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#4: Shaking up the Market with Pasture-Raised Eggs and Cricket Protein

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#4: Shaking up the Market with Vital Farms Pasture-Raised Eggs and Exo Cricket Protein

Believe us when we say we’re eggstatic to share this week’s episode. 😬🥚 We chat with Jason Jones, Cofounder of Vital Farms – a company created with revitalized farming methods that prioritize animal welfare!

Not only that, he’s an advisor to entrepreneurs and CEO of Exo Protein (🦗). And, before you ask – yes, we’ve tried their Whole Roasted Crickets! And yes, they’re amazing!!

Let us break it down for you…

[1:29] Meet Jason Jones, Cofounder of Vital Farms!
[3:31] Touching on conscious capitalism.
[4:49] The “Pasture-Raised” difference – how the term and method was created to set a fresh, more ethical trend.
[9:00] Recall how the food, beverage, and wellness landscape looked during Vital Farms’ inception. Were there any other brands created with transparency as a driving value?
[10:18] Transparency sometimes means sharing the dark side of your industry – then, uplifting a positive message with your company’s mission.
[12:44] Logistics! Egg breakage and refrigeration issues. How’d your team troubleshoot fragile packaging? Any tips for CPG brands with sensitive product?
[15:33] Let’s move into your consultation biz. What’re some of the biggest pain points that entrepreneurs experience?
[18:21] Some issues that result in failure for a new business more often than others.
[21:00] What was your background leading up to Vital Farms? Wandering, but not lost.
[28:26] Staying humble – a quick company culture blurb + when Karin met Jason.
[30:28] How’d you end up at Exo Protein? Tackling new marketing challenges when you sell crickets to the U.S. market.
[38:47] Barrier to entry for western consumers – how’re you solving for this today?

Alison (Recorded):
Hey, hey, y’all, Alison here, I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcast. I know you’re about to get a lot of valuable information from it. But I also wanted to hop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for Standard Operating Procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free, and I’d love for you to have it, and use it in your biz as well. So, just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right, cheers.

Alison:
Welcome everyone to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk about CPG marketing to help business owners and marketers alike grow. This is Karin, and I’m Alison, we are the co-founders of Umai Marketing, and today we have Jason Jones. He is an entrepreneur extraordinaire, and CEO of Exo Protein. I added a little flair for you.

Jason:
Hey, y’all. Good to be here.

Karin:
Thanks for joining us, Jason.

Jason:
I appreciate the invite. Good to see y’all.

Karin:
Yeah, so a little bit of a background. Jason and I met while he was the president and co-founder of Vital Farms. This is my first real CPG job.

Karin:
Jason, can you tell us a little bit about co-founding Vital and what those early days looked like?

Jason:
It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years, I think, since Matt and I, we started the company. So, to be clear, Matt and Katherine had the farm, so they purchased the land in ’07 and had chickens that they had put out to pasture quite literally with the idea of producing a better egg. In late 2008 or 2009, I met them, heard about what they were doing, heard about these birds that were running around outdoors in south Austin, and that just sounded like something that the world needed.

Jason:
So, I met Matt out at the farm, and just loved what they had started there, and we formed a company. And, the meager Jones nest-egg went into the company as our working capital really, for a while.

Jason:
And, we set out to bring that really honest and authentic, very small farming method. We wanted to, how do you keep it small and true to the ethos of high, high animal welfare that centered on the life that that bird got to enjoy in contrast to factory farming, which we’re probably all familiar with by now.

Jason:
But how do we do that and keep it honest, keep it really legitimate on the farm, but scale it up? And, the early days were more humble than you would believe. There was a lot of mistakes that we made, but we really figured out on the farm, what it meant to raise a bird outside.

Jason:
That’s very contrary to pretty much how any other egg at the time was being produced, and found some great partners in different parts of the country where it wasn’t quite so hot and dry, and that worked out well. We were able to find some good partners, some good supplier farms up in the north-west Arkansas area. That’s really the first place we went. And, climate worked out really great, and we found some willing partners who would do things our way, and worked out a model that was really beneficial for them.

Jason:
Karin, you remember, we were always talking about our stakeholder model and that version of conscious capitalism that really, it’s not just all about the profit and the bottom line, and making the shareholders wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but business can and should be so much more. And, I think we’re all acclimated to that now, especially in the natural food space. And, here in Austin where everybody seems purpose-driven and mission-minded, we can go sell a lot of product and do well for ourselves. But, we really are making the world better.

Jason:
Anyhow, we tried really hard to embody that from the beginning of Vital, and I give that really purpose backbone that we always worked off of. I give that a lot of credit for the success that Vital has seen, in addition to the wonderful people we had, like yourself, who were part of that crew in the very beginning, and then kind of in the middle bit, and now today in its current incarnation there’s great people walking around who are championing that very important message that we can do better, and we ought not have to compromise the well-being of another sentient creature to get cheap food.

Jason:
And so, it feels good to do that. And really, it’s validating because customers are out there, willing to buy these products and usually pay a little more for them. And, we did that at the right time in the right place with a lot of the right people like yourself. So, it’s been quite a run.

Karin:
Giving me all, saying a lot of nice things. So, Vital Farms really did champion the term “pasture-raised”. It was something that we always, everybody else was cage-free. They were free-ranged. And, what do you think Vital did so right in making it such a huge explosion of the term and a way of raising animals?

Jason:
Yeah, that was a very conscious decision. I remember having a discussion with Matt very early on, how are we going to talk about our product? What is the label claim, or the term, that we’re going to use to talk about this stuff, how the birds get to live, truly, every day?

Jason:
And, it was always pasture-raised because that felt like a term that had not been adulterated yet. You got to rewind 11 or 12 years from where we sit today. The concept of even grass-fed beef was not nearly as prominent as part of the vernacular as it is today.

Jason:
So, we needed a term that hadn’t been bastardized, unfortunately, by larger producers. Cage-free was a thing back then. And, that’s arguably a step up from being in a cage. But still, it’s not a great way to live if you’re a laying hen. And then, there’s free-range, which conjures up a certain, I think, a mental picture for most people until you really get educated on the matter, and you realize that means you have access to the outdoors, but you may not be taking advantage of it, or it’s not really a nice lifestyle.

Jason:
So, pasture-raised, it was really, as of then, it was undefined, and we saw that as, we definitely needed to claim that term and be very proactive in defining it, so education was always, arguably, what we were doing. We were marketing, but we were really educating, not very sophisticated, but we were really honest about it.

Jason:
You know, we were always talking about transparency and authenticity. And, somebody had a question about, what did pasture-raised mean, and we would tell them. And, we got as specific as they would want to. You can’t put all that stuff on your carton, but it needed to be somewhere for the consumer who’s interested. And, we would tell them whatever they wanted to know. We would even talk about some of the less shiny parts of farming. The chickens don’t live forever, that kind of thing. What do you with them when they get some age on them? And, we would just be transparent.

Jason:
And, I think we got a lot of credit for that. But, it was much more about, what does pasture-raised mean that it was about Vital Farms, the brand, in the early days. And, people didn’t really know about us yet. I think today, we’ve advanced quite a bit, although there’s still loads of room for people to be buying better eggs.

Jason:
But, when you’re a new brand, you can do what you can to get your name out there. We had a great logo and imagery, and stuff you were doing on social, Karin, was really getting us out there in a big, big way. But, there’s a lot of people, a lot of consumers out there. And, because Vital Farms wasn’t recognizable yet, we would feature that term, pasture-raised. And so yeah, we definitely were more about, what does pasture-raising mean than, here’s our cool brand. Let us tell you about our sales. It was more, let’s describe, really, this farming method.

Jason:
And, that was at a time when everybody was hungry for more information. Michael Pollan had been writing his books for a while. And, we’d seen some documentaries that were telling us we needed to be more careful about the food choices we were making, how we were voting with those dollars and that kind of thing.

Jason:
And, we were there to meet that education, not starved, but hungry consumer, and take them wherever they wanted to go. And thankfully, I think pasture-raised now stands up as a term. It has not been green-washed or homogenized in any way. I think people see that now. You’ll see it on a carton of milk. You’ll see it on butter and eggs, obviously. And, I think people really do know now that basically the animal got to live like it was intended, running around outdoors at least during the day.

Jason:
So, we were a part of that, I think, not all of it. But, I’m really proud of what we did.

Karin:
Yeah, sorry.

Alison:
No, you’re good. So, I wanted to ask, when was Vital Farms? When did y’all found it?

Karin:
2009.

Alison:
2009. So, when you guys were founding? Wow.

Karin:
Founded.

Alison:
When you founded Vital Farms, were you looking at other CPG brands that we also as transparent as y’all? Or, were y’all carving that path?

Jason:
Yeah, it’s a great question. It was definitely the early days of the industry. And, by this time, in natural CPG, I think Vital is one of the more, one of the pillar brands I would say. There wasn’t a lot of this going on. You had Organic Valley. You had Niman or Niman Ranch, I’ve never actually known how to pronounce that. You got the sense that they were doing things right. And then, they’ve been other brands like Maple Hill up in New York doing really amazing, truly grass fed and pasture-raised dairy.

Alison:
Love their milk.

Jason:
Oh yeah. The cheese is so good. It’s different from the cheese we grew up on. You know something’s different about how that cow is living, which is a good thing, but it’s a different taste profile.

Jason:
But yeah, there weren’t a whole lot of models, honestly. Really, we were focused, we were always very careful, and this can be a tough needle to thread if you’re a natural, organic, better for you food company. You need people, in certain cases, to understand kind of the dark side of what you are an alternative to. And in our case, it was, our chickens don’t live like this. They have it really good. And, if you were a chicken, you would want to be on a Vital Farm than opposed to a big factory situation.

Jason:
But, you don’t want to lead with the negative. You want to have a positive message that talks about the good aspects of what you do. And, it’s tricky. Karin, you remember this. We needed people to understand where most of their food was coming from and what that was like, and then, present a better alternative without having a downer message. I think by that irreverence and bit of a humor that we established, I still remember stuff you were doing with hashtags and stuff, “Put an egg on it”, and stuff like that, it kept it light, but also got people to think, because consumers in the age that we’re in with all the information we have and questions that get raised that maybe 10, 20 years ago just wouldn’t have happened if you grew up eating out of a Campbell soup can like I did. We were there to meet that.

Jason:
And yeah, now it’s everywhere, especially in our neighborhood, or neck of the woods, of the industry here with all of the better-for-you concepts and brands that are getting launched. It’s a great time to care about what’s going into your body, what you’re feeding your family and your kids, and that kind of thing.

Jason:
So, all of us say this a lot. We’re all doing the good work, from the ground up, changing an industry for the better. We’re not depending on some government agency to change a law or something. We’re just putting better alternatives out there for people. And they go for them, once they understand why it’s worth it.

Karin:
Yeah, and I think defining the term, setting really stringent standards and abiding by them and sharing them transparently, I think that was such a huge portion of people’s passion. They believed it. And, little touches, like the Vital Times in each carton, it was like, even while you were growing and the brand was growing, there was still little pieces that made it seem really like small farm. And, I think appeals to a lot of people. Well, being honest too, because the eggs do come from a lot of small farms. So, very cool.

Karin:
I did have a quick question about logistics, and off the marketing, but the breakage, the refrigeration, looking back on it now, with all the brands that we’ve worked with, I’m just like, how on earth did y’all handle that? And, what would be your best advice to an entrepreneur that has glass jars, and they experience a lot of breakage and challenges logistically?

Jason:
Yeah, man, it turns out when you take an egg and ship it across the country, lots of stuff can happen. And, we would have bouts of this where a truck driver just wasn’t careful or maybe the road was icy because they were coming through the Ozarks or something. And, as it turns out, eggs are fragile.

Jason:
The first thing that you’ve got to do is to plan for it. You don’t want to be starting your brand, coming up with your unit economics, and telling a buyer, here’s our pricing, and this is what we will give you in trade-spend. You can’t forget about spoilage of any type, whether it’s, something gets broken in transit, or it gets hung up, or it’s not moving, and it goes out of code-dating while it’s sitting in a warehouse somewhere.

Jason:
You need to plan pretty conservatively, especially when you’re small because you just don’t have the scale to smooth out bumps like that, and they will come. So, I guess the first thing I would say that may sound somewhat intelligent anyway, is just plan for it so that your model accounts for a healthy degree of that, especially in the early days because issues are going to come, and I’ve worked with companies like you.

Jason:
I’ve done a lot of consultative stuff and mentoring younger entrepreneurs or just road-stage companies. And, there’s some unfortunate stories where you know what it costs you, so you come up with what the economics you think are going to be, and this is how much cash you’re going to need to keep it all going, and you didn’t plan for the $80,000 charge back you’re going to get from the big grocery customer if any number of things go south. And, there’s the front end, and the consumer story, and the branding, and all that. And then, there’s the reality of, you can’t run out of cash. And so, planning for that, well ahead of when you’re going to need to get through that batch of broken eggs, or expired product, or your co-man put your labels on upside down, and it’s just going to take three weeks to get it done.

Jason:
Stuff happens. And, that’s just the struggle of needing to have good partners and be able to control your destiny a little bit. It’s just harder to do when you’re small and in the early stages. I don’t know, the first thing you should do is plan for things to be a little rougher than you think they should.

Karin:
Cool, well seguing out of Vital and into your consulting work that you just mentioned. What were some of the biggest pain points of the entrepreneurs that you worked with? What did you just hear constantly?

Jason:
Well, entrepreneurs, especially the more visionary types, they’re their own breed of cat. And, I think it’s really hard for anyone to be a super well-rounded, I guess you’d say leader, where you come up with a concept. You can breathe life into this thing. You can sell the shit out of it, whether it’s to a consumer or a buyer or people online, and then also get all of those nuts and bolts we were just talking about where the rubber meets the road, much less the economics of the exercise. And, you’re out raising money and trying not to run out of it, keep your investors happy, whether it’s your uncle or some equity firm.

Jason:
So, there’s a lot of disciplines going there in this exercise. And I guess, one thing I’ve come up against more than once, is just a founder who birthed something into the world, and it definitely has its place, and they have some level of momentum.

Jason:
But, it can be hard for visionary types to get out of their own way. I’ll say that nicely. And, either take advice about, hey, I can see around this corner, because I’ve been to this movie before. And you should prioritize this and maybe put a little more focus on, getting a good accounting system underneath you, or maybe getting a better co-manufacturer because this one’s totally killing you. It just reads like a book, even though it may not be that clear to you.

Jason:
Rare is the visionary who is also a great operator. And so, that’s advice I would often end up hearing myself say to somebody, is like, hey, it’s time to go get maybe somebody who really, really has moved a lot of stuff around the country before, and not just somebody, a friend or relative, who you’ve put in this position, or an expert in accounting who actually understands CPG, and trade-spin, and the games that UNFI will play with you, and how they extort you this way and that, instead of the guy who’s done your dad’s taxes for the last 20 years. Yeah, he’s an accountant, but he doesn’t understand this industry.

Jason:
So, I guess knowing when to bring in seasoned help in certain disciplines and from the industry, that’s something that it probably takes everybody a while to learn, but, the quicker you do, the quicker you, like I said, can get out of your own way and start delegating to people who actually understand a certain function better than you, because it’s quite enough to be a visionary and put something new out in the world.

Alison:
Have you seen a lot of great entrepreneurs with a lot of product fail because of that in your time as consultant?

Jason:
Yeah, fail, I guess there’s a spectrum of that. I’ve seen a lot where they should be much further down the road than they are. By the way, I’m not trying to come off as some expert who would do everything right or knows all the right moves. I sure don’t.

Karin:
Who does?

Alison:
Yes.

Jason:
Nobody. But, I’ve seen businesses fold, for sure, because you just run out of cash because you weren’t planning well, or you weren’t focused. Another thing that happens a lot, is being so eager to launch your next product line when you have way more room to go do what you’re already doing much more deeply. And, those are things you can get kind of a sixth sense for just being in the industry a while.

Jason:
But yeah, unless you have a billionaire backer who just keeps writing checks, and I’ve actually seen that happen before too, which is, you could argue, equally unfortunate because sometimes, things just need to run their course and get cleared out of the way. But, it usually does come down to the economics one way or the other, and it’s a ruthless game. I don’t think it’s quite as tough as, say, opening a restaurant, where, I guess, what I’ve heard, is 90% of those don’t hang around.

Jason:
But yeah, it’s tough like any industry. There’s lot’s to rope together and get right. And you have to be in a favorable set of conditions. I won’t call it luck, but you could look at Vital. We put this out in the market at perfect time. We were really just ahead of the crest of this wave of awareness and desire for something better. We were also in Austin, so right up the road you have Whole Foods, and then an hour the other way, you’ve got HEB.

Jason:
You’re in Texas, and I was talking about this earlier today, there’s such a pride for whatever it is that makes Texas, Texas. I was talking with somebody earlier who spent a lot of time abroad in the first part of their career, as did I, and we, just saying, you can be in a bar in Roppongi in Tokyo, and somebody hears you’re from Texas, and you got something to talk about, because that’s like its own brand, and even within that, Austin, as we all know.

Jason:
So, not sure where I was going with that, but…

Alison:
So you’re saying, if you have a CPG brand, and you don’t live in Austin, you better get down here quick.

Jason:
One way of looking-

Alison:
…in Austin.

Jason:
We’re not going to mention that city outside of Denver that shall not be named.

Alison:
Yeah, no.

Karin:
It’s where I went to school.

Jason:
You were smart.

Karin:
It’s a nice place.

Jason:
I think I would check that one out too, if I had it to do over again.

Alison:
But, what was your background before Vital? Were you in CPG? Were you just interested in CPG space? Or, what were-

Karin:
We were just interested in chickens.

Alison:
Or, do you like eggs a lot?

Jason:
I just couldn’t get enough eggs in the morning. Maybe, I don’t know, wandering but not lost. I didn’t have a background in agriculture, didn’t really think a great deal about the food space. I guess, my journey, I always knew I would peel off and do something more for myself as opposed to being in a larger company. I guess in 2008, I had been at Motorola, which was a Fortune 50. You’re talking 40+ billion in revenue, 150,000 employees when I joined.

Jason:
And, that was amazing for a lot of reasons, learned so much. It was a great, in some senses, place to kind of come up and cut your teeth. But, I always knew because it’s been in my family’s blood, we’ve always just kind of done our own thing, I supposed, and finished my grad school up in Chicago. And, we just wanted to be in Austin.

Jason:
So, we got down here mainly because we just love the town, and love the vibe and the energy that was here, and we also knew it was friendly for young business. And, that certainly proved to be the case.

Jason:
What I really knew I needed to do differently, was I needed to care about what I was doing when I popped out of bed in the morning. And, in a big, massive company, it’s easy to feel like it doesn’t really matter what your function in your cubicle is. I couldn’t deal with that anymore. It was soul-crushing.

Alison:
Real quick, what were you doing at Motorola?

Jason:
Man, everything because I would get bored. So, I started out in finance. I did audit. I got into a risk management strategy role for the CFO, traveling abroad a lot, which was super cool, especially before family and stuff. But then, I got into supply chain for a couple years. And then, my last role there I was managing the global marketing strategy for mobile devices.

Alison:
Wow.

Jason:
Ah, it’s a fancy, long title. What it meant was, that I was super frustrated because we could all see that smart phone was coming. This was, iPhone launched in ’08, and we just knew that the wrong people were driving there. We were over-engineering products and totally missing what the consumer really wanted. And, a lot of us knew that, but weren’t able to impact it due to the culture of that once-great company, very unfortunately.

Jason:
So anyhow, that really, I guess, teed me up to say, enough of this. I need to control my own destiny more, and I need to care about what I’m doing. I needed to be advancing something important in the world, and I just didn’t feel that was. And so, getting in to Austin was part of another young venture, kind of an international tourism play with some friends. It was doing well, but it wasn’t going to scale quickly enough. And, that’s when, like I said, I met Matt and Katherine and the farm they had started, and I guess, the bones of that brand. And we kind of formalized it and grew it from there.

Jason:
And what I knew was, it’s kind of funny, it was more of a heart decision than a head one. I was that early consumer who was looking for something better, and preferred organic, and this was before gluten-free and all these other nerd badges you can throw on something. But, just being that consumer, I knew there was a place for it, without having any sophisticated market research or anything. We just had a napkin, and on the back of that, showed that, hey, if we get a little slice of this, if people are willing to pay, and we found out very quickly they were.

Jason:
So anyhow, I wasn’t a farmer, but I also wasn’t, I don’t deserve credit for much. Maybe I do for at least being humble enough to have had a really nice, secure, high-paying job and fancy degree from Kellogg and whatnot. But, you fast-forward a couple months, and I’m out kicking around in the dust, chasing chickens around with a fishing net, quite literally.

Alison:
Is that literally how you catch a chicken?

Jason:
The longer the handle on the net, the better because they are fast.

Alison:
Wow.

Jason:
Oh yeah. We went through a lot of nets-

Alison:
Like a pole skimmer.

Jason:
That would have been smart. They were quick, man. We were going to Academy like twice a week to buy more nets. It was ridiculous.

Alison:
Oh my gosh.

Jason:
There was so many stories. But you got to be humble enough to go knock around in the dirt in the 100 degrees and figure out what the hell does a chicken need when it lives outside, especially down here, and go to farmers’ market and schlep your eggs that you’re really proud of. You can’t really be above anything when you want to part of getting something off the ground.

Jason:
And yeah, it just always from the beginning felt really good to be in the food space because we can all relate to it. It’s all, in times of COVID, it’s essential. If there’s anything essential, it’s this. And, to be elevating that and improving, I really do believe, the quality of people’s lives, and health, and wellness, and our consciousness too, depending on what you believe. Nobody would feel there should be more suffering in the world. How about we don’t cram chickens into a, let’s cut off the front of their face, and cram them into a cage with eight of their friends? That’s not a good way to live, and we can do better.

Jason:
And, it’s a cool time to be alive because there’s a lot at our disposal, but let us make advancements in the world again from the ground up, and particularly in the food space. The barriers are low. Anybody can come up with a healthier version of something in their own kitchen, and then take it Wheatsville. That’s a beautiful way to move through the world. And, there’s all kind of rewards out there for us. But, we’re making the world better. I really believe that.

Karin:
I like that. And, I think there’s something to be said about making a business plan on a napkin. I feel like that’s a recurring thing. A lot of great businesses come from a napkin. So, maybe that’s the goal.

Jason:
A good buddy of mine, he’s from Zimbabwe, but he’s been living in London, or outside of London, for most of his life. But, he gave me a book called, “The Beermat Entrepreneur”, and what they mean is like the little coaster that your pint sits on in the pub. But basically, exactly about that. And, I suppose I’ve taken advantage of some of the highest forms of business education, where I got to go to school and things.

Jason:
And bottom line, none of it’s rocket science. There’s formulas and fancy methodologies and models and whatnot. But yeah, it doesn’t have to be super complicated. It certainly wasn’t for us at Vital. The main thing you got to do is put something out there where people are going to really go for it on its own merits. If you’re having to market too hard, y’all probably know this better than I do, to a degree, the product really needs to sell itself. Otherwise, it’s going to be pushing uphill pretty hard.

Jason:
So anyway, it’s neat because we get to tinker around in that space in the food world, and it doesn’t take years or millions of dollars to come up with something great and differentiate it.

Karin:
Yeah, well.

Jason:
And drink more beer, by all means, you’ll be a better [inaudible 00:28:22] person.

Karin:
I love the humble aspect. I remember one thing at Vital, where [inaudible 00:28:29] here. You guys were having interviews, and some guy came in suit, and it was immediately, he was like, no. He didn’t care-

Alison:
Poor guy.

Karin:
…what the guy had to say, it was just like, no. So, true to the roots. True to the farming roots, I appreciate that.

Jason:
Yeah, enough with the-

Alison:
Know your audience.

Karin:
Know your audience. That’s important. One take away from this, know your audience.

Jason:
We thought that guy was going to be too high-maintenance for us.

Karin:
We don’t even remember. [crosstalk 00:29:00]

Jason:
I remember interviewing you. I actually do.

Alison:
What was Karin wearing? Like, overalls? And, I don’t know [inaudible 00:29:07]

Karin:
I had piece of wheat coming out of my mouth.

Alison:
Like, spot on.

Jason:
It wouldn’t have been a bad move. I can’t say I remember that. But, I just remember you leaving, and then, you remember who else was probably in the room. And, we just kind of had a pow-wow after we probably gave you, I don’t know, a dozen eggs and said, thanks for coming in.

Karin:
A six-pack.

Jason:
Sorry.

Karin:
So already, I can tell what you felt about me on that.

Jason:
Times were tough. Maybe we were sold out. Look at it that way. But yeah, I just remember looking around, and everybody was like, she’s exactly what we need. And, of course, you were and helped really take our online presence and really the face of the brand, if you think about it, for probably most people anymore. I don’t know so much about eggs, just categories, certain ones are more, that’s probably a little less prone to D-to-C exploration, but anymore, really the front of your store is online. And, that’s the first exposure most people are going to get to whatever it is you’re offering. And yeah, you’re a big part of the reason we’ve been able to grow Vital and get to where it has.

Karin:
Ay yay, Jason, this isn’t about me. That’s very nice though.

Jason:
It’s certainly not about me.

Karin:
Well, it is. I personally, we’re friends. And I don’t even know how you ended up in Exo. So can you talk a little more about your new venture?

Alison:
Exo Protein.

Jason:
Yeah so, I’m a sucker for something that really is disruptive, I suppose. So, really was neck-deep in Vital, kind of running the whole ball of wax for most of the early years of it. And then, we started bringing on people who were, just had a lot of potential to take the thing forward, probably in ways that I just couldn’t have. And certainly, I was also really tired and kind of worn out. It takes a lot out of you, especially when you don’t have a lot of equity money behind you to go have some of the things that are nice to have when you’re trying to scale quickly.

Jason:
Anyway, I took a bit of a break. And thankfully, things aligned for me to be able to do that. I had missed an awful lot, kind of family stuff. We have three kids by now, and all of those came after Vital. And so anyway, was able to just kind of decompress a little bit and decided, yeah, I definitely don’t want to leave the food space. There was just too much good stuff going on, and my heart is here.

Jason:
So, I would work with in an advisory, or consultative, or mentor capacity, bunch of brands across categories, really learned a ton, and I think, hopefully, had some nice impact along the way. I guess in that period, probably about four or five years ago, I got to know the founders of Aspire Food Group.

Jason:
And, they are Canadian, but they had located the company here for the same reasons that many food companies want to be established here because of the network and other things. Anyhow, their purpose is to solve for all sorts of problems across the global stage. The idea about having access to great quality protein in turbulent times, whether it’s climate, or economics, or population, or whatever, they had won a million bucks in a business competition, that Bill Clinton handed them a check back in, I think 2013, to go explore, hey, can we help feed the world with great quality protein and really rounded nutrition offering through insects?

Jason:
And, they had been hard at work ever since, working out the R&D, and all the manufacturing capability and production. This is new to the world in once sense, at least the way they’ve come across it, in kind of a modular, scalable, very economically efficient way, in a way that had never been done. Basically, they have achieved a great deal in a matter of 5 short years, they have done what probably took the poultry industry 50 to do, and that’s to bring the grow-out cycle, or the life-span, of a mature, in their case, cricket to maturity in basically 30 days, down from 60.

Jason:
And so, they’ve made massive leaps forward from a technological standpoint. And, I knew them to be just amazing humans. That’s something that I, it really matters who you’re doing something with as much as what it is that you’re actually pushing on. The people are everything, and I just had loads of respect for them, just as humans, as well as what they were trying to accomplish in the world.

Jason:
And anyway, about this time last year, I re-connected with Muhammad, one of the founding team, and basically was giving him some advice, how to approach the consumer space. And it just, long story short, sounded like a really interesting challenge that I wanted to put more time into, that involved into me coming onto the Aspire Food Group team as the chief growth officer to basically try to figure out, that really the sales piece, but the consumer piece. It’s one thing to produce all this stuff, and they’ve, we’re the leaders in the clubhouse globally in how to do that at scale with great economics that get it down to where it can compete with almost anything as a protein ingredient.

Jason:
But, the question still remains, and it sounded like a fun one to me to try to figure out, well, how do you convince the Western consumer to go for this stuff? Because there’s obviously that stigma there. And the thing is, there’s tons of really amazing reasons why it does make sense, and I wanted to think about really the marketing puzzle that that presented.

Jason:
And, that’s what I’ve been doing for 9 or 10 months now, with our Exo brand, and we’ve done a ton of very deep, primary consumer insights work that we now have in the hopper as well as our experience of selling the Exo line for years now. And, we’re kind of in this innovation and product development phase where, we’re not out here saying, this is going to be $100 million market in two years. I don’t think it’s there yet.

Jason:
But, we’re trying to be thoughtful about how we can position and then present this in formats, and in a format and brand that maybe make the most sense and can maximize on what we understand the TAM to be, as well as selling it into the pet food market, where that’s not going to be nearly as much of a challenge, and we’ve already done a good job with that.

Jason:
Yeah, it’s a fun one. And, I know it’s a little out there still for some, but we’re going to get you. You’re going to come around to it, just a matter of time.

Karin:
I like them.

Alison:
Tastes like a corn chip. [inaudible 00:35:56]

Karin:
Yeah, for people who maybe don’t know what Exo Protein is, it’s cricket protein. I think y’all have crisps, you have flour, and bars, is that right? Now you’re in that food space?

Jason:
Yeah, that is a good synopsis. We recently discontinued to crispy line, though, which was the actual whole cricket.

Karin:
That’s the one we tried, yeah.

Jason:
Yeah, it was not because people didn’t like it, actually. It was very problematic from a supply chain and production standpoint. And, this is one of those choices you make when you need to focus. And, we needed to focus on stuff we can just make with our powder, or flour, which is just kind of a roasted and ground up. It looks like flour or protein powder. And, we’re not really limited as to how that can get applied.

Jason:
So yeah, we have the Exo line of bars. There’s protein and energy bars, and they’re relatively really high in protein. And, it’s a complete protein. It’s kind of the same protein profile in terms of the full amino stack, all nine of the essentials, as you get in beef or pork or chicken, other kind of livestock-based proteins. But, it’s much, much lighter on the environment and our resources, and so less that it requires as inputs to make a pound of that.

Jason:
It’s also a lot less harmful gasses and things that are the result of the production. It’s kind of the environmental footprint of plants with the nutrition of animals. That’s one way to look at it. And, we’re just trying to figure out what really we should best go do with that in a way that navigates that stigma and addresses it and educates, and there’s going to be a lot, I think, that we learned on the Vital journey that will come to bear here.

Jason:
But, no final answers, yet. But, just telling you, telling you right here, remember this. It’s coming. It will be a thing. It is a viable, very, it’s the most responsible form of protein we can take in. And, our job is to make that in the way we define pasture-raised and animal welfare and quality in that part of the store, this is a viable option that we need to take seriously for ourselves as well as the earth.

Alison:
Yeah, and I’ll tell you, if you just go down to Waco’s Hollywood movie theater, outside there’s a ton of crickets. So, I’m sure.

Karin:
Go harvest.

Alison:
[inaudible 00:38:19]

Jason:
Yeah, send me an address.

Alison:
Okay.

Jason:
Did you go the Baylor? How do you even know that?

Alison:
I’m from Waco.

Jason:
Okay.

Alison:
Yeah. Yeah, well I mean-

Jason:
If you got a pickup, we can head up there-

Alison:
Oh, they would love you.

Jason:
[crosstalk 00:38:37]

Alison:
…y’all to swing by.

Jason:
We’ll get our nets from the first Vital farm-

Alison:
I know. There’re a lot of similarities, between Exo and Vital, it seems like. But yeah, I kind of just have one more question. You talked a little bit about the barrier, I’m sure there’s a big barrier to entry for consumers, especially Western consumers, I’m sure taking into the flour, maybe help. But, what other ways have you solved that challenge, for someone to go try a cricket?

Jason:
Well, I guess one response is, we don’t think we fully have yet, but one thing that you know across food is that, it has to be delicious. So, taste is the table-stakes. And, we’ve been, we’ve had some formulas that we had inherited for the bar line, and we’ve been tinkering with those quite a bit, to improve the eating experience and the flavor as well as the nutritionals and the macros and things.

Jason:
Our protein line is going to be 14 grams of protein and only 3 grams of sugar. So, you get into the space where that’s appealing to people on all sorts of low-carb diets.

Alison:
What does the calorie look like for that? The calorie count?

Jason:
It’s under 200. So, I’m telling you, it’s quite potent nutritional.

Alison:
It’s not going to hurt your tummy, like whey protein in the end?

Jason:
No.

Alison:
It’s a lot better, yeah.

Jason:
Yeah, so cricket powder is prebiotic inherently. So, it’s actually really great for digestion and gut health. And the fiber content is something that’s kind of a bonus. We’re actually getting to be kind of deficient across the board as a nation, I think, with respect to fiber. A lot of people are anyway in the way similar to Vitamin D and some other things, due to the way we eat anymore.

Jason:
So, there’s a fiber, a prebiotic content. There’s more iron than spinach, and great B12 and Omega 3s in all this stuff. It feels not dissimilar to the early Vital Farms days when we had all this crap to say, we need to distill it down in the most cogent way and that’s digestible.

Jason:
But anyway, yeah, it has to taste great. It has to be in a format that is not off-putting. Also, the education obviously is going to be central to, why the hell should I do that? We kind of think of insects in a certain way. And, we’re actually kind of unique on the global stage, or compared to many other cultures across the globe for whom this is already just a very natural food source. If it’s on the planet here with us, and we don’t have to be naked and afraid to take advantage of some humble but very powerful protein here.

Jason:
And yeah, don’t have all the answers yet, but that’s kind of the core of the job. And then, we’re also standing up all of the other stuff you need just as a company to go do things well in the CPG space, both grocery and D-to-C. We’re primarily D-to-C now, but the bars have been in HEB for almost a year and a half now. About a third of the HEBs out there are going to have our protein bars and energy as of this month now.

Karin:
Congratulations. That’s awesome.

Jason:
Yeah, HEB. There’s a Texas connection there, but they deserve a lot of credit. They’re kind of a mainstream grocer, but they’re way better. They’re progressive and very forward thinking, and we just had an amazing call that was so helpful with our buyer just yesterday. We were having some real talk. Like, hey, it would be great if your economics were a little bit better, about the purpose, but you need to provide us the dollars and cents.

Jason:
And so, it’s a good thing we’ve been working to go improve our supply chain and how we manufacture and our cost structure, so that we can have great answers to those questions when they come, because you can be real special, but a slot on a grocery shelf is kind of priceless for that retailer. So really, this comes full circle if you think of a stake-holder model or a consciously, capitalistic way of moving through all this.

Jason:
It has to be good for everybody, whether it’s a farmer, an animal, the consumer. Your HEB buyer. He needs to look good, or she, just in our case it’s a he, but they need to, you got to be careful today. It has to benefit everyone to be viable, or v-buyable. Think about that.

Alison:
I’m mean, we’re huge HEB fans.

Karin:
Love it.

Alison:
And stakeholder model fans. Well, thanks Jason, for joining us.

Karin:
It was fun.

Alison:
It was so nice to hear expertise. Do you want to tell everybody where you can find Exo? Besides HEB.

Jason:
Well, we’re primarily D-to-C, but all your usual online channels, be they our website or Amazon. And, we’re in about 30 HEBs today. We’re in every Cost Plus World Market that there is. They’ve been a great partner as well. It’s actually a really great account that is non-typical, but it’s a really great one.

Jason:
Yeah, a lot of other mom’s and pop’s and stuff, but we’re looking to drive our grocery presence and get that door count up. And, we’ve been doing a lot of work in the online space too to better target folks, and be able to cut everybody good deals for trying what we’ve got. So, hope everybody does.

Alison:
Yep, and they are delicious. So, don’t let the crickets scare you.

Jason:
Yeah, get over it. It’s just food.

Alison:
Get over it already, shoot.

Jason:
That’s probably not a good tag line.

Alison:
Get over it already?

Karin:
Yeah, you don’t need to pay us for that. That’s free advice.

Jason:
Congratulations on Umai, and I know for a fact from just being out there in the space that y’all are kicking tail out there, and it’s so cool to see. You can stand up food brands, you can also stand up companies like what you’ve done. And, you’re to be commended for that. You’re providing a great value, and it’s doing well by y’all as well. It’s a great space, but congratulations on your success there at Umai, and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s going to be fun to see how y’all track as well.

Alison:
Yeah, thank you.

Karin:
I mean, hey, you get a lot of credit for starting this.

Alison:
Yeah, I know. All those lunches. We owe you lunch again too, probably, once this is all over.

Jason:
Could we get arrested for going to a restaurant?

Alison:
Probably.

Karin:
I know. We’re sitting very close to each other right now.

Jason:
Yeah, I may call the authorities.

Karin:
Be safe. Stay safe out there.

Jason:
…headset.

Alison:
Yeah, we disinfected it though, so we’re clean.

Jason:
Thank you all for having me. I sure appreciate it.

Alison:
Thank you.

Jason:
Yeah, enjoyed it, and congrats.

Karin:
Thanks, Jason, we’ll talk to you soon.

Alison (Recorded):
Umai Social Circle is a CPG, agency-driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders, and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram at Umai Marketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com.

Alison (Recorded):
Catch you back here soon.

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#3: Siete Foods Mukbang, How They Nurture a +300k Community of Engaged Followers

Siete foods podcast episode cover image
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#3: Siete Foods Mukbang, How They Nurture a +300k Community of Engaged Followers

Y’all are in for a literal treat this episode! It’s this duo’s first mukbang: chip and dip Siete Foods edition. 

Alison and Karin taste test Siete Foods Spicy Blanco Cashew Queso with Grain Free Tortilla Chips (Sea Salt & Jalapeno). Then, break down the brand’s mission to better understand why their sizable Instagram following is soo engaged.

Let us break it down for you…

[1:03] Today’s mukbang product is Siete Spicy Blanco Cashew Queso! Initial thoughts, branding, ingredients.
[2:50] First, it’s time for a taste test.
[5:50] Before this, picking up Siete Foods from Whole Foods.
[6:18] Then, we take a deep dive into the greater Siete Foods brand! How’d they get their engaged, devoted audience – stellar following AND engagement (an honestly rare combo).
[9:37] Customer delight in the comments section + how our agency engages.
[13:45] Positive impact of leveraging user-generated content on their (and your own) Instagram feed
[14:29] Showing up through IGTV During times of COVID-19 getting on the IGTV!
[16:48] Posting more than just product photos – maintain authenticity and leverage software (our recommendations).
[19:20] Messaging buckets in action. Problem-solution minded approach.
[20:25] Supplemental content on Stories and how it turns a brand into a family that you want to be a part of.
[23:03] Touching on influencer partnerships and a memory from Expo West.
[28:41] Beautiful content, specifically photography created in house. Duping that content for retail advertising.
[30:15] Finally, the use of witty copy across the board. If you’re a fun brand, be fun and funny!
[32:00] Wrap it up – take the elements that would work for you (and your brand) and implement them TOMORROW. Piece by piece.

Alison:

Hey, hey y’all, Alison here. I wanted to quickly thank you for listening to our podcasts. I know you’re

about to get a lot of valuable information from it, but I also wanted to pop in and share with you guys a

free SOP, which stands for Standard Operating Procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our

agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free and I’d love for you to

have it and use it in your biz as well. So just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right,

cheers.

Alison:

Hello everyone. Welcome to the Umai Social Circle. I am Alison.

Karin:

I’m Karin.

Alison:

And that’s Karin. Today, we are doing a little taste test. We are tasting Siete Foods’ Cashew Queso and

Spicy Blanco. I’m not going to lie. I already ate probably the majority of mine, but that’s okay.

Karin:

Yeah. And I know… So Alison and I have the exact same cashew queso. But for some reason our lids are

different, but I’m sure they just ran out of blue lids and had to put white lids on. But, it’s smells. I mean,

it smells like queso, it has that tomato-y spice smell that comes with any cheesy queso.

Alison:

Smells good. Also, can we just talk about how cute this is? All Siete branding is amazing. They really play

into the Mexican culture, use a lot of colors and it just kind of makes you want to grab it off the shelf, no

matter what product. I’m also having some of their chips too, and just, it’s all colorful and bright and

definitely not boring, which I like.

Karin:

Absolutely. I mean, if I was in the aisle and I was looking for a vegan queso, I mean, even if I didn’t know

what the Siete brand was all about, the packaging just is going to immediately draw me in.

Alison:

Yep. It’s fire. And also, we had talked about this a little bit before the pod, but it’s blowing my mind, the

ingredients in this queso, so number one, first ingredient’s water, then cashews and then it has your

tomatoes and onion, green pepper, but basically you’re hydrating when youKarin:

Yeah, first ingredient’s water. That means it’s okay that you ate the whole jar already right?

Alison:

Because I’m about to finish it. Okay. Let’s dig in.

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Karin:

Yeah, let’s try it.

Alison:

I’ll pretend like it’s my first time. (silence) So it’s nutty, it’s cashew obviously. So you kind of get the

nuttiness, slight queso taste, but really, to me it’s not… It’s like another dip. It’s not a queso, but I love it.

Karin:

Yeah. It’s delicious. I mean, how… So, full disclosure, I am not vegan. I don’t eat a lot of vegan foods, so

I’m not sure how the nutritional yeast plays into giving it that cheesy texture and flavor. So I don’t really

know what that’s supposed to taste like, so yeah, I completely agree. It tastes like dip. It’s delicious. If

someone had this in a bowl at a party, I would be eating it just like it was a bean dip, even though it’s

not beans.

Alison:

It’s also paleo, gluten free, vegan, grain free, dairy free, soy free, justKarin:

It’s delicious. Yeah. I don’t like using the phrase, “guilt-free,” I don’t because guilt should never be a part

of eating.

Alison:

Oh my gosh.

Karin:

But it’s just like, I could eat this whole thing and really not regret a second of it.

Alison:

[inaudible 00:04:15] I did it. No ragrets. Yeah. Really great. I always wonder if you’re a truly vegan and

have been your whole life and never tasted a queso, I’m sure this is it for you.

Karin:

Right? And I mean, the texture, when you come in right out of the fridge, it’s a little bit thick, but heating

it up, they said, “Use a saucepan,” I used a wide pan. So it would heat faster and be more even, and it

really did come out a little bit more liquidity, but still really thick. So I mean, if you can make some

nachos out of these, some vegan nachos.

Alison:

I did see on their stories yesterday that one of their customer delight specialists that, they all get on and

do stories, which is really cool, did a avocado toast topped with some queso, yeah. It looked great.

Karin:

I like that. I mean, it’s not spicy, sorry.

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Alison:

I’m getting a little… But again, it could be my chips.

Karin:

Yeah. You’re eating the jalapeno chips. I’m eating it with just their grain-free sea salt tortilla chips. And

it’s not coming through, not even a hint of spice. I mean, it’s delicious.

Alison:

Yeah, but not spicy. It’s more for us regular [inaudible 00:05:36] who can’t handle… I’m like, “This is

perfect.”

Karin:

A lady at Whole Foods… So Allison and I went to whole foods to pick this up and she was navigating us

to the refrigerated section, the vegan refrigerated section, plant-basedAlison:

Great point, it’s refrigerated. Your other run of the mill quesos are on the shelf, all those preservatives in

them.

Karin:

So she told us where it was. She showed us where it was. She told us that Spicy Blanco was her favorite.

And she said that she wasn’t a fan of spice and that she loved it. So thank you for the heads up Whole

Foods employee.

Alison:

Yeah. Very helpful. All right. So today we’re not just eating on camera or podcast for you. We love Siete

brands. They are local Austin, but they go well beyond Austin. I think most people are aware of them.

Great products, great brand, great culture. So today we’re going to talk about how they were able to

build such an engaged, devoted community, because their community is just fire. So we’re going to do a

little deep dive and get in there and give you some tips from what Siete’s done on how you can apply it

to your own brand.

Karin:

Yeah. So we are going to be focusing on how the brand was able to build such an engaged, devoted

audience. Not only do they have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, it’s really the

engagement that those followers provide for them that impresses us so much, impresses everyone. I

mean, this is a brand to aspire to. And it’s one that we always look to for inspiration. And when it comes

to the content, when it comes to the visuals, it’s just something… It’s just really well done, right? So first

off I think that the biggest way that they were able to really… To begin with Siete, seven, it’s

representative of the seven family members, the Garza family that created the brand. And I think that

speaks volumes, right? So the bird, we found out is a heron and in Spanish, I believe Garza means heron.

Alison:

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Right. It translates in some way to Garza. So it’s all about family from, I mean, asset number one, it’s

kind of like their foundation.

Karin:

Definitely. And on their mission page, it always mentions family first, family second, business third. And I

think that that is immensely prevalent in all things that they do in their marketing. I mean, when they do

their commercials and their videos, the family’s there. It’s all of them, it’s not hired actors. So I think that

that’s a very, very beautiful touch that is seen throughout their marketing.

Alison:

Right. Even on this queso, and I’m sure it’s on some other, yeah, all the products, is they have this abuela

approved stamp. It’s right next to their gluten free certified stamp, just a nice little trademark touch. It

makes you feel warm and cozy and you kind of think of this abuela, your old grandma just like beating

you or something like that. And that’s how it feels to eat their products, which I love, so very prevalent.

Karin:

Yeah, I love that [inaudible 00:09:04]. And their slogan, their tagline, [foreign language 00:09:08], sorry

about my pronunciation. Truly, truly sorry. But it means, “Together is better.” And I don’t think that is

only their family. I think that does extend to their overall team. I’m sure they’re all family, but not blood

relatives. And I like how you said that their customer support team is on the stories, that they have free

range to just get on the stories, to share what they’re eating, to share what they’re doing.

Alison:

Right. Yeah. And that, that brings to a next point. If you look at their team page, it’s stacked, there’s

seven people whose job is customer delight, which just goes to show you how much they value making

their customers happy.

Karin:

I think that’s incredible. I wonder how many of them are actually doing the community engagement on

Instagram, right?

Alison:

Yeah. Because it’s a lot.

Karin:

It’s a lot. Yeah.

Alison:

It’sKarin:

They’re responding to absolutely everything.

Alison:

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Right. Every single thing. And that’s one thing that… I mean, what do you say, Karin, would you

recommend a business owner to, I guess not an owner, but someone from a brand to respond to every

single comment? How important is that on social?

Karin:

I mean, hopefully everybody that’s listening knows how important it is.

Alison:

We got doggies.

Karin:

We got dogs and they have new bark collars and they’re dinging.

Alison:

Are they noise or vibrator ones?

Karin:

It’s vibrating, yeah. And it’s dinging, you can hear it. Yeah. I mean, it’s incredibly important to respond to

everything, positive comments and honestly, more importantly, negative comments. We’re huge

advocates of, if there’s something that’s super customer related, customer service related, like I got this

bag of chips and they were all crushed or I got this bag of chips, and I know that they get that, I’m sure.

Karin:

Or it’s almost empty. We want to navigate you to actual customer service on email to get it off of your

social platform. I don’t know what Siete does, if they handle it internally, on the platform or in DM’s, but

what we would do and what we do for our clients is to push them to email customer service and to take

care of them thereAlison:

Get the negative off the front facing things, right?

Karin:

Yeah. Especially if you’re running ads, you want to spend money running ads and serving ads to people

that are going to see these negative comments in this comment section. It doesn’t make any sense. So I

think it’s incredible that you can see… I mean, this one has 70 comments on it and they are all being

responded to. It’s not like they’re just liking the comments. They’re taking time to say words to these

peopleAlison:

Right. So it’s beyond just customer service. Someone comments something back, and they’re at least

saying, “I know, right?” They’re engaging and they’re being witty and fun with these people. So it goes

beyond customer service where, I mean, it ties back to being a community. That’s how you feel if you’re

commenting and interacting with Siete.

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Karin:

Absolutely.

Alison:

Something every business can implement… I mean, it’s not easy, it takes work to get in there and

respond to everyone and think about what to say, but something that anyone can do.

Karin:

Right. And so what we do internally is every morning we sign on for our clients and make sure that every

comment that we have missed from Instagram, from Facebook to Twitter, to DM’s across the board,

that we’re properly engaging with them, that we’re interacting with them. And then we’ll do it

throughout the day. But if we can’t do it throughout the day, we make sure to at least do it in the

morning and the last thing we do before we sign off for the day, because we want to be able to provide

really exceptional customer service and get back to people with any questions they have or praise or

anything like that. And then, most importantly, I think it puts your finger on the pulse of what people are

resonating with, what people really like, what issues are arising. So yeah, I think the community

engagement is so, so key. And that’s how you grow your brand online.

Alison:

Right. Let’s talk about their other themes that you’re kind of seeing, because I mean, it helps, it

obviously helps that they’ve got beautiful branding, full of tons of colors. So their feed is just wow. You

get there and you’re already having a fun time just looking at all these beautiful photos, but what else

are they doing on here?

Karin:

Yeah. I mean, well, going backwards really quick to all of their beautiful photos. It’s like most of these

are user generated. It’s insane. All of them are by really incredible influencers and content creators,

making these gorgeous, stunning photos for them. And I truly wonder how many, if any, are paid for.

Are all of these organic and it’s just love for the brand? And obviously it’s really awesome to get a shout

out on a platform that has 340,000 followers.

Alison:

Heck yeah.

Karin:

But yeah, I think what an incentive to grow a community, not just sales, but literally free content. So

other things that we’re seeing… So during times of COVID, we’re seeing this, Juntos at Home, is that?

Yeah. And they’re bringing people on to IGTV to educate and share, and we’re seeing a lot of brands do

that, but this is super branded, super clean. It kind of makes me think. I’m like, “How do they do it so

seamlessly?” Even when it comes to the cover photo on stories. It’s perfect how in the feed in their 1000

X 1000 dimensions, you can see a beautiful, clear, crisp, bright photo with Juntos at Home. And then

when you click through to that IGTV, the touches of the borders that they put on top and bottom to

make it even more beautiful and branded, but not messing up what’s happening on the feed, it’s just

super thoughtful. Whoever’s doing this is so thoughtful.

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Alison:

Yeah. That’s a big thing that we struggle with too is you want your feed to stay beautiful and what’s the

word I’m looking for?

Karin:

Curated?

Alison:

Curated, right. But you also want to educate in different ways. So I mean, I would definitely, like you

said, look to Siete Foods and see how they did that because it does… It looks seamless. But another

thing that’s great about the Juntos at Home is… Okay, first of all, it’s playing into their tagline, [foreign

language 00:15:54], and then during Coronavirus, that might’ve been an, “Oh shit,” moment, [foreign

language 00:16:03] is obviously not what you want to be doing during Coronavirus, but they spun it in a

way that perfectly resonated with the times and their brand, “Together at home.” Such a great… Yeah.

Karin:

What a pivot. And it’s just so well done, right? It’s it doesn’t seem like it’s grasping, you’re not grasping

for this. It’s very organic, if you will. And judging by the amount of views that are on it, it looks like it’s

resonating with people.

Alison:

But also, I mean, I know you said you do want it to be well done, but I think a lot of brands are scared to

show that inner side or behind the scenes and things like that because it’s not always picture perfect,

nice. So Karin, what would be your suggestion to help some a smaller brand, who’s not Siete yet, post

more than just product photos?

Karin:

That’s such a good reminder. Honestly, sometimes I get lost and I’m looking at this and I’m like, “It’s so

well done. It’s so beautiful. How can we do this?” But it is so important to remember that smaller

brands, where the CEO is running everything, the social, fulfillment, logistics, sales, and it’s not feasible.

So I would say, try and be as authentic as possible because I mean, you see it too Alison, in ads.

Sometimes the most beautiful studio photo does not perform as well as the user generated content. So I

would say, just try and be as authentic as possible and use software to your advantage. So find tools and

software that work for you and are in your budget and create really beautiful content that way.

Alison:

So what would be a good piece of software? What is affordable? Later is one.

Karin:

So personally, I would figure out a good photo editing software. So whether that’s VSCO or it’s

Afterlight, there are so many out there at different price points, but those, I would say are my two

favorite for editing on my phone, outside of the Adobe suite and Canva, I feel like Canva’s super popular

because it’s so easy to use and it’s not very expensive. And you can lay in your logo, you can lay in your

brand colors and templates and create templates. What softwares you like?

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Alison:

Well, mostly I’m doing ad editing. If y’all don’t know, Karin is our organic guru, we have the Adobe suite

so it’s not very fair. I use the Adobe Spark app, which is amazing. I highly recommend that. And then

other than that, I’m using video editing apps. One I use is Splice, and it’s free, but yeah. And then in

terms of scheduling, I think Later would be a good beginner scheduler. I’m trying to think what else,

because like you were saying, if you’re a business owner and you’re trying to do 500 other things, you

need to get your content scheduled out so that you can go on and focus on getting your product into

retail stores or what have you.

Karin:

Right. So we always preach about the messaging buckets. And when you’re thinking of your content

strategy, focusing in on those messaging buckets and then providing your consumer with a solution,

right? So you’re gluten intolerant. You need to find really flavorful foods. You miss all those foods that

you used to have. Okay, well, these are the foods we provide that are gluten free. This is how you can

eat them. This is what you can make with them. These are fun, different ways to use them and playing

off of your mission, why your brand is what it is. And with Siete, their mission is to bring Mexican

American foods to the table, I believe. I’m going to actually look at their website to say that. So “Boldly

build the leading healthy Mexican American food brand,” and with the togetherness and the community

and the family aspect as a leading driver of that. A lot of their Instagram honestly, is really beautiful

food, which brings you in. But the supplemental community content is whatAlison:

It keeps you there longer yeah.

Karin:

Yeah. And it’s the most impressive.

Alison:

Totally. So the Juntos at Home, we love that. Siete Scaries, have you seen that one?

Karin:

So I’ve seen those in real time, in real time on their stories, but it looks like they have a highlight on

Instagram about it, but it’s literally their team members scaring each other, which is the most delightful

thing. It has nothing to do with the product.

Alison:

It brings me so much joy.

Karin:

Yeah. But in all reality, it really does have everything to do with the product. It’s them enjoying each

other’s company. It’s the communityAlison:

They’re a family. Right.

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Karin:

They’re a family. I think it’s so… It’s entertaining and right, social media is supposed to be educational

and entertaining and they have that down, for sure.

Alison:

And it makes you feel like you know them. I mean, yeah. All ties back to family first, family second.

Karin:

And the same with their, they have this workout. They have a huge workout room at their office and

they’re always doing these team workouts together. And it’s just all those behind the scenes that

literally have nothing to do with the brand or the food. It’s just helping bring people back into the social

platforms and engaging with them. It’s fun to say like, “Hey, I see this one girl on Instagram all the time,

she’s on their marketing team. Is that who I’m talking to?” When I comment with them. You’re talking to

humans, right?

Alison:

Yeah. It creates super fans for sure. And Karin and I were talking, we want a tee shirt. We want a Siete tshirt, a hat, whatever we can get, because we’re super fans now. I mean, we love the food. We love

what you’re doing on social. Everything’s just curated and beautiful, but it’s also fun. So I mean, that’s

what they doing.

Karin:

And I mean, we can’t lose focus on how important branding is, too. I feel like sometimes we have small

CPG businesses coming to us and wanting to work with us and their packaging, their website, not

everything is tightened up and it’s not something that we personally would purchase. And I think that

that is very vital in how you think about marketing as a whole. You have to make sure that that branding

is on point to begin with, obviously that the product is on point and then everything else will fall into

place with the right tools and the right work and the right levers being pulled. ButAlison:

There’s still some foundational steps, right?

Karin:

Yeah.

Alison:

Right.

Karin:

Cool. So I think another way that is just so impressive with Siete, is their influencer partnerships. I have

no idea what their program looks like. Everybody’s influencer program looks different, but I just

remember at Expo West, maybe two years ago, I was walking the floor with a micro-influencer andAlison:

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Oh, look at you. You’re famous by association.

Karin:

And we were passing this Siete foods booth and we literally could not get past. We couldn’t get past, it

was stacked to the brim.

Alison:

It was full? Wow.

Karin:

It was full, I’m talking 30 people in front of this booth. And if you’ve ever to a trade show like that, you’re

just trying to get like five to six. You’re trying to build this buzz, but it was just stacked. I couldn’t even

get past, she ended up knowing half of the people there because it was all influencers. There were all

these social media influencers, talking and laughing and hanging. Yeah.

Alison:

And the influencers were just flocking to them.

Karin:

They were just hanging there. Well, and IAlison:

That is not that easy you guys

Karin:

No, no, it is not that easy.

Alison:

Not normal.

Karin:

This is not normal. It’s incredible. And we can talk about it being incredible, but this is not normal. And a

lot of legwork had to go into getting there. Again, going back to the community and building it. But I

have no idea how they do it. One of our favorite Instagrammers, The Defined Dish, such a great

cookbook, such a great Instagram. She is the biggest Siete Foods advocate. I mean, her pop socket on

her phone is a Siete Foods, pop socket.

Alison:

Is it really? I saw her redo a healthy Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme, but with all Siete products, and that

was life changing, so. But how do you think… Do you think that they reached out to her because she’s

big time. Are you able to tell what maybe their influencer program looks like, just from the front facing

things?

Karin:

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I mean, I wish, I feel likeAlison:

Tell us, Siete.

Karin:

I know, tell us, yeah. I feel like this must be… Well, number one, it’s a longterm relationship. I do not

believe that what they’re doing has short term relationships. Like for instance, some brands will partner

with somebody who’s… They’re like, “Yu have to post three times, it’s going to be $2,000. This is what

you say, hashtag ad.” That is not what they’re doing. And there’s such a benefit to that because of what

they’re building. So I don’tAlison:

I think it’s beyond just the business. Here’s the bullet points, here’s what you get paid. It’s more…

Maybe they’re, they’re just sending product to continue the relationship after the business part is done

orKarin:

Yeah. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Maybe they’re doingAlison:

It also helps to have a great product, again.

Karin:

Again, yeah. So I’ve noticed in the past that they would do these retreats, where they would invite a

bunch of influencers then they would have these backyard dinners and concerts, here in Austin in their

office quarters. And I assume that they paid for them to come, paid for all of that jazz and gave them a

super Instagram worthy space that they would share. And maybe afterwards they just provided product.

I don’t know. I’m assuming. And I shouldn’t assume, because I literally have no idea, but something that

we do with our influencer programs is starting off with just engaging as much as possible with these

people and actually making sure, one, that they are an influencer that you want to work with, that has

the beliefs in food as you do.

Karin:

If you’re a food product, I don’t think they’re going to be working with anybody that is posting about

Burger King all the time. And follow them, engage with them, DM them, create a part… Not a

partnership yet. Create a friendship, create just a relationship in general that’s beyond you just trying to

shove your product down their throat. And then following up later, once that relationship has been

established and saying, “Hey, we love what you do. I think you’d love our product too. Can we send you

some for free to see what you think,” and then going from there, right? It’s like, if they love it, they’re

going to reach back out.

Alison:

It is a long game.

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Karin:

It’s a long game. Oh man.

Alison:

And it is a lot of work. It’s a long game, but it’s worth it. Do you think with a Siete, the parties that you

saw in the past, were those mostly micro influencers? Because Defined Dish is big, but do you think they

were focusing on like smaller groups of influencers?

Karin:

No, I don’t think… I mean, different people have different definitions of micro and macro influencers.

And I honestly don’t know the exact definition, but in my head I’m like, “Okay, micro influencers are

people that are under 40,000 followers and above that, they’re more macro.” And I know that’s

different for everybody. Some people will say, “At a million followers, you’re a macro.” So I think that

most of them had more than a hundred thousand followers. They were super Salish and they have… It’s

like this tight knit community of mostly, honestly women. And they all know each other, they all work

together on the same brands.

Karin:

And if you get one of them on board and really loving your brand, I think it’s really possible for them to

introduce it to their friends. And I think last, but not least, when it comes to how they’ve been able to

build such an engaged and devoted audience, is their content being so beautiful and entertaining. But I

do know that they have somebody working internally. I think it’s their creative director. He’s not just a

photographer for them, but their creative director. He used to be a photographer for The Ellen Show.

And his work is just incredible. If you go into their Instagram and you see their Kroger announcement,

it’s not like other retail announcements that you see. It’s so beautiful.

Alison:

It is.

Karin:

Look how well done that is. And that’s professional level stuff. And again, this doesn’t happen. That is

not normal.

Alison:

Yeah. They’ve got a talented team that they’ve built, that’s for sure.

Karin:

Yeah. So for our clients, when it comes to retailer announcements, obviously you can put their logo on a

photo of the product, but a nice touch is going to the retailer, going outside and taking a photo or a

boomerang of your product in front of the retail face. And that’s always a great announcement. You can

use it in ads.

Alison:

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Yeah. That’s the most simple way and it’s effective. Siete has taken it to the next level. So what’s new.

And then other than that, I mean, I know we’ve hit a lot on their content, but I just have to do a quick

shout out of how fire their copy is, likeKarin:

Oh my gosh.

Alison:

It’s witty. And it’s very difficult, especially if you’re trying to get four to five pieces of content out a week,

to be witty all the time, talking about the same few products. So if you’re a funny person, that’s great.

I’m happy for you because it’s so fun to read their copy.

Karin:

Yeah. And honestly, I think you saved the best for last. Their copy is honestly one of my favorite things

about their social media and it’s notAlison:

I’m just LOL-ing reading it right now.

Karin:

It’s not easy to do at all. And I remember looking at this years ago and being like, “How are they going to

keep this up?”

Alison:

Yeah. Seriously. Okay, I just have to give this example. So we were talking about the healthy Siete

Crunch Wrap Supreme. This might be a photo that… Oh, looks like someone else. So I think the divine

dish started the crunch wrap, but now everyone’s creating one from Siete products, but their caption,

“How much munch would a munch crunch munch, if a munch crunch could crunch much?” It’s so good.

And then it goes on, but oh man, I just love that.

Karin:

It’s just, I do not understand how you can create so many puns and I’m really imagining this person,

whoever this is, to just be, spitting this out. Just quick, so quick and just fire every time.

Alison:

Pretty impressive.

Karin:

Yeah. So to close it out, this is a brand that we admire greatly. We think that they’re doing such amazing

work. And I think it’s important for small to medium sized CPG owners to look at brands like this and get

inspired and get hyped because they could be doing the same thing someday. And knowing that they

might have crazy resources that the average business owner does not have, but you can take elements

and use tools and software and friends and family and do your best to create something similar.

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Alison:

That’s such a good point. Don’t let this discourage you. Take the elements that you can implement

tomorrow. Engage, commenting back on every single person. I mean, that’s huge on its own.

Karin:

Can you get your face onto your stories more often? Can you talk to your consumers, talk with them,

instead of at them.

Alison:

And share your mission in everything you do, make that super prevalent because people that resonate

with that mission are going to love everything that you’re doing with it. So should we close this out with

a cheers? A queso cheers?

Karin:

Yeah. Let’s do it. I’ve got to open mine back up.

Alison:

I’m empty, so… There’s crumbs at the bottom.

Karin:

All right. Thank you, Siete, for the product.

Alison:

Cheers.

Karin:

Cheers. Umai Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast, based out of Austin, Texas. We’re excited to

share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the

way. Follow us on Instagram, @umaimarketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch

you back here soon.

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Posted on 2 Comments

#1: Our Founder Story, How Karin & Alison Met

UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#1: Our Founder Story, How Karin & Alison Met

Hey y’all! The day is finally here. Our Umai Social Circle podcast has launched with episode 1.

Alison and Karin sit down together to share their backstory. A series of jobs throughout their early twenties evolved into the food, bev, and wellness marketing agency that you know today. Let’s just say some eggs were indeed cracked to make this omelet happen, but (in hindsight) we’re so glad it all happened the way that it did. 

Let us break it down for you…

[1:00] Welcome, y’all!
[1:55] It started in Austin. Specifically, at a high-end dress shop.
[3:00] Alison’s journey. She made her own prom dress – from Halloween fabric??
[6:55] Karin’s journey: from high school to Craigslist.
[10:50] Vital Farms. How Karin fell in love with a mission-based brand.
[13:12] Peace out! Alison heads to Vietnam. Getting scammed, but makes it *snap, snap* in advertising.
[15:40] A quick reconnection! 
[17:30] More on Alison becoming an eCommerce + education ninja.
[20:20] Karin parts ways with Vital Farms.
[22:27] Jason Jones, Cofounder of Vital Farm swoops in for some very timely career advice.
[23:30] “Go your own way!” so Karin did.
[25:47] Alison is not digging the 9-5 life and Karin’s like, “You. Me. Let’s start an agency of our own.”
[28:56] What’s our agency like today? How does our team jive?

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 pop in and share with you guys a free SOP, which stands for standard operating procedure. We use this SOP every single day in our agency to authentically grow and engage our audiences on social. It is 1000% free and I’d love for you to have it and use it in your biz as well. So just go to umaimarketing.com/engage to go download. All right, cheers.

Alison:

All right. Hey everyone. Welcome to the Umai Social Circle. Today we are talking about the Umai backstory. It’s Karin and I’s story of how we met. We like to call this the Umai backstory that nobody asks for, so enjoy.

Karin:

You didn’t ask for it, but we’re going to give it to you.

Alison:

It’ll be fun. We promise.

Karin:

So it all started way back when. It was my first job out of college. Was it your second job out of college?

Alison:

It was my first job, but I interned before that for free, for no money.

Karin:

Right, yeah. This was… Yeah, back in the day when you didn’t get paid for your internships.

Alison:

And you were happy about it.

Karin:

Yeah. Yeah. You were stoked to have the opportunity. So… But we pay our interns, so just side note.

Alison:

Yeah. We’re not salty at all.

Karin:

So this all started at a little place in Austin, filled to the brim with pageant and prom dresses.

Alison:

With rhinestones and sparkles.

Karin:

With lots of sparkles. I would find rhinestones in my shoes when I came home. That only happened twice. It’s not like it happened all the time, but… So yeah, we were there selling prom dresses, selling pageant dresses, and we really bonded over that.

Alison:

We definitely didn’t fit in, which is… It was nice to have someone else that didn’t quite understand why, the why behind pageants, so that was nice. But yeah, Karin, did you even go to prom?

Karin:

Yeah, I went to prom. We had a junior and a senior prom. I went to both years of prom, had a blast. Don’t remember much of it, but it was a good time and I remember picking out my dress, and… Did you go to prom?

Alison:

Yeah, I went to prom. I went to prom both years too, and my senior year, I designed my own prom dress at that point. Yeah, I designed it and then my mom sewed it, because I had to be different in every single way. Like I had to… I don’t know. I couldn’t follow the rules. I’d get sent to the principal’s office because I would… I couldn’t-

Karin:

You got sent to the principal?

Alison:

I couldn’t follow any of the rules, and so that was one of the things I wanted to be different. So I chose my fabric from Joann’s Fabric, and it was Halloween fabric. So my dress was made with Halloween fabric and I loved it. I thought it was the coolest thing, and I’m pretty sure I looked really good. Time will tell, but…

Karin:

Well, the thing is, when you say things like that, you have to follow it up with evidence. I need to see the proof of that.

Alison:

Yeah, we need to…

Karin:

Was it like… Because in my head I’m like, this is like a spider web, it’s black.

Alison:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karin:

What? Oh gosh. [inaudible 00:04:13].

Alison:

Well, yeah, it’s not a spider web, but it was black and gold and it was more of like an ode to Halloween. I was really impressed with the fabric that Joann’s was carrying that year, so…

Karin:

Shoutout to Joann’s in Waco, Texas. Sponsor us.

Alison:

Exactly. So anyways…

Karin:

Oh, I can’t wait to see that. Oh, so it was kind of like you were meant to work for a prom dress designer because you had the experience. Did you put that on your resume?

Alison:

Oh my god. Did I put, designed my own prom dress? No, I did not. Really, so I interned in La La Land.

Karin:

Ooh, fancy.

Alison:

That’s LA for y’all that don’t know. I interned for a showroom. It was called Open Showroom and it was really cool streetwear. We styled local rappers and artists, and it was so cool. I also didn’t really fit in there either, let’s be honest. I tried.

Karin:

I know in your head, you fit in there, and I like that.

Alison:

And so somehow I got into the fashion world. I studied political science in college, but got into the fashion world. It was fun, because it’s all about art, and so I wanted to kind of pursue it. It was the only job experience I had other than working tiny, small jobs throughout high school. I knew I wanted to live in Austin, and the only designer here basically felt like that prom and pageant place we worked at.

Karin:

Okay. So that was… You were into it. You were like, I’m doing fashion. This is what I’m going to do.

Alison:

Yeah. I mean, when I was younger, I collected magazines and I would study them so that I would know all of the designers. I still know all the designers, but I never… It’s like, I like it, but I don’t like it, you know? I don’t like what it’s about sometimes, but I do like wearable arts. I like functional art.

Karin:

I love that, and for those of you that do not know Alison, she will not spend money on clothing now.

Alison:

I don’t spend money on clothing. People give me hand-me-downs because they hate how I dress that much. I’m just usually wearing cutoff jean shorts and tee shirts.

Karin:

Hey, aren’t we all. It’s a pandemic. Let us live our lives.

Alison:

Anyways. Yeah. Enough about that background. Karin, let’s… So you applied to a content specialist role.

Karin:

Yeah, I mean, I think the job title is just straight-up marketing coordinator, but so much of the job description was copywriting and content creation and social media. So I was just like, okay, because I remember… This is the worst thing to say for any journalism student out there. You can do it. You’re doing great. Keep it up. But I was in this class, this intro journalism class of like 200 people, and I remember the professor, great professor, Robert Jensen, shout-out. He was just like, “Look around. Only one or two of you will become a journalist.” And I was just like, that is so harsh. I am not the smartest person in this room. I am not the most passionate about journalism. What on earth am I going to do?

Karin:

So when I graduated and I saw this job, I was like, ooh, yeah, fashion. Let’s do it. There was so many great things about it. We worked with a couple really cool people. The president of the company and my boss, like they were totally cool and I really liked working with them. I mean, we got to do some really cool stuff.

Alison:

That’s true, and I love that family still. I mean, a family business is hard and they made me feel like family, which I really liked. But can we take it back to what you said about college professors?

Karin:

Please.

Alison:

Because I feel like it’s a professor’s job to say that, like to let you know that you’re probably not going to make it. I feel like that’s the thing all professors say.

Karin:

I mean, they got to speak their truth. They’re not lying. I can’t… None of the journalism students, maybe one or two that I was friends with… That’s not true. There’s a good handful of them doing their thing.

Alison:

Yeah. It’s like their job to kill your hopes and dreams.

Karin:

I mean, I’m glad he did because it brought me here and… So, yeah, but the pageant dress. Side note, we went to New York Fashion Week. We got to run around on the subway trying to find goods for the DJ that was going to be at the fashion show. I mean, it was a good time, but I don’t know how much of that was really me learning about marketing, more me just learning how to have a real job.

Alison:

Yeah, yeah. That job was hard for both of us, I think. It was the first job out of high school, and we had a lot of responsibilities. So after that, what happened? Where did you go?

Karin:

After that, I bounced out so quickly from there, abruptly, some may say. That’s for a different podcast. I was searching Craigslist. I was searching the job boards and just trying to find my way, figure out what I wanted. Along comes this Craigslist ad for a marketing coordinator at Vital Farm.

Alison:

Craigslist…

Karin:

Craigslist.

Alison:

…was the place to find jobs.

Karin:

That was where I found my first job too.

Alison:

I forgot about that. Wow. Okay. Now it’s like, don’t get on Craigslist.

Karin:

Like what am I going to do on Craigslist?

Alison:

Yeah.

Karin:

So, for those of you Gen Z-ers, Craigslist was like Facebook Marketplace, but also had jobs. I’m sure you know about Craigslist, but just being completely sure. So yeah, I went to Vital Farms and that was really where all the juices started flowing. That’s where I fell in love with consumer-packaged goods. I fell in love with mission-based brands who really just wanted to do good by the consumer, by the planet, by their teams, by the animals that provide for us. I had the greatest boss. He’s this British guy that we’re still very good friends. We’re very good friends now, but he was just so creative and broadened my mind to really look at things in certain ways to reach as many people as possible in a relatable fashion. Shoutout, Jason Jones. He was the president there and a mentor as well.

Karin:

Yeah, that’s how it was, and I was there for a couple of years until another company snatched me up, and then I was there at that company for a couple of years until I wasn’t. What were you doing within that time when I was at the farm? I mean, I know, but tell the audience.

Alison:

So… Yeah. Let’s just hit this a little harder. Karin was in the baby stages of Vital Farms. Early phase, right?

Karin:

Yeah. I was like, what, their eighth employee. I’m talking, this brand is just… It has flourished. It has grown. It has gone through a lot of amazing things. I was there when the distribution center was in the back parking lot. We would literally walk over there, get our free eggs, say hello to everybody working in there, packing, cleaning. It was just really fun. We had vegan, vegetarian meals on Tuesdays with the whole team. It was great. It has definitely grown since then, but yeah.

Alison:

Cool. I love Vital Farms.

Karin:

They have good eggs.

Alison:

Good eggs.

Karin:

So what were you doing while I was on the chicken farm?

Alison:

Well, I think we both were like, let’s get the F out. I took that very literally and moved to Vietnam. I wanted to get so far away because I think that’s when I realized, okay, I’m not in love with fashion. I always wanted to be creative in my job, and that’s it. Fashion was just one of those ways to do that for me, and once I got in that world, I realized I didn’t…you know.

Alison:

So I wanted to get far away, moved to Vietnam to clear my head, to figure out what I wanted. I moved there without a place to stay. I didn’t have a job. I tend to do that with decisions. I don’t really think about them. I just do it. It didn’t really hit me until the plane, on the 26th hour of being on a plane, what I was doing. There might’ve been a few tears, but then I get there and immediately a six-year-old kid is smoking a cigarette, and people are yelling and screaming at me, and I’m like, this is it. I am so excited.

Karin:

Was it just like, you in a backpack? Is that all you had?

Alison:

Me and a backpack. Yeah. I immediately got screwed over by my taxi driver, like…

Karin:

Classic.

Alison:

Just needed to learn a lot of things in life, and today-

Karin:

Did you already have a place secured to stay? How does this work?

Alison:

I knew where to go, like I knew to go to Bui Vien Street to look for hostels. I knew to go there and it was easy to find a place to stay. It was just a little whatever room. Then I would go into different teachers’ offices and apply for jobs during the day, and I got one. So I was an English teacher for maybe six months. I really was not very good at it, so I didn’t last very long.

Karin:

Dang. That’s nuts. So let’s fast forward again. I don’t exactly remember what year it was or where I was, but I got a message from you. We were friends before you left, and of course you were in Vietnam, so we weren’t seeing each other. We would occasionally talk, but then I got a DM from you that was like, “Hey, did you do ads for Sherri Hill, our first job?” And I was just like, oh, Alison’s reaching out, she wants to learn about something. Little did I know that this woman was killing it in Vietnam, knowing 20 million times the amount I did about ads, and was just hustling getting work. So how did you start, like how did that even start? Who did you get introduced to? Who did you learn from?

Alison:

Yeah, that’s right. So Saigon, where I lived in Vietnam, is actually a huge entrepreneurial hub. I randomly moved in with this guy, and there was a couple of people in this apartment, and he was a part of this entrepreneurial group called Tropical MBA. Basically they took what Tim Ferriss talks about in The 4-Hour Workweek and applied it to life. There was like a hundred of these people living in Saigon, creating their own businesses, working a free schedule, work-life balance, what have you. I was like, damn, this is exactly what I want, and I just kind of fell into it.

Alison:

Then I started working for this guy who taught e-commerce courses, taught you how to create an e-commerce business. He wanted to hire his first employee outside of his…like his sister. I got the job and I told him I knew how to do things that I didn’t know how to do like Facebook ads. It was quickly realized that I didn’t really know, but I was going to give it all I got and just started learning as much as I could. I took a ton of courses. I still take a lot of courses on Facebook ads and in everything, because it changes all the time. But yeah, we started spending about $30,000 a month when I started, and by the time I left, we were spending about 300,000 to 500,000 a month, and that was in a year and a half, so just scaled the shit out of it.

Karin:

That is nuts.

Alison:

Yeah.

Karin:

That’s crazy. I mean, you can say those numbers and you think of these big businesses, but you’re talking about one man and you starting this company, and a year and a half later, spending half a million dollars a month on Facebook ads. That’s crazy.

Alison:

Yeah. It was the only means for advertising that we did. It was a lot of fun, that’s for sure.

Karin:

Well…

Alison:

I wish someone else would give me $500,000 to spend.

Karin:

I know. Who out there…

Alison:

Give me your money.

Karin:

Who out there has some measly chump change that Alison could spend on Facebook ads to kill it for you? Hit us up, hello@umaimarketing.com.

Alison:

But anyways, so we were working out there in Vietnam. My boss is probably the smartest person I’ve ever met. I can’t even tell you how much I learned from him, but he wanted to move back to the States to grow the team. There was three of us at that point. He said, “I want to move to San Francisco, Austin, or Boulder.” I went to school in Boulder, lived in Austin before. I didn’t really want to live in San Francisco. So I was like, “Austin or Boulder. He decides on Austin, so I just basically go full circle back to Austin where I started from.

Karin:

Thank you, Anton.

Alison:

Yeah, but then what happened?

Karin:

Then I was two years into my job at a local pet food company, and after close to two years, there was a little bit of a thing within the organization where it was just like, the leadership was changing, it was… I can’t blame. I’m not blaming, but I’ve always been very strong in my convictions, and I am very forthright with my opinions. I just was talking too much and I got laid off.

Alison:

What do you mean you were talking too much?

Karin:

Well, I mean, okay. So our VP of marketing left, and we got a new VP of marketing, and I still was friends with our old VP of marketing and he was a mentor. So I was like, “Hey, let’s go to happy hour.” We plan that and news and our marketing team, they get word that I’m having happy hour with our old VP of marketing who we all liked. So, one by one, they’re like, “Ooh, can I come? Can I come? Can I come?” And it’s like, okay, so the whole team is going to happy hour with the old VP of marketing. In hindsight, I’m like, why wasn’t I aware enough to know that current VP of marketing, if he knew that that was happening, would probably be like, what the F is happening? What are y’all doing? And that’s-

Alison:

He thinks there’s a mutiny.

Karin:

Yeah, exactly, and I’m the ringleader, of course. I’m the one that planned it. So that, among other things about just being a little bit too loud about my opinions, I guess, it led to a few of us being laid off. It was half of the marketing team.

Alison:

Just from that one happy hour.

Karin:

I mean-

Alison:

That’s the catalyst.

Karin:

I think that was the catalyst. Yeah. I think it was the catalyst, and it was so hard. Anybody that’s been laid off knows it’s such a blow to your ego. I was so mortified. I remember sitting in… My friends all took me to dinner. I’m like, how can I talk about my friends and I going to dinner during COVID? I’m like, was that allowed? But it was when it was allowed, and we were all sitting at dinner and I was just like… I was drained the whole day. I was just sobbing all day, so upset. I get a text message from who other than, shouting back out to you, Jason Jones, the president and cofounder of Vital Farms. He was like, “Hey, let’s have coffee.” And I was like, okay, we have not talked in how long, and you’re texting me the day I got laid off to say let’s go have coffee.

Alison:

He’s got some sort of sixth sense, I think.

Karin:

Well, not the sixth sense. He was just very well-connected. So, I was just like, “Who told you.” Immediately. “Who told you?” He was like, “Haha, don’t worry about it. Let’s go get coffee.” I was like, okay, well, he knows. Someone told him. Who told him?

Karin:

So we go get coffee that week, and in between that time, I was already being offered a position at another CPG here in Austin. Pretty much, I almost had the job and I was really thinking to myself, do I want to do this full time? What can I do? So Jason and I go get coffee, and he’s like, “Hey, what’s going on? What do you think about all this?” I gave him the spiel and he was like, “Okay, well you live in Austin. It’s a CPG hub, consumer packaged goods hub. There are so many brands that need your help right now. They need social media marketing help.” I was like, okay. So, long story long, the CFO of the company I got laid off from reached out to his connection who knew Jason Jones, and he knows… It’s a very small world here in Austin. He was like, “Hey”…and I am forever, very much grateful to this person for doing that…said, “Hey, we had to let this woman go. You need to help her. You need to help guide her.” That’s what happened.

Karin:

So I got connected with Jason, again, reconnected with him, and then connected with another leader in the CPG industry here in Austin. They were my saving grace. Within a week, maybe a week and a half, I had a full client load. One was the company that almost hired me, and they said to me, they were like, “Hey, if you’re not in completely, if you’re not in this to win it with us, then maybe we can work fractionally together.” So I had a full workload within a week and a half, and I can try and say that it was because of my hard work and dedication, but it was a lot of who I was connected to and who I knew and who I’d built past relationships with. So that is why it’s one of my biggest pieces of advice to people, especially just starting out in whatever industry you’re in, is make connections. 110%, that is what is going to propel you forward.

Alison:

Right, but make real connections. I mean, I think you’re so good at keeping up with past people that you’ve worked with and things like that. You got to put in some effort.

Karin:

Yeah, yeah. It can’t be fake. I mean, and I’m always like, I’d rather have a very close group of really good friends then have a million friends. That’s how I feel when it comes to work as well. So yeah, I did that for awhile, and the whole time I was just thinking to myself, advertising is not my specialty. I’ve done it. I’ve spent hundreds of thousand dollars on it. Did I know exactly what I was doing the whole time? No. Do I want to work with somebody who knows it a million times better than I do? Yes. And so, how many times have I asked you? Like, hey, are you ready? Like are you…

Alison:

A few times. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:26:16]

Karin:

I’m texting you really late at night. I’m like, I’m having these feelings within me. Are you ready?

Alison:

Yeah. No, it’s funny, because I kind of was… So we brought the company back to Austin and we grew it, so we had a full marketing team, a full team of maybe 12 people. I had already been there two years. We moved fast. The digital world moves fast, that’s for sure. But I had been there two years, and then all of a sudden I found myself back in Austin with a team, but in an office. I really think that was the downside for me. Every single day, I drove 20 minutes, which sounds not like a lot, but for me, it was, I drove my commute, and I sat at my desk and I worked 9 to 5, you know? It just isn’t how I operate, so it just started weighing on me, and then Karin kept bugging me.

Karin:

Hey.

Alison:

And I’m glad she did, and I knew that I’d kind of hit a roof there. Where was I going to go from here? I absorbed everything that my boss… And just like you said, he was my mentor, really. I learned everything I think I could from him. I wanted to do something new and learn some new things. I said, let’s… I think I called my boss, and then I called you and I said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

Karin:

Yeah. I lost my mind. I was working at Cosmic Coffee, I think that was. You were like, “Hey,” and you always do things really professionally. That’s one thing about you, that you always… Or you, as professionally… You think about doing it that way, and I love that. So you were like, “Hey.” You didn’t call me, and you were like, “I’m in,” and we screamed on the phone. That’s not how it was. You’re like, “Hey, let’s meet.” So we met over coffee and you were like, “I’m ready.” I just couldn’t believe it, but I was like, when you say you’re going to do things, you do them.

Karin:

So it happened, and I mean, I never… I remember that in my interview for the pet food job, they were like, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” That question. And I said, “Owning my own agency,” and I didn’t believe it. It came out of my mouth and I was like, oh, I’m going to sound like-

Alison:

Just said it?

Karin:

Yeah, I’m going to sound like I’m a badass overachiever, like I’m going to get it done. Within two years, it happened and it couldn’t have happened without you. This agency is our love child.

Alison:

It is, and I love it.

Karin:

I love it so much.

Alison:

I love our love child.

Karin:

Me too. People always say don’t get in business with your friends, and I mean, that’s true for a lot of people and a lot of my personal friends, but we bring… We are opposites in so many ways that just make the business work.

Alison:

Yeah.

Karin:

So I’m not-

Alison:

Like honestly, we are ying and yang. I know we say that, and probably a lot of people think that’s so lame, but it’s true. Where I fall, you pick up and vice versa. It’s actually like the complete opposite, but then we come together on the big, important things, and I think that’s what matters. But I mean, it’s not easy either.

Karin:

Yeah. Not easy, and we do come together for the big, important things, but we have to talk through some things, right? Not everything that we want to do we agree on, but it really is about just talking through it. I think that that’s what we all have to do, whether you’re friends in business or family in business or in business with people you don’t care about.

Alison:

Right, and at the end of the day, even when it’s a hard conversation, I always know that we’ve made the best decision or we produce the best product or service, but yeah.

Karin:

Yeah, and the team is growing. We have a marketing manager, Holly, who’s just… I cannot say enough good things about this woman. I hope she never leaves us. I know someday she will and she’ll need to fly and grow her wings, but she’s just the greatest, I feel. We’re so lucky. I remember her interview in Cosmic Coffee again, Austin, Texas, and she left and we both just looked at each other and we’re like, yep. Immediately.

Alison:

Yeah. We knew immediately.

Karin:

I don’t know if that’s normal. I think that that’s really lucky.

Alison:

Yeah. It is so rare to find an untapped diamond, like she is a diamond, but yeah.

Karin:

Yeah, and just hired our fourth full-time employee, and she starts on Monday. We’re just… I mean, this, what, it’s going to be two years in September, which is so crazy. How has it been two years?

Alison:

No.

Karin:

Yeah, but it’s been… Yeah.

Alison:

It’s so soon.

Karin:

I know. Wow.

Alison:

So that’s the story.

Karin:

Yeah. So that is the story of how we met, how we grew apart… Well, not grew apart, but grew separately.

Alison:

We grew separately, and then…

Karin:

And then came together.

Alison:

Like a ying and a yang situation. But there’s so much more to tell. There’s so much more that we can’t wait to share.

Karin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). For another day, and we want to hear from you guys what’s interesting. What do you want to know more about? What do you want to know less about? We know you didn’t ask for this, but we gave it to you, and we’ll continue to do that.

Karin:
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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#2: Creating a product that’s *actually* different with Natural Stacks

podcast cover image with roy krebs founder of natural stacks
UMAI social circle cpg podcast

#2: Creating a product that’s *actually* different with Natural Stacks

Grab a snack  and settle in – ’cause your brain is about to get bio-hacked. 

Today, Alison catches up with Roy Krebs (Cofounder & CEO of Natural Stacks) to discuss his entrepreneurial “why” as well as the how behind creating standout supplements in an increasingly overcrowded market. Spoiler alert: It has a whole lot to do with quality ingredients!

Let us break it down for you…

[1:50] What does it mean to be an open source supplement company? The supply chain and ingredient traceability.
[4:35] Are you worried another company may come along and steal your not-so-secret recipes?
[11:22] What motivated you to get started in this industry?
[12:48] How did you connect with influencers + get the Natural Stacks name out there? Cold emailing big names, like Ben Greenfield and Dave Asprey.
[14:46] Connecting with poker champion, Martin Jacobson.
[19:31] Any other brands inspiring you in this niche? 
[24:45] Moving from eCommerce only to retail and expanding your team.
[26:25] In-person store training to educate retailer teams.
[30:33]  What does the future of Natural Stacks look like?

Mentions from this episode: 

Stay in touch:

Join Umai’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

ROY:

This was right when brain health was hot, nootropics were becoming a thing, the movie Limitless came out a year or two before. We were lucky to catch that wave.

ALISON:

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Umai Social Circle, where we talk all things CPG marketing. We are here to help business owners and marketers, alike, grow. I’m Alison. I’m the cofounder of Umai, and today we’re talking about Natural Stacks with Roy Krebs. He’s the cofounder and CEO of Natural Stacks. I still use a lot of their supplements. I actually have CILTEP right here. I take it every morning. It’s like a healthy Adderall. I don’t know if that’s accurate. I take Omega CBD instead of Advil now, a lot healthier. I take their CBD for sleeping. So I’m a huge fan of this brand. Excited to have you, Roy. Welcome.

ROY:

Awesome. Thanks, Alison.

ALISON:

Natural Stacks is an open source supplement company. Can you explain what that means?

ROY:

Yeah, sure. It’s our quality and transparency program, really full visibility of our supply chain. So we created this… It’s a three tier program. When I started the company, I was pretty fed up with just the lack of transparency in the industry. You don’t know where the ingredients came from, there’s no test to validate what’s actually in the products, and then just proprietary formulas which I think are bogus. So we created this program, which I’m super proud of, and I think it gets us a lot of respect and opens some doors for us.

ROY:

And so what we do is ingredient traceability, means we disclose who all of our ingredients’ suppliers are. Every single ingredient, and every single product, we’ll tell you exactly where we got it from, and that’s quite unique. And we do third party lab testing on every single active ingredient of every single batch. And I don’t think anyone does that. It’s very expensive and it’s hard to pull off, but it’s very rewarding to be able to say, “Here’s the supplement facts for this supplement, and here’s the third party test to actually validate you’re actually getting that amount for each compound, rather than just trusting your co-packer.”

ROY:

We actually share all those third party tests online. So any consumer can see those tests for the actual batch they’re holding in their hand. We just started adding QR codes to our labels. So someone can pick it up off the shelf, or if they order it online, scan that and see here’s where you got your ingredients, here’s where those agreements came from, and here’s the third party test to back that up. And then the last thing is just nothing proprietary, full label disclosure. Really, I believe everyone deserves to know what they’re putting in their body. It seems pretty straightforward, but a lot of companies won’t tell you.

ALISON:

That’s very cool. I had no idea about the QR code, so that’s something pretty new. Where did you all get that from, or have you seen some other brands try that out?

ROY:

Well, CPD companies are doing it because there’s a regulation in, I believe, Iowa or some Midwestern state that requires it. But, basically, all the big CBD companies have a QR code on their label that goes to a third party test-validating that there’s less than 0.3% THC in that product. And I saw these QR codes and said, “Cool, we can just make this an extension of our open source program and be able to quickly show a consumer where those ingredients came from in the third party test to back up the [inaudible 00:03:50].

ALISON:

That’s so cool. I really like that. But based on your transparency, is there ever any fear that another company is going to come in and steal your formulas? Do you ever get scared of that?

ROY:

Oh, bring it on.

ALISON:

I like that.

ROY:

We spent a long time sourcing our ingredients and we’re using the highest quality stuff. Even just our ascorbic acid, which is a commodity ingredient, we’re sourcing it from Scotland. It’s a non-GMO source. Our amino acids are sourced from Ajinomoto, a Japanese company, pharmaceutical grade, made from botanical sources rather than hogs hair, or bird feathers, like most amino acids. I know that we’re using the highest quality ingredients. These ingredients are quite expensive. If someone’s going to knock us off, they’re probably not going to want to use these ingredients because they’re going to use the cheaper stuff. And it just requires a lot of work in general. And I don’t think many brands are willing to do that. I believe we have enough brand equity that if someone does completely knock us off, people trust Natural Stacks and they’re going to choose our product over the knock-off.

ALISON:

No fear.

ROY:

Bring it on.

ALISON:

Let’s take it back a little bit. I’d like to talk to you about you, and Ben, said that there was a gap that you saw that needed to be filled with the supplement space. What other motivators made you all get started in this industry?

ROY:

Sure. I had another supplement company before this one and I was working with Ben, so we already had a good relationship. I noticed my own brain wasn’t working that great. I had some brain fog. I was procrastinating a lot. That was probably my biggest problem. Big To Do lists, but not doing much of it. And I wanted to start taking a brain supplement for myself and I didn’t want to use something pharmaceutical. I didn’t want to go to a drug. I wanted to stay all-natural because that’s what I was comfortable with. I started just doing a ton of research. And as I’m doing this, my grandfather got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. His degradation happened super quickly. Watching that, and then seeing my own brain not working great, I just took it very seriously and was, frankly, scared and said, “What can I do? What can I take? I want something that works now. I want to stop procrastinating, but I want it to be safe for longterm use.”

ROY:

I looked at what was available for brain health ingredients, currently, for supplements, and there just wasn’t much. There’s only 10 or 15 well-known brain ingredients, ginkgo, gotu kola. There’s a few botanicals, a few amino acids, some vitamins, some minerals, maybe blood vasodilators. I tried them all and they just weren’t that effective. Very well studied. Sure, there are legit studies that back it up, but it’s take it for 60 days and you might have a 5% increase in memory or something. Not something you take and be like, “Oh, dang. I took my ginkgo today. I’m really on fire.” I wanted something a little more experiential. So then I started trying the nootropic blends that were available. These are brain supplements that combined in multiple ingredients, and I just wasn’t impressed. They almost made my procrastination worse, like a scatterbrained effect. I felt something working, but it wasn’t what I was going for.

ROY:

That’s where our concept came in of just creating these very targeted unique formulas that are only trying to do one thing. I realized that the other brain formulas were trying to do it all in one formula. They’re trying to activate mood and focus and memory altogether, when the brain is quite complex and we can’t just blast everything at once. I realized that it makes a lot more sense to target individual pathways in the brain for specific outcomes, and that’s what we’ve done.

ALISON:

Wow. Correct me if I’m wrong, you don’t come from a scientific, chemist type background?

ROY:

No, not at all. I don’t think I did very well in those types of classes. Biology and chemistry were my worst in high school. I was an Econ major in college. I was always an athlete, so I always took supplements and always did my own research to figure that stuff out. And then just the more deep I got into it… I started reading just hardcore medical studies and reading synergies on ingredients, and found some pretty cool stuff that other companies weren’t doing. There was definitely a void in the brain health category, which is a growing category. It still is, but the big brands would release maybe one or two brain products. They weren’t going about it the right way, whereas now we have 10 different brain products that are a lot more targeted. We’re really trying to just own that niche.

ALISON:

Very cool. So for someone who hasn’t done that research, and doesn’t really know any of the terms or whatnot, but would like to find a supplement for them, what type of things can they look at? Should they be looking up the ingredients? What should they be looking for when choosing a supplement?

ROY:

It all comes down to being introspective as much as possible, rather than saying, “My brain is not working great today.” What about it? Is it your mood? Is it your focus? Is it your memory? Is it your ability to sleep and relax? These are all very different things. The farther you can get to pinpoint what exactly about your brain is not working great, the better you can help yourself, I think. A great resource for me when I was getting started was the book called The Edge Effect by Dr. Eric Braverman. He has this assessment, or a quiz, called the Braverman Assessment. You can look up online. It’s very easy to find. It’s a questionnaire that you can answer, and it will tell you which neurotransmitter you’re naturally dominant in and which one, or ones, you might be deficient in at that time. For me, it was very eyeopening, really gave me an understanding of how my own brain worked and, as soon as I had that understanding, it was much easier for me to optimize my mental performance.

ALISON:

Very cool. I think I have taken the Braverman Test back in the day. That’s pretty cool stuff. I could talk about you all’s line forever. I mean everything I’ve tried is pretty awesome. Let’s go back to Natural Stacks, and you and Ben were getting started. What was it like, initially, to start a supplement company? Can you think maybe about one thing, or a turning point, with Natural Stacks that made you realize, “Okay, this is going to be a success or something to stick to”?

ROY:

We knew we had something almost immediately. We launched with two products and then went on to the very niche bio-hacker podcasts. And that was basically our launch strategy, was to go on, use influencers and their podcast to leverage their audience and get them introduced to our brand pretty quickly, give those influencers an aggressive affiliate cut to get them motivated to talk about us. And what we had was unique, so they wanted to talk about us. But really, within those first two weeks, we got on to a podcast and I think we were profitable almost immediately. Really, after the first month we were like, “Wow, okay, we got something. Let’s take this seriously and try to grow it into something a lot bigger.” We did $100,000 in our first 100 days.

ALISON:

So your main strategy was to get in front of as many audiences in your niche through podcasts. And then how did you find influencers?

ROY:

We just sent cold emails. Cold emailed to Ben Greenfield, cold emailed to Dave Aspery. They were very receptive. And that was really it. We had something that was unique. We had this nootropic product, CILTEP, which now we’ve actually rebranded into the name called NEUROFUEL. At that time, CILTEP was developed in this almost community-sourced way, in these online forums, where it was really a couple of years of people tinkering with the formula and trying it for themselves.

ROY:

By the time we came to market with it, a lot of hardcore nootropic bio-hackers have already heard of the formula and some of them were making it themselves, but it was hard to do. You needed a milligram scale, you looked like a drug dealer because you had all this weird capping equipment, and it wasn’t a very good experience. So only the hardcore people were doing it and putting it into a nice package, made it easy to distribute to a more regular audience, and Dave Asprey and Ben Greenfield and Tim Ferriss, and those guys… Brain health was hot, nootropics were becoming a thing, the movie Limitless came out a year or two before. We were lucky to catch that wave.

ALISON:

I mean it’s pretty crazy too. The names that you just spit out, Tim Ferriss, Dave Asprey, and I can’t imagine now cold emailing, or cold calling, one of those guys and them even responding.

ROY:

I think it was a little easier back then, at least for them, but there’s always that opportunity. There’s always up-and-coming influencers that are very receptive to talking to folks that have something new and exciting. So I don’t think that strategy’s dead, I think it’s still very alive.

ALISON:

And did you all offer anything in return, or was it simply a try my product, here’s what’s inside?

ROY:

It depends on who you’re talking to. You have to be very flexible and listen to what they want. Sometimes it would be a straight-up affiliate deal, 15% of whatever you refer. For Dave Asprey, we offered him a great deal for him to sell the product on his own website. He was very receptive to that. For other influencers, like the poker champion that we worked with, we gave him a percentage of sales on our entire website for a certain amount of time after the tournament aired on ESPN. You just have to be flexible and make a deal that makes sense. And all those deals didn’t require any upfront money on our part. Putting the risk back on their side and say, “If you can produce, then you’ll get paid. But if you don’t produce, then it was fun anyways.”

ALISON:

Wow. What was the poker player’s name again?

ROY:

Martin Jacobson.

ALISON:

And did he just wear a Natural Stacks shirt during that game?

ROY:

He wore a patch. It was a patch that said Powered by CILTEP. That was an interesting one. He just reached out to us two weeks before he was sitting at the final table for the World Series of Poker, and it got lost in our inbox and we didn’t see it for a while.

ALISON:

He reached out to you all?

ROY:

Yes.

ALISON:

Wow.

ROY:

He had been taking our products and was a fan and said, “Hey, I’m sitting at the World Series of Poker. Do you want to sponsor me?” Now, I think he wanted something crazy, 40,000 bucks or something, to wear a patch. And we were like, “No, we’re only a startup. There’s no way we can do that, but we want to figure out how to work with you.” That’s when we worked this creative deal that, “You’ll wear a patch that says Powered by CILTEP,” and we made the patch aggressively large, which worked well. He ended up winning the whole thing, which was just amazing.

ALISON:

Did you all have any idea that he was going win?

ROY:

No. He came in and he was ranked eight or ninth. So he was a huge underdog. And we were there in Vegas, watching him, which was a ton of fun. His competitors were drinking fruit smoothies and stuff halfway through these long, 12 hour poker days. And he was popping CILTEP and krill oil, and his concentration, you could tell, was well above his competitors. And he just came through and won. It was super cool, a lot of fun, some great shots on ESPN closeup with our patch. It’s hard to quantify the actual sales that we got from that. It’s not tracked or anything. It definitely had a boost, but maybe wasn’t as big as we were expecting. But because we set up the deal in a way that he was getting a percentage of sales after it aired, there was really little risk to us.

ALISON:

Absolutely. I love that. You’re putting it in the influencers’ hands and making them work for you, instead of the other way around. It’s pretty cool. Another question I wanted to ask, are there any… Because I think that you guys are so innovative, so I wanted to ask you, are there any brands that you have your eye on that influenced your brand, or you, in general?

ROY:

For me, I look up to the really high quality supplement brands. This goes back to our ethos of being open source. I look up to the guys who are doing a lot of testing, who use the highest quality ingredients. So Thorne is one that comes top of mind. They recently purchased WellnessFX, which is the biomarker, blood tests and other testing. And so they’re creating this whole ecosystem of test your biomarkers and then fill in your nutrient gaps with their high quality products. And I think that’s super cool because they’ve actually pulled that off pretty well, and definitely have a lot of respect to them.

ALISON:

And what are your thoughts on, it’s important to follow your competitors closely, but you also want to stand out. So how do you manage that balance?

ROY:

We prefer to be the trendsetters. We’re not waiting to see what competitors are doing and then following. We want to be the innovative products that come first. And maybe it’s a little more risk. You don’t know if the market is quite ready for it. We’d much rather be a first mover than be a second mover. We don’t really watch competitors that closely. Of course, we do and we see how they’re pricing stuff and where they’re distributed. But when it comes to creating our products, we’re always trying to innovate first.

ALISON:

I like that. Well, let’s talk about your team and how it’s grown throughout the years. I know initially… This is a two-part question, I guess. You guys only went with e-commerce for the first couple of years, then moved into retail. I’m guessing your team could stay pretty lean until you started to build out the retail component. Walk us through… How does that look, building out the retail side?

ROY:

Well, each distribution channel definitely has its own challenges and requires its own expertise. Starting off online only, which we did for a couple of years, you can definitely stay very lean. I mean to start, it was just Ben and myself doing everything. And then I think we brought on an intern, and I think we just overworked him. He ended up quitting.

ALISON:

Did you pay him?

ROY:

We did pay him.

ALISON:

Okay, good.

ROY:

And now he’s quite successful, so it’s great to see that. Growing a team is always, I think, the hardest part of growing a business. And when you start and your bootstrapped and you’re very conscious of your budget, you either hire someone young and unexperienced, who’s cheap, and train them. You hope they turn into, which a lot of times fails. And the other side is to hire someone that’s already been there, a professional, that’s done this for a big company. And we’ve tried that too. My experience with that is that industry pros are used to having a lot bigger ecosystem around them, better support. They want to be able to offload their tasks to people underneath them, which there isn’t when you’re just getting started. So we went that route too and tried hiring these pros, and they didn’t really work out either. They were overly expensive and the results weren’t quite there because they didn’t have the support that they were used to, I believe.

ROY:

We figured out we have to be somewhere in the middle. Someone that has some talent, that has proved themselves in some capacity, but maybe they need a little training or something. So that’s where we are today, is trying to hire people that are really excellent in their work and fit well with our culture. Maybe they’re not industry vets that have been doing it for 15 years, but they’re also not complete rookies that we need to train. And that has been a good strategy for us going back to the distribution channels.

ROY:

Starting online only is a really great way to go. You can iterate very quickly. So if you need to make a label change, if you want to change pricing, if you want to change the formula, you can do so pretty quickly. Whereas once you start getting into retail outlets, everything gets harder. It’s very hard to change the formula, the label and the packaging on a batch-by-batch basis. So we started online only, and then we noticed a lot of healthcare practitioners were reaching out to us because we had these innovative brain formulas that they wanted in their practice, where their customers, their clients, were asking for our stuff. So then once we got into maybe 100 healthcare practitioners, which were pretty easy to manage… These were professional doctors who would order a case at a time, or whatever. Pretty easy to manage that.

ALISON:

So doctors were prescribing your supplements?

ROY:

These are more naturopaths, chiropractors-

ALISON:

Okay.

ROY:

… that sort of thing. So not really prescribing, but recommending them to their clients. A lot of those naturopathic type doctors stock a lot of supplements. Getting into that atmosphere, I think was validating for us. “Wow. We could be sold in a physical setting and we’re being recommended by these professionals.” So then I started looking at retail and I said, “Why not?” I think Ben was very against it. He’s like, “You’re crazy.” But I said, “I know we can do it. I know we can get our products into some retail outlets.” It was eyeopening, really, that the retail world is completely different than online. It’s a very slow sales cycle. Most retailers only review a certain category one time per year. So you only have this one month window to submit your products. And if they say, “No,” you basically have to wait another year.

ROY:

It took longer than I thought, really, I think to succeed in retail. Start with the smaller independent stores, the smaller chains, they’re easier to work with, and get your sales velocity up. Do everything you can to support that store, give them great deals, train them excessively, make sure all the staff have tried your product. And once you create velocity in the smaller stores, then you can take that sales story to a larger chain and be like, “Look, I know you know we’re just a startup, but we’re in these 10 stores in California. We’re selling a case a week.” And that will get their attention. So always build off smaller, smaller chunks rather than trying to go straight to a large distributor or a huge retail chain. It definitely helps to have a sales story behind you.

ROY:

And that could be an online sales story. You can say you have these very loyal customers, your reorder rate is super high, we have this tribe of people who, if we say we’re available at their local store, they’re going to go buy it. That, I think, is how to win in retail. But you just have to understand that the sales cycle is super slow. It’s not going to just happen immediately where you launch a product and all of a sudden you’re going to be able to get to a thousand stores.

ALISON:

You spoke about training. So I know you went on circuits to your different retailers to train the staff. Could you see a direct impact in sales because of that?

ROY:

Yes. Totally.

ALISON:

Wow.

ROY:

Very, very important in retail is to get the actual store staff on your side, the staff that are standing in the supplement aisle. When a customer comes in, just your average Joe is going to go to that store staff who is generally uneducated. They didn’t go to med school. They’re a store clerk, and these people are smart and they’ve been working that industry for a while. But a general consumer is going to go to that store staff and say, “What do you have for mood?”, or “What do you have for stress?”, or “I’m trying to focus better. What do you have?” And if you’re not the first or second brand they recommend, they’re not going to try you. And, as a young brand, you don’t have the brand recognition either. You don’t have money for nationwide ads and things like that.

ROY:

So, for a young brand, I think training is the most important thing to get sell through in a store. So we are super generous with staff samples. Anytime we launch in a new store, we’re sending copious amounts of samples for the staff to try for themselves. And then what we do now is, now that we have pretty substantial distribution, every quarter or so, we’ll pick a month and every single order that we send to a store, we’ll include samples with a little note, “Here, try this. Let us know what you think?” The store staff are getting free stuff. They try your product, and if your product works, they’re going to recommend it.

ROY:

So our sales in retail started pretty slow, and I made that my main focus. In big brands, they call it the national educator, is someone that flies around and trains all the staff. It’s a lot of work. I would fly somewhere new in the country and visit 10 or 20 stores. Literally, just walk into the store and ask the staff, “Hey, do you have 10 minutes? I’m the founder of this company and I’d love to tell you about it.” Try to get their email, too, to follow up with them and, “Hey, did you try the products? What do you think? Let me send you some more samples.”

ROY:

The more established retailers, it’s very easy to do a phone training or webinar where they can get maybe five, 10, 20 of their staff together and make a little training event. Maybe you buy them lunch, say, “Hey, let’s do this webinar, and I want to teach you guys about the products.” And then give them some free samples. But super, super important, I think, for a young brand to really win in education. It’s very hard to do, but it definitely pays off in the longterm.

ALISON:

I love that. It’s easily forgotten that the staff is your muse on the ground, so I really like that.

ROY:

Online, it’s very easy to educate. You have your whole website, you have blog posts, you have podcasts, you can show videos, you can have as much text as you want describing the product and how it works and how they’re going to feel if they take it. But on a retail setting, you have two seconds of someone scanning that shelf. So besides your packaging, that’s really all the education that you have. So you really have to get the store staff on your side to be able to do that education for you.

ALISON:

I mean really, all of that, I’ve always felt that online versus retail, retail is just the old school. It’s all old school tactics. And what you were just saying, that just sounds like old school sales tactics, take people to lunch, let those things still work. Very cool. So I’m going to try to wrap this up. I would love to hear about what you’re most excited for, for the future for Natural Stacks.

ROY:

Well, our mission is to build a billion better brains. For me, it’s just really rewarding to get feedback from people that we have improved their mental health and their mental performance. I’m excited to just own the brain niche and be the brain brand. I think we have a ways to go. We’re starting to get there. I just want to help more people and help people become better versions of themselves. And that’s super rewarding for me and our entire team. I think that’s the ultimate goal, is if you can create something and put it into this world and you’re helping people, it’s awesome.

ALISON:

So is that something you’re measuring, one billion? How close are you?

ROY:

It’s hard to measure. We did measure, I think, bottles sold. I forget what count we’re at. It’s a pretty lofty goal, but why have a goal that’s not lofty?

ALISON:

You’re just going to have to keep doubling, two billion better brains, three billion, as you go on. So, thank you so much, Roy. If you want, you can leave one piece of advice for a CPG, small business owner, or someone who’s just getting started. I think they would love to hear from you.

ROY:

You have to create an amazing product, got to have a product that is differentiated and unique and special. I see brands that are successful having copycat products, but I think they fizzle out pretty quickly. So to create a long lasting brand, you’ve got to have something special and you have to know how to target your consumer. And I think a big advantage that startups have is the ability to move fast. Big CPG companies are super slow. They are looking to what the small companies are doing in terms of what they’re going to try to create or innovate. So your advantage is to create something unique. Maybe it’s not a Campbell’s soup that everyone’s going to buy, but you have the ability to really own a niche and you can find your target customer. And then just move fast because you can be faster than the big guys, and that’s a huge advantage.

ALISON:

Very cool. Well, thank you so much, Roy. If people are interested in Natural Stacks, where can they go to learn more?

ROY:

naturalstacks.com. And they can reach out to me directly. I like helping entrepreneurs, so roy@naturalstacks.com.

ALISON:

All right. And we’ll include those in the notes as well. Well, thank you again, Roy. This was super insightful. I actually have a full page of notes just from everything you’ve said,-

ROY:

Sweet. Awesome.

ALISON:

… so really appreciate that.

ROY:

Thank you.

ALISON:

Thank you. That was really fun. I liked that. That was cool.

ROY:

Easy. Any time.

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 and whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram, @umaimarketing, or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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