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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.
41 Episodes
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Learn more about NikolaFollow Trevor on TwitterSupport the show and get on monthly mentorship calls with Fabian. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Trevor. It's an incredible honor to have you on Hitting The Mark.Trevor:Thanks guys. It's going to be a lot of fun. A lot of stuff's happened, even over the last week. Wow.F Geyrhalter:I wanted to start off with that. I mean, it's been an interesting last week for you. You're officially trading on Nasdaq, which is amazing. And during this whole thing, during the quarantine, must've been a very strange kind of experience for you.Trevor:Yeah. Second biggest day of my life, I tell people, because the first day was when I got married, but the second day definitely was being listed on the Nasdaq. I mean, that's everyone's dream, to become listed on the Nasdaq and doing it through the coronavirus was actually incredible, because I'm a big believer in trying to find the good in all situations. And there was a lot of really difficult things going on around the world with the coronavirus, very sad. And so we turned Nikola into America's comeback story, and that was a company that the world could rally behind that, they'd be proud. America would be proud, the world would be proud. The first zero emission semi-truck manufacturer in the entire world, to be dedicated only to zero emissions. And the investors have heavily rewarded us for it. Today, we're at $53 a share or whatever, about $18 billion valuation in our company. And I mean, we're going to be overtaking the biggest brands in the world here, shortly. And what a wonderful experience that has been, on all levels.F Geyrhalter:And hence, I love having you on so much, especially now a couple days after this, it's amazing. I've been following your brand for quite a while. I'm a happy shareholder now too.Trevor:Oh, thanks.F Geyrhalter:I'm glad to hear the news today. That's good, it seems like we're going into the right direction. But just to read a couple of bullet points from your press release, you raised more than $700 million. Pre-orders represent more than $10 billion in potential revenue and your hydrogen network anticipates to cover all of North America and it sets to become the largest hydrogen network in the world. This is mind blowing, but it's especially remarkable since you founded the company in 2014 and you only officially launched in 2016 with a prototype and only a few engineers. Further, if I'm correct, you're only 37 now, right?Trevor:38.F Geyrhalter:38?Trevor:Yeah, 38.F Geyrhalter:So you started the company when you were 29, out of your basement. So how did you get from there in 2016, to where you are now? I mean, it is not easy to create a company like yours.Trevor:No.F Geyrhalter:Talk us through a little bit of the founding steps. You're kind of compared sometimes, a little bit to Apple, the way that you guys were all sitting in your basement, you know?Trevor:Yeah. I have some really cool articles on my LinkedIn that I would recommend everyone go read. And I put some serious thought into those very heartfelt discussions about what it took to get here. And I'm going to tell you what those are right now, but I want people to know if they want to read in detail, they can go there. I've told everybody that I've ever met, that if you want to create wealth, it will not happen in under 10 years, ever. There are maybe one or two examples in the world that ever did happen quicker than that, unless you just got lucky, like some oil on your property or whatever it may be.But ultimately if you're going to create real wealth, it is a 10 year program and most likely, you're going to fail, the odds are against you. So here's what I tell people, "Look, if you want to be an entrepreneur and you want to do this, it is the most rewarding and invigorating thing on the planet Earth, when you succeed. It's also the most difficult, emotional, draining venture you'll ever do, when you fail. It'll wreck you, it'll wreck your body, your health, everything about you. So the risks are high, the rewards are high and the odds are, you're going to fail." Now, where people succeed is when they've got multiple failures and multiple successes underneath their belt.So this is my fifth company. I'm 38, it's my fifth company. Three of them have been successes and two have been failures. And it's amazing, because you look online and some people are bashing me because they're like, "Ah, I would never want this guy, this fraud, who's failed twice in his life to touch my money." And I'm like, "Well, you should definitely never invest in me or my company then, because I don't know a single baseball player in the world that does not strike out when you're hitting home runs." The best baseball players in the world have a .400 batting average, right?F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:And so, 4 out of 10... I would never want anyone touching my money, if they haven't failed. Because if you don't know what it's like to lose everything, then you're going to make some really stupid decisions in your life. And so, these are just haters, just online haters that just hate you no matter what.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:But to get here, that's the beauty of this. It started out of my basement, truly because we didn't know if we really had a product at that time. We worked out of there for a year. And here we are now, a $18 billion company, a couple days after the Nasdaq listing. So it's pretty incredible.F Geyrhalter:It's a story of determination, that's for sure. Especially going against this kind of industry and fitting in and standing out, it's not easy. Let me share Nikola's mission with the audience. It's to "Transform the transportation industry while improving our employees' lives and leaving the world a better place." Now you're very much a visionary, so mission and vision and values and all of this brand work that I usually do with my clients, that must come naturally to you. But I wonder, have you used outside help to create those brand pillars, like most companies do? Or was this Trevor sitting on his desk late at night, jotting them down?Trevor:It really was. It was a lot of, Trevor sitting down on his desk.F Geyrhalter:I'm not surprised.Trevor:And creating these things. I mean, look, here's the thing, I love communication. It's one of my favorite things in life. I value communication as one of my greatest talents and assets I have. And that's because you can communicate through all the craziness in the world. Like you said, there's so many brands out there, how do you create a brand that is so special to the world? Well, in order to do that, you have to solve problems that are special to the world. And you'll never stand out if you don't change the world.And in our mission statement, to leave this place a better place than we found it, I truly believe that. It's my life goal, to leave this place better than I found it. And Nikola, if we pull this off, which I believe we have a very good chance of doing. If we pull this off, with getting all of our trucks built, all over the world, then you're going to see the greatest reduction in emissions the world has ever seen, ever by any company on the planet. And so, that is why people are rewarding us. They're rewarding us because we're making a bigger change than anyone else is making.F Geyrhalter:Well, you are a purpose driven company and that's not just some brand statement, that is true, right? I mean, you're solving one of the biggest problems, that are out there right now.Trevor:Yeah, you're purpose driven and then you actually have to be profitable. I think that's why Nikola has done so well, is because our business model's huge, our margins are... We make five times more revenue than Daimler does. Now just imagine that, per truck sold. So the reason why we're successful is because we've vertically integrated the whole supply chain. So when you buy a diesel today, heaven forbid. You buy a diesel, you're going to spend 150 on the diesel, right? 150,000.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:Then, you're going to spend a million dollars on the oil to power that diesel, over the life of it. So the oil companies are back there, just clapping their hands, loving every second that Peterbilt or Daimler sells a diesel truck. Because they make more revenue than Peterbilt or Daimler has ever dreamed of making.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:So that's where I was like, "Dude, this is crazy. Why are we not sucking all that money out of the oil company's hands and putting it in our own pocket?" And that's what I did. I said, "Okay, we're going to sell the truck, but we're going to provide all the fuel at a fixed rate for seven years." And now, we've stabilized the cost of hydrogen, driven it down low, made it towards cheaper, that it can be cheaper than diesel. And we're taking that 750,000 to $1,000,000 in revenue, in oil and we're bringing it into our own pockets. Because we're not doing oil, we're doing hydrogen. And so we make five times more revenue, on every truck we sell, we get about a million dollars in revenue. So that's why Nikola has done so well.F Geyrhalter:So cool. Unbelievable. And you beat Daimler and Volvo and Tesla in bringing the world's first zero-emissions truck to market, right? I mean, that's one of their claims to fame. And you build your trucks in Ulm in Germany, where I was just visiting family a few months ago. So I'm wondering, the whole "Made in Germany" brand, so to speak, it had a lot of cachet. Was that a big reason to get German engineering or was it mainly logistics and a financial decision, with the first rollout? And of course, as a second part to the question, has the Volkswagen emissions scandal tainted this reputation within the market?Trevor:Oh man, the Volkswagen emissions scandal was like, I hate to ever take advantage of a bad situation, right? But I mean, it was the greatest thing for Nikola that's ever happened because the jackasses-F Geyrhalter:It was fuel to the fire.Trevor:... they lied to the whole world, they deceived everyone. People realized that they were cheaters and the world has now rewarded Tesla and Nikola for both pioneering zero emission around the world. But that's a whole different thing. Why is it built in Ulm? Well, let me break this out real quick. We have two factories. We have one going up in Coolidge Arizona, which is part of Phoenix Arizona. And we have one factory going up in Ulm Germany, right now. And Ulm is spelled U-L-M for all the Americans that don't know how to say Ulm.So the reason why we have Ulm Germany, is because our partner IVECO, we did a massive joint venture with IVECO and this joint venture is going to provide all the battery-electric and hydrogen-electric trucks to all of Europe. So right now, we were the first company to launch the zero-emission truck, we're the first company to do full production of a zero-emission truck. We were first and that's one of the greatest things out there. And it's a full production truck, over 300 miles. There are other people that have the little rinky-dink trucks that go like 150 miles, but I'm talking full 300 miles, pulling a real load.So we're the first company in the world to do it. They're coming out of Ulm Germany. In just a matter of, I would say less than a few months, we'll have the first ones coming out that are hand-built. And by middle to third quarter of next year, full production begins, out of that factory. So in the same time we're building our American factory for our American trucks, we're going to provide both the battery-electric and the hydrogen as well, but they're built to go longer distances, 500 plus miles. So that's kind of how everything's going right now is, yes, we did beat everybody. We beat Daimler, we beat Volvo, we beat Tesla, we beat everybody. And it's a wonderful feeling to be able to do that.F Geyrhalter:Oh, sure. Yeah, it's unbelievable. And even though you're known for your trucks, let's talk about that insanely cool Nikola Badger, which I believe you just made an announcement this morning, when we're recording that it is going to be available for pre-order starting June 29th. So this month, right?Trevor:It is. The Badger's this badass pickup truck. Well, let's just put it this way, the reason why people have not been a fan of electric pickup trucks is because they can't do what a gasoline can do, right? So even with the Cybertruck from Tesla or the Rivian truck, they're very small, they don't go very far. They can't pull a trailer up a 6% grade. They can't handle the continuous load that you can put on a gasoline vehicle. So that's always been the biggest hinderment to a electric truck, was people want a truck that can actually pull a trailer. They can take it to a construction site, they can drive around with their family, they can pull a boat with it or whatever.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah.Trevor:And so we built that. We built the most gorgeous, badass electric, hydrogen pickup truck in the world. And what sets it apart from everything, is that you can order the Badger as a battery-electric truck, that'll give you 3 to 400 miles on its own. And you can also order the Badger as a battery-electric and hydrogen truck, which will give you 600 plus miles on a range.F Geyrhalter:That's insane.Trevor:So the customer can fully spec it, how they want it. And everyone else is like either, "Oh, you'll only get battery." Well, some people need the continuous horsepower or the additional range that hydrogen gives you. And so, you can order either way with a Badger and we're the only ones in the world that offer that.F Geyrhalter:Well, it's 980 torque, I read and 906 horsepower. I mean, that's pretty unreal, right?Trevor:Yeah. It's a very pissed off truck and you have to be careful because it'll come off the ground. So we're having a lot of fun with it. And the best part is here, just in a few days, on June 29th, we're going to start accepting reservations of that. And we're going to show the real truck off here, at the end of this year, at Nikola World 2020. And I'm not talking about some show truck, I'm talking about a metal stamped, beautiful, gorgeous, fully-functioning interior, exterior, power windows, power seats, HVAC, just awesome truck. Every other person out there building trucks, half the features don't even work, because they're just show trucks. This is the real thing.F Geyrhalter:Well, I think you just totally hit the nail on its head, with this entire philosophy around it looking like the next awesome, but a bit more classy and way smarter truck. The design is really, really cool. I went to ArtCenter College of Design, which is a school known for its Transportation Design Alumni, shaping a lot of the industry. There is a lot of talk about tech and engineering with Nikola, but design is also extremely crucial to your company. Can you tell us a little bit about the design philosophy behind the brand and by now, I guess you have what? Six, seven different vehicles in the line?Trevor:So design is everything. I mean, listen, the reason why Apple is Apple, is because they have the greatest designs known to man. Their packaging is incredible, their experience is incredible and their product is stunning. And people don't get this. I mean, it's unbelievable how the automakers make the most ugly-ass vehicles you've ever seen and they expect them to sell. Nikola is, if you were to ever compare it to anything, the gorgeousness of what Apple does with their design and their products is very similar to what Nikola does. Every one of our products, you should see the battles that go on here at Nikola, with the design team and me.If people had a... If they were a fly on the wall, just the stories told would be funny because I come into my design studio and I'll tell my guys, I'm like, "Guys, I won't buy that. That's hideous. And I'll never allow that to be sold. You're going to fix that. And it's got to be something, if it will not sell me, no one will buy it." And it's brutal. You get in, sometimes you have to throw a whole vehicle away because you're like, "It just doesn't work. Nothing works. It doesn't work." And so the Nikola Badger, is probably the most gorgeous truck that's ever been built, in history, in my opinion. And a lot of people agree with that. And that's how all of our product lines are, even our big semi-truck, the Nikola Tre and the Nikola Two, worldwide they're known as the most beautiful semi-trucks ever designed. And imagine that, an American trying to build a European cabover, that's gorgeous.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:The Europeans can't even do that sometimes.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. And I think, one thing that is so important to point out is that a lot of these cars, they're like the future cars, right? You look at them and they don't really feel realistic. But what you guys are doing, you perfectly matched that idea of where people are today and what they expect the future to be, rather than these crazy idea cars that you can't even see them on the roads, right? So that's why I think what you guys did with the Badger is so perfect because it fits in today, yet it stands out. But it doesn't look like this awkward, I don't want to mention any of your competitors, but...Trevor:Well look, this is the thing about truck owners. I'll mention them, the people that are going to buy the Tesla Cybertruck are going to be Tesla fanatics. You're going to get a few people outside that are going to buy it, but it doesn't function as a real truck. It doesn't have the features of a real truck. Now, it's cool, when it comes to like, it's pushing the limits, but it's not a real truck. It doesn't have the visibility you get in a truck. It doesn't have the bed that you get in a truck. It doesn't have the ability to put a fifth wheel on it. A real truck needs to do what real trucks do. And so, we had to build a truck that was gorgeous, yet would function as a real truck. And we partnered up with, actually awesome, the Diesel Brothers. And it's really cool because the Diesel Brothers are known as building diesel trucks, right? They can break any truck ever built, they know how to modify every truck known to man and they know what parts fail.So it was interesting, because we got a lot of questions that said, "Why'd you partner up with Diesel Brothers? They do diesel, you guys are all about zero emission." And I'm like, "Yeah, but the Diesel Brothers, they don't stick their head in the sand and say, 'Oh, only diesel's ever going to function.' They came out and they said, 'Look, it is time now, the world's changing. And we want to be part of the greatest transformation of trucking engineering known to man. And it's going away from diesel right now, it's going to electric mobility.'" So we worked with the Diesel Brothers and they've really helped us build this pickup truck, to become a pickup truck that would never fail. And believe me, we're going to have failures, but we got the teams behind us to make sure that this truck is designed as a real truck.F Geyrhalter:And that's the power of partnerships, right? And understanding who to align yourself with, which is a huge, huge thing for entrepreneurs to learn.Trevor:Yes, this one really bothers me because I preach to people about how important it is to find people that are better than you, to work with. And to work with people that do things better than the things that you're not great at. And I went on this podcast and I got hammered by a lot of my competitors' fans. Because they're like, "Oh, Nikola doesn't do shit themselves. They outsource everything." No, that's not true. We do all the really important stuff, like intellectual property controls, software, hardware development, everything else, we do all that. But what we are not good at is building factories, right? And so these guys hammered us. I mean, all their followers, like tens of thousands are like, "Ah, Nikola's a total con job because they don't build their own factory. These guys are not Tesla."And I'm like, "Do you realize how many billions of dollars have been wasted by Tesla, because they didn't work with someone that knew how to build factories and do them..." I'm a big believer in working with people that are better than you. And so, I don't need to be so arrogant to say that I'm better than everyone at everything. I don't need to be better than everyone at everything. I need to be better than my competitors at one thing and I can beat them. And so, I think that's what we do is we're really good at partnerships. We're going to be signing a joint venture for the Nikola Badger with a big OEM and it's going to be sold, serviced, and warrantied through their dealership, all across America. And I get access to that, day one. I don't need to go out and spend $5 billion building our own service network.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:So I'm a big believer in partnerships.F Geyrhalter:And that's what happens when you failed a couple of startups and when you sold a couple of companies, right? I mean, that is just that kind of information that you gather throughout the journey. And a lot of people wouldn't understand that immediately. But we talked about you obviously competing head-on with Elon Musk. Tell me, is the Nikola brand name really derived from Tesla's first name, the actual inventor Nikola Tesla? Was that a "Go bold or go home" move of yours, where you said, "If we go in, we go fully in?"Trevor:Yeah. I mean, look, so it was named after the Serbian-Croatian brilliant mastermind that probably had a greater impact on society than anyone else in the world. He created the alternative current, the generator, the turbine, all kinds of things. This guy was the most brilliant electrical engineer known to man. He could power vehicles wirelessly. He could power homes wirelessly from miles away. Even today, we still don't know how he did it all.It was named after the inventor, Nikola Tesla, and it had nothing to do with Elon or Tesla themselves. They didn't even enter my mind when I was making this decision because I was naming it after the inventor. And just like millions of other people that looked up to that inventor, it's to pay tribute to him. Has nothing to do with the Tesla car company at all. It's just cool that Tesla is making one of the biggest impacts in the world for electric mobility in cars. And Nikola is making one of the biggest impacts in the world for Electromobility in trucks. And so, it is kind of cool to think about that, the fact that Nikola and Tesla are both kicking ass and beating everyone around the world.F Geyrhalter:And I noticed that you don't own a nikola.com, which is a very sad website for what appears to be a small electronics design engineering firm. There must have been a conversation to acquire the .com. What is the juicy story behind that domain name and how Nikola doesn't have the .com?Trevor:The name was taken already and the guy had no interest in selling it. So he may sell it one day, it's becoming more and more valuable. I'm sure he'll sell it to someone, it'll probably be someone who hates us and trashes us.F Geyrhalter:But no more interest from your end, you moved on.Trevor:No. Yeah. I mean look, everyone knows it's Nikola Motor. And when they look us up, it's already well established that way. We can see how many people actually type in our name and the wrong name and we might get 1% more that actually go to the right name. I don't care about the domain, it all comes down to the fact that it's Nikola Motor. It's not Nikola, it's Nikola Motor. So I don't know, who knows? If he ever wants to sell it, we talked but he had no desire to, and I'm sure our competitors will probably offer him some stupid amount of money and buy it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. Or he might ring you now that you're IPO.Trevor:I'll give him one of the first Badgers, one of the most valuable thing. He'll love that.F Geyrhalter:Oh, there you go. Done, you heard it here first. So let's talk about the brand a little bit more. I know we only have 10 more minutes or so, to go. But when my brother and I were kids and we were on those long road trips across Europe, in my parent's tiny little Renault, we played the game on who could identify passing cars by brand, based on their rims and logos. When was that N brand, the brand mark on the badge, the N. When was it crafted for Nikola? I feel like this is a more recent addition to the company's branding, right?Trevor:No, it was actually from day one. The N, it was from day one and it was made to be almost like a superhero logo. So if you were to look at Superman or you were at one of the other ones, you'll notice that it's one letter and usually circled by something. And that's why we went with the Nikola, that's why we designed that was, it's an N with a border around it. And what that does is, you can see it from a mile away and you'll know it's Nikola. It's so distinguishable that nothing ever will confuse it. And that was the idea is, it truly is a superhero. And that's what's cool about it. You'll see it from a mile away and everyone will know it's a Nikola, playing that game in their car, with all their children.F Geyrhalter:That's exactly it. You would have passed the test. What does branding mean to you? I mean, after going through a couple of startups and now having achieved what very few entrepreneurs will ever achieve with the IPO, what does branding mean to your company?Trevor:I'd say there's three or four main pillars of building a company that will last forever and actually make money. Branding and design is one of them. Your team is another one, your team. And then your ability to communicate is one of the four pillars. There's a ton of them, right? But the idea is, your ability to communicate, which is part of branding. Branding and design is everything. People, they want to touch your product, they want to be proud of it. And they're not going to go drop 60 to $100,000 on a pickup truck if they don't think it's the most gorgeous thing that they've ever seen. And people have got to learn, branding and design is everything.It's one reason why I love Audi. Look, there is no better design company, I think in the world than Audi itself. Their team has got their shit down so good, when it comes to branding and design. It's probably the only thing that saved Volkswagen. And that's why you got to be an expert at branding and design. It's everything, it speaks to someone's soul. People have to be proud of representing what you have and that's why the branding and design's so important.F Geyrhalter:Well, and the brand is the soul of your company too, so it touches everything. It touches your company culture, HR, it goes pretty deep. And since your company is based on a strong purpose, on actually changing the world, I'm sure that that had ripple effects from the get-go. I'm sure you don't have a hard time hiring people in your company.Trevor:No.F Geyrhalter:If we think about the DNA of your brand, right? That one word that could describe your brand. I always love to figure out, what can it be, if we just put everything into one concise word? So if you think about Coca Cola, they really try to push the word, happiness, right? If you think about Zappos, it's definitely customer service, right? They're all about service. What is one word that could potentially describe your brand? What could be the brand DNA of your company, if you would have to put it in a funnel and really figure out like, what could be one word? Totally on the spot here. But I know you can do it.Trevor:It would be hard to put it on one word, but I'd say it's something along the lines of emissions, game over.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.Trevor:Everything we stand for, is getting rid of emissions and diesel is dead. It's everything around transformation. I would say probably transformation is really our... Because it transforms everything. It transforms, design, style, the culture, emissions. So if it had to be one word, probably transformation.F Geyrhalter:I think you nailed it nicely. You talked yourself through this one well. Communication, right? That's what it is. What's a final piece of brand advice for founders, as a takeaway? You already dropped a lot of them, but if you have someone listening, who's like, "Man, I would love to get my company to IPO. How do I do it?" Do you want to point them back to the LinkedIn article? Or is there something that is on your mind where you feel like, "Look, this is one thing that entrepreneurs just always, always mess up?"Trevor:No, there's two articles they need to go read. They're more powerful than anything I can say today, because I laid out with written words and they can study it. There's two articles. One's called A random airport encounter. And the other one's called How to get back up when you've lost everything. These two articles are the most powerful articles you'll ever read, in my opinion, as an entrepreneur ever. They're coming from the most painful position I've ever felt in my life, losing everything. It comes from a position of love and happiness and hope and explaining to people what it means to not give up. Everyone fails and you're going to fail hard. And the key is to never, ever quit, no matter how hard or how long it is, you can never, ever give up.And those articles are incredible because they go into detail. The airport one's about a kid who I met in the airport asking me, how he was going to college and he was thinking about becoming an entrepreneur and what advice I had for him. And I gave him a quick five minute thing in the airport. He had no idea who I was either, by the way, he had no clue.F Geyrhalter:That's great.Trevor:I was just talking to this kid. And then later he found out who I was and he sent me an email. And I gave him this written letter back and I posted this letter I gave him. And it's me writing to this kid. And I'm telling you, it's one of the most powerful letters you'll ever read. And I hope it's taught in every business school in the world because it's not like any letter you'll ever read. It's not written by a professor, it's written by pain. It's written by absolute failure and everything I learned in these situations. And then it's also written by hope, about how to get out of it.And that's a real life experience, of this shit storm you're going to go through to build your own company and ever get listed, is you better be ready to have battle wounds and scars all over your body and you better be ready to dedicate 10 years, or you're going to fail. And you're probably going to fail anyways. But then these are ways you can actually get back up and keep going. And eventually, like Mark Cuban says, all you got to do is hit it once. All you got to do is hit a home run one time, that's it and they'll love you, just do it once. It doesn't matter if it takes you five times, all you got to do is do at once.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. What was the most ginormous brand fail that you went through, with Nikola?Trevor:Say that again, I'm sorry. What were you asking?F Geyrhalter:What was the biggest brand fail that you went through, with Nikola, with the actual current-Trevor:What do you mean by brand fail? I haven't used that terminology here. What do you mean by brand fail?F Geyrhalter:Where do you feel like your company did something, from a branding perspective, where it just bombed, like maybe it was a statement that you put out or maybe it was a name you gave a certain vehicle or maybe you just communicated something in a certain way where afterwards you were like, "Oh, Whoa, that totally went the wrong way?"Trevor:Well, luckily we haven't had too many of those moments, because of a lot of the experiences I've had, but I'll tell you the one that made the biggest difference. When we first started out, there was no technology and fuel cell or battery electric yet. It was very, very new. And so we started out as a turbine electric, natural gas, hybrid truck. And that was the only technology available at the time. And that was pushing the limits. And I went to my board and I said, "Guys, the technology fuel cell is now far enough along and batteries, we have to pivot from this low-emission turbine to a fuel cell." And my board shit a brick. Like, "There's no way, we're already far down this road. We can't just pivot." And I said, "You don't know me. I don't care what the repercussions are."And this is something I teach in that letter, when you have a conviction of something, you better listen to yourself. And I said, "It's time to change, and I change it." And they freaked out. I mean, it was almost relationship severing, right? And sure enough, it was the biggest, greatest, smartest move we ever did, going zero emission. Once that technology was far enough along, we could pioneer it. And man, what an impact it made. And it's a single reason why we're here today. So to all the entrepreneurs out there, you better believe in yourself, and if you do, stand by your convictions, no matter what anyone tells you. You're the only one qualified to make those decisions. Don't listen to the people around you, make your own decisions.F Geyrhalter:Amen. I need to let you go, I promised you. So listeners who want to see your line of trucks or get their hands on the most badass zero-emission truck, as you call it, the Nikola Badger, where can they find you?Trevor:They can go to nikolamotor.com, that's where all of our products are. And then, they can also follow me on Twitter, nikolatrevor. And our company Twitter's nikolamotor. I would definitely follow me on Twitter, because you get data way faster than you get it anywhere else. So make sure you follow me on Twitter, @nikolatrevor.F Geyrhalter:Twitter's the new homepage. Awesome. Well, thank you Trevor, for having been on the show, especially after the IPO, this is a crazy week for you. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with my audience. We all really appreciate it.Trevor:Thank you so much. All right. Take care. Bye bye.F Geyrhalter:Awesome. Thanks. Bye Trevor.
Learn more about Knife AidSupport the show and get on monthly mentorship calls with Fabian. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Mikael.M Soderlindh:Thank you for welcoming me to the show.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. So I thought you would be in Los Angeles because that's where you started your new brand but you are currently back in Sweden.M Soderlindh:Yeah. I got a little bit panicked when somebody tried to lock me up and hold me confined in a small space. So, I actually jumped on a plane back to Sweden, that is open. Everything is as normal but we practice social distancing here. And the way of the US opening going back to somewhat normality, I'm staying over here.F Geyrhalter:Perfect. And we'll be able to welcome you back soon, I have a feeling.M Soderlindh:Yes.F Geyrhalter:So, let's not beat around the bush. You are the co-founder of Happy Socks, the immensely iconic and much loved brand that has reached 90 countries and every single continent. You've got concept stores all over the world, LA to Tokyo, Happy Socks can be found in over 10,000 fashion apparel boutiques. But we won't talk about Happy Socks today, at least not a whole lot. Instead, we will talk about Knife Aid, your new one year old startup that is ... Drum rolls, please. In the business of shipping back super sharp knives to people with not so sharp knives. Correct, Michael is now sharpening your knives. I guess it's, happy knives for you after Happy Socks. How did this all come about? This is such a huge shift. Tell us a little bit about that story of this new brand.M Soderlindh:Having the track record in what we did with Happy Socks, where we really turned the everyday commodity into something fantastic, a piece of fashion that everybody could wear, that shows an emotion and an expression of a person. And it really was something super, super boring that we made into a happy item. And, being in that area, I personally felt that, I don't want to put another product to the market. I don't want to take another thing to the market that doesn't have any purpose, really. And I super enjoy cooking and I have sharp knives when I cook, I enjoy that. I'm always out in nature. And when you're in nature, you're fishing or you're camping, you always have a knife with you and you need a sharp knife. And in Sweden where I'm from, I was inspired by a business to business set up where restaurants could subscribe to sharp knives. Somebody sharpening their knives and they sent them back and they circulated the knives. And they just started doing this to the regular consumers. And I found them and I was like, "You know what? This is a business to business idea." But what if you would tweak it and do it to a business to consumer. Because we know that there's a lot of home chefs, the trends are going that people want to start cooking at home. You cook exclusive ingredients and everything. It's like home cooking is just exploding in the organics and everything. And we know that people enjoy a sharp knife. So I was like, "Wow, this is a great opportunity." And starting to look on this, I was like, "What is a market you want to do it on?" You don't want to do it in Sweden where you've got 10 million people. You want to do it on the world's biggest market that loves service and consumption. And said and did a partner with a neighbor in Sweden. And we said, "Let's move to Malibu and start this knife sharpening business." And when the waves are right, we surf and when the waves aren't right, let's sharpen knives, you know?F Geyrhalter:Just that simple. And you know, you had to twist his arm when you said, "Hey, let's move to Malibu and start this little company, right?M Soderlindh:Yeah. And luckily he was an entrepreneur, as well. And you know, two crazy entrepreneurs moving over to Malibu is relatively easy. But then you have the thing that you have wives, family, kids.F Geyrhalter:Right.M Soderlindh:Commitments. But all in all, we moved over to the US and my task was basically to put this business up, get it into branding, fix the branding and market it. And he was going to run it as a CEO.F Geyrhalter:And that's how it still works currently?M Soderlindh:Yes. That's how it works.F Geyrhalter:So, how has COVID-19 affected the brand? I mean, was it positive or negative for the brand? Because it seems like we are all turning into master chefs these days, right? We are confined, at least here in the US. You escaped on time but we are confined and we don't want to buy new stuff, either. So, it sure sounds like a pretty good opportunity for people to use your service.M Soderlindh:So what I noticed was once this hit us, we had to make sure that we were an essential business. Of course, we're an essential business because people might need sharp knives. Kitchens, restaurants, and such businesses needs to prepare food. So, luckily we were in the essential businesses and can maintain our operations. After that once it hit, we saw that traffic sales dropped tremendously, tremendously. It was like our ads on Facebook. You advertise a lot on Facebook and Instagram's, nobody was clicking on it, going further. But then after two, three weeks, once the news people had read up and you're tired of pressing on another link on COVID-19, you start to interest with what you're interested about. And everybody is stuck in their home, ordering their food, cooking their food, realizing that their knives are dull. So, our traffic and return on ad spend blew out of the roof.F Geyrhalter:Interesting. That's awesome.M Soderlindh:And we have been so busy the last three, four weeks with orders, which is an amazing accomplishment. So, it really shows that people are home ordering food, cooking and enjoying the spirit of it.F Geyrhalter:I had a feeling. And when you talked about how you're an essential business and how restaurants still need sharp knife, are you also going into the B2B component of this or is it still completely just directly to the consumer?M Soderlindh:No, absolutely. So I would say, we are completely branded towards a consumer. The consumer that has super expensive knives to a regular set of Amazon $50 set of knives. We go across the span. So, that's how we set up, super simple to order, one pricing, easy. But we have noticed that a lot of businesses, they don't have any options to sharpen their knives and it's very easy to order our service. So they have jumped on our service, as well. So, I would say 30% of our businesses, business to business, currently.F Geyrhalter:That's really cool because for them it's most probably a cost saver because they didn't have to subscribe to any B2B service that is most probably more cumbersome with contracts and whatnot.M Soderlindh:And I would say also, there is still a lot of people that comes with their truck to the restaurant and then you go out, leave your knives in the same day and they sharpen them, then drop it in the restaurant like an ice cream truck or a milk truck going to ... So, it exists still but in this way, they can get their knives sharpened anytime they want.F Geyrhalter:How crazy was that R&D component, which is really the mailing component of the brand launch. I had the fabulous Jeni of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, who you might or might not know. I had her on and she talked about how shipping ice cream was such a major breakthrough for her brand to actually do it the right way. How difficult was it to create the mailer concepts for Knife Aid?M Soderlindh:We started in January 2019. We started our business and I would say the first three, four months, we were really trying on how to ship their knives so that they would be safe, not go through the envelope. We had a really, really nice envelope, a mailer to put the knives in but it was the protective sleeves to keep the knives safe inside the envelope. That was the thing that we needed to tackle and get a good way of doing it without the knives ... Somebody sending us their sharp knives, they can't go through the mailer because then we would possibly hurt somebody in the Post Office.F Geyrhalter:True. Or the consumer. Yeah, anyone along the chain.M Soderlindh:And how do you find a solution so that the consumer can pop up their knife without themself getting cut?F Geyrhalter:Totally, totally.M Soderlindh:And then, a consumer when they get something, they do not read, they do not follow instructions. So, you can basically write and say whatever you want but they're not going to do it. They're going to do as they find appropriate themselves. So in the end, we came up with a really, really super simple idea and it's been working without any problems. We had one problem along the way, was that our envelope wasn't ... When it got wet, it, like cardboard box paper, it can get a little bit soggy and it can erode. So, we had to come up with weatherproof mailers to surround the envelopes. So we have three protection layers now around the knives, which is, now we're completely safe and good.F Geyrhalter:Right, right. No, I had a feeling this would be difficult. And there, you hinted at this a little bit in the beginning, there is actually a deeper layer that can be peeled away behind your knife sharpening business. Here's the abbreviated mission statement that I took from your website. Here it goes, "Our mission was to develop a sustainable business that does not contribute to more consumption but instead maintains and restores the value of what we already own while at the same time, bringing joy to the preparation of what we like the most." So here's my question. Do you see yourself as a mission driven brand?M Soderlindh:Absolutely. I think you can't put a brand to the market today without having a mission and purpose. The consumer is going to see through you because it's like, of course, everybody's out there. You want to make some money, you want to be profitable but you still want to contribute to something good. And I need to have a purpose when I do something. I can't just like, "Oh, I want to do some knife sharpening." And why would I want to do that, if it's not something in it that I like. And I like the fact that, why would you throw away a knife and get a new sharp knife when you can recycle it, it's sustainable.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely.M Soderlindh:It's an amazing, amazing idea. And I think that's really how knives and swords ... If you look back in centuries, you got your dad's sword. It was a nice sword and then you just maintained it. And that's how we should see a knife today, is rather buy a nice knife and maintain your knife. And it's a lifetime product that you can pass on for generations.F Geyrhalter:Totally, totally. So sword aid is next. But look, you're not selling sexy socks anymore, right? With this brand. So, knife sharpening does not fall into that aspirational line of business, even though I myself am quite keen on sharpening my knives just about every month, which is worse than my-M Soderlindh:Wow.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah. It's much worse than my dad though, who sharpened them literally before every single meal preparation. So, it runs in the family.M Soderlindh:No. But that's honing, that's honing.F Geyrhalter:Oh, tell me more about that. What's the difference?M Soderlindh:No. So, what I would say this is. So you go to the dentist one time per year and then you brush your teeth every day, hopefully twice a day.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.M Soderlindh:So what I would say, is with your knives, you send them off to professional sharpening one time per year and then every day you maintain it with a honing steel or leather or whatever you have at home.F Geyrhalter:I see.M Soderlindh:But every year you need to straight the cutting angle and the blade, it needs to be straightened and done professionally.F Geyrhalter:I see.M Soderlindh:I compare it to going to the dentist and brushing your teeth. It's exactly the same thing.F Geyrhalter:So you just busted my myth of me sharpening my knives every day. I'm actually not sharpening my knives every day or once a month. I'm just maintaining them. That's all I do.M Soderlindh:Yeah, exactly. You're owning it. And some people, they have a honing steel, they have a honing leather. They might have a stone at home they can do it on. But most knives needs professional sharpening.F Geyrhalter:Cool, very good. Getting back to my question about it not being like sexy socks, right? How do consumers learn about your brand? Is it mainly social ads and be targeting? Or how do you advertise knife sharpening without falling into that infomercial cliché?M Soderlindh:So, I'm sorry. My job is to make something boring and sexy, make it aspirational. That is what I do, that's what I live on. That's what I make my money from. And I think the one person that wouldn't say, "If you go into knifeaid.com, it's not an unsexy page. It's a really cool dude with the twos, sharpening and knife. It's a craft. It's a craft doing somebody's knife. It's not something anybody can do. It's a trade, it's something you learn how to do. And so, a knife is a very sexy item, as well. So, I think it's how you compone it, how you put it together that makes it interesting. And so, no, I'm not agreeing that it's like very boring. When somebody comes into our workshop, they're like, "Wow, it's a moment ..." It's a little bit dangerous when you're sharpening knives. It's a machine and it moves and it's sharp. So, it has this little, I don't know, spice of curiosity, danger, craft men, women doing it. And we have super talented women that have been jewelry designers before doing it. They need to have something in it. So, I see it as a very sexy industry.F Geyrhalter:I see it. I see it as such, too. I am just wondering for the consumer, how do you change that perception? Because I mean, it's one of those skills that has been seen for years.M Soderlindh:All of us get stuck on Facebook and Instagram and we see these crazy videos with people doing things. How can they do that? How can they do this craft? Or how they can do this? And how can they build a tree house? We just get stuck on this when we follow with social media.F Geyrhalter:Totally.M Soderlindh:And that's a little bit how we have created our social media advertising is that, you see somebody holding a knife and how it actually works when you sharpen it. And people get a little bit stuck in that. And then we just add in there, "Okay, order your envelope, put your knife inside, get them back within three to six days sharp. It's like, get them stuck into the trade and then we show them how we can help them.F Geyrhalter:Cool, very cool. And do you do any celebrity campaigns, as well, or anything like that? Do you go into the Food Network and into that arena? Because I mean, obviously, that was a huge part with Happy Socks, doing brand collaborations.M Soderlindh:Yeah. We were just about to launch that before COVID-19.F Geyrhalter:Okay, okay.M Soderlindh:So, I would say we put it on hold until after this pandemic.F Geyrhalter:Okay. It was a logical next thing. And talking about this and we have to talk about Happy Socks for one quick second, you have to amuse me with this. What was your strangest brand collaboration with Happy Socks? I mean, you did everything from the depth, like Keith Haring and Andy Warhol to the very much a life like Steve Oakey and Snoop Dog. But was there any campaign that was just super strange and like a complete riot?M Soderlindh:Yeah. My favorite one was probably when we started really the big breakthrough globally and we got a little bit of profitability and could spend it on advertising when we worked with the world famous photographer, David LaChapelle.F Geyrhalter:Oh, wow. Yeah.M Soderlindh:And we were like, "Okay, we want a couple of pictures, so we could do some ..." We never did any advertising that we could PR with these pictures. And then we want you to do a crazy movie. And he came up with the most awkward, crazy movie. And when he presented this, he was like, "Guys, if I'm going to do it, it has to be like I want to do it, otherwise I'm not going to do it." And we're like, "But this is not very commercial." He's like, "I want to do it." And we're like, "Okay, let's do it." And it's the absolute weirdest movie that I ever imagined.F Geyrhalter:Is it available online? Can people YouTube it and find it?M Soderlindh:Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.M Soderlindh:It's David LaChapelle, Happy Socks movie. And it's a eight minute long movie about a girl going crazy and she dances her socks off. And it ends with blood, death and everything and it's awkward and she's a prostitute and it's so awkward.F Geyrhalter:Oh, it's hilarious.M Soderlindh:And he's so well-known and it was the first time we really got to work with a big name. And we heard all these stories about how crazy he was and how sometimes he didn't show up for work. And everybody has these myths around them that are famous and we're like, "Oh, we're going to work with him." And when we came to the site where we're going to do the recording and everything, he was first there. He was the most engaged person I've ever seen and so committed, so inspirational and everything. And he got everything done on time, just a perfectionist. He was such a great person to work with. So, that was probably my best and most awkward moments.F Geyrhalter:That's hilarious. I mean look, I think if you let an artist do what an artist wants to do, then they're very professional about it. I think you did the right thing. A follow up question relating to Happy Socks and it comes with my accent. How is the David Hasselhoff swimwear line going? I was laughing out loud when I first heard about it. I'm Austrian, right? Even though I live in LA for over 20 years and somehow in Austria and Germany, he can fill stadiums singing. Something the rest of the world does not even know could be possible. Both the stadiums and the half singing. So I went on happysocks.com to look for your Hoff inspired swimwear line. And all I found was a happy Hoff T-shirt in your store. Was it solely a campaign or did the Hoff actually design some sexy, tight European swimwear for you?M Soderlindh:No, no, no, no. He was another amazingly inspirational guy. And I think you're under exaggerating, when you say, he can fill a stadium. He can fill a country in Europe. He's so big.F Geyrhalter:It's amazing.M Soderlindh:This person in Germany and Austria, I don't think that anybody understands how big his name is and his legacy in these countries. It's amazing. No, he actually was very involved in the development of the campaign and it was an amazing moment to work with him where he takes off his red trunks and puts all these colorful Happy Socks Swimwear. And I know the swimwear line has been really interesting for us.F Geyrhalter:That's that's very good. Yeah. No, in the US it's funny. I mean, he lives in the US, I assume. And that's where everything started and here people kind of forgotten about him and once you fly for nine hours, suddenly life is totally different. It's so strange.M Soderlindh:I wouldn't say forgotten about him. The campaign that we did has a tremendous success, even in the US.F Geyrhalter:Oh, that's cool. That's great.M Soderlindh:The press and everything loved it. It was another of our most crazy campaigns. We've had so many crazy, fun campaigns and I'm dying to do the same ... That is really what my role is going to be in Knife Aid, as well. Now, once I set it up and I got the marketing and everything working with Knife, it is like, "Okay, how can we tweak it and get a bigger audience?" And the next step is, collaborations and what crazy chefs, things, people with knives, can we associate ourselves with and get a bigger reach?F Geyrhalter:Totally. I mean, and this is why this is so exciting to me to have you on because it's so early on in your new brands. I mean, I would love to have you on in four years from now or three years from now, again, because I have a feeling that Knife Aid is just really being born right now, even though it's existing and it's running. The opportunity with the brand, it's just skyrocketing. It's pretty amazing.M Soderlindh:It really is, it really is. And it's like, you know what? Yeah, of course you need to meet venture capitalists and get some finances into a business. And when you just put it in one of these keynotes and you're like, "Okay, the market is 128 million households in the US." It's literally, you have 128 million households who has dull knives because I don't know a single family out there who tells me when I tell them I sharpen knives. They're like, "Oh, I need to get my knives sharpened," because everybody has dull knives.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. No, totally. It just takes a little bit of convincing. So, talking about VC money, like a handful of my guests, you were also on Shark Tank and that ended up being quite the riot. I watched it last night, it was insane. What did it do for your new brand?M Soderlindh:We did the recording, I think five, six months after launch. And it was aired nine or 10 months after it launched. So three, four months after. It tripled our business, it gave recognition, a brand impact. It gave it the trust. I really think it changed the perception of what we were doing. Coming from a non US background to America and my mission was, how can I get something that is well recognized, has a broad reach through out the US population ... With, I think they reached six or eight million people in the US with this show. And I was like, "The only thing I want to do is be on Shark Tank." And I'm not the natural entrepreneur that really need to go on the show but I was like, "This is my favorite show, I want to do Shark Tank. I need to be on the Shark Tank Show." And I did everything to get on the show. I got on the show and we recorded it and five minutes before I was on the show, I was like, "Oh, why am I doing this? They will make a fool out of me." And remember, I don't need to be on this show. And I have no way to afterwards say, "Please don't show this or anything." I'm stuck, if they do a fool out of me.F Geyrhalter:I know. Yeah.M Soderlindh:I was so nervous and we did this show and it turned out tremendously good for us. And it's the best thing I've done and the most exciting thing I've done in my career.F Geyrhalter:Well, and just for the listeners, so they know. When you guys, the two of you, you and your cofounder stepped outside for a couple of minutes to make up your mind, if you're going to take the offer or not take the offer, which offer to take. You took a little longer than expected, so everyone started to, one after another, come out of the stage to that hallway where you guys were standing and they started to make you better offers, which I have never seen on Shark Tank. I think that was pretty new.M Soderlindh:No. And I can even say that this was a cut version of what happened because they went pretty ... There was actually some knives involved behind there. Where it was like, "You know what? I want to invest." And you can actually see it on the TV show if you run it by slow motion. You can see that some people are holding knives in their hands to make the investment.F Geyrhalter:So good.M Soderlindh:So, no, no, no. It was spectacular and they are so charismatic, these sharks. And it's a reason they're sitting on the show and this show is so big. And you really got the power of it.F Geyrhalter:And I think a lot of people and I'm not sure how much you can talk about this but a lot of people wonder afterwards, like how important, not only the effect of being on TV and being in Shark Tank and obviously, sales go through the roof for the couple of weeks afterwards and this suddenly a brand recognition. But how important is the mentorship and the leadership from the Shark that actually is part of your team at that point? Do you feel like that is extremely valuable as well, at this point?M Soderlindh:They wouldn't be sitting there without their background and their success.F Geyrhalter:Obviously, yeah.M Soderlindh:So, they have an echo system of how to handle their investments.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah. And an amazing Rolodex. I don't even know if people still know what a Rolodex is but, "Hey, you know?"M Soderlindh:They have an amazing iPhone.F Geyrhalter:Thank you. That was a little bit embarrassing for me but I can always cut it out.M Soderlindh:Got it, got it.F Geyrhalter:No, I wouldn't. But after going through everything with Happy Socks, I mean, Happy Socks is such a brand. I mean, it's all about branding with Happy Socks. And you guys did such an insanely good, good thing with how you branded it over the years and how you kept expanding it. Now that you have Knife Aid, it's a totally different kind of business that you really like bootstrap and like a true startup. What does branding mean to you overall? Now that you experienced it from both sides?M Soderlindh:I don't know. Branding is for me ... I've fallen in love with something and then I dress it up. I get very passionate about it. And then I see it in a different way. And it's like I put pants on it, I put shoes on it, I put a sweater on it. And then, that didn't really work out. And then I put some makeup on it and I cut the hair and it's, I don't know. I just repackage things and branding is trying to see how you can package something so that it aspires for others. And it's a philosophical question.F Geyrhalter:It is, it is. I'm putting you on the spot. But it's an interesting thing to talk about, right? Because for a lot of people, brand just means logo and it means superficial and it's really so much more. I mean, it's so much more intrinsic. It's so much more emotional. It's so much more purpose driven. That's why I think it's such an interesting question.M Soderlindh:Yeah. And what is it people, they need to ... Why do you like something? And what is it you like with a brand and where does it come from? Is it the colors? Is it the background? Is it the mission? Or the people behind and had so many aspects today? And I think that the modern consumer today is more enlightened than ever and needs to know the full story.F Geyrhalter:Totally. Transparency is key, absolutely. When you look at Happy Socks, the brand DNA I'm sure can best be described as happiness. It's kind of like around the entire brand. What is one word that could encapsulate the Knife Aid brand? If you would have to distill it all down to one word, what would Knife Aid stand for?M Soderlindh:Quality.F Geyrhalter:Okay. Yep, yep. That's what you give to customers.M Soderlindh:So, no. Absolutely. So, it's service and quality. So, it's if you have really nice knives, you're not going to send away your nice knives if you don't feel that I'm going to get them back better than ever. And it's an easy, simple way. So easy, quality, simple.F Geyrhalter:Quality and convenience. Yeah, yeah.M Soderlindh:Yeah. Quality and convenience, that's what it's all about. And then I think that's the main top of it. It's like quality and convenience. And then underlying that is that it's something that is sustainable. It's like, it has a purpose. I recycle something. I resharpen, I renew my things instead of buying new.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah.M Soderlindh:It makes sense for people. It makes sense, if you have a knife to resharpen it. It doesn't make sense to throw a knife out that you can resharpen but you buy a new one. It doesn't make sense.F Geyrhalter:Totally, totally.M Soderlindh:So, then you have what you call brand ladders and stuff like that. But you know what? I'm not so into all the terms of how to do a brand, anyway.F Geyrhalter:I love that you were saying this because even though that's what I do for a living, I'm not into the terms either. Because I think in the end, a lot of it is just marketing talk. But in the end, what really convinces people, what sells, what checks people's emotional marks are none of that, right? In the end, that is just something that is very often very, very intrinsic and all-M Soderlindh:But let's say with Knife Aid, our purpose when we started this brand was, of course, we want to do it on a big market as the US and be profitable. But we never, sorry. Hello?F Geyrhalter:Yeah, you're back. You're back. Sorry.M Soderlindh:With Knife Aid, we never had the ambition to do this huge big company. We'd rather focus on having happy consumers, do good quality and grow slowly. That has really been the purpose with us. And not like, bang it out and do it big and we need to do it. It's like grow slowly, be good and have happy customers. And in that way, make sense of it.F Geyrhalter:Well, and I'm sure you had no rush either, right? I mean, you have a successful company running, so you can do it right. You can do it the slow way. And I mean, the most important thing, and you know that better than anyone else, is having early brand advocates and having people who actually experience the service and love the service so much that they talk about it and you can absolutely do it that way. What is a piece of brand advice for young founders, for young entrepreneurs. Where you feel they look up to Happy Socks, they look up to your new brand and what you're doing with it. What is some advice that you would give them, as it relates to building their own brand?M Soderlindh:That you feel emotionally connected with what you do, that you understand it yourself. That is something that I connect to, that's something that I like. If you say with Happy Socks from the beginning when we started it ... I'm not involved anymore, but more than on the board. But when we started, it was like, "Okay, what makes sense for us is, we want the factories." When we go down to the factory and visit the factory floor, we want the workers to look happy. We want them to wave to us and say, "Oh, there's the owners of Happy Socks." And smile and not feel that we see that they're sad, feeling depressed when they're working with our socks. We have to have a natural feeling that they are happy with us. So that the origin of the product is happy and it starts happiness in the production, then it goes happy to the office, happy to the resellers, happy to the consumers. And the same with Knife Aid. If we're going to sharpen people's high quality knives, we need to deliver high quality. And we need to have high quality people working with us. And we need to have the best technology, the best machines to sharpen all types of knives. So, it's really what you stand for, what the brand stand for. It needs to go through every department section of what you do.F Geyrhalter:I absolutely love that. I think that is so extremely important for everyone to hear. Absolutely.M Soderlindh:So, you can't just say, "Oh, we're happy brand, we're high quality." We say we're high quality and then we have low quality machines in our workshop with Knife Aid. That's not going to work out.F Geyrhalter:Totally.M Soderlindh:And if the branding doesn't look high quality, then it's not going to work. The webpage doesn't look high quality, it's not going to work. It's all of that. Everything needs to be what we're trying to communicate.F Geyrhalter:And I can't wait to start seeing this more and more with the Knife Aid's brand. That's going to be a really, really exciting time. I'm going to make sure to follow you guys. And for listeners out there who feel that immediate urge to get their knives out and sharpened, which they should by now. Where do they begin to use your service? I assume at, knifeaid.com.M Soderlindh:Yes.F Geyrhalter:Perfect. And from then on it's as simple as a couple of steps and off they go.M Soderlindh:Three clicks and you're ready to go.F Geyrhalter:Love it, perfect. Well Michael, I told you this is not going to be too long. I know you're super busy. Thank you so much for having been on the show. We really appreciate your time. We appreciate your insights. Stay safe in Sweden. I know things are running differently over there but also very successfully. And we're looking forward to having you back in LA and hopefully we get to see each other in person at one point.M Soderlindh:Thank you very much for welcoming me to a show with amazing questions.F Geyrhalter:Thank you so much.M Soderlindh:Thank you.
Learn more about Verona CollectionSupport the show and get on monthly mentorship calls with Fabian. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Lisa.L Vogl:Thank you for having me.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. So it's Ramadan and that's a huge, huge deal for you and many others, so thank you especially for being here. This is a pretty big deal for you.L Vogl:Thank you. Yeah, even when I think we scheduled, I completely forgot it was going to be Ramadan. We fast from sunrise to sunset. It's considered the most blessed month in Islam, so it's a very special time.F Geyrhalter:I hope you're going to keep your energy throughout the next 20 or so minutes.L Vogl:Hopefully it will pass. You're getting used to it. The very first couple of days of fasting, it's caffeine withdrawal because I'm a coffee addict, then you get used to it, so just normal for me now.F Geyrhalter:Perfect. We also had to, we moved it around a couple of times and now we ended on a Friday afternoon when we record this out of my little home studio, as is the new norm now.L Vogl:Tell me about it. I mean like these major business meetings and then like kids in the background knocking on the door, so it's a new norm for everybody, unfortunately.F Geyrhalter:That's right. You're a mom of two, right? So that might happen throughout the podcast too that we have extra guest.L Vogl:They're not here at the moment so I got a moment of peace and quiet. We're very lucky, otherwise it would be very loud in the background, but yes, I'm a single mother of two boys.F Geyrhalter:Thank you for sharing the peace and quiet time with us. We do appreciate it. So Lisa, you were born in Michigan, with a German name though which is interesting, and you are an award winning international fashion photographer, yet today, you run your five year old fashion brand Verona Collection which is the first modest fashion brands to be launched, featured, and sold in an American department store, Macy's to be exact, but now you're also available in ASOS. What does modest mean, many people would ask, and so for one, I know that your brand is specialized in hijabs and is catering to the Muslims. Tell us, how did your transformation to Islam and this subsequent business come about? Because there's first, your personal transformation, and then you saw a need I'm pretty sure that you fulfilled.L Vogl:Yeah. That is like such a long answer and then kind of goes across of maybe 10 years of my life because you are correct, the idea of American German, of course, and most American Germans aren't born Muslim. Most, just like I was. I was born a Christian, so I grew up in a Christian family, but I found Islam and I discovered Islam, over the course of 10 years I should say because I lived in Morocco for a little bit when I was... I took some time off of college and traveled, but that's not when I discovered Islam. I discovered it later on, and when I converted to Islam, I found a need for modest clothing. It was just so difficult because I then changed my entire wardrobe to adhere to the hijab and when I went out to go shopping for new clothing, to cover down to my wrist, to cover down to my ankle, it was really difficult, and so I found a need for millions of Muslims in America and around the world. There were plenty smaller brands catering but nothing that was really this massive hijab brand that provided modest clothing. So myself and my partner, we discovered that this is a huge need, let's come together and let's launch Verona. We branded it towards marketing towards Muslim women, right? But it's also a need for many other people that want to dress modestly but not necessarily for a religious purpose.F Geyrhalter:I think it is so fascinating. I mean I don't know where I read about you because you had a pretty good press run the last couple of years, but I read about you and I was like, "I have to have her on the show because it is so smart," and for me, it's always so important to find a niche and to find something that caters to a really small audience, and that audience like in your case could be huge.L Vogl:It's really not a small audience, like the modest fashion industry. The great thing about this market is it's a niche and it's not this broad niche, right? But there's so much opportunity. The modest fashion market is expected to be worth $500 billion in just another year or two, so we're on the right path and there's a huge need for it.F Geyrhalter:How would you describe modest fashion?L Vogl:This question comes up a lot because modesty, even within the Muslim community, is a very broad term because everybody has a different definition of modesty and the last thing I want to do as a brand or even personally is try to dictate everybody else's modesty level, right? Because I think that that's a personal choice and that's something that we like to scream loud and proud that listen, we are not forcing the hijab, we are not forcing to take it off, we want this to be an option and a choice for our customers. So for me personally, I wear baggy clothes, I don't wear tight fitting clothes, but I still wear pants sometimes and a long top. I just prefer to wear like long dresses more because I feel more comfortable, but there's a lot of other women that modesty, maybe not even adhering to Islamic standards and show the arms but wearing necessary clothing. So everybody has a different definition of it and I certainly don't want to dictate what my definition is, if that makes sense.F Geyrhalter:It totally makes sense, and you have a pretty big product line now, right? How many products do you have?L Vogl:Right now, we're going through major transition, but in the good way, and just unfortunately, the COVID-19 kind of delayed the process a little bit more. We're in a massive relaunch where we're going to be launching a lot of new products because we took a step back and said, "Hey, we really have to focus on a few other things," and we were in the midst of doing a relaunch. It's just going to be pushed back about a month or two, but we do offer, as soon as the relaunch, it's going to be occurring, we offer so many products that's going to be mainly long dresses, because those are the most difficult products to find, long tops. You might find like a long sleeve top in the store but it goes to like three quarters of a length on the arm and that doesn't adhere to Islamic standards. So yes, there's modest clothing available, but then it doesn't fit a hijabi need. So then we'll offer long sleeve tops, we'll offer pants that are baggier, even swimwear we offer, but it's covered for a hijabi's need. You have your hijab and then from top to bottom, and then of course the most staple pieces to hijab. So we offered like three to 400 different products of hijab.F Geyrhalter:That's unbelievable. That's amazing. Let's go back a little bit to which must've been one of your pivotal moments. How did you get your foot into Macy's?L Vogl:When we first launched, I had a goal, myself and Alaa, and we have a third business partner, his name is Hassan the UK, when Alaa and I launched, we decided we really want to get to be the first hijab brand in American department stores, so I was researching, researching, and the biggest thing that I took away was we have to be successful on our own before we approach anybody, right? I read you had to sell 10,000 units before they even look at you. We did that. We did that within my first year. Then I started approaching department stores and it was very difficult to get in, so then I discovered the workshop at Macy's and I was thinking this is a really unique way of getting in the door but through a different route. In the workshop at Macy's is a women in minority workshop and there were, I'm not allowed to say the numbers, but the acceptance rate into the workshop at Macy's, it's harder than Harvard, and we got accepted as the top 20. So we had our interview with them and then from there, we were like one of 11 that got chosen, and we went to New York and we worked through the program. While we were in the middle of the program, we had an opportunity to sell right in Herald Square, their flagship store in front of all of the Macy's buyers, including the CEO, and we had one day to market that we were going to be there selling and it was like hijabi overload took over Macy's. So they thought firsthand really that this was not just us providing numbers on a piece of paper and that's telling them that this is a need. They saw firsthand how much of a need this was right here in America.F Geyrhalter:That is so cool. So talking about which, before my interviews, I always go on a major Google search about my guest, which is actually something I greatly enjoy. Nothing to worry about.L Vogl:No, it's okay. I'm pretty clean so there isn't going to be too much that...F Geyrhalter:But amongst the many interesting things, I found this one floating around about you and I so loved it. You were named one of 17 Muslim women who made America great again by the Huffington Post, and I mean the irony of using that copy line is just so great, but congratulations on that. One would assume that the current president of the United States would have had a major negative effect on your brand as hate crimes have been on the rise. Is it actually the opposite and your brand strives given its message of inclusion?L Vogl:I think that when you have this negative messaging out there piece, I believe most people are genuinely good people and they don't want to attach themselves to that type of hate, and so I believe when a message of love comes in front, people are going to attach them to that. I genuinely believe that most people don't want to hate and don't want to attach themselves to that type of thinking. That's why I believe like our messaging will trump anything... That's a little ironic.F Geyrhalter:I like it.L Vogl:Doing these at work, but I believe that the messaging of love and inclusion and inclusivity will always win.F Geyrhalter:I love that.L Vogl:I believe I have a lot of supporters.F Geyrhalter:Let's hope that is how life works.L Vogl:Unfortunately, the reality is there is people that think like that, and I've experienced myself personally and many people I know have experienced it as well, but it's not going to stop me from pushing out the message of inclusion.F Geyrhalter:Totally. How was the reaction in this store when your line was first, in a regular Macy's store and regular shoppers were suddenly exposed to something they're not used to?L Vogl:We launched online first and then we launched in store, the first install was in Dearborn. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Dearborn, Michigan, but it is the highest concentration of Muslims in America, so the community in Dearborn is already very used to the Muslim community, so we really didn't get much hate as far as that, but we did get a lot of backlash when it went public online because it went very public. Like we were on Fox News twice, and CNN covered us and we definitely did receive quite the bit of hate messages, unfortunately.F Geyrhalter:Once you get in Fox News, that's-L Vogl:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:Enough about politics.L Vogl:I'm not even speaking politics, I'm just telling you the network.F Geyrhalter:I am. So tell us a little bit about that the name Verona. Because authenticity and empowerment are both so important to you, Verona means origin and truth, right? Is that where it came from or is there a different story?L Vogl:It actually doesn't even go that deep. When I thought about it, one was that just from a business aspect, that I needed a name that was easy to read, easy to spell, easy to remember and very crisp and clean when you put out the logo. So that's on the business end of things, but on the other side, one, my favorite fashion originates from Italy, so it's an Italian name, and then another point of it was that we always attached Islamic things and Muslim attire to the Middle East, but being a Muslim is not an ethnicity, it's not a race, it's not a region, it's a religion that was most diverse religion in the entire world, and so a Muslim can be Italian, a Muslim can have western origins and we just don't think of it like that. So this brand is obviously for everybody, we want to be inclusive, but it is targeting the Muslim community within western countries, so the name just fit for us.F Geyrhalter:I like it because it's also your personal story in a way which it encompasses, which is great. Branding for many means the perfect logo and the stunning website, and while this is extremely helpful and very important for a lot of brands, for me, the foundation and the pinnacle of branding is that perfect positioning, and we talked about it a little bit because you carved out a wonderful niche for yourself that you can own and personally and empathetically and authentically nurture with your audience. What does branding mean to you now that you have half a decade of brand building experience?L Vogl:Branding is messaging. It is messaging. It's what are you standing for as a brand and what are you telling your customer, and these are conversations that we've had within our company more seriously, and we've had very strong conversations. We need to not be afraid to be loud and proud of being Muslim, and so it's the messaging that we're putting out there. That to me is the biggest strength in branding.F Geyrhalter:I love that because so many people forget that. I see a lot of brands where it's really not about the branding part of it, it's really about that boldness and the authenticity, and that alone is enough for a brand, for any company to turn into a brand, right? Meaning there are tons of followers, people love it, people start talking about it, word of mouth, et cetera, et cetera. That's really, really good.L Vogl:If a brand tries to play middle ground in everything, they're going to hit nobody. A brand needs to not be afraid to like be loud and outspoken about who they are and what they believe in, and that's what's going to speak to your customer base. That's my biggest point is that when you're trying to create your company, people just try to serve everybody and that doesn't work, and they try to market to everybody. That doesn't work. You have to really be specific with who you are, what you believe in, what your core values are and how you speak to your customers.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely agree. If you speak to everyone, no one will listen, right? Listening is so important for a brand. Talking about listening, how did you in the beginning do your product research? Did you have focus groups? Obviously, you're in a community, so you have them at your fingertips. How did you use any data in the beginning or how did you start the entire production of it?L Vogl:The great thing about when I launched Verona with Alaa is that I had already been working within the modest fashion industry for years and it was like an industry that barely existed in US, and so I was already learning from companies that I worked with. I had been flown to like Dubai to do photo shoots for companies over there. I worked with companies in Saudi Arabia, they would send us products, and then I also am very involved in the community here in the US, like very involved, and in organizations left, right, and center, and I had already known all of the modest fashion bloggers so I was up to date with a lot of the trends and still up to date with them. The biggest thing as far as when we launch, we were the customer, and still are, but we also are getting firsthand knowledge from fashion bloggers, from companies and what they're releasing and we just try to stay ahead of the game. So when we launched, we already had a very good handle as to what was needed and what would sell out, and we sold out. When we first launched, we sold out of our products in a week and a half.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing. It's not like you're the only one doing it, right? You do have actual competitors.L Vogl:We do, yeah, and I know many of them personally, and there's great brands out there.F Geyrhalter:Which is good. It's healthy to have competitors. It's a good thing.L Vogl:Yeah. From like a religious standpoint, being a Muslim, I believe that God has enough blessings to give to everybody, so I don't see competition as this negative thing with people too. I'm very competitive by nature, right? But I also get excited when other people win. I don't ever want to be a brand that's not supportive of other, especially women owned brands. I'm like crossing for them, so I'm somebody that wants to see them succeed as well.F Geyrhalter:I had more women on this podcast than guys so far, than male.L Vogl:Bravo to you.F Geyrhalter:It's pretty amazing because in the beginning, there were a lot of guy founders and I started to be very aware of that and I'm like, "I really need to seek out female founders," and now, it's totally not like that. I don't seek out anyone, I just seek out great brands and sometimes I don't even know who the founder is and if they're male or female or whatever, right? But it is so, so nice to talk to so many amazing female founders. Many of them are single mothers and have kids, and life is difficult as it is, right? But to have that strength to create these brands and to be able to still connect with your audience and to keep pushing forward with new product and new ideas, bravo. It's really amazing and I'm so thrilled to be able to have people like you on the show.L Vogl:Thank you. My pleasure.F Geyrhalter:It provides me with a lot of joy too, but let's flip this around from the positive to the negative. Was there any brand fail that you went through where in the beginning, you did something too fast or you did something and just suddenly you realized, and I asked not to put you on the spot but for others to learn. Was there anything that you felt like you just massively messed up from a brand perspective and you learned from it and you would want others to learn from it too?L Vogl:When we got our foot in the door with Macy's and then ASOS, there is an element of you can grow too fast, and so I think it's okay to say "I am not ready to take on this opportunity. We need to make sure that we have our rock solid base in place before we take on another major contract." That's the biggest learning and hiccup that we had as a company is that we grew too fast. Then we started, our online platform suffered because when we entered into Macy's and ASOS and we didn't have the financial capital to back everything so much because these orders are not cheap and you have to process the orders and then they pay 90 days later or whatever their terms are, so in dealing with these major department stores, you have to make sure that you have the financial resources to take on such a big contract. When we did that, our online platform suffered, and that's why we are in the midst of doing this massive relaunch. That's one, it's just an advice for anybody else. It's okay to say no to opportunities if you are not ready.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. I hear that over and over too because saying yes is so exciting as a new brand, right?. I mean it's like that's all you want. Any opportunity is a great opportunity because you had no opportunity in the very beginning and then suddenly it's... I mean with you, it seems like things have been progressing very, very quickly from the get go, but for a lot of others, that's not the case. Talking about, you know net 90 orders and all of that, how does COVID-19 affect you as a brand right now?L Vogl:It affected us massively and I'm not going to beat around the bush because I'm not somebody that likes to just paint these rosy pictures when people are seven, I like to keep it real 100%. We have factories in Turkey that had to shut down for a moment and I had products ready to be shipped and then all of a sudden, this happened. I think the biggest thing as a business owner is you have to learn to roll with the punches and just get creative when problems occur, because if you think running a business is going to be rosy 24/7, then you are setting yourself up for failure. This is just something things that we had to learn how to navigate and that's what we're doing. Things are opening back up and we're going to be having some shipments coming soon and we're excited for what's to come.F Geyrhalter:That's great. I'm glad you're hanging in there. You mentioned that you have some of your product manufactured in Turkey. How important is it for you as a brand where you actually have your product manufactured? Because it seems like a very logical place for you to do that.L Vogl:We really like to make sure that we're working with ethical factories no matter where we're working, because obviously we're not going to be a brand that's out promoting, X, Y, and Z and then do the opposite behind closed doors. Ethics is very ingrained point to us, whether it's behind closed doors or whether it's the messaging that we're putting out there.F Geyrhalter:Does your messaging change? Do you change your messaging with ASOS for instance, which ASOS and Macy's are so different, right? Like the type of person that goes to those kinds of places and that supports those kinds of brands. Do you change it ever so slightly or do you really have your rule book and you just go with it?L Vogl:We feel like when we launched, we did tone it down a little bit and that's why we've been having some meetings just saying we can not run away from who we are, we need to be loud and proud being that we're in your face Muslim, and that's okay. That does not mean we're excluding everybody, it's just saying that we are proud to be who we are. In the next coming months, we're going to be more outspoken about that yes, we are a Muslim run brand by Muslim women, and so going back to our roots with our relaunch. I would say it got toned down a little bit, but we're reviving that.F Geyrhalter:More power to you. That's great. I love to hear that. That's definitely the direction to go. If you could describe your brand, and this is funny because I usually send my guests a couple of notes prior so that they can look at a couple of questions and familiarize themselves a little bit with it. I think that's something that everyone should know and everyone knows because that's just professional courtesy, but you immediately said "I'm not going to read those," and I think it says so much about your authenticity and just like, "No, I'm just going to either answer them well or not answer them or whatever." One of the questions is about your brand DNA, and I give my founder guests a little bit of a heads up because I really try to figure out, if you can describe your brand in one word, right? One word, what would it be?L Vogl:Now I'm regretting that I didn't think of this.F Geyrhalter:No, I'll give you a little bit of time to think. It's like you would think of Coca Cola and it might be happiness, you would think of Everlane and it might be transparency, and I mean there are so many words that have already been floating around.L Vogl:Then we'll talk about it in a sense of exactly how I said I don't want to know questions before an interview because I want to keep it real. That's the one thing I always say, so I would say genuine. That's going to be my answer. Because to me, whether it's being a person, whether I'm doing an interview, whether it's my business, whether it's the advocacy work that I do, I always want to be authentic and real. So genuine is the word I would go with.F Geyrhalter:There you go, you have it. That is Verona Collection's brand DNA from now on. This is what you would have to tell your employees in the next meeting.L Vogl:Exactly.F Geyrhalter:If you could do it all over again, what are some lessons that you learned or one lesson that you learned of brand advice that you could give other founders as a takeaway?L Vogl:A brand advise or just company advice? I think if we're going back to branding, I feel like you have to really know who you are and know your customer base. That's the most important and the most obvious answer. I feel like people jump into this because I have great business idea but then they don't truly know the customer, and so that's the most important thing because you have to learn how to speak to your customer, where they're shopping, what kind of advertising to go towards, so it's really about knowing your customer and who they are and what their needs are.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Listeners who fell in love with your brand, now that we're coming slowly to a close here, where can they find you on or offline?L Vogl:As far as Instagram and Facebook, it's just VeronaCollection, one word. Our website is the verona-collection.com, and then me personally, my Instagram is lisamvogl, V-O-G-L. No E. That's my personal Instagram.F Geyrhalter:Perfect. Listen Lisa, this was really, really delightful. I love the story, I love what you're doing, but most importantly, I love how you're doing it.L Vogl:Thank you.F Geyrhalter:Thank you for the time. Maybe we give you back a little bit more quiet time today, which I'm sure you-L Vogl:Back to emails and calls. Work never ends.F Geyrhalter:There you go. Hang in there. With COVID-19, stay safe and stay successful and stay in touch.L Vogl:Thank you so much.
Learn more about ButterclothDue to COVID-19 we are no longer asking for financial support for the show, instead you can now join free mentorship group calls with Fabian to get through this together. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Dan and Bob.B Stevens:Good morning, Fabian.F Geyrhalter:It's always great to have two people on, especially right now doing this crazy quarantine that we're all in. I know that everyone is in a different house, in a different spot. I had founder and co-founder pairs on Hitting the Mark in the past, but this is the first founder and COO, so chief operating officer combo. How long have you guys been working together?B Stevens:I met Dan, Fabian, almost 20 years ago or thereabouts. At that time I had a manufacturing company in the footwear business and Dan actually helped me out in the design areas, back when he was in school, he started. So we've known each other for many years. I've been able to watch him evolve and grow and blossom over the years, and so I had sold the company in 2016 and right about the time that Dan had decided to jump from his current head designer post into having his own company. He called me up one day and he said, "I quit my job today," and I go, "Oh my gosh." "I want to start this company. Would you help me?" Of course, there was no question. Dan had helped me for many years and I was all in to help him.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing. Let's go into that story a little bit. Dan you worked in a small tailor shop in Vietnam with your parents and then you came to the US where you took fashion classes at a local college and you actually landed a job at Mattel, designing clothes for Barbie, which is just so crazy cool, and then you saved enough money to study at Otis, which is also where my wife graduated from and it's up the street, and afterwards, you worked for various fashion companies including 7 For All Mankind. When and how did you decide to say "This is the time and now I want to start my own company"? How did that happen and what was the drive?D Tran:I've been in the fashion industry for probably around 20 years and then been head designer for 10 years at a big brand in LA, and then one day I just wake up and thinking I had to have my own brand because I'm getting old. I don't want to regret later, this is something I really want to do, and then I have this idea to create a brand, Buttercloth, and then that's how the drive kind of kicked in and then I just walk in my boss's office and just quit my job and then started.F Geyrhalter:Just that easy, right? I hear that from a lot of entrepreneurs on my show that they're doing well, they're up in their career, they do what they like doing, but they don't do what they love doing, like they know that there's something else and they take this huge leap of faith because they know looking back, even if they would fail, they would not regret having done it because it's something that they just needed to do and it's always so inspiring to hear that.D Tran:I only called my best friend that I talked to, and I asked him, I tell him like there's something wrong with me because I go to work, I'm not happy, and I have something in me to start my own business, but I don't know what it is and I'm also scared and afraid to quit my comfortable job and I have to quit all the income coming in and comfortable life and all that, and then it just bother me and that's why I decided to quit my job and go for it.B Stevens:I'll tell you a quick story. During that time, Dan was battling with himself about giving up that comfortable six figure income and so forth. He would talk to me about it weekly, and then I was watching television one morning and I saw Steve Harvey on there talking about his new book called Jump, and it's a story of him jumping off and doing his own thing to encourage other people, and so I said, "Wow, this is the book for Dan," so I bought it and I sent it to him. I think Dan read that book in three days and on the fourth day, he went in and quit his job.F Geyrhalter:I hope that is a review that you wrote on Amazon for the book because it really should be. That is fantastic.D Tran:That book has helped me a lot and it seemed like that book is talking about my life and guided me to where I'm at right now.F Geyrhalter:That is so great.D Tran:That is the inspiration book. I end up like buy few books and give to all my entrepreneur friends.F Geyrhalter:That is fantastic, and you guys branded your company to make the world's most comfortable shirt, and I'm always suspicious of these claims, right? Because they feel, to be honest, a little bit cheesy and not believable, but, and this is important and that's why you're on this show, you come from the fashion background. Knowledge of fabrics is deeply ingrained in you and you would not be launching a brand with that claim if you could not justify it first to yourself, but also to the world. So the question is what makes it the most comfortable shirt? As part two of that question, are you able to protect that claim? Is it very ownable for you?D Tran:Yeah. The fabric that we come up with is finished on both side of the fabric. That's why it touching the skin is very comfortable. Most of the fabric, they finish it only one side which is the outside, so when you touch it, it's smooth, but what we did, we finish it on the inside as well because I'm thinking, the inside is as important because it's touching your skin. So that's what we did, the double face finished fabric. That's why when our customer receive the short and they put it on, and then they're like "Oh my God, this is like the most comfortable I ever worn." I get that, a lot of that email and I had a lot those comments.F Geyrhalter:You used the words of your clients to create the positioning of the company in a way, right? You reuse what the clients say, which in my eyes is extremely, extremely smart and I have been doing that even for my own company when I just interviewed my past clients and I say "What have I really done for you?" and then they tell me things that I would have never thought I actually did for them, right? I would describe them very differently.D Tran:That's true. We have some of the customer say like "Oh my God, you guys," what's that they say? Under promise but over delivery. Whatever we're advertising out there, when they receive it, actually it's even better. They say like not only like the fabric is comfortable, also the design, the little detail they love, they liked it, all the hidden detail on the short. That's the reason they come back and bought again.B Stevens:Fabian, to bring it back to branding for a minute, one of the things that from the beginning, we had this claim, we really believed it was the softest, the most comfortable shirt in the world, and I believe in branding, you have to be bold. It's not enough to say that you have good pizza. You have to say it's Long Beach's best pizza, right? The best pizza in Long Beach, and of course you have to live up to that, but you have to make that claim and then you have to be able to prove it, and we had early... This is also I think very important in branding is to be careful who you're listening to. I've come to realize that there really are no experts, you, me or anyone else. We all have an opinion and we all have experience that we bring to the table, but there's really no experts, and if we would have listened to all of the experts that we talked to, Buttercloth wouldn't even exist. Because we had people tell us, "Oh no, you can't make that claim. Don't make that claim. You're going to get sued," we had one expert us. We had another expert tell us, "Oh, Buttercloth, horrible name." If we're going to listen to those people, we wouldn't have the brand that we have, so be careful who you're listening to, trust your instincts, make bold claims and stand behind them.F Geyrhalter:Very interesting. This is a brand expert interviewing you so I'm totally on the spot now. I think it's really interesting because that's the next wave of direct to consumer brands that have less of that fear of... A large corporation would never make a claim like that because they know they could get sued, right? But for you, you don't, you don't try to trademark it, you make a claim because you believe in it and your customers repeat it after you and you just say "Well, what could possibly go wrong?" There's a lot of truth in acting on that gut instinct, as we can tell by your success, right? Immediately after you guys appeared on Shark Tank where you got a quarter million dollar deal with investor Robert Herjavec, you have done three million dollars in sales and you sold over 30,000 shirts in seven months. That is a Testament to the idea of how you talked about your brand intrinsically, right? And how someone like Robert Herjavec believed your story, they believed the product, they believed the positioning and he said "Look, we can make a lot of money off of this brand. We can do this together," so you really didn't invest in branding much in the beginning. Everything was pretty much bootstrapped, right?B Stevens:That's right. We think we had some core pieces in place for branding, that is the name, the tagline, the logo, but we didn't have a lot of money, and so we had to bootstrap it, of course.F Geyrhalter:Everything literally started out of a garage? Is it the typical story where you just had a couple of shirts and you started?B Stevens:Literally. I have to stop and realize, I tell people to see, this is April, so literally 16 months ago, we were in a garage in Long Beach, a double car garage shipping and there were just three of us, four of us.F Geyrhalter:Unbelievable. You might've been right next to me in Long Beach. Who knows? We might be neighbors. I could have just picked up a shirt from you. How did you go about defining your audience? Because I always liked doing that. I go to a podcast guest's Instagram account and I just slowly scroll through to the very, very end of it, right? Because that kind of shows the truth of our brand actually changed, and with your Instagram account, it feels like you pretty much targeted every man alive. I mean it started with a very young, super macho kind of guy and then it moved to a very aspirational man, kind of like the Most Interesting Man in the World by Dos Equis, it has a little bit of that feel, and then now it's very much like realistic guys like myself and maybe yourself, Bob, like 40, 50 somethings that want a stylish, easy to maintain shirt. Who is your audience and how do you define it or how do you go about that? Do you use data from the sales or how do you kind of like go in between these different audiences?B Stevens:I'll talk a little bit about that and then let Dan expand on it because Dan is the guy that really knows the customer, I mean he really is, but in the beginning, of course you have some thoughts about who your customer is but you really don't know and we didn't know. When we launched, we were advertising to every man, right? But very, very quickly, we picked a pretty good time to launcj I guess that was to our favor. We launched Black Friday week of 2017, so that was a pretty good time to launch a brand and we immediately, thanks to our digital people. We had, you know, a great launch and we had some good data in there, but the data showed us immediately that our core audience really was in that 35 to 55 group. We were getting some between the 25 and 35 but we're selling $120 shirt. So you have to be realistic. Not that many millennials were buying from us in the beginning. We've been able to stretch to the younger side. I think in part, as the brand has grown and people have been more willing to realize that it was worth the investment, that they're getting more value out of our shirt because they can wear it to work and wear it on the weekends and out at night and so forth, so they're getting more value out of it, but I would say still, our core audience is that 35 to 55 year old guy.F Geyrhalter:Which makes a lot of sense to me that. Dan, do you want to add anything to that or did Bob pretty much take care of it?D Tran:I think he pretty much take care of it, but yeah, quickly after, I think few months, we recognized that our audience focus is 35 to 55, so we will design and create inspiration around that, and then that's how Buttercloth hit really spiked up.F Geyrhalter:How do you guys feel like you're currently branding Buttercloth? How do you feel like people get to know your brand? How do you market, how do you speak to people? Is it mainly at this point word of mouth and because of reviews? How is the brand being fueled? I think it's so fascinating with especially D to C brands like yourself that are very much based on a product that they claim is just superior and you just push product and hope that you get a lot of great reactions, which it seems like that's how you're growing right now, but tell me, I'm super interested in this.B Stevens:At the end of the day, it's all social, of course. It's all social media. Some of it's organic and some of it's paid, with a mix of publicity in there. We've had our fair share of publicity, starting with Shark Tank. You would consider that publicity I suppose, and being able to get our message out by talking with you, Fabian.F Geyrhalter:That's it. Hundreds of thousands of shirts will be sold after this. Forget Shark Tank.B Stevens:We'll have to turn up the bandwidth on the site after this. We started out with one channel, which was Facebook. That was our beginning channel and we got some legs built under us with that and the next thing, we started doing Google and YouTube display ads and search ads, and then affiliates, we betted on affiliates. We just grow these channels channel by channel and get more bandwidth out there, if you will.D Tran:I would say that means very loyalty to the brand whatever the brand they stick with, and our brand was very consistent and comfort, so that's why we have a high number of repeat customer and that's how we was lucky to, in order to expand, those customer and then word of mouth from those customer to their friend, families, and that helped us a lot.B Stevens:That's right, and right now, we have I think approaching 50,000 Buttercloth customers out there, and a lot of them take advantage of our referral program we offer which is a great way to see organic social growth just from those customers referring their friends to Buttercloth, so it's been another great channel for us.F Geyrhalter:How does the referral program work?B Stevens:We give a 20% discount, isn't it, Dan, 20?D Tran:Yeah.B Stevens:20% discount. If you're a Buttercloth customer and you send it to your friend and he buys something, he gets 20 off and then you get 20 off of your next order, so both of you get 20 off.F Geyrhalter:It's very smart. Back to what you were saying, Dan, you really have a fantastic customer. That customer, a guy in his 30s, 40s, 50s, when it comes to shirts, is so loyal. I know that because I am your guy, right? I'm 45. I'm smack in the middle. I'm a professional, I wear shirts every day, dress shirts to work even if I don't have a client meeting, and usually it's only one brand and one cut. Very often even one color, right? Because once you have something that you really like that works for you, we're guys. For us, it's just like "Let's reorder as many of those as possible," right? Because that's all I'm going to wear from now because I feel good in it, so you have a really great customer cut out for yourself.D Tran:Yes. Exact-F Geyrhalter:Too bad... Sorry, go ahead, Dan.D Tran:Exactly. Our customer is when they buy one already, they come back and buy 10 more. We see that trends almost like every day. We look at the history of orders almost every day and then we see this guy buy and then as soon as we ship them to him and then they receive it, and then the next few days, and then they come back and bought again right away.F Geyrhalter:That's really, really great.B Stevens:Just to point out, as Dan said before, we try to and I think we're known to under promise and over deliver, and it's that experience, it's that unboxing experience and that person opening up that shirt that is a wow factor. Because they're buying the shirt based on the the promise of this comfort, right? But when they get the shirt, they open up the package and they go, "Wow, this is nicer than I thought it was going to be" before they even put it on because of the weight of the fabric and the way it feels and the design, the unique detail that Dan built into the design and the buttons and the trim and all those things just... They may not even be able to put their finger on what it is about the shirt that they like, but they realize they like it, and then they put it on and wear it to the office and then right away, somebody says to them, "Where did you get that?" Then they're a customer for life.F Geyrhalter:How is that unpacking experience, because for so many D to C brands, it became this big thing, right? Because you show it on YouTube of how to unbox something. Did you do anything special with the box? Is there something in there that kind of creates some delight or is it literally the shirt that is just so exciting or did you do something around it as well to engage in that experience?B Stevens:All of the above, right, Dan?D Tran:Yeah. Beside the nice tissue and the logo and the colors in a nice box, but we have one insert card in there that when they first open it, they will see like "Far into the world of comfort," a guy were falling and on top of the cloud and stuff like that and then we get a lot of reaction on those customers filming the video and they say, "Wow, far in the world of comfort. Let's check it out and see how comfort they are," something like that.F Geyrhalter:It's also exciting because you are at a price point that is slightly aspirational so people do like to share it. It is a little bit of gift to themselves as well. It's a very fine line. Very interesting. Now we talked about social, we talked about packaging. Let's talk about retail for a second. I know that you had a pop up shop at the Beverly Center. Is retail dead? I mean now, after the virus even more so, or do you see a future in brick and mortar for Buttercloth?B Stevens:We have diverging opinions on that, so I'll let Dan talk first.F Geyrhalter:I love it, this is great.D Tran:Bob and I kind of have different opinions. I tell him that everything is go to e-commerce, everything bought online. Nowadays too, they don't go shopping. It's perfect for the online, but Bob have a different opinion.B Stevens:I believe that it's a big world and retail's never going to be "Dead", right? It's changing, it's going to evolve for sure. You've seen the Bonobos model, the popup models. Retail is turning more into showrooms without inventory where people can go, but at the end of the day, humans are social. We'd like to get out, we'd like to do things, so retail is never going to die. It's just going to evolve and change. I was at an event about a year ago where a lot of experts were showing the growth of e-commerce against retail and showing a lot of people think that e-commerce is bigger than retail today. It's not. It might be exactly today because of COVID, but I mean in the whole perspective, it's not, but the growth line was showing that it was going to catch up and exceed brick and mortar within 10 years globally. About 10 to 12 years. I think COVID is going to make that happen maybe in three or four years. It's going to change very rapidly now, but will it ever be dead? No, there's always going to work. At the end of the day, we're social people, we're always going to be out, and so finding a way to get outside our little e-commerce world into the social, real world out there, we just have to find the best way. Whether that's our own stores or whether it's popups or whether it's a leasing space in some of the big brands or the big box stores that are going to survive, wherever it is, we're going to be in other marketplaces and we're going to be out in the real world somewhere.D Tran:That's what we're going to compromise is popups store or have our own store as a showroom.F Geyrhalter:Totally, which I think is very much where Bob is heading with that and we're at Bonobos and a lot of them were also going. I'm an expert so I'm not going to have an opinion. How has the COVID-19 pandemic, since we touched on it, how has that impacted your business as well as its plans for this year? I mean you must feel an impact especially with a dress shirt that a lot of people are using for work and it's a little higher price point, how are you guys doing right now? How are you getting through this pandemic?D Tran:We are very lucky that we are on the e-commerce side. Our sale drop but it's not dropped very much, and I would say probably around 40% because we were lucky we didn't have any pop up store or have our own store or retail. Our focus is on e-commerce.F Geyrhalter:That's true. See Bob, how Dan got us back?B Stevens:Yeah. Conversion rates have obviously come down. Your point, a $120 shirt is not something that everybody is focused on today, but as Dan said, sales are still, maybe they're down 40% or so, but we're still shipping, our logistics people are working and shipping every day, our team, our office team, all of our designers and marketing and other people are working from home and we're making it work for us. We'll certainly get through. Fortunately, we had a very, very strong foundation. Dan is extremely conservative, so we had a good foundation and we'll weather the storm.F Geyrhalter:That's great.D Tran:We were very lucky that our company is all about comfort, so even people work from home, they still have to wear a dress shirt when they do the Zoom call or video call, so it is probably just perfect for them even they work from home, and on top of that, we have loyalty customers. They always come back and bought it.F Geyrhalter:Your shirts are iron free, right? You don't need to iron them, they're wrinkle free so this is even better for the time like today where no one goes to dry cleaners. That's a big benefit. You guys are obviously known for your shirts, right? But I read on CNBC last night that a while back, they wrote that you were thinking about diversifying your product portfolio and that you were planning to move into polos and sweaters last year. Is that still the case? Are you guys still having plans like that or are you going to stick to shirts?D Tran:Yes, we did launch a polo and sweater the last year, and this year, in May, we're going to launch T-shirts, and then this fall, we're going to launch jackets as well. We build little by little. It's going to be a complete lifestyle of four categories.F Geyrhalter:Since your brand was known for comfort, with all of the polos and the diversifying product portfolio, is it all still about comfort or what is kind of like that North Star of the brand? Is it still comfort even though you expand into all these other things?D Tran:That's a good question, because our mission is all about comfort. That's how we started from the beginning because when I started this company, thinking like the whole world going to be, go for comfort. So you see, the comfort shoes, everything is comfort, so that's why we start this Buttercloth, and then our mission is when we do any category, it's going to be comfort, it's going to be double face fabric, it's going to be stretching, six way stretch, so that even polo jackets, we're going to find a way to make it comfortable for our customers. Comfort is the key for our brand.F Geyrhalter:I'm really glad to hear that, and it all goes back to your name which I by the way think is a really good name because it's so memorable and it's so descriptive and it has longevity, right? Now in your fourth year or third year, expanding the brand, they can still go back to that idea of how a shirt actually feels. Now that you've bootstrapped branding for the last couple of years, what does branding mean to you guys as a term?B Stevens:For me, it represents the connection between you and your customer. How they see and remember you, how they feel about you, and I think it's fair to say that we want them to see us for what our mission is, to redefine what comfort is for men's apparel, and also the personality. Every person has a personality and so does a brand and we feel like our personality is one that we try not to take things too seriously so you'll see a little bit of humor, what we think is a little bit classy humor in our advertising. It's the way that we connect. It's our connection to the customer and how they see and remember us.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Now that we're slowly coming towards the end here, I wanted to ask both of you, what is a piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway? Say there's an entrepreneur with a big dream just like you were, Dan, years ago. What is the most important aspect to keep in mind about launching a brand? If you don't have that background, like you guys, you didn't have that launch experience, there was a lot of different product and operations experience, but what is advice of what not to do or what to do?D Tran:I think I would say trust your instinct and know your customer inside and out, and then make sure that create a product that could be commercial so it go to mainstream, because sometimes you create a product and then it couldn't be made in production. That's not going to be fun because what if you launch it and most people liked it and then you can't produce mass market, and then also take risks and don't be afraid. Don't worry to... Afraid to fail. If you fail, it's okay. Take risks but recognize that when it doesn't work, quickly change it.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely, but Bob, anything to add from your end?B Stevens:I would say just be careful who you listen to. Again, like Dan said, you have to trust your instinct. You want to talk to a lot of experts but you've got to have your filter turned up very high to filter out what doesn't go with your instinct and then stay with it. If you believe and it's strong enough, you're going to make it happen, so just be careful. Keep that filter turned up.F Geyrhalter:I so agree. There's a service called Clarity, it's clarity.fm, and there's a lot of experts there and so what I do, I'm on there too but what I do, when I seek an expert for anything, I just have a call, like a paid call, right? But with like five people for 15 minutes just to get the best out of all of them and then make up my own mind instead of hiring one expert for like a month, right? I totally agree with that idea. Not to diss experts but I think that you want to get the most out of an expert, and even to find out who you actually like and who you look eye to eye with. It's not easy to find that person. But now to my most important question, when will you have a simple black shirt back in stock? I'm waiting. Where is it? Where is the simple black shirt?D Tran:We couldn't get it on the shelf.F Geyrhalter:What?D Tran:We ordered a lot of those black shirts every month and it just sell like crazy.F Geyrhalter:Dan, I think I expect an email from you personally when it's back in stock.D Tran:For sure.F Geyrhalter:Listeners who are intrigued by your brand, where can they find the shirts that you say, and I quote you, "Make you feel like a Friday night but feel like a Sunday morning," which by the way I love. Where can they find Buttercloth? It's all buttercloth.com?B Stevens:You can find your look at buttercloth.com.F Geyrhalter:Nice. Even rehearsed. Thank you both Dan and Bob. It was great to have locals on the show without even knowing that you guys are local here. Totally appreciate your time, totally appreciate your insights and great luck with Buttercloth and I'm so glad that you guys are weathering the storm nicely now. It says a lot about how lean you were launching and how well you were positioned, so best of luck and thank you.B Stevens:Thank you, Fabian.D Tran:Thank you very much for having us too.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. My pleasure. 
Learn more about Sweet FlowerDue to COVID-19 we are no longer asking for financial support for the show, instead you can now join free mentorship group calls with Fabian to get through this together. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Tim.T. Dodd:Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. First off, I hope you're safe during what is being seen as the peak week of the coronavirus here in LA, I guess. Thank you for taking time-T. Dodd:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:Yeah. It's crazy right now. It's crazy.T. Dodd:It's frightening. It's alarming for us all. We are safe. Thank you. As an essential business, we remain open, which has been great. We've done a lot of things in the store to make sure that people... In all of our stores that people are safe, and our customers and our team. We've gone through lots of different training. We've done lots of different things in terms of providing people with safe access to supplies, and gloves, and masks, and of course we were I think the first actually in Los Angeles, or even in southern California to instigate curbside pickup and contactless delivery.T. Dodd:We've been rolling that out, and it's been going very well. There's a strong demand for people. People are at home. They're stressed out. They're scared, et cetera, and they feel the need for the products that we offer, for cannabis, and so we're really trying to provide that in the safest and most responsible way that we can here until the social distancing guidelines, et cetera as well. It's been I'd say a pretty challenging few weeks, but I look at the good side here.T. Dodd:We are still open, which is great. We're still providing jobs for our team, and we're still providing an essential service to our customers. How crazy is it that this is now an essential service?F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah. Just think about that two years ago.T. Dodd:I've always thought that, but it's pretty cool that that's now part of this. It's interesting. It's been a really fast evolution in our customer behavior and our store behavior. We've pivoted really quickly, so my hat is off to our wonderful team of Sweet Florists in all the stores.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, absolutely. How difficult was it to fully embrace the home delivery system? Was that something that you already worked on prior? Being in LA, I'm pretty sure you're pretty tech forward.T. Dodd:Yeah, luckily we had. We had started delivery several months ago. It was not a core focus of our brand. Our brand is really about providing the high-touch service in-store, but we had decided luckily to move into delivery Q3 of last year, and really to have that as an expansion of our brand footprint beyond the stores to people's homes. It's asking the ultimate permission. You're coming to someone's house to provide them a service.T. Dodd:You're coming to their front door, and they're giving you their gate code, and all that stuff. Particularly in Los Angeles, we have all that stuff. We have a lot of things that are... There's a lot of permissions involved in that, social permission that's unusual. You're basically bringing drugs to someone's home. Obviously when you think about that, you're like, "Okay, we do really want to do with our best foot forward." We started that last year, at the back part of last year.F Geyrhalter:That's very forward thinking.T. Dodd:Yeah, and we had the tech tools in place. Most of us have got some tech backgrounds, either from the business side or from actually on the dev side. We worked with [inaudible 00:03:52]. Someone actually put a company called Onfleet in the middle of all that. Onfleet allowed us to... Which is an app that's used by lots of different delivery services, but it allowed us to provide a much higher touch.T. Dodd:Customers can text the driver anonymously, "Hey, I'm here. How far away are you?" Et cetera. The driver can text back or call back, even. Or people at home base can do that. We put that all together. It's a very good system. It's worked really well. Frankly, we were, I want to say prepared, but we obviously had a leg up as this all started to unfold the way it did. We quickly took everything that we had in place, and we simply amplified it. We brought on more drivers. Investing in the human capital here is really important.T. Dodd:We brought on more drivers. We made sure that the drivers were safe, first and foremost that they felt secure in what they were doing, provided them with gloves and masks and hand sanitizer inside the car. Hand sanitizer is still a really hard thing to get, so that was difficult.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, absolutely.T. Dodd:Just give me one second. Just [inaudible 00:05:09], okay? Matthew, I'm on a call, okay? Please. Thanks. Sorry. My son was [inaudible 00:05:20].F Geyrhalter:That's okay.T. Dodd:Those things are still difficult to get, so we did all those things. Then since then, we've seen a marked increase in delivery. We've probably seen a 500% increase during the surge of coronavirus panic buying that we saw. We accommodated those orders, and then since then it's fallen back somewhat, which is understandable, and I think frankly reflects people are now staying at home a lot more, but they're not panic buying or surge buying. They're thinking, "Okay, I've got a few days or weeks of supply left, and I'll go and get some more soon."T. Dodd:We see large basket sizes for delivery, and we also see the need to expand our zone, so we've done that. We've expanded our delivery zone from... Initially it was around a five-mile radius per store, but if you think of Los Angeles, we're well spread out. We've got Studio City, Melrose, and the arts district locations working right now. We were also about to open up the Westwood location. Obviously with COVID, we're going to push that back. It's very hard to launch a store in a pandemic, and very hard to know how that looks.T. Dodd:I think optically it also has some problems. I don't think s appropriate right now to do that, so we're looking at how to do that just as soon as it's safe, and we think we can market and launch the store correctly. Even with the current footprint, the five-mile radiuses that we had worked really well. We expanded those very quickly to ten-mile radius from each of the stores, and then we're now delivering basically to all of Los Angeles, so from the Palisades on the west side all the way to Pasadena, deep into the valley, and then deep into south LA.T. Dodd:We're looking at further expansion of that, as well. If there's a silver lining on this horrible situation, it is the fact that traffic has died down so we can now reliably service all of these large areas with more staff, obviously, and more drivers quickly. We can get around the freeways pretty quickly. We're averaging about 50-minute delivery times right now, despite wherever they are. At certain peak times, we might get up to about 80 minutes if we have to do a lot of deliveries around the same time.T. Dodd:We're able to now service a very large part of, almost all of Los Angeles from the stores that are open, all the stores in that time frame. That's been I think a benefit of this horrible situation.F Geyrhalter:Right, right. If one can say it that way, but it's true. People are creatures of habit, so I'm sure people will also get used to getting delivers from Sweet Flower now, and then once-T. Dodd:[inaudible 00:08:14].F Geyrhalter:Yep. Say again?T. Dodd:Okay. All right, I dropped you for a second there. I'm sorry.F Geyrhalter:Okay, okay. What I was saying is that people are creatures of habit, so I'm sure that they get used to during the pandemic to start ordering from Sweet Flower, and then later on they might just keep it up because it's already in the system, it's easy for them to get used to it. Some positive things are coming out of this, as well.T. Dodd:Yeah. I think we're seeing, it's always as I think someone else smarter than I said, necessity is the mother of invention. We're seeing that. We're really now, we're making sure that all the staff is safe. Business continuity, which is really staff and customer safety, has got to be first and foremost right now.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely.T. Dodd:These are really challenging times.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely.T. Dodd:Secondly, just remembering who we are as a company. One of our values is community engagement. Last week, after I made sure that... We made sure as a team that all their staff and team had gloves and masks and sanitizer. We had a number of supplies left over. We approached some of the teams that we work with, particularly in Culver City, where we're based. We went out to the local charities that are in need and donated masks and gloves to them.T. Dodd:We also made some charitable donations to local food banks. That's really important, because we're also moving into a... Right after this crisis, there's going to be, or there already is an economic crisis, and we need to be reflective of that, and thinking about how we fit our company in this emerging new new. This new, not normal situation that we're going to be in.F Geyrhalter:Right. Absolutely.T. Dodd:If food banks are getting hurt, everyone is getting hurt. We're trying to help out, and we're doing that with money, and also with some time. I was driving around on Friday afternoon basically seeing some people that we know around our neighborhoods who are elderly and vulnerable, and making sure that they were safe. Then as I said, we dropped off a bunch of different supplies to some of our local charities, as well, to help them out. We're trying to do our small bit as a local business.F Geyrhalter:Right, right. I think it's everyone's responsibility as a business to just start with community. Even the community is at the heart of your brand. Let's take a step back a little bit.T. Dodd:Sure, of course. Yeah.F Geyrhalter:You have a successful track record as a VC, as well. You're investing from C to series C stages, and you had acquisitions from the $100 to $600 million range. I could have actually had you on as a VC guest, because I only have founders and VCs. Today you're wearing your founder hat.T. Dodd:I am, yes.F Geyrhalter:When I first read about Sweet Flower, I was immediately attracted to it because there is one and a million cannabis shops that actually differentiate, and that create a brand atmosphere, as I like to call it, around them that is specific, that actually stands out, and that sets them apart. For Sweet Flower, it's about being curated by and for Los Angeles. Heritage and community is really your brand story. You were quoted in Forbes saying, and I quote you here, "Souther California brands are some of the most recognized in the world."F Geyrhalter:We're talking about obviously the Googles and the Apples. "Within cannabis, I believe that we can build a best in class retail experience and brand." Tell us a little bit about how you have no background in the cannabis business. How did this came about? How did you set out and say, "We're going to create this LA-first brand?"T. Dodd:While I don't sound like it, I call LA home. I'm from New Zealand, but I moved to the States 26 years ago. Now I've spent over half my life here, and most of that has been in LA. I've been lucky enough to live here for the last couple of decades. I'm really focused in this amazing part of the world that I've grown to love and call home. Beyond that, we take a very non-mythical approach to cannabis. We think it's an industry, it's a business. It's a highly-regulated business. My cofounder and I have got a lot of experience in dealing in high-regulated business environments.T. Dodd:We're both actually recovering attorneys. I haven't practiced for many, many years, since 2003, I believe. That training is still part of it, and we take compliance very seriously. We also are both from relatively humble backgrounds, and so we do believe in giving back. That's, as I mentioned, part of what we are about in terms of the company, and that's part of that our ethos. Beyond that, in terms of California, we believe that California is still the largest legal market in the world. Potential legal market.T. Dodd:There are lots of issues in California which I'm sure everyone's familiar about with respect to illegal operations, and over-taxation, and the complexity of the regulatory environment. I won't agree or disagree on those, but they are definitely things that people talk about. We looked at this and said, "Okay, is there a space here for us to participate in this market?" We looked at that as really taking a classic, I want to say McKenzie approach, because I don't have that background, but just looking as a straightforward business approach, strategy, et cetera.T. Dodd:What is the market size? What is our potential entry point? We decided there is a huge... There is a large amount of people going after a core demographic, the stereotypical cannabis user. A young male in a certain demographic in Los Angeles. There were very few brands, and there were really no retail brands other than potentially one that was out there that was focused anywhere else. In fact, that brand was really focused in lots of places.T. Dodd:We were like, "Okay, let's see what we can do in terms of focusing a brand on a customer that is cannabis curious, has not maybe got into cannabis, but is definitely leaning into trying to understand this." My own experience with this was I ride bikes. I cycled for charity. I had a really bad bike accident cycling, broke my pelvis in many places, and my head pretty well, and walked up... I was medevaced off the top of a mountain in a chopper, woke up in hospital, was released a few days later with a big jar of Oxycontin.T. Dodd:Didn't want to do that, decided to go down to get some cannabis, went to a store. I'm on crutches hobbling around with my head wrapped up. I look like a real mess. It was like, "Well, do you know the difference between Indica and Sativa?" I was like, "Well, sure, I do, but what is the point of that question?" Then I thought about the customer journey that I was having, which is a really bad experience. I was hoping for a wellness experience. What I received was basically a transaction.T. Dodd:Sweet Flower was based on the premise that we can provide a wellness experience to all of our customers, not just a transaction. We want our customers to come to be loyal, to enjoy the experience they're having in the store, to receiving very high service component, and to receive education and engagement. I think we're getting the feedback that I was hoping for. We're receiving extraordinarily high reviews, anecdotal and data-driven reviews that are saying, "Hey, we really enjoyed the experience we had at Sweet Flower."T. Dodd:"We really enjoyed the peace, the experience we had. The products were really good. The service was great. We will come back." Really moving away from deal-driven behavior, we are saying, "Hey, we still do deals." Moving away from people who are trying to sell product cheaply, whatever, and deal-driven behavior. Transactional-driven behavior to loyalty-driven behavior and service-driven behavior. That's really what we're doing.T. Dodd:I view our product, what we're offering is not cannabis. We're offering a wellness experience. I think what we're seeing today is actually some vindication of that. People are selecting us because they want to spend time with us, either on a website, or if they come into the store even today, they're coming into the store because they want to understand the effect they can get. Not just, "I want THC, whatever component percentage flower." What I'm looking for really is, "I can't sleep, or I'm really stressed, or I'm in pain, or I'm anxious, or I want to be social with either, given the constraints of the current environment. I want to enjoy myself."T. Dodd:That's important to people, and that's what we're providing. I've always viewed Sweet Flower as providing a wellness experience. That's what I was hoping for when I hobbled into the store on crutches. That's what I didn't get, and that was a big part of me and my partner in Sweet Flower deciding that we would build this company. In terms of LA, I just believe southern California has a certain creative spirit. I've been lucky enough to work in large, creative organizations in California most of my career.T. Dodd:Warner Brothers, and then Technicolor, and at both places I found a tremendous amount of people who had incredibly engaging careers that were driven from their creative spirit, their creativity. That's a big part of Sweet Flower. We celebrate where we're from. The Sweet Flower love mark, our logo is the California state golden poppy. We have the sun in our logo. People move to LA partly because of the weather. That's part of who we are. It drives our activities and drives all of our engagements with each other, because it's such a great place to live.T. Dodd:We wanted to celebrate that. Then last, the name. We deliberately didn't call it anything too heavy, too dank, too cush, too 420. We didn't really want to have really obvious callouts to cannabis. The flower is not a flower, it's a poppy. It's a golden poppy, but the name itself is Sweet. We're not saying this is a brand for women, but certainly I think a lot of our customer base are female, and enjoy that, and certainly I do think part of marketing is to...T. Dodd:You can put out your brand, you can put out your marketing material. It's how people receive that, and then feed it back to you that's important. You know if you've missed the mark if what you intend to do, your intended audience is not actually what you get.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Yep.T. Dodd:Yeah. I think in most cases, we've been very successful in terms of defining who we think our audience is, and having our audience say, "Yeah, this fits. This fits us." I think the biggest learning experience I had so far is the cannabis curious. People I think assume that they have a lot of knowledge, and it's been interesting. We've had a lot of people coming in with knowledge about some things, and actually we've educated them. We do have some extraordinarily experienced Sweet Florists, sales associates, in the stores.T. Dodd:That's been a very good experience for us. We're trying to just engage people as they are. When they walk in, they can have a lot of experience with cannabis or not. Initially we did call out the cannabis curious notion a bit more than we do now. We're I think... It doesn't really matter. People are super experienced with cannabis or not at all. There's always something to learn, and there's always new products in the market, particularly in California. Rather than talking about cannabis curious, we're really now talking about cannabis curated.T. Dodd:We have a fantastic buyer, Michelle Mendoza, who has been involved in cannabis here in Los Angeles for I think for two decades, and has ran the original California dispensary in West Hollywood way before any of these other stores came in. She has a tremendous background and a fantastic reputation in cannabis circles here in Los Angeles in particular. With Michelle's help, and then working with Kiana [inaudible 00:21:50] joined us as our CMO. Kiana also has a long history of engagement in cannabis, and before that in fashion.T. Dodd:Kiana and Michelle have really helpful us curate I think a fantastic selection of brands in-store, and then working with those brands, we've been able to curate... Sorry, to create a number of fantastic events and activations. Obviously now in this new engagement we have where we're socially distancing, a lot of it is influencer events that are happening online and on Instagram rather than elsewhere, but we're really doing that at the moment as a reaction to COVID.T. Dodd:With Michelle and Kiana, we're really now focusing on this cannabis curated moment. That, though, is congruent with the brand. It fits the brand. The notion of calling your customers cannabis curious, we backed off that a little bit. I think that that is... I don't really want to call our customers anything. I think all of my customers are fantastic. We're honored to have them in our store. We respect where they're all coming from, whether they have a lot of knowledge of cannabis or zero. Doesn't matter. We want to provide them with that same level of engagement and service.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, you meet them where they're at, right?T. Dodd:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:And people come in with different backgrounds, as you nicely stated. Talking about the community again, and you talked about these events, because to me it's super interesting to think about how you actually activate a community. Do you currently, or will you in the future when things go a little back to normal, or maybe like you said virally, how do you collaborate with other brands? Do you collaborate with other brands? What's in store for your community growth?T. Dodd:Yeah, so we've actually I think been at the forefront of brand retailer partnerships. I just think it's very interesting to have walked into the cannabis industry when we did. A lot of the foundational structure of the industry was getting set up, and some of it was antagonistic. There was a lot of, "You're going to have to pay for shelf space to be on my stores," and all this kind of stuff. We never did that. We never did that. We didn't think it was the right thing to do.T. Dodd:It might have provided us with some extra revenue, but the [foreign 00:24:23] of that is that we're now just leasing shelf space to brands. Instead, I think we actually got a lot more value, realizable value, not just soft dollars, but actually revenue from customers because we decided to partner with our brands. We see our brands, our core brands are partners. Obviously COVID versus pre-COVID, it's a hard cut, almost, because we have not had any events in the store, in any of the stores since this even became a potential threat.T. Dodd:Before that, before COVID, we were working very closely with brands big and small to do activations in the store. We launched a number of products in the store, particularly on our Melrose store, which is a great location, across the street for the Improv, and there's bars and restaurants all around there. We hope that neighborhood comes back quickly once this horrible situation is over. That said, at has always been a core part of our base. Frankly, that allows us to tag our brand's customers as our customers, or as our brands tag our customers as theirs.T. Dodd:It's collaborative, and that's the key here. I don't think anyone gets ahead of this by trying to get around each other. Post-CO, or now that I guess we're in COVID, we're not post-COVID, but in the current situation we are, we launched a very strong influencer engagement campaign with our brands to push delivery just last week. The week before, we had somewhere in the range of 45 to 50 different influencers all based here in Los Angeles that we worked with. All of them got a Sweet Flower branded bag that contained products from our core brands, our core brand partners.T. Dodd:Our brands and us worked together to do that. We worked with the influencers to do that. This is not a paid campaign. This was organic and really came from a similar point of entry, which is, "Let's make sure we do something responsible for push delivery as the new way of receiving and getting cannabis products." That was great. Through that campaign, 50 influencers with a total reach of around 20 million followers-F Geyrhalter:Wow. That's impressive.T. Dodd:A lot of whom... Yeah, obviously some of them around outside of our geographic reach. They're not here in southern California, but a lot of those people are. The ones that aren't are still now seeing Sweet Flower as a brand. They're seeing Sweet Flower as something that's enabling people to be safe at home, and it's also enabling their favorite brands to work with a delivery service like Sweet Flower to drive traffic and engagement, and frankly sales, which is fantastic.T. Dodd:We're now pivoting from being a dispensary that offers delivery to being both, to being just a chain of dispensaries, a chain of retail stores, and also a very robust delivery service. That campaign we did really was all about delivering, and it was all about working with these brands. That was great. That I think will continue. We see a lot of demand for that. On our delivery service, we currently offer everything. Everything in the store is available for delivery. That's really important, so people can get the same products they could-F Geyrhalter:Totally. Yeah.T. Dodd:If they walk in and they can get that to their home, and that's super important. I think going forward, we want to expand that. We want to expand the reach of the delivery. We want to expand obviously its robustness in terms of the tech underneath it. Then if we have more brands to work with, because I worry a little bit about what's going to happen in the brand space given COVID, and given California overall, even before COVID. We want our brands, our core brand partners to have a good foundational business.T. Dodd:We believe that we remain the best channel for them to do that. We're really looking forward to working with some brands on some exclusive launches, some more exclusive promotions, et cetera, yeah, in the coming months.F Geyrhalter:We talked about expansion for a second with the potential... Well, with the Westwood location when the time is right. What are the plans, and how would a brand that is positioned so uniquely for LA ever expand outside greater Los Angeles without losing its authenticity? Would it be online? How do you see that? Or would you ever go outside of LA?T. Dodd:We've already announced we've got Westwood coming, Culver City next, and then we also were a successful applicant... We're one of the top six applicants in Pasadena. That's the current forefront. Beyond that, obviously we are looking at new opportunities outside Los Angeles, but probably staying in southern California for the moment. That's probably not a brand decision. It's more a decision around capital allocation. Where is it smart to allocate capital? I think that those are more at the moment, more about capital allocation and brand fit.T. Dodd:I think California brands play really well everywhere. I look at Vans, Levi's. I look at some of the really strong retail brands that we have here, and frankly the California lifestyle-F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Absolutely.T. Dodd:Seems somewhat universal, so I think our brand plays well in northern California. I think our brand could play well in neighboring states. I don't have an aspiration at the moment to go beyond or out of state too much. I think when we started this journey, what seems like a long time ago, it was all about being a multi-state operator. That time has changed in the industry. Investors were asking, "When are you guys going to go out of state? You need to be in different states." My pushback was always, "Why?"T. Dodd:LA county is 26% of the population of California, and by far away the most cannabis-leaning and attending population of California. Los Angeles County, if it were to be a state, is the eighth largest state in the country.F Geyrhalter:Plenty of opportunity within, yeah.T. Dodd:It's like saying, "Well, I can see that if I was starting someplace else, you'd be asking that questions, but I'm not. I'm starting here." What's the rationale for that? Is that just a canned question? Lots of people are asking these kinds of... Investors and et cetera.F Geyrhalter:It's a typical question, right?T. Dodd:Yeah, sure.F Geyrhalter:The reason why I ask it was because Sweet Flower, the entire tagline is it's curated by and for Los Angeles. It seems to me like it is so positioned to be not only an LA brand, but also only for LA, right?T. Dodd:Sure.F Geyrhalter:Which obviously you can pivot the brand whenever you start reaching outside of LA and more into southern California, but that's where I was heading with that question, because it has LA at its heart, and right now it is catering specifically to LA. Which I think a lot of people in LA love that, because quite frankly, there is not much in LA that is born in LA for LA, because everything is very global, and everyone in LA is an immigrant. You're from New Zealand, I'm from Australia.F Geyrhalter:We both lived here for half of our lives or however long. I think that there is something really special about a brand that is positioned from a brand positioning point of view just for Los Angeles.T. Dodd:Yeah. I lost you there for a second, so I apologize. I'm not sure what happened. [inaudible 00:32:54] came back on. It's an interesting challenge I think for us to think about it. I do think that there's a great New York City surf wear brand called Saturdays.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know them. Yeah.T. Dodd:It opened up in New York, and now LA, and now everywhere. Still very much a New York City brand.F Geyrhalter:True.T. Dodd:That's the kind of stuff where I think we're not a clothing brand. We're a retailer. I think New York City, where I lived for quite some time before I moved to LA, same thing. Wide acceptance of core brands from other places. I think we're a core brand. You can define a core lots of different ways, but I think we fit. I think we play well in different parts of the states. I don't know where this goes, if we're ever going to be in a shopping mall in the midwest. I don't know.T. Dodd:I think the idea, it would really be that this brand is for now, at the moment, for the next foreseeable, the near future, and frankly prognosticating about the near future is probably really silly given what's going on. The idea is we are a really strong fit for what our vision is for a cannabis retail here in California. I think we fit well elsewhere, but we'll be selective. We'll have to make decisions about... Just I've been very selective, we as a team have been very selective about our locations.T. Dodd:Where we are set up in Los Angeles. I spent a little bit of time in commercial real estate when I was at Warner Brothers, looking at at the time the Warner Brothers real estate portfolio. We looked at 100 locations for these stores. There are six stores currently, and we passed on most of them. Some of them would have been cheaper, and some of them would have been different. Obviously different. A different vibe, a different location. We weren't just going, doing it based on scarcity or density.T. Dodd:We were also doing it based on what we felt was the right building to have, the right province for the brand. Some of these buildings that we've got required a lot of TI, tenent improvement, but they're also really good branding opportunities. They're big with big locations, good locations. We can put the flower on the front of the store, and it's cool. That was really part of it. We've been very selective about these things.F Geyrhalter:Design is super important for you guys, right? The store layout, how it feels, how people enter it, entire customer journey.T. Dodd:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:Overall, your brand design and language, it feels very authentic, down to Earth. It's balanced. It's also gender neutral, even though you hinted at the idea that it's female forward, in a way, but it feels very neutral. You've got this highly curated custom photography, you've got these pastel colors, and that's all key to a very specific visual language for Sweet Flower. All of that is underlining your mission to set a new standard for modern cannabis retail that is inclusive, diversive, and approachable by all.F Geyrhalter:I know branding was super important for you guys from the get-go, but how early on did you invest in branding? How was that journey when you said, "Okay, we got to start thinking about the visual and verbal aspect of our brand at this point?"T. Dodd:That's a very straightforward question to answer. It was immediate. The first thing we did was, "Okay, so who are we? What do we stand for? What's our brand? What does our brand... ?" Once we decided to do this, and then decided roughly, a rough sketch of what Sweet Flower could become, and before we really had the name, and it locked in our heads, I sat down with a design team that I had worked with previously a little bit in a prior career, and came up with who is our customer?T. Dodd:We started with that. Who is our customer? Then what do we offer that customer? Then why does that customer want to come to see us? Simple, basic questions. That helped us frame the central question, who are we? I think we did that, if we started on a Sunday, we did that on a Monday. It was basically the next thing that we did. We invested in the brand, and we invested in the logo, the water marking, the brand ethos, the design, the look and feel of the stores. It's all congruent. The door has to be congruent.T. Dodd:We did not want to do anything that was going to turn off, because we're also in a really interesting situation because we were applying for different licenses in different cities. Some of those cities didn't really, like Culver City for instance, which has been fantastic. That is a forward leaning, thorough application process run by I think a very sophisticated group of people. Again, you're applying for the permission to basically sell a drug in someone's neighborhood. You have to be thinking about that.T. Dodd:You don't want to come in and say, "Okay, this is a right. California has adopted this, and you guys have to do it." That isn't the case. Anyway, it's always the local municipality gets to decide. We've always been focused on who we are, where we're from, and where we fit in that community.F Geyrhalter:That's part of your audience, right? You have to cater to all your different customers, and you wouldn't have the customers if you wouldn't get licensed within a certain city. That is important.T. Dodd:Yeah. You want to have your customers feel comfortable going to see you. If I think of the over... If I could sum up Sweet Flower in one word, it's trust. We want to grant people the right to trust us. We want to have people feel that they feel... To feel good about going to see us, that we're going to provide them with a good experience. They're not going to pay some crazy ripoff prices to staff. They're going to feel good about leaving the store, and going home, and trying these products.T. Dodd:If they don't like them, they can come back, and we can... Obviously, there's certain regs about returns, but we can always work with people about other things. We want to provide them with their trust, and extend that trust to delivery, extend that trust to our community, extend that trust to our drivers, and our delivery people, and our staff in the store, and our store managers. That's really important. I think that's where we want to come to. It's a trusted environment. Safe.T. Dodd:Beyond just being safe, it is an element of trust. That's hard to do. It's really hard to get people to trust you.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Especially in that space, yeah.T. Dodd:Yeah. You start frankly in cannabis with three or four feet back from anywhere else, right?F Geyrhalter:Yeah.T. Dodd:It's a stigmatized business still, and probably rightly so. We just to have decide that it's not a right, it's a privilege to operate a store in these communities, and you've got to build that trust. If we've messed up, we want to fix things up quickly. I'm not aware of anywhere we have, but people often... These people just stigmatized bad cannabis operators, so they all think we've got green hair and piercings, and we get high all day. That's not who we are. A lot of that is just being visible.T. Dodd:Frankly, when we went to Culver City, the first thing we did was put our corporate office in Culver City. I work out of Culver City, at least I did until just recently.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.T. Dodd:Yeah, every day. We're around. You go, "Okay, there's the... " I'd go to the Starbucks and meet the, you run into the cops. They'd say, "Oh, are you the weed guy?" I'm like, "Yeah, I'm your friendly neighborhood drug dealer," and they're all going to crack up. If you do that 100 times over the course of a few months, I guess, people are like, "Okay." It becomes a little bit more normalized, and you're approachable, and not from some... What they think of as a cannabis person is not who you reflect, and that's important, too.T. Dodd:I think it comes down to trust. That's, like I said, you don't get that overnight. You don't get that over a year. You need to just work at that all the time, and it's super easy to lose, too. We just want to make sure we're that we're always trying [inaudible 00:42:09] as best we can.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. No, and that is the number one thing that people seek for these days in cannabis stores, anyways, is trust. If you amplify it the way that you do it as a brand, it makes a whole lot of sense. Usually as an investor, when you had your investor hat on, let's switch your hat for a second, how early on did you ask startups to invest in branding? Because usually for startups, it's all product, product, product, right?T. Dodd:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:For you, because you're a knowledgeable industry veteran, you understand what it takes. You started with asking all these right questions. Most cannabis businesses never do that, they don't even know what they're about. They just want to sell product.T. Dodd:For a second there. Can you hear me?F Geyrhalter:Okay. Yeah, I can hear you. Shall I repeat this?T. Dodd:Yeah. Sorry. It just dropped for a second. Not sure why.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah. No worry. Look, the Internet, there's...T. Dodd:Yeah. There's ten million more people using it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, exactly. Exactly.T. Dodd:It's probably not built for this, yeah.F Geyrhalter:Let's put on your investor hat for a second. When you as an investor, how early on did you tell your startups to invest in branding? Because most startup founders think it's a ginormous waste of time, because for them it's all product, product, product. Most investors, for them it's a ginormous waste of money because for them it's all about speed to market, and let's keep the money for the product for later on, and for marketing. How did you advise your startups?T. Dodd:Most of the startups I was working with were tech, and so it was product oriented. There wasn't a significant amount of focus on branding. Some of the companies I was working with or looking at were creative services companies that was more of a B2B player than a B2C player like Sweet Flower. The B2B players did require branding. A lot of that was built around talent. It was their own talent, and so they did invest early in branding.T. Dodd:Particularly when you're dealing with creative services, creative people, you can't stop them. They're very focused on that. I think for us, we had to invest in branding early, because one, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from the pack, and I think we've done that very well. Secondly, we were also in the middle of... We quickly started to apply for licenses in competitive license markets. Having a branding pack, having a design pack, having the look and feel that distinguished us from everyone else is, in those markets, in those races super important.T. Dodd:Now we've gotten not just the branding. We also now have a very strong operational backbone. We feel good about that decision. I think branding is critical for a retail outlet. A lot of people say, "Why do you guys have to brand these stores at all? Why don't you just take whatever name they had originally, and when you move them, just reopen them as that?" My philosophy here was really simple. You follow what works. What works for people is a very, again, building trust.T. Dodd:You have to have a common backbone. You have to have a standard look and feel. When you go to a Starbucks, or an Alfred Coffee, or a Sephora, or a Lay Labo, those are the brands that we were looking at. Analog brands in different sectors. It's very important to say, "Those brands have a common look and feel." We felt the same way about cannabis retail. No different. That was a core part of it, so we invested in branding early. I would not change that decision. I think it was the right thing to do.F Geyrhalter:What does branding mean to you now, now that you've gone through this process yourself? What does branding mean to you, Tim? It's a big question. Big loaded question to finish things off.T. Dodd:Yeah. I'll try and give the simplest answer. I think we're all... I'm not a Jungian psychologist, but we're all kind of powered by iconography. We're all powered by things we see that basically make us reflect on who we are and the situation that we're in. Branding to me is assembling those icons, color, logos. A flower, the sun. Simple things, and assembling those in a way that makes you think, "Okay, that's reflective of something that I like, that I want to engage with." It's possibly just that simple.T. Dodd:We're all basically fairly limbic. You can take away a lot of the cerebral cortex, but really at the end of the day, we're fairly basic animals. I think we reflect and response to things that are appealing to us different ways, right? For us, it was like, "Let's have a very simple brand. Let's use a cool gray palette. Let's apply a little bit of navy for bold." Nothing too shocking. We didn't want to be some super-dynamic motif. We wanted to be very straightforward. Let's use powerful iconography, powerful typography, good fonts, big fonts, and just keep it simple.T. Dodd:That allows people to apply their own feelings to the brand, I think. The brand icons are important, and the love mark that we have with the flower and the poppy... Sorry, the sun and the poppy are really important. I love that. I like seeing it. Every time I see that in a different way, that people are thinking about it, to me, it feels good. There's just something I like about it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, it's so simple, but yet it tells a story, right? It also tells the story of what you actually want to feel, and that relief, and that kind of a space.T. Dodd:Yeah. Just selling wellness. Yeah. We're selling wellness. We're selling something. It has to stand out a little bit because it's a commercial brand. We're obviously, as you drive down the street, we want to make sure that you see Sweet Flower's logo, and our bold icons on the side of the stores. Yeah. I think it really just comes down to that trust, and that this is about wellness. Beyond that, I think people apply whatever they want to the brand. That's the cool part.T. Dodd:It's like, having people tell you what it means to them when they come into Sweet Flower. We've had some really amazing feedback and testimonials from people. That's really nice to see.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Where can listeners get to know your brand? Mainly online, because there's a small, small, small part of our listeners from LA, but a lot of international listeners. Where can they get to know you?T. Dodd:SweetFlower.com is the website. We're constantly retooling the website. It also has a transactional component, ecommerce platform on the back of it. The website itself tells a story. I think the best way to think about us, though, for people who are outside of our community is on Sweet Flower Shops on Instagram. Sweet Flower Shops is really a nice component of that. That's non-transactional, obviously, and that really is much more about our brand story.F Geyrhalter:Totally agreed. Yeah.T. Dodd:And our partnerships and other things. That's where we see [inaudible 00:50:25]. I think Sweet Flower Shops is a really nice way for us to get our brand messaging and story out there, as well.F Geyrhalter:Awesome, Tim. Listen, I'm looking forward to following the journey. It's really-T. Dodd:Thank you, Fabian.F Geyrhalter:It's crazy times right now, but it's amazing how you guys are dealing with it, and how you're pushing forward, and how it is all about your community first, your employees, and then the people that you can currently help. Really, really appreciate you taking the time in these busy times. Stay safe out there-T. Dodd:Of course, yeah.F Geyrhalter:For most, be healthy, right?T. Dodd:Yeah, you, too. Stay safe, be well, and we'll see you soon, I'm sure. I much appreciate the time today. It's been great. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Thanks, Tim.
Learn more about ArgentDue to COVID-19 we are no longer asking for financial support for the show, instead you can now join free mentorship group calls with Fabian to get through this together. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Sali.S Christeson:Thanks for having me.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Well, first off, we are recording this on April 3rd, I'm working out of my converted garage, which now has further been converted into a podcast "studio". We live fairly close to the airport, and I have alley behind me, so no idea how this first podcasting from home session will go, but things are not as perfect as we all like them to be, and yet I'm fortunate to be living through this pandemic in a healthy, safe, and in a loving environment. I'm even more fortunate currently, as I can be classified as a DINK, which stands for double income no kids, something I just learned last night when listening to an interview with you, Sali. So, thank you for that knowledge. I'm a DINK.S Christeson:I'm no longer a DINK.F Geyrhalter:Oh, I'm sorry, or congratulations, depending on how you look at it under the current situation.S Christeson:Yeah, it's definitely been made crazy by this situation. We have a two-year-old toddler, and then we have our second on the way in three weeks.F Geyrhalter:Oh, my, oh, my. Well, that is wonderful, but in three weeks, that is nerve-racking for you right now.S Christeson:Frightening.F Geyrhalter:It must be really frightening going to the hospital, and doing all of that. I know a lot of friends who are in similar situations, and it's not easy. But look, this is the beginning of a new norm here for me doing these interviews, so I want to share with my audience that things are getting a little more real, so just imagine Sali and I sitting outside in a nice little café in a city of your choosing, just chatting it up, which should make you feel more at ease with any potential background sounds that sneak in, and perhaps it will make you escape your quarantine a little bit.F Geyrhalter:That being said, Sali, you are in the business of dressing women for the workplace, a place many women who wear your outfits don't go to currently. So, let's get this out of the way, because I'm sure a lot of people will have the same questions, how has this pandemic impacted your company, and you personally as you already mentioned, I mean, you're homeschooling, you're expecting another child, what is going on?S Christeson:I like to say that I'm prepared for everything. I have to say that this was a bigger curveball than I've ever gotten, or ever expected to get, especially as I was planning maternity leave. I mean, I'm just doing such different things than I anticipated doing going into that. So, in terms of how it's affected the business, a couple of things, so one, we immediately shut all of our locations. So, starting early March, I think it was March 12th maybe was when our first store closed, and I think it was shortly thereafter that we closed all of them. We closed San Francisco, New York, L.A., and D.C.S Christeson:So, as you can imagine that has an immediate impact on revenue, and then the fact that women are working from home, and I think just everyone's just trying to figure out what's happening, and trying to get their arms around childcare, and their own situation, we've definitely seen a decrease in consumption, but we're already starting to see a rebound, which is refreshing-F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah.S Christeson:... a lot of women are coming to us, because they are still working, they're just working from home and they're on a lot of video calls, so we're doing a lot of waist up dressing, but-F Geyrhalter:Right, just like you and I are right now, right? I assume.S Christeson:Exactly. I'm in a full suit, I don't know what you're talking about.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, of course, me too. I've got a tie. I've got a tie, everything, everything.S Christeson:And then I think the other piece is just this is our biggest year we've ever had. We had the biggest January and biggest February we've ever had, March was on track to be the biggest month of the year. This certainly prevented us from hitting our target, so we've had to change our projections a little bit, it's been a lot of handholding with our team, and we have spring product that's sitting at the factory, a manufacturer in Manhattan. It's done, and it's ready, and it's just unable to be moved, because New York is on lockdown. I mean, there's so many changes, it's really intense, and everyone's going through it, so I think for us I'm cautiously optimistic. I actually think we're really well-positioned. Some of our customers are still going to work, and it's a really stressful time, and they're looking to us as an outlet for themselves.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:And we seek to serve as a resource in whatever way people need. Some are starting to think about going back. I mean, it's not going to last forever, so I think for us it was quickly hunkering down, and making some really big choices, and some really hard choices, and doing those quickly, and staying informed in terms of what sort of government relief is in place, and at the end of the day just trying to be available to our customers. We cut back on all of our marketing, because it feels kind of insensitive right now, to be honest.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah.S Christeson:So, that's current state of affairs. It's intense, and my husband and I actually are ... he works at the company as well, too, so we're both working and managing a child as well. So, we're sort of in the same situation as everyone else, you know?F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah, which makes it easier to have empathy for what's going on with your tribe, with your customers, and I mean, so many of them are like you, and they're homeschooling, and all of a sudden, or maybe they even have been laid off, right?S Christeson:Yep.F Geyrhalter:I'm sure there's a percentage of that. I know you stopped marketing, but are there any kind of ways that you react publicly to this with your brand? How can you help these women that are suddenly in such a different space? Do you do anything as a brand, or is it really more like, "Look ..." Is it more the idea of, "Hey, we give you that little bit of joy in your life right now.", right?S Christeson:Mm-hmm (affirmative).F Geyrhalter:That splash of color, and that idea that there is something around the corner, and ... because I'm I am sure that a lot of women would appreciate getting, ordering something from you now feeling like they look great on a Zoom call, or that they're ready to go back into the workforce when the time comes?S Christeson:Yeah, I think our approach has been more pull and less push, if that makes sense?F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:So, making things available to our customers, but not sending out emails, not pushing things down their throat, not being aggressive. We didn't send an email in terms of what our position is on COVID-19, I don't really think people are interesting in hearing about every single brands thoughts on what's happening, and I think there's sort of ... We're seeing a divide in terms of how our customers splits. I think for some they have absolutely no interest in engaging right now, and for others it's, "I just got your electric pink blazer, and I'm so happy working from home, and it's been the bright spot of my day."F Geyrhalter:Right.S Christeson:So, it's almost like we set up reminders that we're here, so maybe like an Instagram post, but less frequent. Maybe it's one on one outreach in a way that we wouldn't have done before, but I think from a brand perspective we've cut back a lot, because it just feels insensitive in a lot of ways.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:I just feel like there's a lot more to lose than to gain, and I want to make sure whatever we do is adding value to our community. So, a lot of that has been more customized, and individualized, and way ... and about longer term thinking. So, we're thinking about marketing campaigns coming out of this, or how we come back and add value. But I think right now, we're not really focused on our revenue goals, our conversion, or whatever. We're focused on, "What do you need right now to survive.", you know?F Geyrhalter:Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, totally, and it's very much about keeping your employees and it's a lot of-S Christeson:Yes.F Geyrhalter:... that, rather than adding more noise to the channels that all kind of say the same thing, you know?S Christeson:100%F Geyrhalter:I totally agree with you. So, Argent, your brand, is only four years young, and you're on the forefront of really finding women's workwear. Your brand states that it is "Bridging the workwear joy gap." How did you get there? I mean, you worked in tech for 10 years at Cisco, now you're knee-deep in fashion, an industry you had no prior experience in, what was the moment where you realized that you had to get serious about turning this idea into a company?S Christeson:Yeah, this has been a personal pain point of mine across every industry, every city that I've lived in, they've all called for different dress codes. It's been such a headache and hassle to try and find something that I actually enjoy wearing, which I know sounds so simple, but it really has been an underserved and ignored category. I mean, my mom will even speak to how I was frustrated at like the age of 20 or 21 shopping for my first suit, but it just was constant. So, I worked at companies that called for anything from a suit, and then to tech which was much more casual, but recognize that what I wore was still important it communicates who I am, et cetera. It just took so much more time than it should have from a really time constrained person, and my peer group, I felt like it was just a shared pain point.S Christeson:But the catalyst for actually pursuing the idea was I read a study while I was working at Cisco, it was in 2014, that showed that women are judged based on appearance, and they quantified the impact of what you wear on your bottom line over your lifetime, and for me that was really all I needed. That was it, I quit my job without having done anything, I just knew that there was a huge opportunity, and I had a vision for making basically, one, solving the product side, but two, really leveraging the brand to visually inspire women, and working women specifically in a way that no one else was doing, no one was connecting with them, no one was owning that audience, and I saw an opportunity to leverage our brand to inspire boldness, and confidence, and kind of an F it attitude, and just go for it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, yeah.S Christeson:Yeah, so I quit and the rest is history, I guess?F Geyrhalter:But I mean, you're a D-to-C brand, first and foremost, but you're now also turning to more traditional retail. So, I mean, brand strategy must've been crucial for you from the get-go, because you're at a fairly, and I put fairly under parenthesis, high price point. So, in reality, you're kind of in the middle, right?S Christeson:Mm-hmm (affirmative).F Geyrhalter:But you're crushing it on catering to the modern office employee just as much to powerful women in all kinds of public roles. I mean, we're talking about Hilary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Amy Poehler, Awkwafina, Jill Martin, Ginger Zee, people we all very much love, or some of us, or I hope we all do, and the list goes on, and on, and on. How did you create that extremely aspirational niche in the marketplace where you don't get stamped as either cheap workwear, which is so easy to fall into that, or too aspirational, too luxurious of workwear? I mean, it is such a perfect niche that you covered. How did you create this? I mean, there must have been a lot of strategy behind how to get there, besides the price point?S Christeson:Yeah, I think extensive market research upfront, so understanding the competitive landscape, and that's where the pricing really came in. We backed in to our price point, because there were ... one, there was no one single place that was solely focused on workwear, and so I knew right away that was a huge opportunity to start with the customer and make sure that we were solving based on customer needs, bringing in our level of expertise, and marrying it, and matching it with what we're hearing from the customer side. But there were, obviously, workwear options, they were all just not really meeting the needs of the customer, in my opinion, or that's where the opportunity lied.S Christeson:So, in terms of competitive landscape we looked at low-end brands and price point, we looked at higher end brands and price point, and there is actually a gap exactly where we fall. There's no accessible price point, so that was a starting point for us. We also conducted a 400 ... or sorry, a 54 question survey to a sample size of 400 people to just glean more insight from the customer base that we were going after. I combed through census data to identify our go-to market plan, and I think the most important thing really was about the brand, and the underlying product, and having a lot of exercises around that prior to launch.S Christeson:So, what are our unique differentiators, what is our tone? What makes our product special? For us, it's functional, quality, stylish, accessible workwear, and that hasn't existed in the past. I think, for me, understanding and recognizing that my background isn't in fashion, and immediately starting to hire based on that gap, and looking at surrounding myself with people with the right level of experience, so hired a designer that was based in New York, and had built a team of designers since then that have backgrounds in luxury design, and it's been exciting for them, I think, because they've really been designing more through like a fashion lens, and we really have a purpose.F Geyrhalter:Right.S Christeson:So yeah, there were a lot of exercises, I think, that led us to land where we did prior to even launching.F Geyrhalter:Which is still easier said, and easy to look at data than actually pulling it off. So, you make it sound so easy, but it's not. As part of your market survey I heard that you said that in a prior interview that you learned that women's workwear is a 34.9 billion annual market spend in the U.S. alone.S Christeson:Yes, yes.F Geyrhalter:It's insane, and then you also found out that women rate the experience of shopping for work clothes a 3.9 out of 10, which is unbelievable thinking about how women, and not only women, love to shop for clothes, and it's usually a very satisfying experience. 3.9 out of 10 is horrifying, I-S Christeson:Yes, and I could so relate to it. I mean, I remember so many times like very last minute, "I have a presentation tomorrow, I have nothing to wear. Let me just run to wherever, and buy something that I feel meh about, wear it once, and it kind of sits in the bottom of my laundry hamper, and I didn't feel great in it anyway." That is honestly the experience that every woman has had in the past.F Geyrhalter:And that's a pretty big deal. I mean, I can attest to that from a guy's perspective, which of course, only counts 10% of a women's perspective on this issue, but as a public speaker, the idea of feeling confident on stage, or in front of any kind of presentation is so important. You don't even want to think about your clothes, you don't even want to think what you're wearing, you just want to feel great about yourself. So, the way I solved it is a typical guy's way, I have 10 of the same shirt. It's the exact same shirt, and so every single ... but the problem is if you put together a speaker reel, every single speech looks like I'm at exactly the same ... because I don't change my clothes. I do change my clothes, but you know what I mean, I'm wearing the exact same thing.F Geyrhalter:On that topic of niche fashion brand, I'm currently working with a founder on the launch of a fashion brand called Model Canvas, and he's launching a line of jeans for big guys. So, it's oversized jeans, and it is very much about body positivity while solving for an unseen and undervalued problem. He's in midst of the fundraising game, and this is where the question goes, when you went out to get funding you ended up, over time of course, raising $6 million. What do you feel of the many, many things that you said and that you did during your presentations won investors over the most?F Geyrhalter:If you have to rerun all the pitches, and wins in your head right now, what was that argument where you saw most of them click, because I'm sure you can see it in their eyes the second they are convinced. What was one single or convincing point, which may have well been the one I just pointed out about the 34.9 billion market spend, and the rating of the experience, but is there one point where you feel like that was the one that every time you brought up that point investors were just like, "Okay, this sounds ..." or is it not that easy?S Christeson:I don't think it's that straightforward unfortunately, I wish it was-F Geyrhalter:Bummer.S Christeson:... I wish there was a silver bullet, but I do think having your story really, really polished, and thought through, and just showing that you are the expert is really important. What I've learned is that every investor looks for something different, and every investor cares about something different. So, the aha moment comes at different times for different investors, and even I can just look at that gender specific to simplify it. For women, they understand the pain point and the problem, and the opportunity intuitively, because they've lived it for so long, and I think for male investors I had to spend more time upfront just talking through market size, pain point, what makes us different and unique.S Christeson:Some investors are more analytical, and so they wanted to dive into the numbers and understand, "Okay it's a huge opportunity, but how much of that can you actually capture, and is your plan believable, and let me look at your projections, and let's dive in." Some want to look at the unit economics from a customer perspective, and understand what's your average order value, what's your lifetime value, what's your customer acquisition costs? And is also depends on different stages of the business, too. Prior to launching we obviously didn't have some of those metrics, so that, I think, really boils down to having the ability to paint a clear picture in terms of what you're building, to support it with your advisor team, with your immediate team, with a fully baked plan as much as possible. So, I think it slightly depends on person and investor, it depends on your ability to tell the story, and then your ability to go deep wherever that person's interested in going deep.F Geyrhalter:How much did you research the personality of different investors? I mean, did you do some networking prior of people that got funding, or had presentations with these people, or did you not go that deep?S Christeson:Not usually. I think I've done it long enough now that I ... Early on I spent so much more time fundraising, and you learn over time how to be more efficient with it, and so now I'll definitely research the individuals that I'm talking to, and I'll get an idea for how they tick. So, sometimes I'll look at if there're videos available of them I'll just quickly listen to it and get an idea of who they are.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:But I would say that's probably my biggest skill is networking and reading people, so I've been able to lean on that heavily.F Geyrhalter:See, and I thought it was because you knew how to dress for success, but nope.S Christeson:No, I think because I wasn't sure how to dress for success I had to start this company.F Geyrhalter:Exactly, it was prelaunch. Let's talk about your brand launch. You knew that you would be a D-to-C brand, first and foremost, but I'm paraphrasing you here, you had a pretty crappy website, right?S Christeson:YesF Geyrhalter:Even at the time of official launch, which is just insane thinking you come from 10 years of tech in Silicon Valley, but of course your success was not based on insanity, but very calculated decisions. You launched your fashion brand at a conference. Tell us more about that launch day strategy, and the aftermath, because it's absolutely mesmerizing.S Christeson:So, I think a couple of things. One, we were and always have been, we still are, resource constrained, and that's intentional, because I think that right now we are in a ... well, not literally right now, but I think over the last like five or so years it's been ... D-to-C has been so attractive to investors, and a lot of founders have just taken so much money, and have been overfunded, and I think that really dilutes your ability to build a genuine brand. So, we are always thinking about how we allocate our money in a way that allows us to learn as much as possible, connect with a customer as much as possible, add value as much as possible, and really accelerate our path to what our ultimate goal is, which is to be the go-to workwear brand and the workwear authority.S Christeson:So, I think all that customer research I talked about, and all the brand building exercises that we did allowed us to lay out a go-to market strategy that made a lot of sense for us that wouldn't make a lot of sense for other retail brands, and I think that's what makes us special is our customer is a very specific customer. It's the professional woman, and we were thinking through like for launch, "How do we find her?", and inherent in our model, we've always had a website, granted very crappy early on, we've always had a website, but we also always believed in activating physical locations, and interacting with the customer as much as possible as a way to learn and as a way to grow.S Christeson:So, we launched at a women's conference in San Jose, California, which these conferences are you huge, they range in size from like 5,000 to like 20,000 women. This was one that I had participated in while I was at Cisco, and historically they'd only had booths of huge companies that were sponsors. So, Google would be there, Pfizer, or Cisco, J.P. Morgan are handing out stress balls, and they're offering you a couch to sit on, or a granola bar.S Christeson:Women have carved out this day on their calendar, they're not taking meetings, and it's a long day, and at some point they kind of want to take a break. So, I just thought it would be cool to go there and create this really elevated, beautiful, carved out retail experience, and just sell there and see what happened. It was such an awesome day. We were literally unpacking product from the factory, it was our first day ever in business. We threw up a website because we felt obligated to, which was, I mean, functional at best.F Geyrhalter:But not ecommerce at that time, right? It was just a splash page.S Christeson:No, it was ecommerce, you could-F Geyrhalter:Oh, good. Yeah.S Christeson:Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was on Shopify, it was functional enough.F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:But we sold in like one day somewhere in the range of 25 to $30,000 worth of product, and the-F Geyrhalter:Unbelievable.S Christeson:It was ... I mean, the validation, and just the ... women were physically reacting to the functional aspects of our products, so things like interiors pockets, or a jumpsuit that has a back tuck, so you don't have to take the whole thing off to use the restroom. So, it definitely was the right move, and I think it was a great validating first step, and to our-F Geyrhalter:Unbelievably smart, and I think that that to me, that is so important, the not like, "How did other companies launch? Let's do it the same way. How did other fashion brands do it?", right?S Christeson:Mm-hmm (affirmative).F Geyrhalter:But the idea of like, "Who is our customer? Where are they, and where can we meet them when they really want to be distracted by a brand like us?" I think it's just brand poetry, that launch, so I just love that. And then I guess you rushed ... I think your husband at the time was running back and forth to get more clothes out of the U-Haul van outside the conference, or something like that, right?S Christeson:It was crazy-F Geyrhalter:It's okay-S Christeson:... it was very far away, and he's a runner, and he was exhausted by the end of the day. It was insane.F Geyrhalter:That is so good. That is so good. It's nice to look back at days like that during a month like this one. But that's really, really cool. I looked at your Instagram a little bit more the last couple of days, and the hashtag is currently ambition suits you, so storytelling is obviously key with any brand, but Argent is doing a very good job with it. Let's talk about the bigger why behind the brand. On your side you tease with a line that states, "Radical equality from pockets to paychecks." How does your brand see its social mission, and how does it work it out?S Christeson:Yeah so, prior to launch I mentioned this, but I ... and this certainly, again, stems from my experience, I saw an opportunity to build a brand that helped women through their careers no matter what their goal is, we want to be here and we want to be a resource to you. During my time in tech I worked on a team that was 95% male, 5% female, and I was one of the more senior females. I saw a lot, and I saw a lot of initiatives around helping women, and helping support women, helping get more women into the workforce, but a lot of them felt a little bit directionless.S Christeson:So, our goal really is to serve as a resource. So, the way that we've brought that to life are through events that we host, and we see now an opportunity to scale, which we'll be doing over the next year or two beyond just physical interactions, but we ... One, I think it lives in the brand. I think that the clothes are a physical reminder of who we are. They're intended to give you confidence, they're intended for you not to have to think about what you're wearing when you show up, and they're intended to be a reminder that there's a small army behind you, even if we're not physically there when you're asking for the raise, or making the biggest presentation of your life, or interviewing for your dream job.F Geyrhalter:Right.S Christeson:I think in terms of events though, we offer events, and the goal is to, one, bring together men and women. So, we include ... our brand is fairly, and intentionally androgynous, we really-F Geyrhalter:So glad to hear that. I'm so glad to hear that.S Christeson:We really believe that we can impact gender equality, and the way that we see ourselves doing that is by involving men in the conversation. So, we host events, we invite men and women from our network, we sell, we have drinks, we have fun. It's a really lively and exciting environment, which I think aligns with the brand that we're building, but we also always have an activity that is actionable on an individual level. So, we hosted a speed negotiating event where we brought in six executives that you would never get face time with, we had a facilitator, and then individuals would sit down, you would get a negotiating planning document, and you'd sit for four minutes with each coach, and you'd learn how to use the document. You'd learn to manage a salary negotiation, you'd learn how to manage a vendor negotiation, and you'd walk away with that document to used in every negotiation going forward, and you could cater those conversations to your own individual career.S Christeson:We hosted a financial literacy planning training event, and some as simple as like a headshot event. So, those are the ways that we are really bringing our values and our mission to life, I would say, and then I think that things as simple as having a website, and shooting real women. We shoot women from our community that you wouldn't necessarily know by face, but you know their work, and we just want you to see yourself when you open up our website. So, things as simple as that are different, and are special, because we haven't had that for-F Geyrhalter:Right.S Christeson:... you know, a long time. So yeah, I think are just some examples of what we're doing to really help change the status of women and gender.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely, and I mean, let's not forget, you're a very young company, so you spent the first years really focusing on getting the product right, getting the market fit right, making sure there is a tribe, and now this really can be a springboard to so much more. I mean, it's amazing what kind of opportunities a brand like yours, the way that you're positioned, that you have now, right?S Christeson:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:I think that the future is bright-S Christeson:Thank you.F Geyrhalter:... there's a lot that can happen with that. Let's go all the way back to the very beginning of the brand, the actual name, Argent. Where did the name come from? I can't put the two together.S Christeson:My great-grandfather started a company in the early 1900s, Argent Lumber, actually-F Geyrhalter:Oh.S Christeson:... Yeah, and he was a huge inspiration of mine. I've obviously never met him, our lives unfortunately did not overlap, but he was an entrepreneur through and through, and it was just something that I've had since I was born. It was not the obvious first choice. We spent weeks and weeks of brainstorming names, but we kept coming back to Argent, because it was simple, and it was strong, and it meant something to me, but it didn't mean something to everyone. So, that's it, that's the name.F Geyrhalter:Well, after this podcast airs it will mean lumber to everyone. I am sorry.S Christeson:I hope not. I hope it means accessible, functional, versatile work clothes.F Geyrhalter:And I mean, this is nitty gritty, and it's totally pointless to even talk about it, but I'm personally interested, so since he owned the brand Argent, was there still a trademark? I mean, this is a long time ago, and how about the dot com? Was it something that was already in other people's hands?S Christeson:We're argentwork.com, so there are ... His company is way too old for there still to be an issue, and we're in a different category, but there are a couple of companies that are named Argent, but they're all in different categories.F Geyrhalter:Okay, yeah, yeah.S Christeson:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:Let's just for one quick second entertain me, let's talk about your logo. This is a branding podcast, and even though the logo is only a small part of your brand, I am going there. You have a typographic treatment, but then you also have the uppercase letter A, which is kind of like an icon now, with what could be seen as an exclamation mark, but on the left. So, fill us in a little bit of what the thought process are, where the logo came from.S Christeson:Yeah so, we did I think way more than most startups in terms of brand exercise, developing our logo, our font, our ... everything was started in 2015, and then it's been an evolution. The logo was something that we worked with a branding agency on, and I love it for so many reasons. So, it's a dot dash. It represents ... one, you can type it on your keyboard, which I think is really fun, and quirky, and funny given that we're going after the office. Two, it's bold, it's elevated, and it's also a conversation starter. So, the backslash is a conversation starter. It's like an opener versus doing it the other way and having a period and just ending it. So, it's inviting, and in some ways it's just kind of quirky, which is what we are. I just ... It's strong, and it works for us. I don't know.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, totally. Now we zoomed in to the logo, now let's take a huge step back and think about branding. Obviously, you're a D-to-C, you're a retail brand, branding is super important to you, you mentioned that branding was very important to you from the very get-go, and you did a lot of exercises early on where other startups failed to do that. Shame on them, by the way, but that's very selfish of me to say.S Christeson:Agreed.F Geyrhalter:What does branding mean to you, Sali, I mean, especially after your journey from a very corporate job doing a lot of ... thinking about operations, doing a lot of financial jobs in your background, and now suddenly going into retail, which is like the brand, you know, like-S Christeson:Mm-hmm (affirmative).F Geyrhalter:... the biggest point of brands, really, where you can go. What does branding mean to you overall?S Christeson:I am a huge believer in brand and brand building, and I think you can see that with what we've built. I think that it is an undervalued area of the company for a lot of startups, and if overlooked, it's not something that you can correct. You can't grow a team, and then get your arms around brand, it doesn't work like that. So, to me, brand is just the ... it's almost like the visual manifestation of who you are at your core, and what values you want to portray, and at every touchpoint that a customer has, or an individual has with your brand, it should be consistent, it should convey exactly what we want it to.S Christeson:So, it's anything from tone and voice, values, what we stand for, what we don't stand for. It's colors, it can be as simple as color, it can be logo and fonts. But I think what it all boils down is like you are ... I almost see the brand as like an individual, and I think for us we from day one we have not deviated from, one, who we are, and two, where we're going, and the brand is a way for us to communicate that. We've put guardrails around it every step of the way, and as I mentioned, we refined it, and I think that it's gone from a bigger funnel to a much tighter funnel in a great way. I think that's natural, and I think that's healthy, but it hasn't changed what we stand for.S Christeson:I think the value in that is that customers are drawn to that, they recognize that it's authentic, and that it's us, and you can see what we stand for, and I think in some ways we've taken risks with it, because we're willing to dress someone that's "controversial" like Hillary Clinton, which is crazy to me, but we're willing to put our name on things that are potentially perceived as political, which somehow the women's conversations become politicized. So, we are really clear about who we are and what we stand for, and maybe some of the decisions we make alienate people, but it doesn't matter to me, because we have such a loyal following, and that following only becomes more loyal by us being true to who we are.S Christeson:It has been interesting, since we've launched we've seen some brands try and copy what we're doing, and it just doesn't work like that. Customers can sniff out inauthenticity like in two seconds, and just to try and take pieces of a brand and apply it to what you're building, it comes off as really disjointed and broken. So yeah, brand in my opinion is invaluable. I think that we have so much brand equity now from really having invested in it, and really having spent time on cultivating it, and bringing it to life. I think more companies that overlook branding, brand exercises, and don't do it, sort of ignore it, than there are ones that actually spend time and resources on it. I don't think we've seen a ton of great, strong brands come out in the last five, 10 years, but the ones that have are just excellent, you know?F Geyrhalter:I totally agree. I totally agree with every single thing that you're saying, which is not shocking at all. But no, absolutely, absolutely, there were so many things in there. I could actually have follow-up questions to every single sentence you just put out there, but I know we're running out of time so we can't do that, but what is one single word in which you could describe your brand? So, I'm thinking about Everlane being transparency, and Coca-Cola standing for happiness, I call if your brand DNA. What would be one word that Argent would stand for?S Christeson:Confidence.F Geyrhalter:Love it. Yes, confidence and joy, right? Confidence first.S Christeson:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:That's absolutely great.S Christeson:That, to me, is our ultimate filter. It's literally why we exist. We want to give you confidence through our product, we're going to give you confidence through our brand, we want to give you confidence through literally every single thing that we put in front of you.F Geyrhalter:And just the way that you said this now, this is why this is so important to be able to know your brand so much that you can actually funnel it into one singular word, because everything you do, may it be a blog post, an Instagram post, if it doesn't go back to that word, then it shouldn't be out there, right?S Christeson:Yes.F Geyrhalter:And I think that's why your brand is a little bit on the quiet side throughout this crisis now, because you don't have something that can go right, right against that pain point, or your brand's true north. I absolutely think that this is so, so crucial for anyone. All right, we're running out of time. I would love to hear from you, if there's any piece of brand advice that you might have for founders as a takeaway, you already gave us a lot of them, but is there anything that as you worked on your brand for the last four or five years, was there anything where you say, "You know what? That's something that I learned that I would just love for founders not to make that mistake.", perhaps even brand related?S Christeson:Yeah so, oh man, I have so many different answers for that. I think investing early in brand, which I obviously said before, but recognizing how important that is, and stepping up and making the investment, because it can be perceived as expensive early on in a startup, and I just find it to be so invaluable. For us, we've always had a brand book since before launch that we share with every individual that starts working at the company, we share with every agency partner that we bring on, and it's a way to stay really tight in terms of messaging, and visuals assets, et cetera.S Christeson:So, I think that having that filter in place is really important, and it inspires excitement, passion from the inside. I think the other piece is just to follow your gut. So, early on for all of our imagery, all of our campaign imagery, all of our ecomm imagery, we were using models, and it just didn't feel quite right to me, because they were not like a visual representation of the working woman. I didn't identify with them, but it was kind of what was done. So, I think that I've gone against the norm every single step of the journey, but here was one area where I was like, "Okay, we have to use models, we just have to.", you know?F Geyrhalter:Yeah.S Christeson:We changed that a couple of years ago, and I've never been more relieved and happier in my life. I've always wanted it, but I've always succumbed to the pressure of not doing it, and so that was a mistake that we made along the way. Everyone's going to make mistakes, but I think if you just are constantly focused on evolving, and improving your brand, and tightening it up, and iterating on it based on what you're hearing from feedback from your community, that you can't go wrong. Sorry, I know this is a long answer. The last piece is-F Geyrhalter:Oh, keep going.S Christeson:... we've definitely sacrificed revenue due to some brand decisions, so we've been approached by a number of brands to do partnerships. We have not done those for the most part. This year we're actually just starting to launch a couple of partnerships that are so perfect for our brand, but it took me like a few years to be comfortable with identifying who was right for us, and saying no to partnerships that definitely would've driven top line results. I think the other is just ... and more broadly it's just being comfortable saying no to things that compromise your brand in any regard. I am very much a purist when it comes to brand, but I think the second that you concede on anything that there's no going back. The last piece is we don't discount as a brand, so that's something that I won't budge on, and I think that it's different for every company, but for me that just shows that you don't value your brand and your product. So, long answer-F Geyrhalter:We see eye to eye with so many of these things. Saying no was my biggest thing that I didn't do throughout my entire agency life. Like for 12 years I just said yes to everything, because it was all so exciting, and after that first decade in business I started to say no to everything, besides a couple of things, and opportunities just opened up, right-S Christeson:Yes.F Geyrhalter:... because you say yes to the right things. I think it is so important.S Christeson:Yes.F Geyrhalter:You said, "Yes."S Christeson:I agree.F Geyrhalter:Female listeners, or those who identify as such, who fell in love with your brand, where can they get dressed for success currently? Where can they find you? I know obviously your retail stores are, at the time where this is airing, which is going to be in two weeks from now, they will all most probably still be closed, but for now they can go online?S Christeson:Yes, so argentwork.com, and then on Instagram we're Argent, or Twitter, or Facebook, Argent across all social media platforms.F Geyrhalter:Awesome, very good. Well, Sali, thank you so much for having taken the time to share your story, and amazing, amazing, amazing branding insights with us, especially under your less than ideal circumstances right now, we really, really appreciate your time.S Christeson:Thank you for having me on, this has been refreshing in light of everything that's happening, so I very much appreciate it.F Geyrhalter:Oh, I'm glad, thank you.
Learn more about Vice Ventures by following their Instagram accountDue to COVID-19 we are no longer asking for financial support for the show, instead you can now join free mentorship group calls with Fabian to get through this together. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Catharine.Catharine:Thank you so much for having me. This is awesome.F Geyrhalter:Oh absolutely. So you're in your late 20s, you did your time on the M&A team at Walmart, as well as worked for the founder of Bonobos. And you now run a VC firm that invests in all the things normal VCs not only not invest in, but are usually advised to never ever invest in. Your firm is called Vice Ventures, and vice meaning immoral or wicked behavior. This includes anything from alcohol to drugs, gambling, sex, you name it. All the things that VCs stay away from.F Geyrhalter:And they actually even have a vice clause in many VC firms which inhibits the majority of them to invest in otherwise highly lucrative industries like edibles and e-sports, which is kind of crazy. And it's a crazy good market if someone is smart and bold enough to step into it, and that is exactly what you have done. On your website, your one liner, and that's pretty much all there is on the website, it reads, "Vice Ventures is a seed stage venture capital fund conquering stigmas and striving towards superior returns by investing in good companies operating in bad industries." I absolutely love that. How did Vice Ventures start out, and how difficult was it to get the initial fund for Vice Ventures established?Catharine:Yeah, so about two and a half years ago now, I guess, I invested in a canned wine business with the last of my Wall Street bonus, when I was working for Andy. Then flash forward, I followed Andy to Walmart after the acquisition on the digitally native vertical brands. I'm an 18 there. Some people absolutely love working at Walmart in M&A, and I was not one of those people, so early on I told Andy that I wanted to leave and I wanted to work in venture. He was extremely supportive of it. I interviewed at a ton of super venture firms just because I knew all these [inaudible 00:02:08] managing Andy's portfolio. And they all asked me to pitch a business. So I pitched Bev, which is the direct to consumer, now Omni Channel, canned wine business that I invested in early on that Founders Fund recently came in for.Catharine:And at the time all of these fund managers were like, you know Catharine, we love the founder, we love the brand, we love our strategy. We just can't get involved because we just can't invest in alcohol. And that to me, it was just unbelievably shocking that this whole category of investment people just couldn't touch to you even though spirits have exits every few months. Beer have a great run of high multi revenue exits. And I just couldn't believe that they weren't allowed to invest in it. And then upon further investigation I learned about the vice clause, which exists in most, I would argue, of a seed stage series A consumer funds. Meaning that they can't invest in alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, sex tech, online gambling, psilocybin and ketamine, you name it. They're barred from those investments.Catharine:So that's basically how I came up with the idea for the fund. The thesis proved true when I met the founder of Recess, which is a CBD sparkling water. I was one of the first people to invest in him. We had one meeting. I thought the brand was brilliant. I thought Ben Witte, the founder, had really something special about him. So I committed on the spot. I raised a pretty big SPV, begging people to invest in me. I had some people who were like, we're only investing because we believe in you, not because we believe in Recess. I was like whatever, like that's totally fine with me.F Geyrhalter:Take your money. Take it.Catharine:Yeah. Like whatever. So then that took off and that proved the thesis true because a lot of big funds loved the branding as well, and loved the founder but couldn't get involved because they had this vice clause. Because full spectrum hemp has 0.3% THC.F Geyrhalter:And you got Marc Andreessen, one of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, to invest fairly early on in your fund. Right? How did you pull that off? How does a conversation like that go about? Especially in the beginning where you weren't in the press and people didn't quite know. How did you, A, approach him? How did you even get a meeting with him? And what did he say after you told him what's going on?Catharine:That's so funny. Yeah. So I have a pretty incredible lawyer, meaning that he's more of a partner for Vice Ventures than he is just legal advice. And he was like look out there, you don't have the money to pay for this if you don't soft circle cash beforehand for the docs. He's like, you need to find people who want to invest before we spend, I don't know, 60 to $100,000 incorporating a fund. So I was like, okay fine. So he goes off in a hurry and leave and I'm thinking of who invest in funds. I have absolutely no idea. I don't come from money.Catharine:And then I was like, who is the richest person I have the email of? And that was Marc Andreessen. So I just cold emailed Marc Andreessen with this deck that three other people had seen before. And I was like, he's probably not going to respond, whatever. At least I tried.F Geyrhalter:Right.Catharine:And then I woke up in the middle of the night, like at two in the morning, just bolt upright awake. Which is really rare for me. I'm a very good sleeper. And I checked my email and he responded. And I screamed. I started crying, I could not believe it. My husband was like, what is going on? It's two in the morning.Catharine:It was just such a pivotal balloon for me. And he was like, I love what you're doing. Is January too late? Because this was December. And I was like, absolutely not. So I flew out to San Francisco, I had no money. I slept in the shittiest Airbnb of all time. That was bunk beds and a ton of engineers that wanted maybe one day to start a business. It was so gross. And I went to his office, I got there 45 minutes early because I was terrified of being late. And I had nowhere to go because I didn't want to go in. So I just waited in this park area.F Geyrhalter:Oh this is awesome.Catharine:On the phone with my lawyer who was in shock that anybody was paying attention to me. Yeah. And then the meeting went really well. Marc is, I mean he lives up to the hype. He's a complete genius. He asked me highly intelligent questions. He got the concept very quickly. And he committed. It was awesome.F Geyrhalter:Wow. That's-Catharine:And very lucky.F Geyrhalter:That is pretty amazing. And so to date, I mean, this is how long ago? Like a year and a half, two years? Not that long ago, right?Catharine:Yeah. So it was 2019, January.F Geyrhalter:Okay. Yeah. Good. So you're a year plus in. What are some of the big investments? And what type of companies are there? Would we know any of them? Any background that some of the companies you invested in would be awesome.Catharine:Yeah. So we recently announced a sizeable investment in a company called Lucy. And Lucy is founded by some of the Soylent founders. It's a nicotine gum and lozenger business. And the thesis is basically that e-cigarettes has helped create a whole new generation of smokers or vapers, and 90% of people who tried to stop smoking or vaping failed to do so. So basically Lucy is coming in and reducing the harm of vaping and smoking by having very flavorful gums and lozengers.F Geyrhalter:That super cool.Catharine:It's brilliant. I'm obsessed with the founders. I'm obsessed with the idea. I talk to them weekly. I love them very, very much.F Geyrhalter:Right.Catharine:So that's one. Yeah, sorry.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, sorry to interrupt. But I was actually on the Lucy site last night to prep for the podcast. And I mean, what a cool... I mean, not only a great idea, right? But what a really, really well executed brand. And one of the things that they state on the site, "Come for the nicotine, stay for the breath of fresh air." I mean, branding must've been such a crucial element, they way they decide to structure the brand. So now add the interest, overall it's really smart and right on the money. How far along were they with the messaging and branding when you invested in them?Catharine:I met them about three years ago before I had the [inaudible 00:09:10]. I was still working for Andy. I loved the founder, or the CEO. There's three founders. We hopped on the call, we just spoke probably for over an hour. It was scheduled to be 30 minutes. We just got along so well, it was wild. And I just immediately understood what he was doing and why he was doing it. And he was raising a seed round at the time, but I didn't have a fund and I didn't really have any money because I'd invested in Bev already. So then he came to New York with one of their designer, Julio, and we ended up having a two and a half hour breakfast. It was an absolute blast. I immediately recognized and saw how intelligent this team was. And I stayed really, really close with them because I knew that I wanted to be involved in the series A, in a big way.F Geyrhalter:And at that point the brand was already pretty developed, right? Or did it change a lot? And how hands-on are you with that? I mean, I heard in one of your interviews that you like to have that advisor and mentor role as well.Catharine:Yeah. I mean, I definitely end up being that role for a lot of my founders. One of my founders recently went through a breakup and called me every day for three and a half weeks. Like two in the morning. Which is fine. My husband's the same, he's so patient.Catharine:But I mean, I take those calls because I've built something. I'm like, I know how difficult and how stressful it is to build something from scratch and just to have somebody who both invested in you and believes in you. I have one LP like that who, I'm so incredibly lucky that he invested in me because he hosted my portfolio company. He will give me a second eye on businesses. He helps with the operations of the fund. And just because he loves the thesis and loves the movement that we're trying to start. [crosstalk 00:11:13] So it's based on choices. It's a really strong community.F Geyrhalter:What are some other startups? I interrupted you before because I got too excited about Lucy.Catharine:Lucy is definitely one to be excited about.F Geyrhalter:Right, right. Any other ones? You did invest in Mod recently, right?Catharine:Yes. Another founder that is very dear to my heart. I invested in her because I thought the brand was extremely strong in the sense that it was very clean and it wasn't very kitschy or really girly. It was very gender neutral intimacy business. And they sell vibrators, condoms, lubricants, bath salts, candles. They're actually in J. Crew right now, which is awesome.F Geyrhalter:Oh wow.Catharine:Yeah, they're in a ton of stores, mom and pop stores and all throughout the Northeast. Yeah. And they're doing very, very well.F Geyrhalter:Well, and with Mod, I mean, Mod looks more like [inaudible 00:12:15] on steroids then having anything to do with sex. Right? I mean, it's-Catharine:Yeah. It's beautiful.F Geyrhalter:And you discussed, I think it was in the podcast with Chase, and you discussed how obviously, pretty obviously, companies that are in the business of sex cannot advertise on Google, Facebook, et cetera. Right? But Mod was so smart that they created ads in the beginning for the beautiful looking massage candle, which is just a beautiful looking candle, and that's how they lured people through these ads onto their site. And I just think that's so whip smart. I guess, no pun intended. But with the startups you advise and invest in, do most of these advertising, marketing, those branding ideas come from the founders themselves, or through the help of external agencies or consultants?Catharine:It really depends on the business. I have an advisor for Vice Ventures, Costa Damaskos who runs an agency called Virtually Real. So they did a lot of work with Recess, which is how I met him. So he also works with a lot of my founders and helps them think about branding, helps them think about messaging, packaging, website. We're about to get a new website. He did our website and it looks amazing. Yeah. So a lot of the companies in the portfolio they use Costa.F Geyrhalter:So when you work with startups, when do you advise them to invest in branding? Does it vary by focus? Because you mentioned your Vice Ventures website, but it is pretty anti-brand though, your website, right? It's literally a splash page. It's a beautiful splash page with the perfect messaging. Right? Or did it change? Have I been on the wrong site?Catharine:It's about to be a lot more robust.F Geyrhalter:Ah, okay.Catharine:But when you run a one person fund and you have separate portfolio companies, you have a priorities list and the website for me does the job, so I haven't really bothered to change it. But for a lot of my portfolio companies, I mean, super important because it's Vice, because a lot of them can't advertise through traditional channels. It's really important they have strong branding and really good PR. I would argue.F Geyrhalter:So you advise them pretty early on to invest in branding and get their story right. Then ensure that they understand the customer and the messaging, et cetera, et cetera.Catharine:Yeah. But what's funny about a lot of these Vice products is that, like take Recess, for example, it's the first time in the history of the world there's been the CB sparkling water. And it's rapidly growing, they have huge orders online in the Midwest. And it's really interesting to think who that customer is and how that customer is consistently changing as the brand gets bigger and bigger.F Geyrhalter:Right, because in the beginning it's not a customer that exists yet. Right? And that's what's so interesting is defining someone out of nowhere and just... I mean, you must be doing, I mean not you, right? But the founders of a company like that must be doing tons of AB tests, and data must be super important. Right? Even though in the beginning it's most probably a lot of gut instinct.Catharine:Totally. [inaudible 00:15:39].F Geyrhalter:Have you... Oh go ahead.Catharine:No, no, go.F Geyrhalter:How have you invested in any psychedelic startups? The reason why I ask, there is a mesmerizing article in the March edition of Forbes magazine. And I couldn't even believe it. I think it's 12 pages in Forbes that goes deep into that subject. And it discusses how many bet on psilocybin being the next big thing to cure PTSD. And psilocybin of course being the psychoactive component of magic mushrooms. It's a fascinating space that is currently being quite the hype. And from what I have read, rightfully so. Have you touched any of that?Catharine:No, I haven't, just because the horizon of my fund is 10 years. And I think a lot of these companies are going through FDA process to be approved. I think their return portfolio is probably a little more than 10 years. So I think it's a bit early for venture funds, unless you're a family office and you can of course wait 20 years for a return.F Geyrhalter:I see. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But are you interested in that kind of company? How do you see that? Did you read up about it at all? Is that something that's on your horizon?Catharine:Yeah, I mean I see anywhere between 80 and 200 businesses a week internationally.F Geyrhalter:Oh wow.Catharine:So I've seen a ton, a ton of psilocybin businesses, whether they're in the US, or their in Amsterdam, Canada. I just think it's too early for Vice Ventures to be involved in that yet. I mean, I'm not a doctor, I don't have the background being a doctor. I can't understand the FDA. I can understand the research papers that have been done on it. But at the end of the day I can't make the best call on whether a psychedelic business is better than a different psychedelic business. Like for branding at least I feel like I have that background. I worked for a founder who invested in incredible brands and created an incredible brand. So I kind of know what building that business looks like. But when it comes to, like for example [inaudible 00:17:49], which is an incredible psilocybin business, they just passed to be process of the FDA and that is meaningless to me. I can research it again, but I'm not the best person to make a judgment call on that.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, no, totally. So out of those 100 plus companies that come across your desk, I guess your email, on a weekly basis, how do you judge which ones you read, which ones you open, which ones you actually have a meeting with? How is your process? I mean, you get inundated with that.Catharine:Yeah, I do. The first thing I look for is brands. So we don't invest in extraction businesses and growth facilities and tanning companies, like packaging companies. We are strictly pretty much brand investors. Unless, I mean the one exception I guess would be Player's Lounge, which is a platform for e-sports. But even then, they have a very strong brand for what they're doing. Yeah, so brand first. Then I'll take a screening call. I never meet with founders in person until I've had a screen. And then the third one is meet me in person and [inaudible 00:19:04] vetting who they are as a human. Like we try to invest only in super intellectually honest people, just because investing advice, the regulations change constantly. The compliance changes. You really need somebody that has the intellectual honesty to know when they need help. So that's something, that's a character trait that I definitely look for.F Geyrhalter:Makes a lot of sense. And to make sure that they don't misspell your name.Catharine:Yeah. [crosstalk 00:19:32] That is the first thing. I'm like, do you have attention to detail?F Geyrhalter:It's Catharine with an A, that's why we have this little joke here. For those listeners who might not know. What does branding mean to you? I mean, you only invest in brands. You invest in brands that go totally against the grain. Often they create an entire niche that doesn't exist anymore. They create a customer. They have to tell stories in ways that have never really been told before. And very often these startup brands actually have to completely reinvent themselves before they even launch because they need to be so different. What does that nasty word branding, which so often gets a bad rep, what does branding mean to you on a day-to-day basis as you work with these founders?Catharine:I'll give a great example of a brand that I fell in love with from day one. Recess. Just in the first... We had an hour conversation. He showed me the deck. He didn't have a can yet. He didn't have beverage or the product on hand. But the idea of Recess and taking a Recess and understanding that almost every American has that nostalgic feeling of being a child and running around the playground. I was in immediately. I was like, this makes 100% sense. And another example is I invested in a CBD health and wellness business called Plant People. And a plant person, could you have a stronger brand for your CBD health and wellness? Like it's absolutely genius. And people are now buying hats from them. They're buying totes. And it's like, that's just proving that the brand is strong when you're buying the apparel as well as the actual products for sale.F Geyrhalter:Totally. I had Michael Lastoria of &Pizza. It's the ampersand pizza brand. I had him on the podcast and it was so fascinating to hear when he suddenly realized that some of his employees literally, you know the guys that are at the cashier's desk and flipping the pizzas and putting the pies together. They started to actually tattoo the ampersand logo onto their skin. And not temporarily. Like literally he suddenly saw employees of his with his brand mark literally marked on them. And he started to realize that the ampersand means so much to his employees because they feel like they get a second chance. And for the first time they have a real job where it's really exciting and they have great benefits, and it's a team. And the ampersand stands for this is the beginning of something much bigger.F Geyrhalter:And I thought it was such a wonderful story because how a brand name, like in the two cases that you just gave, or a brand mark can actually really stand for so much for so many people. And it goes way outside what a brand thought it would do with it, which is super cool. If you would give, I would say D to C companies, because that's a lot of the companies, it seems, that you're in the space of investing. What is brand advice that you give them? It sounds like with names you really are drawn to brands that are smart, that have very intelligent intellectual forward thinking founders. And so the name is a representation of that.F Geyrhalter:And it sounds like you put a lot of weight to that, at least subliminally when you see it. And you're like, well this is really, really smart. But what is some advice that you would have for... I mean, I know you have tons of advice because you give advice 24/7, I guess, at two in the morning when a founder calls. But what are some of the big brand lessons that you feel like you learned or issues that you've seen that you would love to have other startup founders overcome easier?Catharine:Yes. The first thing that I would say, I mean, I've sat down with two of my founders and gone through this process. But it's to really understand who is buying or wagering on your site or platform. Because then you can change the branding ad to cater to your biggest customers. And I think that's a way to lock down your customers, attract their friends and become more of like a super sticky business just by changing the way that you're talking to the people who are using it. I think that's really important. [crosstalk 00:24:11] If that made any sense at all.F Geyrhalter:It makes lots of sense. How do they go about it? Right? I mean, especially if you have very early stage startups and you say, hey, you really got to figure out how your customer is. How do they then go about it? I mean, is it an email outreach to their client? Is it literally picking up the phone? How do you get to know them and then to understand them?Catharine:So I think it's a combination of all those things. The first step is always just go to through the data and start Googling people's names and see exactly who they are and what they do. And if there's a common thread between the top 100 people who use your product. And then it's also just getting on the phone with people and just being like, hey, I'm calling from XX, I would love to know how you like using our platform. We've seen you've used it for the past six months and recently you started using it less, why is that? Can I offer you 10% off or something? For your time. And I think talking to customers is really the best way to get feedback on what you're doing.F Geyrhalter:Right. So you have to establish the data in the beginning when you don't really have it yet, you just have to do it manually with a spreadsheet. Which is-Catharine:Yep, exactly.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, which is kind of nice, liberating to hear that that's how it's still done. What's next for Vice Ventures? What is exciting you in the next couple of months? Because I didn't want to look years because that's way too far ahead. In the next couple of [crosstalk 00:25:37] months.Catharine:Impossible. I mean, we're still heavily focused on harm reduction nicotine as a category, that honestly I'm trying to coin. But as I said, 90% of people fail to stop smoking or vaping, and I think Lucy is definitely going to be a clear winner. But I think there's also clear winners that just haven't been created yet. Or that I just haven't seen. And I think I'm very excited about that space. I'm also excited about cannabis brands in the longer term because I think that a lot of cannabis companies in California and throughout the country are raising absurd valuations. But I think a lot of them are going to run out of money and not going to be bailed out by a lot of their investors. So I think it will great deals to scoop up, if I may say that myself there. And then I'm also still fundraising. So I'm meeting super interesting people. I love fundraising. I think it's such a privilege to be able to do it.F Geyrhalter:Wow, that's shocking actually to hear. Because [crosstalk 00:26:42] most people hate it. Yeah.Catharine:I know. I don't know why, I think people just have the wrong attitude about it. You literally going to interview people to see if they want to invest in the fund. You get to decide if they can invest in the fund or not. And you get to learn all about them, because usually these people are wildly successful and most of the times [inaudible 00:27:03].F Geyrhalter:You know-Catharine:It's like the cool opportunity.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, I totally agree. I mean, it sounds like... And I mean, look, that's why someone like Marc Andreessen takes your calls. Because you have the [inaudible 00:27:18] you're actually excited about it. So listen, this is interesting about the CBD brands. I run a consultancy, we work with startups. We create clarity and focus with them early on, very much like what do you do in an advisory role. And during this entire hype with CBD companies I had so many inquiries of companies that wanted to work with me, and not a single one of them came through. They all end up being so stereotypically, sadly, like slackers or something comes up, things don't go right. It's just like, the contract never comes together. There's this whole stigma that I really didn't think would still exist. But do you see any of that too? Or do you have such a strict Catharine filter that those would never even make it up to your email list?Catharine:Like stigma for?F Geyrhalter:Just for [crosstalk 00:28:15]. Yeah, for the CBD industry. I have a really, really hard time finding CBD company founders that are super smart, that are on it, that are actually... I mean, there's maybe one out of 10 that contact me where I feel like, okay, they would actually be able to do this.Catharine:Yeah. I mean I also kind of have a thesis that the CBD companies that are going to win are the ones that already exist, just because it's getting so crowded. So I tend to not take meetings with CBD founders, to be honest, just because I think the fund is overexposed to CBD. But then also I think Plant People and Recess are the winners. Like pretty clearly. But I mean I'm clearly really biased.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, totally [crosstalk 00:29:06].Catharine:Yeah, I don't know. I've seen CBD subscription boxes, which I think are ridiculous. I've seen tons of CBD. But I agree that a lot of these operators aren't intellectually honest or just intelligent in general.F Geyrhalter:What are some of the most ridiculous Vice idea that came into your inbox in the last weeks?Catharine:Oh my God.F Geyrhalter:You're like, oh my God this is never going [crosstalk 00:29:37] to happen.Catharine:This is the craziest story. Sex dolls are being sold in Japan that self lubricate, and the hair grows. They need haircuts.F Geyrhalter:Oh my God. Oh my God.Catharine:And I was like-F Geyrhalter:I didn't just hear that. Crazy.Catharine:[crosstalk 00:29:56] And of course I took the phone call because I was like, I'm so curious. I have so many questions. I need to know. And it ended up being over an hour, which is very rare for me. Usually I always cut my calls off at 30 minutes. And I'm like, this is truly wild. Like so wild.F Geyrhalter:Wow. And clearly, clearly you invested.Catharine:Oh my God, I did not invest. I did not see an exit for it. But absolutely captivated.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, totally. And I mean, isn't that part of the job that's so exciting. That you just see what could be next and what people are thinking about. And I mean, yeah, I mean you must have such a good insight into the current zeitgeist just by getting all this stuff into your inbox.Catharine:Yeah. I mean, I was actually, I went out to dinner with my incredible lawyers last night. Who took me on as client at 25 years old. They're amazing. And we were talking about how some of my idols, I don't want to say names, but some of my idols in VC that I looked up to when I was working for Andy. Now, you know me, and they're like, hey Catharine, what do you think about this cannabis company? Or, what do you think about this audio porn business? And it just so surreal. And I always screenshot it and I sent it to my lawyer and I'm like, oh my God. So crazy.F Geyrhalter:That is so awesome. So awesome. Wait, I'm going to wait a little, there's an airplane coming by. We're in the temp store and sometimes that happens. You said that you're finally making the Vice Ventures brand a little bit more mature because so far you didn't have to do any of that. It's a one woman business. People know you. I mean you, it's not like you need to advertise, you get plenty of emails. How do you go about that new brand? And are you going to add people to your team? What is the future of your own brand?Catharine:Yeah, so my dream is to turn Vice Ventures into a multi-generational asset class. And I think for fund one, I would love to add somebody to it. I think that'll probably come in the next few weeks. I've already interviewed, I'd say probably 20 plus people. But that first hire, as any founder knows, is extremely important and incredibly difficult to do. Especially for a fund like Vice Ventures where, I mean, we get a lot of attention. Which is great. I mean, it's awesome. But it's that first hire has to be a true rock star.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Very cool.Catharine:Yeah.F Geyrhalter:How can people get in touch with you if they want to pitch you?Catharine:info@ViceVentures is the best way for sure.F Geyrhalter:Boom. Done. Easy does it.Catharine:Yeah, I check that. I am pretty religious about checking my emails. Yeah.F Geyrhalter:That's awesome. Yeah. If you take a one hour call with a sex doll manufacturer, potentially there's no risk for you not reading any emails. So that is super, super cool. Catharine, I love talking with you. I absolutely love where you're going with all of this. And I'm looking forward to following you on Instagram. Actually, what is your Instagram handle for everyone listening?Catharine:Catharine Dockery. C-A-T-H-A-R-I-N-E  D-O-C-K-E-R-Y.F Geyrhalter:Perfect Awesome. Yeah, because that's where people can get a good idea of who you are into and who you're investing in. And I think there's a lot of knowledge for people to gain from this. Catharine, thank you for your time. I know it's like we're going past half an hour and you just said you're not taking calls over half an hour. So here we go. I got to immediately finish this up. Thank you so much for your time and for your insights. We super appreciate it. It was great having you on.Catharine:Yeah. Perfect. Thank you so much for having me. I had a blast.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely.
Learn more about Sky ZoneDue to COVID-19 we are no longer asking for financial support for the show, instead you can now join free mentorship group calls with Fabian to get through this together. Join here.Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Jeff.J Platt:Thanks for having me.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Look, I usually only have founders and cofounders on Hitting The Mark and your company Sky Zone which a lot of people listening know very well, it was technically founded by your dad, but it was you who actually came in and pivoted it. You are now considered a cofounder at this point because you really made the company what it is today. Tell us a little bit about that pivotal moment of what actually happened when you came in or what you realized.J Platt:I definitely got to get my dad credit. He is the visionary behind it. He was the one who founded the business. I was lucky enough for him to bring me involved and get me involved in a way listened to directionally where I wanted to take the business, but he, by all means, is the real founder, if you will. When we first started the business as a professional sport, which was a crazy idea at the time, we decided to pivot the business into what it is today. It's nothing that he should take credit for or I should take credit for. It really came from listening to our customer at the time which were some neighborhood kids who wanted to just come in and play.J Platt:They saw our R&D center that we had in Las Vegas. They peeked their head in the door because there was an indoor skatepark next door to us. These kids were constantly coming to the center and they'd look through the windows. They used to bang on the doors and just ask my dad, "Can we come in here and jump around?" He'd let them. Then one day, instead of training athletes to launch the sport that was going to be played on trampolines, the decision was made to start charging them money to just jump around and play. We did and then the business took off from there. We opened a couple locations. I approached him one day and said, "Let's start franchising our business." In 2009-2010, we began to franchise. That's when the growth really started to take off.F Geyrhalter:Have there been any companies at that point that did something similar when you guys decided, "Hey, let's have these kids come in and let's just start charging for it"?J Platt:Yeah, it was that simple. I think in business in general, it's super important to listen to your customers. In our world, we call them guests. We've learned a lot from them over the years. When I think back at really how this whole thing started, it was, it was listening to these neighborhood kids.F Geyrhalter:That's so great. I'm a brand consultant and the beauty of my job is that I come into companies as the outsider looking in which makes it so much easier to see what is actually going on and what brand wisdoms and values deserve to be uncovered. You were the Undercover Boss in the season finale of the show by the same name. Now, I have a good amount of former Shark Tank contestants on Hitting The Mark, but you are only the second Undercover Boss. I had Shelly Sun of Brightstar which is also an amazing franchise on the show prior and she was an Undercover Boss as well. How was that experience and what did it teach you about your brand that you did not know before?J Platt:It's a pretty incredible experience. I'd like to say it's probably the most exhausting 10 days of work I've ever had between traveling every day and you're up early and you're working late and that wasn't the issue. The issue is that there's a camera in your face 24 hours a day pretty much. And so you really have to watch what you're saying because you have no editing rights and they're going to put on that show what they want to put on. You're also lying all day long about who you are. You're pretending to be someone you're not.F Geyrhalter:Tell me more.J Platt:That is exhausting. You really have to watch everything you say. Those were grueling days. I think one of the thing, and it's interesting because it doesn't get talked about a lot around that show, one of the things that was so interesting for me is when you have a title as president or CEO or cofounder, whatever it may be, when you have a big title, you don't get to talk to people the same way as if you were just a friend of theirs or maybe just a director level or manager level, but when you have that title people, they look at you differently and they talk at you differently.J Platt:It's unfortunate, but it's just people can sometimes be intimidated by the role. I try and go out of my way to be very approachable, but you don't get to share the stories that you do with someone when you're the CEO or the president. That show, because I'm just a contestant on the show, a made-up show that, of course, they don't know it's made up, but I was able to engage and talk with our frontline team in a way that I would not have been able to if I wasn't this fake character.F Geyrhalter:RightJ Platt:I was able to learn from them, engage with them and frankly just get to know some people that I would have never gotten to know if it wasn't for that experience. I think one of the things that made me realize is really the incredible diverse team that we have around the country and these stories of these team members and what they've been through and the role that Sky Zone has played in their life, mainly good thankfully in helping them and setting their careers off and learning and development for them.J Platt:That was the most, and I guess in a selfish way, it gave me a lot of pride and a lot of enthusiasm and really a lot of energy around continuing to grow the brand to say, "How can we create more stories like these individuals?" It was really a humbling and rewarding experience all around.F Geyrhalter:That is really, really great to hear because very often with those shows it's all about drama, and like you said, you have to be at your very, very, very best behavior, but that idea where a founder, a president, the CEO, it's easier for you to suddenly take over a customer service line and listen to what people actually have to say on the other line, but it's really hard to do that internally, especially if you have franchises. I don't know how many locations you have. I think the last I checked it's like 210 or so locations. I'm sure it's been growing, right?J Platt:Yup.F Geyrhalter:It's really, really difficult to tap into that. I totally get it. That must have been an amazing experience and just high fiving with those people that usually would stare at you when you walk into the room.J Platt:Exactly, not want to speak to you. It's interesting because it doesn't get talked about enough around that show, just that you can engage in a totally different way because you're just seen as another person to them. Unfortunately, again, when you put a title on yourself, you automatically have some stigma attached to you or stereotype if you will because you're the "boss."F Geyrhalter:Totally. Absolutely. A typical Sky Zone location hosts about a thousand guests a day according to Wikipedia. You have expanded through the franchising model. I had 1-800-GOT-JUNK founder, Brian Scudamore, on the show which sadly only resulted in a transcribed interview due to technical difficulties that day. That was one of my first episodes and he was kind enough to be on it. He's obviously a very well-respected entrepreneur in the franchising world. It was interesting to hear him answer this question. I'll ask you the very same question because you are deep inside the franchising world.F Geyrhalter:What were some of the key steps that you had to go through to create a platform of brand rules and guidelines to empower franchise owners rather than solely restrict them? It's still true to the brand and they have rules to follow, but it still feels like they've got to say in their own location and then shape something and be a cocreator.J Platt:It's a good question and it's always a tough balance in franchising.F Geyrhalter:Oh, I'm sure.J Platt:We tend to use this saying a lot that we want to give freedom within a framework because I firmly believe and it's my leadership style that you've got to give your team or people you work with freedom. If you give them enough freedom, then that's where real creativity and innovation can happen. Allow them to try things and allow them to fail. It's talked about a lot in business and I wholeheartedly believe it. I think it's the same with franchise owners. You've got to give them a certain amount of freedom because some of the best innovation comes from them, but it's got to be within a framework.F Geyrhalter:Right.J Platt:You got to some guardrails around it, the magic of enough freedom but a framework that is wide enough to truly let them try things but not so wide that they go outside the boundaries. I think like anything the key is making sure they're involved in the process. From the time we did our first real branding exercise, hired the third-party consultant, brought them in, really gave ourselves a look, a feel, talk about what our brand is. We did those exercises. God, this is dating back I think the first time, maybe six or seven ... Well, the first time we did it was 10 or 11 years ago, but I'd say the first time we did it in a real methodical way with a professional was seven years ago.J Platt:We had franchise owners sitting in that room with us and the senior leadership of the team. They were sitting in there with us going through the exercises and doing all of it, A to Z with us. Every time that we've done some form of refresh, they've been along the journey with us. Not all of them because you can't have 120 franchise owner sitting in the room with you, but you find a couple who are passionate about branding and know it and you invite them and you make them part of the process. Make them part of a process so they feel like it's theirs and then define that framework, make sure it's got enough freedom within it for them to make it their own, but also make sure it's still us, those guys.F Geyrhalter:Consistency because that's the lifeline of any brand, especially with the franchise. Very, very cool the way that you do that. I think that's very smart. How do you deal with core values? Because core values are so important to any company, but you're across continents, right? Sky zone is not only in the US. You're global at this point. How do those core values translate? How do you deal with that?J Platt:Fortunately for us, we kept ours pretty simple, so they do translate across countries. They're not overly complex. Actually for the first time, this has been going on for about a year or so, we're actually looking at making some updates to those. Core values are not things that should be a flavor of the year, that you change often at all, but we're actually looking at doing a bit of a refresh on them because we recently, as you pointed out before we started talking, you saw that we've done a little creative refresh on the brand and so we're looking across all aspects of our business, core values being a part of it and looking to do a refresh there too.J Platt:I think what's key with ... Brands get into a lot of these concepts and mission statements and vision statements and purpose statements and core values and brand tenets. They all want to define them. You have so many things that you can't remember, "Is that a mission statement or a purpose statement? Is that my vision? Wait, what are my core?" I think the key with all this is keep it super, super simple. I think brands tend to, and you probably know this better than I do, overcomplicate all this stuff.F Geyrhalter:Thank you. Hallelujah. I'm so happy to hear this from a founder's viewpoint because for me it's all about simplifying, simplifying. I even simplify it so much that at the end of my branding sessions with clients, we have one word, right? It all comes down to that one word. You and I talked about that a little bit in the prep that that's a question that's coming up. I didn't even do mission and vision statements with my clients because I felt that, a, it's two extra statements and, b, aren't you on a mission to fulfill your vision? Isn't it one statement? Now that too many of them asked me after workshop, they're like, "But Fabian, we didn't do a mission statement and a vision statement." I'm like, "All right." Now, I'm doing a mission/vision statement which is a combo plate between the two and that just makes it simpler. I agree. The more statements, the more stuff around your brand, the harder it is to remember and follow any of it. Isn't that the core purpose of all of that? I believe you've got some pretty cool little pieces of brand communications like small gestures of brand delight that turned into customer favorites. I think when you enter a location, you get a sticker, which I haven't because no one invited me to check it out prior to this interview, but whatever, anyway ; ) so I haven't but I heard that these orange stickers, they turn into a recognizable brand element for you, right?J Platt:Yeah, the orange stickers and actually even more so than the orange stickers is our socks.F Geyrhalter:That's right. How has it always been around the socks? Is that a common-J Platt:The socks we introduced maybe six years ago or so now. Sometimes, I lose track. Sometimes, I still think it's 2018, but the socks, we introduced six or seven years ago. For a very long time, and it might still be the case actually, it was the most Instagrammed thing part of our brand. If people would post images of themselves at our parks, usually it's them and the sock is the hero of the shot because it's like a badge. It says, "I am at Sky Zone," or, "I love Sky Zone because I've got my socks."F Geyrhalter:That's super cool. You did the socks obviously for hygienic reasons, I suppose, and for people, to make sure that they have socks on because a lot of them might just walk in with their sandals. Hold on second. There's a lot of ambulance action out there or something. Super cool. By the way, the whole socks thing. I just thought it Ion the site now when I looked at it. I didn't even pick that up when I prepped for the interview the last time, so it's pretty neat. All right. I guess the ambulance is dying down over there. No pun intended. That was horrible. It didn't mean it though.F Geyrhalter:Cool. Perfect. Let's talk about the socks for a second little bit more. Was it intentional that you thought the socks would actually become a brand element or did you just need the socks for a reason and afterwards you just said, "Well, let's color it in our brand color"?J Platt:Originally, the socks started for two reasons, one, hygiene and the second one is they have a grip on the bottom of them. It's easier for you to grip the trampoline and you're jumping on it. We didn't decide to do the socks. It was, "Oh, this would be an amazing brand element." As we started introducing them into our operations and then we made them orange because that was a main color for us and they really popped and we noticed people really like them, we thought, "Okay, this is a great opportunity that becomes a badge of honor that you love our brand if you have our socks." It's one of the things that I always say to ... People say to me, "Oh, what do I do?" I say, "Have you ever heard of Sky Zone?" Eight out of 10 times, the first thing someone says to me is, "Yeah, I have six pairs of your socks."F Geyrhalter:That was my next question. Do people steal the socks or do you actually own them afterwards? How does that work?J Platt:No, they own them. They own them. They're all-F Geyrhalter:Which makes it so much easier for you because what are you going to do with them?J Platt:Yeah, much easier. We're not going to get into machine washing business. That's what we do. We branded them. Now interestingly enough, people bring their socks back because they own them. We said, "Okay, people really love these. Now, we need to make them different and let's expand the design and the color of them." We've now introduced, God, maybe a dozen different design socks, ankle socks, high socks, camo color, different funky designs. We even post our new designs on our Facebook page, asked people to vote on which ones they want us to roll out. It's become a big part of our brand now, socks.F Geyrhalter:That is so smart. That's super, super smart. I mean that can grow into all kinds of different directions, but it's so cool because it's a merchandise you don't have to buy. You just get and the idea of anything that's being limited edition or anything that changes, that's what people want to post. That's what people want to own. Super, super cool. How do you talk to your different customer segments? You've got toddlers and their parents and then you've got amateurs, like you said, just kids that want to jump around and I mean kids of any age really, but all the way to professional dodgeball players, which yes, that's definitely a thing. Do you segment your channels such as Instagram and YouTube by those groups?J Platt:Segmentation has become ... As we've gotten bigger and a little bit more sophisticated, at least I'd like to think, we've started to do a lot more segmented marketing. It's just like just as you nail one platform, the next one pops up that you've got to learn like TikTok, but we do a lot of segmentation and it's not necessarily by age always. We've recently launched memberships. We're gaining a pretty big membership base across all of our parks. We have very targeted communication that goes just to our members.J Platt:We obviously know a lot about those members and who they are, who's buying these memberships and what's important to them and why they're buying memberships and what offers they want to see as being a member that's going to entice them to want to continue to come back. We're not just segmenting based on a teenager or a toddler. One thing is for sure is we're talking to mom a lot. Mom is a big decisionmaker. We're definitely talking to mom in a lot of our communication, but we want to be cool, we want to be relevant, we want to be, to a degree, edgy and up with the latest trends.J Platt:One of the things we just did from a branding perspective is we just refreshed our creative. We talked about this a little bit earlier. We brought in a lot of pattern and some softer colors. At first when I saw it, it felt kitty to me, but if you go out and look in the world today, especially fashion, this is what is on trend right now. I'm not talking about fashion for six, seven, eight, nine, 10-year-olds. I'm talking about fashion for teenagers, people in the early 20s. It is what is considered cool, if you will. We're constantly talking to different audiences and figuring out a way to target messaging, but at the end of the day, mom is one of our biggest customers.F Geyrhalter:Totally. Then, the kids need to find that their experience with the brand is hip as well and then they grow out of mom being a decision maker and you feel like readying yourself for the entire customer journey which is very smart. The big question is do members get special member socks?J Platt:It's funny you said that because it's something we're actually working on.F Geyrhalter:There you go.J Platt:We have a concept of potentially giving them different socks and those socks based on visit history and such, like belts in karate ...F Geyrhalter:Badge of honor.J Platt:... that you would earn. Yeah, exactly.F Geyrhalter:Super cool. We talked about dodgeball for a second, I just mentioned it, but let's talk about the Sky Zone Ultimate Dodge Ball Championship because it's easy to poke fun at sport because most know it as a kid's game, but you did something quite amazing by creating this league and having it air on ESPN2. I think it earned something ridiculous like over 200 million media impressions. How did that brand extension of sorts come about?J Platt:Oh, you know what? I've got to give my father credit really there. He was always very passionate about doing something involving sports with our brand. Originally, as I mentioned, that the whole concept started out as it was going to be a sport played on trampolines and that game was actually called Sky Zone and it was a crazy game, but that never really took off. What people did love to do was play dodgeball on trampolines. He really wanted to legitimize that. So many, many years ago, he had this dream and wish to just make a real concerted effort to try and make dodgeball something big.J Platt:We started out doing tournaments at all of our locations and tournaments were popular. Then we said, "Wow, what if we make those tournaments regionally based and then the regional base tournament, there's a winner. Then what if the regional tournament winner gets to play into a national tournament? Then everybody flies to Vegas, but then how are we going to convince people to fly to Vegas to play for this national tournament?" We actually used to do it in Torrance many, many years ago. We started doing in Vegas recently.J Platt:Then, we threw cash prizes on it and people then really wanted to come because there was a big cash prize and it gained a huge following. Somebody here internally in our team ran the whole thing and did a great job with it and started getting sponsors involved. The next thing you know, ESPN2, they want to show a profile of it. It's a really fun content, so it started getting a lot of hits on YouTube. It just organically happened. It was sort of this total ... Talking about segments, it was this total subsegment of our business that that really was never about how much revenue can we generate from this.J Platt:It was more fun and a different angle on our brand. It was about sport and competition and a super, super passionate group of players that help grow this sport organically. It was fascinating the way it all happened.F Geyrhalter:It's so great because it reminds you of the roots of the company, right? As you start spreading into all these different directions, there's still this core which is really neat. You use the word organically a lot. In a way, I'm sure a lot of it spread organically, but I think it's also because you're most probably humble about it. I think you've got a pretty good idea of how to grow a brand. What is an advice that you would have for a young company that maybe has one or two locations and they want to turn into a franchise? How would you spread the word and find brand growth to follow your lead?F Geyrhalter:What are some of the things that you feel like made you successful in the beginning that might be something that people might be able to replicate in a totally different industry?J Platt:Well, I think one thing that's really important, if I was starting from scratch today, something I would do from day one that I think it wasn't until we were maybe four years in or so that we did this, but it's hire a brand consultant and create what many people in the industry refer to as a brand book. What truly is your brand? What is the identity? What are your core values? Do you have a vision statement, which I don't think you need to have a mission statement, but if you do define it? You don't have to have a mission or purpose statement, but if you do define it.J Platt:What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it not that's important? Who's the customer? What's important to that customer? How is your brand speaking to that customer, but really define what your brand is? We did that for the very first time. I want to say maybe it's five years after we launched. It might've been five, it might've been six, I don't know. It was not at first. I can tell you that. I think that there's no question that I would do that from day one now because what that does is it aligns people around an idea.J Platt:Your brand is your identity and it's how the world will perceive you. It's important that people that are running the business if you will or will be getting involved in the business, understand what that idea is and make sure that they're communicating the same thing because brand is not just about the colors on your website or the way your brick and mortar location looks, your tone of voice, but brand is also the people that work for you and how they represent themselves. I think having that book is that unifying document that says, "Here's who we are. Here's what we're about. Here's what we're trying to achieve. Here's what's important to us. Here's the customers that we're trying to attract."J Platt:You got to be aligned around that from day one. You don't have to be, but I'd recommend you be.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. I'm so glad that you say that. That's literally what I do for a living is coming with early stage startup founders. Usually, they have funding, one way or the other. Some of them already did the beta product for a year or so and then I come in and I do exactly what you're talking about. I refuse to work with them if I don't get an entire day with the core team with the founder, cofounder, any VP level, maximum eight people, but minimum the founders because if it is being derived from within and if everyone is working on it together, like you said, so much happens, right? It builds internal culture. It builds that, whatever, North star, whatever it is, like that big idea.F Geyrhalter:You said, "Well, there's colors and there's all of that stuff too," and you're right. It is secondary when you build a brand, but also after that, you call it a book, we actually do it in one long page. It's actually like a six-foot poster of like, "Here is the brand," which we like because one page is easier as a PDF for people to quickly scan through in the book, but that idea that it's written down and it's in front of you, if you then work on the brand, you can always go back to it and say, "Look, it doesn't matter if orange or you like blue. Would our customer like orange and blue? Does it go back to who we want to be and how we want to be seen?"F Geyrhalter:Not needing to repeat anything that you already said, but I'm glad to hear it from you. I'm glad that you'd say that now looking back, actually you would do it early on and that you recommend people to do it early on because a lot of startup founders who don't understand the idea of branding that it's something much bigger, they feel like branding is the last thing they should focus on, right? It's product, product, product. That's how people feel. You can add 10 more features to your product, speaking tech talk, whatever it is, additions to your service. If no one cares about it and if no one sees it as being attractive, then you have nothing, right?F Geyrhalter:I could go off on tangents about that, but since we already talk about it, after everything you've been through with Sky Zone, creating this conglomerate of locations and being a leader in that industry, what does branding mean to you today?J Platt:Fortunately, I think the same thing it did before which is to me, it's how a customer feels when they hear or see or interact with your brand, what is the emotion, the response that, that you get from them. I don't think our brand is about what I say it is. I think it's about what is somebody else because I might have a perception of what it is, but it doesn't mean that we're articulating that well as a brand or communicating that well as brand. I think it's about what is your customer see, feel, believe, what comes to mind when they experience or interact with your brand.J Platt:I think brands, they do it really well. I think we do this well, but we can definitely always improve, is that experience or feeling is consistent across, they use that term omnichannel, but it's just a cross platform. Whether you're interacting on social, whether you're interacting on the web, whether you're interacting by picking up the phone and you're calling and you're talking about booking a party or you're trying to get information or when you're actually physically inside the location itself. I think that's the hardest thing for brands is consistency across channels.J Platt:You might do social media really well, but then when someone comes in store, it's a terrible experience or the way your online presence looks is very different than the way the physical store looks or you might have this brand that's super fun and engaging and exciting, but the team inside the park is not that way at all and ruins it. How do you have consistency across all those channels to me, that's brand.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. It's already so difficult to have consistency across locations, just that people feel the same thing and agree to the same way and it's the same vibe, but then across channels is a totally different story. I always feel like it's fascinating to me how restaurant chains or hotels, how they either nail it or they totally can't get it together. That is such a multinational experience there. There's one restaurant chain, you might know them, they're called The Hillstone Group. They've got Houstons and all of that.J Platt:I ate at R+D last night. I went to the Hillstone Restaurant.F Geyrhalter:Well, there you go. Perfect. The one in Brentwood, Santa Monica up there, right?J Platt:Yup.F Geyrhalter:I am obsessed with that brand because they give you a fairly upscale experience, not really upscale prices. Regardless of where you go, it is so consistent, the service and the way that you're treated and the way that you feel especially when you go to the Hillstone's and Houston's Steak, the way you fall into this brand and it's dark, it's quiet, it's super professional, you're attended to. To me, it is so fascinating and people think it's silly because it's Houston's. It's a steak, whatever, kind of chain, just an American restaurant. That to me is always fascinating because I know how difficult it is to pull that off.F Geyrhalter:Talking about difficulties, brand difficulties, I know we talked a lot about what Sky Zone is doing right and has been doing right, but you're doing your entire history of growing that brand. Was there enormous brand feel that you went through where something totally went the wrong way, where you thought your customers would act a certain way and then they acted totally differently or where you chomped onto some hip bandwagon and then afterwards you realized it's just a fad and you should have never done that? Anything negative that you want to share, so people can learn from it?J Platt:Nothing I would say overly negative. I will say that at one point we started pivoting our creative a little bit to go a bit edgier, a bit sportier. We used some darker images and coloring, not a skater feel, but almost like that in a way. I think we took it a bit far frankly. This didn't really come from research or anything, but I think we took it a bit far and we had to tone it down a little bit because what I think we became was a little less inviting to the masses. It's almost as if you saw our marketing or creative, you would have said, "It feels like sport to me and not entertainment."J Platt:There's still some elements of our brand that feel that way, but we've started to tone that down a little bit, and after you've seen some of the creative refresh on our website for example, we're now being a little more colorful, a little more pattern oriented. Really what's at the core of all of that is being playful. That's what we want to be about. We want to be playful as a brand in the way we communicate, in the way we look and feel. We are all about play and our brand should be playful. It's not really serious.F Geyrhalter:Exactly and it makes so much sense because in the end, if you're on the height of your game and you're actually in the league, it's still playful. You're still enjoying it. It's still a game, right? For everyone else, it's aspirational if there's a little bit of that competitive tone to the brand or a little bit of that athletic tone to the brand, but you must probably went into the athletic tonality so much that the other customers were left a little bit behind. Now with your refresh and looking at the way that you look at the segmentation's obviously, it's a much bigger exercise to find that perfect in between and having that guiding word, that guiding idea behind it. That's actually my next question. What is one word that can describe your brand overall, which I call your brand DNA? Is it actually playful?J Platt:Yeah, I think so. We are all about promoting play. We want to be playful in everything we do. You can use a lot of different words and you can say it's about fun and freedom and activity and adventure, but at the end of the day, who does not like to play? If we could just be playful all day long, I don't care if you're young or old, you're going to be happy. I've got a 16-month-old now, my first and all day long this kid just runs around and he just wants to play and he's so happy. I just think like, "What if I could live like that?" How much happier would the world be if we could all just be like a 16-year-old, totally present, in the moment, only caring about what's right in front of them? I realize it's not realistic, but how nice would it be?F Geyrhalter:I think your brand is going to change a lot in the future.J Platt:I just want to play.F Geyrhalter:Look, when you mentioned it could be a lot of words, I think that actually defining that one word. It is very peculiar, right? It's particular. It's like there's nothing else that can say playful the way playful can see it, right? I mean freedom and all these other words, they come through different images. I think playful, having that as the guiding light, it's different. I think it's important to have that down because I think everyone internally needs to feel like, "Yeah, that's our brand." Then, everyone externally will sooner or later feel that. What's next for Sky Zone? What's in the future? What can you talk about that is not to secretive?J Platt:More growth, more toys, more attractions. I think the one that we're really super excited about right now that we're just starting to roll out is we're incorporating a lot of slides into our locations. These aren't just normal slides. These are a new spin on slides. Everyone hears slides and you think, "Oh, that sounds really fun. I'll do them at the park, but what's so great about a slide? These are going to be totally different and really big. I'm talking 15, 20, 25 feet and they've got a surface on them that puts you at a totally different speed than if you were just going down a normal slide and you're going to fly off them, of course.J Platt:You're not going to just drop down, but you actually get launched off these slides and a have to land into an airbag. That's an attraction that we're really excited about pumping out here very soon. There's a lot we're doing in the tech space. I think that a year from now you'll see our parks team pretty tech enabled that will be an enhancement to the guest experience and then a lot of international growth getting into new countries and seeing further expansion that way.F Geyrhalter:Very exciting, very exciting. Talking about expansions, I have listeners from all across the world. I think there are a few countries where I don't have listeners, but it's a very international podcast. The majority is still in the US, I think about 48% and then it's all across the world. Listeners who want to get into the Sky Zone, where can they find you?J Platt:skyzone.com, easy as that, our website. It's got all of our locations listed and that's the best place.F Geyrhalter:How many countries are you in right now?J Platt:Oh, we are in 12 countries.F Geyrhalter:Wow.J Platt:Total countries and hopefully expanding. We're very focused on Japan hopefully being the next country we launch.F Geyrhalter:Great. Very cool. Well, listen, Jeff, I hope that the craziness with the coronavirus is not going to affect you too much in what you do and how you expand. It's affecting everyone right now, but I really, really wish you the best. We got some amazing insights out of here today. I love your story. Thank you for taking the time in your busy schedule to share this with myself and my listeners.J Platt:Appreciate it having me on and hope to chat soon.F Geyrhalter:Absolutely. Thanks Jeff.J Platt:Thanks so much.
Learn more about BeBOLD Bars and use the special code 'HTM' for 25% off your first order!Support the show – and get on monthly advisory calls with Fabian (in groups for both creatives as well as entrepreneurs)Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Stacy.S Madison:Thank you so much for having me on.F Geyrhalter:Oh, absolutely. So, first off, you have no idea how thrilled I was when you accepted the invitation to be on my show. We met briefly at a summit last year, but while reading your Wikipedia page to prep for this podcast, I realized that our paths have already almost crossed in the past. Back when I ran my design studio in Santa Monica we shared our office with a company called Evolution Fresh before they moved-S Madison:Oh my God.F Geyrhalter:... to their factory. While at the same time, my small studio go into a larger agency, so I took over that whole space, and for a good 10 or so years I actually worked alongside Jimmy, Evolution's founder, on all of the designs of the brand up to the acquisition of Starbucks. So, you actually sat on the board of Evolution during that time, so we were already part of the same company and we didn't even know it.S Madison:That is so funny. You were like, "I was down in Santa Monica," and I'm like, oh my God, I hope I remember what he's talking about. But no, Evolution, yeah, definitely. Evolution, wonderful company. I was on the board. It sold to Starbucks, and that was really my first exposure to the whole juicing world, and as you know, I own a juice bar in Needham, Massachusetts, so that was just great experience, and I kind of fell in love with juicing. It was great, because I was kind of at a point in my life where I wasn't sure what I was going to do, and my juice bar here in Needham... It's not just a juice bar. We have lots of sandwiches and other things, but I kind of really found my passion project. So, it really kind of completed my life, and that's how I was introduced to it.F Geyrhalter:Oh, that's so good.S Madison:A great company.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, it's a great company, wonderful founder. We had a really, really good time.S Madison:Yep.F Geyrhalter:You are a celebrated entrepreneur. I know you don't want to say that about yourself, but I can say it about you, so here you go. Your first brand, which you have since sold, is now known by everyone, at least here in the US, Stacy's Pita Chips. They're a healthy and, may I say, addictive chips brand, which is loved by so many. Even though we will focus on your shiny, new brand, BeBOLD Bars, on today's show, please do entertain me and my audience with a quick story about that accidental brand creation that is Stacy's. I mean, it all started with day-old pita bread, correct?S Madison:Sort of yes and no. It was back in the 1990s, and it was my boyfriend at the time. He and I were... We had lived out of state, and then we moved back to Massachusetts. We didn't have jobs yet, or money, or anything. We ended up buying a food car, and we converted it into a sandwich cart, and we sold sandwiches made on pita bread. When you're running a sandwich place you can run out of tomatoes, you can run out of alfalfa, sprouts. You can run out of cucumbers, but if you run out of bread and that's all you're serving your sandwiches on, then you're closed. So, we always had to over-purchase. We had to have an excess inventory of all of this bread. So, at the end of the day we baked the bread into pita chips that we flavored, and we handed them out the next day for free, kind of as a thank-you to our customers for waiting in line.S Madison:That was kind of our first... Where they first started. Ultimately, we had to make a decision along our path whether we were going to have an indoor location... It was called Stacy's Delights, the sandwich place, so whether we were going to save enough money and try to get an indoor spot, or whether we were going to follow the path of the pita chips. Ultimately, we chose the pita chip pathway, and we kind of hoped it would have grown into a modest regional business, but with the expansion of the natural food business, everybody was like, "Oh, to be a natural food you have to have cane sugar and not regular sugar," and this, that. There were all these guidelines, and we were like, those guidelines? We're like, that's how we always made them. We just obviously fell into that category, and with a combination of a great product and two people that were overachievers with a lot of perseverance, that's kind of how the pita chip company was born.F Geyrhalter:That's so great. Stacy's is one of a few brands that is synonymous with the founder's first name, which I believe is tough to pull off at scale. I mean, how weird was it to sell Stacy's, a brand that carries your name, to Pepsi? I mean, it's a huge achievement, right, but from a naming perspective, did you feel like you were losing a little piece of you and you should have just named the chips, I don't know, BeBOLD Pitas?S Madison:You know, it's really... I love the fact that my name is on the bag, because when you're building a brand, trust is such a big factor, and it really kept me connected with the brand. So, it was important that people trusted it, and I think that as we did trade shows and as we got out in the industry that people understood what we were all about.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, absolutely. I heard you say on another podcast... I don't know which one it was, but you talked about that one day you saw a woman putting all of these Stacy's chip bags into her cart in the market, and then you approached her and you're like, "Hey, these are mine," and she's like, "No, those are mine."S Madison:Yeah. I'm like, "These are my chips," and she goes, "No, those are my chips," and she kind of gave me this weird look, like get away from my cart, you weirdo. Then, after that, I was like, oh, I got to be more careful. But you know what's funny... So, I'll tell you another funny story. Not to get sidetracked, but I'll tell you another funny story. We were doing the breast cancer walk, and it's something that we did in Boston, we've done in Boston. I mean, I've done it for more than 30 years. We were out by the Charles, it was five miles long, and we had just started the pita chip company, and as a company we brought everybody down there, and everybody did the walk together, and when we were walking along the Charles we saw, on the ground, an empty bag of pita chips.S Madison:Mark, my business partner, he and I looked at it and we stood over it, and it wasn't a bag of Frito, and it wasn't a bag of something else, it was actually a bag of Stacy's. We were like, wow, this is our first piece of litter. Then, we stood there, and Mark's like, "Well, we should pick it up," and I'm like, "Oh, I don't know. There's 30,000 people walking through here. This could be really good branding." So, we kind of went back and forth and we joked about it, and we're like, "Do we leave it here? Do we pick it up?" We ended up picking it up and framing it and putting it in the factory as our first piece of litter.F Geyrhalter:That is so great. That's really great.S Madison:It was funny.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, absolutely. I had another founder on this show whose food product is named after herself, Jeni, of Jeni's Ice Cream, who I believe-S Madison:Yes, I've met her too.F Geyrhalter:Of course, naturally.S Madison:She's beautiful.F Geyrhalter:Naturally, right? But let's talk about a different ice cream brand for a second, Hakuna Brands. Now, that is the brand that won Stacy's Rise Project. Tell us about how Rise came up and how Stacy's turned into a brand that empowers women entrepreneurs, or if this is solely Pepsi carrying on your legacy. I don't know how much you actually had to do with that, but it seems like it has your personal footprint all over it.S Madison:So, yes and yes. It is Pepsi carrying on the legacy, and although I'm not involved with the brand anymore, I still... They called me up last year... Or, two years ago, actually, and said, "Do you want to be involved in this?" And they told me about it, and I was like, "Oh my God, this is so on par with what the brand is about, and if I were there, the kind of thing that I would be doing." I just loved the program, so yeah, anytime they have that Stacy's Rise going on and I can help, I am 100% there. People are like, oh, they might think, oh, she's getting paid for that, or this, that, and that is like, no way. It's just such a great program that I'm in it wholeheartedly just for the benefit of all that that program can do to help women entrepreneurs get ahead.F Geyrhalter:Right, and that's what it does. It supports women entrepreneurs, food entrepreneurs to become the next big brand, and I think it's so interesting because you... When suddenly everyone wanted to buy Stacy's Chips, not customers, but actual brands taking over Stacy's, they were literally... Suddenly, you got a lot of calls of companies being interested to acquire your company, and I believe you didn't even take the highest bidder. You actually went with Pepsi, which wasn't the highest bidder, but it was the one where, surprising to, I'm sure, a lot of people listening, because Pepsi seems like such a conglomerate and Frito-Lay seems so different from Stacy's, because you felt like they would actually carry on the legacy the best. It seems like that actually really seems to work out with projects like the Rise Project. So, that's really amazing.S Madison:You really did your homework, didn't you?F Geyrhalter:Well, thank you.S Madison:You even read Wikipedia. I don't think I've done. I'm going to hang up and I'm going to go do that.F Geyrhalter:No, Stacy, I'm actually outside your house.S Madison:I know, where are you? You did your homework.F Geyrhalter:It's so funny. I think this is one of the episodes that I had the least amount of time to prep for, so I guess I absorbed the right amount, so thank you.S Madison:Well, you and me both.F Geyrhalter:Great, great. It really shows, right, and that is really... It's nice to see how the brand now, after that many years, is carrying on your legacy; it's really beautiful. This is a selfish question coming up, as I will be on the panel discussion next week at the Social Enterprise Conference in Boston, which is your hometown. I will be at Harvard, and it's going to be a panel about the politics of corporate citizenship, and I saw that Hillary Clinton endorsed the Rise Project. Not only you, but also Hillary, right, and boy, did Facebook explode with messages of support, as well as backlash.F Geyrhalter:So, when Stacy's Pita Chips, the company, put Hillary Clinton's endorsement on their Facebook, which you may or may not be aware of, but people just went crazy. People said, "I thought I liked Stacy's. Why would they want Hillary Clinton's endorsement? She's a disgrace to women." All the way to rather hilarious statements by a Trump supporter, who wrote, "Trump has done a lot more to empower women around the world than just writing a letter in support. Actions speak louder than words."F Geyrhalter:Wow, that's crazy stuff, right? Happens when you start getting into politics, even though it was just an endorsement letter by an important female leader for a project that helps female entrepreneurs. But I want to know... Now that I understand you are not involved with Stacy's on a day to day level, but how do you see the fine line, you yourself, with politics and brands taking a stance in 2020? Does BeBOLD take a stance? I mean, it is kind of in the brand, the idea of being bold, right? How do you go about politics and your brand?S Madison:Oh my God, I love this question. So, number one, I did not know that Hillary supported or endorsed or whatever, or gave us a nice mention about the Stacy's Rise program, and as far as I'm concerned, that is not a political thing, that is a... Listen, she went to Wellesley College. She is an extremely smart woman, and whether you liked her in politics or not, she has really risen just as a female just in general. I don't know her as a person, I've never met her, but I just assume that she's smart. Whether or not I voted for her, whether or not somebody else did has absolutely no effect on the quality of what I will say is my product or what I'll say is Pepsi's program for helping women.S Madison:What I say to the people who had something negative to say about that is that they're kind of missing the point, that we are just all women and we are all in the same bucket. We are all trying to help women rise, so we got to kind of get past that political point of it. That's number one. I am flattered that she did say something. Number two, the political environment right now is one of... I think of my kids, okay. Let me back up. I think of my children, and forget politics; forget the political environment. Just the environment that they are growing up in, some of the things that they have said... They're now 16 years old, two girls. Some of the things that they've said, even as far as, "Well, why would I have kids and bring them into this world? Do you know what environment, environment-environment, is going to be like by the time I have children?" And asking me questions like that, and I'm like, oh my God, and it's just heartbreaking.S Madison:Another comment that one of them said once was about school shootings, and, "Well, nobody cares that people go into a school and kids get shot." I'm like, oh my God. They're like, "Well, there's nothing we can do about it," and I'm like, oh. Comments like that, these are... This is what they're growing up in, and at their school they recently had a lockdown, just because some kid said something in the hallway, and it scared the piss out of the kids, out of the parents, out of the... As a parent raising children in this environment, you have... For me, I was... I am and I was dysfunctionally upset. I never pictured myself going back into the industry. I have always, over the years, for 10 years, just stayed on the periphery of the natural food business, I go to a trade show once a year, I'd sit on a board. That was just it. I never pictured this quote unquote serial entrepreneur going back into the business, because that's not...S Madison:I said, "You know what, I took all my risk in life and I don't need to do this again," and with this atmosphere that my kids are growing up in, and with myself, I look at myself and I say, "Well, you know what? I have a skill and I know what I'm doing, and I feel like I kind of have to step up so that not only do my girls see that yes, there's something that we can do, but to help the whole female entrepreneur environment." So, you know what? This is me, this is what I know how to do. I can do this, and I'm going back into it, and I am going balls to the walls, if I can say that, to get this product out there and kind of do it again, just because I can, and that's kind of my way to get a grip on the whole situation of this atmosphere, where the kids and where people are growing up. I'm sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now.F Geyrhalter:I love having you on the soapbox. Thank you for stepping up. I appreciate it.S Madison:Oh, it's just so frustrated, and I am... It's not a political thing, it's just... Look, everybody just take a fucking step back and look at your children, and you can believe that, whatever. But you know what I'm saying.F Geyrhalter:No, totally, totally, and I'm so there with you, and I can't wait to be on my soapbox at Harvard to talk about this too, because I'm very much of your opinion, and that idea of what is politics, what is common sense, and what is just the best for the next generation? I mean, there should be no politics involved. It's not about politics. A school shooting is not about politics, right? A brand taking a stance to support a good cause is not politics, and I think that's a huge, huge problem that we, as people, and even more so as brands, have to really figure out, because I think that it is, in a way, a responsibility of brands to speak up, because a brand has a huge influence. It's a fascinating topic. I still have a-S Madison:Yeah, and you know what? It is about inclusion, it's about being humanistic. Just the reality of that situation, and everybody needs to take a step back, and we with BeBOLD are... What's behind that, other than a great bar and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, is that just sharing the optimism. There are so many people out there that just are positive people and are... If we all just kind of get together and make ourselves stronger and louder and embrace others, that kind of, "Hey, look, that looks like fun, let's come along," then I think that that's going to just be more than the negativity. That's my hope and that's kind of some of the bold part of what we're doing.F Geyrhalter:That's exactly something that I wanted to ask, is how did the BeBOLD name come about, and how is BeBOLD bold?S Madison:How is BeBOLD bold? So, you will find out as we start to get it more into the market, but initially, we went through so many different names to try to name the bar, but one day I was looking at not just my kids, but just in general, they were just starting high school at the time, and one of my girls decided to join a ski team, and they're really... She had just started the school and she had just started, and she didn't know how good the other skiers were. It was 90% boys that she didn't know, and some of the girls that were on the team were upperclassmen and they were probably better skiers than her, and I'm just like, "You know what? Listen, you go for one week and you give it a try, and see how it goes first before you decide yes or no that you're going to do this."S Madison:And she did. She walked into the room, she went on the trips, and sure enough, she did a whole semester of ski team and she did great and she loved it. But then I asked myself... Same thing with my niece. My niece started the high school from a private school, didn't know anybody. Moves like that that we forget as adults, to have that courage and to do that, and so when I'm asked about the word bold, I was thinking if you be yourself outside of your comfort zone, little by little, and do it again. We challenge ourselves the exact same way as kids in any grade challenge themselves. They do it, and we just assume they should do it. As adults, we don't do that anymore. So, I though, you know what? This works. So, [crosstalk 00:21:47].F Geyrhalter:It's super interesting, Stacy, because in a way, it seems to me... Also, besides your amazing successes, you had a lot of hardships in your life, right? I mean, there was a divorce, there was a fire at the plant. You overcame breast cancer and an autoimmune disease. And it seems to me that BeBOLD is synonymous with that powering through attitude, with that fist in the air, I can do this attitude, which now you're talking about your daughters and how you're trying to instill that into them. It seems like BeBOLD is a really personal brand now, even though it does not wear your name on its sleeves.S Madison:Right. Listen, with my other daughter, she's been doing cheerleading, she wanted to do cheerleading. She worked a year and learned how to do a roundoff back handspring. She doesn't have a gymnastic background. She's taller than I am, which puts her taller than 5'8". It was not an easy thing to learn, but she did it, and being bold isn't necessarily jumping out of an airplane. It could be something like, hey, you set a goal for yourself and you did it. Or, it could be you've set a goal to do something with your kids and you made that happen. Or, maybe your New Year's resolution is you're going to put away your laptop at seven o'clock p.m. every single night, and you did that. Stuff like that, that's all part of being bold, and we have a hashtag #whatsyourbold kind of campaign coming out, and we want to recognize those things, that everybody has their bold.F Geyrhalter:How far are you into the BeBOLD brand launch? Is it out there? Can people buy the bars at this point? Are you just wrapping up to it?S Madison:Yeah, so we are in Publix down in the southeast. We're in the Midwest in Myers. We are soon to be... Within the next couple months we're going to be in Shaw's and Stop & Shop up in the northeast. Of course, I have them at my juice bar, and I'm happy to sell them to any other juice bars or coffee shops, or things like that, because we love the independent accounts as well. But that is where our start has come from, so...F Geyrhalter:Yeah. No, totally, so this is a... It's much more grassroots, it's much more... It's really startup, right? It's interesting for you, coming from Stacy's and seeing it grow to a brand that was worth $65 million when you sold it, to be back in the startup world. It is a startup, in a way.S Madison:It's a total startup, and you know what's funny? People are like, well, you've already done it once and you know how to do it, and I'm kind of feeling... I don't know what the... So, I do a little bit know what I'm doing, but in some areas I just don't know. Look, in 1997 there was no such thing as a podcast.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, crazy, right? Yeah.S Madison:Right? And Instagram. I have my personal Instagram and I have the BeBOLD Instagram, and I have to get other people to show me how to maneuver it. It's almost like you... It's like the nature of the beast, and you have to have this, and you have to have that, and I'm like, why? We didn't have that. But now I'm kind of starting to see the value in all of that, and I'm just like, oh my God. I'm learning all over again.F Geyrhalter:Right, right, but there must have been a lot of brand mishaps that you went through with Stacy's, I mean, naturally, through the whole time.S Madison:Oh, yeah.F Geyrhalter:That I'm sure are extremely important for people not to step into... I mean, from naming to packaging to design to positioning, I mean, there must have been an immense amount of knowledge that you gained throughout raising your first brand to be that crazy, $65 million brand. Were there any brand mishaps that-S Madison:Oh my God.F Geyrhalter:... were just totally crazy, and now you're like, okay, this is something that we're definitely going to do differently this time?S Madison:Oh my God, that's so funny, because... So, we designed this bag, where kind of the words had angles, the chips had angles, and it was kind of chippy, the whole bag. So, we designed this bag and it said Stacy's Pita Chips. Big, Pita Chips, right on the front, because people didn't know who Stacy's was, and they didn't know what a pita chip was, so we felt first and foremost we had to write pita chips large so that people knew what was in this bag, because nobody would know if it was just Stacy's.S Madison:So, until we had a brand identity, then we kind of made pita chips smaller, and Stacy's larger, and that's kind of how the brand grew from a branding standpoint. But when we first started we had that pita chips really large, and on our first bag we put the P a little too close to the I, and it looked like... It you stepped back three feet from the shelf, it looked like Rita Chips, and I'm like... People would call up, "I love your Rita Chips," and I'm like, oh my God, what did I do, and so I guess my lesson learned, you can't just design a bag looking at it on the table. You have to take a step back and pretend it's on the shelf.F Geyrhalter:I mean, that's so important. When we worked with Evolution that's what we did all the time. We actually created all of these labels, and we created those shelf talkers, as they call them, and all of these things, and we literally just went to Whole Foods over lunch break, and we just exchanged a bottle with that bottle, took a step back, walked around the aisle, and there was nothing in there; there was no juice. So, we just hoped no one else would see it, and we kind of took a picture, and I mean, it's so important to try things out.S Madison:I'm doing that with my bars now too.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, no, I know.S Madison:Trust me, I did that. I would never make that mistake again.F Geyrhalter:Were there any moments with Stacy's where you had data, where you had early customer data, and it said, well, you should, I don't know, have a new flavor, or the chips should be bigger, or they should be crunchier, or the packages should be larger, smaller? Did you just totally neglect it and say, "Oh, well, great. Thank you for the data, but I'm going to go completely with my instinct."S Madison:Okay, so we never had any data. We never purchased data.F Geyrhalter:We're talking '90s.S Madison:Yeah, we never did that, and even if we did we couldn't afford it. So, our data was our connection to our customers. We had the pita chip hotline. If somebody called us, we would record... I mean, I guess it is data, but we would write down everything, just even on post-it notes, where somebody called and said, "Oh, I got your chips. I mean, they taste really good, but they're so crumbled, they're all broken." Then, all of a sudden, we would get all of these... We would see that when customers would call up that we would be getting all these broken chip complaints. Granted, now that they're owned by Pepsi, you don't get broken chips, because they have engineers that are really good, and it was the first thing that they were able to solve for.S Madison:But our customer service was always great. People would call up, we got some broken chips, we're like, "Well, you know what? Let me mail you some more. Thank you so much for loving them enough that you cared enough to call, and that means so much to us." Then, we wouldn't send them a coupon, we wouldn't send them... We would send them chips, and we would then follow up and say, "Well, how is this bag? Is it better? It went through the regular postal service. We just wanted to check in." Eventually, we put a recipe for stuffing or...F Geyrhalter:How to fix your broken chips.S Madison:How to fix your broken chips. We talked about launching a stuffing, because we're like, maybe we could take all the broken pieces and make stuffing, or...F Geyrhalter:That's really smart, yeah.S Madison:We had some recipes for Pesto Parmesan-Encrusted Chicken, which I must say came out really delicious when you use all the stuff at the bottom of the bag, but-F Geyrhalter:Oh, I'm sure. Yeah, it's really smart.S Madison:But we had to solve for that, and it wasn't that we went out and we bought data, we just really listened to our customers. Another one was we... Someone would call and say, "I love these chips, my grandmother loves these chips, but I bring them over to my grandmother's house and she cannot get the bag open." Then, the guy says, "But she really loves them, so I went out and I bought her a new scissors just for her pita chip bags," and I was like, okay, we have to figure out how not to seal them so tight. So, that's a lot of the times how we would solve for things.F Geyrhalter:That's so great, and a lot of people would just not listen to all of that feedback. They would be like, ah, it's granny, whatever, right?S Madison:Yeah, it was a fluke, it was one bag.F Geyrhalter:Exactly.S Madison:But we were running so fast and so hard, and we took every comment very seriously, because look, if you have chips coming off the line, hundreds at a time, if one person called, you have to keep in your mind that that's probably at least 100 or hundreds of people that might have had the same problem before you realized it.F Geyrhalter:Totally, totally. Yeah, I published my first book, I think, eight years ago or something like that. I don't know what it is, maybe eight years, and I literally... Just on Instagram three days ago, someone pointed out that there's a word twice on the list of words. It's like a brand personality thing, and there's all these words that your brands can be. It's freaking 50 words, right, but there's... Confident is in the beginning, and confident is, again, on column three, and I'm like, this book has been out for eight years or so.S Madison:Eight years?F Geyrhalter:I mean, it's been selling really well, and this is the first person that actually mentions it, and to me, it's still mind-blowing, and back to what you just said, I guess maybe people don't care enough about my book to actually write me.S Madison:Oh, my gosh.F Geyrhalter:That's what I learned. But it is amazing.S Madison:You know what's funny? Another screw-up we had on our bag is that we wrote on the back that the pita chips were great with hummus, and apparently we spelled it with one M, not two Ms, and it's humus, H-U-M-U-S, which actually means dirt. It means dirt you get from the ground, and some woman called up. I mean, nobody noticed. It was out there forever.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing.S Madison:And nobody kind of realized, well, do you spell hummus with one M or two Ms, until some woman, it was a teacher or something, said, "Do you know that your pita chips are great with dirt?" And we're like, "What are you talking about?" She's like, "You spelled it wrong on the bag," and we were like, "Oh dear God."F Geyrhalter:That is so good, so good, and I mean, to your team's defense, I mean, back in the day hummus wasn't as big as it is now, so [crosstalk 00:33:16].S Madison:We looked it up and everything. We thought, technically, it was spelled either way, but I don't know, apparently in this country you can't.F Geyrhalter:Well, I guess you can spell it with one M. That's funny. So, now with BeBOLD, when did you start actively investing in branding? I mean, with the name, the packing, et cetera, do you now work with a consultant or with an agency, or is it all very, very bootstrap?S Madison:Nope. Well, yes and no. So, we worked with one of the design companies, that branding and design that we worked with the pita chip company more toward the end. So, after we sold and Ike was kind of there for a little while, there was a great company, Culver Brand Design, and the guys are great there, and they're very down-to-earth. We all just related very well, and so when I launched this company I ended up using them again, and they kind of get it. So, yeah, I mean, that...S Madison:But other than that, we really didn't have any other agencies that we started with. We didn't have a team of people that we hired on, and when it first started it was just my brother and I, and then my brother came to me and he said, "Look, do you really want to do this again and do it the same way as we started the pita chip company?" He's like, "Do you really want to be out and packing boxes and doing this, this?" He's like, "Let's do it different. Let's fund the company. If we were to fund the company, who would you have running it?" Not doing your job, but running it, being in charge of all of... Getting this out and contacting this one, and answering the emails, and doing this, and all those thousand things that somebody does all day long.S Madison:We both hands-down agreed that that was a woman that was at the pita chip company. Her name is Maren, she lives out in Chicago, and I said, "I'd pick Maren." He said, "I'd pick Maren." So, then we called up Maren, who's now working for a large company. I mean, she originally worked for Quaker, then she left that big company because she wanted to come to a small company. She came to Stacy's, then we sold to Pepsi. Pepsi owns Quaker. Then she ended up back at Quaker. She's gone through a number of large jobs, and she was recently at a different one, and we called her up, and we're like, "You want to come run a company for us?"S Madison:She's like, "Oh, God. Let me get back to you." We said, "Give it a week or two, talk to Brett, your husband, let's see what... " We get a call a week later, and she's like, "I've made my decision," and we're like, "What?" She said, "I'm going for it. Brett and I agreed. You know what? We're going to do it." So, when she quit her job to run BeBOLD, we were like, okay, that was for us, our first enlightening moment, like wow, this is now real.F Geyrhalter:Totally.S Madison:Then, we had a staff... Still, we only have a staff of... We have some interns and just a couple of people, one of which is my cousin, so it's like... But it becomes real when people start leaving their other jobs, and there's a sense of responsibility. There's an energy there when you surround yourself with people who have the same goal. There's a real energy, and it just kind of keeps you moving forward and gets you excited about it.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, and accountability and payroll and things like that, and that's very, very important. What does branding mean to you, Stacy?S Madison:So, like I said with... Initially having my name on the bag is a tremendous responsibility, because people are going to hold you personally accountable. So, I learned that at the inception of what became a very large company, and I feel like getting that same trust to be associated with your brand is what branding is all about. So, it's the same thing. Our mission with BeBOLD is really for... It's an amazing product and it's just clean, and for people to understand, well, when they buy BeBOLD, right now we have two places on the shelf.S Madison:We don't have a whole line of products or anything like that, but we just have two bars, an almond butter and a peanut butter, but you know what?When you eat one people will understand what we're all about, and just... We don't bake the bars or anything like that. They're in the refrigerated section of... The refrigerated yogurt section, and when people eat a bar they're going to see it's just a handful of ingredients, and all we do is mix, press, package, and chill. There's no boiled syrups, there's no adhesives, there is no backing, there's no... Nothing is processed about the bar.S Madison:We take the almond butter or the peanut butter and we mix it with oats and chia and nuts, and we even use Brazil nuts, and people are like, "Brazil nuts? Aren't those really expensive?" And I'm like, "Yeah, but you know what? Brazil nuts are delicious." For me, eating a bar and getting a bite of one of those big chunks of Brazil nuts is... That's kind of like a gustatorial surprise. So, people will get it, and I think that that will come across, and for me, that's kind of what the branding is all about.F Geyrhalter:No, absolutely, and trust is so important, trust and experience. I think that kind of sums it up. As we slowly come to the top of your hour, and I know you've got a call to catch, do you have any brand advice for founders as a takeaway? You've been going through so much. You're obviously, with the Rise Project, helping female entrepreneurs that want to follow your footsteps. Do you have any thoughts of what you can tell these women to actually create a brand?S Madison:God, I've worked with so many companies that I have seen that have great products, and they don't make it. On the flip side, I've seen so many products that are out there that have made it big, and you're like, oh God, how do people choke these things down? So, I think if you have a great product and you stick true to your product and integrity of that product, and then, at the same time, you have to figure out how am I going to commercialize this in a way that I can make enough money and not go out of business, and build that brand. I think that that brand comes from...S Madison:To grow that brand, it comes from making those everyday decisions, because when you're a small business you have to make every decision like it's your last, or like you're drowning. You can't just assume... Even if you have some private equity money come in, or venture money, or whatever, you have to be so careful the way that you spend that money, and you can act like a big company, but you can't spend like a big company. Even when we're launching BeBOLD, we're in a position where we could... We've properly financed the company, but it doesn't mean that we can participate in each and every promotion and advertisement and all of that, because we're just going to blow through money and not have anything left.S Madison:That is not how you're going to grow your company. You can't look at what do these big companies do and say, "Okay, well, I'm just going to do that, and if I just spend that money, my brand is going to be successful," because that's not the way it happens. You really have to... When it comes to those day to day decisions, those little ones are really, really important. So, when you build your brand, you have to kind of be careful of those day to day decisions, because those are the ones that could put you out of business. Getting involved in the wrong programs or programs that aren't equivalent to the level of the company that you're at and don't... You got to remember, you have to...S Madison:When you don't have money you have to get creative with how are you going to grow the business? How are you going to get people to try it? Not just to try it and feed the masses, but while you're feeding them, if they love it, how are you going to get them to remember it? That's the branding piece of it. So, if you're going out and you're sampling, think of am I sampling in front of a store that sells the product so people can go in and buy it, as compared to oh, there's an opportunity to sample here, and people will taste it. That was good. They throw the wrapper away, and then that's it.S Madison:So, even with Stacy's, when we went on... We sampled at a ski resort, and we gave away chips, people would eat it on the chairlift, they go, "Oh, those were so good." They'd get to the top, and they would throw the bag away. And I'd think to myself, well, now what are we going to do? How are they going to remember the name? How are they going to get them again? We branded from the time they get on to the time they get off the chairlift, and then it's gone. So, with every bag of chips we got a sticker.S Madison:You could put it on your pole, you could put it on your jacket, and it says Ski Simply Naked, and it had the website on it. Again, before socials and all this. So, everybody was skiing around with these Ski Simply Naked stickers on them, but that's the kind of thing. So, thinking beyond the I'm just going to sample as people get on the lift and get off the lift, and so the most important piece of branding is you got to think of branding as remembering, and how is whatever action you're taking going to get the people to remember your product?F Geyrhalter:Absolutely love that. It's such a great actionable example too. Wise words, wise words. Stacy, we're coming to an end. Listeners who fell in love with your brand, where can they find BeBOLD bars online right now to dive a little bit deeper?S Madison:So, you can go to... Our Instagram is, I guess, if I'm saying it right, it's @beboldbars, B-E-B-O-L-D-B-A-R-S. My personal one is stacybebold, which you won't see anything nearly as interesting, probably, as the other one. Our website is there, it's beboldbars.com, and even if we're not in stores, there's a place there where you can tell us what store you'd like to see them in, and then we will go ahead and we'll try to get into those stores. You can also order online, and we can give you a code too. We can do HTM, Hitting The Mark, or whatever you want your code to be. What do you want your code... Give me a code and we'll give it for your listeners.F Geyrhalter:The code is HTM.S Madison:Okay. So, you can go online and you can use code HTM and place an order, and you'll get a discount off of your first order, compliments of yourself.F Geyrhalter:Awesome. That's great. Thank you, Stacy. This was so, so informational. It was so much fun. There were so many insights. We're so appreciative of your time. Thank you for being here. Really appreciate you.S Madison:No, I'm flattered that you had me, and thank you so much for having me on.
Learn more about Lewis & LlewellynSupport the show – and get on monthly advisory calls with Fabian (in groups for both creatives as well as entrepreneurs) Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:Welcome to the show, Mark.M Lewis:Thanks for having me, Fabian, I appreciate it.F Geyrhalter:Oh absolutely. I'm glad you could make it. You're a civil trial lawyer and have been ranked as one of the top 100 Attorneys in California. Several members of the Fortune 100 I read on your site, hire you to resolve a wide variety of complex, high stakes business disputes. In fact, there's one Fortune 100 tech client that has hired you to resolve over 200 separate matters, which is rather impressive. For the past eight years, you have been running Lewis and Llewellyn in San Francisco. It's a San Francisco based law firm and interestingly enough, a few episodes ago on Episode 14, I featured another lawyer with his firm on the show. He's a young entrepreneur. He runs a law office in San Diego that he built into a brand that really totally goes against the norm. So his firm's brand is built on boldness in an industry that is pretty much known for sameness, right? And blandness.And the firm calls their client portal, Lawyers Shit, which I kid you not. It's completely crazy. It's hilarious and quite amazed at the same time, right? But he took very bold move and he can do this since it's a very young firm that caters mainly to creatives and he would likely never be hired for litigation's given his branding, right? So there's a positive and a negative, but it's literally on the opposite spectrum of where Louis and Llewellyn would come in. And that's why I love having you here. And I know that branding is very important to you. We had the opportunity to chat when you and I met in person a few months ago and branding clearly shows on your firm's representation online that it is important to you. What role does branding play in your area of practice or for you personally, as you've been growing your brand?M Lewis:It's a good question and yet we can't really get away with this type of branding that you mentioned before. That's not our brand. And our core brand at Lewis and Llewellyn is a sophisticated high stakes trial counsel for key business disputes. And our brand is critical to our success because it's how we stand out amongst a very crowded field of attorneys that provide that same service. And so really what our core brand is with our business litigation is offering the same type of aggressive, talented, zealous advocacy that you'd find at really the leading law firms of the world. Just on a smaller scale, which allows us to be more responsive and more nimble and usually almost always delivering it at a lower price point. And so, those are really the key parts of our brand and it's critical to get that across.F Geyrhalter:And I'm sure it's built on a lot of personal trust, right? And then that to me is something that I always find fascinating because law firms traditionally, and also with your firm, very often use the name of the partners, the founders of the firm. And there's this fine line between personal brand and yet the actual firm as a brand. How do you walk the line? Or how do you encompass that on your daily journey with your clients? You versus the firm.M Lewis:Yeah, yeah. There's no distinction, it is one and the same. You're absolutely right. And I think it's the reason why most law firms bear the names of their founders. And it's especially salient for us because Paul Llewellyn and I are the faces of the firm and we are the brand. And we are the lawyers here leading the charge at the firm. And so we really believe, and this is from Paul and I all the way down the chain, that the brand of our firm is really the identities of our individual lawyers and our entire team, in fact. And you'll see, if you visit our main website. You'll see each and every one of our 14 people with a full description of who they are and what role they play on our team.Because we're proud to stand behind our brand of our incredibly talented team. That's one of the ways that Paul and I have been so fortunate over the years is to have just a terrific team of people. And that's what we're selling is our team and so we really think it's important from a branding perspective and a marketing perspective to put those people out in front and right in the center of the bullseye to show potential clients and even occasionally opposing counsel, who we are. And why they should either hire us or be afraid of us.F Geyrhalter:And obviously your personal values of you and your partner in the firm, very much designed the core values of the firm, I'm sure. And during the hiring process, who really fits into the firm, it all must come back down to your own very strong personal values of what you believe is right and wrong and what you want to fight for.M Lewis:Yeah. I think that's absolutely right. I mean a bit more detail on us is that when Paul and I founded the firm a little over eight years ago, it was just the two of us to begin with. And you mentioned how important personal identity is. Well the first four or five people that we hired at the firm were individuals that we had previously known and we were very, very close with preexisting the firm's inception. And so precisely because of that, we decided that we absolutely wanted to promote our brand as a brand of individual lawyers and what we have to offer, in general. And because of that, we are very involved and monitor closely what our brand looks like and then how we can manage that. And because it's difficult, right? Because we both want to hit a mark of being a top notch civil litigation boutique and that has certain hallmarks to it.You have to be traditional in some respect. Everybody on the website is wearing a suit and there are certain things that people expect to see when they see a law firm website. But part of our brand is that we're trying to do something different, which is, be a more nimble firm, a leaner firm, trying to be more strategic and offering just a slightly different model than what the big firms offer. So that's what we try to really reflect with our core brand, which is a little bit of the same and then a little bit different. And giving clients the trust that we offer a product that's worth purchasing.F Geyrhalter:Well in talking about personal values and also talking about how you are different. In addition to your fairly complex commercial litigation practice, you are a passionate advocate for victims of sexual abuse. And you have created a spinoff brand that can be found at the highly descriptive URL sexualabuselawfirm.com. Now that brand spinoff, so to speak, has a very distinct, a very emotional, very convincing tone of voice.And just to quote from the site, which I have in front of me, it says, "As parents of young children, we find the statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse to be profoundly upsetting. As lawyers, we are compelled to devote our professional expertise and resources to ending the epidemic of senseless abuse. We seek to effect real change in the lives of those impacted by abuse, as well as society as a whole. By strategically bringing lawsuits that shine a spotlight on the individuals and entities that condone cover up or turn a blind eye to sexual abuse." Now this is well crafted, very consumer facing, very emotional brand voice and also design throughout the entire site. It must've been a very different journey from when you created the law practice brand. How was that process like?M Lewis:Yeah. And that's a great question. And before I get to the branding question, just a bit of a backstory on that.F Geyrhalter:Please, yeah.M Lewis:You know, so we opened the firm, like I said, about eight years ago. Both of us, Paul and I, having a very extensive background in complex civil litigation, mostly for businesses. Occasionally, high net worth individuals. And so we opened the firm, it was a smashing success from the beginning and we were far busier than we could have hoped for, even in our first couple of years. During that startup phase, we were also approached by a potential client who was very close to the firm on a personal level. She had been the victim of a horrific pattern of sexual abuse when she had been a middle school and then high school student here in the Bay area.She came to us to help her find a lawyer to help her pursue a claim against the school district that failed her so tragically. We looked high and low for a law firm to take her case. We approached the best plaintiff's personal injury firms in the country and none of them wanted to help her. They were all worried that the claims were too old, that too much time had passed, that the statute of limitations had run. But in understanding her story, we thought, this woman deserves our help and there was nothing better that we can do with our talent and our degree's then to help her fight for justice. So we brought her on as a client. We filed the lawsuit in Contra Costa County, here in the Bay area and it was a groundbreaking lawsuit. The school district claimed that, yes, the statute of limitations had run. But we defeated that argument by saying that she only became on notice of the claim during the course of a very recent police investigation, which revealed the negligence of the school district.The case then settled and it was at the time, the highest award for a case of its type in California. And so that spawned publicity and we were approached by several individuals in similar situations. And we decided as the firm, that we could do both. Most commercial civil litigators wouldn't say, "I'm going to stay in my lane." And we decided, you know what, we're going to start something new. We've already started one new thing, but that doesn't mean we can't start two new things. So we decided to continue working on these cases. We're very selective about the cases that we take and our paramount goal is to help people that need our help. And we know what we've learned over the years, to circle back to the branding point, is that the target demographic or the target market for our sexual abuse practice is totally different from the target market for our core business practice.For example, our core business practice. Usually we're getting referrals from other civil litigators or in house counsel, folks that have lived with litigation for their lives. They know the ins and outs of litigation. On the other hand, our sexual abuse target demographic are just people and it's victims, it's families victims, and it's much more of a lay person audience. And a lot of times these individuals are encountering the tragedy of sexual abuse for the first time.So we found it very important to put front and center on our abuse website. What is the process? When can we help? What are some resources? How can we help you cope with this, even if you don't ever even hire us? Right? So it's an initial touchpoint for people who are very often in the worst thing we'll ever encounter in their entire lives. And what we want is to put our potential abuse clients in a position where they feel comfortable talking to us about this. That their [inaudible 00:13:41], if they tell us what happened to them, which is an incredibly difficult process to go through, that we'll listen and that we can help them get to a place that they need to get to.F Geyrhalter:And the way that you basically educate your audience that it's never too late and here are the ways that we've done it in the past. I think that hope that you provide them with in that educational experience on your site, that is something that they really need at this point because they haven't really heard anything like that in the past, most probably. Because they didn't even know that they could still speak up. Because a lot of the cases that I read on your site, not all of them but some of them, are obviously from the past, right? I mean, that is like 10 years ago, 20 years ago, plus.M Lewis:Yes. That's our core specialty for our abuse practice is cases in which significant amount of time has passed. That's the niche we've really carved out and it's one in which we feel incredibly passionate about because we know from our work on these cases, just like you said, how difficult it is for a victim to have hope. How difficult it is for a victim to know that he or she can have a voice. And that's again what we are trying to encompass in the website there. And the brand is that to say, "Look, we'll help you, we'll do your voice. You can come talk to us and we'll make sure that you have a voice." And if you read anything in the literature about some of the systemic problems stemming from a abuse, is precisely what you said, is that they don't have hope, they don't have a voice.They're worried that nobody will believe them. They're worried that nobody's going to listen to them because so much time has passed. They're worried that they're going to get blamed for what happened to them. You name the effect of abuse and I can guarantee you that we've encountered that. And again, that's something that we try to convey through our materials, which is, we've done this, we know how to help you and we know how to talk to you. Because that's something that we had to learn. And it's a different skill than knowing how to talk to the head of litigation at a Fortune 100 firm who, like I said, has probably practiced at the apex of civil litigation for three or four decades. And so to be able to communicate differently to either of those audiences is something that we have really tried to master. And we tried it. And the starting point of both of those conversations are the two different brands.F Geyrhalter:Well, and that begs the question though with keeping these two brands separated clearly but you also align them, right? I mean the call outs on both sides that educate the audience of the synergy between the two practices. How does that secondary brand, the sexual assault law firm we just talked about, how does that affect relations with new and current clients from the main firm? I am sure that there is in my eyes, I hope to be a positive effect on the way that they see your main brand.M Lewis:Yeah. I would say that that has been the biggest struggle that we've dealt with in terms of a brand identity. We wondered initially and this is going back about six years, how do we tell or communicate to our business clients that we also do the sexual abuse work? Because you would imagine that a lot of business clients would be slightly put off by the abuse work. Not because they have a problem with the cause, I think everybody can get behind the cause. But in the sense that you only want a heart surgeon when you go in for heart surgery. You don't want somebody who also may do some ears, nose and throat, even though it's slightly related. So we frankly had numerous heart to heart conversations with some of our most trusted business clients. And we talk to them about what we intended to do and the support for it was overwhelming.And I think it's for a few reasons. One, was like I said, "It's a cause everybody can get behind, which is fairly non controversial." But then two, we are different and there is a recognition that we're not like every single firm on Wall Street or in the Valley or what have you. And then third, this isn't really a branding issue, but our business clients like that in our abuse practices, we're able to get many more opportunities for some of our younger lawyers to do new and interesting and different work that may not exist in the business litigation context without going too deep into the rabbit hole of litigation. There's a different dynamic in the abuse cases where a lot more of them have more depositions, more court appearances, they may be more likely to go to trial for a number of different reasons.So, the abuse practice helps our lawyers keep their pencils very sharp in a way that is unique to that industry or that vertical and it doesn't necessarily exist on the business side. And our business clients like that we play on both sides of the field, both the plaintiff's side and the defendant side. Because it really helps us keep, like I said, "Our skills and our pencils sharp when it comes time to litigate."F Geyrhalter:It makes perfect sense. And I'm almost certain that it positively affects your company culture as well, right? I mean, does it perhaps even help recruit new hires when they learn about that side of the company?M Lewis:Yes, absolutely. It's something we talk about from the very first interview we have with any potential lawyer or any potential staff member that joins our team. We have to make sure that our clients feel comfortable with this type of work. In a way we wouldn't want, for example, to inadvertently hire someone who has been so closely touched by this issue that it would be a trigger for them to work in our environment, right? So we get that out front and center and it's wonderful for the company culture because everybody is passionate about it. Like I said, it says on the website, most of us are parents of young children and we get our firm family together multiple times per year and it is absolutely something that we can all agree on and we can all put our backs into.F Geyrhalter:I think it's interesting that before when we were going into one of the biggest brand pain points that you had in the last eight years really, was figuring out from a brand architecture point of view, how do you divide these two brands or do you not? And what is the synergy? And you actually came to a conclusion to create this [dissymmetry 00:21:29], you'd have them separated by talking to your clients. So you literally, you just interviewed them and said, "Look, here's something that we're thinking of doing. How do you feel about that?" Right? So the internal discussion only got you that far and then you actually reached out to your clients to get the answer for your brand pain point.M Lewis:Yeah. And as far as that goes since then, the response from the business clients has been even more positive as we've gotten more accolades and more press coverage for the work we've done on behalf of victims. We'll now get approached by business clients leading with, "Oh, congratulations on this verdict." Or, "We read about one of your wins in this other space and we really are proud of you and we're proud to be affiliated with you." If you put the shoe on the other foot, what do we talk about with our abuse clients about our business practice? That's a separate question because a lot of our abuse clients, if they're talking to several lawyers in the interview phase, many of the other firms that offer this service only represent victims, right? They may only do sexual abuse cases, they may only do personal injury cases.And so part of our brand on the abuse side is to say, we've carved out a specific niche of winning in very difficult abuse cases where there's some hurdle to overcome, like the Statute of Limitations, if a lot of time has passed. And we're all extremely well trained and highly educated business lawyers that have developed this additional expertise. And what we'll bring to you is a level of sophistication in lawyering that you won't find at a more classic plaintiff's firm that rely typically more on volume. They bring in a lot of cases, try to settle them quickly. This is, of course, a stereotype or a generalization. But that's how we try to stand out that we have a niche product that we market just to a specific type of victim. And we really focus on that as our core on the abuse side.F Geyrhalter:And I think it's so interesting when you first think about it. You immediately think, "Oh my God, these are so separate, this will be a conflict." And the more you actually practice it, then the more you let these two brands work together, the more you realize that it really works well together and it actually benefits each other. And I love those stories when people do something that is very different that other people would be afraid to do and then they learn that it actually is a very, very beneficial brand move to do that.And I'm sure that like you said, "On the one side you deal with large corporations like Oracle, Yelp, Tesla, and then you deal with sexual abuse victims who on the flip side love the fact that you can work in this Fortune 100 space." And if you can do that, of course, you can help them, right? It's it's really great how this all came about. Now back to focusing on Lewis and Llewellyn, what is a word that can describe your brand? So if you think about all the law firms and then you think about your particular brand essence, how would you describe the brand essence, in one or two words?M Lewis:That's such a difficult question. Always asking a lawyer to do something in one or two words is a really challenging task. I would really say trust. And I really think because it operates both directions. Over my career, I've really come to the realization that the foundation of a good attorney client relationship is trust. And it really does go both ways. And so I want to make sure that I can be shown and displayed as a trustworthy person in the very first communication. And that similarly, the rest of my team can make that same impact from the moment of first impression. And to communicate that first and foremost then, I want to make it very clear to the client that trust is a two way street and that I've got to be in a position where I can trust my client, as well. And so I think that's really where we start and it is hopefully where we finish.F Geyrhalter:No. That's a really, really important point, that the two way street, that most people don't think about when they think about a law firm brand. But trust going both ways is crucial for any litigation to work in favor. Now look, we talked for a little bit about two very different brands that you build. One is more of a brand than the other, right? One is more of a practice. The other one is turning into its own consumer facing brand. You've been at this for eight years. I think you started as an intern in the White House. Is that correct? I saw that on your LinkedIn.M Lewis:Yes. After college, I went straight to DC and was an intern in the Speech Writing Office for President Clinton. Ended up staying on there as a staffer and was all set to go to join the Gore Administration and then Florida happened. Life got in the way and the law came calling. But yeah, that was absolutely my first career. My first passion really was working as a speech writer in the Clinton White House.F Geyrhalter:That's amazing. And I'm sure some of that speech writing talent now is being infused into your brand copy. But from back then, when you were at the White House to today, having built these two brands, what are some pieces of brand advice maybe, as it even surrounds the idea of building trust with a brand. Or any brand advice that you have for founders? And I know you work with a lot of tech start ups, as well. Any thoughts, any last pieces of advice that you can share based on your impressive journey?M Lewis:Thank you. I appreciate the compliment. I think the key to our success has just been trying to be everywhere all at once. And you know, the key to our success, I think from a branding perspective, has been to really be top of mind when a client needs our help. And it doesn't matter whether that's a high stakes business dispute or a sexual abuse case. You really have to use a bludgeon to hit people over the head and make sure they know what you're doing and that you're out there and ready to help them. You have a lot of people that the service they're offering is a product, right? We're a service provider. And so we need to be top of mind for any potential client at the very moment when the issue arises for them. And so our branding philosophy is to have a very clear brand for both the abuse practice and the business practice. And then to try to get that brand out in front of as many eyeballs as we can, so that we're top of mind when when something comes up.F Geyrhalter:I mean, being top of mind and having clarity in your offering, it is actually very similar to consumer products, as well as service offerings because that is what it's all about. People need to know that they can find you, how they can find you and what you stand for. What you're all about, made it be an organization or made it be a nonfat yogurt. It's a very similar path and I even think that with B2B services, as you provide them, there is a lot that one can actually borrow from how consumer product advertise and brand themselves.M Lewis:Well and that's precisely, I mean, you and I met at the NPR event for how I built this. And you're precisely right. And that's why I got so much out of that as a founder and an entrepreneur, is to really learn the lesson that the principles of marketing ... And we call it in the law, we call it business development, right? That's what we really talk about. And the main principles are really the same. And it's super helpful to hear the stories of everybody's struggles as they try to succeed on this road of entrepreneurship. And you know, that's just something that we continue to hammer on every day.F Geyrhalter:Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. And as you know, we have many entrepreneurs and many founders who listen to this Podcast, as well. And for those who are interested in finding out more about your firm or about the sexual assault law firm practice, which by the way, I would invite everyone to find out more about. Because it is just, it is a story well told and it is a very inviting and well designed site. Where can they find both of your practices?M Lewis:Yeah. So the firm name is Lewis and Llewellyn. There's a lot of L's.F Geyrhalter:Yes. Please spell that.M Lewis:It's Lewis, L-E-W-I-S. Llewellyn, L-L-E-W-E-L-L-Y-N. Or you just Google Lewis Llewellyn Attorneys and you'll find us there. And then our abuse website is sexualabuselawfirm.com and either of those cross link to each other as you mentioned. But yeah, it's Marc Lewis, M-A-R-C, L-E-W-I-S. And that's usually if you do a little Googling, we're told that we can be found quite easily, especially now. So thank you for asking and that's how you find us.F Geyrhalter:Oh absolutely. And that was a good strategy with the very descriptive domain name for search engine optimization, as well. It seems to work for you, which is really, really great.M Lewis:Thank you.F Geyrhalter:Thank you, Marc, for having been on the show. I know when we met, you were a law firm in midst of tech companies and consumer product entrepreneurs. And you stood out in a very great way. And then when we started to talking about your own brand architecture, hurdles and what you went through. And especially with your sexual assault law firm practice, I knew I had to have you on and I'm so glad I did. It was a really nice conversation. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day and for being on the show.M Lewis:Thank you Fabian. I really enjoyed meeting you back in San Francisco and I look forward to keeping tabs on you as you continue to succeed.F Geyrhalter:Thank you. I appreciate it.
Learn more about BrightStarSupport the show – and get on monthly advisory calls with Fabian (in groups for both creatives as well as entrepreneurs) Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you so much for being on the show, Shelly.S Sun:                           Oh thanks for having me.F Geyrhalter:                 I know your time is very, very valuable and I appreciate you taking the time talking about something that I'm sure you usually don't get asked to talk too much about. So first off, congrats on your amazing success with the BrightStar brand, which you grew to over $300 million in system wide sales in under 10 years since launching the franchise in early 2006, which today of course must be a much higher number. And the brand has over 340 locations throughout the US. The obvious question, how does one get into running a home nursing empire?S Sun:                           Yeah, thank you for that. Yeah, so right now we're a little over $500 million in revenue.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh wow.S Sun:                           So across a great franchise network. So we've continued to grow and I think it was really firsthand experience. You know, I was looking for care for my grandmother back in late 2001 and she needed services that were both nonmedical in terms of making sure she was okay and eating well and getting bathing and help going to the bathroom, things like that. But she also had late stage cancer by the time that it was diagnosed. And so she needed pain management as well. And so therefore, nursing services. And so after talking to advisors and those within the industry recognized that we were not the only ones that had that type of need. And so we started the business in late 2002, about a year after looking for home care for ourselves. And it really resonated with a lot of families having one brand that they could trust that they knew were going to have great caregivers each and every day, and we've continued to grow from there.F Geyrhalter:                 And you know that's how great brands are being started, so I learned over and over with guests on this show, there has to be this huge emotional tie in and there has to be a problem that someone just sees themselves. Otherwise, just starting a franchise for anything, usually, is more difficult and you can tell if someone does it with heart. And building a brand is one thing, but building a brand strong enough to be franchisable but also still flexible enough to give the franchise owners a sense of belonging and creativity is always something I greatly admire. Can you share a bit about how you crafted the brand and then how you ensured you actually set it up for franchise success?S Sun:                           Yeah. I think it was a really about understanding what the customer needed and really understanding that customer journey and making sure what our customers needed, that we were providing that base of differentiation compared to what was in the marketplace. And then making sure we were developing the support systems for our franchisees to make sure that they were able to deliver to their customers and their marketplace that differentiated service. So we invested early in our journey to make sure first we could replicate the model. I didn't just have one company owned location when I chose to franchise, I had replicated it to a second and third to make sure everything was well documented before we rolled out and expanded. I invested a lot of money in technology so that all of our franchisees were on the same network, the same platform. So there was consistency in how we scheduled, how we paid our caregivers, how we billed our clients, how we looked at the metrics for the business from the very beginning of our franchise. We opened our first franchise in early 2006. I developed the technology in 2004, so every bit of data on every customer has been able to be benchmarked and every single locations performance has been able to be benchmarked. So I think it allows people like franchising is in business for yourself, but not by yourself. We have both the data and the support system to be able to help our franchisees know what good looks like and be able to help coach them to make sure they're delivering on that experience. Many of our franchisees, like myself, don't come from a healthcare background, but 85% of our franchisees had a family experience with home care before they became a franchisee. So they want to do it the right way. We need to give them a path to be able to follow that in a way that honors what our customer is looking for. So we went for Joint Commission accreditation and started that process in 2008 and started to roll it out across our brand in 2010, so that all of our franchisees were following a clinical and quality and safety protocol that's recognized by the health care industry in terms of hospitals and nursing homes. We were one of the first to bring it to a private duty home care, but we wanted to be able to operate and hold ourselves accountable to the highest standard of home care, which is really what the brand has been about from the very beginning.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, you talked a lot about systems and standards that need to be in place. I'm sure that once you were at that important point of the third location where you knew, "Okay, this is the time where we might go set this franchise free because we tested enough." How did this affect the brand from a branding perspective. And I'm talking in the nitty gritty, I'm talking about you know, logos and style guides and all of this has to be consistent once you go on a national level. But I also noted you said in another show that I listened to actually on my drive in today, and it was so funny because here I am about to interview you on your brand and you said on the show you're not a natural marketing mind. So you brought some people on the board that had that mindset. But how important early on was the idea of branding and the idea of brand thinking to the success of those first three locations?S Sun:                           Yeah, great question. And I am, I'm a finance and accounting person by background, so the opposite side of the brain from brand and creativity. And so we really focused on in 2002 to 2004 making sure that we had differentiated service for our customers. As I knew that I was onto something after successfully growing the business from one to three company owned locations and was thinking about franchising, my original brand, which was cheap to execute healthcare solutions, was very generic and would not stand apart and be a brand that I could build off of at a national scale. So I brought in a branding expert who is actually from Australia, who is the branding expert for Robert Kiyosaki. So James Burgin was the individual that I worked with. I said, "James, I loved what you have done with Robert Kiyosaki to make it so approachable for how do you make sure that you're capturing a way to grow and scale, thinking about being an entrepreneur versus being an employee. And it just really made it user-friendly." And I wanted to do the same thing with our brand where it was approachable, easily understood, but stood out from all of the brands that had comfort in it or home in it. And so if you went through 10 of the brands in home care, and when we started franchising, they all sounded the same. And I wanted us to sound different. And it came to working with James of, "Okay well let's go through the experience of care." And it's so much about really making sure people are well taken care of, in some ways roles reverse at the very end stages of life in terms of the children then arranging for care for their parents. And our parents that had done such a great job arranging for our care growing up and in some ways roles somewhat reverse at that very end stage. And so we started looking in nursery rhymes, "Star light, star bright." "Twinkle, twinkle little star." which is how BrightStar the brand came to be. And something that we thought would have legs, actually had nothing to do with my last name being Sun. I've gotten asked that question many times over the years and I have no ego. So I'm like, "It had nothing to do with my name." It was really kind of going back and thinking about that full circle of life and looking at nursery rhymes and something that really would stand apart in the marketplace as unique, because we believe what we offer to our customer is very, very unique and so how did we make sure we didn't sound like everyone else knowing we were executing the model and the trust that our customers could have and the services we delivered was very unique. And so that's how the BrightStar brand came about and we worked to make sure that, you know, how was that logo going to show up and all the trademarks were filed in 2004 for the brand, for the logo mark, designing it, style guides, making sure that it was consistently applied and was part of our operations manuals for our franchisees from the very beginning about how it needed to be used. That's obviously evolved with time as I've had more experts, either internally to the company and I've gotten an amazing head of marketing now, Theresa Selmer joined us about six months ago and is doing a great job for the brand. But I also, to your point, have had advisors on my board that brought me that expertise in their thinking. I've tried to fill out my board to be a nice compliment to my skillset so that I make sure that I'm continuing to grow as a CEO and not leaving any important function behind. And marketing and branding would be a critical one for us to be able to grow and evolve at a national scale, but it is not the way that I would normally think. I really focus on the service delivery, but how do we make sure there's a brand there that is recognized and differentiated both in its name and how it appears and where it shows up from an advertising perspective, while we focus very heavily on the operational execution as well.F Geyrhalter:                 There was so much that you just said that was so important. And I mean first off, I absolutely love the story behind the name, which I would have never guessed in a million years. But I love that narrative. I think it's so natural and it's so poetic in a way to actually think about it on such a deep and emotional level. Last night I watched a few of your brand's videos and I stumbled across one that celebrated a caregiver by the name of Heather Bailey and her client, Brian. And I was literally moved tears. And then I saw a Facebook comment, it was on Facebook so I saw a comment, below the video and let me read it to you and our listeners really quick. It said, "This is my sister. I cannot put into words how proud we, her family, are of her. We've always known about Heather's heart and her giving ways. Now the world knows. Thank you BrightStar for giving Heather the platform she needed to shine her brightest." And that is the family, that's a sister of the actual caregiver. It's not even about the client, right? So Shelly, franchises are all about people. And you as a brand celebrate them very obviously. So when you are in the business of people helping people, what are the different ways that BrightStar puts it's, oh my gosh, like 100,000 plus employees and clients and hundreds of owners on pedestal daily. Because I know culture and people is very, very dear to your heart.S Sun:                           Yeah. It's absolutely all about the people. And so creating a mechanism, our Caregiver of the Year program is very special. We have a Nurse of the Year program as well. We have franchisee awards and celebrations at their annual gala, which is where we first and foremost are celebrating our caregivers. Because without our amazing caregivers delivering such compassionate care each and every day, none of us have the honor to serve and be a part of this brand. It starts with our caregivers first. So the celebration at our awards gala always starts with celebrating our caregivers and celebrates them throughout the evening. We have hundreds if not thousands of nominations that come in. It's the most rewarding and yet the hardest part of the job is trying to find only four that we're going to recognize as the regional caregivers of the year because there are thousands of amazing stories. We hand out the nominations and boxes of Kleenex across our corporate office and across a group of our franchisees to narrow those down and choose the most remarkable stories. But they each are remarkable and we don't lose sight of, at the end of the day, our job, our mission is about helping take care of others, moms and dads and grandmas and grandpas and their children. And that's a complete honor and huge sense of responsibility to serve and hold up those that are providing our care. So we have a deep culture of recognition, gratitude and celebration that does to your point carry through I think first and foremost our caregivers because that's where it all starts. But making sure that we're recognizing our franchisees amazing office teams as well, have a branch leader of the year that gets recognized as part of our gala celebration. And then we're recognizing our top franchisees that are delivering great and the highest customer service and care to the families that they serve in growing their businesses. So it's easy to take the time and make sure we're focusing on operational things, but we have to take the time and celebrate that amazing execution and heart that really is at the heart of what BrightStar is all about.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And you're doing such a fantastic job as a brand to not only celebrate these individuals but to actually tell their stories. And storytelling is so important to branding obviously, but a lot of companies try to craft these stories and create these stories. And for you it seems like it is such a logical and very organic and very, I would say "easy" thing to do. But it takes a lot of strategy to actually craft the right stories and share the right stories. And I wondered with your brand usually when I interview amazing entrepreneurs like yourself, a couple of days before showtime I just start digging into their website and more into the social media handles and I mean you are a brand that that is in the business of elderly care franchise and I would have thought there would be no social media channel at all. But on Facebook there are over 15,000 people that actually that actually like an elderly care brand. And to me that was absolutely amazing to see it. And once I started digging into the stories and into the videos, I very much started to understand why people actually are so attached to your brands. And nine years ago you went undercover with BrightStar caregivers on the CBS Undercover Boss. Now I had some Shark Tank contestants on this show, but Undercover Boss is quite a different league. How did that go? And how did it affect your brand and perhaps even your company culture at the time? Tell us a little bit about that experience.S Sun:                           It was an amazing experience. We had the honor of getting selected after CBS went to International Franchise Association asking for a recommendation of franchisors that they should talk to after great experience in season one with another franchisor. And we had just won Entrepreneur of the Year from the International Franchise Association so we were on that list. We had a great day with the producer of the show and asking some questions and what different storylines we might be able to provide as part of the breadth of our brand. And then they realized that our brand was only $50 million at the time and kind of had an internal threshold of $100 million. So they were going out to speak to others that were larger than me in the industry. And that seemed unfair in terms of the exposure I wanted for our brand and for our franchisees. So I found all of the people who had anything to do with the show on CBS's a website and since an overnight letter, two pages, of all of the reasons why they should select BrightStar. We were founder led and entrepreneurial American dream in terms of starting with my own capital and risking it all, all the different settings that they could have with us doing pediatric care, staffing and elderly care. And they came back. And so we had the honor of being on the show and exposing people to our brand. We had 9.1 million people get to learn about the BrightStar Care story and how amazing our caregivers are. It was a very heartwarming experience to have a chance to interact with our caregivers on the front line, but also to see some opportunities in terms of things we can continue to learn from and be better. And continuous improvement as part of our core values and it was a great opportunity to have an opportunity to see that firsthand. And we got to work and made some of those improvements operationally right away. But having an opportunity to interact with some of our customers and our caregivers on the front line was a very rewarding experience and really became the impetus for us establishing the Caregiver of the Year program that you asked me about earlier is an opportunity to not wait for CBS and national TV to get an opportunity to have our own award show and gala to highlight and celebrate our amazing caregivers that are on the frontline every day. And so we fly them and a guest in for a few days at our annual conference, spa time, we make sure that their salary is still covered so they're not having their personal budget impacted by not being able to work those few days and really just take an opportunity to celebrate and highlight and recognize with gratitude the caregivers on the front line, which was so much about what the show was about.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, what an amazing outcome. Because we were invited I think like eight years ago to be... There was a show, I think on ABC, that was about inventors and then they work with a branding firm but it was more of a reality show and I was so scared. I'm like, "I'm not going to do that. There's too much... I know how reality shows work and they will most probably tried to find a way to create the entertainment and drama is part of that." So I was actually very afraid to, so we didn't do it. But I love how you really hustled to get on there and you knew it would be a great story. And even if you would discover something "undercover", that you could learn something from it and you could create something better out of what has been highlighted. And so you did, I love that. And I mean obviously you are one of the great entrepreneurs that just keeps learning and keeps pushing. And that is such a good example of that. And I really thought that this would be a story of a potential brand fail for you, but it's not. Did you ever have a ginormous brand fail where you went through something and this might not even be sales related, this is maybe something brand related or just a big key decision where you felt like, "Okay, this was absolutely going into the wrong direction."S Sun:                           I don't know if brand fail, but just challenges of an entrepreneur in those early stages.F Geyrhalter:                 Sure, yeah.S Sun:                           I mean some of the biggest successes became some of the biggest challenges. We grew really quickly. I had the honor two months after starting my business to have a quadriplegic take a chance on me and have us provide his home care, wound up taking care of Tim from 2002 until 2019. He just passed away on Labor Day of this past year. And the family act actually asked me to come deliver part of the eulogy, which is how much intertwined our lives had become during that care journey. I became part of a family and Tim and his lovely wife Ann became a part of my family. But getting that large of a client with 24/7 nursing care two months after starting a business, knowing that you need to pay the nurses weeks before the payer pays us, I wound up having to put payroll on credit cards and having to pray that the bills got paid while my credit lines extended on a credit card. At the time I was married, looking at my wedding ring a couple of times wondering whether I was going to have to hock it to continue to do the right thing by my nurses and my client to keep the business going. My greatest success in revenue wound up be my scariest part operationally because our caregivers and our nurses are oftentimes paid weeks before we wound up getting paid by the payer source or from the family. And that's the great news about growing quickly, but sometimes that can be the scariest part of the entrepreneurial journey as well.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Yeah. And I wouldn't even see that as a fail. I think that is just a growing pain that I think any entrepreneur, I mean even myself, we all have been at some point in that position, where suddenly stars don't align or you restart the company like I did once, and those are things that happen and then you just have to do the right thing and power through which is so important. And going from the negative back to the positive, which is where we usually want to be on this podcast, looking back, and I know I'm asking you to look back a good 18 or so years, but looking back, what was the one big breakthrough where you figured, "Okay, so this is actually going to turn into maybe an amazing business opportunity." Or even, "Now we know this is actually franchisable." Was there a moment? And it could be directly linked to sales figures or maybe it was a PR event or was there a moment where you just knew this is it?S Sun:                           Well, I mean Undercover Boss certainly was, but since we talked about that, I'd say the biggest one for me was being able to sell our franchisees on the vision and be able to execute around Joint Commission for our entire brand. We are the only brand in the home care space out of over 25,000 agencies that was able to have our brand qualify for Enterprise Champion for Quality designation. And that means that 95% of all of our eligible franchise locations are accredited. And we got that for the first time in 2013 so it was from the time of the thought of Joint Commission that was five years later. From the time we first got our first location accredited, which was 2010, it took us three years to get the entire brand accredited. But we have maintained that every single year. We've never had that lapse. So we've always maintained greater than 95% of our locations Joint Commission accredited. And being able to have that standard at that highest level in place in 2010 through 2013 was really for me when I knew we had a sustainable brand that would deliver the kind of care a thousand miles away from the headquarters that would make my grandma proud and would be the kind of care that she deserved, that all parents and grandparents and children deserve at the highest quality standard that our franchisees embraced. Setting themselves apart, operating at that highest level and making that investment initially and ongoing to be Joint Commission accredited. That's when, for me, it was really our high point of when I felt like we had a breakthrough moment. I'd always believed that we were the highest quality brand and we've always been nurse led as part of our brand. But to be able to do it at such a level that we could be recognized by such a great third party like the Joint Commission really said we had something that would endure for the next several decades and beyond.F Geyrhalter:                 And that is so easy to say now in hindsight, but for our listeners actually getting that accreditation level is extremely cost and time intensive I would think, right? Because it is a very, very huge undertaking.S Sun:                           It was a huge undertaking. We paid for all of the franchisees in two states to go through it initially so we could demonstrate the value to the rest of our network. You know, as a relatively small business that was just borderline profitable at that point in time to make a $400,000 investment because it was the right thing to do for our customers to make sure we were operating at the highest quality level and setting ourselves to be accountable to those standards was a big financial undertaking. And it was probably the equivalent of three or four full time people working on that initiative in 2010 through 2013 to get the brand ready for, and through, that process.F Geyrhalter:                 And putting this in context of brand positioning, I mean when we think about a business that takes care of people that need home care, not necessarily elderly, but the majority, it could be seen as a commodity, right? I mean in a way you could be in a commodity business where there's a lot of companies like yours in the beginning, not now, right, in the beginning that do a similar service. But by you taking this initiative to become accredited and to tell that story, it just pushes the entire brand into such a different league of people actually wanting to have that care, that level care and what an amazing way for a brand to stand out from a sea of sameness in the beginning and to actually be able to do that. So kudos. Pretty amazing, pretty amazing. And also gutsy move to do that and to keep doing it every year. I mean that is a huge commitment. There's a question that I like to ask everyone on the show and you're well aware of that. I always like when I go through brand workshops with my clients, I always at the end of it, after we talk about the brand for like seven hours and everyone is drained, but we all think about just that one brand. At the very end of the day I try to bring it down to one word. Like if you would take everything you do as a brand, everything, and you would be able to just summarize it in that one word that would be the guiding star, for you the BrightStar, what is one word that could describe your brand?S Sun:                           For me, it's trust. We really want to be the brand that families can trust with the loved ones that they want to receive the highest quality of care and earning and being worthy of that trust is something that drives what we do and how we do it each and every day.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's nice because trust works on every level. Totally 360 within your entire people network. Everyone that is involved on one hand is reaching for the other and one is feeding the other. It's a fantastic, fantastic word. What does branding mean to you, Shelly? Now that you've done this for what, 18 years?S Sun:                           Yeah. I think it's getting to know our client and what they need and then making sure we're delivering upon that. It's really standing out, to your point, from the sea of sameness, really differentiating ourself from our competition and what those points of differentiation are is making sure that we are doubling down on those things each and every day. That's the quality, the nurse led, the breadth of service that gives a full [inaudible 00:30:37] of care to our families and the willingness to stand behind that with accreditation. I think it's really knowing who you are as a brand and we won't be the cheapest, but we will be the best and we are the brand that families can trust their loved ones to.F Geyrhalter:                 And on that note, as we're slowly wrapping up here, any final advice or any brand advice, anything that you learned? Which you learned I'm sure a book worth of lessons in your time doing this, but anything for founders as a takeaway that you think would be important for you to share?S Sun:                           I think it's believing in the good of what you're doing. Because without that, I think success is difficult to achieve and certainly to sustain. And I think BrightStar Care is where it is today because I believed that we were providing the best service to the consumers we have the honor to serve and knowing that we are having to earn their trust each and every day and deliver upon that. I think as entrepreneurs and those that are entrusted with protecting that brand and that brand vision, you've got to really believe in what you're doing to be able to do it each and every day. You spoke to the story telling of our caregivers, I wish I could say that that was a strategy or that was intentional, those stories create themselves because that is the beauty of what hiring the best caregivers and giving them nurse oversight and mentoring does each and every day. Those stories are because the brand was there. We didn't have to make up stories. Those stories were there each and every day. They are there each and every day, even if we're not getting them submitted to us. It's a beautiful thing when you believe in what you're doing and you know you're making a difference. There's always going to be tough days as an entrepreneur, those days where you don't know if you're to make payroll or there's an employment situation going on. But knowing that we're in business to make a difference for families, I think as long as entrepreneurs are starting a business and growing a business based upon something that they're passionate about, that has really been what has invigorated me as a founder to continue to still be very active in my business each and every day, nearly 20 years after I started it.F Geyrhalter:                 You said that very beautifully and I hear similar versions of this from a lot of the very successful founders on this podcast because it is that drive and it is knowing that you make a difference when you get up in the morning that is so crucial. Listeners who want to learn more about the brand or actually have a need for a caretaker for their own family, which happens more often than not, where should they start exploring the BrightStar brand?S Sun:                           Thank you. I think our website is the best place to start, so BrightStarCare.com and we'd love to have the honor to see if we could be of service to families. I think it's never too late to start talking to our parents about what their wishes will be when they will need care to be able to still live independently, but live independently at home. So never too early to start asking those questions and allow our parents to be in control of the life that they want as they gracefully age and let us be a part of that.F Geyrhalter:                 So true. So true. It can never be too early. A lot of us had that experience and whoever hasn't had the experience will have that experience, so thank you for the reminder. Thank you for sharing the link. Anyone who is interested in brand storytelling and brand differentiation, I would urge everyone to check out the brand as well because it is not a brand that usually people would immediately flock to when they think about branding and those are the type of entrepreneurs that I like to have on the show where you actually dig deep and suddenly you realize that there's a lot of heart and soul that went into what is going on and why you are so successful today, Shelly. So thank you so much for your time today and for sharing your thoughts with us.S Sun:                           Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to tell our story.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. You know, sometimes I pinch myself when I get off these interview calls because I feel so fortunate to be able to leisurely chat with these extremely busy entrepreneurs who would charge thousands of dollars for their mentorship and yet here we are able to poke their brains on a topic many have not been actively involved in for years. This is a true gift to me and hopefully to you as well. If that is the case for you and you listen to Hitting the Mark every two weeks, I would like to invite you to show your support by going to patreon.com/hittingthemark. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we, once again, will be hitting the mark. 
Learn more about Milk StorkSupport the show – and get on monthly advisory calls with Fabian (in groups for both creatives as well as entrepreneurs) Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show, Kate.K Torgersen: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.F Geyrhalter: Oh, absolutely. It's so great to have you. The way I actually got to know you and Milk Stork, and we talked about this a little bit prior to hitting record, was at an NPR event where I was actually a mentor and in between my sessions, I saw you on stage interviewing the unbelievably charming founders of Clif Bar. I was so taken by that heartfelt and insightful conversation, since you were a Clif Bar employee. And then you split off with your own venture and they were very supportive of that journey. Right?K Torgersen: Absolutely. Yeah. I actually started Milk Stork on a Clif Bar business trip.F Geyrhalter: That makes so much sense.K Torgersen: Yeah. So I worked at Clif Bar since 1998. And after having my twins, I was, my twins are my second and third babies, but I also have an older baby, so I have three kids altogether and I-F Geyrhalter: And Milk Stork.K Torgersen: Yeah, and Milk Stork, my fourth baby. But I had to go on a business trip and with the twins, I was really committed to breastfeeding. I had breastfed my first child for 18 months and I wanted to give the twins everything that my first kid had. But with breastfeeding twins it's really hard. I mean, it's tandem nursing. We had a bunch of issues with getting one of the twins to latch and weight gain issues. So by the time this business trip came up, it really felt like the stakes were high because the twins had never had formula at that point. They were exclusively on breast milk and I just didn't know how I was going to do the business trip and deal with this breastfeeding situation. So yeah, it was started on a Clif Bar business trip. Obviously Clif Bar, Gary and Kit, the owners of Clif Bar, that culture is so accepting of parenthood and supportive of parenthood. I could have easily said that I wasn't going to take the trip or I would rather not take the trip. But for me it was important to take the trip and not miss out on opportunities that I cared about professionally. So I went on that trip. I lugged two gallons of breast milk home.F Geyrhalter: Oh, my God.K Torgersen: Pumped throughout the trip. And I came back from that trip and I was like, "I've got to figure out a way to fix this." That really was a page out of Gary's, Gary Erickson, the founder Clif Bar, a page out of his book. It's literally probably a page out of his book, that if you have an idea, you just need to chase it down relentlessly and not let go of it, not leave it in the dust.F Geyrhalter: And they were super supportive when you said, "Look, I have to do this."K Torgersen: Yeah. Yeah. I continued for many, many years? A couple years I would say. I was working full time at Clif Bar. My kids were three years old and under for a good part of that, five years old and under. And I was working on Milk Stork at night after they went to bed.F Geyrhalter: May that be a good lesson for all the listeners who say, "Ah, I've got a day job. I can't start a startup. It's too difficult."K Torgersen: Yeah, I mean-F Geyrhalter: Add a pair of twins to that.K Torgersen: Yeah, I have to say, I mean there was a couple of years where there was really no sleep. I was going to bed at probably, if I was lucky, the kids would go to bed at eight, if they actually stayed in their beds and then I would work till one or two. But it's funny looking back, I was so fueled by the idea and solving the idea that... And so absent of sleep already in my life, thanks to the kids, that I don't remember that as that push on the sleepless nights. But it's definitely not something that you can do forever. But in the beginning, I think you have that kind of gas and that gas in your tank that's just propelling you to do it. And that part was really exciting.F Geyrhalter: And, I mean it seems to me like it's a natural, it's somehow a natural gift from above that when you are a mom or any parent, right? You can survive these first sleepless years.K Torgersen: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: It's just something that suddenly you're on the, like you said, you've got that extra gas. And you used that gas tank fully for everything.K Torgersen: Yeah, I didn't have any free time and I was so captured by inspiration and so, I already had the endurance and grit that they came with motherhood. So it was kind of the opportune time. I don't know if I would've had that same kind of depth of grit if the idea had come a few years later or certainly not earlier.F Geyrhalter: And so for those of us who are not as familiar with the entire breastfeeding process and what goes into it and why it is actually so important to feed babies breast milk versus those hundreds of formulas that are out there or whatever. Right? And the idea of how difficult it is actually to travel with breast milk. Can you kind of give us an idea of how this is a real important niche that you are filling?K Torgersen: Yeah, so I think, the pain point of breastfeeding is that it's relentless. Moms who are breastfeeding or pumping every three hours, many of them are trying to make it to one year of having their kids on breast milk. And that's in the US that's the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation is six months of exclusive breastfeeding and 12 months with breast milk as their primary source of nutrition, in addition to the introduction of solids. But what's interesting and amazing about breastfeeding and the reason you have to do it every three hours is that it's a supply and demand relationship. So the baby sets the supply for the mom. And if you miss a nursing session or you miss a pumping session, the woman's body responds to that dip in demand by producing less milk. And once you kind of disrupt that and your milk supply can start going down. And it's very hard to get it back. For me, breastfeeding was important, not just for the nutritional element, but for the attachment of it. And I didn't want to lose that connection with my kids. And I think, moms breastfeed for a lot of different reasons. Some moms are doing it for nutrition, some monitoring it for attachment. But I think ultimately the thing that was, that's been important to me in starting Milk Stork is that it should be up to the mom and the decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed shouldn't have anything to do with her career. It should be exclusively a relationship with her and her baby. And weaning, I just, it breaks my heart when women are weaning before they're ready or before they kind of want to end that relationship. I just, it should be on their terms.F Geyrhalter: And that was part of a Milk Stork, you also turned into an advocate for breastfeeding friendly policies overall, right? At the workplace.K Torgersen: Yeah. I think with breastfeeding, it's something that's invisible to the kind of the larger community, especially in the workplace. You're usually do it, you're doing it every three hours. You're stepping away to do it. You're stepping sometimes into a bathroom. If you're lucky, you're stepping into a conference room or a lactation room that has a lock and it's set up for you. But it's outside kind of the gaze of the workplace culture. And for a lot of women that kind of, that invisibility of it makes it hard to advocate for because you kind of have to explain this relationship, there's a lot of education that goes into explaining why you need a private room, what you're going to be doing. But I think at the same time, 50% of the workforce is female. Actually, I just saw an article that women are now, it's like tipping over 50%, women in the workforce.F Geyrhalter: Wow.K Torgersen: So, and most women, most moms are working moms. So this is a real pain point for a large part of the employee population.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And for the listeners who know me by now, I'm such a big proponent of niche brands that actually wholeheartedly connect with a very overlooked segment. And I'm, on the other hand, I'm also super obsessed with startups that create their own category, which are very, very few to many who say they do. But most of them don't disrupt the category or start a category to just barely fit in. But you actually, you're both, I mean, you're on the one hand, you're a big... You're, this is perfect. There's actually an ambulance in the back. I'm going to cut this up. Okay. I'm going to start this over.K Torgersen: Perfect.F Geyrhalter: Oh, perfect. And for those of you who listen to me a lot, they actually noted I'm a big proponent of niche brands that wholeheartedly connected with an overlooked segment. And I'm also obsessed with startups that create their own category. And they're very few of those. But you, Kate, are actually both. I mean, you launched a company that specializes in the facilitation of overnight shipping of breast milk for business traveling moms. I mean, that's just about as niche as it gets. Right?K Torgersen: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: I absolutely, I love that. And I mean, you had the epiphany out of a need and I heard you talk about this on another show. You basically when the airplane touchdown, you said, "You know what, I'm never going to do that again. And things need to change." And you literally got to work right after. But what is even more interesting to me is that when you officially, and I don't know what that word really means when you launch a company, because there are so many phases, but when you actually decided to push, right? And have the company be publicly out there and you start emailing and you start putting it out there and at that time it didn't take very long for it to actually catch on. Right? I mean it was pretty instant that people said, "Oh, I needed this." Or even employers saying, "You know what? I want this to become a benefit."K Torgersen: Right. It was instant. It was, we launched in August of 2015. My co-founder is actually my father and we essentially kind of flipped the switch on the website. We had spent a good nine or 10 months building out the kind of eCommerce platform and all the logistics of how this would work. So we flipped the switch on the website and we kind of just sat there and then an order came in. And then another order came in. And we're just like, "Oh my God, now we have to fulfill these orders."F Geyrhalter: Now what?K Torgersen: Now what? How are we going to do this?F Geyrhalter: Tell me, this is fascinating. So, you didn't do any push besides literally launching the site or did you already-K Torgersen: I did a press release.F Geyrhalter: Okay.K Torgersen: That was it. So we launched the site and my background was in PR and communications and we put out a press release. I did send that that release out into my own media relations and sent it out to a bunch of reporters. We did get an article with, I think it was within two weeks with Fortune Magazine.F Geyrhalter: Wow.K Torgersen: And so that got-F Geyrhalter: Then you know.K Torgersen: [crosstalk 00:12:09] Then within, also within two weeks after that article went, we got a call from one of the largest consulting firms in the world saying that they wanted to bring us on as an employee benefit for their North American employees.F Geyrhalter: Unbelievable.K Torgersen: And I took that call in my minivan in the childcare parking lot at Clif Bar and I just said, "Okay, yeah, we'll figure it out." And they wanted to launch in 30 days. And we did not have an enterprise kind of set up. I really thought it was going to be hard to explain breast milk shipping to companies and employers and advocate for that. So I knew that going direct to moms was the first place that we were going to go and we're like, "Okay, we'll figure out enterprise later." But that happened way faster than we ever, ever expected. And by the end of that year, we had five enterprise clients and that included two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. I mean just to visualize that idea of, "Oh good, you've got three or four clients that are enterprises instead of moms." I mean the amount of orders that you get because of that, it's just mind blowing. Right?K Torgersen: Yes.F Geyrhalter: I mean, you're going directly to the source. You don't have to advocate, you don't have to get one mom at a time. And I mean, to be honest, it's not cheap either, right?K Torgersen: No.F Geyrhalter: I mean, shipping breast milk is not cheap. I guess it's like somewhere at 170 or something like that. I don't know. I heard that number, but it's pretty, it's not inexpensive. So for moms to say, "Oh yeah, that's not a problem. I'm going to spend, I don't know, 200, 400 depending on how long the trip is, dollars on my baby's health." That is a really, really big expense. But for employers it is kind of a no brainer because what happens in the background is, those are individuals that have been with the company, some of them for a pretty long time, very loyal and then suddenly this life event happens. A very positive life event. That weirdly enough when it comes to work is actually not so much of a positive life event. Right? And so you're struggling with that and then you want to be loyal, but the more that companies can give moms, new moms a reason to stick with the company and to be loyal. I mean it's a huge benefit. Those 170 bucks or whatever it is, that's nothing.K Torgersen: Yeah. It's what happened almost immediately, which I don't think I could've ever, it didn't occur to me that this was going to happen, but I'm so glad that it did. And I think it's, I guess I had underestimated employers in the beginning and their desire to support working women. But what ended up happening, which is amazing, is that women started using Milk Stork and then rightfully asking their employers to reimburse them. And feeling empowered to do that. And I think there's a couple of things that were happening. One, it was a millennial workforce that was asking for it. And these are women and parents who are incredibly informed, probably the most informed generation of parents to walk the face of the earth.F Geyrhalter: Right. Right, because of all the resources that they have at their fingertips today.K Torgersen: Yeah, so and they have very high expectations for work life balance. It's also, it was on the, Me Too was happening and so women were speaking up about the realities of the workplace for them. And there was just a strong collective voice of women. And I think the other incredible thing was that women who needed Milk Stork were going to HR, which has a very high, as a profession, very high population of women. Going to somebody in HR who had experienced this pain point themselves, most likely or knew the challenges of returning to work and breastfeeding. And that HR person then became a firebrand within their company to help onboard the benefit.F Geyrhalter: That's all they look for is more benefits that are crystal clear for people to understand why it would make sense to have them for leadership. And it makes so much sense. And I love that now on your website you are actually having these letters, like at conferences when you're an employee and you want to go to a conference and there's letters on the conference website of like, "Hey, this is why I need to go. This is why you need to sponsor it." You have actual letters for HR, which it is a little bit different than when you go to a conference because when the whole idea of breastfeeding at a workplace is actually, it's very uncomfortable. It's a strange situation for someone to be in. And then to ask for a reimbursement around that in that entire, it can be awkward for people to have to go to, I mean in smaller companies to their boss and just explain everything. Right?K Torgersen: Yeah, I think to go to someone who's never lactated themselves and ask.F Geyrhalter: Like any male CEO.K Torgersen: Yeah. Or even women who have not experienced breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is so weird because you don't really know what goes into it until you've done it. Or you've seen a spouse or partner do it.F Geyrhalter: And I say right, not as in affirmative, but I don't know. I'm on that side. Right? But, I am an employer and I did have those instances and it is extremely strange to work around it and trying to find solutions that feel like they're comfortable for everyone. Right? It's not easy, especially when you're a two, three, four or five people shop. Right? It's not like you can create an entire infrastructure around it. Let's talk a little bit more about the Milk Stork brand. Like actually many of the successful brand founders that I have on Hitting The Mark. You mentioned you come from a marketing background too, I think at Clif Bar, the last position that you held was that of an executive communications and speechwriter. So I am wondering how much of Milk Stork's tone of voice and copy actually comes from you? Or did you have an agency or writer who's who's in charge of the brand voice at this point?K Torgersen: When one of the first things, it was funny when you were, earlier we were talking about what is starting a company even mean? What does that process look like?F Geyrhalter: Right.K Torgersen: One of the first things that I did was come up with the name because I think for me too, once you have that idea, putting a name makes you accountable to it. So it made it real and it made the idea not disappear into dust. It made it concrete. So coming up with a name that continued to inspire me as I was going to build the company was critical. So it was literally the first thing that we did. When I said, when my dad and I got going, I was, I kept texting him. I'm like, "What do you think of this name? What do you think of this name?" And then just, I think it was maybe two days after I had even had the idea, I came up with Milk Stork. And then-F Geyrhalter: Which by the way is brilliant, not to interrupt you, but it's a brilliant name.K Torgersen: It was important for it to be visual to me. I'm a very visual person and I wanted it to be kind of visual, but I also want it to be, so that when I knew that this category didn't exist and so it had to kind of explain also what the service was. And then we immediately got to work on the branding. And we did hire, I mean we didn't have a ton of money, I think we each put in like 25... No, we each put in $12,000 in the beginning. Something like that. And probably 3,000 of that went to hire somebody to help us come up with the branding, like the logo, the logo type, all of that. So it was-F Geyrhalter: And tone of voice and all of that was that still you writing at the beginning and-K Torgersen: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: Okay, okay.K Torgersen: I mean it is, it was a direct extension of me. And a lot of that came from my experience at Clif Bar. I mean, Clif Bar is a direct, it's a direct link to Gary and Kit and their values and that's a company where your brand is really about your integrity. And so that's kind of the lens that I was coming at Milk Stork with.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And I would love for anyone to actually look a little bit deeper into the Clif Bar brand because most people don't, right? Most people have a Clif Bar. They didn't look too deep into the brand. But it is really, really fascinating. And just to touch on something that you said before, because it happens so rarely, but I really, but I think it is so important. When you said that you came up with the name first and it was the driver because it made it real and it made it feel like, "Okay, now did I have that I'm almost there." It's like this naive idea of your brain where it's like, "Oh my God, it's now, it's real. It can be real. I can see it in front of me." To create something that's very descriptive, a very descriptive name. Usually for a lot of founders, startup founders that are listening, that are in the very, very early stages of their startup. It is a dangerous route unless you're in Kate's position because you knew exactly your offering. You knew you wouldn't expand like this is it, right? It is about shipping breast milk. That's it, right? There's nothing more, nothing less. I work with a lot of founders that say, "Yeah, you know, we're in the business of X." But then really two months later they're in the business of Y, right? But they already created a name and they didn't fall in love with the name. But then, after a year they have to change it because it is too descriptive. But you are one of those instances where it actually works so well. And it can fuel the entire journey. And Milk Stork is a very direct, a very bold brand which is quite apparent as you agree that by a large image of if very hip models slash mom breastfeeding on milkstork.com. So, I invite all listeners to check it out on milkstork.com since it is really making a very clear brand statement by solely using a photo and the header for moms on a mission. So in that particular very prominent image there is more attitude and self confidence than there's joy or relief. And I feel this did not happen by accident, since there was a certain attitude that breastfeeding moms need in order to ask the employer for reimbursement or to stand their ground publicly. Right? Then in my humble opinion, it perfectly caters to driven, career oriented moms. So, how did that art direction of that photo shoot and did this overall brand that we have today, not the brand that it was a couple of years ago, but today, how did that shape up and how did it change over the years?K Torgersen: Yeah, so when we first launched we actually went through, we have since gone through a rebrand. But when we first launched we, I wanted it to be something that moms could be proud of. I wanted Milk Stork to be something that they, something that wasn't, especially with a lot of branding in the mom space, you get a lot of cursive, you get a lot of pastels. And we did have kind of a pastel color in the beginning. But as the brand kind of evolved, we saw that moms were posting on social media and using the Milk Stork box as a badge of honor. Like, "Went to a conference." They were so proud to have been able to keep breastfeeding. That was a really clear signal to us that Milk Stork, we needed it to be the badge of honor that moms deserve. And so that's played a big role in the branding. I think the other big role that's that we've, the other big direction with branding is that I want to show real images of moms. Moms are not this kind of cookie cutter, cardigan image that we've seen for so long. We want to show diverse representations of motherhood, of families, of breastfeeding. And for us it's all about real moms. So all of our models are real moms. That woman really is breastfeeding her child and we don't want moms to have to apologize for breastfeeding. They are, moms are badass and they should be treated as such.F Geyrhalter: Totally. And it's a very empowering brand I think overall and that comes through. And I did not want my statement to be misleading about the model slash mom on the homepage because as you go deeper into the brand, it gets extremely diverse and I loved that very photorealistic and life realistic and Zeitgeist, on par with to the Zeitgeist photography, because I think it is really leading your brand in a certain way. But now that you went, so first of all, you work with Clif Bar, you must've gained a lot of amazing brand insights while working there and now having started very successfully, Milk Stork over the last couple of years and seeing it grow and going through that rebranding effort. What does branding mean to you today?K Torgersen: Even today, branding is, it's a reflection of my promise. My promise, my accountability to our moms and our clients. I think it's a reflection of our commitment and integrity. And I also think we are not the only ones that own the Milk Stork brand. Our moms and our companies own it. Branding is fueled by love and connection and it's when moms are posting boxes, their boxes of Milk Stork, they own the brand as much as I do. And for them it is a reflection of their commitment to their family and to their ambition. So it's a community, the branding becomes like the hub of our community. It's the heart and soul of our company.F Geyrhalter: And that is exactly what I always preach. Just as you said it really, really well and in a different way, but the heart and soul, that's what a brand is. That's what it comes down to. But I love the idea that it's fueled by love. That's when you know you have a brand when it keeps giving back at all times and you put something out and it keeps giving back. Was there a time early on where, you did surveys, or you asked moms or you kind of like an early customer data and you said, "You know what I'm going to do, I'm going to totally go against what I just heard." If a staff would have said moms and employers are not willing to spend $170 on shipping breast milk ever, that's not going to happen. Or was there anything like that where you heard some, resentment or you got some data and you're like, "You know what? I hear you, but I'm going the totally opposite direction." You were successful doing so.K Torgersen: In the early days I got a lot of sideways looks when I was trying to find vendors or getting corporate insurance and they're like, "Oh, making a company that ships breast milk. Why would you want to ship breast milk?" So, I did not do a lot of customer research because at that point I really was the consumer myself. I was a working mom who had to travel and I was trying to breast feed my twins. And I was living and breathing it with all of my friends who were also having kids and trying to maintain their commitment to their careers. So I wasn't lacking for data. I think it was all qualitative coming from the people that I, that were in my work, my circle. But I can't tell you how many times I got the look. When I'm saying, "Oh, I'm going to start a breast milk shipping company." And getting that look of like, "What the hell are you talking about?" It still happens. If I meet somebody and they're like, "Oh, what do you do?" "Oh, I started my own company. We ship breast milk." You just get that look of like, "That's absurd." I get it all the time. I still get it.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, no, I know. I'm sure. I'm sure. What is... I think this is directly linked to the brand conversation we had a minute ago and I think I might have an idea of what it could be and you know this coming up because I forewarned you, but I love that idea of when you create a brand, and for me personally, when I create print strategies with my clients. To kind of at the end of the day to really sit together and think about, "If there's only one word that we could use to describe our brand or maybe two, right? What would it be?" It's kind of like, in a way, people say the North star, they call it brand DNA, but really it's like that singular word that would encompass everything. Like the philosophy, the design, what do you call the heart and soul, that the love of a brand. What would be that one word for Milk Stork?K Torgersen: Yeah. It's really, it's a made up word. It's mom badassery. Yeah, I don't know how else, it's almost more of a feeling than it is a word.F Geyrhalter: It is a lot like mom empowerment, but just much more badass.K Torgersen: Yeah. Yeah. I always say that working breastfeeding moms are like star athletes. They have this incredible physical commitment that they have made, this incredible kind of mental commitment that they've made, they have this kind of deep well of grit. I mean, if you think of how many times if you're breastfeeding five to eight times a day and doing it for a year, it's a huge venture of endurance. So I think they're complete warriors.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I absolutely agree with you. And it's really, really great to see a company like yours make it and make it so quickly and be... I mean, you are, at this point, it's not only moms who come with open arms, it's Fast Company named you one of the most innovative companies for last year. And the press as much as employers are running towards the brand with open arms. So yes, on the one hand you hit the Zeitgeist perfectly for a lot of reasons. But even if you wouldn't have, even if this would have happened 10 years ago, it would have still taken off, it would've just taken longer. But I'm really grateful for what you're doing and even more so from a brand perspective, how you do it. It takes a lot to understand and with your rebranding, I'm sure a lot of that happened, to understand what the actual essence is of a brand like yours. And the mom badassery is exactly that. I heard you say this and I'm not sure where but, you said, and I'm solely paraphrasing, and you can correct me, "When you become a mom, you figure out what you do on the go, yet you're expected to be an expert on everything from the get go that has to do with that child."K Torgersen: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: And I think entrepreneurship is a lot like that. And I love that idea that, and everyone says, "Well yeah, if you have a company it's like it's like your new baby." But, really that, how you actually explained that, and that is always the strange thing becoming a parent and it's like suddenly you have to be the expert on every single thing about bringing up a kid and what a kid needs. And I mean, there are so many multifaceted elements to it and it is very much like entrepreneurship. Now that you went through this and you had to become an expert at everything or be smart about it and outsource as much as you can before you grow.K Torgersen: I like that.F Geyrhalter: It's kind of like that's the toddler stage, right? At that point you can actually, all right now we have a real human being we can do something with and we can outsource certain elements. It's very much with a startup. It's really hilarious to actually think about that parallel, year after year. Do you have one piece of brand advice for founders, perhaps even female founders, as a takeaway from everything that you've learned in the last years? I mean, it must be a massive amount, but is there something where you just feel like, "You know what, this is something that I learned and I would love to share that with people."K Torgersen: Well, one is kind of just a, I think if you, to those who are setting forth to start something or have an idea for something, it sounds so incredibly silly, but get your logo. Get a logo that you... Get, make it so you can see it. So you can see this thing that you're going to create. You can hold it. And I, one of the first things we did was we made business cards and it sounds, but it, it sounds so silly, but it was such a kind of talisman almost for making it, for kind of holding that and holding the inspiration in my pocket. Kind of my secret side hustle that I was working on. So that's one thing. And that I think the other thing is that you just have to make your brand contagious. The branding has to be, you have to love it, it has to move you, it has to make you feel really proud about what you're doing. And if it's not doing that, then I don't think it's hitting the mark. It should be a reflection of your pride in your endeavor.F Geyrhalter: I love everything you said, including the pun at the end with Hitting The Mark. So thank you for that. That is, no, that is absolutely correct. And I did hear you say somewhere else too that you advised founders to first do what they really love. So meaning, you're going to have, like with a baby, right? There are 40,000 things you can be doing, right? What is the thing that you actually really enjoy, master that. So if you actually come from marketing and if you actually enjoy that, and I'm sure that's why you're so driven behind the idea of first they came up with the name, then I created the logo, then I put it in the business card. And like all of this kind of like fueled you to keep going. Some others might really enjoy the idea of solving operations, which I know for a company like yours must've been a huge thing, right?K Torgersen: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: But, but everyone has their thing and whatever their thing is just to not get sidetracked but all the other 20,000 puzzle pieces that they need to put together. But just focus on one thing you really enjoy and do it first for your company because it's going to fuel you to keep going. And I think that's really wise and it's really important. And I love that you said that on another show. Listeners, many of whom will not happen to be in the stage of breastfeeding at this point or will ever get there. But many actually own their own businesses and I'm sure many fell in love with what you do. What would you like for them to be doing right this minute to support or benefit from your venture?K Torgersen: I just think, let's all together work to normalize breastfeeding. So if you see a woman breastfeeding in public... I think there's so much imposed shame with breastfeeding, unfortunately. And I think we all have to kind of check ourselves on that. So I just, my hope is that, that there's an understanding of how challenging that first year of parenthood is, especially from others. It's hard for dads too, for sure and partners as well. But for moms in particular, give that mom a high five because she is, if she's just had a baby and she's in the trenches and she's doing an incredibly important job. So I just think give credit where credit is due.F Geyrhalter: That's great. Yep, absolutely. And go to milkstork.comK Torgersen: I think the other thing is, yeah, if you are still working in a company and they are not offering family friendly benefits or they are looking to, every company should offer Milk Stork if they have traveling employees. Moms should never pay for Milk Stork when they're traveling for work. Never ever, ever. Their company should.F Geyrhalter: Kate, thank you so much for having been on the show. I think every listener and myself, we now know how busy obviously, your life is with numerous babies including Milk Stork. Thanks for having been on the show. I'm so lucky right now that I have had only female entrepreneurs and founders on the show for as long as I can think of. I think for the last like 10 or 15 episodes, it's so great. But we appreciate your time and your insights and I'm really excited to, no pun intended to see Milk Stork takeoff even more in the future.K Torgersen: Thank you so much. It's been a complete joy to be on.F Geyrhalter: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Learn more about Pit LiquorSupport the show – and get on monthly advisory calls with Fabian (in groups for both creatives as well as entrepreneurs) Full Transcript: E Feucht:                      For us, our brand reflects exactly who we are and that's really interesting because it feels a little bit vulnerable sometimes as we look at it and we're like, "Oh my gosh, this is us," but we're taking us and putting it out in the world and it's returning. And, it's pretty cool to watch that happen, and I guess I would encourage people to be present with their brand and to allow themselves to sit with their brand and let it reflect them, because I think our world has a lot of very polished things and I think people are inundated with it. F Geyrhalter:                 This was Erica Feucht, who in November of 2017 while pregnant with her first child, started in natural deodorant line, which is vodka- and whiskey-based, together with her husband Jason. The company's named Pit Liquor and I fell in love with the quirkiness of the founders and their soon to be brand. This is one of the few episodes of a company that is so young that it is hard to call them a brand yet, but I can bet you that I will have them back in a few years and that based on the brand philosophy, they're amazingly cool brand name, and their innovative product that they will turn into known and beloved brand within the year. And before we dive into the show, a quick thank you to my new creative brand mentorship circle members, Pierre Paolo Valletto from Turin, Italy, Donald Walker from Vancouver, I believe, and Carol Summers who I do not know where she is from. Join them and support this show by going to patrion.com/hittingthemark and we get to hang out on a monthly call. Here is my conversation with Erica and J Feucht. You guys are one of the few guests who I actually met in person prior to having them on the show. You were showcasing your unique product at a summit in San Francisco and I loved the name and on the spot, I actually invited you to be on Hitting the Mark. So welcome. E Feucht:                      Thank you. J Feucht:                       Thank you very much. E Feucht:                      It was very fun meeting you. F Geyrhalter:                 Thank you. Yeah, like likewise. You actually also gave me a sample of your natural deodorant, and since then I actually reordered it and am having my daily morning shot of whiskey and I'm loving it. E Feucht:                      Good, good. F Geyrhalter:                 How did you realize that you wanted to spend your life selling deodorant? How did this all come about? E Feucht:                      When we actually decided this, our families both laughed at us because it was so not in our wheelhouse, or not a natural fit for I guess the kind of people we are, because we're kind of, I don't know, whatever. Anyway. F Geyrhalter:                 Tell us, tell us. E Feucht:                      Do you want to tell? J Feucht:                       Yeah. So, Erica was pregnant with our daughter and she was using a regular traditional deodorant and would get cysts in her armpits and she would end up always unhappy with it, but natural deodorants didn't work. And so- E Feucht:                      And, they gave me rashes I have really sensitive armpits, which is an annoying but true. I have very strange armpits. F Geyrhalter:                 And you have the perfect armpits for this company. Right? You are the perfect test. E Feucht:                      I sure do. I sure am. J Feucht:                       So while that was going on, I asked her to stop using traditional deodorants- E Feucht:                      For the baby. J Feucht:                       For the baby. And she asked, she asked or challenged me to come up with something that worked that was natural. And so, I read medical textbooks on deodorant and underarms- E Feucht:                      Like any normal human would do. J Feucht:                       Right. And came up with a formulation that works. E Feucht:                      I ended up spraying hand sanitizer in my armpits one day, because I was just at the end of my rope and he kept pushing me. And, I was in the bathroom and hand sanitizer was physically in reach. So, I grabbed it and threw it on my pits and I was like, "There you happy?" And he goes, "Well, no, because that alcohol ..." he's a materials engineer. So he goes, "Well no, that alcohol is made from a petroleum base and it's not actually good for your body." And I was like, "I'm out, I don't care. You go ahead and read your books and find me something that's good." And then, he did. F Geyrhalter:                 And that's how it started. So, you had to invented it. When did the liquor become part of that, or have you already been so frustrated that there was always liquor next to you? E Feucht:                      There was always liquor next to us, but I was pregnant, so I was not imbibing and I asked J Feucht not to. F Geyrhalter:                 But well, that's why J Feucht did the research on the parenthesis. Right? E Feucht:                      Exactly. It's like I just can't handle being away from it, but no, he realized at the end of the day with the hand sanitizer, my armpits didn't stink and he was like, "Well, if that works, then we need to look it up for alcohol options." And it was seriously about the time that he said, "What about whiskey," that I just lost it. I was like, "I can't anymore with you." But then he stuck with it. He spent about a year literally reading every available medical textbook about it and doing all this research, and he was ordering weird herbs from all over the world, and teas and all this stuff. And then, he created this product and said ... and he used it on himself every day and he would ask me to smell one armpit and then the other, and which one smells better. And, I was pregnant so my nose works really well. And yeah, by the end, we had something really effective. And then, we mentioned it to friends just casually, because people talk about products that are not to their liking or whatever. And we were like, "Yeah, we came up with our own deodorant." And they would say, "No, let's try it." So we did. And then, they would tell their friends and then they would tell their friends, and we started giving away so much it got expensive and we thought, "Well either our friends are just really nice or it's a really good idea." So, we started a Facebook group and started giving it away and asking people for feedback, and they would respond that they liked it and change this one thing or this one thing happened. And so, we made changes based on feedback and then launched a Kickstarter, figuring it's a low risk way to figure out if there's a market for a product. I have no marketing experience, neither does J Feucht and I had a new baby at the time, so my brain was halfway gone anyway. And, I thought if we can do this then it's a good sign. And we ended up getting more than almost twice, I guess, almost twice of what we were looking for in funding, which we had absurd goals. So we at first thought, "Oh we failed." And then we were like, "Oh no, we got more money than we were looking for, which means there's ... and we don't know what we're doing. So that means there's a market and we just need to start working on this beast," and that was how we started a company. F Geyrhalter:                 And, you had the product pretty much finished at the time that you did the Kickstarter, right? Because you tested so much with friends. E Feucht:                      Yeah, yeah. And, we'd been giving it out online and asking people for feedback on the packaging. And also, you throw a glass bottle in the mail and ship it and see if it arrives. And if it doesn't, then you get a different one, and wrap it differently. F Geyrhalter:                 Those are obstacles as well. E Feucht:                      Yeah, and you don't know unless you try it. So, we would just throw it in the mail and be like, "Oh that didn't work or this did." F Geyrhalter:                 That's amazing. Are there any issues with alcohol being contained in the product. I guess not, right, because it's such a minimal amount of alcohol. Right? J Feucht:                       Well- E Feucht:                      No, it's actually quite a lot of alcohol percentage-wise and we just have to understand the rules around it, and make sure we're operating within them. Since there's no product like ours, we follow laws around three different products. So, there's the vanilla extract lobby that changed all the laws back in the 1920s. And during prohibition time, they lobbied to make sure that they could keep selling vanilla extract. And in order to do that, they had to make their product taste "bad" according to a panel of people's arbitrary opinions. So, we put bitter teas and roots in it and it tastes pretty bad. J Feucht:                       And salt. E Feucht:                      And salt, so it tastes pretty bad. So, it's legal for us to sell it to minors as a non-alcohol product on store shelves and things like that, in grocery stores. So, we overcome that hurdle and then we comply with shipping regulations in terms of zoning and all that kind of stuff. And, it helps a lot that that that first step is crossed. We are a denatured alcohol product, so it's not considered whiskey anymore. And then, what's the other one? There's another rule we follow. J Feucht:                       Well, there were shipping, which you already mentioned, but shipping alcohol can be a little bit complicated, and it's extremely expensive to ship outside of the United States, which has mostly to do with tax, because all of the other countries are worried that you're somehow going to not pay the alcohol taxes and yet drink alcohol anyway. And so, it just gets very complicated to ship anywhere other outside of the country. E Feucht:                      At this time. I'm sure as we grow, we'll get to the place where we're willing to take on those legal tasks. But at this point, we mostly ship in the US we also do Canada and Great Britain. But again, yeah, shipping there is crazy because they do view it as a liquor product. F Geyrhalter:                 And, that's pretty amazing because a lot of the startups that I work with, they all feel like they are disrupting a category. They're creating a category. And I'm like, no, you're not. You fit into a category and then see what you can do. Right. But, you actually really created a category. There has been no, especially the way that you market it with whiskey and vodka and it's not just containing alcohol. It's actually part of your brand. Is that, this must be easy to market to people once they understand the idea of, when we met, you very quickly told me that, "No Fabian, you're not going to smell like you just came from a rager. You're actually going to ..." You're not even going to smell it, right, because it quickly dissipates. But, how difficult is that? If you're on a store shelf, right, so, how is that journey to Whole Foods or Sprouts because of your product? E Feucht:                      So, it's an interesting one and we've been finding that, as the world of natural products has begun to evolve more and more, it has become easier for us to reach customers. So, even just during the time of running this company, the barriers to entry with customers has grown smaller because people are beginning to recognize that basically, anything that doesn't come from our natural environment isn't actually made for humans to work with physically. What natural actually means is from nature, so actually, things that were, that have grown in the environment that humans have been in for all the time that we've been here. So, if you think about that and you think about the comparison of a petroleum based product that is made, it's manufactured and manipulated to become something, versus a natural process like distillation that occurs with things that grow out of the ground, it resonates with people. People are reading the backs of packages and they're becoming intelligent. So, I feel like we've had a big uphill climb to educate our consumer, but we're also finding that they are educating themselves as well. And, the world is looking for things like this right now. So, it's equal parts. We still get the same old jokes, the, oh, the cops are going to pull me over. And you're sitting there thinking, how are they ever going to know you have whiskey in your car unless you're driving stupid, and why did you drink your deodorant? I don't know. So, we get that and that's probably the most common thing people say. And, it is one of the drawbacks of our branding. But, it's also totally unique. And, when people sit and think about it, they laugh. They have a little fun, sometimes at our expense and we're okay with that. And, they enjoy that and it sticks with them. F Geyrhalter:                 Well, and it's the drawback, but it's also what draws people in, right? It is what makes you special and interesting. But, it is most probably a little bit of a roadblock to go completely mainstream. But, that's just one day at a time. Your name is so great on so many levels. Let's talk about that name because when I first met you guys A, it was hilarious because literally I was, like I have been every five years or so, I go on this journey of, you know what? I think it's time again for me to find a natural deodorant that actually works. And, I started this journey literally I think three, four days before I met you guys up North. And, there were only a couple of stands of startups that were showcasing the products. And, I was just running toward you with open arms. I'm like, "Oh my God, I need something that works. Is yours going to work?" And then, and then I saw Pit Liquor, and I'm like, "Oh my God, this is hilarious." You've got to be on my show. And ever since then, I actually use your deodorant, which is such a crazy, crazy way of finding a natural deodorant that works for me, which doesn't mean it's going to work for everyone, but, it does work for me. And, I know it's a very personal journey and I'm not endorsing you as if you paid for it because you have not. But, going back to the name. So, when I first met you guys, I saw Pit Liquor and I just thought it was so great on so many levels. What went into the creation of that name? How did you guys come up with it? Was it a huge brainstorm or did it just happen overnight or how did that work? E Feucht:                      Well, yeah, it was a long process. J Feucht:                       The ultimate name was something that Erica came up with and we made a list of names that we liked, and we just kept adding to the list every time we thought of anything. And- E Feucht:                      Because we were like, "We're not going to say Pit Liquor." It came up pretty early and we were like, "That's so gross." There's so many problems with it. So, we kept trying to come up with something better and we would just keep coming back to it. So then we trialed it with other people, and we were like, "Hey, we're thinking of these five names or whatever." I can't even remember all of them, and Pit Liquor was one of them. And people were like, "I really don't like that one." And then, they'd write us back later and be like, "I really like that one." F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, that's fun. E Feucht:                      And, that's been our ongoing feedback, because people are like, "Oh I really ..." Some people laugh and they get it and they just laugh. And that's what we figured, is we're like, "Well we have a place in this world and we get to have an impact on people and we can be markety, or we can just make people laugh." If they laugh at us then they walk away. Laughter is good for your body. So, at least we did something good for them even if they didn't buy our product. And, just kept coming back to it and we're like, "We've got to just do this. It's the only thing that really fits. It's punchy. It's strange," and it we're really strange. So, we were like, "It works." The product is really strange. It's good. Nothing describes it better than Pit Liquor. F Geyrhalter:                 And, strange works, right? Because people are excited when they see something that's different. I had the founder of Liquid Death, which is water. It's actually literally water in a can, Liquid Death. I had him on my podcast and I just saw on his Instagram that they actually had a huge, police and fire drill because somewhere in Colorado someone received a six-pack or 12 pack of Liquid Death and they literally didn't, they thought this is explosive or this is a death threat. And so, they had all of these firetrucks come out the street to look at the package, but he's got his story. It's the idea that you have a name and you have something that is different from everyone else in the industry. But, on the flip side, with, with Pit Liquor, you also, when you go to Pitliquor.com, I believe it actually throws you over to your company website, which is Distilled Bath and Body. Now to me, distilled bath and body is that very neutral conservative kind of name that says it all versus the product name, which is Pit Liquor. How did the two of them relate? What is going on with these two brands? E Feucht:                      So basically, Pit Liquor, it's a little edgy. It's funny. It's meant to make people laugh, but we wanted to make sure that we had some flexibility, that if in the future we wanted to do something that was a little more comfortable, a little more mainstream, we didn't have to have something like Pit Liquor on the front of the bottle still. F Geyrhalter:                 And, that makes a lot of sense. E Feucht:                      Yeah. So, just for variety and I guess for a future opportunity. F Geyrhalter:                 But, just to dig into this a little more, you also offer olive oil soaps too. So, is that expansion away from the liquor focus? Is that a little dangerous because you've got distilled bath and body and everything is about, it's about that alcohol content. E Feucht:                      Yeah. See, we thought about that a lot and the soap is actually made by a local artisan. It's not made by us and it's the only thing we do that's not made by us, but we thought about it and thought the whole point of our product and our brand is that we will not ... I guess one of the main lines that we have is we will not deviate from using organic food grade ingredients. And, that's a very solid line for us in the sand. So, we believe that what goes on your body should be able to go in it. I don't know. J Feucht and I, we've listened to several of your episodes and have also looked at the branding for some really smart brands out there, and I've got to say we're not branding genius. We didn't come into this with a ton of branding experience and if I was to name our company again, I honestly might name it something different. I don't know. I don't know if that's okay to say. F Geyrhalter:                 No, of course. E Feucht:                      But, that's just very honest. F Geyrhalter:                 No of course. E Feucht:                      I might name it something different because I've wondered, we really like having alcohol in our deodorant and it makes it different. It makes it funny, but I've wondered if to really get down to the essence, to distill it, to be funny, if we could focus more on the food grade nature of our product is really what sets us apart in our market. Everything we do is something that, every ingredient is food grade and we think hard about the sourcing and we're really committed to being organic. So, I don't know, we've even thought most people don't recognize the company name and we may change it at some point just because that may fit better. I don't know. F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. Looking into the mirror ball, you have a seed round coming up, I think. We chatted about in the beginning a little bit offline, and you're still a very, very young company. I saw you guys and I saw Pit Liquor and I thought this was the most fun thing ever. Now I use the product. I got to have these people on the show. I think it is fantastic that you're still in this interim stage where you could easily change distilled bath and body. You could change the name to something that is more, that has more longevity for the company and Pit Liquor is one of your key products and it's really fun and it works for that product. But, you can have all kinds of other products. So there's still a lot of brand thoughts that can happen over the years, which is great. Then hopefully, you will get your seed round quickly and you can make that happen. But, on the flip side, I think it is so extremely important that founders have their own voice. And I think, with all these names and with your tagline, quench your stench, which is also so hilarious, it really comes out that this is personal and the copy overall is very fun and engaging. There was an insta post about your history, which of course I was drawn to in preparation for the podcast and you wrote in it, so we started researching the steps we'd need to take to turn this into something more than a couple of people mixing pit drinks at home. And, I just think mixing pit drinks is just, is this all spur of the moment or does it involve team brainstorms when you come up with pieces like that? Is it really just you guys just writing? E Feucht:                      It's just us writing. So, my previous life I was an editor and a writer so I've got this quirky side to myself where I like to, I don't know, word riff. We have two employees as well and they're like that too, especially the girl who runs our social, because I'm not a gifted photographer, not by any stretch. F Geyrhalter:                 So that's interesting, because that would've been my ... given the small nature of your company right now or brand as I would like to call it, because I really think it is turning into a brand at this point. I was looking over your company profile and who's working there and I did see someone being in charge of social media and I was wondering, well how does this work if there's this copy that, if it's only Erica writing, how is it possible that ... but you just really tried to find these verbal soulmates I guess to make this happen. E Feucht:                      Yeah. F Geyrhalter:                 You don't have standards yet, right? I mean, you don't have a big brand book or any standards. It's just like, look, this is who we are. This is how we feel. Do you feel like it? Well let's do this. Right? E Feucht:                      Yeah, we do that and I have some experience with creating linguistics standards because of my experience in editing. That's probably one of my strongest areas in terms of creating continuity is verbal because of my past. So, we do sit down and talk about, we're going to talk about things with this language and we're not going to talk about it with this language. This is funny, but every time we hire someone, which we've hired more than two people, we've just had people leave and come and go. It's been great, but yeah, two people's right where we're at right now. When we hire, we ask people, "Hey, do you like puns?" We like to ask a lot of questions that throw people off. And that's one of our questions is do you like puns. And, it's a no win question because J Feucht loves puns and I do not. And so, either way you're fine. And either way, one of us is going to be like, "Oh bummer." So one of our employees loves puns and the other one doesn't. And so, you can tell, if you get to know who we are, you can tell who's writing what. But, we are fairly similar and when I send out emails, we do get together and talk about our content that we're going to try to focus on weekly. And when I send emails then, my employees tend to pull language from my emails and from the communication I do and put it into what they say. So, we do have some continuity but it's mostly because our employees are just ragingly awesome and they work hard to try to keep things streamlined. F Geyrhalter:                 That's great. I know I also read that you gave away tons of free product in the beginning in exchange for honest feedback or for reviews, which is such a smart move in the consumer product space to do as a bootstrap company. Did you ever go against your early customer insights or comments, and did it totally get to move solely based on the instinct where you thought, "Okay well they say, A, but we're going to give you B?" E Feucht:                      Yes. When we did our review of our name actually of Pit Liquor, it was one of those things where a lot of people ... it was pretty split and people were like, "I don't like it." And, other people really liked it and we just went with our gut on it. I'm trying to think of other things. F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, because you could have gotten rounds and rounds of naming after that and said, "Well since they're split split, you know we're not going to get to go with the name." Yeah. E Feucht:                      Right. And, I was like, no, it rings. One of the things that led us to our name interestingly was we like to listen to people who are a lot smarter than us. So, we listened to things that Sarah Blakely has to say, Sarah Blakely of Spanx. And one of the things she said is, she has that K sound in her name because people respond to it and they find it ... it's little edgy and it's funny and people tend to really like names that have a K sound. So, we thought Pit Liquor. It's good. And then also, quench your stench starts with a K sound, even though it's a Q. So, we just went with it and we were like, "Yep, this seems good." So, we actually went against our friends' and fans' advice on that, which was interesting. And then also, we had a lot of people who were like, "You should be more subtle with the alcohol." And we didn't. We were just like, "No, it's part of what makes us who we are." And, we had a lot of people who said we shouldn't package in glass because it's going to break, but we have very strong feelings about plastic. And, we figured out how to ship glass and it does just fine. So honestly, the breakage rates on the glass aren't any different than they would be with plastic, though people really worry about it. F Geyrhalter:                 Interesting. E Feucht:                      So I guess, yeah, we've gone against a fair bit of the feedback, but generally, only when people, when it comes up against something that we feel like we know better. We tried out, oh, what was it? Absinthe. When we first did deodorant, it was one of the things because it smelled so cool and we had one of our testers, only one, but one person who had ... she couldn't determine if it was the deodorant or what, but gave her a pretty good adverse reaction. And we were like, "If there's any risk of it causing this, we're just not going to do it." So we did not do absinthe. So, there've been a lot of things that we have really changed based on people's feedback, but a couple things that we thought, "We know this and we're going to stick with our gut." F Geyrhalter:                 But, do you know, that's something that I learned from all of my guests, is that the ones that don't look at data or feedback they lose, and the ones that's solely focused on data and feedback, they lose as well. Right. You have to really, you have to pick and choose and data can be wrong too, because data is just inputs by people, right? It's whoever created the algorithm, so no, I- E Feucht:                      You can read data so many ways and you've got to know what your brand is and know what you're trying to do in order to go forward. F Geyrhalter:                 Right. And for you, it makes it a lot of sense that you, once there is a rash or there's a negative skin reaction, like with the absinthe, then of course you say no, because that was the whole reason you started the company. Even for you to find a work around was not worth it. You're like, "No, this is one of our fundamental reasons why we exist." Right. E Feucht:                      Yeah, exactly. There's a no compromise zone and so you just don't compromise on it. F Geyrhalter:                 Totally. Totally. And, even though you're early in your company, you're up and running, you're shipping, you're having super fans, everything is growing. What does branding mean to you at this point? Because everything that you've done branding wise, it sounds like has been very much friends and family and bootstrapped yourself and just getting it out there. But, what does it mean for you or what will it mean for you in the future? How would you describe branding? E Feucht:                      So we're actually, this is a really good time to be talking to you, because we're digging deep into our branding right now and looking at what are we and what are we not? And, we're trying to break it down because I feel, like you said, we've bootstrapped everything. We've worked with people we know for our design and with all that work. And that's been good. It's been really good. But going forward, I feel like we need something that we don't have and that's that person who sees branding in a light that goes beyond what we can understand because we're not branding X t-shirts. So, we're in a place of examining our branding right now and trying to figure out where exactly it's going. Because we're currently towing two lines. We've got this natural, holistic really earth friendly, body friendly vibe and then we've got this I'm going to slap you in the face with Pit Liquor. Yeah, exactly. And, it's very hard to stand out with that as I've heard you talk to other people about, because everyone's doing it. And so, we're trying to figure that exact leap out right now. F Geyrhalter:                 Well, exciting. E Feucht:                      Branding is an evolving state for us right now and we're looking at it and figuring out what our strong points are and what our weak points are and being pretty critical with ourselves, which is a fun thing. F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, no, it's absolutely fun. And, I guess that that takes me to a question which will be very difficult for you to answer, but maybe it will also help you define your brand a little bit more. I don't know if you have time to give this a little bit of thought, but you know what's coming. The one word that can describe your brand. E Feucht:                      I have been thinking about it. F Geyrhalter:                 I think sometimes it really helps my founders on the podcast to actually really have to do that exercise because it is the only thing that's more of an exercise that I give up front. But what is your brand DNA? E Feucht:                      And it's a really good question. I think that we're quirky and we're okay with it. F Geyrhalter:                 That's great. E Feucht:                      We don't need to make sense. We don't need people to feel like ... it's okay when people come up to us and go, "Liquor? Isn't that abrasive?" We're okay with sitting here and being like, this is two opposing things that are sitting in the same room as each other and they work. And you customer, are going to have to jump through those hoops in order to work with it. And, people want to because they look at it and they enjoy the playful tone. They enjoy that it doesn't all make sense to them and they enjoy the work, I guess, that we put them through as we go Pit Liquor and natural, healthy and also weird. And so we're quirky. I think that's probably- F Geyrhalter:                 Quirkiness, I really like that for a lot of reasons because A, it's very ownable because no one really thinks like that as a company. And, that's always the big danger when you start to go more into real branding, right, that it should never ever lose that. It can't get corporate. It can't become like everyone else. Right. That's the important thing that you never ... and Steve Jobs said that very famously, that idea that you got to stay, you say I've got to stay foolish. So, you got to keep that idea of the quirkiness going. And it's true, even the idea of putting whiskey into a deodorant, it's quirky. It's weird. It's different. It's fun, but yet it is totally scientific and it took a year or plus, and lots of tests and it's something that is actually very serious because it does create skin reactions. We all know about deodorants and the stuff that's in there. And, that's why I think everyone is seeking a solution to that. So, on the one hand, the quirkiness can take away from the seriousness of the actual product. But, you're a couple, your startup is still relatively young, but what would it be one piece of brand advice for founders? Kind of as a little takeaway from this. Have you ... you learned most probably 4,798 or so lessons along the last two plus years. But, is there something that you feel like that you would like to share where you think this would be with any brands, don't do this or do this. E Feucht:                      I guess, and I guess I'm new in terms of, this is all ... I'm not a branding expert, so I'm going to throw that out there. I know I've said it a few times, but- F Geyrhalter:                 Are you self-conscious on my podcast? E Feucht:                      No, maybe. I think the thing that's risen to the top for us a lot, is that we look at ourselves and we continue to realize how much for us, our brand reflects exactly who we are. And, that's a really interesting thing because it feels a little bit vulnerable sometimes as we look at it and we're like, "Oh my gosh, this is us," but we're taking us and putting it out in the world and it's returning. And it's pretty cool to watch that happen. And, I guess I would encourage people to be present with their brand and to allow themselves to sit with their brand and let it reflect them, because I think our world has a lot of very polished things and I think people are inundated with it. And, I think people are tired of looking at really polished things. And, I think something that hiccups or does something strange or looks a little human or looks a little more, I don't know, it makes people stop. That's a human element and I think being yourself within your branding is a really big deal because you're not going to sit there and go, "I don't know, did we depart from our branding? Did we not?" If you're doing something that really is you, it's to resonate. I don't know. That's what I would say to people, and it's the thing that surprised me. F Geyrhalter:                 No, it is so true and that's why I don't have branding experts on my podcast. I have founders, and founders are in different stages and they have different backgrounds. Some of them are very, very brand centric and they bring lots of experience onto the job. Some of them have been with the company for 10 plus years and they know, or some have pivoted and learned a hard time, but all of them, literally all of them say exactly what you just said, which I hear from everyone, the idea of being true to yourself and that if you really enjoy what you do, people are going to feel that. And that's true. It's true from an intern who enters a Fortune 500 company, and that's true from a product that you buy for the first time and you read the copy and you start understanding the brand. Then, you go to the Instagram page, and I think the idea of polished that you talked about this a little bit. Polished very often feels fake and really the best brands are as far from fake as possible. Real true brands that people fall in love with. E Feucht:                      That's clunky. F Geyrhalter:                 Exactly. They're personable and if you're too polished, it's not very personable. It takes a long time to become personable with something that's polished. So, I hope that you will keep this along your branding journey and you're not being pushed too much into a corner when you expand because that is the big problem. As you expand the brand, and you start suddenly having a hundred people work for you and your product is in every single Whole Foods and Sprouts and God knows where, then at some point, keeping that culture alive ... and Tony Hsiegh of Zappos did such a good job with that, keeping that awkwardness and that fun alive is, I think, going to turn more and more into your number one goal over the next year, far away from product development. E Feucht:                      I think you're right. Even just with the growth we've had, we've had to be very conscious about trying to continue to keep real people present in what's going on. And, it does get harder when you get bigger. Yeah, I think you're right. F Geyrhalter:                 And so, the final question, spray on or roll on deodorant. Is it a personal preference or rather different benefits? E Feucht:                      Well, how gross are you willing to be on your podcast? All right. F Geyrhalter:                 You know what? Let's go for it. Let's go for it. This is going to be rated differently, this one episode. E Feucht:                      Excellent. Because we're going to talk about armpits and armpits make people really uncomfortable. It's funny, but they really do. F Geyrhalter:                 I feel like I'm starting to sweat currently. E Feucht:                      We found that people don't like [crosstalk] armpits. Okay, good. Yay. Okay, so this is personal about me. If you want to talk about real, we'll get real. So, I have really strange armpits and I have this amazing ability to make the deodorant bottle, the roll-on bottle smell like my armpit. I don't have really, really foul armpits, but they're just really strong I guess. And so, I prefer the spray because it's hygienic and you're not touching your armpit with the same thing every day. And so, when I get to the end of the bottle, it doesn't stink. And then I also, I have this other fun quirk with my armpits and I'm unusual. We get this feedback from customers very rarely. We tested it on a bunch of people and we couldn't even find people who could replicate what happens to me. So, they didn't make the deodorant bottle stink. And then, I also put lint into the bottle and I don't know how I do it because I shower and then I put on my deodorant. But by the end of the bottle, I've got the ball of lint in there and it looks really gross. So, I know this is super gross, but I really prefer the spray. But, we have people who really prefer a roll on application because they're much more used to that feeling of putting their deodorant on physically with an application. So, I'd say it's up to you. Do you have long- F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. It's more about the stimulation, right? Yeah. E Feucht:                      Yeah, it's personal preference. Yes. So, if you have strange armpits like me and they make [inaudible] and you get your bottle and you get to the end and it stinks, let us know. We'll give you a refund and you guys can use spray from then on. F Geyrhalter:                 And, that is the part of Hitting the Mark that is the TMI part. No, I was just interested, because you have both products and they're exactly the identical product. And, I'm just wondering, is there something that actually is ... are there real different benefits, but I think to different people, there are different benefits, just by the way that they waited to use them, but otherwise it stays on the same way. It has the same duration. It's the same thing. And that's what's important. So- E Feucht:                      Exactly. We put it in gyms and at yoga studios and we give them the spray because you don't want to use somebody else's roller bottles. So there's, yeah. F Geyrhalter:                 That's an easy decision to be made. E Feucht:                      It just varies depending on the customer. F Geyrhalter:                 Yes, exactly. E Feucht:                      Yes. We're no longer in the TMI zone. F Geyrhalter:                 Exactly. We have exited. So, listeners who fell in love with Pit Liquor, and quite frankly, how could you not? I did so, for sure. Where can they get their pits drunk, I guess? Where- E Feucht:                      So, get your stanch quenched at, you can go to distilledbathandbody.com or pitliquor.com. Just spell liquor with a Q U, not a C K. You don't actually have to lick your pits, and if you are local to us in Colorado you can also buy it at Lucky's Market in Fort Collins or at the food co op and we are working on expanding, Oh, since this podcast goes live this Friday, we're going to be on Nordstrom's HauteLook and that's a big discount channel that Nordstrom runs. F Geyrhalter:                 Oh cool. E Feucht:                      So, if they're wanting to buy that over the weekend, we've got a big sale going on with Nordstrom. So, head to their HauteLook section and buy us there. F Geyrhalter:                 Perfect, perfect plug that people will definitely appreciate. And from my end, I wish you so much fun with your branding moving into the next 12 months or so. I think things will adjust, things will mature and I would love to have you be a guest that comes back in maybe a year, year and a half when maybe the brand is mature and it's very different and we look back of what happened in between. E Feucht:                      Yeah, I think that'd be really cool. I think there's going to be a lot of change in the next year. F Geyrhalter:                 Awesome. This is really exciting. Well, thank you, Erica, and say thank you to Jason who I know had to drop off because your little one needed some TLCs? E Feucht:                      She did. Yeah. I will say that to him as well. Thank you, Fabian. This is so awesome. F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. I loved having you on and we are talking at some point in the future. E Feucht:                      All right, sounds good. Talk to you then. F Geyrhalter:                 Perfect. Thank you. This was Erica and a few minutes of her husband Jason Feucht. It is this diversity in founders and venture capitalists on my show that gets me so excited to record a new episode every two weeks. If you share my enthusiasm, and if you gain valuable entrepreneurial skills and brand strategy knowledge out of my show, please consider becoming a patron with a monthly support of as low as $5.95 just to keep this show going. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by the one and only, the amazing the producer duo that I can luckily call myself one half of, Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting the Mark.
Learn more about RelishSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show, Lesley.L Eccles: Hi Fabian, it's great to be here.F Geyrhalter: Oh, absolutely. Thanks for being here. It goes without saying that it is a huge honor for me to have you on this very brand-centric show and since this episode is airing right after New Year's it is also very fitting for some of our listeners who want to improve their relationships this year. But for some background, you built FanDuel together with your husband into the first billion dollar sports startup since ESPN. You were the co-founder and you led marketing and at some point FanDuel was the biggest ad spender in the world. But today we'll talk about Relish, a couple's therapy app, your new startup that is in a very different sector. Now, it would seem like a strange departure but FanDuel was not only a perfect unicorn, it also had huge issues, right? We're talking all the way to widely-publicized FBI investigations, right? I mean, this must have been living hell for an entrepreneur but coupled with you running the company together with your husband, I am sure that the relationship was also put to a test during that time. Was that the inspiration, the driving force behind, and potentially the beginning of Relish?L Eccles: Yeah, absolutely. Fabian. We spent almost 10 years building FanDuel from the ground up, and as you rightly said, we went through a lot of ups and downs as any startup does, but come 2015 it became a bit of a legal situation where we'd gotten into a competitive battle with DraftKings, our number one competitor, and between us we spent over a half a billion dollars on advertising over just a few months. And there's actually a book been written about the whole story. I don't know if you've read it.F Geyrhalter: Oh, I have not, but now I will.L Eccles: Oh, okay. It's called The Billion Dollar Fantasy. It's on Amazon if you want to download it. It was written by a guy from Sports Illustrated, a journalist from Sports Illustrated. And it does a good job at telling that whole story of the ups and downs that we faced while we built FanDuel. And you're really spot-on with your observation that it was a tough 10 years, followed by all the founders left the company at the end of 2017. And when we came out of the business it gave us all time to reflect on what had just happened. It had been 10 years of running almost like a marathon every day, and that's really what it felt like, this gigantic effort over a long period of time. And it gave us a moment to reflect the fall, winter of 2017 on what is success and what does it mean for us, and what have we taken away from those 10 years of building FanDuel. And for me the big thing that that period of reflection taught me was the reason that we did this was not to make money. It was not to be a successful entrepreneur in inverted commas. It was really about the journey, the making something that changed the world. That was really what drove us every day. If the only reason you were building a company was to be rich someday, that's not enough to get you out of bed every morning. You need to really believe in what you're doing and want to serve your customers day in and day out. And that was what really drove us. But what you find when you're going through a battle like we did, and by battle I mean every day turning up and trying to figure out how to build this business, what you discover is that you build these relationships with your co-founders, with your employees, with your team members, with your suppliers, the agencies you're working with. And those relationships are for life. And that was when kept us all sane as we went through all those ups and downs. And it's interesting you mentioned building it with my husband. A lot of people have said to me, "Wow, I could never work with my husband and certainly couldn't do a startup like FanDuel. How did that work? And how come you're not divorced?" And it wasn't easy, it wasn't all a walk in the park. We had our ups and downs. We're a normal couple. We've been together for a long time. We've read a lot of self-help books over the years, and what I found was oftentimes they would sit on my bedside table and I just never found the time to wade through all of these books. And whenever I did eventually manage to pick them up, what I would find is there may be one or two chapters that were relevant to me in my particular situation. And I wondered if there was a way that we could use technology to almost replicate the experience that you would have if you went to a relationship coach, or if you went to a therapist, where they ask you questions about yourself and you tell the coach who you are, you talk about your insecurities or your personality, the challenges that you're facing, what you like to do, what you don't like to do, and that coach develops a really deep understanding of who you are and can help you work through whatever the issues are that you're dealing with at that point in time. That was the inspiration behind the start of Relish.F Geyrhalter: And you also carried the gamification aspect over from FanDuel, right, for Relish? That's something that seems to be similar.L Eccles: Yeah. Well, I mean, gamification is a funny beast. I think relationships are such an important thing, and I'm very conscious of how precious they are. I'm using a little gamification, but you have to be really careful with it, because even the best relationships are fragile. It doesn't take much to put you off kilter. So we're taking this very responsible approach to relationships, which I'm not sure has been really done before in the technology space. And obviously with my background in FanDuel and gaming, I have a good understanding of what those mechanics can do, but we have to use it responsibly.F Geyrhalter: Right. That makes a lot of sense. And given the time that you had at FanDuel, like building this ginormous company and then basically losing it all overnight in a way, what are some other marketing and branding lessons that you learned over these times that have helped you in building this new much leaner brand?L Eccles: I don't really think of that way, to be honest with you, Fabian. When we started building Relish about a year and a half ago, my first thought was I want this brand to be universal. So with FanDuel it was very much a US product, it was all about, you know, fantasy sports doesn't really work outside the US. And it was for men, 95% of our users were men, 25 to 45, and those were the parameters that we were working in for FanDuel. With Relish, it's so much more universally applicable because relationships are everywhere, and when we first started I thought, do you know what, the key to this is the female. And the female will sell into her partner. But what I very quickly discovered was that that's not true at all. We have 40% of our subscribers are men, and these are not men whose partner has asked them to sign up. These are men who have signed up themselves proactively. So when we started, it was very important to us to be as inclusive as possible with our brand. And that was one of the reasons behind the name Relish. It's non-gender-specific, it's non-relationship-specific, it's really about embracing life and making the most of the life that you have, because it's very short.F Geyrhalter: Really like that. Yeah, and I really like the name. And I'm wondering, it sounds like you were adjusting the brand narrative a little bit, right, after realizing who actually really is signing up. And that must have been a time of brand discovery, really, for you.L Eccles: Yes.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. How long did this take? Or was it a lot of like trial, or how did you find out?L Eccles: We found out very, very quickly, to be honest with you, Fabian. Within a month of starting we realized this is not about the female. This is about all couples. We have a good percentage of non-binary users, we have LGBTQI users. That was really important from us. So we're very careful with when you sign up for Relish you are given the opportunity to say what pronoun you want to use for your partner. We offer he, she, they, whatever you want. So it's all personalized to the relationship that you're in. We make no judgments on stereotypical heteronormative couples. That was really, really important for us from a branding perspective as well.F Geyrhalter: And with this brand, when did you start to actively invest in branding? Obviously you've done it before, but it seems to me that Relish is all about gaining trust, right? And branding must have been crucial in achieving that. And not branding as in the logo and the colors, I mean, that too, but really like the language that you use and all of that. Like, when did you start to invest in that, and how did you do it? I mean, was it more bootstrapped internally or-L Eccles: Yeah, we did everything internally. We were bootstrapped for the first six to nine months. And I think for me it's very easy to overthink branding. It's really about what emotional response do you want to elicit from not just your users but also people who come across your brand or come across your product. And it really comes down to being authentic. And really thinking about what is your customer feeling before they come across your product, what is the experience when they find your product, and how do they feel after they've used it? And thinking about when we started, it was relatively easy for me to understand that because I'm a potential customer of Relish. When I think back to FanDuel I wasn't a potential customer of FanDuel at all. So it was a lot harder to understand the consumer angle with FanDuel, so that involved a lot more customer interviews and building that up from scratch, whereas this time around it was a lot faster and we were able to get that off the ground very quickly.F Geyrhalter: So I really like what you just said, and branding can absolutely be a process of overthinking, something that often very much in front of you, right? Which is the customer or the client or the member or whoever it is, right. But really, putting yourself in... and there's this word that is so overused right now in marketing and branding, but it's empathy, right? And in a way it is all about empathy. It's you putting yourself in the shoes of that person. And like you so perfectly said, it's like the before, in the middle and the after, right, of that interaction with your brand. And that is a fantastic way of putting branding, because it really is the customer journey. Because I mean that experience is your brand. I mean, we can do everything to create, to add to that beautiful experience, through colors and through language, but there's so much more to it that creates that. I really like that. And on the Relish website, you state, and I'm going to quote, "Life isn't about money, or career or the number of likes we get. Relationships, that's what really matters, with our partner, our kids, our parents, friends and colleagues." How does this brand language and theme affect your company culture? I think it's really interesting, right, because we might have all heard the story of the luggage startup darling, Away, who I also cited in my latest book, and it turned out that they have a company culture that was an extreme opposite of the actual brand values in the story that they promoted to the outside world, and that was a big story in business. How are you crafting a culture based on that brand mantra of positive relationships?L Eccles: Yeah, that's a great question. And when we kicked off with our very small team this time last year, we sat down as a company and there were a half a dozen of us. And we said, "Okay, what are our values?" And the number one value on our list was do the right thing. And for me, the most important thing is that we trust each other. I have seen what happens when trust breaks down, and it's not pleasant. So number one, for all of us within Relish is we trust each other that we're going to do the right thing, for the company, for each other, for our customers, for our investors, and that becomes even more important when you're working remotely. So my product and engineering team is based in Scotland which is where I'm originally from and where we built FanDuel from. And the rest of us are here in New York. So when you're working remotely like that, trusting... like something can go wrong. Suddenly, I don't know, there's a release that you've done and something's broken or users are complaining about something, you have to trust that everyone is working as hard as they can and putting their best effort into things. If you don't, then as we saw in Away trouble starts to appear. And that trust has to come from the very top, from the investors all the way down. And I really believe that we're building a culture that's reflective of our product. Being kind to each other is really what it comes down to. And I'm quite proud of what we're doing, so far. You know, it's one of these things you can't become complacent. You have to keep nurturing it, day in and day out.F Geyrhalter: And talking about branding and culture, I mean, to me, branding is so secondary to company culture. If the company culture is not perfect, then all the branding, as we again saw with that story with Away, all the branding doesn't do anything. And it's a challenge that I run into when I work with my clients where we identify the values together as a team, meaning the VP team of the company and myself, and then to make sure that those are actually then intrinsically being lived up to by everyone.L Eccles: Lived up to, yes.F Geyrhalter: And it's very, very difficult to ensure that because I'm the consultant that comes in, right, and I do my thing, and then I trust that the founders will then actually proactively infuse those values. But what are some ways that you learned over your unbelievably amazing entrepreneurial journey so far, that you feel you can actually instill values, rather than just define them? Because what you just said is fantastic, right, and it's all about trust and it's about doing the right thing. But how do you make sure that people really live up to that?L Eccles: It's really about what you do day in and day out, and what you see around you. As a CEO if people see me not living up to our values, they'll think, well, that's fine, I don't need to live up to them either. So, that's number one. And number two is if there are people who are clearly not living up to the values, then you have that conversation and you have it early and you try to understand why. And if there is a reason for it, then you try to reset the course that's happening. But if it's impossible for this person to live up to the values of the company, then you have to have that conversation as well. And you have to have it early and give them a chance to change, reset course. And if it's not possible then we have to figure that out, and move on. And it doesn't take much, particularly when you're relatively small. You know, it is one bad apple ruins the whole barrel, it's the true saying. So just being cognizant of that culture as being really important to the health of your overall business is a huge thing for me.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. I could not agree more. And I mean, it's been proven over and over and over again. And when I work on values with my clients I always say, "This is not just for your internal culture. This is to advise potential employees of what you really stand for, so that they can say, 'Yes, I totally believe in these values and I think that I can actually showcase them.'" Or if they feel not confident in some of those, then maybe it is not the right fit, right? And this is so important to find out sooner rather than later, like you mentioned.L Eccles: I think with this startup, for people who haven't worked in one before, working in a startup is really a journey of discovery about yourself, and of about the people that you're working with. And Relish is pretty similar to that as well. I feel like our brand is really about holding your hand and taking you on this journey where you're going to discover a lot about yourself and you're going to discover a lot about your partner, and we're going to be there to support you. And that's what I feel our startup journey with Relish has been so far. It's, okay, a lot of my team have never worked for an early, early stage startup before, and that's an experience that doesn't necessarily come along often, and it's quite a unique experience. So helping them understand what's normal and reflecting back to the early days of FanDuel and how difficult it was in the early days and how much harder that was than what we're doing today, has been an important learning experience for all of us as well.F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely. And I really like that parallel of this journey of emotional ups and downs that everyone within a startup goes through, not just the entrepreneur and the founder and co-founder, and how this is really so symmetrical to what people go through when they sign up for Relish, because they are in this journey of emotional ups and downs. So it is kind of interesting how there's this energy between the company's journey and the journey of those who actually sign up.L Eccles: Yep, yep.F Geyrhalter: Did you ever go against any of your early customer data? Because I know you must be a big believer in data, given your background with FanDuel. And did you do a gutsy move where you basically just, you know, you looked at the data and you said, okay, the data says we should go this way, but you did a totally different move, solely based on your instinct, especially since this is a very emotional business that you're in right now.L Eccles: Well, it's funny. This is not exactly what you're asking, but I'll tell you a funny story. We had data about our customers and their level of education. And what we discovered was that our data was telling us our users are mainly, that we had a lot of high school dropouts in our user set here. And they've done some college, they're not overly educated. And so I was talking with my content team and I was saying, "We need to really use very simple language, keep everything as simple as we can, and if there's an opportunity to say obtain then we should swap in get."F Geyrhalter: How interesting.L Eccles: You know, just keep it as simple as we can, to make sure that this is as broadly appealing as possible. And then, I did a lot of... I'm always talking to customers, and I don't know, a year ago or so I was on the phone with a professor from a university who was one of our users, and I suddenly thought, hang on, let me just check her profile. And I looked, and sure enough, she was a high school dropout in our database.F Geyrhalter: Oh my god! That's hilarious.L Eccles: So I got on the phone with my lead engineer and I said, "Can you just check that we have this data right?"F Geyrhalter: There might be a problem.L Eccles: And he looked, he said, "Oh, flip everything on its head."F Geyrhalter: Oh my god. Yeah, talking about data, right? Unbelievable.L Eccles: So yeah, what it turned out is our users are actually really well-educated, and they also appreciate having very simple activities to do, and they enjoy that. So we've been able to add in a few more difficult concepts to grasp, but on the whole, our users liked what we'd done, and so in the whole we've kept it as simple as we can, and just by our data being upside down for that particular metric we ended up in a good place.F Geyrhalter: No, absolutely, because simplicity is so important for everything, right? So it's kind of great that you had to on the parenthesis dumb it down from the beginning and then now you can add a layer of sophistication to at least the brand language. And that's a great story. So when you say that you connect a lot with your users, how do you usually go about that? I mean, a lot of startup founders have that same problem, where they're separated from the audience, just like you were when you were running FanDuel, right? Because you are not the audience. But now it seems like it's so much easier because it's emotional and you can be the nurturing CEO. How do you do that, though? Do you just reach out to random clients and say, "Hey, I'm here for you and if you want to chat?"L Eccles: Yeah. Well, we do it every month or so, we as a company decide what it is we'll be talking to customers about. But I also do customer support. I'm constantly exchanging emails or text messages with users, and it means that I have my finger on the pulse of what they're saying. And I think the experience that we had at FanDuel was a really strong grounding for that discipline. We were forced to talk to users. I couldn't just go to my brother or my father or my uncle or cousin or whatever. I had to reach out to people who played fantasy football. I was in Scotland. I'm Scottish. All of my co-founders were from Britain as well, and so we had to take that approach where we advertised on Craigslist or Facebook for people who were into fantasy football, and "Can I chat to you on the phone for 15 or 20 minutes to try and understand what your pain points are?" So that was a good grounding for just constantly talking to users and understanding what they need and how we can improve our product.F Geyrhalter: It is so important, and I hope that a lot of founders learn from that. I work a lot, or I mentor a lot of early stage startups, and especially in Silicon Valley everyone is product, product, feature, feature, and I'm like, "Look, if you're developing an app, you have to be where these people are. You can't just sit here adding another feature and you think that's important." If you're developing an app for toddlers, you have to be with toddlers. You have to be with their moms and you have to understand that, right? So it's so crucial, and I love that you actually do customer support. I know that's not scalable, but that idea that if it's ingrained now, that you keep doing this every now and then, I think it is something that every Fortune 500 CEO should be forced to doing once a month.L Eccles: And I think besides anything else, it's important for the team to see that you've rolled your sleeves up and you're getting on with it.F Geyrhalter: Oh, absolutely. It works 360, yeah.L Eccles: There are no crutches.F Geyrhalter: No, absolutely.L Eccles: And we're growing pretty quickly at the moment so we're always stretched, from a customer support angle, and so I'm the first one, I'm on the front line just saying, "Don't worry, I'm going to step in and help out to make sure that we keep up with demand here."F Geyrhalter: And we talked a lot about branding and the deeper meaning of it, which really is the narrative and what you stand for and the feeling. I always like to ask my guests, and funny enough you talked about simplification and bringing everything to that point as clear and as simply as possible. If you could describe your brand, or if you could use one word to that would be kind of like that overarching word that really describes the DNA of the brand, what would it be? I give examples like Coca-Cola wants to stand for happiness, and Everlane, it's all about radical transparency. What's a word for Relish that you feel would really describe it nicely from the inside and out?L Eccles: That's a great question. I think-F Geyrhalter: And it may be too early.L Eccles: No. I actually said something that was part of the process behind building Relish was this idea of empowerment. So if you think about our users before they find Relish, they are feeling perhaps lost, perhaps a little dissatisfied, perhaps a little flat, perhaps just not content with what they have. And often what will happen in those situations is that feeling of discontentment or dissatisfaction will grow over time. And by the time people get to the point where they're willing and able to go to therapy, they've left it too late. So the idea behind Relish is really about an early intervention where we're empowering you as an individual. You don't have to rely on bringing your partner along with you if you feel like they're not ready for it. We're empowering you as an individual to take this relationship into your own hands and through making changes to the way you show up in the relationship, the way you perceive things, the way you relate to your partner, the way you react to your partner, you can make an impact on the relationship. So it's that sense of I'm feeling a loss, here is a product and a brand that will empower me to impact change, without needing anyone else to be involved if they're unwilling.F Geyrhalter: I really like that. And it's great to understand that pre or instead of therapy kind of intervention, and I love how empowerment works so well for everyone within the team, right? Talking about building culture, that you work for an organization and that goes back to what you said in the beginning, you wanted to now build a brand that actually has deeper meaning, where you can actually really change people's lives, and having empowerment be that kind of overarching brand DNA, that even for the customer is exactly what they need in their life to be empowered again, to make a change, to be who they want to be, or to change accordingly. I think it's wonderful. As a site note, I was just in Geneva a couple of weeks ago and I worked with a client there, and at the very end of our one-day session, I have these grueling eight-hour sessions, and at the very end of that session we identified that their brand DNA is also empowerment. And they were so excited about it. And then a couple days later they're like, "So how do we translate that into German and in French?" And it is so interesting, Lesley, that you cannot. Empowerment is this strange word that works so well in the English language, and it's just impossible to translate into so many other languages. And it's kind of amazing, right, because it feels like it is such an important word, that we were just completely stunned by that. But no, it's a great brand DNA to have. When FanDuel was acquired for I believe $465 million, you and your husband left empty handed which is unbelievable, to me less than to you I'm sure, but you have experienced pretty much the highest highs and the lowest imaginable lows that an entrepreneur can experience. What is an important piece of brand advice that you have for founders as a final takeaway as we slowly come into the end of this today? You must have so much knowledge but what is something that is maybe more brand-related that you would like to share with my listeners?L Eccles: Well, I think it's interesting you talk about the highest highs and the lowest lows. That's certainly been the case. And there's a lawsuit pending on all of this so I can't really go into a lot of detail around it. But for us, when we started the company that became FanDuel, FanDuel was the result of a pivot from a previous company, we wanted to build something impactful. This wasn't some kind of get rich quick scheme, this wasn't something we were going to build and flip. This was, let's do something that's really going to change the world. And that's what we did. That's why we focused on the American market, that's why we focused on fantasy sports. It was an area where there'd been very little disruption to date. We saw a lot of potential for it. And the potential came from creating an entirely new industry that hadn't been there before. And it doesn't happen overnight. It's like that old adage which is sales overnight, brand over time. I think people can get themselves tied in knots thinking about brand, and worrying about it and investing thousands of dollars in consultants or creative agencies or whatever it might be, as a young startup. It's a dangerous approach. I think the best advice that I could give is create something that you feel good about in the early days and that you're happy to hang your hat on, and build those sales, and build that business. And your brand may very well evolve as you discover more about your customers. But really focus on being authentic and driving sales and figure out the brand as you go along. I think that would be my one piece of advice around branding for startups. And not everybody will agree with me, but that's certainly been my experience to date.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And it's about creating value, first and foremost, right? And then once you create value, you can build the brand around it. And it again depends on how you define branding. So I am one of those consultants that comes in, very early on. But for me I don't build the brand solely from the visual aspect, because like you said, things are going to pivot, right, and if you give it a name a certain way, and then suddenly, like you realized, it's a totally different market. And it doesn't speak to them anymore. But branding more from a strategic point of views very often it actually helps early stage founders to really define the why behind the brand deeper and to create these values and to create all these. If I see that as part of branding, which I do, I do think it is extremely important for founders to actually give that brand thinking some time. But I absolutely agree with you that there's a lot of money that should be saved when you actually really have some market knowledge and you have sales and you know that this is actually going to happen for real. And at that point pull the trigger and say, okay, now let's really create that brand image around it because we're certain we have something good going on.L Eccles: Right, yes. And it comes back to that feeling of authenticity. And like you said, if you understand why you're doing it and you understand the value that you're creating for your users, that will help you get that thinking right.F Geyrhalter: And the interesting thing, Lesley, is that obviously entrepreneurs know it in their heart of why they're doing what they're doing but they never spell it out. So it's interesting for me to come in and say, "I am talking about therapy. I'm a therapist. I'm literally the brand therapist coming in and taking it all out from you so that your customers actually know what you're so passionate about. Because you're so deep in your product you can't even think about what drives you anymore." So, that's...L Eccles: Great analogy. I love it.F Geyrhalter: So I notice, as we're recording this, really a couple of days before the holidays, before Christmas, and I so appreciate the time. And because of that I also don't want to have this go on for too long, because I know that you have things to do. But I do want to ask you, listeners who would like to benefit from this brand, from Relish, what are the first steps that you'd like them to take? And who would be that perfect user of Relish? Like where would they currently be in in their relationship?L Eccles: Yeah, typically what we see is that you, as the sort of ideal Relish user, you're at the point in your life where you know this is the person that you are invested in for the longterm, whether you've been together for a year, five years, 10 years. We even have users who have been together for more than 20 years, which is quite unbelievable.F Geyrhalter: It's amazing, yeah. Yeah. And it's wonderful in a way, too, right?L Eccles: It's wonderful. It's wonderful. And I think the common thread that we've found, we've done a lot of analysis on this, and the common thread that we found is these are people who value their relationship. They want to invest in their relationship. They know how important it is and they're ready to commit to making that investment. And it's a time investment, it's an effort investment. I was talking to somebody yesterday who said, "My fiancé," they're engaged, "My fiancé was annoyed with me because the restaurant that I booked for our date night was the same one as we'd been to last month, and I hadn't put in any effort." And he realized that he should have booked it on Tuesday and not the day of. And it's really about knowing how important intentionality is to a successful relationship over the longterm. So Relish is not for people who are just casually dating or have maybe been together for a month or so. I mean, this is people who are serious about, "I want this relationship to last for the longterm. This is the one. This is the one I want to build my life with." And whether you have just got engaged or you have four children, it doesn't really matter what stage of life you're at. It's about that knowledge of how important this relationship is to you and being willing to commit to being intentional about it.F Geyrhalter: So people can go to the App Store, they can download Relish there. I think there's a seven day free trial. You can go to hellorelish.com as well to find out more, and to study a little bit of the really whimsical but also refined brand design and brand language of your company, which I very much enjoy. Lesley, thank you so much for making this time, again, pre-holidays, in all this craze that we have going on in all of our lives right now. I really appreciate your time and all of your insights that you shared with me and our listeners.L Eccles: Thanks, Fabian. I've really enjoyed talking with you.F Geyrhalter: Thank you.
Learn more about Jeni'sSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to the show Jeni. It is a tremendous pleasure and honor to have you on Hitting The Mark.Jeni B Bauer:                 I'm so excited to be here with you.F Geyrhalter:                 Well, thank you so much for taking the time in this pre holiday frenzy. We talked about it a little, bit before we got on air, but this now marks officially our holiday podcast episode. Ice cream in winter is a thing now at least based on your gorgeous holiday catalog, which I reviewed on Instagram, you even have a gift concierge team to help pick out the flavors. Can you take any credit for the year round ice cream trends since you were cited as being the pioneer of the artisan ice cream movement?Jeni B Bauer:                 I don't know, I'm from the Midwest and so we eat ice cream year round here. That's something I grew up doing. Of course we eat more ice cream in summer but we definitely eat ice cream all year round here. I grew up doing that and then when I started my business I knew that, the business goes down as soon as it gets cold out. We needed to work harder to bring people in and I was able to make many flavors each month, each week. That would be flavors that you only wanted to eat during the holidays or during January or February. Then by March we're back up in and going crazy. We really, really engage our customers for the holidays and make flavors that you just really craved during that time. Then move on into deep winter, which you really have to fight for every sale. But it's a lot of fun, we do these big bakeshop flavors where you make handmade marshmallows and sauces and all sorts of things that go in the ice creams. I think that, that's what brings people out and it gets us through the winter and then all of a sudden everybody wants strawberry again. As soon as the first warm day hits. Of course, we're still two months away from actually having a fresh strawberries available in the gardens and farms. But it's just a funny way to plan the year I guess, but we do lot of holiday gifting as well. Right now, UPS or I guess it's FedEx has a truck sitting and they'll probably fill up two trucks today from our loading docks taking gift packages and beautiful boxes of ice cream all over the country. That's a big part of what we do as well, it's this whole storytelling through ice cream, which makes just such a beautiful gift. And so we've got this beautiful box where you UN-box it and that's where the catalog comes in. It's been really fun and we've been doing this since 2004 shipping ice cream across the country.F Geyrhalter:                 That is really amazing and it's a culinary experience. It's like a year round culinary experience, why would it want to stop at a certain point. I'm actually interested in how you got into ice cream because it's very different. You were fascinated with fragrances and you'll realize that ice cream is scientifically and mathematically prone to be the perfect carrier of scent. Can you tell us a little, bit about that epiphany and what some, of the first flavors were that you created after you had that realization?Jeni B Bauer:                 I was studying art, my grandmother's an art teacher and I grew up in the art classroom. I went to art school and I was studying mostly illustration and painting and a little, bit of sculpting and other things. Then a lot of art history trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and I began to really lock into my sense of smell. I realized that I have a very developed sense of smell, I grew up going to the forest throughout the entire year. I think there's something about that with my grandmother who was an artist and when you spend a lot of time in the forest, there's just so many sense that surround you all the time. You could put me in the forest to this day, deciduous forests and I can close my eyes and tell you what the season is probably just by the scent. It's very connected to my sense of smell and I knew it and I was thinking about what I could do with that from an art perspective. I happened to also be working in a French pastry shop and the owners were French, it was a family and they were wonderful. I was absolutely in love with them and all, of the friends people from Ohio state university. It was right down the street from Ohio state university, which is a massive, massive city of a university. A lot of the French people who were studying there would come in and it was a wonderful active environment where I could learn a lot. I was, I'm making pastries there, learning from the chefs that were in the kitchen, they were all from France. Almost everyone in the entire restaurant, except me and maybe one other person were French speaking, but I was learning about pastries and what goes into that. I actually happened to meet a French student who worked in the chemistry department at Ohio state who would bring me a little scents knowing that I was into this. Things that go on in your life, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with scent through art. But I was also doing pastry and I was thinking like, is pastry my future? Should I quit art and go into pastry because I loved it so much. I love flavor and I love scent, even pastry is a lot about scent. All food is about stent, you only taste it's five things on your tongue, sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory then everything else is a scent. But I quickly realized that ice cream would be a fun carrier of scent. I took a store, bought ice cream, and I mushed rose petal. I had a really expensive Bulgarian Rose petal essential oil and that one, it was like, I don't know, it's $400 an ounce. I probably had $25 worth, it was like several drops and I put one drop in a pint of ice cream and it was absolutely gorgeous. That was when I realized that, Oh my goodness, because I had done pastry and I knew something about butterfat. I knew that butter melted below body temperature and that it was known to absorb flavor and scent and I knew that from my grandmother. She would say, don't put the onion next to the butter or if you're in certain regions in France, you might actually put the truffle next to the butter. Because it will absorb the scent coming off of whatever it's around and that's what the fat and cream is. I knew this because I was doing it and I knew that... Once I realized that, I licked the ice cream that had this beautiful rose in it. I knew all of these things that came together, all these sparks were flying at that exact moment, which was, wow, all ice cream is about scent. It's the perfect carrier of scent, it's almost like edible scent. I wasn't into fake fragrances or whatever, I think it's a fun world to be in, but it was really more into real scent and things that, I was collecting. Were all from flowers and from herbs and things like that and mosses and all of that. Anyway, I realized in that moment that first of all, even cheap ice cream, even a synthetic vanilla you could think of it as an edible perfume. But what are we missing in American ice cream that I can add to it? I knew that, this was going to be my entire future, that I was going to be exploring ice cream foods. I literally had that epiphany and this was in 1995 so I really had this whole thing. By 1996 I had a little shop in an indoor public market here in the middle of Columbus, which is in the middle of Ohio. Working with farms from the surrounding countryside and using the ingredients, they were bringing me to steep in the cream and infuse scent that way and there you go.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fascinating. I'm sure your opinion about truffle oil, I would be interested in, most probably not a purveyor. Moving on, I met you at NPR's How I Built This Summit with Guy Raz, which was amazing this year. I was a mentor, you were interviewed by Guy onstage, I believe it was the second time you get interviewed by him. You talked about how people said it was impossible to ship ice cream and you talked about this at the beginning of this episode and you proved them wrong by actually creating containers that were defying the odds. Can you tell us a little, bit about that time and why did you feel like you need to invent it. Was it just you needed your ice cream to travel across the country and it was the only way to scale?Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, it was a combination and I think there were people who had figured out how to ship ice cream, but they were doing it in a very, very expensive way. It was overnighting only and one of the things that we did was make it much more accessible so we could do a two night or two day, using a lot of ground. That enabled us to use ground shipping instead of air shipping, which reduced the price of shipping by a lot, that made it more accessible to more people. Also in Columbus we are within a day's drive of about 60% of the population of North America, I think is the official... We really can use a lot of ground shipping from here, which was really great. Then we started our website in 2004, started shipping on there. We got a few high-profile customers that led to some national press, which was really cool. At one time, just being young and not really knowing what I was doing. At one point I called Florence Fabricant, at the New York times and I was like, "Hey, I just wanted to know." She's the one that writes about new products, but I just didn't know and I called her because I was like, we're doing this really beautiful ice cream is in Ohio. I just thought it'd be something you would like. Because I always wanted to live up to the standards of the beautiful pastry shops and chefs that I'd seen around the world. Certainly in New York. She goes, "Oh, can I get it in New York city? I was like, no, not yet. She was like, well, why don't you call me when I can? She was polite, but yeah, I don't write about just stuff like that. I write for the New York times. I realized that was a stupid call, but what it did was I was like, I need to make sure that people can get our ice creams across the country in order to get national attention and it worked. Immediately we started getting, we were on the food network, I think we're on the food network five or six times in a period of four years.F Geyrhalter:                 Unbelievable.Jeni B Bauer:                 Of course the New York times and basically every other food magazine out there. Quickly, what happens is that once we start to get big pieces, then you start to see other ice cream shops pop up in this model across the country and even around the world. Then it starts to pick up as a trend, which is pretty exciting to watch.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely and taking the responsibility or being a part of this next phase, this next culinary phase is beautiful. It's absolutely beautiful. During the summit with Guy Raz. When you were on stage, you also said and I paraphrase you here, "Make one person really happy and then move on to the next. It takes time to create a meaningful community that feels the right way." When then how did you know that that your brand, and maybe it was still Scream or maybe it was already Jeni's, but when did you know that it was actually creating a meaningful community around it?Jeni B Bauer:                 When did I know that? Well, I know that when I had my first company, which is called scream from 1996 to 2000 then I closed that. I had made a lot of mistakes but also I started to understand ice cream a little, bit by the end of that. I had a lot of positives but when I opened Jeni's, I had solved a few mistakes and or some of the things that I thought didn't work. At that point we had such a long line and I thought, I'm going to keep this going however I can, then it was just like it goes back to that one person at a time. Being a communicator, making sure that when I go through the trouble of making this ice cream with these strawberries, that the person who's about to eat it gets just enough of that story. That it slows them down to remember that moment a little bit deeper and to experience it a little deeper. I just remember just thinking, I'm going to keep this going and, it really does feel almost like it is a chain after that. Really is about one person at a time and it is about your team and every interaction and listening a lot and all of that. I think that it was more for me, a determination, and I will say that... I think you probably know this just as well as anybody else, but it wasn't because we had a beautiful visual identity. It wasn't because we had gorgeous light fixtures or tables or we had these incredible uniforms. We weren't communicating through that, we were communicating through ourselves, our facial expressions and our ice cream. Our actual product and our own reputations, which I think is true today. Even though now we have much more beautiful visual identity and experiences because we've gotten better at that. We, do all of that in house as well. But back then we couldn't afford any of that, it was really just me in the market with a couple of high school kids really trying to do a good job. I feel like that's still what we do and now we're 1800 people in this company. I really do think that's the brand, that's what it is. Everything else we do, any visual representation of that is a representation of that and that's what it goes back to.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. It's funny you actually started your store in Venice beach, one of the many locations in Venice Beach on Rose Avenue, which is exactly where I started my first company in 2001 as well. What's really interesting is what you just said. I drove by a store in Venice beach a couple of years ago and it was one of those hip surfboard stores and they had a burglary overnight. They had a big sign over the window that got broken into and it said you can't steal our vibe and I think it's so cool. You can't steal out vibe. That's exactly what it is, right? People can try to emulate you to be like you, to create these similar ice cream. A similar experience with the lighting, with the design, but it's really about that soul. It's really about that vibe that Jeni's has and you create it over years and that's one step at a time.Jeni B Bauer:                 It's so many tiny things that nobody will blink into every one of them or notice everyone one them, but they all add up and you feel a certain way when you're in our world. Sometimes I think about the difference between entrepreneurship and business and they're very different things. Every entrepreneur I've ever met has been motivated much more by community and by their own creativity and imagination. Any money that they get, they use to further that, that's what it's about. Whereas, business is really motivated by money, that's your scorecard and business is a complex structure of teachable disciplines. We can all learn them and we can also build a team with people who really get all that stuff. But entrepreneurship is really different, it's far more about, I guess all of this feeling and emotion which is much more in that branding world or whatever. I think that sometimes even when you get people who... Once you've become very successful, other people want in on that and a lot of times they can look at it from the outside and say, "Okay, this is what's happening, they're dropping flavors this often they're creating flavors that do this and that gets media attention. But they also have classic flavors for other people." You can put it all out linearly and I can't tell you how many copycats I've seen over many years.F Geyrhalter:                 Congrats.Jeni B Bauer:                 But the graveyard is full of them because it is so much more work and it's so much more emotional and you really have to give everything to it to create something that people really do care about. In some business ideas you can do it more flatly. I just don't think that ice cream is that kind of a world. Ice cream is a very emotional, very personal thing to do. Much more than, casual food or casual dining or some of the other worlds of business. It really is about personality and every flavor is personal to someone and that's something that you can't just put out on a linear business plan. Be like, we're going to go open the Jeni's in Brooklyn or we're going to go open something like Jeni's in this place. Because it really is much, much more than... It's so fun that way too but-F Geyrhalter:                 Of course, exactly. That's why you do what you do. Talking about meaningful communities and creating more deeper meaning, you have been a Henry Crown Fellow. First congrats, that's a big achievement, tell us a bit about that experience and I'm curious as to how you see that personal growth effecting your brand's values and the daily actions.Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, we as a company have always been very connected with our community. First of all, we didn't have a lot of money to start up at all. We just started working with other people in the community and just getting out and being as genuine as we could in as many places as we possibly could. We've been very connected and I think that our story's always been about asking other people for help and then paying them back with helping them. That's this community spirited company that we've become and that's what the Henry Crown fellowship is all about. It's about community, spirited leadership but it was the one of the most impactful things, maybe the most impactful thing I've ever done in my life. We get under these like islands when we're entrepreneurs and it's actually a very lonely, you get used to being alone because your ideas are usually, other people think of them as really stupid then you figure out how to make it work. It's actually hard to get people to come on board, and you're just living out there all the time doing that. But the Henry Crown Fellowship finds a lot of people who are in that same place in their life. Usually it at that moment of change in a life or there's an impactful moment happening an inflection and they put all of us together and it's this mosaic of people from all different kinds of businesses, all different levels of success all over the country. I think they have 40 something points of diversity and then they put these 20 people together in a room and you spend four weeks together over two years and it's incredible. You learn about the history of how leadership works in the world, back to the ancient philosophers. You start to look forward and think about what your impact can be in the things that you need. It really makes you very aware of every decision that you're making. In addition to the fact that once you're a Henry Crown Fellow, you really do represent the Henry Crown Fellowship in your life. There's something really special about that too, you really do think a lot about every action that you make, even more than you did, I think before.F Geyrhalter:                 Subliminally it becomes part of everything Jeni's does, as a brand because it's your actions, right?Jeni B Bauer:                 I think it does. We want to live up to the expectations there, but also it's really beautiful. It's what we always wanted to do and maybe didn't know how in some ways there's certainly me personally and just having that. I think it really builds context and perspective about where we fit in the world and how change is made and how history moves very slowly. We all want things to happen right now, especially when we're entrepreneurs, but you have to just keep steady and never give up and there's a lot of that that goes on. We've been a B corporation for a long time, we know that business can be a very powerful force for good and even in early American business, the business leaders understood that. It's an important part about business, whether you're a B Corp or not, how you give back to the world that that supported you as you grew and as you became, who you become. Anyway, we've always known that we were a certified B Corp for that reason because we think it's important that we've actually put our money where our mouth is, where we actually can then say, but we're certified. We're not just saying we're making these. I would rather be a B Corp and just say well, we're doing our best and you can trust us because it's certified by this third party, then put another label on our pint. Even something like all natural or organic or non GMO and there's so many labels that make you... All of those are fine, but we just believe in much, much bigger picture I guess than that.F Geyrhalter:                 It's already the status quo. It's like, yes, of course your ice cream will be, all of these things, right. If you have to B Corp stamp on it already in a way says, "Yeah, of course we do this."Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, it's important to build your company as a community and people are the most important thing. That is the thing that's important, not organic, not non-GMO, not all the other things you can put on it, but did you pay that person fairly, whether they're local, regional, national or international? Where did you get it from, were there children picking those things. Those are the important things, that people are the most important thing that we can support, of course our land and our earth and children and all of that. Those things have always been more important to us, I would rather look somebody in the eye and make an agreement that we're going to continue to grow and get better together. Than to say, I need organic strawberries. I want Mike and his brother Steve growing our strawberries because we can continue to get better over time when we worked together.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. You named your brand after, after your first shop in 96 was called Scream, you named the new brand Jeni's, yet at the same time, back then when you relaunched, you decided to separate your personality away from the brand a bit. Long gone were Jeni's pink hair and funky art student clothes and instead you started wearing a pharmacy like very white clinical outfits. From a branding perspective, this leaves me puzzled, why did you do this? How did this go, suddenly it's Jeni's and it's your brand.Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, first of all, I didn't want to call it Jeni's. I had a couple of other names, but because I had worked every day at the market, people didn't even remember that it was called Scream. They were just like, let's go see Jeni, let's go to the Jeni's. They all already called it that. As a Midwesterner, we don't usually put our names on things. It's just like, we're all very community oriented I think and were just very humble to a fault actually sometimes. But I knew that my friends were right that you can't add another, it couldn't be called Scream, but everybody called it Jeni's and I have a new name for it when I launched again. I did it, I called it Jeni's and I was really happy that I did, it really makes you focus in a different way when the company's named after you. I would make sure that every dish was washed every, that we never ran out of certain flavors that were very popular. You actually really do, when you put your name on it, you absolutely try to live up to that. It really makes a difference when it's your name, not just some made up thing, but the funny thing is when I was at Scream. I was a young woman, pink hair trying to break into the culinary world, trying to get a food critic to notice I'm trying. I was in a market that was of a culinary space and trying to get people to notice what I was doing. I think they just thought I was just goofy, so from a branding perspective, I think I was giving off that vibe to be honest. When I opened Jeni's, and this is that... If I was a customer, what would I want from my ice cream maker? I would want that person to be there and look like they're here to make the best ice cream in the entire world. I started wearing, a white shirt every single day, a white apron. I would want them to know that. It wasn't about the person, but it was about the ice cream and the product and the team and the customers. I just took all emphasis off of me and made it about... It's funny because even though I formed it-F Geyrhalter:                 I know exactly, at the same time you called it Jeni's.Jeni B Bauer:                 Maybe that's why it worked because it wasn't me just parading around with my pink hair and saying like I'm the artist, come see what I've got to do every day. But it was me saying I'm taking responsibility for your experience and that's all that matters to me here.F Geyrhalter:                 You basically signed it with Jeni's, right? Yeah, exactly. Are there ever time's, especially these days with social media. Are there ever times where you wish you would be a little, bit more removed from the brand because you are the brand as a person. Your name is the verbal and visual brand anchor and you are the representative of the brand. Are there ever moments where you just feel like it wouldn't hurt if I would be one step removed or do you actually fully embrace your true self transparently for the world to see?Jeni B Bauer:                 I do embrace it. I didn't for a really long time, only fairly recently. But I do because I feel that I represent the people that work here and the work that we do collectively as a community and that is something that's very important to me and I would never want to let them down. It's not that I could go out and just represent me or that my wishes or things that, I purposely created this community after we had the failure of Scream. I wanted Jeni's to be about people coming together more like a fellowship. We call it a fellowship a lot in the same way that the Lord of the Rings is a fellowship where you bring, the sword and somebody else brings the ax and everybody's bringing something awesome in and then together we become something greater than the sum of it's parts. For me, I feel like I'm just a part of that and I get to keep it going and I keep supporting it and trying to keep it healthy. Then I go out and represent that and also I still will know more about ice cream than anybody else in here. I'll hang out with our customers longer than anybody else will because I care so deeply about it. That never not working that entrepreneurs do, I definitely do that, but I do think that in that way a founder's role is a very specific role. I'm not the CEO of our company and that's important to us. I will say that like being a founder is the really specific role. You really do have to know more about your products and your customers than anybody else. That is more than enough for a more than full time job and that's what I do.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Let's talk about company culture for a minute because you hinted at it, it is important to you as to most other entrepreneurs who rely on the work of many others, to keep the engines going. You said and I don't know where you said it, it might've been on Instagram you said, "Our ambassadors become jedis of emotion, facial expressions and body language. They learn that flavor is everything, and by flavor I mean character, they learn what it means to put your name on it and other lessons about teamwork and community. I should know, I spent 10 years behind the counter daily. I use those lessons every day." How did you build your culture and what mechanisms do you have in place to keep it going? It is really, really difficult, I talk to people who have franchises and I talked to people who have 30 plus stores like you. How did you create it and how do you spread it in a way where it is very intrinsic but yet personal but yet you create this, linear brand experience.Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, I think now you don't have, there isn't a curtain behind the or between the back of the house and in front of the house anymore in a business or a brand. Or at least with what we're doing and other company founders and companies that I know are, are similar and that we actually are our brand. We are what you hope we are, we're not just pictures that we put out our ice creams we you put out we're the decisions that we make every single day as a team. I think people want to work on teams that are really transparent, that actually are what you hope they are when you're on the outside. I always say we can't tell every single story that happens here because it will be too many and it's just too much. It's overload. We tell our best stories externally, but the more you want to dig and go into it, the more your hopes are confirmed. When you are company like that and the word company is great because it means you're not alone, it means community. That's how we think here, people want to be a part of that, they want to bring their awesomeness into that. That is how you build your culture is by being open to what somebody else is bringing in and we don't everybody in the company to have a specific look to them or whatever. We want people of all ages and all different colors and all different genders and all of that stuff. That's our company, that's who we are. That becomes what people know about us and feel when they're in our space. That it really is about character and flavor, at every level. What's great when you're a company that lives up to your external voice internally, people want to be a part of that team, so you start attracting some, of the top talent in. We have definitely absolute top talent here in America and not because we pay better than everybody else, it's because people want to be a part of what we're doing. That's really wonderful and it's because... I would say that it's really hard and it's also not really that hard. It's not like you have to go through a training program, it's not like everybody carries around a mission statement. I don't think if you walked around where I'm sitting right now and there's 40 people sitting not too far from me, I don't think that if you asked... Every one of them would give you a slightly different idea of what we do in this company and it would all be right. It wouldn't be one practiced mission statement.F Geyrhalter:                 That's really great and I love the metaphor of flavor. How flavor is actually part of this company.Jeni B Bauer:                 It works so well.F Geyrhalter:                 It works so well.Jeni B Bauer:                 Even if you look up the word flavor in the dictionary, it says character, the essential character of something. When we think about our company, we really think about flavor a lot. That flavor is what surrounds you. It's who you are, what you do. It's your bookshelf, your record shelf, your travels, everything that makes up you and certainly how we work together as well.F Geyrhalter:                 When you said, about no curtain between back and front of the house, that's also true with no curtain between the founder and the brand and the customer and all of that. In April you endorsed Joe Biden in one of your Instagram posts. Actually, you're pretty much a Joe Biden fan, I would say.Jeni B Bauer:                 Joe loves ice cream and I do love Joe. I do Joe. Joe was going through a really hard time in 2015 I was having a tough time too. He became really truly a beacon for me. I have to say that I am for anyone who moves us out of this era that we're in and I will throw my support behind anybody. I don't know if it's a complete endorse. He got into the race and I just was giving my friend because at this point Joe is a friend of mine, a fist bump and saying, "Man, I'm going to be behind you. I'll be behind you as far as you go and let's get you the nomination." But, I would say there's other people that I'm also right behind. At the moment I'm wearing an Andrew Yang hat, the math hat, I have a hat from every one of the candidates.F Geyrhalter:                 Same for me.Jeni B Bauer:                 I like many people, I am for whoever will win and I'll put my support behind them. But of course, I love Biden because he loves ice cream so much, how can you not? He's an incredible human being of course and I've gotten to spend lots of time with him, I do know that for sure, that's important.F Geyrhalter:                 Last February, you had this amazing Instagram posts that read, "Hey FedEx team Jeni's loves you, but we're not playing around. Our customers are demanding action from us. Drop your support of the NRA, or we will be looking at other options." That's almost 100,000 shipments and by the way, now I'm sure it's much more than that and more projected this year. Do you feel obligated to utilize the power of your brand to create the change you seek? What would you say to those few that like your product but they don't share your political point of view?Jeni B Bauer:                 The answer to the first part is, yes, as a human being, not necessarily as a company. Although our company definitely stands for character and flavor and people and we will always fight for human rights and humanity first, that world no matter what the political ramifications are or whatever. That's just something that's built into our DNA and who we are. We don't pick candidates as a company ever, ever, ever, we do believe that you should be you and that you should be proud of that and whatever that is, you should rock it and be that. But I think also be open to other things, so as a person representing that world, I get to do that as well. My platform is my stuff, it's the Jeni Britton Bauer world. It's not the Jeni's world necessarily, they cross over. On my Instagram, of course the FedEx thing is a whole different thing. I was as a mother, so upset about what happened in Parkland, it was-F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely.Jeni B Bauer:                 During that time.F Geyrhalter:                 It's not even political.Jeni B Bauer:                 It really isn't at that point. However, I learned a big lesson during that time. I learned, I guess how big my platform actually is and I've got to be careful and I know that because first, I don't want to alienate other people. I do like people who have different opinions than me, actually, I'm more curious about you if you're different than me than I am if you're the same. That's important, but I learned something with that. I haven't, I haven't done something quite so dramatic since then.F Geyrhalter:                 Picking in the past, that's totally not fair.Jeni B Bauer:                 Yeah, and it wasn't that long ago but, nevertheless I do think that we can have we can actually make more change, a slightly quietly than we can just by getting out and complaining it loudly. We have a potential to actually make big change and that's what we're focused on. That's what we're working on. I think it doesn't really help. I think that actually, that FedEx post did help ultimately they did drop their-F Geyrhalter:                 That's amazing.Jeni B Bauer:                 Probably it had little to do with us but nevertheless.F Geyrhalter:                 Who knows, right. I'm sure it's the voice of many that creates change for a company like that. Your tagline is Jeni's makes it better. I think just how we talked about flavor and how it has double meaning, that has double meaning too, Jeni's makes it better. On one hand, that's the product.Jeni B Bauer:                 So much meaning.F Geyrhalter:                 How it makes you feel, but it really encompasses most probably your brand's core values if you have written them down or not. It is who you are.Jeni B Bauer:                 It's you lose the game, we make it better, you win the game, we make it better and that's part of it. And it's all of our community of makers, growers and producers who are actually making product and making our ice creams. Actually, that's literally how we make it, but it's just really fun, we've had so much fun with that.F Geyrhalter:                 You created amazing ice cream, a beloved brand, but really you created a cult like following. What does branding mean to you, Jeni Britton Bauer?Jeni B Bauer:                 Oh my goodness. Well, I would just say it means it's the culture, it's how you make people feel, it's who you are. I always think of entrepreneurship is building your own world. Your brand is your world that you're creating. I'm in favor of the Willy Wonka school of entrepreneurship.F Geyrhalter:                 Of course, you are.Jeni B Bauer:                 Not, whenever, not business school entrepreneurship and I think your brand is your world. When people step into it, what are they experiencing? What does it look like when they look around? What are they feeling and that's what it is. That's been so much fun for us to create and we're still creating it.F Geyrhalter:                 And the fun shows. What is one word that can describe your brand? I like to call it your brand's DNA, if you would have to sum up all these parts, what is one word?Jeni B Bauer:                 I think if I was going to choose one, it would be belonging. When I started in ice cream I thought, can I make an ice cream shop where people like me and that was the artists of the world or the people who wanted to be artists. Or the alternative people or the whatever progressive thinkers wanted to go because, all the ice cream shops that I had seen were backward looking. They were all nostalgic it was a lot of grandparents and grandchildren. I was like, can I make an ice cream shop for everybody else and that was just all of my friends. A lot of us just didn't feel like we belonged in some of those other places and we really created a place that celebrates as we keep going back to flavor and people and character and curiosity and all of that. That sense of belonging, we want you to feel that when you're in our world, but that's what we're trying to create as a company of people too. Whether it's our makers, growers, producers, or other people who drive our ice cream around or the people who are doing artwork for us. We all belong together.F Geyrhalter:                 People feel that and looking through your Instagram and the stories that you tell of customers. They come back every month too. Yeah.Jeni B Bauer:                 Much bigger than ice cream and yet if the ice cream wasn't perfect, they wouldn't come back. It means with all these mostly if the ice cream was not good, all of that wouldn't matter, and yet, and if all of that was... You have to have all of it, it has to all be there. Not everything has to be perfect, but it has to all align in a certain magical way.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. In the end it's still about ice cream and that begs me to ask a question that usually you like to ask others. Jeni if you were an ice cream flavor, what would it be?Jeni B Bauer:                 Oh my goodness.F Geyrhalter:                 I'm using your own tools here.Jeni B Bauer:                 Yes. If I was an ice cream flavor I would probably a caramel. We started making salty caramel a long time ago and I had heard about it in France, I'd heard of that in front in France there was burnt sugar and then there's salted caramel. I didn't have money to travel to France, so I thought they meant Swedish licorice, it was actually salty. I started making a caramel ice cream that was salty, a little extra salty but anyway, I would be that because caramel is one thing, I think it's caramelized. A lot of people use a flavoring because caramelization is, sugar burns at 385 degrees or whatever, and you've got to burn the sugar. It's very dangerous and it's a very precise process. But in the end when you're like licking it off of a cone, it's very simple. It's just buttery. It's beautiful, it's nostalgic, it takes you back to your grandmother's kitchen or whatever and it's just this really beautiful scientific process that makes it, and it's complex and yet also super simple and that's it.F Geyrhalter:                 You like it for the process too because you see behind the curtains as you actually indulge in it which is great.Jeni B Bauer:                 It's handwork. We can't make caramel by time or temperature or any of the other things you can do. You have to actually get good at what it smells like and what it looks like. And when you're the one that's caramelizing the sugar, it's really not about time or temperature, it's about just how does it look and smell. Every batch is slightly different of our salted caramel on all hand done.F Geyrhalter:                 It's beautiful. One piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway, perhaps a four for one of the hundreds of thousands that have read your James Beard award, winning New York times bestseller, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and one to take a step at actually stepping into your footsteps and doing it professionally. Do you have any advice that you learned over your, 20 years of running, I don't know how many years is exact but about that. That and plus. I think it's to, to create a vision of what's possible of what you think, you can do. For me it was, to create this world around ice cream and there was no guarantee I was going to make it and there still isn't. But you get that vision in your head of what it looks like and then you can close your eyes and imagine it. Once you lock into that vision, then you can do one thing today to get you there. Then one more thing tomorrow to get you there and one more thing the next day. That's really what it has been for me. It's better if you don't start with a ton of money. If somebody had given me $10 million in 2004 I would have built a really big ice cream plant and that would have put me into major debt and I wouldn't have known what I was doing anyway. I had to learn all of these things the hard way and then you just get this vision and you just do one step a day and don't go too fast. It's just that one person at a time, one step a day, but be led by your vision and dream about that. I still to this day can sit for an hour or sit quietly and put myself into that vision, which I still have. Every year, I have a new add addition to that vision that I have of in the future. I think that's important to be a vision led person and have a good imagination. One that you really enjoy spending time, in I think where you can really quiet yourself and sit there and just dream and then build that slowly.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely love it. Listeners in the US which I believe is the only place where Jeni's is currently available who needed pint or three-Jeni B Bauer:                 The book is in Germany.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh the book is in Germany, the book is most probably global right at this point.Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, the book is in German and you can probably find the book globally, but it is actually, has been translated in German and it did really well. We've got like a new edition now and then I'm in China.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fantastic.Jeni B Bauer:                 Taking it places. Yep.F Geyrhalter:                 That is awesome. As far as picking up a pint or three or six or nine, which I believe is how you ship them, where can people go? The last question, which is part of this and in the same vein, what are your top three winter flavors for people to pick?Jeni B Bauer:                 Oh my goodness. Well, you go to Jeni.com, it's J-E-N-I-S.com.F Geyrhalter:                 That's the easy part.Jeni B Bauer:                 All, of the Whole Foods in America carry our ice creams, which is pretty great. And a bunch of other top grocers across the country. You can go to our website and find out what we call a pint finder and that'll direct you to somewhere near you. Probably the top winter flavors, we have a bunch coming out after the holidays too, which are going to be really fun. But right now I'm going all in on the Cognac and Gingerbread. It's a dark caramel cognac ice cream and this incredible black strap, molasses gingerbread that we make, it's just incredible. I also love white chocolate peppermint and it's funny, a lot of people love it but it does not sell after January. We can only sell it in December and then after that nobody wants it anymore. Really just such a great flavor and we do it as like a pink, we color it with beets. It's just like pink and white swirl with white chocolate and, it's just incredible, it's so good. Then we've been making sweet potato and toasted marshmallow forever and ever, we actually blow torch the marshmallows in our kitchen. It's a really... We make the marshmallows and then we blowtorch them and then we put them in like a handmade sweet potato ice cream, it's so incredible.F Geyrhalter:                 It sounds amazing.Jeni B Bauer:                 There's many more coming next year and we have a lot of non-dairy flavors as well and those are winning innovation awards and they're just gorgeous. They're selling as well as our other ice creams, even with dairy eaters, so if you ever see any of our non-dairy ones, just get them because you'll love them are actually my favorites right now. And that's, I'm a dairy person, so.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah. Thank you Jeni for having been on the show. It was so much fun and we so appreciate your time and your insights. Thank you for not only what you're doing, but also how you're actually doing it. Last but not least happy holidays to you and your family.Jeni B Bauer:                 Well, thank you so much. It's been so much fun to be here and happy holidays back at you and all your listeners.F Geyrhalter:                 I appreciate it. Thank you.  What a great story – from college dropout who hated math to an innovation award-winning entrepreneur who is making more than just ice cream better.It is entrepreneurs like her that we can learn from how to craft true and meaningful brands and I am so grateful to have had Jeni on the show to round out this year.And I am grateful for all of you who joined in supporting the show.I want to thank the new Creative Brand Mentorship Circle members: Xian Hijas from the Philippines and Goce Petrov out of SwitzerlandThe new Entrepreneur Brand Mentorship Circle members Rushit Hila from Towson, Maryland and Nathan Thompson from Redondo Beach, CAAnd last but not least the first Golden Brand Circle member Ziad Aladdin from Köln, Germany and Devroni Liasoi Lumandan and Florian Phillippe out of L.A. for upgrading to the Golden Brand Circle.Head on over to patreon.com/hittingthemark to become a supporter and to join this awesome community of creators.The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won.I wish all of you happy holidays. Don’t forget to sit down and re-think your brand based on the many insights from the founders who were on this show so you can craft a better brand for 2020 and beyond. I will see you next time – when we, once again, will be hitting the mark.
Learn more about Farmgirl FlowersSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show, Christina.C Stembel: Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be here, Fabian.F Geyrhalter: Oh likewise, likewise. So last night, after I put together my first draft of questions for this podcast with you. I usually end up diving deeper and do much more research once I get home. But I have to admit last night I had a really long day in LA traffic, and I just decided to pour myself a glass of wine and recline into the bathtub instead of doing more research. But then I grabbed the first magazine, which happens to be the November edition of Inc. And what greets me? A two-page ad for Capital One and you are the star in it, so.C Stembel: Can't get away from me, even when you tried.F Geyrhalter: It was hilarious. So I got both. I got more research time and I got relaxation time and that's how it works in life, right?C Stembel: Exactly, that's amazing. Best of both worlds.F Geyrhalter: I know. So how did you get into the business of selling flowers direct to consumer? How did that idea come up and when did you actually take the leap into full-on entrepreneurship?C Stembel: Yeah. It came up back in 2010. I should mention, though, before this idea I had probably 4,000 other ideas, none of them about flowers though. I like to kind of dispel the belief system that we tend to have, especially about women in creative businesses, that it must be their passion in life. I must have grown up frolicking in my grandmother's garden. Because that wasn't the case. I wanted to start a business, though, and I wanted it to be able to be big. I wanted to do something good. I wanted to solve a real problem, and I want to be able to actually change an industry, to actually innovate in a space and not just do something the same way that it's been done over and over again. I live in Silicon Valley, so I saw so many people doing really innovative, cool things. So that kind of opened up the floodgates of my brain, thinking, "I could do that in an industry, too." And so I came up with the idea for Farmgirl and for flowers in particular because I was working at Stanford University and one of the departments I oversaw did events for the law school, and I saw how much money we were spending on flowers. So first I just started researching the space from that perspective of why do flowers cost so much. And I very quickly went down several other rabbit holes, research when I found out the eCommerce space was really comprised of three companies that dominated. And it would bring me back to an actual problem I had in my life, which was when I would send my mom flowers in Indiana, I was forced to use one of those companies because she lived too far from a local florist. And I hated the whole process. So I was like, "Oh my gosh." I started researching that and I was like, "Oh, it looks like so many people hate that whole process." They don't think that the value prop is good for what they're spending. They're not getting a bouquet that represents them as a consumer. What they see isn't what they get anyway. When they order something, they think it's going to be this and it's that when it comes. It ends up costing $80 and it looks like it came from the grocery store for $10. And they weren't happy with the customer experience of, if they weren't happy then they had to go offshore to a customer service department somewhere that would try to rectify it but just send an equally lackluster bouquet again. So there was just a lot of similarities in what I was finding in researching that other people's experiences aligned with mine. And I thought, "Well this looks like it's an actual space in an industry that needs some change, and nobody's done anything since the mid nineties." Now, with nine years of experience under my belt, I kind of understand why... people probably had very similar ideas before me and didn't do them because perishability is really, really hard. But with my naiveté back then, I thought, "I'm the first one to think of something to transform this industry, and let me try it." So I laid out all the problems as I saw it and came up with a solution, which was the Farmgirl model where we limit the choice for consumers, and that allows us to reduce our waste by about 40% which allows us to use higher-quality stems that don't look like they came from the grocery store and create beautifully designed bouquets in house. So even if you're sending then to Bremen, Indiana or to Dubuque, Iowa, or somewhere really remote, you can get a designer quality bouquet shipped anywhere in the United States. So I looked at In-N-Out Burger as my inspiration because back in 2010, yeah. Nobody was doing less is more. Everybody was doing more is more back then. So they were the only one that I could find that was really limiting choice to consumers but they were doing it really well and they had created a really great brand. And so I thought, "I'm going to be the In-N-Out Burger for flowers." So that's what I did.F Geyrhalter: And it's interesting because when we chatted just a little bit before the podcast, you said that you liked that my podcast has this hyper focus instead of being everything for everyone. And I kind of created my entire consultancy around that too, that more focused, and I think it's fair to say better options, fewer options, is a holy grail. There's a lot in there because you can actually hyper focus on what you give your clients. But one thing that I think is extremely interesting about what you ended up doing is that everyone comes to think that the flower industry would be, no pun intended, but a green industry, right? But it is totally not the case. It's actually exactly the opposite, right? There are huge problems.C Stembel: Huge, I mean it's, like you said, I would have thought that, and I thought, "Well, they're flowers, and they decompose," and all that. But all of the things that go with the flowers are not compostable and many states they weren't even recyclable, like all of the plastic wrap and all those things, which is why we came up with alternatives to as much as we possibly could to make it greener and better for the environment. Everything we do is how we can make it better for the environment and better in all ways.F Geyrhalter: So it kind of is farm to table part two. So now it's not only the food on your table but it's also the flowers on your table.C Stembel: Absolutely, absolutely. And knowing the ripple effect of knowing... even the food, like the packaging the food comes in. It's things that I had never thought about before starting this and now I think about, I'm very, very focused on.F Geyrhalter: Let's dig a little deeper into that because you actually wrap your hand-tied bouquets with reused burlap coffee bags, right? From local roasters. Because they all have them. How did that idea take shape? And I also wonder, are there enough cool burlap bags as you start taking over the world?C Stembel: Yeah, we are actually running into that problem right now, so we're having to expand our thinking on that as well. We're on a hunt for more burlap sacks, so if you're a roaster in the area and hear this, please let me know. So it actually started with wanting to create a brand, actually. So I think this is... the burlap sacks were to be better for the environment. But also, the second part of that was when I was thinking about how I was going to present my product. Even when I was creating this flower company, I never wanted it to be just a flower company. I wanted to create a brand around it. I wanted it to look very different than everyone else. If someone saw one of our bouquets, I wanted them to know it was one of our bouquets without seeing our name on it. And so I put a lot of thinking into how can I do that? How can I create a Nike swoosh on our flowers, because flowers are flowers. So how do I do that? And so the packaging was where... my first foray into creating a brand was through our packaging. And the burlap was the start of that. I came up with 14 different ideas of ways to wrap our product, thinking of what looks the best and also what's best for the environment and then I just polled a few of my friends to see which ones they like the best. And it was almost unanimous, everyone like the burlap the best. I came up with that idea because of potato sacks, actually, not coffee bags. Because I'm from Indiana and we don't have coffee there. So I thought, "Potato sacks." But then when I researched California, where I'm at now, I was like, "Oh, nobody grows potatoes in California." But what we did have was coffee roasters, and so I thought, "Let me just reach out to them and see if I could buy their bags." And what was really fortunate that a few of them donated them to us to start and have continued. Some big ones, even Peet's Coffee donates their coffee bags to us now.F Geyrhalter: Oh, wow.C Stembel: Yeah, it's been great because we can also help them. They don't have to put them on a container to go back to South America. So it helps the environment even more, helps them cost wise, and we can upcycle them. People love to upcycle them again after we send it to them too and send us pictures of that. But it was really to create a brand and it worked. One of my first moments where I felt like the company was going to make it was about a year and a half in, and I had take a... it was still in my apartment, the first two years I did it in my apartment. And I was walking into my car with three bouquets because someone had called, 7:00 at night and asked for three bouquets. And you'll take whatever order, even if it's a midnight when you're starting out because you need the money.F Geyrhalter: Oh absolutely, exactly.C Stembel: And yeah. And I was walking to my car, which in San Francisco if you're familiar, you usually have to park like a mile away from your house, of course. So I'm walking, hoofing it to my car with these bouquets and three women were coming towards me on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, and one of them exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, is that Farmgirl Flowers?" Just by seeing the burlap wrap on the bouquets. And I was like, "It is." And she's like, "Oh, I love Farmgirl Flowers." And all three of the women start talking about how much they love Farmgirl flowers. And they knew it from the burlap wrap, that that's who-F Geyrhalter: That's amazing. Because you're like, "I'm the farm girl."C Stembel: It was. So I got in my car and I bawled eyes out. Yeah, yeah. I usually am just like, "Oh, I work there." Because then it makes it sound like it's way bigger than just me in my apartment. But you know...F Geyrhalter: That is such a... I mean that's such an amazing brand moment because it really, like you said, I mean, that's when you realized it actually is a brand now. It's not just a start-up, it's not just flowers you would never notice. And you didn't have to put a swoosh on it. You didn't have to actually spell out and put a logo on it. Which sometimes, being branded like that can also backfire. And so what's interesting to me is it sounds like, and I'm cheating because I read that, but it sounds like you totally bootstrapped your business. You actually were scraping by, running a business-C Stembel: Literally. Yup.F Geyrhalter: Literally. And so you had to invent. And so when you basically start to come up with these pieces of brand essence by yourself or maybe with a few friends around the table. When you had to decide, how do we wrap our flowers? And you said you had about 10 different ideas. And you decided on burlap because of it being a natural fit, no pun intended, for your brand. Did you at that point, and maybe even it's just in your head, did you have certain guiding principles for your brand where you said, "Everything we do with Farmgirl flowers has to be A, B, and C? Has to be natural, has to be sustainable, has to be... whatever." Did you have any of that?C Stembel: I think I did, but not in a very formal way. The one guiding light that I have for my company is that I want to create a company that I would want to buy from, sell to, and work at. Those three things. And so it's kind of like my golden rule for the company. And so any time I have a decision to make that I'm not sure about, I run it through that lens. And I'm like, "Well, would I want to work at a company that doesn't have benefits? No. So I need to get benefits for my team." Or, "Would I want to work at a company with this much waste? No." So all those things that makes it very easy for me to decide what to do from there with that lens. I think for when I was creating the brand around the product and still to this day, it really is just that we're creating a brand and products and an experience overall that all of us that work at Farmgirl would want to buy from and would want to get at that product. So it's very much a reflection of when I came up with the aesthetic, even, for what our bouquets would look like, I got all the flower books and I looked all over Google and looked at what all the fancy florists that people were writing about were doing. And I was like, "That's not reflective of me. I don't really like the styles of those bouquets." So I just created one that I would want to receive. And so it's a very informal but just... I still am very active in product development. Me and one person on our team create almost all of the products that you see on our site. And it's very much, what do I want to receive? And then when we don't know, we ask our customers now. So we just did a survey for when we started doing holiday products this summer, and we thought we would get a couple hundred responses from our customers. We were just like, "Hey, tell us what you think, what products did you like? What do you want us to bring back? What new things do you want us to create?" And we had thousands of responses. We were blown away because they weren't like, A, B, C, D. They were like fill in the blank and tell us. And people spent so much time telling us what they wanted and sending us pictures and things. It was amazing. We actually did not budget enough time to read them all because we were like, "Oh my gosh." So we all had to get... all the managers, everyone's taking a couple hundred a day. And that, I think, is a true reflection of... people buy from Farmgirl not just because they love the product, but they love the whole company around it and I feel so grateful for that. We did a survey last year to find out why people bought from us and the number one was just about tied, and it was they like our product and they like our company. Those two reasons. It wasn't because... and I was like, "What? Our company has to do with why you're buying from us?" They just really like our brand that we've created, which is exciting because that means that we can do other things besides flowers, too.F Geyrhalter: Right, right. Which you start doing. I see some hints of that on your website.C Stembel: Absolutely. Yup. Definitely.F Geyrhalter: So in the end, what do you think you actually ended up creating with your brand that is bigger than your offering?C Stembel: I think what we created, and hesitate to use this word because, you know what I'm going to say, because it's so overused, but we actually created an authentic brand. Authentic circa 2000, or 1995 before everybody started using it and not really knowing what it means. We are never going to be that polished company where it's really a couple white male founders sitting in an office in the financial district that's outsourcing everything to other people to make, to 3PLs. That's not us. We have so much heart into what we do, and we show the behind the scenes every day on our Instagram stories. We talk about our failures with our community. We fail all the time. I make bad decisions, we learn from it. Our most opened email was last New Year's Day where everybody was sending out their emails about, oh, what an amazing year, thank you for everything. And I sent an email that's like, "Wow, this last year sucked. It was so bad. All these things went wrong. And you know what? We're going to make this year so much better." And telling how we're going to make this year better. And people loved that. We got people writing in in droves to just thank us for just keeping it real. Because I think we just see shininess around us all the time now, and it's not real. So we like to show shiny moments when they're real and when they're happening. And we like to show all the unshiny moments so people know that they're not alone. This happens to us all. We had a peony debacle. We call it peony-ageddon here. This year at Mother's Day that almost floored us with hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses and stuff. We tell the stories so people know that we are truly approachable and we have a heart behind making their bouquets. And when people want to choose where to place their dollars and their support, they want to choose companies that they want to support with their dollars. And we're really fortunate that that tends to be us because we keep it real with them.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And that's going to happen more and more with the next generation. And it's a wonderful shift in the world that otherwise sees so many problems with transparency and authenticity. I think there's a huge shift right now, and it's great to see you be a part of that. And what I actually really enjoyed is somewhere in your many, many interviews, I read that you called mission-driven, you called it actually integrity-driven in a recent interview. And I really like that. I hadn't really heard integrity-driven being used as a phrase too often, but it feels much more approachable and human than mission-driven actually to me.C Stembel: Yeah. I think mission-driven, anybody can pick a mission, right? And I actually found that I was having problems as we were growing and scaling because we had a mission. We had a lot of missions when we started out that aren't our missions now. Because I found out I was wrong about things. One example of that is, when I started Farmgirl with a very clear goal of helping support American flower farms, and we only sourced domestic grown flowers. And I found that I was completely wrong. It was horrible- not even just from supply wasn't there, but a lot of the American farmers still to this day will not sell to me. And the only reason they won't sell to me that I can come up with is because I'm a woman. Because they sell to all my male counterparts, even younger businesses that are male-owned. But it's a good old boys network. And so I was fighting so hard and begging people to take my money, and it was horrible. Horrible. We were going to have to close down because I couldn't get enough supply. And even of the orders that they guaranteed us, we were getting 26% of our guaranteed orders. So I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. So I was wrong. And so saying I'm a mission-driven business and my mission is to support American flower farms and then to find out that that's a, not possible, two, not wanted, made me feel like I was failing in a big way. I don't need to be mission-driven on this one mission that anybody can pull out of a hat and say, this is our mission. I want to be integrity-driven. And every step of the way, I want to use really good integrity to make the best decision for our company and our consumers and our vendors and our environment, and all of the things I really care about.F Geyrhalter: So that's a fascinating example that you just gave and it's also mind blowing and it's also wrong in so many ways. How-C Stembel: Yeah. Amen.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, amen. So if this is the way that you decided to go, and obviously especially in the beginning in the first years of your business, I am sure that you very loudly talked about your mission, right? So that people say, "Yes, I want to support a female-founded company that supports only American farms." It just makes so much sense. And then suddenly you had to pivot and say, "Oh actually it ain't so." A, how was that being perceived and was that the beginning of the transparency and integrity-driven where you just say as it is. And B, where do you now source your flowers and how does that still fit in to your integrity-driven business?C Stembel: Yeah, that's a really good question. Yes. That was absolutely... it was the scariest moment of my life was when I hit send on the email where I sent a letter out to all of our customers and I put it on our social media to over a million people at that point, was really nerve-wracking. I was sitting in a hotel room in Las Vegas at a show when I had to send it out. And it was November 2016 when I realized that we were not going to make it through another Valentine's Day if I didn't change something, which is only three months away, right? So I had three months to completely change our supply chain sourcing model, which was hard. So I went down to South America, I had really great friends in the industry that connected me, when I would go to and say, "Tell me the most value-aligned farms that I can work with." And they gave me great names and I went and met with those farms and started sourcing internationally and sent that letter on January 25, 2017. And the fact that I can remember these dates when I have so much in my head shows how-F Geyrhalter: It's ingrained.C Stembel: Yes, it's ingrained in me. So January 25, 2017 was one of the scariest days of my life. Because you're right, we had gotten almost ten minutes on The Today Show talking about our local mission. We had New York Times. We had all of these amazing publications that had written stories on us based on this mission of supporting local. And to change that entire story was so scary.F Geyrhalter: Oh yeah, unbelievable. Yeah.C Stembel: Yeah. So I just decided after thinking about, how am I going to do this, and researching what other brands do and what other companies do when they need to make a huge pivot like this. And really didn't find a whole lot. So then I just thought, "Okay, what seems right to me is to be honest and transparent and just tell them the why." And I didn't tell them the full why because still at that point I had a lot of shame, which I'm embarrassed to even admit right now. That I thought the reason I couldn't make it work was somehow my fault a bit. And now I don't have any of that looking back on it. I have a lot more wisdom now to know, hey, you can't stop a train as one person if they don't want to stop. They're just going to run over you. So I told everybody, I sent out that letter, and then I waited with bated breath. And it was amazing. We got hundreds and hundreds of emails back from people saying, "thank you for taking the time," because it was obviously a very long letter because I don't do anything super short.F Geyrhalter: And that's a wrap for today.C Stembel: Totally. So I talk a lot. So I explained where cannabis has been legalized, we can't get enough flowers. And people don't want to sell to us and I've been told that I just need to slow down our growth in order to let farms keep up and that's just not a solution for us and all of these things and just shared that. And our amazing customers and fans, they were so supportive, and they were just so thankful that we told them the why [inaudible 00:22:49]. We didn't just pull the wool over their heads or start doing it. And that was so amazing to see and that I think that made me even double down, like you said, on the transparency and honesty with our consumers because for them to come along with us on this journey, they want to feel a part of it and that they can trust you. And if we're explaining why before we're making a major decision and that it's not like we're selling out to save a dollar. We're doing this because we need to in order to stay around. Then they were very understanding and amazing and so supportive and wonderful. So it was a great experience that could have been a horrible experience, but it worked out well. And now where we're sourcing is we're sourcing a lot more internationally with, like I mentioned, cannabis has really changed the landscape, especially in California, where 80% of the flowers are grown. People don't like to talk about that story but it's really real. And also I just have to say that the international- we have some really great domestic farms, a few really amazing domestic farms that we work with. And we will always work with them as long as they want to work with us and keep growing flowers. However, the international farms, what I have found is that they just treat us with the respect that we didn't get here as mostly females. And it's really refreshing to have farm partners that are values-aligned and they do amazing things for their teams. Amazing things. And also want to grow with us. And that I don't have to beg them to treat me with respect and take our money. And so I have no qualms because I think I also vote with my dollars just like our consumers do. And as a company, we still buy from some of the farms... one of them I had to threaten a gender discrimination lawsuit to get them to even sell to us. And I hate that I have to give them money. I need their flowers, but the fact that... if you have to threaten to sue somebody to get them to sell to you? And then you have to give them money? That's not voting with your dollar.F Geyrhalter: Unbelievable. Well, and actually, to interrupt you here for a second, I heard you say on CNN, nonetheless, that you feel it is a tremendous benefit being a female-founded company. So this is interesting in context of what you just told us. So something must have flipped around and even though you had to go through this horrible hardship, which, quite frankly, was threatening to your livelihood at that point. I mean, people who are not entrepreneurs, they might not understand why you say it was the worst day of your life because people say, "Well, it was was when you got cancer or when something horrible happened." No, this is about existence. This is existential fear, right? So you still feel like it's a tremendous benefit being a female-founded company, which I hope that is true and I love it because I had back-to-back female founders now for the last couple of episodes. And I think it is more and more the future, hopefully. But can you expand on that a little bit?C Stembel: Yeah. I think that there's certain things that I feel very... I feel that it is a tremendous asset in the flower space or in a creative space because I know what consumers want. So 80% of people that buy flowers are women buying for women, which is crazy to me because I'm the only larger scale female-founded eCommerce B2C flower company out there. They're all male-owned. And I think that's a huge asset to me because the things that they don't take inspiration from our company on is making the bouquets in house and really making the bouquets special. They're amazing at marketing and technology and things like that. But they're not fixing the real problem, which was ugly flowers, in my opinion. So I think as a woman who understands what women want, that's a huge asset. And the fact that my team is over 60% female run as well, we know what our consumers are going to want and that helps us. Where our male-owned competitors I don't think understand that they have to actually make beautiful flowers to get customers to come back at 62% rate like we have and to be able to spend less than $10 on customer acquisition cost because you don't need to keep re-acquiring customers because your last ones are always ticked off that they didn't get a good deal and they didn't get a great bouquet. So there's things like that that I think are a tremendous asset to being a woman in this space. I think almost everything else, it's harder. I just want to be really honest. It's harder. We've been bootstrapped the whole time, not because we didn't want to raise capital, but because I couldn't raise capital. I've gotten over 100 no's. I have spent 30% of my time for over three years trying to raise capital and finally got to the point where I'm like, I'm not even taking a meeting anymore. I'm so tired of spending so much of my time when I have less than a two percent chance of raising capital as a female.F Geyrhalter: And to be-C Stembel: Statistically speaking, you know?F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and to be fair, this was going in two ways against you. One, most likely because of all of the clout that goes against being a female founder for sure. But on the other hand because you also had that integrity where you said, "No, I'm not going to go for the bottom line. No, I'm not going to go A, B, C, D, E. And after that there's the door. Thank you for your time."C Stembel: Absolutely. My team are all full time with benefits, 401K. We're not going to do things just to improve the bottom line and make everybody independent contractors or... we're not going to do things like that. And so that definitely negatively impacts our bottom line, which is not what investors... because they're looking for a very quick return. We're also always going to think at the longer term plan. I make decisions that on this quarterly report would look horrible because it's going to help us next year or the year after. And so I'm not going to play this game of fudging your numbers just to look good for investors. I'm looking for the longterm plan to build a really viable, sustainable, longterm really great company that creates really good jobs, nontech jobs, as well. And that's not that attractive to investors that need a really quick turnaround with a 10x return, you know? So there's lots of reasons that we don't fit the model and the patterns of what they're looking for. But also as a female, un-pedigreed female. I don't have any college degree, I didn't work at any of the big tech start-ups before. So I also need to be really realistic about what my outcomes and options are. And it's just better to get my 30% time back and keep growing at 50-80% growth year over year like we are every year and keep doing that by investing our profits back into the company, so.F Geyrhalter: And I think it is the right thing and the only thing to do today. And I gave a keynote last week in Vegas and it was a group of healthcare staffing CEOs. And I basically told them what you just preached, right? That there's a new way of doing business, and it's about transparency and it's about solidarity, etc. etc. And afterwards there was a big Q&A and one person said, "This is all fine and good and you're talking about a lot of start-ups that do that, but how could mid-sized companies start to do some of that? How can we suddenly turn into a transparent company? And I think it was a really interesting question, right? Because if you from the ground up create a company that has that at its roots, it's so much easier. Obviously Fortune 500s, good luck. But the small ones, the small to mid-sized companies that say, "Hey, I believe in what you say and I would like to do that, but how can I do that?" What would your thoughts be? How could a company that is not built on those values, how could they slower start to inject those and actually make them actionable? Putting you on the spot totally here, because you know what? I was put on the spot?C Stembel: That's a really good- no, that's a great question. No, you totally, no...F Geyrhalter: Karma, I forward it on.C Stembel: And good job to the person that asked that question because I think it's a great question. I mean, I've always said that there's not may moats that we have here at Farmgirl. Our competitors all order our bouquets, reverse engineer... they can do whatever they want and they can see all of our packaging that creates this amazing brand and unboxing experience and they can replicate it. And they all do. But the thing that they can't replicate is the heart that we put behind it, and that really shows. And so that's a great question because I've said that the moat that we have is that it's really hard to make a pair of low-riders into Mom jeans. Once you're a thing, it's really hard, especially if you have people that have been there a long time that this is the way they do things. I used to work at Stanford University before this, and it was basically a government job is what it felt like where just people had been there forever doing the same thing over and over and over again. And one of the negative responses I got from a superior, one of the bad feedback I got for my performance was that I forged ahead too quickly and didn't wait for everybody to catch up. And that was a negative on my performance review. And I looked at her-F Geyrhalter: Congratulations on your negative.C Stembel: Thank you. That's what I told her, I was like, "That's the nicest thing anybody's ever told me." Which is not the response she wanted. So I think it's really challenging, especially if people have been there forever. The only thing I can think on the spot that I would probably try if I had that situation where I was going into a medium-sized company that wanted to be like a Farmgirl, let's say. I'm just going to do it in the flower terms because that's where I'm at. But they'd already been doing this for 20, 30, 40 whatever years the way they had been doing it, is I would probably have to create a whole new department with new people to help influence change instead of dictate change. Because otherwise you're going to blow up your whole culture, right? And so it would have to be a slower process, which I do not do well with. Actually my team, the people that come here that need to take a long time to analyze and overanalyze everything don't work out here very well because I'm usually like, "We're going to try this and we're starting it in two months." A whole new process for... we did our whole supply chain in three months, we changed.F Geyrhalter: You have to, yeahC Stembel: Yeah. You have to move so fast here. But at big companies that have already been, or medium-sized companies that have already been around for a long time, I don't think you can move that fast without really disrupting your culture, unless you need to disrupt your culture and then maybe you want to.F Geyrhalter: Well, and I think it might not even disrupt the culture. It might just positively color the culture in a different way. I think that the idea of maybe even starting with operations and slowly adjust operations to do something better and then have it bubble up to the top so then you can talk about the story. Because everyone just want to talk about the story, right?C Stembel: Well and talking about the story if it doesn't actually... that's I think where a lot of the big companies... that's great point because where I see that they get called out on their fake authenticity a lot is because they bring in this marketing team or an agency, right? To tell this really cool, hip, new story. But it's not actually what they're doing.F Geyrhalter: Exactly.C Stembel: So you're right. Starting with operations and actually changing how they're doing things, and then tell the story afterwards so it is truly authentic and not just that they're trying to be cool.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. See? Together we can do this answer really well.C Stembel: Yeah, it's great. Totally.F Geyrhalter: As we're slowly coming down to the end, one question I really like to ask every entrepreneur, what is one word that can describe your brand? If you have to put your entire brand into one word, I call it your brand DNA. How could you sum it up in a word?C Stembel: One word would be heart, definitely. And I think it's on so many different levels. So everything we do, we do with heart. We say that all the time at Farmgirl. We're never going to do the easy wrong. We're always going to do the hard right. And we're always going to make sure that everything we do, we're putting our whole heart into. And that's what I think customers relate to. And I know that from their feedback to me. Anytime I'm ... I did a speaking things this weekend, and the people that came up to me afterwards were talking about their experiences with Farmgirl. And this happens everywhere I go, if I'm in a crowd of females anyway, not men. But if I'm in a crowd of females, everyone comes up and tells me their personal experience they had with my company and my brand. And it has to do with number one, we're really fortunate that we're celebrating people's life moments. Really important moments in their life, where they be really amazing and wonderful or really sad, too. So we already have that. But then in addition to that, we have the whole experience of when you receive a Farmgirl bouquet, it's not just the flowers, it's the whole packaging, it's all the collateral cards as we put in extra. We put a little enamel pin that has a story with it, usually about my life. We have one that's a grit pin or a be a work horse in a sea of unicorns, that's also another one that people love.F Geyrhalter: And a feminist pin too, right?C Stembel: Yeah, feminist. We have take the bull by the horns. We have all ones that have a personal story of when you're having a hard day put this on, it's going to give you strength. This is about remembering to do the hard things even though they're not the fun things. Things like that.F Geyrhalter: So good.C Stembel: So we do these... it's a definite holistic story when you get your Farmgirl bouquet. And they tell me every single feeling they had when they opened every single part of the collateral. And they tell me about how the flowers made them feel and feel loved and special. And I think that that heart that we put into it shows and kind of transfers to the person who gets it. And I think that's really special that we get to do that. We get to show people that they're loved and that they're special and make them feel even more so in what we bring to them.F Geyrhalter: The heart that we put into it shows. That's your perfect Valentine's Day message.C Stembel: Yeah, totally. We're shooting that this week so I'm going to go tell them after this.F Geyrhalter: That's right. So after everything you have self-taught yourself about branding, and obviously it works and it comes from within, it's intrinsic. And of course now you've got all kinds of data and there's so much more to it, I'm sure, at this scale that you're working at today. But what does branding mean to you today?C Stembel: We don't have all the fancy tools that all the big companies have, and I don't think I want them, honestly a little bit. Because I like just being able to feel things. I like being able to think about things and ask our customers. I don't ever want to get to the point where I'm just taking industry data and being like, "Well, everyone's saying this is what consumers are wanting now," and stuff. I want to be able to keep that connection with our customers that then influence who we become as a brand, too. And I think that branding to me, number one it's my favorite thing about what I do. Absolute favorite thing about what I do is the brand that we get to create because I feel like it's kind of like a love letter a little bit. And we get to show our emotions and our heart on our sleeve to people and I think that that's really amazing and I love doing that. So it's my favorite part. I also think it's probably the most important thing about what we do. I don't ever want to create a company that doesn't have that, that doesn't have heart. And I use this a lot, but I never wanted to create a company that sold toilet paper. Not that there's anything wrong with it, I just didn't like-F Geyrhalter: Oh, you never know. There could be toilet paper sold with heart.C Stembel: It could be, it could be. I've seen some recent ones, I'm like, "Wow, that's a good idea with toilet paper." But I just wanted something that I personally could create a brand around and create love around and connect with people about. And so I think that that's what brand is. It's really showing your heart and showing on your sleeve a bit and connecting with your customers.F Geyrhalter: That's beautiful. It's so true. It's so true, especially with today's companies. I do have one last question because I'm sure everyone listening would have that same question. What's your PR secret? You have been on CNN, you have been on Hitting The Mark, okay maybe that not, but still, you've been Fast Company, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and anything in between. Was it hiring the perfect PR agency or just hustling your way in by using your unique story? I mean, both are very difficult.C Stembel: Yeah. I think it's that we have a good story and we photograph really well because flowers photograph really well, which is really lucky for that. But it is having a great PR agency, too. We have a phenomenal one in New York, Jennifer Bett Communications, that I can't say enough about. And they're wonderful and they work with us on what we want our story to be out there and who we want to be telling it. And so they've been wonderful to work with. So it's definitely not all... people think that we're just lucky and it's free and everything but we put a lot into it too.F Geyrhalter: Oh I'm sure.C Stembel: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: And thank you for sharing that. That was great.C Stembel: Of course.F Geyrhalter: Listeners-C Stembel: It is money, so.F Geyrhalter: That too, of course. Exactly, exactly. Listeners who fell in love with your brand just now, where can they get some Farmgirl flowers for the holidays?C Stembel: Why thank you for asking, that's a great question.F Geyrhalter: Well you didn't see that coming.C Stembel: Totally. Farmgirlflowers.com, on our website. And then we also ask that you just follow along with our journey on Instagram and Facebook too, if you want to see more behind the scenes every day. We like to show you how we're making each bouquet and fun things about our company there as well.F Geyrhalter: And I think you have 133,000 flowers, is that correct?C Stembel: I think we're at-F Geyrhalter: Or is it 311 now? One or the other.C Stembel: Yeah, I think we're three something-F Geyrhalter: There you go.C Stembel: On Instagram. And probably about the same on Facebook. I think overall, it's a little over a million between all the channels.F Geyrhalter: That's awesome. That's really, really amazing. Congratulations on everything. I'm so thrilled that you were able to share your insights and your story with us on the show. I know you have a jam-packed schedule, so we really appreciate your time.C Stembel: No problem, thanks for having me. I really enjoy talking about this. I don't often get to talk about brand, so this is really refreshing and wonderful.F Geyrhalter: Excellent, thank you Christina.C Stembel: Awesome, thank you Fabian.
Learn more about Base CultureSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 This was Jordann Windschauer Amatea, the third mom entrepreneur on Hitting the Mark back to back, who successfully conquered the food business and another amazing inspiration to anyone who wants to move a passion into a business and subsequently into a brand with heart and soul. Jordann founded Base Culture as a bakery, catering to the healthy, pure and primal lifestyle that could be summed up as the paleo diet. She wanted to live a healthy lifestyle but have a brownie. So she baked it until it was perfect. She could not find a co-packing facility. So she created her own and waited two years to have it built and finalized while keeping hundreds of stores and journalists interested in her product title. What I learned about Jordann is that she is stubborn and passionate, and those two traits may just be the key ingredients to her success. Today she's working out of a 44,000 square foot facility, and her range of products can be found in over 7,000 stores nationwide. And now over to my conversation with Jordann. Welcome to the show, Jordann.Jordann W A:                Thank you so much. Excited to be here.F Geyrhalter:                 So you started your company Base Culture at age 22 which was only five years ago, and it came from your obsession with the paleo diet. Tell us a little bit about the origins of your brand.Jordann W A:                Yeah, so I had graduated from college and joined a CrossFit gym and they were doing this paleo challenge where I honestly didn't know what paleo was, but I figured I should participate and get involved in the community and what they were doing to make friends and get involved. So I jumped in and did 30 days where you eat meat, vegetables, seeds and nuts and fruit. And after that was concluded, I felt so much better. And so I don't have like a celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but overall I did realize the impact of eating this way versus the college diet, which probably isn't the healthiest. And so I notice things in my life were changing. I had more energy with consistent levels instead of having highs and lows throughout the day, and I was sleeping better at night. I wasn't tossing and turning and things like that. So I realized that there really was something to this and it wasn't just about weight loss or physical appearance or anything like that. It was more how I wanted to live my life and wanted to continue down this journey. And so that's really how I gotten introduced to paleo right off the bat. But then I wanted to continue following this lifestyle, but I realized to do so that I needed to figure out a solution for my sweet tooth and for products that I know and love and grew up eating like sandwiches and banana breads that I missed in my everyday life when I was on this lifestyle for paleo. But it didn't exist in the marketplace. And so that's why I started creating the products. It was very much for selfish want or desire that I was filling a void in my life and kind of created what it is today just by bringing it to the marketplace and introducing it to my friends and family and kind of word of mouth started spreading organically. So that was my introduction and do this whole lifestyle that is all around paleo but kind of stumbled on the business through that.F Geyrhalter:                 How do you move from baking treats, which I'm sure in the beginning you did out of your apartment or your dorm room, right? How do you go from baking them to actually selling them? I mean, are there any FDA issues even early on? And just for our international listeners, which is actually more than half of our audience, FDA is the Food and Drug Administration here in the US. How did that go? Where did you start selling, first of all?Jordann W A:                Sure. So when I originally started selling it, I was actually just selling it on Facebook. So I would post when I was going to make something, and I had a regular day job at the time. So I would be working at my desk job from nine to five, and then I would work out from 5:30 to 6:30, and at some point during the day I would post on Facebook saying, "I'm making brownies tonight. Who wants some?" And then people would place their orders on Facebook, contact me through a message, and send me their address and then I would deliver it to them on the weekend.F Geyrhalter:                 That's insane. That is completely insane.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 There is no FDA involved there. You could be a complete crazy stranger. Yeah, I mean, wow. There's a lot of trust in humanity after all.Jordann W A:                There is. There is definitely something to say about that for sure. Doing that, I was operating under the cottage food law, which allows you to make food out of your apartment. And so with that, I guess that legal standpoint, you can't sell to someone and ship it to them. So that was one parameter I had to work with. So it had to be hand-delivered. And then the other parameter was you can't sell to retail stores because they do require some certifications. But if you just sell basically like at a farmer's market type setting or if you deliver the products to the person by hand, then you're clear to do whatever you want. And so I took advantage of that and I would make all of these products throughout the night and then like I said deliver it on the weekend and sell on Sundays at a farmer's market and just tested the waters. I mean, truthfully at the time I didn't realize that this could be a business. I didn't realize what legs it had, if it had any legs at all. It was just something fun for me to do. And I found enjoyment and baking at night. And I'm not culinary trained or I don't have a history in baking. It's just something I enjoyed doing growing up with my mom. And so just kind of reliving those days and getting in the kitchen and figuring out recipes that worked, I found a lot of joy in. And so I just followed that and started organically selling. And my advertising was word of mouth, but it was very grassroots.F Geyrhalter:                 And was it mainly catering to the friends within your Facebook groups that actually followed the paleo diet? Or was it just anyone that says, "Hey, I like your brownies." I'm sure I would like your brownies. So how did that work?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so it originally started with people that were specifically interested in paleo, and then once they tried it, they're like, "Holy cow, this is just a really good brownie. But it also checks off the boxes for being paleo or grain free or gluten free or dairy free or soy free or non-GMO." It has all of these attributes. But at the core base of the product I'm eating, it's just a really good brownie. So it wasn't like they were sacrificing taste or texture or that experience of indulging in a sweet treat for the alternatives of what you would consider a healthy product. And so once they realized that, okay, wow, this is awesome and I really enjoy this, I think a word of mouth started spreading just on a really good product that was healthier, better for you. And so as time continued, my core paleo group of people that were buying for the purpose of paleo started expanding, and now we're seeing that really just people that want to live healthier lifestyles are our key customers. Because yes it does check the box or paleo, but it has so many other answers within the product itself. So it kind of is migrated out to just that want to eat better food that is nutritionally-focused and has that deliverable aspect to it.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And I think for a startup founder, having that built in tribe in the beginning though, like that small subgroup that you wholeheartedly can support, must be so amazing because you can literally get a relatively small audience in a huge place like the US with its, I don't know, 329 something million people and you would have a loyal tribe of like hundreds of thousands if not millions. And so it wasn't even a trick you utilized. It was just a passion, which you are the third female founder who happens to be an entrepreneur who happens to be a mom and who happens to have gone into food and beverage without any experience just based on passion or a need. And it's really, really inspirational. So I love having you on, and I love hearing hearing that story. But looking back, what was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, okay, my little startup is actually turning into a brand?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So I actually had some unexpected news coverage. This was still in the days of my apartment when I was baking there. And I recognized that there were a couple of news anchors from a local news channel following me on Facebook and Instagram or following the business. So I reached out to them and I figured, if you don't ask, you'll never get. So I just sent them a message and said, "Hey, do you guys want to do a story?" And one of the anchors responded and said, "Yeah, we're really interested in this paleo thing." This was back when paleo was kind of making it a name for itself, but not really. And they wanted to learn more about it, and they recognized what I was doing in the Tampa area where I'm from. And so she said, "Here's my number. Give me a call. Let's set something up." And so I did. I went in. We did a segment and it aired in Tampa like they said it would. But what I didn't recognize was that they have a network pool of companies that they work with around the country. So they put this story in their network pool and it was picked up by other channels and played multiple times for a week straight. And so I had national news coverage that was completely unexpected and I had people calling, trying to place orders. I had retail stores asking if they could buy it to sell it to their customers. And it was obviously way more than I could handle or even do in my apartment. And that was really where I saw, okay, is this bigger than what I anticipated or is this something I want to take advantage of and go forward with? And it was at that time, I remember what restaurant I went to with my dad and I sat down with him, and I remember the table we sat at, and I told him how exciting this was and how much support I was getting from the community and what had happened with the new segment. And I explained what I wanted to do with it and how much passion I had behind it because I recognized that I was helping people, not only people that wanted to live this healthy lifestyle, but people that needed to eat this way because they did have gluten intolerances or sensitivities to foods and that they didn't have access to products like this. And they were "suffering" or having to sacrifice for products that they really wanted or just wanting to enjoy. And so with that, I explained all of this and he very quite frankly told me, and in the most loving way possible that I had a hobby and a business and I was doing both poorly, and I needed to spend more time on my business and less time on my hobby if that's the way I wanted to go and the direction I wanted to head in. And so that was, I think, really the pivotal moment for me where I decided that I am all in, blood, sweat and tears. I'm diving in headfirst and this is what I want to do with my life. This is my passion. And so at that point I got out of my apartment and went to a small commercial kitchen and rented some space and started turning it into more of a business.F Geyrhalter:                 So first of all, I love what your dad said. It is so wonderful and it's so true. And so now fast forward and you were about to get there. I read, and this is fascinating, I read that you couldn't find a co-packer to package your line of products. So after eight months, after eight months of looking, you actually took it into your own hands and built your own facility, which I guess today is 44,000 square foot in size today. But that move sounds amazingly stubborn, inspiring. And those are extremely difficult to pull off. Did you have a hard time finding a co-packer because you needed a facility to not package any goods that may contaminate your pure products? How was that?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So there was a couple of reasons why we decided to build our own facility. One reason was because of the contamination issue. So our products are certified non-GMO, gluten-free, paleo, kosher, and it's made in an SQF level two facility, which stands for safe quality food. And so I wanted those certifications around the products wherever they were going to be made. The problem was there wasn't a manufacturing plant in the country that could deliver on those aspects. And so to make sure that the products were consistent and of the highest quality and standards 100% of the time, I knew the only way I could guarantee it that was if I kept my hands around the process from start to finish. And then furthermore, because our products were so unique to the industry, there wasn't actually a manufacturing plant that had the processes set up to make the products. Because in a typical bakery, they're used to working with yeast and flour and sugars and all of these things that usually make up baked goods. But ours are made out of seeds and nuts and they're sweetened with honey instead of sugar. There's no preservatives. They require to be frozen to extend their shelf life. And so it was a very different process so that these manufacturing plants were used to. And so, I didn't understand it at the time because I was like, "Hey, I'm going to pay you. Why can't you figure this out?" And I truly get it now because we do have our facility. Like you said, we did take on that responsibility and build it ourselves. So I understand when you have a process in place, it is so pivotal to make sure that whatever products you're making within your process don't screw up what you're already doing. And our products would have totally done that for these manufacturing plants. So with that, I decided, and again, I sat down with my dad who, he's an entrepreneur himself. He's not in the food industry, but he's very business minded. And now he's one of my business partners. But I sat down with him again, and I was like, "I really only see the way forward is if we build our own plant, and that's really the only way we're going to be able to grow this." And at the time, I had a lot of interest from bigger retail stores, but in this industry, you can't get anyone to promise that they're going to send you a purchase order. That doesn't happen. If they want your products and they're going to place an order, you're expected to deliver in two weeks. And so I had this interest, but I couldn't say, without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that they were going to order if we build this facility because there was going to be a gap when the facility was being built before we could deliver it. So it might've been a little presumptuous, maybe a little naive, or ...F Geyrhalter:                 Optimistic.Jordann W A:                Just blinded by passion, I don't know. But we started looking for a facility. We were looking around the country, and actually one popped up in Clearwater where we are now, which was 20 minutes outside of Tampa, where I'm from, and about 20 minutes away from my dad's house in St. Pete. And so the stars aligned, and it was an old U.S. Foods distribution plant. So it was set up with food in mind, so we didn't have to do any external changes to the facility. We just did internal renovations. But from permitting to move in, we did lose about two and a half years to complete the project from the branded side of things.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah.Jordann W A:                But I did continue to go out and pitch to the connections I had made to make sure that the relationships were moving forward and make sure that they understood that we were actually doing this thing, and that one day the lights would turn on, and I would be able to actually sell them food and not just talk about it. And so, thankfully I was able to make those relationships last so that, when we did move into our facility, let's see, it was February of 2017 when we first moved in after the construction was complete. From February till July, we got those certifications that I mentioned in July, we hired a national broker to help us sell the products, and then in August, in September we did a rebranding to make our image and kind of give it a facelift to go to the market and officially launched then in October of 2017. So even though I started the company many years prior to that, there was really only a hundred stores buying from us up until that point. So it was a big undertaking financially, emotionally, physically, all of those words, to get to a place where we could actually grow the company.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, I'm sure.Jordann W A:                And then, from October to the end of 2017, we went from a hundred stores to a thousand stores. And then we were well on our way to growing quickly.F Geyrhalter:                 Were you self-funded at the time when you took over that facility?Jordann W A:                We were self-funded. A majority of it was self-funded, and we had a small business loan from a local bank.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay, okay. So you talked about when you did your rebranding, which was the smart thing to do at the time, when you were just about to really roll out, and as you told us, that happened very quickly when it happened.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 How was the name derived?Jordann W A:                So it's kind of funny. When I originally started the company, I'd called it Paleo Box because I thought I'm making paleo food, and I'm putting it in a box, and I'm selling it. There really wasn't genius behind it. It was very literal. But about five minutes after I called it Paleo Box, I realized I couldn't move forward with that name for two reasons. One, it was actually already trademarked, and you can't do that. And two, I didn't want to necessarily put the products I've created in a limiting a platform. I wanted to be able to create a brand that could grow and fluctuate with the consumers' interests throughout time. And so, with that, I realized, all right, let's rethink this. Let's figure out what what am I truly trying to get across to the customer? And the idea behind paleo, while I believe paleo is a wonderful lifestyle to follow and that there's no gimmicks, it's just nutritionally based eating that, if Dr. Oz or someone of status or just the public eye gets online and says paleo is the worst thing in the world, which I don't believe they would, having the name as the name of the company would be detrimental.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And so I wanted to create a broader platform for us to grow on. And so, with that, I realized, well, paleo is really just taking all the complications out of eating and bringing it back to its base, its core, what it is when it's found in nature. And so that's really where base came from, and culture's the idea of what I'm creating around this type of lifestyle. We want to create this movement and this cultural like following of our customers. And by doing that, we're going to provide them the tools they need to live their healthy and active lifestyle. And so that's the origin of Base Culture, of how that was created.F Geyrhalter:                 And it is a name that stands out more than it fits in in the refrigerated aisle of a Walmart or Whole Foods.Jordann W A:                Totally.F Geyrhalter:                 So it's super interesting, right? And on your website, and I believe it's kind of your tagline, you say Base Culture is simple, natural, primal. It kind of reads like a manifesto. What does that mean to the brand, and how does it inspire its future?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So it's really who we are. We bring our products back to a simple standpoint. When you look at a normal brownie, and when I say "normal," it's one of those pre-packaged, very artificially made, or has a lot of preservatives in it. You look at that, you look at the ingredient deck, there are a lot of ingredients in there that you don't understand or you can't even pronounce, and you don't know what you're putting in your body. And that's not who we are. We're the exact opposite. You can read everything on our ingredient deck. You know exactly what it is, you know where it comes from, and it's products that you can trust. So making our products simple was truly important, not only from when I started in my apartment, but now that we're making thousands and thousands of products a day and sending it out to stores all across the country every single day, that hasn't changed. And that was really difficult for us to go from my kitchen in my apartment and the recipes that I've created to this large manufacturing plant, being able to produce on such scale, to maintain that process and that philosophy from the very start has been really key to our success. And it's that simplicity that we fall back to every time, and natural again. It's just a natural way of eating. It's no gimmick. There's no special pill that you have to take to be this way. It's just natural. It's what we were intended to do. And the primal aspect of it plays on the paleo word, and so paleo is kind of nicknamed "the caveman diet." It's what our ancestors used to eat. It's what you could find in nature, and so it's that raw form of eating. We just do it in a way and put it into a form that's recognizable in the bakery context. And so it has the ability to satisfy that sweet tooth or to indulge or "indulge," right? Because it is still very healthy and nutritional for you, so it's like indulging without the guilt.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. How was that rebrand effort? So you came from Paleo Box. You moved on to a new name, strong tagline. Everything went really to the heart of what you're trying to do without putting you into a corner like paleo so that you can't expand in the future. How was that process of rebranding? How involved were you? Were you working with a single person? Were you working with an agency? Tell us a little bit how everything kind of came together and also how important after that process, do you think that brand-infused thinking was to the success of your startup?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so we actually went through three different agencies before we found the agency that we moved forward with.F Geyrhalter:                 Ouch.Jordann W A:                And so it was a long process.F Geyrhalter:                 You're not the only one.Jordann W A:                It was not easy. The hardest part of it was I had this image in my head of what I thought the company should be, but also keep in mind, I was like 24, so what do I really know without any experience, without any knowledge of the industry, without any advice from some successful people in the industry. This was just truly gut feeling and gut reaction. But I had this picture in my head of what I thought the company would look like and what it would feel like and the way it would talk to the customers and the personality would develop. But conveying that to the agencies in a way that they could take it from my brain and put it on paper was a hard process. And I think, not to discredit the agencies that we spoke to, the first three agencies, it was probably mostly my fault because I wasn't able to articulate exactly what I was looking for. But through that process, I got more fine-tuned in my messaging, and I got more directive into the creative aspect. And so, when we found ... we worked with a company called Idol Partners, and they're out of California, and we still work with them today. They were the agency that ultimately brought Base Culture to life. And we invested tons of money just to get to that point, probably more money than we had. I know it was more money than we had to spend at the time. But the way we came out of it and the image and the branding that we had once we were done through that process with Idol, it was an image, and the packaging was mature, and it was an image that could be brought to life. And it was something that demanded attention in the retail stores and grabbed the attention of the retail buyers that were giving us the opportunities to go into the store. And so it made us look much more mature than we actually were. And it gave us the ability to grow faster because of it. And so it was a hard process. It was a long process that had to be done. And that's really I think what gave us the ability to develop the platform in which we've gotten to today. We actually, as of two weeks ago, started doing a brand refresh. We're still working with the same company, Idol, to do this, but now the products have been in the industry for two years, and we've seen little things that need to be tweaked or just changed a little bit. And so we have more information now than I did two years ago because of that. And we can go back into our design and make those changes to really even accelerate our growth faster. So, of course, with time you learn, and now we have the ability to do those fine tunes.F Geyrhalter:                 And now that you spent a good amount of years, talking, thinking, doing branding, some subliminally, a lot of it through an agency, and a lot of it just by yourself, the way that you talk about the brand. What does branding mean to you now?Jordann W A:                Well, I think it's ... It's everything. People say, "Don't judge the book by its cover." But in the consumer product world, that's exactly what people are doing. You have exactly three seconds to grab someone's attention, and maybe they don't, maybe they do, but your packaging, your branding, your image, that's what you have to hang your hat on. Of course, the product has to be spectacular as well, but someone's not going to try the products without seeing the packaging first. That's your first moment of impact. And so, with strong branding, it's everything. Your messaging has to be clear. It has to be concise. It's who you are. It's exactly what you breathe and you eat and you sleep and you dream. And that has all has to be captured within that package or within your brand, whether it be on the shelf or on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever platform you're promoting the products on. So, if your branding isn't anything but exactly what you want, it will come across untrue or won't accomplish the work you want it to do for you. And so I think things have developed over time and little pieces have fallen into place where it just feels right, and that's what you have to go for when you're developing the brand. And I've figured that out just through trial and error and over time and realizing what is important to Base Culture, what's not important to Base Culture, what resonates with the consumer. How do I get a message across in a way that will be impactful, that they will be willing to trust Base Culture to give it a try? And will that develop a loyal customer and how to build on that. And so branding's your lifeblood. It's everything from start to finish and the continuing relationship you have with the customer.F Geyrhalter:                 Talking about branding being your lifeblood, you literally are very much the brand as a person, which creates transparency and a real person rather than a brand image to root for. But now that you're a mom, how does it affect your personal life? Or is the baby just part of every Instagram story?Jordann W A:                Yeah, it's been an interesting transition from being just entrepreneur to being mompreneur, I guess, if you want to call it that.F Geyrhalter:                 Is that frowned upon? Is that a term that's actually frowned upon? Is that a term that is actually embraced, "mompreneur"?Jordann W A:                I think it depends on who you're talking to, truthfully.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay.Jordann W A:                Because there are some people where you tell them you have a family, and you have this life outside of the business, then it's like, "Well, if you want to be successful, you need to dedicate your entire every waking moment you have to the business."F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, Jesus.Jordann W A:                And while that's true to an extent, you have to make it work for your life because hey, it's also your life.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And then, in the other breath, there's plenty of people that are super supportive of this transition that I'm going through, and I've gotten a lot of people reaching out to be supportive and offer encouraging words of advice and how they've done it too. Because I'm not the first woman to have a baby and run a business. It's not unheard of, and it has been done before. It's just a matter of adjusting mentally and physically to the other demands. And so, thankfully, I'm one of eight kids in my family, and I have a lot of babysitters built in. And so I'm able to work out of my house a lot, which is great. But then I also have my siblings there to help support and watch my baby while I'm working or taking calls. They're able to help [inaudible 00:31:35] if I'm too busy doing emails. And so I've got the support internally from my family to help build my new family. And then also Base Culture is ... I kind of joke, and I say Base Culture was my first baby, and now Eloise is my second baby. And so I became a new mom and a second mom all at the same time. But it's just a balance. It's figuring out what's working for you and what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And it's wonderful. But I swear she'll be our very best sales girl when she's able to talk. I think Base Culture will be her first words.F Geyrhalter:                 If she wants to or not.Jordann W A:                Right. I was sending emails on day two of her life from the hospital bed. So, it's been a key part of her upbringing thus far. I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon. But she'll be well-versed within the consumer product industry very early in her life.F Geyrhalter:                 And there's some entrepreneurs that from from the get go say, "You know what, I don't want to be the face of the brand." I just want to run the brand. But no one really needs to ever see me, get to know me. We have a personality for the brand, we have a message, but I do not want to be outgoingly the brand as a person." And given the chance, would you not be the face of the brand if you had to do it all over again. Or do you feel like it is really what makes it so authentic?Jordann W A:                I think that for Base Culture, it really does give it life. This isn't just a story where I stumbled across a recipe, this was based off of my life. Truthfully, this was because I wanted this product. And that's how we were founded. And I think if I weren't involved as intricately as I am, the branding will lose its appeal. It would lose its lust, and it would have more of a flat effect than a robust. And so for Base Culture, and other companies operate differently and there are plenty of success stories that the founder isn't as involved on the branding aspect. But I think I wouldn't do it differently if I were to do it again. I would still be as involved as I am. And it's really fun for me, honestly, that's my favorite part, is going out and having the meetings, or doing podcasts like this and talking to people. Because I am so passionate about it. I would hate just to be doing the work behind the scenes. I think that would be boring for me. Having the ability to go and sit on panels and talk and answer questions, and dive deep, and explore the realms of where, where I am in my personal life and as it relates to Base Culture. This is my life, it is what I do. It's more than 50%, well more than 50%. I would say more than 80% of my days is focused around the company. So yeah, it's been fun in developing myself through the company, and the company through myself.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's your passion. And I read it in an interview where you were asked a question, "How do you define success?" And I'll quote you here with your answer. You said, "I used to say that when we make X amount of money, we would be successful. However, today we hit that X dollar amount. The goal then changed to something twice as much. It was after this happened about five times that I realized that success is not measured by the amount of money you are making, rather it is measured by the difference you are making in other people's lives along the way." How do you see that difference you're making with your brand? The impact you're having? where do you get to witness that feedback when you're out there?Jordann W A:                Well, first of all, I've never been quoted before, so that was really cool.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. It's the only one I have.Jordann W A:                No, it was very good. Yeah, we see people sending us responses that they dive in and they're vulnerable, and they open up about the way our products have impacted themselves. And we see this through Instagram. We see it through Facebook. We get messages through our email on our website, and we get comments on our pages, on our website as well next to the products. And so they're available for everyone to see if you go onto our website, and just scroll down, you can see all the comments. But this support, the honest truth of what people see in our products and how it's affecting them, from someone that has an eating disorder that hasn't allowed themselves to have a dessert, or a bread for years and years, because they don't think that they can as a person, do that. That they stumbled across our products, they read the ingredients, and they were able to convince themselves that it would be okay to have a brownie, because how clean and how pure the ingredients are. And they indulged and they had it and they love it and they're coming back to it. And that truly changed it. It was a pivotal moment in their lives. We see people reaching out saying their child has autism and that they have to eat this clean lifestyle, this clean way of eating. They have to do that because of the disease that their child has. But because our products don't have the artificial sugars, they don't have the additional bad ingredients in it that a lot of products do, especially in the baked goods category, that they've been able to enjoy a brownie. It's a kid enjoying a brownie. While that might not seem as monumental to many people, it is impactful for someone that has never been able to give their kid a brownie in his life. And so those are just two examples of ways that I've seen these products not only change lives, but really be a part of their growing future. To really have that ability to provide products. And at the end of the day it's like, "Oh, you have a bakery." Well yeah, we do have a bakery, but we stand for something more than just baked goods. We're giving these customers opportunities that weren't available to them before. And we're growing with them, and we're developing more products for them. And that's why we do it. That's the main reason. Because we can add things to people's life to make it easier for them to live healthier and happier. And so that's truly, that's when success is. We can keep shooting for higher goals. We can keep shooting for more money. We can keep shooting for a bigger facility, or we can keep shooting to make a difference in people's lives. And at the end of the day, that's what drives me forward. Because, like you said in the quote that I had passed along in another interview, that bar of success, that'll just keep getting higher and higher and higher. And if that's what you're hanging your hat on, then you're always going to be disappointed. Because it's just going to keep growing. And so to find that satisfaction in the daily drive, because this is a hard business. It's definitely not easy. It doesn't come easily. You have to work at it every single day. But to be able to find success, and that rewarding success is really truly what makes the difference for me.F Geyrhalter:                 And if you would distill all of that into one word that can describe your brand, I call it your brand DNA, what would be that one all-encompassing word that your brand could stand for.Jordann W A:                Freedom. I think that's the word I would use if I were to pick one.F Geyrhalter:                 Go deeper. Freedom for the actual customer, for the consumer to to at last be able to eat, to eat-Jordann W A:                Exactly. Exactly. Not having the stigma around baked goods and snacks any longer, but be able to enjoy something that they truly want. It's a brownie, it's a bread, it's a banana bread, it's a pumpkin bread. It's almond butter. But it's freedom to let yourself enjoy it and to actually enjoy it. Not just settle for a "healthy product", because you have to eat that way, but we should want to eat this way. And freedom from a nutritional standpoint. Not having to worry about the ingredient deck, not having to worry about what you're putting in your body, but knowing that you're putting actual food in your body that it can use as fuel. Instead of stores fat. So freedom comes in a lot of ways, but especially when it comes to indulging and snacking and having dessert, there's a lot of stigma around it when you're trying to live healthier, or you need to live healthier for your own self. And freedom to do that in a way that you can enjoy, I think is the one word and how I would describe it if I were to take one word.F Geyrhalter:                 It's really refreshing, because when you think of freedom as as a brand DNA, you usually think of Holly Davidson, so you just brought it into a new decade. I love that.Jordann W A:                Right. Exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 It's like this is what freedom means today. As we're getting to the point of wrapping up this show, this episode. Do have any final, piece of brand advice because you've been through different agencies. You worked really hard to get this done. You're also a very young entrepreneur. You did everything without any big knowledge of your field that you entered, in marketing and branding and all of it was very fresh to you. Do you have any brand advice for founders as a final takeaway?Jordann W A:                Yeah, I would say trust your gut, whenever you're in doubt, trust your gut. Listen to yourself. You know your brand better than anyone else. You know that there might be other people out there that have more industry experience and more knowledge based off history, but no one will ever know the brand better than the founder. It is your baby. It's your life. It's exactly what you think about almost all of your days. And that will give you the gut feeling you need to drive a brand forward. Whether it be the image that you're painting as the packaging, or the voice you're trying to create on social media. That that gut feeling, and that gut check is truly your guiding force. And like I said, there isn't someone else that can tell you what that is. That is part of you that will always be yours. So to trust in that and to really dive into what that means for you, will help guide you whenever there's a question.F Geyrhalter:                 I so 110% agree with that. And that's also how I work with companies on their brand. I'm a brand therapist, that's all I do, right? I just get it out of the founder.Jordann W A:                Right.F Geyrhalter:                 Because I am not going to create the strategy, they create the strategies because they already have it in them. It's just me who has to align everything for success. So I really loved what you said.Jordann W A:                Well and that's a hard thing too.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely.Jordann W A:                It took us so long to get to a place where branding was... It took three agencies to actually articulate it. It's not an easy process. But for founders to go through that rigorous step, the steps it takes to find who you are and what you are as a brand is so important. And so the role you play is monumental.F Geyrhalter:                 Because more agencies have answers than they have questions. And questions is really where the answers lie.Jordann W A:                Exactly, exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 Listeners who fell in love with your brand, with what you talked about, who want to buy into a lifestyle that is more natural and more and more primal, and in a way more logical. Where can they find your products?Only in the U.S. I assume, but are there certain regions? Are there certain places where they can find it?Jordann W A:                Yeah, we're a national in the U.S.. Our products are in both natural and conventional stores. We're national with Whole Foods, so any Whole Foods in the nation. We're also in Sprouts, we are also in Kroger and Albertsons, Safeway, again throughout the whole nation, so not regionally focused. We're also in Walmart and H-E-B hour in Wegmans, if that's your shopping preference. We're also in Fresh Market. We actually just got placement there. We'll be there at the end of this month. So that's some exciting news. But really we have a lot of locations. We're in almost 8,000 stores across the country. So I encourage you guys to go on our website, which is baseculture.com and type in your zip code on our locator page. And that'll show you exactly where our products are near a store by you and what products are sold there. So you can go into the store knowing exactly what we carry at that particular location. Because we do have a wide variety of products, not every store has everything we carry, but we're working on expanding our distribution. So that'll help guide you to exactly what you're looking for.F Geyrhalter:                 Jordan, congratulations on your amazing success which happened so quickly. And congrats on being a new mom and now you've got-Jordann W A:                Thank you.F Geyrhalter:                 ... wow you've got two babies. And thank you so much for having been on the show. I know it's a busy lifestyle currently for you, So for you to spend those 40 somewhat minutes with us, we all really appreciate your time and your insights.Jordann W A:                Absolutely. It's been an honor talking with you. Thank you for having me on. This is my pleasure.F Geyrhalter:                 What an inspiration for any entrepreneur, but also for me to get back into the all-natural diet. Thank you for listening. Please rate the show and show you support via patreon.com/hittingthemark so we can make this podcast, 100% community-enabled and sponsor free. And you get to hop on an hour long Google Hangout group call with me once a month, where I can give you entrepreneurial brand and creative advice worth much more than the $15 and 95 cents you'd spend to support this programming. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting The Mark.
Learn more about Brazi BitesSupport the show____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: That was Junea Rocha, who founded Brazi Bites. Since our last episode, we know it takes no culinary background to create a food product that sells like hot cakes, or in Junea's case, like hot cheese bread. I had such a great time hearing her story, from being a civic engineer to running her brand with her husband. Killing it on Shark Tank, making Inc's fasting growing private company list in the US for the past two years, spending three grueling years on the road selling and testing their product, to today, where they run 8000 stores. And you will soon know why, as you will be able to witness her drive, her contagious energy, and learn from Junea's vast branding and positioning knowledge. Not only if you're in food and beverage or branding, or if you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship from your cushiony job. No, even if you are just a consumer, this is a fascinating conversation. Welcome to the show, Junea.J Rocha: Thank you. So happy to be here.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, thanks for being here. I want to start us off with a big question that also tells us a bit of your journey. What did branding mean to you when you were back in Brazil, or even while working nine to five as an engineer in Portland? Basically in your past life. And what does it mean to you now that you brought a product to market successfully?J Rocha: Well, before I started Brazi Bites, I would say I never paid attention to branding. I was a receiver, right? I was a consumer. I was a purchaser, and branding was impacting my life, but I never noticed it. It was seamless because I was impacted by my shopping patterns, but everything changed once I decided to launch my own company and understand, "How would people choose to buy my product," and really started to learn. So I would say I didn't know much about branding, I was just a regular consumer shopper because I would say, before I started Brazi Bites I was an engineer and in construction you really don't get into branding. It's not a very creative field. It's very hard work and intense and important, but not very creative, and so ... Starting the company, knowing branding, and getting deep into it and focus on it has been critical to the success of our company.F Geyrhalter: And what does it mean to you now, when you think about your brand, the word branding? A lot of people think about the logo and they think about packaging, but to you, what does it mean today, looking at your company?J Rocha: I would say in a simplified way, the foundation of the brand is the logo. Is your side and your package and your promotional materials, but the branding, to me, is more than that. It's the promise to our consumers. Our branding is, it tells the consumers what they can expect from us, what they can expect from our products, and it differentiates us from our competitors in the marketplace.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And going back to what you just said, you talked about having been an engineer, right? That was your traditional, original path. So everyone wants to be an engineer today. You've been one, and then you wanted to create cheese bread. Can you think of any ways, because I'm just so intrigued by that. Can you think of any ways that being an engineer helped you on this totally different path?J Rocha: So many ways. I would say, I'll share with you for just a couple seconds why I became an engineer and how I got here, because I think it's important to understand the path and the decisions I made. But when you grow up in Brazil, and a lot of emerging markets in Latin America, it's not unusual for your upbringing, especially in my time, in the eighties and nineties that your family will look at you and pretty much give you three options. You're going to become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer.F Geyrhalter: Totally.J Rocha: I swear, right? You probably know about it.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, same in Austria. It was the same thing, right? There are three universities you can go to. Which do you want?J Rocha: That's it. It's like, "Which do you want," and I was always really driven and wanting to do some creative things, but engineer was that path because I wasn't going to be a lawyer and doctor wasn't for me, so I became an engineer. So fast forward, I go to college, I graduate, I get a job, and then I start working on it. And then for almost ten years I worked as an engineer, here in Portland, Oregon. And so starting my career and my development as a professional in that field. Then I go ahead and leave that career and start a cheese bread company. So how did that translate and help me? So, when you think about being an engineer, it's all about problem solving. It's all about starting something and finishing and working through massive obstacles. That's what an engineer does, and as part of my career there, it was very much also focused on project management and problem solving. So now we go, "Let's start a food company. Let's try to break through the noise of the marketplace to create a brand, to create a product that resonates." All of that problem solving skills, all of that start and ending and completing tasks in a very organized way that was effective and then lead to the next thing and the next thing just totally resonates. It helped me a ton.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and you engineered the best cheese bread north of Brazil, so I guess it must have helped. Actually, would Brazi Bites stand a chance in Brazil where there is this sea of competitors? Would you ever go there with your brand?J Rocha: I don't have any intentions of going there, and I'll tell you why. The cheese bread in Brazil, and in several countries in South America, is treated like a commodity. It is so spread and there's so many manufacturers, and the quality has gone down over the years. But then because of that, new artisanal companies have spun up. So it's such a dynamic market, it's so competitive and saturated, and I that's not a field that I want to play. I love what we created here in the United States with this product line, and there's plenty of business in North America for us.F Geyrhalter: So no Europe either?J Rocha: We talk about going to Europe and that's not a no forever, we just ... There's some manufacturing challenges and currency challenges that need to be tackled. Food can only be sold by a certain price and then, depending on the economy dynamic at a given time, it becomes hard to export, so those are some of the things that we need to...F Geyrhalter: And it's not like you're in a small market here. There's plenty to be done so...J Rocha: Absolutely, there's so much, and we're still relatively small, and while it seems like we're big to us from where we came from, there's a lot of people that don't know about us. There's still a lot of consumers to be introduced to the brand in the US.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. There are so many listeners who have an idea for a startup, but they have a cushiony day job, which many of them don't love, yet they can't make that jump over to entrepreneurship. I can't blame them, but they just can't get themselves to take this big risk. What was it that enabled you to do it?J Rocha: One of the things that, it just kind of pushed me ... And it's such a hard thing to do. There were times during the transition. We didn't jump from A to B and it was a clean jump. We started with two jobs. We started testing. We started to see our assumptions in the marketplace before I left my career, and my husband and co-founder, the same thing. We also staggered our departure, so we could manage the bills at home and things like that. Also, one thing that I kept going back to that drove to my core to be able to get myself to do it was the thought processes that I kept thinking about my life in the future. And so I kept thinking, "That company that I work for," a lot of people were there for 30 years, 40 years, and I kept putting myself in that position and going like, "Okay, this is a good job. Well paying career. I'll be able to be comfortable," this and that.J Rocha: Then I kept picturing myself as some of the folks there in 20 years and 30 years, and then I kept picturing myself doing this crazy thing and trying and potentially failing, but really seeking an opportunity that I thought was real. That deserved to be pursued, and then the thing that kept going in my brain was this, "If I, in 20 years, what do I want to look back on? Do I want to look back and regret that I tried, or that I didn't try?" So if I failed, would I look back and regret that? And so in my heart, I kept thinking that, "In 20 years, if I look back, I would most likely look back with regret if I hadn't tried."F Geyrhalter: Yup.J Rocha: And I know that's more of a feeling-F Geyrhalter: No, it's a philosophy. Yeah, and I think it happens to most entrepreneurs when they take the jump, that they just say, "Well, is this really what I want to do all my life, or do I want to take that risk?" Because quite frankly, and I'm working with one such bootstrapped entrepreneur right now who quit his cushiony day job, and he's like, "Look, all my savings are in this. We have to create a brand around it, and if I fail I have nothing, but I always know I can get another job," right?And I think that's the attitude. You still-J Rocha: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, you have to have that mindset of, "If I lose everything, maybe in two or three years, and I spent all this time, will it still be worth it?" My answer kept coming back to yes because I would have tried. If I just stay and look back and I just felt comfortable ... That's what life is about. But you have to be ready to accept both outcomes.F Geyrhalter: Right, right. And do it in a smart way where ... You have two lanes, right? You're still doing your day thing and then you start seeing successes with the startup. And it's also a financial calculation, and I love the way that you've done it. Are you still working with your husband?J Rocha: I am. I am.F Geyrhalter: And he's also still your husband.J Rocha: He is my husband. I'm happy to share that.F Geyrhalter: Very good.J Rocha: We started the company about nine years ago together as co-founders, and we're both very actively involved. Over time as the company grew, we separated our lanes quite a bit, and so I'm on the marketing side and he's in operations side, so we don't work as close together as we used to in the early days of the company, but we work in the same office and it's great. We love working in the same office and working together.F Geyrhalter: Well first, congratulations, because that's double amazing, right? And I always think it's such a fascinating scenario, because I had a few married co-founders on the show, and then I actually had one pair of twins. Twin sisters that worked together, which is really fun too, but the question that I ask myself, and I'm sure some of my listeners ask themselves the same question. How do you leave work behind? Do you have a regimen or does it come naturally or does it just happen, and business and pleasure are intermingled at all times?J Rocha: You don't leave it behind. I would say it is intertwined. It's just life. Business and the company is life. I would say when we were growing the company, the intensity was so high. It greatly benefit us because it was just us and a dog. We didn't have a kid at the time, so it was just us babying this brand and this company and building it. So we would work 24/7. Work was done in the office or the facility, we would sit talking and strategizing and so passionate about things. So it's almost like we got double the time without even knowing, and we're able to advance the company faster. Nowadays, the business is more complex and we have a two year old that wants a lot of attention and needs a lot of attention, so we're able to turn off and break a little bit more, but when we're building, when we're bootstrapping, when it was that sort of, you don't know what's going to happen. That up and down of the journey before you get your company stable. It was nonstop. I think at some point when you're a couple or twins or have that dynamic, one person usually calls the shot and says, "You know what? I'm done for the day, I can't talk about this anymore, let's have dinner." Usually in our relationship, Cameron, my husband is the one who's like, "You know, I'm done. Give me a break, I need an hour." I can just keep going. I would just talk business 24/7. I just get into it. But he's helped me balance things a little bit.F Geyrhalter: Exactly, it's about the balance. That's so important. Let's talk about the product. So you're selling cheesy bread in the natural food space. Now, that is pretty choosy. Tell us how that came about and if that positioning is an actual benefit or sometimes a hurdle for a product like yours?J Rocha: Yeah, so let's talk about what the product is, right? So the company started to sell Brazilian cheese bread in the United States. So Brazilian cheese bread is the most popular snack food in South America, and in Brazil it's really a staple. It's been around for hundreds of years. It is a commodity there. It happens to be made with tapioca flour, which is naturally gluten free, right? So when we had the idea to bring the product to market, I would say branding is so critical hearing that conversation, because we were not the first ones that had the idea of bringing this product to the United States. It's a very well known product, it's not a product that I invented, but what we did, we said, "Okay, this product ... " When Americans go to Brazil, they fall in love with the cheese bread. They come back and they experience the culture and the beaches and all the amazing things that Brazil has to offer, but one of the favorite things that they talk about is the cheese bread, so that gave us one more sort of, "Check that box, there's an opportunity here." Most of the cheese bread available in the US at that time was only available in an international market, so you'd have to buy a dry mix and you have to mix all the ingredients at home, and there were cases of Brazilians and Americans going to Brazil and flying back with this frozen dough or this mix. I was like, "Okay, something is off. We've got to bring this here." So the idea was, how can you bring the concept of Brazilian cheese bread to the US market for Americans in a way that they understand, and they can understand what it is and how to consume it, and that it's fun and it's delicious, right?F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).J Rocha: And out of who I am, I love the natural food space, I care about the food that I eat. I'm not a total health nut by any means, but I eat clean ingredients, no preservatives. I care about where my food is coming from.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so when we were creating the concept, we were like, "It has to be delicious, it has to be simple, it has to be natural," right? And so that was a natural fit into the natural foods industry. It was more about who we are as people and as founders and what kind of product we wanted to sell, because I wasn't going to be able to give my heart and soul to something if it was packed with preservatives, if it didn't taste amazing, you know?F Geyrhalter: Right. No, totally.J Rocha: It would make sense. So that led us ... Another thing is, when you think about the natural foods industry, nine years ago when we started the company, and still today, when you look at all the CPG that are coming in the marketplace in the United States, there's paths of entry into the industry. Conventional stores are opening up a little bit but honestly, it was the only path to entry into the marketplace. Stores like Whole Foods for example, and local co-ops and regional grocers, we're the ones and still are the ones interested in what is unique and what's new, what's innovative. What's that husband and wife founder team coming up with? It's sort of the path to entry.F Geyrhalter: That's really, really interesting because I never thought about it that way, and that's a great positioning that you actually have people that would listen in the beginning, right? And you went on the road for three years hustling, right? Store to store, event to event, it was like a Brazi Bites roadshow. How grueling was that, and what did you learn that you later added to your brand design or your brand language or what did you learn about the audience? It's like, I don't know, 1095 days of consumer research. It must have been invaluable to you.J Rocha: That is just critical to everything of who we are today. So when we brought the product, launched the brand and started knocking on doors, we went through that motion of, like a new product, you're getting lots of nos, you're getting people not understanding, and so we knew we had something special because we knew that cheese bread resonated and it was delicious and it was hitting the mark, being naturally gluten free. Oh, I just said the name of your show…F Geyrhalter: It was a pun. We trained this. We practiced.J Rocha: Amazing. So we know it was hitting the mark with smaller audience, but we also knew there was some challenges there. How do you break through to a larger audience? How do you get out from being just so small and grassroots? So we ended up just doing the hard work, which is doing every single show that was available. Consumer and retailer shows. We ended up just being on the floor of grocery stores, week after week after week, just tireless hours. We would just flee. Cameron goes to the store, I would go to another store, and then we'd meet up and then four hours at another store, and so what that did is that ...It was all about listening, and I was absorbing how people are interacting with the brand. Were they getting the product? Were they getting the name? Were they getting the logo? Were they getting it, right?F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so during those times, we started to gather some of the most important intel that drove the growth of the company. When you're on the floor, it's just amazing what happens, right? The feedback is so real and it's so on time, and because we were just running a fast growing company and it was just us making all the decisions, we could [inaudible 00:20:36] it very quickly.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so changing the messaging, changing even the name of the product. At some point we called it Cheese Bread Snacks. We didn't want to put the word Brazilian in there, but then we realized that there was a huge value that we're missing out on, and brought that back. And tweaking the colors of the packaging. There was a time that people were right in front of the packaging in a grocery store and would color off and I can't see, we're like, "Okay, there's a problem there. We've got to fix that." And so all those things being fast, it was incredible, and it got us to where we are today. I would say, as I mentioned to you, we were not the first ones. We didn't invent this product. But we were absolutely the first one to break it into a larger audience and create a true category, and it was because of all of those learnings and those moves during the early days of the company.F Geyrhalter: I absolutely had a feeling. And today, you're so branded in very fun, loud, Latin inspired colors and graphics. The design language looks like it caters to kids and families, so it's a very non-traditional look. Again, for the natural food space, in which you entered, in which you still are, how did that packaging came about? I know you changed it a lot, but what story do you try to tell today through the name, through the logo, and through the packaging?J Rocha: You know, we definitely landed on a brand identity, exactly like you mentioned. We started looking at all this stuff that we had learned on the road, and how can we represent that in our branding, in the look of our packaging, to give our best chance of success? So there were things like who we are. We're fun, we're bold, we're delicious. We wanted a colorful packaging, but we also wanted to show that we were natural, that we had a family recipe that cared about ingredients that were wholesome and delicious. So all these things that we wanted to balance, when we were rebranding, you probably remember those days where every natural foods ... You walk into Whole Foods, everybody had that craft look.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And in the freezer section also, everything was white, and so we were looking to fix some of our challenges that we were seeing to give our best chance of success, but also to break away. To differentiate from the competitors. We wanted people ... When you're a frozen foods company, think about this. You're walking in front of a freezer door, you already have that glass door. That's another obstacle for people to see you and find and discover you, so how can you pop, right? So that was one of our biggest challenges, and so we came up with this really bold color pallette to differentiate ourselves and there was so many things to tackle at that time, because it's like, "How can you do a bold colorful pallette, and still be a natural foods company and represent all of your values?" So there's a balance of design elements that go into it and a lot of thought and process, but we did a really good job and the brand really resonates. Nowadays, the bold palette is really out there. We don't like to say we invented it, but we were one of the lead food companies at that time to bring the bold, colorful packaging to natural, and now it's pretty spread.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, I noticed the same thing, and for your brand, the great thing is you can own it, because you earned it by just being a Brazilian brand, right? The idea that you actually embody the beaches and the parties and the carnivals and the fun, right? In your packaging. And I'm sure that has something to do with why you wanted it to be that Latin inspired, because it is your history, versus other brands that just want to cater to kids and families.J Rocha: Yeah, the whole thing about kids and families, it was a natural transition. So this product in Brazil is consumed by all, right? So because it's a commodity, it doesn't have a target audience.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And it also is enjoyed as a snack and appetizer, but Brazilian culture is, as you might know, it's a very ingraining to family gatherings and friends gathering. There's a lot more social gatherings than here in the US, right? So you literally can't have a product that just caters to social gatherings and make it huge, right? The cheese bread there is that. When we started to sell it here and listen and understand how people are interacting with the product, we saw that there was a little bit less of that just because culturally Americans are not gathering with their neighbors and friends and all that kind of stuff every single weekend, but there were other things. We start hearing, "My kids love Brazi Bites. My kid is obsessed with Brazi. My kid can make Brazi by themself. My kid is ten years old and he loves Brazi." So we started hearing that, and we're like, "Wait a minute, we're not a kid food company, but kids definitely love our brand, so let's create a packaging and a brand identity that they can resonate with as well."And so parents can resonate, kids can resonate. So that's what took us there. It was honestly on the floor and hearing, and we're like, "Wait, kids are loving this, let's focus on that more than, this is a party item that pairs with alcohol and this and that."F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: While it's great with beer and wine and such, there's this whole opportunity on the family side, and it's much bigger.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and it doesn't leave the other audience out of it, because those are the parents, and they would still eat the product. And I guess that's also how you made it into Costco, and I'm so intrigued by that. Tell us a little bit about the Costco stock tap on your site. So you can check on availability of your product at local Costcos. To me that's really fantastic, and a smart idea how you go about that. How does doing similar things, basically to get Costco to restock your products regularly, right? That's kind of part of the idea, right?J Rocha: Yeah, so that's definitely been one of our trade secrets.F Geyrhalter: So let's talk about it now.J Rocha: Let's talk about it.F Geyrhalter: Just you and I.J Rocha: So we have a lot of business with Costco. Costco's a great partner and a supporter of our brand, and it makes total sense, right? We make a delicious product that's cheesy and it can be packaged in bulk. And Costco does a lot of frozen business, right? People go there to find frozen items. To stock up for family. So it's no wonder that the brand really resonated and was successful within Costco. But there's some different dynamics. Unlike a regular retail space like Whole Foods, Kroger, and Walmart and Target, when you get your shelf space, you're pretty much guaranteed that space for about a year. If your product does well, you just keep going, right? There isn't as much of a threat. Costco operates more on, they like ins and outs, they call it, which is they're going to bring something for eight weeks, 12 weeks, and then they're going to be out of it and then they bring it back six months later, and so forth. And then, in addition to that, the Costco breaks the country into regions, so each region pocket of the country, you have to sell to a new buyer and tell your story again. It becomes very complex, and then member they may not know. You're in LA, you go to your Costco and I'm promoting Costco, you expect the product to be there. It may not because that regional buyer didn't bring in the product and so forth. We realized after a while, our fans and Costco members really love Brazi brand and wanted to buy the product, but they would be impacted by these ins and outs and they were frustration, right? From them. So the consumers would call our office and say, let's say we post something on Instagram and say we're in Costco in LA or we're in Costco in Seattle, and then somebody in San Francisco, who doesn't have the item, goes like, "How dare you not be at my Costco?" And so they were putting all of this energy on us, almost like it was our fault. Like, "Why don't you want to be in my hometown?"F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so we wanted to shift the dynamic. We said, "Look, we are with you. We understand you. We listen to you, and we're working on it so hard to get there, but there's different dynamics that we're dealing with. Let's shift your energy and redirect it to Costco."F Geyrhalter: That's so good.J Rocha: Right? So we created that website to give our fans a tool to help us be on shelf where they want us to be on shelf. So that has helped us. It's been on of that tools that we've used with Costco, but look, at the end of the day, you can do all the marketing tactics that you want but the product has to resonate. It has to sell on shelf. I think that tactic only works because the product doesn't resonate and…F Geyrhalter: Oh, for sure. Yeah.J Rocha: And you're just trying to move some things around, and empower.F Geyrhalter: But it's fantastic because you're really empowering your fans to do the work for you, which that's what the best brands do today. When you actually have people that want to have your product on the shelves, and they have to do the legwork because you can only do that much, and it's really great. Let's talk more about opportunities. I have to bring this up, right? Let's talk about Shark Tank for a minute. You guys absolutely rocked it and got bombarded with offers. Whose offer did you accept? I didn't research that much. Whose offer did you accept, why, and how did it treat your company?J Rocha: So the show was incredible, being a part of it. I'm sure several of your listeners are familiar with the show and watch the show, but the viewership is incredible, and we went on the show because we were raising money at that time. We were looking for an investor, and also we wanted the exposure.F Geyrhalter: Of course.J Rocha: We had been in business about four years, and we were out there. It was that time that we were doing the groundwork, we're in about a thousand stores. We were already at Whole Foods, and some Krogers and so forth. But we really needed that bump in exposure, and the show did just that. The Sharks taste the product and just fell in love with it. Couldn't believe how delicious it was. Couldn't believe that it was gluten free. They were just really love everything that we had built, and the consumers watched that and were intrigued and wanted to try the product.J Rocha: And so at the show, we got three offers, which is amazing.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: …when you get as many offers, it just makes for a more fun episode. The viewers are more intrigued, and it's just a better dynamic. So we had an offer from Mr. Wonderful, we had an offer from Lori, and we had an offer from Damon. So three Sharks. There was a point in our episode where they were fighting over it and it was really cool.F Geyrhalter: And different percentages, right? What's the cut that they're going to take? And they went down on cuts, right? To get you to be their choice, right?J Rocha: Totally. Being on the show, and when that shift happened, it's almost like a shift of energy. You're trying to sell, sell, sell, and you're really grasping…F Geyrhalter: And then you're buying, buying, buying.J Rocha: And then the moment they start fighting for you, that's just like, "Wow," it's like, "Okay, cool. This is going to be good." And so at the end of the show we ended up shaking hands with Lori, who is really famous on QVC and she's done a lot of consumer products. Over time, as we were working through the kinks of the deal behind the scenes, we decided to not do the deal, which is not unusual for the show.F Geyrhalter: Interesting.J Rocha: That happens a lot. You get the negotiations involved and you really get to know one another, but we really enjoyed getting to know her and her team, but ultimately didn't do a deal.F Geyrhalter: Very interesting. And I had a gentleman on the show who completely bombed on Shark Tank. He bombed. They basically laughed him out of the show, and his product was moving like crazy the weeks and months afterwards, right? So it's the exposure that is worth so much, but obviously the production teams that the people just go there for the exposure, so it's ... You guys played it so well, it's amazing. I know our time is slowly coming to an end. I'm obsessed with one thing, and I want to make sure I ask you that. I'm obsessed with defining what I call the brand DNA for and with my clients, and on this show, I let the founders I interview give it some thought for their own brand. Everyone gets so sucked into the product-centric day to day that I feel it not only gives us an insight into your brain but it may also help you with your continued marketing and branding to surface that one special word. Your brand in one word. So for Sapos, it could be happiness. For Everlane, it would be transparency. What is that one word that can describe your brand today?J Rocha: The one word that describes Brazi Bites today, I would say it's fun.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. All-encompassing, right? And talking about the target audiences again, and it's little bites, and it just provides that piece of fun that's so easy to do too. Which is great because you literally just put it into an oven like a pizza, so that's really neat.J Rocha: Absolutely. It's all encompasses of who we are, what we're about, and what the audience and the experience of the product and how we run the company and how we connect with our consumers. Fun is the word today.F Geyrhalter: And you know what's overly bizarre is that of all the founders I had on this show, but now I think it's been about 24, 25, this is the first time that fun becomes the brand DNA. Which is amazing, right? Because it seems like a lot of brands should be fun. Do you have any piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway? We talked so much about your brand, about your journey. There were so many nuggets that we got out of it, but is there anything that, for fresh founders that are just getting started, any thoughts that you want to share?J Rocha: I think the things that was most successful for Brazi Bites was that piece of, you create your brand, you put all of your ideas into the branding, and then you've got to put it out in front of people as fast as you possibly can, and start adjusting and improving and this and that. That would be my main advice. Get in front of people, put it out there, and then see what happens, you know? That is where the ticket is, because if we are just sit back in our office and we just make all of our assumptions through a computer all day, we're not going to make the right choices for our company. So where you're meeting the consumer, it's at a retail store or an event or something. Maybe even in the digital world, you can do that today, but what kind of feedback are you getting? What kind of questions are you getting? It's going to lead you to build the right brand.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely, yeah. I hear that over and over and over again. That customer research, however you do it, is so key. And that's why so many young brands, they pivot very quickly, because they don't even pivot with the product. They just pivot with how they talk to the customer and how the packaging looks and how the brand works and what it stands for. Where can listeners get their Brazi bites?J Rocha: So we're in thousands of stores nationwide, in the freezer section. Nowadays, we make Brazilian cheese bread. Multiple flavors, and we also have a brand new line of mini empanadas. They're amazing. Both product lines are available throughout the country, so to find us, just visit 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.
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. 
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