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Hitting The Mark

Author: Fabian Geyrhalter

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Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.
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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 brazibites.com. 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 patreon.com/hittingthemark. 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 patreon.com 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

2019-10-2500:31:39

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 patreon.com/hittingthemark 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 patreon.com/hittingthemark.This 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 charity:education.com.F 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 charitywater.org/birthdays. 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 charitywater.org/thespring.F Geyrhalter: We'll link out to that.S Harrison: Or even thespring.com. 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 Patreon.com/hittingthemark 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 finien.com. 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, idagio.com. 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 PATREON.com/Hittingthemark 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 PATREON.com/Hittingthemark 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 hittingthemarkpodcast.com, 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 hittingthemarkpodcast.com or by going to patreon.com/hittingthemark. 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 hittingthemarkpodcast.com 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 antisroofing.com, 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 hittingthemarkpodcast.com, 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 JourneyMeditation.com, 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. JourneyMeditation.com 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 Resonaid.com That is A-I-D, as in aiding to resonate. Resonaid.com.I 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 liquiddeath.com. 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 finien.com. 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.&pizza.com, 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.
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