In this episode of the Physical Product Movement Podcast, we’re joined by Will Nitze, Founder and CEO of IQBAR, the leading “brain+body” plant-based protein bar.
Will talks about his journey from attending Harvard studying psychology and neuroscience and after graduating, entering the world of software sales and now pivoting to launch his own business.
He shares his experience with the countless iterations that ultimately led him to create IQBar and then leveraging Kickstarter campaign for market research and gaining initial traction.
Lastly, Will provides a tremendous insight into his distribution strategy through D2C, retail, and Amazon.
Ken: Welcome to the physical product movement, a 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.
In this episode I speak with Will Nitze, Founder and CEO of IQBAR. The leading brain and body plant-based protein bar. Will talks about his journey from attending Harvard to entering the world of software sales, and then pivoting to launching his own protein bar. He shares his experience of coming up with the idea of four IQ bar and then leveraging Kickstarter for market research and gaining some initial traction.
He also talks about its distribution strategy around D2C retail and Amazon. Will’s an open book with some really solid wisdom he’s picked up through years of direct experience in the trenches. He really brought it for this interview. I hope you enjoy it.
Hey, Will, how are we doing?
Will: We’re doing well. How are you?
Ken: Hey, good. Hey, thanks for, for jumping on, uh, with me today. Um, I’m excited to hear about your, your company and, uh, just learn a little bit about, a little bit more about you. The way we’d like to kick this off, though, is with a quote. Do you have a one that comes to mind? That’s been impactful to you?
Will: I do, I do. And this is, I don’t know who originally said this, but I know this is attributed to Kevin Durant’s at least. So the quote is hard work, beats talent when talent fails to work hard, which is kind of a little bit cliched, but, but something I genuinely believe.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah, totally agreed. And what I actually think is interesting about that is that people look at Kevin Durant and just think that he’s just, he was born talented, you know, he’s just, you know, he’s so tall and he’s so good.
But, uh, you know, when you look behind the scenes, these guys work their butts off in order to get where they are.
Will: Yeah. There’s an even, even just like within basketball too, there’s so many cases that people who are not, who are just like workhorses, like they’re like. Not necessarily, there’s a little, Ron James is who are just physically gifted.
And then there’s like the Paul pierces who are like, there’s nothing physically that would suggest that guy’s an all star. And yet he is because he just worked so damn hard.
Ken: Right. Right. Well, I liked the way this interview is going because I’m a huge fan of the NBA. So that’s a good start. Well, um, why don’t you start off by telling us just a little bit about yourself?
Will: Sure. Um, so yeah, I live in Boston. Uh, grew up in Jersey, went to college in, uh, in greater Boston. I’m 30 years old. I, um, I’ll start at college. So I, in college, I studied psychology and neuroscience as well as a government. Kind of a random combo, but I got really interested in, in the brain, all things, the human brain, um, both from a psychological standpoint and a neuro biological standpoint or physiological standpoint.
And, uh, that was when I developed a real passion for, for that. I then graduated. I worked in software selling software. To oil and gas companies, which is, has nothing to do with brain, but, um, was sort of a default. They didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of college. And I couldn’t figure out a way to turn that interest and passion into a job.
And so I did that for about three, three and change years. And while I was doing that, I developed this concept for, for at the time brain food and, um, which would later become the company I now run. Um, and I can get into that whole origin story, but, uh, but yeah, fast forward a few more years. And. We’re a nine person team are in thousands of locations across the U S made massive e-commerce presence.
Ken: And, um, yeah, that’s the long and short of it. That’s awesome. Just for a little bit more context. Are you married? You have kids or any of that?
Will: I am not married, although I’m engaged and I will be married, uh, new year’s Eve of this year.
Ken: Very nice. Congratulations.
Will: Yeah. Thanks. No kids yet. Um, I don’t think I, my lifestyle would work with kids today. Um, but I’m trying to sort of plan it out, such that I’m living less of a chaotic lifestyle by the time I want to have kids.
Ken: I see. And you’re still out in the Boston area. Is that where you guys are?
Will: Yup. Yeah, South Boston. Cool.
Ken: Well, okay. So, so you didn’t mention it, but, uh, the school in greater Boston that you, that you went to with Harvard, um, and I wanted to get into just a little bit about your motivation behind your, the degree.
You know, it sounds like you’ve always been interested in the brain, uh, but, but when it actually went into your choice of, of, uh, you know, what you studied and. Especially also the, the government angle
Will: On there. Yeah. The government piece is not that interesting. It’s sort of like every college I think has some major where like everything qualifies for it. So it allows you to take a really wide breadth of courses for Harvard that’s government. Um, so if you basically, if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, you take do government, um, Or if you really want to go to, you know, politics, I guess you do government too, but, um,
Ken: Did you have any interest in that at all?
Will: No, not at all, but it’s cool. I mean, I’m, I’m interested in, um, You know how different societies are run and what works and what doesn’t from a macro political and macroeconomic standpoint. Uh, I’m certainly interested in all those things. It’s just, but I would be lying to tell you that it wasn’t really just picked because it allowed me to take a ton of different courses and.
Figure it out. So that was, um, that was that piece. But I do it’s really stumbled into the psychological or psychology piece. Um, I took a class called SLS 20 signs of living systems 20, which is an intro psychology course at Harvard. And it’s taught by these actually very famous people. Uh, Steven Pinker is one of the guys who teaches the class, this Southern guy, Dan Gilbert’s.
Also pretty, pretty famous. And so it was cool just to like get taught by these really well-known people have written really well known works. Um, but they’re actually really hard and a lot of people struggle with them. Um, that course in particular and how I knew I was really interested in the topic was I like loved it.
I found it to be hard, but I actually was like excited to go to class, which. I, I didn’t get that sensation with any other class at Harvard, honestly. Yeah. Interesting. So I was, it was both hard and exciting, which is, I think how, you know, you really like a discipline. So, and then I would just take, take every class in that, in that discipline.
I could both, again, both from a psychological standpoint and a. Um, physiological standpoint. So everything down to study of the brain, uh, as a biological, you know, Oregon. Um, and I loved all of it. I was just, I was just fascinated with all of it and, but I couldn’t really, I was also super into business and like, you can’t study, the joke is like, there’s nothing, you can’t learn anything practical at Harvard, or you can, if you’re in like computer science or engineering, but like beyond that, You’re not going to learn any, you’re not going to get really good at Excel, for example, and PowerPoint and all these like core skills that if you go in any business, you really need to be excellent at you.
You don’t learn any of that at Harvard. Um, Hence the sort of liberal arts bent to it, but I’m sure I was also really interested in business. And so I wasn’t, like, I knew I wanted to do some cross section of business and something, and there really is no obvious cross section of business and the brain or psychology or neurobiology.
Um, so I couldn’t really, it just doesn’t really map as cleanly to a profession as like engineering or computer science or pre-med or pre-law does so. That was why I struggled with what I was going to do after college.
Ken: And, um, you know, it’s interesting psychology, um, and for a lot of careers actually ends up being a pretty good, a pretty good discipline to try to understand people and, you know, the way that we work and how complicated people are and what motivates people, you know?
And I, and I, and I think it actually, you know, it’s something that’s a little bit more common than I think a lot of people realize, um, that, that that’s actually a good degree for a lot of people who end up in business.
Will: Yeah. I think it’s a good degree for anyone. He wants to do anything, you know, it’s like, why do people like understand why people do the things they do is, I mean, it’s helpful for your, like your personal life.
It’s helpful for everything. Um, like I always recommend this one book by this guy, Robert sheldini, um, Called influence. And it’s super bad. You can read it in like three hours. It’s super short, super basic, which is actually why I like one of the reasons I like it because most, you know, for example, business books are 10 times too long, but it’s very basic.
And he basically just like lays out what are the things that influence anyone to do anything. So like, for example, um, Uh, appeal to authority, right? Like, and an example you would give would be like, someone plays a doctor on TV, like let’s say a Dr. House of the show, house, and furious in that you would like many people would trust that guy to give them medical advice.
Even though they know he’s playing a doctor. So it’s like even the perception, even several degrees removed that appealed to authorities wearing a lab coat. He’s sounding smart. Is signaling in a brand like this person is trustworthy. So like, and then what are the applications that will like be an authority in whatever you’re doing?
Like give cues that you earn authority and every one of, you know, in your messaging and yada yada yada. So it’s just, I’ve found it to be extremely helpful and just basic everyday decisions of how to frame things.
Ken: Yeah, I think influence is a great book. Um, and it is a must read. We’ll make sure to link to that in the show notes.
Um, and this conversation, you know, although it sounds like we’re, you know, we’re talking about psychology. Um, it actually, um, applies to too. You know, to you eventually founding this, this, this company, um, before though we, we, we talk about the founding story. Um, I wanted to hear just a little bit about, uh, your work with, uh, with power advocate.
It sounds like you were in, in software sales. Is that right?
Will: Yes. Yeah, it was, uh, it was, uh, I guess you could call it a startup. It was, I want to say 20 120 people when I was there. So it was kind of like just out of startup phase. And basically what I was doing was I was hired, this was in 2014 when oil and gas was like, booming, just had just become like an, you know, America’s energy independent.
We didn’t rely on foreign oil, yada yada, yada. So it was just very exciting, which of course, fast forward to today to today. And it’s like the least sexy thing you could possibly be doing. Um, and, uh, but at the time it was incredibly exciting and I have. Inherently, no interest in oil and gas. I, um, it was just sorta like, okay, here’s some like booming market.
And then also SAS at the time software as a service was booming. So like Salesforce was going bonkers and like, it was like redefining how everyone models, software, businesses from a business context. And so this company really sat at the intersection of those two things. It was a SAS product or series of SAS products.
Selling into these companies that were like printing money, basically. So just, it’s kind of an interesting opportunity. And I was, and even more important than any of those dynamics, it was a really smart group of people, sort of a internal SWAT team, uh, per se, uh, um, that I was being hired into of these acts management consultants who are tasked with building this, you know, building this component of the business.
So that was why I did it. I’m happy to talk about my experience as well.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I think it’s, it’s actually more applicable, you know, than, than people would realize and just, just getting some actual sales experience. Um, you know, I did something similar in my career as well. Um, I actually went for a summer and I sold security systems door to door in Houston.
And, uh, it turns out that was just a fantastic, um, experience, uh, to kind of set me up to later start a company, um, because. Turns out as you, as an entrepreneur, all you’re doing is selling all the time, you know, selling your employees, selling, you know, your investors, selling customers. Um, and so sales is just a core skill. Is that something that I would agree with?
Will: It, it is. And I would say there’s this other, um, maybe I should have said this as my quote, but it’s not really, it doesn’t map well to an eloquent language, but basically. The message is, and this is a former coworker of mine told me this, and I just, I believe it to be true, your first job, you should either be building something or selling something, either build something, learn to build something or learn to sell something that should be your first job.
And I was like, damn, that’s so true. Because like, ultimately those skills pervade, everything. Um, and you know, for me, I wasn’t right out the gate kinda kind of learn to build something. So I, I learned to sell something. Right. And it is, it does pervade, everything. Like I just watched the WIWORK documentary on Hulu and that entire.
Thing is a case study in how good a salesman Adam Newman is the guy who started, we were co-founder lyric. And to your point, he sold everyone. He sold employees, he sold investors. She sold people, desks, you know, our, our time at desks and the whole thing was sales. Like nothing was actually at its core innovative.
It was just really well packaged and sold. And so. Yeah, I agree. I think it’s, everyone needs to learn how to sell.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Um, so let’s, let’s jump, let’s jump into, you know, sort of your transition from selling software, uh, to starting to think about, you know, what, what would become IQ bar? Like what, what was going through your head at the time?
Will: Well, uh, I was having sort of an existential moment where I was thinking, what do I want to do with my career? Which I think, I don’t know. I think it hits people at different points or just never hits people, I guess. I don’t know. I can’t speak for other people, but you know, a couple of years in, I was like, eh, do I want to, like the company’s growing?
I’m doing well. Um, I’m getting better at my job, but like, I’m not. And the fulfillment level is not going up over time. And I don’t, first of all, I’m not inherently interested per se and, and oil and gas. Um, I’m really not interested in software either. Um, I’m interested in selling those things. I’m interested in how do you build the, a team and like all the supporting dynamics around what I was doing, but the actual thing on a sign and the.
It just wasn’t I wasn’t like fascinated by it. Um, and so it was kind of like, okay, do I, you know, is this, what am I going to do this for 30 years? Um, and sort of climb a corporate ladder and, and for a little while I thought, yes, maybe. Um, but I always had this sort of itching desire to, uh, to do my own thing and.
I just didn’t know what that was. I knew that I wanted to be able to own it from tip to tail, like be able to conceive of the idea. Actually build the thing and then build the company around the thing. And it was going to be a thing. It wasn’t going to be a technology or, uh, or some intangible entity. It was always going to be a thing, a CPG product.
I just didn’t know what it was. And so I was kind of waiting to be inspired by that while also seeking out. Seeking out things. And so at first I had this concept of called native beverages and really what got me, what kicked off this and which accelerated my interest in doing my own thing and doing a tangible thing.
So I read this book called mission in a bottle by Seth Goldman and Barry nalebuff, the guys who founded, uh, honesty. Uh, and it was, it’s a really interesting book it’s actually written in graphic novel form. Um, interesting. I believe because. Seth Goldman son is dyslexic. I think that’s why he did it, but it’s, it’s really, it’s a cool rating experience.
Cause it’s, you’re reading a comic book, but it’s a business book and, uh, I just like fascinated me and I was for whatever reason, really relatable to this guy. I think he also went to Harvard and studied government, um, and got a consulting gig out of college and wasn’t that fulfilled by it. So there’s just so many parallels and I. I was like, I really relate to the sky. I want to do it. He did. And I actually reached out to him and I met him. He was like, Hey, you want to come hear me talk? And I drove, I rented a car and drove up in New Hampshire and met him.
Ken: Interesting. Yeah, I knew he was in the, in the Northeast there and I’ve also heard him speak before and, and I think he’s great, you know, um, very articulate, very, you know, um, precise in his language and ideas. And anyway, I just think he’s a great thinker.
Will: Totally. And I was like, okay, I’m going to start a beverage company like this guy. And that was like my thinking. And I was going to start a company called native beverages and the basic concept, being things like, uh, an Indian lossy, which is like a, like a yogurt drink and a Thai iced tea.
And there are all these cool ethnic beverages that I love. But aren’t really mass market in America. Um, and so I was, that was what, that was the concept native beverages. And, you know, there’s gonna be and American beverage sweet tea, and there’s going to be a Thai beverage, Thais tea, and there’s going to be an Indian beverage, Indian lossy, and there’s going to be a Peruvian.
Um, so. Anyway, I don’t remember why that fizzled out, but that idea fizzled out. And then I was going to do a gender specific drink, like as men and women need subtly different nutritional profiles and women need more Coleen than men and things like that. And so it was going to be like, kind of like Luna bar is geared towards women.
Um, so that was another idea. And then that kind of fizzled out for again. I’m not sure why, but. I got the, then I had this concept of brain food and that was what really stuck. Um, uh, because I read a book called all these things happen because I read books and get excited about things. So I read a book called grain brain by David Perlmutter.
Yeah, that’s good, man. Uh, I got that one, just like, knock my socks off. I blew me away and I was like, Whoa, like this is crazy. Everyone’s brain is on fire and they don’t know it. And, um, And again, it, I was super interested in the brain and so it of course dovetailed with my interests and so that more than everything else.
And so I was like, okay, what exists out there from a brain food standpoint? And there’s really nothing. Um, So that was, that was it. I was like, okay, I’m going to try and create this brain food. And I was, so I just started messing around in my spare time and my nights and weekends and, you know, mixing stuff in bowls.
And, um, I made a massive spreadsheet and I looked at, I said, okay, what are all the nutrients that are, have been shown to be good for the brain for XYZ reason? So like vitamin E five annoyed, um, resveratrol, all these esoteric compounds. And then I would just like find suppliers of them and order them to my apartment and like mix it in, in a ball.
Like it, it was super chaotic, disorganized, and all that from the get go. And, um, none of it with an eye towards like unit economics and things like that. And then, you know, a thousand iterations later, once I had figured out, like you can’t put curcumin in a bowl and have an orange bar that anyone wants to buy, that’s going to cost $7.
Right. You know, how to prototype. And, um, and, and at that point I walked into my boss’s office and I said, I. Look, I, I hear, I know, and I wanted to do my own thing and I said, what could I work halftime? Can you cut my salary in half and have me work half time? And he’s like, let me think about it. And then a day later, a couple of days later, he said, yeah, I’m okay with that, which is cool.
Um, so I did that and then I had way more time. And so I started building out this crowdfunding, uh, campaign and. Then ran that went really well. And actually, excuse me, I quit my job right before that ran, that went well, and I was off to the races.
Ken: Did you guys go with kickstarter?
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. And what’s what’s well, how did, how did, how did you guys do on there?
Will: Well, we had never sold $1 of product and we sold. Between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which you kind of, you just shift your campaign over to go afterwards and you get all the spillover cash. Um, between those two, we did $90,000 in sales in two months.
Ken: And I, and I say that because I think a lot of people think that, um, in order for those, you know, crowdfunding campaigns to be successful, you have to raise millions of dollars or something.
A lot of times it’s just the initial attraction that you need to get off the ground.
Will: Oh, yeah. I mean, first of all, you’re not going to raise like no one raised the people who raised that much. Are funding the project with hundreds of thousands of dollars. So there’s never just a thing that like the idea is so insanely compelling that you’re going to do that.
Yeah. I mean, for us, I mean, we would have been stoked about $50,000. Um, you’re just trying to prove your concepts. I think it’s actually the wrong way to look at it of like, I’m going to get the capital needed to start this business. Like that’s, capital’s got like, not. Doing anything for you? Like you’re going to need way more than that.
It’s way more of like proof of concepts and sales generation. I mean, those are real sales. Those are people paying for a product. So you can take those and prorate those and build a story around the value of your company based on that. Whereas if you don’t do that, you’re just pitching a slide deck and try and, and sending your worth X amount of money.
And have zero sales to back that up. And certainly people do that. It doesn’t really work well in, in my experience in food and Bev, it works really well on tech. Um, if you have a good founding team and a really good idea, and you have a track record, you can go get a killer valuation and raise a lot of money.
With a side deck. You can’t do that in food, especially as a first time founder who has zero credibility. So Kickstarter is just a great way to say, Hey, you know that idea I told you about, yeah, we just sold $90,000 of product. So are you interested in investing and. The answer is yes.
Ken: Yeah. That’s great. That’s great feedback. Um, and great advice for people. Um, so, uh, I guess we’ve just kind of been talking to around the idea, but, um, IQBAR, if you had to describe that or, or when you describe that to people, um, what is it and who was it for?
Will: Well, originally we were formed as, as a bar company, but we’re actually emerging as more of a brain and body nutrition company.
That would be my, like one phrase encapsulation of what we do, um, that happens to have started in the, the bar space. So, but that, for that particular product line IQ bar, which is the, the eponymous, uh, Uh, product line is, is a brain and body protein bars. It’s a plant it’s. If you want to get really buzzwordy already about it, it’s a keto, paleo friendly plant-based protein bar.
Centered around brain nutrients. So, um, many people will consume the bars because simply because they’re low carb, low sugar, and they want a good keto bar. Um, others consume it because they want a plant based protein bar. Um, others consume it for both reasons. They want a plant-based protein bar that is also low in sugar.
Um, and then others consume it because of the. Differentiation of the brain component is for our brain healthier bar. Um, but you’d be surprised and in pretty much really what drives adoption and sales is nutrition first. And the, the brain differentiation is sort of a rounding element. It’s an, it’s a nice sort of additional benefit, but pretty much, no one searches brain bars and an Amazon search bar.
Um, Oh, the search for vegan protein bar.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. And then you, you show up for that. So that’s, that was actually my next question, which is, um, you know, it looks like you’ve tied into some of these, some of these diet, dietary trends, you know, the keto, paleo vegan, um, was that intentional from the beginning? How did you guys think about that?
Will: Yeah, it was, it was super intentional. I mean, the first way I thought about it was. It’s all as it relates to the rain. So, so from a macro nutritional standpoint, like if I want to be sharp all day long, what is what macro, nutrient nutritional profile should my meals and snacks be?
And generally speaking, they should be low carb, um, because carbs convert to blood glucose, which respects your insulin, which then makes you tired. I mean, that’s the Crossett classic like crash that we, uh, we experienced when you eat. Pizza or whatever, some, some carb heavy thing. Um, and then if you’re not doing that and you’re consuming mostly protein and fat, and if you’re fully keto, you know, that’s mostly fat.
Um, then you’re not crashing and you’re feeling good and you’re thinking more clearly. And so. Everything really was with w was with an eye towards the brain piece, but it just so happens to also be a really popular diet because it has other benefits or at least the keto diet, um, you know, namely weight loss, namely, um, high energy levels.
Um, you know, there’s all this other kind of cool ancillary stuff. Like it helps with epilepsy and things like that. But. Um, so that was that the plant-based thing is, is. No, generally speaking, everything is just, we can all see the writing on the wall. Like everything is moving towards plant-based everything, including protein.
Um, historically whey protein is King and that’s just not going to be true in five years. So, um, everything’s moving that way. If you don’t do that, you will be not necessarily left behind, but just leaving opportunity on the table, uh, in my opinion. And so, yes, that was very. Intentional, uh, the plant-based piece and then the paleo-friendly and that’s really just a synonym for general label.
Cleanliness is, you know, also I actually don’t fundamentally believe that like a quote unquote, there’s a lot of, sort of pseudoscience around dirty labels and, Oh, you had a wreath or tall on your label and it’s like, Actually physiologically there’s, there’s not nothing really wrong with consuming a racer tall, but people look at it and say, Oh, I can’t pronounce that word.
It sends a dirty label where, and yada yada yada. So, you know, to some degree you’re, you’re, um, positioning your brand based on what people just generally perceive to be clean label or not. But you’re also more importantly, Actually being like centering your products on whole food ingredients, um, and ingredients that are processed in some way.
You’re including those for a reason. Like for example, less than sunflower, less than inherently, that’s a processed or somewhat processed. Thing you have to extract the last event from this on-farm caveman. We’re not creating sunflower lasted then. Um, but it, but it’s genuinely healthy. Like it, it converts into Coleen in your body, which is, um, has all these brain benefits and other benefits.
And so, you know, there again, you’re, you’re always battling like pseudoscience. Like what did people care about? Um, And want to see, but also more importantly, what’s just like generally good. A good label. Look like.
Ken: Yeah. I heard a, a sales person say this years ago, and I’m not actually saying that that you’re saying this, but, um, you sell them what they want.
Um, but you give them what they need. Right. A lot, a lot of times, you know, people, people aren’t exactly sure. You know what it is that they actually need. They’ve got an idea of what they want. And so you have to balance, I think, I think you’ve got to balance that in any product that you put out there.
Will: Yeah. And if you and the, and the Cardinal sin of that, of marketing and selling is selling our marketing someone, what you think they want or what you want them to want, which we were guilty of for, for a while there, where we thought people wanted brain food, they actually don’t. They want things, something that’s nutritionally, hitting all the check boxes they want.
And it’s an awesome, nice to have. That it’s brain-healthy, that was a massive learning for us. Um, cause again, you’re operating off of things. Like what are people searching for? What are people looking for? What do they want? Quote unquote. And so if you try and fight against the current, it’s just a tough path to take.
Um, and it just get sort of, you know, we, we stopped marketing what we wanted people to want and met people where they’re at. And then actually delivered what we thought
Ken: They need. So I think that’s actually a really powerful point. Well, um, let’s double click on that just a little bit. You said that, you know, it was a mistake that you guys made for, for quite a while, you know, how did that, uh, you know, can you land that plane a little bit?
What, what type of things were you, were you doing or how was that affecting your sales and, and your, your overall business? Um, and then what, what changed there? What was the motivation and, and how did you learn and change? And then what was the impact of that?
Will: Yeah. I mean, what’s cool about CPG is you just, you get a lot of feedback, like versus like a B2B set up where you’re selling your purview is a hundred massive accounts.
And selling two accounts is a great year. Like for CBG, you have to sell the thousands and thousands of people, which is annoying in some ways, but great. In some ways, like you get so much feedback, again, annoying in some ways, but great. Um, And people will just tell you, they’ll just be honest with what they want.
Um, especially if you really seek it out and you like do surveys. And so we would ask like, what, why did you buy our product? And what would you like our product to look what’s missing from our product? Um, what, what do you wish our product had? And so basically what we figured out, which of course hindsight is 2020, but it is intuitive.
I think, um, Is that people want general speaking when they’re buying a protein bar, they, they care about two things, protein and sugar. Like if you were going to boil it down to two things, protein and buy it. What I mean by protein is protein. Quantity of grams, but also like source is it? Plant-based protein is a whey protein.
Um, And then for, for sugar, it’s, it’s pretty straightforward. How many grams of figures in the product. So, and then there’s some tertiary things that are close seconds, which is carbs more specifically net carbs, but also total carbs people care about. Um, but you know, carbs. And then again, they’re probably a, then a close third is like label cleanliness and, um, But basically like all of those bundled up is like macro, macro nutrition.
So if you don’t have a macro nutritional strategy, you’re dead in the water. And what we originally came out with was something that was more micro nutritionally geared. So, um, you know, we have all these cool brain nutrients and omega-threes and five and odds and this and that. And. And that’s not the first thing someone thinks about when they buy a bar, they think about protein, sugar, et cetera.
And so if you just knock it out of the park on those first few things, you can then get the privilege to educate or pitch someone on the secondary thing was, which is micro nutrients. Now, what do I like get more excited about the micronutrients, but that doesn’t, it doesn’t matter what I get excited about.
It matters what people are looking for and care about. So, you know, that affects everything from the product we’re making to how we frame it, brand it, what do we put in letters on a Facebook ad? You know, everything. Um, what do people search for? You know, what keywords do we bid on?
Ken: Yeah. Interesting. What about, um, where would you place, um, taste or flavor in, in that hierarchy of, of what people look, look for?
Will: I mean, it’s very important. It’s very important. Um, there are certain products. I won’t name them, but. That succeeded in spite of that, because they had such good product market fit. Um, but let’s just put it this way. Your path will be infinitely easier if it tastes good. Um, your repeat purchase rate will be because ultimately, like how do you truly breakthrough?
You get a high retention and actually build a sustainable, you know, cashflow positive business in CPG, which doesn’t have incredibly good. Margins, at least in the bar world, you get a good repeat purchase rate like that. It’s almost as simple as that a relatively low customer acquisition costs and a high customer LTV lifetime value, which maps to repeat purchase.
Um, so, and sometimes you can even have a high customer acquisition costs, but if your repeat purchases so good and your LTV is so good as a result, Like you will win. So what drives that? I mean, taste is a big, big, big one. So you want someone to create, this is why like quest nutrition or halo top or. And they made craveable things.
That’s kind of a, I like that term craveable, like being microwaveable. Like you want someone to crave it and it’s a way, like, for example, you crave are no, I don’t know if you do, but I crave coffee in the morning. Like I crave it. Like I need it. Like, there’s that physiological response I’m looking for, that I associated with euphoric feelings and productivity and blah, blah, blah.
So that’s why. Starbucks trades at 200 times earnings, like, you know that that’s a drug. So how do you become as craveable as you want part of that taste?
Ken: Yeah, that’s great. That’s actually a great description craveable. Um, let’s, let’s talk about a little bit, uh, your strategy around flavors and you know, how you, how you came out the gate and how you expanded, um, the different bars that you guys offer.
Will: Yeah, this is another, another interesting topic that I’ve tried to educate myself as much as possible on which is another again, I keep now thinking about quotes. I would have said in your original question, but another one I really, I really believe in is an same to the last one I gave. It’s not that eloquent, but don’t over innovate.
Like don’t. Like you should be copying 90% and innovating 10%. And I think a big mistake is people try to over innovate. So for example, an example of that would be like, you know, let’s say beyond meat or impossible burger said, okay, we’re going to create a vegan burger, but it’s not even going to be like a burger we’re going to innovate in that.
It’s all plant-based but we’re also going to innovate. In that it’s not going to be juicy, like a burger, like it’s not going to excrete oil when you press the buttons together. And cause like there’s nothing inherently valuable about that. And you know, that’s not good for XYZ reason. So we’re going to innovate in that it’s plant-based and not have that.
And it’s going to be a different texture. That’d be over innovating. People don’t want people like. There’s a reason a zillion burgers get sold the day. People like the experience of eating a burger. So just innovate the 10%, of course, a lot easier said than done, but may get plant-based but copy everything else 90% copy. 10% innovation. So that’s how I think about flavor. It’s like people don’t get cute, like don’t try and sell like a, you know, Ivory coast coffee, you know, coffee flavor or cacao flavor, whatever. Like, no one’s looking. I mean, some people are looking for that, but a tiny, tiny fraction are looking for that relative to chocolate bar or a relative to peanut butter bar.
Like there are just things people are looking for. And I find flavor to be something that you. Should innovate on the least, honestly like, like people know what they want. They just do it. They’ll tell you, look at, look at searchers, look at the top selling bars. That’s a nice analog of what you should be doing is just look at the top selling bars.
They’re all chocolate and peanut butter, every single one of them. So if you look at the top 100, there’s like a few sort of outliers, like, you know, strawberry, this or lemon that, but it’s all chocolate and peanut buyers. So. For you to not do that is silly. Uh, in my opinion, because they’re not look P consumers are not looking for you to innovate on flavor in, unless that’s your central point, unless you’re copying 90% of everything else and your 10% innovation is flavor.
Okay. Like if that’s your thing, you’re hanging your hat on. We offer like grasp flavored. Whatever I’m 10% of people are into that. Great. That’s your thing, but that has to be your thing. Like for us, we’re not a flavor company, we’re a brain and body nutrition company. So I’d rather sell you a chocolate bar that you’re looking for that is nuanced in this other way than sell you something that’s over nuanced.
Ken: So let’s, uh, let’s switch gears just a little bit. Um, you know, so you guys launched the Kickstarter. Um, it went well. Uh, you got your first sales on there. You guys did awesome. You’d got 90, $90,000 in sales, I think is what you said. Um, and so obviously you, you probably have your website set up pretty much right away.
Um, and so were you doing, um, D to C from, from day one? Was that kind of a big part of the strategy?
Will: Yeah, for sure. Um, we were always a digital first company and still are today about 70. I want to say 70% of our 2020 sales are digital. So yeah, so we just rolled the Kickstarter into a website and then rolled that website into an Amazon presence and we’re off to the races and, um, So, you know that, and I wouldn’t do it any other way, honestly.
Um, I actually wish we had pushed digital further before we started dabbling in brick and mortar. Interesting. How com digital is way more forgiving and basically every way. So you turn inventory quicker. Um, So you’re not worried about like, is this thing gonna last nine months on shelf? Doesn’t matter, you sold it in two months.
Whereas if you’re selling to, you know, a drug store, it is going to sit there for nine months. And so you could have some catastrophic thing happened in eight months in, um, it’s more forgiving on cash flow. You get paid upfront. Whereas at brick and mortar, you get paid on terms it’s um, oftentimes higher margin, although sometimes lower margin and, um, Because the fulfillment cost is so high on a per unit basis.
Um, but oftentimes it can be higher margin and net net margin. Um, it’s you get more learnings, you get more data. Um, you get quicker feedback. Um, you get people actually telling you what they think, whereas in brick and mortar, it’s like, someone’s probably not probably someone is buying our bars right now and like Oklahoma and I have no idea what they thought of it.
So, um, it’s kind of better in every way, um, to a points to a point. So once you hit some certain scale, you brick and mortar is awesome. And other ways like, um, Volume for one, like you can sell so much product in Costco. It’s not even funny, um, that you just could not sell on Amazon or whatever. walmart.com um, you, every shelf presence is a billboard.
People don’t think about the shelf as a billboard. It is it’s you have a billboard and that billboard is. You have to measure against, let’s say a Facebook ad, which is just a different type of billboard. So you’re getting impressions. You don’t know that you’re getting impression or you do know, you just don’t know who and how often and all that.
But, um, but I would always recommend people start with DTC. Like you don’t know who you are as a company. Who your customer is all that there’s still so much stuff to iron out. It takes years to really iron out all your details to get perfect product market fit or something approximating that. And just digital is a lower risk way to do that.
So that’s where we started. And still today is most of our business. Um, And, but, you know, we’re also fairly large in brick and mortar and Kroger sprouts. Wagman’s, we’re going into Walmart, um, um, CVS, Rite aid. So, um, you know, we’re in thousands of locations and. And, um, it’s just a different beast. Like it’s harder to manage so that you’re managing all these different entities.
Whereas Amazon is one entity, um, different data sets, different terms, commercial terms, different distribution methods. So, I mean, there’s a reason people love D to C.
Ken: Yeah. So with, with Amazon, um, seems like a pretty big channel for you guys. Um, You know, and, uh, you know, just looking at your Amazon page, you’ve got great reviews on here.
Looks like, um, you’ve, you’ve had a lot of customers actually review your product and give a great, great ratings. Um, how do you guys, how do you guys think about, about Amazon promoting on Amazon, Amazon, you know, as in, uh, your connection to your customer through Amazon? How do you guys think about that?
Will: Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s funny. There’s a lot of like armchair experts on this topic. Um, and there’s also some true experts on this topic, which is actually, I think true for all topics, but everyone always says like, you don’t own the customer and, um, you don’t get the data and you get yada, yada, yada.
That is true. Um, but that doesn’t make the sale less good. Like at some point. Really what matters in CBG is revenue. Like your value based on revenue, revenue means dollars in your bank account. Um, and so, and also think about your timeline. Like what is the best cleanest way to build a D to C business?
Probably it is through your website over a very long period of time. You have all that data on everyone. You can interact with them. You can retarget them, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s probably the cleanest way, but that’ll take you 20 years. Um, and you cannot ignore Amazon half of everything that gets sold online and so on and is to, to not have an Amazon strategy in CPG.
Is in my opinion, a mistake. Um, I would say there’s a, there’s a, there are exceptions to that. So if you, uh, if you sell, if you’re Nike, right, Nike kind of famously pulled out of Amazon, which is a big deal. I think it was like six months ago. If you’re Nike, you can do that. You can do that because you’re Nike, you are the global leader in sportswear.
Um, So just sheer size and brand recognition can allow you to do that. I would also say super niche. Newness can allow you to do that. Like let’s say you’re solving some, especially if it’s like a medical problem, like I’m solving urinary tract infections. Well, That’s a niche thing. I, I want to solve that problem for them, for myself, if that’s an issue I have.
And so I’m going to go find the solution. And if you’re one of like three solutions, I will find you. But if I’m selling a protein bar, we can’t get our egos to inflate it to, to the degree where we think we’re so special. At some point, people will swap you out for something else. And so you need to be where people are like, is it such a burning issue that I need this particular protein bar?
No, probably not. So as someone really going to like seek me out intensely now. So. I need to be where people are I need to be on. And in this case, Amazon is where everyone is. So, um, it’s just sort of like, it is what it is. It’s, it’s a, it’s a cost of doing business in my opinion.
Ken: Right. Um, so what percentage of your online sales would you say Amazon is for you guys?
Will: The majority.
Ken: The majority, for sure. Yeah.
Will: So it’s sometimes larger than our website.
Ken: Cool. Well, um, yeah, just as we’re getting ready to wrap up here, just wanted to ask you about what’s, uh, you know, what’s coming up, uh, uh, with, uh, with, with your company. What are you excited about for the rest of the year? You know, what do you guys have in the works.
Will: Yeah. So, so one thing we’re really excited about is the platformization of the brand. Um, and what I mean by that is moving into different categories, all with that umbrella value proposition of, you know, clean brain and body nutrition. And so we’re trying to move in and everything has to be functional.
Um, so we’re moving into hydration or we’re coming out with a product called IQ mix, which is. Really the first, ever to our knowledge, uh, adapted gin plus electrolytes beverage. Um, it’ll be just like our bars, basically next to no sugar. Um, Extremely low carbs, you know, be keto compliant, uh, plant based, um, and also affordable.
Um, that was a bit we had to hit and we were spending months and months and months to be able to hit a certain really approachable price point of. A dollar twenty-five a stick, which is 15 to 16% lower than leading brands. So super functional, no sugar, super high quality, super approachable price point.
So that’s kind of our first foray out of, out of bars. And so, you know, if we can succeed there, we’ll keep layering on new, new product lines to solve different occasions during the day. Um, our needs that, that you might have during the day.
Ken: Yeah, that’s cool. And I will definitely be a customer. That’s something that, um, that my wife and I actually, we buy a different product, but we don’t love it for some reasons, I guess we can, we can talk about, um, but, uh, we actually give it to our kids in the summer.
My kids are really active. They play a lot of sports. And then, you know, I think kids in general don’t drink a lot of water, you know? And so this is a way to keep them hydrated, especially when it gets really hot.
Will: Is the reason you don’t love it. Is that, is that it’s high in sugar. Yes, I know. I’m I bet I know what brand you’re talking about.
Ken: Yes. That, that is it. You know, honestly, everything else about it is okay. You know, we can talk some packaging, things that would make it easier to consume some of these, but, um, but yeah, the, the sugar is the big issue. All right. Well, let’s just jump into the quick fire round here and, and, uh, and wrap this up.
Um, I’ve just got four questions for you. Just tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Okay. Um, name one tool or resource that has helped you the most in your, career .
Will: I would say re I’ll go with resource. I would say an excellent, significant other significant other.
Ken: Yeah, that’s awesome. What I wonder is, does she, um, does she like to be called a resource?
Will: Uh, I don’t know. I haven’t, I’ve never asked her that to be honest, I’ll let you know.
Ken: Um, what is one book that has helped you you’ve you’ve named, you know, like three or four, but is there a book that you could recommend to the audience?
Will: Well, I’ll give you a different book. I would have given you one of the ones I mentioned earlier, but I’ll give you a different one that I just love, because I think it’s hilarious, uh, called how to get rich by Felix, Dennis.
Ken: Okay. Yeah. And it’s, it’s hilarious. In what way?
Will: Well, it’s for one, it’s sort of tongue in cheek and the title, um, he founded Maxim magazine, which was like, um, I don’t have you ever read that? But like growing up, like teenage boys, like that, like that was like the thing to read when I was growing up in the early two thousands. Um.
Ken: Right. And it was all on all the shelves everywhere, you know, it was really big magazine. Yeah.
Will: But like, it’s not even really about that. It’s just about like his founding of it. And he just has all these hilarious lessons. He’s a really good writer and he’s really funny, which I always love in a business book.
Um, and it’s just like, it’s just really good lessons. It’s like, you know, he gives all these stories about how he would go to the pub and he couldn’t afford a beer. And all his friends who were in whatever, working at a bank could buy 10 rounds and. It was just like about, it speaks to the lifestyle of like a resource strapped entrepreneur. Really
Ken: Cool. Um, what’s one piece of advice that you would give to your 21 year old self. So I guess that was what, nine years ago? Um, yeah, yeah, yeah. Kind of at the beginning of your, of your journey, you know, your professional journey, what’s one piece of advice that you’d give yourself.
Will: I would say pick like, and this will sound so lame and cliche, but do what you love, like, like truly pick something.
I think a lot of there’s a whole live to work a work to live thing. Like for me, I live to work. I love work. I actually think everyone would live to work if they loved what they were working on. I think it’s sort of like a misnomer. Um, Because we all work most of our lives. It sounds depressing. It’s not depressing if you love what you work on.
So, um, pick like you are not trapped in your current setup, you can make the same amount of money doing something you love. It’s just an, it’s just a question of sort of massaging the, you know, your habits, your, um, how you’re structuring your career. Uh, I think, um, So super hackneyed, but that would be what I would say.
Ken: I like it. Um, who is, uh, one person in your field of work that you, you would love to take to lunch? And I think you actually said Robert Cialdini, right? Or no, it was Seth. Um, what was his last name that you drove to meet?
Will: Oh, oh, I’ve already had, I’ve already met him and had bunch of them. So I wouldn’t be him, I would say, um, This isn’t even necessarily relevant to like business, but, well, now I think Tim Ferriss would be a really cool one to chat with.
I think Joe Rogan, who would be another cool. And I consume podcasts like constantly and. Um, just I’d probably be Tim Ferris, honestly, because he is entrepreneurial, but he’s also just interested in optimizing his life, like in every aspect, nutritionally relationship wise, business wise. So I just, I, a lot of the stuff he does and says resonates with me.
So I’d probably be him. Yeah.
Ken: I like ten first, too. Also like his buddy, um, Kevin Rose, have you heard much from him?
Will: Yeah, I don’t consume his stuff. I listened to when he’s talking to Tim Ferriss on the Tim Ferriss show, but I, I haven’t listened to him. I like him too. I don’t know. Listen to his podcast.
Ken: Yeah. It’s interesting. I found, actually found Tim Ferriss through Kevin Rose years ago, like before Tim was huge, you know, so I liked him as well. All right. And, um, you know, just, just wrapping up here, if somebody wanted to connect with you or your company, what’s the best way for them to do that.
Will: Yeah, sure. Um, he eats IQ bar.com is our website eats IQ bar is our handle for social media. Find me on LinkedIn. How about that? Um, yeah, but most stuff you can, you can follow us along on our website and our social media.
Ken: Cool, cool. Yeah. And I think we connected through, through LinkedIn. Well, Hey, well this has been awesome. I think it’s been a great conversation with some really good sound advice. I appreciate you taking the time today and jumping on the show with us.
Will: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Ken: All right, man. Yeah, you take care.
Will: Take care.
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