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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.
35 Episodes
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, 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, 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 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 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 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 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 So, I invite all listeners to check it out on 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 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, 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 or 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 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, it's 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 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., on our website. And then we also ask that you just follow along with our journey on Instagram and Facebook too, if you want to see more behind the scenes every day. We like to show you how we're making each bouquet and fun things about our company there as well.F Geyrhalter: And I think you have 133,000 flowers, is that correct?C Stembel: I think we're at-F Geyrhalter: Or is it 311 now? One or the other.C Stembel: Yeah, I think we're three something-F Geyrhalter: There you go.C Stembel: On Instagram. And probably about the same on Facebook. I think overall, it's a little over a million between all the channels.F Geyrhalter: That's awesome. That's really, really amazing. Congratulations on everything. I'm so thrilled that you were able to share your insights and your story with us on the show. I know you have a jam-packed schedule, so we really appreciate your time.C Stembel: No problem, thanks for having me. I really enjoy talking about this. I don't often get to talk about brand, so this is really refreshing and wonderful.F Geyrhalter: Excellent, thank you Christina.C Stembel: Awesome, thank you Fabian.
Learn more about Base CultureSupport the show and get on monthly brand advisory calls with Fabian____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 This was Jordann Windschauer Amatea, the third mom entrepreneur on Hitting the Mark back to back, who successfully conquered the food business and another amazing inspiration to anyone who wants to move a passion into a business and subsequently into a brand with heart and soul. Jordann founded Base Culture as a bakery, catering to the healthy, pure and primal lifestyle that could be summed up as the paleo diet. She wanted to live a healthy lifestyle but have a brownie. So she baked it until it was perfect. She could not find a co-packing facility. So she created her own and waited two years to have it built and finalized while keeping hundreds of stores and journalists interested in her product title. What I learned about Jordann is that she is stubborn and passionate, and those two traits may just be the key ingredients to her success. Today she's working out of a 44,000 square foot facility, and her range of products can be found in over 7,000 stores nationwide. And now over to my conversation with Jordann. Welcome to the show, Jordann.Jordann W A:                Thank you so much. Excited to be here.F Geyrhalter:                 So you started your company Base Culture at age 22 which was only five years ago, and it came from your obsession with the paleo diet. Tell us a little bit about the origins of your brand.Jordann W A:                Yeah, so I had graduated from college and joined a CrossFit gym and they were doing this paleo challenge where I honestly didn't know what paleo was, but I figured I should participate and get involved in the community and what they were doing to make friends and get involved. So I jumped in and did 30 days where you eat meat, vegetables, seeds and nuts and fruit. And after that was concluded, I felt so much better. And so I don't have like a celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but overall I did realize the impact of eating this way versus the college diet, which probably isn't the healthiest. And so I notice things in my life were changing. I had more energy with consistent levels instead of having highs and lows throughout the day, and I was sleeping better at night. I wasn't tossing and turning and things like that. So I realized that there really was something to this and it wasn't just about weight loss or physical appearance or anything like that. It was more how I wanted to live my life and wanted to continue down this journey. And so that's really how I gotten introduced to paleo right off the bat. But then I wanted to continue following this lifestyle, but I realized to do so that I needed to figure out a solution for my sweet tooth and for products that I know and love and grew up eating like sandwiches and banana breads that I missed in my everyday life when I was on this lifestyle for paleo. But it didn't exist in the marketplace. And so that's why I started creating the products. It was very much for selfish want or desire that I was filling a void in my life and kind of created what it is today just by bringing it to the marketplace and introducing it to my friends and family and kind of word of mouth started spreading organically. So that was my introduction and do this whole lifestyle that is all around paleo but kind of stumbled on the business through that.F Geyrhalter:                 How do you move from baking treats, which I'm sure in the beginning you did out of your apartment or your dorm room, right? How do you go from baking them to actually selling them? I mean, are there any FDA issues even early on? And just for our international listeners, which is actually more than half of our audience, FDA is the Food and Drug Administration here in the US. How did that go? Where did you start selling, first of all?Jordann W A:                Sure. So when I originally started selling it, I was actually just selling it on Facebook. So I would post when I was going to make something, and I had a regular day job at the time. So I would be working at my desk job from nine to five, and then I would work out from 5:30 to 6:30, and at some point during the day I would post on Facebook saying, "I'm making brownies tonight. Who wants some?" And then people would place their orders on Facebook, contact me through a message, and send me their address and then I would deliver it to them on the weekend.F Geyrhalter:                 That's insane. That is completely insane.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 There is no FDA involved there. You could be a complete crazy stranger. Yeah, I mean, wow. There's a lot of trust in humanity after all.Jordann W A:                There is. There is definitely something to say about that for sure. Doing that, I was operating under the cottage food law, which allows you to make food out of your apartment. And so with that, I guess that legal standpoint, you can't sell to someone and ship it to them. So that was one parameter I had to work with. So it had to be hand-delivered. And then the other parameter was you can't sell to retail stores because they do require some certifications. But if you just sell basically like at a farmer's market type setting or if you deliver the products to the person by hand, then you're clear to do whatever you want. And so I took advantage of that and I would make all of these products throughout the night and then like I said deliver it on the weekend and sell on Sundays at a farmer's market and just tested the waters. I mean, truthfully at the time I didn't realize that this could be a business. I didn't realize what legs it had, if it had any legs at all. It was just something fun for me to do. And I found enjoyment and baking at night. And I'm not culinary trained or I don't have a history in baking. It's just something I enjoyed doing growing up with my mom. And so just kind of reliving those days and getting in the kitchen and figuring out recipes that worked, I found a lot of joy in. And so I just followed that and started organically selling. And my advertising was word of mouth, but it was very grassroots.F Geyrhalter:                 And was it mainly catering to the friends within your Facebook groups that actually followed the paleo diet? Or was it just anyone that says, "Hey, I like your brownies." I'm sure I would like your brownies. So how did that work?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so it originally started with people that were specifically interested in paleo, and then once they tried it, they're like, "Holy cow, this is just a really good brownie. But it also checks off the boxes for being paleo or grain free or gluten free or dairy free or soy free or non-GMO." It has all of these attributes. But at the core base of the product I'm eating, it's just a really good brownie. So it wasn't like they were sacrificing taste or texture or that experience of indulging in a sweet treat for the alternatives of what you would consider a healthy product. And so once they realized that, okay, wow, this is awesome and I really enjoy this, I think a word of mouth started spreading just on a really good product that was healthier, better for you. And so as time continued, my core paleo group of people that were buying for the purpose of paleo started expanding, and now we're seeing that really just people that want to live healthier lifestyles are our key customers. Because yes it does check the box or paleo, but it has so many other answers within the product itself. So it kind of is migrated out to just that want to eat better food that is nutritionally-focused and has that deliverable aspect to it.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And I think for a startup founder, having that built in tribe in the beginning though, like that small subgroup that you wholeheartedly can support, must be so amazing because you can literally get a relatively small audience in a huge place like the US with its, I don't know, 329 something million people and you would have a loyal tribe of like hundreds of thousands if not millions. And so it wasn't even a trick you utilized. It was just a passion, which you are the third female founder who happens to be an entrepreneur who happens to be a mom and who happens to have gone into food and beverage without any experience just based on passion or a need. And it's really, really inspirational. So I love having you on, and I love hearing hearing that story. But looking back, what was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, okay, my little startup is actually turning into a brand?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So I actually had some unexpected news coverage. This was still in the days of my apartment when I was baking there. And I recognized that there were a couple of news anchors from a local news channel following me on Facebook and Instagram or following the business. So I reached out to them and I figured, if you don't ask, you'll never get. So I just sent them a message and said, "Hey, do you guys want to do a story?" And one of the anchors responded and said, "Yeah, we're really interested in this paleo thing." This was back when paleo was kind of making it a name for itself, but not really. And they wanted to learn more about it, and they recognized what I was doing in the Tampa area where I'm from. And so she said, "Here's my number. Give me a call. Let's set something up." And so I did. I went in. We did a segment and it aired in Tampa like they said it would. But what I didn't recognize was that they have a network pool of companies that they work with around the country. So they put this story in their network pool and it was picked up by other channels and played multiple times for a week straight. And so I had national news coverage that was completely unexpected and I had people calling, trying to place orders. I had retail stores asking if they could buy it to sell it to their customers. And it was obviously way more than I could handle or even do in my apartment. And that was really where I saw, okay, is this bigger than what I anticipated or is this something I want to take advantage of and go forward with? And it was at that time, I remember what restaurant I went to with my dad and I sat down with him, and I remember the table we sat at, and I told him how exciting this was and how much support I was getting from the community and what had happened with the new segment. And I explained what I wanted to do with it and how much passion I had behind it because I recognized that I was helping people, not only people that wanted to live this healthy lifestyle, but people that needed to eat this way because they did have gluten intolerances or sensitivities to foods and that they didn't have access to products like this. And they were "suffering" or having to sacrifice for products that they really wanted or just wanting to enjoy. And so with that, I explained all of this and he very quite frankly told me, and in the most loving way possible that I had a hobby and a business and I was doing both poorly, and I needed to spend more time on my business and less time on my hobby if that's the way I wanted to go and the direction I wanted to head in. And so that was, I think, really the pivotal moment for me where I decided that I am all in, blood, sweat and tears. I'm diving in headfirst and this is what I want to do with my life. This is my passion. And so at that point I got out of my apartment and went to a small commercial kitchen and rented some space and started turning it into more of a business.F Geyrhalter:                 So first of all, I love what your dad said. It is so wonderful and it's so true. And so now fast forward and you were about to get there. I read, and this is fascinating, I read that you couldn't find a co-packer to package your line of products. So after eight months, after eight months of looking, you actually took it into your own hands and built your own facility, which I guess today is 44,000 square foot in size today. But that move sounds amazingly stubborn, inspiring. And those are extremely difficult to pull off. Did you have a hard time finding a co-packer because you needed a facility to not package any goods that may contaminate your pure products? How was that?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So there was a couple of reasons why we decided to build our own facility. One reason was because of the contamination issue. So our products are certified non-GMO, gluten-free, paleo, kosher, and it's made in an SQF level two facility, which stands for safe quality food. And so I wanted those certifications around the products wherever they were going to be made. The problem was there wasn't a manufacturing plant in the country that could deliver on those aspects. And so to make sure that the products were consistent and of the highest quality and standards 100% of the time, I knew the only way I could guarantee it that was if I kept my hands around the process from start to finish. And then furthermore, because our products were so unique to the industry, there wasn't actually a manufacturing plant that had the processes set up to make the products. Because in a typical bakery, they're used to working with yeast and flour and sugars and all of these things that usually make up baked goods. But ours are made out of seeds and nuts and they're sweetened with honey instead of sugar. There's no preservatives. They require to be frozen to extend their shelf life. And so it was a very different process so that these manufacturing plants were used to. And so, I didn't understand it at the time because I was like, "Hey, I'm going to pay you. Why can't you figure this out?" And I truly get it now because we do have our facility. Like you said, we did take on that responsibility and build it ourselves. So I understand when you have a process in place, it is so pivotal to make sure that whatever products you're making within your process don't screw up what you're already doing. And our products would have totally done that for these manufacturing plants. So with that, I decided, and again, I sat down with my dad who, he's an entrepreneur himself. He's not in the food industry, but he's very business minded. And now he's one of my business partners. But I sat down with him again, and I was like, "I really only see the way forward is if we build our own plant, and that's really the only way we're going to be able to grow this." And at the time, I had a lot of interest from bigger retail stores, but in this industry, you can't get anyone to promise that they're going to send you a purchase order. That doesn't happen. If they want your products and they're going to place an order, you're expected to deliver in two weeks. And so I had this interest, but I couldn't say, without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that they were going to order if we build this facility because there was going to be a gap when the facility was being built before we could deliver it. So it might've been a little presumptuous, maybe a little naive, or ...F Geyrhalter:                 Optimistic.Jordann W A:                Just blinded by passion, I don't know. But we started looking for a facility. We were looking around the country, and actually one popped up in Clearwater where we are now, which was 20 minutes outside of Tampa, where I'm from, and about 20 minutes away from my dad's house in St. Pete. And so the stars aligned, and it was an old U.S. Foods distribution plant. So it was set up with food in mind, so we didn't have to do any external changes to the facility. We just did internal renovations. But from permitting to move in, we did lose about two and a half years to complete the project from the branded side of things.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah.Jordann W A:                But I did continue to go out and pitch to the connections I had made to make sure that the relationships were moving forward and make sure that they understood that we were actually doing this thing, and that one day the lights would turn on, and I would be able to actually sell them food and not just talk about it. And so, thankfully I was able to make those relationships last so that, when we did move into our facility, let's see, it was February of 2017 when we first moved in after the construction was complete. From February till July, we got those certifications that I mentioned in July, we hired a national broker to help us sell the products, and then in August, in September we did a rebranding to make our image and kind of give it a facelift to go to the market and officially launched then in October of 2017. So even though I started the company many years prior to that, there was really only a hundred stores buying from us up until that point. So it was a big undertaking financially, emotionally, physically, all of those words, to get to a place where we could actually grow the company.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, I'm sure.Jordann W A:                And then, from October to the end of 2017, we went from a hundred stores to a thousand stores. And then we were well on our way to growing quickly.F Geyrhalter:                 Were you self-funded at the time when you took over that facility?Jordann W A:                We were self-funded. A majority of it was self-funded, and we had a small business loan from a local bank.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay, okay. So you talked about when you did your rebranding, which was the smart thing to do at the time, when you were just about to really roll out, and as you told us, that happened very quickly when it happened.Jordann W A:                Yeah.F Geyrhalter:                 How was the name derived?Jordann W A:                So it's kind of funny. When I originally started the company, I'd called it Paleo Box because I thought I'm making paleo food, and I'm putting it in a box, and I'm selling it. There really wasn't genius behind it. It was very literal. But about five minutes after I called it Paleo Box, I realized I couldn't move forward with that name for two reasons. One, it was actually already trademarked, and you can't do that. And two, I didn't want to necessarily put the products I've created in a limiting a platform. I wanted to be able to create a brand that could grow and fluctuate with the consumers' interests throughout time. And so, with that, I realized, all right, let's rethink this. Let's figure out what what am I truly trying to get across to the customer? And the idea behind paleo, while I believe paleo is a wonderful lifestyle to follow and that there's no gimmicks, it's just nutritionally based eating that, if Dr. Oz or someone of status or just the public eye gets online and says paleo is the worst thing in the world, which I don't believe they would, having the name as the name of the company would be detrimental.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And so I wanted to create a broader platform for us to grow on. And so, with that, I realized, well, paleo is really just taking all the complications out of eating and bringing it back to its base, its core, what it is when it's found in nature. And so that's really where base came from, and culture's the idea of what I'm creating around this type of lifestyle. We want to create this movement and this cultural like following of our customers. And by doing that, we're going to provide them the tools they need to live their healthy and active lifestyle. And so that's the origin of Base Culture, of how that was created.F Geyrhalter:                 And it is a name that stands out more than it fits in in the refrigerated aisle of a Walmart or Whole Foods.Jordann W A:                Totally.F Geyrhalter:                 So it's super interesting, right? And on your website, and I believe it's kind of your tagline, you say Base Culture is simple, natural, primal. It kind of reads like a manifesto. What does that mean to the brand, and how does it inspire its future?Jordann W A:                Yeah. So it's really who we are. We bring our products back to a simple standpoint. When you look at a normal brownie, and when I say "normal," it's one of those pre-packaged, very artificially made, or has a lot of preservatives in it. You look at that, you look at the ingredient deck, there are a lot of ingredients in there that you don't understand or you can't even pronounce, and you don't know what you're putting in your body. And that's not who we are. We're the exact opposite. You can read everything on our ingredient deck. You know exactly what it is, you know where it comes from, and it's products that you can trust. So making our products simple was truly important, not only from when I started in my apartment, but now that we're making thousands and thousands of products a day and sending it out to stores all across the country every single day, that hasn't changed. And that was really difficult for us to go from my kitchen in my apartment and the recipes that I've created to this large manufacturing plant, being able to produce on such scale, to maintain that process and that philosophy from the very start has been really key to our success. And it's that simplicity that we fall back to every time, and natural again. It's just a natural way of eating. It's no gimmick. There's no special pill that you have to take to be this way. It's just natural. It's what we were intended to do. And the primal aspect of it plays on the paleo word, and so paleo is kind of nicknamed "the caveman diet." It's what our ancestors used to eat. It's what you could find in nature, and so it's that raw form of eating. We just do it in a way and put it into a form that's recognizable in the bakery context. And so it has the ability to satisfy that sweet tooth or to indulge or "indulge," right? Because it is still very healthy and nutritional for you, so it's like indulging without the guilt.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. How was that rebrand effort? So you came from Paleo Box. You moved on to a new name, strong tagline. Everything went really to the heart of what you're trying to do without putting you into a corner like paleo so that you can't expand in the future. How was that process of rebranding? How involved were you? Were you working with a single person? Were you working with an agency? Tell us a little bit how everything kind of came together and also how important after that process, do you think that brand-infused thinking was to the success of your startup?Jordann W A:                Yeah, so we actually went through three different agencies before we found the agency that we moved forward with.F Geyrhalter:                 Ouch.Jordann W A:                And so it was a long process.F Geyrhalter:                 You're not the only one.Jordann W A:                It was not easy. The hardest part of it was I had this image in my head of what I thought the company should be, but also keep in mind, I was like 24, so what do I really know without any experience, without any knowledge of the industry, without any advice from some successful people in the industry. This was just truly gut feeling and gut reaction. But I had this picture in my head of what I thought the company would look like and what it would feel like and the way it would talk to the customers and the personality would develop. But conveying that to the agencies in a way that they could take it from my brain and put it on paper was a hard process. And I think, not to discredit the agencies that we spoke to, the first three agencies, it was probably mostly my fault because I wasn't able to articulate exactly what I was looking for. But through that process, I got more fine-tuned in my messaging, and I got more directive into the creative aspect. And so, when we found ... we worked with a company called Idol Partners, and they're out of California, and we still work with them today. They were the agency that ultimately brought Base Culture to life. And we invested tons of money just to get to that point, probably more money than we had. I know it was more money than we had to spend at the time. But the way we came out of it and the image and the branding that we had once we were done through that process with Idol, it was an image, and the packaging was mature, and it was an image that could be brought to life. And it was something that demanded attention in the retail stores and grabbed the attention of the retail buyers that were giving us the opportunities to go into the store. And so it made us look much more mature than we actually were. And it gave us the ability to grow faster because of it. And so it was a hard process. It was a long process that had to be done. And that's really I think what gave us the ability to develop the platform in which we've gotten to today. We actually, as of two weeks ago, started doing a brand refresh. We're still working with the same company, Idol, to do this, but now the products have been in the industry for two years, and we've seen little things that need to be tweaked or just changed a little bit. And so we have more information now than I did two years ago because of that. And we can go back into our design and make those changes to really even accelerate our growth faster. So, of course, with time you learn, and now we have the ability to do those fine tunes.F Geyrhalter:                 And now that you spent a good amount of years, talking, thinking, doing branding, some subliminally, a lot of it through an agency, and a lot of it just by yourself, the way that you talk about the brand. What does branding mean to you now?Jordann W A:                Well, I think it's ... It's everything. People say, "Don't judge the book by its cover." But in the consumer product world, that's exactly what people are doing. You have exactly three seconds to grab someone's attention, and maybe they don't, maybe they do, but your packaging, your branding, your image, that's what you have to hang your hat on. Of course, the product has to be spectacular as well, but someone's not going to try the products without seeing the packaging first. That's your first moment of impact. And so, with strong branding, it's everything. Your messaging has to be clear. It has to be concise. It's who you are. It's exactly what you breathe and you eat and you sleep and you dream. And that has all has to be captured within that package or within your brand, whether it be on the shelf or on Instagram or on Facebook or whatever platform you're promoting the products on. So, if your branding isn't anything but exactly what you want, it will come across untrue or won't accomplish the work you want it to do for you. And so I think things have developed over time and little pieces have fallen into place where it just feels right, and that's what you have to go for when you're developing the brand. And I've figured that out just through trial and error and over time and realizing what is important to Base Culture, what's not important to Base Culture, what resonates with the consumer. How do I get a message across in a way that will be impactful, that they will be willing to trust Base Culture to give it a try? And will that develop a loyal customer and how to build on that. And so branding's your lifeblood. It's everything from start to finish and the continuing relationship you have with the customer.F Geyrhalter:                 Talking about branding being your lifeblood, you literally are very much the brand as a person, which creates transparency and a real person rather than a brand image to root for. But now that you're a mom, how does it affect your personal life? Or is the baby just part of every Instagram story?Jordann W A:                Yeah, it's been an interesting transition from being just entrepreneur to being mompreneur, I guess, if you want to call it that.F Geyrhalter:                 Is that frowned upon? Is that a term that's actually frowned upon? Is that a term that is actually embraced, "mompreneur"?Jordann W A:                I think it depends on who you're talking to, truthfully.F Geyrhalter:                 Okay.Jordann W A:                Because there are some people where you tell them you have a family, and you have this life outside of the business, then it's like, "Well, if you want to be successful, you need to dedicate your entire every waking moment you have to the business."F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, Jesus.Jordann W A:                And while that's true to an extent, you have to make it work for your life because hey, it's also your life.F Geyrhalter:                 Right.Jordann W A:                And then, in the other breath, there's plenty of people that are super supportive of this transition that I'm going through, and I've gotten a lot of people reaching out to be supportive and offer encouraging words of advice and how they've done it too. Because I'm not the first woman to have a baby and run a business. It's not unheard of, and it has been done before. It's just a matter of adjusting mentally and physically to the other demands. And so, thankfully, I'm one of eight kids in my family, and I have a lot of babysitters built in. And so I'm able to work out of my house a lot, which is great. But then I also have my siblings there to help support and watch my baby while I'm working or taking calls. They're able to help [inaudible 00:31:35] if I'm too busy doing emails. And so I've got the support internally from my family to help build my new family. And then also Base Culture is ... I kind of joke, and I say Base Culture was my first baby, and now Eloise is my second baby. And so I became a new mom and a second mom all at the same time. But it's just a balance. It's figuring out what's working for you and what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And what's not and making what's not work in the long run. And it's wonderful. But I swear she'll be our very best sales girl when she's able to talk. I think Base Culture will be her first words.F Geyrhalter:                 If she wants to or not.Jordann W A:                Right. I was sending emails on day two of her life from the hospital bed. So, it's been a key part of her upbringing thus far. I don't anticipate that changing anytime soon. But she'll be well-versed within the consumer product industry very early in her life.F Geyrhalter:                 And there's some entrepreneurs that from from the get go say, "You know what, I don't want to be the face of the brand." I just want to run the brand. But no one really needs to ever see me, get to know me. We have a personality for the brand, we have a message, but I do not want to be outgoingly the brand as a person." And given the chance, would you not be the face of the brand if you had to do it all over again. Or do you feel like it is really what makes it so authentic?Jordann W A:                I think that for Base Culture, it really does give it life. This isn't just a story where I stumbled across a recipe, this was based off of my life. Truthfully, this was because I wanted this product. And that's how we were founded. And I think if I weren't involved as intricately as I am, the branding will lose its appeal. It would lose its lust, and it would have more of a flat effect than a robust. And so for Base Culture, and other companies operate differently and there are plenty of success stories that the founder isn't as involved on the branding aspect. But I think I wouldn't do it differently if I were to do it again. I would still be as involved as I am. And it's really fun for me, honestly, that's my favorite part, is going out and having the meetings, or doing podcasts like this and talking to people. Because I am so passionate about it. I would hate just to be doing the work behind the scenes. I think that would be boring for me. Having the ability to go and sit on panels and talk and answer questions, and dive deep, and explore the realms of where, where I am in my personal life and as it relates to Base Culture. This is my life, it is what I do. It's more than 50%, well more than 50%. I would say more than 80% of my days is focused around the company. So yeah, it's been fun in developing myself through the company, and the company through myself.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's your passion. And I read it in an interview where you were asked a question, "How do you define success?" And I'll quote you here with your answer. You said, "I used to say that when we make X amount of money, we would be successful. However, today we hit that X dollar amount. The goal then changed to something twice as much. It was after this happened about five times that I realized that success is not measured by the amount of money you are making, rather it is measured by the difference you are making in other people's lives along the way." How do you see that difference you're making with your brand? The impact you're having? where do you get to witness that feedback when you're out there?Jordann W A:                Well, first of all, I've never been quoted before, so that was really cool.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. It's the only one I have.Jordann W A:                No, it was very good. Yeah, we see people sending us responses that they dive in and they're vulnerable, and they open up about the way our products have impacted themselves. And we see this through Instagram. We see it through Facebook. We get messages through our email on our website, and we get comments on our pages, on our website as well next to the products. And so they're available for everyone to see if you go onto our website, and just scroll down, you can see all the comments. But this support, the honest truth of what people see in our products and how it's affecting them, from someone that has an eating disorder that hasn't allowed themselves to have a dessert, or a bread for years and years, because they don't think that they can as a person, do that. That they stumbled across our products, they read the ingredients, and they were able to convince themselves that it would be okay to have a brownie, because how clean and how pure the ingredients are. And they indulged and they had it and they love it and they're coming back to it. And that truly changed it. It was a pivotal moment in their lives. We see people reaching out saying their child has autism and that they have to eat this clean lifestyle, this clean way of eating. They have to do that because of the disease that their child has. But because our products don't have the artificial sugars, they don't have the additional bad ingredients in it that a lot of products do, especially in the baked goods category, that they've been able to enjoy a brownie. It's a kid enjoying a brownie. While that might not seem as monumental to many people, it is impactful for someone that has never been able to give their kid a brownie in his life. And so those are just two examples of ways that I've seen these products not only change lives, but really be a part of their growing future. To really have that ability to provide products. And at the end of the day it's like, "Oh, you have a bakery." Well yeah, we do have a bakery, but we stand for something more than just baked goods. We're giving these customers opportunities that weren't available to them before. And we're growing with them, and we're developing more products for them. And that's why we do it. That's the main reason. Because we can add things to people's life to make it easier for them to live healthier and happier. And so that's truly, that's when success is. We can keep shooting for higher goals. We can keep shooting for more money. We can keep shooting for a bigger facility, or we can keep shooting to make a difference in people's lives. And at the end of the day, that's what drives me forward. Because, like you said in the quote that I had passed along in another interview, that bar of success, that'll just keep getting higher and higher and higher. And if that's what you're hanging your hat on, then you're always going to be disappointed. Because it's just going to keep growing. And so to find that satisfaction in the daily drive, because this is a hard business. It's definitely not easy. It doesn't come easily. You have to work at it every single day. But to be able to find success, and that rewarding success is really truly what makes the difference for me.F Geyrhalter:                 And if you would distill all of that into one word that can describe your brand, I call it your brand DNA, what would be that one all-encompassing word that your brand could stand for.Jordann W A:                Freedom. I think that's the word I would use if I were to pick one.F Geyrhalter:                 Go deeper. Freedom for the actual customer, for the consumer to to at last be able to eat, to eat-Jordann W A:                Exactly. Exactly. Not having the stigma around baked goods and snacks any longer, but be able to enjoy something that they truly want. It's a brownie, it's a bread, it's a banana bread, it's a pumpkin bread. It's almond butter. But it's freedom to let yourself enjoy it and to actually enjoy it. Not just settle for a "healthy product", because you have to eat that way, but we should want to eat this way. And freedom from a nutritional standpoint. Not having to worry about the ingredient deck, not having to worry about what you're putting in your body, but knowing that you're putting actual food in your body that it can use as fuel. Instead of stores fat. So freedom comes in a lot of ways, but especially when it comes to indulging and snacking and having dessert, there's a lot of stigma around it when you're trying to live healthier, or you need to live healthier for your own self. And freedom to do that in a way that you can enjoy, I think is the one word and how I would describe it if I were to take one word.F Geyrhalter:                 It's really refreshing, because when you think of freedom as as a brand DNA, you usually think of Holly Davidson, so you just brought it into a new decade. I love that.Jordann W A:                Right. Exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 It's like this is what freedom means today. As we're getting to the point of wrapping up this show, this episode. Do have any final, piece of brand advice because you've been through different agencies. You worked really hard to get this done. You're also a very young entrepreneur. You did everything without any big knowledge of your field that you entered, in marketing and branding and all of it was very fresh to you. Do you have any brand advice for founders as a final takeaway?Jordann W A:                Yeah, I would say trust your gut, whenever you're in doubt, trust your gut. Listen to yourself. You know your brand better than anyone else. You know that there might be other people out there that have more industry experience and more knowledge based off history, but no one will ever know the brand better than the founder. It is your baby. It's your life. It's exactly what you think about almost all of your days. And that will give you the gut feeling you need to drive a brand forward. Whether it be the image that you're painting as the packaging, or the voice you're trying to create on social media. That that gut feeling, and that gut check is truly your guiding force. And like I said, there isn't someone else that can tell you what that is. That is part of you that will always be yours. So to trust in that and to really dive into what that means for you, will help guide you whenever there's a question.F Geyrhalter:                 I so 110% agree with that. And that's also how I work with companies on their brand. I'm a brand therapist, that's all I do, right? I just get it out of the founder.Jordann W A:                Right.F Geyrhalter:                 Because I am not going to create the strategy, they create the strategies because they already have it in them. It's just me who has to align everything for success. So I really loved what you said.Jordann W A:                Well and that's a hard thing too.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely.Jordann W A:                It took us so long to get to a place where branding was... It took three agencies to actually articulate it. It's not an easy process. But for founders to go through that rigorous step, the steps it takes to find who you are and what you are as a brand is so important. And so the role you play is monumental.F Geyrhalter:                 Because more agencies have answers than they have questions. And questions is really where the answers lie.Jordann W A:                Exactly, exactly.F Geyrhalter:                 Listeners who fell in love with your brand, with what you talked about, who want to buy into a lifestyle that is more natural and more and more primal, and in a way more logical. Where can they find your products?Only in the U.S. I assume, but are there certain regions? Are there certain places where they can find it?Jordann W A:                Yeah, we're a national in the U.S.. Our products are in both natural and conventional stores. We're national with Whole Foods, so any Whole Foods in the nation. We're also in Sprouts, we are also in Kroger and Albertsons, Safeway, again throughout the whole nation, so not regionally focused. We're also in Walmart and H-E-B hour in Wegmans, if that's your shopping preference. We're also in Fresh Market. We actually just got placement there. We'll be there at the end of this month. So that's some exciting news. But really we have a lot of locations. We're in almost 8,000 stores across the country. So I encourage you guys to go on our website, which is and type in your zip code on our locator page. And that'll show you exactly where our products are near a store by you and what products are sold there. So you can go into the store knowing exactly what we carry at that particular location. Because we do have a wide variety of products, not every store has everything we carry, but we're working on expanding our distribution. So that'll help guide you to exactly what you're looking for.F Geyrhalter:                 Jordan, congratulations on your amazing success which happened so quickly. And congrats on being a new mom and now you've got-Jordann W A:                Thank you.F Geyrhalter:                 ... wow you've got two babies. And thank you so much for having been on the show. I know it's a busy lifestyle currently for you, So for you to spend those 40 somewhat minutes with us, we all really appreciate your time and your insights.Jordann W A:                Absolutely. It's been an honor talking with you. Thank you for having me on. This is my pleasure.F Geyrhalter:                 What an inspiration for any entrepreneur, but also for me to get back into the all-natural diet. Thank you for listening. Please rate the show and show you support via so we can make this podcast, 100% community-enabled and sponsor free. And you get to hop on an hour long Google Hangout group call with me once a month, where I can give you entrepreneurial brand and creative advice worth much more than the $15 and 95 cents you'd spend to support this programming. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting The Mark.
Learn more about Brazi BitesSupport the show____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: That was Junea Rocha, who founded Brazi Bites. Since our last episode, we know it takes no culinary background to create a food product that sells like hot cakes, or in Junea's case, like hot cheese bread. I had such a great time hearing her story, from being a civic engineer to running her brand with her husband. Killing it on Shark Tank, making Inc's fasting growing private company list in the US for the past two years, spending three grueling years on the road selling and testing their product, to today, where they run 8000 stores. And you will soon know why, as you will be able to witness her drive, her contagious energy, and learn from Junea's vast branding and positioning knowledge. Not only if you're in food and beverage or branding, or if you want to take the leap into entrepreneurship from your cushiony job. No, even if you are just a consumer, this is a fascinating conversation. Welcome to the show, Junea.J Rocha: Thank you. So happy to be here.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, thanks for being here. I want to start us off with a big question that also tells us a bit of your journey. What did branding mean to you when you were back in Brazil, or even while working nine to five as an engineer in Portland? Basically in your past life. And what does it mean to you now that you brought a product to market successfully?J Rocha: Well, before I started Brazi Bites, I would say I never paid attention to branding. I was a receiver, right? I was a consumer. I was a purchaser, and branding was impacting my life, but I never noticed it. It was seamless because I was impacted by my shopping patterns, but everything changed once I decided to launch my own company and understand, "How would people choose to buy my product," and really started to learn. So I would say I didn't know much about branding, I was just a regular consumer shopper because I would say, before I started Brazi Bites I was an engineer and in construction you really don't get into branding. It's not a very creative field. It's very hard work and intense and important, but not very creative, and so ... Starting the company, knowing branding, and getting deep into it and focus on it has been critical to the success of our company.F Geyrhalter: And what does it mean to you now, when you think about your brand, the word branding? A lot of people think about the logo and they think about packaging, but to you, what does it mean today, looking at your company?J Rocha: I would say in a simplified way, the foundation of the brand is the logo. Is your side and your package and your promotional materials, but the branding, to me, is more than that. It's the promise to our consumers. Our branding is, it tells the consumers what they can expect from us, what they can expect from our products, and it differentiates us from our competitors in the marketplace.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And going back to what you just said, you talked about having been an engineer, right? That was your traditional, original path. So everyone wants to be an engineer today. You've been one, and then you wanted to create cheese bread. Can you think of any ways, because I'm just so intrigued by that. Can you think of any ways that being an engineer helped you on this totally different path?J Rocha: So many ways. I would say, I'll share with you for just a couple seconds why I became an engineer and how I got here, because I think it's important to understand the path and the decisions I made. But when you grow up in Brazil, and a lot of emerging markets in Latin America, it's not unusual for your upbringing, especially in my time, in the eighties and nineties that your family will look at you and pretty much give you three options. You're going to become a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer.F Geyrhalter: Totally.J Rocha: I swear, right? You probably know about it.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, same in Austria. It was the same thing, right? There are three universities you can go to. Which do you want?J Rocha: That's it. It's like, "Which do you want," and I was always really driven and wanting to do some creative things, but engineer was that path because I wasn't going to be a lawyer and doctor wasn't for me, so I became an engineer. So fast forward, I go to college, I graduate, I get a job, and then I start working on it. And then for almost ten years I worked as an engineer, here in Portland, Oregon. And so starting my career and my development as a professional in that field. Then I go ahead and leave that career and start a cheese bread company. So how did that translate and help me? So, when you think about being an engineer, it's all about problem solving. It's all about starting something and finishing and working through massive obstacles. That's what an engineer does, and as part of my career there, it was very much also focused on project management and problem solving. So now we go, "Let's start a food company. Let's try to break through the noise of the marketplace to create a brand, to create a product that resonates." All of that problem solving skills, all of that start and ending and completing tasks in a very organized way that was effective and then lead to the next thing and the next thing just totally resonates. It helped me a ton.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and you engineered the best cheese bread north of Brazil, so I guess it must have helped. Actually, would Brazi Bites stand a chance in Brazil where there is this sea of competitors? Would you ever go there with your brand?J Rocha: I don't have any intentions of going there, and I'll tell you why. The cheese bread in Brazil, and in several countries in South America, is treated like a commodity. It is so spread and there's so many manufacturers, and the quality has gone down over the years. But then because of that, new artisanal companies have spun up. So it's such a dynamic market, it's so competitive and saturated, and I that's not a field that I want to play. I love what we created here in the United States with this product line, and there's plenty of business in North America for us.F Geyrhalter: So no Europe either?J Rocha: We talk about going to Europe and that's not a no forever, we just ... There's some manufacturing challenges and currency challenges that need to be tackled. Food can only be sold by a certain price and then, depending on the economy dynamic at a given time, it becomes hard to export, so those are some of the things that we need to...F Geyrhalter: And it's not like you're in a small market here. There's plenty to be done so...J Rocha: Absolutely, there's so much, and we're still relatively small, and while it seems like we're big to us from where we came from, there's a lot of people that don't know about us. There's still a lot of consumers to be introduced to the brand in the US.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. There are so many listeners who have an idea for a startup, but they have a cushiony day job, which many of them don't love, yet they can't make that jump over to entrepreneurship. I can't blame them, but they just can't get themselves to take this big risk. What was it that enabled you to do it?J Rocha: One of the things that, it just kind of pushed me ... And it's such a hard thing to do. There were times during the transition. We didn't jump from A to B and it was a clean jump. We started with two jobs. We started testing. We started to see our assumptions in the marketplace before I left my career, and my husband and co-founder, the same thing. We also staggered our departure, so we could manage the bills at home and things like that. Also, one thing that I kept going back to that drove to my core to be able to get myself to do it was the thought processes that I kept thinking about my life in the future. And so I kept thinking, "That company that I work for," a lot of people were there for 30 years, 40 years, and I kept putting myself in that position and going like, "Okay, this is a good job. Well paying career. I'll be able to be comfortable," this and that.J Rocha: Then I kept picturing myself as some of the folks there in 20 years and 30 years, and then I kept picturing myself doing this crazy thing and trying and potentially failing, but really seeking an opportunity that I thought was real. That deserved to be pursued, and then the thing that kept going in my brain was this, "If I, in 20 years, what do I want to look back on? Do I want to look back and regret that I tried, or that I didn't try?" So if I failed, would I look back and regret that? And so in my heart, I kept thinking that, "In 20 years, if I look back, I would most likely look back with regret if I hadn't tried."F Geyrhalter: Yup.J Rocha: And I know that's more of a feeling-F Geyrhalter: No, it's a philosophy. Yeah, and I think it happens to most entrepreneurs when they take the jump, that they just say, "Well, is this really what I want to do all my life, or do I want to take that risk?" Because quite frankly, and I'm working with one such bootstrapped entrepreneur right now who quit his cushiony day job, and he's like, "Look, all my savings are in this. We have to create a brand around it, and if I fail I have nothing, but I always know I can get another job," right?And I think that's the attitude. You still-J Rocha: Yeah. I mean, if you think about it, you have to have that mindset of, "If I lose everything, maybe in two or three years, and I spent all this time, will it still be worth it?" My answer kept coming back to yes because I would have tried. If I just stay and look back and I just felt comfortable ... That's what life is about. But you have to be ready to accept both outcomes.F Geyrhalter: Right, right. And do it in a smart way where ... You have two lanes, right? You're still doing your day thing and then you start seeing successes with the startup. And it's also a financial calculation, and I love the way that you've done it. Are you still working with your husband?J Rocha: I am. I am.F Geyrhalter: And he's also still your husband.J Rocha: He is my husband. I'm happy to share that.F Geyrhalter: Very good.J Rocha: We started the company about nine years ago together as co-founders, and we're both very actively involved. Over time as the company grew, we separated our lanes quite a bit, and so I'm on the marketing side and he's in operations side, so we don't work as close together as we used to in the early days of the company, but we work in the same office and it's great. We love working in the same office and working together.F Geyrhalter: Well first, congratulations, because that's double amazing, right? And I always think it's such a fascinating scenario, because I had a few married co-founders on the show, and then I actually had one pair of twins. Twin sisters that worked together, which is really fun too, but the question that I ask myself, and I'm sure some of my listeners ask themselves the same question. How do you leave work behind? Do you have a regimen or does it come naturally or does it just happen, and business and pleasure are intermingled at all times?J Rocha: You don't leave it behind. I would say it is intertwined. It's just life. Business and the company is life. I would say when we were growing the company, the intensity was so high. It greatly benefit us because it was just us and a dog. We didn't have a kid at the time, so it was just us babying this brand and this company and building it. So we would work 24/7. Work was done in the office or the facility, we would sit talking and strategizing and so passionate about things. So it's almost like we got double the time without even knowing, and we're able to advance the company faster. Nowadays, the business is more complex and we have a two year old that wants a lot of attention and needs a lot of attention, so we're able to turn off and break a little bit more, but when we're building, when we're bootstrapping, when it was that sort of, you don't know what's going to happen. That up and down of the journey before you get your company stable. It was nonstop. I think at some point when you're a couple or twins or have that dynamic, one person usually calls the shot and says, "You know what? I'm done for the day, I can't talk about this anymore, let's have dinner." Usually in our relationship, Cameron, my husband is the one who's like, "You know, I'm done. Give me a break, I need an hour." I can just keep going. I would just talk business 24/7. I just get into it. But he's helped me balance things a little bit.F Geyrhalter: Exactly, it's about the balance. That's so important. Let's talk about the product. So you're selling cheesy bread in the natural food space. Now, that is pretty choosy. Tell us how that came about and if that positioning is an actual benefit or sometimes a hurdle for a product like yours?J Rocha: Yeah, so let's talk about what the product is, right? So the company started to sell Brazilian cheese bread in the United States. So Brazilian cheese bread is the most popular snack food in South America, and in Brazil it's really a staple. It's been around for hundreds of years. It is a commodity there. It happens to be made with tapioca flour, which is naturally gluten free, right? So when we had the idea to bring the product to market, I would say branding is so critical hearing that conversation, because we were not the first ones that had the idea of bringing this product to the United States. It's a very well known product, it's not a product that I invented, but what we did, we said, "Okay, this product ... " When Americans go to Brazil, they fall in love with the cheese bread. They come back and they experience the culture and the beaches and all the amazing things that Brazil has to offer, but one of the favorite things that they talk about is the cheese bread, so that gave us one more sort of, "Check that box, there's an opportunity here." Most of the cheese bread available in the US at that time was only available in an international market, so you'd have to buy a dry mix and you have to mix all the ingredients at home, and there were cases of Brazilians and Americans going to Brazil and flying back with this frozen dough or this mix. I was like, "Okay, something is off. We've got to bring this here." So the idea was, how can you bring the concept of Brazilian cheese bread to the US market for Americans in a way that they understand, and they can understand what it is and how to consume it, and that it's fun and it's delicious, right?F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative).J Rocha: And out of who I am, I love the natural food space, I care about the food that I eat. I'm not a total health nut by any means, but I eat clean ingredients, no preservatives. I care about where my food is coming from.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so when we were creating the concept, we were like, "It has to be delicious, it has to be simple, it has to be natural," right? And so that was a natural fit into the natural foods industry. It was more about who we are as people and as founders and what kind of product we wanted to sell, because I wasn't going to be able to give my heart and soul to something if it was packed with preservatives, if it didn't taste amazing, you know?F Geyrhalter: Right. No, totally.J Rocha: It would make sense. So that led us ... Another thing is, when you think about the natural foods industry, nine years ago when we started the company, and still today, when you look at all the CPG that are coming in the marketplace in the United States, there's paths of entry into the industry. Conventional stores are opening up a little bit but honestly, it was the only path to entry into the marketplace. Stores like Whole Foods for example, and local co-ops and regional grocers, we're the ones and still are the ones interested in what is unique and what's new, what's innovative. What's that husband and wife founder team coming up with? It's sort of the path to entry.F Geyrhalter: That's really, really interesting because I never thought about it that way, and that's a great positioning that you actually have people that would listen in the beginning, right? And you went on the road for three years hustling, right? Store to store, event to event, it was like a Brazi Bites roadshow. How grueling was that, and what did you learn that you later added to your brand design or your brand language or what did you learn about the audience? It's like, I don't know, 1095 days of consumer research. It must have been invaluable to you.J Rocha: That is just critical to everything of who we are today. So when we brought the product, launched the brand and started knocking on doors, we went through that motion of, like a new product, you're getting lots of nos, you're getting people not understanding, and so we knew we had something special because we knew that cheese bread resonated and it was delicious and it was hitting the mark, being naturally gluten free. Oh, I just said the name of your show…F Geyrhalter: It was a pun. We trained this. We practiced.J Rocha: Amazing. So we know it was hitting the mark with smaller audience, but we also knew there was some challenges there. How do you break through to a larger audience? How do you get out from being just so small and grassroots? So we ended up just doing the hard work, which is doing every single show that was available. Consumer and retailer shows. We ended up just being on the floor of grocery stores, week after week after week, just tireless hours. We would just flee. Cameron goes to the store, I would go to another store, and then we'd meet up and then four hours at another store, and so what that did is that ...It was all about listening, and I was absorbing how people are interacting with the brand. Were they getting the product? Were they getting the name? Were they getting the logo? Were they getting it, right?F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so during those times, we started to gather some of the most important intel that drove the growth of the company. When you're on the floor, it's just amazing what happens, right? The feedback is so real and it's so on time, and because we were just running a fast growing company and it was just us making all the decisions, we could [inaudible 00:20:36] it very quickly.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And so changing the messaging, changing even the name of the product. At some point we called it Cheese Bread Snacks. We didn't want to put the word Brazilian in there, but then we realized that there was a huge value that we're missing out on, and brought that back. And tweaking the colors of the packaging. There was a time that people were right in front of the packaging in a grocery store and would color off and I can't see, we're like, "Okay, there's a problem there. We've got to fix that." And so all those things being fast, it was incredible, and it got us to where we are today. I would say, as I mentioned to you, we were not the first ones. We didn't invent this product. But we were absolutely the first one to break it into a larger audience and create a true category, and it was because of all of those learnings and those moves during the early days of the company.F Geyrhalter: I absolutely had a feeling. And today, you're so branded in very fun, loud, Latin inspired colors and graphics. The design language looks like it caters to kids and families, so it's a very non-traditional look. Again, for the natural food space, in which you entered, in which you still are, how did that packaging came about? I know you changed it a lot, but what story do you try to tell today through the name, through the logo, and through the packaging?J Rocha: You know, we definitely landed on a brand identity, exactly like you mentioned. We started looking at all this stuff that we had learned on the road, and how can we represent that in our branding, in the look of our packaging, to give our best chance of success? So there were things like who we are. We're fun, we're bold, we're delicious. We wanted a colorful packaging, but we also wanted to show that we were natural, that we had a family recipe that cared about ingredients that were wholesome and delicious. So all these things that we wanted to balance, when we were rebranding, you probably remember those days where every natural foods ... You walk into Whole Foods, everybody had that craft look.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And in the freezer section also, everything was white, and so we were looking to fix some of our challenges that we were seeing to give our best chance of success, but also to break away. To differentiate from the competitors. We wanted people ... When you're a frozen foods company, think about this. You're walking in front of a freezer door, you already have that glass door. That's another obstacle for people to see you and find and discover you, so how can you pop, right? So that was one of our biggest challenges, and so we came up with this really bold color pallette to differentiate ourselves and there was so many things to tackle at that time, because it's like, "How can you do a bold colorful pallette, and still be a natural foods company and represent all of your values?" So there's a balance of design elements that go into it and a lot of thought and process, but we did a really good job and the brand really resonates. Nowadays, the bold palette is really out there. We don't like to say we invented it, but we were one of the lead food companies at that time to bring the bold, colorful packaging to natural, and now it's pretty spread.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, I noticed the same thing, and for your brand, the great thing is you can own it, because you earned it by just being a Brazilian brand, right? The idea that you actually embody the beaches and the parties and the carnivals and the fun, right? In your packaging. And I'm sure that has something to do with why you wanted it to be that Latin inspired, because it is your history, versus other brands that just want to cater to kids and families.J Rocha: Yeah, the whole thing about kids and families, it was a natural transition. So this product in Brazil is consumed by all, right? So because it's a commodity, it doesn't have a target audience.F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: And it also is enjoyed as a snack and appetizer, but Brazilian culture is, as you might know, it's a very ingraining to family gatherings and friends gathering. There's a lot more social gatherings than here in the US, right? So you literally can't have a product that just caters to social gatherings and make it huge, right? The cheese bread there is that. When we started to sell it here and listen and understand how people are interacting with the product, we saw that there was a little bit less of that just because culturally Americans are not gathering with their neighbors and friends and all that kind of stuff every single weekend, but there were other things. We start hearing, "My kids love Brazi Bites. My kid is obsessed with Brazi. My kid can make Brazi by themself. My kid is ten years old and he loves Brazi." So we started hearing that, and we're like, "Wait a minute, we're not a kid food company, but kids definitely love our brand, so let's create a packaging and a brand identity that they can resonate with as well."And so parents can resonate, kids can resonate. So that's what took us there. It was honestly on the floor and hearing, and we're like, "Wait, kids are loving this, let's focus on that more than, this is a party item that pairs with alcohol and this and that."F Geyrhalter: Right.J Rocha: While it's great with beer and wine and such, there's this whole opportunity on the family side, and it's much bigger.F Geyrhalter: Yeah, and it doesn't leave the other audience out of it, because those are the parents, and they would still eat the product. And I guess that's also how you made it into Costco, and I'm so intrigued by that. Tell us a little bit about the Costco stock tap on your site. So you can check on availability of your product at local Costcos. To me that's really fantastic, and a smart idea how you go about that. How does doing similar things, basically to get Costco to restock your products regularly, right? That's kind of part of the idea, right?J Rocha: Yeah, so that's definitely been one of our trade secrets.F Geyrhalter: So let's talk about it now.J Rocha: Let's talk about it.F Geyrhalter: Just you and I.J Rocha: So we have a lot of business with Costco. Costco's a great partner and a supporter of our brand, and it makes total sense, right? We make a delicious product that's cheesy and it can be packaged in bulk. And Costco does a lot of frozen business, right? People go there to find frozen items. To stock up for family. So it's no wonder that the brand really resonated and was successful within Costco. But there's some different dynamics. Unlike a regular retail space like Whole Foods, Kroger, and Walmart and Target, when you get your shelf space, you're pretty much guaranteed that space for about a year. If your product does well, you just keep going, right? There isn't as much of a threat. Costco operates more on, they like ins and outs, they call it, which is they're going to bring something for eight weeks, 12 weeks, and then they're going to be out of it and then they bring it back six months later, and so forth. And then, in addition to that, the Costco breaks the country into regions, so each region pocket of the country, you have to sell to a new buyer and tell your story again. It becomes very complex, and then member they may not know. You're in LA, you go to your Costco and I'm promoting Costco, you expect the product to be there. It may not because that regional buyer didn't bring in the product and so forth. We realized after a while, our fans and Costco members really love Brazi brand and wanted to buy the product, but they would be impacted by these ins and outs and they were frustration, right? From them. So the consumers would call our office and say, let's say we post something on Instagram and say we're in Costco in LA or we're in Costco in Seattle, and then somebody in San Francisco, who doesn't have the item, goes like, "How dare you not be at my Costco?" And so they were putting all of this energy on us, almost like it was our fault. Like, "Why don't you want to be in my hometown?"F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: And so we wanted to shift the dynamic. We said, "Look, we are with you. We understand you. We listen to you, and we're working on it so hard to get there, but there's different dynamics that we're dealing with. Let's shift your energy and redirect it to Costco."F Geyrhalter: That's so good.J Rocha: Right? So we created that website to give our fans a tool to help us be on shelf where they want us to be on shelf. So that has helped us. It's been on of that tools that we've used with Costco, but look, at the end of the day, you can do all the marketing tactics that you want but the product has to resonate. It has to sell on shelf. I think that tactic only works because the product doesn't resonate and…F Geyrhalter: Oh, for sure. Yeah.J Rocha: And you're just trying to move some things around, and empower.F Geyrhalter: But it's fantastic because you're really empowering your fans to do the work for you, which that's what the best brands do today. When you actually have people that want to have your product on the shelves, and they have to do the legwork because you can only do that much, and it's really great. Let's talk more about opportunities. I have to bring this up, right? Let's talk about Shark Tank for a minute. You guys absolutely rocked it and got bombarded with offers. Whose offer did you accept? I didn't research that much. Whose offer did you accept, why, and how did it treat your company?J Rocha: So the show was incredible, being a part of it. I'm sure several of your listeners are familiar with the show and watch the show, but the viewership is incredible, and we went on the show because we were raising money at that time. We were looking for an investor, and also we wanted the exposure.F Geyrhalter: Of course.J Rocha: We had been in business about four years, and we were out there. It was that time that we were doing the groundwork, we're in about a thousand stores. We were already at Whole Foods, and some Krogers and so forth. But we really needed that bump in exposure, and the show did just that. The Sharks taste the product and just fell in love with it. Couldn't believe how delicious it was. Couldn't believe that it was gluten free. They were just really love everything that we had built, and the consumers watched that and were intrigued and wanted to try the product.J Rocha: And so at the show, we got three offers, which is amazing.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.J Rocha: …when you get as many offers, it just makes for a more fun episode. The viewers are more intrigued, and it's just a better dynamic. So we had an offer from Mr. Wonderful, we had an offer from Lori, and we had an offer from Damon. So three Sharks. There was a point in our episode where they were fighting over it and it was really cool.F Geyrhalter: And different percentages, right? What's the cut that they're going to take? And they went down on cuts, right? To get you to be their choice, right?J Rocha: Totally. Being on the show, and when that shift happened, it's almost like a shift of energy. You're trying to sell, sell, sell, and you're really grasping…F Geyrhalter: And then you're buying, buying, buying.J Rocha: And then the moment they start fighting for you, that's just like, "Wow," it's like, "Okay, cool. This is going to be good." And so at the end of the show we ended up shaking hands with Lori, who is really famous on QVC and she's done a lot of consumer products. Over time, as we were working through the kinks of the deal behind the scenes, we decided to not do the deal, which is not unusual for the show.F Geyrhalter: Interesting.J Rocha: That happens a lot. You get the negotiations involved and you really get to know one another, but we really enjoyed getting to know her and her team, but ultimately didn't do a deal.F Geyrhalter: Very interesting. And I had a gentleman on the show who completely bombed on Shark Tank. He bombed. They basically laughed him out of the show, and his product was moving like crazy the weeks and months afterwards, right? So it's the exposure that is worth so much, but obviously the production teams that the people just go there for the exposure, so it's ... You guys played it so well, it's amazing. I know our time is slowly coming to an end. I'm obsessed with one thing, and I want to make sure I ask you that. I'm obsessed with defining what I call the brand DNA for and with my clients, and on this show, I let the founders I interview give it some thought for their own brand. Everyone gets so sucked into the product-centric day to day that I feel it not only gives us an insight into your brain but it may also help you with your continued marketing and branding to surface that one special word. Your brand in one word. So for Sapos, it could be happiness. For Everlane, it would be transparency. What is that one word that can describe your brand today?J Rocha: The one word that describes Brazi Bites today, I would say it's fun.F Geyrhalter: Yeah. All-encompassing, right? And talking about the target audiences again, and it's little bites, and it just provides that piece of fun that's so easy to do too. Which is great because you literally just put it into an oven like a pizza, so that's really neat.J Rocha: Absolutely. It's all encompasses of who we are, what we're about, and what the audience and the experience of the product and how we run the company and how we connect with our consumers. Fun is the word today.F Geyrhalter: And you know what's overly bizarre is that of all the founders I had on this show, but now I think it's been about 24, 25, this is the first time that fun becomes the brand DNA. Which is amazing, right? Because it seems like a lot of brands should be fun. Do you have any piece of brand advice for founders as a takeaway? We talked so much about your brand, about your journey. There were so many nuggets that we got out of it, but is there anything that, for fresh founders that are just getting started, any thoughts that you want to share?J Rocha: I think the things that was most successful for Brazi Bites was that piece of, you create your brand, you put all of your ideas into the branding, and then you've got to put it out in front of people as fast as you possibly can, and start adjusting and improving and this and that. That would be my main advice. Get in front of people, put it out there, and then see what happens, you know? That is where the ticket is, because if we are just sit back in our office and we just make all of our assumptions through a computer all day, we're not going to make the right choices for our company. So where you're meeting the consumer, it's at a retail store or an event or something. Maybe even in the digital world, you can do that today, but what kind of feedback are you getting? What kind of questions are you getting? It's going to lead you to build the right brand.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely, yeah. I hear that over and over and over again. That customer research, however you do it, is so key. And that's why so many young brands, they pivot very quickly, because they don't even pivot with the product. They just pivot with how they talk to the customer and how the packaging looks and how the brand works and what it stands for. Where can listeners get their Brazi bites?J Rocha: So we're in thousands of stores nationwide, in the freezer section. Nowadays, we make Brazilian cheese bread. Multiple flavors, and we also have a brand new line of mini empanadas. They're amazing. Both product lines are available throughout the country, so to find us, just visit There is a locator there. It just will tell you exactly the store near you with exact assortment. And you can find this at a store near you.F Geyrhalter: Awesome. Well, thank you Junea for your time and insights. This was such a blast. And I know what I'll be having for dinner tonight.J Rocha: Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely.F Geyrhalter: There you have it. From Brazil to civic engineer in Portland to selling products in 8000 stores. I so enjoyed my conversation with Junea and I hope you did the same. Thank you for listening, for subscribing, and for rating the show. And thanks to all the podcast supporters who became monthly members on It's awesome to see what positive impact our group calls have on everyone's business, and I'd love to see you join us too so I can make this podcast 100% community enabled. Just head on over to and look for Hitting the Mark to learn more about this initiative that powers this show. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
There are 782 minutes of combined insights and inspiring journeys we had to edit down to arrive at this 32-minute special, which hones in on 5 key areas:Brands challenging the normThe importance of people – Your tribe and your cultureInvestors' viewpoints on brand thinkingBrand DNA - your brand in one wordAnd to finish it off, not-to-be-missed brand advice from these successful entrepreneurs and investors that we needed to bring back up front and center.Show your support for Hitting The Mark, and if you have been listening and have not rated the show yet, please do so wherever you listen to podcasts.Thank you, and enjoy!_______________________________________________Here is who you will be hearing from on this episode:BRANDS CHALLENGING THE NORM:3:15 - 5:35 = Liquid Death (Mike Cessario)5:35 - 7:13 = Wilkmazz (Sam Mazzeo)7:13 - 8:59 = Antis Roofing (Charles Antis)8:59 - 10:21 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)10:21 - 13:02 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE – YOUR TRIBE AND YOUR CULTURE:13:37 - 14:11 = The Futur (Chris Do)14:11 - 14:30 = Double Dutch (Raissa & Joyce de Hass)14:30 - 14:36 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)14:36 - 15:36 = Parlor Skis (Mark Wallace)15:36 - 15:49 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)15:49 - 18:18 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)INVESTOR'S VIEWPOINT ON BRANDING:18:47 - 19:35 = Angel Investor (Frank Demmler)19:35 - 21:18 = Dormitus Brands (Mark Thomann)21:18 - 22:26 = New Crop Capital (Chris Kerr)BRAND DNA – YOUR BRAND IN A SINGLE WORD:23:23 - 23:29 = The Futur (Chris Do)23:29 - 23:31 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)23:31 - 23:32 = 4th & Heart (Raquel Tavares)23:32 - 23:34 = Bureo (Ben Kneppers)23:34 -23:35 = Journey Meditation (Stephen Sokoler)23:35 - 23:37 = Antis Roofing (Charles Antis)23:37 - 23:38 = Beboe (Clement Kwan)23:38 - 23:39 = Idagio (Till Janczukowicz)23:38 - 23:39 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)23:39 - 23:40 = Liquid Death (Mike Cessario)23:40 - 23:43 = &Pizza (Michael Lastoria)23:43 - 24:04 = Bureo (Ben Kneppers)24:04 - 24:35 = Charity Water (Scott Harrison)24:35 - 25:01 = Idagio (Till Janczukowicz)25:01 - 25:28 = Beboe (Clement Kwan)25:28 - 25:53 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)NOT-TO-BE-MISSED BRAND ADVICE:26:26 - 26:46 = Rogue Brands (Raaja Nemani)26:46 - 27:02 = The Futur (Chris Do)27:02 - 27:20 = Barrel Bourbon Foods (Matt Jamie)27:20 - 28:10 = Cameo (Devon Townsend)28:10 - 28:22 = Tiny Beans (Eddie Geller)28:23 - 29:23 = Double Dutch (Raissa & Joyce de Hass) 
This marks the beginning of 3 back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. All 3 of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve-balls that is hard to make it in: the food industry. And out of sheer co-incidence, 2 of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm.We kick it off with Raquel Tavares, the founder & CEO of Fourth & Heart, who migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early 80’s. She currently lives in Los Angeles and is a mother of two young boys.  Raquel is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of 4th & Heart, which also happens to currently be the 4th fastest growing Food & Bev company in the country.If this quote by Eckhart Tolle, which appears on the Fourth + Heart web site, speaks to you (as much as it inspired me), then make sure to not miss this episode: "Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be."Links mentioned:Fourth & HeartFourth & Heart on InstagramHitting The Mark Patreon PageFINIEN Brand ConsultancyHappiness Won____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter:                 Welcome to episode 23 of Hitting the Mark. This is also the beginning of three back-to-back episodes featuring female founders. The only exception will be a very special episode, that I will sneak in between, which will mark the one year anniversary of this very show. All three of these upcoming guests succeeded in an industry with many curve balls, that is hard to make it in, the food industry. And out of sheer coincidence, two of these founders happen to be Brazilian women taking the US food market by storm. We kick it off today with Raquel Tavares, the founder and CEO of Fourth and Heart, an artisanal food brands based in Los Angeles, set on a mission to modernize ancient pantry food staples starting with a line of grass fed flavored, pure spreadable butters, known as ghee. Raquel a devout Ashtanga Yogini, snowboarder, lover of all things food was born in Brazil and later migrated at age six to Northern California with her mother and brother in the early eighties.She currently lives in LA with her family and is a mother of two young boys. She is the principal creator of Tava Organics, the parent company of Fourth and Heart, which also happens to currently be the fourth fastest growing food and beverage company in the country. She prides herself on the ability to tackle family, work, self and play. She wants to milk each minute of each day. And that being said, I'll make the most of each minute while I have her on the show.Welcome to Hitting The Mark Raquel.R Tavares:                     Thank you for having me.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. I rarely have locals on the show, so this is fun. My company actually started out of a garage in Venice Beach on Rose Avenue, which I believe is also your stomping grounds and we don't even know each other. So I read about you in Forbes, I believe, but ever since I reached out, you also made it onto the Inc. 5,000 list on number 70 with a three year growth rate of 4,279 percent. So first off, congratulations on your tremendous success.R Tavares:                     Thank you. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter:                 You're one of those few startups that must have found it so much harder to launch since you're not only introducing your brand, but you also had to educate a fair amount of your potential customers about ghee, what it is, its benefits. So please share the power of ghee with our listeners. What is it, what makes it so good and what makes it so good for you?R Tavares:                     Well, when I was thinking of what I wanted to do, and eventually came to me and what I thought of ghee or what I thought ghee could do is basically do what coconut oil has done as an ingredient. Meaning all of a sudden coconut oil went from being something that we've put topically on her skin and then all of a sudden you see it as an ingredient in chocolate. Then people are popping popcorn with coconut oil and then came MCT oil. So, so on and so forth. And then of course it went into beauty as well. So I loved ghee because it's shelf stable and lactose free and dairy free. And I really just thought of it as a shelf stable butter, which is what it is.And some of the other benefits, the health benefits are that it's easier for your body to digest because it doesn't have the lactose in the dairy. It has a unique fatty acid in it called butyrate, which is something that's found in the lining of your gut and helps your body to assimilate nutrients. And over time what happens is people eat a lot of processed foods and that starts to kind of deteriorate in the lining of your gut. And therefore this replaces that. And really, I just call it the golden ingredient, the gift that keeps on giving really.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, we're actually using it at home. It's a very smart choice, but how much education about ghee did you have to include in your launch? Did you launch locally here in LA where obviously the thirst for wellbeing is pretty unquenchable or how did it all start off?R Tavares:                     Yeah. So I started drafting the business plan in 2012 and it really took a while to get through the iterations of the different flavors that I wanted to do. Eventually in 2014 is when I sold it for the first time at the Echo Park Craft Fair and it was in Christmas and that was the first time I had it in front of consumers. I was able to hear what they had to say about it. And it's always important to see it live because you know if it's authentic, then at that that weekend we sold about 3,000 dollars in ghee.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh my God.R Tavares:                     Which was so much money at the time and it really blew my mind. So that kind of gave me the beginning feeling. I had a proof of concept. So then after that I sold it into different stores in Los Angeles. So yes, I launched it locally, initially selling everything myself. And then it was in, later in 2015 where we got our first distribution, national distribution.F Geyrhalter:                 And when you sold it yourself, was it just basically in jars and just hand labeled or like laser printed or how did you sell it? I mean it must've been very, very low key at that point, right?R Tavares:                     No, actually, yeah, it wasn't. If you know me, I don't like to take anything for granted when it comes to aesthetic.F Geyrhalter:                 There you go.R Tavares:                     Pretty much holds true and if you come to my home, everything is merchandised effectively. Same thing with the product. I really wanted to bring forth something that would be marketable at a grocery store level because I did not intend on selling it at farmer's markets. I intended to go directly to buyers because I felt buyers of grocery stores would know if that, if it had legs to stand on. So it was branded and in the jar, the same jar that it is today and they were Italian jars that I sourced, beautiful packaging. It was a different variation of the packaging, but nonetheless, it was still beautiful under the brand name Tava which was the first brand name. But I had to change it to Fourth and Heart after getting a cease and desist.F Geyrhalter:                 I was curious about that. Is that how it happened? Okay, interesting. Very interesting. Well that's a curve ball you didn't necessarily expect.R Tavares:                     No, not at all. But the branding was so important because ghee, it does have the education curve. So when you have that beautiful packaging and branding, at the very least it piques the curiosity and it increases the odds of someone wanting to try something as what can seem like a very obscure ingredient. So that was just so important to have beautiful packaging.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's interesting because even when you were still, working on the Tava brand name, your packaging already won awards. I saw it on Dieline, which is a pretty big, packaging design website. So you were very, as you said, you were very, very design focused. But then with Fourth and Heart, you also did a complete redesign of the entire branding, right?R Tavares:                     Yeah, I did. Originally, when I first founded the company at my yoga studio, there was a young guy that I met there and we started talking about packaging. He was starting a beverage company. He then said that he really loved this agency in Boulder, Colorado called Moxie Sozo. And I called them and they were out of my price range at the time, but I made a note and I said, okay, we'll go back to that. So when I got the cease and desist, we had just done a small friends and family round and I was able to afford a rebrand. So at that point I thought, you know what, let's take advantage of this situation rather than fight a cease and desist and create something even better than we have now, that would be even more marketable to the masses. So that's how Fourth and Heart came to life.F Geyrhalter:                 I see. And let me read some of your brand's copy on your website. Fourth and Heart is an ode to the heart chakra. It's the intersection where most of us get stuck. We think through everything and we really feel our way through it. Our intellect gets in the way. I find the most lasting decisions are heart choices, not hard choices. Fourth and Heart hopes to inspire others through the passion we put into our product and to inspire heart decisions, not hard decisions. We move forward with bold intention and with your hearts in our hearts in mind, we want what we put into our product to move you, motivate you, inspire you.So the brand name is rooted, I suppose in Hindu yogic and chakra, Buddhist tantric traditions. You also ran a successful yoga studio as you mentioned, which you sold in 2008 was the Yogi tribe also your first audience? And was it kind of inspirational to a lot of, not only the language that you use in the name, but also some of the design aspects of your brand?R Tavares:                     Yeah, I think it just comes natural to me that I think that way because I've done yoga for such a long time. I've been practicing yoga for going on 25 years now and so it's kind of in my veins, in my bones, if you will. So it wasn't that the yoga community was my first audience really. It was just that the art and science of yoga is kind of part of my fabric and therefore it just spills over into the brand because the brand is very much a part of me. And I effectively, I wrote that copy for the website.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh great. That's awesome. I love to hear that.R Tavares:                     Yeah. I'm a writer. I love writing too as well. So I thrive on writing and I thrive on creating and it just so happens I'm lucky enough to be able to put all of my favorite things to do into Fourth and Heart.F Geyrhalter:                 And you have a marketing background, correct?R Tavares:                     I do. Yeah, I well, I was a marketing director of marketing at a telecom company way back, well, way back now in San Francisco. And I ran a partner marketing department there.F Geyrhalter:                 Which doesn't sound quite as inspiring as Fourth and Heart.R Tavares:                     It was a great, amazing job actually. I love marketing but, and gave me a good of flexibility. So it was great. But no, of course Fourth and Heart is for sure my passion and one of those things that I'm fortunate to be obsessed with because they say you have to be obsessed with what you do in order to really be able to do it well and every day.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh absolutely. And I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who actually quit their careers and you were at a good point in your career, but you quit it to launch a brand and then especially I have a lot of respect for those who actually go into retail. And then even more so who are not afraid to deal with the FDA and go into food and beverage, which is really, really difficult. But on top of it, you're a woman, you're a mom to two boys. You recently though closed a successful series C round, raising 7.6 million. How do you do it? Like your brand has health and self care at its heart, no pun intended, but do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all and suffer some minor anxiety attacks like so many founders do or do you have a trick? Do you have a trick on how you balance mind and body while running your brand and your life and I guess the life of two others? Right.R Tavares:                     I wish I had a trick that was a one size fits all.F Geyrhalter:                 Yes. That's what we need. That's what everyone needs.R Tavares:                     I wish there was an answer for that. I absolutely have bouts of anxiety and it is definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'd say it's as hard as being a parent is because it's something you create so it's like an emotional piece of your person, but at the same time you have to be able to run it like a business. And you can't, you have to actually be able to remove yourself out of that attachment, so to speak. But I would say the way I handle stress and anxiety and balance, everything is with a lot of help. So like I have people helping at home, I have people helping me in the office. It's not a one woman show by any means.So I would say it's me leaning on people and listening to people, sometimes taking advice, sometimes not taking advice, and it's usually, it comes in a wave. So it'll be full throttle, running a thousand miles. And then you know, I always say it's like you're running through the forest and then boom you hit a tree and then you have to sit down and probably just take a beat and then get back to it. Because sometimes there's like a lull and it's calm and everything's going well, and those times I have to sit down and really appreciate those times. Because cause I know the other uphill is just around the corner and there's a lot of unforeseens in food. So it's important to have that downtime where you really meditate and do yoga and take care of yourself. I would say that's the foundation of being able to deal with the accompanying anxiety.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. And it's beautiful that it's part of your entire brand messaging, right? So even when you work, you can kind of be reminded by those thoughts. One of those beautiful quotes you have on your website, which you didn't write it's by Eckhart Tolle, who I'm also a fan of myself. He said life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be. And I think that's kind of a nice summary of what we have just talked about. Your tagline is fuel happy. How did it come about? I mean obviously it sounds like most probably you came up with it, but how did it come about? What made it the guiding light for the brand, fuel happy?R Tavares:                     So full disclosure, I did not come up with it.F Geyrhalter:                 Yeah, perfect.R Tavares:                     My branding agents actually did come up with it, but it was definitely a team effort and a lot of brainstorming involved. But I liked it because it was really just about, I always believe that food should be first fuel for your body, and that basically what you put in is what you get out and effectively, pardon the cliche you are what you eat. It's true. So I felt like that embodied all of that messaging, which I find to be very true.F Geyrhalter:                 And it's great. It's punny, right? The idea of feel happy, fuel happy, and there's a lot in there in two words and as a brand strategist, I can appreciate how much you can get out of two words. It's really great.R Tavares:                     Yeah. Not easy to do. Right. We have to appreciate that work, that's for sure.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Yeah. Talking about one or two words, and I know you knew that this is coming because I usually warn my guests of this one, but what is one word or two words that can describe your brand? I call it the brand DNAs. So Everlane would be transparency. For SAPOs, it would be customer service, or Tony Hsieh would call it most probably happiness. What would it be? What would Fourth and Hearts one word or two word be that could actually describe the brand in its entirety?R Tavares:                     I guess at this current stage where the brand is now it would be wanderlust.F Geyrhalter:                 Huh.R Tavares:                     Or wonder or wonderer, because the brand, we really want the brand to evoke a sense of curiosity and following your bliss. But who's to say where the brand will go?F Geyrhalter:                 Right, right. But I like that. I think that's really interesting. And I think it's interesting because A, the way that the company is currently the brand is expanding into a lot of different, sub product, and I saw a lot more products on the website yesterday than I did a couple of months ago. And I also liked that idea of you actually having to be someone with an open mind to try those type of products and actually exchange some kitchen staples for something totally new. It's a great brand mantra and I agree it doesn't need to stick around forever. Right.What was the big breakthrough moment? Obviously we talked about when you tried out your product at basically at the market, which you didn't really try it out as in like here it isn't in a self made jar, but you already had it designed, it was ready, you just needed to get feedback. But what was that one big breakthrough moments where you just figured, you know what? This is turning into a real thing into real brand, into a major player. When was that moment where you just patted yourself on the back and said, you know what, I think I just made it now?R Tavares:                     Well, I don't know that I feel like I've just made it because I feel like if I embody the feeling of making it, then it will potentially trigger something. It's like if you repeat something over and over again or if you tell something to someone that something has happened that you start to think it did happen and then you won't make it happen. I don't know. It's like this weird theory. So there was a moment where I thought I feel like this has legs and it was probably after 2000 and or a full year of revenue in 2016 and we were in all Whole Foods. So I feel like after we completed a full year of revenue and I knew that the product kept moving, that's when I knew that it had legs.But I always like to feel that there's so much more to grow into then not disguise the possibility for the brand. So it's kind of like a... I think of it in two ways, but sometimes I have to actually remind myself to think of how much we've done and where we've gone and how incredible it is. Because sometimes you get lost in the weeds of the work day. So it's important to sit down and remind yourself of the accomplishments.F Geyrhalter:                 Absolutely. Sometimes you should listen to the intro that I say on the podcast for instance, and actually let it sink in rather than, oh, that's the staple. That's always like that. I mean, seven million dollar funding, you're in Whole Foods, all kinds of stories. It's remarkable and it's especially remarkable while you still have two boys and there's a lot going on. So I'm very, very impressed. Food and beverage founders that I talked to when they know, when they get through the Whole Foods challenge basically, and when they see that after a couple of months at Whole Foods that it's actually picking up and people are repeat customers. That's pretty much it. So it sounded like it's a lot. It's that that was very, very much how it was with you as well. What does branding mean to you? It means a lot, I know, but what does it mean to you?R Tavares:                     Well, it means identity. It means communication, education. There's so much that, inspiration effectively with our brand. That's what I want to do is the, to inspire, to educate, to build the brand identity and so people can also identify back with the brand, and form a connection with the brand as well. And I feel like we've accomplished that so far with existing group of consumers that we have and fans and family and all of that the next phase is going into not, away from the low hanging fruit, so to speak. But I feel like we still have a lot of work to do with our existing community as well. So, yeah, I would say the brand means those four pillars. Educate, inspire, communicate and build identity.F Geyrhalter:                 I love that. And how do you engage with your tribe, so to speak? I know you're doing recipe videos, which are like unscripted, fun, quirky and I know you're extremely active in on Instagram. What are some ways where you feel like there's a really good dialogue going on between you and the people who actually appreciate your product?R Tavares:                     I would say social media would be number one. I will go in myself typically on weekends and just start responding to people, correspond with people there and I'll just usually let them know that is me, if it's me speaking. So I would say there, sometimes I'll go to live speaking engagements at the consumer trade shows as well. I'm communicating often with the consumer. And I would say those would probably be probably be the three times. And then, if it's just an external dialogue wherein I'm just speaking, it's typically on podcasts.F Geyrhalter:                 Right. I see that. I hear that.R Tavares:                     Well, yeah, we do do videos as well. It's just that we paused last year a little bit on the marketing front because we had to focus a bit internally. However, next year we'll be kicking that up again. And my goal is to create eight potentially an IGTV show where I'm doing interviews myself, short interviews with some of our investors or fans or influencers, something that would just be quarterly, to keep it manageable. But we're going to be kicking that, taking that off next year, early next year.F Geyrhalter:                 That's fantastic. That's really cool. What is a piece of brand advice, if you have anything like on top of your mind for founders that might be following your footsteps that might go into a category like food and beverage or just brand advice for any founder as a takeaway? What have you learned in the last years of making your brand into a reality?R Tavares:                     So advice I would give to new new entrepreneurs, I would say that if you're a creative and you have a feeling that you know what you want, that I would be very authentic in your voice and go with your intuition and try to get the message across of what you want to see with a really great professional who can design what you have in your mind and put it on paper. I often actually just sketch it and then I give it to a designer to bring to life.And then if you can also, if you can afford it, I would recommend doing a small consumer study to understand what messaging is important to the consumer to see on the front of the packaging, the back of the packaging. If not, it's not that important. You can probably Google it and then if you're not, if you're a finance operational type, I would find your favorite brands out there and pulled them all together and figure out who did their design, and go to that agency and tell them what you like and what you don't like and get your vision through that way.So I feel like it really depends on what kind of founder you are and lean into that where you can and get support where you need it.F Geyrhalter:                 Great advice. When you talked about consumer studies, do you actually hire a company to do consumer studies or is it something where you basically just say, like you go out there and you just interview people?R Tavares:                     No, we do, we have, it's kind of like a hybrid situation. But yes, we have done consumer studies now that we have more at stake. So, and now we're really curious as to what the consumers are thinking.F Geyrhalter:                 For sure.R Tavares:                     For example, we have a chocolate spread called Chocti, right. And on the packaging, I wanted it to be a hybrid between adult-like and child-like. But at the same time, I didn't really think about how is the consumer going to use this? How are they going to see it? Is it going to be a family, is it going to be a single person? And what we found out after we after the fact, is that probably should have done something more fun and bright and white. And there was probably some hiccups that I could of solved for if I didn't just go with my own wish. Right. So that's kind of an example where I could've probably used some more pragmatic research in the design of the Chocti. But we were still pretty young when that came to life. So, it's just kind of growing pains, but if you can hit it on the front end, that's what I would say to do. Even if it's just like your own, 12 of your best friends in a room with 10 good questions. That could work.F Geyrhalter:                 Totally. Yeah. If you have to bootstrap it, bootstrap it, but if you can afford it, the more information you can get upfront, the more success you will have quickly. Absolutely. Where can me, myself and I find that the chocolate spread and more important, where can our listeners find your products?R Tavares:                     Well, you can find everything in Sprouts. And Whole Foods has all of our products as well. Kroger or Gelson's and Wegmans if you're in the East coast, Publix and then Amazon, of course. Amazon has everything.F Geyrhalter:                 Perfect. Very good. Excellent. Well, thank you Raquel, for making the time to swing by the show. I really appreciate your thoughts on branding and marketing and the entrepreneurial advice that you shared with my listeners.R Tavares:                     Well, thank you so much. I'm honored and flattered to be here and I love what you've done as well, so thank you so much for your time.F Geyrhalter:                 Oh, thank you. And thanks to everyone for listening. Head on over to to show your support. Just like Florian Felipe of Los Angeles who joined this community on the Brandster level, and Devroni Liasoi Lumandan from Malaysia for upgrading to the Co-Brander level. Join the group and learn about the many perks you receive for supporting the show at podcast is currently brought to you by Finien, a brand consultancy, creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more at Finien and also dive into an assortment of my brand insights while you're there. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we, once again, we'll be Hitting that Mark. 
President Obama praised Scott Harrison, and so have Arianna Huffington and Michael Bloomberg. Without a doubt, I knew he would be a charismatic and smart guest. But having Scott share his inspirational story and dive into the details of how he built the brand, and how branding was actually a crucial component of charity: water's success, went beyond my highest expectations.Scott is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world. He is also the New York Times best-selling author of Thirst, a story of redemption, compassion, and the mission to bring clean water to the world. In the 13 years since he founded his organization, charity: water has mobilized over 1 million donors around the world to fund more than 38,000 water projects in 28 countries and bring clean water to 10 million people.He was ranked number 10 in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in business. And in this episode you will witness why.To get inspired, not only for the ways in which you build your brand, but for the way you live your life, give this episode a listen. Links mentioned:charity: waterTHIRST - the bookSpring - the videoHitting The Mark Patreon Page ____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting the Mark. President Obama praised my next guest, so has Arianna Huffington and Michael Bloomberg. Today I'm fortunate to have him on the line. I usually spend around two hours prepping for my guests the day prior to the taping. And then, at night, I listen to some past interviews while on the treadmill. This was different. When prepping for my next guest I got so sucked into his stories that I spent the majority of my day diving into the rich and fascinating journey of Scott Harrison.Scott is the founder and CEO of charity: water, a non-profit bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in need around the world. He's also the New York Times best-selling author of Thirst, a story of redemption, compassion, and the mission to bring clean water to the world. Harrison spent 10 years as a night club promoter in New York City before leaving to volunteer on a hospital ship in West Africa as a photo journalist. Returning home two years later, he founded charity: water in 2006. In the 13 years since, the organization has mobilized over 1 million donors around the world to fund more than 38,000 water projects in 28 countries and bring clean water to 9.7 million people.Scott has been recognized on Fortune's 40 under 40 list, Forbes' Impact 30 list, and was ranked number 10 in Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in business. He's currently a World Economic Forum young global leader, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children. Out of sheer coincidence though a mutual friend I got introduced to his wife, Viktoria, who is also Vice President of Creative for charity: water, who in turn made this interview happen since Scott was already somewhat familiar with my work to some extent, just seeing my books on branding lying around the house. Welcome to the show, Scott, and thanks so much for making the time.S Harrison: Hey, thanks for having me. This will be fun.F Geyrhalter: So, Scott, your inspiring story has been told many times, and as of late also in your best-selling book, Thirst, which I picked up a few days ago. It's a fascinating story and a remarkable journey. Could you share a little bit of it with our listeners? Like how did your career begin, and how did you end up running one of the most trusted and admired non-profits in the world?S Harrison: Yeah. Well, I guess I'll start early on. I was born in a very middle class family in Philadelphia, raised in New Jersey. When I was young, when I was four years old, there was a terrible accident in our house. We got carbon monoxide gas poisoning from a heater that leaked. My dad and I were lucky enough to find the leak and we recovered, but my mom, after passing out one day unconscious, just never recovered. She became an invalid. Her body's ability to just function normally in the world ended with this carbon monoxide poisoning.I grew up in a pretty sheltered Christian home taking care of mom. An only child. I didn't smoke. I didn't drink. I was in a caregiver role really. Then at 18, maybe no surprise, woke up one day and said, Now it's my turn. Now it's my turn to move to New York City and to do all the things I wasn't allowed to do. Now it's my turn to take care of myself. I joined a rock band which was a terrible idea because we broke up a couple of months later because we all hated each other.But I found that there was this unique profession in New York City called a night club promoter. And if you could get the beautiful people into the right clubs you could make a lot of money drinking for a living. I was 19 years old, a couple of years before I was even legally allowed in these nightclubs, I started throwing fashion parties and music parties, and pulling crowds of people together, doing deals with the clubs. I thought this was the greatest life ever. I mean I was chasing girls. I was chasing fashion week around. I was chasing the cars and the watches and all these things that I thought would bring fulfillment and happiness.The next thing I know 10 years is over. I'm 28 years old. I've worked at 40 different clubs in New York City over a decade. And my life is terrible. I have a cocaine problem. I have an Ecstasy and MDMA problem. I've got a serious drinking problem. I've smoked two to three packs of Marlboro reds for ten years, so I have a coughing problem. Gambling. Strip clubs. Pornography addiction. I mean, you name it, every vice that you might imagine would come with the territory had found its way to me and I'd taken it on.I had this really extreme contrast of a life that looked great on the outside. Going to beautiful dinners with fashion models at 10:00, and going to the club at 12:00. So then this life that was really rotting on the inside. Often I wouldn't go to bed until 12:00 or 1:00 or 2:00PM the next day, taking sleeping pills to try to come down off a high.I had some health issues. I read about this in the book. One day half my body goes numb. Maybe to a listener, no freaking wonder. But I go see doctors as you would and get the MRIs and the CT scans and the EKGs, and they can't find anything wrong with me. And I just really have a moment where I'm faced with my mortality. I realize, Boy I've made a mess of my life, and if I continue down this path I'm leaving the most meaningless legacy that a person could leave. I drink for a living. I get others wasted for a living. I'm doing nothing to serve others. I'm doing nothing to serve humanity.And I also realized I'd come so far from the foundation of spirituality and morality of my youth. And I wanted to come home. I wanted to find my way back to that. So that was 28, and one day I decide I'm going to leave night life and I ask myself the question, What would the opposite of my hedonistic, disgusting, sycophantic life look like? I thought, Well, serving others on a humanitarian adventure. I'm going to go do that. I'm going to go serve people without being paid, and I thought it'd be cool to go to Africa and do that.I found out this was very difficult when you're a nightclub promoter that gets people drunk for a living, because serious credible humanitarian organizations aren't exactly interested in taking you on. So I got denied by 10 or so famous organizations that everybody would have heard of.F Geyrhalter: To do volunteer work, which is pretty amazing.S Harrison: Yeah. I didn't even want to be paid.F Geyrhalter: We don't want your free work.S Harrison: Right. But I looked toxic on paper, right? So finally one organization said, Hey look, Scott, if you're willing to go and live in post-war Liberia, West Africa, and if you're willing to pay us $500 a month you can join our mission and you can be our photojournalist. I'd actually gotten a degree at New York University in journalism and communications just because it was the easiest degree I thought I could get. I was a C-minus student. Never even say the diploma. I just sent it straight to my dad because I felt like I owed it to him for saving up.So I on paper was technically qualified to do this job or this role. And I said, Great. I've got some cameras. I can write and I can't wait to see what amazing humanitarian work you're doing and how you people are, I'm sure, saving the world. So it happened very quickly, Fabian. I would up a couple of weeks later in West Africa embedded as a photojournalist with a group of humanitarian doctors and surgeons who would operate on people who had no access to medical care from a giant 522 foot hospital ship.The ship would sail up and down the coast of Africa bringing the best doctors and surgeons to the people who needed medical care. Thousands and thousands of people would turn up, and we would help as many people as we could. My third day in Africa, my third day on this mission, I was faced with the reality that there was so much more need than we could handle. 5000 sick patients turned up for 1500 available medical slots and we wound up sending 3500 people home.I would up just falling in love with the work of these doctors. Their heart, the purpose behind it. I had an email list of 15,000 people. So I had in a way a little bit of a built-in audience. Now granted these people had been coming to parties at the [inaudible 00:09:47] for Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine for years. But I was able to tell them the stories of these patients of these amazing doctors. I learned that the same gift for promoting nightclubs, the same maybe skill that could get people excited about spending $20 on a vodka soda, could also be used to tell more redemptive, important stories, and also be used to raise money.I wound up doing a year there. That turned into a second year. And in the second year that I was back in West Africa, in Liberia, I saw the water that people were drinking in the rural remote areas. As I traveled around the country I just couldn't believe that there was no clean water. People were drinking from swamps. They were drinking from ground ponds, from viscous rivers. I learned that half of the country was drinking bad water, and half the disease in the country was because of that bad water.So I really started evolving into what I was interested in. If you'd asked me in the first year it would have been surgeries and medical procedures. If you'd asked me in the second year it would have been, Hey we need to get people water so that they're not sick in the first place. Let's get to the root cause of this, not just treat the symptoms.So all in, it was two years. It was a life changing, extraordinary experience. I came back to New York City at 30 with a completely new lease on life, a new purpose. I'd shed the vices. I quit smoking before I joined the mission. I quit drinking. I quit drugs and swore off porn and all that stuff obviously. I just wanted to change everything about my life. And now I had my issue. I wanted to help see if I could bring clean drinking water to people around the world that needed it.F Geyrhalter: And what was that one big breakthrough moment where you knew that this is not going to be a small non-profit? This is actually turning into a brand with a huge following, and it's going to affect millions of people. When was that moment when you knew now we're going over that curve, you know?S Harrison: You know I think I was pretty clear early on about the importance of branding to our success or to any sort of scale. So, okay, the different between mission and vision for us. So the mission was going to be let's bring clean drinking water to every person on the planet, and we'll know that we've achieved our mission when there are zero people left dying of bad water. Zero children dying in their mom's arms because they had to drink from a swamp. Zero women being attacked by hyenas, or lions, or crocodiles at the water source. So that's the mission.However, I had the advantage of being 30. The term social entrepreneur wasn't invented yet. And I really didn't know any better. I was just hanging out with everyday people who worked at the Sephora store. Or they worked at MTV. Or they worked at Chase Bank. And I realized that most people that I talked to didn't trust charities. They didn't trust the system. I learned that 42% of Americans said they don't trust charities, and 70% of Americans ... This is a more recent poll by NYU… 70% of Americans said, We believe charities waste our money when we donate.So I thought, this is actually the bigger opportunity. The vision for this thing is going to be reimagine, reinvent charity. How a charity should think and feel and act. How a charity should connect and serve its supporters. So we had a mission but then the vision would be this bigger thing that we did, and it would require effectively rebranding charity to take the cynical, skeptical, disenchanted people and say, Hey take another look. We're doing something very, very different here. We think we're actually speaking to your objections and the reasons why you're not giving. So "charity:" kind of on the left side being the vision and then "water" being the mission.F Geyrhalter: Right. And how did that come together? So when you instill trust in people and you have to change the stigma around charities not being trustworthy and how money goes to salaries, how did your business model, for instance, address this?S Harrison: Yeah. The biggest problem people had was they don't know where their money goes. I would just hear a version of that time and time again. You know, I give to a charity. How much is actually going to reach the people that need it? Is any of it going to reach the people? And I thought, Well, what if we could make a promise that 100% of the money would reach the people that need it.F Geyrhalter: Which is crazy.S Harrison: Which is crazy.F Geyrhalter: Right, yeah.S Harrison: And it really, on face value, it's a really dumb idea. Because if every donation goes straight to, in our case building water projects around the world, well then how would you ever pay for your own salary? Or your team's salary? Or your office costs? So I deeply believed that I could find a very small group of people and get them excited about that, about paying for the unsexy overhead costs, if they knew, again, that they were opting in to pay for this and if we were able to run a really efficient organization.So I literally opened up two bank accounts with different numbers 13 years ago. And said, 100% of the public's money is only going to go in this bank account and it's only going to build water projects, that we are going to prove. We're going to use photos and GPS and show satellite images. We're going to put trackers on the drilling rigs so people can just feel so connected to 100% of that money.And the other bank account, I'm going to go to entrepreneurs and business leaders and say, Hey, look, we have overhead costs, do you mind covering those? Because I can get you a great return on that investment and you're going to help me build a movement of clean water and restore people's faith in charity.So that was idea #1. The second idea was really just proof and finding ways to connect donors to the impact of their donation. So if a six year old girl gave $8.15 could we track that $8.15 to a village in Malawi and show here a picture of the project that that $8.15 went and supported? Could we even show her the names of the other people who made up the rest of that water project? So proof just became this core pillar.The third was really building an epic brand. You know 13 years ago if we were doing this podcast I would have told you that branding was going to be key to our success. And I would have quoted from the New York Times, a writer named Nick Kristof, who said that toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than all the world's life-saving causes.F Geyrhalter: I can see that. Yeah.S Harrison: I thought it's true and it's broke, and right? Colgate and Crest are better marketers. Doritos can spend hundreds of millions of dollars. Junk food companies, literally killing us and our children. But yet the most empowerful life saving causes on the planet often have anemic brands. In fact, there's almost a poverty mentality. You know if our brand looks too good maybe people won't want to give us money.F Geyrhalter: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.S Harrison: So you saw a lot of beige out there in the sector. You know dropped panel ceilings, florescent lights, cubby holes with the fuzzy linings on them. And I thought, man, the brands that we all look up to, the epic brands, the Nikes, the Virgins, the Apples, the Teslas, these are imaginative, inspiring brands. These are brands that don't use shame and guilt to peddle their wares. These are brands that try to call forth greatness and innovation and beauty. And I just didn't see that in charities. I saw charities trying to make people feel really bad about how much money they had and then guilting and shaming them into giving.While that may work in a short term for fundraising, it's not how you build a brand. Nobody goes and tells their friends about the charity that made them feel shameful. Or guilty. But you do go tell your friends about something that you're inspired by. So brand was really going to be this third core pillar. And that would look like attention to detail, valuing design, trying to hire the best designers and convince them not to work at Apple but to work at a place like charity: water and use their design skills for good.F Geyrhalter: Unheard of, yeah.S Harrison: And then the last thing was just making sure we worked with local partners to get the work done. I thought for our actual work, providing clean water to people around the world, to be culturally appropriate and for it to be sustainable it had to be led by the people in each of these countries. So by Ethiopians in Ethiopia, and by Kenyans in Kenya, and by Indians in India. Our job would be to create a global movement, energy and awareness around the clean water crisis. Use 100% of the money and track those dollars, but then empower the locals, now in 29 countries, to lead their communities and their countries forward with our capital.F Geyrhalter: Amazing. And obviously you care deeply about design, right? Your organization has been praised for its imaginative approach to branding. I just got a chance to review your 86 page brand guide last night. It states the following. It states: We believe a strong sense of brand can set us apart and amplify every message we send. Very much to what you just said, but when you started you had pretty much zero money. Zero experience, right?, in not only the non-profit space.S Harrison: But we had good taste.F Geyrhalter: That's right. And that can set it apart, right? But you didn't have experience branding necessarily, right? I mean as a nightclub promoter to a certain extent, flyers, stuff like that. But people don't care that much. How did then the visual brand come together? How did you arrive at that really now iconic bright yellow water can logo? What was that journey like?S Harrison: Well, so the first person that I hired was someone to help me go and work on the water projects, go and find the partners and figure out who we should send this money to to get impact. The second person I hired was a creative director, a designer. I later married her, so that's the story for the book.F Geyrhalter: Good choice.S Harrison: And she became my wife. But for a charity to make an early hire as a designer is unheard of. I mean that's normally hire 30. It's hire 60. Sometimes it's hire never. You know you hire some agency and you shop the whole thing out. So I just believed that brand would need to be the core of this thing, and it should be the second person.So when I hired Vik, she was working at an ad agency. She was working on Toyota campaigns and Clinique and she hated it. Her agency's motto was Create Desire, and it was basically sell people more things that they don't even want, certainly don't need, and then we make our clients rich. So she had come across charity: water. I'd done this outdoor exhibition in New York City where I put dirty water from New York City ponds and rivers into big plexi tanks and I showed people what it would look like if we had to drink the same water that people were drinking around the world.F Geyrhalter: That was a great campaign, yeah.S Harrison: Yeah. And she volunteered at that, and at the end she said, Hey, I'm a designer. Can I be useful? I'm like, Absolutely. Can you show up tomorrow? And she was an animator. She was a graphic designer. She wound up teaching herself how to shoot, edit video. And just really the all in one designer, then VP of Creative later. So it was really the three of us at the beginning kind of concepting these campaigns. How do we raise awareness? How do we get people to think differently about water?So I think it was just valuing that really early on, and then she wound up staying with the work for nine years and building up an amazing team and an amazing creative culture. You know, it's interesting. My wife, Viktoria, left a couple of years ago. She's now a brand consultant and starting her own business just trying to teach brand to other startups and other non-profits.She walked in the office the other day. There's 100 people here and we have a stunning 35,000 square foot office in Tribeca, New York and there's huge 14 foot light boxes and donated TV screens with images and with video loops. She walked in and was kind of like, Oh my gosh I don't know a lot of the people anymore. And the design looks even better than I ever remember it. And I'm like, Yeah, that's the testament to the culture. We posted a job for graphic designer at charity: water. I think we had 480 people apply at a non-profit. So that's really the culture.So it was valued at the top. It still is. I'm still pixel pushing every once in a while. I'll go over and I'll change a color or complain about a font. But I think that's the difference because a lot of non-profits are run by academics. Or they're run in a much more institutional way that doesn't value the creativity and the aesthetic.So it was two things. It was having the good taste. I couldn't do it myself. And then hiring and then putting the money in that direction for years that's helped. The jerry can you asked about. I absolutely resisted that. I didn't like the yellow jerry can. I didn't think anybody would know what it meant. And Vik always saw it as our Nike swoosh symbol. You know this is the symbol for water throughout so many countries around the world. The jerry can is not going away. And we want the water in every single jerry can in the world to be clean water. You know, it's the yellow can. I argued it for maybe a year.F Geyrhalter: Oh, wow. Persistent.S Harrison: And in the vein of my wife, typically right. And it turned out that she was. It's been a distinctive mark for us.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. It's a little bit like the name where it feels at first a little generic, and then you can own it. And you own the entire history that's behind that simple image. Right?S Harrison: It really is. I mean I laugh about that. Right? It's a charity that helps people get water. I mean at least you know what we do.F Geyrhalter: So let's talk about that. Let's talk about that, because I wonder was it intentionally picked to allow for an extension into anything else than water at some point?S Harrison: Yeah. So that's why the core. So charity: would be the core entity, i.e. the vision. This effort to bring in new donors, to inspire generosity, to speak to cynicism around charity. Right? Build this huge community of givers who wanted to help people, help end suffering around the world. And then water would be the first initiative. Right? We were going to do that. We were going to live out the vision through the mission.F Geyrhalter: How long could it take, right? A couple of years then we should be done with water.F Geyrhalter: Check.S Harrison: I thought the next year I was going to imitate Richard Branson and I was going to launch charity: educaton, charity: health, charity: malaria, charity: justice, charity: shelter.F Geyrhalter: Well, I'm glad you didn't. We're all glad you didn't.S Harrison: I actually registered a bunch of domain names. I think I still own Geyrhalter: Because all the ones you haven't registered, they will be registered by the time that the podcast airs I'm sure.S Harrison: Yeah. Yeah.F Geyrhalter: They're going to sell it to you for millions of dollars, Scott. That's what they're going to do.S Harrison: Exactly. Exactly. So that was the idea at the beginning. And then as it happens, first of all you realize how difficult it is to do one thing well. Also, by the way, Fabian, there are 663 million human beings without clean water. So we just passed through 10 million that we've helped. So that's 10 million of 663 million. So 1/66th of the problem, or 1.5%. So we're at the very beginning of this journey and our impact we hope.And the beauty is as we got deeper into our first mission, our first initiative, charity: water, we learned that water impacted just about every other thing we were interested in doing. It impacted women and girls and gender equality. It is only the women and the girls that are the ones getting the water. It radically impacts health. 50% of the disease throughout the developing world, caused by bad water and lack of sanitation. It dramatically improved education as we could bring clean water and sanitation to the one in three schools worldwide that don't have clean water. I mean imagine sending your child to a school with no clean water and no toilet. Imagine sending your teenage girl to that school. Well, she doesn't go four or five days a month to a school without water and toilets and falls behind in her studies.So water became like this onion that the deeper we understood the importance and significance, the more we realized we were accomplishing so many other things. We were ending so many other aspects of human suffering by doing the one thing well. So 13 years later there's still no plan to brand extend. But, you know, as generic as the name is I think we've been able to own it through campaigns and through design and through, I mean gosh, we've probably made 800 to 1000 videos in house over that last decade or so.F Geyrhalter: I feel like I watched 100 of those yesterday. You get sucked into it.S Harrison: Some of the old ones are a little painful.F Geyrhalter: I don't think my Google search got me that far. So it's all good. Let's talk about storytelling a little bit more. I mean, it's key in the non-profit world. We talked about that most lead by using tools of shame and guilt. But hopeful storytelling in contrast has always been a tremendously important aspect of charity: water. And where other people use statistics, which are a far contrast to personal stories which lead to empathy more naturally, you guys you tell unbelievably sophisticated and personal stories. I heard one of those. I think it was on MentorBox, of giving a drilling rig a Twitter account and mounting it with cameras to tell its story while raising funds for it. And things did not always go quite as planned with the rig's journey. But you still shared those hiccups or failures with your tribe. Can you tell us that story, and perhaps how other brands can learn from the transparent way that charity: water tells its stories?S Harrison: Yeah, gosh, I feel like I've got to be careful not to use any of the buzz words.F Geyrhalter: It's a branding podcast. Go for it.S Harrison: For authenticity.F Geyrhalter: I did empathy. It's open. The door's open.S Harrison: Yeah. I mean I think if you're trying to solve for trust people just want to know how things really are out there. And if you present a picture of everything works all the time, and everything always goes well, well, people just know that's not how life works. That's not how any company works. That's not how any organization works. I think over 13 years we've just been honest and vulnerable about some of our challenges, whether they're broken wells out there. Whether it's drilling wells and not being able to serve communities like you mentioned.So in that specific story, we had crowd funded a well deep in the Central African Republic for a tribe of Bayaka Pygmies. This is a marginalized tribe. It's an oppressed group of people. They never had clean water before. In fact, the well driller that we were working with had gone in three times before and failed. A couple by hand, not finding water deep enough. Once with a small rig. He was sure that this time with the proper equipment, with a million dollar drilling rig and our money, he would be able to go and succeed.And we really believed him. We got thousands of people to learn about the Bayaka tribe, about their heroism, and their courage, and how they take care of their kids, and what the families are like. Just how extraordinary these people are. And we asked people to give money and said, Hey, please help. We promised that if we raised enough money to help them, then we would fly back and we would drill the well live via satellite so people could see the payoff. And what happened was we got another dry well. We tried, and we tried, and we tried for a couple of days. And we just broadcast the failure. We didn't sugarcoat it. It wasn't a happy ending. We wound up pulling away, leaving the village no better off than we found them. And perhaps worse because we'd raised a sense of hope. And we'd lit about $15,000 on fire in front of our supporters.But it was one of the most popular videos we ever shared because it was true. We've all been in car accidents. We've all maybe made a bad investment or a bad decision. And this wasn't for the lack of trying. This was actually a tenacity and a courage that was to be commended by our local partner in the effort of never giving up on these people, of never giving up on this tribe. But this time didn't work and all this money was lost.I just remember the emails coming in. It was sympathy but it was more respect, like, wow, we respect you guys for just being honest with us, for letting us know how hard it is out there to do what you're trying to do, by not sugarcoating it. And we will continue to give to charity: water. We know it didn't work this time, but if you want to go back we're in it again. And we actually did go back a year later, and we were able to finally successfully drill for that community in Central Africa with even more and different equipment. And then send that video around of eventual success. But I think just being willing to live with the reality of the moment and to share that built a lot of community.F Geyrhalter: And that's radical transparency, right?, which kind of by now even became a little bit a buzzword. But for you guys that is something that is really entrenched in how you actually run.S Harrison: Yeah. I was saying that 13 years ago on stage and to anybody that would listen. Radical transparency. Hyper transparency. I mean I just believe that the great businesses and certainly the great non-profits in the world, they will thrive on being honest and having integrity, on sharing their successes, sharing their challenges, and also sharing their failures.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And it's also important to you share the impact any specific group investing into your organization has, right?, if it goes right or wrong, but just to show what is happening. So data plays a huge part in charity: water. I watched your keynote from Inbound last year and you promised to share the impact that specific audience, if they would donate, right?, the impact that they would have on communities after five years.Now the way that I actually first learned about charity: water was the campaign you did together with Depeche Mode during their Delta Machine tour. Obviously a huge audience around the world. I believe a total of two million people attended once that tour was over. And the partnership continued in the Spirit tour a few years back. Did you have a system in place back then to track how much, let's say, the Copenhagen audience contributed versus the Paris audience? Or how many wells were built based on this one tour?S Harrison: Yeah, the Depeche Mode money was actually raised primarily through-F Geyrhalter: The watch, right?S Harrison: ... a partnership with Hublot. Yeah. A partnership with Hublot. However, they did have a campaign online and I remember all the band members donated their birthday. The fans were able to contribute to their birthdays.F Geyrhalter: Talk about that a little bit. Talk about that initiative because that's something most people are probably not familiar with, and it's such a great ... We're getting sidetracked but let's go there for a second.S Harrison: It was a simple idea. Look, it was a simple idea. We have birthdays every year. Our birthdays are typically about us, celebrating ourselves. We get gifts often that we don't want or need. We throw ourselves parties. Often other people throw parties for us that we don't necessarily even enjoy. And I thought, What if we could reclaim the birthday as a moment of generosity? And what if we could make our birthdays about others, and involve our friends, and our family, and our community in significant change around the world?I said, Look, here's this sticky marketing idea. Let's turn them into fundraisers and let's have people ask for their age in dollars, or pounds, or euros. So I tried this by doing my 32nd birthday. I said, Hey, if you've got 32 dollars please donate 32 dollars for my 32nd birthday. 100% of the money will go help clean water and we'll prove exactly where every dollar goes.To my surprise, my goal was $32,000 which was ambitious, but this idea spread and I ended up raising $59,000. Then a seven year old kid in Texas took the idea and he said, I'm turning seven and I want $7.00 donations for my birthday. He started knocking on doors, telling the story, talking about water. Wound up raising $22,000. A seven year old kid. We had 80 nine year olds donate for their birthday, asking for $89. It was kind of a beautiful multi-layered idea because so many kids around the world are dying before they reach their fifth birthday because they've had dirty water.We realized that as we donated our birthdays, people could actually have more birthdays. They could live longer. They could live healthier. They could thrive with clean water. And our friends don't want to get us crap anyway. You know, we don't want to get our friends an iTunes gift card, or a wallet, or a handbag.F Geyrhalter: Especially the iTunes gift card.S Harrison: Or scarves. Or socks. Or whatever, right? So people would much rather give to a cause that you care about. So this movement has helped us now get over two million people clean water around the world. Over 100,000 people have donated their birthdays. They've raised over 70 million dollars. In fact, if anyone is just interested in learning more you can just go to Even if your birthday is 13 days from now or 11 months from now, you can learn more. You can pledge. And we make it so easy. I've done eight birthdays now. My son did his first birthday when he was one, and people just love it. They love being able to see the impact of seeing something that was really focused on us turned to help others. Depeche Mode donated their birthdays. Will Smith donated his birthday. Kristen Bell donated her birthday. Tony Hawk. The founders of Twitter and Spotify and people at Apple. It's been amazing. Everyday people. Kids donating their birthdays to huge executives. It's helped us raise a lot of awareness and raise a lot of money.F Geyrhalter: And it's one of the reasons why you're one of the 10 most innovative people in business today, most creative people in business. It's those little ideas that come so quickly and afterwards they have such an impact. As we are coming slowly to an end here, I need to ask you this one question. What is one word that can describe your brand? So I know you believe in simplicity. It's important for the organization. This is brand simplicity at its core. Everything charity: water does. Everything it stands for all condensed into that one word that I call your Brand DNA. Can you think of that one word?S Harrison: Yeah, yeah. Inspired.F Geyrhalter: Great.S Harrison: We are trying to inspire people. We are inspired by the stories of courage and heroism. We're inspired by our local partners. We're inspired by our volunteers. We're inspired by the beneficiaries out there, the women that are walking for water, that are providing for their families under dire circumstances. We're inspired by our donors. We're inspired by our team members that we get to work with. It's my favorite word for the brand, and hopefully we're able to continue inspiring others to join us.F Geyrhalter: And I think you just have. In your book you state, and you stated this earlier in the podcast too, that good branding is key to charity: water's success. What does branding mean to you?S Harrison: I mean, gosh, there's so many definitions. I think branding is the perception. It's how people think of us. Does charity: water bring a smile to their face? Do they trust us? Do they believe that we are a bunch of hard-working, intelligent, passionate people that are doing this for the right reasons? That are trying to use our time, and our talents, and our money in the service of others? In the service of clean water? It's all of these little, little ideas and moments and brushes with a person at charity: water, or the brand, or a video, or an image, or a quote, that adds up to the brand. I think, I guess branding is the things that we do to not protect that but really move it forward. To continue inspiring. To continue designing with excellence and integrity. To continue telling stories that move people towards a greater generosity, and compassion, and a better version of themselves.F Geyrhalter: It's the sum of it all. Absolutely. I want to urge everyone to pick up a copy of Scott's book entitled Thirst. Proceeds go to charity: water.S Harrison: That's right. Yep. I don't make a penny.F Geyrhalter: You will do yourself a favor just to unlock the engaging digital component of the book, which is so cool. I got so sucked into this yesterday. It's a wonderfully curated and displayed content. But Scott, what do you want listeners do to help your cause? Where else would you want them to go to be part of the change?S Harrison: So there's a video that we made as we turned 10. It's called The Spring. It's really our story. It's an exercise in storytelling and branding. It's now gotten over 20 million views across platforms. But people could watch that. They could learn about The Spring, which is this new community we're building now across 110 countries of people who are showing up for clean water every month, in the same way that they might show up for Netflix or Spotify or Apple Music.So it's a community called The Spring and you could share the film. You could watch the film. You could join us in The Spring. Or you could just post it. So many people have learned about charity: water coming across a video, specifically this video. So that's at ... It's pretty easy to remember. It's just Geyrhalter: We'll link out to that.S Harrison: Or even So I'd say learn a little more. I think it's one thing to hear me talk about it. It's another to see the images, to see the video of people suffering and the need. But also the amazing relief. You get to see wells being drilled. You get to see people drinking clean water the very first time in their life. I would say it's an inspiring video, I think. So we'd love your help. Watch it. Maybe join us in The Spring, and then just help us share it. Because so many of your friends don't know about this issue, have never heard about us. And this is how we've grown really, through word of mouth.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Thank you, Scott, from the bottom of my heart. I know you need to go. Thanks for taking the time during your hectic schedule and for sharing your stories and advice with our listeners. I'm forever grateful for the time you spend with us and for the positivity, the inspiration, and the hope you provide through charity: water.S Harrison: Of course. Well, listen, come visit in New York City. I'd love to show you around headquarters, and thanks so much for just investing time to learn about us and doing your research. I really appreciate it.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Well, my pleasure. And thanks to everyone for listening, and please support this podcast so we can turn advertising free and solely listener supported. Just like Yacoub Yassin from Cairo, Egypt, Chris Wertz from New Orleans, Abda from Karlsdorf-Neuthard in Germany, Devroni Liasoi Lumandan from Sabah, Malaysia, Pablo Valles (who I do not know where he’s from), Rod from Fort Mill in South Carolina and last but not least, and this is just too awesome, Viktoria Harrison from NYC whose husband you just listened to for the past 45 minutes, and who has been integral in the creation of the Charity: water brand. Wow. This is amazing, and what a truly international group. All of these new subscribers joined on the Brandster level and are now part of my monthly group calls. Join them by heading over to to show your support. And please leave a quick rating and review wherever you listen to the show. Hitting the Mark is currently brought to you by Finien, a brand consultancy creating strategic verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more at The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. And I will see you next time when we once again will be Hitting the Mark.
Music to me is, and has always been existential. From when I was a little boy growing up with a concertmaster – in many of the world's most famous orchestras – as my dad, in Vienna, and constantly visiting his workplace, the famous Musikverein, to today where I am a music aficionado, an avid vinyl record collector as well as a (fairly amateur) music producer. Music is a passion, or 'addiction' as my wife would say, and a great source of joy for me.Having Till Janczukowicz on this show was a big personal pleasure. His classical music streaming app, IDAGIO, is constantly running a fine line between catering to the young and the old, the classical novice versus the expert, and it is a fascinating branding game.Till discusses how classical music, as a brand, was intimidating, and how he and his team are breaking that wall down, out their offices in Berlin, Germany. And how classical music's role and perception in society has changed over the years, and what role technology played in it.We discuss how to showcase music visually, with all of its nuances, is an extremely difficult task, one that IDAGIO mastered from day one.So many fascinating takeaways in this conversation, one that struck with me, and that should give you an idea on how deep we are diving into not only the brand discussion, but also the entrepreneurial journey as a whole: "The bigger you grow as a corporation, the more you have to bring things that are on a subconscious level to a conscious level."A delightful conversation that truly inspired me, and I believe it will do the same for you.To support this show, please head to Patreon.____Full Transcript:F Geyrhalter: Welcome to HITTING THE MARK.Today we welcome a guest who I have been looking forward to for a while now. The subject hits home in many ways. Not only is this founder based in Berlin, Germany, hence you will get a double-German accent episode today, but his is the world of classical music, which is the same world in which I grew up in, back in Vienna.Till Janczukowicz is the founder of IDAGIO, which is often described as being the Spotify for classical music.Till has more than 20 years of experience as an artist manager, producer, and concert promoter. In 2000, he established the European office for Columbia Artists Management, heading it up as managing partner for 11 years. He was responsible for organizing several of the Metropolitan Opera’s European tours, and his personal clients included conductors Christian Thielemann, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, as well as pianists Ivo Pogorelich and Arcadi Volodos. In 2008, he founded the Abu Dhabi Classics, a performing arts series merging culture, education and tourism for the government of the United Arab Emirates. That is where he arranged debuts for the New York, Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics; the Bayreuth Festival; and Daniel Barenboim, Simon Rattle, Zubin Mehta, Yo-Yo Ma, Ben Kingsley, Jeremy Irons, and countless other musical and artistic luminaries.I am thrilled to welcome you to the show, Till!T Janczukowicz: Great, pleasure to meet you and to be here.F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. So as I mentioned in my intro, this is truly a pleasure for me since my father was an amazing violinist who spent most of his life as a concert master and some of Vienna's best orchestras from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, the Kammer Orchestra, all the way to the Vienna Philharmonics, and appeared on over 50 records and radio productions. So he was also a sound purist who loved his audio gadgets the same way that I do now. He would've cherished to hear this conversation today.So listeners who are not classical music fans may wonder why. Why was there a need for classical music in an app form when you can find plenty of classical options on Spotify, Apple music and Tidal? Let me quote an article from Vogue that explained it perfectly well, "It all comes down to Metadata." While Metadata for most popular music is quite simple, there's the artist, the song, or track, the album it's from. Classical Metadata might encompass everything from the composer, the orchestra, the conductor, the choir, which may have its own director, various soloists, the title of the piece, along with perhaps some sort of number or nomenclature to indicate it's placed within the larger symphony of work.Then artists opus number, or in the case of composers like Mozart Bach whose works are ordered by their own system, their Kochel or BWV number. So it's not simple. Yes, there is a big need for it.Till, your biography talks a lot about the amazing journey you have taken prior to starting IDAGIO in 2015, but tell us a bit about the founding story behind IDAGIO. How did it all start? Give us the romance, the hardship of your startup's early days.T Janczukowicz: So where to start? Let's start with the Romance, maybe-F Geyrhalter: That's a good place. Let's start positive.T Janczukowicz: The very early Romance, but what I would say is that I was lucky and only looking back, I understood that I was lucky. I was offered to piano when I was six years old and that captured me immediately. So once I started to play the piano for the first time without knowing anything, I knew and felt, "Well, that's my life. I'm going to spend my life with this music that fascinated me.I could even say, probably I've never worked. I never felt I was working in my life. At the very end, it comes down to a variety of attempts to promote what fascinated me, in a very, I wouldn't say egoistic way, but it was a very obvious thing for me. Classical music captured me. It opened stories for me. It created images and so on.So I started to be a pianist at the beginning. Thanks god I became friends with a real pianist, Krystian Zimerman, when I was 18 years old, who by the way... You are from Vienna, it's probably you were even still in Vienna these days. He recorded the Beethoven Piano Concerto with the Vienna Philharmonics Leonard Bernstein in the 80s. So Christian became a good friend. I saw what he did, I saw what I did and said, "Okay, he's a pianist." So next step for me was then he wanted to push me into management. It helped me a lot.But first of all, I started to be a teacher during my studies, made some money. But I'm coming from a family of teachers and so, "Okay, my dad was a teacher, my mom was a teacher, my grandfather was a teacher. So do you really want to sign a contract at your end of your 20s and that's going to determine what you're going to do until the end of your life?" The answer was no. So I didn't want to become a teacher. I wrote a little bit, but also as a writer I saw, well, you can speak about it in part, but you can't really change things.So then I went into management and now I'm coming to your question to the necessity of IDAGIO. As a manager, my perspective was always a B2B perspective. If you manage a great conductor, or a great soloist, your touring orchestra, it's about, first of all, building brands. Any young artists you see or any unknown ensemble or new music you see, as a manager, you have some possibility to make these people famous, to assist them to find out how they work and how you can help them.What I saw then having spent my life in management, putting on concerts in all parts of the world and we can cover that a little later because there were many fascinating learnings. But the main thing for me was that, if the future of music listening is streaming and the all-genre streaming services aren't designed for classic music because as you said, they are around pop music and they're pop driven where you only have three criteria: The song, the artist, and the album, my clients are going to be invisible in the digital ecosystem.So the moment there is no digital structure that could trick down a recording where you have a conductor, you have an orchestra, you have singers, you have a soloist, you have the composition, and so on. The moment that doesn't exist, I saw that as a luxury problem from the user's perspective because you can still curate and so on. Maybe yes, it's a problem for aficionados, but at the very end, I want to push a button, and I want music to play without a huge cognitive investment that I like, fine, but even there is a huge group of aficionados worldwide that suffering from bad metadata, and bad usability of classic music streaming platforms.But if you look at it from an artist perspective, this is a real threat because if you can't be tracked down in the digital space and people don't find you, you cease to exist and with you, the entire genre ceases to exist. That was a motivation from you, I said, "Well, you have to do something." The main question at the beginning for me was, "How can we use technology in order to maintain that music genre that was the passion since I first encountered that.There was not at the beginning, the idea of, "Well, I have to found the best streaming service for classical music." That was the result of a chain of it durations. For us it's rather the beginning than the end.F Geyrhalter: It was really more of an action cry, right? It needed to be done in order to... in the biggest terms possible, save classical music for generations, right? To me, that's where it gets really interesting to think about who the audiences. When you think of classical music, many think of an older audience, but you're obviously a digital tool that already eliminates, I would say, the too old for tech audience, right?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: You also clearly understand that you have to capture the hearts and souls of the next generations as the IDAGIO or IDAGIO... You and I had a little chat prior to this, it could go either way. So I don't feel guilty. The IDAGIO Instagram account, for instance. It nicely shows that it's going for the next generation. It's 29,000 followers. You have features like a relax playlist, which are perfect gateway drugs to anyone regardless of musical preference, right?T Janczukowicz: Sure.F Geyrhalter: Who do you cater to and how do you capture them in your brand communications? Do you constantly run that fine line between young and old, and classical novice versus expert?T Janczukowicz: Well, there are various levels to answer that. When I left my peer group, the classical music world that had been spending my life in, and started to enter into tech, I was, of course, reading a lot and all these blogs and I traveled to San Francisco, went to Silicon Valley just to be there to talk to people, to understand what it's all about.The first thing I learned, or the first thing at least that I remember is that one of the most failures of startups is to solve problems that don't exist.F Geyrhalter: Right.T Janczukowicz: For me, it was obvious that this problem does exist, both from a customer or user perspective and also from an artist perspective. So that was the beginning. Based on that, we did build our own technology, make a data model and so on and so on. Based on that, we can now, answering your question, cater for all varieties of audiences.What was interesting for me to see that after having spent 20 to 25 years in that world, more or less looking at things and reacting to things through my instinct, the assumptions I got over the years, they were confirmed in real numbers. Because the classical world is not really about numbers, it's about opinions. It's about being right, everybody is right. Everybody knows everything, it’s very controversially, very ego driven also.Now, I entered in a world where its numbers, "Okay, what you say is nothing more than a thesis, let's prove it." So that was totally new to me and very fascinating. What we found out that there are five, 10, 15, 20, maybe 50 use cases of listening to classical music and you can, of course, go and start segmenting classical music listeners.But interesting, is also to me that you can probably break it down into use cases because there are use cases that you would probably apply to an aficionado that sometimes also apply to a millennial listening to classical music and vice versa. So, for example, you mentioned this mood search we have and why do we have it? I wanted a tool where everybody, who opens the app and comes in contact with classic music, they can execute an action, move something, just touch screen with a finger, remove the finger, but already make a choice. So it can go to relaxed or meditative or joyful and so on. Then it's simply a playlist opening up with joyful or relaxing or focusing music.However, this is a use case and also some aficionados' life, because also aficionados are sometimes, I don't know, ironing their shirts, or cleaning the home. So this is the first thing I wanted to highlight because it was very interesting to me.Secondly, there are, of course, the obvious different segments. You have, the fact that classical music around the globe as a genre that's aggregating the high achievers. Classical music has always been, the music genre of the emerging communities. If you look at South America, you give underprivileged kids instruments and playing Beethoven makes their lives meaningful from one day to the other. So this is still system up. Gustavo Dudamel is one of the most known represented-F Geyrhalter: Well, he's here in the Los Angeles Philharmonic's now. So yeah, he's close to home.T Janczukowicz: Exactly.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, exactly. This is something that at the same time you have 50 million piano students in China these days. [] for example, used to say that the future of classical music is in China, which I wouldn’t say the future of classic music, but also be in China. But we see that a lot of young people in the Nordics, in Europe, but also in the United States are more and more turning to the classical, but they see and look at classical music in a different way, because especially in Germany... You're from Austria, central Europe, classical music is a heavy, serious thing. You have to gain some knowledge before you really understand it, which I believe is total bullshit. If music is great, everybody understands it immediately.The new use case that's coming up that I am listening to classical music because it helps me focus, it helps me calm down. But another word that I see in classical music as belonging, because if you listen to classical music and if you listen to a great concert with friends and a social environment, it also makes you feel connectiveness. You are connected with other people, you're connect with the musicians on stage. You are connected with the people you are listening with.So there was a very nice quote, which is very famous, but I heard it first from Yo-Yo Ma who once said, "The great thing about classic music is that it makes you part of something bigger than yourself." This is a very, very needed and a great value proposition.F Geyrhalter: I think, playing devil's advocate, that could be said about pretty much every musical genre, right? Because it is a very communal tribal idea. But with classical, just the idea that a lot of it happens in ginormous orchestras. There's so much where one person talks to the other via their musical instrument and jazz is kind of one step up from pop where you've got a couple of people that need to perfectly sync in an orchestra, make this 10, 20, 30 fold. So there's something by just the structure of classical music where it's more communal from the get go, I believe.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, I mean, jazz, I would say goes very much in the same direction, because it has various levels, but if you're looking at what is constituting music, first of all you have a melody, number two, you have rhythm, and number three you have harmonies. Then you can have one melody, which is the case in pop music, but then you can have two melodies, two themes.Then it starts with something that probably 70% or 80% of classical music have in common, which makes it so fascinating. You have two themes, and very often in the Sonata form, the first theme is male and the second theme is female.F Geyrhalter: How chauvinistic?T Janczukowicz: It's very chauvinistic, but everybody apparently seems to like Beethoven sonatas or Mozart symphonies where exactly this is happening. Then you have an exposition where the first theme, the male theme is being presented and after the female's theme is presented.Then you have the second part where these themes start to interact and to talk to each other. Sometimes there is tension and then comes down and so on. So it's very, very close to storytelling without words. This is something, probably, I said that earlier, what captured me at the very beginning, and I think it's a fascinating role because you can close your eyes, but you see stories, you feel stories, but you don't need to know when Beethoven was born, you don't need to know what is an overture. You don't need to know what is an aria. Just close your eyes and listen to it. This music is so appealing to everybody.I think one of the mistakes that classic music or classical music has made over decades is, is building this huge wall around it. Because if you go back to Mozart or Bach, it was entertainment music. It's agenre that comes from the courts and the people were eating and drinking and laughing and walking out and coming back. Something that the middle-class that occupied classic music for themselves, started to forbid. This created an intimidating...Let's say when we speak about branding, a part of this brand that is intimidating and it's not necessary because it's so embracing, and it's such a great genre.F Geyrhalter: I so agree with you. I so agree with you. Coming from a household where we constantly went to the Vienna Musikverein to see my dad play and others, it was always a big deal. Even though it's my dad on stage, and it's just normal, we go to his workplace, right?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: There's something, there's an aura around classical music that feels like it's a cloud that should be broken. It feels like... I love how you talk about it. Even though I did not really realize that, but as I started looking through your brand work, through your website, through your app, it actually really is what you're doing. You're breaking that stigma. You're breaking that wall down, and I think it's beautiful.While we talk about musical terms, let's talk about IDAGIO, the brand name, for a second. It sounds a lot and pretty obviously to me like ADAGIO, which only has one letter replaced. ADAGIO for our non-musical listeners signifies a music played in slow tempo. So what was the inspiration for the name? Walk us through that a little bit.T Janczukowicz: It's very end simple. We needed a name, first of all, and we wanted the name to be self-explanatory. So we wanted something that people around the globe would associate with classical music. So ADAGIO, as you said, it's an international word. Many albums are just having one title, which is ADAGIO. If you have music that calms you down.At the same time, we wanted something that people understand context of technology. This is, I. The funny thing is that we had a law firm working for us this time and they were also representing a very famous American brand that has created many new devices that are starting with an I-F Geyrhalter: Whatever that could be.T Janczukowicz: Whatever that may be, and they called us back after three days said, "We checked it. You can use the name. No problem at all." So IDAGIO was born. That was the funny incident.F Geyrhalter: That's hilarious. Yeah, and it's not always the case. I heard of other firms that try to use names that started with I, and couldn't do it based on that same conglomerate that tries to own that one letter. But obviously, those are words where the, I, has more of a meaning in front of it with IDAGIO. It is a word. The, I, itself is not as meaningful.So, great. Well, I'm glad I got that quiz right. I'm proud of myself. How did you and your team obviously derive the brand's visual aura, so to speak? I use the word aura specifically since the gradient based imagery surrounding your brand has a very meditative feel to it. Even talking about IDAGIO, the idea of slowing down. Then you have the nifty mood selection feature, which we talked about in your app. Overall, you really crafted a beautiful slick visual identity that mixes the atmospheric, like in many of the Instagram posts with the harsh and crisp in the actual logo or the line work that apps dimension to the gradient artwork.Now, for everyone listening, unless you're currently driving a car, head on over to @IDAGIOofficial on Instagram to see what we're actually talking about. Till, how was the look derived? I think it just really found its groove, no pun intended, back in May on Instagram where everything started to have this very distinct and beautiful look. Can you talk a little bit about how this came about?T Janczukowicz: I think there are three factors probably, and, of course, none of these factors was conscious during it was there. Only looking back, you're connected in a meaningful way. Probably the first thing is that my grandfather, who offered me the piano, he had a Braun stereo system at home. We all know that Braun was one of the decisive branding and visual influences for this very, very famous brand we have been speaking about. I remember it was that it was the first thing.The second thing, as an artist manager, I was always in the second row. So that means you work as a catalyst. You are doing a great job if you work invisible. So you mentioned the Abu Dhabi Classics I created. The star was the series. If you manage an artist, if you build the career of a conductor, the conductor is the star, not yourself. You are always in the background.I think this is a thinking that also my co-founder was aesthetically a very big fan of minimalistic architecture. We said, "We want a look and feel that really highlights the musicians and the music and that's not dominating them. I think that's the second aspect.The third aspect is that, we had, at a very, very early stage, I think, our designer was a part of the founding team. He started on day one. I think he was one of the third or fourth people we hired. Because we believe it's very important that you reflect the beautiful and fascinating and special role that you also described. We were just speaking, that you going to the Musikverein with family when your father was playing. It's a fascinating thing. We wanted to translate that into a user interface and into a look and feel that respects the music and the artists.F Geyrhalter: Which is really, really difficult to pull off. It's very easy to look at and then criticize or get your own emotions about it, which by the way, I would never criticize because I think it is brilliant. It is so easy to look at something after it has been established. But to showcase music visually with all of its nuances, is an extremely difficult task. So bravo to that. It's really, really well done and it was one of the reasons why I got sucked into your brand.So while we talk about that, we might as well talk one more second about the actual icon, about the logo. It's a play on the play button and there is a horizontal line to the right of it, right below it. Tell us a bit about the idea behind it. Obviously you are not the designer, but I'm sure that that you played a role in signing it off and adopting it. What is the key idea behind it?T Janczukowicz: Well, I don't want to take a credit of others. My role was to not say no to it. Let’s put it like this, which at a minium I disliked it or I liked it, but my thinking here is rather, and thinking big, I was designing all this myself five, six, seven years ago. I had the first ideas of IDAGIO and I was very proud of, I don't know, copying some letters from an Italian luxury brand and I showed it to our designer when we hired him and he laughed at me. He was right there laughing at me.So I understood. I don't really understand this. I can express what I wanted for the brand and I could express how I believe it may look like, but he really did it. Then I think it's at the very end minimalistic thinking. I think when it comes down to that. Not something that disturbs and then some people get some agencies from outside before and they we're proposing a logo with some music scores and all this, a key, so it's really...I think we are in a different world.F Geyrhalter: Yeah.T Janczukowicz: Yeah. The icon that we have. Maybe one other thing. It's a little bit high level, but I was thinking when you were talking about... Again, I'm seeing in front of me your dad sitting on the stage of the Musikverein and what was the classic music 20, 30, 40 years ago, and what has really changed? Because also we were talking about different customer segments.When I started to work as a manager, that was '96, that was still a period where a conductor was still a maestro. He was the icon, you couldn't reach him, you couldn't talk to him. The entire management approach was to create a myth, create something that's unavailable because the less it's available, the more people want it. This is something, and this is an understanding of value. It's to the old world, which is an old world value thinking.I think in the digital world, and this is a big shift, in the digital world value is being created by being visible, by being transparent, by showing with as many people as possible what you are, who you are, what you do. So this is a total paradigm shift. If you look, for example, at a Karajan, you could not reach out to him. A Schulte was the same running the Chicago symphony orchestra for many years.If you now these days at young comebacks like Yannick Nezet-Seguin, the music director of the Philadelphia orchestra, music director of the metropolitan opera Andris Nelsons, music director of the Boston symphony and the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig Germany. It's a new generation of open minded and more communicating conductors.What was very interesting to me, I had a meeting with the Juilliard School of Music in New York some months ago. I didn't know that when you are making your degree there, if you leave school, you don't have to only play, you also have to moderate the performance. The way how you talk about the music you play, as an artist, is also being judged. I think it's a very interesting thing.But this is all owed to transparency that came through technology. All the scandals that we are seeing and witnessing these days, it's not that humanity has apparently become immoral, just our ways to measure things and to see things are much more granular than 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago.This is also an aesthetic shift in classical music and this is also creating a new type of classical musicians. I find that a very interesting thing to see how technology even has some impact on the way you perform classical music.F Geyrhalter: That is absolutely fascinating. I agree. I've never thought about it that way. But just like everything else, classical music is being touched by it and it's great to be on the forefront of that like you are. While we were talking a little bit about philosophy here, what does branding mean to you? The actual word, branding. How do you see it?I know we talked a lot about emotion, we talked a lot about how people feel something rather than just listen to something. But maybe even in the classical arena, like where you are, what do you think when you think of branding?T Janczukowicz: Well, I would spontaneously say branding is an aggregated public perception. If it goes well and first of all, you have a good intention and you succeed in running the brand, the way you want, then it's probably aggregated trust that says, "Well, yeah, I can turn into this complex thing without making a mistake, without failing."Because I've heard of the brand from, whomever, my brother, my peers these days, then through, through, through advertisement because I think trust is getting more and more local, and we less and less trust governments and we less trust corporations. So I rather trust my peers because I'm so over flooded with information and bombarded by visual things that want to get my attention.But I think branding for me done right it's something of, well, yes, I can go. It's a safe harbor, safe place for me. I can recommend it. I can package that when I talk to other people pass it on to others and recommend to others.F Geyrhalter: You talked about trust and failures. I'm not as familiar with the entrepreneurial scene in Berlin, but here in the US we love to talk about failures. There are entire business book sections dedicated to it. Even though in my eyes it's blown way out of proportion, there are great things to be learned from mistakes that startup founders have made or witnessed during the early days of the brand formation.What was an enormous fail that you went through with IDAGIO in the very early days? Was there something where you just look back and you're like, "Okay, that was a fail, we could have prevented this, someone can learn from this?"T Janczukowicz: Well, I have to say, I think we were lucky in leaving out many mistakes you can potentially make. But, of course, there were mistakes, but there is not this story where I would say, "Well, this is really, really, really, I'll never forget it." I think it's rather a pattern.What I've learned over the years is that, if you do something for the first time and being an entrepreneur and forming and building something new has to do a lot of with trial and error. Probably the biggest mistake that I'm trying to avoid more and more is that I wasn't listening early enough to my natural instincts. I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I'm more and more convinced that this is the right thing. It sounds like cliché, but this is a principle that you can break down into any daily decision. If you feel something, but...and this is a personal problem that I have because everybody is, of course, different. I'm coming from the world of the arts. I'm rather intuitive, some people say visionary, but at least I have ideas. Some of these ideas have worked out in my life so far.But I'm also analyzing it. But if I feel that something is right, I start to do it. The bigger you grow as a corporation, you more and more have to bring things that are on a subconscious level to a conscious level. Then it has to arrive on the conscious level and then you have to explain it to everybody. Then you have to also give ownership to the people with whom you work with your team, because you are nobody with a team.You can form the North star, you can say that the direction and give a vision and the mission, I think in our company everybody is on that mission and people coming to the office, to our premise here in Berlin they say, "Oh wow, this is a great chemistry here. It feels good to be here." So that's the thing.But we're not talking about the good things, we're talking about failures. Of course, at the very end, nobody wants to fail. But thanks God, I was brought to this life by really an American entrepreneur, who was the owner of Columbia Artists, Ronald Wilford, and he was a typical American self-made man. One of his quotes was, "I didn't learn anything and that's why I can do everything."I think this is a good thing and this, and the combination that when I met him after our job interview in '96 where we even didn't perceive it as a job interview, but afterwards we had the first meetings. They will tell, "We are in an industry of ideas." Usually, we all have a lot of ideas and if you fail with 10 ideas, it's bad, you're gone. If you make one of the 10 ideas work, it's really great. If you make two of your 10 ideas work, this is highly above average.I think this is a mentality that's very, very un-German and having inhaled this kind of thinking for 16 years, I got more comfortable with the idea of making failures because, a young artist is like stakes you buy a company, you see something and you believe all to be there in two, four, six, eight years. Sometimes you're right and sometimes you are wrong. Then you have principles to figure out and to understand why you may be right.But going back in a nutshell, re-listen to yourself and if you feel something, you're really convinced, do it, whatever others say.F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, absolutely.T Janczukowicz: But listen to them, then think, but then do what you feel.F Geyrhalter: And the same holds true for data, because I'm sure, at this point, your app has been downloaded over 1.5 million times, I think it's the latest in 190 countries?T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: So you must have so much great data about your users at this point, and I know you're using it and you have studies made about listenership and about what classical music means today. But on the other hand, you have to balance that out with not always listening to customer data and just solely basing decisions on your instinct as well. It's always a fine line that an entrepreneur walks.T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: On the flip side now, we talked a little bit about failures. Now, let's climb over that hill to success. When you look back, what was that big breakthrough moment where you felt like, "Okay, the startup is slowly moving into a brand." People start using the name, the app becomes part of daily life. When did you know that you had something that would become a major player in the music world? No pun intended. May it have been a funding round or the Salzburg Festival where you launched or early user feedback. What was it for IDAGIO where you knew that this will actually be a success?T Janczukowicz: Well, I think in order to do something like that, you need a certain, what we call... I don't know how you may be able to translate that in German. There's a nice word, Gottvertrauen. I don't know how you translate it. You put your trust in God. You have to do something. Everybody was, "Oh, you're going to fail, you're stupid." But to trust, you trust that it will work.So this is something that was always there. However, I, would say two things. One thing was quite early. It was that we were indeed launching, not the app, a minimal viable product, even not the beta at the Salzburg festival in 2015. We were launching there and we were sitting on stage in the premises of the festival upon invitation of the Vienna Philharmonic.Then some days later there was an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. They wrote, it was 2015 and they wrote, "If they're not going to run out of money, they could change the way how people listen to classical music." This is something, I remember, we were by far not yet there, but having read that and then securing the next funding round, the combination of those two things that we say, "Okay, we are on the good way. Let's put it like that."F Geyrhalter: Right. That’s amazing. For our international listeners, which is not the majority of our listeners, I think we have 6% German listeners. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is the authority, not only in Germany but it reaches through all of the central Europe. So that is a huge deal. To go back to when you talk about Gottvertrauen, the idea of you trust in God, just to make it universally accessible. It's also for atheists. That idea that you just trust in the universe, right? You have this ideology where you trust in the universe.All right, Till, we're coming slowly to a close, but none of my guests can get away without answering this particular question. Mainly because I believe it is such a great exercise for any entrepreneur to give some thought to as they keep building their culture and brand. I gave you a heads up on that. If you could describe everything about your brand in one or two words that would turn into your brand's DNA, as I call it, what would it be like? Examples could be freedom for Harley Davidson or happiness for Coca-Cola. What would that brand DNA be?T Janczukowicz: I have to answer that with an anecdote and then I try to answer your question.F Geyrhalter: Perfect.T Janczukowicz: There was a young Romanian conductor, Sergio Celibidache, amazing, amazing conductor. Was for many years the music director, legendary music director of the Munich Philharmonic. He believed he would get the job of the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, then Karajan got the job. I just have to say that because he said Karajan is like Coca Cola.F Geyrhalter: I think I know that story from my dad actually because it's so classic.T Janczukowicz: Yeah, exactly. So sorry to... But it's not exactly an answer to what you asked, but I had to raise that. If you would allow two words that are not very romantic, I would say, what people should think in three, five, 10 years when they hear IDAGIO, it's classical music. If you would ask me to really distill it down to one word, then I would rather turn to what the classic music does with people. Then we could say happiness because it brings happiness. It gives people a more happier life because it makes you healthy.There are all these studies, classical music connects when you're growing up the right and the left half of the brain in a more meaningful way. You learn empathy, the social skills and so on. You could say health, but probably if we could nail it. Ask to really nail it down to one word, I think it's belonging.I think it's belonging because, if you look at what happens, we come alone, we go along but we have this 60, 70, if you're lucky, 80 years. To overcome this, this illusion of loneliness and classical music has this power to really connect you with other people. You don't need to touch them. You don't need to look at them. You close your eyes, but you feel connected with other people. I think this is probably best described by the word belonging.F Geyrhalter: That's beautiful. I knew that belonging would come back up because you had talked about it in the beginning. It is such a perfectly emotional word to really capture the brand beyond, right, really the entire genre. Where can listeners find IDAGIO if they are intrigued enough after listening to us for the last 45 minutes to give it a try and perhaps even become converts to the magic of classical music?T Janczukowicz: Very easily, on the internet, In the app store, there's an Android version. Anybody, for example, who has a Sonos device. There's been Sonos implementation of IDAGIO. But I would say go to the internet and there you'll find all the app stores to find IDAGIO and the different partnerships we have also with hardware manufacturers. Yeah, that's probably the easiest way.F Geyrhalter: Excellent. Excellent. That's the beauty of owning your name online. So I know you launched the company at the Salzburg Festival or the Salzburger Festspiele in 2015.T Janczukowicz: Yeah.F Geyrhalter: That is exactly what I would be heading next week. So watch out for me Till. If you're in Salzburg, you might run into me at one of the many Festspiele locations.T Janczukowicz: Cool.F Geyrhalter: Thank you so much for staying late at your office in Berlin to have this conversation with me today and to share your stories and your thoughts on branding with me and my listeners. We really appreciate your time.T Janczukowicz: A great pleasure. Thank you so much.F Geyrhalter: And thanks to everyone for listening, and please hit that subscribe button and give the show a quick rating - it only takes 5 seconds and it helps the podcast’s visibility and growth.And if you really enjoy it, please head on over to to become a sustaining member supporting this show.There has never been a more important episode in which to give the theme music some credit. It was written and produced by Happiness Won. If you want to know who is behind Happiness Won, then also head on over to and you may find what you learn amusing.I will see you next time – when we, once again, will be hitting the mark. 
If you look at a cannabis product by Beboe you would not think of weed, rather of art, design and fashion. This was derived through great brand thinking and design. Clement Kwan has reached great heights of success yet decided to follow his heart and, together with Co-Founder Scott Campbell, launched a luxury brand in a segment that has not seen much sophistication before. Today, the Beboe brand has its own store within Barney's in Beverly Hills and has also carved out its own clientele. Listening to Clement's fascinating story from growing weed in college to make tuition, to becoming an M&A investment banker in Silicon Valley, to holding the president of Net-a-Porter position and learning how he yet turned to where his heart told him to go is inspiring on many levels. But it is also an episode about the sheer power of great design, honest storytelling and how having a deep understanding of a particular audience can make any product succeed, even in a market that did not know it was ready for it. ____Full Transcript: F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting The Mark, episode number 20 of Hitting The Mark to be exact. What an inspirational journey it's been for me, and I hope the same holds true for you. I know for a fact that it has been an inspiration for the latest supporters of the podcast, Nathan Cain from Little Rock, Arkansas and Lav all the way from Serbia. Both are monthly supporters on the Brandster level, which means they will partake in my next monthly group call in September, which I'm greatly looking forward to. So thank you Nathan and Lav for your support. And I'd love for you too to turn into a Patreon by clicking the support button on, so we can try to keep this show advertising-free and community-supported. For this special 20th episode, I'm thrilled to welcome our first guest from the new green economy. Indeed, we are talking THC and CBD, a space that has been on a fast rise and one that has been a fertile playground for entrepreneurs with a keen sense for branding. On the forefront of this movement is the bespoke brand Beboe and Co-founder Clement Kwan. Beboe is a lifestyle cannabis brand founded in 2016 which the New York Times has called the Hermes of Marijuana. Beboe includes cannabis vaporizers and edible pastilles and caters to discerning consumers. Beboe merged with Green Thumb Industries in late February of this year, 2019. Kwan started his professional career in tech mergers and acquisitions and transitioned into business development and executive roles across the fashion industry working for companies such as Theory, Diesel, and Dolce & Gabbana. In 2012, Clement joined the YOOX group as President of U.S. Operations. Kwan graduated from UC Berkeley. Welcome to the show, Clement. C Kwan: Thank you very much, Fabian. F Geyrhalter: Let me start off by saying what a great pleasure it is to have an entrepreneur like you on the show who clearly understands and strategically utilizes the power of brand in everything he touches. So without going any further, let's start off with the question of all questions, what does branding mean to someone like you? C Kwan: Having worked in the fashion and luxury world for so many years and having built Beboe with Scott Campbell, branding really is emotion, and it's a incitement of emotion, which is really, I think, fascinating to see. Not to go off into a tangent, when I was at YOOX and running the U.S. operations, I decided to chat with and communicate with our 10 largest consumers. These are people who spend at least $250,000 per year online. And I decided to call and/or have tea with them. And what I realized was one lady in particular, who spent exactly $274,000 per year, told me that she doesn't drink. She doesn't do drugs. What she does is shop online as it makes her happy. So from that moment on, I really realized that a brand incites emotion, and any good brand incites emotion either through aesthetics, story, or just some X factor that you can't really describe. So not to get really hippy-dippy or too Venice on us, but there's just juju involved, and we can attest it to emotion. F Geyrhalter: Totally, no, and I love that story. And sorry for jinxing the YOOX name. I read the story behind the name YOOX, so I figured maybe it's just the letters, but it's not Y-O-O-X, it's YOOX. This was a great way of describing branding. It really comes down to emotion. And it's interesting how you say it's something that you really can't touch. It's something that you feel, and it's really hard to talk about how it's being derived. And that is one of the reasons why I love doing this podcast, to kind of talk to different people that have done it successfully and to get a little bit more out of them of how they actually did derive it with their companies. So let's back up a little bit. I read in Forbes that you grew pot to get through college, so that's on the air now, but it's also been in Forbes, so it's okay. That was back in Berkeley when you were a student. And then you pivoted into a fashion career at Diesel and Dolce Gabbana. It seems like Beboe is the direct result of equal parts fashion, design, branding, and cannabis. How did Beboe start? C Kwan: So when I was at Berkeley, I was actually studying corporate finance and decided to grow weed just because I really didn't have any money for tuition. So I met a really nice hippie who decided to teach me how to grow marijuana. I already loved gardening and have a green thumb, and this really presented itself as a wonderful opportunity to not only fulfill a passion but also to make money, which I needed. So I did that for about three and a half years, and then I actually became a tech M&A investment banker in the Silicon Valley from 2000 to 2001, which basically made me stop growing marijuana. But I have always had a passion for it, and I vowed to myself in 2000 when I stopped, that I would get back into it in one way, shape, or form. So after the tech market exploded, I decided to move to New York in late 2001, beginning of 2002, to get into the fashion world because I was raised by a single mother. My single mother took me shopping very, very frequently and asked me really insane questions like, "Does this color look good on me? What looks good on me? Does this fit well," et cetera, et cetera. So I sort of fell in love with fashion just because I was bonding with my mother. So tech market exploded, moved to New York and then first job was at Theory. Then went to Diesel. I helped do a repositioning of the brand for America. Then moved to Milan for seven years and took the license back for D&G or Dolce & Gabbana. And then I became the president of YOOX NET-A-PORTER, the biggest online luxury retailer on a global basis. So long story short, I had children in 2014, and I basically had to look myself in the mirror. Having done what I've done in both banking and fashion, I knew that my passion was marijuana. So after having a child, I was thinking to myself, "If my son asked me, 'What should I do when I grow up'," the wonderful romantic answer is, follow your passion. And I looked at myself in the mirror, and I'm like, "Wow, that's a wonderful thing to say, but if you don't do it, it's very disingenuous to say." So at that point, this is late 2014, I decided to really embrace that passion, not be ashamed of it. And sort of, the universe opened itself up. And I met Scott Campbell through Tom Kartsotis who founded Shinola and Fossil. We bonded over our love for marijuana, and then we decided to embark on a journey called Beboe. We didn't quite know what it was, but we did know that we wanted to build something that was aspirational, something more aesthetically pleasing, something lower dose. And we wanted to have two, I guess, different form factors, which is inhalable and ingestible, and we just incubated the idea. And that's literally the genesis of Beboe. It wasn't to say, "Let's build a luxury brand. Let's target women." We just have a genuine love for the plant and just so happened to have great experience building luxury brands and businesses. Scott Campbell has done a lot of work with Marc Jacobs, Mr. Arnault, Hennessy, all the brands in the LVMH stable. So we both come from that sort of pedigree and wanted to build something that was considerate, beautiful, and really for ourselves. So that's a very long answer to your question. F Geyrhalter: No, that's beautiful. And Scott, who's also a tattoo artist, right, and a tattoo artist of a certain pedigree. I think he tattooed everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Robert Downey, Jr. so very, very high end tattoo artist. But he created the intricate patterns that became such an important part of the brand language of Beboe. But I assume that at some point in that journey, you must've engaged a packaging design and branding firm, right? Can you walk us through that process a little bit? When did you start to actively invest in branding with the startup? C Kwan: We did everything in-house. F Geyrhalter: That's amazing. C Kwan: Scott has always assembled a wonderful internal team of packaging people, and he's also very hands on. So everything that is Beboe was done in-house. F Geyrhalter: Because you started with a team, right? C Kwan: We started with consultants and just friends. So yeah, we didn't have any focus groups. We didn't have any agencies. We didn't have anything really. We did everything internally. F Geyrhalter: And that's why it is authentic. And because of your combined background, again, the parts of design, fashion, brand, right, and cannabis, it feels like it is a brand that can happen intrinsically, not so with a lot of other founders who don't have any of that brand or design kind of background. Where did the brand name come from? C Kwan: Beboe is actually Scott's grandmother's name. So when we were in the course of thinking of a name for our company, we had so many different ideas and suggestions. And ultimately, what we were trying to do with Beboe is inject a little bit of fun, sexiness, and levity into the industry that was male dominated, very juvenile, very traditional, stereotypical stoner. So Scott told me a story about his grandmother, Be Boe, and how his mother, when he was from the ages of seven to 14, she battled cancer. And every week, the grandmother would come, Be Boe, and bring brownies, one, sort of, set for Scott and his sister and the other set for his mother. And during this entire time, he had no idea his mother was battling cancer because Be Boe injected levity into a very shitty situation because she was making marijuana brownies for his mother and normal brownies for Scott and his sister. So that story unto itself was both inspirational because she literally injected levity, fun, everything into really a bad situation. And we were like, "Wow, we should do the same with Beboe." Not that grave, but let's have Beboe inject a bit of sexiness, fun, and levity into the marijuana industry. And that's where Beboe came from. F Geyrhalter: And change the idea of what the industry stands for and who is actually the user of today's cannabis products, right? With that one simple story, which is so emotional, talking about emotions, right, you captured a lot of the spirit of the brand. I really, really like it. I love that you actually talk about this on your website as well. C Kwan: Fabian, sorry to interrupt, going back to the first question about what a brand is, this is what a brand is. So we have a genuine passion for marijuana, growing it, selling it, I mean, pretty much everything, right? There's Be Boe, and that's very emotional story of a grandmother, a person really just making a bad situation wonderful or very, very, tolerable, and then our experience. So I think it's this emotion and this sort of genuine passion that is injected into Beboe, and I think that's what makes a brand a brand. It's our personality. It's us. We couldn't even script it, right? We can't do a focus group. It's truly an extension of us.And he's covered in tattoos. I'm covered in tattoos, but yet Beboe is loved by women and really aspirational, fancy women. And we're like, "Wow, how did that happen?" But it comes back to, I was raised by a single mother. Scott had a very good relationship with his mother and grandmother. So there's a strong female presence and impression on us. F Geyrhalter: It's one layer after another, right? You keep adding these layers to the brand that are all authentic, that are all part of what you're trying to create. And then at some point, all of these layers together, this beautiful cake, right, and everyone can't resist, right? So it's kind of this idea of just adding one little piece at a time. Like you said, you can't script it. Even when I work with entrepreneurs who don't have this intrinsic idea of what the brand needs to be, they really know what they want their product to be, but they don't know what their brand needs to be. And I really, all I do is I just derive it out of them too. It's like, I can't create a story for them. I can just help tell their story in a better way and try to create authenticity that is already inside of them but just kind of get it out of them. It's really therapy. I mean, that's pretty much what it is. You mentioned you were also president of NET-A-PORTER, which you just don't even include in your bio because of everything you accomplished in your life. So congratulations, that's a pretty, pretty big deal, and it feels only natural to talk about another high end fashion powerhouse. So let's talk Barneys for a minute here. I used to be a Barneys fanatic, then I married a smart woman, and now I'm more of a Barneys three times a year kind of guy. But what a fabulous and inspiring institution Barney has always been to me and to most designers around the world. And before we talk about your current Beboe collaboration with Barneys, so totally between you and me and whoever's listening, what do you make of the Barneys bankruptcy? I mean, right after Dean & DeLuca, you mentioned you lived in New York for awhile, what is going on in the world of high end shopping? C Kwan: I don't even think it's just Barneys. It's pretty much the industry as a whole. Going back 10 years, there's a lot of money in the industry and not from a consumer perspective. It's from the institutional investors where private equity pours a lot of money into the industry, an industry that at certain echelons is very non-democratic. So all your luxury brands are now getting private equity money. Before the money came in, every distribution was very selective. It's about scarcity. It's about the consumer experience physically in the store. And post-money, obviously private equity has a horizon, right, three years, three, four years, and then exit. So a lot of pressure has been put in on the industry to get sales, make profits. But this is sort of the price of scarcity and distribution. So if you walk into any store, if you go onto any website, just look at the assortment of products on the sites or on the floor. It's the same thing. So it's because every brand is now selling to every store. Before it was, "Okay, I'm going to sell to Colette, Corso Como. I'm going to sell to a one department store in the U.K., one department store in America," and now, everything is everywhere, and it's accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week on social media channels. And I think that the day of reckoning is sort of coming where I think there's too much accessibility, and I think there's going to be a pull back. And I think for whatever reason, Barney is going through another transformation or evolution, and then you're going to start seeing many others doing the same thing. So Barneys being a leader, taking the bandaid off and doing what they need to do. And a lot of it is predicated on rent hikes, especially on Madison Avenue. But I think it's a good idea for every retailer to look at what works, what doesn't, and really look for that point of view again, both online and offline. So why are people shopping on one site or store versus the other? Before Zara, Colette had a very distinctive point of view. Sozzani has a very distinctive point of view in Corso Como. And then you have, your Bergdorf Goodman has a very distinctive point of view. But I think there needs to be a refinement again, an evolution in the industry. F Geyrhalter: I love how you were able to spin this into something that can be seen as something pretty negative, but it's fertile ground, right? Something can happen, and something needs to happen. And I got my first first idea of that when I worked with Ron Herman of the Fred Segal empire, and then I saw how unique this was, what he was actually creating. And then obviously, it got sold, and now, it's at the airport, and now, it's everywhere, right? And so I think there's something that is happening currently with that accessibility that I totally agree with you. It ruins the pleasure of finding a certain curated shop and having an experience and finding something that you can find anywhere else. There used to be the time where you brought back something from your travels and it's kind of, it doesn't make sense anymore, right? What you get in a museum store in New York, you get in a museum store in Paris but interesting, interesting observation. And your brand has an actual store named The High End, which is a brilliant name by the way, within the physical Barneys Beverly Hills store. I think it's on the fifth floor. And within High End, the store within a store, you can pick up a $60 box of seven pre-rolled joints amongst many other gorgeous products of your brand. How did that amazing collaboration come about, and what did you learn about your first Barneys customers, who I assume would be very different from your customers before? But that's only assumption. And I also wonder, was that the time that you started to pivot the brand to cater mostly towards women? Or like you said before, it was kind of intrinsically that it was catering more towards women, but was that the time where you actually realized, "Oh, my God. Wealthy women love our aesthetic. They love our product." C Kwan: Ever since we launched, just due to the nature of the branding, the aesthetics, the form factor... I mean, it's a rose gold vaporizer. It's more expensive given our experience and background. I mean, if you look at it, Scott and I have sold dresses, purses, to women for a good 12 to 13 years. I think subconsciously, we only know how to market to women, but we just never articulated it other than building something like a Beboe. So we've always captured the very aspirational female consumer, not by design, but just by nature. I don't know. It just organically happened. The tagline for our brand is probably, my wife or my girlfriend loves Beboe. So yeah, we've always had that aspiration of consumer from 25 to 65, and it was predominantly female, and it just happened by chance. So when Barneys came around, it was just a natural fit, not only because they've known us for so long as Scott and Clement in our different iterations, but Scott also has a very dear relationship with Matthew Mazzucca , the creative director of Barneys. And from there, they wanted to do something in cannabis. We had a great idea on how to do it, and then we just had a great meeting of the minds. And eight months later, The High End was born. But it's not very difficult. It wasn't a stretch by any means because that customer that shopped at Barneys was already buying Beboe and/or had a friend that was using Beboe so very natural relationship. F Geyrhalter: On your website, on the Beboe website, at the very, very end, hidden within the about section, you are also offering brand consulting. What does that entail, and who do you work with, and how did it become part of the part of the Beboe brand? C Kwan: It's not something we really focus on too much, but it's there for humanitarian reasons, humanitarian in the sense- F Geyrhalter: Tell me more. C Kwan: Humanitarian for the industry. So we are extremely open people. What we've created wasn't done in a lab. The IP is us. And what we have realized was when we created Beboe four years ago, we created a product that was counter to what was happening in the market. What we realized was, being a grower myself and dabbling in, let's call it the gray market, there's a lot of people in this industry that have paid their dues, that have been in it for 20 years, that have paved the way, that have gone to prison. They're like the OGs of the industry. So what we did was, and I'll make this short, took this product, and I went to these OGs, and I said, "Guys, listen. In order for our industry to move forward, I respect everything that you do because I've done it. But in order for to really grow and evolve, give this product, which is bourgeois, more expensive, lower potency, and you've never seen anything like this, please help us support it and/or just don't hate on it. Because once this new consumer comes into the industry, they're not going to stop at just Beboe. They're going to try other brands, and then they're going to start asking local politicians and the industry as a whole for more information. And this is what's going to drive change." So having said that, we are where we are because they supported us. Now, there's a whole other generation of people and entrepreneurs trying to do what we've done, and instead of not helping, we want to make sure that the people with the right ideas and the right ethos and obviously, good people, are able to succeed because rising tides floats literally all boats. So let's just have consulting out there so that we can help people flesh through ideas, share with them the pain points that we've gone through, and just, let's help evolve this industry in the right way and be a thought leader and a leader as a whole. And that's what consulting is about. F Geyrhalter: As we come slowly to the end here, one of the questions I always love to ask founders is if you can describe your brand in one word, so I call it the brand DNA. So it's one or two words that are all encompassing of the Beboe brand. For instance, for my brand consultancy FINIEN, our brand DNA is clarity. And for Everlane, it would have to be transparency. What is Beboe's brand DNA? C Kwan: Empowered. It's empowered because I think every person who uses it feels empowered. Every woman that works for us is truly empowered. I mean, our entire team is built up of women, and they are the heart and soul of our brand, and it's not by design. So we cater to a female consumer, and we only have females working for us, which is, it's a beautiful thing. So the thing that we always preach is that, do not let an industry drive you. You drive an industry. Whatever problem you have, you have the authority and the initiative to get it done, fix the problem. You are empowered and financially empowered, everything empowered. And I think we just don't say it. It just happens. So yeah, I think even people who use our product feel empowered when they use it. They're able to discreetly use Beboe, and they feel great because they've empowered themselves to get high. It's mommy's little helper, so they're empowered to be better parents. I don't know. People feel empowered when they have our products in their hands, where they work with us, when they interact with us. Yeah, I think that's what we're really the most proud of. F Geyrhalter: It feels very, very right. And also when you look at the packaging, and you read some of these life lessons and wisdoms that are hidden within the packaging, it is about empowerment. Even though you say you don't mention it, you don't spell it out, it is subliminally spelled out throughout your entire brand. Do you have any other brand advice? And you have already given a lot for founders in any space, as a final takeaway, maybe a lesson you may have learned the hard way, something that can just empower, to use the word, fellow entrepreneurs that are not quite at your stage yet. C Kwan: Ultimately, and I think if I had a startup in the fashion world or something that was little bit more traditional, I would have a big fuck up or something like that to share. But I think we have been fortunate enough to build something in the wild, wild West where we charted our own course. I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that kindness goes a long way. And I hope that every entrepreneur that starts something is kind, not only to the people and the partners and the world as a whole, but kind to themselves, kind that there is no right answer to what you're doing. There are sometimes parameters, but you're going to mess up. You're going to definitely mess up. But it's just being kind to yourself and your mental health, your physical body, because ultimately, that's very, very important. F Geyrhalter: And talking about kindness, when I reached out to you, Clement, I read a Forbes, I think it was a two, three page article about Beboe, and I reached out to you completely blindly. I think it was via LinkedIn or maybe I found your email somewhere on the website. And very often I just pretend the emails go out, and I don't hear back. And the more high profile of a publication I read about someone that I invite on the show, the likelihood is slimmer that they actually get back to me. You got back to me saying, "Hey, Fabian. How are you? Sure," period. I think it was something like that. And I'm like, "That is kindness," right? The idea of the first thing you say is how are you, and there's this spirit that comes from you that is, obviously, shows across your entire brand. So really, really appreciate it. Listeners who live in a state where they can legally obtain cannabis, how can they get a taste of Beboe? C Kwan: You can find it in California, in Colorado, at your favorite dispensaries, and/or go to Barneys, and you can find it there. And then soon with a wonderful partner like GTI, we will be expanding into 10 to 11 other states in the course of the next 12 to 18 months. F Geyrhalter: That's amazing. That's fantastic. And thank you, Clement, for your time today. It was such a pleasure, and it was really fascinating to have you on Hitting The Mark. I really appreciate it. C Kwan: Thank you very much, Fabian. F Geyrhalter: And thanks to everyone for listening, and if you enjoy this sponsor-free podcast, please help keep it that way and become a sustaining member by hitting the support button on or by going to Our theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
If you think of a roofing company, you think of small businesses that have a hard time staying in business. Lots of competition in a tough service environment with high employee turnover rates and low customer retention. One thing you would not think of is branding. This is where Charles Antis comes in, who founded his namesake company Antis Roofing & Waterproofing in 1984 and soon thereafter started to inject it with personality and the stigma that it needed to be bigger than just the service offering he provided. Charles himself turned into a conscious capitalist, who has donated every single roof installation of every single home built by Habitat Orange County since 2009 and was honored with the American Red Cross Corporate Hero Award. This is the story of a roofer who turned into a leader in corporate social responsibility and who sees himself as a futurist. Charles shares with us how leading with cause will shape an amazing corporate culture (Antis has a 93% employee retention rate) and drive new business, all while giving real meaning to what you do. ____Full Transcript: F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting The Mark. Every two weeks, I sit down right here with you and with a contagiously inspiring founder, just like today, or a shockingly transparent investor to talk about the art and the heart of a brand. It all started as an experiment, and once listeners like yourself started tuning in, it soon turned into this biweekly labor of love that, in return, requires a lot of time from researching future guests and curating the flow to reaching out and dealing with the logistics of the scheduling the podcast, the editing the show, creating assets, pushing it on social, et cetera, et cetera. You know how it goes. Good things take time. If Hitting The Mark provides you with inspiration, and you're slowly but surely forming an addictive habit of listening to it every two weeks, please show your support to offset some of the cost so I do not have to bring on interruptive sponsorship messages because I really, really would not like to do that, and I don't think you'd enjoy it, either. Instead, I want to thank you on the air, connect with you on monthly group calls, have you submit questions for guests upfront, and simply have this be 100% community-supported. This marks the beginning of a new community-enabled and community-driven era of Hitting The Mark. I'd love for you to check out the brand new Patreon site, which I link to in the notes or simply go to and hit the support button to learn more about the different levels and perks that come with your support. Now without further ado, I welcome a founder who has been at it for 30 years. It is not a new brand, nor one that is shockingly innovative or disruptive at all at it relates to the services it provides, but Charles Antis, founder and CEO of Antis Roofing and Waterproofing has built a brand on the power of good, a long time before it became a mainstream business etiquette and, to an extent, most can only aspire to. Charles began his career as a roofing professional in 1984. Since then, he has become an inspirational business leader championing social corporate responsibility. While Antis is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year or, as Charles would say, "For 30 years, we've been keeping families safe and dry." Charles is a member of the board of directors of Orange County Habitat for Humanity, for which Antis has donated every single roof installation of every single home built by Habitat OC since 2009. That's over $1 million in in-kind donations. Charles inspires others into doing well by doing good, and was honored with the American Red Cross Corporate Hero Award. Despite me having a rule of not inviting former clients or people I know prior to having them on as a guest, I did meet Charles ever so briefly while I was presenting a United To End Homelessness brand campaign to the executive council of the Orange County United Way Chapter. Charles was one of the guys I presented it to. We quickly knew we were aligned when it comes to messaging and branding, and following him on LinkedIn and seeing his great social responsibility efforts on a weekly basis, I decided to reach out and, voila, here we are. Welcome to Hitting The Mark, Charles. C Antis: Thanks, Fabian. I'm excited to be here. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely, so Antis is going back 30 years, not to date you here, but it's been a while and roofing is a commodity and it is, frankly, a tough business to stay in business, let alone thrive. How did you start the company and when and how did you begin injecting it with personality and the stigma that it needed to be bigger than just a service offering you provided, or you yourself turning into a conscious capitalist, as you call it? C Antis: That's a lot there, and I'll give you my best answer. When I started my business, I did not have a business plan. I didn't know what marketing was. I couldn't distinguish marketing from sales, nor would I for many years. I had an instinct of a couple of things that helped me survive. One was one that I would later call customer care. It seemed to me instinctively that the first, most simple, form of marketing, was I need a good word of mouth, that I needed to take care of a client in a deep way. I became very good, unable to facilitate re-roofs, being small and having limited skills, I figured out that if I could tell people that I'll solve that leak from rain, that leak in their home or in their business from rain that no one else can solve, I'll do it for free. It seemed to me then they might believe me to pay me. That was all I had, and I followed that through with great customer care. That's how I got work initially and that was my first ray of a brand that was put out there. Another component happened that led me to the reason we're talking today, and that was, in that moment of needing every call just to pay the bills, my work one week was weatherproofing a door that was a home bedroom converted into an office, so when a client might call, that they wouldn't hear my daughter crying. That was my work one week, because I only got about two calls a week when I first started my business. One of those calls I got was a women who had leaks in her home in every room. That sounded pretty good. I was going to get some money for leak repairs. I didn't have an excess then. I had a mortgage payment to make in a couple of weeks, I didn't even have the funds for that yet. I'm driving out to this home on the next day and I'm noticing as I'm getting closer that the homes are getting smaller, more disheveled, until finally I turn on the street where the home would be and I just see it, like dead grass and four walls. I remember thinking, I hope that's not the house because it had one of those one-half the numbers on it. I went up and knocked on it, and then the next three things just changed everything for me. A middle-aged woman answered the home with this tired expression on her face. Before I could say anything, I was hit with this mildew like I'd never smelled before, that just pulled me back and sent a shock in me that I was figuring out how I was going to leave. I remember before I could say anything, this third thing happened. I felt a tug at my finger and I looked down and there was this little girl with the biggest smile I can still see in my eyes, with tow-blond hair. She couldn't smell what I smelled. She just had a visitor and she just pulled me in on my finger. I went in through this little crowded living room into a tiny under-sized hallway, until finally she turned to her right and into her room. I knew she slept there because she points to this My Little Pony poster on the wall. As she points to that poster, my eyes look down and I see four mattresses with disheveled and moldy bedding. I realized that's where she sleeps, that's where she and her siblings sleep. I was sitting there in shock. It's a good story now, but it wasn't a good story right then. I was in this state of shock, fight or flight, because this was a threat to me. I couldn't help it. It sounds horrible but it didn't feel good yet. As cute as that little girl was and as the moment was there, because I was this professional, I could do something, it didn't hit me until the mother came in again with that look on her face. Something in me stirred that didn't stir just with the child, but I looked at that mother and I don't know where it came from, but it was my doctor on an airplane moment and I just said, "I'm going to take care of your roof." I went up there on the roof, hoping they just needed some patches, and I saw a completely dilapidated roof. They needed a brand new roof. I followed through. I followed through. I didn't have any employees yet so I got six volunteers. We showed up there on Saturday and I got some inexpensive but dry roofing material, and we gooped that roof and we put rolled material on that roof and it was dry and that family stayed in that home. That was a crazy moment because it didn't hit me in any which way. It was just what I had to do and it as kind of like my doctor on an airplane moment. If you're a doctor on the airplane and somebody has a heart attack, I think that most of us believe that the doctor raises his hand and says, "Yes, I'll help." I also believe that when a doctor raises his hand and helps that person on an aircraft who had a heart attack, I highly doubt the doctor sends a bill. I feel like that's what happened to me. It just happened to me and my profession was different than medicine. Who could help that family more than me? That was a magic moment. I didn't know it was magic until months later. I'd run into one of the siblings. There were five other kids and I'd run into one of the siblings. They would be like, "Hey!" We high-fived and I noticed I had a pretty good day that day. Or I'd run into one of the volunteers on the next Sunday and they'd be like, "Hey!" There was this story that we did together that I had no idea that it was changing everything in the trajectory at Antis Roofing. This story became our culture. This story held us together even though it took me years to recognize that this story was part of the reason we were strong. I think for our techs and for our people, it felt good, like we're not just profiting off this trade, we're giving back. It wasn't something we talked about because it was not okay to talk about it where we grew up. I grew up where you don't talk about the good that you're doing. In fact, there were things that were quoted to me as a child, like don't let the left hand know what the right hand's doing because then God can't reward you. I'm paraphrasing what I heard, maybe not what was said, but what I heard, so it felt wrong to talk about it. The reason I did it, it was more like, what am I going to do? It wasn't, in the beginning, Oh, my God, I have this opportunity to give back. It feels that way sometimes now, but even sometimes now it feels like it did then, like, Oh my God, how can somebody ask for that? How can I possibly do it? In that figuring it out, in that not saying no, in those magic moments of going to bed on the possibility of doing something really noble, there's where something happens that I don't know how to describe. I'm just here to tell you, story after story, that it happened. That developed who we were. We eventually learned to talk about it after our giving became more formal, after we became involved with Habitat for Humanity in Orange County. Sorry, I went on a long tangent there, Fabian. I warned you. F Geyrhalter: No, this is, first of all, this is an amazing story and I would react very differently if I had not heard it last night on a keynote. I was so taken by that story. I was hoping that you would tell it. It was really, that was the moment where you found purpose and then the purpose was contagious and it actually created the culture, and through all of it, authenticity and empathy. You started creating a brand, really. To me, that's beautiful. On your website, you state, "The more we give, the more we grow." I'm a big believer that doing good is good business. Expand a little bit on that thought, perhaps even with some data points that made you make that statement so confidently on the website, because now your brand has been walking that walk year after year for a few decades. How is doing good, good business and how can you actually tell everyone with certainty that it is? C Antis: It was honestly in the moment. I love that statement, "The more we give, the more we grow." I've just got to be honest about it. It's one that we kind of said, let's not say that, really, much right now. I love it. I'm going to tell you why, because we said that, and it worked three years ago, because we do have this really big desire to make impact in the community. We want to draw attention to it because we want to show other businesses that they can do it. Sometimes our statements are scary. Three or four years ago I started saying also, "We err on the side of generosity with all of our stakeholders." That basically says we're not going to get over on anybody. When you make that statement, there's a little bit of a mind check where you go, oh. I used to always have my angle that we got away. We did better than other people here. How can I be generous? In thinking that way, magic happens. That's what we discovered. In thinking that way, it started to happen. The more we give, the more we grow. Let me tell you about that one. We said that three years ago and we had this amazing growth year. We grew like 40 percent. Then, what happened in California, as a roofing contractor, it didn't rain. When you go from a lot of rain, the biggest rain in 10 years to no rain the next year, our sales went down 20 percent, so our profit went way down. F Geyrhalter: Of course. C Antis: Ironically, though, ironically there were some things that happened. That's when I started, why are we saying that? That's really not responsible. We say it to make a claim in the direction that we're going so we get people's attention, so we can share the success in what we're doing. What we ended up talking about, and I did some big talks that year that our sales dropped 20 percent, and we still talked about that because we are growing. Our giving grew last year. I don't know how fiscally responsible some people think this is, but in a year, in 2018 where our profits went down tremendously, our giving went up. Some people would say, in fact, our giving, we gave almost a million dollars in grants and in foundation stuff and roof sponsorships. That might have been irresponsible, but we did grow. How did we grow from that giving? We all grew in our capacity to understand how to message cause marketing. We grew in our capacity to understand this important deep value that runs through our employees and extends out into the community. I wouldn't have gone down that path, but I love messaging. I think if you're true to messaging today, this takes me into a point, that I'm so authentic in the moment, trying to get the message right, and I'll admit that I'm going to miss it sometimes. When we miss it, we're all going to learn from when we just missed it. I'm not saying we missed it by "The more we give, the more we grow." I'm saying that that was the right message to say three years ago and now I'm questioning it, if that's how I'm going to lead. Sometimes I will talk in that vein, but I think that it grew the impact through why we had it at the time. We were authentic in the moment three years ago trying to nail what it is that we do for people, what it is that we do for the trade associations that we belong to and how that extends from our people out through the associations and to all the stakeholders. That's why I wanted to get into that. I had to talk around that because we talked about it, I wanted to talk about how authentic message is going, but I still have answered your question, so can you, after that little side note I went on, give me the question again? This time, I'll dive right in. F Geyrhalter: I actually think you pretty much answered it. I think the idea that even if there's a year where revenue goes down a little bit just based on external reasons, really, which in your business was simply the weather, to actually give back during that year and to give back more than you did the year previous- C Antis: That was crazy. F Geyrhalter: But it's not crazy. It's not crazy. To me, Charles, this is good- C Antis: I mean crazy, crazy in radical. It's radically different- F Geyrhalter: Right. C Antis: And I love that. My point is, is being radically different in a social, generous way, in an inside-out way of the community, through your people and the community, it's never been a better time to error there. By having this intent to grow, give more, having the intent to be able to give more as we grow and to have the intent to be generous, it really pays off today. It keeps people in your company and it keeps people so much more productive because if you're authentic in the moment and if you have that cause that's tied to your brand and you're practicing talking about it in the front of your company and you have a brand-holder in your company -- which, it's more convenient if it's the founder or CEO, it can be your director of cause, it can be somebody else in your company -- but if you have this today, you have such an advantage in business. When I go to sell a client today, we sell HOA's and we service more HOA's than anybody, that's our niche in the roofing business, but when I go to sell a client today, I used to walk into that room and, just because I was a roofing contractor and guilty by some association from a past experience they had, I would go into this and I would be accused of things that we'd never do. We would be accused of kick-backs and of purposely not doing the work that we intended to perform, and we learned and had to take it. When I go to a board meeting today, that doesn't happen. What happens is the opposite. There is maybe one person in the room that, instead of one person chiseling us and accusing us, there's one person that's looking at me and smiling, male or female, looking down, touching their hair, like is that person flirting with me? I start asking questions, "How're we doing?" "Great." "Why? What are we doing great?" I'll get answers like, the one that really hit me when I knew this brand was working six years ago, this board member from this association looked at me and says, "I don't know, Charles. We just feel good when we think about you guys." That was something I'd never heard before. That's when I knew that I'm on the right track. Yeah, last year we gave more away than we put in the bank. Is that responsible? F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). C Antis: I think, yes. Do I need to look at it and make sure that we have a trajectory that fits? Yes. There's always running the right balance, but the balance has shifted and it's a time today, whatever your spend is on your people, you're on top of spend for HR and your people and the community, all that together, it's going to drastically increase. If it was already high, it probably needs to double. If it was low, it might need to go ten times. That's a scary number, but if you can keep your people- in the new world it's all about being empathetic and being adaptive and being a critical thinker and having high emotional intelligence. This is going to keep the people there that will allow you to do that. It's all about being adaptive, and you can keep your people if you have cause. That's what great CSR, we didn't do it for the outside value gain. I think I really started on the wrong side. I was so focused on the customer that I often, and as much as I love my people, I'm so focused on the good we can do in the community, sometimes I overlook my people. I often joke that I was like Will Ferrell in Old School when he's all alone on the street and he's running and his wife comes up and he's drunk and he's running, and he's like, "Hey, Honey!" She's like, "Honey, you're naked. Get in the car." He goes, "No, come on, Honey. Everybody's doing it." That's my enthusiasm when it's just outside focus, but when you work through your people, then you keep your people, they become the ones that help you adapt in this super-changing world. In the roofing industry, it's going to change so much in the next decade. It's going to change for the better but, if you're not adaptive, good luck. F Geyrhalter: Oh, yeah. C Antis: Good luck in your business. F Geyrhalter: Any business, really, today. Back to culture, I think today Antis has a 93-percent employee retention rate or something that's really, really outrageously high for the industry. "Culture is everything" is a headline on your website. I just could not agree more. I say this on the air, a great culture kicks even a great branding spot. I'll say that again and again because it all comes from within. Going a little bit back in history with your company, and I ran an agency for a long time, I had that same problem. You talked about in one of your keynotes how you had Founder's Syndrome in the early years of running a firm. You compared it, this is hilarious, you compared it to a seagull flapping and flapping around while pooping on everyone, which is… C Antis: A seagull boss. Someone who flaps those wings, squawking and shitting all over everybody. I think that describes what a founder ends up doing, even when he doesn't realize he's doing it, based on his behavior. Even if you're not being a little bit loud, because you are the founder, everybody knows you've done their job before and you ask a question like, "Why are you doing it that way?" It comes out like, "Why are you doing it that way!" That's how you hear it. Founder's Syndrome is really all of the things that founders did to get it started often will be what's going to get it to the multi-ten-million range. Founders must be self-aware, lest they will keep stabbing their tires. Founders Syndrome is something that, it's for everybody that's a founder. It is so healthy. In fact, I just learned this. As I was describing Founder's Syndrome to somebody else, I actually looked at the Wikipedia page and it's grown from where it was a few years ago. Founder's Syndrome also occurs to division heads, people that are project managers, that bring in new things in companies that are so protective of the baby that they brought in, and they crush innovation. Founder's Syndrome is our worst enemy for all of us that have start-ups. We both have tendencies that made us, that were great to get us where we were, that will hurt us if we're not careful as we hire people. F Geyrhalter: How were you able to shake Founder's Syndrome so that other entrepreneurs can learn from it, at least the way that you did it? What was it? What was that moment? C Antis: First of all, I really believe in Vistage-type groups, that's CEO-type groups- F Geyrhalter: Yep. C Antis: Where you go and you just learn to be honest with another group of CEO's one day a month. That is where I heard the term, that's where people helped me pause to see it. I think being adaptive, it goes deeper. I'm very adaptive, I think. It took me a long time to realize it, but I'm a young 57-year-old. I'm very millennial-like thinking, but I think I'm adaptive through my path. I was raised in a religion, in my parents' religion. I'm no longer part of that religion. It's a strong culture religion, Mormonism. I think when you leave a strong culture religion, it's very difficult because that becomes your community. I think that you can do two things, you can go, and for me, it was like I had to redefine myself. In that redefining myself, I had to be self-critical sometimes to learn and grow. I had a couple of times like that where I had to redefine myself in life. I think that moving from the country to the city, how am I going to survive here? those life experiences. If we go back and re-frame our lives, we've all been very adaptive, but I think we have to embrace that today. When you get that Founder's Syndromitis, when you realize, oh, my God, I have this, this is funny and you forgive yourself. The way you get that is doing self-assessments. I'm a big fan of self-assessments. When I did my disk and I found out that I had a high eye on a disk scale, my Vistage group pointed at me and laughed and they said, oh, you want to be the center of attention. I quickly said, no, I don't. But hopefully, by later on that day, I admitted, well, yes I do, and thank you for telling me that's who I am and I'm not doing something wrong. Now I can forgive myself and realize that it's not a weakness, it's a strength. I'm great in sales, I'm great at speaking, I'm great in marketing, I'm great in customer care because I have a high eye. When you learn about yourself, the more you're willing to- do the emotional intelligence test. If you just try to grab the concept of emotional intelligence, it is the greatest gift. You will get Founder's Syndrome because it is just your survival mode, because we all operate in animal mode even though we think we're so smart. That's basically what emotional intelligence tells me. Self-assessment is really how I've grown, but I've also been forced to grow a few times. I think that sometimes when things hit our lives, if we can flip our brain to only believe in positive outcomes, we can realize that some of these things that we used to see as tragedy -- I'm not saying there's not tragedies -- but a lot of things we would used to see as something bad, we can flip in this new mindset. Failing is the greatest gift. Fail, fail, fail, I've failed being a contractor. You can fail and still survive. I've failed on so many jobs in the past, and we're really good at what we do and what we design and how we perform today because we've failed so much to get here. F Geyrhalter: Right. C Antis: That's one of the things, is failing is how I learn. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. I think you said so many things. I know you accused me of asking a question that had five questions in it. You do the same with the answers, which is fantastic, because there were so many gold nuggets in there. I really appreciate it. I want to go back to culture for a second because I'm sure that a lot of listeners getting to know your brand, getting to know you and the way that you embody marketing and empathy and purpose, you've built a strong culture. Do you as a brand actually have written-down, formulated core values, or is it different? How do you deal with core values and how are they being embodied day to day? C Antis: I love that. I'm not a formalize, I'm a visionary, which means I loosely define. I know that if I grab things too tight, I've learned then I steer them into the ground. If you're a visionary and you have ideas, you learn to bring in doers around you. I have a great story around that. We were working with a neuroscientist to build our new values. If you want to be heard in marketing, you want to simplify, simplify, simplify. You want to simplify colors, position of your graphics, also you want to simplify the words. I really was wanting to bake down what we do. We spent a lot of time with Dr. Moren, this amazing guy that works with brands like Southwest Airlines. We worked with him for a long time to come up with the one word. The word we came up with is, "be," B-E. If I had to describe the word, "be," because we're giving it new context, I can't. It comes out different every day. Really, what "be" is to us, is it's much like what Simon Sinek did when he asked us, what's your "why?" Some days I can answer that question, some days it hits be funny. When we talk about what we value at Antis, the "be" values is what we've come up with. F Geyrhalter: Interesting. C Antis: The core part is, is Dr. Moren helped us get to the word, "be." We came up with this "be safe, be good, be dry." That's how we were going to market to our people to show them that we can keep them safe in our communities. What happened is, we did our external strategy session and we had some amazing people that came in, like Michelle Jordan, who I strongly recommend using. She came in and helped us with our strategy. Our team, not me, not marketing, but our team, 20 of us, baked and we surveyed and we came up with what we value. This was actually, an expanded team beyond that. We came down to the five things that we value. This is what they are: Be good, be accountable, be generous, be a leader and be passionate. What we found is we had turned our value statement into 11 words with a lot of repetition there in this really branded, good way that when we donate our space to nonprofits, and we have a lot of nonprofits come in here, they see that and we hear things like, "Can we borrow that?" "Yes! Yes! Please take it!" What happened is, I turned to my team and I said I know that we've spent a lot of money to be this, "Be safe, be dry, be good," but who we really are, are these values, "Be good, be accountable, be generous, be a leader and be passionate," slightly different context in the word, "be." What happened is this became who we were. I was giving a big keynote, in fact, it was the one you referenced. It was the one last year at the Legends and Leaders. It was a big crowd and the last slide that I decided to show was this internal thing. We're an inside-out company. We share what's working so others can do it. We discovered that these values were resonating. I went up there and I talked and I finished this talk. After I spoke, another writer and a good friend of mine, Steve Cherm, he commented on social media about how Charles ended his message with be good and be accountable. The funny thing was that I called Steve later and said, "Steve, I never said that. That was the slide and that was the value. We've had that and we use that slide for impact moments because it says so much in so few words. F Geyrhalter: It was holistically, right? I love the idea that it started with an exercise of external brand messaging and it turned into, a variation of it turned into the internal values and how you want to operate and who you want to be as a company. I think it's extremely, extremely powerful. I love that people just feel that intrinsically after the talk. Going from all of these "be" words, be this, be that, do you think that as a brand, if you think about the essence of your brand in its entirety, could you sum it up in a few characters, in one word or a two-word phrase that can describe your brand's DNA? To think about it, it's like Harley Davidson could be freedom, Coke could be happiness. What is Antis? Could you think of Antis in a single word or in two words? It must be difficult, based on our conversation today. C Antis: It's difficult for me, but I'm going to have to answer it two ways. To really understand what we discovered and what we sell and what we sell inside and out the company, it comes down to two words, and it's for your brand and it's for everybody that are your stakeholders, and that is fulfillment and impact. That's the intersection of life trajectory, of seeing yourself in a higher light. It's that point where you're having impact in people or people's lives, or animal's lives, or that it's you're having impact in the environment, whatever it is, but you're also finding that fulfillment. Those two words are critical to want to discuss how to get to a real cause marketing brand. I want to use the word, "be" because I'm experimenting with this word and I have been for the last year. I think the one that I spend most of my time is the "be good." It's simple but it's like that's all I really wanted to do. I didn't know what it was. I had to define in my life what good was. My dad just always taught me to leave it better than I found it. I'd learned that in Scouts, too. It's a simple thing, leave it better than you found it. I think that the best way I can get there is, I want to be my best self. I want to be my best self and I don't compare myself to you anymore and I don't want my people to compare themselves to me. I want you and I want me to compare ourselves to ourselves and I want to be good being my best self. I think that's my definition of being good, is seeing yourself higher and therefore you're able to see everything and everyone else higher. Then you become a real asset to the world and you have impact and you have this magical place of fulfillment, which is where I get to every day. I wake up in fear. I have good months and bad months in business like everybody else, but I wake up and I put on this outlook that only sees good things coming. If something hit today that's other than that, I go, wow, this is really going to be good. I literally can see the other side of that and see the value in this growing experience that's coming. I think that's the greatest thing, so be good. F Geyrhalter: That's beautiful. Going from that macro level all the way to looking at the word branding, obviously you are a marketer within your space, one of the many hats that you wear within the company. What does branding mean to someone like you, who has been in an industry for 30 years and you've been pushing the boundaries within the industry? You really were a game-changer and a visionary within an industry that is known for exactly the opposite. What does branding mean to you? C Antis: Branding is an action word that, if you don't try to grab it today, you're going to be left and you're going to be lost. Branding is, it's always been who you were but now, with this craving that everyone has for authenticity, branding, real authentic present-day branding, is what everybody seeks. It's the most important thing. I have to talk about branding but I've got to go into this little weird worm hole about, we hear about these currencies. Facebook is trying to create a currency I hear the Trump Administration doesn't like. In China they have a currency for social good that they've come up with that where if you're in their version of communism, social good in China, you'll get to the front of the line, get a bigger house. We have the same thing happening here in Silicon Valley. Those of us that know people that are trying to build algorithms that can root out fakeness because there's so much fake stuff coming at us from all sides, so branding is critical today. It's like when somebody goes to prison, they'll tell you if they don't join a gang, they're going to die, because you're a threat to everybody in prison until they know by which gang you reside. Then it all puts it into an order. That is a fish tank, so we can study that and poke at it. The same thing is in our society today. We don't know who we are and people are craving to know who you are. If you kind of know who somebody is, it's not enough like it was 10 years ago. You look for the gang that you reside with so people that care about families being close to their sick kids, they trust me more because I'm on the board of Ronald McDonald House and we do a lot of roof donations there. People that think everybody has a decent place to live, they trust me and my company more because we donate all the roofs for Habitat and we have in Orange County for the last 10 years. It's suddenly all about this currency of social good. It's literally like, I'm not telling you I think this is coming, I've been talking about this with some other people and I'm watching it happen. It literally is going to mean money in ways that our brains can't contextualize yet, much like you're trying to wrap your head around cryptocurrency. I see things very visually, so just imagine you're looking at your PC screen and you're seeing all these little eraser head LinkedIn-sized photos of each other, like we see on LinkedIn, darting like shooting stars across the scene. Oh, is that Fabian? Is that Charles? Who is that? We're all craving to be seen, and this is my visual interpretation of the currency of social good. If you are doing something good, giving back, best practices, are you giving back in your community? Now algorithms are being built to bring you to the front of the line. If you're giving back in your community, what happens is, you're not an eraser head shooting star whipping across the PC, you become the saucer, 8-inch saucer, that's floating up in its own trajectory, ever so slightly, that everyone can see. That is the new currency. I can't explain it better than that because it's not really invented yet, but we're moving in this super-adaptive world and if you want to survive and be adaptable, then dive in to cause. Dive in to mixing your branding with your cause, who you authentically are. It should be something that lines up well, that people think is good. There's some nonprofits that may not serve you to line up with, but even if they didn't serve you, you'd still be better off than not having the alignment. People need to know who you are. If you're in business just to make money in the next 10 years, good luck staying in business. It's all about who you are, who you align with and you better expect that you're going to be telling that story. It's all about telling the story, too. In every nonprofit board I'm on, when we go to the board meetings, it's always like, ha, how do we get our story heard? We all realize now that people remember the stories. That's what they remember. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely, absolutely. Those were some powerful words, and you described the idea of branding, how it is and, really, how it will be in the next half-decade or so. It's going to happen very, very quickly. C Antis: Yes, I'm obsessed. I don't mean to be a futurist, but I can't help but see where things are going. You're so right, and it's really healthy to spend a little bit of time and have a Disney-type plan. Disney, they have strategy for three completely different directions at any given time. They have it if things are great, if things turn bad and then if the world goes really crazy. They have three different strategies they build out every year instead of one. That's the new world. It's going to be a way more adaptive world. Instead of being afraid of it, just embrace it. Keep your people, then you'll be able to adapt to it. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely love that. Listeners who live in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, they should obviously reach out to Antis to get a new roof if they need one. Who better to handle your new roof than a futurist? They can find you at, but since the majority of our U.S. listeners are not in the region and more than half of our listeners are not even located in the U.S., how can they follow you to learn more about your insights into company culture and philanthropy and a lot of other things, as the CEO of your brand? C Antis: That's a great question. I find that what fulfills me is awakening others to that impact, their fulfillment thing, so I love speaking. I do a lot of talking, do a lot of podcasts, so I'll share Hitting The Mark, Fabian, on my LinkedIn. I only manage one account, I manage my own LinkedIn, but I love stuff like this. This is where I'm known and this is where I like to talk. I'll do keynotes across the country this year and I'll share those on social media. You can also follow us on our Facebook, antisroofing/facebook. I just don't personally do that. You can follow us on our Antis Roofing four or five social media channels that we have. On my LinkedIn, I'll post on stuff that I have going. F Geyrhalter: That's great and I would highly recommend everyone to do follow Antis Roofing as a company, actually, because it is amazing what a roofing company that is fairly local, it is a big region that you cover, but how a roofing company can leave that mark, it can create this community and culture. It is really amazing. Thank you, Charles. It was so great to have you on the show. C Antis: I am super-excited. I can't wait to hear it. F Geyrhalter: Awesome, and thanks to everyone for listening. Let me again invite you to become a supporter of this show. I just launched this program, so I'm overly excited about making it happen. Go to, hit the support button. A very special thanks go to Roxie Valez from Berlin, Germany and Freddie Teague from Branson, Missouri, who just joined on the Brandster level, which means they will get to hang out with me on next month's group call. Thank you both for being part of the tribe and for becoming sustaining members. The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won, and if you're intrigued to find out who is behind that moniker, head on over to the support side and you will be in for a little surprise. I will see you next time, when we once again will be Hitting The Mark.
It is not an easy task to stand out amongst the many mindfulness apps – from Headspace to Calm (which is valued at $1 billion) – while creating a brand that does so in an authentic manner. But Founder and CEO Stephen Sokoler and his team at Journey Meditation did just that, and mainly through the use of imagery (cleverly branded by use of color) featuring members of their tribe, from staff to teachers, shown in everyday life poses rather than sitting with their eyes closed, meditating. The Journey LIVE meditation app is an experiment in community creation, which is at the heart of branding. Stephen shares with us how he crafted a brand around human connection and why a brand's meaningful foundation is essential for any successful launch. Now, close your eyes, take a breath, and hit that play button. Once you are done, and you realize that you'd like to meditate to an actual class, hit the app store and search for Journey LIVE to get on the path of finding your inner zen. ____Full Transcript: F Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting the Mark, a show known for the charismatic and wise founders and investors that provide us with behind the scenes insights into their intriguing brand stories. From companies as diverse as Liquid Death, Beyond Meat, and Parlor Skis. Today I invite you to take a breather and let your mind wander, away from the Donald Trump and Boris Johnson world on the outside, to start looking within, because here's a thing you don't see mixed very often: meditation and branding. I'm thrilled to welcome the founder and CEO of Journey Meditation to Hitting the Mark. Stephen Sokoler runs a company on a mission: to help all people live happier, healthier, less stressed lives. Founded in 2015, Journey is building the world's largest, most supportive meditation community both online and off. The company recently released a first of its kind mediation app, Journey LIVE, which offers users daily live-streamed group meditations led by experienced and diverse teachers along with a supportive and engaged community base. TechCrunch coined it the Peloton of meditation. Journey also operates corporate programs with organizations ranging from Facebook, Disney, and Nike, to charter schools, hospitals, and non-profits. Prior to Journey, Stephen was the co-founder and CEO of Altrum Honors, which helped organizations celebrate and inspire their employees. Stephen built Altrum into the global industry leader, and sold the company in 2014. I, myself, started using Stephen's new app, recently, just in case you're wondering why I sound so very calm today. Stephen, thank you for being here and welcome to the show. S Sokoler: Thanks for having me. Thanks for having me. Really a pleasure. F Geyrhalter: So, on my way in this morning, on my commute, I listened to another podcast you have been featured on, just to prep for this show, as any good host would do, and next thing I know, it's that the host of the podcast I listened to actually asked you lead them into a full-on meditation. So, here I am, in L.A. traffic, being asked to close my eyes and let my mind wander off. It was pretty funny. But, I survived, because I'm a smart guy who knows when to follow orders and when to refrain from it. So, Stephen, tell us a little bit about ... no pun intended ... your journey from running meditation programs at companies like WeWork and Spotify, to launching the app, and why you wanted to enter this seemingly-competitive digital landscape, with apps like Headspace and Calm, at this point in time. S Sokoler: Okay. Well, I'm glad that you didn't take my advice and close your eyes. I think, maybe, I should issue a warning beforehand, so that people know you don't need to close your eyes while driving. F Geyrhalter: Well, it's definitely a good thing for both of us, and for my listeners, because otherwise this would not happen right now. S Sokoler: Absolutely. Absolutely. So, to your question, we've worked with a really wide variety of organizations. Big Fortune 500 companies, law firms, start-ups, non-profits, and what we saw was there was real magic when people came together. Came together to meditate, to connect, to learn, to listen, and so we said, "How can we scale this?" And first, that meant opening new cities. So, we moved from New York to L.A., San Francisco, Miami, et cetera. We're now in 20 cities all over the world. But then we said, "How can we use technology?" And when we looked at all of the existing apps, you mentioned a few, but really all of the existing meditation apps, they were all exactly the same in two key ways. The first is they're all single player, so you're doing them by yourself. And the second is you're listening to a recording from some time in the past. Could be a year ago, could be five years ago. But, it's something that took place in the past. S Sokoler: And for thousands of years, meditation's been practiced in communities. It's something that we've done together, with teachers, with fellow meditators, with community members, and for the last five years, it's something we in the west have done by ourselves on our phone. And so, we thought there was a really interesting opportunity to bring meditation to people in the way that it had historically been practiced, but to leverage technology. And so, that's why we set out to build Journey LIVE, the first live group meditation app. You can ask a question, you can connect with the teacher, you can meditate with your friend, or your family, someone across the country, across the world. Just a much different, a much stickier experience. F Geyrhalter: I think it's a fascinating concept, because in the beginning it sounds like why would we need another meditation app, but it is, actually ... That is a huge pivot, and just a little bit about my background with meditation. So, back when I was studying at ArtCenter College of Design here in Pasadena, strangely enough for the times, they actually had a meditation class, and it's also strange for a design college. And, it was the very first time I meditated altogether, and it was such an amazing experience, because I actually felt that levitating sensation. Like, I actually truly believe that my entire body was off the ground for a few minutes, and I have not once felt it ever since. So, I tried plenty of other classes, and then a plethora of apps, and I don't know what it was that day, but I never got back to that state again. And it was absolutely sensational. Definitely one of the more memorable moments of my life. So, I am big believer in the power of mediation, of yoga, and breathing, just simply breathing, to get us through times of stress and anxiety, and to make life simply better. I'm actually not sure how I could do another key note speech in front of a large audience without using the simple power of breathing, to prepare myself in the hours and minutes before I hit the stage for that unusual rush of adrenaline. Now, back to meditation itself, and the actual app, one of the issues I personally have with a lot of mindfulness apps is that meditation, to me, is very personal. I could be meditating to an app together with my wife, which we do occasionally, including last night. And afterwards, she may tell me that she absolutely loved it or she may have even happily dozed off, and I had the exact opposite experience because it is very much about human connection. Does that instructor's voice, does his or her tonality, does the speed, does the style, speak to me or not, right? So, with Journey, you're really honing in, as you mentioned, on that idea of individuality. So, you've got various teachers with various backgrounds at various times throughout the day. How important is individuality for the Journey brand, and a brand that also has quite the opposite, which is community, at its core? S Sokoler: Well, you touched on a lot of really, really interesting things there. So, I want to go back to the beginning when you started ... when you first started meditating in college. Happy to hear that you didn't levitate while you were meditating in the car. There's a book called Altered Traits, and obviously the name is a play on the idea of altered states. And I think that meditation is often associated with things like the experience you had, or you meditate and you feel really blissed out, and everything is calm. Or you feel connected to something. And while that can happen, that doesn't necessarily need to happen. You know, and I think a comparison that can resonate with some people is the idea of runner's high. You run, and oftentimes you're running and you're thinking about things, work, family, et cetera, but then sometimes you reach this point and your mind just goes blank and you just have this really beautiful zen-type experience, like being in the zone. And while, again, that can happen, that's actually not the point of meditation. The point of meditation is to experience the mind to learn how to better work with this really fascinating thing that drives us. That drives our lives. And so, when you mentioned the individual experience that you have and your wife has. While experiencing the same class, you touched on a number of things. The teacher's voice, their style… All of those external things are very, very important. But the other thing that I would add to that is the internal experience. I might sit down, and you might sit down to meditate, and I might be agitated. Or my mind might be restless, or I might be sleepy, and you might have some totally different experience. So, I think that's one thing that's really interesting about meditation is we often associate it, like society views it as this way to calm down. This way to chill. This zen-type experience. It may be that. But it may not be. It may be very awakening. It may put you to sleep. It may make you agitated. And what's beautiful about it is the practice is one where you start to embrace the fullness of life. The whole human experience, because while we, of course, want to be happy, and happiness is very, very important, that isn't always the case. And so, how do we work with our mind? How do we work with our emotions, our thoughts, our feelings when we are triggered? Or when we are angry? Or when we are sleepy? And so, meditation can really help with that. And so, coming to your actual question, the part about the individuality, when we think of Journey, we think of Journey as a supportive, inclusive community. Both online and off, actually. You know, the offline part being everything we've done over the last four years, and the online part being Journey LIVE, which we just launched. And the idea there is that people are there for you, both the teacher and your community of meditators, with whatever the experience is that you're having. And that's why the interacting is really important. You don't get that with a lot of the other apps, where you might meditate and have some experience and not know what it means, or want to share it, or be confused, or be sad, or angry, or happy. Really, a whole range of emotions. And so, having the community allows you to have your individual experience while being a part of a group that can support you and hold you when needed. And share in your victories as well. F Geyrhalter: A lot of what you said was really meaningful to me, and talking about the idea of this array of teachers, who I heard you say in the same podcast, I believe, that I didn't doze off to, which was good, that they're all unscripted by the company. So, you actually don't tell teachers on the app what to say, how to say it, et cetera. But, all of them, because of that, bring their own personality into play, which is great, right? Because I feel there is a real connection if you do connect, but there's also real danger in there. When I, for instance, download the app and I try it out, because that's what people do, right? They give it a try. And the first person I have to chance to meditate with since this is not on-demand and you usually only have one or two session that you have access to at any given point of time, which is very different from all the other apps, right? I, literally, go into Journey and I have the quick fix right now with one person, and it always varies, and then there might be a 9:00 a.m. class or 10:00 a.m. class, so basically I usually have two people that I can choose from. What if that one person does not resonate with me, and I say, "Oh, Journey LIVE? That app is not for me." S Sokoler: Yeah. That is definitely a risk. That is one of the things that live can cut both ways. You touched on two things there. One is the teacher not resonating with you. The other is the fact that it's unscripted. So, even if the teacher may resonate with you, perhaps today they're talking about something that doesn't resonate. F Geyrhalter: Correct. Yeah. S Sokoler: Right? Perhaps you came in and wanted to meditate on one thing, and they offered you something else. Now, I'll tell you a couple things. So, for one, we were really fortunate. We pay our meditation teachers very, very well. Especially by industry standards. The second thing is we work really hard to make it a community, a teacher community, so the teachers can connect, and feel supported. And so, we were able to recruit some of the best, most interesting, experienced, skilled mediation teachers in the world and have them as part of our founding teacher community. So, we have these people who have done this type of work for many, many years. All right. So, that's the first thing. So, we've been very selective in who can represent the Journey brand. The second thing is giving them a basic framework to be able to work with it. So, not a script, not a ... this day you're going to talk about stress, and this day you're going to talk about balance, but really a framework to say simple approachable, secular, non-esoteric ... Keep it in a way where people ... You're meeting people where they are. Meet them where they are, so don't start speaking in overly scientific language, or overly spiritual. Certainly not religious. So, there's this really basic framework so that, hopefully, 99.9% of the time, if you go on there, and you happen to go on at noon and sit with Miriam, or 10:00 p.m. and sit with Hector, you find a teacher that you say, "Wow. That was great. That was a great experience. I really enjoyed that." The other thing that we have is we have teacher bios. We're now adding videos, so that you could see the teacher beforehand, so that you get a little bit more information, so you're not just going into the class blindly, but you say, "Ah. I see John has a background where he worked with executives." Or, "I see Cesar was a veteran." Or, "I see Amanda studied at UCLA in this particular style." And you can engage with them beforehand. So, it's not quite as much just picking and going from there. F Geyrhalter: Right. Right. No, absolutely. And I actually spent some time on Journey's Instagram the other day, and I read the beautiful Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote, and I think it’s Cheryl, one of your teachers. She posted it. And it says, "All that is essentially is invisible to the eye." Which, again, made me realize that meditation at its core is as far removed from branding as anything ever could. So, it must be difficult to, quote unquote, brand a business like yours. And one thing I noticed, and you just hinted at that when you talked about individualities of the teachers, of the bios, but I noticed an absolutely love ... and must give you tons of credit for this, you are actually only showing real people that are from your tribe, so may that be your instructors, teach members like yourself, or participants on your website, and in a manner that is just as authentic as it is professional, so you really pulled this off. And, in a way, I would it's actually branded. The way that you use the colors, and the way that you make this very much about the personalities within the app, which is such a huge differentiator to all the other brands out there. How did you go about the visual, but also the verbal, brand building for this meditation venture? S Sokoler: Yeah. That's a great question. I think all credit really goes to our head of marketing, Jen, who's just been such a dynamo when it comes to bringing the brand to life. We worked for four years prior ... or three and half years prior to Jen starting, and the mission was always really clear, right? Help people live happier, healthier, less-stressed lives. Build the supportive, inclusive community where people can connect. People can grow. But how do you show that, right? That's a real interesting branding challenging. I'm sure you can appreciate that. If you show people sitting with their eyes closed meditating, that's the same thing that everyone else is doing. And it's boring. And the truth is, that's not what we're about. We're not about sitting there and calming down, we're about waking you up to what life can be. It's about how do you savor the ordinary and extraordinary moments. How do you live a life filled with emotion, where you're walking down the street and you notice things, and you're talking to someone, and you're really listening, and you're really present. We've all had those experiences where we're sitting and eating food, and we take one bit, and it tastes so good, and then the next thing you know you look down, all the food is gone. You don't even remember eating it, because your mind was somewhere else and you just went through the motions. F Geyrhalter: Yeah. S Sokoler: How do we capture more of every day life, and so branding that becomes a challenge to say, "How do you show the vividness and beauty of every day life, and have people understand it's mediation?" Right? If you just show people, two people eating ice cream, that's great. But is it a Van Leeuwen ad, is it a Häagen-Dazs ad, or is it a Journey Mediation ad? You know? Who knows? So, I think our head of marketing really deserves all the credit of walking this really fine line of showing the vividness and excitement of life, but also tying it back to Journey, to meditation and to the idea of community. F Geyrhalter: I absolutely agree, and hat's off for that move, because once it is done, then you look at your website, and you just kind of take it in, it appears to be so easy. But it's not. It's not, to actually go deep into brand and to actually understand what the brand is about, which you so perfect explained right now, and then to visually walk that fine line. And just because we already talked about individuality. For a little now, we talked about community, I will ask you a brand question that my regular listeners I won't let any guest get away without answering, so if you did any prep at all, you might know that this is coming up, because I always do this. If you can sum up all the parts and pieces of the Journey brand in one single word, or a two word phrase, what would it be? And I'm so thrilled to hear your answer for that, because I ... especially with your app, it is all about ... Well, you tell us. S Sokoler: Yeah. I would say it's human connection. I think that's what the brand is about. I think that's the essence and the core of this, and it's connecting with others, but it's also connecting to yourself, right? People, again, often think of meditation as this thing to calm down, and it can help with that. But, my favorite definition of meditation ... And now that you mentioned you listened to the other podcast, now I have to think back what did I say there? I want to make sure I say something new and interesting here, but ... F Geyrhalter: It's okay. I hope there are more listeners than myself today. S Sokoler: Well, I don't think I said this, but my favorite definition of meditation is the Tibetan word gom, G-O-M, which means to become familiar, right? And it's a practice where you become more familiar with yourself, more familiar with your thoughts, and you habits, and your patters. And so, when you think about Journey and the brand, the one word, or I'll take your generous of having two words, it's human connection. It's connecting to yourself, and connecting to others. F Geyrhalter: That's wonderful. And I think your marketing did a great job of actually using that as that brand DNA that she then so successfully, with the team, kind of ran through the entire journey of the Journey brand. So, that's what mediation means to you. What does branding mean to you? Maybe outside of Journey, I know you've been a successful entrepreneur for a while. This is not your first rodeo. What does branding mean to you? S Sokoler: Yeah, I think, to me, branding is all about how we make a person feel, how we show up to serve our mission, how we live out our values through every touch point with both the customer and the internal team. I think when it comes to brand, it's very easy to look at things externally, you know the advertising, but I think it's also important to look at the internal stuff. How are you running your organization? Is the brand seen and felt, deeply felt, internally? So, for us, that's how I think of it. How we make someone feel, how we're serving the mission, and how we're really living out the values that are so important to us through every touch point. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. I like that a lot. It works, really, for any company actually, and it should work that way for a lot more bigger brands. Talking about your clients, your customer, but also talking about data, because I know that at the heart, data is important to you. I know that there ... when you work with companies directly, like we work Nike and such, you actually have data comparisons where you talk about this is how people felt before this started, doing our mindfulness exercises, our meditations, and this is how your employees actually feel later on. Did you ever go against your early customer data, with that app, which I know you've got about 3000 people ... just these beta users, before you even officially launched. Did you ever go against the data and did a gutsy move solely based on instinct? So, for instance, your offering for your classes. Most are not on-demand. The app comes at a higher price point than most competitors. I feel it is a genius move, as it actually creates scarcity, and accountability. And accountability, I think, is really important. I would go back to your app because I know that I have to be there at six o'clock, or at eight o'clock, today, right? Because that's how my mind works. If it's always there, I just forget about it, because I can do it any time. But, I know because you're big into data, I wonder how much of some of these decisions was data and research driven, and how much came from just an educated gut instinct from you or your team, or maybe you have another example where you went by instinct, then created an important aspect of your brand that users now can't live without, even though they didn't know they wanted it in the first pace. S Sokoler: That's a great question, and I think the answer is Journey LIVE. That was a big instinctual move for us, so I had, and I'll say we had, this gut feeling that this made sense. But we had no data to support it. So, every other app was, and still is, a bunch of recordings and they're all audio, and they're recordings from two years ago, five years ago, et cetera. And now we're coming in and saying, we're going to do video. We're going to have a really diverse group of teachers, so instead of Headspace, which has one teacher, Calm, which has one teacher. They have some other stuff, actually, but there's one main teacher, who's wonderful. F Geyrhalter: Right. S Sokoler: We're going to have a community of teachers, and since we're committed to representation, over 50% of our teacher will be teachers of color. We want our teachers to serve, to look like the community we're serving. So, when it came to the actual idea, we said, okay, we're going to do video, right? That's different. Nobody's doing video. We're going to do live. Nobody's doing live. We're going to do group. We're going to have people be able to interact with the teacher. We're now adding on the ability for students to interact with each other in class. So, currently, students can interact with each other before class, and they can interact through the teacher during the class. Now we're adding ... F Geyrhalter: How can they do that? How can they do that? Sorry to interrupt, but that's an intriguing part of your app. How do student actually interact with teachers? S Sokoler: So, before the class starts, there's a waiting room. So, think of it similar to how you go to any class, whether a yoga class, a meditation class, a fitness class. So, before you go in, there's an initial prompt. So it says ... Well, actually, the first thing it says, it says you've entered the room. So it'll say, "John has entered the room." Or "Rebecca has entered the room." And other people see that and can wave and greet you, give you a little hand emoji to say, "Hi, I see you." Then there's a prompt, what's one thing you're grateful for today? So you might say, "The rain here in L.A." Or I might say, "Sunshine here in New York," or you might say your friend, your family, your baby, et cetera. Coffee is a nice popular one in the morning. And other people can acknowledge that. They can send you a little heart emoji. And then after that, people can chat. So people can say ... One person said, and this is on the heavier side, but somebody said, "I'm really grateful for this community, because I just lost my mother." That's obviously not the day to day experience, but people can then say, "I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm here for you." Or somebody could say, "I just got a promotion at work," and somebody else will piggyback on that and say, X, or Y, or Z. So, giving people the ability to communicate before class. And then, once class starts, people do not have the ability to message each other, but they have the ability to message the teacher. So, that's the part that we are changing. So, as of now, people can message the teacher to ask a question, or to make a comment, and the teacher, of course, sees who's in the class and can recognize them. Michael, three days in a row. Thanks for showing up. Keep up the great work. Jonathan, I know this is your first time. It's so nice to have you here. Things like that. And you could also speak to the comments, but now we're allowing students to see each other's comments. So, adding another layer where people can be social and connect. Yeah, so that's currently how students are able to connect, and then of course, off the platform we have the private Facebook community. The teachers also give out their email address, so that students can ask a question one-on-one, which you'd actually be surprised. People ask quite a few questions. But we said, "How can we make it a whole universe, a whole community, where people can interact with both students and teachers in whatever way speaks to them at that time?" F Geyrhalter: Huge brand differentiator, and I also believe that since a lot of that came after my question about how much of that was gut instinct, I think a lot of that seemed to have come from gut instinct, and now you're utilizing data to actually, most probably, make it better. But, it seems like a lot of it was just based on you feeling like this is something that the world needs again. Community in meditation. S Sokoler: Yeah. I think that it was a big bet by some of our early investors to say, "Hey, we believe in this. This makes sense to us. I could see how this is a better way of doing things." Because it wasn't necessarily obvious to all. My hope is that we're able to build Journey to the place where people look back and say, "Ah. It's so obvious. Of course that would work." The same way people look at Peloton now and they're like, "Makes perfect sense." But when John Foley, the CEO, was out raising money, nobody was interested. They said, "Oh, you can't compete with Soul Cycle for this reason. Nobody's going to buy an expensive bike. Nobody's going to do this," and he and his really capable team proved them wrong, and now it looks so obvious. F Geyrhalter: Right. S Sokoler: And I'm hoping that we can do the same. That people will look back and say, "Why would I listen to a recording from five years ago by myself when I can join a class and actually interact with people?" The same way people look at group fitness now. Instead of going to the gym and exercising by myself, I can do something with other people, with friends, with a live teacher. They see me. They can acknowledge me. Much more engaging. Much stickier. Just a better experience. F Geyrhalter: Right. And that idea that you can ask the teacher a question, I think that's really, really huge, because, like you said, someone just lost a loved one, and they feel the need ... they need someone to get through it, and maybe just a couple of words from not only the community, but also the teacher. A one-on-one, where you can just quickly chime in, I think that's really, really powerful. And, I am ... S Sokoler: And it doesn't have to be that heavy. F Geyrhalter: Of course. S Sokoler: It could be when's the best time that they can meditate, and I might say, "For me, I do it in the morning. It's really beautiful." And somebody else might say the evening. F Geyrhalter: Exactly. S Sokoler: Or somebody might just have a question, "Why aren't I levitating anymore? How do I get my levitation skills back?" People could ask really light questions just because meditation's one of those things that can be confusing. It's a thing that can be tricky. F Geyrhalter: And I will ask that question, because I need my levitation back. S Sokoler: Yeah. F Geyrhalter: So, I'm sure raising funds for this type of startup must have felt a little bit like a lot of female founders talk about how they have a really hard time trying to get investment for products that have more of a female audience, that cater to female needs. So, not only is it the entire problem of a female founder and all the cache that comes with that, right? But it's also catering to a very different target audience. I'm sure if you walk into an investor room and you say, "Look, we're talking about meditation. We're talking about an app. This is ... this needs to be about community," that 99% of those investors, it just goes right over their head, because they have not experienced that. Is that assumption correct? S Sokoler: Well, I think the assumption is correct that investors don't always relate to meditation, and they often think someone who's started a meditation company just wants to relax all day, and wear tie dye shirts, and all the other things that ... the stereotypes that go along with somebody who's meditating. They're so laid-back, they're not driven, et cetera. Now, fortunately for us, there are several meditation apps that have achieve tremendous success. Calm has just valued at a billion dollars. I mean, that's incredible. F Geyrhalter: Unbelievable. Yeah. S Sokoler: Headspace has had great ... It's unbelievable. Headspace has had great success, so when investors see that, they say, "Ah. Businesses can be built here." Now, I will go back to the original statement, or part of the question. I feel like female founders have ... The environment with which they're attempting to raise money is really challenging, and I think as a male founder, I have tremendous privilege, regardless of what type of product I'm actually pitching. So, I don't know if the comparison actually works. I have a lot of empathy for my colleagues and peers who are female founders, just because the environment is ... can be challenging to raise money from largely male investors. That being said, it's beautiful that the community is taking notice, and by this I mean the investor community, is starting to take notice, and take active steps to change that. But, I do think that even for me as a male with a meditation company, I still have significant unfair advantage over a female founder when having those meetings. Unfortunately, actually. F Geyrhalter: I absolutely agree. Absolutely agree, and fingers-crossed, it is changing right now. It seems like this is the time, it is the place, where all of this is shifting. I, for instance, have a really hard time getting female ... successful female founders on this show, which to me, make me believe that not only, sadly, it's a scarcity, but mainly they're just so darned busy, because everyone wants them, right? So I think things are changing, and it's for ... S Sokoler: I have a few great ones for you. So, after this I'll send over a couple names [crosstalk 00:33:29] F Geyrhalter: Oh, please do so. Please do so. Yeah, I started looking at my podcast with very critical eyes. It's like, "Oh, here's a white male founder. Oh, here's another white male founder." And, that's not the world out there. So, I want to make sure that I'm walking that walk, too. F Geyrhalter: We started going into a lot of different directions. One last big question for you that is always important for me to share with my audience. Your app has launched fairly recently. It's already very successful, but for Journey maybe as a brand, not necessarily Journey LIVE the app, but Journey, what was that one big breakthrough moment, or Journey LIVE, right? It depends on you. What was that one big breakthrough moment that propelled that startup into a brand? This may be anything from PR to getting first social proof to major investment coming in, scoring a particular teacher. What was that time when you just turned around to your girlfriend, you said ... or to whoever, and said, "You know what? This is it. It just happened."? S Sokoler: Well, I'll tell you the moment that it felt real to me. Which was when we did the photo shoot to launch the brand, the one that you mentioned. Those photos on the website. That was a time, to me, that I said, "Wow. Something is really happening here." And I think it was because I had, to be honest, I had some fear or trepidation, that I wasn't even really aware of, around going out to recruit the best teachers in the meditation space. I think I said to myself, "They're really busy. They have other things going on." But what started to happen is I started to talk to different teachers. I spoke to my longtime friend, the amazing meditation teacher Jackie Stewart, and I shared this and she said, "Wow, this is so exciting." Or I spoke to Cheryl Brause, who you mentioned before, and she said, "Wow, this is unbelievable. This is such an interesting idea." And I was having these conversations, I started to realize maybe we're on to something. There might be something here. And you mentioned my girlfriend. I have told my girlfriend this story. The time that it really happened, because this is actually right when we first started dating, was when we came together for this big photo shoot. So, we had our head of marketing there, of course, we had to photographers, lighting people, makeup, et cetera, but we had all of these amazing teachers, super diverse, from different backgrounds, different lineages, different walks of life. We had my partner in the business, David Nichtern, who's been teaching for, I want to say, 40 years but maybe he's ... maybe it's more, maybe it's less. But, around that time. I mean, almost as long as I've been alive. And everyone came together and it felt like the brand was really alive, and you could see the excitement in people's eyes. So, that was not the time that propelled us to startup success. Not that I'd say we have startup success. Not that that's how I would ... I think of it anyway. But, that was really a breakthrough moment for me, in seeing the brand really alive in such a beautiful and powerful way. F Geyrhalter: Literally coming to life, right? I mean, that's ... Yeah. S Sokoler: Yeah, literally. F Geyrhalter: That's fantastic. S Sokoler: And to take it one step further, it seemed to me like this is how meditation will be practiced in the 21st century. There's all these great studios, you could go to Mindful, which is a great studio here in New York, or you could go to Unplugged in L.A. It's nice for me to give shout outs to all these communities that have helped me, personally, so much. And could sit with people. And that's great, and there's a time and place for that. But, perhaps you don't have time. Or, perhaps you live in the middle of the country, or any other reason. Perhaps you don't have the economic means to be able to go and afford it. Having something like Journey LIVE, where you could sit every day with a great teacher and be able to connect, I think that's really, really powerful, and could be quite exciting for what this society and ... needs right now, in terms of coming together. F Geyrhalter: Indeed. Indeed. One last piece of brand advice. So, not self-care advice, which is what you usually get asked to do. But, brand advice for founders that are building their own companies right now that are listening. Anything that comes to mind where you say, "This is something that I learned, and I would love for people to take that to heart."? S Sokoler: To quote my friend, Simon Sinek, it starts with why. Getting really clear, upfront, about what it is that you are looking to do in this world? What is the mission? What is the vision? What are your values? What resonates with you, deeply? Making money is fine. That's important. A business has to survive. It has to thrive. It needs to make money, but what is it that at the end of the day is going to say, "This is what makes us unique. This is what's going to get somebody to come in and dedicate their time and their energy and their life to this mission, and this project." And to get investors to say, "Yes, I'm willing to put our dollar, or investor's money, to you." So, for me, it's all about how to find that mission vision and values upfront and then continuing to lift that. Continuing to make sure that that staying relevant and really keeping that top of mind. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. That is exactly what it is really all about, because if you don't have that answer to that why, you can scratch everything else. As we build brands here with my consultancy, if I don't derive that why from my client in a really, really meaningful and deep enough manner, then everything else thereafter will just be so what type of branding. Like, it will be a so what type of product offering from a so what type of company. So, I totally, totally agree with you. Listeners who need to breathe deeper more often, and with an expert by their side, where can they learn more about Journey LIVE? S Sokoler: They can go to the website, which is, or they can go to the Apple App Store and download it. It's Journey LIVE. Everyone gets a free seven-day trial, so they could check it out. They can meditate live, they can listen to the recordings, they can connect with the community. So, go to the website, or go to the app store. or Journey LIVE in the app store, and yeah. We'd love to connect with you, and if you've heard ... If you're listening now and you come through, let us know. Let us know in the class. We'd love to hear it. So, it would be great to connect with all of you. F Geyrhalter: Excellent. Stephen, thank you so much for having been on Hitting the Mark. It actually did exactly that, and I'm exciting to catch a few classes in the upcoming days, and hopefully make it into a healthy habit for myself. S Sokoler: Thank you. I really enjoyed this. This was a pleasure. Thank you so much. F Geyrhalter: And thank you all for listening. Please give the show a rating, wherever you listen to it. It really helps this still young podcast to be discovered by other founders, creatives, and investors. While talking about online classes, and while talking about the big why, moving away from meditation for a few seconds, I'm actually thrilled to finally announce the brand strategy E-course I just launched. I distilled my full-day workshop, which I host one-on-one with my clients around the world that cost, usually, eight grand, into an online course at a fraction of the cost. So, if you need to define your company, your culture, and your story while drawing your audience into your offering, head on over to That is A-I-D, as in aiding to resonate. I hope to see you there and to guide you to a strong and meaningful brand foundation. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time, when we, once again, will be hitting the mark.
When I heard about a water brand called Liquid Death that comes in tallboys, reminiscent of beer cans, that behaves like a death metal band, that boosts insane (and insanely great) copy and imagery, and on top of it is 100% mountain water from the Austrian alps, I had to reach out to Co-Founder and CEO Mike Cessario to make some sense of it all, to the extent that is possible. By now I assume you have visited the Liquid Death web site and you got a taste of what you are in for. This is a story about a Creative who comes from the advertising and branding world, who spent his career creating brand stories for greats like Netflix and Gary Vee, and found that it was time to create his own story, his own brand. And it had to be authentic, good for the planet and crazy as hell. If you want your head blown (I do have to use some Liquid Death lingo here) and hear about how his idea was crafted, why people go crazy over it and how his waters help kill plastic bottles along the way, all while poking major fun at marketing, and, yes, branding, as a whole, give this episode a listen. If you like what you hear you can grab some Liquid Death waters on Amazon or you can jump back onto the Liquid Death web site and join their Country Club, but you will have to sell them your soul first. True story. ____Full Transcript: Fabian Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting The Mark. In our last episode, I talked with creative extraordinaire Michael Lastoria, who after selling his New York based agency to beauty powerhouse Shiseido in 2017, is now co founder of the counterculture pizza chain &pizza. A pizza joint that was named one of the world's 50 most innovative companies the second time in a row by Fast Company. Today we continue that mini series of advertising creatives turned into entrepreneurs using their background to flip the commodity type offerings into sought after cult brands. My guest today is Mike Cessario who founded Liquid Death, the first irreverent bottled water brand that can compete with the cool factor of unhealthy brands from beer to energy drinks. Inspired by the death metal and punk rock culture, Liquid Death takes an extreme approach to marketing in stark contrast to aspirational health and wellness brands. Prior to starting Liquid Death, Mike was an advertising creative director who worked on viral campaigns for clients like Organic Valley and Netflix. Some of his viral hits include Organic Valley's Save the Bros, which if you have not seen it, please head over to youtube right after this podcast and check it out for a good laugh. And he also did teasers for House of Cards, Narcos and the show you have all been binge watching over the past weeks, Stranger Things. Welcome to Hitting The Mark, Mike. M Cessario: Hey, how's it going? F Geyrhalter: Yeah, thanks for making it. So we chatted a little bit before. We're both graduates of Art Center College of Design. I know people in pretty much all of the agencies you worked at. We're both based in LA, yet I learned about you and your water company via the Los Angeles Business Journal, which is a strange way to connect. But when I read about Liquid Death, I knew it would make for a killer episode. See, it's so horribly easy to pull puns over puns with a death-themed brand, mainly because you'd think that those brands are all destined to die before birth. But tell us how you turned into kind of the arrogant bastard brand of water. It's a strange path to take. When did the idea come about? M Cessario: So it's interesting that you bring up arrogant bastard. I think one thing that I've always noticed is craft beer kind of gets to break almost all the rules of branding. And at the same time, it's one of the categories that people are insanely passionate about. Like people who like their craft beers, love their craft beers. You can find craft beers called Skull Crusher IPA or Arrogant Bastard Ale, because they know that there's a huge market for their audience that's at least 21 years old. So they don't have to really like pun-intended, water things down just to kind of please everyone. So there's always just this cool factor with craft beer that I felt was just kind of unmatched with everything else. And then that was sort of the inspiration for kind of the brand and packaging of Liquid Death. I grew up playing in punk rock and heavy metal bands outside of Philadelphia. And that scene is actually where I really got into health, believe it or not. And I think that's a thing that most of mainstream culture has not really seen or realized that in that world of heavy metal and punk rock and all that stuff, there's a lot of people who care a lot about health. We like to say there are probably more vegans at a heavily heavy metal show than a Taylor Swift show. Inside the world of metal and hardcore, there was this little subset called straight edge where they were very vocal about no drinking, no drugs. That's not exactly the market that we built this for. But it's just one example of how a lot of this culture does care about health and has so for 30 years. But you kind of look at the fact that the world is all moving towards healthier. Every new brand is all about health. All the unhealthy stuff soda has been in basically I think like a 13-year decline in sales. Beer has been in a decline of sales. There's all this data showing that GenZ and millennials no longer think it's cool to be drunk. They actually consider it pathetic and embarrassing. So all this stuff is kind of moving towards drinking less alcohol, being healthier, willing to spend a little more for healthier options, people being a little bit more aware of sustainability. It's getting broader and broader. But if you look at the health food industry, they only market their products in one tone of voice. They're kind of just going for what I think is like the cliche health food customer, and I think they're making big generalizations around what healthy people are into. Like, "Oh, you know, it's about yoga and it's about aspirational. So we're going to just show really good looking fitness models in our ads because that's why people are going to want to drink our product and be healthy because they want to look like this impossible person." And we just think that's kind of bullshit. And in reality, you look at what people are really into. Most people wouldn't know that the Walking Dead is, I think the number two or number three most popular show for women, a show about flesh-eating zombies. But you would never hear a healthy brand say, "Oh, our target is women. Let's do a whole campaign about zombies." It would never happen, even though there's proof that this is something that entertains this group of people and that they're into. So I think that's kind of what we're doing is sort of never taking ourselves too seriously. I think that's the biggest filter for our brand. If anything we do, I think we want people to realize like, "Oh okay, these guys don't actually think water is super tough." We're kind of making fun of 40 years of bad marketing. You know, it's like, and it still hasn't changed. It's like these big brands are still thinking about branding and marketing not much differently than they were thinking about it in the 1960s. And I kind of feel like the bar for branding and marketing is so low for how entertaining it has to be, how authentic it has to be, that people can do all this bad stuff and it seems like, "Oh, this is actually pretty good compared to this other really shitty thing that's out there." But if you really held it to the standard of entertainment, I know you have a book on how to make a brand. For us, I look at it like trying to make a book about how to make a great brand is almost like trying to make a book about how to make a hit TV show. It's like there's so much that goes into it that you almost can't reduce it to a formula, even though there's a lot of people to try. And because a lot of times the people, maybe they're not coming from the marketing background, you've got to figure out all these other things to run and operate the business. You don't have time to spend weeks and hours and days trying to get the nuance of brand and what's going to resonate with people. So I think that's ultimately at the core of our brand is we want to blur the lines between a brand and an entertainment company, and we want to hold everything we do up to the same standards as what you would hold a television show to or a movie. Because at the end of the day when you're putting stuff in people's social media feeds, you're not just competing against other water brands or other ads, you're competing against YouTube influencers that are making explosive, amazing engaging videos. You're competing against movie trailers. I think the bar is much higher to actually make people care about what you're doing than most brands can imagine really. F Geyrhalter: Totally. There was so much in what you just said and I'm kind of trying to rewind on some of those thoughts. One of the things that you said about not taking yourself too seriously, that is just this repeating threat that I see going on with all of, or a lot of my podcast guests where it's basically like I have a podcast about branding, but everyone talks about being the anti brand. And I think that's what's so interesting in today's age is that no, there is no formula. And even in my book I only basically talk about that your background story is bigger than your product, and that it's all about belief and cost and transparency and solidarity. And that is all exactly the formula that you took, just that you know it intrinsically because you came from the world of marketing and branding and advertising. But you do it in such an authentic way, and authenticity is such an overused word, especially by all the wrong marketers. But I mean that idea of not giving a shit and just being yourself and doing your thing and being out there to give value and entertainment to your tribe, I mean that's really what makes a brand. You mentioned the problem with all of these health and wellness, especially retail brands are looking at talking the same talk. A couple of episodes ago I had one of the early and main investors of Beyond Meat on this podcast. And they realized the same thing, that it's like, "No, our Veggie Burger should not be in the Veggie Vegan stamped compartment. This is a burger that real guys can flip on their grill." This is not about you having to be stamped into a certain kind of micro niche. But let's talk about that micro niche a little bit because I think it was fascinating when I read about Liquid Death. First, I was like appalled because it's totally not my lifestyle. And I'm like, "Oh my God, there're heads flying around and there's blood. And why is this water from Austria? That's where I'm from, this is totally not cool. I need to get this guy on." And then the more I read about it and the more I heard you talk about this street edge punk rock lifestyle, which I was totally not aware of, I'm a huge music buff, but I had no idea and it's actually a lifestyle that you already talked about a little bit. And people like band members of Metallica, Fugate, of Bad Religion and even J Mascis of Dinosaur Junior who I'm a big fan of, they're all part of this kind of like sub, sub, sub group. And I believe so much in that idea that if you go with a group that you understand really, really well, which you do, because it's the lifestyle that you come from, it sounds like. And you dive into that, that you can create a product that authentically will resonate with your audience. But how did the audience change over the past year or two years? Because you've been around for like a year or two years as a brand. And how do you ensure that that brand stays weird and out there and connecting with that particular lifestyle without feeling fake despite its success? M Cessario: That's a good question. I think that's a thing that most marketers or brands get wrong. Because I think as you know, like on the creative side, we think more emotionally and culturally. Whereas on the business side people then tend to think much more rationally and logically. What isn't necessarily a rational thing is if you can market and be very authentic to a very, very small audience, that does not mean that only that small audience is going to care. With Liquid Death, pretty much the filter that I've put every decision of the brand through is, "Would slayer think this is cool?" And even though that seems like a very, very narrow appeal, we have this huge halo effect of that. And we have a woman from the UK who is like, "I hate metal but I love this thing." That made me start thinking, okay, how do I quantify that? What is it? Why is it that I'm making like severed heads and blood flying, it's called Liquid Death, I'm being very authentic to heavy metal, but why are old ladies and people who have no care about metal in this world really resonating with it? And I think what I've come up with is, like you said, the word authenticity is kind of overused and people don't really know what it means or how to employ it effectively. But I think everyone knows that people are moving away from big food and big drink, and in favor of small and local and craft. That's just like a big thing, the shift that's been happening over the last decade and you're starting to see all the big brands kind of trying to appropriate this small hand-crafted look that people are willing to pay for and are more attracted to than they're like big mass produced kind of brands. So when McDonald's is now making things called artisan sandwiches that look like farmer's market kind of design, you kind of know that that old way of seeming small, from a look and feel standpoint, isn't really effective anymore. You can go to a grocery store now and find a bag of beef jerky that you don't know. Like, "Is this from a farmer's market or is this some massive corporate brand?" You don't really know anymore because the lines have been so blurred from that look and feel point of view. So my belief is that in 2019 when you have two to three seconds of someone looking at your product to make an opinion on it, the only way you can instantly communicate to someone, this is small, this is not big and corporate, is by doing and saying things that big brands would never do. You can't really just do it anymore from like, "Oh, I'm going to make it look like it's from a farmer's market and people are going to see it and say, 'Oh, that's small.'" No, because that's everywhere now. So now the bar has got even higher for how do you instantly signify that this isn't a massive, massive brand? I think that's really what people are connecting with. When people see a can of water that looks like beer, that's called Liquid Death with a skull on it, instantly they're like, "This is not coke, this is not Pepsi. There's real human beings behind this brand that maybe I'd want to have a beer with." So I think that's been, in terms of like an audience, how it's spread. It's like I just keep it very, very true to that small core and the halo just kind of keeps growing well beyond that because they respond to the authenticity and the uniqueness of this. It's something they've never really seen before in this kind of consumer packaged goods space. F Geyrhalter: And to play devil's advocate, it is extremely difficult, especially with the coolest looking microbrews to know that they are not part of the big conglomerates. Because they are changing hands day in, day out. It seems like it's a little silicon valley where it's constantly... the things are just being bought and being sold and being bid on. And I don't know if the cool craft beer with the skull on, if it's actually owned by one of the three big ones. And quite frankly, I will not know in two years from now if you actually sit in an island and you sold your soul to Coca-Cola and Liquid Thirst is now on the Coke. Because if there's money in the game, then they're going to put their skin in the game. It doesn't even matter what's on the bottle and what's on the can. So I think that is actually really important to defend the territory and to make sure people understand that. Because I as a consumer, I don't even know that anymore. That idea that just because there's a skull on it, it can't be owned by one of the big guys, I think it's changing. Because in the end money is what it's all about. M Cessario: Well I think that's why it's even beyond the skull. The fact that a brand is called Liquid Death, when someone tries to think about... Okay, maybe I can imagine a skull making its way through a corporate board room into a real product, but nobody believes that Liquid Death has made its way through a corporate board room into a real product. Now you're right, if it gets to a certain point where Liquid Death just becomes huge thing, of course all the big guys are going to be looking to cash in or make it a part of it. But I think one thing I've realized with Liquid Death since the beginning is we're always up against the fact that people think this isn't going to be the real deal. Right? So when I first came up with the idea, all right, I want to make a water brand that looks like beer because I want the healthiest thing you could possibly drink, which is water and most people don't drink enough of it. It's become this like utilitarian thing where it's like, "Okay, I drink water if I'm at the gym. Maybe I drink it in my cubicle sometimes." But it would never be common for someone to be like, "Oh, what do you drink when you go to the bar?" "Oh I drink bottled water." No it doesn't happen. Or, "What do you drink at a party?" "Oh I drink bottled water." It's become a utilitarian thing and it hasn't from a brand and occasion standpoint been accepted in this wide range of other usage occasions like soda is, or like beer is, or like alcohol is. So I think what we're really hoping to do is to change when people drink this thing, and like we know in bars, most people you're in bars to kind of meet people or interact with people. So there's data showing that the reason people walk around with a Guinness versus a Pabst Blue Ribbon versus some other kind of beer, they're trying to signal something about themselves in a social environment. They want something that's a conversation starter, they want to talk to people. And Liquid Death has been doing really well in bars and things like that because it's a complete conversation piece. People see this. Like, "What is that? Wait, that's water? What do you mean that's water?" It just kind of creates a conversation and people are attracted to that. But I think the Coca-Cola's of the world, it's going to take a lot for them to ever take that risk because they're just not built to understand or build really emerging brands. They are built to sustain brands that are already doing like half a billion dollars a year or a billion dollars a year. They can't make a decision without this old process of focus groups and testing. So when you start running Liquid Death through that old system of a focus group, it's never going to make it through. You ask people, "Oh, what do you think of this Liquid Death?" They'll be like, "Oh, this is stupid. Oh, this is dumb." And then it's not going to make it through because it's not actually allowing the market to really test it. So I think we would have a long road ahead of us in terms of massive, massive success before Coca Cola would probably ever take the leap. And at that point it's one of those things where we'd have to make the tough decision of do you have someone like this that helps basically spread it to more people? But with a brand like Liquid Death, it's pretty much all brand. So if they didn't truly get what made the brand special and didn't give creative control or power to kind of keep the brand what it is and they try to like "water it down", that could be the end of the brand like that. And it's happened before. It happened to Snapple. Do you remember the old Snapple ads? The original ones with the lady from Long Island? Yeah, it was shot with not great cameras, but it felt really authentic, like it was a real Long Island type person. And it became the fastest growing beverage brand ever, got bought by think Quaker for like three or four billion dollars. And then soon as it went to Quaker, they put that kind of great little brand through the corporate kind of system and they said, "Okay, this woman, she's not aspirational enough. Now that we're going to be a big brand, we need to get someone a little more aspirational because your small things aren't going to work anymore on the big scale. And you know what? We've got to shoot it with better cameras because your stuff, it just doesn't feel very professional. And they changed it all. They lost over $1 billion or $2 billion in market share in less than two years. So it's like that stuff happens and you just have to, you have to be aware of what you're getting into. F Geyrhalter: Yeah, no, totally. And I think what will most probably happen, and that's going to be a really great thing for you to see is when suddenly at a bar, there's another water in a beer can, right? That's what's going to happen. It's going to be that Coca-Cola's moving in and saying, "Well that makes sense. Kids want to drink beer in bars. And so now there's this guy doing these waters, so let's just do the same thing and have a cool brand for kids." And they have huge distribution, they've got huge power, but like you said, building that authentic brand that's near impossible for them. And I see them fail over and over and over again. And that's why what you're doing is so extremely genius because you realize that you can actually come in really, really strong and be unreasonably bold and altogether unreasonable, because you can, you have to, right? And a question for me is, how did you know that your audience... So here's the punk rockers going to the show and they're going to see that tallboy can of water. How did he know that they would not call BS on heavy metal-looking beer cans that sell us $2 water? I mean, since this easily could have gone two ways, right? And in your own words, you call marketing and branding BS on your site. How was that fine line of humor, sarcasm, and then yet the deep connection created? I mean, you must've been at least a little bit nervous at some point. M Cessario: To be honest, I never really was nervous about it because I think at the heart of... At least my understanding and the reason that I gravitated towards punk rock and metal and that world was the ability to kind of, for lack of a better word, fuck with people and kind of infiltrate something where it's not supposed to be. Punk rock wasn't punk rock really when the only people who sold it were 20 people in a room. It was like when Iggy Pop got on a mass stage and you're seeing this psycho losing his mind on stage and doing things that nobody's ever seen before and was selling it to the suburbs. Then there's this big outrage of like, "What is this music? This is the devil's music. This is bad." And that kind of tension of disrupting kind of like longstanding norms that tend to be very restricted. I think that is at the heart of what I think punk rock and counter culture really is. And I think I knew that Liquid Death, making it into an actual product, which is not easy, you know? F Geyrhalter: Oh yeah. M Cessario: There's not many... I feel like if you have a disruptive or unacceptable idea, what you're supposed to do is just make a band and then your product is selling albums. That's how you get your disruptive idea into the world. It's like, "Oh, you want to be crazy? Okay, make a band, make an album, sell that." Because anybody can really do that. You can find a recording studio fairly easily. You can record stuff. There's home recording equipment, you can put your idea out there. But if you want to make a disruptive idea in that same tone of voice into a consumer packaged good and you've got to figure out how are you going to get people to give you all the money it takes to make it, how are you going to actually figure out production in Austria to make this thing, then how are you going to actually sell it? Deal with the Amazon backend system of shipping people product and taxes. That requires a kind of thinking and resource that a lot of people with these disruptive punk-rock, fuck-you ideas don't always have access to. I think that that's sort of what I was trying to do, is like how do we get a brand through this gauntlet of bringing a packaged good brand to life that totally feels like it does not belong in this world? And I just knew that people would relate to that. It was like wow! Regardless of like... I think the other important thing was making it very clear that the sarcasm was very heavy, that we were not taking ourselves seriously. We weren't actually trying to brand water as heavy, what we're more trying to do is make fun of all the extreme youth marketing of energy drinks. At the end of the day, an energy drink is what, 95% water, some bubbles and like a little bit of sugar and caffeine. It's like all the same stuff that's in my grandma's breakfast tea. But you can call it Monster and put it in a can with a claw mark on it. And then they market it to kids and like, "Hey, it's all about action sports and extreme." They're not being sarcastic about it. They're being very serious of like, "This is going to appeal to the kids because it's extreme and that's what kids love." And we're kind of making fun of that. It's like, "Okay, we're going to beat you at your own game." If all marketing is essentially kind of like storytelling theatrics really around a product, we're going to take ours to the next level and be very clear that this is theatrics, it's professional wrestling. It's entertainment and people respect entertainment. Like you said, we always look at, we want to give value to people. If we're putting something in your Facebook feed, we want it to make you laugh. We want it to do something besides just say, "Hey, buy this." And I think entertainment is the easiest way to kind of paint the picture of what that is. It's like, okay, like we should be making people laugh to make this the funniest thing that they've seen all day every time we put something out there. F Geyrhalter: And on that note, on your site, you say, and I excuse the language, I'm just a messenger here. You say most products in the health and wellness space are all marketed with aspirational fitness models and airbrushed celebrities. Fuck that. Why should unhealthy products be the only brands with a permission to be loud, fun and weird? Besides our marketing and branding is bullshit. So we're going to take ours less seriously and have more fun with it. So yet, as we already discussed, branding is everything to Liquid Death. And that's where the sarcasm kind of fits in. It is the lifeline of the death brand. It's really the foundation of the entire brand. What does, after everything that you already shared with us, what does branding mean to you? Because branding has a horrible, horrible kind of like taste in your mouth, right? It feels fabricated, it feels big, it feels unreal, it doesn't feel authentic, yet in my eyes, branding today is a totally different word. It should actually be rebranded, that word because it's just so different now. I think it is about a lot of the things that you talk about, which you can apply your thinking quite frankly, to any brand. From a tech brand to a retail brand, to a health care brand, because the foundational elements of authenticity, of transparency, of understanding your niche audience and diving full in and creating a tribe, all of these things that can be applied to anything. So what does branding mean to you today? M Cessario: I think you make a really good point that branding needs to be rebranded, especially now because what brand meant when the practice was coined in like the 50s and 60s. Branding was more about when there was what? Three television channels and a couple billboards here and there. You had to have a consistency and brand just so that people would remember you. Because maybe they saw your commercial once on channel two and then they didn't come in contact with your brand again for another week maybe because there was one billboard they passed by. And you had to have the brand link the two things together so people knew, "Oh it's this brand. Oh it's this brand." But that's not the case anymore. With social media, I don't even know what the number is, like how many advertising messages we're exposed to a day. Like thousands and thousands…Branding is something totally different, and I always go back to using examples from the entertainment industry, like using television shows and movies. If you had to say, "What is Steven Spielberg's brand?" It becomes a lot more complicated. You don't want to reduce him to just a brand. It's like it's a vision. It's a type of story. It's a place in the world. It's a point of view of a human being that's behind something. The days of trying to just bullshit people in terms of like, okay, I want my brand to be something that is not at all what I am is I think harder and harder to pull off now. Your brand has to be the people who are behind it, and I think you know as much as like Steven Spielberg, you know he makes Steven Spielberg movies. If Steven Spielberg just tried to make, I don't know, like a soap opera TV show, it's like he can probably do it but it's not going to have the world-wide acclaim that him being him actually has. So I think for me branding is just about making it very clear who the people are behind the brand that you're giving your money to. And I think that's really what it is for us. It's like at the end of the day there might be four other can waters on the shelf next to us and one is Aquafina can water, which they already announced they're going to try to test next year. Super boring looking can, right? Aquafina. There might be a couple of other ones. At the end of the day, what we're hoping is that all the content we put out there, the messaging we put out there, what we do for people, how we talk, how we sound, what we communicate about ourselves, ultimately when there's four brands there, someone is like, "This is all water. I don't really believe that any of these waters are significantly better from a taste perspective than any of the others. So I kind of see it as a level playing field. I want to give my $1.85 to Liquid Death because I want to give my money to those guys more than I want to give it to this faceless kind of water over here or this one that's kind of trying something that I don't really get right here." M Cessario: I think that's ultimately we want to do, is we want to connect with people where they're like, "I want to support this company and these people. And it goes well beyond just the functional benefits of what the actual product is." Because in almost every product category, the differences between brands are basically trivial. If you had to have people blind taste test Monster versus RockStar versus Red Bull, most people probably couldn't even pick out the difference. At the end of the day, people would rather give their money to Red bull based on the things they do, versus some people they want to give their money to Monster or whatever. F Geyrhalter: Yeah. My wife and I in a spare moment of uninspiration we did a blind water taste test. And I think we had maybe like 12 waters from Evian to, the Trader Joes brand, to every single water. And in the end the one that won was like one of those in-store, private label, super cheap water brands, right? So, well let's talk a little bit more about the people behind the brand. Obviously, with you it's yourself, but there's also a lot of investment that came in. I think you gained investments totaling 2.3 million, if I'm correct, maybe it's more by now. But that alone is pretty astonishing, but it's even more remarkable when I look at the names of who actually invested in Liquid Death, from Michael Dubin of Dollar Shave Club fame to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to Gary Vee, who I, as a side note, refrained to talk to over the course of a 10 and a half hour flight to London despite him sitting, well mainly sleeping right next to me. And I'm very proud that I was able to not talk to him. But these are some serious heavyweights and they understand the power of story and virality. What made them invest in you? What was the reason that Gary Vee said, "Hey Mike, I get it. I'll invest in a water company called Liquid Death with heads being chopped off people and blood everywhere in its commercial. That makes a lot of sense to me. It'll be a hit"? And I know you worked for his company, but what was the decision of some of these people where they said, "No, this is exactly why I believe in it." M Cessario: I mean, part of it is me, which the fact that I worked for Gary and he knew me. He just was like, "I'm a fan of you, Mike, and I believe in this." But I think Gary for instance, he is one that has no emotion about what success means. I think he preaches that all the time. It's like don't let emotion get in the way of like, "Oh well this maybe offends me or this doesn't seem right because there is a really good chance that this would be a really, really good business." And I think Gary is also hyper aware that social media is the internet now. I think he even has a poster on the wall in the agency that says social media is just a slang term for the current state of the internet. F Geyrhalter: That's great. Yeah. M Cessario: Yeah. That's where people get all their news now. It's where they get their entertainment. It's where they learn about what's going on, and he just knows what it takes to succeed in this environment of internet culture. I mean, nothing is censored anymore, right? Kids now, they don't care about normal movie-star celebrities, it's about YouTube celebrities. These YouTubers, they're not censored, they can kind of do whatever they want. They don't have to fit certain formats or things like that. So the culture of entertainment and what's on social media is in a place now where it's going to take a certain level of entertainment to actually succeed in that world and compete against these new forms of media and entertainment. I think that's what he totally gets. Like he knew instantly that, oh, this is a brand that will absolutely be a hit on social media, which is at the crux of almost everything that we do as a culture now. So he just instantly got that. And then of course the fact that, and I think this goes along with most people, they've never seen weird, irreverent, crazy being used to actually do something really positive, which is getting more people to drink more water more often. And I think the pairing of those two things, I mean, that's really what our brand DNA is that if we were just Liquid Death and crazy and heads flying, and we were an energy drink, it would almost be expected. It'd be like, "Oh yeah, that makes sense." But the fact that it's all that and it's water, and it's promoting an alternative to single use plastic because cans are infinitely recyclable, and basically one of the most sustainable beverage containers by almost every measure. Plastic is a huge problem right now that everybody... it's becoming like the new tobacco really. So it's kind of like sustainability and health paired with just irreverence and weird and contemporary art and internet culture. That's I think what people respond to. They can kind of justify that, "Yes, I know this is crazy and it's viral, but what it's doing is actually really positive and we haven't really seen that before." F Geyrhalter: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that's a kernel of truth in your brand that is super, super important. Once you actually start seeing the bigger picture and how it actually is a very positive thing that you're doing, it's fantastic. And let's talk about this for a second because I'm from Austria as I mentioned, your water is also from Austria. Let's talk about how that fits into the story. Because how should we as consumers feel about water being shipped from Fiji and Iceland or Austria, because as you mentioned, you're actually a rather environmentally conscious brand, right? Like you're counting on many vegans in your target audience and you use the cans instead of plastic, which as you mentioned with plastic pollution, that's a huge issue. How do you feel about shipping water from across the pond? M Cessario: The reason that we're bottling and sourcing in Austria is because when I first... it's starting to change a little bit now, but when I first was looking to produce the brand, there is not a single co-packer or bottler in North America who can put non-carbonated springwater in cans. It doesn't exist. F Geyrhalter: Oh wow. M Cessario: Crazy. Because basically the kind of equipment you need for canning when the product doesn't have carbonation and doesn't have a preservative in it is very different than 99.9% of canned products which either have carbonation or preservative. So most of these canning facilities, they weren't equipped to do this, and if you want to use spring water and not just use factory tap water, which most people don't realize, Smartwater, Aquafina, Dasani, Essentia, Lifewater, they're all just purified municipal water from the factory. F Geyrhalter: Right. It's mind blowing, right? Yeah. M Cessario: Yeah. So we kind of knew that as a premium brand, because cans are more expensive than plastic because it's metal, that's also the reason that cans are actually profitable to recycle because the recycled aluminum actually has good value to it that the recycling company can sell and make a profit on based on what it costs to recycle it. Plastic is not. Because recycled plastic is such low quality, they can't really sell it or make a profit on what it cost them to do. They used to sell it to China, but then now China are saying, "We don't want to buy your recycled garbage anymore." So what happens a lot of the time is plastic comes in to a recycling facility and rather than spending the money to grind it down and recycle it, they just have to send it to the landfill because they're not going to go out of business recycling something that's not profitable. So aluminum actually because of the high material value actually helps subsidize the recycling of cheap materials like plastic and glass, where the final recycled product almost has no value to resell. So that's become a long winded way of saying that the way that we got to Austria was we just kind of realized that if we wanted to do spring water and put it in cans, a, any source, if you bottle at the source, that's pretty much what you want to do because the expense of trying to truck tanker trucks of water from a source far away to some canner doesn't really make sense. So most springwater brands are bottled at the source. Any springwater source in the US, they definitely didn't have any canning capabilities. So we found this place in Austria, outside Salzburg and we flew out there, we met them. They own four of their own private mineral waters springs. They had all the canning capabilities. I've been to Apple's offices in Culver City and these bottlers' offices in Austria were nicer than Apple's offices. F Geyrhalter: So you had to say something nice about Austria. I was fishing for compliments. I'm like, well, because Austria has the best damn spring water in the world, but you're like, "Nope, they're the only ones who could pull it off." M Cessario: Yeah, I mean Austria is the most beautiful place I've ever been to. F Geyrhalter: All right. There we go. All right. You're allowed back on the podcast. M Cessario: So yeah, I mean it was kind of just a random... I just kept making phone calls to bottlers and they kept saying, "Oh yeah, no, we don't do that. Oh yeah, no, we don't do that. It can't be done." Had professionals from the industry doing research for us out there too. "Hey, no one can do it." So finally I found this place in Austria. I flew out there and met them. They could do it. We really liked them. Yeah, Austria is kind of cool too because it's like most people haven't had an Austrian water necessarily, and it's kind of a fun kind of interesting thing that could work with the brand. So yeah, let's do that. But we're actually going to be moving all of our water canning and production starting next month to British Columbia in Canada. So we don't have to ship water overseas. It's a much shorter journey. F Geyrhalter: That's awesome. Congrats. That's a big move and I love to hear that. I think it works really, really well what you're trying to do. But back to those curve balls, I mean, you would have never thought that bottling water in a freaking can would be one of those big curve balls in your entrepreneurial journey where you're like, "What? That can't happen. I have to go to Austria." I mean, those are the things that people don't think about when they start a business. It's like, "Well that seems like it makes a lot of sense. Let's do that." We have to slowly wrap up, but a big question that I'd like to ask everyone on my show is if you could describe your brand in one word, and I call it your brand DNA, what could that word be? I know it's not death. Don't tell me it's death. It's not death. M Cessario: No, it's murder. F Geyrhalter: There you go. Exactly. M Cessario: It's funny. We've been working with some friends of ours, like we're actually kind of partnering because now that the business is growing and I can't run the business and actually execute and do all the marketing at the same time, we're now working with a creative agency partner run by a friend of mine named Matt Heath. They're called Party Land, and we've kind of been working with them on that same exact thing where they're like, "Hey, if we had to distill the brand down to one word, what would it be?" We had a little talk about it, and right now where we're landing with it is mischief. That I think is really the DNA of the brand, is pushing the buttons and getting into things you're not supposed to get into but all rooted in kind of this fun, and doing stuff that's subversive. Trying to always avoid doing the traditional approach to something. Rather than, okay, if we want to be at this music festival, the music festival wants to charge you a sponsorship fee of $80,000. You pay them that money and now you have the right to sell them water that they're going to sell at the festival. Right? That's how every other brand has to do it. We're going to look at, okay, how do we like crow bar open the back door to get in there and have a presence? Do we actually go to the headlining band who we think would be into the product and they're really stoked on it and we get it to them and then they request that it's like in the green room and then all the other artists have access to. That's more mischief. How do you subvert? How do you go around just like the pay to play or the traditional way that most brands like Coca-Cola or these other brands have to do because they just don't have the fandom of a brand like ours that would actually have people go out of their way for you or let you in the back door or whatever. F Geyrhalter: Well, mischief is such a great ownable word too, right? And you can totally live up to it. In a way, it's a watered down version of punk rock, which I think works really well. All right, I have so many more questions, but we got to wrap it up. Listeners who fell in love with Liquid Death just now, is Amazon the place to go to, to get their taste of Liquid Death or should they sign up to your newsletter? Which by the way is one of my favorite pieces of your brand because for my listeners, the newsletter sign-up fine print, you know, that little thing that is underneath the big button saying sign me up. Instead of the GDPR blurb, which everyone freaked out about. "Oh my God, we have to be compliant." It actually says by selecting start selling my soul, which is the button to click to sign up. I agree I want to receive important info and offers from Liquid Death since they will own my soul for eternity. So I guess you can do that. You can start selling my soul on the website, hit that button. Or where else can they find your product right now? M Cessario: Yeah. So you can buy it on Amazon or you can buy it direct from our website at In terms of selling your soul, I think that's an interesting... It's been one of our most popular things now, it's basically on our website. You can legally sell us your soul. There's an actual legal document that we had a real lawyer draft up. It'll automatically populate your name and everything in there, you click to sign it like a DocuSign digital thing. And that is the only way that you can join the Liquid Death Country Club, is by selling your soul. And then once you're a Country Club member on our website, you'll get a free VIP case added to your first order, if you're a country club member. F Geyrhalter: And since this is a legal document, do you also outline what you will be doing with the soul of your tribe members? M Cessario: No, it basically says we can do whatever we want with it. F Geyrhalter: That's pretty good. There's got to be a whole new podcast about what you have done with the soul once the deceased start appearing in your office. Well, Mike, this was a blast. I really appreciate taking the time out of a busy schedule at a time when your young brand is really taking off. So thank you so much for having been on the show. M Cessario: Yeah. I know. Thanks for having me. It was fun. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. And thanks to you for listening, for subscribing, for rating, and for reviewing this podcast. This podcast is brought to you by FINIEN, a brand consultancy creating strategic, verbal and visual brand clarity. You can learn more about FINIEN and download free white papers to support your own brand launch or rebranding efforts at The Hitting The Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won. I will see you next time when we once again will be hitting the mark.
I first learned about Michael Lastoria when his brand, &Pizza, has been named one of the world’s 50 Most Innovative Companies the second time in a row by Fast Company. Diving deeper into what at first glance would seem like a commodity-type business (we are talking about selling pizzas here after all) soon turned into the discovery of a brand that succeeds through heart & soul, coupled with tech & innovation. Michael sees himself as the human-first entrepreneur. A CEO and co-founder of & Pizza, now 36 locations throughout the east coast, Michael has championed his employees whom the brand calls its tribe. It's not only the face of the brand, but it's the core of the business. & Pizza pays a fair and livable wage, and Michael has been a vocal member of the fight for state and federal minimum wage increases. Lastoria believes in building a brand first and a business second so that the brand is not just a momentary phenomenon, but an essential part of culture. & Pizza is the manifestation of that belief. You can follow the brand @AndPizza and Michael on @_Lastoria. ____Full Transcript: Fabian Geyrhalter: Welcome to Hitting the Mark. Today we have the first in a series of at least two back to back episode where I talk with branding professionals, like myself, who turned into entrepreneurs selling what some could call upon first glance a "so what" commodity-type product. This is exciting for numerous reasons besides the obvious of a creative talking to one of their kind, but also because these two guests embody the hypothesis of my book, Bigger Than This: How to Turn Any Venture Into an Admired Brand. First today, we start this miniseries of creatives flipping business categories on their head with Michael Lastoria who was the co-founder of New York City-based creative agency J-Walk before he turned his interests to making the world a better place through the power of pizza. Michael Lastoria sees himself as the human-first entrepreneur. A CEO and co-founder of & Pizza, and that is Ampersand Pizza, now 32 locations throughout the east coast, Michael has championed his employees whom the brand calls its tribe. It's not only the face of the brand, but it's the core of the business. & Pizza pays a fair and livable wage, and Michael has been a vocal member of the fight for state and federal minimum wage increases. Lastoria believes in building a brand first and a business second so that the brand is not just a momentary phenomenon, but an essential part of culture. & Pizza is the manifestation of that belief and I cannot wait to dive into this conversation. Welcome, Michael. Thank you for being on Hitting the Mark. M Lastoria: Fabian, thanks for having me. Happy to be here. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Michael, as I touched on in the intro, I released a book last year which I will send you a copy of that studied start-ups that transformed into admired brands despite being based on commodity-type offerings, like sock, office supplies, packaged seafood stews, stuff like that. It fascinated me as someone who is in the business of branding, like yourself, to study how they did it without any innovation or tech or big design adjustments in tow. In the end, I balled these findings into eight traits. Story, belief, cause, heritage, delight, transparency, solidarity and individuality. After studying your company, & Pizza, for a little bit, I actually believe that you must be one of my first guests who truly either embodies or touches upon most of these all while pushing hard on tech and innovation at the same time. So, needless to say, really thrilled that you made it onto the show. Let's go back in time a little bit. You're running a successful creative agency, sold it to the cosmetic giant Shiseido in 2017, I believe, and then had the thought of starting a pizza chain. Tell us more. How did that come about? M Lastoria: Yeah, I definitely got a number of laughs. My friends and family thought it was somewhat comical given they didn't quite appreciate what I was trying to do in terms of really humanizing a company and lifting up the lowest wage workers in this country, and hopefully being a case study for a business that can succeed, that does good in this world, and is a case study for other restaurant and retail companies to follow in terms of being able to have some of the best unit or store or shop level economics while also paying a living wage, developing your people from within and really being a champion of democratizing the business at every single level. So, kind of taking a little step further back, I founded my first business at 22. It was also a service business, more in media and ad tech, sold it to a private equity group, stayed on board to run that as CEO for three years. Then I co-founded the ad agency. Having spent a better part of a decade on the service side, learning what my passion was and ultimately where a small kid from a country town, what he should be doing in this world in terms of contributing for the greater good, decided I wanted to launch a brand that was very values-driven. At the time, it was more about the values of the man that I hoped that I would become versus the man that I was, and that's why the company is named & Pizza. It's a generally speaking, a fairly goofy name for a brand, but we wanted to lead with a symbol that was all about promoting unity, celebrating oneness and doing the right thing by our people, hence the ampersand and leading with this big, meaty, emotional symbol that we hoped that we could turn into something that was very powerful and impactful. Picked pizza because when I was studying all the different businesses we could apply this notion of unity and doing the right thing and helping people, the food service industry in America alone employs 10% of America's workforce. When you think about the impact that we could make as a company in an industry that employs 10% of the workforce in America, that we could flip on its head this very notion of what it means to be an employer and find some success in doing so. That's what led me to & Pizza. I started it in 2000 ... Well, really concepted it in 2010, 2011. Opened the first pizza shop in 2012, and we're going to open up our 36th pizza shop in New York City on Wall Street, our third in New York City, in about two weeks here. F Geyrhalter: That is amazing. And you just answered just about four of my questions in the last couple of minutes. This is great. M Lastoria: Sorry about that. F Geyrhalter: I really love that. That's why ... And obviously, I would have asked about the name, right? Because at first glance, there are two things that don't make much sense. First, the name, and then the reason of why you picked pizza. After your intro, everything makes a lot of sense. The & Pizza, the pizza is basically a side effect, and it is just a vehicle for you to actually change something much bigger. That's nicely reflected in the name. It's very neat. Looking back though, obviously being in the restaurant business is, I guess, considered hell usually, right, for the entrepreneur doing it as well as the employees. It's really, really rough, right? It's really tough to get into the business. It's tough to stay on top. Looking back, what was that one big breakthrough moment where you felt like, "Okay, now it's not just a start-up pizza joint, but it's actually a brand, and it's turning into a full-fledged, beloved and established chain." What was the one moment where you felt like this is it, we just made it? M Lastoria: Yeah, there was obviously the success of the first location. The fact that there was a line that was wrapping around the block. The decisions that we made sort of enabled that, but the moment I look back on was when we did have a single pizza shop, and one of our employees, whom we call tribe members ... Mainly, we called them tribe members because of this notion that it's a group of people connected to each other, connected to leadership, but ultimately, connected to a higher purpose. And our purpose, obviously, it is our symbol, our ampersand. All about promoting unity. But when one of our tribe members came to me, and he asked me if he could get the symbol, the ampersand, tattooed on him. I was a little taken aback because it wasn't something ... I have tattoos myself, and we're very much in a tattoo-forward culture, but I was taken aback because I never thought that a human being would want this brand symbol tattooed on them. I asked the question, "Why?" And the answer was, "This is the first company where I truly feel comfortable in my own skin. I feel appreciated. I feel supported. I feel respected. I feel like I'm part of a family. I'm part of a group of people that is like-minded, that has very similar values, and I've never gotten that from a place of work. That's why I want to get this symbol tattooed." I put my arm around his back, and I said, "Let's go. I'm paying for it." It became one of those things that has helped define the culture, not because we want people to have this & tattooed on them so they can walk around helping market or promote the company because quite frankly the symbol is a very generic symbol. Ampersand has been around for long time. At one point, it was, I think, the 27th letter of the alphabet. So, it's been there. The interesting thing here was, no, it was really about a definition of why the company is special, why our values matter. Even if you don't work at & Pizza a year after getting the tattoo, it's what it meant, what we are trying to do, and the impact that we're trying to make in this world. We've had literally hundreds and hundreds of tribe members get tattooed. At any given point, about 20% of the workforce has this brand logo tattooed on them, and I look at that as something that's very humbling and incredibly fulfilling because it is the definition of getting people together and getting people that have similar values, that believe in the same things, and really mobilizing them to do some good. That's what that means. People care about the mission. They care about our values, and they're willing to get it tattooed to show. That's the defining point for me of when I knew that we were onto something special when the people were vocal. When the masses in the organization started to care more about the values and could better define the symbol than even I could myself that created it. F Geyrhalter: Because when it comes from within, you know it's going to work outside, right? That whole idea that if the company culture works and is healthy, then consumers, customers, outside, whoever that is, they will feel it, and it will be effective. But that begs the question, did branding affect your company culture or was it vice versa? It's kind of like a chicken or egg situation with & Pizza. M Lastoria: Yeah, well, I think the branding helped create the visual and the inspiration behind what the culture eventually became. The tricky thing with culture is that it's constantly changing. Businesses like & Pizza that are people-driven, every time that you lose an employee, or you gain one, your company culture is bound to shift, right? F Geyrhalter: Yeah. M Lastoria: It's simply the sum of the ingredients, and the ingredients are the people. For us, what's nice is that every time we bring someone to the organization, the brand, what it stands for, its values, what it means, how people connect to it, helps really define the culture as in the starting place where people can be grounded. And then, what they do ultimately is take that brand, and they make it their own, right? F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). M Lastoria: They have their own expression of what it means to them, and they then spread that gospel. I'm okay with the ampersand meaning different things to different people. I have my definition, and if you were to ask one of the 750 employees or tribe members that work at & Pizza, they all may have a slight variation, and that's okay because that, to me, is perfectly structured where there's enough there where people get it, but then also enough flexibility to truly make it their own. I think this notion of celebrating individuality, people's own definition, why it matters to them is as important as why you got started and what the brand means to you as someone that created it. F Geyrhalter: It is a symbol that just evokes hope. It evokes the beginning of another chapter. I'm sure that that's what a lot of your employees feel like, especially if they come in at the very entry level, and they start feeling like they're part of a family, and it's a different kind of job that they had before maybe. In an interview you said that your employees are feeling appreciated, engaged, supported and valued. But it's an industry that is known for labor-intensive, minimum wage type of work. You're talking a lot about core values. Obviously, I'm in the business of creating core values with my clients and then pushing them to actually successfully instill them into their employees, which is so much harder than actually coming up and deriving these core values, right? How do you accomplish that sentiment across the board of your employees that they take the values, that they understand the values, but that they also have that flexibility to take it to wherever they want to, but they feel this really big bond amongst each other and with the company's brand? It's not a simple answer, right? But what are some of the ways that you feel like you made this intrinsic and organic that it actually worked? M Lastoria: Yeah, I think it's a very tricky and somewhat loaded question because it's constantly a work in progress, and there's a lot of things that we do. I think wage is a very good starting place to show your people that you care, but it's much more than wage. I think the notion of paying a living wage or paying well above the minimum wage is one thing and then there's willing to sort stake your own personal reputation, the company's reputation, to fighting against the National Restaurant Association, to fighting against a lot of the political headwinds in terms of trying to make your internal policy actual government and federal policy which has been a very difficult thing. I think this notion that our people are seeing us put our money where our mouth is, or at least, live our own values outside of & Pizza and pushing for policy that impacts their friends, their family, regardless of whether or not they work here, has been one of the biggest ways, I think, where people have said, "Gosh, I believe in this, and I believe in it even more because I trust the people that are making the decisions, that are leading, because they're doing the very things that this symbol is supposed to do and the things that this brand actually stands for." Our willingness to take a stand, our willingness to do the right thing, our willingness to put the strength and use the platform of the company to impact social issues ... I mean, we're living in a country and a nation that's becoming increasingly more divided, and it's 2019. That's not what we should be seeing. We should be seeing significantly more people uniting because when I travel the world, I see the youth of this world being more connected versus disconnected in terms of the things that they believe in, how they choose to live their life and the values that they subscribe for. I'm very hopeful about where things are going, but I also think it's extremely important for brands to act as people, brands to take a stand, and be willing to say, "These are the issues that are important to our people, and so we're going to put the weight of the company behind those issues regardless of what they are." Again, that's what helps build the trust that gets people listening and communicating with the company, and that's a lot of things I think companies miss is that if you don't fundamentally trust the leadership or trust the decision-making process, it's going to be very hard to develop people and to have the type of culture that you're looking for. You have to do a lot to trust people. In addition to that, you also have to learn how to communicate. All of our communication inside of our company happens vis a vis text message. So, we predominantly communicate with our tribe members via text messaging. Our weekly newsletter is not a newsletter. It's a podcast to get texted out. We're constantly doing trivia to earn cash prizes that get paid the minute that the trivia questions get answered, right? We're doing all kinds of survey work, and it literally is a two-way communication allows for any idea, no matter how small or big it is, to be recognized, to be heard. And then we close the feedback loop by letting everyone know, hey, here are all of the text themes that we received over the last 30 days. Here's policy that we changed as a result of your ideas, and here are the things that we didn't change, and here are the reasons why. So, bringing people closer into the decision-making process, really helping democratize it and setting up communication that's modern and is the way that people would prefer to be communicated with because that's how they are communicating with their friends and family. I think the willingness to be bold and use technology to help facilitate that is another way to create connection, to get people to speak out. Make it frictionless, make it really easy, make it take a matter of seconds versus ... And do it on a platform that people fundamentally understand. F Geyrhalter: Those are all amazing ways that you just intrinsically basically walk the walk with the values, right? You don't just put ... We have five values on the wall and say, "This is it. You can see them on our website, and it's in our employee handbook," but you actually constantly go after those values and figure out how can we actually behave that way, and how does that come from the top? It was an amazing answer to a question that actually led into a lot of different other scenarios. One of them is the whole walking the line of politics versus whatever product you sell. For you, it's pizza, right? Especially since one of your locations is in the hub of the House of Representatives in D.C., correct? M Lastoria: It is. Yes, it is. F Geyrhalter: I read that you adorned the walls of & Pizza in that location with the following statements. Where it all takes shape. Where decisions are made. Where pioneers walk and walls talk which is so bold and so great. Just knowing enough about & Pizza, it is so on brand. I know you and I totally 100% agree on the idea that there is little room for brands to not take a stand in 2019 and that it actually nurtures brand's tribes, but where do you cross that line? I know you signed a petition for companies to stand up for reproductive rights. You do a lot politically. Where do you cross the line? How far do you go? When do you feel like this is something that the company should support and actually speak out about? M Lastoria: To me, it's less about partisanship because that is also the opposite of bringing people together and unity. It's really more about the social issues that impact the employees of the company, and that is really sort of where we draw our line which is that things that are impacting our people or that are negatively impacting our people, those are the types of things that we really want to rally behind because we treat them like family. If I can do something to help out a family member, and I have a broader or a greater platform to do so, I think the right thing to do is to use that platform. That's really how we choose to be political or not which is just simply focusing on what are the social issues that our people truly care about, the ones that are impacting them and impacting the communities that they live in and the communities that, quite frankly, we serve with our customer as our guests. How do we let everyone know what true north is in our eyes and how we can ultimately be helpful. Some are more controversial than others, but we're predominantly in some of the larger cities in this country, and we're dealing with a lot of those issues as well, and so I think it's just the responsible thing and the right thing to do. And again, I'm not trying to say lean left or lean right. I'm just trying to say, "Hey guys, these are the real things that are happening and the real things that are affecting the employees of this organization." I want to be heard, and I want to let you know exactly what's going on and how we feel and get political just because I think, again, it's showing that support for the people that come here. And again, willing to stake my own reputation because there's always a backlash. Anytime you do take a stand, you are going to become a target, and people are going to attack you, and so it has to come from the right place and a place where you feel like when your head hits that pillow every single night that you did the right thing. I will always live and die or fall on the proverbial sword by doing the right thing regardless of the outcome. F Geyrhalter: And you do this because your brand is about your people, and that's why it is a one-to-one alignment with whatever political situations you encounter and you start supporting. Again, it's not left or right, it's about the people because that's what the brand is about. M Lastoria: That's right. That's exactly right. It's not the Michael Lastoria brand. It's the & Pizza brand, right? There's a lot of things that I believe in that I don't speak out publicly about as the sort of representative of the & Pizza brand because I don't feel like it's appropriate. I probably do lean a little further left than some people, but that's not my place to use the company's platform to have those conversations. The company's platform is for the company. It's for its people. I'll be the spokesperson for that, and basically, I'm the sort of appointed leader of the & Pizza democracy where I am doing the speaking on behalf of everyone, and we all are aligned on what the messaging is and why we're doing what we're doing. F Geyrhalter: Absolutely. Let's move over to the tech and innovation part of your brand for a minute because I talked about commodity products before, and you're totally moving into a very different direction because you are actually leading with tech and innovation. You decide on new locations using Uber Eats heat mapping technology, and you launched many restaurants called cubes which are 300 square feet mini locations within existing structures that can easily be adjusted, assembled and disassembled. You will soon only be able to order & Pizza pizzas via text message which I think comes from within, right? M Lastoria: Mm-hmm (affirmative). F Geyrhalter: Because that's how you guys and gals already communicate. There's going to be no app, no phone, not even email, so you have employees as well as AI bots respond to text orders with gifs of Millennial stars like Lady Gaga or Rihanna to connect with your customers. You're big, and rightfully so, into automating boring and also dangerous tasks like slicing pie and sliding them into 800 degree ovens for which you now use robots. One aspect of your tech-infused innovative way of conducting business that I'm particularly interested in is you have a fleet of mobile units that are really, I guess, considered smart trucks, that cook up pizzas as they approach a destination. Tell me a little bit about the logistics and process of these mobile units. I assume they are GPS-based, but who in the truck unless it's a robot or a doughbot as you call them is making the pies? Walk me through the chain of events when it comes to & Pizza's mobile units, and correct me if anything I just said was wrong because I got it from different sources. M Lastoria: Sure. Yeah, so, listen the technology side is just about keeping an eye towards the future and looking at a lot of the successes that our predecessors and those that came before us have had, but also some of the mistakes that were very, very costly which is this idea of the mass replication of a thing. A lot of restaurant brands, even retail, missed the shift towards all things digital, and I think in retail you saw it just through the sheer presence of the likes of an Amazon. In restaurants, you're seeing a lot of disruption to the likes of an Uber Eats or a DoorDash, these very large companies that are getting massive funding that are able to take your food out of your restaurant and deliver it to a customer without you actually having any real interaction with that customer whatsoever or even owning that customer relationship. So, what you're seeing is the lack or the amount of change in the real estate that you actually need to properly service your customers. If you were a 2,500 square foot restaurant, you may only need 1,500 square feet this day and age because 20, 30, 40% of all of your sales are now coming through off-premise sales, not on-premise. Being really forward-looking, it's saying, "Okay, well, I need to have a flexible format model where I can technically serve my product in a variety of different formats that range in terms of the actual cost themselves to build so I can make sure I can still get my product to the people cost-effectively and responsibly, and so I'm not beholden to a certain piece of real estate that I can only take for me to scale." For us, we can open up a 300 square foot kiosk or cube like you had mentioned, and we can generate the same revenue in 300 square feet as we can 2,000 square feet. Or we can do very similar. The trucks themselves, the real key there is that they're more like mobile production commissary in the sense that we are doing native delivery, third party deliver, order ahead for pickup, and having the ability for people to walk up to the trucks themselves and place and order either on their mobile phone as they're walking up or with someone that's standing outside the truck that will help facilitate that. The idea is it's a shop on wheels, right? So, just think they're all just varying different shop types and shop formats that have a different cost to build that allow me to scale faster, more cost-effectively, and to get my product to the people in a way that you just haven't seen before. That is our answer to increasing occupancy vis a vis rent. More business is happening off-premise. Kind of just traditional real estate that no longer works for a lot of restaurant and retail brands. How are we still going to grow? How are we going to build out new markets? How are we going to do it quicker, faster, cheaper, so that we can accelerate as a brand in a climate and environment that's becoming more and more and more of a challenge and difficult? That's just our world of leveraging technology, leveraging flexible format, thinking throughout the architecture of the business model to make sure that it's going to work in the next five to ten years. So many people get caught up in today. What's going to work today? How can I make a quick buck on a trend? Business is becoming increasingly more complicated. Businesses need to become increasingly more dynamic, and you have to do everything well. You can't just do one thing well, and that would be my biggest challenge to anyone in consumer branding or entrepreneurship which is you have to look at every aspect of your business, not just making the best possible product, but how does that product get in the hands of the people? What are the different channels in terms of DST versus wholesale/retail, and how can these large tech companies and even small tech companies potentially come around and disrupt your entire business model? How do you get ahead of that stuff? That's really what the architecture of all the things that you just suggested was about. It's not really about the robotics. The robotics are a little bit more forward-looking in terms of automating simple, mundane tasks, but that's the less important thing. The more important thing is how do we open up more pizza shops? How do we service more guests? How do we become a larger and greater employee, and how do we leverage technology as a way to help facilitate all of that because, to your point, if you're in a commodity business, you better make it really damn easy to get that commodity. It better be frictionless. It better have an amazing loyalty program and give me a reason why when I'm looking at 40 or 50 other brands that I can order from, that I'm going to order from your product. There's a lot of things that go into triggering that emotional response, and this is the one they needed to have. There's a big gap between Shake Shack and Five Guys, between Soul Cycle and Fly Wheel. I can go on and on about the comparisons, but they matter, and that is branding, but it's also spreading that brand across every single touchpoint, not just through creative. F Geyrhalter: And understanding that there is an immense amount of data lying around that can actually make your business smarter. So, I think that's also a huge aspect of how you seem to be running the business. Just with the Uber Eats idea, right? I mean, the data is out there. You've got the heat maps. You see where you might want to start a new location. You don't just have to buy the coolest new property in the center square. Now you have other data. Not shockingly so, and you hinted at that, you're continuously creating new PR and branding ideas. You changed the avatars on your social media channels to match whatever activation you've just launched. Currently I read, and this is super cool, you run a promotion with a secret summer menu that gets switched out, I guess, every couple of weeks, and currently features an Oreo ricotta pizza as well as a Cheetos spicy tomato pizza. But since it is a secret menu, you can only find it on the secret website incognito.&, which will show you a 404 error until you actually view that website in the incognito window of your browser, which is absolutely genius. You also run a loyalty program, which you just mentioned where depending on their level of pizza intake, your customers get & Pizza bomber jackets, they get branded dog tags, or for the superfans of the superfans which are at what you call the Maverick level of having spent around $1.5K on pizzas, they can actually get an & Pizza tattoo inked onto their body for a lifetime just like one of your tribe members. With all of these ideas surrounding the brand, what was something you thought would absolutely kill it, but then it bombed completely? This does not even need to be on the PR and advertising level, but it can also be on an entrepreneurial level when building out the & Pizza brand. Was there this one thing, this one moment where you're like, "Wow, that just really didn't go right even though I thought it would"? M Lastoria: Yeah. I think in our business, I mean, because it's pizza there isn't really a massive ... We haven't had any massive failures as it relates to rolling out products or trying new things that didn't really work. It's more about trying to figure out what the best use of, sometimes, limited resources and limited capital, and not getting too distracted in terms of trying to do too many things too quickly because organizations typically struggle through ingestion which is just taking on more than they're actually capable of taking on. That's the thing that we wrestle with the most. Isn't necessarily one big thing that really didn't work. There's definitely been a lot of little things in terms of various ingredients, various different types of pies. This notion of the different types of footprints. We also operate in bars. We have three of those up and running right now. We have a really cool draft cocktail program where we're pre-batching all of the cocktails because of this notion that it's really hard to get a consistently-made, high quality cocktail from a bartender because of the just inconsistency in terms of the small, little minutiae that could make a great drink taste not so great. And so, how do you kind of disrupt that? We're doing that with some really interesting people here in Washington, D.C. So, not to not give you a very direct answer, but for us, it's not the big failures. It's just the prioritization of how do we stage this the right way? If we have limited capital, how do we spend it in the right way to make sure that the business is investible, to make sure that we're always doing the right thing by our people, and we're serving a really good product at an affordable cost that people are excited to consume? That's not always an easy thing, but we have more resources at our disposal now than ever before. It's just making sure that as someone in consumer branding, you're taking advantage of those resources, and you're constantly in trial and error mode so you can at least be on the forefront of knowing what's out there and what products or what services or what tools you should use to facilitate and assist with your growth. F Geyrhalter: Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that is really, really good advice. It comes back to the idea of sometimes slowing down and looking at priorities. Talking about the concept of bars and talking about the communities, I heard that it is very important to & Pizza to involve and reflect each community in which you open up a new shop. How does a chain of, I guess, 36 stores at this point go about keeping the brand consistent? I'm hinting at robust, franchise-worthy style guides here. While allowing it, though, to adapt to its changing environments and to actually become part of a community. M Lastoria: It just takes a little bit more time, energy, effort, and research. I don't think any of this stuff isn't doable. It's just making a commitment to doing it and then baking that into the business model very early on that it's going to cost an extra $50,000 to do it well versus not going to, and why is it a priority and importance for us to do it? When we go into a neighborhood or community, we want to inspire. It's not just about embracing where the neighborhood has been, it's also about providing an environment that looks and feels different, that has some inspiration in the walls, that's very upbeat and uplifting. One of the most important things for us is to get the culture and get the vibe of that neighborhood or that community right so we're adding value to it. When people walk in the doors of an & Pizza shop, I do want them to feel like they're entering into a safe place, a place that regardless of where they've been or what's happened that day, that week, that month, that they feel like they can put their shoulders down, smile, laugh, dance, have fun because at the end of the day, pizza is one of those things. If you've chosen to eat a pizza, you've chosen not to eat a salad, and so you should really enjoy the experience of making your own pizza, crafting your own pizza, eating your pizza, whatever that may be. That's a very important thing to the brand, something that we work really hard on doing which is being culturally connected and relevant, making sure the music is right, making sure the design aesthetic is right, that we're building things that people haven't necessarily seen before, but also don't feel that unfamiliar. It's like, "Oh, I didn't know I liked this. I didn't know I like high black and white contrast in a pizza shop," where you're used to seeing a lot of red and white checker cloth, right? Those are the kind of things where you just flip it on its head, inspire people and see how they react to it because even if it's not for them, that maybe doesn't reflect their personal style, I think they'll appreciate it. It kind of takes me back to the best conversations I've had in my lifetime have been with people that are the most different, the most unique, but also the ones that are willing to share that difference and share that uniqueness with me and have a really strong point of view. That's when I'm listening that most. That's when I'm learning. That's when I'm widening my horizons. I look at that as branding too which is the world doesn't need your version of someone else's idea, right? The world needs your idea. It needs your version of a pizza shop, not your version of someone else's idea of a pizza shop. This idea of copycat and imitation, it's got to stop. It's not helping anyone, and a lot of capital is being wasted toward people that don't follow their heart or don't follow what they think is the right thing to do, but instead try to follow someone else's. I'm just seeing more and more businesses like that die on the vine. It's important, I think, for all of us to lead with a unique point of view, be willing to express ourselves, be willing to create products and service-based businesses that have that in them that you can feel the creators in the building, in the walls of the things that they're designing. I think that has a long-lasting impact. How do we take, to your point, a commodity, and how do we personalize it? How do we give it a real personality? And by the way, that personality needs to extend digitally as well. One of the most frustrating things for me is when you see a brand have such a big digital personality and then it doesn't exist anywhere else. Oh, they have an amazing Twitter handle, but you go to their Instagram account, it's nothing like their Twitter handle. And God forbid you go into their restaurant where you get no experience like that. You can't be super witty on one platform and dry and bland on another because that's not real. That's not authentic. That's you just trying to win a platform for marketing's sake, not an authentic brand that has a digital brand personality that matches the physical. We need to be thinking about connectedness in all touchpoints, and that is where I think brands can really do a better job. F Geyrhalter: So true. I think in the end it all comes back to having soul, right? That the brand actually needs to have soul. It needs to evoke a feeling, and that needs to be across all touchpoints, especially in the hospitality business. That is super difficult to achieve and that's why kudos to what you're doing and, more importantly, how you're doing it. I just read a piece you recently published on LinkedIn where you state the following. "The only way to reach your potential is to evolve. The only way to evolve is to know who you are and what you represent. There's true beauty in reaching that moment of clarity because that's when things get better for both you and your company." To me, this is music to my ears. Brand clarity is what derive of my clients and in the end, I believe that every brand's DNA can actually be described in one single word. So, Harley-Davidson could be seen as freedom, right? Aveline which I know you're familiar with because you signed a petition where he was part of it. Aveline is all about transparency, right? What is one word ... If you would have one word that could describe & Pizza, without putting you too much on the spot here, could you think of one word? M Lastoria: Yeah. It's a word I've used a few times today. It would be unity. F Geyrhalter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's really nice. That's very all encompassing. I think with everything you just said in the last 40 or so minutes, that encompasses everything. I guess, to finish this up slowly, here's the big one. What does branding mean to you? M Lastoria: I think, and I guess I sort of just said this a while ago, I think it truly is personalizing a commodity. It's injecting a heart and a soul and a point of view into something that otherwise doesn't have it. F Geyrhalter: Beautiful. I could not agree more. Michael, where can our listeners and myself get a slice of the pie? Is & Pizza in expansion mode so we can all get our hopes up to see a store in our area soon? M Lastoria: Yeah, we're opening, like I said, our 36th shop in a couple of weeks here. We're going to double in size in the next two years. Most of our growth will be on the east coast. Everywhere from Boston down through Miami. You can find us on social @AndPizza and me on @_Lastoria. I'm a little bit more visual than I am vocal. I am on Twitter, but mainly Instagram is the platform I prefer to use. First off, I just want to say to you, Fabian, congratulations on the book. I'm definitely going to be reading it now. I know it's a really hard thing to do to put so many amazing thoughts that you have into words, words on paper and publish a book, so congratulations. I encourage all of the listeners to read it because you have incredible thinking on a lot of amazing topics. Just some of the things that you've sparked today for me even then have been great, so thanks for having me. F Geyrhalter: That was really kind of you. I really appreciate it. This conversation was so inspiring to myself, and I'm sure to our listeners, on so many levels. I have to say people like you are the reason I work with entrepreneurs and why I love the world of branding. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time, wisdom and energy, Michael. M Lastoria: Thank you. F Geyrhalter: And thanks to all for listening in. Hit the subscribe button, give the show a rating, and write a quick review if you did appreciate the show. The Hitting the Mark theme music was written and produced by Happiness Won, as in I won free pizza and not just one pizza. These two words seem to be difficult for an Austrian to differentiate. I will see you next time when we, once again, will be Hitting the Mark.
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