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#14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

Ever heard of Mother Beverage? Okay, how about Poppi?? 😛 We’re willing to bet that 2nd one rings a bell, especially if you’ve spent some time on the ‘gram.

After they snagged a partnership with entrepreneur Rohan Oza in the Shark Tank, they got a seriously awesome rebrand and quickly became the bubbly prebiotic product that we love today.

Learn how their new look has fueled an equally epic influencer network as well as tips to launch your own program while on a small-biz budget.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:50] Introducing Poppi! Initial thoughts. We tried the following Poppi flavors: Peach Tea, Ginger Lime, and Raspberry Rose.

[2:50] Ingredients list. The common theme = apple cider vinegar. “It tastes like it’s not good for you.” A treat!

[5:00] This brand went through a big rebrand, honing in on prebiotics + gut health. They used to be known as Mother Beverage before their Shark Tank debut and win! Turning away from the apple cider vinegar (ACV) language to appeal to a wider market.

[7:40] The look of this can is Instagram-worthy, for sure!

[8:00] Comparing language presented on cans as it varies.

[10:20] Poppi’s origin story. Our history working with this brand + who they were before Shark Tank. 

[15:00] National retailer launch during COVID. Check out the Forbes article below! Naturally, they’ve had to pivot to direct-to-consumer sales.

[18:20] Poppi’s social growth. A note on Founder Alison showing up on the ‘gram!

[22:00] Saw issues with the original name – Mother. As well as the ACV angle. So, this pivot to a different name and prebiotic focus is just huge – it can’t be emphasized enough!

[23:00] They come in SO many flavors. Karin lists them out.

[24:30] Diving into their macro-influencer program. A fleet of seemingly ‘true’ advocates. Includes an affiliate program – we love this.

[26:00] A note on micro-influencers – great for those on a budget! Macro-influencers can be a gamble.

[28:00] This one time that we worked with a macro-influencer…

[29:50] How to start your own micro-influencer program! The importance of warming leads.

[33:20] A huge benefit of these influencer programs is growing your brand’s bank of user-generated content (UGC) for organic and paid use. But, you must always ask permission to share this content. This is especially important for ads.

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Read – #14: Poppi Mukbang, This Insta-Worthy Rebrand & Influencer Network Is Poppin’ Off

 

Narrator:
Calling all consumer goods, business overs, 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.

Narrator:
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. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Karin Samelson:
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison, co-founders of UMAI Marketing, and we’re diving into the functional prebiotic soda brand Poppi, and their explosive growth after their Shark Tank debut.

Karin Samelson:
Before we hop in, if you like what you hear please feel free to leave us a rating, a follow, or subscribe to our pod wherever you’re listening from. Thanks so much, so let’s get into this.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Poppi.

Alison Smith:
Poppi.

Karin Samelson:
A bubbly prebiotic soda.

Alison Smith:
They’re so cute.

Karin Samelson:
So cute, so cheerful, so colorful.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, so I have the peach tea flavor, and the raspberry rose.

Karin Samelson:
Okay, I got peach tea as well, and I have ginger lime. Really, I am a sucker for anything ginger limey, ginger lemony.

Alison Smith:
Same, they were sold out of all the other flavors at my local Whole Foods.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:01:42]. That’s a great sign.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
Okay, so let’s crack one of these guys. I’m going to crack them open, try them.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, whoo. Cheers.

Karin Samelson:
Yes, cheers.

Alison Smith:
Okay, I’m having the raspberry rose.

Karin Samelson:
Peach tea, over here.

Alison Smith:
Oh, wow. I like that.

Karin Samelson:
What does it taste like? Can you taste the raspberry and the rose?

Alison Smith:
I have Poppi dripping down my computer right now. Okay, hold on. It’s so good. It’s raspberry. I’ve never tastes rose. I don’t know what rose tastes like, but [inaudible 00:02:28] the raspberry and it’s reminding me of something nostalgic, and I don’t know what it is.

Karin Samelson:
Dang it. I wish I had that one too, so I could tune in on it.

Alison Smith:
It’s good.

Karin Samelson:
Alright, well I got the peach tea and you have it too. It is delicious. It is very peach tea, so I’m looking at the ingredients list and it’s green tea. They use sparkling green tea with apple cider vinegar, so all of these have apple cider vinegar. That’s the kicker. Peach juice, apple juice, of course I like it. Apple juice. Cane sugar, natural flavors, and Stevia.

Karin Samelson:
This one has five grams total sugar.

Alison Smith:
Wow, that’s real apple juice.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alison Smith:
I like that. Yeah, I really like the peach tea too. It tastes like it’s not good for you.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, yeah. For sure. But I mean, especially when they put soda in the product name.

Alison Smith:
I have something to say, I feel like this is my drink. This is my drink.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, shoot.

Alison Smith:
I’m feeling it. It feels like it’s bad for you. It feels like it’s really bad for you, but it’s not.

Karin Samelson:
A treat, yeah.

Alison Smith:
This is the thing for me. I’m in.

Karin Samelson:
Yes, I like that. So, another, I’m not going to name names, because we’re on Poppi right now, but another brand similar, but different, they sent this questionnaire to all of their purchasers for like, I don’t know they were like, ” 30% off if you fill it out.”

Karin Samelson:
And, it was so long, and it was a great brand questionnaire, not brand questionnaire, but like a feedback. And one of the questions was, “Why do you drink it?” And my answer was, “Because it’s a treat.” It’s not even that it’s healthy, it’s that I crave something sweet and it’s a treat to drink it, it satisfies the craving, and I feel like that’s the same for this.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, this is good. I really did not think it would be this good.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh. Okay, I’m cracking open the ginger lime. Oh, gosh. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I love ginger.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
I’m jealous of your ginger lime.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, the peach tea is good. It tastes like peach tea, but the ginger, I just love ginger drinks.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yummy. Okay. Yay.

Karin Samelson:
Very good. Very tasty.

Alison Smith:
Okay, let’s talk about the package. The can.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
And, we’ll cover this in a bit, because they went through a big rebrand. They used to be known as Mother Beverage and they were in glass bottles, so now they’re aluminum cans and now they’re marketing themselves as a prebiotic soda. So, really honing in on that gut health. “Be gut happy, be gut healthy.”

Karin Samelson:
Yep. And, those three points here right on the can, “Prebiotics for a healthy gut, infused with apple cider vinegar, immunity sidekick.”

Alison Smith:
Wait. Okay. Are you talking about the three bullets?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Okay, so I have a different one on the peach tea, “20 calories per can.” So, that’s their, I guess they’re testing different value props. “Prebiotics to support healthy digestion, one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.” So, a little different.

Karin Samelson:
A little different, and we’re seeing slight differences on the cans. I wonder if that’s moving forward or if it just varies can to can, but just slight. But, the recurring of course, is the apple cider vinegar. That’s it. That’s the selling point here.

Alison Smith:
Well, I actually read that they are moving away from apple cider vinegar.

Karin Samelson:
What?

Alison Smith:
Because, it was turning people off. I think people were, maybe they got some feedback that people weren’t trying it, because they thought it would be sour or gross.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, really, so it’s just going to be prebiotics?

Alison Smith:
So, they’re focusing more on the prebiotic, which is so interesting because for me, I see these so trendy.

Karin Samelson:
So hot, right now.

Alison Smith:
Yes, trendy.

Karin Samelson:
And, prebiotics. I feel like packaging them at the same time, but I mean I don’t know.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, but I guess, yeah a prebiotic is more easy to swallow than thinking about a vinegary drink. So, yeah that’s interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep. So, both of them, if not all of them, I only have two, five grams of sugar or less. It’s a friendly reminder, which I needed the reminder, “You got to cut off the label to recycle.” Don’t forget it. And, it says it right there. Okay. I dig it. Very colorful.

Karin Samelson:
I mean, what did you read? That it was like a fashion statement.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. It’s basically like a photo opportunity to drink a Poppi, especially if you’re a millennial.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s Instagram fodder.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Exactly. Which is, god that’s … I mean, what brand doesn’t want that major UGC?

Karin Samelson:
Yep. Yep.

Alison Smith:
And, photography. Okay, so I think we might have little variations on, I guess their story. So, my peach tea says, “Pop, cultured. Facts, no one wants a basic drink.” I feel like, leaning into basic again. Hitting on millennials.

Karin Samelson:
Well, it’s a non basic drink for basic people.

Alison Smith:
Or, gen-z.

Karin Samelson:
Sorry, but it’s true.

Alison Smith:
Sorry. I’m apparently one of them, because I am into it.

Karin Samelson:
Me, too. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
So, “Make every hour happy with this bubbly, better for you prebiotic soda that keeps your gut happy and gives your bod a boost.” So, they’re kind of saying, I feel like they’re inferring that this is your bod of boost. Like, inferring that this is … I don’t know if it’s exactly weight loss or what they’re trying to infer.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, just something positive.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:08:53], positive.

Alison Smith:
“Downright delicious with barely there sugar these bubbles with benefits will be your new BFF.” Wow, alliteration. That was a lot of alliteration.

Karin Samelson:
I dig it though.

Alison Smith:
Okay, cool.

Karin Samelson:
Yep. Yeah, and their Instagram handles, and their website, everything you need on your cans, they got it.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, just like we were saying, this just freaking pops off the shelf. Nothing else was this bright, and this colorful.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, pops. Like, who was part of that? Who did that?

Alison Smith:
Who did that.

Karin Samelson:
And I’m, just side note, a little interested to see what’s going to happen after I consume two full prebiotic.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I never have taken apple cider vinegar. I’ve only used it for salad dressing. Is it going to move?

Karin Samelson:
Your bod is going to get a boost. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Bod boost. Okay. Yeah. We’ll follow up if anything weird happens after having two of these babies.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, we’ll put it in the show notes. All right. Okay, now that we have tasted it, we’ve dissected the packaging as best we can. Again, full disclosure we are not branding experts, this is just, we are judging this based on being consumers and marketers.

Karin Samelson:
So, now let’s look at their background. So, this product was founded by a husband and wife team. Alison and Stephen. They’re from Dallas, Texas, so right up the road. And what she did was, they were combining fresh fruit juice with the prebiotic powerhouse we’ve been mentioning, apple cider vinegar, to create a soda that tasted really good and provided actual health benefits.

Karin Samelson:
She struggled with some health related issues, I can’t quite remember what they were, and this was something that helped with that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I couldn’t find anything that was exactly what she was struggling with, and I was really curious to know, just because I wanted to know if I could relate at all. So, I don’t think she ever said, unless, if anyone knows feel free to tip us in.

Alison Smith:
But, it’s just the perfect story of the founder had a need that she couldn’t find in the market, so created the product for her own needs, and then turns out a lot of people had similar needs and wants.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, it looks like they were selling at their local farmers market, and then it led into their big Shark Tank debut. They’re Shark Tankers. Yeah, so they came onto Shark Tank in 2018 as Mother Beverage.

Karin Samelson:
So, that’s something that we absolutely have to note. They were, again, they were Mother Beverage, they had a really simple label. I think it was like a off white label with colored font, so it was just Mother.

Alison Smith:
In a glass bottle.

Karin Samelson:
A nice, glass bottle, and we actually, Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi was a long time client of ours and we did like a mother themed giveaway with them, and so they sent us the product, we tried it then, delicious, and so that’s what the brand was when they got onto Shark Tank.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’m curious, I remember that giveaway. When they were Mother Beverage were they talking about ACV as the ingredient, or were they talking about prebiotics as the main selling point?

Karin Samelson:
That’s such a good question. I don’t want to say the wrong answer, but my gut, it was ACV. It was an apple cider vinegar drink.

Alison Smith:
Interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, sorry if I’m wrong, but that’s what my gut says from that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Because, I remember Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi, the Kimchi, the, “It’s alive with probiotics.” And it was just that kind of themed giveaway, especially with the name Mother.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think you’re right. That’s what I remember too, is that they were really focused on an apple cider vinegar, so that’s really interesting. Whoever did their rebranding must have done a lot of looking at some data to understand that prebiotic was the right change.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And speaking of, I mean, the investor from Shark Tank that signed it on, Rohan Oza, just the king, of beverage who was at Coca-Cola for forever, the companies that he was at sold to Coca-Cola for just like what? Billions.

Alison Smith:
Rohan. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
So, literal kind of beverage was the person that signed on for their investment for, I believe they were asking $400,000 for 10%, and he got them for 400,000 for 25%. And, obviously we don’t know the backend of Shark Tank and how those actually play out, but it’s very clear that, that one played out and CAVU Ventures, which he’s the co-founder of, they are investors in Poppi now.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, and they’ve got a stacked portfolio, so one of my favorite snacks, Skinny Dipped, they have them. Hims and Hers, Health Aid, Bulletproof, Waterloo.

Karin Samelson:
Vital Proteins.

Alison Smith:
Waterloo Sparkling Water, another Austin brand. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
The list goes on.

Alison Smith:
A great, great move I would say, for Poppi.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. I mean, they know what they’re doing and Poppi, how lucky is that to get under the wing of someone so powerful in this space. A true expert in this space, so obviously I’m sure he had a huge hand in that rebrand, and what it looks like now.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Definitely. Yeah, so Poppi went to launch nationally in grocery stores, in retail stores, I think they got on with Whole Foods pretty early on, but it was during COVID. It was March that they were set to launch, so I know they had a, write up in Forbes talking about that struggle of them trying to launch during a pandemic, where people weren’t going into stores and what they were ordering, and things were just, like rice and things like that.

Alison Smith:
But, do you remember what it said? I mean how they did with that launch, regardless of full on pandemic?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, and I mean, I think the story is very similar to a lot of brands that launched last year. It was kind of, with a little bit of worry, but I remember some of our clients had the biggest sales they’ve ever had and they weren’t those pantry staple brands. They were just better for you, healthy products that they could get their hands on, and that could last.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, so it looks like the timeline of it was, 2018, December at the very end of 2018 they were on Shark Tank, they got the investment and then January, of 2020 is when that rebrand officially happened, they launched it, and then, yeah, March they went to launch nationally in grocery and lo and behold the pandemic.

Karin Samelson:
And I believe what was said, was that the already had their production runs, they already had this product so what could they do other than launch? So, they did and luckily this is a better for you, healthy option, so I think the rest is history here.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
They’re killing it.

Alison Smith:
Well, I think they also pivoted a bit and got onto Amazon and things like that to help push sales, but yeah like Karen said, “We only work for better for you brands.” And, luckily they were okay during pandemic times.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And so, now I really do wonder now with that national launch in retail and then Amazon, and then they have [inaudible 00:17:14] on their website now, which I can assume, but I wish I could see how much of those sales are coming from each platform.

Karin Samelson:
Because it’s so interesting, before the pandemic you never would have thought to buy something like this, these ready to drink canned beverages online, but I bet that they’re raking in those sales online.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Yes.

Karin Samelson:
Especially because of their influencer program, which we will talk about in a moment.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And I mean, beyond Amazon and just your own site, there’s the grocery delivery and all that jazz. But yeah, I totally agree. I never was the consumer that would go and buy something that’s like a treat or like a snack online, but now I do.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. We all do. Well, a lot of us.

Alison Smith:
But yeah, so it’s really interesting, I mean we’re only giving you what we can find online, and we do have a small pass with them since we did a giveaway once upon a time before they rebranded, but also it’s interesting to look at how the growth happens with social.

Alison Smith:
So, we tell a lot of our smaller brands that it’s really important for the founders to get on and get on stories, and just tell their story on the feeds, and what have you, and it’s hard to do, but Alison, the founder here had, I don’t know if she still does it, but she was getting on every Friday to answer questions on Instagram. They called it Founder Friday’s.

Alison Smith:
Just answering questions, communicating with their audience, and I don’t know if she still does it, but it’s cool to see that work you put in, that early stage work is so important, and it makes people become super fans of your brand.

Alison Smith:
Now you don’t really see her as much on their Instagram, because they’re experience massive growth and they’re pulling in others to be featured.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Totally. And exactly what Alison just said, there are so many benefits of having founder focus, putting a face to a name, connecting in a way that just a product can’t. Because again, you’re not selling your products, you’re selling your brand.

Karin Samelson:
And so, these Founder Friday’s that she did, they look really prevalent, early, early within their launch, their rebrand launch of early last year and then you see them a lot few and far between her being featured, because it’s a certified brand now. It is far beyond what I personally thought.

Alison Smith:
It’s like a beast in its own.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Yeah, very cool. I love that and then I also really love how they’re mission based. They’re giving back, and especially we’re seeing a lot of brands do this, especially during the pandemic and PR or no PR, brands are doing it, because they can and it’s the right thing to do. So, love that they’re doing that. Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I read that they were giving back by sending this to hospitals, which is really interesting. I mean, it is a … I mean, I don’t know how many studies they done, I don’t think there’s a lot. It’s more of a home remedy, I guess, to take apple cider vinegar, that they are bringing to the masses.

Alison Smith:
But, apparently they’re sending it to hospitals. I mean, no matter what, if it’s going to help or not, it’s a delicious treat.

Karin Samelson:
I wonder if it’s just for the employees there, or if they’re offering it to … I don’t know.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I have no idea.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Part of the lunch, I mean.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, the offerings. Yeah.

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

Karin Samelson:
Tell us, Poppi.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s pretty interesting.

Karin Samelson:
Cool. So, yeah rebrand happened, they exploded, it seriously pops off the shelf now, like Alison said earlier, a fashion statement for millennials to take photos with. It really is. Just go to their tagged photos and their influencer program is crazy robust, but it’s trendy stuff y’all.

Karin Samelson:
And, I say trendy not in a fleeting way. I think it’s going to be here to last and it’s just an exciting and really visually appealing thing to look at.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, and I know we kind of touched on this, and obviously I would love to look at why they made this decision, but what we’re seeing is, like we said, they saw issues with the name Mother, their original name, because it was, I believe it was too vague to copyright, which makes sense.

Alison Smith:
And, then they were also honing in on the apple cider vinegar aspect, but somehow they found out that it was actually turning people off, so now you can see they’re rebranded to a prebiotic soda.

Alison Smith:
I think the only time apple cider vinegar is mentioned, other than the ingredients, obviously, is, “Infused with apple cider vinegar.” So, it talks more about prebiotics than anything, I would say on the packaging and on the site.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, even on their Instagram bio, “Join the prebiotic party. 20 calories, five grams of sugar or less, be gut healthy, be gut healthy. Seen on Shark Tank. Prebiotic soda for all.” It is a certified prebiotic soda and apple cider vinegar is just the, it’s just a little hidden gem.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And I also saw on the site they kind of touched on the benefits of apple cider vinegar. It wasn’t backed up by any studies, it was, “May help this. Could provide this.”

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Which is what you need to do to protect yourself, but it did touch on like, “May improve skin quality.” Which is like, “Whoa, a beauty soda. That’s so interesting.” Like what a new category.

Karin Samelson:
I know.

Alison Smith:
And, I know there’s the hyped collagen drinks, but this is kind of the first time I’ve ever seen it in a soda.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, and I mean it’s a good note. We totally forgot to say what the other flavors were. We’re only trying three of their many flavors. So, they have watermelon, strawberry lemon, ginger lime, raspberry rose, blueberry, orange, pineapple mango, which sounds so good, and then peach tea. So, they have quite a few flavors right now.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm, (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
All right. So, I do want to touch on the influencer portion of this, because while there’s lots of things going for them, the one thing that stands out to me, other than the rebrand of course, is influence marketing.

Karin Samelson:
And, we don’t want to come on here and just assume things, and speculate, but this is a fact that they’re doing this. I have no idea how much they’re spending on it. I can safely assume that it’s a pretty penny.

Alison Smith:
Because, you’re seeing macro-influencers, right?

Karin Samelson:
Oh, yeah. Macro and mega. These are big influencers that don’t do things for free, and especially don’t let you re share their stuff for free, if they do like the brand. Right?

Karin Samelson:
And, it seems like a lot of them are advocates of it. They’re true drinkers of the soda, and it’s pretty dang easy too, because I mean, I have only two here, but they’re delicious.

Alison Smith:
They’re delicious and who is not your … I mean, they obviously hone in on a target market, but who doesn’t want a delicious drink. You know?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
[crosstalk 00:25:10].

Karin Samelson:
And I mean, their demographic, I mean it’s the millennial woman, and they really focus in hard on that. So, pretty cool and it looks like what they have going on is, also, I don’t know, again I’m just talking, that the influencer program, a lot of them are affiliates so they have their own promo codes, I think it’s for 10% off or something like that.

Karin Samelson:
Obviously driving sales on E-com, onto their website, getting a lot of traffic there, and then definitely retargeting these folks. I can hope and assume. And it’s just, this is well and good, especially for a brand that’s funded like a big venture firm, like CAVU, but what you can do as a small to medium sized CPG brand, is probably, I don’t know if this is in your wheelhouse, if you are funded enough, if you do have your own money to put behind this, good for you and that’s great.

Karin Samelson:
But what you can do, is really focus in on the micro-influencer route, so look what they’re doing though. Take them as inspiration. Look at what they’re offering them, how they hone in on their customer avatar, what kind of vibe they’re sending out, how it connects with the actual brand, because like you sell the brand, you don’t sell the product.

Karin Samelson:
So, with the smaller budget, with the smaller brand you can really hone in on those micro-influencer programs.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, and we’ve been having a lot of talks about influencer programs, and someone said recently just picking a macro, like a huge influencer with a million plus followers and betting, like working with them, it’s literally a bet. You might see zero sales.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
You never know. So, we really prefer to work with these micro-influencers, get in with them early, you never know what’s going to happen. And then also, we usually give discount codes, so that we can track sales easily.

Alison Smith:
So, we kind of make them more affiliates, like Karen was saying, because that also incentivizes them to continue to post, because they directly receive that commission.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Absolutely. And, unless you have the money, again, it really depends on how much money you have. Unless you have the money to invest, and not put all your eggs in one basket, I’m going to give you a slight situation.

Karin Samelson:
So, we had a client in the past who, we were running a micro-influencer program for them, it’s super successful, in terms of their turn on investment, and a mega influencer came around, huge reach, huge engagement, real engagement, not bots, and we were like, “Okay, let’s see what happens. Let’s try and work with them.”

Karin Samelson:
The investment was very high. Very, very, very high and we should have known better. Right? We should have made sure that they were a true, true, true advocate of the brand. Especially if you don’t have enough money, and we ran that program and not one sale.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
Not one sale. And that is such a huge blow. Not only to your finances, but to your idea of what these influencer programs can do. So, unless you’re able to invest your money into so many of these mega influencers, start small and be smart with it.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
So, what I love that Poppi is doing, even though they’re mega, is their packaging. So, their influencer kits, their media kits or whatever you want to call them, they are just as colorful as the cans, they’re all different. That’s a little bit expensive, if you’re smaller you can have one box that really houses your products beautifully.

Karin Samelson:
If you want to invest more money, I would say that, that’s a great place to start. It sends a different message than if you just have your product strewn in a brown cardboard box.

Karin Samelson:
So, that’s something I really like that Poppi does, and I think smaller businesses with a little bit of a budget can do, but yeah. With those micro-influencers here’s what I would suggest that you do directly.

Karin Samelson:
So, create your list. Create a list of micro-influencers within your niche that look like your customer avatar, that are probably around, I don’t want to say be specific on a range, because it really has to do with your engagement rates too, but anywhere from 5,000 followers to, I don’t know, 25,000.

Karin Samelson:
You can be flexible. Certain people will work with you if they are a true advocate of your brand, they like your product, and create a long, long list. So, we’re looking at kind of, 25% conversion rates now, so if you want to work with 25 micro-influencers, make a list of 100 at the very least, and you’re going to nurture the relationship.

Karin Samelson:
We have a complete guide on how to do that, and what that looks like. If you subscribe to our email list you’ll get that sooner or later, and that’s just the nurturing of the relationships and the cultivating of that community, and then sending free product and seeing how it goes step by step.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, I can’t hit on the nurturing more. It’s so important. Think how turned off you would be if a brand was just like … Just cold DM’d you and was like, “Hey, you want to post a picture of my product?” No.

Alison Smith:
It’s like, you need to become friendly, and like and comment on their posts, and let them know that you’re on their team as well, and that you care about them before ever asking for anything. So, it does take a little more effort and a little more time, but I mean, a conversion rate, our last round I think the conversion rate was over 30%, and that’s big. That’s pretty large saying that 30% of the people we reach out to are like, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” So, definitely put in a little bit more effort, if you’re going to run one of these programs.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely, and it seems so simple on the outside, just to get, “Oh, this person posted about you. That’s so nice.” The amount of work that goes behind it, it’s a lot of work and you got to be ready to do it.

Karin Samelson:
And, Alison just slammed her peach tea. One down.

Alison Smith:
I’m done.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, but I mean, these micro-influencer programs, and you’re seeing it more and more, they really are the way to do what they’re doing, but on a very much smaller scale with people that have the opportunity to grow, just like Alison said. It’s like, these people might have 5,000 followers and 300 people engaging with them per post, and Instagram’s crazy. Social media is nuts.

Karin Samelson:
They can go viral and in a month they have triple that, quadruple that. So, the relationships are key. And something that I really like that we talked to a founder recently was, he said that even though he has social media help, he goes in and he has those communications with those influencers. I realize how busy all of you are.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
I completely get it. And of course, having somebody else do it is great, but if you do have the time and you do enjoy it, jump on, get in there.

Alison Smith:
It’s going to speak volumes too.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Sign off as yourself.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Anything else you wanted to talk about with influencer?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Well, just touching on the fact that it’s not just them introducing your product to their followers, you’re also able to utilize their content. As long as you ask. That’s key. You got to ask.

Karin Samelson:
So, with these micro-influencer programs that I suggest all be small to medium size businesses do, is offer the free product after you enter into the relationship, offer free product, get it to them, follow up with them after they receive it and make sure they liked it, and then you offer affiliate commissions.

Karin Samelson:
You say, “Hey, I would love to offer you this discount if you want to push it to your followers you’ll get a 10% commission or a 15% commission,” whatever you can afford.

Karin Samelson:
And then utilizing the content that they created, as long as it’s approved by them, to run ads, to post on social. You know?

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And, that’s what I was going to say. All we do is DM and ask, again, “Can we use this in a advertisement?” And, it’s a different level that you do need to ask for. Actually, I don’t think we’ve ever been told … We’ve been told no, like once. So, usually very high in that message a lot of times, depending on the client, we’ll say, “We’ll send you more free product.” Or something like that, which, I mean if they’re smaller influencers that’s amazing. Who doesn’t want free things.

Alison Smith:
So, we do that a lot, and those types of UGC ads, they look very native on the feed and they perform really, really well. They build social proof and trust for your brand, so yeah. I mean, there’s so many ways to repurpose these types of programs to work better for you and grow your brand.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And, these influencers are so creative. They can bring ideas to the table that you would have never thought of creatively, which I really love.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
And I hope, if any influencer is listening now and rolling their eyes and they’re like, “We don’t just want free product.” It’s like, “Yeah. I understand that.” I completely get the amount of work that goes into it and I respect it completely, but it’s really important as a brand to understand who these people are and make sure that they’re true advocates.

Alison Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin Samelson:
And once you do know that they’re true advocates, and you know that you’re giving some affiliate commissions, they are selling your product, absolutely get into paid partnerships with them.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Pay them for more of their time and more of their effort, and you’ll have even more results from that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. And again, asking for use of an ad isn’t going to work every time, but when you understand who the right person to ask, and that’s probably after they’ve made some money of being an affiliate for you, so that might take a little bit of trial and error, but those types of ads perform amazingly.

Alison Smith:
And I’m actually looking at Poppi’s ads library, and that’s what they’re using as well. So, something else to take note of.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh. Are they using like a lot of UGC for ads?

Alison Smith:
They don’t run a ton of ads, so they’re promoting a giveaway, they have some studio shots, and then the rest are UGC.

Karin Samelson:
Cool.

Alison Smith:
So, definitely take a look.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Peak at their ads library.

Karin Samelson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, that micro-influencer program that we’re talking about, perfect for these smaller stage businesses that are just getting their feet wet with influencers that don’t have that much funding.

Karin Samelson:
Once you get funded, once you have more, really reward the people that have been by your side. These influencers that have worked their tail off for you for content, for commissions, for just true supports of your brand, really reward them. Get into some paid partnerships, collaborations, have them take over on your page. Just nurture that relationship from start to, I don’t want to say finish, because you never know how long these last.

Alison Smith:
To start for forever.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. To forever.

Alison Smith:
Well, cheers y’all.

Karin Samelson:
Cheers.

Alison Smith:
That was fun. That wraps up our Poppi mukbang and deep dive into the brand. Thanks everyone for listening. We are fans.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
Obviously. Feel free to DM us, at UMAI Marketing on Instagram, if you have any specific Poppi questions or comments, and we’ll talk to you guys soon.

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 at UMAI Marketing, or check out our website umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

Podcast cover image for episode on CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas

#13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley's VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

Austin’s food, bev, and better-for-you packaged goods community is growing at an ever-more rapid pace. But, industry leaders like Emily Kealey, Naturally Austin, and Notley say it’s an atmosphere of collaboration over competition. 🙌

With such online events as HEB Combo Loco and Women in CPG Summit (coming March 8), entrepreneurs can look to Naturally Austin and like-minded organizations for endless education and invaluable networking opportunities.

Learn how Emily Kealey went from spreading the good word on mangos (it’s true!) all the way to the CPG expert she is today.

Let us break it down for you…

[0:45] To start off, Emily Kealey’s background – began in PR. 

Interestingly, she’s always had a passion for CPG. In fact, she worked at a global-level agency called Manning Selvage and Lee – and, gained experience representing such name brands as Red Bull and Friskies Cat Food.

[3:35] Then, Karin also shares a background in pet food marketing – specifically, with Nulo! 

[4:28] Soon, she moved to Austin. In no time at all, she started working with whole foods. At that moment, she backed the National Mango Board and National Lamb Board. 

[5:33] Before too long, she left to start her own pie business! Wild. Of course, this put her on the other side of CPG. 

[7:40] Transitioned to their current position at Naturally Austin – SO helpful for CPG owners, giving them the resources they need. You don’t have to go it alone!

[8:40] So, she dropped the pie biz when she became a parent. Even so, she never gave up on the entrepreneurial spirit – the same spirit she feels from the Naturally Austin family.

[10:30] Then, she started her own agency. Basically, a haven for women to be themselves and do great work.

[12:00] We bet you’re wondering, how’d you set the tone for work-life balance? Asked employees, what do you need to reach your long-term business goals? Really, you can never require people to show up 100% day in and day out – we’re only human!

[14:00] The value to have that CPG experience prior to mentoring is truly awesome!

If possible, ask your clients if you can observe what they’re doing IRL to better understand their biz. Really, it’s so important to find empathy.

[16:00] How’d you find your way to Naturally Austin?

Obviously, COVID has made things more challenging. But, she’s already felt connected to the board.

[17:40] Okay, what does your day-to-day schedule look like at Naturally Austin? Calls, event management, and driving initiatives. In partnership with SKU.

[20:30] Gotta know, is the Naturally Austin team growing? 

[21:30] Favorite aspect of working with CPG brands at Naturally Austin and beyond? Austin is primed to be one of the biggest CPG cities.

[23:00] How important is having a community like Naturally Austin? It’s what you make of it! Collaboration over competition.

[26:50] Which Naturally Austin events have you had to pivot from IRL to online due to COVID?

What’s that like? In a word: interesting!

[30:00] The life cycle of CPG brands in Austin, from Naturally Austin to SKU and so forth.

[30:40] What’s your best piece of advice for CPG brands? Branding. Target audience.

[33:40] How to hone in on your customer persona – also known as an avatar.

[36:30] And, what are your ‘favorite’ CPG brands as of late, in the Naturally Austin family and beyond??

[39:15] So, what challenges do you most frequently see Naturally Austin brands facing? Local to Austin, our production facilities need to be expanded.

[43:00] Finally, what should CPG brands focus on to accelerate their growth? Know your numbers and competitors! Plot out where you want to be.

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

[Disclaimer: At the time of recording this podcast, Kealey was positioned at Naturally Austin. She’s since transitioned to a new role as VP of Marketing at Notley!]

Read – #13: The 360° CPG Experience With Notley’s VP of Marketing, Emily Kealey

 

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/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Welcome to UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers alike grow.

We are Karin and Alison co-founders of UMAI, and we’re being joined by Emily Kealey, executive director of Naturally Austin, the leaders in crafting a community around CPG here in Austin. How are you, Emily?

Emily Kealey:
I’m good, guys. Thanks for having me on. Really, I appreciate it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, thanks for joining. Well, let’s start off with your background. I know that you have a PR background. So, did you always have an interest in this? How did you get your start?

Emily Kealey:
I did always have an interest in PR right out of the gate. I’m actually from East Texas originally. And, I got to attend a all girls high school in Dallas called Hockaday, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity.

Then, I went to SMU and knew immediately that I wanted to get into corporate communications and public affairs. And, I gravitated naturally towards CPG.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs and so CPG and food was always my passion. And, after SMU, I moved to Los Angeles and got into cell phones, doing cell phones back in the day when there was other cell phones besides the Apple’s iPhone.

This was like the clamshells and like the Motorola Razr, stuff like that.

While I love that I really missed doing food, so I had the opportunity to move over to a larger global agency called Manning, Selvage & Lee.

From there, I got to do Red Bull, I got to do Friskies Cat Food, and I think that was probably one of my most interesting ones that I’ve ever done client-wise was I traveled the country to like 18 cities with the Friskies Cat team.

And, we had cats that could dunk basketballs, we had cats that would roll over and it was really about getting… And, it was a large house you guys with the cats and they’d put on a show.

So, this was like my job. I got to go do this. And, so my job was to go pitch to local media. And, what was so fascinating was as I was pitching local media, we’d have media fight over who got the cats first. I was like, “This is like a PR person’s dream.”

But, it was really where I fell in love with doing CPG across the board.

It was Nestle Crunch bars, Sonicare toothbrushes, all sorts of stuff that really helps people live a better life. And, I think there’s a stat that I read the other day that on average Americans use 44% CPG products a day.

So, it’s a really interesting stat there. And, I think about… If you think about all the things people touch and use daily, that’s why I love this because I feel like it serves a purpose, right?

And, it can bring you joy, it can give you function, it can help you out in your day. So, I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed doing CPG and that’s why I’m here now.

Karin Samelson:
Friskies. So, I have a background in pet food marketing at Nulo-

Emily Kealey:
Oh, you were in pet foods?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Nulo, here in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, that’s very… Oh, awesome.

Karin Samelson:
We did not have cats dunking stuff, but we did have this woman who was on America’s Got Talent with her Border Collies. And, so she came one time and it was like a trick day, but if I could have done that every day, like that was my job, I might still be there.

Emily Kealey:
It was really… I mean, we had people wearing sweatshirts. Everything’s better with cat hair on it.

Like we go to cat shows… I’m an animal person. I have a cat right now. And, I’m a cat person, but I was like, “These are serious cat people, like really…” I am not a cat person like these.

I mean, it was just fascinating to watch and it was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. And, then I moved here to Austin and really worked on food, so having food.

It was like, National Mango Board, National Land Board, California Table Grape association. So, Mango Board was our biggest client. So, it was actually promoting mangoes in the US. And, if you think about, well, it’s a lot longer than I care to admit now about probably 12 years ago, mangoes were not prevalent in the United States.

And, so we were doing things like mango salsa, which people also didn’t know about.

So, it’s really fun to get to bring mangoes to the center of the plate, lamb, things that people eat. And, it was all healthy, delicious foods. And, I got to do really cool stuff with chefs and go to New York all the time and set these big dinners and… It was just really, really fun. So, I really kind of run the gamut of fresh foods to CPG and everything in between including cat food.

Karin Samelson:
That, is so interesting. What a great background in CPG and food in general! So, how did you like working at those big agencies?

Emily Kealey:
I said I come from a family of entrepreneurs and while I like agency work, it was a lot, it can be definitely a lot. And, I actually I got to… I was here at FleishmanHillard running the overall mango program and I decided to do something totally different, and I left and started a pie business.

So, I owned a pie company for three years. And, it was this idea that I really liked pie. I come from Southern roots. So, I grew up-

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:
Huh?

Alison Smith:
Who doesn’t like pie?

Emily Kealey:
If you don’t like pie you need-

Alison Smith:
That’s weird. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
I love pie so much, and I love making pie. And, I had this idea because every time I get in front of a case of pies, I’m like, “I want all the slices.”

But, that’s not really great for caloric intake. And, so I was like… I had this idea for a bite of pie that the crust is on the outside and the filling is in the middle. So, we actually made it, we made this product and we called it Crimps, and we had all sorts of flavors.

We had strawberry basil, we had chocolate cream. So, it was really, really fun. And, what I appreciated about that experience was it put me on the other side of CPG, it made me realize all of the things from supply chain to cooking in the kitchen, marketing, P&Ls.

I mean, you had to… As a CPG owner, you have to wear so many hats all the time and it’s can be crushing, right?

And, I actually was just telling somebody earlier, that’s why I love Naturally Austin.

I think if I had Naturally Austin and the resources and networking and getting to great people like you guys to help me out with social and all of that, it’s just a really powerful organization because it helps, to me, provide that education and networking and resources there.

That just weren’t here when I had a pie company. Oh, my gosh. Like, nine years. Oh no, my gosh, like 12 years ago. It was like so long ago. I forget how old I am. But, that was a really great experience that I had.

I’m so grateful for it. Because, as I took over the job at Naturally Austin, I was able to take a look at it from, obviously the marketing and PR side of all of it and scheduling events and all of the stuff that comes with it, but I also was able to relate to the, I think the CPG members who own companies and I listened to them and hear like, “I really need help here.” And like, “I understand.”

I remember being up until two o’clock in the morning, looking at my P&L like, “What?” And, margins and all of these things that you’re…

You have this dream for owning a CPG company, you’ve got this wonderful idea. It’s all the other things that come with it to build the house. It can be very overwhelming, and that’s why I’m grateful that we’re here and we get to do this and work with you guys. So, it’s a wonderful experience overall.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, CPG is such a robust industry. There’s so many moving pieces and parts. So, I’m curious though, what happened to your pie company? Did you sell it and that’s when you got in to your PR agency?

Emily Kealey:
I had kids.

Alison Smith:
That’ll do it.

Emily Kealey:
We had kids and I think it was… After that you… Waking up at four o’clock in the morning to go to the kitchen to bake pies is not really realistic.

I was very, very pregnant. Thanksgiving, the last year we had the company. I was like eight months pregnant and I’m walking around the kitchen so huge and I’m standing so far back trying to roll dough, and I was like, “This isn’t going to work. This is not going to work.”

Alison Smith:
Like, not physically possible.

Emily Kealey:
It was impossible. I didn’t know. And once again, I’m so grateful for that time of my life and it’s when you think about those things of starting a company and ending a company and the lessons you learned from that, it can be really heartbreaking too, right?

And, I think a lot of people in CPG experience that. It’s a very real experience that you have, but you never give up on the entrepreneurial spirit that you have, and I’ve never ever given up on that and that’s why I think I’ll always have that.

And, I’m grateful for that. My husband’s like what is known as a corporate athlete, and I don’t know how he does it you guys, like he is a machine and he’s so great at what he does and I was like, “I would just die on the vine if I was in corporate…” Because, it’s just not my spirit.

So, I think that’s why I love working with the members at Naturally Austin, because there is that spirit, right? And, you’re going to have peaks and valleys.

You’re going to go through all of this. You’re going to have what’s… what I don’t even like to call failures.

It’s not even a failure. It’s just it’s always a learning lesson and you’ll learn something from it.

I learned so many great things from that, owning that pie company.

But, I really wanted to get back into marketing and PR, because I actually really missed it, but I wanted to kind of do it my own way. Because once again, entrepreneurs are like my way or the highway.

So, I started my own agency and the reason why I started my own agency was I really wanted to champion everybody. But, the PR industry is heavily women… full of women, right? It’s more women focused.

And, so I wanted to help create a place and a haven for women to come and be themselves, do great work and have a work-life balance. That was the most important thing to me because I think public relations people and you guys, as you know, it’s a lot.

And, I know that women also carry the burden and of a lot of other things. We carry that weight too.

So, I wanted to provide a place that you could come in and do great work. And, I think what was most interesting when I had the agency was I didn’t require… This is back when we had offices and you could go into them, but it was like, I never required that you come into the office.

I was like, “You can work from… I don’t care what you do. You can get work from anywhere. You can go work from Paris. I don’t care. Just figure it out and do your job.”

But, every day everyone showed up to the office and every day, that’s because we love being together. Because, there wasn’t that expectation. It wasn’t this kind of like drill sergeant which it can feel like sometimes. And, it never felt like that.

So, I’m really proud of that aspect because we really worked together as a family and everyone showed up every day. And, that was just so great to see.

But, we really did focus on CPG as well and helping CPG brands get off the ground. Then, I took that knowledge from owning the pie company and from working at the larger agencies and apply that to these brands who are trying to get their start.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. How else did you set the tone for work-life balance? I mean, I think that’s so important, like you said, for not only agency owners, but business owners and CPG and whoever.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It was really one of those things that… Like in our handbook that I have it was, welcome to the team.

You may not be here. We love to have you for the rest of your life. We also know that you’re probably not going to, so let’s get you the things that you need to get, the experience you need to get to move on.

If you want to go work at ESPN, let’s find a way to make that happen for you. Very realistic about people and how people work. And, our core values were really based off that idea, that ethos that we have this work-life balance and that we are one team, one dream.

And, I believe in doing great work, but I also believe in turning work off, very French about it, I guess. Like, you kind of… What is it? You don’t work to live… Or, you don’t live to work, you work to live kind of thing. And so, I really want to embrace that.

And, I think once you set that tone in your handbook when you’re onboarding and every day you set that tone and if you’re having a bad day, take the day off, take the day off and go to the park or go wherever you need to go.

But, I don’t expect you to show for me a hundred percent every day because you’re a human and that’s what we’re supposed to embrace.

So, I was really proud of that and I’m still… I saw them, all of my old employees a few weeks ago, and it still felt like just family, like you just… They’ll always be family to us together. So, it’s great to see.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, such a great point. We aren’t machines and if we work ourselves out hard, I mean, we’re going to get burnt out. So I think-

Emily Kealey:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
It’s a good point.

Emily Kealey:
And, I don’t want burnt out. I’m like a very utopia. I want just happy workers.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. That’s such good advice for everybody, not just agency owners or… But, I love most of all with that story about you, how important it is as an agency owner, as a consultant to CPG businesses to have that experience, you had the… You did it, right?

So many consultants I find are just consulting based on what they know through research, but firsthand experience is so different. So, I think that’s super powerful and so helpful for the people that you’re working with.

Emily Kealey:
And, I would say my recommendation is to view our consultant. You’ve never been inside a kitchen, ask your clients if you can go into the kitchen and just observe. I was at Wunderkeks yesterday, the cookie company.

Oh my, god! They’re killing it first of all. But, they’re like seas of boxes and people are just churning out these delicious… It was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in there, even watching that experience and us watching Luis and Hans do the magic that they do, getting to see the background like how…

the behind the scenes is really vital. You don’t have to go work in a kitchen. You don’t have to, but going in and learning more about your clients and their day to day and the struggles that they have with production and everything else is really important for you to, I think provide empathy.

I think emotional, the EQ there is really important for your clients. They are doing a lot.

And, you have to be able to understand where they’re coming from of, “Hey, we didn’t get the garlic powder we needed and now we’re on delay for two weeks and I can’t get products to retail.”

You should be asking those questions of how they’re doing in their whole 360 life, not just what applies to marketing and PR or social or wherever it is, you really have to look at the whole ecosystem and understand that.

And, that’s your job to understand like production delays, supply chain. Like, “Oh my gosh, HR is doing…” All these things that happen, that’s really your job and being a trusted advisor to your client.

That’s how I’ve always seen it, which is why also I love to shop at Naturally Austin because I get to go talk about all those things with members and try to… If I can’t help, someone in our ecosystem can.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. And, that brings us to our next point. How did you get led to Naturally Austin? How did that come to be?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, I was with my agency and I was kind of just… I was just me kind of there doing my own thing, helping out CPG companies and the opportunity came up. I know Genevieve Gilbreath over at Springdale Ventures and she’s like, “Hey, there is an opportunity here, would you like to explore it and learn more?”

And she was like, you know it’s an executive director position and I was like, “I don’t think I’m ready for that.” I was like, “That feels really big.”

And she was like, “I think that you’re going to be okay.” And, I’m so thankful that I did. So, interviewed and was able to take on the position in February of this year.

Then COVID hit and that was… I was brand new to the job in February and then I had COVID and I was really sick and then… But, that’s how I kind of got my start was just-

Alison Smith:
In the middle of a pandemic.

Emily Kealey:
Middle of the pandemic. Got through it, but I was thankful because I had known Gen for quite some time and I’d actually known people inside, like Albert Swantner, Felipe Vega, just because if you are in the CPG space here in Austin it’s very incestuous, correct?

And, overall it may feel like a big industry, but it’s actually quite small. And so I was able to… I knew a bunch of people that were already there on the board and so I was really grateful for this opportunity because it’s led to this. We’ve gotten through 2020, but it has been a challenging year for sure.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So tell us, like what is your day to day look like as executive director? Just a breakdown.

Emily Kealey:
It’s a wide array, but you know what I like about it too, is that it kind of feels like a PR firm to be honest. It’s like when you have multiple clients, it’s like, I’m going to do this for mangoes, this for [Lam 00:18:04], this for Friskies, this for TurboTax, this for…

And, you’ve got all these items that you have to do. Same concept though, is that you just have different stakeholders, you have different clients, right?

So, it may be having a sponsorship call, a fundraising call, a member call, setting up programming, setting up an event virtually by this point and then kicking off major initiatives like we’re doing with minority owned initiative which is a big thing that we’re actually about to unveil here next week, so get ready.

But, we’re really fortunate that we’ve had sponsors come on and already, and they’re supporting this initiative that supports minority owned companies and CPG because we really, really want to, as I look around the room and on Zooms, it doesn’t feel very good.

And, we know that there’s companies out there that need the support and that we want to support, provide these resources and education and networking for them.

We just need to go find them and hopefully get them into the system. And, then what’s really exciting is that it’s in partnership with SKU and this accelerator is going to be a little bit different. SKU actually usually takes equity out of the companies.

What we’re actually going to be doing is providing funding for these companies, which is wonderful because as we kind of approached this, we knew that networking and resources was one facet and then funding was the second. So, we flipped…

We’re hopefully answering a lot of… are helping a lot of those issues that minority owned companies are finding.

So, I’m really excited about where Naturally Austin is heading. We were working in a women in CPG in March. We’re working on sustainability for the whole year.

We’re working on minority owned and then we’re doing a youth in CPG and I have two children, two beautiful girls who are also… One has an entrepreneurial spirit that’s like, “I’m just going to go make all these products.”

And I’m like, “Great. You can be a part of this program that we’re doing.” But it’s in partnership with Boss Club and it’s going to be supporting youth who want to do things in CPG. And, I cannot wait to kick that one off. I’m so excited to see all these little kids do stuff.

Just like, “This is going to be so fun.” So, that’s what we’re working on and I think that’s really… I’m really excited to see where Naturally Austin is headed because it’s heading in a really, really cool direction and the growth there is just, I think can be… is just unstoppable if we do it right. So, I’m excited.

Alison Smith:
You are one busy lady. I’ll just say that.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Is your team growing right now?

Emily Kealey:
It’s growing and we’re actually [inaudible 00:20:33] an announcement. Yes, it is growing. Thank goodness.

Yeah, because it’s been me and an intern and thankfully we have a really wonderful board who steps in and helps lot because otherwise…

Well, I’m already gray anyway, but I’d be very gray guys. But we have a really great board that does a lot and steps in like Aimy Steadman, Genevieve Gilbreath, Philippe Vega, Albert Swantner. They really step in and do…

And, Jennifer Cobb Moynihan is another one who’s just… They all step in and do great work. So, very lucky to have a board that works with us and with the staff.

But, our staff will be getting a little bit more robust. We’re actually making an announcement by next week in our newsletter.

Alison Smith:
Exciting.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, I know. That’s fun. I know.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Sorry, I’m on mute a lot right now because my dogs are going crazy and we’ll cut this out.

Emily Kealey:
No worries.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:21:27]. So, what is your favorite aspect of getting to work with so many CPG brands right now?

Emily Kealey:
I’ve always loved helping people. That’s why I chose PR because I like being really creative and I like thinking outside the box and I feel that that kind of marries those two together.

So, I’ve always just really liked helping people and I love watching other people succeed, especially in an industry like CPG, which is just so challenging from the get-go.

So, that’s why I love this job because when I get a phone call and be like, “Hey, I need help doing this.” I’m like, “I got it. I got it for you.” And, they’re like, “Thank you. This actually helped saved my bacon.”

I think that’s my favorite part and getting to really help entrepreneurs and just watching people grow, like I was saying about Wunderkeks yesterday. I walked in there and I was like, “You got to be kidding me. This is insane, the growth that they’re going through.”

And, you think about Golden Ratio Clark over there, like watching them grow the way they are is just so fun to watch because it’s success. So, I think that’s great.

But, I think the more success we have in Austin… I do believe that Austin is really primed to be one of the top CPG cities in the country. I think that we are getting there really quickly and I think it’s really cool to watch how our industry is really growing up. It’s pretty cool to watch. So, that’s my favorite part, helping people.

Alison Smith:
In your opinion I mean, how important is community? So, Naturally Austin is the Austin community for CPG business owners. Like, how important is that for people to join into the Naturally Austin community or otherwise?

Emily Kealey:
Like I said, I mean, like I mentioned with like I owned or co-owned the pie society, I wish I would’ve had this resource when I owned the company.

I wish I would’ve had a place to go to and I view… Thinking about joining it’s $65 a year, which is pretty cool. I think it feels pretty affordable, but what you get out of it. And, I will say it’s really what you make of it too.

I mean, come to the webinars and when we have in-person events again, which is soon, hopefully.

When we have those again, come make those networking and… Make those networking opportunities. We are launching out a new networking webinars series in 2021, but I think that just come on and come check it out, come to the webinars, come meet us.

And, then I think getting to meet other CPGs, like what we did with Combo Loco in October, where we asked our members to pair up with each other and tell us why they [inaudible 00:24:11] Combo Loco with them. Frankly, it’s like a week a nod to H-E-B’s Combo Loco.

What we do with that I thought was really cool because we saw them be creative and work together, and they made these connections that I don’t think could have been made before. And, they’re still doing things together.

Like, now they might have a retail play that they can go to H-E-B with. Like, they wouldn’t have thought of before. So, that’s really our job is to make those connections and provide that education. This has been a challenging year to do so, but watching the numbers come together and then I think make magic happen has been just wonderful to see.

So, they’ve all been in good spirits about it, and I’m really thankful for that.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that was a great event by the way, Combo Loco. And, it was really nice to see it instead of thinking that you’re in competition with each other.

I mean, connecting and helping each other grow is maybe the more successful way to go about things. So, I really love what y’all did there.

Emily Kealey:
Thank you. And, I think that my biggest thing is that CPG is a blood sport everywhere else, because it is, as we know, it can be highly competitive, but Naturally Austin it’s about collaboration.

We are all about that. It’s not meant to be a blood sport under our tent. You can go do that outside of our tent, but inside of tent we need all of you guys to really kind of play along together and get to know each other because we’re stronger together if we can collaborate and be as like one unit.

I think that that’s going to be really powerful for not just yourselves, individually, but as overall as the CPG industry and really putting ourselves as a bright spot in the CPG map across the US.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely yes. Yeah. It’s so important, I mean, your struggles as a CBG owner are probably very similar to other people’s struggles as a CBG owner. So that community is so important.

I feel like really Naturally Austin is so supportive. It’s kind of nuts. And, especially with that Combo Loco, it was like direct competition, but everybody was rooting each other on. I thought that was so nice.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah, it’s pretty cute. It was really cute. I got a little teary. I was like the heart of this event and this mission that we set for us to do really came out in that video and I was super happy about how it turned out. We got a lot of great response.

I think H-E-B was really happy about it too because it really had a good heart to it. And, that was the point of it was that we show the heart of our members. So, that was the goal.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. Well, obviously events have shifted so much. You guys used to do so many amazing in-person events. Hopefully it’s on the horizon, soon enough we’ll get back to it. But like the Combo Loco, have there been any events that you’ve had to pivot to online that you really found to be successful?

Emily Kealey:
Every single one of them. I just remember like in March when everything started shutting down and then I got sick and I was like, “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?” We were sitting on his couch like, “Oh, my gosh. I don’t even know that organization yet.” I was like, “I don’t even know how all of this works yet and”-

Karin Samelson:
Right. Because, when did you start with them?

Emily Kealey:
February.

Karin Samelson:
That is so nuts.

Emily Kealey:
I know. I was-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Thrown in.

Emily Kealey:
I just remember telling my husband, I was like, “This is going to be really interesting.” Because, it was kind of-

Alison Smith:
I love that you say interesting instead of difficult.

Emily Kealey:
I knew that we-

Alison Smith:
Good mind shift.

Emily Kealey:
I think we knew that we would work it out, and I think it’s from 20 years of doing this that you know it’s not going to be difficult, you know it’s going to be interesting. And I think if you position it as it’s not… nothing is difficult.

Things are just really interesting, correct? And, sometimes the best things come out of adversity and this was obviously a big mountain to climb of how do you organize these things when people so heavily rely on in-person events and really cherish them.

And so, I think through virtual happy hours, the joint when we did with SKU, that one was, I think also hilarious because there was booze involved and watching people have so much fun in these breakout rooms was hilarious to me. I have not laughed that hard.

And, I think everyone also really needed a release. You get on these webinars and you have to feel really polished and you’re wearing jogging pants below and-

Alison Smith:
Right.

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:28:36] like, I’m literally doing right now you guys.

Alison Smith:
It’s fine.

Emily Kealey:
You guys, like sick. Like, it’s fine. This is like a maternity shirt actually, but I still love it. But, I think that being able to provide safe spaces to relax and network was still really important and that’s why with the virtual happy hour and then the Combo Locos was really important.

We’ve got a lot of key learnings from this year and so that’s why programming has been a shift. It still will be virtually obviously. I also don’t see… We will be moving to in-person events in the fall. We have a big fall event.

That’s going to be massive, but our three-year anniversary is going to be a virtual happy hour. Because our three years is coming up in March and we know that March is still not going to be set, but I also don’t ever see events not being hybrid anymore.

I think we are continuously going to have in-person and virtual events together now. We don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I think it’s going to be the new norm, especially in 2021.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, sign up for Nationally Austin y’all. It’s fun.

Emily Kealey:
It is fun. [crosstalk 00:29:36]

Alison Smith:
Yeah. No long story. Sign up.

Emily Kealey:
It’s super fun. I think that the way we looked at it there some… [inaudible 00:29:41] Duswalt Epstein over at UT and she runs the CPG program there and she is amazing.

The way we’ve always put it as like, I think… UT is obviously a university, but UT is maybe like high school and actually Austin is college and SKU’s like PhD.

We’re lucky to have this ecosystem of the lifecycle of an entrepreneur where it starts with where you are in college, moves you into here at Naturally Austin or this like larger tent that’s meant to be like a really familial fun place to be and then SKU’s where you go get your PhD and you come out as like a doctorate of CPG.

So, I think that’s how we like to position it as like this three legged table.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. Well-

Karin Samelson:
Well, and affordable for the most part-

Alison Smith:
I know.

Karin Samelson:
[crosstalk 00:30:29].

Emily Kealey:
Exactly. Right. You’re welcome.

Alison Smith:
Austin’s CPGers are lucky. Yeah. So, big question. What would be your best piece of advice for a small CPG business owner?

Emily Kealey:
Oh, dear.

Alison Smith:
If you had to give them one thing.

Emily Kealey:
One thing. So, the thing I always told our CPG brands whenever they first joined on in the agency was you need to get your messaging and your branding down.

Your messaging has to be solid and I should be able to point at everyone on your team, even if it’s two people and ask exactly who you are and you both should be able to say the same thing pretty much. You really need to make…

And, by branding, I do mean personas, your target audience. You really need to know that and I think a sharp brand, and that’s where I would start. If you don’t have that, and you can have a great product and everything else, but if you don’t have…

The way I see it is like you have a really pretty framework of a house, but if you choose really crappy looking brick, it’s not going to work. So, everything has to be like that Curb Appeal, right? And, you have to be able to…

So, you have to know your audience, your audiences and what they do, where they go, who they talk to.
And, thankfully with you guys and the knowledge you have on social media, that’s very easy to find.

But, I think that setting those personas is really, really, really, really, really key. That’s the first thing I pushed was, you know your personas, because if you don’t know those…

You guys know what personas are. Sorry. I should try to explain what personas are.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, explain. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
The personas are me. So, think about me like I’m a… When people target moms.

Like a mom’s age, 35 to 45, 2.5 kids, household income of X amount, she reads the New York Times, Buzzfeed. She watches The Right Stuff and The Undoing on HBO. I know, right?

Alison Smith:
It’s so good.

Emily Kealey:
That was intense. But, she loves Chris Evans and Marvel, but whatever it is, you’ve got to find your people and how your product helps those people. And, you can have multiple personas, like my husband’s a big tech dork and he uses tech terms that I don’t understand any of them, but he gets targeted with these things and he buys these things and like, “What did we buy today?”

And he said, “Well, I bought Cat 6 cable.” I’m like, “Don’t know what that is. That’s cool.” But he’s super excited, right? Because he’s like, “I got Cat 6 cable.” And I’m like, “Fabulous.”

So, thinking of those personas where David shops versus where I shop and what is important to him versus me, it’s really important and that your product specifically supports them and helps them either enhance their lives, helps their lives, anything it does to better that persona is really, really important to set down.

Because, then everything you do around it, from like your brand personality exercise to your messaging fits in with that person and it really has to resonate with them because otherwise you are not set up for success.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of your tips for brands to really define and hone in on their customer personas?

Emily Kealey:
Well, yeah when you think about like… I think about, like there’s a brand here in Austin called Chinook Seedery, and sunflower seeds are a fascinating subculture, I will.

Like, there’s an affinity for sunflower seeds. And, I remember my mom actually used to eat sunflower seeds. I’ll never forget she had David’s sunflower seeds and she would eat them.

And, if you have an affinity for it, there’s a passion for it. And so as we’re looking at the people that gravitated towards Chinook, because they’ve done such a great job building up their audience, I was like, this is the most fascinating group of people I’ve ever seen.

Because, there is this [inaudible 00:34:24] for it.

So, really looking at… And, you guys know this, looking at like Instagram, who’s following you and who’s tagging you and who’s all this other stuff, looking at the ecosystem that surrounds it.

And, I think looking at what’s adjacent to your brand, that they will latch onto as well. So this culture was Yeti tumblers, Yeti… like fishing, hunting, outdoors, really… Like sports, outdoor sports, baseball is one.

Baseball was obviously the given, right? Because, sunflower seeds and baseball are best friends, but when you start to expand out into the ecosystem, we started to see there’s a huge culture that was actually really had an affinity for sunflower seeds outside of baseball.

And, we thought it was a cold audience, but actually was a hot audience. We got to it. Like this hunting culture was also… I was like, “This is fascinating to me.”

That we found it and then once you start talking to them and you start doing influencer campaigns and all the stuff you guys do, it was a remarkable Hubble that took off.

So, I think that that’s what you really, really got to think about is finding those people and finding who is going to resonate with your product and making sure you really hit them and hit them hard.

I’m just trying to think of things like in my life that I have… Like, a main state that I have, but I’ll never get rid of. There’s some things I’m never going to not do as a mom.

Like, I’m just always going to have these certain products in my house that I will never get rid of because I’m a mom and it’s been a dependable product. So there’s just things you got to think about and how it really enhances your target audiences’ lives.

Karin Samelson:
I love the advice to not only just look at your direct…

what makes sense, what’s the obvious, but look at things that are adjacent to your brand and make multiple personas. There are so many people, so many different kinds of people that are going to buy your product, so you shouldn’t only have one, we call them customer avatars, personas, all the same thing.

That’s so smart. So, without playing favorites here, what are some really amazing CPG brands in Austin and beyond that you think are just like killing it right now and who we could be inspired by at the moment?

Emily Kealey:
Yes. So definitely not favorites. I have no favorites.

I really make that super clear that there’s absolutely no favorites here, but I do think, like I said, Wunderkeks, I said Golden Ratio. There is YaYa Tea, which has gotten across like sprouts everywhere and [Rachel’s 00:36:49] there is killing it.

There’s obviously any seven from Beatbox Beverages and Future Proof. I’m so impressed with what they’re doing over there and the success that they’ve had and there’s… What was the other one I was thinking of? Oh, Stroop Club waffles, who I just love.

I think they’re doing a really amazing job. Meli’s Monster Cookies. If you haven’t had those.

Karin Samelson:
Ooh, I’ve never heard of that.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, my gosh. They’re so good. And, I love the team over there. I hope she’s listening because I just love them so much. I love everyone equally, but I just [crosstalk 00:37:20].

Alison Smith:
No favorites.

Emily Kealey:
There’s no favorites. But, thinking of overall growth and just out there, Disco is another one, the brand here. Preppy products is another one that’s just killing it with their teenage focused line. There’s a new line here that I had known for quite some time.

They used to be Primal Pit Paste, and now they’re Pretty Frank and it’s called hey Pretty Frank. And they’re a great brand and I really… I actually use a lot of their hand sanitizers and stuff. They’re doing a great job. We just have such a really diverse ecosystem.

Oh, there’s another one called Gratsi Wine. It’s a brand new red table wine and I’m really digging that wine over there. It’s really great.

So there’s just so much, I mean, I could probably go on for like 85 years about all of our members that are just… Boozy Bites is another one. Like she’s also like… I just think about her growth and it’s just nuts to watch her and they’re also really fun, the Boozy Bites are really fun.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’m definitely going to check out the Gratsi Wines. I’ve had Boozy Bites.

Emily Kealey:
They are at Tom’s Market right now. Tom’s Market on Barton Springs, but they’re also one of my favorite-

Alison Smith:
Nice. It’s almost a weekend.

Emily Kealey:
[crosstalk 00:38:33]. Gratsi Wine.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I mean, we just think it’s so important to look at these brands that are killing it and dissect as a smaller brand or even a bigger brand and dissect and learn from that. So, thank you for sharing.

Emily Kealey:
Oh, there’s another one, [Afia 00:38:50] Foods is the other one. She’s-

Alison Smith:
What is it?

Emily Kealey:
Afia Foods. Oh, my gosh. Yeah. She’s also over there. They got into Walmart, I think just now-

Alison Smith:
Oh, nice.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like something crazy. Yeah. Our little… Not little, our big little CPG members are just out there slinging and banging so I’m so proud of them.

Alison Smith:
So, what are some of the biggest challenges though that you’re seeing with your Naturally Austin CPG brands? Two part question, how can they overcome these challenges?

Emily Kealey:
I think the biggest thing that we’re seeing and that’s where… If you look at the Boulder ecosystem can take something from their playbook is production and storage and all of that.

We need more production. And I remember even with my pie company, trying to find a commercial kitchen to make something in, thankfully we got Joy Chevallier’s cook snuck over there. We have a lot of commercial kitchens. There’s Max with Wingman Kitchens that does stuff.

But, I think that it can be more. Like I remember one time I was talking to somebody, I forget who it was. This is a long time ago. And, she’s like, “I need an enrober.”

And, I was like, “A what now girl? What’d you need?” She said an enrober. So, it was the thing that covers… it takes chocolate and covers that thing that you need covered in chocolate, but it does it in a consistent manner. But, she’s like, “I’m flying to Orlando tomorrow to go purchase a $15,000 enrober.”

I was like, no CPG company is going to be able to do anything if they have to go buy a $15,000 one piece of machine to make your product work. That is where I highly, heavily and one of the things I’m championing across the board is production… places to produce, places to store, cold storage, just overall storage overall production needs. We need to have more of it.

I think Michael [Brandon 00:40:47] from Michelangelo’s just built one of the ground rock, which is a huge coal storage space. We need like 24 more of those and I think we need was more of that. So, I think the production side is where I just don’t want to see our members…

Like, if you need an enrober for two days a week, you know what I mean? But, you’re having to go by this or you’re having to go send it outside of Austin.

I do know some that produce outside of Austin too. I think that that would also help our local economy if we could help keep the jobs here or have opportunities for growth there and create those jobs here with the production piece of it. So, that’s the part I think we’re missing and that’s really hard to overcome.

It’s like someone needed a bottler the other day because their bottler was… Oh, someone needed another aluminum can maker because aluminum is short right now because of COVID and it’s like, “I don’t have anybody, who do I go to?”

So, that gets really complicated and that can hurt your business. So, I think just more of that is going to be really valuable for the industry as a whole, for us to grow and continue to thrive.

Alison Smith:
Well, if there’s any entrepreneurs listening, we need production, probably a profitable business in Austin.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. Can you please go make this happen? And, that’s really what I want to try to champion. And, I think there are some people who are heavily thinking about this right now of what the ecosystem needs to continue to grow.

Karin Samelson:
And, that’s so good to know. And, I loved your advice earlier and I’m taking it into account, if you are a consultant, if you are helping CPG businesses grow to know all facets of the business. I did not know that that would be a top challenge right now, but it makes so much sense. Nobody can afford a $15,000 piece of machinery and… Where can we find that? Where can we share that? Yeah, so that’s interesting.

Emily Kealey:
And, do you set up success and how do you make the… how do these people make those investments that ensures there’s an ROI there? Of course, there’s a business there, but I think it’s doable because once again, I am like this utopia. I think that we can figure it out. So, that’s my dream.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. I can’t wait to see you figure it out.

Emily Kealey:
I will.

Karin Samelson:
No doubts.

Emily Kealey:
Somehow, some way.

Karin Samelson:
Well, we talked about your best advice and I love that you were focusing on messaging and branding and knowing your customer personas, but what are some other things that you think CPG brands should focus on to really experience some of this growth that we’re seeing with the brands getting into Walmart and… Yeah. What should they focus on?

Emily Kealey:
Finances. You should know your P&L like the back of your hand. At all times, you should know your numbers. When someone asks you anything about your P&L like that, it should literally roll off.

I mean, that’s the best thing to me. That was the thing I learned with the pie society and my husband is a finance guy and he was like, “You have to know your…”

He owned the flight school here in Austin. So, he owned like eight airplanes or something crazy, and like flew people and taught people how to fly.

So, he was used to owning a business too. And, watching my father who works in the gas business, that was… I mean, he got a P&L daily report every day. And, he would look at his numbers every morning was the first thing he did.

The second thing is look at your competitors. I think you need to know who’s a competition in your space. If you don’t think you have competition, you’re wrong, you do.

And, I think you need to take a look at that and you need to be reading… I also highly encouraged my clients to… I would always send our clients articles like every day and I be like, “Look, who’s coming up on the horizon. Look who just got $175 million in funding. Just, look who just did this…

Really, need be paying attention to who’s out there and what newspapers are really getting the coverage out there. Here’s a trend piece for you. Here’s how this relates to your business.”

You really have to stay on top of that as well.

Karin Samelson:
Really quick on that. So, how are you finding all of that news? Like, what’s the best way to find that kind of news?

Emily Kealey:
Definitely Google, just Google Alerts. I think it’s also… I don’t know if you guys subscribe to the [Eros 00:44:57] [inaudible 00:44:57] reporter out. It’s free.

I take a look at Eros because that’s always a good, I think crystal ball to see what people are starting to talk about.

And, I’m like, “Oh, it looks like there’s a lot of topics coming up about X.” Definitely we are in a year COVID so that’s changed, but typically I would look at those and be like, “Hey, there’s a lot of people talking about at home testing.” If we think about Everlywell.

“There’s a lot of people talking about at home testing right now.” Obviously right now, they’re really talking about it. But, back in the day, it was also like, this is really becoming a thing, like this is really something we should think about.

And, how do you relate to that if you happen to fit in with the conversations happening amongst media? So, I highly recommend doing that.

And, I think that’s kind of the two biggest thing is finances and keeping a part of trends and making sure that you really are on top of both those things. And, if you can’t have somebody… Set Google Alerts.

You can set up Google Alerts to your competitors and your industry and anything that’s adjacent to your industry and you can just scan it.

Or, if you can’t scan it, get like your niece to do it or something like do a summary just as so you know what’s going on. Because, it’s really important that you keep your ear to the ground as well.

Karin Samelson:
And, it’s free.

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. It’s free.

Karin Samelson:
It’s free. You just set it up. Yeah.

Emily Kealey:
It’s free. And, I would say really determine if you are going to be D-to-C or if you’re going to be brick and mortar.

Obviously that has changed right now too, but retail is still going strong. Make a decision on where you want to go and plot that out, don’t just put it up there. And, this goes back to having a good brand and brand experience.

Once you’ve got that settled, once you’ve got your finances in order and you know where you stand then create that online experience. What does that look like to you? And, if you’re going to do retail, how is that different?

If you’re going to do Amazon, it’s a large, large lift to go into Amazon. You can’t just put something out there and you should not do that. Don’t do that. So, I think there’s a lot of things to consider and carving out those paths.

If you can’t hire someone, go find a mentor, come to Naturally Austin, go find somebody. There’s a lot of people who will help you and give you good advice and that’s really what that’s for.

Like, I can’t hire a PR person. That’s cool. You can find a lot of people who will definitely help you out, including me. I’ll tell you how to write a press release. I’ll take a look at your press release for you, but there’s plenty of people who are here to help.

And, if you feel alone, you’re not alone. And, I think that’s the thing to remember. There are a lot of people who are willing to help you out and provide guidance and find those mentors, find those people, find the people that have not only been successful.

Find the people who have admitted to failure. I like learning from them more than I learn… like learning from these. And, I really try to shy away from entrepreneur porn.

I think that gets really dangerous for people. While I think success is really great and we can put these people on a pedestal, they did a lot of work to get there.

And, I think the thing to remember too is like, “Gosh, this brand just like happened overnight.” I’m like, “No, it didn’t. Y’all that brand’s been around for 10 years.” Yeah, you know what I mean? Really, don’t even start with the-

Karin Samelson:
And, they had two other successful brands before that.

Emily Kealey:
And, they got billions behind them.

Alison Smith:
Right.

Emily Kealey:
So, I think that this entrepreneur porn gets very, very, very dangerous. I try to really shy people away from that. This is blood, sweat, tears, duct tape. And, it’s not for those who don’t want to really hit it and get it.

So, I really think find people who you look up to and not only ask them for their successes, ask them where they failed, ask them where they failed over and over and over and over again, because that’s where you’re going to learn too, because you are going to fail. It’s going to happen.

And, I don’t like to call it failures, but you’re going to have valleys. But, how do you get through those valleys and how do you overcome it? So, that’s really important to remember. Then, find people that can help you out.

Karin Samelson:
Such great advice, Emily. It’s inspiring. It’s so autonomous.

I feel the same way. People get stuck in like wanting to talk to the big, big success stories and it’s just like, I don’t know how much they’re going to offer you.

Emily Kealey:
They’re not.

Karin Samelson:
Your path is nowhere near theirs, right?

Emily Kealey:
And, you’re not even the same human being. I mean, that’s the thing. And, I think that people want to replicate what people’s success looks like and that’s a very deadly thing to do because then you negate who you are as a person for your own success, because then you’re starting to take…

You’re like leaning on a crutch. Like, “Oh my gosh, well, this guy did it this way. So, I have to go do it this way.” He did that 10 years ago. You know what I mean?

And, he’s a different person. You go be your own person, take that knowledge and then take the pieces out of it and throw the rest away because you are your own person with your own brilliant brain and you can do this too.

So, I think that just gets dangerous. I try to really get people out from, I think, doing… from thinking that that’s what they have to do in this entrepreneur porn really or speed.

Karin Samelson:
I got to Google that term. I’ve never heard it before.

Emily Kealey:
It’s like the… You guys were talking about with the Barbies on Instagram. Like, this doesn’t drive me… Just pop it. And this idea that you have to, but you do have to be up all night working and like, I only get four hours of sleep and like…

And I’m like, “Shut up.” You know what I mean? I’m like-

Alison Smith:
Yeah. That’s not cool.

Emily Kealey:
That’s not cool that you get four hours. I mean, if you do that’s new, but like, “Yeah, I haven’t slept in like two weeks in a global…”

And, I’m like, “Shut…” If that works for you, that’s really cool, but don’t make it a thing that other entrepreneurs feel that they have to go do.

Like, if you need 10 hours of sleep a night, girl, go get 10 hours of sleep a night. You do you and you make what’s best for you, but don’t put people on this pedestal and try to follow what they do and make it where it’s like this… It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean?

It really kind of drives me nuts. My husband does this. He’s probably over here laughing at me. Because, I get off my little soapbox and I’m like, “I’m just so tired of all these people.” I just want people to really respect who they are and find the best path for them and that’s what I’ve always believed in and that’s what I always try to champion.

That’s why I’m so thankful at Naturally Austin I get to do that because it’s really important that you respect who you are and your dreams and taking those lessons from others and then applying it to yourself and going out and being your best self and what you think is best.

Alison Smith:
That’s a great message to leave everyone with. Really, Emily from Naturally Austin this has been such a pleasure to talk to you.

Emily Kealey:
You too, guys.

Alison Smith:
If you guys don’t know about Naturally Austin, go check it out and join ASAP. It is one of Karin’s and I’s top favorite communities to be a part of. So, go check Naturally Austin out. And Emily, are there any links or anything that you want to leave anyone with?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
How can they contact you?

Emily Kealey:
Yeah. So, it’s naturallyaustin.org is the website and you can always email me directly. I’m Emily, E-M-I-L-Y @naturallyaustin.org.

I’m always happy to take calls. I think you guys know I’ll talk to anybody and I’ll talk to a brick wall. But yeah, I’ll talk to anybody. You guys let me know and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Alison Smith:
Thank you again.

Emily Kealey:
Awesome. Thank you, guys.

Karin Samelson:
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.

Sign up below to subscribe to our newsletter and get free marketing guides + how-tos!

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#12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community

Podcast cover image with Springdale Venture Principal
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community

☎️ What if Walmart called you today…*ringgg*

Them: Hello, it’s us. Wallyworld!
You: Wow! I mean, one can dream – but, I didn’t realize this big day for my humble biz would come so soon…
Them: I’d like 1 thousand barrels of your finest pickles. 🥒🥒🥒 And, could we have them by EOD tomorrow?
No one: –
Literally no one, ever: –
You: I’ll have those pickles on your desk by dawn!

Us after interviewing Marc Nathan: NoOoOo! 🥵

When a huge retailer wants your product, it’s a good sign – sure! But, Nathan points out how the pressures of these kinds of partnerships can hurt your biz more than they help it. Plus, how monthly coffee shop hangs are keeping Austin’s CPG network (and beyond) connected in a time when we need it more than ever.

Let us break it down for you…

[1:00] Introducing, Marc Nathan! From university to the venture capital biz. At 21 yo, in the thick of building presentations and meeting investors. Formed his own marketing company to support + problem solve for startups.

[5:40] Now, are you working in tech as well as CPG these days? Yes! A word on people in the chocolate biz.

[10:29] Now, a cautionary tale about the pickles that couldn’t grow fast enough for Walmart. Downward pressure on suppliers.

[12:48] The partnerships you establish should mirror one another in size – agencies, businesses, and retailers. Know when to say no and check your contracts.

[16:24] Unlike tech entrepreneurs, CPG entrepreneurs overall – as well as CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas – are lacking the resources they need – the right education. From ingredient sourcing to co-packaging, every brand has been doing it on their own.

[21:00] So, what does the community of CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas mean to you? Lava hot market. Sophistication. Money!!!

[28:30] And, what’s a common pain point for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas?

Bootstrap. Know your customers. Then, get the money you need to move forward.

[31:00] Alright, what can CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas and across the U.S. do to better understand their buyers? Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok deep dives. What’s the vibe?

[33:05] Finally, tell us more about your firm! Egan Nelson. Law firm serving early-stage startups.

[36:50] And, when should a CPG brand seek legal assistance?

[40:30] Next, tell us about T-Squared!

[46:28] Okay, what makes a good or bad pitch? It comes from the head and the heart! Is the squeeze worth the juice?

[51:00] How about, what would be your best advice for a small, emerging business owner trying to figure all of this out?

[57:00] Last but not least, what’re some of your favorite CPG entrepreneurs in Austin, Texas (brands)?

Read – #12: Marc Nathan on Mindfully Scaling Your Biz & Building Community 

 

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/minicourse. All right. Let’s get on with the pod.

Karin Samelson:
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle, where we talk consumer goods marketing tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karen and Alison, co-founders of UMAI. And, we’re being joined by Marc Nathan, VP of client strategy at Egan Nelson, helping to connect CPG startups with funding and legal support. Plus, founder of T-Squared Agency, a specialized strategic consulting firm, and the creator of Texas-Boxed, a monthly digest email for CPG brands in Texas. Thank you so much for joining us, Marc.

Marc Nathan:
Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. Well, that is a lengthy resume.

Marc Nathan:
A mouthful.

Karin Samelson:
We’d love to start with your background. So, you have a degree in radio television film, is that correct?

Marc Nathan:
I do. Yes. From UT, that’s right.

Karin Samelson:
And then, straight into venture capital. Can you help us fill in the blanks there?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. It wasn’t so much a blank. It was more of a dash. Well, here’s how it worked, very simply, really wanted to go into TV when I was younger. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. Everything was great about TV. Films were a little bit more big. Whereas, I think TV was a lot more interesting and present. And went through three years of UT RTF, which I really enjoyed.

Marc Nathan:
And, in the summer of my junior year, going into my senior year, I was visiting my dad back in Houston. My dad was a lawyer back in Houston. And, there was a guy in his office, and the guy looked like a perfect casting for a CEO. Three-piece suit, the vest, the tie tack, the monogram shirt, everything. And he looked at me like I had three heads because I walked in, in shorts and sandals like a college kid.

Marc Nathan:
We got to talking, and he told me what he was working on. I was in the telecommunication space. He’s making set top boxes, and fiber optic, all this really cool tech stuff. And, I was very much a nerd. So, I was really into it. He went into my dad’s office, he came out an hour later, shook my hand, “Nice to meet you, son.” And, walked out.

Marc Nathan:
As I walked into my dad’s office, he looked at me and said, “What the hell did you say to that guy?” And, I said, “I don’t know. I was just talking to him.” And he said, “Well, he thought you’re pretty sharp, and he wants to hire you.” And I said, “Great. I need an internship. I’m happy to do it. Yes, I’m in.” And, he laughed. He said, “Marc, if you’re so damn smart, you’re going to work for me.”

Marc Nathan:
And, that’s true. So, I ended up interning for my dad as he was an attorney, as I mentioned, and he basically put me on helping this client who was actually raising money for the telecommunications business back in Houston. Then, at 21 years old, 20, 21 years old, I was in the thick of building presentations, and meeting investors, and figuring out all the processes that you needed to do to raise money.

Marc Nathan:
And I said, “I like this.” So, by spring break of that year, which is only a couple, three months later, after the fall semester started, I ended up forming a company called Bulldog Financial. My dad, he was the lawyer, obviously. I was doing essentially marketing, but specifically in very, very niche marketing for early-stage technology companies, trying to get them money.

Marc Nathan:
And, I basically did that little job for eight years, until my dad retired. So, I said it was time for me to take a break. Then, I ended up working for a bunch of other tech startup things. Plus, I was very, very active and frankly, still am very active in the startup community in Houston, even though I live here in Austin. Really, I just loved it. It just was one of those things that I fell backwards into, and never looked back. Never worked today a TV in my life.

Karin Samelson:
Unbelievable, that is a dash.

Alison Smith:
Yes, it’s a dash.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, that was

Alison Smith:
I do love that you did say that he was the perfect casting for a CEO. So, you still have the lingo.

Marc Nathan:
Oh, yeah, no, yeah, that’s true. You’re right. I do. That’s right. Well, I came to realize, and this is something that took me a while to figure out that running a startup, and doing a film, or a television project are basically the same thing. Business plan is a script. You’ve got your CEO as the director, and the producers are the money people. There’s a lot of very similar things that.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve actually run very similarly, in that a startup, I don’t care if you’re CPG, or technology, or even biotech. They all have a problem trying to solve. In the case of a film, you’re trying to sell a story or tell a story. Whereas, the same is true in the marketing business, so you both know this. The same is true for a company. A company is constant telling their story. That’s what they’re doing.

Marc Nathan:
They first, the founder is always telling their story to a co-founder, so they can join them. The people that are then the founders are then selling their story to their employees, to entice them to come onboard. The group then turns around, and sells their entire story, really their vision to the market. And, they have to keep doing it because they have to keep selling.

Marc Nathan:
And so, there’s actually a lot of parallels to the film, and television business, and startups that it only took somebody with my very wacky, unique background to figure that out.

Karin Samelson:
I like that. I like the connecting of the dots there. That’s very interesting.

Marc Nathan:
So, it’s a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
And, you were focused in on tech. Really, now, are you working both in tech with CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas? 

Like where-

Marc Nathan:
I am.

Karin Samelson:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right. So, in 2005, which feels like ancient times, we actually had a fairly sizable investment in a chocolate company. And this was a crazy industrial chocolate company out of Vancouver, Canada. They were selling chocolates all across Canada and then North America. We were the premier chocolate seller to Walgreens at the time that they were trying to compete with.

Marc Nathan:
Russell Stover, you know the big yellow box you always get for Valentine’s Day? Well, Walgreens thought that Russell Stover has had too much power over that particular category. So, they bought one of the brands that my company was selling, and they made it into their house brand. And that was an interesting thing to watch. And we did that for a while.

Marc Nathan:
And that meant I get to go to all the things, like the fancy food show, and expo, and all that. So, if you’ll pardon the pun, got a taste of the CPG business. And, I really enjoyed it. And, this has really become true. Most CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that I’ve met are fantastic. I really, really like them. They’re warm, they’re friendly, they’re sweet. They really and truly want to put a smile on your face.

Marc Nathan:
That’s why they got in the business for the most part. Except, for chocolate people. Chocolate people that I found, and maybe it was just me, I found them to be very, very, closed off, and almost paranoid. And I think it’s because a lot of chocolate people come from Eastern European backgrounds, and they’re just very nervous around people that purport out money.

Marc Nathan:
And, they always think someone is going to steal something from them. It was a really shocking that every single chocolate person I met was a little standoffish, whereas CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas has been fantastic.

Alison Smith:
That’s so funny.

Karin Samelson:
That is so interesting. Be aware of chocolate people.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Well, you just have to treat them with kid gloves. They’re like introverts, you got to really coax them out of their shell.

Alison Smith:
So, do you see that a lot? You’ve been in the industry for a long time where a retail store sees that monopoly, and then buys, or creates their own brand of-

Marc Nathan:
Occasionally.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Awesome, that’s a good question. Yes, I do. The fact is, is just that, and you can even see this extrapolate even to Amazon. If Amazon sees a product that’s doing extraordinary well-

Alison Smith:
I’ve seen a lot in Amazon.

Marc Nathan:
And, it’s predatory. Yes. If they see something that’s selling really, really well, Amazon or some of these retail stores. What’s a house brand at a grocery store? It’s the same thing. And they can do it faster, cheaper, better, and without any of the headaches of dealing with vendors, so they do it. And so, yes, I think it’s a major thing.

Alison Smith:
Do you know what happened to Russell Stover? With their sales, or should CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas be scared to get that big, or I mean-

Marc Nathan:
No. No, no, no. Russell Stover is doing just fine. They’re going to be just fine at Valentine’s Day. A matter of fact, we were the ones that created, our company ended up not doing so well. We had some management issues. And what happened was basically, the brand it was called Truffelino’s at the time, went away.

Marc Nathan:
We couldn’t produce and Walgreens couldn’t get our products on the shelf. So, they’re basically saying, “You know what, we surrender.” Now, Russell Stover is what you see when you walk in the door on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. And, that’s such a good note. I feel like there is a little bit of a fear with some past companies that we’ve worked with, where it’s like, getting into a retailer is the biggest thing. But if you have a really interesting product, and the store has an opportunity to create their own house brand, it’s just like, you’re dancing on this line of sharing too much with them, and then being able to run with it, and create their own.

Marc Nathan:
And that’s the biggest fear of working with Walmart. And everybody knows that. Walmart in particular has been doing this for years, decades, is that they will basically dangle a huge contract in front of these little CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. It makes their day. Those CPG companies are popping champagne when they get that purchase order from Walmart.

Marc Nathan:
And the very next day, Walmart turns around, and says we need to knock your price down by 25%. So, we’re going to knock your price down by 25% every single year. Then, if you don’t do what we say, you’re off the shelf, and then all of a sudden, the CPG brands that these CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas have ramped up, they’ve bought new capacity, they’ve bought new packaging, they’ve pushed all of their focus into this one giant retailer because it really can’t make or break a brand.

Marc Nathan:
But oftentimes, that brand cannot handle the volume and overextend themselves. And they ended up going belly up because of it. We’ve seen this many, many times. There was an old story, and I don’t remember. I think it was Vlasic Pickles. I want to say it was that brand, where Walmart basically says, “We need a tub of pickles. We need a gallon-sized jar of pickles, and you’re going to make it for us. And this is what it’s going to cost.”

Marc Nathan:
And so, basically, the whole company geared their entire supply chain to supplying these huge vats of pickles. All of a sudden, they realized they were losing money every single time they sold one of these jars, and they took them off the shelf and Walmart said, “Listen, we want cheap pickles, and our players want cheap pickles. So, that’s the way it is. But, if you can’t supply it, we’re just going to cancel out completely.” Then, they did. So, that company ended up going bankrupt because of it.

Alison Smith:
Oh, wow.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And that’s a fairly well-known story. I’m not giving all the details correctly, because I wasn’t obviously living in that pickle world. But it was definitely a very cautionary tale for dealing with giant company like Walmart.

Alison Smith:
So, is the moral of the story outlined something like that in your contract, or just don’t work with Walmart?

Marc Nathan:
No, no, you have to work with Walmart, you have to work with the whole foods of the world, the Amazon of the world, you have to work with retail, you must. It’s not going to work otherwise. What you do is you gently push back, and you have to say no. Don’t say yes to everything that the giant company demands, because it will turn you inside out.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve seen it many, many times. There was another company, a local company in Austin that got into Walmart, and it was in the energy bar space. And all of a sudden, it was the best day and the worst day of the guy’s life. Because they simply could not profitably supply Walmart with their downward pressure demands. And that happens over, and over, and over again.

Marc Nathan:
Walmart’s entire ethos is we have the cheapest prices. That’s what they do. That’s what it’s known for. And that’s why they’re the largest retail on the planet. One thing that amazes me about Walmart, I always like to say this, Walmart is the single largest private employer in the United States, second only to the US government. So, they can do whatever they want. And they do it. And when we go there, and we buy a cart full of cheap stuff, we do it because that’s what we’re trying to do.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. We have the buying power to keep them alive. But I don’t know the exact percentage, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I don’t know if it’s 50% of your business, or more shouldn’t be via one retailer or one means of income.

Marc Nathan:
But it’s like your business. I always say this to a lot of my startup friends, you never want to be somebody’s biggest or smallest client. If they’re your smallest client, they’re not going to pay attention. If they’re your biggest client, then they can basically dictate the terms. So, you want to have that baby bear just right fit. And that’s true on agency side. And that’s true on company side.

Marc Nathan:
You want to make sure that the company you hire, the agency you hire is the right fit for the stage that you’re in. And they say that the number one single killer of startups is expanding too quickly, is essentially building out infrastructure prematurely. And that can be also said about hiring bigger firms that they can afford to get to where they want to go. But they don’t know that they have to be in the same section, the same stage, as the agencies are working with. I see it often.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, to mitigate that, I guess, just learn how to say no to things too.

Marc Nathan:
It’s hard. It’s hard. If somebody dangling a big contract in front of you, it’s really hard to say no, until you start doing the math, and making sure you can actually make money on the contract. Signing a contract is one thing. Actually, getting paid on it is another issue.

Alison Smith:
Very true. We’ve dealt with that.

Marc Nathan:
So, you have and that is the dirty secret about running any business in the entire world, whether it’s an agency, whether it’s a retailer, whether it’s a manufacturer. Your clients, your vendors dictate your returns by how fast they can pay you. And cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. And Walmart, and I keep dunking on Walmart.

Marc Nathan:
But, Walmart has done a lot of great things for this country, and they’re not going away anytime soon, whether I like them or not. In truth, I’m really impressed with the way they’ve been able to handle supply chain, and management, and distribution, everything else. But, they are notorious for slow-paying vendors.

Alison Smith:
Because they can.

Marc Nathan:
They can.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Most companies do Net 30 terms. You give them something, they pay in 30 days. Walmart has Net 90, and you know they? Yeah. And you know what they say if you don’t like it? Tough.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, not negotiable.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, hit the bricks.

Karin Samelson:
That’s 90?

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, my gosh.

Alison Smith:
I’m sure they’re asking for huge orders too. It’s just how’s that… yeah.

Marc Nathan:
And so, in the last few years, a lot of these brands have learned these stories, and heard these things. And hopefully, by listening to podcasts like this, they can hear them some more. You have to, like you said originally, Alison, you’ve got to check the contracts. Because Net 90 is a killer, especially on super thin margin CPG brands.

Alison Smith:
You better have big money bags-

Marc Nathan:
That’s right.

Alison Smith:
… behind your brand if you even are considering a retailer of that size.

Marc Nathan:
That’s exactly right. Walmart is not your savior. You are getting a whole new kettle of fish when you’re dealing with a giant company like that. And the same can be said of Amazon and anybody else. Anybody can dictate your terms. They’re going to because they can. And that’s how the rich people stay rich, they don’t give their money away.

Karin Samelson:
We want to get CBG honors a piece of that pie.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right, and they deserve it. Totally agree. So, that’s Walmart. But I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve got to see a lot of really interesting brands, a lot of things coming up that are more informed and more sophisticated. The one thing that coming from the tech world and now being very much in the CPG world, I only gotten to CPG about three or four years ago, officially.

Marc Nathan:
And what I found, and like I said earlier, CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are generally very sweet and very nice. Really, they want to put a smile on your face. So, this is a blanket statement. It’s certainly not true for everybody. But, I’ve also found that CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are less sophisticated than tech people, but only because they don’t have a playbook. There’re thousands of blogs, and hundreds of podcasts, and all kinds of workshops, and books, and everything else about running a tech startup.

Marc Nathan:
But very, very few about CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. And the CPG startup books out there are typically autobiographical. Here’s how I built this, or here’s what I did for this. And it’s about their individual story and their journey. But it’s not a blueprint of actually, how to run a brand. And so, CPG people, well, I find them a lot nicer in general than tech people. The tech people have a lot more information to go on.

Alison Smith:
And why do you think that is? Why do you think there isn’t a blue book or a playbook?

Marc Nathan:
There should be, and I’m sure there are out there, I just haven’t read it. I’m sure there’s something out there. But I think mostly, because, and I’m sure you both have dealt with this yourself. When you go and start a tech company, it’s typically the old story, it’s the old stereotype. It’s two young guys in a hoodie, and two hoodies in a garage, building some software piece that ultimately gets sold to Microsoft, or Google, or something like that, or Facebook.

Marc Nathan:
Whereas, CPG, the road is a lot more rocky. It’s a lot more obscure. Nobody really knows exactly what the path is. And I think it’s because they’re so individualistic. Every single brand is different. And every single brand has such a different vibe to any other brand, even the one right before them. Whereas, tech companies, the pattern is there.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s been essentially, the same pattern for the last 25 years. Whereas, CPG, the modern world, obviously, CPG has been around since the stone age. We know what a CPG is, we know what a brand is. We know what food is, and beverage, and accessories, all that. Whereas, I don’t think that they’ve had the forethought to really write it down and teach others.

Marc Nathan:
Because, frankly, most CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas out there – after creating their first brand, are one and done. You built a huge brand, you sell it, you may do another one. But most of the people retire because it takes them 20 years through the overnight success and selling it.

Karin Samelson:
So, when can we expect that playbook from you?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. I have you guys write it. You people write it. I don’t know, it’s a lot. And I don’t know nearly enough to even put an outline together. But there are a lot of really smart people that do.

Alison Smith:
I find CVG to be the most, so many factors go in. So, you have to find your individual co-packer, or you can go the retail route, you can go the eCommerce route, you can go both routes. It’s just there’s so much going on.

Marc Nathan:
Right. That’s exactly right.

Alison Smith:
That I think that’s why there is no singular path. Maybe someone could create the most profitable path, but-

Marc Nathan:
There are people that are trying. I have seen it. I’m actually pretty impressed with what things are going. But what I found is that a lot of these newer CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, especially the DTC, the direct to consumers are taking pages out of the tech playbook. And we’re starting to see a lot more consolidation in the market. And I’m sure you’ve had clients that asked you questions like, where do I find a co-packer?

Marc Nathan:
Or how do I find a packager? Somebody who can actually do the packaging. What about picking place, and shipping, and all that? These are questions that are still very much in the stone age. There’s no website you can go to. Well, I’m sure there are quite a few websites you go to, but none of them are for your brand or for your location. And the real problem is that it’s still very much a trial-and-error business.

Marc Nathan:
The same is true for the actual taste of whatever you’re trying to make. How do you find the right ingredients? Next, how do you find the right mixologist? Then, how do you find the right food scientist to tell you that whatever you’ve cooked up in your kitchen is going to be able to be produced in mass with the right ingredients that are healthy, and organic, and all that? That adds a whole other layer.

Marc Nathan:
But the fact is, is that there is such a fragment in business that people have been doing this for 100 years, that there’s no real modern way of really deciding what your brand should be, and how your particular food item should taste. And then, you have to turn around, and go, and sell it once again, either eCommerce or through retailers. So, the entire CPG market really is very trial and error.

Karin Samelson:
And I think a lot of it is word of mouth too, just as many word of mouth recommendations you can get. And that brings us to another question about community, and how important it is to build community to grow your own brand. So, what does the Austin CPG community mean to you?

Marc Nathan:
Everything. It’s a great question. I love this town for CPG, and for other reasons. But the CPG market in Austin, and I can say to you while we’re recording this in the end of 2020, which has been a great year for everybody as everybody will admit, I’m kidding, of course. It’s been horrible for everybody. Except for CPG. The CPG market in Austin is absolutely white hot.

Marc Nathan:
It’s lava hot. It is lots of people, and brands, and people moving here, and sophistication, and money. Lots of venture capitalists are coming here with CPG in mind. There is this huge groundswell of activity. That’s really only happened in the last few years. And I’m very proud to be a part of it. I certainly wasn’t the catalyst. But I saw the trend. And I said, “This is something that we need to focus on.”

Marc Nathan:
And the way I did it about three years ago is as I was talking to a friend of mine, a guy that everybody in the CPG market in Austin should know, a guy named Felipe Vega with IronClad. He was just the greatest guy in the world. We met one day through one of the lawyers in my office, and shook hands, and looked at each other and said, “We’re going to be friends,” and we had been.

Marc Nathan:
And so, we ended up about three or four weeks later, ended up throwing a pretty big happy hour together. And we brought a bunch of brands in. It was a lot of fun. There were a lot of people there. I thought maybe 20, 25 people would show up. We’re 150 people there. It’s fantastic. And it was hot, in the summer at a brewery, and sweating.

Marc Nathan:
But, it didn’t matter because we were having a great time. And, it made me realize that there was a need for regular community meetups. So, that’s when I started a very, very simple coffee meetup that I called wakeup coffee. But, we ended up just very simply, I put an invite out to a bunch of people and said, “Come to this coffee shop.” At the time, it was Houndstooth.

Marc Nathan:
But we immediately switched it to a place called Cosmic Coffee down in South Austin, with a great patio, and great coffee, and good vibes, and good people. And we’ve been doing essentially, an open coffee every single month for the last three years. And it’s just a very casual, very easy way for people to come, and say hello before work. I love happy hours. I realized to go do those kinds of things.

Marc Nathan:
Obviously, not now during COVID. But I figured there was a lot of happy hours out there and they were great. The problem with happy hours is twofold. Number one, you don’t get a lot of work done because you’re too busy drinking. Fine. That’s what they’re there for. But number two, and really, for me, they’re always too loud. You can probably tell I’m a talker.

Marc Nathan:
And when I go to those happy hours, I’m usually yelling, and I can’t hear anything because the music is loud, people are loud. But a coffee is actually a lot easier. And it’s before work. I usually do it around 8:30 in the morning. So, people can be a little late for work because they are technically working. But it’s a lot calmer and a lot more interesting because the people that wake up early are the people that really want to go.

Marc Nathan:
Most people will show at the happy hour just want to go to happy hour, doesn’t matter who’s throwing it. And I’ve also found, and this is just a personal thing, happy hours are great when you don’t have kids. They are, they are a lot of fun. But kids take up a lot of time, and they’re great. They’re wonderful. And I’m very proud father and all that. But they’re a time suck.

Marc Nathan:
And so, it’s very easy to go to an open coffee, or a morning meeting when kids are either at school, or now during COVID times, working from home. And it’s very easy to actually get that stuff done because older people, people who are a little bit further in their career can actually do them. Whereas, happy hours are usually off limits. That’s just a lesson I learned over doing this for many years.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. I’ve been, and it makes you very excited, and energized to continue your work, and you’re in it together with a bunch of other CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas or so. Truly, I think it’s great.

Marc Nathan:
I think that’s very true Austin. Austin in general, and I found this, I’ve only been in Austin for six years, and I’m from Houston originally, and Houston is great. I used to come up here all the time, even after I went to school here. But Austin has a very, very collaborative vibe. We love helping each other, and we love seeing each other succeed. There’re never any sharp elbows.

Marc Nathan:
There’s never any you do well, so I’m doing poorly. It’s never a zero-sum game here in Austin. I found Austin entrepreneurs, especially CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas are really, really open and very, very free with their time. If somebody has a question, they’ll always answer it. If there’s ever a hiccup or a problem, there’s always somebody to shoulder to cry on. But there’s a very collaborative vibe here in Austin. And I think that’s really what makes Austin special.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. We completely agree. Even getting to talk to you, and it’s interesting, you mentioned Felipe, I had no idea that he was connected in that way. But Felipe is one of two people that really got us our start.

Marc Nathan:
He is the greatest. He really is.

Karin Samelson:
And a very busy, very successful person that is willing to help others in this industry, just offering his time. You don’t want to take advantage, but it’s so true that this community is so strong, and we want to see each other succeed. I love it so much.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s a lot of fun too. And people like Felipe and a few others that are just there, they’re present, they’re open with their time. That’s the only reason I felt like I was even close to being a legit my toe in the water of being a supporter and a helper of the community. Because I saw other people doing it, and I just thought that I might be helpful in a certain way.

Marc Nathan:
So, I enjoy doing these happy hours. They’re all online now. They’re all through Zoom, and everything else. So, it’s a very different vibe. But we are trying. We’re doing our very best. And hopefully soon, we’ll be back into the real world, face to face, buying actual coffee and drinking it with each other vibe, soon, we’ll see.

Karin Samelson:
It’s so impressive that, I mean, just this last one that I was on, there are so many people on. You have built a very strong morning wake up with these folks. It’s really inspirational, honestly.

Marc Nathan:
Well, thank you. Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I enjoy it. Look forward to it. A lot of people will say they’re introvert. They don’t like networking. I’m the exact opposite. I’m an extrovert-extrovert. I like networking. For me, I enjoy meeting people. I enjoy learning about what they’re working on, and really who they are, and what their personalities are. So, to me, it’s great.

Marc Nathan:
And I will tell you that we were doing these things in real life when we were doing at the coffee shop, really, easily have 40 to 60 people there happily. That was an average time for us. Now, online, people have webinared out, they’re Zoomed out, they’re just tired, they don’t want to do anything. They don’t want to wake up early anymore.

Marc Nathan:
One of the greatest things about COVID is that you can basically roll out of bed and be in front of work five minutes later. And that’s something I don’t think it’s going to go away too soon. But our numbers are gone slightly down. And it’s not about numbers, it’s about the connections, and about the people. And the core group of people that show up are really great.

Marc Nathan:
But I will tell you, another advantage of doing these all online is that we had quite a few people from other cities that are joining us. We have a number of people from LA, San Francisco, Chicago, New York. And it’s awesome. That’s a really, really good thing because the more people that know about the Austin community, the more people, like you said, word of mouth, can talk about the Austin Community.

Karin Samelson:
Absolutely. And since you’re talking to all these CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, what is a common factor, a common pain point that you hear with a lot of them?

Marc Nathan:
This is true, not just for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, this is true for startups across the board. The very first thing every startup will tell you is all they need is money to make it. I just need an investor., I just need a big customer. I just need a bank loan. Whatever that might be. The very, very first thing that a company should be thinking about, really, the deciding factor where they’re going to make it or not, is if they truly understand who their customer is.

Marc Nathan:
Who is your buyer? How do you get your buyer? Because if you know that, that piece of knowledge will help you get money. And a lot of people especially newbies in the startup world, they just think that you have an idea. You run out, you find some investors, or the proverbial VC that will stroke a check for you like a gift from God. AND then, all of a sudden, everything is easy street.

Marc Nathan:
And the opposite is true. Most investors will only give you money if you’re already successful, or getting to be successful. And therefore, to be successful, the very best way, and this is very much an Austin thing is Austin loves bootstrappers. We love to say, let’s find our customers, let’s get them to pay us, and let’s let them fund our services. And then, we can turn around and get money.

Marc Nathan:
And so, in the case of CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, it’s know your customers, know their profile, understand what their needs are, understand their price points, and figure out how to get to them in any way you can. Most people start with friends and family. And cottage industry laws have changed, so you could start selling cottage industry type products. Farmers markets are huge.

Marc Nathan:
We all know that. That’s how a lot of brands get started. Once you get past the farmers market stage, then it’s really time to think about eCommerce, specifically around direct to consumer. And only then is when you should really start thinking about retail because you have, once again, the buying power to actually make those contracts stick when some of the bigger retailers say this is what we want.

Marc Nathan:
So, things have changed dramatically because of the internet. And frankly, because of COVID a little bit. But I think a lot of people are putting the eCommerce step before the retail step, which I think is smart.

Alison Smith:
I love that you said that because Karin and I are pretty big on ecom first, just to prove your product, understand your buyer, hone in on your messaging before you start. It’s a lot of infrastructure. It’s a lot of money when you get into retail. To me, it’s archaic side of the industry still. So, I love that you said that.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. I’m a big believer in that. And the model has proven out. There’s a lot of companies out there, and just think about the amount of inventory money that has to sit on store shelves, or in warehouses, or on trucks to really serve that retail market, where you don’t have to worry about that at all in eCommerce. And the most important thing is if somebody buys your product at an H-E-B, you have no idea why they bought it, what they bought it for, how they bought it, what they put in their cart before that. Whereas-

Alison Smith:
Right. You can’t track marketing. It’s tough. So, with that being said, what can CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas brands do to really understand their buyer?

Marc Nathan:
So, talk to your buyer first, obviously, figure out who your customer is by either doing focus groups at the high end, but really at the low end, really understanding the digital marketing, whether that’s and obviously, UMAI does. So, I know that you have a lot more opinions than I do about this. But understanding who your buyer is by profiling them with exact matches on Facebook.

Marc Nathan:
Understand what they’re doing on Instagram, and TikTok, and every other system that’s going to come out that we don’t even know about yet. But really questioning the customer, why they have this brand, look alike brands, why are they buying this brand, except for, or because of another brand? How do you view adjacent markets? How do you do opposite markets?

Marc Nathan:
So, non-adjacent markets. I don’t think, and this is my favorite example. You don’t often see a yoga studio next to a gun store. There’re different vibes. The customers are not going to be going from one store to another. They are not doing that. Now, smoothie shop next to a yoga store. Sure, I get that. No problem.

Marc Nathan:
The fact is that you have to know where your customers are going, what their motivations are, and why they’re doing the certain things they’re doing, even if they don’t know themselves. That’s your job to figure out. But really understanding what that profile is, and building those personas I think are really critical.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. I would love to hear more about your firm, Egan Nelson, where you provide funding and legal support. So, how can CPG brands work with you? Do they pitch you? How does that work?

Marc Nathan:
Well, I’ll make this as easy as I can. And this is the easiest sales pitch I can ever make. Egan Nelson is a law firm, period, the end. Law firm is a law firm is a law firm. We offer a bunch of different services for a particular niche. In our case, Egan Nelson was founded in Austin. We have offices in Dallas, Seattle, New York, Denver, DC, and we’re thinking about a Boston office.

Marc Nathan:
And the fact is, is that we’re a boutique shop, and all we focus on is early-stage startups. We’re about 70%, 75% consumer tech, and B2B tech, so still in the startup tech phase. But in the last few years, we’ve really grown our CPG market quite a bit. We just hired a lawyer who came from Starbucks in Seattle, which is great. And we’ve got a lot of CPG experience.

Marc Nathan:
And we’re really focused on building up that early stage, that zero to one, and one to two style startup where they’re going from the initial friends and family round of funding to the Series A and Series B. So, the funny side of what we do is really me. They hired me, and essentially, acquired my consulting firm about five years ago, specifically so I can be a value add to our clients, which is helping them navigate all the different pitfalls of raising capital.

Marc Nathan:
My network of investors, whether that’s VCs, angels, Angel networks, high net worth individuals, family offices, banks, alternative funders. I know a lot of those folks, and I try to introduce my clients to them at the proper time. So, while we’re a normal, standard, everyday garden variety law firm, the one somewhat unique aspect of us is they have somebody like me who’s doing not just business development, and marketing, and events.

Marc Nathan:
But also working directly with the clients almost in the capacity of an investment bank, even though we don’t take any extra fees, or anything with that. We’re simply a value add. And our job is to make sure they have the very best legal service. And they have at least some guidance around the navigation of running a startup. So, they found me through my newsletter, which I was very proud of.

Marc Nathan:
And I can, with 100% confidence, say that newsletters work because it means I have the job I have now. So, it made a lot of sense to them to have a marketing guy who knew the market. Really, it made a lot of sense for them to have a business development person who knew business development. Then, I really do like the firm, they’re really good people.

Marc Nathan:
They’re not just good people, for lawyers, they’re good people, period. And, I enjoy the work. Plus, it sells itself because we do very, very good legal work for less than the cost of most law firms out there. So, you got me. So, what’s the loose?

Alison Smith:
That’s amazing. So, it’s just a value add, there’s no-

Marc Nathan:
That’s all it is.

Alison Smith:
… equity or any thoughts like that.

Marc Nathan:
Nothing.

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
No success fees, no equity, no hidden fees. It’s just I am there specifically to facilitate capital. And the reason we do that, A, is because clients need it, number one, it’s a market need. Number two, we have to make sure our clients have money so they can pay us. So, it’s a selfish need as well. But at the same time, it really does put us a little bit above, it edges us out a little bit above some of the smaller and equally good law firms out there.

Marc Nathan:
And it also hedges our vets against some of the giant law firms out there that would love to work with startups who are simply too big. So, we’re that in between middle market gap. And I really enjoy it. I think very progressive, very forward-thinking law firm, and we do very good work. And like I said, we do good work, very personal. And it’s less expensive and responsive than some of the bigger firms out there. So, it’s a win-win for everybody.

Alison Smith:
I think you said it, but I guess looking at financials, when should a CPG brand say, “Okay, I need legal help?” Is that when they’re looking at contracts with retailers or is that-

Marc Nathan:
[crosstalk 00:37:08].

Alison Smith:
Okay.

Marc Nathan:
So, the easy answer is you should get a lawyer the minute you want to start incorporating your business. The minute it becomes, “A real business,” you should have a lawyer. Nine times out of 10, that lowers your brother-in-law, or the divorce lawyer down the street, or somebody else. But the minute you want to get real with your business, you really should have a good attorney.

Marc Nathan:
All of these online services, and their best exemplified by something like LegalZoom, they’re fine at the very beginning just to incorporate, if there’s nothing complicated about it. But just a single LLC or a single-member organization, those are fine. The minute you get anything close to a complication, you want a good solid lawyer to look at it, and somebody who understands the startup space.

Marc Nathan:
So, our world is really just past that stage. We certainly do all the incorporation work, we certainly can convert you from the proverbial Texas LLC to a Delaware C-Corp to receive funding. Typically, that’s a company that’s been around for six to 12 months. And that’s where we really get involved. But our real goal is to work with a company from that year one to about your seven or eight and hopefully beyond.

Marc Nathan:
That’s the whole point. We get in very early so we can stick with these companies until there’s an exit, whether that’s through a merger and acquisition, an IPO, something like that. But ultimately, I think that as a law firm, we’re best served in that just after traction, you’ve figured out your brand new, you figured out your model, you are starting to look at contracts, you’re dealing with whether it’s distribution contracts, co-packing contracts, retailer contracts.

Marc Nathan:
That’s when you want to bring on a lawyer that’s going to really defend your interests against all the people that have been doing this for a million years. Personally, I do a lot of mentoring and a lot of support work for early-stage companies. So, back in the napkin idea, I hear all kinds of crazy ideas all the time, which I personally love. But from a client perspective, we’re looking for just a little bit later stage.

Karin Samelson:
Awesome. So, please-

Marc Nathan:
Karin, I was just going to say the best way to put it, and my favorite way of putting it is that while we’re looking for startups, and this is true of every service provider out there, whether it’s UMAI, or Egan Nelson, or Felipe’s go IronClad, we’re all looking for funded startups. We love dealing with early-stage baby startups that have an idea, and a lot of pluck, and they just want to make it.

Marc Nathan:
But we also want to make sure they can pay us. So, funded startups, I don’t care if it’s your own credit card, or your trust fund, or whatever it might be, or outside funding. As long as you could pay your service provider, that’s really what we target, those types of companies.

Karin Samelson:
That’s an important note.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, that’s smart.

Marc Nathan:
Critical. There are lots and lots of places for these baby companies to go, and I try to be one of them. But in order to engage a professional service and like I said, marketing, legal, accounting, insurance. All these companies, they are not targeting early-stage baby startups.

Marc Nathan:
They’re targeting growth emerging companies that are typically making enough money to A, pay the founders themselves. Because sometimes all these startups can’t, and B, pay other people, whether it’s employees, or service providers like us. So, that’s the sweet spot for any service provider, any company that we look at.

Karin Samelson:
So, can you tell us a little bit about T-Squared, and your consulting?

Marc Nathan:
Of course, absolutely. So, T-Squared Agency was something I started back in 2013. We had just moved from Houston, my family picked up, and moved to Baltimore because of my wife’s promotion to her job. And so, I’m sitting at home, I was a stay-at-home dad for a year with a consulting firm, helping a lot of clients from across the country, but mostly back in Texas with their capital strategy, and really, their digital strategy.

Marc Nathan:
And so, T-Squared was a small little company I built. Through T-Squared, I actually helped launch or I started to launch of the newsletter I mentioned, the Texas-Squared Startup Newsletter that I put out once a week, which is essentially a digest of all the major startup headlines in the tech world. About three years ago, I did an offshoot of that called Texas-Boxed, which is the same type of thing.

Marc Nathan:
It’s a digest for all of the relevant news for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that goes out on the first of the month. Because I had this newsletter, and because I continue to put in, there was a blogger, that I loved his stuff. I thought was very telling, very good, and very thoughtful. And I kept putting it in my newsletter. And he kept seeing traffic from my newsletter into his blog.

Marc Nathan:
So, he called me into his office one day, “Hey, Marc, come over, we’ll have lunch.” And I said, “Okay, sure.” And we had lunch, and I walked out of there with a job. It was the lawyer, it was Jose Ancer from Egan Nelson, and his blog, Silicon Hills Lawyer. And he said, “Look, we need somebody that knows this space. But we only target startups. We don’t really have connections or represent VC funds.

Marc Nathan:
So, we don’t like to make a lot of introductions. But Marc, can you do this and so forth?” And so, that’s what happened. T-Square was essentially acquired by the law firm, which is very, very rare. And I still use T-Squared is what I call my personal business. So, while I run my newsletters out of T-Squared, I do all of my events out of T-Squared.

Marc Nathan:
Occasionally, there’s a project like an advisory group, or something like that that I help startups that are not affected by the law firm. That’s what I use T-Squared for. So, T-Squared is my business persona. That’s not my actual work persona, if that makes sense.

Alison Smith:
Can you expand on what you mean by an advisory group? Is that like a mentor type?

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. So, you triggered something with me, so I’m just going to lean into it. Most accelerator incubator. So, think about the worlds of Y Combinator and Techstars, and here in Austin, Capital Factory. And obviously, we have skew here, which is a huge deal nationwide. And this is a semantic question. They call the people that work for them as advisors, they call them mentors.

Marc Nathan:
That’s just the name you come up with. I have a very serious problem with the word mentors. I believe very strongly that mentors help people in their careers, whereas advisors help companies. So, all of that class of people should be called advisors. And I know it’s a silly thing. And I know it’s interchangeable. A lot of people interchange the word accelerator and incubator, the same way people interchange mentor and advisor.

Marc Nathan:
But advisors are really consultants that are doing it for the love of helping, they’re not doing it for money. But mentors are doing it for the love of the person and the individual. So, I feel that most incubator and accelerator programs have advisors, not mentors. But the truth is, I am an active mentor and advisor every major incubator accelerator across Texas.

Marc Nathan:
And it’s something I really enjoy. But occasionally, a company will need a little bit more help, a little bit more time for me. And so, I’m working with roughly I would say, seven or eight different companies that I advise, where they will grant me some equity as an advisor, and we have regular meetings, and we grow the business from there. So, that’s what-

Alison Smith:
Well, just to play devil’s advocate here. With mentorship, you could say that the CEO or founder is the business in CPG.

Marc Nathan:
I get the point. I’ll buy that. It’s not exactly the same, and I’ll tell you why. You put me on the spot. So, I’m fighting back here. Yes. Nine times out of 10, the CEO is the heart and soul of the business. But they’re not the entire business because they have co-founders, and vendors, and a lot of cases, investors. And so, while they’re the nexus of everything, they’re not the only thing.

Marc Nathan:
And a business needs support and all kinds of different aspects. And sometimes a CEO can’t handle everything. So, they bring in advisors, or consultants, or mentors to help them or her with any specific issue, because that company really should be bigger than the individual. And so, that’s why I will push back a little bit on that.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. I’m definitely going to go to dictionary.com after this, and-

Marc Nathan:
Yeah, please do. And let me know.

Alison Smith:
… do a side by side.

Marc Nathan:
Let me know if I’m right or wrong.

Alison Smith:
I like that. No, I know, I’m sure you’re right. I like that distinction.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And if you really want to dive into it, basically, there’s two columns. There’s the mentor column, where they’re helping people. So, they have mentors. At the lowest end of mentors, you have a coach, somebody who’s helping with a very specific thing. Whereas, in the investment world, you’ve got advisors, and they’re helping the company, and then you have paid advisors, which are consultants, then you have advisors that actually pay you, which are called angels.

Marc Nathan:
And so, if you start balancing these things out, you’ll realize that there’s all kinds of different people, individuals helping companies, but they do it for different motivations. Most of the time, on the personal side, people are motivated by what I call psychological profit. They’re doing it to see a smile on your face. They’re doing it to feel better about themselves. Whereas, if you’re doing it from a professional standpoint, you’re doing it to get paid. It’s as simple as that. But whether you get paid in cash or equity, it doesn’t really matter, but you’re doing it for profit.

Alison Smith:
Definitely. So, when you do advice, do these companies pitch to you? Can you tell us more what is good pitch or bad pitch?

Marc Nathan:
Well, the best pitch in the world is something that’s passionate, something that people actually believe in. And I say this to everybody, whether you’re pitching needs and advise, or introduction to an investor, the best pitch is one that comes from the heart and the head. It’s something that really is focused on… and the best entrepreneurs out there are the ones that observe a problem, and know how to exploit it profitably.

Marc Nathan:
There’s lots of problems out there you can’t make any money on. And those are called nonprofits. And there is a place for those. That’s not where I live. Entrepreneurs that pitch me, I had one yesterday, actually. The guy has very passionate about nutrition, and about solving world hunger, and solving behavioral issues. And he is very, very qualified to do that.

Marc Nathan:
It’s just not for me. Not my space. It’s not what I do. And I told him so. He asked me to be an advisor. And I said, “I can be an informal one. But I don’t think I’m going to be able to help get you over the hump, just by my name alone.” And so, I’ve seen a lot of really, really good companies that I can’t help. And I’ve seen a lot of really bad companies that I want to help, and just don’t see that there’s a reason to do so because they’re not in the right mindset.

Marc Nathan:
They’re thinking about a problem in the incorrect way. So, ultimately, the best companies, which means the best pitches are ones that see an achievable goal. And one that, and I like to call it, is the squeeze worth the juice? Is all the effort, and time, and money, and headache that you’re going to spend running this business worth it? Does it make you money?

Marc Nathan:
And there’s a huge difference between what we call lifestyle business, a company that can make you individually money that you can have a roof over your head, and food on your table, and vacation two weeks out of the year. That’s the lifestyle business. Then, there’s the growth business, the venture business, the entrepreneurial style business, where it’s scalable.

Marc Nathan:
And that’s really, the differentiator. Can it scale to the point where it’s bigger than an individual, and an investor can make money on it? I tend to work with scalable startup businesses, not lifestyle businesses. That’s just the way I operate. There’s nothing wrong or bad about either one of them. They’re just very different. And so, to get back to your question, the very best pitch is one that is an addressable problem that has a unique and special solution.

Marc Nathan:
There’s always unique selling proposition, always something that is either a insight to the market that nobody else has, or technology, or in this case, CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas creating a brand that doesn’t fit the market, or there’s a gap in the market they’re filling. Those are the ones I love. Those are a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
And the ones that have proven themselves with the ecom element.

Marc Nathan:
That’s right. That’s right. I’ll even dive into one right now, one that I love right here in Austin.

Karin Samelson:
Oh, please.

Marc Nathan:
So, she’s not a client personally, but she’s a friend. Her name is Dee Dee Bryant, and the company is now called Boozy Bites.

Alison Smith:
Yup, I’ve had those.

Marc Nathan:
I can honestly say I’m not the target market. Boozy Bites, for those that don’t know, is a vegan, algae-based Jell-O shot that comes in a patented Dee Dee cup that pops up like a blow pop, or a pop-up thing. So, it pops right in your mouth. Well, I don’t remember the last time I had a Jell-O shot. It’s been decades. But people still drink them or use them.

Marc Nathan:
And Dee Dee has come up with a brand and a product that I think is absolutely brilliant. It’s unique in the market. Nobody else is doing this. The way she’s doing it. It has a very specific target. Obviously, her market is not middle-aged white guys. It’s usually focused on younger women, typically sorority girls, and that’s perfectly okay. Sorority girls and bachelorette parties.

Marc Nathan:
And she’ll tell you that her brand is actually bigger than that. There’s tailgating, and a bunch of other things. But let’s face it, that’s who she’s going after. And I think she’s just done a brilliant job building this brand, building the formulation, and making it work right here in Austin, Texas.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Kendra Scott did it with that same niche. So, Dee Dee has got it.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. And Kendra Scott, I’m not saying that she made all her money at my house. But there’s a lot of Kendra Scott jewelry in my home right now. Because I have teenagers.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. How interesting. So, what would be your best advice for small, emerging CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that’re just getting their legs and trying to figure this all out?

Marc Nathan:
Okay. So, I’m going to give you the answer. But first, I’m going to qualify the question. I don’t know anything. So, I am not qualified to give advice to anybody under any circumstances. Really, I learned this a long time ago from a personal mentor of mine. Once again, mentor is somebody who cares about you and not the business.

Marc Nathan:
So, this guy told me years ago that nobody cares about your advice, because everybody ignores advice. So, I can only tell you what my opinion is. And if you value my opinion, you’ll listen. If you don’t value it, okay, no big deal. So, my opinion about what’s the one thing a CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond can do, it’s there’s so many, but I think the number one thing, we said earlier, is know your customer.

Marc Nathan:
Really understand what they need, what they expect, what their taste profile is, what they expect in a packaging, what they expect on pricing. And if you’re going to change their expectations, you better have a good reason for it. You can’t just do it, because you think it’s cool, or you think it’s fun. You’ve got to really play with their expectations, and make sure that they fit with what they want, or what they’re willing to pay for, is a better way to say that.

Marc Nathan:
And also, and this is the very best thing about working with CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas, especially in food and bev, and you’ll understand this, make sure it tastes good. I can’t tell you how many great brands, great companies, great packaging I’ve seen, and the product itself tastes like garbage. And it’s the most disappointing thing in the entire world. And it’s super subjective, obviously, your taste and my taste are very, very different.

Marc Nathan:
Your tastes might be different from one afternoon to the next. But there has been a few instances where I’ve actually opened up a really cool package. And I think it’s awesome, I love the name, I love everything about it, and I opened it up, and I taste it, and it just taste terrible. To me, that is the number one, and frankly, the best part about working for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas.

Marc Nathan:
Because it’s very binary, you either like it or you don’t. It’s that simple. With technology and software, you don’t have to love it, you don’t have to be a user of it to realize you can make a lot of money. Whereas, consumer food and bev, you really do have to like it to really be passionate about selling it, in my opinion.

Alison Smith:
And that’s another thing why CPG can be pretty difficult for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas in particular, not only need to solve a problem, every other business needs to do, you also have to make it taste good. So, it’s another additional.

Marc Nathan:
And, there’s all kinds of things where everybody wants to be in a category now. They want to be keto. Also, they want to be organic. They want to be all these different things. And, those are all very noble causes, and they’re great. But starting a company from an ideal and not a taste, I think is a big mistake, personally. Make sure it tastes good first, then make it healthy.

Marc Nathan:
Instead of making it healthy, and then making it taste good. I can’t tell you how many times, and once again, this is super subjective to me. And I’m not writing a lot of checks for CPG companies. So, I’m not the best person to ask. But I see this all the time. And, I hear this from a lot of my friends – CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas – that say, at the end of the day, the dogs have to eat the dog food. Really, it’s as simple as that.

Alison Smith:
I like it. So, that’s another step one for step two, I think that’s really helpful.

Marc Nathan:
Yeah. And, this is the hard part. When you are starting to taste and test a product, you’re giving it to your friends and family. They’re not going to tell you to your face that your baby is ugly. So, you have to make sure that you’re getting an honest reaction from people. We went to the farmers market, I guess it’s about six months ago, it was really early on in COVID.

Marc Nathan:
And so, I’m at Lakeline farmers market, and I’m walking around, and the best part about me going to farmers market, I was actually, know people that are vendors there, so great. Hey, how are you? Good to see you, all that. So, I went to another vendor, and they had a package. I’ve never seen it before. And I said, “What’s this?” They said it’s a new snack brand, and it’s local.

Marc Nathan:
I said, “I’m in, I’ll buy it right now.” So, I bought two bags, took them home without trying it because during COVID, you can’t taste anything. I’m not going to say what the brand is because I opened it up. And at first, it was cool. It was like a puff. I tasted it. It was great. And then, three seconds later, the aftertaste was so awful, that I literally spit it out. And I never do that. It was like a cartoon.

Marc Nathan:
So, I thought maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I ate something wrong. So, I bring my kids in, and all of a sudden, in a row one, two, three, four, spit it out, spit it out, spit it out. And, half of that pack is still sitting in my pantry. But it’ll never get eaten because… and it’s just one of those things. You really have to understand what the taste is. And it’s really, really hard.

Marc Nathan:
Because you need a lot of people to tell you. Yes, no, or maybe so. And that’s really hard, especially now, we can’t really go out and do things like that. So, another challenge-

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. It’s so important to not only… I feel like so many founders that we know, we’ve worked with, we haven’t worked with, where they make the product just for themselves, when you got to make it for others.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely, absolutely. I see that all the time. And, it’s something that I will tell you a huge perk about working for CPG, and both of you know this. This is not true in software I can promise you. I get a package two or three times a week, UPS, Amazon.

Karin Samelson:
My favorite part.

Marc Nathan:
It’s the best. And that box, whatever that box is, I don’t care if it’s a big box, small box, you open it, and you’re so happy because it’s somebody’s baby, you get to try and taste. And so, we are very, very fortunate that those boxes have not stopped.

Karin Samelson:
The magic of consumer goods.

Marc Nathan:
It’s the greatest.

Karin Samelson:
All right. Alison, I saw you lingering on this last question. So, last but not least, Marc.

Marc Nathan:
I like the hard ones, go for it.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Who are some CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas that inspire you that we should… other consumer goods people can look at?

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. I’m glad you didn’t say who are your favorites because it’s like picking which kid is your favorite. I have one, but I can’t tell anybody. I’m kidding. The bottom line, some inspirational brand, and I’m going to go local. And, I’m just going to name them because they’re friends, they’re people that I really like. And, I really like [Cristiano Pardo 00:57:30]. He’s got a Brazilian cheese bread.

Marc Nathan:
And, I think it’s phenomenal. I think it’s great. I really like Morgan Potts with Granarly, which is a whiskey baked granola, who I just adore her, and I love the brand. Then, I think that Kevin Newsum with Steamm, and his cacao sweeten espresso shot is a phenomenal brand. Next, I absolutely adore Chantal Piet with stroopwafel or Stroop Club. She’s the greatest. There are a lot of local awesome brands that are achieving what I call escape velocity.

Marc Nathan:
They’re getting beyond Austin, getting beyond the local. I know I said four or five. And I’m probably missing 100, which is a shame because I love them all. But there are certain brands, and certain people here that you just like to see succeed. You like to see help. There are so many of them. It’s really hard to pick any, but these are inspirational people because they’re getting into national retail in a lot of cases.

Marc Nathan:
Hema Reddy with her Wundernuggets is getting into national retail, which I think is great. I think that there’s a lot of people that want to see those companies succeed. And frankly, and here’s the best part, we’re seeing a lot of companies moving to Austin for a variety of reasons. Look, people are landing in Austin now with their brands. It’s not just food and bev.

Marc Nathan:
I’ve seen a lot of apparel, specifically shoes. I’m seeing a lot of shoe brands coming here. And I’m seeing a lot of those places because born in Austin, made in Austin is actually a brand unto itself. It matters. If it was born in Idaho, unless you’re a potato, who cares? But I think that the made in Austin brand is really valuable. We touched on Kendra Scott.

Marc Nathan:
One of the biggest consumer brands in the entire world right now is YETI right here in Austin. We’ve got things like Tecovas boots here that are doing Superbowl ads. It’s just a phenomenal place to be.

Alison Smith:
It’s exciting. And we ask this question because Karin and I really don’t want to make it harder for people. We don’t think that you have to reinvent the wheel. Definitely, and check out these people, and model, and see what they’re doing for your brand.

Marc Nathan:
Right, right. And here’s the best part, you can absolutely do that, you can see what they’re doing on the public side through, once again, there’s Facebook and Instagrams. You can see what they’re doing on the private side by meeting them because they’re very, very vocal, and they come to these events, they show up. I will make a plug for naturallyaustin.org.

Marc Nathan:
It’s a great organization for a lot of people. The current, how should I say this? The woman who’s phenomenal, Emily Keeley, who’s running, it is now the director of marketing for her parent group. So, I’m not exactly sure who they’re going to bring in. I’m sure they’ll be announced shortly. But that’s another great group. In Dallas, you’ve got DFW CPG, which is a similar organization, which I think is doing phenomenally well.

Marc Nathan:
I’m a sponsor and a very active member of a Slack group called Startup CPG, which I think is great. There’s a Facebook group that I’m actually meeting with somebody on New Year’s Day on Friday, who I met through another Facebook group called OMGCPG. And, I think that’s a really good one. I see a lot of Austin names pop up on that one occasionally.

Marc Nathan:
But there’s really not a lot of national organizations for CPG support, that are not themselves events, like fancy food show, or naturally expo, or all those things. So, we’re starting to see some of those organizations pop up.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. So, join some, mingle-

Marc Nathan:
Show up.

Karin Samelson:
Connect.

Alison Smith:
It’s all about community. Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Absolutely. Just showing up is really, really critical. And, it’s so easy to do that now online. There’s a brand that I love out of California that I met here in Austin a few months ago. And now, I see it online. It’s a ginger beer. And it’s an Aussie ginger beer. It’s fantastic. And I see her all the time, Donna Katz. It’s called Hard G’s. And, it’s just a great group.

Marc Nathan:
There’s actually one in Houston doing something very similar. That’s Erin Holt Simpson, with her brand Thirdborn. I find them to be plucky, and fun, and interesting. And like I said, and I’m going to be very direct right here, I’m going to be very blunt. This is just my personal experience, it’s not true for everybody. I have found that most of the brands we’ve discussed are run by women.

Marc Nathan:
And I find that these women are typically, and I’ve actually specialized in working with female entrepreneurs for many years. Long before I had a lot of girls, and kids, and all that, I like dealing with female entrepreneurs for one reason. I’m not playing to my audience here. I’m telling you the truth. I find that women are typically a lot more coachable than men.

Marc Nathan:
And I find that women are much, much better at synthesizing a lot of disparate data. Whereas, most guys that I talk to, especially those proverbial two 20-year-olds in hoodies, building software companies, they just listen to the last blog post they read. And, they just go do whatever that is without really thinking about it.

Marc Nathan:
But I find that women also tend to want to be more not motherly, but want to put a smile in your face. So, they really do care what you think about their brand, they’re not just looking to sell it. Whereas, male-dominated brands, this is not true in Austin, of course, but male-dominated brands are really just about self and velocity. It’s a financial aspect to it less than the taste, and the brand, and how it makes you feel.

Karin Samelson:
Not playing to your audience, eh.

Marc Nathan:
No, I’m trying not to. I would never pander.

Karin Samelson:
Well, Marc, it’s really such a pleasure. You’ve provided so much value to our listeners, and we’re so excited to have you on, and to get to know you a little bit better. Would you like to leave the audience with anything, a link, a call to action?

Marc Nathan:
Yes. Well, first of all, thank you both very, very much for inviting me. I feel very honored that I mean, in the same sentence, as a lot of the people you’ve already had in your podcast, I really appreciate it. The fact is, is that I never expected to be in any leadership role of any CPG ever – let alone one for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas. And now that I am somewhat thrust into that position, through my own making, of course, I got to tell you, I really, really enjoy it.

Marc Nathan:
I find it so fascinating, and so fun, and so interesting. And it’s because of people like you who are building this, and actually doing the professional things that these brands need on the marketing side to make them work, that this whole thing keeps turning. So, I think it’s really, really a testament to what you’re doing in such a short amount of time to build your brand.

Marc Nathan:
So, I really appreciative that you invited me in the first place. That said, the only thing I can say is, gosh, I have so many things I like to plug, and my favorite subject is myself, which you’ve given me an hour to talk about. So, I appreciate that. Obviously, the law firm, egannelson.com. That’s obvious. If you want to connect with me online, very best way to do this through LinkedIn.

Marc Nathan:
And, I’m easy to find. Actually, I’m easy to find anywhere on LinkedIn or on the internet. It’s marc1919, marc1919 is my very first high school email address that I basically kept through many, many years of online personas. So, marc1919 is nine times out of 10 me on any platform you can imagine. But LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it.

Marc Nathan:
And also, please, please, please attend the Wake Up! CPG Meetup (amazing for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond), which we hold on the fourth Thursday of every month. So, the next one coming up won’t matter because it’ll be online. The meetup is the Austin consumer Products meetup, if you want to find it there, or on Facebook Wake Up! CPG.

Alison Smith:
Wonderful.

Karin Samelson:
Yup. We’ll be there too. So, you’ll say hi.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Good. It won’t be a party without you.

Alison Smith:
Well, Marc, thank you again. This is a lot of fun.

Marc Nathan:
I enjoyed this very, very much. I really appreciate letting me talk. Thank you.

Karin Samelson:
Thanks, Marc. Enjoy being with all the kiddos.

Alison Smith:
Yeah.

Marc Nathan:
Good way to put it. Let’s try and enjoy.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas – the ideal pod for CPG entrepreneurs in Austin Texas and beyond. 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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#11: Why The Best Biz Owners Stay Humble & Scrappy, Words of Wisdom From SKU’s Chief Operating Officer

Podcast cover image with Springdale Venture Principal
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#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 cpg podcast

#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.

Sign up below to subscribe to our newsletter and get free marketing guides + how-tos!

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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 Clearing The 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

Cece’s Veggie Co
@cecesveggieco

How it started: for a little girl named Cece (founder Mason’s daughter) to get more veggies.

How it’s going: veggie (and non-veggie) lovers around the country packing their meals with even more nutrients with help from these traditional noodle and rice substitutes.

Not only do these pre-made veggie noodles make it easier for home cooks, Cece’s has a patented technology to create the highest quality rice and noodles that last longer on the shelf. 

Two carrots up for less waste and more nourishment!

Favorite Product: Organic Butternut Spirals

cpg entrepreneurs image of cece's veggie noodle co

Rhythm Superfoods
@rhythmsuperfoods

Plant-based snacks that are healthy and taste good – we’re here for it. 

For Rhythm Superfoods, it all started in a local juice bar’s kitchen where the founders first experimented with their beloved Kale Chips. People loved it, and the rest is snacking history.

Rhythm received another investment in mid-2020 with plans to drive growth with innovation and marketing. We can’t wait to see those plans in action because, well, we’re hungry for more.

Favorite Product: Organic Kale Chips Kool Ranch 

cpg entrepreneurs image of rhythm superfoods

EPIC Provisions
@epicbar

If you can believe it, this meat-centric brand was founded by former vegetarians.

After trialing vegetarian and vegan diets, founders Taylor and Katie found success in maximizing their athletic performance (endurance running!) when they tried the Paleo Diet and created a product that was lacking on the grocery store shelves: a 100% grass fed meat snack with added fruits and nuts that was perfect for on-the-go.

After only three years of making these meat snacks, General Mills purchased the company for $100 million.

Now they live their lives on the ranch a couple hours away raising bison and preaching the regenerative agriculture word as far and wide as they can.

Favorite Product: Duck Fat

cpg entrepreneurs image of epic bar duck fat

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!

Sign up below to subscribe to our newsletter and get free marketing guides + how-tos!

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

culina yogurt podcast cover image
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#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:

Join Umai’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

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

nadamoo podcast
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#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: 

Stay in touch:

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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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