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Startup Confidential

Author: Dr. James F. Richardson

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Who is it For? Founders of premium food/beverage start-ups. What is It? Zero B.S. perspective on running your start-up well, understanding the biases of industry stakeholders and getting the industry to work for you, not the other way around. When? Every month. Your Host: Dr. James F. Richardson of Premium Growth Solutions, LLC If you want to take my founder's Quiz to see if you are ready for exponential growth, please visit : and sign up for my e-mail list to download it. Transcripts and an entire episode library are on my podcast site.
41 Episodes
I’ll probably lose some LinkedIn Connections once again with this content. Don’t care. The reality is that new founders to retail CPG need to get super real about 3P distributors, especially the national players specializing in natural and organic products. Listen up and learn the one stunning oversight most new founders make when starting to work with UNFI, KEHE, and others.  
Goldilocks was right. The middle path is the way forward when you are trying to scale quickly and actually get to scale in good enough shape to keep growing in the double digits. Listen in to a ‘dramatic’ reading from my forthcoming audiobook edition of Ramping Your Brand. I think you’ll enjoy it!
The more years in the market and, regardless of your actual topline growth rate or scale, the more likely you will no longer be able to notice the subtle signs of underperformance in your business. This is most pronounced when growth is strong. But that's when it's most important to look underneath the topline hood and pressure-test for solid, healthy $ growth. In this episode I share some initial tips straight from the toolkit I use with my clients every month at PGS. 
Unfortunately, the folks who talk loudest about brand-building are either a) branding agencies, b) venture capitalists or c) overly enthusiastic founders. Curb your enthusiasm. You can design a brand identity, a symbolic system. But, 'brand' is an outcome. It is an outcome based on influencing real human behavior, entering social networks with memorable consumer experiences, potent symbolism, and grassroots 'influence,' not social media puffery. Learn the rules of behavior-based brand-building or get ready to struggle unnecessarily on your journey up the Skate Ramp. 
It's no secret that Placement is the "P" that dominates strategy among most early-stage consumer brands, selling into retail primarily. And there's no shortage of brokers, fractional sales VPs and consultants ready to focus you on manipulating the trade to win narrowly. The problem with this 'normative' viewpoint is that brands don't grow via TPR programs. There is NO marketing science to prove this common myth. Brands grow by adding households and growing velocity inside those households (generally most common for beverages). So, in this episode, I take on the myth and explain why you need to understand the limits of trade techniques in the later phases of the Ramp. If you're a Founder and want to see how well your team is set up for exponential growth, please take my Founder's Quiz online right now and get your score immediately.  
Retail buyers. Either right now or eventually, you will need to convince buyers you are a key new addition to their sets. In this episode, I share some pros and cons of developing relationships with these important stakeholders. I also discuss why the Skate Ramp is just not on their radar, even though one of your key KPIs - velocity - absolutely is. 
Well...Well..Well, I never...I mean, what a rude title!  Then stop writing plans not based on market and consumer data. Then I'll take this episode down right away. It's a plague among early-stage startups in ALL industries. Dataless plans based on wholesale case projections. Your review mirror of case sales to the distributor is not sufficient to make a smart plan for exponential growth. In fact, it sentences you to repeat the growth rate in the mirror itself. If you're growing at 10% and want to grow 100%, the rear-view mirror of case sales doesn't help you much.  
You might think saying 'no' is simply the luxury of an established business who has the privilege to turn down an opportunity that isn't dead-on perfect.  But you'd be wrong. Dead wrong.  In this episode, I introduce the perfect training ground for saying no: the onslaught of service providers who 'prey' on the ocean of startups, most of whom will fail or stagnate as hobby businesses. A small % are actually really good. But they never come to you...If this episode intrigues you, you might like my recent on Episode on How to Filter Advice. 
It's time to share thoughts on one of the more important stakeholder classes for your fast growing early stage brand. I focus on the pros and cons of angels, venture capitalists and private equity firms. I'm very keen on angels for reasons you'll want to listen in and discover. The big challenge for most entrepreneurs is their de-leveraged situation early on up the Ramp. Maximizing your leverage is a sociological challenge, not a financial one in the face of very, very rich people.
Grab onto your handrails, folks. You may hear the thunderous retort of the entire global branding industry in the middle of this one. Branding is one of the most over-rated arts in the early years on the Ramp. Without a data-refined strategy in place, you just can't finalize your brand's symbolic system. Yes, you can try to research it in advance and over-determine everything like a Big Company. But since that rarely works out well for them either, I advise patience. Don't launch a product line hoping initial branding will carry you. Professional branding is expected by consumers. It's not impressive or distinctive any more in premium CPG. 
He's back! Jake Huber riffing with me on more advanced topics in retail buyer negotiation. The big one in this final part of the interview is : how to say no...obviously, without ever using this word. :) If you liked Part 1, then you're going to luv, luv, luv this part. Again, I apologize for the horrendous audio on my end. Won't happen again. You have my promise.
Pardon the horrendous audio. This was recorded in a chaotic apartment during the early months of the pandemic. Nevertheless, Jake Huber and I riffed on some very important topics. In Part One we address the #1 thing founders screw up when approaching buyers, how pitching investors and buyers is similar/different and the challenges posed for introverted founders. Hope you like it!
Sorry to discuss my boring business, but, in this rare case, my internal decision is based on something it might benefit some of you to hear about. I hope so, or this will be a seriously low performing episode! This episode hinges around the concept of coachability. And my foil is the human need for validation. We all have it. We all need social validation or we will eventually commit suicide. A problem arises for founders of young startups, especially for young founders of young startups when they approach business advisors or mentors looking for validation, and not for professional critique. Listen in, if you dare...
The UPCs you initially launch with are very, very unlikely to be the ones that you scale. Maybe the product inside the package is largely the same. But many things will change as you learn and iterate on the basis of market feedback. In this episode I read a few pages from my new book - Ramping Your Brand and hope you enjoy them.
As an advisor, this is a tricky topic to wax poetic about, since it might appear atrociously self-serving. Yet, here I go. I want folks newer to business and to CPG specifically to get a lot more critical about how they filter inbound advice, especially the unsolicited kind you tend to get poured on you during events, virtual or real world. There's usually at least a shred of help to find, even if most of what is offered is bunk. This is NOT a pitch for paid advice, trust me. The rules I describe cross the paid-free divide. I hope it helps you out. 
My favorite punching bag is the 'door count' tribe. Who are these folks? The folks whose primary KPI is I added me a sh*t ton of doors last year. Boo-yah! Really? Yes. These folks do exist. They're generally the same folks whose case study research was limited to 10 unicorn brands, mostly D2C and funded off enormous wealth. In this episode, I explain in somewhat redundant, sermonizing fashion why you must forget this non-KPI. It measures nothing of importance at all. 
In this episode, Mark and I finish our conversation, getting into the details of finding the right co-man and the three different ways to approach professionalizing your production in general. Just don't wing it, people. And don't hire the first warm body. Ever.
Do you own your IP? Do you know the difference between a prototype and a protocept? Founder of Culinex, culinologist Mark Crowell, addresses these questions and more in the first of a two-part guest interview on product development. If anything has NOT changed due to the global pandemic, it's the laws of product development. It's science folks. Learn it or outsource it. Just don't ignore it and then blame your broker for your crappy sales. 
If you thought your career was messed up, then entertain yourself with the Preface from my new book - Ramping Your Brand. I share the bizarre twists of fate that illogically led to my current expertise in guiding growth strategy for emerging consumer brand. As we all muddle through the pandemic, have a laugh at my expense...or maybe
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