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?
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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.
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.
You didn’t ask for it, but we’re going to give it to you.
It’ll be fun. We promise.
So it all started way back when. It was my first job out of college. Was it your second job out of college?
It was my first job, but I interned before that for free, for no money.
Right, yeah. This was… Yeah, back in the day when you didn’t get paid for your internships.
And you were happy about it.
Yeah. Yeah. You were stoked to have the opportunity. So… But we pay our interns, so just side note.
Yeah. We’re not salty at all.
So this all started at a little place in Austin, filled to the brim with pageant and prom dresses.
With rhinestones and sparkles.
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.
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?
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?
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-
You got sent to the principal?
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…
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.
Yeah, we need to…
Was it like… Because in my head I’m like, this is like a spider web, it’s black.
What? Oh gosh. [inaudible 00:04:13].
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…
Shoutout to Joann’s in Waco, Texas. Sponsor us.
Exactly. So anyways…
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?
Oh my god. Did I put, designed my own prom dress? No, I did not. Really, so I interned in La La Land.
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.
I know in your head, you fit in there, and I like that.
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.
Okay. So that was… You were into it. You were like, I’m doing fashion. This is what I’m going to do.
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.
I love that, and for those of you that do not know Alison, she will not spend money on clothing now.
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.
Hey, aren’t we all. It’s a pandemic. Let us live our lives.
Anyways. Yeah. Enough about that background. Karin, let’s… So you applied to a content specialist role.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Yeah. It’s like their job to kill your hopes and dreams.
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.
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?
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.
…was the place to find jobs.
That was where I found my first job too.
I forgot about that. Wow. Okay. Now it’s like, don’t get on Craigslist.
Like what am I going to do on Craigslist?
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.
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.
So… Yeah. Let’s just hit this a little harder. Karin was in the baby stages of Vital Farms. Early phase, right?
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.
Cool. I love Vital Farms.
They have good eggs.
So what were you doing while I was on the chicken farm?
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.
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.
Was it just like, you in a backpack? Is that all you had?
Me and a backpack. Yeah. I immediately got screwed over by my taxi driver, like…
Just needed to learn a lot of things in life, and today-
Did you already have a place secured to stay? How does this work?
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.
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?
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.
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.
That is nuts.
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.
Yeah. It was the only means for advertising that we did. It was a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
I wish someone else would give me $500,000 to spend.
I know. Who out there…
Give me your money.
Who out there has some measly chump change that Alison could spend on Facebook ads to kill it for you? Hit us up, email@example.com.
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.
Thank you, Anton.
Yeah, but then what happened?
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.
What do you mean you were talking too much?
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-
He thinks there’s a mutiny.
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.
Just from that one happy hour.
That’s the catalyst.
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.
He’s got some sort of sixth sense, I think.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
A few times. Yeah. [crosstalk 00:26:16]
I’m texting you really late at night. I’m like, I’m having these feelings within me. Are you ready?
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.
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.”
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.
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-
Just said it?
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.
It is, and I love it.
I love it so much.
I love our love child.
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.
So I’m not-
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yeah. We knew immediately.
I don’t know if that’s normal. I think that that’s really lucky.
Yeah. It is so rare to find an untapped diamond, like she is a diamond, but yeah.
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?
Yeah, but it’s been… Yeah.
It’s so soon.
I know. Wow.
So that’s the story.
Yeah. So that is the story of how we met, how we grew apart… Well, not grew apart, but grew separately.
We grew separately, and then…
And then came together.
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.
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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