Listen in today's episode to learn about how to scale your eCommerce business from one of the best marketers around. Dan King has worked with eCommerce giants like Me Undies, Beachmint, Fun in a Box and is currently serving as the CMO of Ritual.
Episode Transcript — Building & Scaling Your eCommerce Business w/ Dan King of Ritual
Speaker 1: You're listening to the Spend 10K a Day podcast brought to you by the performance marketing experts at MuteSix. This is your source for cutting edge insight into the world of online advertising from the team with more Facebook case studies than any other agency on the planet. Here are your hosts, Steve Wise and Stuart Anderson.
Steve: Hello everyone, welcome back to another amazing episode of Spend 10K a Day podcast, coming to you live from the ultimately rainy, rainy, foggy LA, Los Angeles, California. Yes, you heard it right. Raining and fogging today. Disgusting.0
Steve: We're safe, though. We're in a podcast room, so we're all good today. Today, I have an awesome guest. Long time e-commerce brand builder, direct to consumer, expert, extraordinary Dan King. Dan has scaled two businesses to eight figures, a CMO, number one MeUndies.
Steve: He was instrumental in the growth of MeUndies, the CMO of MeUndies. I'm sure you've heard them. Fun in a box. One of the coolest brands on Facebook, and today he's a CMO of Ritual, which is vitamins.
Steve: Dan, welcome aboard. Tell us a little more about yourself and your background, man. It's awesome to have you.
Dan: Thanks, man. Steve, you're a good friend. It's great to be here. So, it's raining here in LA. I grew up in the Midwest, so it's pretty normal for me.
Steve: Dan's from Cleveland, for all you that are curious of where the Midwest is. He's a nice Clevelander. Calves finally won the championship. So, he's been in a good mood for the last a year and a half.
Dan: All we needed was one.
Steve: Yep. All we needed was one. Lebron brought one to Cleveland.
Dan: He could do whatever he wants now.
Steve: So now if he leaves, no one's unhappy. He brought the championship to Cleveland. So, cool. So Dan, getting into it, man-
Steve: How did you get into e-commerce? How did you have the skill and expertise? What originally brought you into the wide and amazing world of e-commerce? Tell us a little more about your experiences and how you started working at MeUndies and just some of your background.
Dan: Yeah, great question. I was lucky to be in positions where I had the opportunity to make a million mistakes and just learn from that. And so it all started ... I guess, it's funny to think about, but about 10 years ago, social media was a new thing. It feels weird to say that now because it's everywhere.
Dan: But back then, businesses really didn't know how to use social media to achieve any sort of business goal. They weren't even thinking about it in that way. There was no advertising. There was no paid version of it. There was barely a newsfeed at the time. Maybe ... I don't even think there was.
Steve: No. Totally there wasn't.
Dan: So, I got involved in that pretty early on and, and worked for, I guess, what you could call a social media agency, but we didn't even know what it was at the time.
Dan: And we started working with a few different clients and started to just show them how you can use social media to drive traffic [crosstalk 00:00:03:19].
Steve: Back then, it was like organic content. It was like-
Dan: Pure organic.
Steve: It's like, wow, I'm gonna post something on the news feed, and people are actually going to see it.
Dan: 100% of people see it. Not 5%.
Steve: So, all my fans are going to see me talk about the rain outside just from posting on social media. That was the beautiful days of early Facebook. Then Facebook's like, wait, wait, something's wrong here. We're not making money off all the postings. Why is this?
Steve: So obviously, the fun stopped. And then I guess from this, from your agency then you moved over ... You learned a lot there and then I guess you moved to LA, right?
Dan: I was in LA at the time. That was about 10 years ago. And then, one of our clients was an e-commerce brand. I call it ... It was like E-comm 1.0 era. You know, this was a time where it was a very different game, and I think ... There were no playbooks for e-commerce companies. Everyone was kind of figuring it out for themselves.
Dan: One of our clients was a company that raised a lot of money. They were growing really fast here in LA, and they liked the work we were doing a lot. So, they actually just brought our whole team in to be on their marketing team.
Dan: That's an agency's happiest nightmare. It's like one day you walk in the office, you're like, where did the team go? They're all gone.
Steve: Yeah. So they just took the whole team, and we're like, cool. We felt at the time that this was potentially a really big business. It was the fastest growing company in LA at the time.
Dan: Which company was it?
Steve: It was called BeachMint.
Dan: BeachMint. Okay.
Steve: And so, what the company did was they partnered with a celebrity who had their own built-in audience and launched an e-commerce vertical with them. And we partnered with a few different celebrities. What was great is right out of the gate, the celebrities would announce that they're launching this brand, and it would create a great little kind of like boost right out of the gate.
Steve: And we showed a lot of growth from that little boost. And so, we were able to raise a lot of money from that. But, we didn't know what we were doing. And as a result, we weren't investing in the right areas of the business, and we weren't doing the right things.
Steve: But at the same time, we had a lot of money. So, we were also bringing in like the best consultants, the best resources, whatever software we wanted to use. So, it was also an opportunity to just learn. And I learned a lot. I learned about the mistakes we made, but I also learned just like-
Dan: What were some ... If you were to pinpoint a couple of mistakes. Obviously, you guys were venture-backed-
Dan: Investing in stuff that's going to make money wasn't the issue. You had resources. There's a lot of companies out there and people who are listening to this podcast who work at venture backed companies who have resources. This is really interesting. What were some of the mistakes, specifically, that you made while at BeachMint that you learned from, that you carried on until today?
Steve: Yeah. Yeah. And I want to preface by saying I worked with really smart people, really good people. So, I don't want to dwell too much on the mistakes, but just the broad strokes that informed my next job at MeUndies. I can highlight a couple of those.
Steve: One thing I think, is just investing in the customer experience. To me, that is the most important thing. That's the one differentiator a direct to consumer business has over a heritage brand, is the relationship you have with your customer. And so, you have to really value that and perfect that. And that should be what you care about above anything else.
Dan: What were some, talking about mistakes, about not valuing the customer, both at BeachMint and both right now. What are some of the mistakes that you see? I know I see them a lot from being on the side of acquisition of really discounting, trying to get people in, just trying to throw everything in at the table just, give me a customer, give me a customer.
Dan: When you, both in your career at BeachMint, as well as MeUndies, and now Ritual, what did you see have been some of the mistakes that you've made, that you've corrected, as well, you've seen other brands make?
Steve: Yeah, I think when you just care more about top-line growth, and you're not really thinking about retention or the quality of customers you're bringing in. So for example, the tried and true approach back in the Ecom 1.0 days was, heavily discount your product to get someone in the door, sign them up for a subscription. Sometimes they don't even realize they're signing up for subscription and then make it really hard for them to cancel. That's like the worst customer experience.
Steve: But when all you care about is top-line growth, that's what you do. And so, you're not really thinking about the big picture. And as a result, you're not prioritizing the customer experience.
Dan: I guess, a lot of that goes into the economics of the business. So if you are a venture backed company, sometimes you're not always running a fiscally responsible business. You have to show growth, you have to go into board meetings, you have to really continuously show numbers that investors want to see.
Dan: And I think that's always a big ... That's something to really understand is whenever we work with companies, we're always like, "In a perfect world, what are the numbers, what are the stories that you want to tell?"
Dan: And I think you look back at some of these older 1.0 companies, they're like, "Give me, give me subscribers. Give me anything. I'm going to discount the product. I'm going to put stuff in the terms of good service that people don't know about." And you see that, that's led to the demise of a lot of companies who just didn't prioritize that customer experience.
Steve: Yeah. And there's outside pressure that's driving that, too, right? Because if you take on a lot of venture capital, they're expecting, this tech style hockey stick growth. I believe that brands don't grow that way. Brands are built. It's a marathon, not a sprint. You can't just overnight have a great brand. It's something you do with excellence over time.
Steve: And so, you can't outpace the growth of your brand. And I think that's what a lot of e-comm companies do when they prioritize growth and they kind of grow unorganically.
Dan: You kind of took a big pivot, man. You went from BeachMint, who's kind of this white label celebrity focused, to ... Speaking of brands, you went to MeUndies, which is obviously, one of the ... And Ritual, two really good brands that have leveraged Facebook to drive acquisition, to really drive a sustainable business.
Dan: What did you learn from a brand side, while at MeUndies? How did they differentiate themselves early on as someone that has a really fun experience? Obviously, you prioritize that when you start building that. Tell us, how could brands overall, prioritize being sustainable, being long lasting, versus just hike hockey stick growth? Or maybe do both.
Dan: Yeah. I think that's the balance that you have to strike, is investing in the brand, but also, being very data-driven and performance oriented with your growth strategy. So, you have to do both, right?
Dan: And I think, it just naturally ... Sometimes companies just think one way or the other. It's hard to think about both. And the brand stuff can be really hard to quantify. So some people who are more numbers driven, just don't see. They can't quantify it on a spreadsheet.
Dan: And some people that are more brand driven, they're very emotional, they're very artistic. They don't really get the science behind performance marketing. So, it's really about blending both together creates the fastest growing brands in today's world, in my opinion.
Dan: One thing that, when I went to MeUndies, I knew that building an authentic brand was very important to creating brand loyalty. It's important to differentiate yourself in the market. At the end of the day we're selling a commodity, and it doesn't matter how good our media buying is. At some point, people are going to try another brand of underwear. So, brand becomes very important for us to continue to scale. It's just hard to, I think, map out what that looks like early on.
Dan: What are some of exercises? Because I always tell companies ... I give advice, as well. I'm like, "Define your brand. What are people thinking about when they think of your specific brand?" What kind of exercises did you do, brand exercise, did you do in building out the brand of both Ritual and MeUndies?
Dan: Let's go down and quantify what that means when it comes to defining the brand. You mentioned that a lot. If you're going to give advice to people who are listening to this podcast, how would you define what the brand does? What are the brand exercises to really nail that down.
Dan: Yeah. In the beginning, it can be really simple. You don't have to overthink it. I have a few ways to think about it early on. You want to have a brand that that stands for something and that has a clear mission. I think it's very easy people to say, "Our mission is to sell the most underwear in the world." But, that's not a mission that's going to get people to root for you. That's a very business driven mission.
Dan: So, you want to have a mission statement that puts the consumer's goals in it, as well.
Steve: Kind of aligns the consumer's goals with your goals.
Dan: Yeah. The best missions align the consumer's goals with the businesses' goals. You said it perfectly. It sounds simple but very important.
Dan: And the difference is, you go from having ... You know, you're this new hot startup, and I think just naturally, people in our generation are just naturally skeptical of ads and who is, what are they doing? Right? So to turn them from a skeptic into someone that's going to root for you, have a strong mission, right? That's going to give them an entryway into what you're doing and have them want you to succeed. It's very important.
Steve: That's interesting. I think you said something that just resonates with me from a branding perspective. There's so many DR companies out there that want to be build brands. How can you get consumers to root for you? That's a big brand question of what can we say in our core values? What can we make our brand stand for that people who buy ... Well, not only just buy our product, but people who hear about us, want to root for us.
Steve: I think with MeUndies be a ... I was a MeUndies customer before we actually even worked together at MeUndies. So, I love the brand. I rooted for MeUndies, not because I was a customer but just because I love what they stood for. So, I guess it's a big question. If you're a brand out there, what can you do to get people to root for you?
Dan: I think you have to be passionate about what you're doing from the top down, and you have to start the business with a real reason. And I think that authentic reason for why the business exists, people see that, whether it's subconscious or not.
Dan: And sometimes companies don't know how to articulate it to you, and they end up articulating it a little bit later. One example I always talk about, Airbnb, I think is a great example of a company that got off to a really hot start. They had a really interesting business model. They were disrupting an entire industry. But, I think there was a lot of people who were just always skeptical. Why would I want to stay in a stranger's house? I just don't get it.
Dan: And once they started to talk about their purpose, and their purpose is like, we want you to belong anywhere to feel what it's like to live in a place and not feel like a tourist in a new city. I think that brand purpose just became something that turned skeptics into believers, like overnight. And I think that's been a really great example of how a well articulated mission can really take your brand to new heights.
Dan: But, it also provides a sense of clarity for even your employees. Because at the end of the day, everyone on your team needs to be aiming at the same goalpost. And when you have a great mission, it just helps focus, it makes sure that they're focused on the right things. It becomes a tiebreaker and argument. Should we do this, should we do that? So the mission also helps internally, as well.
Steve: It's interesting. A Lot of times I feel like companies have employees working for them. There's no purpose in what they do, and I think that's a really good segue to the next thing that I think, Dan, we've talked long times about this specific topic, and that's hiring.
Steve: For those of you that are listening to this podcast that have built great businesses, and you're trying to figure out how do I get out of the day-to-day of managing ads? How do I get out of the day-to-day of video? 'Cause you know that if you're not ... If you're doing your Facebook ads, and you're doing your search ads or if you're doing, you're [inaudible 00:16:25] page optimization, and you're the CEO, that time could be better spent managing, and building, and delegating.
Steve: How do you attract the right talent from a digital marketing perspective? Every brand, from MeUndies to Ritual, any ... But there are other brands, the way they've grown is through hiring great people.
Steve: What have you learned? You've obviously built teams that MeUndies and Ritual ... What have you learned from what goes in to find the best people? What do you look for when it comes to hiring marketers? And [inaudible 00:16:56] What do you look for during those interviews?
Steve: I have my angle that I always look for in the questions I always ask, but I'd love to pick your brain on that.
Dan: Yeah. Yeah, that's a great question. I think I definitely look for certain traits. And just talking about marketing, hiring specifically, I like to put a team together that is ... I think, there's a spectrum of marketers where they're either very quant based, very data-driven. And then the other end of the spectrum, they're very brand, they're artistic.
Dan: I like people who can kind of sit at the intersection of those two worlds and can blend the art and science together a little bit. And I've found that when you do that, you bring in people who work really well as a team. And there's less like, "Hey, it should be this way or it should be that way."
Dan: And then also, as an example, people who are, in Facebook advertising on my team, they can empathize better with someone who's coming at it from the lens of this is what I think we should do for the brand.
Dan: And sometimes you have to make those decisions where you know that you can do something that will drive growth much faster, but you don't want to do it at the expense of the brand. Right?
Steve: The customer experience.
Dan: And the customer experience and doing what's right. So people who I think can empathize with other viewpoints into marketing, I think, creates a better culture. So, that's definitely one thing.
Dan: The other thing is you just want to have people who are just insatiably curious. The marketing is changing every day. It's moving so fast. What works today is not going to work in the future.
Dan: And I don't want people coming in thinking they know the playbook, they're just going to take what worked over here and bring it over here. I want people who are like, "You know what? I don't know everything. I'm going to work really hard. I'm going to figure it out." And I think that mindset is really critical to building a team because you always have to be willing to learn new things.
Steve: Yeah. And to build on that, I think those are two amazing points, but what I'm always looking for along with that is empathy. I think that, when we hire people here in MuteSix we're always trying to find people who aren't scared to say, "I don't know how to do that", or "I've never done that before." But, they're willing to get their hands dirty.
Steve: I think fitting within a fabric of a team, of being able to show empathy and vulnerability, and being comfortable with yourself, I think, is really huge. 'Cause the reality is is that there's a lot of people that could run ads. There's a lot of people that could do design. There's a lot of people that could do a lot can do a lot of stuff, but there's not a lot of people that could fit within a framework of a team and really bring value to the team beyond just the ability to do one or two tasks.
Dan: Yeah. And honestly, that's why I love working with MuteSix because everyone here has a lot of passion. They do it for the love of the game. You could tell and, and those are the types of people I want to work with.
Steve: Yeah. And I think, beyond just MuteSix or Ritual, I think that you have to ... and I see this so many times with hiring is that people hire people without looking at the big picture, optimizing toward the long path. When I hire someone, or when MuteSix or I'm sure Ritual, you guys want to, we agree, we want to have this person on longterm. We want them to be longterm players, and I want to optimize that process to say, "I want you here year, two, year, three, year, four year.
Steve: I think there's a lot of companies out there that really go into the hiring process with, okay, we'll give you three months. If this works, boom. Right. Move onto the next one. I don't think that's ... especially in this society where talent is hard to get.
Steve: I think we have to value people more than most companies. And I think that's the reason why we built a great team. We don't have many people leaving our company. That's something I prioritize as CEO.
Dan: That's a great sign. I also think a lot of companies just hire to fill gaps. And maybe they'll hire someone who brings in a better skill set today, but they're ignoring someone who maybe doesn't have that skill set, but their trajectory is going to be way higher, right? Over time. So, you got to think longterm with your hiring, too. Who's going to be at a better place two years from now? Not, not just who's going to fill a gap today.
Steve: Totally. Moving topics a little bit, let's talk a little more about direct to consumer, the evolution of direct to consumer businesses. Obviously you've seen ... You know, over the last six or seven years it's changed a lot. Now you're at Ritual. You started with Ritual and Ritual was just kind of like an idea phase. It was very early stage and now it's becoming a very mature, very successful, fast growing e-commerce brand serving the needs of multiple people in the vitamin space, in the health space.
Steve: You know, in this day and age, to be successful on Facebook, to have a full funnel strategy, and to really do retention properly, what are some of the advice that you'd give to really think about building a customer experience that will scale?
Dan: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:22:18] That's a broad topic-
Steve: And I want to keep it broad-
Dan: ... And then, a lot to say.
Steve: ...For a reason. The first thing that comes to your head, I want you to just, boom!
Dan: Yeah, I think it's just build the right foundation. And I think there's always this urgency to move quicker. But to me, the brands that are scaling fastest in the direct to consumer world, have a great foundation. And so, I'll describe what that means a little bit more.
Dan: There's a couple of ingredients, I think, that are common across a lot of successful direct to consumer brands. One being, you got to have a good product. I mean, it sounds obvious, but there's a lot of mediocre products out there, or products that just aren't different enough. I think it always starts with having a great product. And I think the best products also kind of have this baked in organic word of mouth thing going, where they're just really easy to talk about.
Dan: I think some brands do a really good job of giving their customers the tools to talk about them. Because I think when customers like your product or like your brand, but they don't know exactly how to talk about it, they're not going to talk about it. But, I think some brands like just make it really easy.
Steve: What are some tools that allow brands to make it easy and accessible for their customers to talk about their brand?
Dan: I think it's just like creating magic moments within the customer journey. So for example, there's some brands that have just an incredible unboxing experience. And I think some companies will be like, "You know, we can't really justify the cost to like invest and take away some of our margin by making this incredible unboxing experience."
Dan: But what you might be missing out is if it's such a great unboxing experience, that person may post on social media and then talk about it with five of their friends. That to me is invaluable. Especially in today's world where paid advertising's expensive, it's competitive. You have to have a more organic like word-of-mouth strategy.
Dan: One example that comes to mind, you sent me the, what was it called? Man Crate Box [inaudible]
Steve: Yeah, [inaudible 00:24:49] Man Crate Box. Yeah.
Dan: To me, that is so genius because what they did was they send you this huge box and a crowbar, a legit crowbar, that comes on top of the box, and you have to wedge it open with this crowbar. It's totally unnecessary, and it goes against every best practice of making opening a box easy.
Dan: But all of a sudden, my wife is filming me trying to open this box, and I have like a hundred friends commenting on her posts, essentially talking about this company. And I think that's such a magical moment that they created within the customer journey. It's stuff like that that I think is really exciting.
Dan: It's the same reason that everyone is talking about Allbirds all of a sudden out of nowhere, right? Whatever they did gave their customers tools to talk about the company. And there's other really cool shoe brands that people don't talk about, but they talk about Allbirds. So just like why? Trying to understand why and then reverse engineer that for your company.
Steve: So I guess beyond everything, beyond just the review, beyond just ... Obviously, everyone's emailing you after you buy. Give us a review, blah, blah, blah. And beyond the review is how do you wow consumers to capture their experience with the brand and really make it accessible and easy for them to talk about it if they liked the brand?
Steve: I think there's not a lot of people that really think so literally about just how do I get this one consumer very simply to create seven consumers, to create nine consumers, because that what really grows brands. It's not just being the best at running paid ads, or being the best at running search, or doing the best creative, it's that longterm customer journey that literally ... You know, I had Jeremy from Man Crates on a couple of podcasts ago, and we actually talked about that-
Dan: Oh, cool.
Steve: ... about how they got the crowbar opened, and it makes it sticky. I know when I'm gifting something, Man Crates the first place I go because it is an amazing experience that people remember.
Steve: How do you get people to remember your brand? I mean, that's another, thing you should ask you when you're doing a brand exercise. How do you get people to remember?
Dan: Yeah, I think it's just going the extra mile and doing more than what you're supposed to do. I saw the other day that Southwest, or someone was complaining on a Southwest flight because they wanted to follow the score of a NCAA basketball game, but that the WI-I was too slow. So Southwest tweeted back and said, hey, here's an update on the game. You know, it's 58 to 56, or whatever, at half time. And then every two minutes, they sent him more updates about the game so he could literally follow the game.
Dan: And someone at Southwest on their social team, just literally took the time to provide this unbelievable experience. Next thing you know, that tweet thread goes viral and now millions of people are talking about this.
Dan: So, it's just going out of your way to do things that are special, even if you don't think that it's going to go viral. But it's those types of things that, create this relationship with your customer that might be hard to scale in theory. But if you do that, that's going to separate you from the next brand.
Steve: Cool. No, that's great. On the flip side, if you're United ... You know, there's Southwest on one hand, which is very thoughtful, and then there is United, which isn't very thoughtful. I don't know if we have to go into that, but I'm sure you can Google what happened with United.
Steve: Before we wrap things up, Dan, is there anything else you want to add? I think we've covered a lot in this podcast. I'd love to have you on in the future again. I think we've covered brand. We've covered hiring. We've covered some of the cool examples of how to build a sustainable brand. We've talked a little bit about direct response.
Steve: But I think the biggest takeaway from this podcast that I have, is that building a brand from zero to eight figures, is not about, just running ads. There's lot more that goes into it.
Dan: Yeah. Totally. I mean, I would almost think about it's like zero to one, then one to 100. That zero to one, you just have to be different. You have to go that extra mile as much as you can until you get that foundation. And then once you have that foundation in place, you know your funnel's working, you know your customer experience is on point, you know your email's great. The whole customer journey is mapped out, and it's perfect at every touch point. Then you go from one to 100.
Steve: Yup. That's great. All right. Cool, guys. Wrapping things up. Thanks, Dan, for coming on the podcast. Stay tuned to another amazing podcast coming up after this. Chat soon.