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The Difference Between Men and Women … In Marketing, with Matt Mullenax, Co-Founder and CEO of Huron

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The old saying goes that men are from Mars, women are from Venus. And while that’s not literally true, when it comes to marketing, men and women do seem like two different species. What resonates with a man is wildly different than what resonates with a woman. For instance, I love a good ingredients list and couldn’t care less about how much lather I get from my body wash. A lot of men apparently feel the exact opposite. These are the kinds of things that all businesses need to think of when it comes to targeting and sending the right message. And it’s a topic I went deep on in the episode of Up Next in Commerce with Matt Mullenax, the Co-Founder and CEO of Huron. Matt talked me through all the ways he had to test, poll, and iterate on his advertising to get his men’s body care brand off the ground. But when he found the right formula, all of a sudden it was like striking gold. We’re talking crazy click-through rates, plummeting CPAs, and a direct line into the messaging that men are aligned with. Do you want to know what it is? And are you interested in what other heavy lifts Matt is working on now for long-term payoffs? Find out on this episode!

Main Takeaways:

  • The Humanization of Brand: People used to be excited by the novelty of buying online. As the DTC world evolved, consumers have gotten smarter and these days, your brand has to resonate in ways beyond just having a good product available. Some of the aspects of humanizing the brand, such as building personal connections, will require a heavy lift upfront, but the long-term value. 
  • An Atypical CX Strategy: Historically, CX has been seen as reactive, but there are ways to be proactive and ensure an exceptional customer experience no matter the situation. You should not wait for a problem to arise to help a customer out. If you know there might be a delay in shipping or some other situation arises, by reaching out before the product is delayed, you build trust with your customer.
  • Find Your Internal Cheat Codes: Whether you have a founder with deep connections in manufacturing or you’re friends with an Instagram influencer, there are certain elements you bring to that table that you should tap into to give you a leg up in one way or another.

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

Key Quotes:

 

“From a professional vantage point, there were a lot of points of inspiration behind Huron. I think for me, one of themes at the private equity firm where I worked was this notion in and around clean beauty. So we had looked at a ton of traditional beauty brands that were catering to the female consumer, and I was just blown away by the amazing and compelling founder stories, great packaging, amazing product, loyalist consumers. And the disconnect for me was I was a 25-year-old that was still buying neon green body wash from CVS. So that was a little bit of professional inspiration to say, ‘There’s so much happening in this market and the white space for guys in particular is just massive.’”

“For the first six to nine months post-launch, we were really talking about the products. It was 100% vegan body wash, or certified cruelty free, or free of this laundry list of chemicals. And we just really weren’t hitting the mark, it didn’t feel like. Obviously we were growing and scaling, which was exciting, but I didn’t think we had quite channeled that explosive growth yet. And then we just started touching around sensory and sensorial elements that we thought would resonate with our base. So we came up with … a series of assets, we just wrote the internet’s best smell. And all of a sudden, click through rates skyrocketed, CPAs plummeted and we were like, at the end of the day, a lot of these consumers want something that obviously works, but they want to smell good. And it’s very hard to smell on a screen, so we had to be championing all of the hard work that we had done on the fragrance development side, for instance. So that was a really interesting learning. And then we just said, ‘Okay, it turns out we might need to be a little bit more clickbaity,’ but we didn’t feel like the change in voice was that strong of a deviation from who we were as a brand and our brand voice anyways, we’re very relatable, very down to earth. So thinking about, what other ways we could channel that intrigue without sounding like a used car salesman necessarily, but resonating with someone in a very short, finite period of time, because we know attention span digitally aren’t that great, so how can you lure these eyeballs in pretty quickly.”

“If we were to go back and do this journey again while product is probably still number one, I think we would bump up that exercise in and around community building and audience building and content creation and relocating more of the time into those buckets, so that when you launch, you are launching to a pretty broad and widespread audience.”

“In 2008, it was very new to go buy four pairs of chinos through the internet. I think as the D2C world has evolved, the consumer has certainly gotten smarter. So a lot of things that were points of difference are now table stakes, product quality being one of them.”

“We’re trying to do a lot of things that do require more manual lift up front, we’re playing the long-term game. The now ubiquitous saying of like, ‘Do things that won’t scale.’ What does that actually mean? It’s really fun and catchy to say that, but behind the scenes, what does that mean? For us, for instance, we have a trigger where if someone spends on their first purchase, I think it’s 3X our standard AOV, we’ll reach out on a personal level. So it’s like, “Hey, customer X, saw you’re in Columbus, no way. We ship from here.” Or like, “I’m actually from here.” Or like, “The weather in New York’s crazy, hope it’s not as bad as it is here.” But that just shows that it’s a very human to human interaction. We don’t sign off as thanks or best or cheers or regards. It’s like have a great Tuesday. It’s just a way to feel a little bit more engaged on a one-to-one basis, and what that’s allowed us to do is to create a pretty engaged community of a few thousand guys on email, customers on email, that we tap into for early access, for product development pipeline, for potential package redesign, anything that we could think of as being a pretty thoughtful and important decision, we go leverage the perspectives of a few thousand folks who have chose to partner with Huron with our wallet.

“Historically, the world of CX has been mislabeled as something that’s very reactive, but I think CX can be very proactive as well.”

“You have to look internally and figure out what your cheat codes are. Some brands, maybe it’s influencer backed or that person’s a part of the co-founding team and they have a million followers on Instagram. That’s a pretty good leg up, Because you don’t have to do a lot of the audience creation. I think for us, obviously like partnering with [our co-founder] Matt early on, he is just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to anything personal care, grooming, skincare related, especially in the men’s category. So it’s just been huge for us to figure out.”

Bio

Matt Mullenax is the co-founder and CEO of Huron, a men’s care brand that offers A+ personal care products for guys everywhere. Previously, Matt worked in finance before earning an MBA from Stanford University and founding Huron.


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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hello, and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO of Mission.org. And today, I’m excited to have Matt Mullenax on the show, the CEO of Huron. Matt, welcome.

Matt:

Thanks so much for having me, Stephanie. I look forward to it.

Stephanie:

Yeah, same. I’m very excited because I’m looking through your background and it’s bringing back fond memories of my own background within finance and being an analyst, and I was hoping we could start there. Tell me about your career path before founding Huron.

Matt:

Sure. Even before that, originally from Ohio, so from the Midwest, went to school at Brown University and then graduated in 2008, which turns out wasn’t the best time to kick off a career in finance. But ended up moving to New York, worked for a big investment bank there and quickly learned that maybe that wasn’t my cup of tea. So spent a little under eight months, I guess, as an analyst, and then left to be an early employee at Bonobos. Spent about two years there as employee six, everything from sales and inventory reports, to other forms of analysis, to literally packing pants and boxes for six hours a day and sprinting to FedEx before it closed

Matt:

So it was a very hand-on approach in what was the 0.0 days of D2C. So that was an incredible experience for me.

Matt:

Just spent a few years at Bonobos and then actually moved to Chicago where I got back into finance. I spent two plus years at an investment bank in Chicago in the M&A team, and then spent three years at a consumer growth equity fund. So investing in consumer brands like Bonobos, so the first institutional check in, very operationally focused, which was really cool for me. It wasn’t just locking yourself in a corner office and chiming on Excel all day. I was actually thinking about channel strategy and growth opportunities.

Matt:

I did that for a few years, then went out West to Stanford for business school, and then started Huron after graduation in 2017.

Stephanie:

Wow. So when you were working at the investment firm, I feel like you probably saw a lot of trends like, “Oh, if I build a business, I should do this and not that.” What kind of things were you learning and did you actually implement them on starting Huron?

Matt:

Yeah, absolutely. I think from a professional vantage point, there were a lot of points of inspiration behind Huron. I think for me, one of themes at the private equity where I worked at was this notion in and around clean beauty. So we had looked at a ton of traditional beauty brands that were catering to the female consumer, and I was just blown away by the amazing and compelling founder stories, great packaging, amazing product, loyalist consumers. And the disconnect for me was I was a 25-year-old that was still buying neon green body wash from CVS. So that was a little bit of professional inspiration to say, “There’s so much happening in this market and the white space for guys in particular is just massive.”

Matt:

So that was definitely something that I had earmarked in my head as like, “This is a category that would be super interesting to come back to.”

Stephanie:

Cool. So then you went to Stanford. Were you building up the business plan there, or did your moment of like, “Oh, I want to found this company,” did that not come until after graduating?

Matt:

Yeah. It definitely came in the later stages. I think for me prior to going to business school, all of my career was focused in and around the consumer and retail sphere, which was the most exciting for me from a category standpoint. And I think that thesis held true going into business school, which was I knew I wanted to do something entrepreneurial at some point in the consumer spectrum, but I just wasn’t sure when, where and how. In between my first two years at school, I actually interned at Nike with a thought there of, I hadn’t spent time in a big co consumer realm. I wasn’t sure that I would love it necessarily, but my thesis was, if I wouldn’t enjoy it at my favorite brand, then I probably wouldn’t enjoy it anywhere.

Matt:

And the thesis held true, I was not maybe the biggest fan of working in the corporate world, but it was great exposure and a really good learning point And I think for me towards the tail end of my experience at Stanford, that’s when I really started to dig in and better understand, what does this emerging broader men’s grooming wellness, personal care landscape look like? Who are the players? What’s the consumer psyche? What’s the consumer tendencies, purchasing behavior, buying behavior? And really started to dig in there. So that’s when I got started.

Stephanie:

Cool. So what was the original plan around Huron? What was the initial product idea? And then, is it different today?

Matt:

Yep. Good question. The original product thesis, and honestly, the other half of the spectrum, aside from the professional interest that was gained or accumulated while working in private equity is there’s a personal side of the coin, which is just the fact that I was the kid that grew up with bad skin So I had tried more pads and creams, and lotions, and potions than probably anyone should probably attempt or try in a lifetime, and really nothing worked. And when I was out West for grad school, I had, I would say stumbled into a prestige skin care store, but I literally scouted out the store for three straight days because the entirety of the exterior was glass and I was terrified that someone would see me in the store.

Matt:

So I literally went as soon as they opened, then I was sure no one would be passing by. I ran in, I bought a tiny bottle of face wash that was glass for $108 and I sprinted out.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Matt:

Yeah, I know. And things were ever laser etched in my brain.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Fires remorse ever since that day.

Matt:

But the product worked. For me, that was the early light bulb moment, which was, could you replicate the efficacy, the clean technology, the minimal packaging, whatever it was and bring it down to an audience that either, A, wasn’t really sure what to do in the bathroom, or B, was starting to care, but didn’t really know where to start? So that was the early thesis, creating A++ type caliber products and delivering those to guys who might be autopilot shoppers at CVS or Walgreens but couldn’t actually tell you why or how they appreciated the products they were buying.

Matt:

From there ended up doing a bunch of like survey work and we actually launched a fake brand in January of 2018 to further collect these data points to test out, was all natural about our positioning versus vegan, versus clean. And we tested a bunch of markets that otherwise would be viewed as fly over states or cities. So Columbus in Cincinnati where I’m from, Chicago, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Charlotte. And the data points we collected were just incredibly informative to really give us a sense that this was something worth pursuing.

Stephanie:

How are you going about testing in those markets? What kind of things were you doing to see if it would be received well?

Matt:

It was largely around copy. So we just Google imaged a bunch of what we thought were more like masculine leaning images. It was a hilarious exercise more than anything, but for us, it was the copy and the messaging, was there a better clickthrough rate in and around clean versus natural, or natural versus organic? Because my thought was that would substantially impact what the cost components would look like on the formulation development process side, but also the retail pricing. And our goal, again, was to provide this really high quality product, but at a price point that wasn’t offensive to folks who were still buying those mass incumbent product lines.

Stephanie:

As a woman, the product’s amazing, it’s in my shower, and also the guy I’m dating, he’s also been using it every day, loves it. I don’t think he’ll ever stop using it at this point. But when I think about selling to men, what’s important to them, what kind of things did you see resonating with them? Because you can tell it’s high quality, the packaging is amazing. I love that there’s nothing bad in it, but how do you sell that to men and show them that this is the product that you’re actually using versus your old spice or whatever people use these days?

Matt:

Yeah. I think it’s been a really interesting learning on that front. I would say for the first six to nine months post-launch, we were really talking about the products. It was 100% vegan body wash, or certified cruelty free, or free of this laundry list of chemicals. And we just really weren’t hitting the mark, it didn’t feel like. Obviously we were growing and scaling, which was exciting, but I didn’t think we had quite channeled that explosive growth yet. And then we just started touching around sensory and sensorial elements that we thought would resonate with our base. So we came up with literally a very hard hitting, we just sit across a series of assets, we just wrote the internet’s best smell.

Matt:

And all of a sudden, click through rates skyrocketed, CPAs plummeted and we were like, at the end of the day, a lot of these consumers want something that obviously works, but they want to smell good. And it’s very hard to smell on a screen, so we had to be championing all of the hard work that we had done on the fragrance development side, for instance. So that was a really interesting learning. And then we just said like, “Okay, it turns out like we might need to be a little bit more clickbaity, but we didn’t feel like the change in voice was that strong of a deviation from who we were as a brand and our brand voice anyways, we’re very relatable, very down to earth.

Matt:

So thinking about, what other ways we could channel that intrigue without sounding like a used car salesman necessarily, but resonating with someone in a very short, finite period of time, because we know attention span digitally aren’t that great, so how can you lure these eyeballs in pretty quickly?

Stephanie:

I think that’s so interesting thinking about how to market to men and what’s important to them because some of the things that resonate with them, I’m like, “That is not something I think I’d be looking for.” I love the ingredient list. There was another wash you talked about, it lathered up more than anything else and I was like, “Is that something I care about?” I don’t know, I guess men want to be really well lathered, but I don’t really care about that.

Matt:

[Car Wash-esque Lather] was another one that was resonating crazy well. Look, it’s funny, it’s tongue in cheek, it’s inviting. And I think one of the things that we’ve learned is there’s so many personas out there that we can cater to because the degree and the product quality and the formulation, we let those things now speak for themselves so that it’s almost a way to attract someone to the brand first. And then once they receive the product, they’re like, “Holy cow, this stuff’s actually really, really good, and I actually really like it.” I’m just championing like how great the products are because customers can see through that pretty easily.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I agree. So in the early day of starting the company, what kind of things did you do to try and get the word out to new customers, and what worked and what didn’t work?

Matt:

Yeah, good question. I think the first thing that we did was we tried to manufacture a bit of an email capture list and tactically, what that looked like is I literally downloaded every single one of my Gmail contacts, literally anyone that I had ever emailed since 2008. I had lot of interesting responses being like, “Who the expletive are you? Don’t email me ever again.”

Stephanie:

Hey, you got to start somewhere, I guess.

Matt:

Yeah, exactly. I was like, “Cool, yeah. Nope, definitely won’t.” But we asked like, “Hey, we’re building this thing, we would appreciate if you would forward to a friend or a buddy or whomever.” And I would say that was a good way to start, but we weren’t seeing the hundreds of thousands of email captures like maybe some of our predecessor brands did early on. So when we launched, we definitely had an audience of sorts, but we weren’t launching to a quarter of a million people necessarily. And I think if we were to go back and do this journey again while product is probably still number one, I think we would bump up that exercise in and around community building and audience building and content creation and relocating more of the time into those buckets, so that when you launch, you are launching to a pretty broad and widespread audience.

Matt:

So it was email capture early on. We ran some early paid stuff to try, and again, grab emails, but I think a more dedicated and thoughtful push and figuring out how we can leverage maybe certain folks with audiences that we had access to, I think we underplayed that a little bit. Just figuring out cheat codes that we felt that we had in our back pocket that we leveraged a bit, but again, I would say that we probably could have allocated more time and energy to that.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So when it comes building up community, what are you finding success with right now, or new avenues to connect with people and actually keep them in your circle, what’s working?

Matt:

One of the narratives that we have is around this growing importance of the humanization of brand, is what we like to call it. Bonobos 0.0 people were really drawn to the novelty of buying things online. In 2008, it was very new to go buy four pairs of chinos through the internet. I think as the D2C world has evolved, the consumer has certainly gotten smarter. So a lot of things that were points of difference are now table stakes, product quality being one of them, I still believe there’s still a point of differentiation to be had there, but your stuff has to be good, most people will come back.

Matt:

But to circle back on the point that I just made around the humanization of brand, we’re trying to do a lot of things that do require more manual lift up front, we’re playing the long-term game. The now ubiquitous saying of like, “Do things that won’t scale.” What does that actually mean? It’s really fun and catchy to say that, but behind the scenes, what does that mean? For us, for instance, we have a trigger where if someone spends on their first purchase, I think it’s 3X our standard AOV, we’ll reach out on a personal level. So it’s like, “Hey, customer X, saw you’re in Columbus, no way. We ship from here.” Or like, “I’m actually from here.” Or like, “The weather in New York’s crazy, hope it’s not as bad as it is here.”

Matt:

But that just shows that it’s a very human to human interaction. We don’t sign off as thanks or best or cheers or regards. It’s like have a great Tuesday. It’s just a way to feel a little bit more engaged on a one-to-one basis, and what that’s allowed us to do is to create a pretty engaged community of a few thousand guys on email, customers on email, that we tap into for early access, for product development pipeline, for potential package redesign, anything that we could think of as being a pretty thoughtful and important decision, we go leverage the perspectives of a few thousand folks who have chose to partner with Huron with our wallet.

Matt:

So tapping into those insights has been hugely impactful as we think about this broader community build.

Stephanie:

I love that. When I’ve heard people talking about doing things that don’t scale, I haven’t actually heard of them setting up methodologies around it so far. It’s like, “Oh, randomly pick a couple people here, and then creep on them maybe you see what maybe I could send to them to make it very personal. But I the approach of if they spend 3X the normal AOV, then let’s go after them. Are there any other triggers like that that you guys look forward to know like, “This is someone we want to lean into more”?

Matt:

Yeah. There are a few other triggers that we have, I won’t review all of the secrets.

Stephanie:

Just like nine out of 10 of them. Come on.

Matt:

Another tactic for instance is, we sent out an email to folks in and around Boston on marathon Monday. It’s like, “Well, whether you’re running, watching, or already at the bar celebrating, here’s a special offer.” The response rate from that was awesome because it’s like, “Wow. These folks know that I actually live in Boston and I may actually be running. That’s kind of cool.”

Stephanie:

“The sky smell afterwards, you need something. Here you go.”

Matt:

Definitely. “You actually need this product.” I just think that historically, the world of CX has been mislabeled as something that’s very reactive, but I think CX can be very proactive as well. Which is, if there’s an issue with FedEx, proactively reaching out to that customer to let him or her know. If they they’ve spent a shockingly high amount as their first order, reach out to them and tell them that you care and you saw, and that you’re super excited to have them on board. So little things like that that I think are a bit atypical, I would say in the CX side, we really try to lean into. And that’s how we view this whole world as, “we do things that don’t scale”.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. It brings up a couch once again. I feel I’ve been ordering couches for two years now and they just are forever delayed, and I was ordering a new one and it’s been about six months and I’m like, “It’s already delayed.” If I have to get to the point where I’m asking where it is, there’s already a problem. You should have already updated me right away instead of forcing like, “Oh, okay, here’s two solutions.” I’m like, “I don’t either of those. Now I’m even more mad.” So it’s a good point to communicate a lot early, often, be very transparent, because I would’ve been way happier if I just knew the date before I actually had to think about it on my own and felt like, “Am I getting tricked here? What’s happening?”

Matt:

100%. And along those lines, when we thought about building and crafting a team, actually our first hire as someone that was in charge of retention marketing and CX. So it’s a really unique position, actually not too dissimilar from the seat that Eli sits in from OLIPOP. And we’re close brand friends with Eli and what he’s doing is amazing, but thinking about what happens after the finish line and actually prioritizing that in terms of brand infrastructure build versus just immediately spending money to turn on the growth [inaudible] and then all of a sudden you have a bunch of issues on the backend that you weren’t prepared to tackle.

Matt:

It’s, how can you actually roll out the red carpet to people who have chosen to, I said earlier, join the brand by the by voting with their wallet, and make sure that they’re having a 12 out of 10 experience? So thinking about that construction post finish line and actually prioritizing that first and then working backwards once you feel like that foundation is set.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I can tell you’re friends with Eli because he said something very similar. He felt like that was one of the biggest missed moments after a purchase, was not sending them anywhere, not giving them any information, not having other ways to interact. What do you all do after purchase to keep someone engaged and give them even more value even after they already bought something?

Matt:

Yep. We have a series of onboarding flows. Some of our products require a little bit more education, so we think about ways we can set up those new customers for success or those new products for success. And I think that’s been very, very helpful and well received. It’s very easy to sit back and pull a report from Klaviyo and say, “Oh, this email’s garbage because it didn’t meet our conversion rate metrics.” But thinking further up the funnel, “Well, what was the open rate? What was the click rate? Are people actually engaging with this email? Are people opening it?” They may actually be really appreciate appreciating it, but maybe they’re just not buying.

Matt:

And I think those moments where not every form of messaging has to be geared towards bringing the cash register is something that we’re focused on, and that’s the longer term customer build that we’re we’re gearing towards.

Stephanie:

Okay. Which products of yours require education? I’m thinking, they’re all the ones in my shower. I’m like, “Okay. Shampoo, got it. Face wash, got it. Body wash, got it.” Who needs help here?

Matt:

One in particular would be our Eye Stick.

Stephanie:

Oh, okay. I don’t know if we have that one.

Matt:

I think it’s a little bit more of a novel product, so understanding what’s the best way to use this product, and when should you start to see results. And just, again, setting these products up for success a little bit. The body wash, for instance, it’s pretty concentrated, as you know, so you don’t need a ton of it. And even the messaging on the bottle around quarter size and lather, the rational behind that was to say, “Stop wasting money on literally pouring out the entire bottle every fourth shower. You just don’t need a lot of it and this should last you 60 days.”

Matt:

And I think that gets the wheel spinning around. We’re going through this journey together, Huron and you. Our goal is to help you help yourself. So what can we do to further build that partnership as you continue on your personal care journey?

Stephanie:

I love that, because I feel like there’s been a lot of trust that was lost in this industry, whether it’s a around razors and hearing the stories of like, “Oh, they’re showing you putting it in the shower because they know that that degrades the razor and then you have to get a new one. Or like conditioners or even shampooing, you probably don’t need to do it every single day, maybe it’s better not to.” At least for women, we all know the secret, you can’t trick us. So I love that you’re going about it like, “Let me start from a trust perspective of I’m going to give you all the information. You can do what you want, but you don’t need to waste things in the process.” That’s great.

Stephanie:

So I want to jump back into, you’re mentioning local advertising efforts before, which I feel like is a really big missed opportunity for a lot of new D2C companies popping up who focus on a lot of the normal ways of advertising. How are you guys thinking about this local targeting and going after people who just ran marathons and whatnot?

Matt:

Admittedly, it’s somewhat of a new initiative for us, but we’ve seen pretty strong ROI metrics off of those, which is really, really enticing and exciting. I think we’re still fighting the same fight that a lot of D2C brands are advertising through traditional medium, so Facebook, Google, other paid social platforms. We do have an Amazon presence, which I think one thing that’s emerged over the past 18 months is, Amazon has become the world’s most reliable retailer when it comes to shipping, so that partnership and that channel has been really great for us.

Matt:

I think we’ll continue to tap into some of these more personalized initiatives, whether it’s geographically, whether that’s psychographics, etc. Maybe it’s, “Hey, you’ve purchased the body watch four times, let’s send you some sample shampoo on the house because we think you’ll love it.” We’ve dipped our toes into some of those initiatives, but excited about how we can continue to roll out the red carpets to not only new customers, but existing customers as well.

Stephanie:

I think there’s so many opportunities. I just think about these sponsors and partners we work with, obviously very big companies, but they have these abilities to have very microtargeting when it comes to local things and you just see these crazy results, and I’ve started to think of like, “Okay, how can these brands get access to this too and be able to adjust messaging that based off of a local parade that’s going on because the conversion rates are probably way better than just a normal ad that you’re competing against everyone on?”

Matt:

100%. 100%. And I think for us, whether it’s some of the more hyperlocal targeting efforts on email, or even in-person events. We’ve started to get back into that scene a little bit, whether it’s in the fitness scene or elsewhere, but just leveraging products and samples to really introduce people to the brand actually get to know customers on a one-to-one basis, IRL, which obviously, the world pushed pause on for 16-ish months. It’s been fun to meet folks in-person to talk about the brand, to talk about the product, and then have them try some on the spot.

Stephanie:

Well, how are you, how are y’all thinking about partnerships? Because I’m imagining all these angles of like, “Okay, you partner with these gyms and you’re automatically in front of men who probably wouldn’t even be thinking about bringing something good to the gym.” How are you guys exploring that right now?

Matt:

I think that’s one avenue for us that we’re really excited about turning the dial up on. Not just gyms in general, but partnerships. We’re a team of four today, so we’re pretty lean.

Stephanie:

Wow. You guys seem like you have a bigger team just based on your presence.

Matt:

Well, I appreciate it. It’s a team of four. We haven’t hired anyone in a year. So I think that’s a focus of ours into 2022, which is, how can we make sure the right folks are in the right chairs to help grow and steer the ship a bit. And I think bringing someone on the marketing front will really help us not only unlock some of those opportunities by just adding to the roster, but also around strategizing around, “Okay. Let’s be very thoughtful and intentional about how we’re testing this particular initiative, and then report back for 30 days and say, ‘What were the KPIs? What were the measurements?’ ANd then make a killer invest in decision around, this is worthy of our time, effort, and energy, and dollars.”

Matt:

So I think steadily growing out the team, I think will allow us to tackle a lot more of those opportunities where right now, we’re a little resource constrained.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I would say. I still am mind blown that you only have four people for what you guys are doing. When it comes to even developing new products and all that, how do you even do that with just four people? What does that process look like?

Matt:

Yeah, good question. So my co-founder, Matt, has basically spent the entirety of his career building amazing products. He used to be the VP of corporate innovation and global product development at Estée Lauder. So he built the entire men’s Tom Ford line, he was developing the Lab Series, and he has an unbelievable sense for what is a great product, what is a great fragrance. And we’ve been able to work with the best-in-class contract manufacturers because of his background, quite honestly. And that’s been a huge unlock for us to have the right discussions, to be speaking directly with the chemists, etc, because that is his level of understanding of the space.

Matt:

And I think that allows us to really create a really strong pipeline of great product. In addition to that, we’re constantly talking about packaging. We split the packaging piece. Our first employee, Johnny, runs everything retention, CX, web, partnerships. And then Annie who we hired in the thick of the pandemic in 2020, she does everything social, ambassador, partnership, content creation. We’re tackling a lot with a few. So it’ll be good to add some folks to the team.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s awesome. I’ve also heard the same theme these past couple interviews I’ve been doing over the past week or two around having someone who has either yourself or hiring someone who has industry experience, that can fill a big void and accelerate you pass the point that you could have done on your own, even if that means being an entrepreneur within an organization, because you’re like, “I know I want to get into this industry, but I don’t have these skill sets yet. Why not work at a larger company or partner with someone who’s already done that?” Because it just seems a way faster strategy to be able to grow a company than starting at square one these days.

Matt:

100%. And instead, just slightly differently, you have to look internally and figure out what your cheat codes are. Some brands, maybe it’s influencer backed or that person’s a part of the co-founding team and they have a million followers on Instagram. That’s a pretty good leg up, Because you don’t have to do a lot of the audience creation. I think for us, obviously like partnering with Matt early on, he is just a wealth of knowledge when it comes to anything personal care, grooming, skincare related, especially in the men’s category. So it’s just been huge for us to figure out.

Matt:

It is an art and a science in terms of we’ll poll our community to understand the products that they would to see from us, and then he can internalize like, “I think we should prioritize this versus that. This will take longer.” But I also think this subset of products that weren’t even offered up would be phenomenal for our base.” So it’s a little push-pull on that front, but I think once we get products into people’s hands, more often than not, they’re pretty blown away around the product quality and the caliber of products that we’re putting out into the market.

Stephanie:

Are there any crazy requests from your customers?

Matt:

Always. Always.

Stephanie:

Tell me some. What are the best ones?

Matt:

Well, that’s a tough one because that really does double click into some secrets, but we get requests for everything. There are products that are more, what’s the word I’m looking for? Kind of not entry level, but entry level. It’s like, “Hey, we really your fragrance scent. It would be great if you made this product.” At the same time, there are one offs that are very compelling and very interesting, but those oftentimes revolve around problem solution. So it’s like, “Hey, I’ve struggled with this, or I’ve battled with that. Could there be a product that tackles this?” And I think when we riff through product pipeline planning, thinking about how big is the market for some of these different product lines?” It’s a fun exercise.

Matt:

It’s definitely a challenge because product development isn’t something that takes two weeks, this could be a nine to 24-month exercise. So you really have to have a pretty strong degree of conviction that whatever you’re creating, there is certainly a market for, but it’s fun to tap into the audience and understand, not only what products would you want to see or expect to see from us, but what would be a nice to have?

Stephanie:

Yeah. How many of your products right now are maybe influenced from your current customers and how many are just a Matt and Matt decision, Matt squared?

Matt:

I think what we have in the market today, and we’re launching a few new products

Matt:

It’s a new scent, which is, for the most part today, we’ve been mono scent profile, which means the similar scent flows through the entire assortment, but we’re coming out with a more woody, cedarwood, sandalwood, amber. It smells amazing.

Stephanie:

I like that smell. Where is your women’s line? I’ll just keep using the men’s stuff.

Matt:

Honestly the feedback that we’ve gotten to date was it actually smells a little bit more gender neutral, which has been amazing because for this launch in particular, I’ve actually worked with a few female influencers, and the feedback there has been amazing. We’re pretty excited about this. So aside from supplementing the existing assortment with some products that would make sense, no pun intended.

Stephanie:

I like that.

Matt:

Its just like a dag joke thing, I feel like I could go on forever.

Stephanie:

I love that joke, so keep them coming.

Matt:

Yeah. There are consistent themes that we would love to tap into, especially on the problem solution side, I stick was something that was like, “You guys need to do something to help combat antiaging.” Because whether it’s eye bags, whether it’s thinning hair, for a lot of guys, you don’t start to address it until it’s too late. I feel like that taboo is the bar is slowly coming down, which is, I can proactively take care of this now. I think over the past 24 to 36 months, it’s become more trendy to use Hims, Keeps, Roman as preventative maintenance for losing your hair because that’s something that most guys are wildly fearful of.

Matt:

But I think what they’re doing is awesome and it definitely more of a problem solution type full-on attack, where our thesis is a little bit different, but it’s really great, amazing companies that have certainly scaled rather quickly, which is pretty impressive given they’re the only three companies in the category. So just a signal that the want and the desire for the products is extremely high.

Stephanie:

Yeah. And I think what’s nice though with your product, is that with others, it seems it’s more buying behind the scenes, not really wanting, still not really wanting to talk about, even I know a lot of their brands are like, “Hey, we can be open about this.” But I feel like with your brand, it’s so easy to connect with and share, and even if you add additional products that maybe haven’t always been talked about, I feel because of where you’re starting, it’s going to be a very easy place to be able to be on the front lines of that, where people actually want to share it, if that makes sense.

Matt:

Yeah, totally. And certainly appreciate you saying that. I think the thought process in and around the launch assortment was how can you build the best quality basics, which is this consumer knows what a body wash is, this consumer knows what a face wash is. So how can you make those products to 12 out of 10? And then from there establish that brand presence, but brand trust. And then slowly start to dip into maybe some of these more esoteric categories, but because you’ve laid that foundation, the consumers saying like, “Okay, maybe I wouldn’t otherwise be willing to try product X, but I love these other three products so much, I am willing to try that.” And I think that’s the rationale in terms of how we think about assortment expansion and whatnot.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. Get into the harder things down the road after people already love you to death. So it’s good. How do you think about Amazon right now? I know you said that you realized that was basically the best shipping and retail partner over the past year or so, how do you view having people buy on there versus going straight to your website and getting that first party data?

Matt:

I think in a perfect world, we’d love to have 100% of our traffic flowing through our site as would any brand, but we’re also hip to the tune that the consumer journey differs for literally every single customer. You may get served in Instagram ad and quickly Google the company, then go to our website, then go back to Google, then see we sell on Amazon, and then the next time you buy something on Amazon, you add a body wash to cart. So there’s so many different iterations of how customers shop from us, and for our category, which is a commodity by and large, it just make sense for us to be on that platform.

Matt:

If you’re buying hand soap and dish detergent and whatnot, you’d be like, “Oh, I’m actually out of shampoo, let me quickly add that to cart.” That is a missed opportunity if we’re not there. So I think for us, it’s a bet that we’ve been excited about really since March of 2020 when we launched on Amazon, and we’ve just seen tremendous growth on that channel. And I think for us what’s been really encouraging as the Facebook ecosystem continues to face some headwinds and a lot of brands have experienced some hiccups, Amazon for us has been a channel that we’ve been continuing to scale and grow at an incredibly efficient rate. So we’ve been able to reallocate spend into that channel, but still see tremendous results.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. How do you get ahead of the competition on here? I’m looking at men’s body wash and it’s like the CBS style things that are first that are popping up where I’m like, “No, no, no.” How do you get ahead of some of these and actually start showing up here?

Matt:

It’s certainly an expensive category. It’s not cheap to get on men’s body wash or body wash in general. I think what we’ve seen though is we’ve scaled the platform tremendously over the course of 2020 with almost no attention. So one of the things that’s propelled our positioning in our organic search rank within Amazon is just really positive reviews. I think that channel in particular is one that evaluates things in a very zero to one type mentality, it’s either good product or it’s not, it’s very cut and dry. The brand doesn’t really play as much of a factor, it’s just pure play product assessment. And I think when it comes to that level of evaluation, I feel really good about our product line.

Matt:

So we’ve been able to grow with positive reviews and obviously leveraging social proof in the form of reviews and PR hits to then obviously push both to Amazon as well, that’s their preferred channel.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. Where are you hoping to be maybe in the next two to three years? What will Huron look like? How many products are you going to have? What will you be feeling like?

Matt:

Geez, I don’t even know what can happen two or three days from now. In all seriousness, I’ve been really, really excited about the growth that we’ve had over the course of the year, again, with the same crew around the table. I think bringing some smart folks on board in certain areas and chairs that we need to fill, which has continued to unlock a tremendous amount of value for us. We will continue to release product, but we’re pretty maniacal around not having an assortment that blows out a proportion, that becomes unmanageable.

Matt:

So for us, we’re constantly looking at what’s selling, but also what’s not selling, and what can we do to cattle prod these products to get going a little bit, or is this just fundamentally a product that doesn’t resonate with our base? So we’re internalizing all that data all the time. We’re definitely of aware and conscious of skew proliferation, but there is a lot new products that we’re really, really excited about. So continue to build the brand and build the team out, and then launching new products that we feel like our base would really, really respond well to.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. Excited to watch where you all go and where you end up. All right. Let’s move over to the Lightning Round. The Lightning Round’s brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question and you have one minute or less to answer. Are you ready, Matt?

Matt:

I hope so.

Stephanie:

Okay. What’s one thing you don’t understand today, but you wish you did?

Matt:

Interesting. I would honestly say the rationale behind successful content. And the thought there is we put a ton of stuff into the ether and you can have a very low degree of confidence that something will work and it’ll absolutely crush it, and the same is true vice versa. It’s crazy. And I wish probably every other founder, wish you had a better finger on the pulse as to the why.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It definitely feels, I don’t know. I don’t understand that one either because sometimes I see things, I’m like, “This is so clickbaity, why do people love this?” And then other things that are really good I’m like, “Why is this not shared?” That’s a good answer. What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve heard throughout your life?

Matt:

Probably I have two. One is, take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves. I think making sure that we can stay really focused in and around what our mission is and to whom we’re fighting for, and why we’re creating these products, and being thoughtful around the KPIs we’re hitting or not hitting, how can we get there and just acting quickly, I think for me is super, super important. And then I have a business mentor, professional mentor who is a former higher up in the Seals, and his famous mantra is, never pick a fair fight. He was like, “Why was the Seal successful? Is because they went out on Missions at 3:30 in the morning when everyone was sleeping.”

Matt:

So how I internalize that into the much less important business world is just really thinking about like, what are opportunities that are pretty special for Huron and how can we leverage those in and across a category that is certainly growing in terms of attention, but also in terms of competition and folks entering the space? So just being really thoughtful and intentional about how we’re crafting our strategy going forward.

Stephanie:

That’s good. It can be so easy to get distracted and see lots of opportunities everywhere and jump at them and not stay focused of where are my advantages that right now that many don’t have.

Matt:

Yes. Correct.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. What’s up next on your reading list?

Matt:

I just started Empire of Pain, which is about the stuff of the family. I’m from Southwest Ohio, this crisis has plagued that region in the country for decades. I’m literally on page 20 and I’ve been upset, very angry, multiple times. So it’ll be interesting to see how this book goes. Might get thrown a few times, but we’ll see, but good to have few things.

Stephanie:

I need to look this up, I have never heard of this book. Wow, lots of good ratings on Goodreads though. Okay, cool. What is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?

Matt:

I guess when I was thinking about going to college, I was able to have the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school, to play football. And that was a lot of pressure and tough time for my parents, just being able to, how are we going to afford this? And I think that opportunity was never really lost on me. I think it was the first time I’ve ever seen my dad cry. But just knowing what they went through, he never had the opportunity to go to college, and just being reminded of how lucky and fortunate I am, I think at the end of the day, that just opened up so many doors for me and something I’m forever grateful for.

Stephanie:

That’s great. I love that. Well, Matt, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Very glad that Eli brought you our way. So thank you. Where can people find out more about you and Huron?

Matt:

All the Huron handles are just @usehuron across Instagram, Twitter, all the fun stuff. And then @mattmullenax, or if you have any questions, just shoot me a note, matt@usehuon.com. So many people have been so generous with their time and me berating them with questions that I’m a big believer in paying it forward, so don’t hesitate to reach out with anything.

Stephanie:

I love that. Thanks, Matt.

Matt:

Thank you.

Episode 163