In this episode, we’re joined by Josh Belinsky, Co-founder of Slate Milk; a line of lactose-free, high protein and better for you chocolate milk.
Josh tells us about lactose intolerance and what motivated him to start his company. He also shares a story about a time when he sent random LinkedIn messages to someone he really looked up to, which led to them connecting and Josh gaining a new investor and mentor.
Josh also talks about the importance of asking the right questions when doing customer research and staying curious, especially when breaking into a very competitive category.
Ken Ojuka: Welcome to the Physical Product Movement podcast. By Fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most Ambitious and exciting physical product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host, Ken Ojuka.
Ken Ojuka: In this episode, I speak with Josh Belinsky, Co-founder of Slate Milk, a line of lactose-free higher protein and better for you. Brand of chocolate milk. We discussed how struggles with lactose intolerance, but at the same time, having a love for chocolate milk, motivated him to start his company. We talk about how random LinkedIn message to someone Josh really looked up to lead to a new investor, and mentor.And we also talk about the importance of asking the right questions when doing customer research and staying curious, especially when breaking into a very competitive category, slate milk is on a tear right now, and anyone interested in this space. So keep an eye on them. I think you’ll get a lot out of this conversation with Josh Belinsky. Enjoy!
Ken Ojuka: Alright, Josh, how are you doing man? I am good. It’s Friday. And I’m looking forward to having some fun and hanging out a little bit with the fam. Do you have any big plans this weekend?
Josh Belinsky: Well, Boston is going to be hit by a hurricane on Sunday where we’re at.
Josh Belinsky: So I think we’re just gonna hunker in and try to, hopefully our cable stays in tax so we can watch the end of the golf tournament, first week of the playoffs and maybe some football, whatever else.
Ken Ojuka: Oh, cool. Cool. Yeah. And then make sure to be safe. That’s a little bit weird for Boston.
Josh Belinsky: Very strange. I have no idea what’s going on. It’s been very, very hot here though, and very rainy in the summer. So.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, we’re out here in Utah and we’ve been dealing with all the smoke from California, you know, and it all tends to head this way and settle in our, in our valley here.
Josh Belinsky: Really interesting. I saw an article today that hasn’t quite affected us on the east coast, but all the dairies out there, speaking of mill, all the cows are producing a lot less milk right now because of all of the smoke inhalation.
Ken Ojuka: Wow. Wow. Well, we definitely want to speak about milk, and hear your story. But first let’s just kick it off with a, with a quote. Do you have something that is impactful to you or something that you keep in mind?
Josh Belinsky: Yeah. I mean, a lot of, I think what I keep in the back of my mind came from friends and family growing up and especially my parents and one of the quotes, my dad always had growing up was the harder you work, the luckier you get. And I really liked that. And guy Roz actually has the podcast, how I built this about entrepreneurs, which I love listening to. And at the end of every podcast, he always says, how much were you and how much was luck? And, I always think that the answer is both.
Josh Belinsky: You really can’t win without one, without the two combined. And so, you know, I was actually chatting with one of our sales reps today. I’m finally getting a meeting that we’ve been trying to get for a long time. And, you know, the kind of a lucky string event had to happen for it to get there, but the persistent follow-up is really what made it happen.
Josh Belinsky: So, I really love that saying, and I’ve definitely kept it with me through really every aspect.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. You know, and I love it too. And the one way that I kind of look at it is that, you know, you have to be out there and be in a position to take advantage of the luck, you know, when it happens. And, it doesn’t, it doesn’t happen if you’re, if you’re not out there and putting yourself out there and kind of grinding as hard as he can, then, you know, something might happen, but you’re not ready for it.
Ken Ojuka: So you can’t even, can’t even benefit from it.
Josh Belinsky: Yep. Exactly.
Ken Ojuka: That’s a great quote and a great podcast. How I built this.
Josh Belinsky: Yes.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. So, why don’t you, just tell us just a little bit about yourself. We know that you’re out in Boston and your name’s Josh, but why don’t you tell us just a little bit more.
Josh Belinsky: Yeah, so, Josh Balinsky out here in Boston, born and raised in the suburbs out here, went to high school here, went to college here.
Josh Belinsky: Well, as a part of my first startup here and started slate outta here. So, Boston definitely has a way of keeping you. I feel like a lot of people are from Boston, staying in Boston. My co-founder has a very similar story because. I’m also from the suburbs. And, we actually both went to the same college, so we will have some Northeastern university right downtown.
Josh Belinsky: We both were exposed to startups pretty early on in our college careers. Northeastern has really put an emphasis on entrepreneurship and they have an incubator program there that both of us, with our very first startups, were immersed in. I joined another company, but he actually started one with his brother.
Josh Belinsky: We just learned a lot about how to do things very, very incorrectly and wrong. And we like to say it wasn’t, they weren’t failures, they were alerting experiences. And, you know, we were our own bosses at 18, 19 years old and just kind of figuring things out and both went on to grow those businesses for a couple of years.
Josh Belinsky: I took a job with a tech company after a couple of years there, because I just really wanted to learn from people that were smarter than me and I wasn’t ready to be my own boss. So, I worked for a tech company that had raised a lot of venture capital dollars and, really, was the third employee.
Josh Belinsky: And so was able to see over the course of three years, a lot of. Business models and pricing structures and teen build-outs. And again, a lot of things that they did really, really well, and then a lot of opportunities to learn there as well. And so starting slate about right out, basically I was working all throughout college and so about a year out of college is when I started slate with nanny.
Josh Belinsky: You know, we had already gone through what we say was our MBA and learned from all of them. Ms steps. And, we thought that we were going to be a good pair to try to take on the wide world of milk.
Ken Ojuka: There you go. There you go. I like it. What was it? The tech company. Is this something you can talk about?
Josh Belinsky: Yeah, so it was, it was funded out here in, right here in Boston. So, the first food company was an energy bar company taking on like a clif bar. At the time we were a healthy energy bar, did that for a couple of years. And then I joined the company at the time that was called. And they were seated right out of the VC and Cambridge, just incredible team, all five co-founders had previously founded and sold businesses before.
Josh Belinsky: And just some of the best fundraisers I’d ever met and just culture builders and team motivators and, very, very, very smart humans. And, you know, they like the company’s sensitivity to now being a real estate tech company called HQ. They’ve been raised. I can’t even keep track of a hundred and something million dollars worth from some of the largest VCs and real estate firms.
Josh Belinsky: And they’ve kind of found their groove and the world of real estate tax. So I still remain friends with a lot of those guys and, you know, it’s very impressive to see what they’re doing. And after about three years there, I loved what I was doing and I love the whole team. And I always tell people it’s like breaking up with your girlfriend after a three-year relationship, like it is one of the hardest things.
Josh Belinsky: But I had this really, really great opportunity that Manny and I, as in working on nights and weekends for about six to eight months, just kind of doing research on an opportunity in the CPG space. And we both love chocolate milk. We’re both super into health and fitness, and we both have tummy issues.
Josh Belinsky: We both can’t digest lactose for lactose intolerance. So jokingly we’re talking about starting a business that entire time. One thing led to another, and we just found that there was this big opportunity we could pursue. And I knew I just, I couldn’t stay at that company anymore. And you know, our, my CEO and the other founders, you know, it was, it was a bummer when I left for everybody.
Josh Belinsky: But, you know, they know better than anybody that, when you have your baby and you’re ready to go pursue it, there’s really nothing getting into it.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. One of the terms that, that, that I think describes that, that feeling, you know, is, from the E-Myth you ever read that book? The entrepreneurial myth.
Ken Ojuka: But anyway, one of the terms that he uses in there is an entrepreneurial seizure, it’s like the idea like seizes hold of you and won’t let go, you know, and always takes over, you know? Yeah. So I definitely know that I, that feeling, Yeah. So a couple of things I want to dig into, Boston in general is pretty entrepreneurial and a lot of, a lot of venture capitalists out there.
Ken Ojuka: A lot of great companies, built out of there. Do you think that had an influence on you and in terms of making you want to start your own business or, you know,
Josh Belinsky: Yeah. I mean, I think part of being in this culture as a whole is a massive impact on it. My dad growing up, I mean, he was always in sales and marketing and, he was, he was very entrepreneurial at heart, but he’ll say that he was never a risk taker.
Josh Belinsky: He never went out and started his own thing. He always wanted to build his own little companies inside larger companies, but she was very successful at, but, and I never put two and two together because my mom was always in healthcare and I never thought about it, but she had her own private practice.
Josh Belinsky: She’s an occupational therapist for musicians. And so she had her own private practice for 18 years. And, you know, she was, she was probably the most entrepreneurial of the whole family. And so I kind of grew up around it without really knowing it. And, or I just didn’t put two and two together. And then growing up in Boston.
Josh Belinsky: I caddied a lot. And I always tell people that was kinda my first little business that I ran because it was me against everybody else out there for the caddies and, you know, trying to get the best loops and get the best guys and trying to get repeat business from, the best payers, but also the people that were nicest and was able to build some really lifelong relationships with a lot of the different, folks that I caddy for.
Josh Belinsky: And that was kind of my first stab at it. I always thought in middle school and high school, I was going to go be a civil engineer and build bridges. But everybody around me told me there’s literally no way I meant to do that. Long-term I have to be out there talking to people. And by the time I got to be a freshman in college, I had a business at Northeastern.
Josh Belinsky: And, that’s when I met the energy bar guys and kind of the rest is history, but, you know, being at Northeastern and bumping into those guys, everything was so focused on entrepreneurship and they were United, a shark tank style competition. There was just so much excitement around it that, you know, between being in Boston, but then also really being at Northeastern really helped light that fire even more.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. There’s nothing quite like seeing it right. And meeting people who are doing it and realizing, wait a minute, I can do it too you know?
Josh Belinsky: Exactly. They’re happy. They’re excited to wake up and go to work. It’s very rare that I’ve seen.
Ken Ojuka: So, so what about, the, the focus on CPG? Right. So the energy bar companies in CPG, you mentioned a couple other things in CPG.
Ken Ojuka: Was that a space that you were looking at or were you looking at, you know, going the tech route or, you know, what were your thoughts about the type of business to start?
Josh Belinsky: Always tapped. Like when I got to school and the CBG, I was like, that’s cool. You can taste it and feel it. Other people can try and experience it.
Josh Belinsky: And then when I got into the tech world, I was just so fascinated. I loved all the AI, the robotics, the impact of the scalability that tech had with, you know, once you have the upfront capital, it can kind of just expand, expand, expand. And I loved it. And I had no intention of ever going back to CPG.
Josh Belinsky: But I was kidding myself. I mean, I am a huge advocate and fan of just better for you, better for the. And, growing up my dad and I especially would always be sending each other new energy bars or new drinks or whatever, because, you know, we grew up drinking Tang and Caprice on and soda Snapple, ice tea.
Josh Belinsky: And I mean, really we didn’t know, right. Fat was the enemy. So we’re like, oh, all this stuff, that’s no fat, so it’s fine. And it tastes delicious. And then we find out sugar is really bad. So as I got into high school and was focusing a lot more on things like basketball and golf, Just more fitness things. You know, my dad was a, literally a little on the heavier side at the time, and he was really putting a lot of effort into losing weight.
Josh Belinsky: So we would challenge each other to find a lot of healthy foods. And we just noticed, I also had a lot of stomach issues and just when I ate, right, not only did my body feel better, but like mentally I felt better, was just really, I saw the results for my dad too. And it just got me really excited about food.
Josh Belinsky: So. Getting in the tech space when Mandy and I first met, it was actually after college when I was at my tech company. And he was at his, we had always started about starting a tech company together. And somehow it came up that we both still drank lactose-free Jocko and we were making fun of each other for it.
Josh Belinsky: And, you know, it’s, it’s the brand scream to the world. You’re lactose intolerant. It’s high in sugar. It’s not that. And so we jokingly were like, oh, we should just start a lactose free chocolate milk company and make it healthier for you. And some of the stuff we did on our nights and weekends to look into it was absurd.
Josh Belinsky: Like we would Google, like, can you boil the sugar out of milk? Because milk actually has sugar in it. Like we were just trying to figure out any way to make this thing a reality. And that was kind of the beginning of us figuring out what we wanted to do. And it was just so much fun. And now, especially.
Josh Belinsky: We talk about when creating a product, we’re not just giving somebody another option. This is how we feel about slate. It’s not just another chocolate mill where somebody could be drinking ours because it’s in a better package. It’s not just that it’s actually enhancing their lives because we are taking sugar out of their diet.
Josh Belinsky: We are giving them more protein. While they’re drinking it, they can feel good about the fact that this milk product is better for the planet than all of our competitors. And so to us, like that story of something that’s actually increasing people’s lives, giving them the happiness and the letters that we’ve received from farmers about how excited they are, that we’re not just doing another almond milk that we’re actually taking on real dairy, to helping grow that business from 12 year old kids that could never have milk in the lunchroom.
Josh Belinsky: And they’re that kid with. Know, I was there. I would always bring chocolate milk and like the stupid, like sippy cup thing. And because I needed my chocolate milk, but I couldn’t have lactose, you know, and to say like, you know, he can go to school with his chocolate milk now and all that stuff is just so amazing that while there are many, many, many incredible things tech does, being in the software space just didn’t give me the same type of passion and satisfaction that, a healthy CBG product.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, it’s funny as you described yourself, you know, I’m into sports, you know, into business and tech and then also being lactose intolerant, you know, that’s, that’s like me, right. And my approach to it was not to drink the lactose free milk. Stop drinking milk. Right. And, and yeah.
Ken Ojuka: And that’s, and that’s, and that’s exactly my point is that, you know, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that I’m not alone. You know, a lot of people have problems with milk. And so could you maybe dive into a little bit of the lactose and why, you know, we have such issues with it.
Ken Ojuka: What, what it even is, you know, just
Josh Belinsky: kind of skipped over the product. You know, the product’s called slate, slate mill. And basically what Manny and I realized is that there’s a lot of people that have, like you said, haven’t had milk in like 20 years and milk to its core. It does have some negative things, kind of sugar.
Josh Belinsky: Lactose is just a big sugar. So every cup of white milk, whether it’s skimmed 2% or whole, all has 12 grams of sugar in it. And that’s all. And basically in your body, you have this enzyme of a lactase enzyme that when the lactose goes in there, the lactase is supposed to smash the lactose into two smaller sugars that your body can digest and absorb as a carb or.
Josh Belinsky: Kind of get rid of, and, for most people, basically there’s, there’s lactose in breast milk. And so as a baby, you need those enzymes to digest it, which is why kids, most of the time, are tolerant. And then as you get older and closer to puberty, you lose the lactase enzyme because the idea is as adults, you stopped bringing breast milk.
Josh Belinsky: And, but you know, in Western civilization, people continue to drink cow’s milk. And so some people’s bodies stay adapted to it and still have that enzyme. But most people. And so what happens is when the lactose enters your digestive tract, then your body can’t digest it and smash it into smaller pieces.
Josh Belinsky: So it kind of irritates your entire GI tract. And that’s why people get kind of the gas and the other discomfort that comes along with drinking. So we know more about milk now than we ever thought we would, but. You know, that’s why, when you see people popping Lactaid pills to make their stomach not hurt, those are just lactase enzymes.
Josh Belinsky: That’s just them giving their body, the enzyme to help break down that lactose, that they wouldn’t be able to do without it. And so, you know, take a step back, looking at starting this brand. We love chocolate milk, but we couldn’t drink it every day because the current options just weren’t healthy enough.
Josh Belinsky: And we wanted to find, you know, what are all the reasons why people aren’t drinking milk right now? And what do people really want and beverages, and, you know, people wanted less sugar, they wanted more protein and they wanted products with functionality. It’s, you know, they’re, they’re, you know, there’s going to always be soda.
Josh Belinsky: There’s going to always be. Items that are unhealthy, that people may have on an infrequent occasion because it’s indulgent, but something that people can drink every single day that are healthy minded. We do that. This had to be something that could be in some of these routines. And so, milk, like I said, has 12 grams of sugar.
Josh Belinsky: So we knew we had to find a way to get the sugar out of there. Lactose affects a lot of people’s stomachs. We had to be lactose. Milky says a lot of water, a lot of the farms use water for the milk itself. So we had to find a way to get more water, and sufficient milk spoils really quickly. And it’s usually packaged in plastic bottles.
Josh Belinsky: And then all of that in addition, the packages always bring it towards. Or bodybuilders there’s like nothing in between. You’re either drinking a Nesquik, they didn’t get muscles. So we had all these issues and we wrote them on Manny’s whiteboard in his apartment. And it took us about a year to figure out how to, how to solve them.
Josh Belinsky: But essentially it was him and his brother creating a sleek brand on PowerPoint with a little bit of a touch up on Photoshop. So it wasn’t anything crazy. We found out about a process called ultra filtration, which, it’s thought of it like a British. You pour the milk in it because lactose is a big sugar.
Josh Belinsky: It gets caught on top of the filter. And what comes through is all the protein and the goodness of the milk and it leaves behind the sugar and the bad stuff. What’s also interesting is that H2O or water is also a big molecule. So that also gets. And so that water is then used back on the farms that we use.
Josh Belinsky: So we’ve partnered with 30 family owned farms where we get our bill Trump. And so we just, we’re just taking the milk that is 90% water. And so we ended up taking some of the water out of the milk and using it back on the farms. So they don’t use any outside water on those farms. And what comes through is, is a concentrated, thicker version of milk.
Josh Belinsky: That’s very high in protein that doesn’t have. And just in case a little lactose squeezes through, we add a lactase enzyme just to make sure people are 100% safe. It’s a hundred percent lactose free. So now we have this high protein, no sugar base that we mix with all the delicious chocolate from the Netherlands.
Josh Belinsky: And, we have an espresso flavor that we mixed with Colombian coffee to get some caffeine in there. And we take that and then we put it in an aluminum can. So it’s a hundred percent recyclable aluminum cans. And, we put it in a big pressure cooker, very similar to what a Starbucks frappuccino goes into or anything like that.
Josh Belinsky: And it allows our product to be shelf stable with a shelf life of nine months to over a year. And for us, that was kind of like, you know, we were able to get a good brand with no load low to no sugar. Had a long shelf life and got rid of plastic. And really another piece of the plastic usage was, you know, we come in a 12 pack tray that has plastic shrink wrap on it.
Josh Belinsky: And then when you ship these things out and pallets, they have plastic shrink wrap on the pallets. There was no real solution for that yet. So we thought about what we could do to really help our carbon footprint. And there’s a really amazing company that helped us partner with a group called TACA TACA, and they’re in Kenya.
Josh Belinsky: And basically we pay them. For every pound of plastic we put into the world used on our cases or pallets. We pay a group down in Kenya to actually pull a pound of plastic out of the ocean because that’s where a lot of our plastic waste goes, a lot towards Africa and India and their oceans. And so that’s been a really cool group for us to work with and it’s allowed us to be plastic and neutral as a company.
Josh Belinsky: And, and we’re always working on ways to try to improve on all of this stuff. You know, that’s why we say it’s better for people and better for the planet. And we really mean it.
Ken Ojuka: That’s cool. That’s cool. So you talked about the ultrafiltration process, you know, and you know, that doesn’t just come to you, right?
Ken Ojuka: Like, it sounds like you guys were working, working on this, you know, how did you guys come across that and, and see that as, as something viable for your product?
Josh Belinsky: Can make this stuff up. And like you said, the harder you work, the luckier you get. We were Googling and calling and could not figure out how to get the sugar out of milk.
Josh Belinsky: So we, a LinkedIn search dairy expert, found this guy, Marvin, his cell phone was in his LinkedIn description and called him. He spent an hour with us on the phone, telling us all the different ways to make something lactose for your lower sugar. And to this day, I still don’t know if he has any idea who we are or the fact that we were created.
Josh Belinsky: But he was the one that taught us about ultra filtration. And, we did a bunch of research and talked to some formulators and we got connected with a group of farms that kind of pulled their money together to create a co-op and they bought an ultra ultrafiltration machine. And, you know, that’s how we kind of got started.
Josh Belinsky: So we work with a group, right in upstate New York and they’ve been awesome.
Ken Ojuka: That’s cool. That’s cool. Good job.
Josh Belinsky: Yeah, exactly.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. You need to just send them, send them some slate, you know,
Josh Belinsky: I know I gotta, we gotta, we gotta sit down as full name and where he lives and we definitely, well,
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, I think there’s a lesson there.
Ken Ojuka: And you know, hard work of course, but I, I also think, and just, and just not being afraid to ask, you know, just cause, I mean, what’s, what’s the worst that can happen. He says, no, thanks. I don’t want to help you, you know?
Josh Belinsky: yeah exactly, couldn’t agree more.
Ken Ojuka: Cool. Cool. Well, I wanted to just talk a little bit about your go to market and, you know, I think that, that you mentioned, you know, Manny and his brother worked on the branding.
Ken Ojuka: I think your branding is awesome and it’s very unique in this space. I think you guys nailed it.
Ken Ojuka: And you know, so I guess let’s start there. Let’s start about, let’s talk a little bit about positioning, you know, how you thought about this, who was it for? You know, and then how did you decide, how to, how to go after.
Josh Belinsky: Yeah. ,when we first looked at the space, we were going to be all black and white because if you look at the dairy category, there are a lot of vibrant colors. And we were like, we’re going to have an all black container and it’s going to be kind of more intense and really stand out.
Josh Belinsky: And, you know, we lived in the grocery stores. We would walk into stores every single day. Every city we went to, we’d traveled for a wedding. We’d be taking pictures of the shelves. And really trying to figure out how we can stand out and, you know, and it’s still hard. We still do it like my girlfriend, or she uses it to go into grocery stores with me to be marked cause I’m in there for like an hour.
Josh Belinsky: And, the amount of things I’ve made her try to, you know, but you know, it’s it’s, we live it, we breathe it. We say that if you cut our veins, open chocolate milk, pour that. So, you know, that was kind of our initial idea, but what we realized is that people have to know what the hell the product is. So for all.
Josh Belinsky: I have no idea what this is. So we knew we had to create colors that really told consumers, who we like, who and what we were. And there was actually a professor at Northeastern that used to work for bars. And he told us about this really interesting thing called the 25 5 1 rule. And the idea is from 25 feet away.
Josh Belinsky: And essentially it’s the largest color on your package, the shape of your package, and maybe the biggest word on your package, then when they’re five feet away, they can kind of see some of the secondary words, potentially some of the secondary claims, but definitely the, whatever the major title or claim of your product is.
Josh Belinsky: And then you have to convince them to get to one foot away from there, which is they turn it over and they look at the nutritional facts and that’s, what’s going to sell them on putting you in. So I, we always kind of lived by that. And so, you know, for us going into a can, not only was it a sustainability play, but there’s no chocolate milk in a can right now, there was no chocolate love.
Josh Belinsky: And again, and it really stood out to our consumer as something that was sleek. You know, this 12 ounce sleek can is what white claws are in. It’s what exploded as a category over the last couple of years. But at the time there were much fewer products. It really, when we showed a bunch of consumers and different studies, all these different package designs asleep can feel healthier to people.
Josh Belinsky: It was tall and sleek, just how people want to feel and you know, to us that’s kind of why we went after it. And so some of the can itself, and then the really simple we took from RX bar. We took from halo top, you know, pretty much every other brand that I’m sure every CPG company likes to quote
Josh Belinsky: We thought what they did really well was keep things simple and just state what they are halo top was $250. Our X-bar had six almonds and three egg whites or whatever. And you know, we’re just chocolate though. You know, we’re not, we didn’t have all these crazy claims on or anything like that. Like, we are just chocolate milk and we have 20 grams of protein and no grams of sugar.
Josh Belinsky: So that’s what we really wanted to get across is, this thing is going to taste great. It’s unique. It’s in the can. What is it? Then it’s going to taste great because everybody knows chocolate milk is not something totally unique. It’s just chocolate milk. And then what would be 20 grams of protein and no sugar and you flip it over and it’s all natural.
Josh Belinsky: That’s, what’s going to get put in the cart. So that’s really why we went kind of this design direction and 99.9, nine, 9% of the credit of what it looks like is the hottest, because a man named, his brother, I am very non-creative and I’ll take a very small amount. Percentage of that for any kind of feedback.
Ken Ojuka: Well, you ended up with a great product. So, so then, okay, so you, you design the products, you know, you had it formulated, I mean, you’re, you’re ready to go then, then what did you guys decide to do at that point? To get this into the hands of some customers.
Josh Belinsky: Yeah. So the supply chain took us almost two years to build, it was unique. I mean the ultra filtration process, there’s very few ultrafiltration groups in the country.
Josh Belinsky: And then what we do is called retort, which is the pressure cooker process. There’s very few of those and even fewer that can do it for milk. So building that, we were banging our heads against the wall, trying to find a way to bring the single market. And so we decided to do it. And, I would highly recommend Kickstarter to anybody.
Josh Belinsky: I would never recommend it as a funding source. I would much more recommend it as a marketing play because you’re going to get some of your most loyal fans through Kickstarter, but you are, people are pre-ordering your products. So unless you’re doing something like a true movie or something, that’s more of a fundraising thing, but you know, for a product.
Josh Belinsky: People are pre-ordering it usually for a discount of where you’re going to sell it for. So, you know, you gotta be ready to fill that and, you know, maybe you can help pay for the production run, but it’s really, it’s an inventory play. But, anyway, we were able to do a Kickstarter before we actually even locked in our final manufacturing partner.
Josh Belinsky: We begged and pleaded a, a local company to make some samples for us. And we threw a big Kickstarter party at the bell in hand, right in Boston, one of the oldest bars. And we expected 40 friends and family to show up and we label it as the chocolate milk party. And, by the end of the night, we had 400 people there.
Josh Belinsky: People are asking me why I was there because they didn’t realize it was for our company. And, we had so much fun. We had our $10,000 goal on the first night. Manny and I were shaking up tans, a chocolate milk and spraying it everywhere all over the ceiling. They were so mad at us, but the restaurant ended up waiving any cleaning fees because they made so much money on the bar that night from all the people that were there.
Josh Belinsky: So it was, it was really, really fun. And, about six months later, When we actually launched the company, retail people were asking us, when’s the next chocolate milk party going to be? So we ended up doing another one a year later. So that, that next February, and it wasn’t for COVID, we would have done it again.
Josh Belinsky: So we’re hoping to bring those back again at some point. And, they’re always really fun. Just kind of celebrate. But chocolate milk and, you know, making espresso martinis with indivi, try to have, have fun with it. So anyway, that was Kickstarter in February of 2019, we ended up doing about $50,000 from 1200 backers.
Josh Belinsky: We had a lot of really good proof points for us to show that people were interested in the products, but then B that people are willing to buy chocolate milk online, which is something that we had never tested and had never seen anybody else test. So that was a really good proof point.
Josh Belinsky: And then from that Kickstarter, two things happen. One whole food reached out, which we’re like, okay, game on. Now we have a retail partner. And then the casting producer of shark tank reached out and we were like, we did not apply. What do you mean? It was like, it was like a g-mail and we’re like, this is definitely fake.
Josh Belinsky: And so we ignored it for like three weeks and then the guy called us. He’s like, are you guys ignoring me? And it was so funny. And he was like, you guys can come on the show. We were like we’re so early. I don’t know. And we decided to take on the opportunity and if anybody watches the episode, you’ll see that it was filmed a long time ago.
Josh Belinsky: We, the cans on national television because we didn’t even have a manufacturer yet. Our actual sparkling waters that we stayed up all night and printed it out. What the design might look like on printer paper and wrapped sparkling water cans with paper. And that’s what we were using. When they saw it, we had a $4 million valuation with nine even real cans.
Josh Belinsky: They were like, okay guys. But, it was an absolutely incredible experience. You know, the seven minutes they aired were not the, not the most pleasant for us, but as we say, it was, it was tough for the ego, but it was great for the brand. And I would definitely. Go back and do it again every single time.
Josh Belinsky: Really, really, really cool experience.
Ken Ojuka: And I think, I think, I think you could look at it the same way you looked at Kickstarter, right? It’s for marketing, whether you get a deal or not, actually, you know, I’ll be honest, a lot of the deals that you get on there. Aren’t great. You know,
Josh Belinsky: Exactly, and we knew that we weren’t going to do that.
Josh Belinsky: Like we had no interest in having a million dollar evaluation, you know, we had some great partners that we had already started, the lineup that we were really excited about. And, it was amazing to be there and meet them. And if there was an opportunity to work with them, we would have, it’s just, it wasn’t a right fit at the time.
Josh Belinsky: So we kept in touch as much as we could. And, you know, about six months later, we ended up launching our website as well as a retail store. So we launched in about 300 stores, whole foods worked out. So we launched into England. And then we launched with a couple other chains kind of down the east coast and, and another chain in Texas and really just tested, how are we going to do in retail?
Josh Belinsky: How are we going to sell online? And we were in the stores for about three months until COVID hit. So we had to pivot very quickly and really focused a lot on e-commerce last year, but it was really cool by the end of 2018. We were the number one selling protein drink, and all the whole foods and our New England region, all three of our skewers were one, two and three, which we’re super excited about.
Josh Belinsky: And we were able to grow from 300 doors to about a thousand. Our team grew from just me and Manny to, I think there was probably, I think it was six or seven of us last year. And now eight months into 2021. And over 3,500 stores, we have a team of 25 strong and, we’re selling all over the country as well as their own website.
Josh Belinsky: And I told you I was going to plug this. We, with our new reformulated skews that are even better than ever, launched a couple of months ago of 20 grams of protein and no sugar. We just launched our new Amazon listing. So definitely go check us out on Amazon slate milk. It’s. We’re just starting to build our attraction there.
Josh Belinsky: And we’re excited about how big of a channel that.
Ken Ojuka: Nice. Nice. Well, that’s, that’s an awesome story and it, and, it’s, it’s great to see kind of where you, where you started and where you guys have ended up. Just a couple of quick questions and then we’ll go into the, the, the, the speed round. So, you know, notice that, that you’d raised some money, you guys raised, it looks like 1.7 million in February.
Ken Ojuka: And then you, you mentioned that you guys just closed another round recently or are in the process, right? You know, and, and I just wanted you to talk maybe about venture capital, in the CPG space, you know, for anybody that’s listening, you know, how, how should they think about it? What has been your learnings and your feedback from VCs as you’ve pitched your product?
Josh Belinsky: So early on, we kind of went to our immediate circle of tech VCs in the Boston area. And as soon as they heard chocolate milk, they were like, what the hell is wrong with you? No, no way. The first article ever written about us actually says from tech to dot, dot, dot milk question, mark. But it was just phenomenal.
Josh Belinsky: We definitely had some impact on that. We wanted that as a title, but, you know, I think it’s like anything it’s to bring it back to what kind of, what I said earlier. It’s almost like dating where, finding a co-founder, finding a VC partner, finding an angel investor. You’re going to kiss a lot of frogs.
Josh Belinsky: You’re going to get a lot of nos. You’re getting a lot of people that aren’t the right fit for either of you and for us, it’s really just been about finding the right people. And you know, we’ve chosen to mostly raise from angel investors and we’ve, we’ve really focused on angel investors that have been successful in CPG and not, we have a lot of investors that, You know, from the last round that the founder of halo top, who learned a lot about being successful a lot about mistakes that he made and really employees at Stacy’s pita chips and Chobani and the founders of Yasso, frozen Greek yogurt, and so really deep CPG backgrounds.
Josh Belinsky: And then, you know, on the other side, people that were involved early on with goPuff and Snapchat and drizzly and things like that, where they have a different perspective and they have more of a tech perspective. They’ve built companies and it’s, you know, whether you’re selling chocolate milk or a delivery app for booze, there’s a lot of very similar similarities there.
Josh Belinsky: So from an angel perspective, I could not encourage them. Just getting out there and networking with people and some of our biggest investors, I just messaged on LinkedIn basically saying you don’t have to the handle, the top founder, I’ve messaged him on LinkedIn saying like we are trying to do for milk, what you did for ice cream and what I think you guys did an incredible job and that was it.
Josh Belinsky: And he was like, no way my business partner drinks late all the time. And that’s it just so happened that his business partner. So there you go harder to work. They’ll still look at you. And so that’s what we’re really focused on there. And I would just encourage you, like you said, just reach, ask the worst they can do is say no.
Josh Belinsky: And then in terms of VCs, there are definitely fewer in my world. I had a lot fewer experiences with VCs that also invested in food and beverage. But interestingly enough, I mean, there were a lot of really good ones. But some of our venture capital, and kind of institutional investors, aren’t traditional CBG folks, CVG has really caught the eye of some of these firms that aren’t traditional CBD.
Josh Belinsky: I mean, just by looking at Oatley and Oli IPO, and Shabani thinking about IPO Ang and Celsius, that’s publicly traded. Like there’s, there’s so much more consumer interest and just general institutional and consumer investor interest in the world of CPG that I really think you’re going to start to see a shift.
Josh Belinsky: And a lot of these companies are taking more interest. So, you know, for our lead VC last round, I think we’re the second CPG investment they’ve ever made. And they’ve made like a hundred different events. And it was just an opportunity that they saw and they were excited about. And, you know, we, we talked to a lot of VCs that were like either we were too early for, or, you know, they’re not interested in the food and beverage space and specifically beverages, you know, beverages and the rap of raising a lot of money and not being profitable.
Josh Belinsky: And so you just kinda like anything else. You know, you guys are, you build out your marketplace, your SAS company. It’s, you know, there’s so many SAS companies, as you know, they burn a lot of cash. It’s probably a lot of the same things that you’ve gone through. And it’s, it’s all about finding the right people at those firms that we felt like aren’t those classic, you know, TV, VCs that are just hardasses, and we’re gonna force you to do things you don’t want to do.
Ken Ojuka: Right.
Ken Ojuka: No, no, that’s cool. And, and you know, your comments about the VC space and just people being interested in investing in CPG brands in general, it’s something that we’re seeing too. And so we totally agree that we think that this is something that’s going to continue to, to grow. And you know, I got to say exploded, but I think it’s already kind of doing that.
Ken Ojuka: You know, there’s so many great CBG companies coming out and. And they can grow really fast, you know, get a good product, find the right market and the things can explode. Well, that’s awesome. Well, let’s jump into the quick fire round with four questions for you. What’s that one tool or resource that has helped you the most in your career?
Josh Belinsky: One tool or resource it’s. It’s gotta be family meaning that a lot. They’ve been a huge support system. And family includes girlfriend and close friends that, being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. And usually you take, you get a lot of time taken away from you from spending it with them. And they’ve been very supportive.
Ken Ojuka: What is one book that you can recommend to the audience?
Josh Belinsky: I really like Raving Fans. It’s kind of an old one, but my dad made me read it when I was growing up. And it’s all about turning your customer or the person sitting across with you into one of your raving fans. And it’s, it’s an oldie, but a goodie and you can read it and like one night.
Ken Ojuka: Cool. What’s a one piece of advice that you would give to your 21 year old self
Josh Belinsky: That is a good one. I would say, just keep your eyes and ears open and keep doing what you’re doing. Like continue to learn from people around you don’t have an open mind about everything going on and, and really just pay attention to. What people are doing around you and what people have the mistakes they’re doing, what things are doing well.
Josh Belinsky: And, for me, experience has been the key to doing anything right in my life. And so just picking my head up more often and looking around and noticing, I think would be something that I could do better at.
Ken Ojuka: And then last, who is one person that you’d love to have lunch with. And that could be, you know, an entrepreneur that you look up to, somebody that you watch closely, you know, somebody that’s done something you want to do, you know, who’s, who’s one person that you’d love to take out to lunch.
Josh Belinsky: I absolutely, I hate to be this guy, especially from Boston, but you can’t not, you can’t not say I, I. Not only as a, as, as the Patriots player, I think he knew where this was going, but Tom Brady, just his mentality, the way he studies, the way he’s developed his craft, his dedication to his work ethic to being fit, you know, trying to be a businessman at the same time.
Josh Belinsky: Like that guy, whatever it takes to win, he’s just found a way to. And, you know, football aside, I just getting inside that guy’s mind would be, I think, an incredible, you know, hour long. Even if he’s not eating tomatoes or anything like that, I still think it would be a very, very interesting hour.
Ken Ojuka: Tom Brady is pretty impressive, you know, and he’s just a good guy and humble and you know, like, you know, anyway, he’s very impressive.
Ken Ojuka: Well, you’re impressing yourself. I think this has been a fantastic interview. Thank you so much for doing this. If somebody wanted to reach out, reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Josh Belinsky: Anybody can email me or you can find me on Instagram. So my email is Josh, firstname.lastname@example.org SLA T E M I L K.com.
Josh Belinsky: And my Instagram is just my name. Keep it easy. Josh dash Belinsky B E L I N S K Y. dot.com. Just Josh.
Ken Ojuka: Well, Josh, thank you for doing this. And, watch out for that hurricane this weekend.
Josh Belinsky: I appreciate it, man. It was great too. It was great to connect,
Ken Ojuka: Right. Go Patriots, right?
Josh Belinsky: Yeah, exactly.
Ken Ojuka: Not anymore. Anyway, you gotta, you gotta change
Josh Belinsky: I know, which we do.
Ken Ojuka: Cool. All right. Hey, thanks man.
Josh Belinsky: Yeah. Thanks guys.
Ken Ojuka: The Physical Product Movement podcast is brought to you by Fiddle to find out more about Fiddle and how our Industry Leading Inventory Ops Platform is giving modern brands and manufacturers all visibility into their inventory and operations. Visit fiddle.io, and then make sure to search for Physical Product Movement in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, or anywhere else, podcasts are found. Make sure to click Subscribe. So you don’t miss any future episodes on behalf of the team here at Fiddle. Thanks for listening.