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#11: Why The Best Biz Owners Stay Humble & Scrappy, Words of Wisdom From SKU’s Chief Operating Officer

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#11: The Best Biz Owners Stay Humble & Scrappy, Words of Wisdom From SKU’s Chief Operating Officer

Michelle Breyer is a Chief Operating Officer at SKU’s accelerator program as well as one of the original founders of NaturallyCurly.com – a leading resource for the natural and textured hair community!

To quote Breyer’s LinkedIn: “Don’t tell me something can’t be done. Let’s work to make it a reality.” We love it!!

Her advice for small-biz CPG owners? See a need in the market – fill it! Stay flexible as your ability to pivot is a HUGE advantage that you have over big-guy Coca-Cola.

There are many more tips where that came from! This episode is loaded with industry experience and insights for accelerating your brand’s growth.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:44] Introduction. Meet Michelle Breyer of SKU’s accelerator program.

[1:27] Michelle’s background and start in journalism. She never expected to become a founder.

[2:03] What’s a founder story that’s stuck with you? John Mackey and Whole Foods. Herb Kelleher and Southwest Airlines.

[4:00] UMAI and fond memories of CPG conventions, like Expo West.

[4:53] What drew you to Austin? She moved to San Antonio first and fell in love with the town and people!

[6:14] Tell us about Naturally Curly. A hobby turned into a magazine. The importances of seeing a need and fulfilling it. People want brands with a story. Join the trends, but offer something unique!

[9:32] Where’s Naturally Curly now? Still operating +20 years later. It has passed hands, but they will connect when Breyer’s advice is needed.

[11:46] Note on Dove’s curly hair care line. A beautiful campaign with real women. But, the actual product line was just a miss. An example of misspent money and a lack of research. You can’t market yourself out of a bad product.

[14:28] What has your team done to maintain that community over a 22-year span? From an SEO perspective, Naturally Curly is always ranking. Content is evergreen education that is always helpful.

[15:37] What led you to SKU’s accelerator program? She sold Naturally Curly in 2018 and started mentoring others as a category expert in beauty. In 2019, she was offered a full-time mentorship position with SKU (current title: Chief Operating Officer at SKU). There’s an upcoming collaboration with Naturally Austin.

[19:45] A note on inclusivity in Austin, Texas as of now in relation to incubator groups and SKU’s accelerator program.

[21:50] Tell us more about SKU’s accelerator program and their core mission. CPG was exploding in Austin. “Why don’t we create something that can accelerate emerging brands?” For example, EPIC bar – eventually sold to General Mills.

They expanded in Fall 2019 to include a New York branch. SKU DFW (Dallas, Fort Worth) has now emerged.

Mentorship is the most special aspect of SKU’s accelerator program. New brands are able to network and receive basically unparalleled guidance.

[26:40] What kind of brands should apply to SKU’s accelerator program? At least 200K to 1 million in sales. A great story. Founders enjoy learning and receiving mentorship. Magic! There’s a gut feeling to it.

[27:50] Do prospective brands go through an interview process when applying to SKU’s accelerator program?

Yes! They pitch their brand and share their story. It’s important to see how they respond to questions – do they know what they know and are they receptive to feedback?

[28:56] What do you see most brands that are a part of SKU’s accelerator program struggling with? Marketing? Branding? It’s never the same thing. It could be an operational error or major marketing issues (such as not knowing your demographic).

[30:00] Is there a recurring theme between the brands that SKU’s accelerator program takes on? They are coachable and receptive to feedback. Be humble.

Some founders choose not to listen – those founders aren’t a good fit for SKU’s accelerator program. Relax and let go of rigidity – it’s tough, but it’s the best way to learn.

[31:37] How many people apply to SKU’s accelerator program? Roughly, 100 per cycle. Our 9th cohort is launching soon. Companies do give up some equity when they join – but that encourages everyone involved to really dig in.

[33:07] A note on COVID. Some brands are doing better as they were able to pivot back in March – they leaned into eCommerce. Small brands can be more agile.

[34:08] To quote Breyer’s LinkedIn: “Don’t tell me something can’t be done. Let’s work to make it a reality.” What are some recurring roadblocks you see businesses struggling with?

If you don’t have the coin to spend, think scrappy! Figure it out one your own. Leverage interns (paid!!!) before you hire a professional team.

[35:35] How big are the teams you’re working with? 1-2 people! Founders end up doing SO much. Especially, in the beginning.

[37:40] Don’t raise money too early on. You won’t know what to do with it! This happened to Breyer herself at Naturally Curly – the team got “fat.” You should have to justify every dollar spent and hire made. Sometimes, outsourcing is better.

In some cases, you do not need to hire a “full head count.” You could bleed money. Payroll can become a company’s biggest cost. Justify ROI on everything. Every person should generate revenue or traffic.

[40:00] What’re some of your favorite CPG brands as of late? Briogeo® Hair Care.

[41:00] Follow SKU on social to learn more about Breyer’s favorite emerging brands!! Out now.

[42:18] Who are some CPG entrepreneurs that inspire you?

  • Paul Nardone CEO of BFY Brands, Inc. Their career in the better-for-you CPG space began in 1993 at Annie’s Homegrown.
  • Scott Jensen – President and CEO of Rhythm Superfoods. 
  • Clayton Christopher, previously at Cavu Venture Partners, once behind the brands Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka – now on the board of SKU’s accelerator program.
  • Jason Karp, Hu Kitchen Founder. Their newest project: HumanCo.

[44:02] In your opinion, what are a couple of things that smaller consumer goods brands should focus on to accelerate their growth? 

  1. Know who your core audience is – be open to who it is and if it changes.
  2. Make sure you stay scrappy – every penny should have an ROI (USE those KPIs, right out of the gate to measure your success + pull the RIGHT levers). “Why did our sales go up?” Be ready to say why.

[47:30] Stay tuned for SKU’s accelerator program announcements by following SKU and UMAI Marketing on Instagram.

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Read – #11: The Best Biz Owners Stay Humble & Scrappy, Words of Wisdom From SKU’s Chief Operating Officer

 

Narrator:

Calling all consumer goods business owners and marketing professionals, does planning content ahead of time stress you out? 

Do you want to run Instagram and Facebook ads but just aren’t sure where to start? If your answer is yes and yes, then our mini course was made for you. 

It’s 100% free and packed with essential tactics that you can implement as soon as today. To join in, visit our website at https://umaimarketing.com/consumer-goods-mini-course/. Alright, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith:
All right everyone, welcome to the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. 

I’m Alison and that’s Karen, we are co-founders of UMAI and we’re here being joined by Michelle Breyer, who is the chief operating officer at SKU’s accelerator program, the consumer products accelerator that calls Austin home. Welcome, Michelle.

Michelle Breyer:
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Alison Smith:
We’re excited to be talking to you.

Michelle Breyer:
I love what you guys do, and I love what you do for companies in this space, and we’re all one big happy family here in Austin.

Alison Smith:
That’s right. So, I think we really wanted to dive into your background first.

Michelle Breyer:
Oh, boy.

Alison Smith:
Because, it was really interesting. So, you got your start in journalism?

Michelle Breyer:
Yes. Yes. Yeah, and I thought I was always going to be a reporter. I loved being a reporter. I loved writing about entrepreneurs. 

It was probably the feature stories on founders were my favorite thing. Never expected to be a founder, never expected to have an amazing job where I get to work with founders, but yeah, I loved being a business reporter.

Karin Samelson:
Was there a founder story that you can think of now that you just… will always stay with you, that was just super inspiring?

Michelle Breyer:
Well, I actually followed John Mackey from Whole Foods around for year. I had covered Whole Foods when they were a tiny company… or not totally tiny, but much tinier, like 12 stores. 

Which really ages me, but oh well. I was really kind of amazed, one day I turned around, and they were a billion dollar company and it’s like, how did they get here? 

They used to be this tiny, little, regional grocery chain. So, I did a year long project where I basically followed John Mackey around for a year, went to store openings, just got to know him really well, and I think that was my most memorable. 

It was a series of articles that all ran on a Sunday, but definitely my most memorable.

Michelle Breyer:
I’d say second to that was Herb Kelleher from Southwest Airlines. It was a two hour interview where he must have smoked two packs of cigarettes during that time, but he is the most charismatic, amazing, amazing entrepreneur you’ve ever met. 

I know he’s passed away since then, but you would have followed him anywhere. you would have invested any amount of money because he was that-

Karin Samelson:
I have to look into him. I don’t know anything about him. But John Mackey, following… that’s experience to take with you to SKU’s accelerator program. That’s incredible.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, it really was an amazing experience because I spent a lot of time in stores. And, stores in Boulder, in Beverly Hills, in New York. 

And the brands we work with, these are the brands that you see in a Whole Foods store and they’re really the reason I think that Whole Foods is so successful, because they have all these emerging brands and they were probably, maybe one of the first chains that focused on those type of brands.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, very cool. My fondest memories of CPG are going to those conventions, and I don’t know if you know who Scott Price is, but he was-

Michelle Breyer:
Oh, yeah.

Karin Samelson:
… I say this really fondly and lovingly, we would refer to them as the OG Whole Foods hippies because they’re this group of the coolest folks that started at Whole Foods, right when it was starting.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah. We had a guy at Statesman, when I worked there, who was one of their first investors. And, he was a hippie, kind of groovy guy, and then one day he retired. 

I think he was probably in his 50s and had… I mean, I can’t even imagine what he was worth, you would never have known it because he was such a down to earth guy. 

But I think there was this whole group of them, that just they were in it for really the right reasons. Well, I don’t think there’s a wrong reason for investing in a company, but they just really were having fun with it. They had fun being a part of this growing company.

Karin Samelson:
So, you grew up in California, is that correct?

Michelle Breyer:
Yes. Yes.

Karin Samelson:
And, what drew you to Austin? Was the Statesman the first newspaper job you had?

Michelle Breyer:
No, I actually took a job in San Antonio first. I was living in San Diego and I was just ready for a change. And, I was getting a couple of job offers. 

I had sent out a whole bunch of clips, you send out newspaper clips, and had gotten job offers in Tennessee and Southern California, other papers in Southern California, and Great Falls, Montana. 

And then the San Antonio Light flew me out there for… so I worked on the paper for a week, because you had what they called try outs, and it was Christmastime, almost exactly this time of year, and I just fell in love with it. 

I fell in love with the people at the paper, with the town. I was ready to do something really radical, so I was in my 20s, and I’m like, “I’m moving to Texas, whoo.” And, it was the best thing that I ever did.

Karin Samelson:
So, so glad you ended up here. It’s great.

Michelle Breyer:
I am too. Can’t even imagine if I hadn’t because of all the… 

Thinking of all the friends and just the things that have happened here, starting a company, everything happened that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not moved here. Who knows what would have replaced it, but it’s been a pretty good run.

Alison Smith:
Working with the Statesman, and then San Antonio, then you started NaturallyCurly, is that the right order of events?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
And, was that a blog or a community first, or how’d that go?

Michelle Breyer:
It really was a total hobby. I had some curly friends at the paper and we would complain about our hair all the time and… 

moving from California where I had a whole routine, straightening it, and then putting hot curlers in, and then plastering it with hairspray. That just wasn’t going to work here. 

And, so I had to come to peace with my hair for the first time in my life and I-

Alison Smith:
Because of humidity?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, the heat and humidity were… I just couldn’t fight it anymore. 

And, I had some friends who worked at the paper with me and we had this similar issues and so we were complaining about our hair at a party and someone overheard us. 

“There must be other people like you who complain about your hair, you should start a magazine or a website.” And we did, as a hobby. 

Totally as a hobby. No intentions of it being a business, making any money. But, we tapped into something. And, I think that’s also been something that I’ve taken with me to SKU’s accelerator program is a sense of being on the front of a trend.

Michelle Breyer:
Because, we were at the very front of a trend. There was no curly hair industry, and we helped create that industry. 

We proved to brands, there’s more than half the population that has curly hair. We spend a lot of money, we spend more money than people with straight hair, so maybe you need to take this seriously. 

But, it was really all of these emerging brands, like one person entrepreneurs, one person companies, female founders largely, primarily women of color, and they were creating products in their kitchens and they were showing the L’Oréals and the Unilevers of the world that this was a market. 

I mean, they were the leaders.

Michelle Breyer:
And it was an an amazing thing to watch, and I’m seeing the same thing now in food and beverage and all these other consumer product companies. 

People want brands with a story, they want people who are passionate about what they do, and that they are doing this because they are filling a need in their own lives. And, that was 100% the way it was happening in curly hair.

Alison Smith:
So, I’m guessing with SKU’s accelerator program, that’s something that you really look at, getting in front a trend?

Michelle Breyer:
Oh yeah, yeah. Or, if you are a part of a trend that’s already big, you want to offer something unique in that trend. 

What we’re starting to see in curly hair specifically, it was really easy to get a big audience, community, customer base, at the beginning… 

because, it was unusual for anyone to offer a product for curly hair, and now there’s so many of them you better be offering something revolutionary, different ingredients, different way of applying, different… 

it’s a cream, gel, dry spray or something. You can’t just be a me too anymore, and I think that we see that in food and bev and really everything.

Alison Smith:
So, where is NaturallyCurly now? Are you still working on it? What’s-

Michelle Breyer:
Well, actually, they still call me up on a regular basis when there are things happening where they need advice or help. 22 years later it’s still operating. It’s kind of amazing. 

I mean, it makes me really happy. It’s undergone a lot of changes over the years, but there’s still some people who were there almost from the beginning. 

Not the founders but just people who joined the company, a lot of them were people who discovered it when they were dealing with their own hair issues, so they came to it with a sense of it was theirs, too. Which I love. They were a part of this company.

Karin Samelson:
22 years-

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I know.

Karin Samelson:
… of community building is insane.

Michelle Breyer:
It is insane.

Alison Smith:
And, now what you’re saying, why was not a need being met 22 years ago? It’s so wild.

Michelle Breyer:
It makes me angry. 

Sometimes, I still get angry about it because it was this perception that everybody wanted to look a certain way, and that if you didn’t fit this very defined, little box of what was considered okay, then, “We don’t even want to mess with you. 

Our marketing department at this huge consumer product company, you’re not on our radar, so we’re going to ignore you.” 

And, what they ended up doing was missing the boat. I mean, I don’t know how many times Pantene has relaunched a curly line. Because they just never got it right and even if they did get it right, there’s still a lot of people who it’s like, “You don’t care about this. You’re only-“

Alison Smith:
Just trying to hit the market?

Michelle Breyer:
I’m going to go to the brand where I know the woman who started it, and I know she did it because she authentically wanted to help her own curls, and she understands the ingredients. 

I don’t trust this bigger company who ignored me for decades. I love Pantene, don’t get me wrong, this is not throwing shade on Pantene.

Alison Smith:
Don’t come for her.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, I can see that happening.

Alison Smith:
But it’s so crazy, you’re saying they still get it wrong.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, in a lot of cases. I remember a very well-known company… I mean, I’ll just say it, come on. It was Dove. 

And, Dove came out with a curly line and it was a big deal because they had put all this money behind a campaign that was the most beautiful campaign. 

They do that better than anybody, like the real woman and made you cry, and they were telling their curly hair stories and-

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I’ve definitely cried on Dove commercials.

Michelle Breyer:
Oh, yeah. And, it was that typical thing, “I didn’t feel good about myself and I hated my hair,” and then the actual product line was so horrible. 

It was like one shampoo, one conditioner, and one styling product for every kind of curly hair. And I was like, “So, you spent all this money over here, but you never even did your research, your homework-“

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s not one box again. Yeah.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, marketing cannot… let’s see, you can’t market yourself out of a bad product, I guess is what I’m saying.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. What’s that lifetime value? You can get somebody to buy the product-

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, one time.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Michelle Breyer:
And, they’re never going to purchase it again. And, they’re going to tell all their friends it’s a bad product.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s right.

Michelle Breyer:
So, just take some of that beautiful filming, marketing money and spend the time on the product.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I actually learned a lot from your site. I learned I need to do a test with my hair to see how porous it is.

Michelle Breyer:
Did it float?

Alison Smith:
And, I learned that if it floats or sinks. And, then I learned I’m like an L1 wave or something. It’s like, man, [crosstalk 00:13:20]-

Karin Samelson:
So, educational.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Michelle Breyer:
It is, it is. It’s kind of mind boggling and only curly girls really understand this, and you can walk up to any curly girl in the street and you can get into a half hour conversation and they will understand everything. 

They will talk about their porosity, they will talk about all this, and someone walking by without curly hair will think you’re crazy. But we don’t care.

Alison Smith:
No.

Karin Samelson:
I love how you branded them curly girls. You say that and I think that’s so fun. I’ve never called myself a straight hair girl, and it’s not cool, I’m never going to do that. Curly girls are [crosstalk 00:14:01]-

Michelle Breyer:
Well, you could. It’s just like being a… we even say just a curly, being a curly because you’ve had to probably come to peace with it and it’s been something that you probably didn’t always love, there was a… 

I don’t know, there’s just something unique about how it impacts your life.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. So, 22 years of community, what are some things that you, your team, everybody there, has done to really keep that community alive over that long of a course?

Michelle Breyer:
Influencers come and go. And, you probably see that, you know this. 

There’s a lifespan on influencers, which I feel bad about, but they are their brand, and there’s always somebody right behind them who is ready to take their place. 

But the website has all of these voices, and it has 22 years of content and it is evergreen content a lot of it, and from an SEO standpoint, you can’t come close. 

You type curly hair in, NaturallyCurly will come up day in, day out. That’s just the way it is. People pass it down to each other. 

Hair stylists pass it down to each other. There’s this just constant new generation of people who go there to get their information, and I think that’s why it continues to live on.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. Well, inspirational, first of all. But what led you to SKU’s accelerator program?

Michelle Breyer:
Well, we sold the company in 2018 and I was still consulting but I was doing a lot of… I had started to do some mentoring before then. 

I really love mentoring, and had mentored for DivInc and MassChallenge, and was recruited to SKU’s accelerator program by one of the board members. They were really looking for mentors with some beauty background and personal care background to… 

I mean, there were people there, but just to really increase the number of people who could help brands that had that… that were in that category. 

Because, they like to have category experts. And, I just fell in love with it. I mean, my company that I mentored for was a company called Lamik Beauty, and she is this amazing force of nature. And, she had actually done my eyebrows at an event years ago, where I was speaking at an event. 

So, I already knew her and really liked her and I just liked the whole community. I mean, it’s an amazing community. It really is like a who’s who. I mean, you know, it’s like rock stars.

Michelle Breyer:
And, they came to me in the fall of 2019 and said that there was a position and they wanted me to consider taking it. 

And, I had said to people before that, when they asked, “What kinds of jobs would you want to do from now on?” I thought, “Well, I want to be a mentor, and I just need to find a way to make that my full time job.” 

So, I did it. I did it. I feel lucky every day that it worked out that way, because SKU’s accelerator program has been so much fun. It’s been such an exciting time to be a part of it too, because we’ve been expanding, and for SKU’s accelerator program 9th cohort we have companies who applied from all over the country, so many strong companies… 

Sorry, I’m shaking my computer so you’re probably like, “Whoo.”

Karin Samelson:
I’m on a ride.

Michelle Breyer:
And, it’s an incredible time to be a part of CPG in general, but definitely to be a part of SKU’s accelerator program where you have this impact on people’s companies and you can help them realize their potential. 

And, we’re launching a diversity and inclusion track with Naturally Austin in the late spring, early summer. 

So, that’s really exciting and that was something that I’ve been really… Emily Kealey and I came up with the idea for doing this over a couple of cocktails, which is how NaturallyCurly started too. 

But, just this sense that we needed to do better as a community in terms of making sure we have diversity. And, CPG is not as diverse as it needs to be, so why isn’t it, and what is that bridge that we can help create to make it a much more inclusive community? 

So, we’re really excited about it, it’s called MO, and I just can’t wait. So, many amazing mentors want to get involved, people of color. 

Companies have just jumped on board, Amplify Snacks, and Gathered Foods, and [Egan Nelson 00:19:09], everybody wants to get involved because they want to… everybody sees this as something so important. It’s exciting.

Karin Samelson:
So exciting. I saw that in the newsletter today, and I was just pumped. Emily’s been talking about it. Well, not divulging any of the details, but just mentioning it, and I just cannot wait to hear the details.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, yeah. And, we’ll probably try to recruit as many people from the community as we can to get involved with it, subject matter experts, because we just want to create the best possible program. I don’t know. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Karin Samelson:
That’s exciting. Yeah, one of my biggest-

Alison Smith:
So, exciting.

Karin Samelson:
… complaints with Austin is it’s just not diverse. And, the same to say with CPG, it’s just not as inclusive as you want to see it. And so, I’m glad that there are things being put into place by our leaders in the industry to help be more inclusive. I think it’s exciting.

Michelle Breyer:
Well, and it’s interesting for me specifically because the industry I came from, specifically textured hair, was so the opposite. 

I mean, it was kind of the rule rather than the exception that the company was founded by a person of color. I mean, I’d say probably 80% of the companies that had been founded, and there were so many companies founded, were founded by women of color. 

So, that was just something that became the norm and I wasn’t seeing that necessarily in the greater CPG community.

Karin Samelson:
Exciting for you to take that knowledge and bring it here and share it.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, hopefully. We were talking about it today, we have an amazing woman named… her name is Bianca. 

She is this incredible instructor of personal finance at Rice University, and she is the fractional CFO for a company that was in out DFW track, this amazing 17 year old sauce boss, Tyla-Simone Crayton. 

So, Bianca worked with Tyla-Simone and she’s getting involved with this, and she’s as excited as anybody. She’s like, “Oh my God, this is…” 

Everyone is taking it so much in this wonderful way, this ownership of it. “I love this, what can I do to make this successful?” And we were on the phone today, and it was just so many great ideas and so much passion and energy. It was amazing.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. So, for people that don’t know SKU, which everyone one should check it out, tell us a little bit more about it, what’s SKU’s core mission?

Michelle Breyer:
We were founded in 2011 by a group of local CPG entrepreneurs, Shari Wynne Ressler and Clayton Christopher and Scott Jensen, Joe Ross, Dan Graham. 

It really got founded… awareness that the same kind of support and resources that existed for the tech industry, which is very entrepreneurial here in Austin, did not exist for CPG. 

And CPG was exploding in Austin, or just starting to get to the point where it was a major force. So, there was a sense like, “Why don’t we create something that can help accelerate emerging brands?” 

And it had some initial big successes, which kind of proved that this can be something… it could be a force. Epic was a huge success. Sold to General Mills for $100 million.

Michelle Breyer:
So, the first track had four companies and it has progressively… we’re up to seven to eight companies per track. 

We expanded into New York in the fall of 2019, a partnership with BeyondBrands, which is a marketing company for CPG, and expanded into the Twin Cities this last summer, with a partnership with a purpose driven accelerator, and it’s aimed at incubating and accelerating purpose driven CPGs. 

It’s called Impact SKU. And then we were recruited up to Dallas, kind of unexpectedly. If you had told me this time last year we would have expanded into DFW, that wasn’t even on the radar. 

But one of our amazing mentors, Richard Riccardi, they were trying to build a more robust CPG community in DFW, he’s like, “We need SKU up here. Would you guys be up for it?” And so, in the course of three months we put together SKU DFW and it was amazing.

Michelle Breyer:
The common thread with all of the programs is that through super engaged mentorship and curriculum, you can really help these startups grow much quicker. 

And the mentorship is really, I think, the special thing about SKU’s accelerator program. It’s all these incredibly seasoned, successful CPG leaders and investors, who are giving their time and their expertise and their network to help these emerging brands. 

And it’s just an incredible thing to watch, when you see the CEO of Deep Eddy working with a beverage company to help figure out how to get where they want to be, quicker. 

Because if you’re working with someone who’s already done it before, they can really help you in so many ways.

Michelle Breyer:
Pretty incredible, one of the companies that was a part of DFW, it was a plant-based jerky company, and on that team we had the founder of… 

no, the VP of Frito-Lays, the baked division and SmartPop!, and then we had the VP of marketing for Amplify Snacks, so SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty, and we had the head of innovation of Converse shoes, and we had an operations expert and a branding expert. 

And, it was just amazing to see how it took that founder literally from here to here. 

He says to me, I must talk to him once a week, “I can’t believe how lucky I am. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.” And, now he has this amazing group of advisors, who have just taken him under their wing and are really helping him potentially become the next generation of success stories. 

So, that to me, is really kind of the essence of SKU. That nurturing, mentoring, educating this next generation of CPG companies.

Alison Smith:
And gosh, you cannot put a price on that type of mentorship, like just-

Michelle Breyer:
No, you can’t. You can’t. And, just to have people who just enjoy and are passionate about doing it. The Scott Jensen’s of the world, who will just give their time and their knowledge and just love it. That’s an incredible thing. It’s like gold.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. So, what type of brands should apply to SKU? What type of brands do you look for, for your programs?

Michelle Breyer:
It’s kind of a combination of things. It’s number one a product that has something unique about it and it’s in a hot category, and they have some traction. 

We like our companies, like in Austin track, to have about at least 200,000 in sales. So, between 200,000 and a million is the sweet spot. 

We want founders who have a really great story and who are really passionate about what they do, and who enjoy learning, they know what they know and they know what they don’t know and they are wiling to be surrounded by mentors and to learn and listen and grow. 

And then there’s a little bit of the magic behind it where you just have a gut feeling about a company, where it’s like, I just really like them, I think that they have a real chance of being a big success if we can just plug in some of these key things, we can really help them.

Alison Smith:
So, do you go through a few rounds of interview phases, where that’s where you get to see their charisma or things like that?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, and they ultimately have to do a pitch interview to a group of mentors. And, you learn a lot then. You’ve tasted their products by then, or smelled them, or whatever…

because there’s not just food and beverage companies, there’s personal care and clothing and all kinds of things. So, you’ve had that chance to touch and feel and taste, but then when you see the founder pitch, it really gives you a window into who they are. 

If they’re asked questions do they get super defensive? How do they respond to questions? How well do they know their market? 

In talking to them, do they have a clear idea of what they think they can get out of SKU? Because if it’s just, “I want to raise money,” and that’s the only thing, then that’s not a really good candidate, because SKU is really about the whole process of becoming… 

figuring out who you are as a company and really developing your strategy.

Alison Smith:
Well, that being said, what do you see most brands struggle with when they come on to your accelerator program? Is it the financing aspect? Is it marketing messaging? What’s the biggest pain point, I guess, for brands and how can they_

Michelle Breyer:
It’s never one thing. With one brand it might be that because they have the wrong co-packer, their margins are much lower than they should be. 

So, there may be operations issues. And in another case, there may be major marketing issues, like they don’t know who their market is, or they’re going after a market who is not the market that’s actually going to be buying their products. 

So, you never see just one thing that is the biggest issue that every company faces.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michelle Breyer:
Some have one thing really down, like they know their branding is beautiful, they don’t need to make any changes to that, but then their margins are so low that they’re never going to make any money.

Karin Samelson:
Is there a recurring theme with some of the most successful brands that have come through the program? Is there something that you see in all of them that’s similar?

Michelle Breyer:
They’re really coachable. They really want to learn. 

They are sponges and they know how to take the information from their mentors and some of it may be… how to synthesize it to make their company a better company. 

And you’d think that everybody who goes through an accelerator has those attributes, but that’s not the case. 

Some people just… they think they know it all. I’d say most of the time with SKU founders, they are coachable. But I’ve seen throughout the various accelerators I’ve been a part of and incubators, there are just founders who don’t want to listen. 

They really think that they know their market, they know their product, they know it all. It’s like, then why are you in this program? 

I mean, you can’t listen to everything that everybody says and you have to have some sense that you know a little bit about what you’re doing, but you can’t be so rigid that you’re not listening to people who may know more than you do.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think that’s so tough sometimes, especially with people whose heart and soul is in this product that they’ve worked so hard on and they think they know what’s best. And, sometimes you just got to take that mentorship and learn from it.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, totally. Yeah. Exactly.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. Well, how many people usually apply to SKU’s accelerator program?

Michelle Breyer:
A couple hundred.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, wow.

Michelle Breyer:
And, they’re really from all over the country. And then we narrow it down to about 15 for the interview process, and then we’ll be announcing our ninth cohort in January.

Karin Samelson:
Exciting.

Alison Smith:
Exciting.

Michelle Breyer:
We have some really, really, really amazing companies. I’m so excited.

Alison Smith:
That’s so exciting. So, it is like an equity… do they give equity?

Michelle Breyer:
They do.

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Michelle Breyer:
[crosstalk 00:32:06] unique. It’s kind of a Shark Tank type of approach, but because of that, because the companies are giving up a little bit of equity and the mentors all have fractional equity in all the companies in a track, there’s a little bit of… there’s skin in the game. 

So, there’s a seriousness to it, and maybe a little bit more willingness to open up your Rolodex and dig in a little bit more. 

But, I have to say the reason that most of our mentors get involved is not for the equity. They get involved because they love it, and they love… it excites them to work with founders. They love working with other mentors, they love this community. 

And if it was only for the money, I don’t think they’d be the right mentors.

Alison Smith:
Right. I mean, it sounds like a lot of fun to help build really cool CPG [inaudible 00:33:00].

Michelle Breyer:
Oh, it’s so much fun. Yeah, yeah, it’s amazing.

Karin Samelson:
That’s why we love it.

Alison Smith:
Never a dull moment.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, that’s for sure. And COVID was never a dull moment in every possible way, but-

Alison Smith:
Oh, my gosh.

Michelle Breyer:
… we’ve got some of these companies, some are doing so much better than they even projected pre-COVID. 

They just were able to pivot to D-to-C and maybe that’s what they should have been all along, but they didn’t know it. And so, one of them, Esker Beauty, her sales are double digits higher than what she projected.

Alison Smith:
Wow.

Michelle Breyer:
So, that’s kind of exciting. It’s like the silver lining of all this craziness that we’ve been going through this year.

Alison Smith:
And, a great thing for smaller brands that can pivot and pivot quickly.

Michelle Breyer:
Totally.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, exactly. Maybe, they’re a little bit more flexible.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, those March humps in sales were just incredible for a lot of our brands that we work with. Just thankful to be in this business, right?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, really.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, well, I love in your LinkedIn bio it says, “Don’t tell me something can’t be done, let’s work to make it a reality.” 

And I love that, because I feel like sometimes there are just these roadblocks that people don’t know how to get over by themselves. 

So, what are some recurring roadblocks you see with these small business owners that you work with?

Michelle Breyer:
A lot of it has to do with how to do… if they don’t have the money to do the things they need to do to make the money, they need to get more customers, but to get more customers costs money. So, I’d say that’s a big recurring theme. 

So, we try to teach them how to do things scrappy. Like, how to do things on their own until they can afford to pay for them. 

And, I think you guys have been helpful in spreading the word about some of the things that you can do from a social marketing perspective before you can afford to… 

At some point, you want someone doing that for you, but in the beginning you may have to learn to do that yourself. But, it is like a chicken/egg thing. 

So, I think that’s one of those where you just have to figure out some things on your own or leverage UT and interns and things like that, till you can get to that point where you can hire a professional team.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, so how big generally are the teams, the teams of the brands that you work with?

Michelle Breyer:
One to two people.

Alison Smith:
That’s what I figured. I mean, that’s what we see all the time. There’s so many facets of CPG, there’s so many moving parts and I’m just consistently impressed with how much founders do.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah. It’s funny, I was boxing up a whole bunch of things for mentors. It was interesting. We had these special boxes that were made and it’s like a puzzle to put them together. 

So, I was sitting on my living room floor putting the together, packing them up, taping up the boxes, putting on the UPS stickers… 

but that’s what I used to do all the time at NaturallyCurly, before we got to 50 people, I was packing up 500 goodie bags or whatever. You have to be willing to do that. If you are not willing to do that, then you shouldn’t be a founder. 

You should know how to do every single job and you should never think that a job is below you.

Karin Samelson:
I love that advice. I mean some people get really surprised with… 

An example, Hima of Tin Star Foods Ghee, they have, what, 50,000 followers on Instagram? She does everything. And, people are so surprised by that. I remember we would run their social campaigns or giveaways, they had always worked with Hima, directly with Hima. 

It was just incredible that they thought that it was a team of 10 or so. And, we’ve worked on different brands like that, where the founder has been running the social for so long, and everything else, and people are just really surprised by that. 

And, I think that that’s just a note for founders now that might think they need other people right now, but they’re just not at that stage yet, they just to grind.

Michelle Breyer:
And the most dangerous thing that can happen is raise money too quickly almost, where you have all this money and you aren’t going to make smart decisions with it. 

I think that’s another common theme. And it may seem like, “Wow, what a great problem to have,” it’s not a good problem to have because if you raise money, you should be as scrappy as you ever were and that’s when you can make some really bad decisions.

Alison Smith:
Gosh, I love that. Any vague case story that you have about that?

Michelle Breyer:
My own company. It’s crazy, at one point we had so many people. I had to tell this story all the time. We were so fat. We were so fat and you can… 

You should have to justify every single dollar you spend and every single hire. If you don’t need to hire a full head count, sometimes it’s better to outsource. 

I’m a big fan now of outsourcing because that can be much more efficient and even though I’m proud of the fact that we hired so many people and for a lot of people we were the reason they were able to buy their first house and everything. 

I think that, in some cases you do not need to hire a full head count. There are people out there that do a really good job, like you guys, and they might be able to do a better job for less money than having a full head count.

Alison Smith:
So, is the main reason to have too many employees because you’re maybe bleeding money? Or, is it do you think smaller teams sometimes just work-

Michelle Breyer:
All of the above.

Alison Smith:
… better.

Michelle Breyer:
Payroll is the biggest cost for a lot of companies and then also you aren’t maybe thinking smartly. You should justify everything. 

You should be looking at the ROI on everything. Is this make sense, these marketing dollars that we’re spending over here? 

Or in a way, we should have been thinking every single person needs to either be generating revenue or generating traffic, like eyeballs. And if they’re not doing that, how are they at least supporting those two initiatives? And, if you can’t really figure that out, then why are they here?

Alison Smith:
I love that. I’m a big fan of small teams.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I’m into that.

Karin Samelson:
So, what are some of your favorite CPG brands right now? Ones that you’ve worked with, or ones that you admire?

Michelle Breyer:
Oh my gosh. I have some beauty ones, and some of them are owned by friends, but I just love them. Briogeo is a haircare brand that I just love. 

And I love the founder who’s a friend of mine, but I think they’re really creative and their packaging is great. Oh my God, that’s such a hard… it’s like Sophie’s Choice [crosstalk 00:40:30]-

Karin Samelson:
I know.

Michelle Breyer:
… child.

Alison Smith:
[inaudible 00:40:34] some brands that we should be looking at to inspire-

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, maybe not favorite.

Michelle Breyer:
I’m not going to tell you who’s in this next track, but there’s one in particular that I think is amazing. They’re all amazing, but this one, I’m just addicted to.

Karin Samelson:
Is it in food an bev? Can you tell us that?

Michelle Breyer:
It is in food and bev. Stay tuned.

Karin Samelson:
Ugh, I cannot wait.

Alison Smith:
So, can people follow along with progress? Would they just need to follow each individual brand?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, follow our social. We have something today just like stay tuned, we will be announcing. We will-

Alison Smith:
This is like Shark Tank Austin local [crosstalk 00:41:12]-

Michelle Breyer:
Yes, it is. But better.

Alison Smith:
But, better.

Karin Samelson:
How fun is that. So, do you post updates on your Instagram for SKU’s Instagram on how the track’s going?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, we do.

Karin Samelson:
Cool.

Michelle Breyer:
And we try to feature our mentors, our companies, words of wisdom from them, and then… That, to me, is who SKU is. SKU is not me, it’s not… SKU is our founders and our mentors and the products. So, we try to put those front and center on our social.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. When are you announcing?

Michelle Breyer:
The first week in January.

Karin Samelson:
First week. Can’t wait.

Michelle Breyer:
Yes, we’ll let you know, so you can yell it to the world.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, we’ll shout it out, for sure.

Michelle Breyer:
Okay.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Well, I think that this one is one that we always like asking because we want to be inspired too, and we always love hearing about new, innovative, inspirational people. So, who are some CPG entrepreneurs that really inspire you?

Michelle Breyer:
Hmm. Oh, gosh. There’s a guy who I met this year who’s with Pepsi, his name is Paul Nardone, I think he’s amazing. 

He was the CEO of Annie’s, the pasta sauce, but he’s also founded a couple of companies and he just… his whole perspective on why you create new products and how you create new products is just fascinating and wonderful. 

I mean, I love Scott Jensen, I think he’s amazing. He just gives so much of his time and when he talks about how he created his company and this whole new category, I think that’s really inspiring.

Karin Samelson:
That’s Rhythm Superfoods, right?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah. And then of course, Clayton Christopher, because just everything he touches turns to gold.

Karin Samelson:
How is that?

Michelle Breyer:
I don’t know, I’m just glad he’s a part of…. that he’s involved with SKU because he’s amazing. It’s like Waterloo Sparkling Water, oh yeah, Clayton was involved. 

Cavu, Clayton was involved, he was a founder. It’s pretty amazing. Just those people who have that potential. Jason Karp, founder of Hu Kitchen, who just started HumanCo and… Just these serial entrepreneurs are amazing to me.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, super inspirational, and I just wonder when they sleep.

Michelle Breyer:
They don’t. They hang upside down in their caves because they’re bats and they don’t sleep.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. Well, a final question for you, in your opinion what are three small things, or maybe big things, that small consumer goods brands should focus on to experience growth?

Michelle Breyer:
Let’s see, well, know who your core audience is. Really, really know. And, it may be totally different than who you think it is, so be very open to having your… 

We had a company who thought that their market was Millennials and it was really moms of young kids. 

And their marketing had to be completely different for one versus the other, but had they focused on the one, they would have been completely missing out on who their market really was and may not have succeeded.

Michelle Breyer:
Let’s see, what I said about make sure that you stay scrappy. 

Really every penny should have an ROI to it, so have metrics, have score cards, KPIs, as much as you can, be measuring things. 

Try to get disciplined right out of the gate, so that you can measure everything that you’re doing and then you can pull the levers. 

But if you don’t know why something is affecting… “Oh, our sales jumped up, but we don’t know why,” then you can’t replicate it. So, really get granular about your metrics. And, then what else? Do I have to have three?

Karin Samelson:
No, you don’t. I love those two.

Michelle Breyer:
Okay.

Karin Samelson:
That’s perfect.

Michelle Breyer:
Let’s keep it at two.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And, we talked to Emily Kealey and I think that was the first thing she said, “Know your core audience. Know who you’re talking to and selling to.”

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah. Everything you do affects that.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, and that may be the hardest thing. And, that’s the hardest thing to change your mindset around too, because sometimes you just really are set [crosstalk 00:46:03]-

Karin Samelson:
You want it to be.

Michelle Breyer:
… I remember having this conversation with John Paul DeJoria, who was actually one of our investors, the pony tail Paul Mitchell guy?

Karin Samelson:
Yep.

Michelle Breyer:
He said, “You know, we don’t really have curly hair products.” I’m like, “You do. Your sculpting foam. Every curly girl I know uses the sculpting foam.” 

“But it’s not for curly hair.” “But they’re using it, and I bet if you do an analysis, they’re the ones that are spending the most money.” 

They were the ones who were buying the sculpting foam. So, it’s like, you think it’s here, but it’s these women, and they are buying a can every two weeks. So-

Alison Smith:
And, you’re not speaking to them at all.

Michelle Breyer:
Yes, exactly. So, it was kind of almost a comical conversation. 

I’m like, “You do have products. I use your products.” We had a woman who wrote a poem on NaturallyCurly about one of their products, a foaming pomade. It was a poem. It was the craziest thing, because she loved it so much.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, my gosh.

Michelle Breyer:
Like, you have curly products.

Alison Smith:
I got to find that poem.

Karin Samelson:
Missed opportunities, for sure.

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Know your audience, stay scrappy, I think those are great pieces of advice to leave CPG owners and marketers with. I think that’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Michelle.

Michelle Breyer:
Thank you, this has been so fun. I really appreciate it. Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, definitely. Is there anything you want to leave the audience with?

Michelle Breyer:
[inaudible 00:47:30]-

Karin Samelson:
A call to action?

Michelle Breyer:
Yeah, well stay tuned for the MO track, because we’re super excited about that. And, then for the track nine company announcement.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Can’t wait. We’ll have it. We’ll have it ready to share.

Michelle Breyer:
Okay, wonderful. Well, thanks guys, have a great rest of your day.

Alison Smith:
Thanks, Michelle.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks, Michelle.

Michelle Breyer:
Bye.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. 

We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website umaimarketing.com. 

Catch you back here soon, bye!

 

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#10: Uplifting Female Founders, Pitch Deck Pitfalls, and Getting Funded

Podcast cover image with Springdale Venture Principal
umai social circle podcast cover photo

#10: Uplifting Female Founders, Pitch Deck Pitfalls, and Getting Funded With Springdale Ventures Principal Caroline Fabacher

Caroline Fabacher might’ve entered the biz world as an attorney at law. ⚖️ But, it was always her love for finances and startups that continually drew her closer to her current position: Principal at Springdale Ventures. 💸

We chat all about –
– Beam, the 1st Texas-based Angel Network dedicated to women-founded companies
– What makes some pitches sing 🎵 and others screech 🦉 (to a grinding halt)
– How the heck does one secure funding these days, from an insider’s perspective

Let us break it down for you…

[0:50] Intro to Caroline Fabacher, Principal at Springdale Ventures. How UMAI & Fabacher met – at CANTEEN.

[1:40] Fabacher’s background in law school. She fell in love with finances and startups. Joined a boutique venture firm that focused on serving entrepreneurs. Early-stage capital raising.

[5:02] Were any of the companies that you worked with CPG brands? 

[7:54] How did you segway from law to the CPG realm? Found the right entrepreneur – believed in their product. Quit her previous job within 18 hours of receiving a formal offer to join the CPG team. “I’m okay betting on me.”

[11:50] What’re some of the pain points that you saw after joining the CPG industry? It’s still a boys club. 

[12:40] A note on Beam in Austin – new angel network focused on backing female founders. The issue with venture investments – there’s a lack of women at the table, period. Fabacher is a part of Beam’s founding committee. 

[16:30] The value of a Bad Actor Investor Removal Provision. A commitment to a better investor-business ecosystem.

[20:00] What’s your day to day like at Springdale Ventures? Fundraising. Being accessible to portfolio companies. 

[23:35] What does your firm look for in an investable CPG brand? Generally, 1 million in total revenue. Digitally native brand. Margins & cost of customer acquisition play a smaller role in this decision. 

[25:10] How much does the founder matter? So much! A factor that sets product apart. Leadership is huge.

[26:26] So, what qualities do you look for in a founder? You know it when you see it. Experience – but this looks different depending on the team.

[28:00] What’re some ways that a company can improve their pitch to potential investors? Go through old decks from successful companies (example: Tinder & Airbnb). What’s the structure? Get to the point as quickly as possible – show them why they should care. Find a flow. Google who you’re talking to!

[30:50] How important are mission statements or hard numbers in a pitch deck? Thoughtful, cohesive branding matters. And, knowing your numbers establishes credibility.

[32:00] How accurate is Shark Tank in relation to the pitches that you see? Not fair to compare them as they’re so heavily edited. Usually, over the course of multiple calls. Post-money versus pre-money valuation.

[34:30] Best piece of advice for a CPG biz that wants to get funded? Have someone that can speak on your financials. 

[35:36] Work-life balance. Hard work matters, but your job can become a black hole. You must set healthy boundaries. High-pressure situations aren’t sustainable. Escape into the outdoors. 

[41:00] Closing. Show up, do your best, and be nice to each other. For women thinking about starting a business: DO IT! Representation matters. 

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 

Read – #10: Uplifting Female Founders, Pitch Deck Pitfalls, and Getting Funded
With Springdale Ventures Principal Caroline Fabacher

Narrator:
Calling all consumer goods, business owners, and marketing professionals. Does planning content ahead of time stress you out? Do you want to run Instagram and Facebook ads but just aren’t sure where to start? If your answer is yes and yes, then our mini course was made for you. It’s 100 percent free and packed with essential tactics that you can implement as soon as today. To join in, visit our website at UMAImarketing.com/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith:
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods, marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow. I’m Alison and that’s Karin. We are the co-founders of UMAI Marketing and we’re being joined here today with Caroline Fabacher, principal at Springdale Ventures, the Austin Venture Capital Firm growing CPG brands like Cece’s Veggie Noodles, Mosie Baby, and FitJoy. Welcome Caroline.

Caroline Fabacher:
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Alison Smith:
Thanks. Well, we’re excited too. So just a quick recap on how we know Caroline. So we worked with Caroline at a canned vodka soda company, maybe a year or so back. And she was the co-founder there and we were the marketing team. So that’s how we met. We’ll get a little bit more into that, but first we wanted to do a deep dive into your background. So you studied law and became a lawyer out of school, right?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So I did my JD/MBA, SMU and the whole time that I was doing my law school classes, I was like, oh, I really don’t want to practice law. I want to delay.

Alison Smith:
Too late.

Caroline Fabacher:
I know, right? I want to work with startups. And my MBA concentration was in strategy and entrepreneurship. I was taking the starting a business class and writing business plans and taking venture capital and private equity finance classes. And just, that’s where my heart was and I didn’t know how to justify like, I’m a little bit fancy, a little bit high maintenance. I got to have this certain standard of living, but also I want to work with startups, they are not paying anything. So I was like, what do I do?

Caroline Fabacher:
So I was tweeting about startup stuff, mostly to kiss up to a business school professor whose class I was taking on Twitter and he tweeted a lot. Tweeting about startup stuff and a startup attorney followed me. And I was like, wait, a startup attorney is a thing? What is that? And I stalked him through Twitter, found the firm and the rest is history. That’s where I ended up working. I got an offer and I spent the first four years of my law career at that Boutique Venture Firm.

Alison Smith:
Wow. Yeah. Okay. So what [crosstalk 00:02:53]-

Caroline Fabacher:
Boutique Venture Firm that focused on serving startups and entrepreneurs.

Alison Smith:
Okay. So what things were you doing specifically?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. As a young attorney, so we were doing anything from your very first corporate needs. Entity formation, organizing your corporate governance documents, it was really sexy stuff. And then from there, your very earliest needs, which were usually service agreement contracts or bringing on employees and then through capital raising. So our core area of expertise was early stage capital raising, so a lot of friends and family rounds are probably where I spent most of my time and C grounds and then a couple of series A rounds.

Caroline Fabacher:
The firm did some work further down the chain, but that’s really where I spent the most of my time. And just it continued to fuel that love of startups and working with them and doing anything I could to help them move the ball forward. Yeah, being an attorney is a [crosstalk 00:03:53] very sexy thing.

Alison Smith:
It’s paperwork. A lot of paperwork a lot of times, right?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah, and you can feel like that some days. Don’t get me wrong. Some days lawyering felt like a slog. But for the most part, it was the underlying purpose that got me super excited to go to work every day. That every day I’m helping an entrepreneur move the ball forward. And a lot of cases, a lot of our clients were the very earliest stages. They had just formed the business, they’ve got an idea, they haven’t refined their business model yet. They often don’t even have a product. And so if they have you on the phone or they’re sending you a quick email, they might also ask you a question that’s not legal, if it’s about their business strategy. And so to have that opportunity to also put my MBA to work was really fun and rewarding and satisfying.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Because you were with these companies since inception basically. [crosstalk 00:04:47]. You were-

Caroline Fabacher:
You see some of them grow, but you see some of them die too. That happens where you’ll bring in a new client, you’re really excited about them, and then next year they don’t exist.

Alison Smith:
Oh yeah. That’s tough and tough to hear as a business owner, but were some of these brands that you worked with CPG brands? Is that how you got into that field?

Caroline Fabacher:
I mean, yes, because it was my client that approached me to come work with them. So yeah, some of them were CPG brands. I’m trying to think. But really they ran the gamut, anything from true small businesses that were services focused all the way to more venture investible startups. And at the time I was primarily in Dallas, but then came back to Austin. So there’s definitely a difference between the types of startups that you see between the two towns. Although CPG is really exploding in Dallas too, and they have skew up there now. So I’m curious if I was a day one attorney all over again in Dallas, what the makeup of the clients would be, because it’s changed so much. The ecosystems are evolving in Texas, which is really cool to see.

Alison Smith:
And how long ago was that?

Caroline Fabacher:
Let’s see. I graduated in 2016, so I guess I started with them in 2015 as a clerk and then left in 2019.

Karin Samelson:
And correct me if I’m wrong, you really got started on Twitter, on social media. That’s how you got your first job, really.

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah, pretty much. I never set foot in our Career Center at SMU, which is probably like my bad and a wasted opportunity. But a lot of law school career centers and business school for instant are to a certain extent are set up to funnel you towards a particular type of job, right. A lot of business school students end up in consulting or an investment banking. There’s a couple recruiters that come to campus and they do their thing. Same thing in law school where it’s really designed to funnel you towards big law and that’s just not where my heart was.

Caroline Fabacher:
I realized pretty early on through my clerkship’s that I have to be really close to my work, to be really excited about it. I have to almost hold it a little too tight to do great work. And so for me, that didn’t mean compiling thousands of pages of documents and then sending them off to a corporate client who I may never meet or see. And in the case of my clerkship was on the floor below us in the same building, and I never met anybody there. I like working with small businesses and with venture backed startups because it is so tangible, it’s surreal, it’s so personal, and everybody is so invested. There’s an intensity there that I just think it works for me and it makes me excited to do my work.

Alison Smith:
I totally agree on that.

Karin Samelson:
Well, so how did you segue from law into the CPG world?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. It was a pretty abrupt transition where my client at the time… Well, let me back up a little bit. When I first came to Austin, I was like, “Hey, I know one of the biggest baddest founders of a CPG company. I’m going to go chase that business.” So that’s how I reconnected with the person who ended up becoming my client. He had moved on from his last CPG venture and he came to me and he was like, “Hey, I have this idea.” I’m like, “That sounds awesome.” And I was thinking about it, I was like, that’s a really good idea. I believe in that product. I believe in that vision, and in that team. And I sat down with him and told him, “I know it when I see it. And I will follow you off the cliff and build the airplane on the way down, if there’s a place for me in this.”

Caroline Fabacher:
So a couple months went by, he came to my firm as a client and we formed the entity and got it started and when a little bit of time had gone by, I hadn’t heard anything. He and his other partner invited me out to the distillery to sample products. So I just went out there thinking, I’m your attorney, I’m here to taste this and just be here. And they’re like, “Do you want to join us?” And 18 hours later, I quit my job.

Caroline Fabacher:
It was a no brainer for me. I was restless. I was ready to move on. I knew this was the opportunity and I didn’t hesitate. And coincidentally, I had a trip up to Dallas to go talk to our law clerks about business development and give them a little seminar on that. So I went up there for that, gave that lecture and then walked into my partner’s office and was like, “I’m sorry, this is my notice.” It was very surreal.

Karin Samelson:
18 hours later. You don’t hear stuff like that very often. Making that big of a career job.

Caroline Fabacher:
And that’s one of the things that I knew, but that I also don’t think my partners knew, that law is very much an apprenticeship, right? I had mentors, I had teachers within my firm, and it’s a very specific path. And if you step off of it, I don’t get any credit for what I’ve learned or the work I’ve done away from law and away from that desk. If I left at this point and learned all this stuff, I’m still coming back to law if everything falls apart at that same spot. So it was definitely a gamble, but I’m okay betting on me and I believe in this product and the team that was being put together, it just made sense. So I didn’t hesitate.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I really like that because it’s just like, take those exciting opportunities, don’t overthink it and just jump in. And like you said, and believe in yourself, so you can do it.

Caroline Fabacher:
And to be fair, I don’t have any other responsibilities. It’s me and my dog. I don’t have to feed children. I don’t have a spouse. We’re not juggling two jobs in a single household. I have every advantage and the flexibility to do that so it’s a combination of yes, being ready for it, but also a little bit of luck. Right place, right time, and having everything else in place that you can make that move.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I love that honesty about luck because some people think it’s all hard work and it’s all what you put into it and I believe that’s so much of it, but a little bit of it is luck sometimes. And I feel the same way for our business too. So that is incredible. So what are some of the pain points that you saw now that you were part of the consumer packaged goods industry?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So this is not going to be surprising or exciting, but the boys’ club phenomena is not unique to corporate culture. And it’s also not unique to tech. Now you hear about it in tech and you read stories and lawsuits by those like Emily Kramer at Carta or Françoise or I think it’s Brougher of Pinterest. This is a common theme, but it’s very much alive [inaudible 00:12:23]. We are so lucky at Springdale to see a more diverse selection of founders, women, and people of color, but we still have a long way to go. And so one of the initiatives I’ve recently gotten involved with here locally in Austin is Beam, which I don’t know if you all have heard of, but it’s a new Angel Network in Austin that focuses on backing female founders.

Caroline Fabacher:
And this is so awesome because it works to solve part of the problem around female founders and them not getting funding. I think less than three percent of venture dollars go to women or teams with a female founder on them. That’s insane. To put that into perspective, I think it was around three and a half billion dollars last year went to women founded companies and $5 billion is what got sunk into WeWork. So that was one deal, and that was more by a billion and a half dollars that all the funding that female founded companies received. That’s not right. But there’s two other pieces to that equation.

Caroline Fabacher:
So it’s like you have to have female founded companies that are having a hard time getting funded, but there are two other parts of this problem that need to get addressed. One are female investors, right? So female investors make up less than 15 percent of venture investments. There aren’t enough women at the table, period. And female investors make a huge difference. So VC firms that added, I think 10 percent to their partnership for females, experienced a 10 percent more profitable exits. It’s good business to have female investors. And then the third piece of that is female employee equity ownership. So women make up 35 percent of equity holders in startups, but they only hold 20 percent of the equity.

Caroline Fabacher:
So Beam is just one of the ways if you’re locally I think that we’re working to address this issue. It is money that is being funneled towards female founders. Female founders are more likely to hire diverse teams and allocate that equity among women a little differently. And then separately from female founding side, you also have the female investing side. And Beam Angel Network has, not a stewardship program, but a coaching program, so if you’re a young woman that is interested in angel investing someday you can be assigned a mentor. I think they’re called guardian angels and work on becoming familiar with this space, right? Because it’s high risk, high reward. A lot of these companies do go to zero. How can you step into this space with as thoughtfully as possible and Beam is working to make that happen.

Alison Smith:
Love that. So you’re saying one of the big problems is there’s not enough female investors because female investors invest in female founders?

Caroline Fabacher:
Partially, yeah. The data around one, what happens to an investing team when they add a woman to the team, they are more profitable, the returns on the fund increase. That’s undeniable. And then separately, they also invest in more female led companies.

Alison Smith:
So what is your role with Beam?

Caroline Fabacher:
With Beam, I’m on the founding committee. So because of my legal background, I help them bring in some legal partners to support the network itself and make sure our form documents that underlie every single transaction that the network does are right and strong and within the parameters of what the organization is setting out to do and serve the investors. So helping them get that set up. One of the things that will be special about Beam’s documents that was also part of my CPG company is something I believe really strongly, and I’m excited that Beam has adopted, is a bad actor investor removal provision. You hear these horror stories about female founders who are propositioned or their checks are conditioned, I know I have an anecdote about a female founder who was sent a sexual consent form by a prospective investor. You can’t make this stuff up.

Alison Smith:
A what?

Caroline Fabacher:
It’s insane. And so the bad actor investor removal provision is like, “Hey, we’re demanding a higher standard of behavior from everybody, from all partners at the table. And if you can’t behave, you don’t just get to keep running around writing checks and-“

Karin Samelson:
Are they blacklisted?

Caroline Fabacher:
Well, so the organization will ultimately remove them. But the problem has been the companies, these startups that take a check from an investor because they need money, have had no mechanism for removing bad actor investors. What am I supposed to do? Sit there uncomfortable with this investor that has done something that has, I don’t know, come up in the news repeatedly for DUIs or spousal abuse or whatever the case may be. There isn’t a way to get rid of them. That’s changing. So that was not the case at my last startup. We had a way to remove investors with unanimous vote and proper procedure that was fair. But startups taking some of the power back. To say, we want to work with good people and we’re going to hold you to a higher standard of behavior. And-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. It’s like you’re in golden handcuffs once you enter that deal, I guess.

Caroline Fabacher:
Yes. Well, that’s part of Beam. They are committed to a better ecosystem and better behavior and have put that in writing and that’s pretty special. Also I will say, as an attorney, if I was investor counsel, I would review that language and be like, “Don’t agree to this if you can avoid it.” It’s just a way for you to potentially lose your interest, right. I was stunned how positive the response was from the investors that we talked to with the last brand. The response was overwhelmingly positive. People want to see this change. And the people who are excited about it are the kind of people that you want to do business with. So it has never been a problem and I don’t foresee it being one. I hope it’s something that becomes more common in the startup ecosystem.

Alison Smith:
I love that they’re taking control back. It’s cool.

Karin Samelson:
And if an investor is against it or is in any way opposed to signing paperwork, that’s not someone you want to work with and [crosstalk 00:19:01]. So that’s really incredible. I haven’t really heard a lot about the bad actor investors.

Caroline Fabacher:
And it was drafted with the help of a bunch of attorneys here locally. I started it and then I crowdsourced it from some of the best attorneys in town who are working venture deals all the time. What would you like to see? What makes sense? What’s the balance between making sure the investor is protected? It’s not like, I don’t know, they tweet about how much they love Trump, and we’re like, “Oh, got to get rid of that.” No, that’s not designed for us to comment on your political leanings or whatever it may be and we want it to be balanced and fair. And so it has input from local, I don’t know, expertise and I’m thrilled that it was something that was crowdsourced and then put back out into the ecosystem.

Alison Smith:
What an awesome thing to be a part of? Let’s talk more about your role as principal at Springdale ventures. What’s your day to day? What are you up to? Let’s here it.

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. A little of this, little of that. Really depends on the day. I joined in July. So five months, almost six months. I feel like I’m still very much getting my feet under me. But it can be everything from sourcing deal flow, review a deal intake. So as the deals come in, figuring out which ones we want to take a closer look at, actually taking a closer look at them. We discuss anything that gets through the door and is pretty interesting to us as a team, which is always really fun because the perspectives are so varied.

Caroline Fabacher:
And then over to the other side which is fundraising. Entrepreneurs you hear about fundraising all the time. We don’t often think about the not so sexy slog of raising money for VC funds. And everybody who’s raised a fund for a first time will tell you that it’s probably the hardest thing they’ve ever done. So we closed fund one in mid November. We’re officially done and we’re starting to think about fund two. What does that look like? Is it bigger? It will be. And then from there, because it’s bigger, what do our new investors look like? Are they the same as the ones that were in fund one? If they’re not, who else are we talking to?

Caroline Fabacher:
So working on building out that pipeline and thinking about who make the best partners, because one of the things that’s really special about Springdale is that most of our investors in the fund are entrepreneurs themselves. And so we have a really deep well of talent and resources and expertise in the CPG space that we’re then able to offer, when appropriate to our portfolio companies.

Caroline Fabacher:
So fine, if we can be picky and take money from people who are the best fit, that’s awesome. But at the end of the day, all money spends the same and there will be some investors who write checks and just wait for their returns and we never hear from them and they’re just more passive investors. Both are great, but part of what makes Springdale special is that our LPs really understand CPG and the space from the brands that we’re supporting.

Alison Smith:
So there’s a lot of mentorship involved?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So Springdale does sit on some boards. I do not sit on any yet because I’m new to the team and a principal. But yes, there is a lot of mentorship. We are very accessible to our portfolio companies to the executive teams there. We want them to call on us when they need us. Often though, look I’d like to take credit for this, but sometimes the best source of mentorship for our portfolio companies are our other portfolio companies. So they’re able to all learn from each other and watching them connect those dots and get excited about meeting each other and learning from each other is really rewarding even though we really have nothing to do with it. It’s just exciting. You feel the energy, you see these light bulbs go off and then they’re off and running to concur their next hurdle.

Karin Samelson:
That’s awesome. Yeah. We have a client now who just closed around from CPG founders that have sold and it’s just like that effect of just like, I killed it on this brand. I’m just going to keep killing it.” And it’s just like a snowball. I feel like there’s no stopping you at that point.

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. It’s exciting to see. Right?

Karin Samelson:
So what does your firm look for in an investible CPG brand?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So we have a couple of key parameters that are… I guess they get gatekeepers. Right. It’s the threshold for a deal that we’ll look at. And that’s generally at least a million in revenue and not monthly recurring. I’m saying you’ve got a million of revenue excesses to us, you have customers, you have an established brand, you have a viable product. There is something there. So we invest in series C and series A deals. And you’re typically a digitally native brand, but that’s not a hard requirement because obviously we have brands like CANTEEN and Beet Box. Liquor brands aren’t digitally native. It’s not possible, kind of how it works. And a lot of our food and beverage stuff is obviously outside that digitally native CPG brand with at least a million in revenue.

Caroline Fabacher:
That’s the quick and dirty summary. Beyond that, when we start to look at metrics, whether it’s your margins, your LTV, your cost of customer acquisition, all these things. I won’t say we have hard and fast rules because it just depends on what industry you’re in and then the stage of your business. The more data we have, the more demanding we can be, but a company that has eight months of, I don’t know customers doesn’t have a ton of information yet. So that’s where the revenue piece I think is really important because it ensures that we have enough history to do enough homework to make sure something’s a good investment.

Alison Smith:
How much does the founder matter when you’re looking at these brands?

Caroline Fabacher:
Founder’s everything. I mean, great ideas are everywhere. I don’t care how good your idea is. Can you execute? And that’s the whole thing with startups. Is like, there are lots of ideas. There are lots of people out there doing the same thing. We are looking at a deal right now that we discovered a competitor that hadn’t been mentioned in the slide. That competitor had a three-year head start on him. Well, to me a competitor is good news because it says, this is going to fill a need. Right. And the founder of the competitive company was an engineer and did not have the same executive leadership history, startup experience that we see in this new founder. So they both had the same idea and they appear to both have very comparable products. We’re just betting that this founder is the one who’s actually going to scale it and take it to a significant exit. So your founding team can make or break.

Karin Samelson:
And so what are the core the top things that you look for in that founder?

Caroline Fabacher:
Oh, this is so hard because again, it’s one of those things where you know it when you see it, but it’s really hard to put your finger on. A lot of the times part of it is experience, right? Having experience at a previous venture backed startup, I mean, were you a coder for them or were you chief of staff. Your position relative to that says a lot. Also how long were you there? Were you there through the C round for the B round because you watched your company scale from probably double digit employees to triple digit employees and experienced some real challenges as a company, that scales and grows and what was your role in all that? Right. So experience matters.

Caroline Fabacher:
And part of that also is industry experience, right? Is what you’re doing now, where you came from and where you might have deep relationships or deep specific and institutional knowledge, it’s key to your success. But that’s not always necessary. Right? We got venture investment, I had no experience in the alcohol business. I knew a lot about startups, but as long as you have a team that fills in each other’s weaknesses and you have your own core competencies, that matters. So really I’m going to say, we look for experience, but that experience can either be, educational, it can be industry experience, it can be domain expertise. It looks different with different teams.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. So what are some ways that a company can just instantly improve their pitch to potential investors?

Caroline Fabacher:
Your homework. Which sounds like not that big of a deal, but you can find a ton of old pitch decks online, right? The old Airbnb and Tinder ones are hilarious to see in their first versions.

Alison Smith:
I think I read the Airbnb one.

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah, and so you can learn a lot by going through lots of reps of the decks of decks, just look at them. And what you really should be looking at is structure. They pretty much always follow the same structure. And while you might think that’s boring, it allows VCs or institutional investors, or even just investors in general, who see tons of decks to get to the point as quickly as possible, right? You don’t want to make it hard for somebody you’re trying to get money from to figure out what you do and why they should care. And sticking to that relatively standard flow that you expect with pitch decks is really helpful for whoever’s looking at your deck.

Caroline Fabacher:
The other thing, and the only reason I say do your homework is because I recently was able to talk to another vodka soda company and they were lovely to talk to, but it was very clear that they put mild company in their deck as a competitor. And they were talking to me and they had no idea or who I was or what I’d done before. And they were also unable to tell me how their business was positioned to win among the competition. So had they done a quick Google of one, our portfolio companies and two, who they were talking to on the call, they would have been a little bit more prepared. Now I happily took the call because one, I wanted to know what they were up to and see if they were potentially different, but then also to say, “One, you guys should do your homework a little bit more and also it’s important that you do your homework.” Because if they had considered who was in our portfolio, they would know that we were precluded from investing in them.

Caroline Fabacher:
So I took the call because I wanted to know, are they doing something different? Well, it turns out they were, we can’t invest in a directly competitive business. So it was a waste of time for both of us. [crosstalk 00:30:21] They would have done their homework, they would have known that was in our portfolio and known that it was a waste of time. However, I do think that phone call wasn’t a waste of anybody’s time because I was entertained. And I want to believe I left them with some good advice moving forward, and sent them off with some new doors to go knock on. So God’s speed guys.

Karin Samelson:
[inaudible 00:30:45].

Alison Smith:
Got to practice on you, yeah. So how important in that pitch deck are things like mission statements and things like that? Do you really look at that or is it more about hard numbers?

Caroline Fabacher:
It’s both. Mission statement is not a particular thing, but we care about brand. Right. And your mission statement is part of that. So the extent that you have a thoughtful, cohesive, appealing brand that makes sense with what you’re doing. We care about your mission statement that much, right? To the extent it’s part of your brand. But financials and the metrics matter. I don’t know if you guys watch Shark Tank, you see it on Shark Tank all the time. For the love of God, know your business, know your numbers, know your margins, know your channels. You almost immediately lose your credibility by not being able to speak to those things quickly and concisely, so that, yeah, that’s another one. The financials matter, the metrics matter. And you being able to talk about them, matters. If you can’t and you’re the CEO, that’s okay. But your CFO or whoever, or your accountant, or whoever is your partner in this that knows the answers should be with you on that call.

Alison Smith:
That’s great.

Karin Samelson:
You brought up Shark Tank and I watch it religiously. So how accurate is that to a reality of a pitch that you see?

Caroline Fabacher:
I don’t know that it’s totally fair to compare them just because those are so highly edited and everything I’ve read about them suggest that they go on for hours. Our pitches, first pitch will be about 30 minutes, generally. Well, I would say it’s more like 20, so there’s room for questions. And then there’s usually a follow-up call where we will lean in on you and push on you about some of your metrics, right? We might challenge the way you’ve calculated LTV, we might have some questions about your margin and ways you plan to improve it. So, yeah, it just depends.

Caroline Fabacher:
But as far as Shark Tank goes, the one thing about Shark Tank that is so confusing, there’s this particular nuance to venture thing. This is really dorky. When they’re like I’m seeking $100,000 for 10 percent of my business. They’re talking in post-money terms and nobody in venture does that. They all talk in pre-money terms. So that’s the only thing from the show where I understand why they do it because it makes the math nice and tidy and clean, and the viewer can understand exactly what the founder’s giving up, but capital raising outside of Shark Tank in the venture world doesn’t function like that. We talk about pre-money evaluation.

Alison Smith:
Can you explain that for everyone? Pre money evaluation?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So let’s see, I’m not good on the fly math, so hypothetically I’m trying to raise a million dollars at a $5 million valuation. That’s a $5 million pre-money valuation. So I’m not actually selling a 20 percent of my business, it’s $1 million out of $6 million. Because the post money valuation, my valuation is $5 million today, my post valuation will be $6 million. So the investors bought $1 million of a $6 million valuation, so it’s less than 20 percent. I don’t know if that math is eight, 17 percent, 16 percent from there. I don’t know. Less than 20 percent.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I don’t know either.

Caroline Fabacher:
Calculated in spreadsheets. Don’t ask me to [inaudible 00:34:19].

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Thank you for that. So we’ve gone through this, but what is your number one best piece of advice for a small CBG business owner that wants to get funded?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. I would go back to the point I just made, know your business, know its forwards and backwards. And if you don’t have all the answers, that’s okay. But have somebody with you who at least can speak to the financials, if that’s not your core competency. That’s okay. You immediately undermine your credibility when you start fumbling around with some of your basics, like margins and your channels. And I’m not saying you’re dead in the water, but it’s really hard to come back from that. Right. And as early stage startup entrepreneurs, you shall be eat, sleep, breathing your business, it’s a little worrisome if you don’t know it. You don’t have to know everything about your business, but your team should.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And that brings us to something that I wanted to ask you, because when you are in the startup or entrepreneurial stage, you’re working nonstop. And I know that you’re a hustler as well, but I feel like you have a really nice grasp on work-life balance. So just give a little mentorship. How important do you think is work-life balance for anyone?

Caroline Fabacher:
I mean, I’m a big believer in hard work. I think that that’s what separates good from great, right. Is like who’s willing to study a little longer, push a little harder, network a little bit more effectively, hard work matters. But I felt this way about law, where you have billable hours and quotas, I felt this way in a startup, and I feel this way about my career in general. It is a black hole and it will take as much as you give it and still need more. So it is up to you to draw the boundaries and the lines and find that balance. It’s really easy, especially early in our careers to be the first one and last one out. Work really hard. Especially, I feel like for people around my age where we graduated in the middle of financial crisis, we know what it means to put our heads down and work, but your phone culture, your HR department is not going to set those boundaries for you. And it’s a monster, you can feed it and feed it and feed it and it will never be full.

Caroline Fabacher:
So I’m a big believer in healthy boundaries. I am an early to bed, early to rise person. I pretty much will not look at my phone after 9:00 PM. Now if there’s a Slack that comes through and it’s truly an emergency, of course I will get on something. But I am very lucky and in the world I live in, is not life and death. Right. Nothing is going to die and isn’t going to fall apart, nothing is the end of the world. And that was something I wish I had applied more when I was doing the startup life, because after a certain amount of pressure, it’s just not sustainable. Right. I wish I’d come to that realization a little bit sooner over there because yeah, it’s business, right? These are business problems. They all have a solution. Everything is solvable.

Alison Smith:
And like you said, it’s not life or death. And just some background there, so Caroline climbs a mountain every other weeks. That’s what I’m talking about.

Karin Samelson:
She’s going fishing every day.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
No, unlike Instagram versus reality is very real. There are days when I’m crying in my closet and those are not on Instagram, but, yeah. The outdoors is a really big part of me staying sane. It’s why I’ve spent time away from Austin this year just so I have more outdoor access, because by showing up for myself outside and making this time, I am able to better and more fully show up for my team members and for our portfolio companies, and for my family and for the people who have to live with me and be around me. It’s everybody wins if you make a little space for yourself.

Karin Samelson:
Well, that is some good advice for absolutely everyone.

Alison Smith:
Right. And I love set boundaries early. And do you let your team know these are my boundaries or does it just come up when you cross that bridge?

Caroline Fabacher:
I mean, I feel like I’m very, very lucky to have a team that gets it, right. And also I am the least busy of my team members, both my partners, Dan has three daughters, Jen has a son, COVID has completely changed the game for work from home parents. I’m like single moms are the superheroes of COVID. I don’t know how they haven’t lost their minds yet. I’m sure that many of them have, but I have me and my dog, right. It’s easier for me to be flexible and I’m happy to do that, but they have families that they love and they have really interesting hobbies. I mean, Jen camps and is way more hardcore than I am. They all have interesting, rich, round full lives. And that makes us all willing to pitch in when somebody is trying to go on vacation or with everybody’s a little bit more understanding. I don’t know.

Caroline Fabacher:
I don’t feel like I’ve had to need to set boundaries here in the way that I look back and think about some of my time in a law firm or when I was doing startup life. They were just different and I was a young attorney, I didn’t really consider it. Running a startup, I didn’t think I needed. I had a thought it would pass. And now I work with a group where it’s just part of our culture. So, I have a friend who recently made the transition to a private law firm and she was asking for advice and I was like, “Draw the boundaries now, because if you become the person that is the go-to for everything last minute, 11:00 PM, we got to get it done by tomorrow morning. You will become that person.”

Alison Smith:
And, and that’s maybe another part of the problem is I don’t know if it’s a female problem or whoever problem, but saying no to… You’re maybe new to a company, you want to say yes, yes, yes. And then you get stuck in those yeses. So saying no to things and holding your ground and I think that’s more and more part of the conversation and maybe people look more and respect that you’re saying no, but.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Is there anything, any other nuggets of wisdom you want to leave us with, Kelly?

Caroline Fabacher:
I don’t think so. I’m like, come back to me in a couple of years and maybe I’ll have some wisdom to share, but I feel like I’m just figuring out alongside everybody else. Right? Show up, do your best, be nice to each other and learn a lot, and that’s take it and move into the next one. I’m like, I might have a nugget next year, but.

Karin Samelson:
We’ll get back to you next year. Yeah, but you have-

Alison Smith:
We’ll do a follow up.

Karin Samelson:
You’ve given us so many good pieces of advice for CPG and those that are even dreaming about investments. A lot of people that are going to be listening are people that have nowhere near a billion in revenue right now. So I think that this is a good inspirational step that they can really aspire to. So is there anything you’d like to leave the audience with, whether it’s a call to action, a final statement, or anything like that?

Caroline Fabacher:
Well, I guess for the women who are thinking about starting a business, or who are thinking about jumping into a startup, do it. Your presence lets other women know that it’s possible and representation matters, right? The more diverse the startup community becomes, the more diverse talent it will attract. And that’s a win for businesses, it’s a win for individuals, it’s meaningful, I feel like it’s harder for women to take that step sometimes because they have families depending on them or children, or they have a spouse who’s the primary breadwinner, or maybe they’re the primary breadwinner and they can’t give up that salary, but just you trying or making that leap is really meaningful stuff and paves the way for other women to follow.

Karin Samelson:
Love it.

Alison Smith:
Love that. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Love a female founder always.

Alison Smith:
And if anyone wants to check out Springdale Ventures is there a website that they can go to?

Caroline Fabacher:
Yeah. So our website is springdaleventures.com. We are on Instagram at, I believe at Springdale underscore V where you can keep up with our portfolio companies. Well, I’m double checking right now. Oh wait, we changed it to Springdale Ventures. That’s way better. Where you can keep up with our portfolio companies and see some of their new releases or if the’re coupon codes, especially just like Christmas comes up. So yeah, we’re on Instagram, we’re on Twitter and our website is springdaleventures.com. You’ll be able to check our portfolio companies, our team, and see, what we’re up to and what we’re about.

Alison Smith:
Awesome. Well, Caroline, thank you so much. This is such a great talk. Thanks for joining us today.

Caroline Fabacher:
Of course. Happy to join you all and also just nice to see you again.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at UMAI Marketing or check out our website UMAImarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

 

 

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#9: Accelerator Programs, Mentorship, & 2020 Trends with Alyssa Padron of The Ronin Society

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#9: Behind an Accelerator Program, Mentorship, & 2020 Trends with Alyssa Padron of The Ronin Society

Years ago, Alyssa Padron got her start at SKU – and, man! Their accelerator program has seen a TON of growth since then.

Just look at alumni brands Siete Foods and Epic Bar!

Today, the very same can be said for Padron who has continued her journey onward to grow into a new role at The Ronin Society.

Together, we unpack what’s really going on behind the scenes within an accelerator program, 2020 trends leading into 2021, and the value of mentorships of all kinds.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] Introducing, Alyssa Padron!

[1:17] Alright, so how did Padron get her start in the CPG industry. Perhaps, Mad Men might’ve played a tiny part. 😉

[1:51] SKU explained: an originally Austin-based accelerator program. And, what brands have been a part of this program in the past?

[2:58] Did you notice any similarities between the brands or programs that succeeded in that accelerator program?

[4:16] Walk us through SKU’s accelerator program application process.

[5:42] Okay, so what are brands expected to have when applying to SKU’s accelerator program? Revenue minimums? Perhaps, a social media following?

[8:26] The importance of social proof and actively building a community.

[8:55] Now, if you could give any advice to a CPG founder applying to SKU’s accelerator program, what would that be? More on mentorship.

More on The Ronin Society

[11:15] Tell us more about The Ronin Society! Financial strategy with small-market business programs.

[12:40] Please, explain more about the value in a brand truly understanding their financials across the board and when applying to an accelerator program. A real-life example!

[15:30] Through this accelerator program experience, have you seen a trend between CPG founders – that there’s often that missing piece when it comes to operational proficiency?

[16:55] Okay, let’s talk about the value of mentorship + leadership. Specifically, how valuable is that piece for CPG owners? It’s a two-way street – and, there’s value in connecting with Gen Z, too.

[21:30] To sum it up, some more clarification on The Ronin Society.

2020 Trends

[22:08] Any current product or marketing trends that you’re seeing? A push for consumer transparency.

[25:50] What’s your best advice for small-to-medium business owners, generally speaking?

[27:40] Next, free resources for business owners.

[29:28] So, are there any CPG entrepreneurs that you keep tabs on?

[31:25] Are you seeing a trend in inclusivity, specifically in Austin?

[34:00] How can we eventually get there, increasing inclusivity?

[38:08] Kind words for MARYJAE!

[39:27] Any other CPG entrepreneurs that inspire you? Let’s talk about Gardenio.

[44:11] In conclusion, how can YOU connect with Padron?

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join Umai’s Facebook Group: CORE 

Read – #9: Behind an Accelerator Program, Mentorship, & 2020 Trends with Alyssa Padron of The Ronin Society

Narrator:
Calling all consumer goods, business owners and marketing professionals. Does planning content ahead of time, stress you out? 

Do you want to run Instagram and Facebook ads, but just aren’t sure where to start? 

If your answer is yes and yes, then our mini course was made for you. 

It’s 100% free and packed with essential tactics that you can implement as soon as today. 

To join in, visit our website at umaimarketing.com/mini-course. Alright, let’s get on with the pod.

Karin Samelson:
Well, welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow. 

We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of Umai Marketing.

And, we’re being joined by Alyssa Padron, Campaign Manager at The Ronin Society and former Program Manager at SKU. 

Thanks for joining us, Alyssa.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. Well, to start out, we just want to learn a little bit more about you.

Did you always have an interest in CPG? How did you get your start?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, I feel like I had about as much interest in CPG as maybe the average consumer, which means I watched a couple of episodes of Mad Men and was like, “Oh, okay. There’s some stuff happening behind the scenes here.” 

But prior to SKU, I did not have a ton of experience in CPG. It was really, SKU was definitely diving headfirst into the CPG world here in Austin, which was a really exciting opportunity.

Introduction to SKU

Karin Samelson:
So, for somebody listening that has no idea what SKU is. Can you give us just a brief overview on what it is?

Alyssa Padron:
So, SKU – the word itself. SKU stands for Stock Keeping Unit. 

But, it’s also the name of a CPG accelerator here in Austin. So, it’s been running here in Austin for going on nine years now. And, then within the last couple of years, that I was with SKU, we expanded up to Dallas, New York, and Minneapolis.

Alison Smith:
Okay, cool.

Karin Samelson:
Wow, that’s such fast growth.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, really. 

Can you name any brands that went through y ‘all’s accelerator program that people would know?

Alyssa Padron:
Our big, golden child is Epic Bar who ended up selling to General Mills several years back for something like $100,000,000. They never quite disclosed, but it was somewhere around those nice numbers for General Mills.

Alison Smith:
Wow.

Karin Samelson:
That’s enough.

Alison Smith:
Those are some big brands, yeah.

Alyssa Padron:
Definitely.

Alison Smith:
So, we’re curious if you noticed similarities in the brands that succeeded through you all’s accelerator program?

SKU’s Accelerator Program

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. When I think about that, it’s less about the brands and more about the founders and their success with the program. So, there’s a lot of things that can help a brand succeed. 

But, the thing that I saw really consistently, specifically within SKU, is that the founders that were willing to show up, asking for the extra meetings with the mentors and were just really hungry for that knowledge and coachable at the same time, I feel like that’s probably the most important thing, those tended to succeed. 

And then of course, for the brand itself, it’s like. Alright, cool. Now, is it unique? Or, is it innovative? Because, it can’t just be a me-too product. 

In the world of food, the first thing that anyone will tell you is it has to taste good. 

Of course, you can have all of the marketing in the world and nobody will buy it if it doesn’t taste good.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, so true. And, I think that’s such a good note for founders is to be flexible. Really, I think that it’s really hard sometimes to take advice and really take it in and try and implement it and not get caught up in your own ideas of what works and what doesn’t work. So, I think that’s awesome.

Alyssa Padron:
Yes, definitely.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, agreed. So, how do people apply and what’s the process for getting into SKU?

Behind The Scenes at SKU

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, it’s a pretty intense process. At first, I was a bit blown away my first year coming into SKU. Because, we had something like 400 applications to go through. 

So, you’ll go through a pretty basic online application asking you about your product market fit, any financials that you can provide, just letting us get to know a little bit more about you as a founder in the brand. Then, we’ll pull all of that together, and we’ll have about 25 in-person interviews. 

And, that’s when you’ll come in and actually pitch your full deck to SKU. And, we’ll get to try out your products at that point and then from there we’ll narrow it down even further.

Alyssa Padron:
So, it’s definitely an in depth process. Truly, there’s a lot of information that we ended up asking for from the founders, but it’s a lot of fun. 

I tell people all the time now I work in CPG for the samples, because the best part of that was like, I’m getting everyone’s product in and getting to try stuff and sample things with all the mentors. 

So, it’s a bit of an intense process, but always ends up working out really nicely.

Karin Samelson:
400 different samples, wow. I love it. So, how many meetings, did you say 25?

Alyssa Padron:
25, yeah. Typically.

Karin Samelson:
Wow.

Alyssa Padron:
That will do over two days or so. Believe me, it’s a fun thing to schedule.

Alison Smith:
So, what kind of questions are you asking? And, what can someone expect or what should they be looking to do before they apply to SKU?

What to Expect When Applying to SKU

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, okay. So, for specifically with SKU, because we end up taking an equity stake in each of the companies that’s involved, a lot of the questions that you’ll get asked are basically anything that an investor would ask you. 

Things related to your margins: your customer acquisition costs, lifetime value, basically them figuring out the house sustainable this businesses, if there’s some product market fit and if that’s already been market validated. 

And, a lot of the questions that you’ll see in the pitch are not just like, okay, cool, you have this like shiny gold product. 

It’s really getting into more of like, “Cool, you have this shiny product. Does this business have legs? Does this founder know what they’re doing? 

Or, at least have a team that can help them or is open to mentorship in whatever areas they need help in.”

Alison Smith:
And, is there minimums that you require?

Alyssa Padron:
For the equity stake, or for-

Alison Smith:
For revenue minimums, or anything?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. So, we typically look for about $100,000 in annual revenue. And, that’s kind of our minimum threshold. So, we’ll still take other things into consideration. 

If for some reason you just blew that number out of the water increase sales or if you have a ton of social media following, that’s also something that we’re looking at. 

Just different things that are indicators of market validation. And, the only program that differs is our DFW program. That one, we’re looking at a minimum of a million in revenue. 

So, these are definitely later stage companies that don’t need as much hand-holding, but definitely still needs some of the resources and tools that we can offer to help get them to the next level.

Alison Smith:
Very cool. So, younger brands should still try and apply?

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely, everyone because people always will reach out and they’re like, “[inaudible 00:07:43] is too small. We’re doing maybe 25K.” 

I’m like, “Apply anyway. Absolutely the best thing that you can do.” In my opinion, the CPG scene in Austin is so small. Really, the best thing you can do is just put your name out there, get your brand in front of the people at SKU, in front of the mentors and investors there. 

And then, maybe 2021 isn’t year, but you come back and apply the year after that. 

And, we have some really tangible ways to measure your growth from one year to the next. More than anything else, that’s a great opportunity for us to continue to learn more about you as a brand.

Alison Smith:
Very cool. And, something in particular that you just said beyond revenue growth and beyond the capabilities of a founder or their team is the social proof and having a good social following and an avid following that shows that you have built community. 

I think that, that’s a really good note that even if your revenue isn’t quite there, as long as you are pulling levers and building community, that, that’s almost just as important.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely, we just want to see that there are consumers out there that are hungry for whatever it is you have, even if it’s not food. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yes, totally. 

Now, if you could give any piece of advice to a CPG founder looking to apply for that program, what would it be?

Alyssa Padron:
Okay, keep an open mind? Definitely keep an open mind. I think the worst thing that you can project as an accelerator is trying to make it seem like you know it all. We definitely want founders that are confident in their business. 

We definitely want founders that know their stuff, but it seems like it’s a waste of the mentorship and all of the time and energy that we’re putting into a company. 

An accelerator that chooses a brand for their program is doing so because they believe in the product, believe in the founder. And, they think that the accelerator has something to offer that the founder or brand is missing.

Alyssa Padron:
It may be as simple as just like ooh, maybe you need some extra call-outs on your packaging and it would be a little bit more clear or maybe you’ve got everything else in place and just need the access to capital, that we can help you with. 

Whatever it is, just keep an open mind, know that we are here to help and just stay as coachable and humble as you can.

Karin Samelson:
Okay, cool. And with that mentorship, is it along every single facet of the business.

Alyssa Padron:
Really, it is. We put together a team of probably five or six mentors that have all different sorts of backgrounds. 

So, if our founder has a marketing background, we probably won’t end up putting a marketing person on their team, but we’ll make sure they have someone that’s really strong in finance, really strong in trade spend, really strong in supply chain and things like that. 

So, you really get a bit of an outsourced C-suite of people that can help you out with really every aspect of your business throughout the duration of the job.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, that’s so amazing. I think the work that SKU does is so impressive. So, thank you for being a part of that for so long.

Alyssa Padron:
Oh, my gosh. It was so fun.

I again, didn’t realize how quickly we’re going to grow, while I was there and then I turned around after two years and I was like, “We have 4X this program.” Okay, cool.

Karin Samelson:
That’s amazing. And, there was a team of what? Three?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, just the three of us.

More on The Ronin Society

Karin Samelson:
Wow, that’s so cool. I know that they’re most likely missing you. So, now that we’ve talked a little bit about SKU and your background there, um, we’d love to talk about your new venture. So, you are at The Ronin Society. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, so The Ronin Society was actually a bit unknown to me until a couple months back. In the beginning, I saw that they had sponsored Naturally Austin and you always trying to be one to like, keep my pulse on the things in the CPG world. And, I was like, “Who are these guys? All right, let’s go see.” 

So, we work primarily in financial strategy, but they take a really unique approach to working with small market business owners, that really drew me to them. Well, I was poking around on their site and I was like, “It kind of looks like they’re running an accelerator. 

And, they are not truly running an accelerator.” But the way that they have the process tiered out, you go through a couple of months of financial visibility and then go on to professional management structure. 

And, then all of that kind of gets you to your growth story.

Alyssa Padron:
So, it’s really not just getting all of your financials in order. But, making sure that they can kind of like translate that data to the entrepreneurs in a way that they understand. 

In a way, that they can manipulate and deal with and work with on their own and using all of that data to help them make decisions that are the best for them as people and as business owners, which I thought was really unique. And, it’s been a really cool thing to be a part of.

Alison Smith:

Next, can you give us a real world example of when or how important that is for a brand to understand their financials?

Alyssa Padron:
Okay, yeah. So, I think one of the things that comes to mind is I… I’ve been kind of the shadowing client meetings the last couple of weeks, to get kind of onboarded and get a feel for everything. 

Today, I think one of the conversations that sticks out to me was a client that we had that has just experienced exponential growth. For her, she has just exploded beyond where she thought she was going to be. 

So, she’s hitting numbers at year three that she thought she wasn’t going to get to until year five. 

And, so while all of this growth is super exciting, she has some really nice systems in place to manage all of the new hiring that’s going on. 

Together, she was sitting there in this meeting and she was just like, “I don’t know, I just… All of these things are good.”

Alyssa Padron:
It just feels like a lot, all at once. I wonder if I’m ready to go ahead and step away from the business. Here are the things that I’m kind of looking for to be offloaded, things like that. 

I’m sitting there and I’m shadowing, I haven’t said anything, but…

In my mind, I’m just like, “It seems like she wants a COO and not a CEO. I feel like she still wants some creative control here.”

 And, the strategist that was working with her said exactly what I was thinking. And, and basically was like, “Yeah. I think there’s a lot of growth that’s been happening in the last couple of years. 

It’s been happening really quickly. I think you need a COO and not necessarily a CEO.” And that interaction was just such a cool thing to see, because it was definitely a really personal moment for her, thinking about her role in the business and how much she wanted to be involved, going forward.

Alyssa Padron:
But, all of that came from a place of being really confident in how everything was being run currently. 

She was confident enough in her business and where it was going, its growth, up to that point and moving forward that she felt like she could step away in that moment. 

Again, she still wanted a bit of creative control. So, maybe it wouldn’t be completely stepping away from the business. 

But, having the strategist there that has been working with her for two years now has seen all of this growth has crunched all the numbers, knows exactly what she can and can’t afford, seeing him walk her through that, was really cool and really meaningful. 

And, that was the thing that made me realize, I think, the most over the last couple of weeks, like, “Oh man, this is… What Ronin does is not necessarily just financial strategy. 

It’s not just like, here’s a model, it’s beautiful, good luck deciphering it and excel. It’s really teaching you, how to utilize these things, how to make it matter and make sense to you.”

Alison Smith:
That’s amazing. I’m just so curious if you have, with all your experience, if you see that trend with CPG founders, not being as great in operations, just I feel like operations people are just one of a kind, they’re like a gold mine.

Alyssa Padron:
I feel that. There’s a lot of, I don’t know. I felt this way when I was in SKU as well, that I felt like my like personal responsibility throughout the process is obviously yes, connect them to all these people, get their supply chain in order, make sure that they are a really successful brand. 

But, I think a lot of the thing that pulls me towards supporting founders and supporting entrepreneurs, is that a lot of these people don’t see themselves as CEOs. 

A lot of the smaller startups are just constantly grinding and just so stuck in that day-to-day. It’s really hard for them to see themselves in a position or leadership, in a position of control or not necessarily control, but in a position of leadership that they feel confident in. 

And, so part of the process of SKU and also the Ronin Society is making sure that people are able to feel really confident in what they know about their business to feel more of that C-suite vibes .

Alison Smith:
Yeah, so true. I feel like there, I mean, we wanted to actually ask you about how important mentorship is, and I think this is a good segue because it’s hard to understand that you are a leader and there should just be a course for you to take on how to be a good leader. 

I know you’re a big part of mentorship in the past two roles that you played.

So, how important is mentorship for CPG founders?

Alyssa Padron:
So important. I can’t shout it loud enough. I think even outside of CPG, mentorship is hugely important. It’s a big thing for someone to be able to step out of themselves and be like, “Okay, here’s what I’m doing. I know it’s not perfect. I know it could be better. How can I get there? 

Really it comes from a place of vulnerability, right? 

Being able to open yourself up to someone and say like, “Here’s all the nitty gritty of the business. Where can I improve? What would you do? What advice can you provide on these specific experiences? 

A lot of the value of the mentorship and I think a little bit more about SKU in the sense of, is a lot of these people have been in the industry for, I shouldn’t say longer than I have been alive, but a very long time.

Alyssa Padron:
Have been there, done that. 

Their purpose in their mentorship is basically to be like, “Okay, cool. Here’s all of the pitfalls that people fall into. 

Here’s how to make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes that maybe they did in their past or that others have as well. 

But, I think one of the things that I’m starting to see more and more, I got the opportunity to work with a lot of college students, a lot of UT students, through SKU and I was like, “I want to hang out with these guys. I want to learn more about how they think about the world, how they see the CPG market in a completely different way.” 

And so, I think there’s also kind of a flip side of mentorship is like, find mentors that have been there, done that have all of the experience.

Alyssa Padron:
So, you can kind of like get those little nuggets of wisdom from, but also have someone that you meet with that maybe isn’t as formal of a mentor-mentee relationship, but someone that you know is going to bring a bit of diversity of thought to your business and how you’re doing things. 

Maybe they’ll tell you what the heck is happening on TikTok. And, you can learn more about the digital space there. I think that, again…

So much of mentorship is not just the advice part of it, but just bringing diversity of thought to what you’re doing.

Alison Smith:
That’s very well said, I’ve never heard anyone extend mentorship in that way. And, I think that’s so true. And, if someone could come and teach me what TikTok is and how to use it, that would be awesome.

Karin Samelson:
Right?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I think that’s such a good point. Now, I feel like I’m connecting that with another Umai Podcast guest. Her name was Emily Hoyle and she was an intern at Sweet Leaf Tea. 

And, she and her fellow interns were driving these marketing initiatives that I know were impressing, the marketing staff at Sweet Leaf. 

She was telling us, these young kids that come in with grand ideas and obviously not everything is going to hit, but I love that piece of advice to look to all sorts of people for feedback on your brand and what’s working and what’s not working and what they like and what they don’t like. 

So, very cool.

Alison Smith:
Agreed, yeah. And, even beyond mentorship, you’re saying with Sweat Leaf, hire young employees that know how to do field marketing and things better than you would ever know how to do. I’d say, that’s pretty cool.

Alyssa Padron:
Definitely, I had taken on a part-time role for another CPG in town doing a bit of admin, some operations, a bit of marketing. 

It’s just like super startup where I basically just got to have my hands in everything. 

I was stepping away as I was getting into my new role at Ronin and our one requirement was, we need to find someone that knows TikTok. So, we have started expanding on our TikTok influencer strategy. 

I was just like, yeah, it took me two days to figure out how to message someone on TikTok. I know there’s people out there that can do this much better and faster than I can.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, including my 11 year old nephew, I’m sure.

Alison Smith:
I was going to say, there’s so many 11 year olds who have 3,000,000 followers. That’s amazing.

Alyssa Padron:
Crazy.

Alison Smith:
Amazing.

Karin Samelson:
So, moving into the CPG industry in particular.

So, correct me if I’m wrong, is the Ronin Society specifically for the consumer goods industry?

Alyssa Padron:
Correct, it’s a segment of the businesses they work with. So, they work with not just CPG, but also eCommerce and professional services, as well as a few retail stores, that will probably be a focus when retail is a thing again. But yeah, they focus… CPG is just part of what they focus on.

2020 Trends

Karin Samelson:
Cool, great. Well, you’re still in it. And, you still have your finger on the pulse in that industry. So, are there any current product or market trends that you’re seeing right now that you’d like to talk about?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. I just really need keto to go away. 

It is killing my holiday dinner vibes. I just wanted to make like a cool cornbread and there’s just not any good keto breads substitutes. I don’t know, maybe that’s my soapbox. Maybe, that’s the hill I die on. 

Also, I think there’s just healthier ways of dieting and relating to food, but that’s a whole separate issue. Yeah. So, there’s some of these like more faddish ones that I see coming in and out. 

I really like seeing CBD on the rise. 

I feel like we have finally hit a point where consumers are starting to understand the difference between a high quality CBD that can give you third-party lab testing and understanding of the terpene, versus just like a $20 bottle you buy on Amazon.

Alyssa Padron:

The biggest thing that I think about overall from a very macro level is just, push for consumer transparency. 

This goes all the way up to the policy level, with the changes to the nutrition labels, not too long ago. 

There’s something that Marissa Epstein, who’s the Director of the Nutrition Institute over at UT said in a SKU class that just like always sticks with me. It’s just like, 

“Consumers are only getting smarter… 

If there are things that you don’t want people to see in your ingredient list, do not put it in your product. There’s just no hiding anything anymore. 

People are always wanting to do more research, have more understanding of the products that they’re buying, not just what they’re putting in their body, but is it sourced ethically? 

…Is it sourced sustainably?” 

So, I have stopped buying any new clothes this year. And, I have sworn off fast fashion.

Alyssa Padron:
And so, I had planned to thrift a bit throughout the year and just ended up not meeting any new clubs this year, which worked out nicely. 

But, I think that kind of higher level of consciousness around the things that we consume is definitely not going anywhere. 

That’s definitely something that we’ll continue to try and kind of trickle down, throughout the rest of the market and to all consumers.

Alison Smith:
Wow. So true. Ha, I just have a quick antidote. 

I was at the store the other day and I was looking in the steak section and the steak said, keto on it. And, it was just kinda like, “Well, yeah. Well, yes, it’s just meat.”

Alyssa Padron:
When gluten-free became a thing, they were labeling grapes as gluten free and-

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I mean that’s marketing. Okay. But yeah, no, I would like to talk more about the consciousness of the consumer.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, I think consumer transparency and especially when we’re in Austin and there’s so many better for you CPG brands, it’s really important to do your best. 

But, I also think that there is this conversation about inclusivity and price point really, and availability to the masses. 

I just feel so strongly when brands can acknowledge that and have systems in place that make their product more readily available to a very wide range of audiences in specialty and in conventional grocery stores. 

So, I think that, that’s something interesting that we can all really work towards and focus on in the future. So, what would be your best advice for a small to medium sized business owners, especially from what you learned from SKU, working with so many of them?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, okay. 

Ask for help. 

I think there’s a concept called, is it hustle core? Maybe it’s hustle another word, but it’s basically this concept that you just like have to be on your grind and always just tough it out and do the thing, working these 14 hour days. 

I just don’t think that’s glamorous at all or necessarily admirable. I think that, again, kind of going back to thinking about the founders and kind of having empathy for their emotional state throughout all of this, it’s very difficult to kind of find that inner strength and that inner confidence.

Alyssa Padron:

I think that one of the biggest things that you can do is just ask for help where you need it, especially here in Austin. 

There’s so many treasure troves of resources for budding entrepreneurs and not necessarily just practical resources, but looking for ways to connect with other entrepreneurs, specifically solo-preneurs are a big segment that I think about a lot. 

Just finding ways to connect with people over similar issues that you’re having, whether you are a SaaS company or a CPG, there’s definitely things to be learned on either side. 

So, connecting with founders that are kind of in your stage, no matter the industry, and then asking for help as far as utilizing your network to ask for more practical or tactical things. 

And then, that last key component is just mentorship and mentorship.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome, love it! 

So, what would be some free resources that you could think of,  whether it’s messaging somebody on LinkedIn or joining a Facebook group? 

And, what would be some of your advice to how to connect with those folks?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. So, for CPG here in Austin, there’s tons of groups. SKU, every so often will host an event that’s open to the public. Usually some sort of town hall that’ll take place once a month on any particular topic, as it relates to CPG. 

Naturally, Naturally Austin is obviously a huge player in our industry that has all sorts of really cool webinars and networking events. 

And, I also really just like Wake Up! CPG. 

It’s a networking group hosted by Mark Nathan that’s… I have always found it a really good place specifically to seek out other founders in this space.

Alyssa Padron:
In addition, I find that it’s one of the spaces where there’s a little bit less of the service providers and not that, that’s a bad thing, but it’s a really cool for people to connect there. Then, outside of Austin there’s… 

Naturally Austin is just kind of the Austin branch of the larger natural network. 

There’s also a site called Startup CPG that hosts all sorts of networking events, pitch competitions, they just hosted a virtual pitch competition the other day. And then again, just the larger industry publications, NOSH, BevNET, things like that, staying on top of all of those elevator talks.

Alison Smith:
So is that, I’m guessing that’s where you stay on top of your networking news. 

And, are there any certain CPG entrepreneurs that you follow and anyone in particular that mentors you that we should be checking out?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. I feel like all of the CPG entrepreneurs that I… I don’t know, I think I categorize them in a couple of different ways. There’s kind of the big ones here in Austin, which are obviously you’ve got our Kendra Scott and Clayton Christopher, and that’s kind of what we’re all aspiring to in the level of success. 

But, a lot of the ones that come to mind when I think about who’s doing some really cool stuff here in Austin are the founders that have a little bit smaller of companies, but are just doing something really cool and exciting.

Alyssa Padron:
Rebekah Jensen, with Sanara Skincare has put together this beautiful just small line of body care. 

She’s got bath bombs and bath oils. 

But the thing that super resonates with me about it is she is also Mexican-American and is using these Aztec indigenous herbs, just exactly things that my grandma would put into tea, she’s put in this beautiful bath bomb and it’s just got beautiful branding. 

And, this girl is a hustler. She has built this brand from the ground up, with no CPG experience, limited mentorship and she’s just gone on and created something really, really beautiful. 

I think that’s… When I think about the people that inspire me, the people that I want to learn from, that’s the kind of people that I think about.

Karin Samelson:
Incredible, I’ve heard of her skincare line but I need to learn a lot more about it, because I had no idea that they were… That she was using super authentic to her ancestry kind of ingredients in her products that you don’t usually see in a bath bomb. Right? 

You’re seeing glitter and all sorts of stuff and lavender, but that’s very cool. 

On that note. 

Are you seeing, are you seeing that kind of trends? 

I know a huge shakeup across the world this year has been really focused on inclusivity. And, are you seeing that in the CPG space? I know Austin isn’t the most diverse city in the world. It’s really not diverse at all. So, what are you seeing in Austin?

What’s Going on in Austin?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. So, in Austin there’s been a few initiatives that I think are pushing things in the right direction. I think about, obviously Beam coming together to support female entrepreneurs has been particularly exciting. 

When I think of the LatinX businesses that I want to support, obviously I have intentionally shifted my Instagram feed away from influencers, living in California whose lives I will never live to trying to support as many LatinX artists and makers as possible. 

They’re not all Austin-based. 

One LatinX-owned business that I super love to support here in Austin is actually, not necessarily in the CPG space, she’s in the retail, but her name is Mary Jae… 

and, it’s a LatinXo and quiero CBD store that has just created this just beautiful assortment and environment that’s super welcoming to everyone.

Alyssa Padron:
I think of that as like one of the most inclusive places, that you can shop at here in Austin. Unfortunately, this is part of the problem I think, is I wish that I could come up with more brands that felt this way. I think one of the bigger examples is obviously CFA. 

They’ve done an amazing job, staying really close to their roots as a family, staying really close to the Mexican heritage and being able to use that, all of those colors and patterns and kind of vibes, in their marketing and in their branding in a really wonderful way. 

But yeah, unfortunately I wish there were more, and I think that’s part of the problem to be solved.

Alison Smith:
Totally.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
And I totally agree. I’m so happy that, in the past year we’ve seen a change to more authentic influencers versus the other that you mentioned, but I did want to ask you… 

…how we, agencies, how CPG leaders, how other programs can work to ensure that inclusivity and equality.

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. That’s a big one. I won’t get in to the slightly disappointing statistics. So just like how underfunded, BIPOC-

Alison Smith:
Actually, if you have them on you, we would love to hear them.

Alyssa Padron:
I unfortunately don’t. I would know. That the one that comes to mind is a little bit more specific when it comes to investing. 

It’s something that less than two percent of all investment comes from BIPOC investors. 

And so it’s a bit of this chicken and egg situation where it’s like, okay, well, people, we know that people have implicit bias, unconscious bias. People tend to invest in people like them. Right? 

So the lack of funding from underestimated founders comes from a lack of BIPOC and female investors.

Alyssa Padron:
Okay. Well, how do you get these people to be investors? They run a successful business. Then, exit. They want to give back. Well, how do they run a successful business? They need the funding. 

So, it just kind of goes on and on and back and forth. 

And yeah, I think that there’s… I hate to harp on Austin, but I think especially here, there’s a lot of feeling that we want to do good and it’s difficult to measure that action. 

Everyone knows intrinsically, they want to do something to help. 

Underestimated founders don’t need advice. They need funding. It’s so simple. I was listening to a panel the other day on underrepresented founders and how to get funding. 

And there’s all these investors and investors are like, “Oh, we’ll just give them some pro-bono time or just mentor them.” And I’m like, “Invest.”

Alison Smith:
Money.

Alyssa Padron:
“No, invest. That’s the answer.” I hated that’s the answer-

Alison Smith:
I love that you made that connection that’s yeah-

Brand Love for Golde + BLM Ripple Effect

Karin Samelson:
That completely brings to mind the founder of Golde, Trinity, she was in Vogue and I think Forbes as well, where she was talking about, she was denied investment so many times from so many people. 

And then the Black Lives Matter movement exploded this year. 

All of a sudden it was coming in hot, super hot. And it was just a really sad or reminder that we have so much further to go, but at the very least we’re moving in the right direction.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think one of the things to remember is, if you are an investor consciously invest in people of color… If you’re not, if you’re a service provider, consider how accessible you are, consider how people are, how you’re able to give access to your resources, on either a pro bono basis. 

I know that y’all have put together this absolutely wonderful program that’s super accessible for people. I’ve been pushing people you all swipe, so I hope that turns out well for you all. Yeah. 

And then, if you’re a consumer just buy POC-owned products, think about the people that you are purchasing from – go and do that research. Learn more about the people that you are supporting when buying your products.

Alyssa Padron:
I think that there’s a fair amount of that going on and kind of the greater collective of boycotting brands. There’s a whole list of places that I don’t shop anymore, because I don’t love where they put their money. I don’t want my money going those places. 

So, shopping with your dollars as a consumer is definitely a way that you can help move all of us forward.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. That’s such great advice.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. It’s easy to forget how much power you have as a consumer. So I love that you said that and I would also like to get your list of places you no longer shop at.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I’ll take that list too. Bringing it back to… I know you mentioned it before and I didn’t say anything, but MaryJae, I have purchased so many things from that store and that woman, is her name Mary?

Alyssa Padron:
Her name, Mary is her mother. Her name is Jae.

Karin Samelson:
Doesn’t that work out beautifully for them? Oh my gosh. She is so nice. Oh my gosh. When they first opened, I was in the store a few times. 

We were at Black Sheep Lodge going in the store and she was just the most helpful, non-judgemental, especially…

When you go into shops like that, sometimes they can be a little bit holier than now, but the nicest person. 

So, Austinites go shop there. It’s the holidays.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely. I just went and did a little one-on-one sneak preview shopping session with just Jae and I in the store, which was amazing. 

Got this like super cute little goodie bag and I made this Instagram post about it. Because I was just like, “Go support this woman and she’s doing cool stuff.” 

And, then I wrote this whole thing out and I was like, “This looks super sponsored and it’s totally not, but I wish that it was.” But yeah, just a thing that I like felt really passionately about was supporting her and just everything that she stands for in that store.

Grow Gardenio

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. On that note, are there other CPG entrepreneurs that really inspire you similar to Jae?

Alyssa Padron:
It’s going to sound really lame and a little sappy, but my partner, I data founder in the scene and his commitment and ambition and drive and just seeing his bigger vision for not just what his company can do now, not just like cool, run it, get acquired in a couple years. 

He has such a passionate vision for where the business will take him and how it will impact the world. 

Honestly, dating him has been one of the things that’s made me realize in myself like, “Oh man, I have power to change these things. 

Even though I’m not an investor, I’m just a consumer. I can vote with my dollars to support the people that I want to. I can stand for systems that support food, justice and equality for all.”

Alyssa Padron:
He’s been really instrumental in kind of, not just learning about all of the unfortunate inequities of the world, but really helping me feel like I actually have a pretty powerful part in being able to make that change. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Wow. Well, what’s his name? What’s his business?

Alison Smith:
Yeah, plug him.

Alyssa Padron:
Roman Gonzalez, he’s the founder of Gardenio, which is a membership-based club. 

Okay, are you familiar?

Karin Samelson:
Yes.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, we saw him-

Karin Samelson:
We’ve had a call with him too.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, and we saw him pitch his brand. And, I think he won – he was amazing.

Karin Samelson:
Wait.

Alison Smith:
He did an elevator pitch.

Karin Samelson:
Do you remember it at the Naturally Austin event? Not the Pitch Slam where it was at Austin Eastciders?

Alison Smith:
Yes, yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Do you remember that? And it was like, Oh gosh, I’m so embarrassed to not remember his name who owns the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban. It was one of Mark Cuban’s investor guys from work and he was there and they were like, “Who wants to pitch their brand?” 

And, he raised his hand out of nowhere and pitched his brand. We were just like-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. “Who was that? He did amazing.”

Karin Samelson:
He’s ready.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, very cool.

Alison Smith:
We loved his concept and everything.

Alyssa Padron:
I don’t know if you can see it over here. I’ve got a whole bunch of plants in this window sill. Those are all my Gardenio plants. 

Admittedly, I’m much better at growing houseplants and it’s pretty embarrassing that my herbs don’t grow as well as they should considering I’m dating the founder of this guy that lets you grow your own herbs. But the fact that they are not dead is proof that anyone can do it, follow along with the herb, they got you.

Karin Samelson:
Tell us a little bit more about Gardenio.

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah. So, I have been lucky enough to kind of get such an inside view of the business, and kind of what they do. You sign up for your first box and you get three plants.

They send you everything you need, you get not just seeds, but a live plant, all of the soil, the pots, the right kind of mulch for your plant and the environment that it’s going to be in. 

You get a care guide for each of your plants and then you log them in the app.

Then, go and mend your plans different things, which I always find helpful. Because I’m like, “Oh no, I can’t kill Jenny. No man, I got to water her.”

The app is great and it helps you follow along. You’ll get little notifications. It’ll be like, “Hey, it’s going to freeze outside. You might want to bring your plants inside or put like some sort of plant jacket over it.” And, then every three months after that you’ll get an additional plant.

Alyssa Padron:
If your plant dies any time within the first three months that you get it, basically no questions asked other than, unless you just completely neglected it, I’ll send you a new plant, which is very exciting.

He studied philosophy at Brown. And, so, he has this whole concept of like reframing death and being able to do that through plants and just kind of being, “Yeah. It died. That happens sometimes it doesn’t mean give up, it means grow another one.”

Karin Samelson:
Whoa.

Alison Smith:
Man.

Karin Samelson:
That’s so cool.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I feel like I would be his worst customer sending me new plants all the time.

Alyssa Padron:
That’s the thing. Those are the people that he loves.

Alison Smith:
Okay good.

Alyssa Padron:
He loves a good challenge.

Alison Smith:
So cool. Very cool.

Karin Samelson:
And, another Latinx-founded Austin CPG company. So check them out too.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. Well, Alyssa, this is a lot of fun.

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Thank you for joining us.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Is there any way that anyone can reach out to you? Do you want to leave anyone with a link or your Instagram or anything?

Alyssa Padron:
Yeah, so I am super excited!

A lot of my role at SKU was not just kind of running the program, but also being able to build a nice little community around that.

So, I’m still working on building communities over at Ronin. We’re going to be hosting monthly workshops. We’re going to start an intro to finance for business owners, free workshop.

It’s going to run every month, starting in 2021. So, you can check out theroninsociety.com, head over to the workshop’s tab and yeah, feel free to drop me a line.

Because, I love chatting with new people. I’m so happy to share resources, to connect people with whatever it is they need. You can reach me at a.padron that’s P-A-D-R-O-N @theroninsociety.com.

Alison Smith:
Awesome. Thanks again, Alyssa.

Alyssa Padron:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
We’ll talk soon.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks Alyssa.

Alyssa Padron:
Thank you, all.

Narrator:
Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the way. 

Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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Austin CPG Marketing Agency

image yellowbird sauce

We’ve put together a list of CPG entrepreneurs and brands we admire and that call Austin home!

In 2020, Austin, Texas is one of the best places in the U.S. to launch a food, beverage, or wellness brand (also referred to as a Consumer Packaged Goods brand)! And, we’re not just saying that because we love it here. 😉

New businesses are flocking here for a few reasons! 

It has been in large part due to the city’s flagship Whole Foods store and wealth of mentorship and funding opportunities (Inc. Magazine). A lower cost of living also continues to draw in entrepreneurs once based in New York and California (Crunchbase).

This on top of the presence of startup accelerator programs, like SKU and Naturally Austin – which we highly recommend checking out!

CPG Entrepreneurs & Brands Paving Their Way in Austin, Texas

Yellowbird
@yellowbirdsauce 

Fact: Yellowbird’s sauces hit differently. They’re always made from farm-fresh fruits and vegetables – no fillers needed – and that’s what we love about them.

CPG Entrepreneurs Erin Link and George Milton launched their brand with a clear mission in mind: “to nix the junk, get back to nature, harvest fresh and organic fruits and veggies, and create a pure, flavorful line of sauces in the process.”

Given its huge health-conscious demographic, Austin was a natural fit for their headquarters and product launch.

Favorite Product: Yellowbird Sauce Serrano Hot Sauce

image yellowbird sauce

Tito’s Vodka
@titosvodka

CPG Entrepreneur Tito Beveridge was born and raised in San Antonio – just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Austin! Around 1992, he was making flavored vodka and passing it out to friends at parties.

And, his liquor was such a hit that he started going to liquor stores and asking managers if they’d buy his flavored vodkas. But, flavored vodka just wasn’t selling. Instead, they said if he could, “make a vodka that was so smooth you could drink it straight.” Then, they might be interested.

So, Tito accepted the challenge and his final product was a hit. Already local to Austin, this is where he would stay and grow his brand’s reputation to this day.

Favorite Product: Well, Tito’s Vodka – of course.

cpg entrepreneurs image of titos vodka

SkinnyPop
@theskinnypop

SkinnyPop Popcorn was founded in 2010. Their mission is simple (just like their ingredients list): create snacks that not only taste delicious, but are good for you!

This brand has seen such banging success that their parent company (Amplify Snack Brands) was acquired by Hershey in 2017.

Hershey reported a boost in sales following the acquisition, but not much news has come out on this brand since 2018. We’ll eagerly be awaiting an update – and popping corn in the meantime.

Favorite Product: Microwave Popcorn

cpg entrepreneurs image of skinny pop popcorn

CLEAN Cause
@cleancause

CLEAN Cause is on a mission to support those in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction by, “creating a sustainable source of funding for recovery efforts.”

In fact, they funnel 50% of their profits to fund an in-house giveback initiative: CLEAN Kickstarts. This initiative funds sober living scholarships to support individuals coming out of rehab, homelessness, or incarceration.

Favorite Product: Blackberry Organic Sparkling Yerba Mate

cpg entrepreneurs image of clean cause

Stubb’s BBQ Sauce
@stubbsbbqsauce 

CPG Entrepreneur and Restaurateur C.B. Stubblefield, also known as “Stubb,” opened a BBQ joint in Lubbock, TX.

Later in life, he moved to Austin, Texas and was urged by friends to bottle his signature sauce. He started doing this by hand, reusing old whiskey bottles and jam jars!

50 years later, the Stubb’s brand still invests in quality ingredients and careful craftsmanship – and that shows in their wide availability in retailers across the U.S.

Favorite Product: Stubb’s® Sticky Sweet BBQ Sauce

cpg entrepreneurs image of stubbs bbq sauce

In short, that’s a look at some of our favorite CPG brands founded in Austin, Texas!

If you’re into this list, there’s a pretty good chance you’d dig our podcast: Umai Social Circle.

Now, check out our latest episodes here.

And, shoot us a DM on Instagram if there’s an Austin-based brand that you’d like to see featured on this list or the Circle!

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#8: Culina Yogurt Mukbang, the Blueprint for Founder-Forward + Eco-Minded Content

culina yogurt podcast cover image
umai social circle podcast cover photo

#8: Culina Yogurt Mukbang, the Blueprint for Founder-Forward + Eco-Minded Content

This is NOT your average yogurt brand, and we’re so pumped about that – ‘cause who needs the “other guys” when you’ve got Culina Yogurt. 😉

From the moment you select one of their glass jars from the shelf, you’ll notice Founder Erin’s voice resonates across packaging and throughout social content.

There’s plenty to unpack in this one. Like, what does The Rock have to do with yogurt exactly?? As well as a look at strategic retailer shoutouts, messaging buckets, and nailing an eco-minded angle.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:55] Welcome! Here’s why we’re chatting about Culina today.
[1:33] We’ve got a few flavors to enjoy. Blueberry Lavender, Strawberry Rose, and Sour Cherry Almond. Initial thoughts on packaging, branding, and the ingredients list.
[7:37] Taste test. Mousse texture. Coconut notes shining through as well as respective flavor accents.
[11:42] So what’re they doing on social? How about their education? Tricks for your Instagram bio.
[15:25] What’s a good engagement rate for social? How does this differ between brands with bigger or smaller followings?
[19:52] What’s being talked about in the feed? Education on probiotics – how *this* product has probiotics with actual benefits.
[22:06] Founder focused. Loads of BTS videos! Retailer shoutouts.
[23:10] On the ads side – Alison’s thoughts on creatives and geo-targeted marketing efforts. Staying “native” – or, leveraging user-generated content.
[24:30] More organic content that we love. Community based (not always product forward).
[27:40] The power of messaging buckets for your brand as well as establishing brand recognition by showing face.
[31:18] Mission + packaging! Sustainability efforts with jars and DIYs. Challenges with shipping glass. New hashtag: #culinaclean
[37:25] Clever retailer announcement featuring The Rock. Call out for users to go to Whole Foods, buy product, post a photo, and tag Culina Yogurt in exchange for a coupon.
[41:20] Sync up your marketing efforts with your sales team – everyone’s got the same goals! Uplift each other!!
[43:00] Additional retailer announcement options that’re more approachable or non-designer friendly.
[44:43] Their graceful shift in packaging – from terracotta pots to glass jars.
[46:38] Look at all of that recipe content – most of it is user-generated! These recipes also go on their website (SEO boost).
[48:55] Then, there’s Lizzo! They created custom packaging for her – dang!
[53:06] Wrapping it up. We love your product and branding, Erin. 🙂

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

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Alison:
Hey, Hey, you all, Alison here. I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcast. I know you’re about to get a lot of valuable information from it, but I also wanted to hop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for standard operating procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free, and I’d love for you to have it and use it in your business as well. So just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. Alright, cheers.

Karin:
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we taught consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow. I’m Karin, co founder of Umai.

Alison:
And I’m Alison the other co-founder of Umai.

Karin:
And we are diving into the coconut based yogurt brand, Culina. So on this episode, we’re going to be talking all about Culina and how this brand utilizes behind the scenes and founder focused content to really speak to the mission of the brand. Cool. So, first step is, let’s dive into this packaging and try it.

Alison:
Yes. I’m excited to try it. So I have the Blueberry Lavender, which flavor do you have?

Karin:
Ooh, I have Blueberry Lavender, I have Strawberry Rose and I have Sour Cherry Almond.

Alison:
I also got the Bourbon Vanilla and I already ate it and it was really good. So I’m excited.

Karin:
Well, I was seeing a lot of positive stuff about the Sour Cherry Almond, so I think I’m going to try that one.

Alison:
Nice. So first of all, the packaging. If you all can see this, it’s just really gorgeous. It’s very, I would say feminine, so definitely appeals to the ladies if that’s their core customer, we don’t really know, but I would assume so. Women do hold the credit cards.

Karin:
And this breathing is so beautiful. I’m sure plenty of dudes pick this up, but I feel like as a female shopper, I’m picking this up because-

Alison:
It’s pretty.

Karin:
Yeah.

Alison:
Exactly. So we didn’t really talk about… So Culina is dairy-free, so it’s coconut based, which I’ve seen maybe one other brand that does coconut yogurt that I know of.

Karin:
Yeah. I feel like there’s some trendy social brands that have this coconut based yogurt, but I feel like Culina is definitely one of the ones leading the charge. So on the packaging on top, it says, impossibly fix. So quality, delightfully dairy-free speaking to the vegan folks, super probiotic yogurt, really touching on nutrition and education there, but when it’s-

Alison:
Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s really, I think, important on your packaging and we are definitely not branding experts. It’s not what we do, but to point out the core interest of your customer. So they have vegan, dairy-free, paleo. Those are the three subsets that they’re trying to hit. It’s right there in your face.

Karin:
Yeah. Having your customer just right there on your packaging. And so mine it says, seven simple ingredients on the outside; organic coconut, water, organic maple syrup, organic cherries, agar, almond extract, and probiotic cultures.

Alison:
I don’t know what agar is.

Karin:
Neither do I.

Alison:
Maybe it’s like a sugar.

Karin:
I think that binds. I’m really not sure if-

Alison:
That’s the one thing. But I like when people stand out, if they have limited ingredients, I love when they call that out.

Karin:
And I know on the back, it boosts immune health, alive and thriving probiotics supports digestive systems. They’re giving you your pain points and they’re solving them on their packaging. I love that.

Alison:
And that’s just the one side.

Karin:
Yeah.

Alison:
They have a whole other inside, which we were saying it’s like a mini homepage. It has a little note from Erin. A little fact, did you know? Oh, it has a recipe. It’s got it at all.

Karin:
What’s your recipe that’s on there? I’m sure it’s a little bit different than mine.

Alison:
Oh, and then it also has how to reuse the glass jars. So mine is a blueberry lavender tart, and it even says from the kitchen of Erin, the founder.

Karin:
Oh my gosh, yes. Mine’s a sour cherry almond cheese cake.

Alison:
Oh, that sounds good. But yeah, the little founder story is a nice touch, right?

Karin:
Yeah. I love that. We’re talking about how the founder really speaks to the community on social and she’s doing it far beyond social, it’s right there on her packaging. It’s really personal.

Alison:
That’s what it is. It’s personal, it makes you feel really connected to the brand. You get her kitchen recipes.

Karin:
And on the inside, it’s still talking about those key points. It’s thick, vegan, gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free, plant powered. That thick, I never really thought of yogurt as the thickness.

Alison:
But that isn’t a part of-

Karin:
I guess so.

Alison:
I do like a thicker yogurt. I never thought about it before, but-

Karin:
Yeah-

Alison:
They’re on to something.

Karin:
Well, yeah. A website-

Alison:
Yeah, mini website. But did you know about connecting the gut to the brain? Just like that little bit of a science? Everything else is so fun. But I like that they’re bringing in some facts to let you know that this really is an important food to feed your tummy.

Karin:
Yeah. I completely agree. I find some people just get really, really caught up in the fun factor, especially on social, that they don’t remember to tie in educational points. And really, she made this yogurt because she wanted it, she needed it. It wasn’t available.

Alison:
That’s right. Yeah. So what is her story? What is Erin’s story?

Karin:
Well, let’s read it here. It says, “It all began in my kitchen, but I promise we don’t make it there anymore.” And a wink face emoji on the packaging. “After removing dairy from my diet, my curiosity and passion for food inspired me to create Culina, made with whole ingredients and nothing weird. I hope you enjoy this as much as my mom.”

Alison:
Oh, Erin.

Karin:
I love that.

Alison:
I like Erin.

Karin:
Yeah. “Head foodie and CEO.” All right, Erin. Let’s try it out, shall we?

Alison:
Yeah, let’s do it. Woo, yeah.

Karin:
Oh.

Alison:
And it’s all kind of foamy in here.

Karin:
Mine is kind of foamy too.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
Okay. What’s the shelf life on these?

Alison:
Mine is December 30th, I believe.

Karin:
Oh, so it’s a decent shelf life.

Alison:
Okay. I’m ready to taste. This is like moosey.

Karin:
Moosey. Oh, this is a little moosey.

Alison:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin:
Smells Like cherries and smells like almonds.

Alison:
That is great. I love how much of the coconut flavor comes through on that.

Karin:
Ooh, sour cherry. That is sour.

Alison:
It is?

Karin:
It is sour. Yeah, but in a good way, not a bad way. If you like sour things, you’ll like this. The almond-

Alison:
I’m not really getting the lavender here, but I also, maybe you can smell it. No.

Karin:
So you are getting a lot of blueberry and coconut?

Alison:
I’m getting a lot of coconut, which I love, because coconut’s my favorite thing ever. And a little bit… Yeah, I’m getting a little bit of tartness from the blueberry, but I’m not really sure what a lavender would taste like.

Karin:
No, tastes the way it smells, I suppose.

Alison:
Maybe it’s a lavender color. I’m not sure.

Karin:
What are the ingredients on the Blueberry Lavender?

Alison:
So we have organic coconut, water, organic blueberries, which we’re going to get into that, the actual using organic blueberries, organic maple syrup, agar, lavender oil, and probiotic cultures.

Karin:
Okay. And she talked so much about the probiotic cultures.

Alison:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin:
We’ll talk about that more when we talk about all the education that she shares, but it’s just like, she’s stressing it so much because it’s lacking in so many other competitive brands and subsets. So I love that she calls attention to it as much as possible. She’s like, “We kill it with this and you need to pay attention.”

Alison:
Well yeah, I really love when a food is not only delicious, but actually is doing something really great for your body as well. And not a lot of people can utilize something as powerful as having probiotics in their foods.

Karin:
Definitely. And when you can utilize it, utilize it as much as possible.

Alison:
Go all in.

Karin:
And so it was really bubbly and moosey at the beginning, but now that I’m halfway in, it’s so creamy.

Alison:
It’s so creamy.

Karin:
And indeed very thick.

Alison:
Yeah. But mine, it feels moosey still, but I like it.

Karin:
Really?

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
Super light?

Alison:
It’s more of like a Greek yogurt thickness.

Karin:
Yeah.

Alison:
But a little bit lighter.

Karin:
Or even like a dessert that’s super, super thick that you just cut it into.

Alison:
I would eat this for dessert, 100%. If they have a chocolate one, I’m in.

Karin:
They must, they have so many flavors. They just came out with the fall flavors too.

Alison:
Ooh, I love when people do that, is it just they’re seasonal?

Karin:
I think it’s a seasonal, and she was reading that, when she had her pop-up at a farmer’s market, her booth at a farmer’s market, she sold out in 30 minutes whenever she had this pumpkin spice.

Alison:
Oh, a pumpkin spice. That’s your money maker right there.

Karin:
Classic.

Alison:
Classic. Okay. I want to hear more about their education and what they’re doing on social.

Karin:
Yeah. Lets go to their social feeds. So we’re going to focus on Instagram because that is like their community. It’s really where their target demographic lives and engages on and they just kill it. Their engagement is so high, their feed is beautiful, they have such good content. Let’s dive into it. So starting from the top. We’re looking at their bio and that is introducing the brand to everybody that comes to this page. So many people are going to discover Culina this way. So you’ve got to make your bio super informative. So the five-ish things that we look for in a bio; we want a really straightforward username, check, they got it. It’s just Culina Yogurt. Two, they want a super key word, rich headline. So right now their headline is just Culina Yogurt, which is fine. That’s what a lot of brands do because they don’t know this trick. So instead of Culina Yogurt, because that’s how people will search, you’re kind of saying, “Only people that know about my brand name can search me,” try doing something like plant-based foods, something searchable that has to do with your brand. That if plant-based people wanted to find you, they can search and you’d pop up.

Alison:
So could they do like Culina Yogurt plant-based foods? Could they do that super long headline? Or is that too much?

Karin:
That’s a good note. Maybe just putting plant-based foods first or-

Alison:
So everyone can search all of it?

Karin:
Yeah. See it first and then have Culina Yogurt. Your username is already Culina Yogurt, which is perfect. But having that searchable term within the headline is always a good, fun way to get new people to search your brand.

Alison:
That’s really cool.

Karin:
Yeah.

Alison:
That you can search that and that’s what pops up, is the headline, is what they’re searching.

Karin:
Yeah. And then the actual bio, the actual meat is just the why behind your brand. So they have, “Chronicling the adventures of a small women owned,” love it, “Plant-based food company.” And that leaves it open-ended to my understanding, that they’re keeping their options open and maybe in the future, they move beyond yogurt. So they’re really identifying with plant-based foods.

Alison:
Okay.

Karin:
And I love it.

Alison:
Oh, I did not realize that. Okay. They’re not pigeonholed inside yogurt there. Okay, cool.

Karin:
Yeah. So that’s something that I learned from Vital Farms. Their mission was, bringing ethically and sustainably produced food to the table. It was never about eggs. Yeah. It was never just about the eggs. And now look at them. They have dairy, they have butter. They have, I’m sure more things coming. So I like how they didn’t pigeonhole themselves right there. And then they touch on all those points; dairy-free, super probiotic, low sugar, vegan, and paleo, covering the bases.

Alison:
Their main points.

Karin:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And then they have their link. The only thing I’m missing that they could have is a call to action. Right under paleo, right above their link they could just be like, “Learn more about us,” and have some fingers pointing down just so people can be encouraged to press it. I’m not sure how many characters they have left in their bio, but all in all, awesome.

Alison:
Yeah. So you said that they have great engagement rates. Do you know what it is? And what is a good engagement rate for social?

Karin:
So this is kind of intuitive. Obviously, we can do the math. You can also put it into some kind of software or whatever one you have. I didn’t know we’ll calculate it for you. But when I look at engagement rates, I’m like, “Okay, this brand has 27,000 followers,” and I’m scrolling through, their first post has about 360 engagements on it. Their next one has more than a thousand. The next one after that has 560, with 67 likes or 67 comments. And I can’t do fast math, I can cross multiply.

Alison:
Well, that’s a lie.

Karin:
I can cross multiply and figure it out, but I know that this engagement’s high because of how modest and excellent their follower count is. So 27,000 followers is amazing and excellent, but it’s not a hundred thousand, it’s not 200,000. So it’s easy to be able to calculate that fairly easily.

Alison:
And what’s a good engagement rate? What should people be shooting for?

Karin:
A good engagement rate? It depends on how many followers you have of course, if you have 500 followers, your engagement rate can be 10%. And that’s mostly because you have a limited amount of followers and Instagram is delivering your content to most of them. And to be honest, there’s probably a lot of your friends and family. And so when you’re at this kind of level, about 27, even 15 to 40,000 followers, if you have a one to 2% engagement rate, you’re doing great. You’re doing good. If you have over a 2% engagement rate, you’re killing it. Your community is active, they love what you’re posting, they want to talk to you. And my fast math, give me-

Alison:
Were you doing that in your head?

Karin:
No, I wish.

Alison:
I’m impressed. You can talk and do-

Karin:
Just like a math quiz.

Alison:
Put it into a calculator. Are you able to tell if any of these are boosted? I’ve visited their pages before and I’ve never been targeted or re-targeted so, I’m just seeing a thousand likes and seventy-five comments on their latest post. And that’s amazing if that’s all organic, that’s a lot.

Karin:
I want to think it’s organic because it fluctuates so much and none of it’s crazy extreme. You’ll always see like, if a brand has 15,000 followers and most of the posts have 50 likes on it and then one has like 4,000. It’s just very odd, you ask which ones have been boosted and put money behind. But my impulse is that maybe a few are, but I feel like this is mostly organic.

Alison:
Because it’s all about 300 to 500, some are a little higher range.

Karin:
And so I did the math. And so if I’m averaging this out at like 600 engagements a post, that is a, with 27,000 followers, a 2.2 engagement rate, so like I just said, one to two is great, it’s good. Over two, you’re kind of killing it. So they’re in the kind of killing it.

Alison:
So just for everyone, how did you calculate engagement rate?

Karin:
Well, I’m not going in and adding everything up, but if you wanted to, so take your top and you’re doing this without software, you’re doing it manually. Take the top out of 10 posts, out of all the engagements together. So add up the likes, the comments, the shares, the saves. You can see all of that in your backend. Add those up with all the 10 posts divided by 10 to get your average engagement on those posts and then cross multiply by your 27,000 followers. And that just gives you your percent engagement rate.

Alison:
Okay. Math.

Karin:
Math, mm-hmm (affirmative). But you can buy software.

Alison:
Yeah. You can do that. Okay, so what is she talking about in the feed? What are her main education points?

Karin:
Yeah. So what I am seeing a lot of, is number one, just like we saw on the packaging, probiotics and educating on probiotics and how a lot of them don’t live from your mouth to your gut and how these do. I’m like, “Oh, this tastes delicious and gut health?” And I don’t trust other brands that aren’t telling you the same thing because it’s probably not surviving that path.

Alison:
Yeah. Okay. So she’s saying that her probiotics are better probiotics because they actually stay alive?

Karin:
Yeah.

Alison:
And everyone else is just using the term to sell their product. By saying, “We have probiotics,” but most likely you’re not getting any benefit from it?

Karin:
Right. So during the process of creating the product… I’m not a nutritionist, I don’t know a lot about this, but I’m assuming that a lot of that is lost in the creation of the product, but it’s not lost in hers. And she tells you often, which is great.

Alison:
Yeah, that is great. And that’s a really cool thing about smaller owned businesses. The founder is so on top of the process and making sure that it’s actually quality still. And so I love that she is aware of that and is letting her fans know.

Karin:
And even if you’re a founder and you pass this task off to an agency like ours or a social media coordinator or a marketing manager, or whoever is managing it for you, having that open line of communication where you are constantly keeping them up to date on what’s going on, being super transparent with the whole process of your food, you’re going to get better social content. So even if you’re not the founder doing this yourself, communicate often with the person who is doing it. Awesome. And then other stuff that I see her doing, super founder focused or the behind the scenes. So whenever there’s a new flavor, I saw a post that was just, “New flavors alert.” She’s talking about these flavors being exclusive at Sprouts. And I got some of these that are exclusive at Sprouts.

Alison:
Oh, nice.

Karin:
Yeah. She’s just really simply not thinking too much about this, but creating a video in her kitchen where she’s shouting out her retailer and talking about these new exclusive skews.

Alison:
That’s awesome. And I’m sure Sprouts really loved that support. She actually tagged them in it. So they most likely saw it and any retailer is going to love getting things moving off shelves.

Karin:
Yeah. That is such a good call, to always hype your retailer as much as possible. It’s so hard sometimes because you’re like, “I don’t want to give one too much love than the other,” but it really depends on what they’re doing for you too, and how bad you need to stay on that shelf.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
So Alison also does advertising for retailers. So if she wanted to advertise this, how would you do it?

Alison:
How would I advertise it?

Karin:
Yeah. How would you advertise these new skews available at Sprouts?

Alison:
Yeah. So I think is really cool. So there’s so many ways to choose creatives for retailers. And I think Karin, you’re actually going to talk about a lot of content that you can create for retailers, but there’s nothing better than a UGC looking campaign because that is so native on the Facebook and Instagram feed. So the fact that the founder just got on a simple video in her kitchen and is talking about the product, she’s probably the most knowledgeable about them. That is the perfect ad to run. And all you have to do for retailer ads is target those people that live right around those Sprout locations, it’s called geo-targeting, with this video. And you would have a rock solid campaign.

Karin:
Hmm. So Erin, you should be using this video in a Sprouts campaign. Geo-targeting-

Alison:
Geo-target.

Karin:
If you weren’t already. Yeah. So that’s awesome.

Alison:
If you’re not already sold out.

Karin:
It probably is. I feel like this was one of the last ones on the shelf. Awesome. And then other content that I love that she does with behind the scenes is super, just community-based content. What I mean by that is she’s not shoving the product down your throat. So she’ll post about a farmer’s market hall where she gets this new vegetable or new fruit, and she asks her community, “How should I use it?” And things like that. It has nothing to do with her product, but everything to do with her brand at the same time, you know?

Alison:
Yeah. And I feel like that people get so obsessed with shoving product down people’s throat. And it’s not fun to follow an Instagram account or Facebook newsfeed and all you’re doing is product, product, product benefit, product pain point, blah, blah, blah. So this is something that I think a lot of people might not realize that they can do and should do. We were talking earlier, Erin, the owner is most likely the core demographic of her customer too. So if she likes going to farmer’s markets, her customers probably like going to farmer’s markets too. So what do you think Karin? If you’re that demographic of your customer, what else can you share with people?

Karin:
Right. That’s what you have to think about. It’s like, what you like is probably so close to what your demographic likes, because usually what we see most of, is that the founder, co founder, leadership, not really the leadership, I take that back, but the co founder or founder of a company is usually creating a product that they couldn’t find themselves. And so they created it for themselves. And it just so happens that a lot of other people are similar to them.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
So thinking of all the things that you really love to do, it’s exactly what she does. In a lot of ways, it kind of seems like her personal feed, to be completely honest.

Alison:
Yeah. Definitely.

Karin:
She even signs off her name on some posts, not all of them, but some.

Alison:
I love that.

Karin:
It’s so personal.

Alison:
Do you think she’s actually writing and do you think she’s in charge of her social feeds?

Karin:
I honestly don’t know. It’s very clear that she was at the beginning, but I feel like since her team is bigger, I think she said she has 10 people on her team now, maybe she has somebody helping her, maybe she… I’m not sure, but-

Alison:
That’s a lot of work.

Karin:
Right. But some people, it just comes naturally to them. And I’m not saying that this is going to come naturally to everybody else. And what your bandwidth is, how long it takes you to get certain things done on social. So don’t expect everybody to do this, but if she is rocking at herself, she’s killing it.

Alison:
So how can founders at small companies without any help, what can they do to run their social in a more engaging way?

Karin:
Yeah. So what we really always preach here at Umai with all of our clients and with the all of the discovery calls we take with potential brands is, you need to establish your messaging buckets. People call them content pillars, content buckets. I don’t care what you call it, I call it messaging buckets, so I’m going to continue doing that. And within those messaging buckets, you’ll have subtopics. So depending on your brand, if we’re looking at Culina, as some of her messaging buckets, she has a retailer one where she shouts out retailers, just like that Sprouts one. She has an education one, where she talks about probiotics, she talks about nutrition. There is a community one where she talks about her farmer’s market halls. There’s a product one where she talks about her actual products. So just looking at those four really quickly, within those messaging buckets are so many subtopics. So let’s take the education one for instance, she’s talking about probiotics, that’s a subtopic. She’s talking about general nutrition, that’s a sub topic. She’s creating subtopics within these messaging buckets. I’m not sure if she has these written down, but it’s so intuitive for her. But if it’s not intuitive for you, get these written down somewhere, so that you can keep your content super varied. So you always have something new to talk about. And it’s just the easiest way to stay on top of your content creation.

Alison:
And how do you feel about founders showing face? Is it a must? What if you’re camera shy? What do you do?

Karin:
Yeah, she’s egging me on because we both believe that you have to get your face on camera. You do, you don’t have to, but you should. Especially if your brand is newer and you’re still establishing yourself, being able to put a face to a brand name is so powerful for consumers these days. It’s like, Coca-Cola’s not doing it.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
Fritos is not doing it.

Alison:
One thing you got to, over Coca-Cola. Who runs Coca Cola? Nobody knows.

Karin:
Exactly. I don’t know one name at Coca-Cola that’s not just like the… I can’t even think of a title because there’s a million of them. So it’s just like, you have this opportunity to be so personal with the people that consume your product. And that is such a powerful thing.

Alison:
You also know the most about your products. You know the most.

Karin:
Yes.

Alison:
You probably can say it better than anyone on your team. But that being said, it is hard. It’s not-

Karin:
It is hard.

Alison:
It’s hard to be natural on camera and post the things that maybe 27,000 people are going to see and look at, that’s hard.

Karin:
The bigger you get and the bigger these numbers get, it’s even more intimidating. And we used to have a client who, the story, the why behind her brand was so, so strong to her culture, but she was really shy and didn’t want to come on camera unless he made it super easy for her. So we tried as much as we could to make it super easy for her because every time she showed face on the feed, those engagement rates were through the roof.

Alison:
Yeah. People-

Karin:
So if you can’t do it all the time, try and fit it in like twice a month. And if you don’t want to just be on your feed, be in your stories, show us behind the scenes, give us the juice, tell us what’s going on.

Alison:
Yeah. Stories go away after 24 hours.

Karin:
No pressure.

Alison:
That’s actually a great place to start practicing. And then once you feel on it, post it on the feed. Okay, let’s talk about their mission, because they have these awesome glass jars. So what do they talk about with that?

Karin:
So mission, I put that under the community bucket. So if community was one of your messaging buckets, sustainability, your mission, that’s under it for me. And so what I love is that she is constantly talking about sustainability and repurposing jars. So she has one where she put her herbs clippings in it and it’s in her fridge. She has one where she’s making teeth whitener with an influencer.

Alison:
By the way, I did that with my chart my other-

Karin:
You did?

Alison:
And I put them, I was like, “Is this really going to work in the fridge?” And it’s just dying in there. So maybe it’s a certain type of herb that you need to use, I’m not really sure.

Karin:
That’s how I store my herbs. What herb are you using?

Alison:
I think it was a basil. It was from one of my fur boxes.

Karin:
Oh. And that is Freshy Fresh? Yeah. I do it with cilantro and it works. And I’m going to do it with these because these are the perfect size.

Alison:
Yeah. Okay.

Karin:
You can make candles out of them. I saw somebody comment that they were going to be making candles. Come on, when do you-

Alison:
Yeah, it’s perfect for a little candle.

Karin:
Yes. So other things that she’ll really touch on is quality, quality of the product, quality of the ingredients. And within her education bucket, she’s talking about like, how they use fresh fruit instead of processed shelf-stable ingredients that the other guys use. And that’s a direct comparison, those comparison photos, comparison ads, they do so well, but she’s just calling them out in the coffee.

Alison:
Yeah. And I think that’s just because people need to see visually a lot of times like, “This is why we are better compared to this.” She does it a lot in her copy though, too.

Karin:
Yeah. I think that’s an opportunity to make it more visual, especially with ads. Because a side-by-side comparison, she’s saying it in her copy, but listing it like, “Olipop does a great job of this.” I mean, so many brands do a great job of this.

Alison:
And there’s a reason so many brands are doing.

Karin:
Exactly.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
So I love all those mission-based reminders. So the sustainability, using glass instead of single use plastic. It is so hard to ship refrigerated glass.

Alison:
Yeah, it’s expensive.

Karin:
Any CPG, anyone will agree that refrigerated glasses is just the hardest thing ever.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
To ship. And she’s doing it and she’s going the extra mile. And that’s why they’re a little bit more expensive, because the sustainability. And that is what resonates with her and her target demographic.

Alison:
Right. That’s exactly right. People who buy Culina care that it’s glass, that is a selling point in its own, that it’s in a glass jar versus plastic.

Karin:
Heck yes. And I’m going to reuse… This is my second one, I am definitely going to be reusing these jars.

Alison:
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:34:53].

Karin:
And what I really respect about her too, which a lot of brands are kind of scared to do this, is that she calls out those larger yogurt brands. She’s like, “You’re using plastic and you’re using garbage ingredients.”

Alison:
Is she tagging them?

Karin:
No, I don’t think she’s tagging them. I I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a brand do that, have you?

Alison:
Oh my gosh, no, I would be terrified to do that. Is she saying their name though? In the copy or is she just being vague? Okay.

Karin:
Yeah. She’s being vague. She’s like, “The other guys,” but it’s like, “We know who you’re talking about.”

Alison:
Okay.

Karin:
There’s not that many.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
And she’s incorporating this new hashtag, it’s #culinaclean. I think I’ve only seen it on two posts, but they are stressing the mission of quality ingredients sustainability. So the two posts that they’re tagged on right now, one is about the quality of the product and the ingredients. And one is about single use plastic.

Alison:
Yeah. And honestly, these are things that I would not know about other yogurt brands, like that they’re not using fresh organic ingredients and things like that. It’s easy as a founder or when you’re working with a company for so long to forget that these little facts not everyone knows, and that you still need to share these and share them often with people. Because I would never had known that.

Karin:
Yeah. And we all do it. We forget the key points. Even if we have our messaging buckets written down, which is more of a reason for you to do it.

Alison:
Yeah. Knowledge is a curse sometimes.

Karin:
So just coming back to your mission in your social content, throughout your content, no matter what messaging bucket you’re on, it’s so vital to help build that community of people that are advocates of your brand that will continue to use your brand. Their lifetime value is so large because they’re so loyal to you. So tell your followers, tell them often, talk about how sustainable you are, how nutritious you are, what sets you apart from the competitors, keep them buying your product.

Alison:
Absolutely. People want something delicious, it’s good for them. And the fact that they can feel good about buying it because it’s not going into trash.

Karin:
Right. I love feeling good about myself.

Alison:
Okay. This retailer announcement, you need to talk about this. What is-

Karin:
So this was recent. Well, it was like a day ago, two days ago.

Alison:
It’s so good.

Karin:
This is the best retailer announcement I’ve seen, maybe ever.

Alison:
You guys see this?

Karin:
Yeah, show them. It’s the Rock holding Culina. And I’m like, “Okay, did the Rock, give them a shout out?” Like, “What is this?” And the copy is, in case you missed it over the weekend. The Rockies love us. And they’re just talking about being in the Rocky mountain region of Whole Foods, but it caught my attention so quickly more than anything else would have. And I was just like, “What in the world?” So I’m obsessed with this retailer call out. I don’t know how it can get-

Alison:
This is one of the smartest-

Karin:
Yeah. I don’t know how you can get that clever with all the regions of Whole Foods, but I’m sure they’ll try.

Alison:
But also what they’re doing with that post. So pop over to your local Whole Foods, run, don’t walk, to the yogurt section, snap a photo of us and tag us in your stories and then they will send you a free coupon.

Karin:
They’re sending a free coupon with that?

Alison:
Yes. So it says, “No catch just literally free yogurts.” And then it lists all the cities that it’s in, the Whole Foods that they’re in. So do you think that they’re just trying to obviously build brand awareness through a UGC? And then also, are they getting content or what do you think their MO?

Karin:
I love that so much. I didn’t even notice that the first time around, because I was laughing at the Rock.

Alison:
Staring at the Rock.

Karin:
So we call it a shelfie, like a selfie at the shelf is shelfie. So a lot of people will do campaigns that are, “Go to your store, snap is shelfie, tag us in it and we’ll pick one winner,” or something. But they just won’t apt it. And they’re saying, “If you tag us in it, we’re sending you free coupons.” So this is a big endeavor. I don’t exactly know what they’re doing, I don’t know if they’re sending print out coupons. I’m assuming. That’s a big endeavor, but I also like how they’re putting all of the cities in there. That’s something to note with a lot… We do it sometimes, where we’re like, “We’re available in the south region,” and people are like, “What region am I in?”

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
So having that laid out right there-

Alison:
Instead of having to go and click on the site or the link to go to the site, to look at the store locator, it’s just like, “Bam, there’s my city.”

Karin:
I love that.

Alison:
Right in the copy. So yeah, I’m so interested in this if they’re just trying to get product to move off the shelves. So Whole Foods is favoring them or is it for content? Is it for all of it? It’s just a really smart campaign.

Karin:
I don’t know if it’s for content UGC, because I don’t know how much it’s going to be shared. My instinct is that when you get into a new retailer or a new region, a buyer brings you into a new region, you need to prove your worth there. You need to prove that you have customers that are going to purchase from that store. And so getting them in the store with an incentive is the best way of doing it other than our geo-targeted ads, of course, where we’re getting a lot of brand awareness out-

Alison:
You can pull both levers.

Karin:
Ooh, pull them both.

Alison:
Well efficient.

Karin:
Yes. Pull them both, for sure. And if you have a big email list and you have it segmented from where people live, where people are located, send an email out. If there’s not that many people and that’s okay, you have 20 what? 27,000 followers, I guarantee a good number of those are within driving distance of those stores. So-

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
Along the campaign.

Alison:
Like we said earlier, retailers love to be called out and love to see that you’re actually putting effort into helping them sell.

Karin:
For sure. Like with ours, when we ever have retailer shout outs for a brand or we have those geo-targeted campaigns, we’ll always put a one-pager together for that retailer so that we can share that information with the buyer. It’s like, “Hey, we spent money getting people to the store. We’re trying here.”

Alison:
Yeah. It all goes together. So a lot of times marketing and sales think they’d butt heads, but marketing is helping the sales people and vice versa. And it’s a full-on efficient marketing machine and it all goes together. “We all have the same end goal here. That’s slaying products.”

Karin:
And that is such a good point. That’s so true, that marketing teams and sales teams are like, “Hey, why didn’t you do this? Hey, why did you do that too soon?” It’s always like this battle, but if you’re communicating well between those two departments, you’re going to kill it. You got to communicate.

Alison:
And if you’re a marketer, you need to be talking to yourselves and whoever else you can talk to that’s part of the company. Definitely. We have shared calendars and everything with our sales teams.

Karin:
Yeah. You got to know when you’re on promo, you got to know when you have a lunch. So stay in tune. And obviously if Erin’s still doing this, she’s able to do that pretty darn easily because she knows exactly what’s happening. And other retailer announcements. So yeah, imposing a huge jar of yogurt into the Rock’s cradling arms might not be within your pay grade ability as with Photoshop or knowing somebody who can do that. So other retailer announcement options, we love utilizing, get your retailer logo and a photo like a PNG transparent background of your product and impose those together, blast that. Even more simply, get a photo of your product in front of the store. So literally just holding up the product in front of the store, and we utilize that a lot for organic and for ads.

Alison:
Yeah. So what you can see in the photo, a lot of times it’s just a hand holding the product and you can see Whole Foods or HEB or Kroger in the background. So people automatically see their Whole Foods, in their head they know to drive there and pick up that product. And like we were saying earlier, the UGC, if you’re ever running an influencer program, small or large, if you can ever get a influencer or even someone on your team inside the store, like right on the shelf where the product is, a face is great in the composition, but a hand will do it too. Those work really, really well.

Karin:
And if you don’t have any availability to fly across the country, you don’t have any team members that are out there, find an influencer, give them a couple dollars, send them the product, see what you can do with a little bit of a budget. So I do want to dive in, we haven’t mentioned it yet, but their very graceful shift in packaging. So the first time I discovered Culina, it was in the coworking space that we used to co-work out of. And it was in the most beautiful little terracotta pot. It looked like a little pot for a seedling. And if you go far enough in their feed, you’ll see it. And I really feel like that was the first thing that popped off the shelf and immediately got people going like, “Ooh, I got to buy that.” It was so innovative. I’ve never seen something quite like that.

Alison:
And who doesn’t need a million, little terracotta plants for their little succulents?

Karin:
Right. It’s sustainability from the get-go, obviously that wasn’t scalable, but the shift, when you go back in their feed, it’s astounding the way from the last terracotta post to the first glass jar, the glass jars they use now, there’s no mention of it. So I’m guessing there might’ve been, it could have been archived or it could have been in the stories. I wasn’t following them at the time, but all you see is there was a terracotta pot. And now the first thing that they talk about in the first few posts is how to reuse the glass jars. So instantly being unapologetic about getting rid of it and saying, “Here, look at all of these amazing ways to use our new packaging,” so that you forget about the shift.

Alison:
Yeah. They didn’t really overthink it. They could’ve made a bigger deal that would have been a hoopla, but they just jumped right in to like, “This is how you use this jar now.”

Karin:
And they do it still.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
And I don’t see anybody complaining about it. So I love that shift. And then another thing I really love seeing them do is all of the recipe content. So I would give recipe its own messaging bucket for them, because there’s so much of it. There’s so many recipes that they have with the yogurt in it that has nothing… You see it and you’re like, “There’s no yogurt in that.” But there is, because yogurt is such a versatile ingredient. And I love that. So one thing that I love even more than them sharing recipes is the fact that they put these recipes on their blog, on their website.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
That’s so smart. For a brand that’s well loved and people utilize the product a lot and organically create this content for you, instead of reposting it as UGC, which is perfect, but asking them for permission and putting it on your website for more SEO power.

Alison:
Exactly. Now you have additional… I love when people are able to take one piece of content and make five pieces of content. I think that’s exactly how you should be thinking if you’re trying to market your brand, and that’s what they did. And also, obviously it’s delicious eating this way, but to give people so many more opportunities to use their product, I’m sure it’s helped with sales.

Karin:
Oh yeah. And it’s so drool worthy. The fourth post down right now is a gluten-free vegan, right up front it tells you, just as she does on her packaging, chocolate cinnamon rolls. I’m like-

Alison:
“Yum.”

Karin:
“Okay, I will.”

Alison:
Yeah. That’s like, you gain all of it right there. It’s got to be healthy if it’s gluten-free.

Karin:
I know. Yeah. That’s exactly the mindset. It’s like, “Oh, this is healthy,” but it’s healthier. And that’s a fact, it’s healthier than the garbage alternative. And I’m down for that.

Alison:
And I’m in.

Karin:
Cool. Yeah. So love how they add the recipes on there. And then the last thing that I really want to touch on.

Alison:
What’s that?

Karin:
It’s the biggest thing on their feed that I’ve seen, unbelievable. So Lizzo-

Alison:
Lizzo.

Karin:
The star of the show.

Alison:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin:
Okay, so here’s a rundown of what my Instagram research told me, is that Lizzo posted a TikTok and she repurposed on her Instagram, of her favorite products, I guess she’s vegan. I didn’t know that, but it was her favorite vegan products. And Culina, lucky them, was the first product that showed up. And a lot of the other ones didn’t even have labels on it, but a testament to how beautiful the label is and how people want to share it.

Alison:
You want to share it.

Karin:
She posted about it and they capitalized on it so beautifully. They created a custom label for Lizzo.

Alison:
Can you just imagine owning your dairy-free yogurt, plant-based brand and Lizzo, just out of the blue posts about you? That’s amazing.

Karin:
What? Think about that. Whoever is listening to this, think about yourself and your brand and then a star of that caliber and that influence, talks about it. And you didn’t have to pay 1 cent for it. That Is so amazing. I want to know how many sales generated just from that.

Alison:
And it has to do a lot with branding. You see this on the shelf and you’re like, “That’s so cute. I must have it, must have.” So, very important aspect.

Karin:
Incredible. It’s so incredible. And the label, the custom label they did, I don’t know how fast the turnaround time was, but it probably was fairly fast to keep that buzz generated. And she posted about it again, that’s one of the surefire ways to get an influencer all in on your product is to like slap their on it.

Alison:
Right. So they made a custom Lizzo yogurt called The Juice, got her face on it.

Karin:
So it says the brand name and above the normal label, it says cultured with probiotics. And on top of The Juice Lizzo one, it’s, Lizzo Be Eatin’ Culina.

Alison:
I can’t see that far.

Karin:
I know. I wish I could see the old packaging of this.

Alison:
God, that’s good. So good. I’m so curious what the flavor is.

Karin:
I Know, right? Did they just put it on there Bourbon Vanilla?

Alison:
Yeah, maybe. But so, Lizzo posted again, obviously, because she gets now a custom Culina flavor. So she posted twice, probably without being paid.

Karin:
Definitely. I would be so surprised if they paid a cent for this. This seems really authentic and organic to me and it’s just so fantastic. I’m just really happy for them, for her, for Erin, because that’s just such a hit. For another client of ours, we had Tabitha Brown, iamtabithabrown, which is one of my favorite influencers. We had her post about it. Her influence is a fraction of Lizzo’s, and the results from it were phenomenal.

Alison:
Right.

Karin:
So you can only imagine what happened when Lizzo posted about it.

Alison:
So do we know when was it posted? Did you see a difference in engagement, in followers?

Karin:
Like a timestamp?

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
Oh, a difference in engagement.

Alison:
I’m just curious if there’s a way to measure how… If we can tell people how impactful?

Karin:
Ooh, that’s a good call. Honestly, I can’t quite tell a difference right off the bat, so I’m not sure. But I wish we could ask her, “Hey, what’d that lift look like Erin?”

Alison:
“What’d that look like?” Yeah.

Karin:
Yeah. I want to see those numbers from X date to X date.

Alison:
Absolutely. What a great brand, what a delicious product.

Karin:
What a delicious product. Are you done with yours?

Alison:
I am almost done. I’m definitely going to finish though.

Karin:
We’re finishing up. Erin-

Alison:
This is single serving, right?

Karin:
Yeah, surely.

Alison:
We’re good.

Karin:
We’re not getting all of it. Thank you, Erin, for a delicious product. Kudos.

Alison:
Yes, thank you.

Karin:
Whoever did your branding, it’s gorgeous and keep killing it with those founder features, the behind the scenes, the juice, if you will.

Alison:
And give us the juice. Alrighty you all, that was our Umai Social Circle on Culina. We covered everything that we could tell you about Culina. Definitely check them out at Culina Yogurt on Instagram and see how you can apply some of their tactics to your feeds.

Karin:
Yeah, and enjoy it. Bye you all.

Alison:
Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at Umai Marketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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#6: How the 1st Ever Coconut Milk Ice Cream, Nadamoo!, Earned Its Way Into the Freezer Aisle

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#6: How the 1st Ever Coconut Milk Ice Cream, NadaMoo!, Earned Its Way Into the Freezer Aisle

In 2005, @nadamoo seriously shook up the frozen dessert market with the first ever dairy-free coconut milk ice cream. 🥥🚫🐄

Not long after, CEO @nadamoodan joined the team – re-working his mechanical engineering skills to put their books in order and become a chief problem solver as the company expanded to the well-known CPG brand 🍦 it is today.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:55] Introducing Daniel Nicholson, CEO of NadaMoo!
[1:24] How’d Daniel link up with NadaMoo!? More background on the brand – the first-ever coconut-milk based ice cream on the market. From Madrid to Austin!
[5:41] More why behind the transition from mechanical engineer to ice cream bookkeeper. Optimizing the problem-solving process.
[9:29] Where has NadaMoo! sent you around the world?
[11:16] Key tips for other brands wanting to stand out against the competition.
[15:11] Key pain points associated with the frozen dessert industry.
[20:23] Seasonal flavors – are they decided year-by-year? Is there a method to the madness of seasonal launches?
[22:54] How does your team come up with new flavors? Is there a Chief Flavor Officer behind the scenes?? Touching on The Scoop Shop in Austin, Texas.
[28:05] Back to operations! A lot of the brands that we work with only ship their product within the U.S. Tell us more about the process of expanding the NadaMoo! to include Canada. In a way, “starting the business all over again…”
[33:20] How might a business inform + empower consumers to speak up about their brand and get more product on shelves across more retailers?
[35:26] The impact of listening and interacting with your customers through an online community.
[38:20] What advice would you like to share with new CPG owners? The reality of this type of business.
[50:44] Finally, Daniel’s favorite flavor and if it’s changed throughout the years!

Mentions from this episode: 

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Alison:
Hey, Hey, y’all. Alison here. I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcast. I know you’re about to get a lot of valuable information from it, but I also wanted to hop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for standard operating procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free and I’d love for you to have it and use it in your business as well. So just go to my umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right, cheers.

Karin:
Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods, marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow. I’m Karin, co-founder of Umai.

Alison:
And I’m Alison, the other co-founder of Umai.

Karin:
And we’re being joined by Daniel Nicholson, CEO of our favorite dairy-free ice cream, NadaMoo.

Daniel Nicholson:
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Karin:
Thanks for being here. Well, I’d love to start out with, how on earth did you get started with this killer vegan ice cream brand?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. It’s a great story and it’s a long story too, but I’ll definitely try to try my best to condense it down for those of the listeners that don’t know our brand. We’ve been around for 15 years. We were the very first coconut milk based ice cream product to market back in 2005. We just celebrated our 15th year anniversary in May. So I was not the founder. I got involved in the business in 2008 when the founder was about three years into it. For some brief background on me, I’ve studied mechanical engineering at the University of Texas. My first job out of school was in renewable energy, worked for a big wind power utility out in Spain. So working on another side of the sustainability problems, solutions or solutions to the sustainability problem.

Daniel Nicholson:
But when I moved back to Austin after that stint in Madrid, was introduced to the founder of NadaMoo through a close family friend. I’ll never forget the first time I tried the product. Maple pecan was the very first flavor that I ever tried. And the second I put it in my mouth, I was just like, “Wow, this product is incredible. Tastes just like ice cream with much lower calories, much lower sugar, zero cholesterol.” As you all can imagine, the dairy free movement, this predated the plant-based movement. So I saw it from a much higher level of just like a better for you ice cream product. It’s lower calories, lower sugar as I said.

Daniel Nicholson:
The founder at the time was looking for was looking for help. I mean, was already three years into the business, created an incredible product, which a lot of founders in the CPG space do, but really needed some help on the operation side and with a lot of the numbers, a lot of the day-to-day accounting. I loved the product so much and thought that NadaMoo, the brand, for one, too, I loved the brand name, NadaMoo. I grew up in South Texas from a family who speaks both Spanish and English. So for me, NadaMoo just spoke to me and resonated with me on, on that deeper level too.

Daniel Nicholson:
So, yeah, just in speaking with her around what she needed help with, how I could potentially help, it ended up landing me a job in the CPG industry. I started off as the … I hate even saying they gave me the beautiful title of controller. But I had no formal experience in accounting. I took an introductory course in undergrad, but really was flung into keeping the books for the company in 2008. My family made a small investment in the company that year and I was often running in my new CPG journey, which now I think I just celebrated 12 years, 12 years in CPG, which is a third of my life. I continue to just be blown away by the fact that a third of my life has been spent in an industry that I knew nothing about when I got started. But it’s been incredibly rewarding and it’s been a great ride so far.

Alison:
Awesome.

Karin:
Wow.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
So you’re saying that you went to school to be a mechanical engineer. That’s a lot of schooling. Are you saying you had one taste of NadaMoo and you just switched?

Daniel Nicholson:
Done. Switched. I guess to expand upon that, what I did what I did learn after my stint at this very large renewable energy company in Spain was that I didn’t want to work for a big company. I just did not feel like my day-to-day work contributed to some really bigger impact and bigger mission that the company was obviously trying to achieve. So I knew I didn’t like that. I also, didn’t like just sitting at a computer, working on spreadsheets all day, every day. I’m fairly good with numbers, but it’s just not dynamic enough for what I wanted to do. So some of my initial thoughts were like, “I don’t think engineering is like the career path for me.” And straight out of school, it’s like, “Well, now that I’ve had that moment, it’s kind of too late now.”

Alison:
Too late. Wow.

Daniel Nicholson:
So as I moved back to Austin and I was interviewing for some positions that I really didn’t want just because my degree lend themselves well to it. And really, I’m glad that I met the founder when I did because it was an opportunity that got me just excited enough to be like, “Wow, this would be exciting and interesting. I can get on the ground floor of this potentially massive opportunity and see whether or not I can really add value.”

Karin:
I mean, look what happened.

Daniel Nicholson:
12 years later, it’s kind of crazy to think about.

Karin:
So what have you applied from that background? Has that been helpful in the CPG space?

Daniel Nicholson:
I think so. The fact that I chose engineering, I like to think that I’ve thought about it at least a little bit. Really, for one, I think engineering is probably one of the more difficult undergraduate degrees to obtain. We work really hard. We make jokes about the business school students within the engineering school, just saying like, “Man, these guys just get to party all the time.” We don’t get to party as much. There was a lot of studying involves … There was just a lot of really difficult concepts to wrap our minds around. But I think the value that it has really added to my life and what I’ve decided to do is just general problem solving like when you are presented with a problem, you need to go through a systematic process of, “Okay, how do I solve this and how do I create the best possible solution for the problem that has been put in front of me?”

Daniel Nicholson:
So, yeah, it’s been reduced to just a very strong analytical background, problem solving background that I think really is important for any entrepreneur to begin to optimize their problem solving process.

Karin:
I love how that’s a true Testament to you do not have to go to school to do anything you want to do outside of being a doctor or a lawyer, things like that. But it’s just like, if you have a passion for something, you’re going to perform so much better, because you like doing what you’re doing. I think that’s so powerful. I just remembered, you said you don’t like sitting behind a desk. I would love to hear more like how many trips … spoiler, you source from Thailand, right? The coconut milk?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yes. Our coconut milk providers is based out of Thailand, which has been awesome. So first I’ll say, the ironic thing is I still do sit behind a desk because it’s [inaudible 00:09:53] way for me to receive information and share information through email, through calls like this, meetings and conference calls. So I do sit behind the desk quite a bit, especially now during COVID where there’s little to no travel that is happening in my life right now. But the position has allowed me some really cool opportunities to travel to really cool and far away places to conduct business, right? To create relationships with our suppliers, meet their families, go out to their farms, break bread, have dinner, and just really share in this life that they live in their home where we just happened to be connected by way of sourcing very important raw material for our ice cream product that we sell to the grocery stores.

Karin:
That’s awesome. One of my biggest questions that I was excited to ask you is in a really heavily saturated market, you’re competing against big dairy dogs of the aisle, what are some key tips that you would want to give to a brand that’s wanting to stand out against a really strong competition?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. That’s a great question. We’ve definitely picked a difficult category to try to achieve what we’re trying to achieve. The frozen dessert category is limited, right? There is limited shelf space in freezer sets across the country. Sometimes some stores have larger frozen sets, some have smaller, and it’s our job to try to gain shelf and as many of these sets as possible nationwide, at some point worldwide. I think it’s really important to not be overwhelmed by the reality of the category that you’re trying to break into. I think if you really feel strongly that you have some value proposition to bring to the category and you’re really passionate about the work that you’re doing, I’m really big on staying the course mostly because that’s what we’ve done.

Daniel Nicholson:
We knew what we were up against day one. We knew we were going to be pushing up against the very strong and powerful dairy industry. But it didn’t stop our approach. We’re just like, “Look, we are literally a fly on the radar of these massive entities. They won’t even know that we exist until we begin to get to a certain size and scale that maybe they start seeing us on that radar.” So I think it’s don’t overwhelm yourself with the daunting task of taking on some really massive partners. You just have to take it on a day at a time and really work at making your brand or your product significant enough to the point that you start becoming a bigger target to others.

Daniel Nicholson:
And by the time you reach that point, yes, you have some even more challenging obstacles and opportunities ahead of you. At that point, you’ve done something right. And then it’s up to you to, again, wake up each and every day and continue to execute upon the plan that you’ve put in front of you yourself. I think that’s been a big part of what we do. We don’t get overwhelmed by the noise of new products launching into our space. Haagen-Dazs is coming in and Ben & Jerry’s is coming in. We’ve been through this for a really long time. We’ve seen a lot of brands come and go. We’ve seen a lot of brands come into the space and not have success.

Daniel Nicholson:
And at the end of the day, all you can really focus on is you and your mission and your vision. Yeah. I think that’s really what we’ve stayed focused on here and so far so good. We’ll see if that continues to be the right plan and strategy, but for now I can say it has absolutely gotten us to this point and we just want to keep pushing forward with that same mentality.

Karin:
Definitely. I think it’s so easy for people of all sorts of different brands and goods to get bogged down with what other people are doing. I really like that advice to just do what you know how to do best, execute the best way you can, and keep delivering really great product. It’s awesome. Cool. Well, what have been some key pain points in the business? Yeah, it’s ice cream and like online orders. And I want to hear a little bit more about those kinds of pain points.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. The biggest pain point for an ice cream product is we have to keep it frozen, right? It has to be handled, everything has to be handled in such a delicate manner. I mean, a shelf stable product, or a brand with shelf stable products does not have to think about cold chain, does not have to think about storage, does not have to think about the temperature that the truck needs to be set at in order to transit your products safely so that it’s not melting and refreezing and then the consumer ends up having a less than stellar experience. Not because you didn’t make it well, but because the handlers of the product as you were moving the product around to different places, they were not disciplined about the way that they handled it.

Daniel Nicholson:
The part that I really enjoy most about the business is probably the part that most founders or most CPG entrepreneurs hate. I like the unsexy stuff. I like operations. I like the finance. I liked the accounting. I like all the systems and processes that are put in place to ensure that we have systems in place that are fail-proof. You have to have a system and a process for everything. And as long as you hold to that, then you can create a lot of extra room for yourself to be creative. As you scale, then it gets a lot more important to begin to focus on the sales and marketing aspects of the business.

Daniel Nicholson:
But we have always felt like until we have the backend taken care of, there’s really not a lot of need for us to press forward, trying to light the world on fire sales-wise and marketing-wise, because the backend is not prepared to handle it. We’re going to create bigger issues for ourselves than we’re ready for. I think that’s been a big part of … maybe that’s why it’s taken us 15 years to get to this point where we were really focused on the backend and optimizing every single piece of the operation to being prepared, to have more fun on the sales and marketing side.

Karin:
Hey, it’s proven to be a good call because I feel like that is something that I’ll see with founders. It’s all sales and marketing upfront, and the rest is falling by the wayside. So focusing on that to make sure that you’re delivering the most premium, premium product makes a lot of sense.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. I think like a big part of the food business in CPG, the health of a business is directly related to scale. You have to scale, you have to create those operational efficiencies in order to make any kind of money in this industry. I think it’s very easy to get carried away with sales and marketing and product development. Oh, what’s the [inaudible 00:18:52] we’re going to bring to the market. And those things are all fun and they’re exciting. The market wants that. They want you to do those things, but they don’t want you to do that if you’re not ready for that, because that’s going to put you at a massive predicament where you don’t have full control or you don’t have the full vision in place yet of how you’re going to bring all this added value to the market before you’re really ready to handle it.

Daniel Nicholson:
It’s tough. Most of the advice I give is rooted in what I’ve been through. There are thousands of different ways to have success here in CPG. I’m much more operationally focused as I do believe that scale and efficiency will ultimately give you the opportunity to build the healthiest company possible. I think any entrepreneur, that should be the goal. You want to build something of scale, build something that is sustainable, that can stand on its own two feet so that you don’t necessarily have to depend on other capital partners and on others to continue to drive your vision. I think that has driven our approach since the day we got started.

Karin:
That’s awesome. I know that you’re talking about the flash and pizzazz of new products and stuff, but seasonal flavors. Is it year by year? Does it change? Do you guys get excited about the same ones year over year, or any hot tips for creating seasonal products?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. I’m not sure if you knew, we barely launched first seasonal last year, 2019, 14 years into the business. To the points you’re making, it takes just as much work and effort to create a seasonal product that’s going to be on the shelf for two months or three months than you do for a product that’s going to be on the shelf for an entire year. So for right now, as we dipped our toe in the water last year, launched that first seasonal product, 2020 is a year where we want to do it again. We’re not even worried about creating a new seasonal product. We’d love to, but we didn’t think we were ready yet. We want to achieve greater sales and distribution with the seasonal product this year around, this time around.

Daniel Nicholson:
And then we’re very iterative about everything we do. We do something, we learn from it. The next year we come back, maybe we do exactly the same thing, but we do it better because we’ve learned some things. And then from there, once that really works successfully, then we can have even more fun on the product development side developing new seasonal flavors for the consumer to enjoy. So for 2020, it’ll be the same products. We already have a new seasonal on tap that we were wanting to launch in 2020. It didn’t pan out for some of the supply chain issues that needed to be hashed out first, but we effectively have two seasonals prepared for 2021. Some of that could include a new flavor that isn’t one of the originals that we launched with.

Daniel Nicholson:
So I think people get so impatient, to some of that earlier points I’m making, they get so impatient, want to do too much too soon before really understanding that there are really good lessons to learn in doing something, kind of taking that feedback, doing it better the next year, and then maybe starting to have more fun with it based off of all those insights that you’ve gained as you were kind of testing that.

Alison:
So question on when you do launch new products, how do you guys come up with the flavors? Do you get customer input? Do you have a chief flavor officer that creates it and you guys just say, “This is good”? How does that work?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah, it’s been an evolving process for us too, but I think what I like to touch on is a big part of the reason why we opened up a scoop shop here in Austin was to speed up that formulation process, testing new flavors, getting real time feedback from the consumer, seeing how they sell relative to the other products that we’re selling. So it’s all, I mean, those insights. We opened our shop in the summer of 2018. It’s only two years old. But as we’d wanted to continue to improve around the speed that we’re able to achieve new flavors and new products, this group shot became the perfect format for us to do that. Before having the scoop shop, it was really just our internal team members, maybe some friends and family, and we’re just sending some samples around, “Hey, what do you think of these new flavors?”

Daniel Nicholson:
Maybe we would look at some data. Maybe if we have our hands on spins reports, or other data sources, we could begin to understand what is selling well out there in the market already that maybe we haven’t tapped into. So we’re looking at competitors’ products, not only from the dairy free category, but we look at the dairy ice cream category too, because we believe that our consumer is an ice cream lover. People who eat NadaMoo, they love ice cream. Some of them might not be 100% dairy-free or 100% plant-based, they dabble in both sides. We’ve learned a lot about that. So we’ve gained insights from the ice cream industry at large by looking at data, looking at what is selling well, and that’s what kind of drives our innovative process.

Daniel Nicholson:
And now that coupled with the scoop shop, we have access to even more data. We have access to even more people who enjoy our brand and products. So hopefully, we’ll continue to get better and better at launching new things that are just perfect for the market that will do really, really well sales-wise when they hit the shelves. That’s ultimately what you’re trying to achieve, is putting things on the shelf that sell well like. That it’s not that difficult. It is difficult, but you can always simplify any difficult problem into a very simple snippet. Yeah. I think ultimately when we think of product development, we’re thinking about creating products that as soon as they’re on shelf are going to sell them.

Alison:
I love that y’all are using that scoop shop as a little testing incubator and getting feedback right from there. That’s awesome.

Karin:
Bless that scoop shop.

Alison:
I know.

Daniel Nicholson:
As you all can imagine, it’s been a massive undertaking for us. It’s one thing to be a CPG company. It’s a whole other thing to also operate this like brick and mortar type of operation, two very different worlds. But again, for us, it’s about taking a problem, creating a solution, and beginning to learn from that and continue to get better and continue to be able to use it as value for the bigger operation that we’re running. That’s what the scoop shop is for us. It’s marketing. It’s increase brand visibility in our hometown of Austin where we were founded in 2005. It’s about that direct consumer experience. It’s about speeding up our product development process. And every single decision you make as a company has to bring value to the table because you’re putting money in, you’re making an investment in people, and in space, and equipment and you have to make sure that you can tie any of those investments back to some form of value to the overall operation.

Daniel Nicholson:
That’s what our investors, that’s what they expect from us and we have to deliver. When we have a good idea, it can’t just be a good idea. There has to be some real value there. And it’s really motivated us to work really hard in making the scoop shop a success and making sure that it creates value for the bigger company and for the bigger mission and vision.

Karin:
Cool. Well, going back to operations and your operations brain, I know a lot of the CPG consumer goods brands that we work with now are only based in the US, so how was it when you expanded to Canada? What was that like? I mean, that’s just like another world to me.

Daniel Nicholson:
And it is. It absolutely is. We have aspirations to grow everywhere. But again, Rome wasn’t built in a night. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes beginning to understand new markets that are not America, or very different consumer, very different purchasing process for that consumer. I’ll say we jumped into Canada. This is our second go round at Canada. Much earlier in the history of the company, we went into Canada thinking, “Oh, new distribution expansion opportunity.” And we got a distributor and we’re just going to make this happen. We weren’t ready for it. We didn’t understand how drastically different the distribution systems are and the margins that distributors work off of that are different than the US. I mean, all sorts of things.

Daniel Nicholson:
We opened Pandora’s box of when we thought we were ready for Canada the first time. Since relaunching into Canada, we definitely understand it a lot better, but we’re starting slow. We know that we can obtain greater distribution right now if we wanted do. We’d have to spend a significant amount of money. And sometimes those business decisions don’t make financial sense. So we’re trying to build a brand organically there right now and we know that there are other larger retailers we can align ourselves with, but we have to go prove success in a more organic format first.

Daniel Nicholson:
But yeah, I think the main takeaway is, it’s absolutely a different world and you have to have a really serious plan in place and you’d have to be open to understanding that it’s like starting a business all over again and in a new market. Cool. You’re making it here in America and you have all this scale. But launching into a new market is like building a business from scratch. So you have to have the bandwidth and the capacity to manage the healthier part of your business. It’s a little more mature than the new projects that you’ve taken on at the same time that you’re beginning to understand these new business ventures that you’ve kind of flung yourself into. So I think that’s a big part of what you have to understand at least enough to be prepared to approaching it in a healthy manner that’s possible. If you go in there with unrealistic expectations, the market will hold you up and spit you out pretty quickly.

Karin:
Yeah. I feel like consumers have no idea how difficult it is. They’re coming from all over the world and they’re like, “Why can’t you just ship to me here?” I’m just like, “It is a lot [crosstalk 00:31:37].”-

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. They are just like, “We can’t find your product on our shelf.” Like “Why? Request it.” I mean, I don’t know. It’s not like we get to pick where we get to place our product. The consumer has to demand it. I think we see it every day. It’s very easy to begin to understand why we feel so powerless as consumers and as people, but at the end of the day, what we demand is ultimately what will find its way on your shelf. So if there are products out there that, that you want to have the opportunity to buy, then work on your store level staff. Work on the manager, work on writing emails to the corporate office. We don’t get to buy our way onto all of these shelves.

Daniel Nicholson:
And, yeah, I think the consumer needs to understand and the entrepreneur needs to understand that we need to inform the consumer in this manner and educate them on how this even begins to work, because they always just want things to magically appear in front of them at a very convenient price for point. It’s not that simple. If we want to continue to do the good work that we want to do, we have to have a relationship with our customers and we have to help them understand what we need them to do so that we can do what we want to do and continue to build our businesses and then create greater impact in the consumer packaged goods space.

Alison:
Can you tell us how you get your consumer to do those things? What are some ways that other CPG brands can ask their consumer to go ask for the product?

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. We answer to any of them and all of them, whether they communicate with us via email through our website. We kind of have a general inquiries area on our website where if people have a question, shoot us an email. We’ll read it. We will think about how to respond to it. There has to be some thoughtful communication. That happens on social media too. If you build a social media following, those are the people that for now are the lifeblood of your organization. And if they DM you, read it, respond, have dialogue, have that conversation. It is tedious. It is absolutely tedious. It takes time. It takes energy. But if you’re not spending your time and energy engaging with your consumer, you’re losing. You’re not listening to them, you’re not talking to them, and you are neglecting that connection.

Daniel Nicholson:
Those are the people who are going to be your brand champion over time. And you have to, whatever the opportunity, if it’s in a demo. Of course, we’re not doing demos in COVID right now, but if you were. If you’re doing a demo, engage with that consumer, listen to them, take feedback to heart. If you’re at a large scale tasting event, same thing like you’re engaging with your customer or a potential customer. Talk to them, listen to them, hear what they like, hear what they don’t like about your product. And same thing through email channel, through social media. It’s really about taking the time and energy to understand how important your customer is and learning from them by engaging with them.

Karin:
And the advocates of your brand, there’s so many, there’s so many. I remember we’d be at those conventions, we’d be like at the Natural Foods Convention, you guys always had a way of attracting these big name influencers that are just singing your praises. I think it’s a true testament to how good the product is, but also how well you built community. And the campaign you just did for the anniversary where you guys got a bunch of video input and someone did like a stop motion. It was incredible.

Daniel Nicholson:
People spend time and energy on doing it. I think that’s the kind of harmony that we’ve always tried to create with our customer. I tell the team all the time like, “This is still a relationship driven business. Let’s go out into the world and get to know these people.” It’s not transactional. Sure, sometimes we do. The influencers, they have to make a living too. And they created this project for themselves to do that. Yes, sometimes we have to pay them because that is a part of the transaction, but it’s so much more to us than that. We want to know these people. We want to know what they like. We want to know when their birthdays are. We want to engage with their families.

Daniel Nicholson:
As the team continues to grow and expand, if everybody is of that same mentality, you get to multiply and everybody becomes a steward of the brand. I think when people are around us and when they understand what we’re talking about, and how we’re trying to go about this, I think it resonates. People want that sense of community and want to take part in that human connection process. That’s really we’ve approached it. It’s not about throwing marketing dollars around. There are some tactical things around that too, around putting your money to work in good ways strategically on the marketing side. But more than that, if you really want to create that loyal fan base, those champions of your brand, you have to desire to know them as the people that they are and it’s way more than influencing. We’re all people trying to do things in the world and you have to understand people at that foundational level.

Karin:
Definitely. I feel like a lot of people will get stuck in influencer partnerships. They’re just like sliding into their DMS right off the bat, asking them for things. It’s like, you got to slow down. You got to build the relationship first and I think you guys do such a beautiful job of that. Well, if you had three pieces of advice or a couple of pieces of advice for a new CPG owner navigating this space, what would you share with them?

Daniel Nicholson:
Be passionate for sure. Make sure that you were getting into this for all the right reasons. If money is a motivator, fine, that’s okay, but it won’t be enough. It won’t be enough to sustain a lasting success in this industry. It just won’t. So be passionate. Second, I’d say to some of my earlier points, stay the course. Stay the course on why you did it, why that product, what value are you bringing to the category? Because staying that course is going to be the thing that naturally continues to differentiate you from everybody else. If you get bogged down with all the noise, you’re going to start trying to copy and follow what others are doing, and now you’re off track. Now you have no path. Now you’re following someone else’s. So be very methodical about what that path is, how you’re going to stay on it, how you’re going to stay focused on it. So, yeah, stay the course.

Daniel Nicholson:
I guess the third, the word grit comes to mind. Be tenacious, be persistent. Definitely have that virtue of grit to lean on when things get really, really difficult. This is a very hard business. I like to tell CPG entrepreneurs all the time, I can tell they’re just getting started. I can tell what I’m about to tell them is going to overwhelm them or make them have second thoughts around what it is they’re doing or why they’re doing it. But if you cannot grasp the reality of how difficult this business is and even more so how difficult it will be to be successful at it, I want to tell them as early as possible, it is tough.

Daniel Nicholson:
You have to be … tenacity, grit, all the toughness words. You’re going to have to be persistent in the pursuit of your passion and your dreams. I think those are the three super general, but I think really that’s what it comes back to. All the other work, all the other strategy and planning, those things are things that you have to do to even set yourself up for that opportunity. But when the hard times really, really come, it’s all about going back to the basics and being very introspective around how you started on the journey to begin with.

Karin:
Yeah. I think that’s good for all sorts of company owners.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. It’s not just CPG, it’s very, very general, but I think these are things we hear all the time growing up, right? You’ve heard of these little one offs, people are throwing a little hint of wisdom at you, and you’re not ready to hear it for what it is. It’s not until you hit some of those roadblocks and then begin to experience those obstacles that you’re like, “Oh, okay. That made sense. I wasn’t ready to really listen to that for how powerful it was.” So I always go back to the most simple thoughts. I think there’s power in simplicity and we need to continue to engage in those thoughts to get better and better results out of ourselves.

Karin:
Definitely. I think it’s so important to not overcomplicate things, which, I mean, I tend to do a lot, you know?

Alison:
We all do.

Daniel Nicholson:
It’s super easy to do and in a business that is so complex, like this is really what, to the points you were making earlier about the consumer not understanding how hard it is that we’re doing. It’s not our job to really let them know how hard it is. We need to make it as easy and seamless for them as possible. But if we did want to start getting them to understand what it was, I mean, we are literally importing products like raw materials from all over the world. We’re getting them all to a certain place at a certain time so that they can be on a truck to get to our co-packing facilities so that we can make finished good product so that it can be on the shelf without ever having any out of stocks over and over again for every single day of every year. We do not break. Yes, we, we take some vacations here and there, but the consumer never stop seeding. So we have to continue to make our product all the time.

Daniel Nicholson:
And as you scale the problem is bigger, and the coordinating is bigger, and the communication of every single thing has to be so buttoned up and tight. Because if not, the consumer sees no product on the shelf and they think you’re a failure. And you kind of are, like you’re [inaudible 00:44:11] them, you’re failing them because it’s up to us to solve through all of the many challenges that we face to get our product on the shelf. You have to be up to that task. The consumer deserves to have that opportunity to, in a very frictionless manner, purchase the product that they’ve already chosen, they want to support. So we lean on each other so much and we have a lot of work to do in order to continue to deliver on that and build a sustainable business.

Karin:
Definitely.

Daniel Nicholson:
I think this I think this CBD coffee I’m drinking is … I think it has me pretty chatty.

Karin:
No, it’s introspective.

Alison:
[crosstalk 00:45:02] focused thoughts. Yeah

Karin:
I love it. Yeah. I mean, and especially I think this is completely where your fulfillment operations brain comes in handy because time and time again, I just get my mind boggled by the operations teams at consumer goods brands, because they’re always the first there, they’re always the last to leave, they’re grinding because it is so hard. It’s so much easier said than done when you go to the grocery store and you pick a product off the shelf, and you’re like, “Oh, this is great. This was easy to get here.” It’s just so complicated.

Alison:
It’s such a delight being a consumer. I was laughing when you were saying that you had to tell people how hard it is because, they’re just getting into the CPG space. They’re probably used to being a consumer and just being delighted all the time. And it’s basically like telling them Santa Claus isn’t real and it’s going to be a grind, but yeah.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah, it is. It’s pretty [inaudible 00:46:04]. And then as I’ve gotten more and more comfortable in my role as the leader of the company as I touched on, I started doing accounting. That’s literally where I started. Now I’m running a company. I’m running a team of 22 individuals and four different departments as we’re touching on, sales and marketing is one thing and ops and accounting and CPG is a totally different world, but one of the major challenges is getting everybody to see each other’s perspective. Can we put ourselves in that other person’s shoes? Can we even begin to understand what it is that they’re doing every day? And only then can we work in harmony and really understand how we can help each other be better at our jobs because everybody has a different piece of information.

Daniel Nicholson:
We have to share it in an efficient and effective manner as often as possible or people are lost or people begin to fail to see the bigger picture that they operate within and why all of our team members are counting on each and every one of our other team members to show up to work every day and just put their best work forward possible every day, every single day. So, yeah, I think our team members still think, “Man, he’s so intense. Does he ever … ” When I rest, I rest. It’s such an important part, but when I’m on and when I’m working I’m intense about it because there’s a lot of moving parts and I want to make sure that everybody at this organization is set up for success.

Daniel Nicholson:
I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re being left out or they’re not a part of the whole, because then if that begins to happen, then it goes right back to what I felt like when I worked at this renewable energy company. I was doing some job function, but nobody was really helping me see the bigger picture. I feel like when we are more engaged in that bigger picture, we’re going to do much better work because we understand why our job every day is so important from top to bottom. I would argue, we run a pretty flat organization, but you have to create some structure and hierarchy to an organization. Whether you are the c-suite executive level person or the entry level position, I don’t care. I want everybody to know how important their work is and how it contributes to us being able to provide a product to our customer when they want it. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of creating harmony between a lot of different people to make it all work.

Karin:
And that’s the passion and grit, right? You got to have it and you have it. I think that’s incredible. Then teamwork, of course, it’s like teamwork makes the dream work. It’s so true.

Daniel Nicholson:
It is. It’s important to you. Yes, it’s so big on team. I could care less. Most days, I probably neglect myself more than anything, but that’s fine. I’m okay with that. That’s the position that I’ve chosen, that’s the path that I’ve chosen. I care more about our team at this point than anything that I could ever do for myself. It becomes a very selfless of selfless role. Leadership, I do believe if done right, leadership is selfless and it’s not about me. It’s about the work that our team is doing day in and day out, year in and year out that is allowing us to compete at new levels.

Karin:
Hey, you’re bringing in the dairy free heat or the opposite of heat.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah. Dairy free frozen stuff.

Karin:
Freeze.

Daniel Nicholson:
The dairy free freeze.

Alison:
Can we go through your favorite flavor and has it changed throughout the years?

Daniel Nicholson:
Man, that’s such a hard question. So my favorite flavor is maple pecan by far, has never changed. It was the first flavor that I ever tried.

Alison:
12 years strong.

Daniel Nicholson:
It’s the reason I’m here today, so there’s a lot more past flavor. There’s sentimental value in maple pecan. Sad news coming soon about maple pecan, but sometimes you have to make business decisions too, right? If I could impart some additional lessons on entrepreneurs, yeah, sometimes sentimental value is great and real, but if the data is showing that you could be making something else that is going to sell better and is going to do better for your customers, better for your retail partners, you have to do it. But yeah, I will probably keep a very private stash of that product. We’ll probably make one last run and I’ll keep it in my own personal [inaudible 00:51:48].

Alison:
You could do seasonal Daniel’s flavor.

Karin:
Yeah. Just completely rebrand and [inaudible 00:51:55] maple pecan.

Daniel Nicholson:
But yeah, maples my favorite. It’ll never change even if we never make it again. But at the end of the day, when I try all our different flavors … I don’t eat ice cream all the time as it is work, but when I do eat our products, I’ll take a random flavor that I haven’t had in a while. I’ll take it off the shelf, I’ll scoop myself some scoops. And I’m constantly amazed at how incredible our flavors are. It blows my mind. So maple pecan, but they are all our children [inaudible 00:52:37] the same. I think ice cream, it’s so consumer driven. Everybody has their all time favorite ice cream flavor. Mine is maple pecan because pecan prairie kind of … the butter pecan stuff was kind of in my wheelhouse as I grew up, so maple pecan kinda has filled that void for me as I’ve begun to shed my life off dairy intake.

Karin:
Awesome.

Alison:
It’s a great flavor.

Daniel Nicholson:
What about you all. Do y’all have a-

Alison:
I am mint chocolate chip.

Daniel Nicholson:
Me too.

Alison:
That was also the first one I tasted too.

Daniel Nicholson:
Awesome.

Alison:
Maybe there’s a thing with that. The first one you taste is just-

Daniel Nicholson:
The first one you taste just holds you.

Alison:
Just sticks with you. Yeah.

Karin:
Yeah. The Rocky Road … forgive me for forgetting the clever name you guys came up with. That is my favorite.

Daniel Nicholson:
We did things in a very not dialed there. It’s Rocky Road. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but we called it The Rockiest Road.

Alison:
The Rockiest Road.

Karin:
I love that.

Daniel Nicholson:
The Rockiest Road. And of course, it’s a play on words. We really feel like as we’ve built this brand, we’ve chosen the rockiest road path. So that’s kind of why we decided to play with a very traditional Rocky Road flavor name. Yeah, I mean, ours is rockier because we’ve done it the long and the hard way.

Karin:
So it’s rocking. Well, Daniel, it was so nice to have you on. Thank you so much for sharing some wisdom from start to finish on your journey and what people can take from this to do better, and be better, and create a better product.

Daniel Nicholson:
Awesome. No, I thank you all for creating the opportunity for me to share. Thank you all so much.

Karin:
Thanks. And then one last thing, if you’d like to leave the audience with a link, or a call to action, or a reminder of the seasonal product, here’s what you’re missing.

Daniel Nicholson:
Yeah, I think, again, my big leave behind, it’s really eat more plants, eat more NadaMoo. It’s all plant-based. And if you haven’t tried our product before, we welcome you to try it for the first time. If you love ice cream, and you’ve never had NadaMoo before, whether you’re dairy free or not, it is a great ice cream product that you can consume and enjoy with minimal damage to your own personal health and even more than that, to the planet that we all want to sustain life on. So, yeah, we appreciate those who have already supported us and we look forward to those of you who will give our product the first try here in the near future.

Alison:
Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scenes insights, chats with industry leaders, or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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#5: Kettle & Fire Mukbang, How They Seriously Increase Average Order and Cart Value

umai social circle podcast cover photo

#5: Kettle & Fire Mukbang, Their Unique Approach to Increasing Average Order Value

Kettle & Fire bring the heat with a checkout system, indoctrination email series, and landing page loaded with special offers! You’re going to walk away from this episode hungry for Tom Yum Chicken Bone Broth and raring to edit your own sales pages for more 🤑.

There’s no better way to celebrate the beginning of autumn than chatting upsell strategies over a cup of bone broth. 🍲 Don’t ya think?

Let us break it down for you…

[0:55] Introduction! What we know about them to start.
[2:13] Giving Tom Yum Chicken Keto Bone Broth a try. Initial thoughts on scent, flavor profile, and ingredients list.
[4:46] A little pho tangent – where our love for flavorful broth stems from.
[7:33] Consensus on taste.
[8:01] Diving into how we recognize Kettle and Fire increasing their average order and cart value at store checkout.
[10:20] What’s a good dollar amount to hit per order before posing a free shipping offer?
[11:00] Product page breakdown. Automatically selected six-packs.
[12:22] The power of a subscription model. What’s a good discount to seal the deal?
[14:22] A gift at checkout – that’s gamified! A prize?! As well as recommendations to increase order value.
[16:27] After you buy, what’s next? You’re hit with something more – another offer that’s about to expire…
[17:59] Alison’s checklist for a really good upsell.
[20:30] Kettle & Fire’s most recent ads. What do the landing pages for those ads look like?
[24:00] Nuances needed when advertising a product associated with weight management (no-no word = weight loss).
[25:25] The importance of a pixel and how valuable it is for your sales pages.
[26:54] A little knowledge on product pricing tiers.
[27:56] More added *free* value, like secure checkout, a money-back guarantee, and free recipe guide.
[29:14] Touching on the nature of the Kettle & Fire ad we referenced. What’s a prospecting campaign?
[30:25] After we ordered the product, what happened next? Another offer! Via email. What’s their indoctrination sequence look like?
[33:02] Final thoughts + advice you can take to raise your average order value TODAY.
[35:00] Landing page creation. Alison’s recommended tools!

Alison:
Hey, hey, y’all. Alison here. I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcast. I know you’re about to get a lot of valuable information from it.

But I also wanted to hop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for standard operating procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free and I’d love for you to have it and use it in your biz as well. So, just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right, cheers.

Alison:
Hello everyone. Welcome to Umai Social Circle. Today, Karin and I are talking about Kettle & Fire Bone Broth. We both ordered the Tom Yum Chicken Bone Broth. I’ve been a huge fan of Kettle & Fire for so long but I’ve never actually tried their products. I’ve just been a fan of what they’ve been doing digitally. Have you ever tried them before?

Karin:
Really?

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
Yeah. It’s the bone broth I use when I cook.

Alison:
Oh really? Oh wow.

Karin:
I know. They’re local Austin folks. We have some connections. I feel like I would do yoga with the guy at Austin Bouldering Project and he is friends with the Kettle & Fire folks. And Hannah, of Purely Pecans, her cousin is one of the founders, I believe.

Alison:
Yeah.

Karin:
So, few connections, great product, great marketing obviously, if that’s how you know them.

Alison:
Yeah. I just look to them as the thought leaders in a lot of ways.

Karin:
What a compliment.

Alison:
I’m pretty excited to try it. So we both heated up our little Tom Yum bowls. Oh, you have a Pho spoon.

Karin:
I don’t have the Pho spoon. [crosstalk 00:02:21] What are you doing? Oh God.

Alison:
All right.

Karin:
It smells so good. It smells really coconutty.

Alison:
And Tom Yum, I guess is a new flavor, right? A newish flavor?

Karin:
I think it’s one of their newish flavors, but I love it. It’s just like straight bone broth to simmer and sip. So easy.

Alison:
Okay. So you’re saying you use the bone broth when you make other soups or you drink it?

Karin:
So I’ve never done the sipping. I’ve never just sipped it. I’ve always done it when I’m slow roasting meat and it requires some bone broth.

Alison:
Okay. Well, I’m going to try mine because I’m ready.

Karin:
That is so hot.

Alison:
It is coconutty. I love the slurping sounds.

Karin:
It’s a lot more mild than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be… I thought it was going to have like more of a punch of flavor to be honest, based on the smell. But it’s good.

Alison:
Yeah. I’m getting like a little bit of heat. Are you getting that or am I just making that up in my head?

Karin:
Yeah. Tom Yum is usually a little bit spicy.

Alison:
So, oh, it’s the red curry spice maybe. They’ve got some chilies, but you’re right. You could sip this or you could just use it, the flavor to make something else, I guess.

Karin:
Yeah. Enhance it. Yeah. They say like perfect for sipping as an afternoon pick me up or like as a meal replacement.

So Tom Yum, I always thought of it as just like sour, spicy lemon grass, really forward, and then Tom Kha is the more coconutty. But in this recipe they do organic coconut milk, Thai chilies, ginger, garlic, and coriander as well as obviously the chicken broth. I think it’s good.

Alison:
Yeah. Tom Yum is the soup I always order.

Karin:
Yeah, right?

Alison:
But yeah, it is good.

Karin:
It’s more coconutty than I… I mean, I’m not a Thai Food connoisseur, but it’s more coconutty than I’ve ever tasted before for Tommy Yum. It’s not what I expected.

Alison:
Right. I wish I was a Thai Food connoisseur. But how do you feel… So I feel like a relationship with soup. I have very strong beliefs that soup actually cures you. If you’re having a hangover or I mean, obviously if you’re feeling sick, you drink soup. But if you’re having a sad day, soup makes me feel happy. I mean, what do you think about that?

Karin:
I resonate with that so deeply. Ask anybody who knows me and they’re like, “Give the woman a bowl of Pho.” So, backstory, my mother is full Vietnamese, born and raised, came here after the Vietnam war and I grew up eating… I mean, I used chopsticks before I used a fork and Pho is my happy, happy place. That is like-

Alison:
I mean, I knew you would agree. So I just wanted to get you on this tangent.

Karin:
Well honestly, do you remember that the last meal that we had together before you moved to Vietnam was Pho.

Alison:
Yeah. And Karin makes one of the best Phos I’ve ever had too.

Karin:
So nice. Thank you.

Alison:
You too. But yeah. So Karin’s mom is Vietnamese, so she knows What’s Up. And I lived in Vietnam for a bit and-

Karin:
So she knows What’s Up.

Alison:
I sort of know What’s Up, but I just loved in Vietnam in the morning. It’s 8:00 AM and you just go and sit on the sidewalk and eat Pho for breakfast and it’s 100 degrees already and you’re sweating into your fumble, but it’s something like… It just energizes you. I don’t know. I just love soup.

Karin:
And it’s every corner you walk on. I know that this is Thai, this is a Thai soup, but we’ll run a tangent.

Alison:
You were on a tangent.

Karin:
But any corner you walk on in Vietnam it was like, “Do you want a bowl of Pho?” And it was some lady’s house. I was like, “Yes I want your Pho.”

Alison:
“I want your Pho, yeah.” But similar in Thailand, I know there are street foods. They have a lot of different outside of soups mostly, but yeah. Cold-weather soup is for 100-degree weather, soup is for any of your thoughts and feelings. Let’s just talk about soup for this whole time.

Karin:
Well, taste overall, delicious, a little bit more coconutty than I expected, a little bit more mild in flavor development than I expected but in all reality, it is a bone broth first and foremost, it’s like a chicken bone broth. I think that the Tom Yum is just extra pizzazz that they have. That’s good.

Alison:
So good and good for you. So anyways, that was delicious. I’m going to keep drinking mine, but today we are specifically talking about Kettle & Fire and how they are the leaders I would say, one of the leaders at least at increasing cart value or increasing their AOV, average order value. I mean, just going through the checkout process, I was blown away with all the things that they’re doing. So, we’re going to walk you all through that today. It’s going to be fun.

Karin:
And I, yeah. So this is Alison’s bread and butter. This is how to increase your average order value is so essential for all businesses and when I was going… It’s not something that you’re used to all the time because brands aren’t all utilizing this. So when I was going through the checkout process, I was like, “Oh my gosh. How many upsells am I going to get?” It was actually incredible. So I’m very excited to dive in to this with Alison.

Alison:
Right. And if you don’t ask a user, “Oh, by the way, do you want this?” What might as well ask. So they gave a lot of ask to increase your value. So we’re going to start with their website. So as soon as you go to kettleandfire.com, they have a banner at the very top, which is so easy to do. Any brand should be doing this and it’s just talking about free shipping when you buy six or more cartons. So buying one of these guys, one of these cartons is about $8 and then about $7 for shipping. But if you buy six or more, that’s $50. So already they’re trying to up your cart value from, let’s say like $15 to $50 with that free shipping offer.

Karin:
And when it’s $8 for it, this is a premium product. Not everybody can afford this. Having that $7 shipping is like, “Oh gosh, how do I get rid of it?

Alison:
It’s a turn off.

Karin:
What can I do to get rid of it? And it’s like, okay, well, if I get $50 with this, I’m going to have a lot of dope soup. So I love this one.

Alison:
Right. Yeah. And if-

Karin:
What is a good dollar amount to offer free shipping?

Alison:
It’s going to depend on every brand, but I think there is like a $50 threshold. That is a great price point to start offering. It’s really going to depend on all of your costs for goods sold and everything like that. So I would say it’s brand to brand, but once you find that average order value, try to up it a little bit with your free shipping. All right. So next, when you go to the product page of Kettle & Fire, so when you’re actually going to look at a product like this Tom Yum soup, they give you a bunch of options and they’re laid out really nicely.

Alison:
So, you can say, okay, I want 1-pack for $8 or they give you discounts per carton once you get to the 6-pack, 12-pack, 18-pack. So they’re using psychology to be like, “Oh, well this is a better deal to buy more,” which I really love. And also what I like is when you go there, it’s automatically chosen, the 6-pack is automatically chosen. They’re not trying to push you into the 1-pack. They automatically select the 6-pack for you and that’s a $50 cart value. So another way they’re just increasing their average order value.

Karin:
Yeah. And I love how they lay out all the buying options. It’s the one time purchase, it’s the subscribe and save right next to it and it’s the quantities. It’s the 1-pack, 6-pack, 12-pack, 18-pack. I love that. It’s giving me all of the different price breaks so I can see exactly how much I’m going to be saving, making it real easy.

Alison:
Exactly. Yeah. You feel like you’re getting a deal. And then also, which I think every consumer package goods brand should do this a subscription. Consumer goods obviously, they expire, they get eaten, they get used. Find out what that expiration date is and start a subscription model for your brand, because that’s going to increase your lifetime value of your customer and that, it’s doing the work for you instead of continuing to remarket and asking people to buy again. They’re on a subscription plan and that cash flow is coming in.

Karin:
So for a subscribe and save, what’s like a good discount to provide for a subscription?

Alison:
Like 20% is real nice.

Karin:
Yeah. Okay.

Alison:
Again, it’s going to depend on what you can offer. What does Kettle & Fire do?

Karin:
Fast math is not my forte. I got to do some cross multiplication real quick, but for a one-time purchase without subscription, it’s $47.94 and for a subscribe and save, it’s almost $10 cheaper. So I think that’s 20%, right?

Alison:
Yeah. I’m going to say yes as well, because I’m not going to pull out my calculator right now. I mean, 20%, that’s a great deal. And again, I mean, if you’re really into Keto or making soups like we talked about, that is something that you’re going to want delivered. So, think about that. They do their delivery every 30 to 60 days. And then once you finally go and you select, do you want a 1-pack, a 6-pack? Do you want to subscribe? Then you go through the checkout flow on their site. So, you’ve added the product to cart and now you see a checkout screen and they’re not done yet, not even close. So the checkout process before you purchase, it has a little, like a gift bar and it’s kind of gamifying buying, which is really awesome. And it’s saying, “Add five more cartons to unlock the next prize,” which excites you. You’re like, “What is the prize?”

Karin:
“Give me the prize.”

Alison:
Yeah, “Give me the prize.” So it has that on the checkout before buying. It also has a subscribe to save 20%. Oh, 20% Karin, good math.

Karin:
That’s nice.

Alison:
Subscribed to take 20% off on your future delivery. So you can click there or there and then even under the product that you have selected, it also says, “Your order goes great with Butter Chicken Keto Broth.” So it has three different ways to increase your order value before you even buy.

Karin:
And that’s in the checkout. So just to repeat that, it is a reminder to subscribe and save. It’s a reminder to add more cartons, to unlock a prize. They don’t even tell you what the prize is, but I want to know. And then the third is a recommendation to your order, to order directly in there. That is so crazy. And I am on the checkout page right now too, just testing, and it’s telling me to add a 2-pack of beef and chicken that’s on sale. Don’t mind if I do

Alison:
That’s right. So and it’s not overly done. I think it’s pretty simplified. It does kind of… When everyone says, get them to check out and then upsell them, but I like how they do it in a way that’s gamified number one, giving you really good offers, 20% off, or like you said, that product was on sale. So, there is a right way to do this I think and Kettle & Fire did it right.

Karin:
Yeah. It’s not obnoxious.

Alison:
Right. Okay. So then you buy and you immediately get upsold. So they have your credit card information. You have purchased whatever you ended up purchasing, but they say, hold up. There’s another offer and it’s about to expire. So they play on the scarcity thing here. And looking at this upsell page, it says, “Say yes to the best. Your body will thank you. Last offer. Upgrade to six more cartons of our fastest selling classic bone broths at a price better than any store sales.” So they’re giving you 20% off, six cartons of, excuse me, of their fastest selling classic bone broths.

Karin:
That’s after you press purchase, right?

Alison:
That’s after you press purchase. That’s their upsell and you don’t have to enter any information again. All you have to say is, “Yes, send me more,” or “No, thank you.” It’s not heavily advertised. You’re adding $41 to your cart. It’s just like, “Do you want this or not?” It does have the price on there. It does say 20% off, but you don’t have to reenter any information. It’s just like, “Yeah, I’ll take that too.”

Karin:
Yeah. So what would be your checklist for an upsell page like this after purchase? What needs to be on that page?

Alison:
So a checklist for a really great upsell, you obviously need to lay out visually what that person is going to receive. They did a really nice job of stacking these cartons. So it looks like, wow, I’m getting like all this stuff. They have the 20% off or the percentage off front and center. There is a price on there but it’s not all about you’re adding $40 to your cart. It’s more kind of a psychology like, “Last offer. Upgrade your order. It’s only available on this screen. Hurry. It expires soon.” They’re playing very hard on scarcity and the buttons are super simple, “Yes. Send me more. No, thank you.” You could even go a little deeper and say, “No, I don’t want to treat my body well,” do something like that.

Alison:
But great job on this. I did only get one upsell offer, which some people go very intense with their upsells and downsells. So a lot of people go, they do an upsell after you buy, if you say no, then they say, okay, here’s another offer and it’s even less expensive or even a sweeter deal to try to get that cart value up. I think Kettle & Fire has maybe enough going on that they don’t need to annoy you that much. They checkout [inaudible 00:19:25]

Karin:
So, twist, I got more than one.

Alison:
Oh, did you?

Karin:
I got more than one upsell page, yeah. I got, I want to say three. I want to say that I kept clicking, “No, thank you,” maybe about three times.

Alison:
Okay. So that’s usually what happens with people. If you say no to their first offer, it gets sweeter and sweeter and sweeter.

Karin:
Do you recommend that?

Alison:
I mean, what I think is happening here is I think that they’re A/B testing what one upsell looks like versus entire flow upsells downsells. And that’s a very difficult thing to test because that’s a lifetime value of a customer. A really long upsell downsell could turn off a potential long-term customer. So, that’s what I think is happening. We don’t know for sure. I think it’s worth the test.

Karin:
That makes sense, I like that.

Alison:
All right. So we’re moving on. So, if you get a Kettle & Fire ad as of right now, they are pushing 30% off their ads. But when you click on the ad, you’re not taken to their kettleandfire.com website. You’re taken to offers. kettleandfire.com, which is their sales page. They are only running this one sales page as of right now, as of today. And it is not a beautiful page, but it is a copy heavy, long form sales page, which reads more news like I guess, I would say. It’s heavy and copy. It’s very long. By the time you get to the bottom, you should be sold. It’s full of testimonials. It’s full of PR. It’s full of a lot. If you’re not a reader, I’m not a reader. I’m pretty visual. They do have buttons to go ahead and add to cart throughout that sales page. So you don’t have to get to the bottom.

Karin:
This sales page is nuts, and we’ll leave this in the podcast notes for you guys to click through and take a look, but I have personally never seen a landing page this long in my life, but again, this is not my expertise. This is Alison’s. Is this normal?

Alison:
Yes, this is normal.

Karin:
Oh my gosh.

Alison:
If you’re strong in copy or have a copywriter, long form sales pages like these work amazingly. I’m not as great at this psychology of what it all takes to write this long of a sales page, and so, I use short form sales pages generally, and they’re a little more visually appealing, but long form sales pages work tremendously and I would love to know who they’re targeting with these too.

Karin:
This sales page is absolutely nuts. And so, what do you think at the top of the fold when you first click into it, the only photo that I see is a scale, someone stepping on a scale and the headline is, “Drink this every morning and lose weight without struggles.” So they’re obviously targeting those weight management folks. So there’s no mention of the product. There’s no visual of the product. So what’s that all about?

Alison:
Right. Like I was saying, this reads to me like a news article.

Karin:
Okay.

Alison:
So, which works so well and like you said, I think that they’re targeting people who are interested in losing weight or managing their weight and for some reason, I’m thinking that this might be an older demographic as well, because a lot of the imagery that they’re using, it trends a little older and this type of long point sales page does work for older demographics who are more maybe likely to read something like this. It’s like a news piece.

Karin:
Yeah. And the caption of this ad is, “Keto sucks,” in caps Yeah, I said it. Eating Keto every single day is a huge pain in the “bedonkadonk.” So yeah, it’s targeting that dieter. Is that the wrong term? But it is the dieter.

Alison:
Which is maybe everyone.

Karin:
Right. And can you explain a little bit on how tough it is to advertise and the nuances that are needed when you advertise like a weight loss, weight management product?

Alison:
There’s a lot of things that you cannot say or show with social ads. One of them being like a fit body that’s a little too much. You can’t really talk about dieter weight loss. That could get you flagged by Facebook. So when we talk about these types of things, we say weight management, like Karin said. But, once you get to your sales page, there’s a little more leeway. If you have a pixel on your sales page, Facebook will crawl and look at this most likely, but you can do a little bit more here and once you guys look at this page, you’ll see there’s a lot on here talking about weight loss.

Karin:
Can you explain a little bit about the importance of what a pixel is, first of all, like a 40-foot view and then how important it is to have it on your sales page?

Alison:
Yeah. So the Facebook pixel is basically a snippet of code that you install on your website or any pages on your website and what it does is it tracks people that visit your page and that allows you to remarket to them. It also grabs a lot of information about their demographic. Are they male, female? What’s their age? And it also knows what they’re interested in based on what they’re interacting with on the web. So it’s very important to have this installed. They have theirs installed on their sales page so that they can remarket to people that didn’t maybe purchase.

Alison:
A lot of people if they do have a sales page that maybe wouldn’t get approved by Facebook, leave it off. I’m not sure I really agree with that. I would try to stick to the Facebook standards and have a sales page that Facebook likes. And then if you have it, if you have a pixel on that sales page, you’ll be able to correctly view your conversion, your cost per purchase, because it is tracking who bought and how much they bought on that page.

Alison:
So moving down on the page, once you click, okay, give me this offer, I am sold, it takes you to a product pricing tier, which I love. I wish I could tell you guys more about the psychology behind this, but what it does is it has their first offer at the very top and then three less ideal offers below. So that again, you’re looking at the first offer and that’s the sweetest deal and that’s when comparing to the other lesser offers, you’re going to choose that most likely. So the main offer is 30% off, 14 cartons was originally $132, now $93. And they make that very clear, the dollar amount that you’re saving, which is nice.

Alison:
And I will say another thing that they do is they list that they use secure checkout, money back guarantee and they’ll also give you a free guide once you buy. So they’re just making you feel good about your purchase and giving you an extra little bonus on top of it. Right. So, I mean, when you think about it, it’s pretty freaking cool. You’re running an ad for new folks who have never heard about you. You’re sending them to a page where the main offer is $93.

Alison:
Not a lot of first-time buyers are going to spend that much if they go directly to your main website. They’re probably going to spend around $25, $30, what have you. But when you send them to a dedicated sales page that they can’t really click out of, they can’t look at the menu or anything like that they’re hyper-focused on the copy that you have specifically written talking to them about their weight management or whatnot that they’re sold by the end and they’re going to spend $93 instead of what, $40 or whatever. So, another great way to increase that cart value.

Karin:
So this ad that you pulled from that leads to this sales page, this is retargeting or prospecting, or can we tell?

Alison:
I think that this is prospecting. So I didn’t get targeted for this ad. I found it in the Facebook ads library. So I wasn’t able to see any of the UTMs that would generally usually tell me who they’re targeting. I’m thinking that this is a prospecting campaign though.

Karin:
And prospecting means completely cold audience. They have never heard of the brand. Well, you don’t think they have, because there is no signs on the internet. Like they haven’t liked the Facebook page, they haven’t been to the website. So that is a cold prospecting audience.

Alison:
Yes. But correct me if I’m wrong, Kettle & Fire. It could be remarketing. You never know. I think it’s a great cold sales page though, for prospecting. All right. We’re not done yet.

Karin:
Take a break.

Alison:
Yeah. Okay. And also just thinking about what Karin and I did, we literally ordered at about the same time. So if you’re interested in emulating a brand that you love, go in and maybe have a friend do it with you and buy it, just buy it. This was $8. Okay. Just buy it and we now can see the back end of what they’re doing and what they’re testing, which is so cool. The same day that we ordered our bone broth, maybe like within an hour or something, I immediately got a 10% off coupon if I order again in 24 hours. Did you get that?

Karin:
Well, I don’t want to say now. So I got to take a look. Oh yeah, yap. I got an email where he’s in a romper. If you didn’t know what a man romper was until reading this email, you’re welcome. Bringing in that humorous element, the human element. And then at the bottom copy and paste this code. I’m not telling you because I want to use it and get 10% off.

Alison:
Well, they played scarcity again. It says in the next 24 hours. So maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But, I mean, so once someone buys, they’re more apt to buy again. I think we all know that, but to get them to buy again in 24 hours, that’s pretty cool.

Karin:
I wonder what the percentage of success is on that?

Alison:
Yeah. I mean 10% off. So that same day email. Two days after ordering, we got another friendly indoctrination email letting us know more about the brand and whatnot, but it ended with, to join our referral program. We got that two days and six days after pushing a referral program. So basically getting the customer to work for you. That is what a referral program is. And they have created a really great community. Most people know who they are. Like Karin said, they’ve got a great human element, a great brand. So I’m thinking a lot of people probably joined this referral program and they can earn rewards and they can share their referral link with others to get more… They get a $10 coupon. So yeah. Make the customer work for you basically.

Alison:
And that is all. I’m sure there’s so much more, but that is our experience going through the Kettle & Fire checkout flow, going to their website, getting their emails. So, job well done.

Karin:
Right. And if you look at all of these things that they’re doing and doing well, it’s like, you do not see a lot of consumer goods brands pulling these levers and seemingly pretty simple, right? It’s just a lot of content that you have to create on the back end.

Alison:
Yeah. And that’s a great point. So, thinking about what you could walk away with from this that’s super, that takes five minutes maybe, put a banner immediately on your website that offers free shipping if you can, after they get to a certain amount spent. What else can… Set up an email automation sequence that after they purchase, offer them something else as you indoctrinate them.

Karin:
Yeah. We didn’t talk about this, but I’m sure I’m opening incognito right now, but there is probably a pop-up that-

Alison:
Yeah. Add a pop-up to your website that gives them-

Karin:
Collects emails.

Alison:
Yeah. That gives them 10% off, collects their email address. The things in the cart like the add more cartons to unlock a gift, that most likely you’ll need an app or a developer to do something like that, but look into it. Why not? I mean, if an app costs $8 but your average order of value increases by 20%, that is extremely worth it.

Karin:
Off the top of your head. Do you have any recommendations on your favorite software for building those sales pages or upsell pages?

Alison:
Yeah. For sales pages, I generally use ClickFunnels, but there’s also like Shogun integrates really well with Shopify. There’s Instapages, Leadpages. For the upsell downsell funnels, you can also use ClickFunnels for that. It’s just a little more difficult to integrate, but I highly recommend CartHook for upsells and downsells and I don’t know the pricing off the top of my head, but that is something to look into easily integrates with Shopify and what happens is after someone buys a product from your store, after you collect their information, their credit card, then you can say, “Hey, do you want this extra thing?” “No.” “Okay. Do you want this other extra thing?” “Yes,” and increase that order value pretty easily.

Karin:
Awesome. And we can include all of the links to those recommended software in the notes as well.

Alison:
Definitely. Whew! That was a lot. Kettle & Fire wore me out.

Karin:
That was a lot, but we started with the Tom Yum chicken and I want to try more of their flavored broth instead of just getting the plain old beef broth like I’ve been getting. I’m interested.

Alison:
Oh yeah. I mean, this is like a great little snack though, right? I might start subscribing and saving.

Karin:
Oho! She’s going to subscribe and save. You got in.

Alison:
You got me. You got me. Well, I had a really great time drinking this.

Karin:
Yeah, me too.

Alison:
And talking through it.

Karin:
Yeah. And thank you, Alison, for dropping the knowledge on increasing average order value and how Kettle & Fire is doing an amazing job and we hope to come back soon with more tidbits, marketing tidbits.

Alison:
That’s right.

Karin:
Thank you guys for joining us for the Umai Social Circle. We had such a great time talking about Kettle & Fire and increasing average order value and we can’t wait to talk to you again in a couple of weeks to discuss more consumer packaged goods marketing tips.

Alison:
Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights chats with industry leaders and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing or check out our website umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

 

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A Podcast for Food, Bev, and Wellness Biz Owners and Foodies Alike

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#4: Shaking up the Market with Pasture-Raised Eggs and Cricket Protein

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#4: Shaking up the Market with Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Eggs and Exo Cricket Protein

Believe us when we say we’re eggstatic to share this week’s episode. 😬🥚 We chat with Jason Jones, Cofounder of Vital Farms – a company created with revitalized farming methods that prioritize animal welfare!

Not only that, he’s an advisor to entrepreneurs and CEO of Exo Protein (🦗). And, before you ask – yes, we’ve tried their Whole Roasted Crickets! And yes, they’re amazing!!

Let us break it down for you…

[1:29] Meet Jason Jones, Cofounder of Vital Farms!
[3:31] Touching on conscious capitalism.
[4:49] The “Pasture-Raised” difference – how the term and method was created to set a fresh, more ethical trend.
[9:00] Recall how the food, beverage, and wellness landscape looked during Vital Farms’ inception. Were there any other brands created with transparency as a driving value?
[10:18] Transparency sometimes means sharing the dark side of your industry – then, uplifting a positive message with your company’s mission.
[12:44] Logistics! Egg breakage and refrigeration issues. How’d your team troubleshoot fragile packaging? Any tips for CPG brands with sensitive product?
[15:33] Let’s move into your consultation biz. What’re some of the biggest pain points that entrepreneurs experience?
[18:21] Some issues that result in failure for a new business more often than others.
[21:00] What was your background leading up to Vital Farms? Wandering, but not lost.
[28:26] Staying humble – a quick company culture blurb + when Karin met Jason.
[30:28] How’d you end up at Exo Protein? Tackling new marketing challenges when you sell crickets to the U.S. market.
[38:47] Barrier to entry for western consumers – how’re you solving for this today?

Alison (Recorded):
Hey, hey, y’all, Alison here, I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcast. I know you’re about to get a lot of valuable information from it. But I also wanted to hop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for Standard Operating Procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free, and I’d love for you to have it, and use it in your biz as well. So, just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right, cheers.

Alison:
Welcome everyone to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk about CPG marketing to help business owners and marketers alike grow. This is Karin, and I’m Alison, we are the co-founders of Umai Marketing, and today we have Jason Jones. He is an entrepreneur extraordinaire, and CEO of Exo Protein. I added a little flair for you.

Jason:
Hey, y’all. Good to be here.

Karin:
Thanks for joining us, Jason.

Jason:
I appreciate the invite. Good to see y’all.

Karin:
Yeah, so a little bit of a background. Jason and I met while he was the president and co-founder of Vital Farms. This is my first real CPG job.

Karin:
Jason, can you tell us a little bit about co-founding Vital and what those early days looked like?

Jason:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years, I think, since Matt and I, we started the company. So, to be clear, Matt and Katherine had the farm, so they purchased the land in ’07 and had chickens that they had put out to pasture quite literally with the idea of producing a better egg. In late 2008 or 2009, I met them, heard about what they were doing, heard about these birds that were running around outdoors in south Austin, and that just sounded like something that the world needed.

Jason:
So, I met Matt out at the farm, and just loved what they had started there, and we formed a company. And, the meager Jones nest-egg went into the company as our working capital really, for a while.

Jason:
And, we set out to bring that really honest and authentic, very small farming method. We wanted to, how do you keep it small and true to the ethos of high, high animal welfare that centered on the life that that bird got to enjoy in contrast to factory farming, which we’re probably all familiar with by now.

Jason:
But how do we do that and keep it honest, keep it really legitimate on the farm, but scale it up? And, the early days were more humble than you would believe. There was a lot of mistakes that we made, but we really figured out on the farm, what it meant to raise a bird outside.

Jason:
That’s very contrary to pretty much how any other egg at the time was being produced, and found some great partners in different parts of the country where it wasn’t quite so hot and dry, and that worked out well. We were able to find some good partners, some good supplier farms up in the north-west Arkansas area. That’s really the first place we went. And, climate worked out really great, and we found some willing partners who would do things our way, and worked out a model that was really beneficial for them.

Jason:
Karin, you remember, we were always talking about our stakeholder model and that version of conscious capitalism that really, it’s not just all about the profit and the bottom line, and making the shareholders wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but business can and should be so much more. And, I think we’re all acclimated to that now, especially in the natural food space. And, here in Austin where everybody seems purpose-driven and mission-minded, we can go sell a lot of product and do well for ourselves. But, we really are making the world better.

Jason:
Anyhow, we tried really hard to embody that from the beginning of Vital, and I give that really purpose backbone that we always worked off of. I give that a lot of credit for the success that Vital has seen, in addition to the wonderful people we had, like yourself, who were part of that crew in the very beginning, and then kind of in the middle bit, and now today in its current incarnation there’s great people walking around who are championing that very important message that we can do better, and we ought not have to compromise the well-being of another sentient creature to get cheap food.

Jason:
And so, it feels good to do that. And really, it’s validating because customers are out there, willing to buy these products and usually pay a little more for them. And, we did that at the right time in the right place with a lot of the right people like yourself. So, it’s been quite a run.

Karin:
Giving me all, saying a lot of nice things. So, Vital Farms really did champion the term “pasture-raised”. It was something that we always, everybody else was cage-free. They were free-ranged. And, what do you think Vital did so right in making it such a huge explosion of the term and a way of raising animals?

Jason:
Yeah, that was a very conscious decision. I remember having a discussion with Matt very early on, how are we going to talk about our product? What is the label claim, or the term, that we’re going to use to talk about this stuff, how the birds get to live, truly, every day?

Jason:
And, it was always pasture-raised because that felt like a term that had not been adulterated yet. You got to rewind 11 or 12 years from where we sit today. The concept of even grass-fed beef was not nearly as prominent as part of the vernacular as it is today.

Jason:
So, we needed a term that hadn’t been bastardized, unfortunately, by larger producers. Cage-free was a thing back then. And, that’s arguably a step up from being in a cage. But still, it’s not a great way to live if you’re a laying hen. And then, there’s free-range, which conjures up a certain, I think, a mental picture for most people until you really get educated on the matter, and you realize that means you have access to the outdoors, but you may not be taking advantage of it, or it’s not really a nice lifestyle.

Jason:
So, pasture-raised, it was really, as of then, it was undefined, and we saw that as, we definitely needed to claim that term and be very proactive in defining it, so education was always, arguably, what we were doing. We were marketing, but we were really educating, not very sophisticated, but we were really honest about it.

Jason:
You know, we were always talking about transparency and authenticity. And, somebody had a question about, what did pasture-raised mean, and we would tell them. And, we got as specific as they would want to. You can’t put all that stuff on your carton, but it needed to be somewhere for the consumer who’s interested. And, we would tell them whatever they wanted to know. We would even talk about some of the less shiny parts of farming. The chickens don’t live forever, that kind of thing. What do you with them when they get some age on them? And, we would just be transparent.

Jason:
And, I think we got a lot of credit for that. But, it was much more about, what does pasture-raised mean that it was about Vital Farms, the brand, in the early days. And, people didn’t really know about us yet. I think today, we’ve advanced quite a bit, although there’s still loads of room for people to be buying better eggs.

Jason:
But, when you’re a new brand, you can do what you can to get your name out there. We had a great logo and imagery, and stuff you were doing on social, Karin, was really getting us out there in a big, big way. But, there’s a lot of people, a lot of consumers out there. And, because Vital Farms wasn’t recognizable yet, we would feature that term, pasture-raised. And so yeah, we definitely were more about, what does pasture-raising mean than, here’s our cool brand. Let us tell you about our sales. It was more, let’s describe, really, this farming method.

Jason:
And, that was at a time when everybody was hungry for more information. Michael Pollan had been writing his books for a while. And, we’d seen some documentaries that were telling us we needed to be more careful about the food choices we were making, how we were voting with those dollars and that kind of thing.

Jason:
And, we were there to meet that education, not starved, but hungry consumer, and take them wherever they wanted to go. And thankfully, I think pasture-raised now stands up as a term. It has not been green-washed or homogenized in any way. I think people see that now. You’ll see it on a carton of milk. You’ll see it on butter and eggs, obviously. And, I think people really do know now that basically the animal got to live like it was intended, running around outdoors at least during the day.

Jason:
So, we were a part of that, I think, not all of it. But, I’m really proud of what we did.

Karin:
Yeah, sorry.

Alison:
No, you’re good. So, I wanted to ask, when was Vital Farms? When did y’all found it?

Karin:
2009.

Alison:
2009. So, when you guys were founding? Wow.

Karin:
Founded.

Alison:
When you founded Vital Farms, were you looking at other CPG brands that we also as transparent as y’all? Or, were y’all carving that path?

Jason:
Yeah, it’s a great question. It was definitely the early days of the industry. And, by this time, in natural CPG, I think Vital is one of the more, one of the pillar brands I would say. There wasn’t a lot of this going on. You had Organic Valley. You had Niman or Niman Ranch, I’ve never actually known how to pronounce that. You got the sense that they were doing things right. And then, they’ve been other brands like Maple Hill up in New York doing really amazing, truly grass fed and pasture-raised dairy.

Alison:
Love their milk.

Jason:
Oh yeah. The cheese is so good. It’s different from the cheese we grew up on. You know something’s different about how that cow is living, which is a good thing, but it’s a different taste profile.

Jason:
But yeah, there weren’t a whole lot of models, honestly. Really, we were focused, we were always very careful, and this can be a tough needle to thread if you’re a natural, organic, better for you food company. You need people, in certain cases, to understand kind of the dark side of what you are an alternative to. And in our case, it was, our chickens don’t live like this. They have it really good. And, if you were a chicken, you would want to be on a Vital Farm than opposed to a big factory situation.

Jason:
But, you don’t want to lead with the negative. You want to have a positive message that talks about the good aspects of what you do. And, it’s tricky. Karin, you remember this. We needed people to understand where most of their food was coming from and what that was like, and then, present a better alternative without having a downer message. I think by that irreverence and bit of a humor that we established, I still remember stuff you were doing with hashtags and stuff, “Put an egg on it”, and stuff like that, it kept it light, but also got people to think, because consumers in the age that we’re in with all the information we have and questions that get raised that maybe 10, 20 years ago just wouldn’t have happened if you grew up eating out of a Campbell soup can like I did. We were there to meet that.

Jason:
And yeah, now it’s everywhere, especially in our neighborhood, or neck of the woods, of the industry here with all of the better-for-you concepts and brands that are getting launched. It’s a great time to care about what’s going into your body, what you’re feeding your family and your kids, and that kind of thing.

Jason:
So, all of us say this a lot. We’re all doing the good work, from the ground up, changing an industry for the better. We’re not depending on some government agency to change a law or something. We’re just putting better alternatives out there for people. And they go for them, once they understand why it’s worth it.

Karin:
Yeah, and I think defining the term, setting really stringent standards and abiding by them and sharing them transparently, I think that was such a huge portion of people’s passion. They believed it. And, little touches, like the Vital Times in each carton, it was like, even while you were growing and the brand was growing, there was still little pieces that made it seem really like small farm. And, I think appeals to a lot of people. Well, being honest too, because the eggs do come from a lot of small farms. So, very cool.

Karin:
I did have a quick question about logistics, and off the marketing, but the breakage, the refrigeration, looking back on it now, with all the brands that we’ve worked with, I’m just like, how on earth did y’all handle that? And, what would be your best advice to an entrepreneur that has glass jars, and they experience a lot of breakage and challenges logistically?

Jason:
Yeah, man, it turns out when you take an egg and ship it across the country, lots of stuff can happen. And, we would have bouts of this where a truck driver just wasn’t careful or maybe the road was icy because they were coming through the Ozarks or something. And, as it turns out, eggs are fragile.

Jason:
The first thing that you’ve got to do is to plan for it. You don’t want to be starting your brand, coming up with your unit economics, and telling a buyer, here’s our pricing, and this is what we will give you in trade-spend. You can’t forget about spoilage of any type, whether it’s, something gets broken in transit, or it gets hung up, or it’s not moving, and it goes out of code-dating while it’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

Jason:
You need to plan pretty conservatively, especially when you’re small because you just don’t have the scale to smooth out bumps like that, and they will come. So, I guess the first thing I would say that may sound somewhat intelligent anyway, is just plan for it so that your model accounts for a healthy degree of that, especially in the early days because issues are going to come, and I’ve worked with companies like you.

Jason:
I’ve done a lot of consultative stuff and mentoring younger entrepreneurs or just road-stage companies. And, there’s some unfortunate stories where you know what it costs you, so you come up with what the economics you think are going to be, and this is how much cash you’re going to need to keep it all going, and you didn’t plan for the $80,000 charge back you’re going to get from the big grocery customer if any number of things go south. And, there’s the front end, and the consumer story, and the branding, and all that. And then, there’s the reality of, you can’t run out of cash. And so, planning for that, well ahead of when you’re going to need to get through that batch of broken eggs, or expired product, or your co-man put your labels on upside down, and it’s just going to take three weeks to get it done.

Jason:
Stuff happens. And, that’s just the struggle of needing to have good partners and be able to control your destiny a little bit. It’s just harder to do when you’re small and in the early stages. I don’t know, the first thing you should do is plan for things to be a little rougher than you think they should.

Karin:
Cool, well seguing out of Vital and into your consulting work that you just mentioned. What were some of the biggest pain points of the entrepreneurs that you worked with? What did you just hear constantly?

Jason:
Well, entrepreneurs, especially the more visionary types, they’re their own breed of cat. And, I think it’s really hard for anyone to be a super well-rounded, I guess you’d say leader, where you come up with a concept. You can breathe life into this thing. You can sell the shit out of it, whether it’s to a consumer or a buyer or people online, and then also get all of those nuts and bolts we were just talking about where the rubber meets the road, much less the economics of the exercise. And, you’re out raising money and trying not to run out of it, keep your investors happy, whether it’s your uncle or some equity firm.

Jason:
So, there’s a lot of disciplines going there in this exercise. And I guess, one thing I’ve come up against more than once, is just a founder who birthed something into the world, and it definitely has its place, and they have some level of momentum.

Jason:
But, it can be hard for visionary types to get out of their own way. I’ll say that nicely. And, either take advice about, hey, I can see around this corner, because I’ve been to this movie before. And you should prioritize this and maybe put a little more focus on, getting a good accounting system underneath you, or maybe getting a better co-manufacturer because this one’s totally killing you. It just reads like a book, even though it may not be that clear to you.

Jason:
Rare is the visionary who is also a great operator. And so, that’s advice I would often end up hearing myself say to somebody, is like, hey, it’s time to go get maybe somebody who really, really has moved a lot of stuff around the country before, and not just somebody, a friend or relative, who you’ve put in this position, or an expert in accounting who actually understands CPG, and trade-spin, and the games that UNFI will play with you, and how they extort you this way and that, instead of the guy who’s done your dad’s taxes for the last 20 years. Yeah, he’s an accountant, but he doesn’t understand this industry.

Jason:
So, I guess knowing when to bring in seasoned help in certain disciplines and from the industry, that’s something that it probably takes everybody a while to learn, but, the quicker you do, the quicker you, like I said, can get out of your own way and start delegating to people who actually understand a certain function better than you, because it’s quite enough to be a visionary and put something new out in the world.

Alison:
Have you seen a lot of great entrepreneurs with a lot of product fail because of that in your time as consultant?

Jason:
Yeah, fail, I guess there’s a spectrum of that. I’ve seen a lot where they should be much further down the road than they are. By the way, I’m not trying to come off as some expert who would do everything right or knows all the right moves. I sure don’t.

Karin:
Who does?

Alison:
Yes.

Jason:
Nobody. But, I’ve seen businesses fold, for sure, because you just run out of cash because you weren’t planning well, or you weren’t focused. Another thing that happens a lot, is being so eager to launch your next product line when you have way more room to go do what you’re already doing much more deeply. And, those are things you can get kind of a sixth sense for just being in the industry a while.

Jason:
But yeah, unless you have a billionaire backer who just keeps writing checks, and I’ve actually seen that happen before too, which is, you could argue, equally unfortunate because sometimes, things just need to run their course and get cleared out of the way. But, it usually does come down to the economics one way or the other, and it’s a ruthless game. I don’t think it’s quite as tough as, say, opening a restaurant, where, I guess, what I’ve heard, is 90% of those don’t hang around.

Jason:
But yeah, it’s tough like any industry. There’s lot’s to rope together and get right. And you have to be in a favorable set of conditions. I won’t call it luck, but you could look at Vital. We put this out in the market at perfect time. We were really just ahead of the crest of this wave of awareness and desire for something better. We were also in Austin, so right up the road you have Whole Foods, and then an hour the other way, you’ve got HEB.

Jason:
You’re in Texas, and I was talking about this earlier today, there’s such a pride for whatever it is that makes Texas, Texas. I was talking with somebody earlier who spent a lot of time abroad in the first part of their career, as did I, and we, just saying, you can be in a bar in Roppongi in Tokyo, and somebody hears you’re from Texas, and you got something to talk about, because that’s like its own brand, and even within that, Austin, as we all know.

Jason:
So, not sure where I was going with that, but…

Alison:
So you’re saying, if you have a CPG brand, and you don’t live in Austin, you better get down here quick.

Jason:
One way of looking-

Alison:
…in Austin.

Jason:
We’re not going to mention that city outside of Denver that shall not be named.

Alison:
Yeah, no.

Karin:
It’s where I went to school.

Jason:
You were smart.

Karin:
It’s a nice place.

Jason:
I think I would check that one out too, if I had it to do over again.

Alison:
But, what was your background before Vital? Were you in CPG? Were you just interested in CPG space? Or, what were-

Karin:
We were just interested in chickens.

Alison:
Or, do you like eggs a lot?

Jason:
I just couldn’t get enough eggs in the morning. Maybe, I don’t know, wandering but not lost. I didn’t have a background in agriculture, didn’t really think a great deal about the food space. I guess, my journey, I always knew I would peel off and do something more for myself as opposed to being in a larger company. I guess in 2008, I had been at Motorola, which was a Fortune 50. You’re talking 40+ billion in revenue, 150,000 employees when I joined.

Jason:
And, that was amazing for a lot of reasons, learned so much. It was a great, in some senses, place to kind of come up and cut your teeth. But, I always knew because it’s been in my family’s blood, we’ve always just kind of done our own thing, I supposed, and finished my grad school up in Chicago. And, we just wanted to be in Austin.

Jason:
So, we got down here mainly because we just love the town, and love the vibe and the energy that was here, and we also knew it was friendly for young business. And, that certainly proved to be the case.

Jason:
What I really knew I needed to do differently, was I needed to care about what I was doing when I popped out of bed in the morning. And, in a big, massive company, it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t really matter what your function in your cubicle is. I couldn’t deal with that anymore. It was soul-crushing.

Alison:
Real quick, what were you doing at Motorola?

Jason:
Man, everything because I would get bored. So, I started out in finance. I did audit. I got into a risk management strategy role for the CFO, traveling abroad a lot, which was super cool, especially before family and stuff. But then, I got into supply chain for a couple years. And then, my last role there I was managing the global marketing strategy for mobile devices.

Alison:
Wow.

Jason:
Ah, it’s a fancy, long title. What it meant was, that I was super frustrated because we could all see that smart phone was coming. This was, iPhone launched in ’08, and we just knew that the wrong people were driving there. We were over-engineering products and totally missing what the consumer really wanted. And, a lot of us knew that, but weren’t able to impact it due to the culture of that once-great company, very unfortunately.

Jason:
So anyhow, that really, I guess, teed me up to say, enough of this. I need to control my own destiny more, and I need to care about what I’m doing. I needed to be advancing something important in the world, and I just didn’t feel that was. And so, getting in to Austin was part of another young venture, kind of an international tourism play with some friends. It was doing well, but it wasn’t going to scale quickly enough. And, that’s when, like I said, I met Matt and Katherine and the farm they had started, and I guess, the bones of that brand. And we kind of formalized it and grew it from there.

Jason:
And what I knew was, it’s kind of funny, it was more of a heart decision than a head one. I was that early consumer who was looking for something better, and preferred organic, and this was before gluten-free and all these other nerd badges you can throw on something. But, just being that consumer, I knew there was a place for it, without having any sophisticated market research or anything. We just had a napkin, and on the back of that, showed that, hey, if we get a little slice of this, if people are willing to pay, and we found out very quickly they were.

Jason:
So anyhow, I wasn’t a farmer, but I also wasn’t, I don’t deserve credit for much. Maybe I do for at least being humble enough to have had a really nice, secure, high-paying job and fancy degree from Kellogg and whatnot. But, you fast-forward a couple months, and I’m out kicking around in the dust, chasing chickens around with a fishing net, quite literally.

Alison:
Is that literally how you catch a chicken?

Jason:
The longer the handle on the net, the better because they are fast.

Alison:
Wow.

Jason:
Oh yeah. We went through a lot of nets-

Alison:
Like a pole skimmer.

Jason:
That would have been smart. They were quick, man. We were going to Academy like twice a week to buy more nets. It was ridiculous.

Alison:
Oh my gosh.

Jason:
There was so many stories. But you got to be humble enough to go knock around in the dirt in the 100 degrees and figure out what the hell does a chicken need when it lives outside, especially down here, and go to farmers’ market and schlep your eggs that you’re really proud of. You can’t really be above anything when you want to part of getting something off the ground.

Jason:
And yeah, it just always from the beginning felt really good to be in the food space because we can all relate to it. It’s all, in times of COVID, it’s essential. If there’s anything essential, it’s this. And, to be elevating that and improving, I really do believe, the quality of people’s lives, and health, and wellness, and our consciousness too, depending on what you believe. Nobody would feel there should be more suffering in the world. How about we don’t cram chickens into a, let’s cut off the front of their face, and cram them into a cage with eight of their friends? That’s not a good way to live, and we can do better.

Jason:
And, it’s a cool time to be alive because there’s a lot at our disposal, but let us make advancements in the world again from the ground up, and particularly in the food space. The barriers are low. Anybody can come up with a healthier version of something in their own kitchen, and then take it Wheatsville. That’s a beautiful way to move through the world. And, there’s all kind of rewards out there for us. But, we’re making the world better. I really believe that.

Karin:
I like that. And, I think there’s something to be said about making a business plan on a napkin. I feel like that’s a recurring thing. A lot of great businesses come from a napkin. So, maybe that’s the goal.

Jason:
A good buddy of mine, he’s from Zimbabwe, but he’s been living in London, or outside of London, for most of his life. But, he gave me a book called, “The Beermat Entrepreneur”, and what they mean is like the little coaster that your pint sits on in the pub. But basically, exactly about that. And, I suppose I’ve taken advantage of some of the highest forms of business education, where I got to go to school and things.

Jason:
And bottom line, none of it’s rocket science. There’s formulas and fancy methodologies and models and whatnot. But yeah, it doesn’t have to be super complicated. It certainly wasn’t for us at Vital. The main thing you got to do is put something out there where people are going to really go for it on its own merits. If you’re having to market too hard, y’all probably know this better than I do, to a degree, the product really needs to sell itself. Otherwise, it’s going to be pushing uphill pretty hard.

Jason:
So anyway, it’s neat because we get to tinker around in that space in the food world, and it doesn’t take years or millions of dollars to come up with something great and differentiate it.

Karin:
Yeah, well.

Jason:
And drink more beer, by all means, you’ll be a better [inaudible 00:28:22] person.

Karin:
I love the humble aspect. I remember one thing at Vital, where [inaudible 00:28:29] here. You guys were having interviews, and some guy came in suit, and it was immediately, he was like, no. He didn’t care-

Alison:
Poor guy.

Karin:
…what the guy had to say, it was just like, no. So, true to the roots. True to the farming roots, I appreciate that.

Jason:
Yeah, enough with the-

Alison:
Know your audience.

Karin:
Know your audience. That’s important. One take away from this, know your audience.

Jason:
We thought that guy was going to be too high-maintenance for us.

Karin:
We don’t even remember. [crosstalk 00:29:00]

Jason:
I remember interviewing you. I actually do.

Alison:
What was Karin wearing? Like, overalls? And, I don’t know [inaudible 00:29:07]

Karin:
I had piece of wheat coming out of my mouth.

Alison:
Like, spot on.

Jason:
It wouldn’t have been a bad move. I can’t say I remember that. But, I just remember you leaving, and then, you remember who else was probably in the room. And, we just kind of had a pow-wow after we probably gave you, I don’t know, a dozen eggs and said, thanks for coming in.

Karin:
A six-pack.

Jason:
Sorry.

Karin:
So already, I can tell what you felt about me on that.

Jason:
Times were tough. Maybe we were sold out. Look at it that way. But yeah, I just remember looking around, and everybody was like, she’s exactly what we need. And, of course, you were and helped really take our online presence and really the face of the brand, if you think about it, for probably most people anymore. I don’t know so much about eggs, just categories, certain ones are more, that’s probably a little less prone to D-to-C exploration, but anymore, really the front of your store is online. And, that’s the first exposure most people are going to get to whatever it is you’re offering. And yeah, you’re a big part of the reason we’ve been able to grow Vital and get to where it has.

Karin:
Ay yay, Jason, this isn’t about me. That’s very nice though.

Jason:
It’s certainly not about me.

Karin:
Well, it is. I personally, we’re friends. And I don’t even know how you ended up in Exo. So can you talk a little more about your new venture?

Alison:
Exo Protein.

Jason:
Yeah so, I’m a sucker for something that really is disruptive, I suppose. So, really was neck-deep in Vital, kind of running the whole ball of wax for most of the early years of it. And then, we started bringing on people who were, just had a lot of potential to take the thing forward, probably in ways that I just couldn’t have. And certainly, I was also really tired and kind of worn out. It takes a lot out of you, especially when you don’t have a lot of equity money behind you to go have some of the things that are nice to have when you’re trying to scale quickly.

Jason:
Anyway, I took a bit of a break. And thankfully, things aligned for me to be able to do that. I had missed an awful lot, kind of family stuff. We have three kids by now, and all of those came after Vital. And so anyway, was able to just kind of decompress a little bit and decided, yeah, I definitely don’t want to leave the food space. There was just too much good stuff going on, and my heart is here.

Jason:
So, I would work with in an advisory, or consultative, or mentor capacity, bunch of brands across categories, really learned a ton, and I think, hopefully, had some nice impact along the way. I guess in that period, probably about four or five years ago, I got to know the founders of Aspire Food Group.

Jason:
And, they are Canadian, but they had located the company here for the same reasons that many food companies want to be established here because of the network and other things. Anyhow, their purpose is to solve for all sorts of problems across the global stage. The idea about having access to great quality protein in turbulent times, whether it’s climate, or economics, or population, or whatever, they had won a million bucks in a business competition, that Bill Clinton handed them a check back in, I think 2013, to go explore, hey, can we help feed the world with great quality protein and really rounded nutrition offering through insects?

Jason:
And, they had been hard at work ever since, working out the R&D, and all the manufacturing capability and production. This is new to the world in once sense, at least the way they’ve come across it, in kind of a modular, scalable, very economically efficient way, in a way that had never been done. Basically, they have achieved a great deal in a matter of 5 short years, they have done what probably took the poultry industry 50 to do, and that’s to bring the grow-out cycle, or the life-span, of a mature, in their case, cricket to maturity in basically 30 days, down from 60.

Jason:
And so, they’ve made massive leaps forward from a technological standpoint. And, I knew them to be just amazing humans. That’s something that I, it really matters who you’re doing something with as much as what it is that you’re actually pushing on. The people are everything, and I just had loads of respect for them, just as humans, as well as what they were trying to accomplish in the world.

Jason:
And anyway, about this time last year, I re-connected with Muhammad, one of the founding team, and basically was giving him some advice, how to approach the consumer space. And it just, long story short, sounded like a really interesting challenge that I wanted to put more time into, that involved into me coming onto the Aspire Food Group team as the chief growth officer to basically try to figure out, that really the sales piece, but the consumer piece. It’s one thing to produce all this stuff, and they’ve, we’re the leaders in the clubhouse globally in how to do that at scale with great economics that get it down to where it can compete with almost anything as a protein ingredient.

Jason:
But, the question still remains, and it sounded like a fun one to me to try to figure out, well, how do you convince the Western consumer to go for this stuff? Because there’s obviously that stigma there. And the thing is, there’s tons of really amazing reasons why it does make sense, and I wanted to think about really the marketing puzzle that that presented.

Jason:
And, that’s what I’ve been doing for 9 or 10 months now, with our Exo brand, and we’ve done a ton of very deep, primary consumer insights work that we now have in the hopper as well as our experience of selling the Exo line for years now. And, we’re kind of in this innovation and product development phase where, we’re not out here saying, this is going to be $100 million market in two years. I don’t think it’s there yet.

Jason:
But, we’re trying to be thoughtful about how we can position and then present this in formats, and in a format and brand that maybe make the most sense and can maximize on what we understand the TAM to be, as well as selling it into the pet food market, where that’s not going to be nearly as much of a challenge, and we’ve already done a good job with that.

Jason:
Yeah, it’s a fun one. And, I know it’s a little out there still for some, but we’re going to get you. You’re going to come around to it, just a matter of time.

Karin:
I like them.

Alison:
Tastes like a corn chip. [inaudible 00:35:56]

Karin:
Yeah, for people who maybe don’t know what Exo Protein is, it’s cricket protein. I think y’all have crisps, you have flour, and bars, is that right? Now you’re in that food space?

Jason:
Yeah, that is a good synopsis. We recently discontinued to crispy line, though, which was the actual whole cricket.

Karin:
That’s the one we tried, yeah.

Jason:
Yeah, it was not because people didn’t like it, actually. It was very problematic from a supply chain and production standpoint. And, this is one of those choices you make when you need to focus. And, we needed to focus on stuff we can just make with our powder, or flour, which is just kind of a roasted and ground up. It looks like flour or protein powder. And, we’re not really limited as to how that can get applied.

Jason:
So yeah, we have the Exo line of bars. There’s protein and energy bars, and they’re relatively really high in protein. And, it’s a complete protein. It’s kind of the same protein profile in terms of the full amino stack, all nine of the essentials, as you get in beef or pork or chicken, other kind of livestock-based proteins. But, it’s much, much lighter on the environment and our resources, and so less that it requires as inputs to make a pound of that.

Jason:
It’s also a lot less harmful gasses and things that are the result of the production. It’s kind of the environmental footprint of plants with the nutrition of animals. That’s one way to look at it. And, we’re just trying to figure out what really we should best go do with that in a way that navigates that stigma and addresses it and educates, and there’s going to be a lot, I think, that we learned on the Vital journey that will come to bear here.

Jason:
But, no final answers, yet. But, just telling you, telling you right here, remember this. It’s coming. It will be a thing. It is a viable, very, it’s the most responsible form of protein we can take in. And, our job is to make that in the way we define pasture-raised and animal welfare and quality in that part of the store, this is a viable option that we need to take seriously for ourselves as well as the earth.

Alison:
Yeah, and I’ll tell you, if you just go down to Waco’s Hollywood movie theater, outside there’s a ton of crickets. So, I’m sure.

Karin:
Go harvest.

Alison:
[inaudible 00:38:19]

Jason:
Yeah, send me an address.

Alison:
Okay.

Jason:
Did you go the Baylor? How do you even know that?

Alison:
I’m from Waco.

Jason:
Okay.

Alison:
Yeah. Yeah, well I mean-

Jason:
If you got a pickup, we can head up there-

Alison:
Oh, they would love you.

Jason:
[crosstalk 00:38:37]

Alison:
…y’all to swing by.

Jason:
We’ll get our nets from the first Vital farm-

Alison:
I know. There’re a lot of similarities, between Exo and Vital, it seems like. But yeah, I kind of just have one more question. You talked a little bit about the barrier, I’m sure there’s a big barrier to entry for consumers, especially Western consumers, I’m sure taking into the flour, maybe help. But, what other ways have you solved that challenge, for someone to go try a cricket?

Jason:
Well, I guess one response is, we don’t think we fully have yet, but one thing that you know across food is that, it has to be delicious. So, taste is the table-stakes. And, we’ve been, we’ve had some formulas that we had inherited for the bar line, and we’ve been tinkering with those quite a bit, to improve the eating experience and the flavor as well as the nutritionals and the macros and things.

Jason:
Our protein line is going to be 14 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar. So, you get into the space where that’s appealing to people on all sorts of low-carb diets.

Alison:
What does the calorie look like for that? The calorie count?

Jason:
It’s under 200. So, I’m telling you, it’s quite potent nutritional.

Alison:
It’s not going to hurt your tummy, like whey protein in the end?

Jason:
No.

Alison:
It’s a lot better, yeah.

Jason:
Yeah, so cricket powder is prebiotic inherently. So, it’s actually really great for digestion and gut health. And the fiber content is something that’s kind of a bonus. We’re actually getting to be kind of deficient across the board as a nation, I think, with respect to fiber. A lot of people are anyway in the way similar to Vitamin D and some other things, due to the way we eat anymore.

Jason:
So, there’s a fiber, a prebiotic content. There’s more iron than spinach, and great B12 and Omega 3s in all this stuff. It feels not dissimilar to the early Vital Farms days when we had all this crap to say, we need to distill it down in the most cogent way and that’s digestible.

Jason:
But anyway, yeah, it has to taste great. It has to be in a format that is not off-putting. Also, the education obviously is going to be central to, why the hell should I do that? We kind of think of insects in a certain way. And, we’re actually kind of unique on the global stage, or compared to many other cultures across the globe for whom this is already just a very natural food source. If it’s on the planet here with us, and we don’t have to be naked and afraid to take advantage of some humble but very powerful protein here.

Jason:
And yeah, don’t have all the answers yet, but that’s kind of the core of the job. And then, we’re also standing up all of the other stuff you need just as a company to go do things well in the CPG space, both grocery and D-to-C. We’re primarily D-to-C now, but the bars have been in HEB for almost a year and a half now. About a third of the HEBs out there are going to have our protein bars and energy as of this month now.

Karin:
Congratulations. That’s awesome.

Jason:
Yeah, HEB. There’s a Texas connection there, but they deserve a lot of credit. They’re kind of a mainstream grocer, but they’re way better. They’re progressive and very forward thinking, and we just had an amazing call that was so helpful with our buyer just yesterday. We were having some real talk. Like, hey, it would be great if your economics were a little bit better, about the purpose, but you need to provide us the dollars and cents.

Jason:
And so, it’s a good thing we’ve been working to go improve our supply chain and how we manufacture and our cost structure, so that we can have great answers to those questions when they come, because you can be real special, but a slot on a grocery shelf is kind of priceless for that retailer. So really, this comes full circle if you think of a stake-holder model or a consciously, capitalistic way of moving through all this.

Jason:
It has to be good for everybody, whether it’s a farmer, an animal, the consumer. Your HEB buyer. He needs to look good, or she, just in our case it’s a he, but they need to, you got to be careful today. It has to benefit everyone to be viable, or v-buyable. Think about that.

Alison:
I’m mean, we’re huge HEB fans.

Karin:
Love it.

Alison:
And stakeholder model fans. Well, thanks Jason, for joining us.

Karin:
It was fun.

Alison:
It was so nice to hear expertise. Do you want to tell everybody where you can find Exo? Besides HEB.

Jason:
Well, we’re primarily D-to-C, but all your usual online channels, be they our website or Amazon. And, we’re in about 30 HEBs today. We’re in every Cost Plus World Market that there is. They’ve been a great partner as well. It’s actually a really great account that is non-typical, but it’s a really great one.

Jason:
Yeah, a lot of other mom’s and pop’s and stuff, but we’re looking to drive our grocery presence and get that door count up. And, we’ve been doing a lot of work in the online space too to better target folks, and be able to cut everybody good deals for trying what we’ve got. So, hope everybody does.

Alison:
Yep, and they are delicious. So, don’t let the crickets scare you.

Jason:
Yeah, get over it. It’s just food.

Alison:
Get over it already, shoot.

Jason:
That’s probably not a good tag line.

Alison:
Get over it already?

Karin:
Yeah, you don’t need to pay us for that. That’s free advice.

Jason:
Congratulations on Umai, and I know for a fact from just being out there in the space that y’all are kicking tail out there, and it’s so cool to see. You can stand up food brands, you can also stand up companies like what you’ve done. And, you’re to be commended for that. You’re providing a great value, and it’s doing well by y’all as well. It’s a great space, but congratulations on your success there at Umai, and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s going to be fun to see how y’all track as well.

Alison:
Yeah, thank you.

Karin:
I mean, hey, you get a lot of credit for starting this.

Alison:
Yeah, I know. All those lunches. We owe you lunch again too, probably, once this is all over.

Jason:
Could we get arrested for going to a restaurant?

Alison:
Probably.

Karin:
I know. We’re sitting very close to each other right now.

Jason:
Yeah, I may call the authorities.

Karin:
Be safe. Stay safe out there.

Jason:
…headset.

Alison:
Yeah, we disinfected it though, so we’re clean.

Jason:
Thank you all for having me. I sure appreciate it.

Alison:
Thank you.

Jason:
Yeah, enjoyed it, and congrats.

Karin:
Thanks, Jason, we’ll talk to you soon.

Alison (Recorded):
Umai Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at Umai Marketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com.

Alison (Recorded):
Catch you back here soon.

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