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EPISODE 16

Growing From Ecommerce Toward Omnichannel Using a Data-Driven Product Strategy

With Jordan Nathan, the Founder & CEO of Caraway Home

You never know when inspiration will strike. For Jordan Nathan, the idea for his company came after an unfortunate incident. Jordan got Teflon poisoning after burning one of his pans while cooking. After researching the dangers of Teflon, which is one of the most prevalent materials in all of cookware, Jordan knew there was a chance to carve a niche for himself in the market with a non-toxic and eco-friendly product. Thus, Caraway Home was born and it launched with a waiting list of more than 150,000 customers. Jordan has been building on that initial buzz by focusing on his Ecommerce platform and selling a vision of a company that can go far beyond just non-toxic pots and pans.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Jordan explains how he builds a pipeline to drive customer reviews, which he uses to organically grow the business. Plus, he reveals the growth strategy for Caraway Home and why he believes that if you want to truly take on the big brands in an industry, you need to use an omnichannel approach to take market share and shelf space away from them in all areas.

Key Takeaways:

  • Reviews are key to showing the value of a product when you are selling online. Building and maintaining a review pipeline is critical and means following up and offering products to everyone from influencers, to editors to ordinary people
  • Taking a data-driven approach to product development allows you to lean into introducing products that have a strong chance of flourishing online
  • In order to achieve true saturation of the market, you need to have an omnichannel approach. It’s smart to build up your Ecommerce platform and product offerings at the start, but to compete with the bigger brands, you need to eventually replace them on the shelves of brick and mortar stores

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“Through that experience, I really got to see the power of selling through digital mediums. At Vremi, we really did focus on Amazon, which is quite different than what we’re doing at Caraway, but [I learned] a lot of the same kind of growth principles that carry over that we now implement at Caraway. It’s really a good opportunity to leverage data, use that to inform product decisions and the beauty of online is the ability to test.”

“When you take that first leap, it’s super scary and you leave a comfortable job. You end up initially pitching investors and getting rejected a lot, you’re not getting paid anything, and really, you are the only person in the world who actually believes in what you’re building. It’s definitely scary, but I had enough conviction in Caraway and having sold all these products before and had the experience, I felt really there was no better person to go do this.”

“There has been a lot of news and some companies out there over the past number of years who’ve really focused on growth at all costs and really prioritizing top-line growth and thinking about things like profitability at a much later stage. Coming out of my prior experience, I had a really great grasp on economics and how to manage cash flow. I think since day one, our pitch has always been really growing a sustainable business in a category that’s super-exciting and stale and hasn’t seen much innovation. As a brand, we call ourselves Caraway Home for a reason in that cookware is our hero product, it’s where we’ve launched and felt there was the biggest opportunity, but we really see taking those same product principles and applying it across the whole home. I think what’s really exciting, that investors have really been attracted to is basically the breadth of how big the home is and how many products there are within the general category. Really, it’s an opportunity to build a lot of products and a pretty large brand across a variety of categories.” 

“Storytelling is a really big piece of DNA. Most places where people are coming to from the site, whether it’s press or a Facebook ad or Google, we do our best to tell that non-toxic story through those mediums, so they’re coming into the site with an idea. We’re not here to use any scare tactics; we’re here to educate consumers.”

“Reviews have been a really big piece of the brand since we first launched and this was a big learning from my prior experience, especially on Amazon, which is so driven by reviews. It’s one thing to just show a product on a website, but you can’t touch and feel it and reviews are really the only way to create validation for the quality.”

“For us, we obviously want people to buy the product, but we also want to provide education outside the physical pots and pans, so we see a lot of activity from consumers coming to us. Actually, it’s less about food and cooking and recipes, but more about design and colors and seeing Caraway inspired them to redo their whole kitchen or rethink the products that they have in their homes, so whether it’s our blog or social or writing in through chat or email, we work to really provide these pieces of education to the consumers. As we grow, we have aspirations to build a pretty large portfolio of products. What’s fantastic about cookware is it’s a larger purchase item. We’re not waiting for revenue to come in through a subscription. We get that first purchase and then we have opportunities as we launch more products and to focus on those for upselling and reengaging customers.”

“Omnichannel is super exciting to us. I think going back to our mission, if our goal is to really get non-toxic cookware into as many people’s houses as possible instead of Teflon, really the only way to truly embrace that and do that is to replace the products that are on shelves and currently saturate the market. Online right now is really our main focus, but we see big opportunities with partnerships in retail, with our own brick and mortar.”

“Color’s a big part of our brand … The creation of colors certainly is challenging. It’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of sampling. For larger brands, who I think are cranking out products and not really investing the time into innovation, it’s much easier to just choose something like black or stainless steel…. But I think a lot of the legacy brands who dominate the category, they’ve been selling neutrals for such a long time that for them to even test colors, could actually potentially cannibalize their existing business. It kind of opens that door for us to try something new.”

“A lot of our product process is super data-driven. There’s definitely an element of asking consumers what they want and what’s bothering them across certain product categories and what they like. We do that qualitative research, but a lot of how we think about products is looking at things like Google Trends, Google AdWords, what’s trending on social. We have a number of internal tools that we used to model out what we find to be interesting. Obviously, there are things like market size and competitor mix, so we really like to take a data-driven approach….it really comes from the channels that you’re in and kind of working backward from the core metrics that you track as a business. If you’re on Facebook and Google, really understanding if there might be an opportunity at the micro-level across the category, but you really want to make sure that where you’re going to be spending your marketing dollars and efforts, there’s an opportunity as well. I think that’s even the more important piece is we found niches in certain places where we feel even at the macro level, it’s very competitive and saturated, but we feel there’s a big opportunity within the digital landscape. I think it’s really focusing on where your marketing dollars are.” 

“One thing we’ve really put a big focus on since the beginning is growing our influence or ambassador network. We currently work with a group of a hundred to 200 influencers and this is a group that’s growing really fast, too. They’ve experienced the product, so there’s really an organic relationship built and really working with fantastic creators who I think are the best voices for the brand and they’ve got trusted communities who watch them every day and listen to them. Having those groups really tell the story for us has been tremendously successful. As a brand, we’ve actually avoided the food and recipe market, which I think a lot of this category goes after, and focused a lot more on things like wellness and design and tried some new categories that I don’t think kitchenware has really entered into until point.”

Bio:

Jordan Nathan is the Founder and CEO of Caraway Home, a non-toxic ceramic cookware company. Prior to founding Caraway, Nathan served as the CEO of Vremi and as a Brand Manager for the Mohawk Group. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Consumer Psychology from Colby College.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome back everyone to Up Next in Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles from Mission.org, and today, we have Jordan Nathan on the show, the founder and CEO at Caraway Home. Jordan, thanks for coming on.

Jordan:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

I feel like we have to start with the story of you poisoning yourself which brought you to your company. Can you please tell me about that because I read that in the notes and I’m like, I didn’t know you could poison yourself from pans, like pots and pans, so I wanted to start the episode that way if that’s okay. A great way to start, on a high note.

Jordan:

Definitely. Yeah, back in, I think it was late 2017, I was cooking just like any other night and unfortunately left a fry pan on my burner for about 45 minutes. I think I ended up getting a call right when I was starting to cook and forgot the pan was there. Call ended, ended up feeling kind of nauseous and light headed and the apartment was feeling super fumy and soon realized that I had forgot the fry pan on the burner. Yeah, ended up getting sick. I was nervous based on having inhaled a bunch of fumes, live in a really small couple hundred square feet apartment in New York City and ended up calling poison control. They basically had told me that I was likely exposed to Teflon poisoning which occurs either from overheating a fry pan with Teflon in it or scratching it and it getting into your food, and really just was really surprised that something that I was cooking off of and touching my food could potentially get you sick. Also, further research showed that there were definitely some longer-term consequences that have been proven through a number of studies related to Teflon and felt there was a big opportunity to build a brand in the kitchen space around launching non-toxic products and eco-friendly products in the category.

Stephanie:

That is a very good reason to launch non-toxic products. Before deciding that you wanted to start Caraway Home and build non-toxic pots and pans and things like that, let’s hear a little bit about your background and what brought you to moving to the world of Ecommerce.

Jordan:

Sure. Well, grew up in New Jersey, went to school at Colby College, up in Maine. Studied consumer psychology there. I tried launching my first startup out of school, which was a Ecommerce marketplace built for direct to consumer brands. This was back in 2015. Really got it as far as I could, but unfortunately, really struggled with that fundraising process and coming right out of school, didn’t have much experience, but it was really a great kind of launchpad to testing and learning and trying to do my own thing.

Jordan:

I then joined a company in New York in early 2016 called Mohawk Group. They’re a consumer product holding company owning about four brands and I joined them to lead Vremi, which was their kitchen brand and ended up basically working there for about two and a half years. Launched close to 200 different kitchen products. The brand itself was really focused on a post-college consumer. Average price point was $10 to $20, so definitely someone looking for something that was lower cost, colorful, and was my kind of first really great experience at obviously working in the kitchen category launching a number of products and really fortunate to have done more or less the exact same thing prior to Caraway.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. What were some of the lessons you learned, especially at Vremi when you were launching all of these products that you brought into Caraway?

Jordan:

Yeah, I think biggest lesson was don’t launch 200 products in 18 months.

Stephanie:

Sounds intense, but why? Why not?

Jordan:

Yeah. Well, it’s definitely a lot of fun and learned about a lot of different materials and categories, but definitely caused a lot of issues with inventory forecasting and quality. I think through that experience really got to see the power of selling through digital mediums. At Vremi, we really did focus on Amazon, which is quite different than what we’re doing at Caraway, but a lot of the same kind of growth principles that carry over that we now implement at Caraway. It’s really a good opportunity to leverage data, use that to inform product decisions and the beauty of online, obviously, is the ability to test. Really taking a lot of those same principles into what we’re building at Caraway.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Were you any bit nervous when you were moving from a large company that had resources and infrastructure and more funding and all that, to then start your own company where you had to do everything on your own?

Jordan:

Definitely. I think when you take that first leap, it’s super scary and you leave a comfortable job. You end up initially pitching investors and getting rejected a lot, you’re not getting paid anything, and really, you are the only person in the world who actually believes in what you’re building. It’s definitely scary, but I had enough conviction in Caraway and having sold all these products before and had experience, felt really there was no better person to go do this. The supply chain and the manufacturing were really easy for me just because I had done a lot of this. It was more of the fundraising that was kind of a challenging and new process for me.

Stephanie:

You had some recent success around fundraising. Right?

Jordan:

Yes, that’s correct.

Stephanie:

It was a seed round?

Jordan:

Yes. We just closed and announced a $5.3 million seed round.

Stephanie:

That is awesome. How did that feel closing that when I think earlier on you said it was a bit of struggle trying to attract the investors. How did you find the right investors and get them to believe in your vision?

Jordan:

Yeah. Well, we’re really excited. It’s a big step in our journey and I think validation for what we’re building. We took a little bit of a different route than most brands and I think something that’s maybe becoming a little bit more common in consumer, but we raised from over a hundred investors in the round, a lot of founders and execs a number of funds and a lot of consumer-focused investors and really took the approach to building a large network, which we felt would be much more valuable in the long-term. As you can imagine, getting a hundred investors means I probably pitched a thousand investors and it took a long time, but I think in the long run it will net out much better because we’re more or less one introduction away from any company, given the large pool of investors we have.

Stephanie:

Were some of the key differentiators that either excited the investors or that they saw about your company?

Jordan:

I think there have been a lot of news and some companies out there over the past number of years who’ve really focused on growth at all costs and really prioritizing top-line growth and thinking about things like profitability at a much later stage. Coming out of my prior experience, I had a really great grasp on economics and how to manage cashflow. I think since day one, our pitch has always been really growing a sustainable business in a category that’s super-exciting and stale and hasn’t seen much innovation. As a brand, we call ourselves Caraway Home for a reason in that cookware is our hero product, it’s where we’ve launched and felt there was the biggest opportunity, but we really see taking those same product principles and applying it across the whole home. I think what’s really exciting, that investors have really been attracted to is basically the breadth of how big the home is and how many products there are within the general category. Really, an opportunity to build a lot of products and a pretty large brand across a variety of categories.

Stephanie:

Got it. Yeah, that’s great. When it comes to organic and non-toxic cookware and things like that, how do you convey those type of unique differences on your website because when I was looking at it, it’s like, I wouldn’t automatically maybe know that Teflon can poison you. I mean, I kind of have heard it before, but it’s not something I think about every day, maybe when I grab out my pans. Especially if I’m on a Ecommerce site where I’m looking and shopping, how do you show people this is why we’re better than all the other brands out there?

Jordan:

Yeah. I think for us, storytelling’s a really big piece of DNA. Most places where people are coming to from the site, whether it’s press or a Facebook ad or Google, we do our best to tell that non-toxic story through those mediums, so they’re coming into the site with an idea. We’re not here to use any scare tactics; we’re here to educate consumers. We try not to push it too hard on our site. We’ve got sections on materials that you can go deeper, we have a lot of blog posts, so we really provide those educational resources in case you’re interested to read more and educate yourself on the subject, but the site’s really meant to emphasize all the points of differentiation, whether it’s design or color or the storage components that come with our sets. We really want people to get the full picture there, but in those kind of advertising mediums and press, the nontoxic is really who we are and what we stand for. Hopefully, before coming to the site, you get some type of idea of that product feature.

Stephanie:

Got it. The one thing that I liked when I was browsing through your site was it had this very risk-free feeling to it because it has that free returns and 30-day trial and it had a ton of reviews. I mean, all over the page and it had a whole tab, like a tab for just reviews. Was this something you did from the start or is this a more recent implementation?

Jordan:

Reviews have been a really big piece of the brand since we first launched and this was a big learning from my prior experience, especially on Amazon, which is so driven by reviews. It’s one thing to just show a product on a website, but you can’t touch and feel it and reviews are really the only way to create validation for the quality. Really, since day one, we’ve been focused on our review funnels, we also want to get feedback to improve our products. Yeah, we continue to improve that pipeline, but we’re excited to really continue building that out. As a brand, again, with no brick and mortar presence at the moment, it’s really the best place customers can go, especially for a brand that’s six, seven months old and they’ve never heard it before.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). How did you go about getting those reviews because that, to me, seems like one of the hardest things to do, especially with a new product or podcast? For anyone that hasn’t reviewed this podcast yet, please help us and share the word and review it. How did you go about getting those reviews because some of the places that you were getting them from where pretty big media brands? What was the strategy there to bring people in to actually review the product?

Jordan:

Yeah. I mean, on the site, we’ve run post-purchase email funnels, SMS funnels, we hit each customer with it a number of times to get their feedback and then, when it comes to press, we did a lot of gifting at the early stages and really tried to create a culture amongst editors of getting the products into their homes and actually using them at home. Not really pushing them to write stories on us, but getting them to experience the product and if they love it, have them come back and write their honest opinion.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s great, yeah. I think if you get something in someone’s house, even if they didn’t originally maybe even ask for it, you kind of feel obligated to give a review. I know on Amazon, I left a two-star review on something for a baby product, and they sent me a new and different product just saying like, “Hey, we’re sorry that the first product didn’t work out, but if you could please reconsider your review because here’s three new things we’re sending you to try out.” Even though I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t expect it, I kind of felt obligated to get on there and test out the product and re-review it if I did end up liking it. I think that’s good to get it in their house to get people to start thinking about it.

Jordan:

Definitely. We see the same things with influencers as well. We want to be working with people who organically love the brand and product. We’re very confident in the product that we’ve created and the quality. We’ve seen just a lot of success of once we can get it into people’s hands and they cook with it a few times, it’s really a great bridge to starting a bigger partnership conversation.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. The one thing that I saw that was interesting was, it was on a blog post where you mentioned that when you were launching, you had a wait list of I think it said 150,000 people who joined pre-launch to get the product when it was ready to go. Is that the right number and, if so, how did you garner that excitement for people to get on a wait list?

Jordan:

Yeah. That is the right number and that wait list was a really incredible kind of launch platform for us. I think early days, it really started with me pitching just a lot of investors and talking to as many people as possible. Created a lot of word of mouth, which drove to our landing page and then, prelaunch, one of the things we did was partner with other brands on things like sweepstakes and giveaways and start building our brand rep through a lot of those partnership campaigns. Then, towards the end of the funnel, we started building, not dissimilar from what Harry’s did to build their prelaunch, I think hundred-thousand wait list, ended up doing a referral campaign within that existing list we built and that referral was super-successful. We got a lot of word-of-mouth and people sharing out of it. By the time we launched, we had a nice grouping of customers who were really excited to test and be our early adopters.

Stephanie:

That’s really fun. How do you keep them coming back and engaged because I think of cookware, I mean, I got mine, I think, at my wedding and I haven’t really thought about it unless it breaks, which has happened a few times when we’ve dropped it and it’s gotten all bent up. It’s not something that comes top of mind or would bring me back maybe to a site easily. How do you keep those customers, especially the really engaged and excited ones, coming back to the site and checking out your new products?

Jordan:

Yeah, it’s really through content. We’re pretty active and it becoming building a much stronger content platform, both on the site and social. For us, we obviously want people to buy the product, but we also want to provide education outside the physical pots and pans, so we see a lot of activity from consumers coming to us. Actually, less about food and cooking and recipes, but more about design and colors and seeing Caraway kind of inspired them to redo their whole kitchen or rethink the products that they have in their homes, so whether it’s our blog or social or writing in through chat or email, we work to really provide these pieces of education to the consumers.

Jordan:

As we grow, we have aspirations to build a pretty large portfolio of products, so what’s fantastic about cookware is it’s a larger purchase item, we’re not waiting for revenue to come in through a subscription. We get that first purchase and then, really have opportunities as we launch more products to focus on those for upselling and reengaging customers.

Stephanie:

That’s great. How are you thinking about retail locations or like your omnichannel strategy?

Jordan:

Yeah. Right now, we are solely focused on our website, we are on a few marketplaces like Zola and Goop and Huckberry and a few others. Omnichannel is super exciting to us. I think going back to our mission, if our goal is to really get non-toxic cookware into as many people’s houses as possible instead of Teflon, really the only way to truly embrace that and do that is to replace the products that are on shelves and currently saturate the market. Online right now is really our main focus, but we see big opportunities with partnerships in retail, with our own brick and mortar. Still, today, we’re a young brand, so we’re focused online, but have some exciting new plans coming up in the next 18 to 24 months.

Stephanie:

Fun. What’s the experience been like selling on marketplaces versus just if you just CBA your website?

Jordan:

Yeah. I think for us, we see it as opportunities to reach different demographics than what we’ve… are currently seeing on our site. We’ve gone into it with a really open approach and have seen a lot of success. Obviously, being in the kitchen and home category, a lot of these items are purchased through a registry process, so that’s always been really important to us at the beginning, but also someone like Huckberry, who we’re working with, it’s an all men’s marketplace, they do a really amazing job with curating and they really know how to talk to their customers. It’s one of those marketplaces where we’ve just seen great success. It’s a totally different demographic from what we see on the site. It’s really a good opportunity to just test and reach new markets that otherwise we’d have no access to.

Stephanie:

That’s great about the registry idea. I mean, it seems obvious when you say it now, but making sure that you’re in on all the websites, I don’t even know how they link up because I think when I built my registry, they were already linked to different marketplaces already set up. Do you have to go to the marketplace to get that relationship or is it a brand who controls the marketplaces all in one place? How does that work?

Jordan:

Well, most of them are marketplace controlled, but they’re all standard kind of retail relationships and a lot of the major registry players are all digitally driven. Some of them allow you to add any product from any site onto their platforms. They’re all a little bit different, but we want to be at the top of every registry platform and also, encourage users who come to our site, who are getting married, to go to those platforms as well to add us.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think just your colors and I saw some of your videos, that should be enticing enough for people to want to add it to a cart because it does look very different than the typical black or light gray items and I haven’t really seen many videos of cooking where I’m like, “That’s a nice pot or pan or whatever it is,” and I’m not even looking at the food. I’m looking at how they’re cooking in this nice, colorful, bright product.

Jordan:

Yeah. Color’s a big part of our brand and this was actually a big learning from my prior experience, but there’s just a big lack of color in the category and the colors that do exist are typically like bright reds or really de-saturated baby blues and I think there’s definitely a place for those. Also, we just saw a big, kind of wide-open space of colors like navies and sages and creams that exist in the rest of your home, but for some reason don’t exist in the kitchen. I wanted the brand to have a little bit of playfulness, yet sophistication through colors and also give people the opportunity where you can really create a kitchen that I think represents your personality in the rest of your home.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s really fun. Why weren’t there colors before? Is there something about creating that that makes it harder to incorporate colors?

Jordan:

The creation of colors certainly is challenging. It’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of sampling. For larger brands, who I think are cranking out products and not really investing the time into innovation, it’s much easier to just choose something like black or stainless steel. Quite frankly, that’s been what’s popular on the market for decades, so Le Creuset is really one of the first players to come in and introduce colors. KitchenAid has done and awesome job, but I think a lot of the legacy brands who dominate the category, they’ve been selling neutrals for such a long time that for them to even test colors, could actually potentially cannibalize their existing business. It kind of opens that door for us to try something new.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That is good. How do you go about creating new products? Is there a data element that you use to maybe get like customer input to know what they’re looking for or what new products you’re going to be exploring?

Jordan:

A lot of our product process is super data driven. There’s definitely an element of asking consumers what they want and what’s bothering them across certain product categories and what they like. We do that qualitative research, but a lot of how we think about products is looking at things like Google Trends, Google AdWords, what’s trending on social. We have a number of internal tools that we used to model out what we find to be interesting. Obviously, there are things like market size and competitor mix, so we really like to take a data-driven approach and we were the same way at my prior company as well and where I learned this. Yeah, I think we would really like to lean into products where we’ve got a strong conviction that will sell well online. We typically like to avoid things that purely exist for potentially a brand marketing reason, which I think a lot of companies get caught up into in many cases.

Stephanie:

Yep. What metrics do you think are most important when it comes to, like you said, you take a very data-driven approach, which ones have been the most important and how should a company think about implementing that type of data and research into their product development?

Jordan:

I think it really comes from the channels that you’re in and kind of working backwards from the core metrics that you track as a business. If you’re on Facebook and Google, really understanding if there might be an opportunity at the micro level across the category, but you really want to make sure that where you’re going to be spending your marketing dollars and efforts, there’s an opportunity as well. I think that’s even the more important piece is we found niches in certain places where we feel even at the macro level, it’s very competitive and saturated, but we feel there’s a big opportunity within the digital landscape. I think it’s really focusing on where your marketing dollars are.

Stephanie:

Got it. Are there any website metrics that you pay most attention to like how many tests are you doing every single day to see what helps with conversions or what helps with your customer acquisition strategies? Anything that you look at there on a weekly basis or a day to day?

Jordan:

I think for us a lot of the focus right now is definitely on top line growth, but working back from that conversion rate, return on ad spend is incredibly important. We place a big emphasis as a brand on being first purchase profitable and making sure that we’re growing sustainably and not burning cash on each purchase. A lot of the emphasis is really on that. As we grow, things like LTV and repeat purchase rate will become much more important. Within each specific ad platform, we’ve certainly got different goals and metrics we try to hit, but as a brand, the focus at the moment is really on metrics that lead to top line growth.

Stephanie:

Yep. Are there any platforms that you’re finding your most success in or new platforms you’re exploring right now?

Jordan:

Sure. We, similar to most D2C brands, focus a lot on Facebook and Google, but I think one thing we’ve really put a big focus on since the beginning is growing our influence or ambassador network. We currently work with a group of a hundred to 200 influencers and this is a group that’s growing really fast, too. Similar to what we were chatting with before, we’ve gifted, they’ve experienced the product, there’s really an organic relationship there built and really working with fantastic creators who I think are the best voices for the brand and they’ve got trusted communities who watch them every day and listen to them. Having those groups really tell the story for us has been tremendously success. As a brand, we’ve actually avoided the food and recipe market, which I think a lot of this category goes after, and focused a lot more on things like wellness and design and tried some new categories that I don’t think kitchenware has really entered into until point.

Stephanie:

Well, that’s smart. I’m thinking of utilizing Pinterest and places like that where people are, like you said, designing their kitchens or their homes-

Jordan:

Definitely.

Stephanie:

… and just thinking about things differently. That definitely seems like your kind of ideal customer.

Jordan:

Definitely, and we see Caraway as almost… and we hear this from a lot of consumers, that almost being that first kind of inspiration or purchase that they make, that then kind of put them on a path to redoing their full kitchen or wanting to create a safer and healthier home. We love being in platforms and working with creators who kind of align with that strategy.

Stephanie:

I think it’s really important that you’re moving in that other aspect of the home because that reminds me, when I got a… it was like a pastel green tea kettle, it was super cute and I liked it a lot and I put it in my kitchen. Then, I’m looking around and I’m like, “Oh, man. I don’t have anything else that matches this tea kettle.” I started trying to go around and search for that color and I couldn’t find a match. Yeah, it did start making me rethink about how to redesign my kitchen and then, incorporate into my living room because they’re so close. I think having multiple products, kind of help create that experience all throughout the house and that nice design principles could be very beneficial.

Jordan:

Definitely. Pulling that back to new products as well and color, it creates a really exciting opportunity where you make that first navy or sage or cream and having a bigger portfolio of products to really seed that throughout the rest of the home is really where we want to get to.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you pick colors that can’t really be matched with other brands?

Jordan:

That’s certainly part of it. All of our colors are custom made. A lot of brands typically lean towards choosing a Pantone color. Colors are very difficult to replicate. Just going through the experience, they do take a lot of time to get right. There’s definitely some data that we look at when it comes to what people are looking for and searching. It’s asking customers, but at the end of the day, we wanted to create something that was uniquely different in this category. I think in the initial research stages was really surprised that something as simple as navy, which you’re wearing in your clothes every day and is such a prominent color in people’s homes just didn’t exist in the category. As a young brand, it’s fun to have a website and be able to test into colors that just don’t exist today.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Have you tested anything that you didn’t actually have on-hand yet?

Jordan:

Nothing publicly, but we certainly do some stuff privately or in small tests across Facebook or Google.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Got it. Is there any time data’s led you down the wrong path where I’m over here googling fluorescent pink pan and, then you make a product? You’re like, “Eww, a lot of people were googling that or searching for that keyword and it was because of this and we probably shouldn’t have made maybe a product around that or no one’s actually buying that color.” Any time when data’s led you down the wrong path?

Jordan:

Yeah. Nothing specifically with Caraway, but my prior role with Mohawk Group and Vremi, we launched a lot of products, there were many that we had strong conviction on based off data. Sometimes, it doesn’t work for whatever reason. It could be the product design, it could be the colors, it could be the price point. There are so many variables to it, but I think understanding all the variables that can impact the success of a product is super important and as long as you’re really trying to make something different and really try to make it a compelling offer, I think, across all the categories you have a pretty good chance of success.

Jordan:

Really, I think this is a universal truth, but the product quality needs to be there. It can look pretty and the price could be great, but as long as that product’s a really great product and people love it, that in and of itself should generate its own word of mouth.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Is there any way that you encourage that word of mouth with your customers?

Jordan:

Definitely. I mean, we encourage consumers to continually post on social showing us what the pans look like in their home, showing us how they organize their kitchens with the pan racks that we sent over, showing us what they cooked. As we roll out new products and expand the brands, I think there’s definitely some areas we can improve in, in word of mouth, but so far, it does make up a large percentage of our sales and having reviews built into the brands I believe also encourages that.

Stephanie:

How are you measuring the organic growth right now? Like you said, referrals make up a large part of the sales. If you don’t have a referral program yet, how are you tracking that to see where the customers are coming from.

Jordan:

It’s definitely tough. We run a post-purchase survey after people purchase. Obviously, not everyone fills it out, but we get a lot of data through there in terms of asking consumers where they came from. That’s really the best indication, but we’re also very… in a position where we really understand how many sales are coming from Facebook and Google and a lot of other channels, so we’re able to kind of parse out between those two methods what we think the word of mouth effect is.

Stephanie:

Got it, got it. It seems like it would be kind of hard to keep people, not only just customers, but also even like the influencers engaged because I think about when someone sends you something or you buy something new, you’re really excited for maybe a week and then you’re kind of, like a lot of people, at least myself, maybe not everyone else, it’s on to the next thing and excited about the new thing. How do you keep, not only your customers, but also those influencers that you were sending products to, engaged for the long haul?

Jordan:

I think a big, important piece of our influencer program is that most of these relationships are tremendously organic and we work with people who truly love the product. Just like anything, there’s always more excitement at the beginning when something’s new, but we like to work with people who are sharing content around cooking and sharing content around storage and design and our products are always in those content pieces. It’s really been a pretty organic relationship and we haven’t seen a massive drop-off in sharing amongst that group. In terms of customers, we put a lot of emphasis into email and SMS and new blog posts and social and really try to get people into those funnels and onto the social page, so they’re staying up to date with everything that’s going on with the brand.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have any events or things like that where you bring together your influencers or maybe even customers to build that camaraderie feeling? Something that I think back to, when I was at Google, we had this local guides’ program and they would do big events where all the local guides could come and meet and get some swag and really feel like a community. Is there anything like that that you guys are planning for in the future?

Jordan:

Definitely. I think community is tremendously important. We, obviously, really focus on that with our consumers, but for our ambassador base, it’s still really early days and early stages. Looking at companies like Glossier and I think they’ve done such a great job at creating that community amongst ambassadors and the people they work with are tremendously proud to represent Glossier. Events and dinners and opportunities to gather are certainly among top interests for us. With COVID going on, it creates some more challenges, but-

Stephanie:

Yeah. A Zoom happy hour.

Jordan:

Yep. Yeah, we’re looking to roll out a community base whether it’s on Slack or Facebook groups in the coming months for all of our influencers to connect. It’s also a good opportunity for them to share best tips on what’s working for them and what’s not on their social posts or maximizing engagement.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that definitely seems like it could be really beneficial because you have this group of people working for you behind the scenes, teaching each other best practices, that you’re not having to employ-

Jordan:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

… which is great. Circling back a little bit to your background, I saw or I think you mentioned that you studied consumer psychology. Is that right?

Jordan:

Correct.

Stephanie:

Okay, cool. How did that background help you with building your company, if it did, or what kind of principles did you take away or remember from your studies?

Jordan:

Yeah. Back in school, I was really interested in understanding why people chose the products that they did, why they align with certain brands, and I think at Caraway, we take a pretty granular focus when it comes to that. A lot of that’s reflected through the messaging that we put out. We’re, at any given point, running dozens and dozens of tests across our ads and our website and there’s obviously demographic information on people, which we try to segment based on, in terms of our consumer, but there’s also personality traits and more of a psychology of further breakdowns of certain demographic categories. We do our best to collect this information from consumers to really understand who the customer is, what they’re thinking about, who they are as people and that, in turn, really informs the macro messaging, what’s on the website, and branching out to the brand principles.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, very cool. Is there any element of personalization right now when you come to Caraway based on the data that you just mentioned, whether it’s demographics or anything else?

Jordan:

At the moment, not onsite. We’re really focused, and this was highly intentional at the beginning of launching the brand that is we really want to create a product and brand that are really accessible to the most people possible and also, kind of narrow down the decision making that they have to do.

Stephanie:

Yeah, super important.

Jordan:

Right now, we’ve got one set, it’s really simple, really the core decision is the color that you have to choose. As we grow and we start launching more products, I think that’s where we’ll start to see a lot more personalization and trying to help people, once you buy the cookware set or you buy another product, like what’s that next piece that you should add into your kitchen and why do you need that product. I think that really comes with expanding the brand into those new categories and then creating sub-segments based on what their initial purchases were, where they come from, who they are as people, and how we can help them better merchandise and support them in their home.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Very cool. You’ve been in the world of Ecommerce for a while. What’s one thing that you wish online sellers would either start doing or stop doing?

Jordan:

Great question. I think for me there’s become this really big mentality of consumer products of growth at all costs. I think a lot of venture-backed companies have really, really pushed into achieving most of their sales through buying ads and buying customers. That’s certainly a piece of growth, but I’d also encourage to really, especially in your early days, like growth’s not that challenging to come by, you’re starting with a smaller number and really putting the emphasis on word of mouth and expanding your return on ad spend. I think it’s easy to get caught up in high growth, but you want to make sure those founding principles are there from day one.

Jordan:

I think generally as a piece of advice, that’s one thing I think we’ve done well at Caraway and I learned from my prior experience. I just see a lot of sellers and vendors I think focusing on top-line growth a little too much in sacrificing something that’s going to be more beneficial in the long-term.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that does seem like something that a lot of companies, especially over the last couple years, have lost sight of. Because, like you said, I mean, when you have these VCs who are telling you that you need to hit these crazy growth numbers, it is kind of like, well, we just have to do whatever it takes to do it and to hit those numbers. It seems like in the process, a business wasn’t actually built behind the scenes. Kind of like a fake business where there’s only ads, buying customers, but then not having a good product and I think we’re seeing a lot of the problems from that right now.

Jordan:

Absolutely. I think a big piece of it, too, is it’s really building that mentality internal with your team and building a culture where it’s just as much exciting to lower the cost on something as it is to increase growth or launch a new, fun marketing initiative. For me, I’d love to see more founders and teams focusing on that sustainable growth.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), completely agree. Is there anything top of mind that we missed in this interview before we jump into a quick lightning round?

Jordan:

Nothing off the top of my head.

Stephanie:

All right. The lightning round, which is brought to you by our amazing sponsors, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, is where I send a question your way, Jordan, and you have a minute or less to answer or 30 seconds, whatever you want to do.

Jordan:

Perfect.

Stephanie:

Are you ready?

Jordan:

I am ready.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s up next on your Netflix or Hulu queue?

Jordan:

Oh, tough question. I’m excited to watch Ozark, season three, have yet to get to it, but I’ve heard it’s a good one, so that’s been at the top of my list to get to.

Stephanie:

Nice. Yeah, that is definitely a good series. If you were to have a podcast, who would your first guest be or what would the podcast be about?

Jordan:

Would love to focus a podcast on brands that really focus on doing good for the world and, whether it’s non-toxic products or eco-friendly products, really hear more about their journeys to creating those items and hearing about the larger impact that they have on the world.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s a good one. If there’s any sponsors out there, hit Jordan up. We can help you out with that. All right. A slightly more difficult one where you might have to think for a bit. What’s one thing that will have the biggest impact on Ecommerce the next year?

Jordan:

I think the short answer to this and tying it into, obviously, what’s going on in the world is I think people staying more in their homes and what that means in terms of general macro online sales, brick and mortar. I think we’ll come out of this with really a different world and excited to see how the retail landscapes starts merging with the digital landscape.

Stephanie:

That is a great answer. All right, Jordan, it’s been such a fun interview. Thanks for coming on the show. Where can people find out more about you and Caraway?

Jordan:

You can check us out at www.CarawayHome.com and thanks for having me. This was super fun.

Stephanie:

Yeah. See you next time.

 

 

 

 

 

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