles began his career as a roofing professional in 1984. Since then, he has become an inspirational business leader championing social corporate responsibility. While Antis is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year or, as Charles would say, "For 30 years, we've been keeping families safe and dry." Charles is a member of the board of directors of Orange County Habitat for Humanity, for which Antis has donated every single roof installation of every single home built by Habitat OC since 2009. That's over $1 million in in-kind donations. Charles inspires others into doing well by doing good, and was honored with the American Red Cross Corporate Hero Award. Despite me having a rule of not inviting former clients or people I know prior to having them on as a guest, I did meet Charles ever so briefly while I was presenting a United To End Homelessness brand campaign to the executive council of the Orange County United Way Chapter. Charles was one of the guys I presented it to. We quickly knew we were aligned when it comes to messaging and branding, and following him on LinkedIn and seeing his great social responsibility efforts on a weekly basis, I decided to reach out and, voila, here we are. Welcome to Hitting The Mark, Charles.C Antis:Thanks, Fabian. I'm excited to be here.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely, so Antis is going back 30 years, not to date you here, but it's been a while and roofing is a commodity and it is, frankly, a tough business to stay in business, let alone thrive. How did you start the company and when and how did you begin injecting it with personality and the stigma that it needed to be bigger than just a service offering you provided, or you yourself turning into a conscious capitalist, as you call it?C Antis:That's a lot there, and I'll give you my best answer. When I started my business, I did not have a business plan. I didn't know what marketing was. I couldn't distinguish marketing from sales, nor would I for many years. I had an instinct of a couple of things that helped me survive. One was one that I would later call customer care. It seemed to me instinctively that the first, most simple, form of marketing, was I need a good word of mouth, that I needed to take care of a client in a deep way. I became very good, unable to facilitate re-roofs, being small and having limited skills, I figured out that if I could tell people that I'll solve that leak from rain, that leak in their home or in their business from rain that no one else can solve, I'll do it for free. It seemed to me then they might believe me to pay me. That was all I had, and I followed that through with great customer care. That's how I got work initially and that was my first ray of a brand that was put out there. Another component happened that led me to the reason we're talking today, and that was, in that moment of needing every call just to pay the bills, my work one week was weatherproofing a door that was a home bedroom converted into an office, so when a client might call, that they wouldn't hear my daughter crying. That was my work one week, because I only got about two calls a week when I first started my business. One of those calls I got was a women who had leaks in her home in every room. That sounded pretty good. I was going to get some money for leak repairs. I didn't have an excess then. I had a mortgage payment to make in a couple of weeks, I didn't even have the funds for that yet. I'm driving out to this home on the next day and I'm noticing as I'm getting closer that the homes are getting smaller, more disheveled, until finally I turn on the street where the home would be and I just see it, like dead grass and four walls. I remember thinking, I hope that's not the house because it had one of those one-half the numbers on it. I went up and knocked on it, and then the next three things just changed everything for me. A middle-aged woman answered the home with this tired expression on her face. Before I could say anything, I was hit with this mildew like I'd never smelled before, that just pulled me back and sent a shock in me that I was figuring out how I was going to leave. I remember before I could say anything, this third thing happened. I felt a tug at my finger and I looked down and there was this little girl with the biggest smile I can still see in my eyes, with tow-blond hair. She couldn't smell what I smelled. She just had a visitor and she just pulled me in on my finger. I went in through this little crowded living room into a tiny under-sized hallway, until finally she turned to her right and into her room. I knew she slept there because she points to this My Little Pony poster on the wall. As she points to that poster, my eyes look down and I see four mattresses with disheveled and moldy bedding. I realized that's where she sleeps, that's where she and her siblings sleep. I was sitting there in shock. It's a good story now, but it wasn't a good story right then. I was in this state of shock, fight or flight, because this was a threat to me. I couldn't help it. It sounds horrible but it didn't feel good yet. As cute as that little girl was and as the moment was there, because I was this professional, I could do something, it didn't hit me until the mother came in again with that look on her face. Something in me stirred that didn't stir just with the child, but I looked at that mother and I don't know where it came from, but it was my doctor on an airplane moment and I just said, "I'm going to take care of your roof." I went up there on the roof, hoping they just needed some patches, and I saw a completely dilapidated roof. They needed a brand new roof. I followed through. I followed through. I didn't have any employees yet so I got six volunteers. We showed up there on Saturday and I got some inexpensive but dry roofing material, and we gooped that roof and we put rolled material on that roof and it was dry and that family stayed in that home. That was a crazy moment because it didn't hit me in any which way. It was just what I had to do and it as kind of like my doctor on an airplane moment. If you're a doctor on the airplane and somebody has a heart attack, I think that most of us believe that the doctor raises his hand and says, "Yes, I'll help." I also believe that when a doctor raises his hand and helps that person on an aircraft who had a heart attack, I highly doubt the doctor sends a bill. I feel like that's what happened to me. It just happened to me and my profession was different than medicine. Who could help that family more than me? That was a magic moment. I didn't know it was magic until months later. I'd run into one of the siblings. There were five other kids and I'd run into one of the siblings. They would be like, "Hey!" We high-fived and I noticed I had a pretty good day that day. Or I'd run into one of the volunteers on the next Sunday and they'd be like, "Hey!" There was this story that we did together that I had no idea that it was changing everything in the trajectory at Antis Roofing. This story became our culture. This story held us together even though it took me years to recognize that this story was part of the reason we were strong. I think for our techs and for our people, it felt good, like we're not just profiting off this trade, we're giving back. It wasn't something we talked about because it was not okay to talk about it where we grew up. I grew up where you don't talk about the good that you're doing. In fact, there were things that were quoted to me as a child, like don't let the left hand know what the right hand's doing because then God can't reward you. I'm paraphrasing what I heard, maybe not what was said, but what I heard, so it felt wrong to talk about it. The reason I did it, it was more like, what am I going to do? It wasn't, in the beginning, Oh, my God, I have this opportunity to give back. It feels that way sometimes now, but even sometimes now it feels like it did then, like, Oh my God, how can somebody ask for that? How can I possibly do it? In that figuring it out, in that not saying no, in those magic moments of going to bed on the possibility of doing something really noble, there's where something happens that I don't know how to describe. I'm just here to tell you, story after story, that it happened. That developed who we were. We eventually learned to talk about it after our giving became more formal, after we became involved with Habitat for Humanity in Orange County. Sorry, I went on a long tangent there, Fabian. I warned you.F Geyrhalter:No, this is, first of all, this is an amazing story and I would react very differently if I had not heard it last night on a keynote. I was so taken by that story. I was hoping that you would tell it. It was really, that was the moment where you found purpose and then the purpose was contagious and it actually created the culture, and through all of it, authenticity and empathy. You started creating a brand, really. To me, that's beautiful. On your website, you state, "The more we give, the more we grow." I'm a big believer that doing good is good business. Expand a little bit on that thought, perhaps even with some data points that made you make that statement so confidently on the website, because now your brand has been walking that walk year after year for a few decades. How is doing good, good business and how can you actually tell everyone with certainty that it is?C Antis:It was honestly in the moment. I love that statement, "The more we give, the more we grow." I've just got to be honest about it. It's one that we kind of said, let's not say that, really, much right now. I love it. I'm going to tell you why, because we said that, and it worked three years ago, because we do have this really big desire to make impact in the community. We want to draw attention to it because we want to show other businesses that they can do it. Sometimes our statements are scary. Three or four years ago I started saying also, "We err on the side of generosity with all of our stakeholders." That basically says we're not going to get over on anybody. When you make that statement, there's a little bit of a mind check where you go, oh. I used to always have my angle that we got away. We did better than other people here. How can I be generous? In thinking that way, magic happens. That's what we discovered. In thinking that way, it started to happen. The more we give, the more we grow. Let me tell you about that one. We said that three years ago and we had this amazing growth year. We grew like 40 percent. Then, what happened in California, as a roofing contractor, it didn't rain. When you go from a lot of rain, the biggest rain in 10 years to no rain the next year, our sales went down 20 percent, so our profit went way down.F Geyrhalter:Of course.C Antis:Ironically, though, ironically there were some things that happened. That's when I started, why are we saying that? That's really not responsible. We say it to make a claim in the direction that we're going so we get people's attention, so we can share the success in what we're doing. What we ended up talking about, and I did some big talks that year that our sales dropped 20 percent, and we still talked about that because we are growing. Our giving grew last year. I don't know how fiscally responsible some people think this is, but in a year, in 2018 where our profits went down tremendously, our giving went up. Some people would say, in fact, our giving, we gave almost a million dollars in grants and in foundation stuff and roof sponsorships. That might have been irresponsible, but we did grow. How did we grow from that giving? We all grew in our capacity to understand how to message cause marketing. We grew in our capacity to understand this important deep value that runs through our employees and extends out into the community. I wouldn't have gone down that path, but I love messaging. I think if you're true to messaging today, this takes me into a point, that I'm so authentic in the moment, trying to get the message right, and I'll admit that I'm going to miss it sometimes. When we miss it, we're all going to learn from when we just missed it. I'm not saying we missed it by "The more we give, the more we grow." I'm saying that that was the right message to say three years ago and now I'm questioning it, if that's how I'm going to lead. Sometimes I will talk in that vein, but I think that it grew the impact through why we had it at the time. We were authentic in the moment three years ago trying to nail what it is that we do for people, what it is that we do for the trade associations that we belong to and how that extends from our people out through the associations and to all the stakeholders. That's why I wanted to get into that. I had to talk around that because we talked about it, I wanted to talk about how authentic message is going, but I still have answered your question, so can you, after that little side note I went on, give me the question again? This time, I'll dive right in.F Geyrhalter:I actually think you pretty much answered it. I think the idea that even if there's a year where revenue goes down a little bit just based on external reasons, really, which in your business was simply the weather, to actually give back during that year and to give back more than you did the year previous-C Antis:That was crazy.F Geyrhalter:But it's not crazy. It's not crazy. To me, Charles, this is good-C Antis:I mean crazy, crazy in radical. It's radically different-F Geyrhalter:Right.C Antis:And I love that. My point is, is being radically different in a social, generous way, in an inside-out way of the community, through your people and the community, it's never been a better time to error there. By having this intent to grow, give more, having the intent to be able to give more as we grow and to have the intent to be generous, it really pays off today. It keeps people in your company and it keeps people so much more productive because if you're authentic in the moment and if you have that cause that's tied to your brand and you're practicing talking about it in the front of your company and you have a brand-holder in your company -- which, it's more convenient if it's the founder or CEO, it can be your director of cause, it can be somebody else in your company -- but if you have this today, you have such an advantage in business. When I go to sell a client today, we sell HOA's and we service more HOA's than anybody, that's our niche in the roofing business, but when I go to sell a client today, I used to walk into that room and, just because I was a roofing contractor and guilty by some association from a past experience they had, I would go into this and I would be accused of things that we'd never do. We would be accused of kick-backs and of purposely not doing the work that we intended to perform, and we learned and had to take it. When I go to a board meeting today, that doesn't happen. What happens is the opposite. There is maybe one person in the room that, instead of one person chiseling us and accusing us, there's one person that's looking at me and smiling, male or female, looking down, touching their hair, like is that person flirting with me? I start asking questions, "How're we doing?" "Great." "Why? What are we doing great?" I'll get answers like, the one that really hit me when I knew this brand was working six years ago, this board member from this association looked at me and says, "I don't know, Charles. We just feel good when we think about you guys." That was something I'd never heard before. That's when I knew that I'm on the right track. Yeah, last year we gave more away than we put in the bank. Is that responsible?F Geyrhalter:Mm-hmm (affirmative).C Antis:I think, yes. Do I need to look at it and make sure that we have a trajectory that fits? Yes. There's always running the right balance, but the balance has shifted and it's a time today, whatever your spend is on your people, you're on top of spend for HR and your people and the community, all that together, it's going to drastically increase. If it was already high, it probably needs to double. If it was low, it might need to go ten times. That's a scary number, but if you can keep your people- in the new world it's all about being empathetic and being adaptive and being a critical thinker and having high emotional intelligence. This is going to keep the people there that will allow you to do that. It's all about being adaptive, and you can keep your people if you have cause. That's what great CSR, we didn't do it for the outside value gain. I think I really started on the wrong side. I was so focused on the customer that I often, and as much as I love my people, I'm so focused on the good we can do in the community, sometimes I overlook my people. I often joke that I was like Will Ferrell in Old School when he's all alone on the street and he's running and his wife comes up and he's drunk and he's running, and he's like, "Hey, Honey!" She's like, "Honey, you're naked. Get in the car." He goes, "No, come on, Honey. Everybody's doing it." That's my enthusiasm when it's just outside focus, but when you work through your people, then you keep your people, they become the ones that help you adapt in this super-changing world. In the roofing industry, it's going to change so much in the next decade. It's going to change for the better but, if you're not adaptive, good luck.F Geyrhalter:Oh, yeah.C Antis:Good luck in your business.F Geyrhalter:Any business, really, today. Back to culture, I think today Antis has a 93-percent employee retention rate or something that's really, really outrageously high for the industry. "Culture is everything" is a headline on your website. I just could not agree more. I say this on the air, a great culture kicks even a great branding spot. I'll say that again and again because it all comes from within. Going a little bit back in history with your company, and I ran an agency for a long time, I had that same problem. You talked about in one of your keynotes how you had Founder's Syndrome in the early years of running a firm. You compared it, this is hilarious, you compared it to a seagull flapping and flapping around while pooping on everyone, which is…C Antis:A seagull boss. Someone who flaps those wings, squawking and shitting all over everybody. I think that describes what a founder ends up doing, even when he doesn't realize he's doing it, based on his behavior. Even if you're not being a little bit loud, because you are the founder, everybody knows you've done their job before and you ask a question like, "Why are you doing it that way?" It comes out like, "Why are you doing it that way!" That's how you hear it. Founder's Syndrome is really all of the things that founders did to get it started often will be what's going to get it to the multi-ten-million range. Founders must be self-aware, lest they will keep stabbing their tires. Founders Syndrome is something that, it's for everybody that's a founder. It is so healthy. In fact, I just learned this. As I was describing Founder's Syndrome to somebody else, I actually looked at the Wikipedia page and it's grown from where it was a few years ago. Founder's Syndrome also occurs to division heads, people that are project managers, that bring in new things in companies that are so protective of the baby that they brought in, and they crush innovation. Founder's Syndrome is our worst enemy for all of us that have start-ups. We both have tendencies that made us, that were great to get us where we were, that will hurt us if we're not careful as we hire people.F Geyrhalter:How were you able to shake Founder's Syndrome so that other entrepreneurs can learn from it, at least the way that you did it? What was it? What was that moment?C Antis:First of all, I really believe in Vistage-type groups, that's CEO-type groups-F Geyrhalter:Yep.C Antis:Where you go and you just learn to be honest with another group of CEO's one day a month. That is where I heard the term, that's where people helped me pause to see it. I think being adaptive, it goes deeper. I'm very adaptive, I think. It took me a long time to realize it, but I'm a young 57-year-old. I'm very millennial-like thinking, but I think I'm adaptive through my path. I was raised in a religion, in my parents' religion. I'm no longer part of that religion. It's a strong culture religion, Mormonism. I think when you leave a strong culture religion, it's very difficult because that becomes your community. I think that you can do two things, you can go, and for me, it was like I had to redefine myself. In that redefining myself, I had to be self-critical sometimes to learn and grow. I had a couple of times like that where I had to redefine myself in life. I think that moving from the country to the city, how am I going to survive here? those life experiences. If we go back and re-frame our lives, we've all been very adaptive, but I think we have to embrace that today. When you get that Founder's Syndromitis, when you realize, oh, my God, I have this, this is funny and you forgive yourself. The way you get that is doing self-assessments. I'm a big fan of self-assessments. When I did my disk and I found out that I had a high eye on a disk scale, my Vistage group pointed at me and laughed and they said, oh, you want to be the center of attention. I quickly said, no, I don't. But hopefully, by later on that day, I admitted, well, yes I do, and thank you for telling me that's who I am and I'm not doing something wrong. Now I can forgive myself and realize that it's not a weakness, it's a strength. I'm great in sales, I'm great at speaking, I'm great in marketing, I'm great in customer care because I have a high eye. When you learn about yourself, the more you're willing to- do the emotional intelligence test. If you just try to grab the concept of emotional intelligence, it is the greatest gift. You will get Founder's Syndrome because it is just your survival mode, because we all operate in animal mode even though we think we're so smart. That's basically what emotional intelligence tells me. Self-assessment is really how I've grown, but I've also been forced to grow a few times. I think that sometimes when things hit our lives, if we can flip our brain to only believe in positive outcomes, we can realize that some of these things that we used to see as tragedy -- I'm not saying there's not tragedies -- but a lot of things we would used to see as something bad, we can flip in this new mindset. Failing is the greatest gift. Fail, fail, fail, I've failed being a contractor. You can fail and still survive. I've failed on so many jobs in the past, and we're really good at what we do and what we design and how we perform today because we've failed so much to get here.F Geyrhalter:Right.C Antis:That's one of the things, is failing is how I learn.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. I think you said so many things. I know you accused me of asking a question that had five questions in it. You do the same with the answers, which is fantastic, because there were so many gold nuggets in there. I really appreciate it. I want to go back to culture for a second because I'm sure that a lot of listeners getting to know your brand, getting to know you and the way that you embody marketing and empathy and purpose, you've built a strong culture. Do you as a brand actually have written-down, formulated core values, or is it different? How do you deal with core values and how are they being embodied day to day?C Antis:I love that. I'm not a formalize, I'm a visionary, which means I loosely define. I know that if I grab things too tight, I've learned then I steer them into the ground. If you're a visionary and you have ideas, you learn to bring in doers around you. I have a great story around that. We were working with a neuroscientist to build our new values. If you want to be heard in marketing, you want to simplify, simplify, simplify. You want to simplify colors, position of your graphics, also you want to simplify the words. I really was wanting to bake down what we do. We spent a lot of time with Dr. Moren, this amazing guy that works with brands like Southwest Airlines. We worked with him for a long time to come up with the one word. The word we came up with is, "be," B-E. If I had to describe the word, "be," because we're giving it new context, I can't. It comes out different every day. Really, what "be" is to us, is it's much like what Simon Sinek did when he asked us, what's your "why?" Some days I can answer that question, some days it hits be funny. When we talk about what we value at Antis, the "be" values is what we've come up with.F Geyrhalter:Interesting.C Antis:The core part is, is Dr. Moren helped us get to the word, "be." We came up with this "be safe, be good, be dry." That's how we were going to market to our people to show them that we can keep them safe in our communities. What happened is, we did our external strategy session and we had some amazing people that came in, like Michelle Jordan, who I strongly recommend using. She came in and helped us with our strategy. Our team, not me, not marketing, but our team, 20 of us, baked and we surveyed and we came up with what we value. This was actually, an expanded team beyond that. We came down to the five things that we value. This is what they are: Be good, be accountable, be generous, be a leader and be passionate. What we found is we had turned our value statement into 11 words with a lot of repetition there in this really branded, good way that when we donate our space to nonprofits, and we have a lot of nonprofits come in here, they see that and we hear things like, "Can we borrow that?" "Yes! Yes! Please take it!" What happened is, I turned to my team and I said I know that we've spent a lot of money to be this, "Be safe, be dry, be good," but who we really are, are these values, "Be good, be accountable, be generous, be a leader and be passionate," slightly different context in the word, "be." What happened is this became who we were. I was giving a big keynote, in fact, it was the one you referenced. It was the one last year at the Legends and Leaders. It was a big crowd and the last slide that I decided to show was this internal thing. We're an inside-out company. We share what's working so others can do it. We discovered that these values were resonating. I went up there and I talked and I finished this talk. After I spoke, another writer and a good friend of mine, Steve Cherm, he commented on social media about how Charles ended his message with be good and be accountable. The funny thing was that I called Steve later and said, "Steve, I never said that. That was the slide and that was the value. We've had that and we use that slide for impact moments because it says so much in so few words.F Geyrhalter:It was holistically, right? I love the idea that it started with an exercise of external brand messaging and it turned into, a variation of it turned into the internal values and how you want to operate and who you want to be as a company. I think it's extremely, extremely powerful. I love that people just feel that intrinsically after the talk. Going from all of these "be" words, be this, be that, do you think that as a brand, if you think about the essence of your brand in its entirety, could you sum it up in a few characters, in one word or a two-word phrase that can describe your brand's DNA? To think about it, it's like Harley Davidson could be freedom, Coke could be happiness. What is Antis? Could you think of Antis in a single word or in two words? It must be difficult, based on our conversation today.C Antis:It's difficult for me, but I'm going to have to answer it two ways. To really understand what we discovered and what we sell and what we sell inside and out the company, it comes down to two words, and it's for your brand and it's for everybody that are your stakeholders, and that is fulfillment and impact. That's the intersection of life trajectory, of seeing yourself in a higher light. It's that point where you're having impact in people or people's lives, or animal's lives, or that it's you're having impact in the environment, whatever it is, but you're also finding that fulfillment. Those two words are critical to want to discuss how to get to a real cause marketing brand. I want to use the word, "be" because I'm experimenting with this word and I have been for the last year. I think the one that I spend most of my time is the "be good." It's simple but it's like that's all I really wanted to do. I didn't know what it was. I had to define in my life what good was. My dad just always taught me to leave it better than I found it. I'd learned that in Scouts, too. It's a simple thing, leave it better than you found it. I think that the best way I can get there is, I want to be my best self. I want to be my best self and I don't compare myself to you anymore and I don't want my people to compare themselves to me. I want you and I want me to compare ourselves to ourselves and I want to be good being my best self. I think that's my definition of being good, is seeing yourself higher and therefore you're able to see everything and everyone else higher. Then you become a real asset to the world and you have impact and you have this magical place of fulfillment, which is where I get to every day. I wake up in fear. I have good months and bad months in business like everybody else, but I wake up and I put on this outlook that only sees good things coming. If something hit today that's other than that, I go, wow, this is really going to be good. I literally can see the other side of that and see the value in this growing experience that's coming. I think that's the greatest thing, so be good.F Geyrhalter:That's beautiful. Going from that macro level all the way to looking at the word branding, obviously you are a marketer within your space, one of the many hats that you wear within the company. What does branding mean to someone like you, who has been in an industry for 30 years and you've been pushing the boundaries within the industry? You really were a game-changer and a visionary within an industry that is known for exactly the opposite. What does branding mean to you?C Antis:Branding is an action word that, if you don't try to grab it today, you're going to be left and you're going to be lost. Branding is, it's always been who you were but now, with this craving that everyone has for authenticity, branding, real authentic present-day branding, is what everybody seeks. It's the most important thing. I have to talk about branding but I've got to go into this little weird worm hole about, we hear about these currencies. Facebook is trying to create a currency I hear the Trump Administration doesn't like. In China they have a currency for social good that they've come up with that where if you're in their version of communism, social good in China, you'll get to the front of the line, get a bigger house. We have the same thing happening here in Silicon Valley. Those of us that know people that are trying to build algorithms that can root out fakeness because there's so much fake stuff coming at us from all sides, so branding is critical today. It's like when somebody goes to prison, they'll tell you if they don't join a gang, they're going to die, because you're a threat to everybody in prison until they know by which gang you reside. Then it all puts it into an order. That is a fish tank, so we can study that and poke at it. The same thing is in our society today. We don't know who we are and people are craving to know who you are. If you kind of know who somebody is, it's not enough like it was 10 years ago. You look for the gang that you reside with so people that care about families being close to their sick kids, they trust me more because I'm on the board of Ronald McDonald House and we do a lot of roof donations there. People that think everybody has a decent place to live, they trust me and my company more because we donate all the roofs for Habitat and we have in Orange County for the last 10 years. It's suddenly all about this currency of social good. It's literally like, I'm not telling you I think this is coming, I've been talking about this with some other people and I'm watching it happen. It literally is going to mean money in ways that our brains can't contextualize yet, much like you're trying to wrap your head around cryptocurrency. I see things very visually, so just imagine you're looking at your PC screen and you're seeing all these little eraser head LinkedIn-sized photos of each other, like we see on LinkedIn, darting like shooting stars across the scene. Oh, is that Fabian? Is that Charles? Who is that? We're all craving to be seen, and this is my visual interpretation of the currency of social good. If you are doing something good, giving back, best practices, are you giving back in your community? Now algorithms are being built to bring you to the front of the line. If you're giving back in your community, what happens is, you're not an eraser head shooting star whipping across the PC, you become the saucer, 8-inch saucer, that's floating up in its own trajectory, ever so slightly, that everyone can see. That is the new currency. I can't explain it better than that because it's not really invented yet, but we're moving in this super-adaptive world and if you want to survive and be adaptable, then dive in to cause. Dive in to mixing your branding with your cause, who you authentically are. It should be something that lines up well, that people think is good. There's some nonprofits that may not serve you to line up with, but even if they didn't serve you, you'd still be better off than not having the alignment. People need to know who you are. If you're in business just to make money in the next 10 years, good luck staying in business. It's all about who you are, who you align with and you better expect that you're going to be telling that story. It's all about telling the story, too. In every nonprofit board I'm on, when we go to the board meetings, it's always like, ha, how do we get our story heard? We all realize now that people remember the stories. That's what they remember.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely, absolutely. Those were some powerful words, and you described the idea of branding, how it is and, really, how it will be in the next half-decade or so. It's going to happen very, very quickly.C Antis:Yes, I'm obsessed. I don't mean to be a futurist, but I can't help but see where things are going. You're so right, and it's really healthy to spend a little bit of time and have a Disney-type plan. Disney, they have strategy for three completely different directions at any given time. They have it if things are great, if things turn bad and then if the world goes really crazy. They have three different strategies they build out every year instead of one. That's the new world. It's going to be a way more adaptive world. Instead of being afraid of it, just embrace it. Keep your people, then you'll be able to adapt to it.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely love that. Listeners who live in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, they should obviously reach out to Antis to get a new roof if they need one. Who better to handle your new roof than a futurist? They can find you at, but since the majority of our U.S. listeners are not in the region and more than half of our listeners are not even located in the U.S., how can they follow you to learn more about your insights into company culture and philanthropy and a lot of other things, as the CEO of your brand?C Antis:That's a great question. I find that what fulfills me is awakening others to that impact, their fulfillment thing, so I love speaking. I do a lot of talking, do a lot of podcasts, so I'll share Hitting The Mark, Fabian, on my LinkedIn. I only manage one account, I manage my own LinkedIn, but I love stuff like this. This is where I'm known and this is where I like to talk. I'll do keynotes across the country this year and I'll share those on social media. You can also follow us on our Facebook, antisroofing/facebook. I just don't personally do that. You can follow us on our Antis Roofing four or five social media channels that we have. On my LinkedIn, I'll post on stuff that I have going.F Geyrhalter:That's great and I would highly recommend everyone to do follow Antis Roofing as a company, actually, because it is amazing what a roofing company that is fairly local, it is a big region that you cover, but how a roofing company can leave that mark, it can create this community and culture. It is really amazing. Thank you, Charles. It was so great to have you on the show.C Antis:I am super-excited. I can't wait to hear it.F Geyrhalter:Awesome, and thanks to everyone for listening. Let me again invite you to become a supporter of this show. I just launched this program, so I'm overly excited about making it happen. Go to, hit the support button. A very special thanks go to Roxie Valez from Berlin, Germany and Freddie Teague from Branson, Missouri, who just joined on the Brandster level, which means they will get to hang out with me on next month's group call. Thank you both for being part of the tribe and for becoming sustaining members. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won, and if you're intrigued to find out who is behind that moniker, head on over to the support side and you will be in for a little surprise. I will see you next time, when we once again will be Hitting The Mark.
It is not an easy task to stand out amongst the many mindfulness apps – from Headspace to Calm (which is valued at $1 billion) – while creating a brand that does so in an authentic manner. But Founder and CEO Stephen Sokoler and his team at Journey Meditation did just that, and mainly through the use of imagery (cleverly branded by use of color) featuring members of their tribe, from staff to teachers, shown in everyday life poses rather than sitting with their eyes closed, meditating.The Journey LIVE meditation app is an experiment in community creation, which is at the heart of branding. Stephen shares with us how he crafted a brand around human connection and why a brand's meaningful foundation is essential for any successful launch. Now, close your eyes, take a breath, and hit that play button. Once you are done, and you realize that you'd like to meditate to an actual class, hit the app store and search for Journey LIVE to get on the path of finding your inner zen.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting the Mark, a show known for the charismatic and wise founders and investors that provide us with behind the scenes insights into their intriguing brand stories. From companies as diverse as Liquid Death, Beyond Meat, and Parlor Skis. Today I invite you to take a breather and let your mind wander, away from the Donald Trump and Boris Johnson world on the outside, to start looking within, because here's a thing you don't see mixed very often: meditation and branding. I'm thrilled to welcome the founder and CEO of Journey Meditation to Hitting the Mark. Stephen Sokoler runs a company on a mission: to help all people live happier, healthier, less stressed lives. Founded in 2015, Journey is building the world's largest, most supportive meditation community both online and off. The company recently released a first of its kind mediation app, Journey LIVE, which offers users daily live-streamed group meditations led by experienced and diverse teachers along with a supportive and engaged community base. TechCrunch coined it the Peloton of meditation. Journey also operates corporate programs with organizations ranging from Facebook, Disney, and Nike, to charter schools, hospitals, and non-profits. Prior to Journey, Stephen was the co-founder and CEO of Altrum Honors, which helped organizations celebrate and inspire their employees. Stephen built Altrum into the global industry leader, and sold the company in 2014. I, myself, started using Stephen's new app, recently, just in case you're wondering why I sound so very calm today. Stephen, thank you for being here and welcome to the show.S Sokoler:Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me. Really a pleasure.F Geyrhalter:So, on my way in this morning, on my commute, I listened to another podcast you have been featured on, just to prep for this show, as any good host would do, and next thing I know, it's that the host of the podcast I listened to actually asked you lead them into a full-on meditation. So, here I am, in L.A. traffic, being asked to close my eyes and let my mind wander off. It was pretty funny. But, I survived, because I'm a smart guy who knows when to follow orders and when to refrain from it. So, Stephen, tell us a little bit about ... no pun intended ... your journey from running meditation programs at companies like WeWork and Spotify, to launching the app, and why you wanted to enter this seemingly-competitive digital landscape, with apps like Headspace and Calm, at this point in time.S Sokoler:Okay. Well, I'm glad that you didn't take my advice and close your eyes. I think, maybe, I should issue a warning beforehand, so that people know you don't need to close your eyes while driving.F Geyrhalter:Well, it's definitely a good thing for both of us, and for my listeners, because otherwise this would not happen right now.S Sokoler:Absolutely. Absolutely. So, to your question, we've worked with a really wide variety of organizations. Big Fortune 500 companies, law firms, start-ups, non-profits, and what we saw was there was real magic when people came together. Came together to meditate, to connect, to learn, to listen, and so we said, "How can we scale this?" And first, that meant opening new cities. So, we moved from New York to L.A., San Francisco, Miami, et cetera. We're now in 20 cities all over the world. But then we said, "How can we use technology?" And when we looked at all of the existing apps, you mentioned a few, but really all of the existing meditation apps, they were all exactly the same in two key ways. The first is they're all single player, so you're doing them by yourself. And the second is you're listening to a recording from some time in the past. Could be a year ago, could be five years ago. But, it's something that took place in the past.S Sokoler:And for thousands of years, meditation's been practiced in communities. It's something that we've done together, with teachers, with fellow meditators, with community members, and for the last five years, it's something we in the west have done by ourselves on our phone. And so, we thought there was a really interesting opportunity to bring meditation to people in the way that it had historically been practiced, but to leverage technology. And so, that's why we set out to build Journey LIVE, the first live group meditation app. You can ask a question, you can connect with the teacher, you can meditate with your friend, or your family, someone across the country, across the world. Just a much different, a much stickier experience.F Geyrhalter:I think it's a fascinating concept, because in the beginning it sounds like why would we need another meditation app, but it is, actually ... That is a huge pivot, and just a little bit about my background with meditation. So, back when I was studying at ArtCenter College of Design here in Pasadena, strangely enough for the times, they actually had a meditation class, and it's also strange for a design college. And, it was the very first time I meditated altogether, and it was such an amazing experience, because I actually felt that levitating sensation. Like, I actually truly believe that my entire body was off the ground for a few minutes, and I have not once felt it ever since. So, I tried plenty of other classes, and then a plethora of apps, and I don't know what it was that day, but I never got back to that state again. And it was absolutely sensational. Definitely one of the more memorable moments of my life. So, I am big believer in the power of mediation, of yoga, and breathing, just simply breathing, to get us through times of stress and anxiety, and to make life simply better. I'm actually not sure how I could do another key note speech in front of a large audience without using the simple power of breathing, to prepare myself in the hours and minutes before I hit the stage for that unusual rush of adrenaline. Now, back to meditation itself, and the actual app, one of the issues I personally have with a lot of mindfulness apps is that meditation, to me, is very personal. I could be meditating to an app together with my wife, which we do occasionally, including last night. And afterwards, she may tell me that she absolutely loved it or she may have even happily dozed off, and I had the exact opposite experience because it is very much about human connection. Does that instructor's voice, does his or her tonality, does the speed, does the style, speak to me or not, right? So, with Journey, you're really honing in, as you mentioned, on that idea of individuality. So, you've got various teachers with various backgrounds at various times throughout the day. How important is individuality for the Journey brand, and a brand that also has quite the opposite, which is community, at its core?S Sokoler:Well, you touched on a lot of really, really interesting things there. So, I want to go back to the beginning when you started ... when you first started meditating in college. Happy to hear that you didn't levitate while you were meditating in the car. There's a book called Altered Traits, and obviously the name is a play on the idea of altered states. And I think that meditation is often associated with things like the experience you had, or you meditate and you feel really blissed out, and everything is calm. Or you feel connected to something. And while that can happen, that doesn't necessarily need to happen. You know, and I think a comparison that can resonate with some people is the idea of runner's high. You run, and oftentimes you're running and you're thinking about things, work, family, et cetera, but then sometimes you reach this point and your mind just goes blank and you just have this really beautiful zen-type experience, like being in the zone. And while, again, that can happen, that's actually not the point of meditation. The point of meditation is to experience the mind to learn how to better work with this really fascinating thing that drives us. That drives our lives. And so, when you mentioned the individual experience that you have and your wife has. While experiencing the same class, you touched on a number of things. The teacher's voice, their style… All of those external things are very, very important. But the other thing that I would add to that is the internal experience. I might sit down, and you might sit down to meditate, and I might be agitated. Or my mind might be restless, or I might be sleepy, and you might have some totally different experience. So, I think that's one thing that's really interesting about meditation is we often associate it, like society views it as this way to calm down. This way to chill. This zen-type experience. It may be that. But it may not be. It may be very awakening. It may put you to sleep. It may make you agitated. And what's beautiful about it is the practice is one where you start to embrace the fullness of life. The whole human experience, because while we, of course, want to be happy, and happiness is very, very important, that isn't always the case. And so, how do we work with our mind? How do we work with our emotions, our thoughts, our feelings when we are triggered? Or when we are angry? Or when we are sleepy? And so, meditation can really help with that. And so, coming to your actual question, the part about the individuality, when we think of Journey, we think of Journey as a supportive, inclusive community. Both online and off, actually. You know, the offline part being everything we've done over the last four years, and the online part being Journey LIVE, which we just launched. And the idea there is that people are there for you, both the teacher and your community of meditators, with whatever the experience is that you're having. And that's why the interacting is really important. You don't get that with a lot of the other apps, where you might meditate and have some experience and not know what it means, or want to share it, or be confused, or be sad, or angry, or happy. Really, a whole range of emotions. And so, having the community allows you to have your individual experience while being a part of a group that can support you and hold you when needed. And share in your victories as well.F Geyrhalter:A lot of what you said was really meaningful to me, and talking about the idea of this array of teachers, who I heard you say in the same podcast, I believe, that I didn't doze off to, which was good, that they're all unscripted by the company. So, you actually don't tell teachers on the app what to say, how to say it, et cetera. But, all of them, because of that, bring their own personality into play, which is great, right? Because I feel there is a real connection if you do connect, but there's also real danger in there. When I, for instance, download the app and I try it out, because that's what people do, right? They give it a try. And the first person I have to chance to meditate with since this is not on-demand and you usually only have one or two session that you have access to at any given point of time, which is very different from all the other apps, right? I, literally, go into Journey and I have the quick fix right now with one person, and it always varies, and then there might be a 9:00 a.m. class or 10:00 a.m. class, so basically I usually have two people that I can choose from. What if that one person does not resonate with me, and I say, "Oh, Journey LIVE? That app is not for me."S Sokoler:Yeah. That is definitely a risk. That is one of the things that live can cut both ways. You touched on two things there. One is the teacher not resonating with you. The other is the fact that it's unscripted. So, even if the teacher may resonate with you, perhaps today they're talking about something that doesn't resonate.F Geyrhalter:Correct. Yeah.S Sokoler:Right? Perhaps you came in and wanted to meditate on one thing, and they offered you something else. Now, I'll tell you a couple things. So, for one, we were really fortunate. We pay our meditation teachers very, very well. Especially by industry standards. The second thing is we work really hard to make it a community, a teacher community, so the teachers can connect, and feel supported. And so, we were able to recruit some of the best, most interesting, experienced, skilled mediation teachers in the world and have them as part of our founding teacher community. So, we have these people who have done this type of work for many, many years. All right. So, that's the first thing. So, we've been very selective in who can represent the Journey brand. The second thing is giving them a basic framework to be able to work with it. So, not a script, not a ... this day you're going to talk about stress, and this day you're going to talk about balance, but really a framework to say simple approachable, secular, non-esoteric ... Keep it in a way where people ... You're meeting people where they are. Meet them where they are, so don't start speaking in overly scientific language, or overly spiritual. Certainly not religious. So, there's this really basic framework so that, hopefully, 99.9% of the time, if you go on there, and you happen to go on at noon and sit with Miriam, or 10:00 p.m. and sit with Hector, you find a teacher that you say, "Wow. That was great. That was a great experience. I really enjoyed that." The other thing that we have is we have teacher bios. We're now adding videos, so that you could see the teacher beforehand, so that you get a little bit more information, so you're not just going into the class blindly, but you say, "Ah. I see John has a background where he worked with executives." Or, "I see Cesar was a veteran." Or, "I see Amanda studied at UCLA in this particular style." And you can engage with them beforehand. So, it's not quite as much just picking and going from there.F Geyrhalter:Right. Right. No, absolutely. And I actually spent some time on Journey's Instagram the other day, and I read the beautiful Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote, and I think it’s Cheryl, one of your teachers. She posted it. And it says, "All that is essentially is invisible to the eye." Which, again, made me realize that meditation at its core is as far removed from branding as anything ever could. So, it must be difficult to, quote unquote, brand a business like yours. And one thing I noticed, and you just hinted at that when you talked about individualities of the teachers, of the bios, but I noticed an absolutely love ... and must give you tons of credit for this, you are actually only showing real people that are from your tribe, so may that be your instructors, teach members like yourself, or participants on your website, and in a manner that is just as authentic as it is professional, so you really pulled this off. And, in a way, I would it's actually branded. The way that you use the colors, and the way that you make this very much about the personalities within the app, which is such a huge differentiator to all the other brands out there. How did you go about the visual, but also the verbal, brand building for this meditation venture?S Sokoler:Yeah. That's a great question. I think all credit really goes to our head of marketing, Jen, who's just been such a dynamo when it comes to bringing the brand to life. We worked for four years prior ... or three and half years prior to Jen starting, and the mission was always really clear, right? Help people live happier, healthier, less-stressed lives. Build the supportive, inclusive community where people can connect. People can grow. But how do you show that, right? That's a real interesting branding challenging. I'm sure you can appreciate that. If you show people sitting with their eyes closed meditating, that's the same thing that everyone else is doing. And it's boring. And the truth is, that's not what we're about. We're not about sitting there and calming down, we're about waking you up to what life can be. It's about how do you savor the ordinary and extraordinary moments. How do you live a life filled with emotion, where you're walking down the street and you notice things, and you're talking to someone, and you're really listening, and you're really present. We've all had those experiences where we're sitting and eating food, and we take one bit, and it tastes so good, and then the next thing you know you look down, all the food is gone. You don't even remember eating it, because your mind was somewhere else and you just went through the motions.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Sokoler:How do we capture more of every day life, and so branding that becomes a challenge to say, "How do you show the vividness and beauty of every day life, and have people understand it's mediation?" Right? If you just show people, two people eating ice cream, that's great. But is it a Van Leeuwen ad, is it a Häagen-Dazs ad, or is it a Journey Mediation ad? You know? Who knows? So, I think our head of marketing really deserves all the credit of walking this really fine line of showing the vividness and excitement of life, but also tying it back to Journey, to meditation and to the idea of community.F Geyrhalter:I absolutely agree, and hat's off for that move, because once it is done, then you look at your website, and you just kind of take it in, it appears to be so easy. But it's not. It's not, to actually go deep into brand and to actually understand what the brand is about, which you so perfect explained right now, and then to visually walk that fine line. And just because we already talked about individuality. For a little now, we talked about community, I will ask you a brand question that my regular listeners I won't let any guest get away without answering, so if you did any prep at all, you might know that this is coming up, because I always do this.If you can sum up all the parts and pieces of the Journey brand in one single word, or a two word phrase, what would it be? And I'm so thrilled to hear your answer for that, because I ... especially with your app, it is all about ... Well, you tell us.S Sokoler:Yeah. I would say it's human connection. I think that's what the brand is about. I think that's the essence and the core of this, and it's connecting with others, but it's also connecting to yourself, right? People, again, often think of meditation as this thing to calm down, and it can help with that. But, my favorite definition of meditation ... And now that you mentioned you listened to the other podcast, now I have to think back what did I say there? I want to make sure I say something new and interesting here, but ...F Geyrhalter:It's okay. I hope there are more listeners than myself today.S Sokoler:Well, I don't think I said this, but my favorite definition of meditation is the Tibetan word gom, G-O-M, which means to become familiar, right? And it's a practice where you become more familiar with yourself, more familiar with your thoughts, and you habits, and your patters. And so, when you think about Journey and the brand, the one word, or I'll take your generous of having two words, it's human connection. It's connecting to yourself, and connecting to others.F Geyrhalter:That's wonderful. And I think your marketing did a great job of actually using that as that brand DNA that she then so successfully, with the team, kind of ran through the entire journey of the Journey brand. So, that's what mediation means to you. What does branding mean to you? Maybe outside of Journey, I know you've been a successful entrepreneur for a while. This is not your first rodeo. What does branding mean to you?S Sokoler:Yeah, I think, to me, branding is all about how we make a person feel, how we show up to serve our mission, how we live out our values through every touch point with both the customer and the internal team. I think when it comes to brand, it's very easy to look at things externally, you know the advertising, but I think it's also important to look at the internal stuff. How are you running your organization? Is the brand seen and felt, deeply felt, internally? So, for us, that's how I think of it. How we make someone feel, how we're serving the mission, and how we're really living out the values that are so important to us through every touch point.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. I like that a lot. It works, really, for any company actually, and it should work that way for a lot more bigger brands. Talking about your clients, your customer, but also talking about data, because I know that at the heart, data is important to you. I know that there ... when you work with companies directly, like we work Nike and such, you actually have data comparisons where you talk about this is how people felt before this started, doing our mindfulness exercises, our meditations, and this is how your employees actually feel later on. Did you ever go against your early customer data, with that app, which I know you've got about 3000 people ... just these beta users, before you even officially launched. Did you ever go against the data and did a gutsy move solely based on instinct? So, for instance, your offering for your classes. Most are not on-demand. The app comes at a higher price point than most competitors. I feel it is a genius move, as it actually creates scarcity, and accountability. And accountability, I think, is really important. I would go back to your app because I know that I have to be there at six o'clock, or at eight o'clock, today, right? Because that's how my mind works. If it's always there, I just forget about it, because I can do it any time. But, I know because you're big into data, I wonder how much of some of these decisions was data and research driven, and how much came from just an educated gut instinct from you or your team, or maybe you have another example where you went by instinct, then created an important aspect of your brand that users now can't live without, even though they didn't know they wanted it in the first pace.S Sokoler:That's a great question, and I think the answer is Journey LIVE. That was a big instinctual move for us, so I had, and I'll say we had, this gut feeling that this made sense. But we had no data to support it. So, every other app was, and still is, a bunch of recordings and they're all audio, and they're recordings from two years ago, five years ago, et cetera. And now we're coming in and saying, we're going to do video. We're going to have a really diverse group of teachers, so instead of Headspace, which has one teacher, Calm, which has one teacher. They have some other stuff, actually, but there's one main teacher, who's wonderful.F Geyrhalter:Right.S Sokoler:We're going to have a community of teachers, and since we're committed to representation, over 50% of our teacher will be teachers of color. We want our teachers to serve, to look like the community we're serving. So, when it came to the actual idea, we said, okay, we're going to do video, right? That's different. Nobody's doing video. We're going to do live. Nobody's doing live. We're going to do group. We're going to have people be able to interact with the teacher. We're now adding on the ability for students to interact with each other in class. So, currently, students can interact with each other before class, and they can interact through the teacher during the class. Now we're adding ...F Geyrhalter:How can they do that? How can they do that? Sorry to interrupt, but that's an intriguing part of your app. How do student actually interact with teachers?S Sokoler:So, before the class starts, there's a waiting room. So, think of it similar to how you go to any class, whether a yoga class, a meditation class, a fitness class. So, before you go in, there's an initial prompt. So it says ... Well, actually, the first thing it says, it says you've entered the room. So it'll say, "John has entered the room." Or "Rebecca has entered the room." And other people see that and can wave and greet you, give you a little hand emoji to say, "Hi, I see you." Then there's a prompt, what's one thing you're grateful for today? So you might say, "The rain here in L.A." Or I might say, "Sunshine here in New York," or you might say your friend, your family, your baby, et cetera. Coffee is a nice popular one in the morning. And other people can acknowledge that. They can send you a little heart emoji. And then after that, people can chat. So people can say ... One person said, and this is on the heavier side, but somebody said, "I'm really grateful for this community, because I just lost my mother." That's obviously not the day to day experience, but people can then say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm here for you." Or somebody could say, "I just got a promotion at work," and somebody else will piggyback on that and say, X, or Y, or Z. So, giving people the ability to communicate before class. And then, once class starts, people do not have the ability to message each other, but they have the ability to message the teacher. So, that's the part that we are changing. So, as of now, people can message the teacher to ask a question, or to make a comment, and the teacher, of course, sees who's in the class and can recognize them. Michael, three days in a row. Thanks for showing up. Keep up the great work. Jonathan, I know this is your first time. It's so nice to have you here. Things like that. And you could also speak to the comments, but now we're allowing students to see each other's comments. So, adding another layer where people can be social and connect. Yeah, so that's currently how students are able to connect, and then of course, off the platform we have the private Facebook community. The teachers also give out their email address, so that students can ask a question one-on-one, which you'd actually be surprised. People ask quite a few questions. But we said, "How can we make it a whole universe, a whole community, where people can interact with both students and teachers in whatever way speaks to them at that time?"F Geyrhalter:Huge brand differentiator, and I also believe that since a lot of that came after my question about how much of that was gut instinct, I think a lot of that seemed to have come from gut instinct, and now you're utilizing data to actually, most probably, make it better. But, it seems like a lot of it was just based on you feeling like this is something that the world needs again. Community in meditation.S Sokoler:Yeah. I think that it was a big bet by some of our early investors to say, "Hey, we believe in this. This makes sense to us. I could see how this is a better way of doing things." Because it wasn't necessarily obvious to all. My hope is that we're able to build Journey to the place where people look back and say, "Ah. It's so obvious. Of course that would work." The same way people look at Peloton now and they're like, "Makes perfect sense." But when John Foley, the CEO, was out raising money, nobody was interested. They said, "Oh, you can't compete with Soul Cycle for this reason. Nobody's going to buy an expensive bike. Nobody's going to do this," and he and his really capable team proved them wrong, and now it looks so obvious.F Geyrhalter:Right.S Sokoler:And I'm hoping that we can do the same. That people will look back and say, "Why would I listen to a recording from five years ago by myself when I can join a class and actually interact with people?" The same way people look at group fitness now. Instead of going to the gym and exercising by myself, I can do something with other people, with friends, with a live teacher. They see me. They can acknowledge me. Much more engaging. Much stickier. Just a better experience.F Geyrhalter:Right. And that idea that you can ask the teacher a question, I think that's really, really huge, because, like you said, someone just lost a loved one, and they feel the need ... they need someone to get through it, and maybe just a couple of words from not only the community, but also the teacher. A one-on-one, where you can just quickly chime in, I think that's really, really powerful. And, I am ...S Sokoler:And it doesn't have to be that heavy.F Geyrhalter:Of course.S Sokoler:It could be when's the best time that they can meditate, and I might say, "For me, I do it in the morning. It's really beautiful." And somebody else might say the evening.F Geyrhalter:Exactly.S Sokoler:Or somebody might just have a question, "Why aren't I levitating anymore? How do I get my levitation skills back?" People could ask really light questions just because meditation's one of those things that can be confusing. It's a thing that can be tricky.F Geyrhalter:And I will ask that question, because I need my levitation back.S Sokoler:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:So, I'm sure raising funds for this type of startup must have felt a little bit like a lot of female founders talk about how they have a really hard time trying to get investment for products that have more of a female audience, that cater to female needs. So, not only is it the entire problem of a female founder and all the cache that comes with that, right? But it's also catering to a very different target audience. I'm sure if you walk into an investor room and you say, "Look, we're talking about meditation. We're talking about an app. This is ... this needs to be about community," that 99% of those investors, it just goes right over their head, because they have not experienced that. Is that assumption correct?S Sokoler:Well, I think the assumption is correct that investors don't always relate to meditation, and they often think someone who's started a meditation company just wants to relax all day, and wear tie dye shirts, and all the other things that ... the stereotypes that go along with somebody who's meditating. They're so laid-back, they're not driven, et cetera. Now, fortunately for us, there are several meditation apps that have achieve tremendous success. Calm has just valued at a billion dollars. I mean, that's incredible.F Geyrhalter:Unbelievable. Yeah.S Sokoler:Headspace has had great ... It's unbelievable. Headspace has had great success, so when investors see that, they say, "Ah. Businesses can be built here." Now, I will go back to the original statement, or part of the question. I feel like female founders have ... The environment with which they're attempting to raise money is really challenging, and I think as a male founder, I have tremendous privilege, regardless of what type of product I'm actually pitching. So, I don't know if the comparison actually works. I have a lot of empathy for my colleagues and peers who are female founders, just because the environment is ... can be challenging to raise money from largely male investors. That being said, it's beautiful that the community is taking notice, and by this I mean the investor community, is starting to take notice, and take active steps to change that. But, I do think that even for me as a male with a meditation company, I still have significant unfair advantage over a female founder when having those meetings. Unfortunately, actually.F Geyrhalter:I absolutely agree. Absolutely agree, and fingers-crossed, it is changing right now. It seems like this is the time, it is the place, where all of this is shifting. I, for instance, have a really hard time getting female ... successful female founders on this show, which to me, make me believe that not only, sadly, it's a scarcity, but mainly they're just so darned busy, because everyone wants them, right? So I think things are changing, and it's for ...S Sokoler:I have a few great ones for you. So, after this I'll send over a couple names [crosstalk 00:33:29]F Geyrhalter:Oh, please do so. Please do so. Yeah, I started looking at my podcast with very critical eyes. It's like, "Oh, here's a white male founder. Oh, here's another white male founder." And, that's not the world out there. So, I want to make sure that I'm walking that walk, too.F Geyrhalter:We started going into a lot of different directions. One last big question for you that is always important for me to share with my audience. Your app has launched fairly recently. It's already very successful, but for Journey maybe as a brand, not necessarily Journey LIVE the app, but Journey, what was that one big breakthrough moment, or Journey LIVE, right? It depends on you. What was that one big breakthrough moment that propelled that startup into a brand? This may be anything from PR to getting first social proof to major investment coming in, scoring a particular teacher. What was that time when you just turned around to your girlfriend, you said ... or to whoever, and said, "You know what? This is it. It just happened."?S Sokoler:Well, I'll tell you the moment that it felt real to me. Which was when we did the photo shoot to launch the brand, the one that you mentioned. Those photos on the website. That was a time, to me, that I said, "Wow. Something is really happening here." And I think it was because I had, to be honest, I had some fear or trepidation, that I wasn't even really aware of, around going out to recruit the best teachers in the meditation space. I think I said to myself, "They're really busy. They have other things going on." But what started to happen is I started to talk to different teachers. I spoke to my longtime friend, the amazing meditation teacher Jackie Stewart, and I shared this and she said, "Wow, this is so exciting." Or I spoke to Cheryl Brause, who you mentioned before, and she said, "Wow, this is unbelievable. This is such an interesting idea." And I was having these conversations, I started to realize maybe we're on to something. There might be something here. And you mentioned my girlfriend. I have told my girlfriend this story. The time that it really happened, because this is actually right when we first started dating, was when we came together for this big photo shoot. So, we had our head of marketing there, of course, we had to photographers, lighting people, makeup, et cetera, but we had all of these amazing teachers, super diverse, from different backgrounds, different lineages, different walks of life. We had my partner in the business, David Nichtern, who's been teaching for, I want to say, 40 years but maybe he's ... maybe it's more, maybe it's less. But, around that time. I mean, almost as long as I've been alive. And everyone came together and it felt like the brand was really alive, and you could see the excitement in people's eyes. So, that was not the time that propelled us to startup success. Not that I'd say we have startup success. Not that that's how I would ... I think of it anyway. But, that was really a breakthrough moment for me, in seeing the brand really alive in such a beautiful and powerful way.F Geyrhalter:Literally coming to life, right? I mean, that's ... Yeah.S Sokoler:Yeah, literally.F Geyrhalter:That's fantastic.S Sokoler:And to take it one step further, it seemed to me like this is how meditation will be practiced in the 21st century. There's all these great studios, you could go to Mindful, which is a great studio here in New York, or you could go to Unplugged in L.A. It's nice for me to give shout outs to all these communities that have helped me, personally, so much. And could sit with people. And that's great, and there's a time and place for that. But, perhaps you don't have time. Or, perhaps you live in the middle of the country, or any other reason. Perhaps you don't have the economic means to be able to go and afford it. Having something like Journey LIVE, where you could sit every day with a great teacher and be able to connect, I think that's really, really powerful, and could be quite exciting for what this society and ... needs right now, in terms of coming together.F Geyrhalter:Indeed. Indeed. One last piece of brand advice. So, not self-care advice, which is what you usually get asked to do. But, brand advice for founders that are building their own companies right now that are listening. Anything that comes to mind where you say, "This is something that I learned, and I would love for people to take that to heart."?S Sokoler:To quote my friend, Simon Sinek, it starts with why. Getting really clear, upfront, about what it is that you are looking to do in this world? What is the mission? What is the vision? What are your values? What resonates with you, deeply? Making money is fine. That's important. A business has to survive. It has to thrive. It needs to make money, but what is it that at the end of the day is going to say, "This is what makes us unique. This is what's going to get somebody to come in and dedicate their time and their energy and their life to this mission, and this project." And to get investors to say, "Yes, I'm willing to put our dollar, or investor's money, to you." So, for me, it's all about how to find that mission vision and values upfront and then continuing to lift that. Continuing to make sure that that staying relevant and really keeping that top of mind.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. That is exactly what it is really all about, because if you don't have that answer to that why, you can scratch everything else. As we build brands here with my consultancy, if I don't derive that why from my client in a really, really meaningful and deep enough manner, then everything else thereafter will just be so what type of branding. Like, it will be a so what type of product offering from a so what type of company. So, I totally, totally agree with you. Listeners who need to breathe deeper more often, and with an expert by their side, where can they learn more about Journey LIVE?S Sokoler:They can go to the website, which is, or they can go to the Apple App Store and download it. It's Journey LIVE. Everyone gets a free seven-day trial, so they could check it out. They can meditate live, they can listen to the recordings, they can connect with the community. So, go to the website, or go to the app store. or Journey LIVE in the app store, and yeah. We'd love to connect with you, and if you've heard ... If you're listening now and you come through, let us know. Let us know in the class. We'd love to hear it. So, it would be great to connect with all of you.F Geyrhalter:Excellent. Stephen, thank you so much for having been on Hitting the Mark. It actually did exactly that, and I'm exciting to catch a few classes in the upcoming days, and hopefully make it into a healthy habit for myself.S Sokoler:Thank you. I really enjoyed this. This was a pleasure. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter:And thank you all for listening. Please give the show a rating, wherever you listen to it. It really helps this still young podcast to be discovered by other founders, creatives, and investors. While talking about online classes, and while talking about the big why, moving away from meditation for a few seconds, I'm actually thrilled to finally announce the brand strategy E-course I just launched. I distilled my full-day workshop, which I host one-on-one with my clients around the world that cost, usually, eight grand, into an online course at a fraction of the cost. So, if you need to define your company, your culture, and your story while drawing your audience into your offering, head on over to That is A-I-D, as in aiding to resonate. hope to see you there and to guide you to a strong and meaningful brand foundation. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time, when we, once again, will be hitting the mark.
When I heard about a water brand called Liquid Death that comes in tallboys, reminiscent of beer cans, that behaves like a death metal band, that boosts insane (and insanely great) copy and imagery, and on top of it is 100% mountain water from the Austrian alps, I had to reach out to Co-Founder and CEO Mike Cessario to make some sense of it all, to the extent that is possible.By now I assume you have visited the Liquid Death web site and you got a taste of what you are in for. This is a story about a Creative who comes from the advertising and branding world, who spent his career creating brand stories for greats like Netflix and Gary Vee, and found that it was time to create his own story, his own brand. And it had to be authentic, good for the planet and crazy as hell.If you want your head blown (I do have to use some Liquid Death lingo here) and hear about how his idea was crafted, why people go crazy over it and how his waters help kill plastic bottles along the way, all while poking major fun at marketing, and, yes, branding, as a whole, give this episode a listen. If you like what you hear you can grab some Liquid Death waters on Amazon or you can jump back onto the Liquid Death web site and join their Country Club, but you will have to sell them your soul first. True story.____Full Transcript:Fabian Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting The Mark. In our last episode, I talked with creative extraordinaire Michael Lastoria, who after selling his New York based agency to beauty powerhouse Shiseido in 2017, is now co founder of the counterculture pizza chain &pizza. A pizza joint that was named one of the world's 50 most innovative companies the second time in a row by Fast Company. Today we continue that mini series of advertising creatives turned into entrepreneurs using their background to flip the commodity type offerings into sought after cult brands. My guest today is Mike Cessario who founded Liquid Death, the first irreverent bottled water brand that can compete with the cool factor of unhealthy brands from beer to energy drinks. Inspired by the death metal and punk rock culture, Liquid Death takes an extreme approach to marketing in stark contrast to aspirational health and wellness brands. Prior to starting Liquid Death, Mike was an advertising creative director who worked on viral campaigns for clients like Organic Valley and Netflix. Some of his viral hits include Organic Valley's Save the Bros, which if you have not seen it, please head over to youtube right after this podcast and check it out for a good laugh. And he also did teasers for House of Cards, Narcos and the show you have all been binge watching over the past weeks, Stranger Things. Welcome to Hitting The Mark, Mike.M Cessario:Hey, how's it going?F Geyrhalter:Yeah, thanks for making it. So we chatted a little bit before. We're both graduates of Art Center College of Design. I know people in pretty much all of the agencies you worked at. We're both based in LA, yet I learned about you and your water company via the Los Angeles Business Journal, which is a strange way to connect. But when I read about Liquid Death, I knew it would make for a killer episode. See, it's so horribly easy to pull puns over puns with a death-themed brand, mainly because you'd think that those brands are all destined to die before birth. But tell us how you turned into kind of the arrogant bastard brand of water. It's a strange path to take. When did the idea come about?M Cessario:So it's interesting that you bring up arrogant bastard. I think one thing that I've always noticed is craft beer kind of gets to break almost all the rules of branding. And at the same time, it's one of the categories that people are insanely passionate about. Like people who like their craft beers, love their craft beers. You can find craft beers called Skull Crusher IPA or Arrogant Bastard Ale, because they know that there's a huge market for their audience that's at least 21 years old. So they don't have to really like pun-intended, water things down just to kind of please everyone. So there's always just this cool factor with craft beer that I felt was just kind of unmatched with everything else. And then that was sort of the inspiration for kind of the brand and packaging of Liquid Death.I grew up playing in punk rock and heavy metal bands outside of Philadelphia. And that scene is actually where I really got into health, believe it or not. And I think that's a thing that most of mainstream culture has not really seen or realized that in that world of heavy metal and punk rock and all that stuff, there's a lot of people who care a lot about health. We like to say there are probably more vegans at a heavily heavy metal show than a Taylor Swift show. Inside the world of metal and hardcore, there was this little subset called straight edge where they were very vocal about no drinking, no drugs. That's not exactly the market that we built this for. But it's just one example of how a lot of this culture does care about health and has so for 30 years. But you kind of look at the fact that the world is all moving towards healthier. Every new brand is all about health. All the unhealthy stuff soda has been in basically I think like a 13-year decline in sales. Beer has been in a decline of sales. There's all this data showing that GenZ and millennials no longer think it's cool to be drunk. They actually consider it pathetic and embarrassing. So all this stuff is kind of moving towards drinking less alcohol, being healthier, willing to spend a little more for healthier options, people being a little bit more aware of sustainability. It's getting broader and broader. But if you look at the health food industry, they only market their products in one tone of voice. They're kind of just going for what I think is like the cliche health food customer, and I think they're making big generalizations around what healthy people are into. Like, "Oh, you know, it's about yoga and it's about aspirational. So we're going to just show really good looking fitness models in our ads because that's why people are going to want to drink our product and be healthy because they want to look like this impossible person." And we just think that's kind of bullshit. And in reality, you look at what people are really into. Most people wouldn't know that the Walking Dead is, I think the number two or number three most popular show for women, a show about flesh-eating zombies. But you would never hear a healthy brand say, "Oh, our target is women. Let's do a whole campaign about zombies." It would never happen, even though there's proof that this is something that entertains this group of people and that they're into. So I think that's kind of what we're doing is sort of never taking ourselves too seriously. I think that's the biggest filter for our brand. If anything we do, I think we want people to realize like, "Oh okay, these guys don't actually think water is super tough." We're kind of making fun of 40 years of bad marketing. You know, it's like, and it still hasn't changed. It's like these big brands are still thinking about branding and marketing not much differently than they were thinking about it in the 1960s. And I kind of feel like the bar for branding and marketing is so low for how entertaining it has to be, how authentic it has to be, that people can do all this bad stuff and it seems like, "Oh, this is actually pretty good compared to this other really shitty thing that's out there." But if you really held it to the standard of entertainment, I know you have a book on how to make a brand. For us, I look at it like trying to make a book about how to make a great brand is almost like trying to make a book about how to make a hit TV show. It's like there's so much that goes into it that you almost can't reduce it to a formula, even though there's a lot of people to try. And because a lot of times the people, maybe they're not coming from the marketing background, you've got to figure out all these other things to run and operate the business. You don't have time to spend weeks and hours and days trying to get the nuance of brand and what's going to resonate with people. So I think that's ultimately at the core of our brand is we want to blur the lines between a brand and an entertainment company, and we want to hold everything we do up to the same standards as what you would hold a television show to or a movie. Because at the end of the day when you're putting stuff in people's social media feeds, you're not just competing against other water brands or other ads, you're competing against YouTube influencers that are making explosive, amazing engaging videos. You're competing against movie trailers. I think the bar is much higher to actually make people care about what you're doing than most brands can imagine really.F Geyrhalter:Totally. There was so much in what you just said and I'm kind of trying to rewind on some of those thoughts. One of the things that you said about not taking yourself too seriously, that is just this repeating threat that I see going on with all of, or a lot of my podcast guests where it's basically like I have a podcast about branding, but everyone talks about being the anti brand. And I think that's what's so interesting in today's age is that no, there is no formula. And even in my book I only basically talk about that your background story is bigger than your product, and that it's all about belief and cost and transparency and solidarity. And that is all exactly the formula that you took, just that you know it intrinsically because you came from the world of marketing and branding and advertising. But you do it in such an authentic way, and authenticity is such an overused word, especially by all the wrong marketers. But I mean that idea of not giving a shit and just being yourself and doing your thing and being out there to give value and entertainment to your tribe, I mean that's really what makes a brand. You mentioned the problem with all of these health and wellness, especially retail brands are looking at talking the same talk. A couple of episodes ago I had one of the early and main investors of Beyond Meat on this podcast. And they realized the same thing, that it's like, "No, our Veggie Burger should not be in the Veggie Vegan stamped compartment. This is a burger that real guys can flip on their grill." This is not about you having to be stamped into a certain kind of micro niche. But let's talk about that micro niche a little bit because I think it was fascinating when I read about Liquid Death. First, I was like appalled because it's totally not my lifestyle. And I'm like, "Oh my God, there're heads flying around and there's blood. And why is this water from Austria? That's where I'm from, this is totally not cool. I need to get this guy on." And then the more I read about it and the more I heard you talk about this street edge punk rock lifestyle, which I was totally not aware of, I'm a huge music buff, but I had no idea and it's actually a lifestyle that you already talked about a little bit. And people like band members of Metallica, Fugate, of Bad Religion and even J Mascis of Dinosaur Junior who I'm a big fan of, they're all part of this kind of like sub, sub, sub group. And I believe so much in that idea that if you go with a group that you understand really, really well, which you do, because it's the lifestyle that you come from, it sounds like. And you dive into that, that you can create a product that authentically will resonate with your audience. But how did the audience change over the past year or two years? Because you've been around for like a year or two years as a brand. And how do you ensure that that brand stays weird and out there and connecting with that particular lifestyle without feeling fake despite its success?M Cessario:That's a good question. I think that's a thing that most marketers or brands get wrong. Because I think as you know, like on the creative side, we think more emotionally and culturally. Whereas on the business side people then tend to think much more rationally and logically. What isn't necessarily a rational thing is if you can market and be very authentic to a very, very small audience, that does not mean that only that small audience is going to care. With Liquid Death, pretty much the filter that I've put every decision of the brand through is, "Would slayer think this is cool?" And even though that seems like a very, very narrow appeal, we have this huge halo effect of that. And we have a woman from the UK who is like, "I hate metal but I love this thing." That made me start thinking, okay, how do I quantify that? What is it? Why is it that I'm making like severed heads and blood flying, it's called Liquid Death, I'm being very authentic to heavy metal, but why are old ladies and people who have no care about metal in this world really resonating with it? And I think what I've come up with is, like you said, the word authenticity is kind of overused and people don't really know what it means or how to employ it effectively. But I think everyone knows that people are moving away from big food and big drink, and in favor of small and local and craft. That's just like a big thing, the shift that's been happening over the last decade and you're starting to see all the big brands kind of trying to appropriate this small hand-crafted look that people are willing to pay for and are more attracted to than they're like big mass produced kind of brands. So when McDonald's is now making things called artisan sandwiches that look like farmer's market kind of design, you kind of know that that old way of seeming small, from a look and feel standpoint, isn't really effective anymore. You can go to a grocery store now and find a bag of beef jerky that you don't know. Like, "Is this from a farmer's market or is this some massive corporate brand?" You don't really know anymore because the lines have been so blurred from that look and feel point of view. So my belief is that in 2019 when you have two to three seconds of someone looking at your product to make an opinion on it, the only way you can instantly communicate to someone, this is small, this is not big and corporate, is by doing and saying things that big brands would never do. You can't really just do it anymore from like, "Oh, I'm going to make it look like it's from a farmer's market and people are going to see it and say, 'Oh, that's small.'" No, because that's everywhere now. So now the bar has got even higher for how do you instantly signify that this isn't a massive, massive brand? I think that's really what people are connecting with. When people see a can of water that looks like beer, that's called Liquid Death with a skull on it, instantly they're like, "This is not coke, this is not Pepsi. There's real human beings behind this brand that maybe I'd want to have a beer with." So I think that's been, in terms of like an audience, how it's spread. It's like I just keep it very, very true to that small core and the halo just kind of keeps growing well beyond that because they respond to the authenticity and the uniqueness of this. It's something they've never really seen before in this kind of consumer packaged goods space.F Geyrhalter:And to play devil's advocate, it is extremely difficult, especially with the coolest looking microbrews to know that they are not part of the big conglomerates. Because they are changing hands day in, day out. It seems like it's a little silicon valley where it's constantly... the things are just being bought and being sold and being bid on. And I don't know if the cool craft beer with the skull on, if it's actually owned by one of the three big ones. And quite frankly, I will not know in two years from now if you actually sit in an island and you sold your soul to Coca-Cola and Liquid Thirst is now on the Coke. Because if there's money in the game, then they're going to put their skin in the game. It doesn't even matter what's on the bottle and what's on the can. So I think that is actually really important to defend the territory and to make sure people understand that. Because I as a consumer, I don't even know that anymore. That idea that just because there's a skull on it, it can't be owned by one of the big guys, I think it's changing. Because in the end money is what it's all about.M Cessario:Well I think that's why it's even beyond the skull. The fact that a brand is called Liquid Death, when someone tries to think about... Okay, maybe I can imagine a skull making its way through a corporate board room into a real product, but nobody believes that Liquid Death has made its way through a corporate board room into a real product. Now you're right, if it gets to a certain point where Liquid Death just becomes huge thing, of course all the big guys are going to be looking to cash in or make it a part of it. But I think one thing I've realized with Liquid Death since the beginning is we're always up against the fact that people think this isn't going to be the real deal. Right? So when I first came up with the idea, all right, I want to make a water brand that looks like beer because I want the healthiest thing you could possibly drink, which is water and most people don't drink enough of it. It's become this like utilitarian thing where it's like, "Okay, I drink water if I'm at the gym. Maybe I drink it in my cubicle sometimes." But it would never be common for someone to be like, "Oh, what do you drink when you go to the bar?" "Oh I drink bottled water." No it doesn't happen. Or, "What do you drink at a party?" "Oh I drink bottled water." It's become a utilitarian thing and it hasn't from a brand and occasion standpoint been accepted in this wide range of other usage occasions like soda is, or like beer is, or like alcohol is. So I think what we're really hoping to do is to change when people drink this thing, and like we know in bars, most people you're in bars to kind of meet people or interact with people. So there's data showing that the reason people walk around with a Guinness versus a Pabst Blue Ribbon versus some other kind of beer, they're trying to signal something about themselves in a social environment. They want something that's a conversation starter, they want to talk to people. And Liquid Death has been doing really well in bars and things like that because it's a complete conversation piece. People see this. Like, "What is that? Wait, that's water? What do you mean that's water?" It just kind of creates a conversation and people are attracted to that. But I think the Coca-Cola's of the world, it's going to take a lot for them to ever take that risk because they're just not built to understand or build really emerging brands. They are built to sustain brands that are already doing like half a billion dollars a year or a billion dollars a year. They can't make a decision without this old process of focus groups and testing. So when you start running Liquid Death through that old system of a focus group, it's never going to make it through. You ask people, "Oh, what do you think of this Liquid Death?" They'll be like, "Oh, this is stupid. Oh, this is dumb." And then it's not going to make it through because it's not actually allowing the market to really test it. So I think we would have a long road ahead of us in terms of massive, massive success before Coca Cola would probably ever take the leap. And at that point it's one of those things where we'd have to make the tough decision of do you have someone like this that helps basically spread it to more people? But with a brand like Liquid Death, it's pretty much all brand. So if they didn't truly get what made the brand special and didn't give creative control or power to kind of keep the brand what it is and they try to like "water it down", that could be the end of the brand like that. And it's happened before. It happened to Snapple. Do you remember the old Snapple ads? The original ones with the lady from Long Island? Yeah, it was shot with not great cameras, but it felt really authentic, like it was a real Long Island type person. And it became the fastest growing beverage brand ever, got bought by think Quaker for like three or four billion dollars. And then soon as it went to Quaker, they put that kind of great little brand through the corporate kind of system and they said, "Okay, this woman, she's not aspirational enough. Now that we're going to be a big brand, we need to get someone a little more aspirational because your small things aren't going to work anymore on the big scale. And you know what? We've got to shoot it with better cameras because your stuff, it just doesn't feel very professional. And they changed it all. They lost over $1 billion or $2 billion in market share in less than two years. So it's like that stuff happens and you just have to, you have to be aware of what you're getting into.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, totally. And I think what will most probably happen, and that's going to be a really great thing for you to see is when suddenly at a bar, there's another water in a beer can, right? That's what's going to happen. It's going to be that Coca-Cola's moving in and saying, "Well that makes sense. Kids want to drink beer in bars. And so now there's this guy doing these waters, so let's just do the same thing and have a cool brand for kids." And they have huge distribution, they've got huge power, but like you said, building that authentic brand that's near impossible for them. And I see them fail over and over and over again. And that's why what you're doing is so extremely genius because you realize that you can actually come in really, really strong and be unreasonably bold and altogether unreasonable, because you can, you have to, right? And a question for me is, how did you know that your audience... So here's the punk rockers going to the show and they're going to see that tallboy can of water. How did he know that they would not call BS on heavy metal-looking beer cans that sell us $2 water? I mean, since this easily could have gone two ways, right? And in your own words, you call marketing and branding BS on your site. How was that fine line of humor, sarcasm, and then yet the deep connection created? I mean, you must've been at least a little bit nervous at some point.M Cessario:To be honest, I never really was nervous about it because I think at the heart of... At least my understanding and the reason that I gravitated towards punk rock and metal and that world was the ability to kind of, for lack of a better word, fuck with people and kind of infiltrate something where it's not supposed to be. Punk rock wasn't punk rock really when the only people who sold it were 20 people in a room. It was like when Iggy Pop got on a mass stage and you're seeing this psycho losing his mind on stage and doing things that nobody's ever seen before and was selling it to the suburbs. Then there's this big outrage of like, "What is this music? This is the devil's music. This is bad." And that kind of tension of disrupting kind of like longstanding norms that tend to be very restricted. I think that is at the heart of what I think punk rock and counter culture really is. And I think I knew that Liquid Death, making it into an actual product, which is not easy, you know?F Geyrhalter:Oh yeah.M Cessario:There's not many... I feel like if you have a disruptive or unacceptable idea, what you're supposed to do is just make a band and then your product is selling albums. That's how you get your disruptive idea into the world. It's like, "Oh, you want to be crazy? Okay, make a band, make an album, sell that." Because anybody can really do that. You can find a recording studio fairly easily. You can record stuff. There's home recording equipment, you can put your idea out there. But if you want to make a disruptive idea in that same tone of voice into a consumer packaged good and you've got to figure out how are you going to get people to give you all the money it takes to make it, how are you going to actually figure out production in Austria to make this thing, then how are you going to actually sell it? Deal with the Amazon backend system of shipping people product and taxes. That requires a kind of thinking and resource that a lot of people with these disruptive punk-rock, fuck-you ideas don't always have access to. I think that that's sort of what I was trying to do, is like how do we get a brand through this gauntlet of bringing a packaged good brand to life that totally feels like it does not belong in this world? And I just knew that people would relate to that. It was like wow! Regardless of like... I think the other important thing was making it very clear that the sarcasm was very heavy, that we were not taking ourselves seriously. We weren't actually trying to brand water as heavy, what we're more trying to do is make fun of all the extreme youth marketing of energy drinks. At the end of the day, an energy drink is what, 95% water, some bubbles and like a little bit of sugar and caffeine. It's like all the same stuff that's in my grandma's breakfast tea. But you can call it Monster and put it in a can with a claw mark on it. And then they market it to kids and like, "Hey, it's all about action sports and extreme." They're not being sarcastic about it. They're being very serious of like, "This is going to appeal to the kids because it's extreme and that's what kids love." And we're kind of making fun of that. It's like, "Okay, we're going to beat you at your own game." If all marketing is essentially kind of like storytelling theatrics really around a product, we're going to take ours to the next level and be very clear that this is theatrics, it's professional wrestling. It's entertainment and people respect entertainment. Like you said, we always look at, we want to give value to people. If we're putting something in your Facebook feed, we want it to make you laugh. We want it to do something besides just say, "Hey, buy this." And I think entertainment is the easiest way to kind of paint the picture of what that is. It's like, okay, like we should be making people laugh to make this the funniest thing that they've seen all day every time we put something out there.F Geyrhalter:And on that note, on your site, you say, and I excuse the language, I'm just a messenger here. You say most products in the health and wellness space are all marketed with aspirational fitness models and airbrushed celebrities. Fuck that. Why should unhealthy products be the only brands with a permission to be loud, fun and weird? Besides our marketing and branding is bullshit. So we're going to take ours less seriously and have more fun with it. So yet, as we already discussed, branding is everything to Liquid Death. And that's where the sarcasm kind of fits in. It is the lifeline of the death brand. It's really the foundation of the entire brand. What does, after everything that you already shared with us, what does branding mean to you? Because branding has a horrible, horrible kind of like taste in your mouth, right?It feels fabricated, it feels big, it feels unreal, it doesn't feel authentic, yet in my eyes, branding today is a totally different word. It should actually be rebranded, that word because it's just so different now. I think it is about a lot of the things that you talk about, which you can apply your thinking quite frankly, to any brand. From a tech brand to a retail brand, to a health care brand, because the foundational elements of authenticity, of transparency, of understanding your niche audience and diving full in and creating a tribe, all of these things that can be applied to anything. So what does branding mean to you today?M Cessario:I think you make a really good point that branding needs to be rebranded, especially now because what brand meant when the practice was coined in like the 50s and 60s. Branding was more about when there was what? Three television channels and a couple billboards here and there. You had to have a consistency and brand just so that people would remember you. Because maybe they saw your commercial once on channel two and then they didn't come in contact with your brand again for another week maybe because there was one billboard they passed by. And you had to have the brand link the two things together so people knew, "Oh it's this brand. Oh it's this brand." But that's not the case anymore. With social media, I don't even know what the number is, like how many advertising messages we're exposed to a day. Like thousands and thousands…Branding is something totally different, and I always go back to using examples from the entertainment industry, like using television shows and movies. If you had to say, "What is Steven Spielberg's brand?" It becomes a lot more complicated. You don't want to reduce him to just a brand. It's like it's a vision. It's a type of story. It's a place in the world. It's a point of view of a human being that's behind something. The days of trying to just bullshit people in terms of like, okay, I want my brand to be something that is not at all what I am is I think harder and harder to pull off now. Your brand has to be the people who are behind it, and I think you know as much as like Steven Spielberg, you know he makes Steven Spielberg movies. If Steven Spielberg just tried to make, I don't know, like a soap opera TV show, it's like he can probably do it but it's not going to have the world-wide acclaim that him being him actually has. So I think for me branding is just about making it very clear who the people are behind the brand that you're giving your money to. And I think that's really what it is for us. It's like at the end of the day there might be four other can waters on the shelf next to us and one is Aquafina can water, which they already announced they're going to try to test next year. Super boring looking can, right? Aquafina. There might be a couple of other ones. At the end of the day, what we're hoping is that all the content we put out there, the messaging we put out there, what we do for people, how we talk, how we sound, what we communicate about ourselves, ultimately when there's four brands there, someone is like, "This is all water. I don't really believe that any of these waters are significantly better from a taste perspective than any of the others. So I kind of see it as a level playing field. I want to give my $1.85 to Liquid Death because I want to give my money to those guys more than I want to give it to this faceless kind of water over here or this one that's kind of trying something that I don't really get right here."M Cessario:I think that's ultimately we want to do, is we want to connect with people where they're like, "I want to support this company and these people. And it goes well beyond just the functional benefits of what the actual product is." Because in almost every product category, the differences between brands are basically trivial. If you had to have people blind taste test Monster versus RockStar versus Red Bull, most people probably couldn't even pick out the difference. At the end of the day, people would rather give their money to Red bull based on the things they do, versus some people they want to give their money to Monster or whatever.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. My wife and I in a spare moment of uninspiration we did a blind water taste test. And I think we had maybe like 12 waters from Evian to, the Trader Joes brand, to every single water. And in the end the one that won was like one of those in-store, private label, super cheap water brands, right? So, well let's talk a little bit more about the people behind the brand. Obviously, with you it's yourself, but there's also a lot of investment that came in. I think you gained investments totaling 2.3 million, if I'm correct, maybe it's more by now. But that alone is pretty astonishing, but it's even more remarkable when I look at the names of who actually invested in Liquid Death, from Michael Dubin of Dollar Shave Club fame to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to Gary Vee, who I, as a side note, refrained to talk to over the course of a 10 and a half hour flight to London despite him sitting, well mainly sleeping right next to me. And I'm very proud that I was able to not talk to him. But these are some serious heavyweights and they understand the power of story and virality. What made them invest in you? What was the reason that Gary Vee said, "Hey Mike, I get it. I'll invest in a water company called Liquid Death with heads being chopped off people and blood everywhere in its commercial. That makes a lot of sense to me. It'll be a hit"? And I know you worked for his company, but what was the decision of some of these people where they said, "No, this is exactly why I believe in it."M Cessario:I mean, part of it is me, which the fact that I worked for Gary and he knew me. He just was like, "I'm a fan of you, Mike, and I believe in this." But I think Gary for instance, he is one that has no emotion about what success means. I think he preaches that all the time. It's like don't let emotion get in the way of like, "Oh well this maybe offends me or this doesn't seem right because there is a really good chance that this would be a really, really good business." And I think Gary is also hyper aware that social media is the internet now. I think he even has a poster on the wall in the agency that says social media is just a slang term for the current state of the internet.F Geyrhalter:That's great. Yeah.M Cessario:Yeah. That's where people get all their news now. It's where they get their entertainment. It's where they learn about what's going on, and he just knows what it takes to succeed in this environment of internet culture. I mean, nothing is censored anymore, right? Kids now, they don't care about normal movie-star celebrities, it's about YouTube celebrities. These YouTubers, they're not censored, they can kind of do whatever they want. They don't have to fit certain formats or things like that. So the culture of entertainment and what's on social media is in a place now where it's going to take a certain level of entertainment to actually succeed in that world and compete against these new forms of media and entertainment. I think that's what he totally gets. Like he knew instantly that, oh, this is a brand that will absolutely be a hit on social media, which is at the crux of almost everything that we do as a culture now. So he just instantly got that. And then of course the fact that, and I think this goes along with most people, they've never seen weird, irreverent, crazy being used to actually do something really positive, which is getting more people to drink more water more often. And I think the pairing of those two things, I mean, that's really what our brand DNA is that if we were just Liquid Death and crazy and heads flying, and we were an energy drink, it would almost be expected. It'd be like, "Oh yeah, that makes sense." But the fact that it's all that and it's water, and it's promoting an alternative to single use plastic because cans are infinitely recyclable, and basically one of the most sustainable beverage containers by almost every measure. Plastic is a huge problem right now that everybody... it's becoming like the new tobacco really. So it's kind of like sustainability and health paired with just irreverence and weird and contemporary art and internet culture. That's I think what people respond to. They can kind of justify that, "Yes, I know this is crazy and it's viral, but what it's doing is actually really positive and we haven't really seen that before."F Geyrhalter:Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that's a kernel of truth in your brand that is super, super important. Once you actually start seeing the bigger picture and how it actually is a very positive thing that you're doing, it's fantastic. And let's talk about this for a second because I'm from Austria as I mentioned, your water is also from Austria. Let's talk about how that fits into the story. Because how should we as consumers feel about water being shipped from Fiji and Iceland or Austria, because as you mentioned, you're actually a rather environmentally conscious brand, right? Like you're counting on many vegans in your target audience and you use the cans instead of plastic, which as you mentioned with plastic pollution, that's a huge issue. How do you feel about shipping water from across the pond?M Cessario:The reason that we're bottling and sourcing in Austria is because when I first... it's starting to change a little bit now, but when I first was looking to produce the brand, there is not a single co-packer or bottler in North America who can put non-carbonated springwater in cans. It doesn't exist.F Geyrhalter:Oh wow.M Cessario:Crazy. Because basically the kind of equipment you need for canning when the product doesn't have carbonation and doesn't have a preservative in it is very different than 99.9% of canned products which either have carbonation or preservative. So most of these canning facilities, they weren't equipped to do this, and if you want to use spring water and not just use factory tap water, which most people don't realize, Smartwater, Aquafina, Dasani, Essentia, Lifewater, they're all just purified municipal water from the factory.F Geyrhalter:Right. It's mind blowing, right? Yeah.M Cessario:Yeah. So we kind of knew that as a premium brand, because cans are more expensive than plastic because it's metal, that's also the reason that cans are actually profitable to recycle because the recycled aluminum actually has good value to it that the recycling company can sell and make a profit on based on what it costs to recycle it. Plastic is not. Because recycled plastic is such low quality, they can't really sell it or make a profit on what it cost them to do. They used to sell it to China, but then now China are saying, "We don't want to buy your recycled garbage anymore." So what happens a lot of the time is plastic comes in to a recycling facility and rather than spending the money to grind it down and recycle it, they just have to send it to the landfill because they're not going to go out of business recycling something that's not profitable. So aluminum actually because of the high material value actually helps subsidize the recycling of cheap materials like plastic and glass, where the final recycled product almost has no value to resell. So that's become a long winded way of saying that the way that we got to Austria was we just kind of realized that if we wanted to do spring water and put it in cans, a, any source, if you bottle at the source, that's pretty much what you want to do because the expense of trying to truck tanker trucks of water from a source far away to some canner doesn't really make sense. So most springwater brands are bottled at the source. Any springwater source in the US, they definitely didn't have any canning capabilities. So we found this place in Austria, outside Salzburg and we flew out there, we met them. They own four of their own private mineral waters springs. They had all the canning capabilities. I've been to Apple's offices in Culver City and these bottlers' offices in Austria were nicer than Apple's offices.F Geyrhalter:So you had to say something nice about Austria. I was fishing for compliments. I'm like, well, because Austria has the best damn spring water in the world, but you're like, "Nope, they're the only ones who could pull it off."M Cessario:Yeah, I mean Austria is the most beautiful place I've ever been to.F Geyrhalter:All right. There we go. All right. You're allowed back on the podcast.M Cessario:So yeah, I mean it was kind of just a random... I just kept making phone calls to bottlers and they kept saying, "Oh yeah, no, we don't do that. Oh yeah, no, we don't do that. It can't be done." Had professionals from the industry doing research for us out there too. "Hey, no one can do it." So finally I found this place in Austria. I flew out there and met them. They could do it. We really liked them. Yeah, Austria is kind of cool too because it's like most people haven't had an Austrian water necessarily, and it's kind of a fun kind of interesting thing that could work with the brand. So yeah, let's do that. But we're actually going to be moving all of our water canning and production starting next month to British Columbia in Canada. So we don't have to ship water overseas. It's a much shorter journey.F Geyrhalter:That's awesome. Congrats. That's a big move and I love to hear that. I think it works really, really well what you're trying to do. But back to those curve balls, I mean, you would have never thought that bottling water in a freaking can would be one of those big curve balls in your entrepreneurial journey where you're like, "What? That can't happen. I have to go to Austria." I mean, those are the things that people don't think about when they start a business. It's like, "Well that seems like it makes a lot of sense. Let's do that." We have to slowly wrap up, but a big question that I'd like to ask everyone on my show is if you could describe your brand in one word, and I call it your brand DNA, what could that word be? I know it's not death. Don't tell me it's death. It's not death.M Cessario:No, it's murder.F Geyrhalter:There you go. Exactly.M Cessario:It's funny. We've been working with some friends of ours, like we're actually kind of partnering because now that the business is growing and I can't run the business and actually execute and do all the marketing at the same time, we're now working with a creative agency partner run by a friend of mine named Matt Heath. They're called Party Land, and we've kind of been working with them on that same exact thing where they're like, "Hey, if we had to distill the brand down to one word, what would it be?" We had a little talk about it, and right now where we're landing with it is mischief. That I think is really the DNA of the brand, is pushing the buttons and getting into things you're not supposed to get into but all rooted in kind of this fun, and doing stuff that's subversive. Trying to always avoid doing the traditional approach to something. Rather than, okay, if we want to be at this music festival, the music festival wants to charge you a sponsorship fee of $80,000. You pay them that money and now you have the right to sell them water that they're going to sell at the festival. Right? That's how every other brand has to do it. We're going to look at, okay, how do we like crow bar open the back door to get in there and have a presence? Do we actually go to the headlining band who we think would be into the product and they're really stoked on it and we get it to them and then they request that it's like in the green room and then all the other artists have access to. That's more mischief.How do you subvert? How do you go around just like the pay to play or the traditional way that most brands like Coca-Cola or these other brands have to do because they just don't have the fandom of a brand like ours that would actually have people go out of their way for you or let you in the back door or whatever.F Geyrhalter:Well, mischief is such a great ownable word too, right? And you can totally live up to it. In a way, it's a watered down version of punk rock, which I think works really well. All right, I have so many more questions, but we got to wrap it up. Listeners who fell in love with Liquid Death just now, is Amazon the place to go to, to get their taste of Liquid Death or should they sign up to your newsletter? Which by the way is one of my favorite pieces of your brand because for my listeners, the newsletter sign-up fine print, you know, that little thing that is underneath the big button saying sign me up. Instead of the GDPR blurb, which everyone freaked out about. "Oh my God, we have to be compliant." It actually says by selecting start selling my soul, which is the button to click to sign up. I agree I want to receive important info and offers from Liquid Death since they will own my soul for eternity. So I guess you can do that. You can start selling my soul on the website, hit that button. Or where else can they find your product right now?M Cessario:Yeah. So you can buy it on Amazon or you can buy it direct from our website at In terms of selling your soul, I think that's an interesting... It's been one of our most popular things now, it's basically on our website. You can legally sell us your soul. There's an actual legal document that we had a real lawyer draft up. It'll automatically populate your name and everything in there, you click to sign it like a DocuSign digital thing. And that is the only way that you can join the Liquid Death Country Club, is by selling your soul. And then once you're a Country Club member on our website, you'll get a free VIP case added to your first order, if you're a country club member.F Geyrhalter:And since this is a legal document, do you also outline what you will be doing with the soul of your tribe members?M Cessario:No, it basically says we can do whatever we want with it.F Geyrhalter:That's pretty good. There's got to be a whole new podcast about what you have done with the soul once the deceased start appearing in your office. Well, Mike, this was a blast. I really appreciate taking the time out of a busy schedule at a time when your young brand is really taking off. So thank you so much for having been on the show.M Cessario:Yeah. I know. Thanks for having me. It was fun.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. And thanks to you for listening, for subscribing, for rating, and for reviewing this podcast. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more about FINIEN and download free white papers to support your own brand launch or rebranding efforts at The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
I first learned about Michael Lastoria when his brand, &Pizza, has been named one of the world’s 50 Most Innovative Companies the second time in a row by Fast Company. Diving deeper into what at first glance would seem like a commodity-type business (we are talking about selling pizzas here after all) soon turned into the discovery of a brand that succeeds through heart & soul, coupled with tech & innovation.Michael sees himself as the human-first entrepreneur. A CEO and co-founder of & Pizza, now 36 locations throughout the east coast, Michael has championed his employees whom the brand calls its tribe. It's not only the face of the brand, but it's the core of the business. & Pizza pays a fair and livable wage, and Michael has been a vocal member of the fight for state and federal minimum wage increases. Lastoria believes in building a brand first and a business second so that the brand is not just a momentary phenomenon, but an essential part of culture. & Pizza is the manifestation of that belief.You can follow the brand @AndPizza and Michael on @_Lastoria.____Full Transcript:Fabian Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting the Mark. Today we have the first in a series of at least two back to back episode where I talk with branding professionals, like myself, who turned into entrepreneurs selling what some could call upon first glance a "so what" commodity-type product. This is exciting for numerous reasons besides the obvious of a creative talking to one of their kind, but also because these two guests embody the hypothesis of my book, Bigger Than This: How to Turn Any Venture Into an Admired Brand. First today, we start this miniseries of creatives flipping business categories on their head with Michael Lastoria who was the co-founder of New York City-based creative agency J-Walk before he turned his interests to making the world a better place through the power of pizza.Michael Lastoria sees himself as the human-first entrepreneur. A CEO and co-founder of & Pizza, and that is Ampersand Pizza, now 32 locations throughout the east coast, Michael has championed his employees whom the brand calls its tribe. It's not only the face of the brand, but it's the core of the business. & Pizza pays a fair and livable wage, and Michael has been a vocal member of the fight for state and federal minimum wage increases. Lastoria believes in building a brand first and a business second so that the brand is not just a momentary phenomenon, but an essential part of culture. & Pizza is the manifestation of that belief and I cannot wait to dive into this conversation. Welcome, Michael. Thank you for being on Hitting the Mark.M Lastoria:Fabian, thanks for having me. Happy to be here.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Michael, as I touched on in the intro, I released a book last year which I will send you a copy of that studied start-ups that transformed into admired brands despite being based on commodity-type offerings, like sock, office supplies, packaged seafood stews, stuff like that. It fascinated me as someone who is in the business of branding, like yourself, to study how they did it without any innovation or tech or big design adjustments in tow. In the end, I balled these findings into eight traits. Story, belief, cause, heritage, delight, transparency, solidarity and individuality. After studying your company, & Pizza, for a little bit, I actually believe that you must be one of my first guests who truly either embodies or touches upon most of these all while pushing hard on tech and innovation at the same time. So, needless to say, really thrilled that you made it onto the show. Let's go back in time a little bit. You're running a successful creative agency, sold it to the cosmetic giant Shiseido in 2017, I believe, and then had the thought of starting a pizza chain. Tell us more. How did that come about?M Lastoria:Yeah, I definitely got a number of laughs. My friends and family thought it was somewhat comical given they didn't quite appreciate what I was trying to do in terms of really humanizing a company and lifting up the lowest wage workers in this country, and hopefully being a case study for a business that can succeed, that does good in this world, and is a case study for other restaurant and retail companies to follow in terms of being able to have some of the best unit or store or shop level economics while also paying a living wage, developing your people from within and really being a champion of democratizing the business at every single level.So, kind of taking a little step further back, I founded my first business at 22. It was also a service business, more in media and ad tech, sold it to a private equity group, stayed on board to run that as CEO for three years. Then I co-founded the ad agency. Having spent a better part of a decade on the service side, learning what my passion was and ultimately where a small kid from a country town, what he should be doing in this world in terms of contributing for the greater good, decided I wanted to launch a brand that was very values-driven. At the time, it was more about the values of the man that I hoped that I would become versus the man that I was, and that's why the company is named & Pizza. It's a generally speaking, a fairly goofy name for a brand, but we wanted to lead with a symbol that was all about promoting unity, celebrating oneness and doing the right thing by our people, hence the ampersand and leading with this big, meaty, emotional symbol that we hoped that we could turn into something that was very powerful and impactful.Picked pizza because when I was studying all the different businesses we could apply this notion of unity and doing the right thing and helping people, the food service industry in America alone employs 10% of America's workforce. When you think about the impact that we could make as a company in an industry that employs 10% of the workforce in America, that we could flip on its head this very notion of what it means to be an employer and find some success in doing so. That's what led me to & Pizza. I started it in 2000 ... Well, really concepted it in 2010, 2011. Opened the first pizza shop in 2012, and we're going to open up our 36th pizza shop in New York City on Wall Street, our third in New York City, in about two weeks here.F Geyrhalter:That is amazing. And you just answered just about four of my questions in the last couple of minutes. This is great.M Lastoria:Sorry about that.F Geyrhalter:I really love that. That's why ... And obviously, I would have asked about the name, right? Because at first glance, there are two things that don't make much sense. First, the name, and then the reason of why you picked pizza. After your intro, everything makes a lot of sense. The & Pizza, the pizza is basically a side effect, and it is just a vehicle for you to actually change something much bigger. That's nicely reflected in the name. It's very neat.Looking back though, obviously being in the restaurant business is, I guess, considered hell usually, right, for the entrepreneur doing it as well as the employees. It's really, really rough, right? It's really tough to get into the business. It's tough to stay on top. Looking back, what was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, "Okay, now it's not just a start-up pizza joint, but it's actually a brand, and it's turning into a full-fledged, beloved and established chain." What was the one moment where you felt like this is it, we just made it?M Lastoria:Yeah, there was obviously the success of the first location. The fact that there was a line that was wrapping around the block. The decisions that we made sort of enabled that, but the moment I look back on was when we did have a single pizza shop, and one of our employees, whom we call tribe members ... Mainly, we called them tribe members because of this notion that it's a group of people connected to each other, connected to leadership, but ultimately, connected to a higher purpose. And our purpose, obviously, it is our symbol, our ampersand. All about promoting unity. But when one of our tribe members came to me, and he asked me if he could get the symbol, the ampersand, tattooed on him. I was a little taken aback because it wasn't something ... I have tattoos myself, and we're very much in a tattoo-forward culture, but I was taken aback because I never thought that a human being would want this brand symbol tattooed on them.I asked the question, "Why?" And the answer was, "This is the first company where I truly feel comfortable in my own skin. I feel appreciated. I feel supported. I feel respected. I feel like I'm part of a family. I'm part of a group of people that is like-minded, that has very similar values, and I've never gotten that from a place of work. That's why I want to get this symbol tattooed." I put my arm around his back, and I said, "Let's go. I'm paying for it." It became one of those things that has helped define the culture, not because we want people to have this & tattooed on them so they can walk around helping market or promote the company because quite frankly the symbol is a very generic symbol. Ampersand has been around for long time. At one point, it was, I think, the 27th letter of the alphabet. So, it's been there. The interesting thing here was, no, it was really about a definition of why the company is special, why our values matter.Even if you don't work at & Pizza a year after getting the tattoo, it's what it meant, what we are trying to do, and the impact that we're trying to make in this world. We've had literally hundreds and hundreds of tribe members get tattooed. At any given point, about 20% of the workforce has this brand logo tattooed on them, and I look at that as something that's very humbling and incredibly fulfilling because it is the definition of getting people together and getting people that have similar values, that believe in the same things, and really mobilizing them to do some good. That's what that means. People care about the mission. They care about our values, and they're willing to get it tattooed to show. That's the defining point for me of when I knew that we were onto something special when the people were vocal. When the masses in the organization started to care more about the values and could better define the symbol than even I could myself that created it.F Geyrhalter:Because when it comes from within, you know it's going to work outside, right? That whole idea that if the company culture works and is healthy, then consumers, customers, outside, whoever that is, they will feel it, and it will be effective. But that begs the question, did branding affect your company culture or was it vice versa? It's kind of like a chicken or egg situation with & Pizza.M Lastoria:Yeah, well, I think the branding helped create the visual and the inspiration behind what the culture eventually became. The tricky thing with culture is that it's constantly changing. Businesses like & Pizza that are people-driven, every time that you lose an employee, or you gain one, your company culture is bound to shift, right?F Geyrhalter:Yeah.M Lastoria:It's simply the sum of the ingredients, and the ingredients are the people. For us, what's nice is that every time we bring someone to the organization, the brand, what it stands for, its values, what it means, how people connect to it, helps really define the culture as in the starting place where people can be grounded. And then, what they do ultimately is take that brand, and they make it their own, right?F Geyrhalter:Mm-hmm (affirmative).M Lastoria:They have their own expression of what it means to them, and they then spread that gospel. I'm okay with the ampersand meaning different things to different people. I have my definition, and if you were to ask one of the 750 employees or tribe members that work at & Pizza, they all may have a slight variation, and that's okay because that, to me, is perfectly structured where there's enough there where people get it, but then also enough flexibility to truly make it their own. I think this notion of celebrating individuality, people's own definition, why it matters to them is as important as why you got started and what the brand means to you as someone that created it.F Geyrhalter:It is a symbol that just evokes hope. It evokes the beginning of another chapter. I'm sure that that's what a lot of your employees feel like, especially if they come in at the very entry level, and they start feeling like they're part of a family, and it's a different kind of job that they had before maybe. In an interview you said that your employees are feeling appreciated, engaged, supported and valued. But it's an industry that is known for labor-intensive, minimum wage type of work. You're talking a lot about core values. Obviously, I'm in the business of creating core values with my clients and then pushing them to actually successfully instill them into their employees, which is so much harder than actually coming up and deriving these core values, right?How do you accomplish that sentiment across the board of your employees that they take the values, that they understand the values, but that they also have that flexibility to take it to wherever they want to, but they feel this really big bond amongst each other and with the company's brand? It's not a simple answer, right? But what are some of the ways that you feel like you made this intrinsic and organic that it actually worked?M Lastoria:Yeah, I think it's a very tricky and somewhat loaded question because it's constantly a work in progress, and there's a lot of things that we do. I think wage is a very good starting place to show your people that you care, but it's much more than wage. I think the notion of paying a living wage or paying well above the minimum wage is one thing and then there's willing to sort stake your own personal reputation, the company's reputation, to fighting against the National Restaurant Association, to fighting against a lot of the political headwinds in terms of trying to make your internal policy actual government and federal policy which has been a very difficult thing.I think this notion that our people are seeing us put our money where our mouth is, or at least, live our own values outside of & Pizza and pushing for policy that impacts their friends, their family, regardless of whether or not they work here, has been one of the biggest ways, I think, where people have said, "Gosh, I believe in this, and I believe in it even more because I trust the people that are making the decisions, that are leading, because they're doing the very things that this symbol is supposed to do and the things that this brand actually stands for." Our willingness to take a stand, our willingness to do the right thing, our willingness to put the strength and use the platform of the company to impact social issues ... I mean, we're living in a country and a nation that's becoming increasingly more divided, and it's 2019.That's not what we should be seeing. We should be seeing significantly more people uniting because when I travel the world, I see the youth of this world being more connected versus disconnected in terms of the things that they believe in, how they choose to live their life and the values that they subscribe for. I'm very hopeful about where things are going, but I also think it's extremely important for brands to act as people, brands to take a stand, and be willing to say, "These are the issues that are important to our people, and so we're going to put the weight of the company behind those issues regardless of what they are." Again, that's what helps build the trust that gets people listening and communicating with the company, and that's a lot of things I think companies miss is that if you don't fundamentally trust the leadership or trust the decision-making process, it's going to be very hard to develop people and to have the type of culture that you're looking for.You have to do a lot to trust people. In addition to that, you also have to learn how to communicate. All of our communication inside of our company happens vis a vis text message. So, we predominantly communicate with our tribe members via text messaging. Our weekly newsletter is not a newsletter. It's a podcast to get texted out. We're constantly doing trivia to earn cash prizes that get paid the minute that the trivia questions get answered, right? We're doing all kinds of survey work, and it literally is a two-way communication allows for any idea, no matter how small or big it is, to be recognized, to be heard. And then we close the feedback loop by letting everyone know, hey, here are all of the text themes that we received over the last 30 days.Here's policy that we changed as a result of your ideas, and here are the things that we didn't change, and here are the reasons why. So, bringing people closer into the decision-making process, really helping democratize it and setting up communication that's modern and is the way that people would prefer to be communicated with because that's how they are communicating with their friends and family. I think the willingness to be bold and use technology to help facilitate that is another way to create connection, to get people to speak out. Make it frictionless, make it really easy, make it take a matter of seconds versus ... And do it on a platform that people fundamentally understand.F Geyrhalter:Those are all amazing ways that you just intrinsically basically walk the walk with the values, right? You don't just put ... We have five values on the wall and say, "This is it. You can see them on our website, and it's in our employee handbook," but you actually constantly go after those values and figure out how can we actually behave that way, and how does that come from the top? It was an amazing answer to a question that actually led into a lot of different other scenarios. One of them is the whole walking the line of politics versus whatever product you sell. For you, it's pizza, right? Especially since one of your locations is in the hub of the House of Representatives in D.C., correct?M Lastoria:It is. Yes, it is.F Geyrhalter:I read that you adorned the walls of & Pizza in that location with the following statements. Where it all takes shape. Where decisions are made. Where pioneers walk and walls talk which is so bold and so great. Just knowing enough about & Pizza, it is so on brand. I know you and I totally 100% agree on the idea that there is little room for brands to not take a stand in 2019 and that it actually nurtures brand's tribes, but where do you cross that line? I know you signed a petition for companies to stand up for reproductive rights. You do a lot politically. Where do you cross the line? How far do you go? When do you feel like this is something that the company should support and actually speak out about?M Lastoria:To me, it's less about partisanship because that is also the opposite of bringing people together and unity. It's really more about the social issues that impact the employees of the company, and that is really sort of where we draw our line which is that things that are impacting our people or that are negatively impacting our people, those are the types of things that we really want to rally behind because we treat them like family. If I can do something to help out a family member, and I have a broader or a greater platform to do so, I think the right thing to do is to use that platform. That's really how we choose to be political or not which is just simply focusing on what are the social issues that our people truly care about, the ones that are impacting them and impacting the communities that they live in and the communities that, quite frankly, we serve with our customer as our guests.How do we let everyone know what true north is in our eyes and how we can ultimately be helpful. Some are more controversial than others, but we're predominantly in some of the larger cities in this country, and we're dealing with a lot of those issues as well, and so I think it's just the responsible thing and the right thing to do. And again, I'm not trying to say lean left or lean right. I'm just trying to say, "Hey guys, these are the real things that are happening and the real things that are affecting the employees of this organization." I want to be heard, and I want to let you know exactly what's going on and how we feel and get political just because I think, again, it's showing that support for the people that come here.And again, willing to stake my own reputation because there's always a backlash. Anytime you do take a stand, you are going to become a target, and people are going to attack you, and so it has to come from the right place and a place where you feel like when your head hits that pillow every single night that you did the right thing. I will always live and die or fall on the proverbial sword by doing the right thing regardless of the outcome.F Geyrhalter:And you do this because your brand is about your people, and that's why it is a one-to-one alignment with whatever political situations you encounter and you start supporting. Again, it's not left or right, it's about the people because that's what the brand is about.M Lastoria:That's right. That's exactly right. It's not the Michael Lastoria brand. It's the & Pizza brand, right? There's a lot of things that I believe in that I don't speak out publicly about as the sort of representative of the & Pizza brand because I don't feel like it's appropriate. I probably do lean a little further left than some people, but that's not my place to use the company's platform to have those conversations. The company's platform is for the company. It's for its people. I'll be the spokesperson for that, and basically, I'm the sort of appointed leader of the & Pizza democracy where I am doing the speaking on behalf of everyone, and we all are aligned on what the messaging is and why we're doing what we're doing.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Let's move over to the tech and innovation part of your brand for a minute because I talked about commodity products before, and you're totally moving into a very different direction because you are actually leading with tech and innovation. You decide on new locations using Uber Eats heat mapping technology, and you launched many restaurants called cubes which are 300 square feet mini locations within existing structures that can easily be adjusted, assembled and disassembled. You will soon only be able to order & Pizza pizzas via text message which I think comes from within, right?M Lastoria:Mm-hmm (affirmative).F Geyrhalter:Because that's how you guys and gals already communicate. There's going to be no app, no phone, not even email, so you have employees as well as AI bots respond to text orders with gifs of Millennial stars like Lady Gaga or Rihanna to connect with your customers. You're big, and rightfully so, into automating boring and also dangerous tasks like slicing pie and sliding them into 800 degree ovens for which you now use robots. One aspect of your tech-infused innovative way of conducting business that I'm particularly interested in is you have a fleet of mobile units that are really, I guess, considered smart trucks, that cook up pizzas as they approach a destination. Tell me a little bit about the logistics and process of these mobile units. I assume they are GPS-based, but who in the truck unless it's a robot or a doughbot as you call them is making the pies? Walk me through the chain of events when it comes to & Pizza's mobile units, and correct me if anything I just said was wrong because I got it from different sources.M Lastoria:Sure. Yeah, so, listen the technology side is just about keeping an eye towards the future and looking at a lot of the successes that our predecessors and those that came before us have had, but also some of the mistakes that were very, very costly which is this idea of the mass replication of a thing. A lot of restaurant brands, even retail, missed the shift towards all things digital, and I think in retail you saw it just through the sheer presence of the likes of an Amazon. In restaurants, you're seeing a lot of disruption to the likes of an Uber Eats or a DoorDash, these very large companies that are getting massive funding that are able to take your food out of your restaurant and deliver it to a customer without you actually having any real interaction with that customer whatsoever or even owning that customer relationship.So, what you're seeing is the lack or the amount of change in the real estate that you actually need to properly service your customers. If you were a 2,500 square foot restaurant, you may only need 1,500 square feet this day and age because 20, 30, 40% of all of your sales are now coming through off-premise sales, not on-premise. Being really forward-looking, it's saying, "Okay, well, I need to have a flexible format model where I can technically serve my product in a variety of different formats that range in terms of the actual cost themselves to build so I can make sure I can still get my product to the people cost-effectively and responsibly, and so I'm not beholden to a certain piece of real estate that I can only take for me to scale."For us, we can open up a 300 square foot kiosk or cube like you had mentioned, and we can generate the same revenue in 300 square feet as we can 2,000 square feet. Or we can do very similar. The trucks themselves, the real key there is that they're more like mobile production commissary in the sense that we are doing native delivery, third party deliver, order ahead for pickup, and having the ability for people to walk up to the trucks themselves and place and order either on their mobile phone as they're walking up or with someone that's standing outside the truck that will help facilitate that. The idea is it's a shop on wheels, right? So, just think they're all just varying different shop types and shop formats that have a different cost to build that allow me to scale faster, more cost-effectively, and to get my product to the people in a way that you just haven't seen before. That is our answer to increasing occupancy vis a vis rent.More business is happening off-premise. Kind of just traditional real estate that no longer works for a lot of restaurant and retail brands. How are we still going to grow? How are we going to build out new markets? How are we going to do it quicker, faster, cheaper, so that we can accelerate as a brand in a climate and environment that's becoming more and more and more of a challenge and difficult? That's just our world of leveraging technology, leveraging flexible format, thinking throughout the architecture of the business model to make sure that it's going to work in the next five to ten years. So many people get caught up in today. What's going to work today? How can I make a quick buck on a trend? Business is becoming increasingly more complicated. Businesses need to become increasingly more dynamic, and you have to do everything well.You can't just do one thing well, and that would be my biggest challenge to anyone in consumer branding or entrepreneurship which is you have to look at every aspect of your business, not just making the best possible product, but how does that product get in the hands of the people? What are the different channels in terms of DST versus wholesale/retail, and how can these large tech companies and even small tech companies potentially come around and disrupt your entire business model? How do you get ahead of that stuff? That's really what the architecture of all the things that you just suggested was about. It's not really about the robotics. The robotics are a little bit more forward-looking in terms of automating simple, mundane tasks, but that's the less important thing.The more important thing is how do we open up more pizza shops? How do we service more guests? How do we become a larger and greater employee, and how do we leverage technology as a way to help facilitate all of that because, to your point, if you're in a commodity business, you better make it really damn easy to get that commodity. It better be frictionless. It better have an amazing loyalty program and give me a reason why when I'm looking at 40 or 50 other brands that I can order from, that I'm going to order from your product. There's a lot of things that go into triggering that emotional response, and this is the one they needed to have. There's a big gap between Shake Shack and Five Guys, between Soul Cycle and Fly Wheel. I can go on and on about the comparisons, but they matter, and that is branding, but it's also spreading that brand across every single touchpoint, not just through creative.F Geyrhalter:And understanding that there is an immense amount of data lying around that can actually make your business smarter. So, I think that's also a huge aspect of how you seem to be running the business. Just with the Uber Eats idea, right? I mean, the data is out there. You've got the heat maps. You see where you might want to start a new location. You don't just have to buy the coolest new property in the center square. Now you have other data. Not shockingly so, and you hinted at that, you're continuously creating new PR and branding ideas. You changed the avatars on your social media channels to match whatever activation you've just launched. Currently I read, and this is super cool, you run a promotion with a secret summer menu that gets switched out, I guess, every couple of weeks, and currently features an Oreo ricotta pizza as well as a Cheetos spicy tomato pizza.But since it is a secret menu, you can only find it on the secret website incognito.&, which will show you a 404 error until you actually view that website in the incognito window of your browser, which is absolutely genius. You also run a loyalty program, which you just mentioned where depending on their level of pizza intake, your customers get & Pizza bomber jackets, they get branded dog tags, or for the superfans of the superfans which are at what you call the Maverick level of having spent around $1.5K on pizzas, they can actually get an & Pizza tattoo inked onto their body for a lifetime just like one of your tribe members. With all of these ideas surrounding the brand, what was something you thought would absolutely kill it, but then it bombed completely? This does not even need to be on the PR and advertising level, but it can also be on an entrepreneurial level when building out the & Pizza brand. Was there this one thing, this one moment where you're like, "Wow, that just really didn't go right even though I thought it would"?M Lastoria:Yeah. I think in our business, I mean, because it's pizza there isn't really a massive ... We haven't had any massive failures as it relates to rolling out products or trying new things that didn't really work. It's more about trying to figure out what the best use of, sometimes, limited resources and limited capital, and not getting too distracted in terms of trying to do too many things too quickly because organizations typically struggle through ingestion which is just taking on more than they're actually capable of taking on. That's the thing that we wrestle with the most. Isn't necessarily one big thing that really didn't work. There's definitely been a lot of little things in terms of various ingredients, various different types of pies.This notion of the different types of footprints. We also operate in bars. We have three of those up and running right now. We have a really cool draft cocktail program where we're pre-batching all of the cocktails because of this notion that it's really hard to get a consistently-made, high quality cocktail from a bartender because of the just inconsistency in terms of the small, little minutiae that could make a great drink taste not so great. And so, how do you kind of disrupt that? We're doing that with some really interesting people here in Washington, D.C. So, not to not give you a very direct answer, but for us, it's not the big failures. It's just the prioritization of how do we stage this the right way? If we have limited capital, how do we spend it in the right way to make sure that the business is investible, to make sure that we're always doing the right thing by our people, and we're serving a really good product at an affordable cost that people are excited to consume?That's not always an easy thing, but we have more resources at our disposal now than ever before. It's just making sure that as someone in consumer branding, you're taking advantage of those resources, and you're constantly in trial and error mode so you can at least be on the forefront of knowing what's out there and what products or what services or what tools you should use to facilitate and assist with your growth.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that is really, really good advice. It comes back to the idea of sometimes slowing down and looking at priorities. Talking about the concept of bars and talking about the communities, I heard that it is very important to & Pizza to involve and reflect each community in which you open up a new shop. How does a chain of, I guess, 36 stores at this point go about keeping the brand consistent? I'm hinting at robust, franchise-worthy style guides here. While allowing it, though, to adapt to its changing environments and to actually become part of a community.M Lastoria:It just takes a little bit more time, energy, effort, and research. I don't think any of this stuff isn't doable. It's just making a commitment to doing it and then baking that into the business model very early on that it's going to cost an extra $50,000 to do it well versus not going to, and why is it a priority and importance for us to do it? When we go into a neighborhood or community, we want to inspire. It's not just about embracing where the neighborhood has been, it's also about providing an environment that looks and feels different, that has some inspiration in the walls, that's very upbeat and uplifting. One of the most important things for us is to get the culture and get the vibe of that neighborhood or that community right so we're adding value to it.When people walk in the doors of an & Pizza shop, I do want them to feel like they're entering into a safe place, a place that regardless of where they've been or what's happened that day, that week, that month, that they feel like they can put their shoulders down, smile, laugh, dance, have fun because at the end of the day, pizza is one of those things. If you've chosen to eat a pizza, you've chosen not to eat a salad, and so you should really enjoy the experience of making your own pizza, crafting your own pizza, eating your pizza, whatever that may be.That's a very important thing to the brand, something that we work really hard on doing which is being culturally connected and relevant, making sure the music is right, making sure the design aesthetic is right, that we're building things that people haven't necessarily seen before, but also don't feel that unfamiliar. It's like, "Oh, I didn't know I liked this. I didn't know I like high black and white contrast in a pizza shop," where you're used to seeing a lot of red and white checker cloth, right? Those are the kind of things where you just flip it on its head, inspire people and see how they react to it because even if it's not for them, that maybe doesn't reflect their personal style, I think they'll appreciate it.It kind of takes me back to the best conversations I've had in my lifetime have been with people that are the most different, the most unique, but also the ones that are willing to share that difference and share that uniqueness with me and have a really strong point of view. That's when I'm listening that most. That's when I'm learning. That's when I'm widening my horizons. I look at that as branding too which is the world doesn't need your version of someone else's idea, right? The world needs your idea. It needs your version of a pizza shop, not your version of someone else's idea of a pizza shop. This idea of copycat and imitation, it's got to stop. It's not helping anyone, and a lot of capital is being wasted toward people that don't follow their heart or don't follow what they think is the right thing to do, but instead try to follow someone else's. I'm just seeing more and more businesses like that die on the vine.It's important, I think, for all of us to lead with a unique point of view, be willing to express ourselves, be willing to create products and service-based businesses that have that in them that you can feel the creators in the building, in the walls of the things that they're designing. I think that has a long-lasting impact. How do we take, to your point, a commodity, and how do we personalize it? How do we give it a real personality? And by the way, that personality needs to extend digitally as well. One of the most frustrating things for me is when you see a brand have such a big digital personality and then it doesn't exist anywhere else.Oh, they have an amazing Twitter handle, but you go to their Instagram account, it's nothing like their Twitter handle. And God forbid you go into their restaurant where you get no experience like that. You can't be super witty on one platform and dry and bland on another because that's not real. That's not authentic. That's you just trying to win a platform for marketing's sake, not an authentic brand that has a digital brand personality that matches the physical. We need to be thinking about connectedness in all touchpoints, and that is where I think brands can really do a better job.F Geyrhalter:So true. I think in the end it all comes back to having soul, right? That the brand actually needs to have soul. It needs to evoke a feeling, and that needs to be across all touchpoints, especially in the hospitality business. That is super difficult to achieve and that's why kudos to what you're doing and, more importantly, how you're doing it. I just read a piece you recently published on LinkedIn where you state the following. "The only way to reach your potential is to evolve. The only way to evolve is to know who you are and what you represent.There's true beauty in reaching that moment of clarity because that's when things get better for both you and your company." To me, this is music to my ears. Brand clarity is what derive of my clients and in the end, I believe that every brand's DNA can actually be described in one single word. So, Harley-Davidson could be seen as freedom, right? Aveline which I know you're familiar with because you signed a petition where he was part of it. Aveline is all about transparency, right? What is one word ... If you would have one word that could describe & Pizza, without putting you too much on the spot here, could you think of one word?M Lastoria:Yeah. It's a word I've used a few times today. It would be unity.F Geyrhalter:Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's really nice. That's very all encompassing. I think with everything you just said in the last 40 or so minutes, that encompasses everything. I guess, to finish this up slowly, here's the big one. What does branding mean to you?M Lastoria:I think, and I guess I sort of just said this a while ago, I think it truly is personalizing a commodity. It's injecting a heart and a soul and a point of view into something that otherwise doesn't have it.F Geyrhalter:Beautiful. I could not agree more. Michael, where can our listeners and myself get a slice of the pie? Is & Pizza in expansion mode so we can all get our hopes up to see a store in our area soon?M Lastoria:Yeah, we're opening, like I said, our 36th shop in a couple of weeks here. We're going to double in size in the next two years. Most of our growth will be on the east coast. Everywhere from Boston down through Miami. You can find us on social @AndPizza and me on @_Lastoria. I'm a little bit more visual than I am vocal. I am on Twitter, but mainly Instagram is the platform I prefer to use. First off, I just want to say to you, Fabian, congratulations on the book. I'm definitely going to be reading it now. I know it's a really hard thing to do to put so many amazing thoughts that you have into words, words on paper and publish a book, so congratulations. I encourage all of the listeners to read it because you have incredible thinking on a lot of amazing topics. Just some of the things that you've sparked today for me even then have been great, so thanks for having me.F Geyrhalter:That was really kind of you. I really appreciate it. This conversation was so inspiring to myself, and I'm sure to our listeners, on so many levels. I have to say people like you are the reason I work with entrepreneurs and why I love the world of branding. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time, wisdom and energy, Michael.M Lastoria:Thank you.F Geyrhalter:And thanks to all for listening in. Hit the subscribe button, give the show a rating, and write a quick review if you did appreciate the show. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won, as in I won free pizza and not just one pizza. These two words seem to be difficult for an Austrian to differentiate. I will see you next time when we, once again, will be Hitting the Mark.
I chat with 28-year old Devon Townsend, who quit Microsoft, became a viral Vine comedy star and yet he ended up creating Cameo, a platform that lets you book personalized video shoutouts from your favorite athletes, actors, and entertainers. His 60+ employee strong company, which has received 15.8+ million in funding to date, dispatches over 1,000 videos a day and signed up well over 10,000 celebrities, from Ice-T to Kevin O’Leary and from Charlie Sheen to Snoop Dog who are all happy to send you or your loved ones a personal message anywhere from 5 Dollars up to 2,500 bucks a pop.Cameo was one of TIME Magazine's 50 Most Genius Companies of 2018 and Devon was named to Inc. Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list this year, yet he is happy to connect with you via e-mail if you have any feedback for him.Devon and I discuss creating a delightful and transparent brand, the obstacles of naming and how to craft an authentic visual and verbal brand language that people will freak out over and scream and laugh and cry. Yes, all of the above is possible with Cameo.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting The Mark. I just spent two weeks back in beautiful Austria, so I apologize in advance if you have to suffer through an unusually strong reactivated German accent on this episode. Today I'm thrilled to welcome Devin Townsend, Co founder and CTO of Cameo, a platform that lets you book personalized video shout outs from your favorite athletes, actors and entertainers. Prior to Cameo, Devin was popular on the app Vine, with hundreds of millions of views and called on that experience when building Cameo to create something influencers and the fans would love.F Geyrhalter:Devin has also worked at Microsoft as a software engineer, and met his co founder at Duke University. His 60 plus employees strong company dispatches over a thousand videos a day and signed up well over 10,000 celebrities from Ice-T to Kevin O'Leary, and from Charlie Sheen to Snoop Dogg, who are all happy to send you or your loved ones a personal message anywhere from five bucks up to $2,500 a pop. Devin was named to Inc. Magazine's 30 under 30 list this year, and this is exactly how I learned about him in the first place. Welcome to Hitting The Mark, Devin.D Townsend:Thank you. Happy to be here.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, it's great to have you here. So you quit Microsoft, became a viral Vine comedy star and yet you ended up creating Cameo. Give myself and my listeners a bit of that backstory and why you love it so much that on Inc. Magazine I read... You said you would not want to sell the company because you would just have a lot of money, be bored and probably try to start a company that's very, very similar to Cameo.D Townsend:Yeah, absolutely. So my friend and I in... this is in 2014 when my friend and I were both working as software engineers. And we had read some travel blog, got the travel bug, and we decided that we wanted to travel. So he had already been playing around in the app Vine and he was pretty popular. His name is Cody Ko, he's now a full time YouTuber. And we quit our jobs, I was working at Microsoft, and we traveled the world for a year. And we spent our time coding independent websites and apps that were fun just to make money to support ourselves and also posting funny vines on our Vine account called Devon And Cody Go To Whitecastle. It was super fun, and we came back to America, and that was a lot of the experience that I drew on when creating Cameo.F Geyrhalter:And at first sight, Cameo might look a little bit like a celebrity monetization platform. Right? But now that I spent some time on it prepping for our conversation, in my eyes, you actually built a brand that generates delight. Would you agree with my assertion that delight is one of those big traits behind the Cameo brand?D Townsend:Yeah. Absolutely. When we set out to build this, my goal was to make Cameo so fun that what we call talent, the supply side of our platform, the celebrities on our platform, they would do it for free. And so in a lot of ways, I think the fact that this generates revenue and that it costs money to book a Cameo is partially just a limiting factor. It just means that it's almost like a feature in the sense that it prevents celebrities from having way too many requests that they're not able to fulfill. But it's just super fun.F Geyrhalter:And I also heard one of your co founders talk about how transparency is another important trait of the Cameo brand. How do you celebrate transparency from within your company, so the accompany culture, all the way to your talent managers, which I believe you have a good amount of that actually interact regularly with the celebrities?D Townsend:Yeah, so this is actually one of our values. We call it no surprises, and it's super helpful internally, externally. Basically we just want to share everything so people are not caught off guard, especially in unpleasant ways. But another thing that we do that I think is a little bit unique, especially for companies our size is every morning we have a stand up with the entire company, we go over all of the relevant key metrics of the business like revenue and Cameo has completed in the previous day, how many talent were onboarded. And I think, especially for new people, it's really relieving to see that level of transparency and to know that everybody has access to the same information.F Geyrhalter:That's really cool, and it's also very different from, without naming any startup names, some other startups that are popping up and becoming really, really big and employees very quickly start complaining about the zero transparency and top down kind of company culture like in Fortune 500's. And so it's awesome to see you guys do that round up in the morning, which is very much like in restaurants, right? Like everyone comes together and talks about what happened the day before, talks about what will happen this day and super transparent. It's very cool. And talking about pricing, which you already mentioned, people also use Cameo to have celebrities deliver messages to their boss saying that they quit the job or marriage proposals to the girlfriends or coming out messages via DragQueen to their parents. But I'm actually surprised by what some celebrities do for very little money and how your site showcases that self worth of talent. You can literally browse through A list celebrities and gain an idea of how much they believe they're worth by in a minute. So how did you go about setting any kind of pricing suggestions initially, and how did the pricing range develop over the years as you moved from sports, I believe, to internet influencers and now A stars? And above all, how did you project it would turn into a sustainable and growing business? It's all about pricing in the end, right?D Townsend:Yeah. So we actually did something pretty interesting, which is we took the number of work hours in a year, which I think is 4,000... so I think it's like around 50 weeks times 40 hours. And we looked at how much money people were making. So if you're in the NBA and you're making $25 million, divided by 4,000, I think that comes out to around $125 per minute, somewhere in that range. And so that was one thing that we used early on.D Townsend:When people didn't know what to price themselves, when the talent on our platform didn't know how to price themselves, we used that formula, which ended up being really powerful, and it just proves that with Cameo, the fact that you can do a Cameo video in a minute, the economics, even if you're cheap, even if you're $10 or $20, you can make a lot of money in a very short amount of time just because it's so seamless and quick and easy to use.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. No, I totally agree, and I love that calculation and presenting that to your talent saying, "Look, this is how we came up with that number. You can go down, you can go up." And I also agree how much money you can make with this. I'm on a platform called where I give advice to entrepreneurs who might not otherwise be able to afford me and unlike 350 or something an hour, but I've got 15 minute phone calls, and I get maybe a hundred bucks. But it's so much value for the recipient, and in the end, like I made well over $10,000 too in the last couple of years just by giving advice. So I totally agree. I think it's a win win situation. Let's talk about your name. So Cameo is such a fantastic name for service like yours, as it stands for, and I'm going to read this straight from the dictionary, a small character part in a play or movie played by distinguished actor or a celebrity. But because of you Devin, I watched the 1986 video of Cameos. Fantastic hit, word up, this morning. How did the name come about first then, and were you aware or concerned about Cameo videos showing an 80s band on Google instead of your videos with shout outs by Snoop Dogg or Charlie Sheen?D Townsend:Yeah, that's the challenge when you choose a name that's a little bit more recognizable. So obviously, with a name like Cameo, there's going to be things that people associate that with. So the band being one of them. I'm pretty often stopped in public by people when I'm wearing a Cameo t-shirt and they're like, "Oh my God, Cameo, I love that band." And I'm like, "Awesome." So originally, we came up with a ton of names. We spent a lot of time trying to think of the right name. As I'm sure you're aware, it's not easy. And we worked at a branding agency too. We had the name Hypd, H-Y-P-D, we had the name Hero Hub. I think like Thrillo was one of the names. And we never were super happy with any of the names we were playing around with even as we were building this thing and we were pushing ourselves to launch. And so we actually launched with the name... Now that I think of it, we actually launched with the name Power Move. was original website. But we continued to noodle on a name and try to find the perfect name, my co founder's brother John, thought of it one day and we were just like, "Yeah, absolutely. This is the perfect name." And we did that look up. We expected that the website would be taken, we expected that there would be... the name space would be totally failed, but we found that the website was gettable and there was nothing really in our space with that name.F Geyrhalter:And usually, it's the trademark search that puts a big hold onto it, especially with a word that is so common. But it seems like you guys found a word that was somehow still available and you purchased a dot com. And besides you being stopped on the streets, and besides the word up videos showing up at some point, all seems to all seems to be good. I just wish Cameo... The lead singer of Cameo, if he's still alive, that he should be on your platform. That would that be good. That would be good.D Townsend:It should be perfect.F Geyrhalter:So Cameo was one of Time Magazine's 50 most genius companies of 2018, which is insane. Congratulations to that. And I saw Ellen featured a video of yours on her show, which is also a dream of any company for that to happen. How does the PR machine behind Cameo work? It seems like right now is that magical moment. And you and I chatted about this just a minute before we went live, it's this magical moment in time right now where Cameo videos are turning into a household term. So just like you'd say, YouTube videos, you say Cameo and people already know what is being referred to. How did PR or even branding help get Cameo to that point? How much of it was organic and viral food videos and how much do you feel was actually planned and scripted looking back at the success story of the brand?D Townsend:So we went a while flying under the radar. I think it's very natural when you're starting a company to... and especially when you think you have a good idea, to want to keep it to yourself and try to minimize PR because you don't want anybody to steal your idea. And at one point, maybe six months after we launched, The Chicago Tribune, I believe, did a story on Cameo, and we saw that it went viral among news outlets. So all these other news outlets across the country picked it up. And we found that this is just a story that people love. And I think that's personally why our PR strategy has just been so successful and why people love to write about this is just... it's like something that everybody relates to, everybody understands, and it's really exciting, and it has that mix of pop culture and celebrity that really appeals to people.F Geyrhalter:So true. So it really was a Zeitgeist fit. It just happened to be at the right time, no one else was doing it and everyone can relate to it, and that's how it started to spread.D Townsend:Yeah. My co founder, Steven is also super talented when it comes to PRs. He spends a lot of time doing interviews and stories and stuff like that, which has helped.F Geyrhalter:Very cool. And one thing that I'm sure that my listeners, as they go on your website, they're going to realize that you have tons of serious A list celebrities, but then you have hundreds of... how shall I say, questionable personalities and even adult actresses. So what standards do you set to keep your brand aspirational for potential talent, as well as customers, as well as press? Or does it really not matter that much? And if so, why would it matter or not matter how clean you keep the site as far as what type of talent you have on there?D Townsend:We want anybody in the world who has fans to be on Cameo, whether that's a really popular high school football coach who is a celebrity in their town or The Rock, who's one of the most famous actors right now. And so we don't really set out to police people based on their political preference or anything like that. So our platform is free to use for anybody who has fans. We have a couple of rules, no inciting violence, no nudity. But as long as you play within those rules, then we we're not incentivized to make those decisions.F Geyrhalter:Very cool. And besides being very much of a behind the scenes brand, you definitely celebrate Cameo as a brand by, for instance, having each team member have its own Cameo page, which is real fun, where you can actually book them and get to know them. Some of them are free, some of them actually charge. So you basically celebrate your team, just like actual celebrities. And on your site, you state that Cameo "creates moments that inspire", your Twitter account features a screenshot of a hater saying that @bookCameo, which is your Twitter handle, "is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of," as your actual Twitter brand page banner, which is just absolutely hilarious. How do you deliberately craft the actual Cameo brand's visual and verbal language, or how much of it is just organic and is done by different team members?D Townsend:So, when we started, we worked with a branding agency to develop the look and feel of the brand, which is what we're playing off of now. So the visual look was set back then. And as far as the verbal brand, a lot of that just had to do with... When we launched, it was just me and my two co founders, and so our Twitter and all the copy on our site, we had to come up with. And so generally, we just picked stuff that we thought was funny, that we thought was engaging, that we thought people would want to read. And I think one of the things that I believe, before you even start a Cameo, but that I've seen with a Cameo is that people really respond to authenticity. Like in our case, we wrote stuff that we thought it was funny. Our Twitter header was something that, whatever that tweet was, book Cameo is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. And so that's of what we do, and I think people will notice that it's a little bit different and it resonates with them.F Geyrhalter:And it definitely comes across as authentic. And I keep preaching that to my clients all the time. And branding is such a misunderstood term, and it feels like it's so fake, it's so crafted. But what does it mean to you? So branding, either with Cameo or personally, because you are a serial entrepreneur, brand is very important to what you do. What does it mean to you?D Townsend:I think one of the things that I've seen is that branding is just how you represent yourself to the world and how the world perceives you, and in this case, the company Cameo. I think like we've done a lot of things that just represent what we think is cool, what we would want to use. That's a lot of what we've done is built a product that we would want to use that we do use. As you mentioned, you can book any of us on Cameo. And the cool thing about building something that you would want to use and having that point of view is that it will really resonate with some people, and some people will be like, "This isn't for me," which also saves you time because the last thing you want when starting a company is these lukewarm people who think that they might be interested but they're not actually interested and so you spend time trying to build something that would work for them or convince them to try your product and ultimately, it's not a good fit anyway. So I think that that little bit of polarization is really powerful.F Geyrhalter:That's really wise. And it seems so logical, but everyone struggles with that. Every company, even my own consultancy. I have to make sure that I don't get all those lukewarm leads that are just not right for me and I spend time with them, which is really a waste of time. So it's the exact same thing with every brand. You have to make sure that you project exactly who you're for so that you exclude the many and you gain a few, or in your case, you actually have huge traction. So well played. Devin, you're 28, you got 15.8 million in funding the last time I checked, that might have changed by now, but what is one piece of brand advice for other founders that are listening?D Townsend:I think it's really important to pick a brand that represents you because... I think it's really tempting to look at your market and try to decide who you want to be, and then craft your brand to fit that. But if you stray too far from what's natural and what you've been doing for years and what you are the best in the world at, then you're not going to be the best at executing that vision and executing that brand. But picking something that really resonates with you, you have such a super power in that, you know what excites you, you come into work excited, it doesn't feel like work, so you can work unlimited hours and just really pour your heart into it. Townsend:And with that niche, you can really be the best in the world. I don't think it's really possible to get to the level of best in the world unless you're doing something that really represents you and that you believe in more than anybody else.F Geyrhalter:And that goes straight back to what you said in the very beginning or what I quoted you saying about, you really don't want to sell the company because you would just start the same company over and over again because it is passion and passion can only come from within, and if you create the type of environment that you really, really enjoy. And so I think that that is super, super important. It goes back to authenticity, and I think that's a big, big takeaway, that even with a brand that seems to be built on hundreds and hundreds and thousands of personal brands, the actual athletes and the actual celebrities, you yourself and your co founders created a brand that feels so real, and so authentic, and so transparent, and so natural to you that you enjoy building it and you keep being there and not creating a company that you just basically flip and... you get out of, right?D Townsend:Yeah. We built this to be the most fun company that we could think of. And so far, we've succeeded. We set out to be like, "All right, what's the company that we'd want to work at? What are the things we want to work on?" Every day, we build what we want to build, what excites us most. And so I think it's almost akin to going up to a really popular standup comedian and proposing that that person sell their standup comedy career. They would never do that because they've spent all this time building something that they absolutely love and that represents them.F Geyrhalter:So what does it say about you because you stopped your comedy career to start Cameo?D Townsend:Yeah. And that was one thing that was a little bit tough. And I think at the time, a lot of people were confused by that, like why I didn't, at least, try to start a YouTube channel and see where that would lead. But I've found that I really like the sort of... I've always really liked programming and computer science and the hard side of things, so in this case, I get to be pretty technical and focus on hard technical challenges, but also trying to think of like, "Okay, how can we make this really fun? How can make this resonate with people? What's our message? What can we build that people will freak out over and scream and laugh and cry?"F Geyrhalter:And that goes back to the tone of voice in your brand. And a lot of that is being crafted by you organically, and it's a great outlet where you can balance the two things, which before, in comedy, you didn't really have, you were mainly focusing on monetizing one side of it and now you can really play with the two, which again goes back to how it is so important to really understand what you set out to in this world as an entrepreneur and what you should do in order for you to give back the most and to actually enjoy what you do every moment of your time. So definitely agree with that. That's why I changed running a 15 people agency to a two person consultancy because life is great, and that's how it should be. You should just really find your niche. So, how can our listeners get their personalized video from Snoop Dogg or Lance Bass, or for 11 bucks, I think, even from yourself?D Townsend:Yeah, so go to,, check it out. We have over 10,000 selling on our platform now. You mentioned a few, pretty much... And our goal is to get everybody who has fans so that your favorite person in the world will be on Cameo. But check it out. Give the product a try and let me know what you think at Geyrhalter:Awesome. Yeah, I definitely want to tell everyone to take advantage of that. I think I've got some insanely amazing and just truly talented entrepreneurs on my show, and a lot of them give out their cell number, and a lot of them give out their email, and I think that's not normal. You're not going to see that in a lot of magazines and other podcasts. So I'm super, super appreciative of that, and I want everyone to take full advantage of being able to actually do that and share their feedback. So, thank you Devin for your time. I'm so glad that we finally got a 25 minutes podcast today. Thank you for your time. Based on your rate on Cameo, your minute is about 11, so I guess I owe you around 240 bucks now. And thanks to everyone for listening. And please hit that subscribe button to not miss any future shows and do give the podcast a quick rating. It is the one thing I'd love to get in return from you guys. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy creating strategic verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more about FINIEN at The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we, once again, we'll be hitting the mark.
I sit down with my lawyer (indeed!), who has not been my lawyer before I invited him onto my show. I came across their site,, after hearing Sam speak in an interview and it took me only a few split seconds to know that I have to get him onto this podcast. I believe in a brand being authentic, and direct, and as simple as being bold sounds, it takes a special personality and lots of guts to actually pull it off and to pull it off successfully, and the partners at this San Diego law firm sure pulled it off.Sam and I talk about why they have a bold and authentic brand, how it helps and where it hurts.An episode that any bold entrepreneur and marketer should dive into and learn from when they need a good kick in their behind to take some bold moves.To connect with Sam, hit him up at or visit the ever so intriguing 'anti-law-office' law office brand at wilkmazz.com____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to episode number 14 of Hitting The Mark. It's still such a baby, 14 only. It's crazy, but today we dive into how one can craft a brand that stands out within an entire industry, simply by being bold. Those of you who follow me closely know how much I believe in a brand being authentic, and direct, and as simple as being bold sounds, it takes a special personality and lots of guts to actually pull it off and to pull it off successfully. Today I talk with Sam Mazzeo, who is co-founder and partner of the law firm Wilkmazz in San Diego. I learned about his firm while I was doing research for an interview I had coming up on Fabio Palvelli's show, and I stumbled upon Sam who was on that program right before me. He talked refreshingly direct about law for visual artists, so I glanced at his firm's website for about 10 seconds and I knew that I had to have this guy on my show. Sam got his start in litigation before diving into the social impact world as legal counsel at Invisible Children, after the organization released the most viral video in history. That's a big claim, but if I tell you what it was, you will agree it was KONY 2012, which is quite amazing. He currently spends his time sending gifs and not jifs, which is very important to him, to clients in between filing trademarks and drafting contracts. He has also served on some legit local boards like TEDx San Diego and Think Dignity. Fun fact, he learned to do a standing back flip for a Teen Wolf costume. And in the few weeks that I have now corresponded with him, I can attest to the gif sending habit, but have not witnessed the Teen Wolf back flip yet. With that being said, welcome to the show, Sam.S Mazzeo:Thank you. Yes, I'm glad to be here. Excited to talk about our brand and all the things that that means.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. So first off, when I saw your site, which I mentioned, I was just immediately in awe of what you did from a branding side, which we will dive into shortly. But rather important to mention, and in full transparency to our listeners, in the few weeks from when I booked you on the show to today, I actually ended up hiring you to review a massive contract of ours. Which not only speaks volumes about how branding actually leads to sales, but further you were reviewing my contract verbally. So via dictation or voice, since you had a really bad cooking accident on Mother's Day, I learned, and you were not able to use your right hand. Still are not able to use your right hand. And that speaks volumes about you as a person, and how much you actually care about your clients. So how are you recovering from a peculiar accident in the kitchen that most probably completely disrupted your own brand for a little while?S Mazzeo:Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I appreciate you checking in on that. It's definitely been an adjustment. And I think that, you know, one of the things that our brand does is hopefully demonstrates who we are. Because I think at the end of the day, one of the things that we'll touch on is transparency. And so in that same vein, you know, as soon as this accident happened, I had a short sort of debate in my own head about whether or not to let people know that this has happened. Because we're a small team, we're a team of three lawyers, and if one person has the loss of the ability to use one of their hands, I could see where that would go a long way to maybe degrade the confidence in our firm, and our work, that our clients may have and that our partners may have. And so I went back and forth a little bit, but like I said, it was a short debate because at the end of the day, you know, that transparency is going to be the one of the most important things to us and to our clients. So I want them to know what's going on, both from the perspective of, I care about my clients as people, as humans, as friends. And I think a lot of them do the same for me and for my staff. So beyond just notifying them for that reason, I thought it was also important to let them know that, you know, maybe there will be a few less gifs, and maybe there will be some oddly capitalized text in my emails because I'm using voice to text. And so it's definitely been an adjustment. You know, I think I'd be lying if I said Game of Thrones that night didn't influence my use of the knife in the kitchen that day, and so maybe I can blame it on that and HBO, but I'm doing well.F Geyrhalter:Well, needless to say, I'm sure you're unsubscribed from HBO now like everyone else.S Mazzeo:Right.F Geyrhalter:Well, I mean look, I think that the way that you handled that, and I was actually part of that, because at that point I was already a client of yours, well last week, right? It is so true that people don't hire the brand they fall in love with what you say and how you say it as a brand, but then to get to know you and in the end they deal with you, and people like you, otherwise they wouldn't work with you. Right? I mean, that's just the truth. That's how it works. People have a lot of empathy, especially when you portray your brand in such a transparent and authentic manner. I mean, on your site, you greet visitors with the line, and I love that, "We're just like you, but lawyers." And once you actually dive into the site, you see an area called a lawyer's shit, which is an assortment of visual notes. Many of them are gift. And now that I started working with you, my client dashboard has the same name. So when I get to look, and the audience has to realize, you know like how this is so different? When I get to look at mundane yet super critical contracts that you send me, you actually push me into an area called lawyer shit. So under lawyer shit, I see my contracts and you further explain on your site that we think anyone taking a , and doing something different, deserves bitching lawyers. While I feel that you yourself are doing something quite different, how did this all start and like how was that bold language being crafted?S Mazzeo:Yes, great question. So yes, in a real quick plug for our own services, is that legal locker is what you're referring to. It's something that we give to all of our clients that houses all of their legal documentation, and it does have a big banner that says lawyer shit at the top. And you know, I think I will get around to answering your question. But the lawyer shit thing is so interesting because, you know, it was one of those things where we went back and forth throughout the branding process. And I think, you know, there comes a point where you have to make a decision, and you touched on it a little bit in the intro, but you have to make a decision on whether or not you are going to go for it, and whether or not you are going to be bold. Because you can continue to sort of toe the line and the status quo is always going to be a very non-offensive, very non bold, it doesn't jump out at you type of website for a law firm and for lawyers. And I think that, that serves the purpose by and large for what lawyers mostly need. Frankly, I want to also recognize and acknowledge that as a transactional corporate attorney, that helps artists, and nonprofits, and businesses, and startups, that we're in a unique sort of field. Because if we were criminal law, or family law, you know, we can't have a fun website to the degree that we can with the work that we do. The other funny thing about the lawyer shit piece is that I've had conversations with other attorneys that are more of the traditional approach to the brand, and to the style of the practice of law. And they've told me flat out that other lawyers have seen that, and we're known as the lawyer shit guys, and that it's totally unprofessional and inappropriate. And so I think that I had two reactions when I heard that. One is, "Oh, I kind of wondered what some of the bigger law firms thought of this." And two, "I don't really give a shit if they don't like it."F Geyrhalter:Well, may I add three to this? It actually showed you that it works, right? I mean if you get negative response from the ones that you want to stand apart from, it's the best flattery. I mean, then you're like, okay, perfect, this is great, because if people start talking about us within the industry that we're different, and we want to be different for our creative clients. Perfect, right?S Mazzeo:Yes, haters are going to hate.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely, absolutely, and they have a good reason. They have a good reason, right? It's threatening, it's insecurity. It's like, oh wow, they're bold and we're not. So obviously we're not going to like that. But you know, obviously, so you wanted from the get go be a no BS type of law firm, right? Which now ended up looking like a cool brand, more so than a law office, which is awesome for your creative clients, because they themselves surround themselves constantly with cool brands. So you fit right into their life. But how much of that was actually driven by your, and your co founders, personalities versus deeply connecting it and understanding that creative target audience? I mean, how did you know or decide that going that bold would end up winning you even geezer clients, like myself? Most others would be so afraid to take that step.S Mazzeo:Yes, well, I think we realized at one point, because we had a different brand before the brand that you see now, and it was a little bit more of the traditional approach, but it was still also younger and sort of a little bit more cooler, hipper, what have you. And so with this brand, you know, we weren't sure necessarily that it was going to resonate with people, but we spent probably ... I mean look, it was definitely longer than we planned on it being, and originally the rebrand was only intended to be an update to our website, and that other brand that we had. And then at some point along the way, and I do have to give a lot of credit to my business partner and co-founder Emily, because she at one point in time said, "Look, I want this to be fucking art." You know, at the time I think I was like, well that seems a little over the top. But I think as we sort of progress throughout the process, and we really brought together a team of individuals that were going to help with this. And you know, one of them, his name is Justin Power, he is in LA, he's a creative wizard. He had a sit down so many times and really just do sort of like brand identity brainstorming. And really to your point as to some of the topics we'll talk about, it really is more about who we are, who we need to be for our clients, and really what we are putting out there. Because at the end of the day, I think the epitome of a good brand is that it is a representation of the people behind it, and not one that's contrived, and not one that's inauthentic. It has to actually be you. Because with lawyers in particular there's so many stigmas and there's so many good reasons for there to be stigmas. And so we realized that people want to work with us because they might want to get a beer with us, or go get coffee with us. And so at the end of the day, you know, there's a ton of lawyers out there, and there's certainly no shortage of lawyers that reach out, and you know, try to get business if you meet them at an event or what have you. And so for us it's a lot about, do we get along with who we'd be working with? Because another thing that I say all the time is, you know, work is work. Do I enjoy every contract that I draft? Do I enjoy advising on the same type of contractual language four to eight times a week? Maybe, maybe not. But do I enjoy who I work with and that they're trying to change the world and that they're doing awesome things? Yes, that I do enjoy. And so I think your brand has to represent who you are, because then it brings who you want to work with.F Geyrhalter:I absolutely agree with you. I absolutely agree with you. And when we ourselves actually as a brand consult, and we are currently going back to that, and actually constantly refreshing that too, of like who are we really? And how do we want to live our days? Right? Because in the end, you know that's how you spend most of your life. Doing what could be considered work, but it doesn't have to be considered work if you actually enjoy the people that you surround yourself with. I totally agree with that and on your about page which you titled Letter, you write the following and I will absolutely a hundred percent read this verbatim right now, because it is just brand language poetry, and it was so good to hear that you spent a lot of time actually massaging that because it definitely shows. So here's how it goes. "This is that page of the website you always skip. It's a love letter to the anonymous many who mainly avoid having lawyers as friends. If you're being honest, then we have to say that we never originally intended on being lawyers. It turns out that we love it. It turns out that being one is about empowerment more than anything. Money doesn't tell you how to be a person. Red Tape doesn't define a business. We're here frankly to be your shit umbrella so you can do your actual work with joy, leave the paperwork, and processes, and awkward, stressful, tense emails to us. You have unexpected places to take your crusade or enterprise. The future is always abstract, but your vision isn't. One creative human needs friends to make a vision real. It turns out you need creative lawyers too. The point is we love you, we hear you, and we want to help you. Signed, just a couple of lawyers with hearts on our sleeves." So what I'm wondering, so it's real, it's really, really beautiful, right? Like on many levels, and what you just said is totally embodied in this. But what I'm really interested in is how did this narrative that you crafted change client behavior? Because you know, I'm wondering, are people opening up? Are they being more authentic in return? Is there a client lawyer wall that you have successfully smashed solely because of the way you present your brand?S Mazzeo:Yes, I think, you know, first and foremost, I want to say, and I think this is probably true of any creative process. It takes, like I said, a team. It takes a village, and we had an incredible writer and editor that helped us with our site. Her name is Amy Boyd and I won't take away from that Letter though because Emily spent a lot of time just with morning pages, and writing in the morning, and she kind of came up with this beautiful sort of outline of what we're doing. And I think that, you know, through the process of having Amy help, and then also the various different brand meetings, we really sort of honed in on that ultimate copy that made it onto the website. And it is beautiful, and it's so representative, but it's also interesting because as your business and as you change, your brand has to, and so we're already looking at how we might want to update that to sort of highlight more of the education that we do now and so on. But to answer your question, yes, I think, it's a gift and a curse sometimes because I do think that we have much more transparent and authentic conversations with our clients. We certainly feel that we're much more on the same page with our clients. And I think that they feel that probably even more so than we do. You know, at the end of the day, we know what we're doing for our clients and we have our processes and our systems. And I think so the differences with them, if there's a wall that got smashed down, it's for the client. They really feel now like when they sit and they speak with us, or when they're talking to on the phone, that it's not this lawyer up here on this pedestal talking down to them, the common folk that need the lawyer's help. It's we're peers, and we're friends, and we want to help you out because we care about what you're doing. So I do think that that happened and I think though that going back to the gift and the curse aspect of it, there is something that comes with our brand. And with that sort of informality that we also have to make sure that everything we do is so buttoned up, and is so pristine, and that we are so responsive. Because if we portray a brand of these casual, fun lawyers and then we screw something up, and not to say that that's something that happens, but you know, if we're a little late on a response, it be .. you know, if we have a typo in a document, or whatever the case may be, it's really easy then for that client to go, "Oh well they're just fun lawyers. They're not good lawyers." And so it really is a double edged sword. And I, and I cringe using that analogy with my hand injury right now.F Geyrhalter:Oh God, yes.S Mazzeo:But it is because, you know, we have to make sure that everything we do is to the utmost level of service in order to make sure that that brand comes across as what I described before. Friendly, approachable, transparent, on the same page. Because, you know, if we do anything subpar, it's sort of, it's highlighted, it's emphasized, it's multiplied. And so I do think that our clients do feel like that wall has been sort of taken down, but at the same time it can go right back up really quickly if we're not on top of it.F Geyrhalter:Yes, you're absolutely right. I mean, you're fully aware of the danger that comes with it. But you know, quite frankly, being bold, and being authentic, and being you, and being a friend brand in that sense. And I hate saying it that way, but that's what it is, right? Completely hundred percent wins over the risk, and I can attest to that because I have been going through the exact emotions that you're sharing now. So when I saw your brand, I'm like, I gotta have this guy on my podcast. And then I ran into issues with a contract, I needed it really quickly, I reached out to you, and I was wondering, I'm like, Well, is that just a cool for facade? Is it just a cool brand? And are these just kids that are just, you know, like fun? Are they actually like serious lawyers? So it is the exact same hesitation that I have, but it's still a hundred percent won over. The transparency, the boldness, I'm like, I want to work with these guys. Like it makes sense to me. And then of course you totally, I'm not going to make metaphors like, you know, pulled an arm or like, you know. But you just came, you just totally delivered. And so that's, that's what it's about. But I believe that someone who would be afraid if they would be able to deliver, they would just hide on their regular law firm website and content. You know what I mean? Like they would just look like everyone else. So I think that there's something about being so bold that makes me realize, well these people know what they're doing, otherwise they wouldn't be able to pull that off.So question to you, Legal Unicorn. It's an attorney network that I think you helped build? How did that come about? And how do the Wilkmazz and Legal Unicorn brands interact?S Mazzeo:Yes, I'll start with the Legal Unicorn Society is kind of a passion project, and I think it's also a really necessary addition to professional services. Generally speaking, not just the legal industry. And look, I would be lying if I said we're full steam ahead with the Legal Unicorn Society because it's been difficult to do that, and, you know, because we've got to run the law firm. I do a lot of local advocacy work through another nonprofit that I helped found. And then with Legal Unicorn Society we did, we actually filed all the nonprofit paperwork for it. We co-founded it with a number of other lawyers. And the reason that I say it's such a necessary thing for professional services, is that what ends up happening I think, and especially nowadays, is that the trend at least is toward smaller mom and pop, for lack of a more modern term for a small business that that cares and is kind of family values. That's kind of where we're going with most of the what we call the millennial generation. But I think that spans a good segment of our workforce nowadays. And so it's people that do several different things, or they have their own small business while they do other jobs. And so I think that in doing that, one thing that is lost, is that with giant law firms, and if you go to a giant law firm, you need help with A, B, and C, they can also do X, Y, and Z. Because they're a gigantic law firm with a million lawyers. And so we don't have that. And so one of the reasons that this sort of came about was we needed to have that sort of big law firm feel, while still maintaining small law firm prices and that small law firm approach to the service for our clients. And so we just started to realize that there were a couple other law firms out there that were doing it like we're doing it. And I think that, you know, traditionally you're going to hear someone say, "Oh no, there's a competitive brand out there." And frankly I could give no shits less about there being competitors that look and brand themselves, and treat their clients the way that we do. As a matter of fact, I think that that's the way I'd love to see the industry go. And we have interns every semester because we want to show the younger generations of lawyers that you can do it this way, and that you can have fun doing it. And so when we found these other brands that were doing it in a fun way, there's Framework Law in LA, there's Kyle Westaway in New York, there's a few of them out there. And we just wanted to make sure that we maintain a network with these other law firms because A, we can all learn from each other. B, we can all share clients if we have different expertise, and C, like we don't ... we can't walk down the hallway and talk to another attorney in our big law office and go, "Hey, am I crazy?" Or like, "What have you seen on this type of thing?" And so we have that now with the Legal Unicorn Society and there's other benefits that we hope to achieve as far as like discounts on group rates for different professional services. And we want to do retreats and we did an event in Venice last year that we called the Legal Unicorn Academy, where we did a day long event teaching people about finance, legal, wellness. You know, we had meditation, we had branding consultants come in and we did the whole deal. And so we really just formed that nonprofit to, I guess, add more value both to our profession, but also to the people we serve.F Geyrhalter:Very, very, cool initiative. And it makes so much sense, everything you said. It's again, it's part of the defense mechanism that, kind of like, you know, like it's being triggered where you're small, you're doing something different, you're going against the grain, who else is doing this? It's kind of like, let's all join forces, so that we're bigger, right? That we can actually utilize each other and the strengths of each other. It's great. So with that being said, you're very much like myself. You're a serial entrepreneur, you know, you have ideas, you want to push them out. You want to actually create businesses, like Legal Unicorn Society, which as you said, there's already enough on your plate and why do you do it? Well, you just have that urge. And that's why I love having people like you on, because this show is definitely for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs. But what was a ginormous brand fail that you went through? Like things go wrong. And with your brand specifically, I'm wondering, did you ever overstep it? Or was there something where you just felt like, now we should just take a step back?S Mazzeo:Yes, you know, I had seen that question when you had sent it over in advance, and I was trying to think through. I certainly don't want to act like there hasn't been any fails in my professional career. And I think if I had to point to a sort of a brand fail for us, you know I would have to probably say that right now the brand that we have doesn't highlight a couple of things well enough. And it obviously like overall our brand is a total smashing success and I'm very thankful for that. But I do think that if I pointed to ... the things that come to mind are, it took us forever to get it out and we actually, the update to the website that we originally going to do, that then sort of morphed into a rebrand, was to get our associate attorney at the time on the website and he ended up leaving before we even got the rebrand done. I would say that's a peripheral brand fail. Then I would say also that I really don't feel like ... and I get mixed feedback when I say this, but I don't know if I feel like my ... the brand currently demonstrates enough how much we care about our clients and that we really, really, feel as though our value is that we educate our clients along the way. You know, I really have come to the conclusion that the way we represent our clients is that we help them usually at an early stage with everything that they need to get set up for the short and long term. And in doing so, we really educate them on all of those steps. At least I hope that this is the case. And in doing so, they may not need us, you know, anytime soon or again at all, and that's totally fine. We just want them to tell a friend, so we can help that friend in that same position.I think that our website could do a better job of highlighting that educational component, and that empowerment component. And I do think that just from ... there's too many pictures of my face, and my business partners face on this website. That's the other thing that I think would be a slight fail, is that I'd love to highlight and lift up our clients a little bit more, and our staff a little bit more.F Geyrhalter:That makes a whole lot of sense. It's not necessarily a fail, but I love that story. Because it was a little bit out of your control, most probably when you did the rebrand for one reason and then it ended up actually for a different reason. But I mean I'm so glad that you did, because that's how I found you and I think it is so noble the way that you approach this. When I do my workshops with my clients, it's those notorious eight hour workshops where I like pull the company out of them. Like help them create a brand and define who they are. And one of the things that we do is a memorial speech and so it's basically sitting down if like, okay, 20, 30 years from now, 50, 60 years from now, what would you tell an audience if you're brand doesn't exist anymore? And why does it not exist anymore? And what are they actually missing? And what happens very often these days is that clients say exactly what you just said where, well, I hope we're just not necessary anymore. I hope that in 40 years from now everyone's going to have learned so much from us, that don't need us anymore. Or that everything is just honest, or law is just changing, or whatever. So I think that that idea that you actually want to educate your clients rather than, you know, dictate onto them what they need to forward to their clients to get a contract signed, is a huge, huge, brand trait. And I totally agree, we feel like celebrating that on your website and celebrating your clients. You know, obviously mainly myself I think would be a noble thing for you to do.S Mazzeo:Well brands have to change, you know, sooner or later I think you refer to yourself as a geezer earlier on on this call, which you're way too young to be doing that. But sooner or later, you know, myself and my staff and we're going to be geezers too. And the website won't be cool with, if you know, it looks like it's a young hip website with a bunch of old people in the photos. And so, you know, brands and things change. And so, I think every brand has a shelf life, and that's something that we all have to acknowledge and be aware of too, because then it becomes inauthentic if we just leave it, and set it, and forget it.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely right, absolutely right. And that's why most of the people that I speak to on this podcast, they do say that. They say that every year we meet and we look at our brand, and we say, is this still us? Does this still represent us? And it's such an important exercise to do, especially also for brand agencies. Like people like me who do that everyday with others, but it's so hard to do it for yourself. So it's a super important lesson to learn. Is there any brand advice that you have for founders as a take away?S Mazzeo:You know, I think it's really important when it's founders plural, just period, kind of hard stop there because I think that you always have to have a balance. And I do think that this brand would not be nearly as impactful, and nearly as bold if it wasn't for Emily. And I think that we probably would have went too far over the top in some areas if it wasn't for me. And so I think that it's super important to make sure that you have that balance amongst founders. And I think that most successful businesses that is part of what makes them successful, is that you have that counterbalance of the personalities that run the business. And so, I think at the end of the day that's probably what steered us in the direction that we went. And a lot of the time, I was blown away by the creativity that I saw coming from the team that we put together and coming from Emily. But then there were other times where I would have to say, "Look, I know for a fact that that will not be helpful for us in certain situations that we deal with for our clients." And so there's that competing interest of course, of making sure that the website represents us, but then also making sure that it doesn't hurt our clients when we're doing work for them and we're supporting them. Because one thing to this day that I still have to tell my clients is, "Look, if you need us to send a demand letter, or a cease and desist letter, and someone looks us up, we're not the scariest law firm out there. So you may actually want to work with a different firm for something like that."F Geyrhalter:Interesting, and that's where you have your Legal Unicorn Society where you might be able to reach out to them, or then they refer you to someone who looks really, like big and lean, big and mean.S Mazzeo:Totally.F Geyrhalter: And I think most probably with your continuous rebranding, there's always a way to kind of like balance one and the other. Besides a whole lot, what does branding mean to you? I know it means a whole lot to you, but what, to you and to your firm and what you've been going through in the last months or years, what does it mean to you? How important is it to you?S Mazzeo:I mean, it's one of the most important things, but then also at the same time, as I said, that I wanted to sort of catch myself because the most important thing is the work that we do. And the service that we provide. But I think that you can look at brands as the storefront nowadays. And so you think to the past, and you think about businesses, and how tremendously important that sign out front is and what the windows look like, how nice the store looks and is kept up. And so nowadays that's our storefront, is our brand. So depending on the day you catch me and you talk to me, some days I'm going to say it's the most important thing because look, we wouldn't be sitting here right now doing this. You know, you wouldn't have hired me last week to work on something for you had we not had a beautiful storefront on the internet. But on another day, you might talk to me and I might say, "Look, it's the icing on the cake. If someone hears about the work we did for someone else, and that person was thrilled and that's why they recommended us, then the website is just the cherry on top." It's the icing on the cake when they go and they say, "Oh, I heard good things about them and oh shit, their website's really cool too." So I think, you know, maybe this is a non answer cause I'm saying it's both tremendously important and also not important at all. But I think that somewhere in between is the truth. And I think that you can't do business nowadays without some kind of brand. Whether or not that means that there's a visual presence, or just that's your personal brand and how you interact with people. So I think it really depends on which way you look at it too. Because you know, sometimes I think about how there's a lot of lawyers that just do their work through word of mouth referral and they don't even have a website. And that doesn't mean that they don't have a brand. I'm sure if you talk to people, and you talk about how that lawyer interacts with their clients, you know, they must be doing something right in order to not even need that storefront. And so they have a brand too, and it's just a more interpersonal brand. And so I really think that depending on any way you break it down, brands are tremendously important nowadays. And even more so, I'm going to put the lawyer hat on for a second, because with the way intellectual property is nowadays and how much harder it's getting to protect your own trademarks, and your own brand, and it's so much more important to have a brand because the market's crowded. And so it's just a difficult thing to have and protect in and of itself.F Geyrhalter:I'm so glad that you touched on that. Super, super important and we feel that every day as we file for trademarks, and as we create brands here, it is getting more and more difficult by the minute. Listeners who fell in love with, may I say it, a law firm just now, where can they connect with you?S Mazzeo:Yes, so you can find us online at Same going to be for the social media handles. It's going to be Wilkmazz, W-I-L-K-M-A-Z-Z. And then also if you want to just shoot us an email, whether you need help, or you just want to give us a shout. We love to meet new people. It's You know, traditional spelling of holler when you want to holler at someone, and then Wilkmazz as I spelled. So those are some of the easiest ways to reach out to us. You know, it's 2019 if you send us a Facebook message, or social media message, just, yes email. If you reach out through the website portal, we're going to get it and get back to you pretty quickly. That's definitely something that we find to be tremendously important. Like I mentioned at the earlier part, is responsiveness. So yes, feel free to reach out just if you want to say hi. We love meeting other cool brands too.F Geyrhalter:I can attest to the responsiveness. Thank you, Sam, for having been my guest and for sharing what you do, how you do it, and most importantly, the authentic manner in which you do it with my listeners. That was absolutely bitching to use your well-crafted brand copy.S Mazzeo:Thank you. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to speak with you, and hopefully everyone that hears this learns that, hey, you don't have to do it the way that, whatever it is you do, whatever profession, you don't have to do it that old, traditional way. You can do it whichever way you want and you can be you doing it.F Geyrhalter:Amen. And thank you all for listening, and even more for rating my show since I am sure that is exactly what you will be doing right this minute. This podcast is brought to you by absolutely no sponsor because I have not had a chance to create an official sponsorship program, or to ask for sponsorship. So if you're interested, reach out. You know where to find me. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we, once again, we'll be hitting the mark.
Fabian sits down with Chris Kerr, the Chief Investment Officer at New Crop Capital, who has nearly 30 years of leadership experience with startups and venture capital investing. He has spent the last decade focused on impact investing with a concentration on the plant based foods sector.We recorded this episode the day after Beyond Meat hit the stock market. The brand is a poster child of Chris Kerr's investment portfolio, and it also is an industry daring darling. And what went well beyond the wildest expectations with stock trading at nearly triples from the original IPO price the day after, this episode is filled with enthusiasm and learnings that go well beyond one brand.An episode any entrepreneur should digest as we discuss the importance of naming, how you can build a company around a brand and how a startup needs to test, test, test, and then test again.You can learn more about Chris via the New Crop Capital site.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to Hitting the Mark. Today, we go beyond meat. Yes, that was a brand hint. And not only do we go beyond beef, but also butter, cheese, chicken, ice cream, sea food, and yogurt. Today, we're diving into the future of food, for the development of replacements to animal protein products. I first read about Chris Kerr in the Good Business issue of Bloomberg Business Week way back in December, 2018, which dedicated four entire pages to his story. Which is quite an accomplishment. As sometimes is the case, good things take time. But today, he is on my show, and I couldn't be any more honored to have him here. Chris is the chief investment officer at New Crop Capital, and has nearly 30 years of leadership experience with startups and venture capital investing. He has spent the last decade focused on impact investing with a concentration on the plant based foods sector. As CIO, Chris manages the portfolio strategy and serves as a strategic advisor to most portfolio companies. Chris also serves as co-CEO and chair of Good Catch, managing member of TRELLIS NEW ENDEAVORS, director of Purple Carrot and Next Foods, and observes Miyoko's Kitchen. Additionally, Chris is a director at Unovis Partners, Sirabella's, Wicked Healthy, Math Garden, Pitcairn Financial Group, and Monarch Corporation. How does he do it all? I do not know. And how does he find time to talk branding with us here is less mystery than it is a testament to his dedication to the cause and to fellow entrepreneurs. With that being said, welcome, Chris.C Kerr:Thank you very much for having me. I'm looking forward to a lively conversation.F Geyrhalter:It's a pleasure. You say lively conversation because you and I chatted before, and I know you only got two hours of sleep. So first off, congratulations, what a day. We're recording this show on May 3rd, 2019, which happens to be the day after Beyond Meat went IPO. And what must have gone well beyond the wildest expectations with stock trading at nearly triples from the original IPO price. This also marks a first for a company making meat-like products from plants. So that's a pretty big thing, to hit the stock market. Chris, Beyond Meat is a poster child of your investment portfolio, and it also is an industry daring darling, I would say. What does this day mean to you? What does it mean to the industry as a whole?C Kerr:Well, my wife and I talked about this yesterday. My other business partner, Chad Sarna, who's a chef in this space, I would put this down as the single greatest day in the entire time I've been working in this space. I got into this area, and I'm an animal guy. I love animals, enough suffering in the world. I figured, let's try to take some of my abilities and work on putting them towards solutions to solving what we consider to be a crisis. When we started this effort, it was really around 2005. In 2007, I went to work for the Humane Society of the United States, trying to bring solutions to solve some of the things that they were working on. At the time, Beyond Meat was a little company called J Green Foods, the business plan was a very typical first business plan for a company, which if you're smart, a lot of founders will throw those away as quickly as possible. The company really evolved, from really this startup mode. But it was as time went, Silicon Valley was just starting to pay attention to this particular space. What we didn't know at the time was where this would go. So back in 2007, 2008, when I started this, really, it was very hard to get anybody to pay attention to what we were doing. The markets had collapsed, nobody really wanted to take any venture capital investments, let alone vegan food. Good lord, nobody thought that there was anything to do there. So to have this culminate from that, which was really kind of grabbing at straws, hoping something could evolve into a disruptive technology, to an IPO that then just outperformed everyone's expectations. And I've got to tell you, that was only one of three amazing things that happened yesterday. I can't talk too much about the other three. But I can just tell you that the world has completely shifted from the days of J Green Foods to what is now Beyond Meat's IPO and the fact that virtually, every major strategic food conglomerate out there is sitting up and paying really big attention to this space. I have to say, I'm delighted that I happened to have stuck it out this long. So it was really a [crosstalk 00:05:12] day.F Geyrhalter:And you played quite an integral part of this whole thing. Not only Beyond Meat, but of the entire, I guess we can call it now, of the movement. That really, like you said, just happened in the last couple of years, where it really started seeing an impact. So congratulations, it's really big stuff.C Kerr:Well thank you. Like I said, time, luck, circumstance, sometimes just being in the right place for long enough, something's going to hit you. What's the saying? Even a broken clock is right two times a day. So, [crosstalk 00:05:46].F Geyrhalter:Very modest of you. So just the other week, I think it was last week actually, I listened to our local NPR station, here in Los Angeles, KCRW, and I caught Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown taking us through a behind the scenes tour of the factory. It was really, really fascinating. I'm a big fan of the product and so are a lot of people all over the world. I think by now, their plant based burger patties are being sold in the meat section, which by itself, is such a huge accomplishment, in about 30,000 stores. It's in Burger King, it's in Carl's Jr, Del Taco, and I even spotted it at Dodger's Stadium here, in LA. So the startup was founded in 2009, that's when you were involved with them. The patties started hitting stores really in 2016, and I mean it's 2019 now. So this is now actually going to market has not been too long of a distance to IPO. I mean, that's pretty crazy. The brand also has some even higher profile investors than yourself. There's Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson. When I heard about this, this basically underlines what you just said, right? The world is changing. Just recently, they secured the CFO's of Coca-Cola and Twitter to be on the board of directors. So with Beyond Meat, when did the team start to actively invest either time or money into brand strategy? Or into defining the voice, or actually the design. Do you feel it was a conscious decision from day one? Or was it something that kind of happened over time?C Kerr:It happened over time. But a lot of these companies don't get it right right out of the gate. Like I said, the company was started as J Green Foods. It became Savage River Foods, which was the name of a river that ran through Ethan Brown's home property in Maryland. It had to evolve. So branding was really interesting, and positioning is really important, too.F Geyrhalter:Right.C Kerr:I'm not an expert in any of this, by the way. Usually, this type of thing happens way above my pay grade. In this case is no exception. What we look at in our investment portfolios, we focus on what I refer to as the food pact. You may have heard me talk about this in the past. But we make decisions on food based on the efficiency of four key levers, it's taste, awareness, convenience, and price. We looked at, even if you look at kind of the evolution of Beyond Meat, they came to market with a chicken. It was a pretty good chicken, it was gluten free. But arguably, it wasn't the best on the market. Gardein was out there, it was a great product, but it had wheat gluten in it. So Beyond Meat said, "Let's try something a little bit different with pea protein." Which really kind of changed the focus towards pea protein, that was the early adopter of it. So their positioning really tied to that brand, their branding tied to that positioning. Who were they going to and why? So when you look at your customer, first of all, I've just got to focus on this. Taste is the most important thing by far.F Geyrhalter:Right.C Kerr:We always start with chefs. So in every case, chefs have to play a role in that. So when we start, when New Crop looks at a company, we always say, "Look, if we can get the taste right, the other things will slowly start to fall in place." If you miss taste, the rest is irrelevant. So when you look at Beyond Meat, they didn't start off really with chefs in there. We put a chef in there, a guy named David Anderson, who's arguably one of the best plant based chefs on the planet. He really helped them kind of refine some of their products in the mid range there. About five, six years in, he started helping with that. The Beyond burger, it came later, right? That was really just ... I'll say this about food companies, there's no such thing as an overnight success with food. Most companies don't get it right right out of the gate. If you look at, a good example is Silk soy milk, which everybody now knows. But that's a 40 year old company, and it was 20 years in before it invented White Waves Silk.F Geyrhalter:Wow.C Kerr:So a lot of these companies take a lot of time. What looks like overnight successes was, in fact, a lot of trial and error ahead of that. I don't think Beyond Meat's really much of an exception to that. They had some good products early on, but not enough to be groundbreaking. It wasn't until the Beyond burger came out that it really hit that inflection point. That just takes time sometimes. What they really did do is they really changed who the consumer was of this product. So if you look at the branding, the branding was not tied towards your early adopter vegans. Early adopter vegans, they're very principled, they're very loud, they love to talk about their findings, they have enormous price elasticity. They're very forgiving around taste. As you move out of that very small niche, which like I said is really critical when launching these companies. But as you move outside of them, your branding has to reflect what that consumer wants. Beyond Meat really followed that path in a really good way, where they understood the early adopters. They absolutely never violated the principles of those early adopters, that's really critical, because they will turn on you if you do. So you respect the early adopter's principles, because they do a lot of work for you. And you build that in as the baseline to how you build from there on out. I think that Beyond Meat just did an exceptional job of that. They never violated those principles. They were questioned about them. I think if you bring on Tyson as an investor, or put on an ex McDonald's CEO in the mix, some of those people will question that. But Ethan was spot on in saying, "Look, if we really want to help the cause, whether health is your driver, environment, sustainability, animal protection, welfare, you name it, everybody gets served by this if it can hit the mass market. So we really shifted that focus to addressing kind of the meat reducers, the flexitarians. And that Beyond burger is a bullseye. Sorry for the pun, but it's a bullseye.If you look at that inflection point, I think going forward in history, you're going to see everybody's game just got stepped up quite a bit. Consumers are, by far, one of the biggest beneficiaries of that.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. I mean, I looked at how the company is currently using key opinion leaders, or influencers, and they are not at all the typically associated with the industry type influencers, right? As you mentioned, the company knew very quickly that in order to go mainstream America, they need to get mainstream America athletes and diverse people, like guys flipping a burger in the backyard, right?C Kerr:Right.F Geyrhalter:That's the kind of people that they want to get. Forming that narrative must have been such a huge, important part of changing customer behavior. So yeah, I mean, well done. I also think about the packaging design, right? Which is so crucial to any big box retail company brand. Beyond Meat did something that I believe, I do not know, but I believe, it must have played a big role in its success outside of having a great product with an equally convincing story is that it creating packaging that actually looked like typical burger patty packaging. It was shrink wrap, it was see through. And that was a far fetch from the typical green cardboard boxes associated with vegan products.C Kerr:Sure.F Geyrhalter:Which in itself, are already pretty off-putting. Were you part of that time already? Did you witness that part of their story? Where they said, "Let's just package it like meat, let's try to get into the meat section of the market." Was that already part of that?C Kerr:Well I think early on, they're not actually the first one to try to get into the meat section. Gardein did it early on, Kite Hill did it with their cheese in the dairy isle. The problem is, the early adopters don't walk into that. So those who are the most, I will say, the loudest, don't actually walk into those sections, right? That's your kind of vegan early adopters. So it didn't do great. When Beyond Meat came out, two important things happened. One was that the market had kind of shifted towards being a lot more open towards these types of products. But the other part is that this product was good enough to actually reside there. So once you hit that threshold of, you can actually stand next to a burger and it be darn close to parity on taste and price, then the convenience kind of falls into place and the awareness kicks in. I think Beyond Meat really had to hit that sweet spot there. Gardein was in the deli section of Whole Foods probably in 2008, yeah, 2008, 2009. It did okay, but not great. Kite Hill, their non-dairy cheese was buried in a very complex high-end cheese isle that was very hard to find. So when the vegans went looking for it, that wasn't an area that they went to. When Beyond Meat came along, like I said, there was enough awareness about the product that it was happening. Plenty of marketing dollars went into that, but the market advising was really critical and letting consumers know where to look mattered, it certainly mattered. So I think, Whole Foods, by the way, has just been really critical in helping shape the merchandising so the early adopters can transition into the mainstream. So what they will do is, they'll put you in what we might call the penalty box, which is where all the vegan food goes. But they'll also put you in the deli, they'll also put you in the prepared foods isle. In the case of Beyond Meat, they actually opened a burger stand right in the middle of Whole Foods in Boulder, Colorado, that served just the Beyond burger. And that was a guy named Derek Sarno, who's one of our partners, he's a chef who is the executive global chef for Whole Foods, that was his concept. It worked. It allowed people to try out the product, to demo it, to understand what it tastes like, how do you prepare it? Is it different than real meat? Most of these products ... We have a company called Good Catch, Good Catch makes tuna fish. There's two questions that are asked, right out of the gate. What does it taste like? And how do I use it? Price isn't asked, nutrient value isn't asked. People are curious about it, but those are the first two things they want to know. So when it comes to positioning and merchandising, you solve those two first things. And sometimes, you need someone to demonstrate it to you. That's, quite frankly, where Whole Foods has just been outstanding in helping not just Beyond Meat, but all sorts of products, helped to do that.F Geyrhalter:It seems like it's the good old Costco trick, right? You show them how it's made right there, then people get to taste it.C Kerr:Yeah, merchandising's expensive. We vegans walk by tons of tasting stands, because we just assume that we can't eat it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.C Kerr:Let me tell a story about Just Mayo. Just Mayo was doing demos in stores, and people would walk up and they'd say, "Well what are you serving?" And they would say, "This is vegan mayo." And the answer was, "I'm not vegan, no thank you." As though only vegans could eat this mayonnaise. Of course, Fritos are vegan, and we don't ask whether or not they're vegan, anybody can eat a Frito. So I think that merchandising is really critical in getting consumers to understand where they fit in the equation. If it's somebody who's lactose intolerant, yeah, you're going to want to try the newest nondairy milk. If it's somebody who's got allergens to soy, yeah, you might want to try a meat that isn't made out of ... meat analog that's not made out of wheat. That type of stuff is quite relevant, and I think those demos are really important.F Geyrhalter:Right, no, absolutely. I think, Chris, one of the most insightful things I learned when I read the Bloomberg Business article about you was that you have nine cats. I think some of them are starting to want to participate in this story, too. They said, "I don't only want to be in Bloomberg, I want to be here, too."C Kerr:Yeah, actually the cat that was in Bloomberg is the one that trying to get out the door, so yeah.F Geyrhalter:I think it's because of the name that you have given the cat. It's Claire de Lune or something like that? It's a very French name.C Kerr:Yeah, she normally sits on my desk here.F Geyrhalter:It's her business day has started. It's like, "Hey, it's 9:00am, what's going on?" Excellent.C Kerr:Sorry.F Geyrhalter:No, no, no, that's great. Hey so looking back at the success of Beyond Meat, and there's no better day than today, on May 3rd, to talk about this. We already touched on a couple of these. But when did you think, when did you know that this is going to turn from a startup into a brand? When did you feel that ... Not when you tasted it, or when you said, "This is going to be insanely good, people are going to love this." But from a marketing perspective, when did you feel like, okay, something right now just shifted, and this is going to be a brand?C Kerr:Quite frankly, when they settled on the name Beyond Meat. That was when the real marketing push came, and it had to do with how they were positioning it to the consumer base that went well outside of our vegan world. That shift really kind of said to the early adopters, thank you for your service, you've been phenomenal, let's take it to the next level. That happened actually pretty early on. The company started, when we started working on it in 2008, 2009. It was probably around 2012 that that name was adopted and then put into play. Prior to that, they were really focusing on food service and the name Savage River wasn't something that they were doing much with. I think by the time they came up with Beyond Meat they thought, okay, now we have something to rally around. That's pretty critical.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. And that name was created by an agency with help? Or was that internally crafted?C Kerr:I believe it was internally crated. Beyond Eggs was out at the time, they were just getting started. So Hampton Creek had come up with the idea of using something along the lines of Beyond. Beyond Meat at the same time. Hampton Creek moved over, well they created Hampton Creek, and then Just. Beyond Meat was, I guess a good fit for them.F Geyrhalter:That's extremely refreshing to hear that a name was kind of that propeller into that next phase of the company. And where you felt like now it's a brand. But vegan is, as a whole, as a brand, changed tremendously. From not to tasty to incredibly cool. In fact, it also turned quite important given climate change, right? Which is one of the big reasons you're in this business. And yes, it also morphed into a very tasty food option. But most of the brands in your portfolio are also extremely design focused, I realized. The dairy free butter brand Fora, which I can't wait to get my hands on. But also your other investment firm, Unovis Partners, it seems like branding and design is always top of mind for you in many of your brands. What does branding mean to you? Either personally or to your industry as a whole? I mean obviously, with Beyond Meat we get a pretty good sense of what it can do.C Kerr:Yeah, honestly, it's absolutely critical. You think about it, it's communication, right? At the end of the day, you want to very quickly communicate to a consumer what it is you do. If you can get that in a brand, I think plenty of people overthink or they try to be creative with brands, and it just can kind of flop. A really good brand matters, because it really is that flash point around decision making. Again, you go back to the food pact. Awareness is critical. I use this example, if you are in a desert dying of thirst, crawling along the sand, and there's a body of water over a hill, if you don't know it's there, you're still going to die of thirst. Awareness is really around what is it that a brand or a company's trying to convey to you? So you need to know where it is, what to look for, then be able to make a rather quick decision around why you might want to buy it. So clearly, there's an industry around that. That's no surprise there. I think when you have an innovative product that's new to the sector, that's novel, disruptive, and consumers don't quite know what to do with it, you better get that brand right. You can't be too cheeky. Too many plays on words, that kind of stuff. You don't want to confuse the consumer in the process. So I think Beyond Meat really hit a good stride there. There's a couple other ones that did a good job. They didn't have a lot of professional help, but Daiya is another company that people kind of knew what it was right out of the gate. It was dairy but not quite dairy. Silk, perfect example, Silk soy milk. A grand slam, people pretty much knew, it's soy milk. You think about that when it comes to identity. For the consumer, there's not a lot of confusion for the consumer. Ultimately, I think that, when it comes time to make kind of very quick decisions, impulse decisions, the difference between a good brand and a bad brand is going to be the difference between a sale or a pass. The ones that are successful, they know how to really run with it.F Geyrhalter:So at what time in that startup journey with your portfolio companies is what time do you advise those companies to actually invest in branding?C Kerr:Day one, day one. Good Catch is a great example. We knew that we could get a formula ... We didn't know what we were going to do in seafood, we just knew that we were going to get into the seafood space. We had started the company from scratch, we worked with a branding agency. The brand is what we built the company around. So coming up with the name Good Catch really set in motion exactly what that company was going to do and why. With that, we can fill in the blanks pretty much in any direction we want. Now if we had come up with something that was cheeky or confusing, a rebrand is incredibly expensive.F Geyrhalter:Yep.C Kerr:Nobody wants to go through that. So to spend an extra 25 to $50,000 on an early brand saves you upwards of several million later in the game, not to mention a failed start, which is the worst possible outcome. So I recommend, by all means, don't just come up with a name between you and your founders and think that it's great. Test it, put it in front of groups. There's great organizations that will actually do concept testing for you, and New Hope is one of them that's in the natural products space. For very little amount of money, you can test a couple concepts and see how it resonates with consumers. Spend that money. To nickel and dime that early stage is arguably a death nail for a company, if you get it wrong.F Geyrhalter:Amen. It was a very tough pill to swallow for a lot of bootstrap, early stage founders.C Kerr:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:But in the food industry, you basically cannot be too bootstrapped in order to make it to the market, so.C Kerr:Well also, I really encourage people to not fall in love with their own branding. It's easy to do, you feel like it becomes part of your own personal identity. You came up with it, or your family did. It really is important to relay a message to the consumer, not to your sister. I think at the end of the day, a good brand will reach a really wide swath of the world and tell them exactly what it is you're doing. That's pretty critical.F Geyrhalter:Chris, this is how I started pretty much every speech to entrepreneurs. I tell them, everything you do right now is not about you. It's about them, right?C Kerr:Well said, well said. Ego can really get in the way of these. One of the things that we do with the companies that we start up with, our job is commercialization. Part of that commercialization is an education around the branding side of it. So if you look at the New Crop team, we're actually made up of a whole bunch of entrepreneurs, people who have started companies before. One of our guys, Dan Altschuler, used to run a branding agency, it's what he did. We have another woman, Laura Zane, who helps us put together the decks. Because quite frankly, selling investors on it is very similar to selling a product. You need to sell them on the concept, and they need to be able to understand it quickly. So that starts the design phase, by the time you're hitting the shelves, at that point, it's too late. So absolutely, you need to think of it from the ground up.F Geyrhalter:Any piece of brand advice and founders as a final takeaway? I know you already dropped a lot of them. Anything that you didn't share with us yet, as we come to a close?C Kerr:Test, test, test, and then test again. And by the way, the world isn't static. When we launched Good Catch, we did testing on words for our packaging, and two years later, the entire market shifted and we need to test it again. So by all means, the consumer changes, consumer perception changes, the markets change. Don't be afraid to change with them. Your job there is to get consumers to understand what you're doing. The other part of it is, test your products. Try new things. At the end of the day, don't be a believer in your own stuff. You need to actually rely on the broader community to help you with that. The good news is, they are delighted to help. Particularly the early adopter world where I come from. Vegans love to try new food, and when they find something great, they are incredibly loud about it. Be partners with them in that, and allow them to test as well. I think everybody can have fun with it when you're testing new things, so it's not a challenge, it's a joy. I think if you look at it from that perspective, everybody gets to have fun with it.F Geyrhalter:Fantastic advise. What's still untapped in the plant based market? I mean, is there something you're excited about that you'd love to see a team create, or something you'd be excited to invest in next? Or is this all beyond ... Not Beyond Meat, but beyond closed doors?C Kerr:So we've now hit pretty much every area out there. We're working on, pork still hasn't been done well, and that's a massive market, as you can imagine.F Geyrhalter:Right.C Kerr:We're working on some things there.F Geyrhalter:It's a huge necessity too, right now, I suppose.C Kerr:I'm sorry, say that again?F Geyrhalter:Pork is in huge demand, and there's lots of issues surrounding pork. And there's a shortage, and God knows what, right? So there's a huge need for it, too.C Kerr:China alone, I mean, it's just not ...F Geyrhalter:Right.C Kerr:So here's what's both sad and exciting. The meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood market's over a trillion dollars, and we are just, just, just getting in there. We're a rounding error in that. So the opportunities are global, they are massive, and they are urgent. You put those things together and create a little bit of R&D around that, these are going to be exciting times. Give us another decade. Look at what happened with the Beyond burger and the Impossible burger just in the last two years. They just got onto the map on an industry that's a couple million years old at this point.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.C Kerr:Since we started eating animals. This is going to be a very, very exciting ride. I would say collectively, if you ignore the marketing side, collectively, R&D and the plant based meat world, and dairy, I would argue, is less than $100 million in the history of it, that they've actually put into the R&D side of it. The more money that flows into that, you're going to see some absolutely phenomenal outcomes. I would imagine that the next decade is going to be spectacular for consumers, for animals, for the environment. Everybody's going to win, and it's going to be a fun time.F Geyrhalter:I think on that note, I want to thank you, Chris. It was impeccable for you to make it onto Hitting the Mark the day after the big IPO, I so appreciate the time you took away from doing press or simply celebrating on this huge day.C Kerr:Thank you.F Geyrhalter:It's a huge day for you, your company, and Beyond Meat. So absolutely, thanks for being here.C Kerr:Well, and thank you to the Beyond Meat, they're a spectacular team. They did all of the work. I got to sit back and watch the ride. But thank you for having me on, I really appreciate it.F Geyrhalter:Thanks to everyone for listening, and please hit the subscribe button and give this show a quick rating. I'm seeing way too little TLC from you out there, I know how many of you are listening. So if you have a split second and enjoy the show, please give it a quick rating. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, the brand consultancy creating strategic, verbal, and visual brand clarity. You can learn more about FINIEN and download free white papers to support your own brand launch at The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness One, I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting the Mark.
Fabian talks with a founder who is doing his part in keeping the ocean clean, and he's doing it through his brand that is selling skateboards, sunglasses, surfboard fins, and Jenga games. Ben Kneppers is a co-founder of Bureo, an emerging B Corp focused on creating innovative solutions to ocean plastic pollution.Through the team's initiative, Net Positiva, Bureo has created Chile's first ever fishnet collection and recycling program. Net Positiva provides fishermen with an environmentally sound end-of-life solution for their fishing gear, while Bureo receives highly recyclable raw materials to create innovative products that bring net positive solutions to the world.Remarkable in many ways. Ben shares his insights on how to get strangers to believe in and act upon your vision, how Patagonia got involved with his brand, how collaboration is part of his brand's success story, all the way how to score a major PR story on CBS Evening News without spending a dime and so much more.You can dive into the Bureo universe via their site or Instagram account.________________Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to Hitting the Mark. Today, we are moving from skiing and snowboarding to surfing and skating, which is, by sheer timing, coincidence, but it worked out rather swimmingly, as we are transitioning into summer here in Los Angeles. Many of you noted I'm actually overlooking the ocean right now while recording every one of these sessions. I'm very fortunate to live and work by and frequently play in the ocean. On today's show, we welcome a founder who is doing his part in keeping the ocean clean, and he's doing it through his brand that is selling skateboards, sunglasses, surfboard fins, and Jenga games. Ben Kneppers is a co-founder of Bureo, an emerging B Corp focused on creating innovative solutions to ocean plastic pollution.Through the team's initiative, Net Positiva, Bureo has created Chile's first ever fishnet collection and recycling program. Net Positiva provides fishermen with an environmentally sound end-of-life solution for their fishing gear, while Bureo receives highly recyclable raw materials to create innovative products that bring net positive solutions to the world. Remarkable stuff, and I cannot wait to get into it. With that being said, welcome, Ben.B Kneppers:                  Thank you so much. So happy to be here, and thanks for inviting me.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh. Absolutely. Hey, it's a big pleasure. Where are you calling in from today? You're an international traveler. Where are you now?B Kneppers:                  I am ... Right now, I'm in São Paulo, Brazil, so this is actually kind of home base for me at the moment. I know it's a little complicated, us operating in Chile, but we're dramatically growing, and ... as is my family, so that's brought me to São Paulo.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh. That's beautiful, and how did it all get started? I mean, you're from Southern California originally, right?B Kneppers:                  Actually, no. I'm actually from New England. I grew up in Southern Massachusetts, but the-F Geyrhalter:                 Okay. Okay.B Kneppers:                  Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 You-B Kneppers:                  It's been a pretty big whirlwind.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. Looking at your profile, I mean, you worked everywhere, I mean, from New Zealand, Australia, Boston, Southern California, and, you know. It seems like you guys ... How did you meet? I think it's you and two other co-founders, right?B Kneppers:                  Yep. That's right. David and Kevin, and then, soon after, we brought on Greg, which was a childhood friend of Dave's. We actually all, funny enough, we all grew up in New England, which is the Northeast of the US, and ... but we actually first, all three of us connected on the other side of the world in the northern beaches of Sydney, Australia. I was working as a environmental consultant, had a spare room in the apartment I was renting, and Dave moved in, continuing his career as a financial consultant. Then, his really good friend, Kevin, from engineering school was doing a surf trip around the world with his brother, Brian, and came through Australia, as well. Although we grew up fairly close by, we actually met for the first time together on the other side of the world.F Geyrhalter:                 Then, at some point, you guys must have gone surfing, and you started thinking about this idea of creating change.B Kneppers:                  Yeah. That's ... That hits it right on the mark pretty well. I mean, we really, obviously, just connected immediately over surfing and just enjoying the ocean environment, which you really can appreciate in Australia, and just spent ... We all spent our free time in that space. Kevin and David are really avid surfers, so they take it to a whole nother level than me. I just, personally, am, I'm someone that's always worked in sustainability and the environment and do appreciate a good surf when it's a nice, fun three to four foot day.F Geyrhalter:                 When did that idea spark? You guys are all surfing. Obviously, you come from the sustainability background, so it was just meant to happen, but what was that moment when you guys just kind of like put one and one together, and tell us a little bit about what happened after that time?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. I mean, it's pretty crazy to look back and see how long ago it is now, but I would say back in, probably, 2011, 12, something along those lines, when we first met, the free days we had were basically just spent at the beach, surfing all day and then having a few beers at night. Then, the days working were very long, and I would regularly see Dave coming home around midnight from the office. When we did have those late night drinks, we kind of just connected on this idea that there's ... what if we were to take all of these interesting skillsets we had ... Dave was working in finance. Kevin was working in engineering design at Boeing, and I was working in sustainability consulting. ... and combine them into something we're really passionate about.They always really appreciated how I got to do that with my consulting work, but quite honestly, I wasn't really seeing it pay off enough, because it was just writing reports and doing research. I wasn't really seeing that real change that really got me into that field. Over those late night beers back in 2011, I would say, we just thought, "What if we could combine those skills and do something more meaningful?" We ... As you do, you just have those conversations, and life goes on. What mine led to is an opportunity to work ... continue my career as a sustainability consultant in Santiago, Chile, where I was continuing in that space, and I came to this amazing country that was just so rich with natural environment, still very much untouched, but also a really great support system for entrepreneurs. I really not ... never thought of myself as being one, but looking at that space, and I just relayed that back to David and Kevin and saying, "Remember those talks we had all that time ago? Well, here's a space where we could really do something with it."There was a program called Start-Up Chile, and it's basically one of the best programs you can find globally to get a startup off the ground, where you submit a pretty straightforward application. If you get accepted, you get seed funding, visas to come to Chile, offices, support network to get your business off the ground. The next application was in six months, so we just put it onto ourselves to come up with some innovative idea that was really going to captivate that passion for the ocean environment and complement something meaningful with these skillsets that we've all gained in very unique areas.F Geyrhalter:                 That's pretty funny. So first it was the opportunity. Then, there came the idea.B Kneppers:                  Yes. Yeah. You can definitely say that. I mean, it all starts with the passion, of course.F Geyrhalter:                 Of course. Yeah.B Kneppers:                  I think that's the most important thing, but it certainly went that way. Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 Then, obviously, you got accepted, and how was the journey from that idea on paper to actually hustling and getting these fishermen involved, and the community involved, and creating this entire chain of events until you actually have plastic come out on the other side that you can reuse. I mean, it's a pretty complex process, when you think about it, but when I watch your videos on Vimeo, it seems so easy. It's like you pop it in, and then out comes the skateboard. Right?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that was the beauty of it, right, is that it was such a idea that anyone can get around their head. You collect these fishing nets that can become a big pollution in the ocean. Instead, let's collect them, let's melt them down, and let's make new stuff out of them. I mean, it makes perfect sense. Right? But the reality is-F Geyrhalter:                 So easy. So easy.B Kneppers:                  Yeah. It's so easy. Why hasn't anyone else done it yet? The reality is is that was great to have such a clear vision, but, of course, the reality of getting something accomplished, especially in a new country with a different culture than you're accustomed to, different regulations, different supply chain requirements, figuring it all out from scratch, especially from creating an entirely new supply chain that's never existed before, it was an immense challenge, and I ... definitely something we should probably write a book about someday, because it was just unreal. But at the end of it all, what really was the breakthrough was when you build the strong relationships with these people.A lot of the time, especially in communities that are considered maybe a bit underserved, when we're in, in our case, a lot of these artisanal fishing communities, they do get, actually, a fair amount of people coming through and saying, "We want to do this and that" and promising them a lot, and especially with them being foreigners. Then, they get ... They've gotten their heart broken a few times, so they're a bit hesitant to the foreigner coming in and saying they're going to save the day. It was actually the commitment we showed. It was just the three of us. We didn't have the money to employ anybody to start, and we wanted to know the process.It was just the three of us collecting, scrubbing down these nets, cleaning them, packing them, getting them sent to the recycler. I think it was when we showed, day-in and day-out, that we were turning up and actually doing what we said we were going to do, we got a lot stronger relationships, and then the big breakthrough was when we came back with those first products, when we showed the skateboard made from their once fishing net trash, they ... It was just a huge breakthrough, and that was a really exciting moment where we got a lot more momentum for the project and we could see this thing really take hold.F Geyrhalter:                 How does it work with the fishermen? I mean, how do they get involved? Do they literally take their nets out of the boat, and then they clean it themselves, and they just put it into, basically, your own version of recycling bags?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. I mean, it started that way, as something as straightforward as that, but really, what we got to as a much more effective route is to have every community have a representative, a community collection manager, and then have every large fishery work directly with our regional collection manager. Every community or every fishery is kind of these sources of nets, where we do a launch. We do a big campaign to make people aware that, "Your end-of-life nets can now go through our program, so don't discard them." In the case of a low income artisanal fisherman, we compensate them directly, per kilo, for that effort of returning the nets, and it incentivizes them to not discard them in the environment.Then, in the case of these large commercial fisheries that would otherwise be having to, in some case, find a reuse market for them, but, in general, you'd have to pay to send this to a landfill, and what we do in return is we provide this free service to donate the nets to us. Then, for every kilo of net donated, we finance local community projects that we create with them to benefit the greater area, the greater community. It's been a really effective model, because it's, as we say, created a truly net positive impact. We're preventing this waste. We're employing local people, and we're generating funds to address the greater issues of each area, each community with the money we can generate from the nets.But the deeper thing is that you need to have change in order to truly prevent people from discarding waste, is no longer having them see it as waste anymore. You're never going to throw a dollar bill on the ground, because you know it's worth something, so the last thing that's going to be polluting the environment is most likely going to be dollar bills, because it's worth something. When we can make the connection to these people and cause a behavior change to no longer see it as a waste material, but instead as a resource, and that's where we can really ensure that this is not going to end up in the environment anymore, because there's only so far we can take it with our effort, from what ends up in the ocean. It actually has a lot to do more with that behavior change aspect to truly prevent all of it from ending up in there.F Geyrhalter:                 How did you create that method? Was it something that ... I mean, there's other companies that do similar processes. Did you learn from them, or did you just kind of figure it out as you were doing it?B Kneppers:                  It was a pretty organic process. World Wildlife Fund Chile helped shape that plan very early on in our operation, and we also seeked a lot of advice from other people in the fishing industry to get guidance on how to most effectively carry that out into that cultural, that context. We did also get a really great source of inspiration from what I think is probably the pioneers of this space, being the Net-Works program, and that's run through the Zoological Society of London. That ... I actually was given ... They've set up this program, very similar program to collect nets for recycling in Asia, and I had the pleasure of going and visiting their operations in ... about two years ago in the Philippines, and it was ... As much as I could understand from them, it was actually really remarkable, the intricate details of their operation, how similar it was to what we eventually came up with. That was a great exchange of ideas for both of us, to share what we were doing differently and how one another could improve on them.F Geyrhalter:                 Very cool. Talking about inspirations, how did your work with Patagonia come about? A lot of us have mentors, but it sounds like your mentor is a brand, and one of the most admired brands out there, at least in my eyes. How did that amazing relationship get on its way? Was it through the investment arm, Tin Shed Ventures?B Kneppers:                  It was. It was. I mean, we always had Patagonia as our benchmark, as our guiding light for a authentic, truly mission-driven company, trying to create the most sustainable product as well as being a great quality product, so it just hit all the boxes for us on what we wanted to try to achieve as a brand in our own context. But the way it went about is all the way back from when we applied for that first grant in Chile, one of the advice we got from somebody in the program was, "It would be really good, you guys creating a consumer product, to have someone from the retail space to really recommend that ... write a letter of recommendation to support this."All the way back then, we got to connect with Patagonia, tell them what we were about, what we were planning on doing, and just got such positive feedback and support and guidance from them. We just thought it was going to be left at that, "Thanks for the letter of recommendation. That's great." We were aware of their Tin Shed Venture fund, which is ... It's their arm of Patagonia that provides seed funding investments into early stage startups that are also having this shared value effort to benefit the environment and society, and ... but we always thought we were just way to small for something like that.Coincidentally, we got a piece in the CBS Evening News, out of anything, and it just happened to be watched by the manager of that fund. He reached out to us. It actually didn't really have anything to do with the other relationships we already had. We had a sit-down meeting, and the ... told them what we were planning on doing in a very humble way compared to them, and the rest is history. They've been our major ... our main investor and huge supporter for us to get to where we ... we're on path now today.F Geyrhalter:                 In a way, that PR piece on CBS, that actually, in the end, turned you into a real brand. Right? I mean, that was kind of like the beginning of the entire journey, in a way, or was it Patagonia?B Kneppers:                  Absolutely. Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 It was both. It was ... One fed the other very quickly.B Kneppers:                  Yeah, and the whole way that piece went out was actually really ... I think it was a ... I have to say that it was pretty clever how we came up with getting on CBS Evening News and some other press outlets that we got into so early on.F Geyrhalter:                 Share. Share.B Kneppers:                  When we ... Everything ... After we had that, we had the six month Start-Up Chile program, all of that was geared towards us having the first working product being our first skateboard made from recycled fishing nets, and that was going to all lead into a Kickstarter campaign, because that was really going to finance the first production run and get us to keep going, quite frankly, because we're ... We didn't have any more funds from the Start-Up Chile grant. When we thought of the Kickstarter, we needed to get publicity. One of the really clever things we figured out was, "Okay. We obviously don't have any big marketing budget, but who, in their best interest, wants to see us succeed and promote our kind of effort that we're doing here?"We started to think of people that were in our networks that were also along for this ride. There were the straightforward ones like our skateboard wheel manufacture and truck manufacturer that was going to be paired with this really unique skateboard. Obviously, the Start-Up Chile program wanted to promote us, so we got some great press in Chile. Then, it even went as far as we followed up with our universities that we did our undergraduate engineering degrees, and one of them, mine, Northeastern University in Boston, they had a grant program for startups coming out of the university, as well. They supported us early on, so when we reached out to them saying, "Hey. We finally made it. We're launching this," they turned their ... the university's big budget PR firm to run with our story. Lo and behold, that got us the piece on CBS Evening News, which is national news coverage in the United States. Then, that was what led to the Patagonia investment director to see our story.F Geyrhalter:                 You know, that's ... I so love this, because this is ... I don't know what episode this is now, maybe 12 or so, but that is a story that is just recurring. Right? People, at some point, when they don't have the money to spend on a PR agency, they just go to LinkedIn, and they look at who they're connected with, and they start hustling, or they start connecting with people where they think they might enjoy the story. That's how it works, but it's remarkable. It's really remarkable.B Kneppers:                  Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 I saw that you're part of the 1% for the Planet network, which we were what must have been one of the first 10 members or so. I recall there was Jack Johnson, and then there was my former design agency, Geyrhalter Design, and it was really, really cool. It's a mighty, mighty long time ago, but you're also a benefit corporation, and many of my listeners must be interested in forming a B Corp since I keep preaching about cost and belief and transparency and solidarity. But can you share a little bit about how it works and if it was difficult to create a B Corp, or if it's also tough to keep it up throughout the years?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, so first off, what B Corp is really about is recognizing companies that truly are benefits corporations, that are beyond just meeting their economic bottom line, but also having this, at the same point, value for the environment and society. It sounds intimidating, but actually, they have really great resources that can get you right into it. I believe, last I checked, they had this really wonderful 15, 20 minute questionnaire that you can just answer right on their website that can already give you a really good snapshot of how on track you are with your company, potential of achieving B Corp certification, but ... I would highly recommend starting there, because really, what it's about is you get this thing that I think people are becoming more and more aware of called green rush, which is just these blanket environmental statements, "This is an environmentally friendly product. It's a sustainable product."What does that actually mean? What you really need to do is have someone, independently, third party, verify those claims, and especially in this environmental space, it's very open-ended. What B Corp does is, for the consumer, it lets you know this company that has a B Corp label is a environmentally and socially responsible company, and the other benefit is if you are a company that says, "We want to become a more environmentally and socially conscious and responsible company," it's your guide to achieving that. It's not a very expensive process to go through, and at the very least, you're going to have ... You're going to get a lot of insight on what your company can improve, and a lot of those things can end up being cost-saving, as well, so I highly, highly recommend checking it out. At the very least, take 15, 20 minutes of your day to try the survey and go through it, and what it can do is open up brand new markets to you, create a whole new recognition for your brand ...F Geyrhalter:                 For sure. Yep.B Kneppers:                  ... and do good for the planet, which we need so bad right now.F Geyrhalter:                 Amen. Yes.B Kneppers:                  That's my case for B Corp.F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you. I think that was something that everyone had to hear, because it sounds like a process and like ... Everyone is afraid of those kind of things. I mean, you know. It feels a little bit like it's setting up a company, it's a legality, and it's a big deal, but people need it. People seek B Corps out these days. Especially when you're trying to staff up, you're going to have a much, much easier way to find the next generation to be excited about your company, so I absolutely recommend it, too.Your brand was born out of collaboration. Right? It actually requires collaboration in so many ways, and you actively collaborate with other brands, from the game brand Jenga to sunglass brand Costa and bike brand Trek, which we all know, and office furniture darling Humanscale. This is such a logical path you took and one that can continuously expand your brand and gain you fans along the way. What's next for Bureo? What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline? What can you reveal?B Kneppers:                  Well, that's ... That is the problem. Right? It's ... I'll have to keep to pretty general terms, but we always have ... We've got a lot of pretty exciting announcements right around the corner. Unfortunately, a lot of those are under NDA, so ...F Geyrhalter:                 We're not at the corner yet.B Kneppers:                  Yes. Yes.F Geyrhalter:                 Well, you'll check ...B Kneppers:                  But-F Geyrhalter:                 You'll check back with us, then.B Kneppers:                  Absolutely, but, I mean, overall, I mean, that model is really ... That collaboration model has really been what's been working so well for us, and it's something that, again, just kind of happened organically. We were intimidated with the idea, starting out, obviously, to be a raw material supplier, because we were just this small idea that we wanted to prove first, so what better way to prove this material than make a skateboard that's a ... It's a product that needs high level of durability and performance. Then, the next thing we came out with with the same plastic from was sunglasses that is a very precise, detailed product that also has a very special performance characteristics.From there, it was almost our case study for showing the potential applications of this material, and ... But at the same time, we were seeing that ... Working as a small business, we were getting access to far more fishing nets than we could sell through our small line of products, so this whole collaborative effort has just fit perfectly in with what we're passionate about, which is ... We're much more passionate about getting as many communities on board with our program, preventing this waste, providing funds for local environmental projects, and just, overall, creating a really positive solution to this material rather than how we started out, which was, "How many skateboards can we sell in a month?" That was a little bit less in our mindset than, "Let's make a really big impact."By collaborating with these like-minded brands that share our same values and are in full support of what we're trying to achieve, it allows us to stay focused on that part and grow as much as we can, and that's exactly what we're doing. We just launched in Peru, where we're ... now have Net Positiva running in partnership with World Wildlife Fund Peru. I just got back from Argentina and Uruguay. We're planning to launch there by middle of this year, and really, what we're on track to do is over 1,000 tons of nets annually that can generate a heck of a lot of money for community projects and local employment while we're doing it.F Geyrhalter:                 That's so amazing. Congratulations. That's a pretty big footprint that you're leaving at this point. I read just last night ... It was funny. I read a story about This Bar Saves Lives, which seems like a great company with an unfortunate brand name, but what one of the founders said is he said, "We're a mission with a company, not a company with a mission." I thought that was really, really cool, and it seems like that's a little bit in the way that you operate, that you give the company a whole lot of thought, but it's so much about collaboration, just spreading it. I'm wondering, since you did not want to get too deeply into what's next for you as far as the next collaboration, what is the ultimate vision for your brand? How are you guys working your way to fulfilling that mission day-in, day-out to really make this huge impact, and how huge is that impact? What's your 10 year plan? What do you want to achieve?B Kneppers:                  I mean, ultimately, what we want to achieve is become, and I can define this further if this is a foreign term, but we want to become the circular economy solution for the fishing net industry, the fishing industry, the fishing net industry. Basically, every fishing net that comes offline, that no longer has a useful life, we can then collect, transform into positive products, and that can continue carrying on this ... within this circular economy. That's ultimately what we want to do, take it global, every fishing net that comes online. This idea of discarding in the net just doesn't make any sense anymore, and we practically find this really positive solution for that raw material.F Geyrhalter:                 That's when net positive comes into play, which, by the way, is such a cool term. Talking about terms and names, tell us the story behind the name. I already know, since I watched your documentary last night, so I won't spoil anything.B Kneppers:                  Sure. I mean, there's even a little funny backstory I'll try to do my best to be quick with, but when we started, we wanted to just go with the skateboard, and the first idea was, "Let's make a fish-shaped skateboard, make the connection with the fishing nets." When I grew up in New England, a common small fish, this being a small designed skateboard, the first board, I said, "Let's name it the Minnow, and let's name it Minnow Skateboards," the company, as it's just starting out as a skateboard company. I was living in Chile at the time, sharing this whole idea of the business with all my Chilean friends, and all my buddies were like, "No." I was like, "What do you mean?Chileans have a lot of slang, and it just so happens, the slang I was familiar with was mina is the female version of a very attractive girl, and the masculine version of it happens to be very similar to minnow. It's mino. They were basically saying, "If you were to name your company Mino, it would be like the attractive man skateboard." That didn't really translate well, and so we went back to the drawing board. We just looked at all these different words in there, and it was, again, a Chilean friend that introduced me to this beautiful word from the native Chilean language, from the Mapuche people, their language, Mapudungun, which is bureo, was the word, which means waves. Bureo, being this fun, bouncy word, not the easiest to pronounce, to be fair, but interesting, and the ... Reflecting on it, it just was so symbolic of what we were trying to do. It was ...F Geyrhalter:                 Totally.B Kneppers:                  Just as a wave starts with this small disturbance in the ocean, we were these three gringos in Chile with really nothing to offer other than this passionate idea we had, but, just as a wave, that small disturbance, with time and energy, can become this great force of nature. That's really what we see with Bureo, is, in these collaborations and all this effort, this movement we're trying to do with the fishing industry globally, is to become this great force of change that can truly transform this thing that was once a small thought into a massive reality.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Absolutely. No. It's a great, great name, and I love the story behind it. You worked so hard on creating your brand, I mean, from the imagery used, amazingly produced videos that you craft, and all the ways to all the names that you trademark. What does branding mean to an organization like yours, or to you personally?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. I mean, it means a lot to hear that ... hear you say that, from someone that works in this space so heavily. I mean, to be honest, we were three mechanical engineer undergrads, so we had no real background in this space, but what we started to see was, on one side, people really connect with our effort and our intentions. I mean, there were so many things that you would try to ... you would think mean nothing at the time and just get in the way, and we're so glad we stayed true to our value sets early on and when it came to traceability and transparency and doing things as authentically and as responsible as possible. It all just managed to carry through what we've become today, and that ultimately is, at the end of the day, the most valuable thing we can do, is create a really strong brand, because none of our stuff is patented.Anybody can go out and collect fishing nets and recycle it and make a skateboard or sunglasses or anything else. Anyone can do that, but what we can show is, through our brand, is the authenticity, and the knowhow, and this shared value commitment, and the positive impact we can create through our very much custom and authentic model that we've created over the past six plus years. That all has to be tied to a strong brand identity that, again, was a great collaborative effort. My wife is a textile designer. She did a lot of the early artwork. Friends that are filmmakers that did a lot of the beautiful cinematography for us in our videos early on. Now, having these big companies coming in and using our plastic, they're now bringing their expertise to the table, and it's taking it even to a whole nother level, so it's exciting.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Can you describe your brand in one word? It's a tough one. It's ... I call it your brand's DNA. It's really, it's a feeling. It's a cause. It's an action, a mindset, but really, Bureo, in one word. Any thoughts?B Kneppers:                  Yeah. I have to say I cheated on this one. I'm glad you sent me the questions ahead of time, because I did have some time to reflect on this. I mean, I was going to go with positive, but I think everyone uses positive and positivity right now. But I think the bigger one is regeneration. A big reason I got out of the consulting world and got out into the private sector with this, my own private business with my partners, was because I wasn't seeing enough change. I was working in government policy, highest levels of working with the UNEP to some of the biggest companies in the world, consulting for Walmart and Coca-Cola and so forth. What I was seeing on all these levels is governments ... It ... Absolutely essential for governments to shift and make movements towards a more sustainable future, but I was a little bit too impatient for that work. It's very slow. It's very bureaucratic, and it was kind of driving me nuts.F Geyrhalter:                 I'm sure.B Kneppers:                  The part that I liked was how businesses, granted, big ones or big oil tankers can take years to turn, but small, lean businesses could make change very, very rapidly. The whole idea of what started Bureo for me was, "Can we use business for good? Can we actually not just do less harm to the environment, but actually regenerate the environment through business practices?" It's something we have almost treated as almost a scientific study. I actually published a journal last year with my father-in-law, who's a professor, and on this effort that we're doing, which is we've conducted a complete life cycle assessment of our plastic, which is basically the scientific method of measuring the environmental cost of creating something. The most common would be your carbon footprint, but we do it in all environmental impact categories.Then, through this shared value model, where we give back, reinvest in these communities with the money we're ... part of the money we're generating from the sale of the material, we actually have been able to offset those impacts. What that ultimately means is we can achieve a net positive regenerative output with this material, so we're actually doing more good than bad, where most companies in this space get recognized for doing less bad. You're still stealing. You're still doing bad, just less bad. There should be more about doing more good.Then, I guess the other part of that word, regeneration, that connected with me was not so ... not exactly tied to the word, but it is, I guess, is generation, is inspiring that next generation coming up is so, so important.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh. For sure.B Kneppers:                  To have a kid that's growing up right now, that he already has ... Hopefully, one of his favorite things could be our skateboard that's made from this material that was once perceived as a trash or even not even thought of as recyclable. Now, has that seed in his head at such an early age and understands the importance of doing those things. That's a generation, I think, that will really ... I hopefully ... I'm hopeful that will really turn things around. I think we're a transitional generation, and then, they're going to come in with a really clear head and know what's right and wrong and get us fully on that right track.F Geyrhalter:                 I really think and I really hope so, too. That word, by the way, regeneration, that is your brand DNA now.B Kneppers:                  Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 I think it is absolutely perfect for your brand, and I'm glad that I pushed you a little bit up front so that you had some time to think about this. How can our listeners get involved with your cause or grab a skateboard from your brand to be part of the change?B Kneppers:                  I mean, you can obviously come to our website, just, and then, certainly, we're very active on social media, always giving updates of our progression, definitely on Instagram, just @bureo on Instagram. It's pretty interesting, because we really pride ourselves on being transparent with our efforts. Certainly, there's a lot of fun and cool skateboarding and surfing pictures, but we also really like to post the nitty-gritty of, like, "This is what 15,000 pounds of fishing net that we just collected looks like, and this is the products we're now generating. This is the community projects we just financed thanks to those nets, thanks to people buying our products."It's really powerful that ... I feel, when you can let people in on that story and know that they're a part of it by supporting us in those ways, obviously, going to ... checking out our online store and just simply following us. A lot of our collaborated businesses see what our numbers are like on ... as followers on social media, and so the more followers you can get really actually does help us get more collaborators, so it does make a difference for us.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. For sure, and I urge everyone to also check out Bureo's Vimeo channel and definitely catch the Net Positiva documentary while you're there. I'll include some links in the notes, as well, but thank you, Ben. I wish this could go on for another hour, because there's plenty ... There are plenty more questions, plenty more things I want to know, but we only have that much time. This was so great to have you on the show all the way from across the world. Thank you so much for your time.B Kneppers:                  My pleasure. Thanks again for the opportunity.F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you all for listening. Give us a quick rating or even a review wherever you listen to this show. I would greatly appreciate it. This podcast is brought to you by Brandtro, our publishing arm, where you can pick up a signed copy of my latest book, Bigger Than This: How to Turn Any Venture into an Admired Brand for a silly 11 bucks, and if you like today's episode and the Bureo story, I'm almost certain you would enjoy the case studies and takeaways in the book. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time, when we, once again, will be hitting the mark.
Fabian talks with Mark Wallace for whom skiing has always been the driving force in his life. It took him from Saddleback to Park City and then all over the world as he lived the dream as a semi-pro ski racer. Mark learned the nuances of ski building during a job at a Boston construction firm, dedicating countless hours during nights and weekends. He started Parlor with two friends in an abandoned funeral parlor in Cambridge, honing the science and art of ski building.We discuss his company's focus and dedication to the sport and its tribe, how far the brand is able to take the important brand traits of customization and personalization and how Parlor leads with authenticity.If you are, just like me, into skiing or snowboarding, this episode is a must. If you like to learn more about connecting with your tribe or honing in the art of customization, this is a must-listen for you as well.You can learn more about Parlor via, or as Mark showcased his approachability, you can just call him up, "anytime" at 413-884-4747.________________Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:               Welcome to Hitting The Mark, which is now a regular show coming to you every second Friday, so be on the lookout. Today is all about personalization, so much so that this episode is catered to one of my favorite things to do when I am not busy running my brand consultancy: And that is snowboarding. In fact, I just came back from beautiful Mammoth Mountain here in California where they - as of February 25th - received a whopping 562 inches of snow (that's more than 46 feet or, for our many international listeners, it is over 14 meters of snow). But I am just as happy to be back at the office since today I am joined by Mark Wallace, Co-Founder of Parlor, a custom ski brand from New England. From the first time his mother carried him down the bunny slope, skiing has been the driving force in Mark's life. It took him from Saddleback to Park City and then all over the world as he lived the dream as a semi-pro ski racer. Mark learned the nuances of ski building during a job at a Boston construction firm, dedicating countless hours during nights and weekends. He started Parlor with two friends in an abandoned funeral parlor in Cambridge, hence the name! Over years and many late nights honing the science and art of ski building, fueled by desire, beverages, and the most delicious pizza in all of Boston, Parlor Skis was born. Welcome to the show, Mark!M Wallace:                   Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely, it just occurred to me that even though we are only 11 episodes into Hitting the Mark, you're the second Mark I'm having on the show. I totally don't believe that this is by accident. Just like there's an unusual amount of dentists called Denis, women named Louise that are more likely to move to Louisiana and running my consultancy FINIEN with a name like Fabian. It seems like naming has a bigger subliminal impact than we thought. But sorry about my detour, I'm very happy to have another Mark on Hitting the Mark. Tell us a little bit about Parlor Skis, how it started, why you love what you do, and more importantly, why do your customers love what you do?M Wallace:                   Absolutely. You hit on something in the bio, but we started building skis in 2009, and we incorporated the business in 2013. We really saw that there was an unmet need, especially in New England, for both a brand that focused on a high-quality laminate construction, so a race style ski, but with a little bit more of an all mountain flair. That's how we started building and designing skis. We very quickly realized that personalization was core to delivering the best product for people. So, in order to, you need to understand the skier in order to build them the correct ski and be able to personalize it with graphics. So really the only way to do that is to build all the skis in house.M Wallace:                   So we set out with the goal of delivering the best ski and the best product to people possible, and we built a factory and a system around building custom skis in order to meet that need.F Geyrhalter:                 So, last year, I published a book titled Bigger Than This, in which I lay out eight traits that I saw startups embody in the way to turn into brands that people love. One of those traits is individuality. I talk about how customization is the best way to make a brand personable and to deeply connect with your audience. And even further, I discuss the idea of blending personalization and customization to create limited and often complete one-off products, and how it works magic for any brand. Your brand's tagline is custom to the core. In what ways do you customize your clients' skis? I mean, how far do you actually go?M Wallace:                   Well, it depends a little bit on the level, right? So we have three main product lines. We have our limited edition skis, which are sort of off the rack, ready to go, and you get all the sort of quality and design that goes into a Parlor, but without the personalization. Then we have two levels of custom ski. Our most popular ski is a custom graphics ski, which it allows you to change the outline, camber, construction and graphics of the ski sort of within a set parameters designs that we use a lot that we know work well. Then we also offer our raven series of black label, which is a full custom experience. With that, you get to control every detail of the ski. Outline, camber profile, construction, side cut, length, graphics, materials, sort of the whole nine yards. So it depends a lot on the needs of the skier and what they're looking for, but all of our skis are done through a personalized fit, so myself or my partner talks to the [inaudible 00:04:51] of our clients to make sure that they have a ski that's both personalizing and customized for their style and aesthetic.F Geyrhalter:                 So really, each ski is built to order at Parlor. How do you keep prices to a still affordable manner while growing your brand?M Wallace:                   I mean, it's been really ... there's a lot of pricing pressure in the hard goods market, especially retail. We felt that there are some custom builders that are much more expensive than we are. We've really worked hard to stay direct to consumer to provide that level of personalization and to keep our skis as affordable as possible. I mean, they're not inexpensive, right, but we feel we build with a higher quality and certainly more attention to detail. We provide a really good value on our skis.F Geyrhalter:                 For sure. I mean, it's truly amazing, because you let people like me come in for two straight to actually build my dream skis that are exactly to my very own specs, where I will build the basis, and cores, and all the way to printing my custom designed top sheets to sanding and then finishing the sidewalls. It's actually rather affordable, right, that entire experience is around the 1,500 bucks, where most top tier off the mill skis will run you around a grand. It's really the same price plus 500 for the two day of schooling, which to me sounds a such unique experience building your own skis hands on. When did you have that epiphany to push customization so far to actually let your customers take over the shop? Is that one of your biggest differentiators from other boutique ski makers? It seems very different.M Wallace:                   Yeah. I mean, we have the largest ski building class, if you will, in the country by quite a bit. It was a, like a lot of things here, one of the key elements to Parlor is the community that exists around it, which is largely based off our clients, but also just sort of people who have a passion about the sport, who're involved in ... we took a page out of Grain Surfboards playbook, we know the owners up there pretty well, it's a handmade wooden surfboard company in Maine where they offer class. They kind of urged into it, and we resisted for a while, because we didn't know how we do it. Then we had a group, a small group of people who really hounded us and wanted to come build skis.M Wallace:                   So we let them do it, and came up with a system and a program, and they had such an amazing experience that we decided to roll it out as a product. So it was really driven by our clients' and communities' desire to delve deeper into understand how skis go together, and create that sense of ownership and pride in that. It did allowed us to develop that product.F Geyrhalter:                 You hit in something super important, community, it seems to me with your events, you have one event called shop night, and you actually invite people over just to watch you build skis. And they can sip whiskey, and have a beer. Is it that community that you built over the years that spread the word organically with Parlor, like through those events? Or was it actually with the help of a PR agency? What was that big breakthrough moment? Was it all organic or was it like a big article or something that really pushed Parlor?M Wallace:                   No, it comes ... we love skiing here, we love talking about skiing-F Geyrhalter:                 You better.M Wallace:                   ... right. We do, and I think that a lot of that sort of grassroots and organic growth came from being very open and inviting to people and sharing that love and passion for the sport. We sort of, we act as a resource for a lot of our clients, we also provide a little bit of ski culture in Boston, you can come here and it smells like wax, and there are ski videos on, you can drink beer and tell lies about skiing. That's a big piece that draws that community together. It's a huge amount of our business is repeat and referral right now, and we're very grateful for that, but I think it really comes from just wanting to really focusing on providing good client service, building relationships with people and providing them with something that's different. Nobody wants to go back and buy a pair of Volkls after they've been to the shop, it's just not ... there's no reason to do that. So, that message has gotten out there, and it's slow and it's hard work, but we believe that if you care about what you're doing and you talk about that honestly the word is going to spread.F Geyrhalter:                 It's about authenticity. You guys do it for the love of doing it, and you have that background, so people can sense that and they can shoot the shit with you and just share that stoke and be the real ... hanging with buddies basically, that happen to build your skis. That's pretty cool for anyone who's a real dedicated skier.M Wallace:                   Right.F Geyrhalter:                 So, from a branding perspective, obviously with skiing and snowboarding, brand recognition is huge. You want everyone in the slopes to know what you're riding. Parlor is a little bit different, it's obviously extremely unique, but you want it to be a talking point when you're in the chairlift, right. From a branding design perspective, which elements actually stay unchanged on Parlor Skis so that I immediately recognize that those are a pair of Parlors, even though you let people completely customize the skis. Is there some consistency from one pair to another?M Wallace:                   All of our skis have a red base inlay that says Parlor on them, black bases, which are the highest quality base with the red inlay, it's sort of one of our signatures. We don't require that our logo is on top of all the skis, we really rely on the sort of word of mouth, again and the people wanting to talk about their product. And answering the, "What are those? Where did you get those?" And having that sense of pride I think, from the imagery standpoint, certainly the word Parlor in our logo font is our most recognizable mark, that's what's on all of our hats and merchandise and stuff like that. That's what lives on the base of the ski as well.M Wallace:                   Those are the things that we use. We also, for people who are into the details, all of our skis have a hardwood sidewall, which is pretty unique in the market, we use a maple sidewall. If you see a unique pair of skis, we also have a pretty standard design aesthetic in regards to the shape and the line of the tip and tails of the ski, although they change a little bit. So people who are familiar with the brand will recognize this short of shape and feel of a Parlor ski certainly if they're close by it.F Geyrhalter:                 It's very cool. How hard is it, how difficult is it for you to keep owning those details and those shapes? Isn't like every season the big guys are coming out with something that might look similar? Or do you pretty much own this kind of style?M Wallace:                   I mean, I think yeah, I mean, the big guys, they move around a lot with shapes and designs. A lot of that is just there's a lot of pressure to move new products, and introduce new products and a lot of that is just marketing stuff. We really believe that if you use the highest quality materials and you customize the fit, you don't need a lot of [inaudible 00:12:47] to sell good skis and to make really high-quality skis. We just have a different sort of set of priorities. I would argue that most of the big retail machine does not have the end consumers' best interest always in mind. Not that they're anti-consumer, but the pressures that are on them to control their material cost, and to move more units, and to refresh their product line, don't necessarily serve the need of providing the best, most consistent product to the customer.F Geyrhalter:                 For sure. For sure. With Parlor, is actually you and the co-founder, are you guys still hands-on creating skis? Do you still, are you still going to the shop on a daily basis?M Wallace:                   I'm in the factory every day. I fill in when I need to. I think it surprises some of the guys sometimes that I actually know how to do all the stuff. But I teach a lot, Tyler, my partner, and I teach all the classes. So one of us is always around for the class. It's hands-on for that. I certainly fill in when there's help. I do most of my role now is sales, and marketing related, as well as sort of the day-to-day operations. Tyler runs the shop, we've got a couple of people that help in the office, graphic design, PR, digital, et cetera. So, most of my work is doing that, but oftentimes I'm down in the shop grinding skis or making sure process is working right or fixing a machine. We're very involved in the business. It's a hands on company.F Geyrhalter:                 Multitasking. Yeah. For sure. You have only been around for seven years, I believe, right?M Wallace:                   It seems like a long time, but when you say it that way I guess it's only seven.F Geyrhalter:                 So what are your growth goals if any? Will you expand, or will you even franchise in the future? How far will Parlor as a brand go? How far do you guys actually want to go? Because bigger does not necessarily always mean better as we know.M Wallace:                   Yeah. We're very opportunity focused. But our goal, we've been growing about 30% to 40% year over year for most of those seven years.F Geyrhalter:                 It's great. Yeah.M Wallace:                   We started small. We've cash flow finance the whole business, so that's a very intentional decision on our part. We want to continue to grow to the scale where we can provide the quality and the service that we currently do to our clientele, and maintain the community. So we are building this business to run it, we love what we're doing. We're not sort of ... there are a lot of things we could do to sell more skis, and that's not necessarily our focus, we want to sell to the right people and we want to provide the right product. We are going to continue to grow. We'd like to continue to scale, but we don't have plans for bringing any huge amount of investment and making sure there are Parlors everywhere. The world doesn't need another Volkl, or Rossignol, or K2 in our opinion, but they do need more specialized, personalized companies like Parlor.F Geyrhalter:                 Amen. On your website it says, "Our skis enable you to go beyond your own expectations. We craft confidence, confidence to go a little faster, and a little further." You really use language to bond and to create that stoke to talk skiers language, which for you comes completely organic. Do you write all of the copy? Because you said that you're kind of like put on more the marketing hat these days, and do you have a set of rules? Is it really just you guys changing it up whenever you feel like it needs a little pizzazz?M Wallace:                   Yeah. I do some of the copywriting, we've been really lucky to work with some good consultants over the years. Some of our digital marketing guys are very talented in that front. So, again, you work ... a lot of that is just authenticity. I would say we don't have like ... I mean, we do have brand guidelines, but not in the way that a lot of companies do. We sit down as a group a couple of times a year, and we talk about who we are as a brand right now, are all of our [inaudible 00:17:20] supporting that? What do we want to be doing? What do we care about? What's refreshing? A lot of times, you know, this esteems a passion for this work and quality engineering and delivering a better product and experience to our client sort of always come up. So when you look at language like crafting confidence, or pushing people to go further. If you have the right product, you will have a better day on the snow. It's like, it's the difference between pants that fit and pants that don't fit. If your pants are too tight, you're going to have a bad day. You might not necessarily know that's why you're having a bad day, but you are. So what we do is we sort of sit at that intersection between design and delivery of the product, which gives us a huge advantage. Because the people we're designing skis for the big companies are not connected to their consumers the same way we are, they get a design brief and they have to design a ski for this condition and this market segment, or this person. Every ski we build is tailored for that individual, which just kind of puts our priorities in a totally different alignment.F Geyrhalter:                 Well, it's impossible for any company to be closer to its audience than you are, because you literally create every ski customized, in one way or the other, or to order. So absolutely. I'm actually very positively surprised that a brand like yours, that is trying to stay small, and is trying to really focus on that one product, that you guys meet every year, every two years, and actually talk about what your brand stands for, and really the values of the brand. I think that's really refreshing. Because I keep using the word organic, right, like all of this is just kind of falling into place. But it isn't. And I love that you kind of stop at times and go back to like what's the big Simon Sinek's why? What's the why behind this company? I think it's really refreshing to see you guys do that. What does branding mean to you? We're kind of in midst of that conversation now, but what does it mean to you?M Wallace:                   I mean, branding is sort of the ... it's the way that people view what you're doing. It's the way that your activities and your products are sort of viewed by the world. I think that's an important distinction and something to think about especially for marketers or younger marketers out there. You have an image of what, or most founders right, or people who're deeply involved in a company, an image of what they're doing and what it looks like. It's very difficult sometimes to flip that around and say, "Okay, what are people actually seeing? How is this perceived?" You know, those two things align. I think that there are two challenges, one is sort of finding your vision, and being true to that, and also being able to adapt that based on what people want to see and how they want to perceive a brand. I think that's how I would define it.F Geyrhalter:                 No. It's great. It's the idea of also stepping outside and looking back in, that's really, really the difficult part and you hit that nicely. I've got a question that is a little bit about brand expansion, but it's actually more of a personal question because of my fascination with the sport. I started snowboarding a long, long, long, long, long time ago. I actually built my own snowboard at the time because I couldn't afford buying one because they had maybe 100 of them in Austria. It was like a long, long time ago, I was like six years old or something. So in the first 10 years, there was this friction, skiers versus snowboarders. Snowboarders are kind of like the young punks and the skateboarders in the slopes, and they're just not good for the mountain. They're the bad guys on the mountain. The troublemakers. Now, Parlor just recently, I guess, empowered one of your guys to like start building snowboards. I think you guys are doing that now pretty officially. So, do you see any friction in your community? Because you guys, your community is hardcore skiers. A lot of them, I'm sure, at the price point, are not like 20-year-old somethings and a lot of them most probably have been around when snowboarding and skiing was kind of like very separated. Did you find any of that when you started introducing snowboards? Or is that so long gone and we're all kind of like getting along these days?M Wallace:                   No, I mean there's still a tension. You got to remember, the thing that unites Parlor customers is their love for sliding on snow, and also being outdoors, and being with their friends and family. Those things are sort of universal. I mean, there is a little bit of tension still between the communities, but I think it's become very sort of lighthearted at this point, certainly within our shop there's some banter about it. But I really view Parlor in a lot of ways as a carving company. We make long boards, we make skis, we make snowboards, we've certainly play around with surfboards, kiteboarding is sort of exploding right now. Anything where we can add value and create a better product, I think sort of falls under the Parlor umbrella. As we're sort of expanding the brand, and we were always looking at these different options and opportunities, I mean, snowboarding was the obvious next step, and we've been really successful. Again, we don't build park skis, and we don't build park snowboards. Our snowboard design is very inspired by surfing, it's sort of a throwback in the earlier day in the sport, it's about how you interact with the mountain and creating tools that allow you to do that more efficiently and in more creative ways. Again, there are lots of companies that make great park skis, and great park boards, but that's not really where we sit in the market. Also, I mean, there are a lot of jerks who are skiers too.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh yeah.M Wallace:                   Not anymore than the jerk snowboarders. Again, we felt that those people don't really gravitate towards our brand, so we don't have to worry about it.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. Yeah. It's on the mountain, off the mountain, there are jerks and there are others. You build the community around the others. So, I have a lot of investors and a lot of entrepreneurs listening to this, especially a lot of like young entrepreneurs, meaning not age, but the age of the company. They're just getting into it. They're playing the startup game, which you and I both played at some point. Do you have a piece of brand advice for any founders as a takeaway of like how they should create their brand and what should be important for them in the first maybe couple months or year?M Wallace:                   I think this applies to all business ventures, and I talk about it a lot, especially I'm doing mentoring or anything like that. You do not be paralyzed by not having all the pieces. My sort of word of advice is just always be doing something. And don't over-commit until you know it's going to work. So, my favorite example of this is there was an executive at TripAdvisor several years ago who if somebody came and wanted to develop them a product for their website, he would give them the button but not the product. If they got enough clicks on the button, he'd allowed them to build the product. I think that is just like I remember learning that in business school and being like, "That makes total sense." Who cares if you piss off 25 people who click on your button and you tell them they got to wait? It's a much bigger deal to build a ski, or build a product line, or develop a whole company around something that nobody cares about without ... you know, you can put up a website right now in like two days for 100 bucks. If you have an idea, put it out there, put a buy button on it, and just tell people you're sold out after they click on it. If a bunch of people click on it, you got an idea, and go run with it. You don't have to raise 10 million bucks to figure out if you have a good idea or not. Just start doing stuff. Don't quit your job, learn, fail fast, and then be able to be fluid enough to make adaptations along the way.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. That's really great advice. It's interesting because I'm sure that you guys do the same thing with just shaping your skis and trying different things and just like putting it out in the slopes and seeing if sticks. If it sticks with enough people, maybe it's a new line. So, listeners who like the idea of owning a pair of Parlor skis, and really who wouldn't, where should they head to learn more?M Wallace:                   The website, We're also on Instagram and Facebook, we're @parlorskis, and anybody is welcome to call me at 413-884-4747, anytime or put an inquiry into the website. Those are definitely the best places, but I'm happy to talk to anyone any time about skiing, obviously.F Geyrhalter:                 That's awesome.M Wallace:                   We're very accessible here, so reach out.F Geyrhalter:                 Yes, you are. Because ... thank you for accepting my call to outreach via LinkedIn to be on my show. It was such a guilty pleasure to have you here. I think I might have to book a weekend to build my own board in New England with you soon. You also do boards during those hands-on sessions, right?M Wallace:                   That's correct. We're offering build your own boards and split boards this year. So, we've got a couple slots left. The classes are pretty full. We have been sold out with the class for the last three years. So we have a couple slots open in August, and if you're around, reach out and we're happy to slot you in.F Geyrhalter:                 Awesome. Very cool. Thanks everyone for listening. I appreciate it, and I hope you enjoyed the Parlor story and got some inspiration out of it. I sure have and I'm thanking you, Mark, for being here, really appreciate it.M Wallace:                   Thanks for having me, it was a pleasure.F Geyrhalter:                 Cool. If you guys enjoyed this show, please hit the subscribe button and give this show a quick rating. This podcast was brought to you by PocketNote, a new site that helps founders and entrepreneurs find thoughtful, succinct answers to their startup questions. You can learn more, read through the topics, or submit your own question at, the Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by the one and only Happiness Won. I will see you in two weeks, when we'll once again will be hitting the mark.
In this episode, we talk with Frank Demmler, who can take credit for 500 companies, some 10,000 jobs, and $1 billion of investment capital. For over 30 years he has been an investor, advisor, and educator in Pittsburgh's technology-based entrepreneurial community, which hardly existed when he first started but has grown to be one of the most active and desirable entrepreneurship hubs today.We dive into two of the companies he assisted, Automated Healthcare, which deploys robots in hospital pharmacies and has been acquired by McKesson for $65 million, and clothing brand Modcloth. He shares Modcloth's startup story from college sweethearts to putting a few clothes online for sale to turning into a beloved brand that innovated especially through the power of crowdsourcing.Much to absorb in this episode, especially if you are interested in leveraging the power of your tribe.You can connect with Frank via LinkedIn.________________Full, Unedited, Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to Hitting The Mark. We had so many founders on the show lately that it was definitely time to bring on an investor to once again hear from the other side of the table. Not just any investor. Today, we have the pleasure to pick the brain of a man who Income Magazine described as Pittsburgh's startup whisperer. Taking credit for 500 companies, some 10,000 jobs, and $1 billion of investment capital. Today, we welcome the one and only Frank Demmler, who, for over 30 years has been an investor, advisor, and educator in Pittsburgh's technology based entrepreneurial community, which hardly existed when he first started, but has grown to be one of the most active and desirable entrepreneurship hubs today. Frank has also been an adjunct professor for entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University for over 30 years. With that being said, welcome Frank.F Demmler:                   Thank you Fabian. Looking forward to it. I want to make one correction. I don't take credit for all of those things. The entrepreneurs who created the businesses and raised the money, they're the ones who did it. I just helped.F Geyrhalter:                 I absolutely love that. You know, that kind of already sums up the type of person that I believe you are, so I'm so excited to finally have you on the show. Let's talk a little bit about those companies that you invested in. It's a pretty large number, and it's hard to pick one or two brands to dive into today, but I was intrigued by two specifically. One of which, he actually picked. Let's start with that one, because it's a rather peculiar one. Automated Healthcare, which deploys robots in hospital pharmacies and has been acquired by McKesson for $65 million. Okay, so, if that did not get my listeners excited to have you on the show, I am not sure what would. Tell us a bit about Automated Healthcare, when and how you got involved, and how you saw it shape into a brand that is worth that amount of money.F Demmler:                   It was a situation where I had worked with the founders of the company in a variety of capacities; as an advisor, educator. One of the co-founders was a former of student of mine. Learned about, they had applied to an economic development organization in Pennsylvania called The Ben Franklin Technology Partnership, and they had been rejected for their grant. I was adamantly opposed to that decision, so I went and advocated on their behalf, and they were able to get, at that time, an $88,000 grant to purchase a robot so they could do the proof of concept of putting a robot in a hospital and having it be able to pick medications off a pegboard with reliability. With that introduction and interaction, when it came time for the company to raise money, I was a general partner of the Pittsburgh Seed Fund, and it was just a natural extension of what we'd been doing to make the investment in the company and help it move forward.F Geyrhalter:                 How do you feel that Automated Healthcare, like, what role did branding or the idea of branding play for Automated Healthcare? Because, obviously, they're a B2B robotics brand in the healthcare space, so it feels, like, really far removed, but it seems like it still played a role.F Demmler:                   Oh, very definitely. I hate to admit it, but the initial investment was in 1990, so I don't know if your listeners were even born then, but ...F Geyrhalter:                 I think it's okay Frank, because I said over the last 30 years twice in my intro, so I kind of already gave away that there's a huge amount of knowledge in you, let's put it that way.F Demmler:                   Back in 1990, the healthcare system was undergoing major revolutions that continue to this day. One area of particular concern was that the error rate of medications leaving a hospital pharmacy and being delivered to a patient had an error rate between one and 10%, with an average of 1-3/4%. Most of those errors were things like 100mg of Tylenol instead of 15, or whatever, but some of them could be fatal. This appeared to be a great opportunity for the application of robotic technology, because in fact, the process of picking those pills was repetitive and could be programmed in such a way that a robot could do it, and that would replace an army of white-frocked young people running around the pharmacy doing hand picking, which was the way it was done back there. By saying Automated Healthcare, it positioned the company as one that was using advanced technology. It was resonating in an industry that was only beginning to appreciate that there were technologies that ultimately could be adopted by hospitals to improve patient care and improve financial performance.F Geyrhalter:                 It was really branding a new segment, like, disrupting with a new definition of what a business can do within the healthcare space.F Demmler:                   Exactly. It literally revolutionized how hospitals would manage and distribute their drugs. One of the benefits of that is, prior to Automated Healthcare, the professional pharmacist played more a role of a grocery store checkout person who would review the medications once they'd been picked and try to make sure that they were the right thing for the right patient. You had a highly compensated professional who really wasn't able to do his or her professional job of working with the patients, working with the nurses, but was sitting there checking out sets of pills.F Geyrhalter:                 Well, and obviously, I think those are a lot of the jobs that are going to be replaced in the future and a lot of people are afraid of that, but the way that you put it and the way that I see it too, those are individuals that actually are not utilizing the full capacity of their intellect doing the work that they're currently doing. It is actually a very positive movement, and it seems to me that Automated Healthcare and your investment in them or your mentoring them actually, they were pretty much on the forefront of what now is becoming a really widely discussed topic.F Demmler:                   Yeah, and I believe that Automated Healthcare was the first time a hospital had introduced barcodes into its information system. Because, it was basically, the barcodes enabled the ability of, the medications were put in individual packages with barcodes on them, and then the arm of the robot would scan that barcode, confirm that it is what it is, pull it off, and do that. It was a very elegant but self contained application because the patient's bed or nightstand would have a barcode confirming that it's the patient. The nurse would have a barcoded wristband, and then the medication. What you had was a closed loop of information of how the pills have been distributed, or the medications.F Geyrhalter:                 Fascinating. Let's move over to another brand that you helped shape over the years: ModCloth, which is a vintage inspired clothing brand for young women, and they had quite a great founding story. Tell us how you got involved with them and at what stage of the company's foundation did they step in. Were they students of yours?F Demmler:                   Yes, well, the male was a student. I have to correct what I sent you. Koger is the last name, so Susan and Eric Koger are the founders of ModCloth. They had been high school sweethearts. They came to Carnegie Mellon University as students, and got married somewhere along the line. The thing was that Susan loved vintage clothing, so that whenever she and Eric were going to different towns, her first stop would be into the consignment stores and other sources of used or historical garments. She would buy probably a lot of stuff from those places, and it got to the point where their apartment was overflowing with her vintage clothing, and obviously she can't wear all that often, and so ultimately they came up with the idea of, let's sell Susan's purchases over the internet. This is back in 2004, I believe. At that time, the internet, stores were beginning to emerge on the internet. Eric, who was a joint computer science and business major designed the website and got them up and going. Lo and behold, the reaction to Susan's inventory was very positive, very strong. Susan came up with the concept of finding young designers who designed with vintage inspired concepts applied. They borrowed, I believe, on the order of $50,000 from an uncle, like, in October of 2004, so they could buy some inventory and get the designs made. Again, lo and behold, the designs were being gobbled up as soon as they hit the website. They actually used that to their advantage during the very earliest stages in that, because cash was tight, she would order whatever clothing she could based upon financial ability, put it on the site, and typically within one to three hours the inventory would sell out. That, then, caused the fans of the site to log in multiple times a day in order to not miss a new item coming on. That was probably one of the first social marketing tactics that I had seen that had been successful. That success got them into low six digit sales, slightly more than $100,000, which wasn't chump change at that time, either.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.F Demmler:                   But, by the same token, because of the customer adoption and because of the brand that they had created, and branded Susan Koger as a thought leader or probably today would be called an influencer, she and the designs of the product line all became a brand and a product and a lifestyle that distinguished it from other such clothing providers. That got the attention of a number of very high profile angel investors, Jeff Fleur from StubHub, Mike Maples, Josh Kopelman among others. They put in a super angel round, I guess it would be called, and that's what allowed the company to transition from a two person selling out of their apartment into a company. That success then led to institutional investors and over time, the brand grew from zero to over $150 million of annual revenues, and ultimately, it was acquired by, which itself had been acquired by Walmart, because Walmart wanted to create some branded strategies rather than being viewed as a commodity/low price cheap provider. That was sort of the cycle of the business. It still exists as an independent brand, you can find it on the internet, but that's sort of the history.F Geyrhalter:                 What a fascinating story. I mean, there's a woman in college and she buys too much vintage clothing, and at some point the boyfriend says, "Look, let's start selling that. Instead of using eBay, let me just create a website where we can sell your stuff." That went from an $18,000 in income to $15 million in income in only four years. I mean those stories are amazing, and today if you go to the ModCloth website, it has Halsey and Awkwafina as models and, you know, and obviously it was just acquired by Walmart at the same time that I guess Bonobos was acquired by Walmart, so obviously to boost the Walmart brand for a younger audience. It's such a success story and I believe that one of the big pieces to that brand's success, and you hinted at it within your story about the brand, is crowdsourcing, because ModCloth actually became the first retailer, I read, to supplement an existing business model with crowdsourcing efforts. You know, as you mentioned, Susan started that, I guess she called it the B to buyer program, where she got her designs, post them on the site soliciting customers to vote for which design to produce, which then of course created a huge buzz and made the customer feel like they had a voice, but in turn, they pretty much presold product almost instantaneously, and I guess the genius moving crowdsourcing actually must have come out of a complete necessity at the time for her, because she just had to do it this way in order to sustain.F Demmler:                   Yes. I mean, she did. Exactly as you said, they didn't have the cashflow that they could afford to invest in inventory and hope somebody bought it. She was able to basically create what were ultimately auctions of, "Here are five designs that we identified. Which one would you buy," among the users. They would vote. Lo and behold, whoever won, that one would be purchased and the buyers were already predetermined, and so they would sell out pretty quickly.F Geyrhalter:                 Right, exactly. Just to give our listeners some more insight into all the different ways that she actually, well, ModCloth as a brand, is actually using crowdsourcing, here are three of them that I want to share that I read about. The first one is style gallery, which is a user generated image gallery where customers send in photos of themselves modeling in ModCloth designs, and then of course, you know, other people see how the clothing actually looks on real people. Then, there's fit for me, which is a feature on the ModCloth app which allows you to see suggestions for clothing that will fit their exact body shape based on other user's reviews. Then, last but not least, and I think this is such a cool thought, they ran a contest in 2012 called Make The Cut. What they did is, ModCloth created products based on consumer ideas. Suddenly, the consumer became an artist, and the contest winners had their drawings, their sketches of clothing, adapted into real clothes for the spring line, with each Make The Cut garment product then featuring the artist's name printed on the label. You suddenly had your name on the back of a piece of clothing from a brand that you already love.F Geyrhalter:                 Obviously, they used some nifty brand strategies and they were also very in tune with the current site guys, because they were taking a stance on the topic of body image when it was rarely discussed in the media. Do you know with this particular startup investment of yours or nurturing of yours, mentoring of yours, when did the team actually started to actively invest time or money into brand strategy voice or design? I think a lot of it came very organic, but at some point they must have said, "Let's hire an agency. Let's do this the real way." Do you know that transition or how a lot of these amazing brand thoughts came about with ModCloth?F Demmler:                   As you noted, some of them were organic. For example, the one where people would take pictures of themselves in outfits and share that, they'd also created a discussion board where people would be able to explain that they're using a dress from one source and a blouse from another and a scarf from another and a pair of shoes. Then people would talk about, "Hey, have you tried such and such?" It was really part and parcel of the company. Once we had the super angels on board who did have consumer marketing backgrounds, they were able to help us in terms of identifying the right agencies. That would have been two to three years into the company, but 12 to 18 months after getting the super angel investment that they were able to do a full professional shift into the crowdsourcing and customer engagement.F Geyrhalter:                 When do you advise your companies, typically, to invest in branding? Does it vary by startup focus? Does it vary by B2B, B2C, you know, tack, you know, apps, etc?F Demmler:                   Yeah. Well, as an investor, what I want to do is mitigate risk.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.F Demmler:                   Certainly, with any B2C company, creating a brand that customers will resonate with is an essential part of that process. If the company's vision, theme, culture, and brand aren't all aligned, you end up with dissonance and very poor customer pickup. It really is essential that you put all of those things together on a branded basis in order to capture the customers.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. With B2C companies, it sounds like you push them towards turning into that brand rather sooner than later, and with B2B companies you must probably take a little bit of a stance back.F Demmler:                   Yeah. I mean, for example, Automated Healthcare made great use of its brand, but the other technique that the founders did was, among their first 10 customers were four of the past five presidents of the American Hospital Pharmacy Association. Not only did the brand get established, but it got established and linked to thought leaders within their industry. You have everything sort of working in sync, reinforcing each bit.F Geyrhalter:                 Right, right. That creates that holistic brand, absolutely. How much of your time do you spend mentoring? It seems like you pretty much dedicated yourself to helping entrepreneurs thrive. Often, people hear the word investor and they immediately conjure up a stereotype which is not always positive. Right? But, it can in fact be a very nurturing and extremely satisfying line of work.F Demmler:                   Yeah, absolutely. I've been doing this since 1984, and every day is a new challenge with the opportunity to learn new technologies, to meet people who have dreams and aspirations, and to be able to help those people go from being a wannabe entrepreneur to an entrepreneur. Yeah, I spend my time very much on the early stage. Well over half my time is more in the nurturing and working with the companies. Then, when they get to a certain scale, either the investment mechanism that I've got where I will help them determine what investors might be appropriate to help them at what time.F Geyrhalter:                 Do you only work with startups within the Pittsburgh system, and they're usually all part of incubators and accelerators, or the university that you work with?F Demmler:                   I work primarily in Pittsburgh. It's where my network is and where I've got history and all of that. But, I also have worked with companies throughout North America, I guess. I did a webinar for the Technology Transfer Tactics, which is a industry Bible for university tech transfer offices. I talked about a variety of things that were germane to them, for example. The key thing I worked on there was splitting the founder's pie. It had to do with university spin outs, how do you take 100% and divide it appropriately among whoever the founder group is. That's a tangential. Yeah, working with the company and helping it figure out the ways of success, I mean, one way that I look at it is, if you put entrepreneurship on a scale of zero to 10, where zero is somebody who ought to keep a job, stay in a job, and not even think about being an entrepreneur, and then at 10 you've got your Mark Zuckerberg or that ilk, most of the people that I work with are sort of in the zero to three range. They typically will have one or two key strengths that are relevant. University spin outs, obviously, it's going to be the technology and the ownership in the technology. My goal is to help those people get into the range of six-plus. What I mean by that is, they will understand the vocabulary of what they've gotten into. They will understand why a bank is not going to fund them on the first day, and understand how investors will be looking at them. I've spent a lot of my time doing that, and for the ones that can move to that level, then getting them funded. Here at Pittsburgh, we've had the Innovation Works, which I was with for 13 years, founded Alpha Lab as one of the first incubators in the country, founded back in 2008. It has created, typically it'll have 12 to 15 new companies a year divided into two cycles. We also have Alpha Lab Gear, which is a hardware-oriented accelerator. They are adding to the mix of companies. They don't dominate it because quite often, well, accelerator companies are often pretty fragile, even when they go through the process. Working with them to make them investment ready sometimes takes more than what the accelerator program provides.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, for sure, yeah. I mean, you've been doing this since 1984. What is a big piece of brand advice that you can share with our founders as a takeaway from this podcast session?F Demmler:                   Today the thought is, customer discovery is the bellwether of being an entrepreneur. Unlike when I first started this business, where it might cost a half a million dollars to develop a software product, you know, in today's world, it's $25,000 or $50,000. You actually do have the ability to go to customers and get their direct feedback on what it is you're trying to do, and as you do that, you listen to what your customers tell you, and quite often, you'll find out that the business you thought you were in isn't that at all, but what you're providing to the customers has a different value. Once you've sort of hit on that, the core value of the offering, then branding that and using that as a way to create identity and growth is essential.F Geyrhalter:                 In the end, it is about empathy with your customer. Right? Really, really, putting yourself into their shoes and listening to them and understanding what they actually ache for, despite what you offer, and then moving your product more into their sphere.F Demmler:                   Exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you Frank. I think it took us quite a bit of back and forth to finally make this happen, but I'm so grateful that you were able to take this 20 minutes of your time from your many duties as the startup whisperer to educate my listeners. I really appreciate it.F Demmler:                   Happy to do it Fabian. Feel free to call me in the future if you'd like.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely, and thank you all for listening. Please take a few seconds right now to hit that subscribe button and give the show a quick rating. It is the only currency I take from you in return for putting together this show every two weeks, from finding interesting guests like Frank to getting them booked, prepping, recording, and doing the post. It is definitely a time consuming labor of love. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy creating strategic verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more about FINIEN, which I also happen to run, and explore my books on brand building at The Hitting The Mark music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time, when we once again will be Hitting The Mark
Talking with the de Haas twin sisters about their brand of premium mixers: How they managed to build a beloved brand at a young age (all while finishing their masters degrees and having started careers in finance).We talk about their story from idea to bottle to shelf, the advantages of having a co-founder, how the brilliant name Double Dutch came about (yes, it all happened at a bar), how the brand's fun copy has come together organically over the years and why Joyce and Raissa (who made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 list this year) wish they would have paused and created a more cohesive visual and verbal brand when they saw initial interest in their products.You can learn more about Double Dutch and see where you can get your mixers for the perfect cocktail at www.doubledutchdrinks.com________________Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to Hitting the Mark. Today we travel to London, via the Netherlands as we welcome identical twin co-founders, Raissa and Joyce de Haas, whose award-winning premium mixers "Double Dutch" are winning craft cocktail fans hearts around the world, while gaining international attention for their innovative take on sodas and tonics. I first came across the brand in Europe, and then a few weeks ago, I noticed Raissa being featured on the 30-under-30 list by Forbes, where they had the following to say about the brand. "The de Haas twins, born in the Netherlands, are the co-founders of Double Dutch Drinks; a range of soft drinks developed specifically for pairing with higher quality spirits including gin, whiskey, rum, and tequila. Since its 2015 launch, the London-based brand has sold 10 million bottles and raised 1.9 million British pounds. The drinks are available in 22 countries and they're sold in more than 4,500 outlets, including Michelin-star restaurants, luxury hotels such as the Savoy and the Mandarin Oriental, as well as 2,000 supermarkets." With that being said, welcome Raissa and Joyce.Raissa:                          Hello.Joyce:                           Hello.F Geyrhalter:                 Hey, it's great to have you here! So first off, I'm a big gin-tonic fan, too bad it's early in the morning when we record this, my time. For you it's already in the evening. But gin itself, the history of it, it actually traveled just like you from the Netherlands to London, correct? Gin actually comes from the Netherlands.Raissa:                          Yes, very much. The Dutch, they invented it decades and decades ago in the Netherlands and actually the Dutch King of Orange, he was on the tour here in the UK and he just banned everything that was not Dutch. Then he started importing it into the UK and that's how gin became so popular here in London as well.F Geyrhalter:                 And you followed the trail of the inspiration. That's great. Let's talk a little bit about your backgrounds. So, molecular gastronomy, such a big thing in Northern Europe. Is that your background? Or, how did it all start? It seems like you were right on the zeitgeist with your idea. Less than a year ago, the conglomerate Ketel One released Ketel One Botanical, doing essentially a similar thing by harnessing the flavors of herbs and fruits without sugar, making it artisanal, craft style cocktails that have more flavor and are more balanced. What inspired you to be on the forefront of what now became a trend in the beverage industry? You started the concept while you were in college, right? Tell us a little bit about that story.Raissa:                          Yeah! We always grew up with our parents in the Netherlands. They always were big gin drinkers and they had a little wine and spirit shop in our garden, basically. So, we kind of grew up building a big passion for spirits. We knew lots of the local distilleries and just grew up a little bit drunk. Then, we moved to Belgium to study at university and everyone in Belgium drinks beer, obviously. We always grew up with quality spirits so, at university we threw parties on Wednesdays and Thursdays at our flat. We kind of put a ban for people who came to our parties to bring beer. We told people to bring different bottles of gin or vodka or tequila to our parties, and then Joyce and I would make different sodas in our kitchen for the week ahead. It was very primitive, we would just, for example, heat up strawberry and mint in a saucepan, add sugar, then you get a syrup, and then add carbonized water. We did that for a couple of years, did it just for fun, and just did it because we thought the choice of gins, vodkas and spirits was so big but the choice of mixers and tonic waters was boring. So we just started experimenting with different flavors. We did that for fun, kept doing it for friends and family, and then graduated, both in finance actually. I started working for a small, private wealth management firm in Antwerp and Joyce started working for a bigger corporate bank in Brussels. But soon, after four months, we decided that finance wasn't maybe for us.F Geyrhalter:                 You had to go back to drinking.Raissa:                          Exactly! We wanted to follow our passion for drinks. We decided to move to London, study the second Master here in technology, entrepreneurship and basically devoted our year about the beverage industry here. We wrote a dissertation about the fact that spirits were becoming more and more experimental. There was this whole gin hype and movement and spirits was definitely becoming more popular. But again, we saw in the UK and in London, tonic waters and mixers were pretty standard and we decided to write a dissertation about that. Our end goal was basically to develop a range of mixers and tonic waters that were more innovative, that were more exciting, that offered more choice, and we brought something different to the market. We eventually launched, after we graduated, with cucumber and watermelon, and pomegranate and basil. Two very different flavors. We wanted to launch with one more summery, more fresh flavors so cucumber and watermelon, and one more botanical herbal flavor which is the pomegranate and basil. Just launching those two and adding different flavors across the years to the drinks. How we came into the flavor development, all our recipes are actually based on flavor pairing techniques. We look at our flavor development model from a molecular pairing point of view and for example, it's basically the same kind of way how Michelin-star restaurants and chefs make their menus together.F Geyrhalter:                 That's amazing. That is such a great story. You say you launched it, and you say it's so easily. But breaking into the food and beverage industry, into that market, is super difficult. There's so much that goes into it, just understanding all the rules, understanding the suppliers and how to get on the shelf. You say it like it was "oh and then we launched." But really, how did you get all the contact? You basically at that point were straight out of school, straight out of your masters, you did a dissertation. But at that point, how do you actually go from that idea, even though you've already mixed the product and you have that idea? How do you go into packaging and getting on shelves. That's a whole big step right there that we didn't discuss.Joyce:                           I think for us it was challenging because we were only living here in London for less than a year. So, we didn't really know anybody, we didn't really have family, friends that could advise us on contacts and little things like legal advise, those kind of things. I think that was definitely challenging. But, I guess we were, the two of us were just stop and start knocking on doors, we were gonna stalk every potentially beneficial person on Linkedin and that's just how we started growing our network. Then we randomly, we found this guy who helps startups find bottling plants, helps startups make recipes more commercially, somebody who is, just this one man band who gives consultancy to startups on how to commercialize, basically your recipes at home. He helped us also find bottling plants. We find little bottling plants here in North London. They had 2 machineries, very small [inaudible 00:08:24] labeled all our bottles ourselves overnight. It was a lot of long nights.F Geyrhalter:                 The good old days, the good old days.Joyce:                           Then basically we had our first six stars in bottles and that's where we just went to London which we had this list of [inaudible 00:08:42], restaurants, and bars and hotels we talked and they would be amazing as our first customers. People were actually really open to try people. Then, I think in London, maybe everybody just was so helpful. We would have one bartender who really liked it, he would say like "oh but I have a friend there and I have another friend whose working there. Go there with my regards. He'll take your product on." I think it just moved step by step, slowly from there.F Geyrhalter:                 Isn't it surprising, in large metropolitan cities like London that there's so much human kindness right? And that people just want to help get you to the next place.Raissa:                          Yeah, for sure. I think people are just really supporting starting businesses people who wanna do something different. Then I think, yeah, that we really showed off.Joyce:                           Yeah, so very grateful for this.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, I'm sure and there was a lot of hustle. You guys literally walked personally from bar to bar and trying to just get the product into the right hands. So, it's not like it came easy in any way.Joyce:                           No, but it was fun as well.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely! I did read that you received the support of none other than Sir Richard Branson. What was that the big breakthrough moment for your brand? I think it was a startup competition that you won, correct?Raissa:                          Yes, exactly! He awards most innovative food and beverage brands in the UK every year. We won it after we launched three or four months later. So that was amazing and definitely was a turning point which was really quickly after we launched. So we were very lucky to win that. It just gave us incredible credibility with potential customers, gave us a massive amount of press nationally and internationally, and kind of gave us that headstart. That really helped us massively.F Geyrhalter:                 Is that how you got on to the first shelves too? There's always this amazing moment when you see your products' first on the shelves? In any shop, it could be the smallest local shop. What was the first chain that said, "yes, we will actually store your product."Raissa:                          Our first shop was Harvey Nichols in London and after that, I think, Fortnum & Masons, which was amazing. Then Selfridges just took us on and all the other department stores.F Geyrhalter:                 And then it just kept going, exactly.Raissa:                          Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 I mentioned Richard Branson, but look I'm in L.A. and we're known for our celebrity culture. So let's just stick to the most mesmerizing of characters out there with whom you seemed to co-mingled day in day out, if I look at your Instagram account. I have to ask, how was that meeting with the late and great Karl Lagerfeld? Did you chat it up or was it just more for photo opportunity? But I'm just so mesmerized that there's the two of you and Karl Lagerfeld.Joyce:                           Great spotting.F Geyrhalter:                 Has nothing to do with branding whatsoever.Joyce:                           It was a very long time ago. Actually before we started Double-Dutch, we met him or quickly saw him in a bar on holiday. Then we thought, we'd just go up to him, ask for like a [inaudible 00:12:07].Raissa:                          And he was actually very nice. It was a fun evening.Joyce:                           Yeah, it was a really a good evening.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fantastic. Looking at Karl Lagerfeld, you never would say he's a funny person or a fun person, right? Because, he has this certain look about him. But, look it's personal branding and I think the two of you are very much about personal branding too, right? It's the whole idea of Double-Dutch and the twin sisters. How is that working with your twin sister? I guess one of you should step out of the room now. One at a time. But, tell us a little bit about the challenges. Because, I know a lot of founders say, "look, I need a co-founder, it's better to have a co-founder." A lot have co-founders and then things don't work out. For the two of you, are literally by birth and now all the way into the actual company, so attached to each other as a personal brand. How does this work? Or, what are some advantages, what are some challenges?Joyce:                           I think it's great. I think you're right. I would recommend everyone to have a co-founder. But, to be able to do it with my twin sister is amazing because we can 100 percent trust each other, anytime, even if we might disagree or we would fall out. We wouldn't really fall out for more than half an hour and then we have to make up again. I think it's just amazing. We're always on the same kind of thinking and even if we're not, it's not a big deal. We don't need to tip toe and be careful to say what we think. We just say how it is and that's that. Yeah, I think it's great.Raissa:                          Do you Joyce? No, I do love it. I think there's not really any challenges that I can think of. The only thing is that our sister life has become so much integrated in business that, we guess, we came here together in London, we have very much the same friends group and we go on holidays together, and everything's so integrated with each other. But, that also means that we can just never switch off from Double-Dutch because when we're drinking and we're in a bar, we're having fun, 100 percent Double-Dutch will come up at some point. Because we're like, "oh! have you ever thought about that?” It's always Double-Dutch. There's not really any leisure time off from it.Raissa:                          I think, if we probably would not have started the business together then that would have probably been a bit less. Nevertheless, I mean, it's both our baby so we love it. I think, it's amazing to just do it with the two of us and especially, because we have had such a similar journey and we've always been super close together. We don't have any other siblings, so yeah, I think, it's really really great.F Geyrhalter:                 That's great! Now that was a fantastic answer by both of you. It's not different with a lot of co-founders that are married to each other, where they spend a lot of time together and then afterwards they have to figure out how not to talk about work. The two of you are constantly together and then you have to figure out how to not talk work. I think, you should just not go to bars anymore. I think, you should just have a complete sober lifestyle, which of course would ruin your brand. Alright, let's switch it over to talk branding a little bit. Let's talk about the name Double-Dutch. There is so much thought that must have gotten into it, or maybe it was just like this quick idea that you had. But, I noticed at least 3 puns in the name, right? But, tell us the story behind the name, and how you came up with it?Raissa:                          Well, actually it was very coincidental. When we knew that we would start a new type of mixer brand, we thought about the most lame names ever. I think, we had like List Soda, High Ball, I mean I can't remember all of them butF Geyrhalter:                 Oh, don't say them. It's not good for your brand. Don't say these.Raissa:                          Yeah exactly. And then again everything happens in a bar. We were in a bar, just drinking with English friends and we started saying like "oh guys, would you know like any name for us? We're like stuck at these names that are really not a good fit." The evening went on and on and on. People started saying "oh, just call it Double-Dutch and I think the next morning we had such a hangoverJoyce:                           The only thingRaissa:                          We could remember was like Double-Dutch and we felt like "oh my God, that's such a good name. It's catchy and like really suits us." What you see it is like at least 3 different types of meanings that are so relevant for us because obviously we're Dutch twins, so Double-Dutch. Its double flavors. All of our flavors are Dutch-Double. Then speaking Double-Dutch, if you're a bit drunk.F Geyrhalter:                 I didn't even think about that.Raissa:                          So yeah I think, I love the name and it gets so much good feedback that the name makes a whole brand.F Geyrhalter:                 Great. I have one to add. I was thinking about the rope jumping double-dutch and that is kind of like mixing, right? You're constantly shaking and you're moving. It's so many good thoughts and the name just arrived in one drunken evening, which is how the brand should have been born. I mean it makes a lot of sense for your brand. Let me read a few lines from your website. "From the world's best mixologists trough to those who prefer their G&T on the sofa at home, the Double-Dutch twins have created revolutionary mixers to intensify enjoyment of spirits, or to be drunk solo." It's actually really funny that the copy you decided to write and another line is, "the perfect twin for your spirit." So, how was that brand voice crafted? Did you hear copywriters to a certain point? Are you working with an agency? Or, is it the two of you, like organically changing the copy on this site.Raissa:                          It's definitely more organic, just kind of randomly coming up with different slogans and then they just stick. Along the way, we've worked with a few copywriters, but it's definitely more just friends and the team that just constantly, organically, change it a little bit more.F Geyrhalter:                 Great. When, did you actively start investing in branding? I'm sure that packaging design is so important. The look and the shelf appeal and in the bar, and the entire spirit industry is really based on packaging design. How did you go about that? Was that very organic too? Or, did you do a lot of research and A/B testing? Did you hire a designer? How did that go about?Raissa:                          I think naturally from day one, we knew what we wanted to stand for and what our identity should be. We knew how we wanted to have our brand come alive. We knew we wanted to have it like a general brand, firm, innovative, young, natural, healthy, colorful. So, I think, with that we initially had different types of labels which were really not great. But we brought that to the markets, knew that they were not great and then really listened to feedback of our customers, to see what they wanted to see in our branding, in the whole vision. It quite quickly became clear that they really wanted to see the story in the whole branding. So, we, after 6 months, after we launched, we used a branding agency and they were really amazing. We gave them the brief, like what we really wanted to see and they completely visualized it in our labels. They made a brand identity for our website and just really turned that around.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fantastic. It makes a lot of sense, that journey. The two of you being so part of your own brand and you having established a quite amazing brand, at a very young age. What does branding mean to you? Because branding is such a nasty word. A lot of people feel like branding is just the logo but it's so much more. What does it mean to you?Raissa:                          I think, brand is really about feelings, not facts. It's about who you are, what you stand for, what your identity of your brand is and it is your whole company, basically. It's definitely just not a label, or website, or social media. I think, it's really important that a brand should trigger feelings with your consumers and customers.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah absolutely. What was it feel, like a big ginormous pin flied that you went through, that other's can learn from? We have a lot of founders, a lot of entrepreneurs on this podcast. What was something that you went through where now looking back you're like "oh my God, I could have totally avoided that if I did A, B or C."Joyce:                           So, many things.F Geyrhalter:                 Right? The last couple of years, most probably. One day it was a win, and one day it was a fail.Joyce:                           Well I think, what we didn't do from the beginning, if we would start all over, I would put much more focus on bringing one identity together. What we didn't do is bring it all the way 360 degrees. We made a website, we made the label, and then we had the leaflets. I think everything was not one entity, and we should have defined everything in one entity, sooner. Going from exhibition stands, has the same look and feel as our social media to our texts on the websites to the labels, to the fonts, leaflets and think our whole branding. It took us quite a long. It was a very step by step that we brought everything together. I think that it could have probably been much quicker.F Geyrhalter:                 It's when cohesion that is so important, especially in the beginning. It's so difficult as a startup entrepreneur to say, "let's stop right now when we have traction, let's stop and really analyze the branding, create that style and say this is us and we're just going to use those two colors, those two fonts, this is our tagline, this is our look and feel." It's so difficult when you're in amidst of it, which is like take that breather and say "no, let's do this professionally and let's step back." It's actually exactly what I do with my consultancy because I go to startups and say, "look, now it's the time to stop and now we actually need to do all of this and you're going to be back on the road in one month." But, I totally understand that it's super difficult to do that. Especially, because that's the time where you start meeting consumers because you need leaflets, you need the packaging, you need to get out there. And it's hard to like pull back at that point.Raissa:                          Yeah, true.F Geyrhalter:                 So, listeners who fell in love with your brand, just now, where can they find Double-Dutch? I know we have them a majority of listeners, here in the U.S. But, right after that there's the U.K. which I know you're widely available. Then there's Belgium which it sounds like you should be available and then we also have a lot of listeners from Australia and Spain. In which of these countries can my audience start mixing up the best Gin Tonics ever, tonight?Raissa:                          You can find this in all those countries except for the U.S. We're only starting in the U.S. in about 5/6 months. We're just seeing who the best partner is. But, keep an eye on our Instagram. Its called 'Double Dutch Drinks' and we're announcing our new places. But, we are in Belgium, we're in the U.K. We're widely available going from thousands of different bars, restaurants, hotels to Ocado, Amazon, Fortnum and Mason, Selfridges. We're launching in Waitrose in May and then in Spain, we're in lots of bars and restaurants. In Australia, we actually just launched. So many many places. But, do send us an email, either on Instagram and follow us on social media and we'll definitely give you a list of where you can find us.F Geyrhalter:                 Well, fantastic! And I also sent you my mailing address, hint. Thank you both. This was so much fun and insightful. I really appreciate you taking the time from running your company. Having both of you here is so amazing that you'd share your stories with our listeners. I'm super super grateful for your time.Raissa:                          Thank you so much for having us.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely, and thanks to everyone for listening in, for hitting the subscribe button and giving this show a rating. It means a lot to me to help spread the word about hitting the mark, to founders and investors around the world. This episode is brought to you by another London based brand, Mister Maginsky, possibly the greatest invention in men's underwear since men's underwear, itself. Find out more and grab a double pack today at The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time, after I'm having myself a quick Gin Tonic, when we once again will be Hitting the Mark.
In this episode, we dive into influencer marketing with Colin Szopa, who created a brand for fitness influencers to connect in deeper ways with their tribes.We debunk the myth that influencers are Prima Donnas to work with, learn about how personal brands support each other versus compete with each other on the same digital platform as well as the art and science of crafting a meaningful and descriptive name for the app store.You can find Plankk Studio in the app store if you are ready to sweat it out with some of the biggest names in fitness.________________Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to Episode eight of Hitting the Mark. Today I'm joined by the founder of a brand that enables other brands and in this case of Plankk Studio those brands are personal brands. Today we enter a world of personal trainers and influencers and the man that helps them monetize their audience. Colin Szopa is the founder and CEO of Plankk an only two year old technology and content company that partners with fitness influencers to create custom fitness apps that help them monetize their audiences. The company recently released Plankk Studio a new on demand streaming service that lets fitness enthusiasts sweat it out with on the go workouts alongside their favorite fitness influencers. You can have on the go workouts with the world's most elite fitness trainers from any screen. And thank God you don't have to stare at a mirror the whole time while doing so. Okay. That was potentially marketing another brand that's been in the news recently, but enough of my monologue.F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome Colin.C Szopa:                       Yes, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. Thank you.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely. So Plankk Studio. This is exciting. So it's described as the Netflix of health and fitness. It is a crowded space, obviously, that is not lacking in innovation. But the way you approached it was from a very different angle. You first created apps for influencers basically helping them build their brands. And now in a way the tables have turned and you are building your own brand, your own app Plankk Studio based on their personal brands. Tell us a bit about how the brand, how this the app of all apps came about?C Szopa:                       Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's really an extension of the vision that Plankks always had, which is how do you connect the influencer, these fitness creators that have a massive community and following, you know, on their social media channels already. How do you connect them and bring them closer to that to their audience there and kind of humanize that relationship? So what Plankk Studio is doing is it's extending these personalized training apps that we've been able to build for each one of our influencer partners and bringing that relationship a little bit closer through this live streaming experience. So if you were to think about, attending a workout class somewhere and on the go, whether that's at your house or at a hotel room, if you're traveling and you do want to do it at a gym, you're able to actually work out right alongside this influencer through a curated livestream experience for that particular class that you like.F Geyrhalter:                 That's very cool. And you have some of the world's fitness elite using the platform. There's Valentina Lequer alone who has I think 1.4 million followers just by herself and you creating a big new Plankk Studio community, the Plankk tribe, as you have referred to them, out of these elite fitness trainers own communities. So how hard was that upsell, if it even was an upsell, for these influences to basically share their communities with all the other trainers that are now on one and the same app? What is your value prop to them?C Szopa:                       Yeah, absolutely. And I think what's really interesting about it is that, you know, you still have the engaged experience through these individual apps that each one of these trainers do have with their communities. But what Plankk Studio is doing is it's bringing it under that one umbrella where people are able to, like I said, not only work out alongside them in a livestream, but they can share their progress inside the Plankk tribe community inside of the app. There's a more engaged kind of experience where you can communicate directly with the influencer on your before and after photos and your progress pics and just get coaching you along if you will, to hit those fitness goals. So that's really the intention of it is the influencers are able to kind of get one step closer to their community through the Plankk Studio platform, whether that's through the live streaming or if people want to attend it on demand class as well.F Geyrhalter:                 And so they don't seem to be concerned that people are gonna flip around to other influencers on that on that same app destination.C Szopa:                       You know, what's really interesting, it's a good question is that at this point we're at 58 total influencer partners that Plankk's working within, you know, the two and a half years we've been around. And what's really interesting about it is we're noticing that as social media continues to grow, there's a new social media user that gets created every 15 seconds in the world. You have this rising tide lifting all boats of people coming on to this social, online experience for maybe even the first time when you think about developing countries around the world and you're really starting to push these influencers higher and higher of how big their communities are.C Szopa:                       But what's really interesting about it is we're not seeing any overlap, whether that's through our existing apps that we build. We haven't seen one user that's used two of our apps that we've built. And then even inside of the Plankk Studio platform, we're noticing that people tend to really liken themselves to particular influencer or creator. So we've tried to bring the world's top creators on to Plankk Studio that offer a differentiating fitness experience, if you will. So whether it's Valentino who has a very engaged, strong community of women and we have Ashley Kaltwasser who is a three time, you know, Miss Bikini Olympia. So we have somebody that's maybe looking more for a gym experience. Particular workouts for maybe if you wanted to build your lower body or if you're looking for more hit or training. We also have males on the platform. So really I think people kind of come to the platform, almost as if you were watching like your favorite television show on Netflix. You kind of have your favorite one or two that you follow. And that's curated in that same way.F Geyrhalter:                 That's really interesting. So basically either you come in because you are ready, you'll really have one favorite influencer and trainer and you just want to see him or her doing the workouts. Or you actually come to Plankk studio and you start realizing, oh, this is the channel I want to go into. And then you just get sucked into it like a Netflix binge, just you just keep in to it.C Szopa:                       Yeah, and that is exactly what's happening. Right? So it's a certain training style that may be somebody coming in or maybe they really like to use resistance bands, right? And we've got a curated workout experience for influencers particular for that equipment piece.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And so you talking about this idea of humanizing influencers, right, that they can formulate a better connection with their audience. What is some ways that you found made that possible within your app?C Szopa:                       Yeah, absolutely. So we have a community feed inside of the app that allows you to engage directly with the influencer and other app users. So there you are able to post words of motivation, how your progress is going, different pictures that you've taken along the way in your fitness journey. And you can comment on that directly with each one of these users and follow them. It's really interesting because that also allows you to see who's attending other livestream classes that you want to attend. So it kind of creates this, you know, almost of a challenge if you will and you can see how other people are doing inside of the app. And then again, feel that connection a bit closer to the influencers that are engaged with you. During the live stream experience, we have the ability for you to chat directly with the influencers. So if you have questions during the warm up or the cool down when you're stretching, maybe in between circuits, you can actually ask a question directly to the influencer via the livestream chat module and then the influencer creators going to be able to give you an answer. Um, you know, in between those reps or sets.F Geyrhalter:                 that's fantastic because it doesn't put any burden on the influence. It's not that much more work, but it's got its really high touch and it's going to change that conversation completely so very ...C Szopa:                       And they wait, too. Yeah, you're bang on. Like the influencers do love that because they want to be helping their community. Right. They want to feel a little bit closer to them as well. So that's really what those live streaming experience is doing is it's bringing them one step closer.F Geyrhalter:                 It's taking it off of social media, which is the only one of the key places they currently play. Right. So it kind of opens it up for them.C Szopa:                       Exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 I'm totally putting you on the spot here, but let's talk about naming an app, just for a second entertain me here. Because you know, we as a consultancy, we do a lot of naming and naming for the app stores is very complex as you have a lot more check marks to check off then simply naming a company. Not the naming a company is simple. But can you tell us about the journey for, not even specifically this app, because this one most probably came a little easier based on the background of your company name, but apps you launched in the past. What are some of the hurdles and tests you go through to ensure that your app floats to the top and that the name helps stand out rather than hurts it by floating to the bottom. Are there any tricks you can share?C Szopa:                       That's a great question because you know, there really are so many health and fitness apps already in the app store as it is. Right. And as you probably know, you can't have the same app naming. It's reserved in Apple's database to just one particular way of spelling. And you can't copy that.F Geyrhalter:                 And it wouldn't be smart would it?C Szopa:                       No, no. But in Google it's interesting. You can see the overlap. It's a little bit different how they use their metatags to differentiate it. Whereas Apple, that just the core name for the app can't be the same. So, we are, the majority for our company I think is at 85% IOS users. So obviously we have to make sure that it coincides with what Apple accepts for naming. And first and foremost, we always start by asking where's the brand stand right now that we're trying to represent inside of the app store with the naming of this app, you know, whether it's our white label apps that we've built with each one of our influencer partners or with Plankk Studio. And the intention there is just how do we bring that brand to life a little bit. So if the app is a little bit more focused on maybe a gym program, for example, we'll come up with a name like Lift with Cass. And so Cass Martin is an influencer we work with. That was a name that she really liked and we saw how that made sense from a gym program perspective. And so we wanted to make sure that that was representative. The name, we'll have some other ones that are a little bit more focused on maybe a hit style training or at home. We have another influencer by the name of Sean Booth, so we kind of got a little creative with him and use his last name to create Booth Camp. We're just trying to bring a little bit of uniqueness to it. So it's not always just fitness with so and so. Right. We try to bring a little bit of creativity to it that represents their brand and the program that they're offering inside of that app.F Geyrhalter:                 And it helps sort it. Yeah. Which is great.C Szopa:                       Yeah. And helps boost it. And then with Plankk studio, really the intention there is we're bringing this boutique fitness experience into the comfort of your home. So it really is, if you can't make it to a studio to attend one of these classes, why don't we bring that to you wherever it's accessible. And at the same time, we're bringing the power of the world's top fitness trainers with you. And so that's really the intention between behind the naming of Plankk Studio.F Geyrhalter:                 And it was kind of a brand extension of your own rights so it made a lot of sense.C Szopa:                       Yep. And you can do keyword searching and all that. I mean Apple has their own database of how you can enter in all of the different metadata for getting your app name to rise up in the different search results when people are folded around the app store.F Geyrhalter:                 Right, right. Exactly. So that, thank you. I appreciate it. You going off off subject a little bit, but it all goes back to the idea of branding an app. A lot of listeners, something that I'm really curious about is, they toy with the idea of working with influencers themselves to promote their own brand and what are some learnings you could share, some red flags or big epiphanies you had on how to create a win win I guess situations for the brand, the influencer and the follower. And be honest here. Is it difficult to work with some of these top notch influencers? I mean, I had my fair share of working with Hollywood in my earlier years and I have to say, besides a few very rare exceptions, celebrities can be very tough to manage. And now you have an entire brand built, based on this new wave of celebrities. How do you work them or do I give them a bad rap for no reason?C Szopa:                       Yeah, I mean I won't go into too many examples, but the interesting thing is where influencers differentiate from the celebrity group if you want to tag it as that, is they're really just more relatable, authentic people that in a lot of times have just kind of stumbled into this, right? So they haven't come from a big, whether that's a TV or movie contract or if they're sports celebrity, some notoriety in that space where they've got these teams behind them and large brand endorsement deals already in place. They're really coming more from one or two man shows where they've come into this from, whether that could have been a reality TV show to modeling, to even just becoming a little more Instagram famous through trending in the discover feed. Right. So to build on that a little bit, and I think what's really interesting when you see the influencers that are successful versus the ones that aren't, at least the longterm, is they've started to figure out why they got that attention in the first place and who their target demographic is. And so if you start to hone in on that more and more, what becomes really important for the integral, I guess almost you could say for their success, is to make sure that they're not associating with too many brands and confusing their audience. Because if you start going too many different directions and you're taking affiliate marketing deals here and pay per post here and you know, appearance fees left, right, and center and even just how they, what type of content that they're putting out there on a weekly basis. If there's a lack of consistency there, it's going to end up turning into a lot of churn with their weekly plus minus on how many people are following them because people aren't really sure what to get from them. So you almost have to figure out what your shtick is and what people are really enjoying. And a lot of influencers know this and they start to figure it out relatively quickly. But then you have to make sure that you're making the right decisions with which brands and companies you choose to associate with. And if you go too far down that rabbit hole in 20 different directions, you're gonna end up confusing your audience and then you're gonna have a hard time converting them into a product that you are trying to endorse or a brand that you want to hook up with and that's becomes a problem because then you don't have as much value to these companies that are looking to partner with you in the first place.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely. I think that was really, really important to say because in a way it's like any other brand, it's all about clarity of who they are and then focus on that and only that, right? Like we exist to do A, B and c. And so as a personal trainer, you exist to do A, B, and C. This is your tribe. These your people. This is you as a personal brand and only associate yourself with a couple of other brands. Don't overdo it. Be authentic. And I think you touched on something really interesting that I naively did not immediately see, the idea that celebrities and Hollywood celebrities and the typical A list and B list celebrities are very different from influencer celebrities because they basically just, they had to hustle to get there, but different than in Hollywood where they just basically it happened suddenly overnight and they know exactly who to thank for, which is not one source that pushed them up there or one movie that they get into. But it's actually hundreds and hundreds and thousands of people. It's their tribe. So I think they are grateful. And so I think that that's the difference that you must probably really enjoy working with influencers because they know that you're adding a lot of value to them and you're pushing them further out.C Szopa:                       Absolutely, no, you hit the nail on the head. We really do enjoy it because of that reason is they feel, they just feel more approachable. They feel like if just, another one of us, if we're working alongside them as a full suite partner that we are, we're a team. And so it very much feels like a partnership and not like a client relationship in that way.F Geyrhalter:                 Vendor.C Szopa:                       Yeah. A vendor relationship. Thank you. So that's really where Plankk kinda was born from, to be honest, is influencers are recognizing that they have an opportunity to build a business here, to go and do something with the clout that they have in the market. They're seeing that there's more and more people that are catching on to them and following them as they kind of hone in on that value offering that we were talking about before. And then they realize, okay, well, where do we go with this? And really that's what Plankk has set out to do in the offering the platform that we have is, okay, we'll partner with you and not only help you with the custom design and development of your app and the photo shoot that goes along with that. And then all of the launch marketing, branding as we're obviously talking about today, growth strategy, even social media strategy. We'll help out with each one of our partners into how we actually get a little bit more conversion coming into their app and even just helping to grow their following. We've really become a full suite partner to them to ensuring that as they grow and their brand becomes more successful on social media, that in turn it's relating to the products that we're working with them on to help them monetize. And to grow a successful program around that.F Geyrhalter:                 And obviously since it's the trainers are so invested, like when you actually created Plankk Studio as an app, I'm sure you get continuous feedback from them and from the actual potential users. Right. I'm sure there was a lot of that back and forth work. Did you ever go against what they believe the app needed to do or did you add a feature you or your team obsessed over and they were just not sure if this is going to work?C Szopa:                       Yeah, no, it's a great question because I mean part of being in technology is to your point, you always want to be getting that customer feedback and figuring out, what does that next thing that maybe the users asking for or doesn't know yet and we'll end up becoming addicted to, and wanting to tell their friends and ultimately result in the success of the apps. So I'd say the biggest thing for us that we took a bit of a gamble on with that would have been live streaming. There really hasn't been, obviously Instagram and Instagram Live and what they've rolled out with Facebook Live and across all their platforms has become the household name as far as a live stream experience goes. But there really hasn't been anybody that's come into the health and wellness space and built this and curated this live streaming experience around fitness. And so we wanted to take our influencer partners and their audience and also add more people to the community so that people can find our influencers on Plankk Studio, and build this curated livestream experience that really was world class and like nothing else out there. And obviously there's a couple now that people know with some of the competitors in the market, but we really feel like Plankk Studio's taken it to the next level. And that was a risk that we had to take, in assuming that the users would like that.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, no, absolutely. So here's the million dollar question. No one receives money doing an exchange. But what does branding mean to you? You know, it's such a nasty word. I mean it gets such a bad rep, but what does, I guess like influencers, right? That those are all words that are so mistaken, but what does branding mean to you, now that you worked on, on establishing so many other brands in one way or the other.C Szopa:                       Yeah, no, I think the biggest thing is just making sure that you're aligned with what people think about your company and what you actually do as a company, what you actually offer them. Because the last thing you'd want as is some sort of false belief there for what people are hoping to come in and have an experience and walk away with something completely different. So for us, when we think about what's that like to come onto a live stream experience with my favorite fitness creator in the world, we want to make sure that you feel like that live stream was better than just pressing play on a YouTube video. We want to make sure that you feel like the livestream on Plankk Studio is bringing you closer to Valentino or Ingrid, Romero or Whitney Johns, inside of the Plankk Studio ecosystem because you couldn't quite make it down to LA to work out with them at their gym or wherever you are around the world. So it's making sure that there's alignment between what you're representing as a brand and then what the consumer is feeling as a result.F Geyrhalter:                 That's great. Yeah. And marketing and product, right. How do the two relate and how do they walk the same walk and talk the same talk. What is one piece of brand advice besides maybe that has been it, because that was great brand advice for founders of apps, or founders in general as one last takeaway. Do you have anything where you can think of, well that's something that we screwed up in the beginning or that's something that I learned that it's so important or is it really that idea of you know, of product, that marketing kind of like being in the same ...C Szopa:                       Well, I mean, Fabian, to further build on what you're getting at there with the product and marketing side of it is when you're first starting out, that's really is what matters. A lot of people felt guilty to okay, we have to go and find a brand and then build around that to be successful. But it's really the opposite. You're going to build, if you go and you build a strong product and you have some strong marketing and people you surround yourself with. Like for us, we actually started off with a different name and it was really just meant to be a working title because we knew that the brand would come later. And it wasn't until our first product hit the market and was out there, and we had our first app that had the screens that said everywhere, Powered by Plankk, that we really had that turning point as a company where our brand was out there and it was going to be trusted. And that's kind of what matters, is in the early stages, people end up fretting so much about the logo and the name and this different little things that just get them down rabbit holes as opposed to just focusing on a strong product and what the actual opportunity is and then how to get the right first customer or people working alongside you so that you can get that product to market and then have it be successful. And at that point you should be thinking about what the brand is evolving into and where you want to be. And that's really what happened with us is when our first app did hit the market, you know the Powered by Plankk branding that was everywhere, then started to give confidence to these other people that we had talked to that were like, you know what maybe I should be doing an app with Plankk and people started to come to us.C Szopa:                       So I think people, just to circle back to your question, often fret too early and too much about branding right out of the gate, as opposed to just kind of taking that next step in the right direction of the company.F Geyrhalter:                 Create trust first and once you have trust, there will be income and once there's income, you can focus on the brand.C Szopa:                       Yep. That's a good way of putting it.F Geyrhalter:                 You can basically go for growth. I think it's great. I think that's one of many different ways of doing it. But that is the way where you really know you've got product market fit and then afterwards you can start investing.C Szopa:                       Yeah. And sometimes it might not necessarily mean you know, income. Income can Be defined in different ways, right? Whether that's users, not everybody's looking for revenue rate out of the gate, even product market fit can still be a little further down the road, but at least knowing that you're on that track and your customer facing now and you've done the right research and you've got the pilot or feedback loop in place so that you're able to say, yeah, like we can see where this is evolving, where this is going to, let's make sure we're making the right steps as a company on our brand for the decisions we're making, who we're working with and why. And that's really, when we came up with the name Plankk at that point was we wanted to make sure that it was something that was going to be a strong name that represented our product and represented the platform that we have between, connecting an influencer of their community. And then as well as just making sure that it had some sort of fitness connotation to it. So you know, that's where Plankk really was born from is when we were client facing, we wanted to make sure it was representing where we saw the company going.F Geyrhalter:                 Where can anyone find and use your app? I guess I have an answer. I have a feeling I know where but hey, maybe you're hiding apps well outside the app stores.C Szopa:                       Yeah, no, I mean it's definitely easy to find. Yeah, we're available on Plankk Studio is available on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store and yeah, I mean that's probably the best place to go and to check out this kind of higher quality experience that we're offering with live streams and on demand and you can also access it online as well. And is the place to find us.F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you, Colin. This was really insightful and it was tons of fun.C Szopa:                       Yeah, I had a great time. Thanks for having meF Geyrhalter:                 And thanks to everyone for listening and please hit that subscribe button and give this show a quick rating. This is a brand new show and it needs ratings, ratings, many ratings. S'il vous plaît. Bitte. Please. Por favor. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy, creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn about FINIEN at The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness One. I will see you next time when we, once again, we'll be Hitting the Mark.
Download from Google Play
Download from App Store