Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Fabian

EP063 – Nick Ajluni & Nick Guillen, Co-Founders, TRUFF

Strategic Clarity + Verbal Clarity + Visual Clarity

You must have been on a social media diet to not have stumbled upon TRUFF’s masterfully designed array of truffle-infused sauces. But TRUFF is not solely a social media sensation, you can find the brand anywhere from Whole Foods to Neiman Marcus, and from the U.S. to Australia.

 

The two Co-Founders, Nick Ajluni and Nick Guillen, have a knack for brand building and now that I have tried their products, which of course in true TRUFF fashion they immediately shipped my way after recording the interview, I can attest that this is not just hot marketing; it is one unbelievably addictive, tasty, and unique product.

 

I am thrilled to have had them on the show to share their branding and marketing secrets with you. We had tons of fun during this interview and it is an episode I would want no one to miss out on.

Notes

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Welcome to the show and Nick and Nick.

Nick G:

Thank you so much for having us.

Nick A:

Thanks for having us.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I can say Nick and Nick over and over. It’s like that should have been your brand name, Nick and Nick hot sauce.

Nick G:

It wouldn’t fit on the bottle so we had to make it smaller.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s it. Exactly. So you guys are I mean it’s just an insane story. So you made the 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 list. Adweek just named Truff the best brand born out of social media. Oprah, who’s a big fan I heard, put your hot sauce on her favorite things list, which of course catapulted you into Amazon and you can find Truff in small grocery stores, Wright’s Gourmet stores, you can find it in the large ones, Whole Foods and Irwin’s of this world but also high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus which isn’t your usual kind of place where you look for hot sauces. I would describe your brand, and this is how I like to start it where I tell you who you are, now I would like to describe your brand being kind of one part social media, one part beautiful, affordable luxury design and one ginormous part of gourmet truffle infused sauce.

But what will make our listeners heads explode like it did with mine when I learned more about you guys, is that when I would tell them that you got the Instagram handle @sauce and after that you thought, “Well, now we better start selling sauce.” That was kind of how it got started right? I mean tell us that story a little bit, of how this all came together.

Nick G:

For sure. So back in college, it’s where Nick and I met, we were super immersed in everything that was going on in the social media world. We were both really geeking out on CPG at the time, Nick had a powdered beverage brand and I had a hat company and we were constantly just looking at these averaging brands and products that were blowing up on social media. And I happened to get the handle @sauce organically one day and I hit Nick up and I said, “Hey, let’s do something with this.”

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And that’s it. And that’s the founding story, period. And that’s how CPG brands are started these days.

Nick G:

I guess so.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And I mean, come on. It’s completely nuts because you have an amazing name. I mean I noticed a lot of talk about @sauce, how you got that handle and that’s pretty cool in itself because getting @sauce, even back in the day was not an easy task, I mean that is the kind of handle that every huge company wants to have. But I mean then you came up with the amazing name Truff, which of course is now jumping ahead in your story but I mean Truff would have been an awesome handle too. I mean we’ve got a five-letter name that perfectly describes your product but now you’re stuck with sauce. So now what? Now imagine you would put out a mayonnaise for instance.

Nick A:

Well we have the Truff handle too.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Okay so you have @Truff-

Nick A:

That’s another story. But the name Truff came after the handle @sauce. It wasn’t for a while until we realized we were going to end up making a truffle infused hot sauce and call it Truff. And so sauce very much played but even if we had Truff at the time which we didn’t, we got it a little while after, we would have continued to use the @sauce account because of the virality that that accountant brings us just online and people tagged me in and people “We’re @sauce.” And so that’s something we’ve always kind of engineered to be one of our growth hacks.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And that’s how everything started because you created, you had @sauce and you had absolutely no thought of actually starting a hot sauce or any kind of truffle sauce type of business. It was more it was a really cool Instagram handle that deserved some cool content and you guys were just building content around food and around cars and around all kinds of things that were kind of, that were sauce.

Nick G:

Yeah we kind of looked at this account as just a dope platform for us and we were putting out content that we thought was saucy. And we started to grow this following over a short period of time and some celebrity started following us it was kind of turning into the thing that’s when, “Hey, let’s do something bigger. Let’s actually create a sauce for this platform we’re building.” And that’s when we looked at the hot sauce category, it was a category that was absolutely on fire, it was very relevant in pop culture and we were both big hot sauce people. Hot sauce was cool.

And we saw a lot of opportunity, we didn’t see any top-shelf hot sauce brand that exists on the market, no one was really going premium. There weren’t any brands going direct to consumer, everyone was building their brand in a retail setting and none of these brands really were doing anything crazy on social media. So we kind of saw those three lanes and decided to go all in on all of them.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So at the time where you said, “Okay we’ve got a good amount of followers, let’s actually do something. Let’s actually create a sauce.” how many followers did you have at that time, before you changed to becoming a retail brand?

Nick G:

I don’t remember exactly. I think it was anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000, but it was over the course of just a couple months, it wasn’t many years. It was very quick.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And then I learned that then you actually went dark. I mean you basically said “Okay, we’re going to change this now from being this curated portal to actually becoming a hot sauce brand.” You actually went dark for a while before you slowly started teasing it out. Tell us a little bit about the strategy behind that, because you would think usually it’s, “Well let’s keep everyone entertained until we have the product” But you did the opposite.

Nick A:

I think the thinking was we didn’t want to keep leading people down the path and keep digging ourselves a bigger hole when we knew we were going to essentially pivot into more of a brand-oriented account. So the thinking was we’re not losing followers really, we’re just not growing the account but we’re also not leading people down this path of expecting what-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Competitors.

Nick A:

Yeah and what this account is going to be in having it mature into more of a blog and then one day pulling the plug but I think moreso is also our time was being, I mean to grow the account, I know it sounds like “I’ll just post pictures.” but it was basically a job I mean I was spending maybe six, seven hours a day finding content and curating the account and so our time was then spent on actually building the brand that time. So it was there was only so many hours, and we didn’t really see it as productive.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Makes tons of sense. Absolutely. And you’re the second major, and I call it major but not major CPG breakthrough startup that I heard of that started with an Instagram handle celebrating a category to then slowly taking over that handle with a product. The other one is Yes Way Rosé which is a totally opposite brand. It was all celebrating, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them but they were celebrating Rosé wines and the whole culture around it, which is all pink and all happy and all by the pool. And then they actually learned how to be winemakers and they started creating Yes Way Rosé which now is one of the best selling rosés in the US and it’s pretty amazing and they too, they kind of started with just, just that they went down the line of, “Hey, here are some tote bags with Yes Way Rosé in it.” and all of that but you said “Well, we’re not going to do any merge, we’re actually going straight into a product.”

Now my question is the following, when you take these months to get to know your tribe, which is an amazing competitive advantage to most traditional companies, how did you use that tribe? How did you use, and I mean use in a positive way, how did you use your followers for R&D. I mean I’m sure that at some point it must have come in handy that you suddenly have a ginormous focus group of tens of thousands of people to kind of test product or sentiments with.

Nick G:

So we actually did not tell anyone that we were even building this brand and this product. It came about maybe publicly, five days before the actual launch, when we started to tease it out for the first time. So all this work was going on behind the scenes. None of the followers on the account knew we’re even building a product. Some of our closest friends didn’t even know we were doing, we kept it very tight. And then once we started to tease it out, five days up into the launch we started getting a lot of chatter and then when we launched it just kind of went crazy.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And so at this point when you come out with new products, which you are, do you use your audience? Do you find inspiration from them? Do you ask them questions what they like? Do you get any R&D out of that or basically you go with the same idea where you surprise them and you already know enough about what could or could not work?

Nick A:

I think with new products it’s a big combination of different things. We always listen to the audience and see how they’re using Truff. There’s so many kind of data points just looking at people tagging us or posting this and their stories or things we see online or a VIP group on Facebook. It’s pretty good a way to get a consensus of the vibes that are going on, on the Truff front (.…) And pasta, a lot of families were using Truff. And so it’s kind of we do definitely see what our customers are using and liking and kind of take that into consideration, but that’s just one of many data points.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And it makes so much sense and I always tell founders and CMOs that their focus group is on social media. I mean everyone is there, I mean it’s just data that you could just get right out of there. Who are these people? Who do they follow? Who else did they like? What do they fall into? And you’re so right I mean with you expanding into mayonnaise and pasta sauces. Let’s talk about this for a second because it’s so logical, it’s such a natural step but as long, so this is the interesting thing, as long as whatever you expand into has the name inspiration of Truff, so truffles in it, it’s basically good to go. But having a name like Truff, which I think is awesome. It’s a great choice to quickly have people understand that you’re all about truffles but it also limits your expansion abilities a little bit.

So you’re basically stuck with two things, sauces and truffles, even though mayonnaise is not technically a sauce, it’s a spread but it still works on the @sauce right but what I’m trying to figure out is was that something that you deliberately chose to do, to go with Truff and would you recommend the direction to a startup founder as there are definitely benefits but they’re also shortfalls to that kind of descriptive naming strategy.

Nick A:

I think it depends on the brand you’re trying to build. I mean I wouldn’t say we’re pigeon holed into sauces and truffles. I think we’re definitely a truffle brand and so everything we put out would have a truffle element. I think though you can look at I mean, there’s so many different examples, look at Red Bull, you can say all they are, can be is an energy drink. But energy drinks are very wide and broad and there’s so many points of distribution and so many use cases of an energy drink.

Nick A:

I think a lot of brands try to come out and be all things for all people. You may make 10, 20 products overnight and they have this flavor, that flavor, this version, this, that and it’s I think we’re a little bit more (.…) focused and detailed on doing one thing and doing incredibly well before even thinking about another thing and so if our imaginations limit our brand just because we have to incorporate truffle into the product, not that it’s not an honor to, I mean we want to incorporate truffle, it’s such an incredible experience that that’s the whole premise but I don’t think there’s really any limitation to what we can really create and incorporates truffle.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I always think this is so fascinating because you start with a name and the name signifies one thing and it’s even in the name Truff truffles, and then over time as you build your brand and as you start expanding into other products, which right now you’re not, basically everything is still truffle at its heart, but if you would and seeing the speed that you’re currently going I mean there might be something in the future that in the end you’re going to stand, not for truffles but you’re going to stand for affordable, luxury, high-end ingredients, great customer service, whatever you stand for as a brand but then which already kind of morph the way from well about truffles. So you can actually morph it into something as your brand progresses.

Nick A:

Totally.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So let’s talk about the design. I mean you’re such a design-forward a brand. Has it been like that from day one? Because obviously you’re, if you look at hot sauces, most of them just slap a different label on it and they’re a commodity in my eyes, I mean there’s so many. There are these hot sauce stores where you literally have 60 different hot sauces but then you look at someone like Cholula and they have their wooden top screw cap and it’s really cool. And I just told my wife the other day I’m like, “It’s kind of neat how that’s their brand.” And it’s because it’s rustic and it’s wood. It feels like it was made in Mexico, it has a little bit of the traditional feel and that’s it.

And you have a similar concept with the cap, where the cap is inspired by the truffle roots and it’s got this super cool geometric shape and you’re taking the shape even on the flat tops now for, I don’t know if that’s a term, flat top, that sounds like a shoe but on the flat aluminum tops of your pasta sauces and it still has that geometric kind of design element. When did you introduce this design-forward language? Was it literally from day one and you just said, “You know what, we’re going to spend a good amount of money on getting custom molds and custom dyes and doing the gold foil and all of that good stuff” Or did that come over time?

Nick G:

For us, out of the gate. We wanted to bring something to market that wasn’t necessarily a minimum viable product. We wanted to bring to market something that was ready for the world to see. So for us in looking at the category, we saw a lot of the things that you just mentioned. There was a lot of these great sauce brands that had great product but they didn’t necessarily have packaging that differentiated themselves from their counterparts on the shelf. So for us we wanted to not only have an amazing, great-tasting product and recipe but we also wanted to have a beautiful offering that was packaged in something that hadn’t really been seen before.

So we spent a lot of time before launch developing the branding, the packaging, the engineering of the cap. And even our bottle is custom. If you look at the bottom of Truff bottles it has Truff embossed into the glass.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And so were you funded at that point? Were you funded from the get-go or was it self-funded?

Nick A:

There’s been a few different phases of Truff. I think the first maybe year and a half of Nick and I just kind of tried to turn this into something, it was just me and Nick and credit cards. Then after we decided this is going to be a legit product brand, we got a small little team together and we put a little bit of money in. It was a very small, negligible amount of money compared to what you’ll read about in any other raise ever. But it was all been, we’ve been probably the scrappiest brand new kid emerging in CPG now, and the amount we’ve raised versus how well we’ve been able to grow is kind of wouldn’t believe us, if we told you.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s awesome. And that’s how any brand that starts with an Instagram handle should grow. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Nick A:

I think, I mean we see it all the time. There’s a really common theme of raise, raise, raise, grow, grow, grow, valuation, X, Y, and Z and it’s aid allows you to I mean aid is there’s really no need if there’s a true need or true white space it should grow itself. But when you’re forced to think in a scrappy manner, you do things and you think in ways that money can’t buy. It’s you have to really build something brick by brick, it’s you become resourceful and you think, I would say more creatively and more impactfully and I would encourage you to spend $20 on a book that can open their eyes to ways they should approach your market versus $200,000 on a marketing campaign.-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And you’re obviously hinting at my book here and I really appreciate it.

Nick G:

Exactly what I’m doing.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

You know, marketer in action.

Nick A:

Shameless plug.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

No but I totally agree. Some of the most mesmerizing founders that I have on this show, they all did it that way where they basically they were super resourceful, it was a passion project that turned into something that really didn’t change. It just happens to be a passion project with 100,000 followers and consumers in tow. But that idea that you really, really care and I know that as a brand, you guys are really about authenticity and to me this is so interesting because when I first saw Truff, I’m like, “Wow, it’s an internet brand. I see them everywhere. Oh my god, go away. Again.” And then I’m like, “Well this looks really interesting and this is really cool design.”

And then when we hear your story and we hear often, it is authentic. But it’s just the minute that you’re on Instagram and you’re an ad, you’re already kind of like stamped as, “Well that’s not authentic.” And on that note and I think this is even more mind-blowing in the way that you actually created your brand, you never paid a single influencer? Is that correct or is that wrong?

Nick G:

So when we launched Truff, we were just very resourceful and we had a nice seating list of our existing partners that we had put together for launch. But after that, it was essentially Nick and I in the DMs just hitting people up asking them if they wanted to try our product. And we’ve always been very value first, we’ve never asked anybody of anything. We just wanted to give our product into as many people’s hands as possible and if they liked the product, if they thought it was cool, if they enjoyed it, then they would post on social media. And that’s always kind of been one of our guiding principles when working and developing these relationships with people of influence.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I really like this. So you literally, it’s basically the Costco sampling. Have some free product, if you like it, sure, you’re going to buy it and you’re going to buy it in bulk and you’re going tell your friends about it. It’s just that it’s on social media and you obviously targeted the people that you feel could become part of your tribe and you have some shared viewpoints or values and of course they just happen to come with a boatload of followers. Really, really cool.

I just talked with the founder of Saltverk, which is a really amazing salt brand in Iceland. And it took him quite some time until Noma in Stockholm, which I believe is either number one and number two restaurant in the world, until Noma actually finally approved and started serving his sea salt, but he literally went back every month and he’s like, “Here’s the new variation of the salt. Do you want it now?” And I love these stories and when did your sauce actually start gaining traction and endorsements in the industry? I know legends like chef Ludo are talking and quite frankly promoting your brand but I’m especially interested because there was a time where truffle oil, and I know this might be very different, but truffle oil was very frowned upon by many chefs and there was kind of this preconceived notion of, “Well, truffle oil is not good.” And you, what you guys are doing is completely in the opposite where everyone is just going crazy over it being so gourmet.

Nick A:

So our truffle system is not just truffle and we actually have a real black winter truffle in every bottle and that’s something-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Big difference.

Nick A:

Absolutely and even if you do look at our truffle essence, it’s actually made from real black truffle components and we understood the kind of gray area in the truffle space and we kind of learned a lot about it as we developed the product and first and foremost, we were not willing to not be as high quality, authentic as possible. So we put that first and the lengths we go to ensure quality is pretty incredible and so I think one of the reasons that we are able to not get looked down on or whatnot from these big names is because of that. And the other thing is if you just taste the product, it’s pretty good. It’s pretty incredible.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So I heard-

Nick A:

And so it’s not just an Instagram brand, I mean by any means-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Usually I prep for this and I would have been having tons of Truff sauce but I just somehow totally spaced out because I was so busy and I never got to it but I will, right after this, I will definitely do it because I read so much about you guys now and everyone who tries it is just like this is unbelievable. (.…)

Nick G:

Absolutely.

Nick A:

I mean if you don’t have the good, it’s kind of like Conor McGregor in his early fighting days. It’s like he was a lot of talk but he was sweeping people in five seconds. And so we’ve always kind of looked at that as a metaphor to we can’t just have great marketing, we need to have absolutely insane products. And so we spend the vast majority of our time on that.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s great. Absolutely. And another thing that I wanted to talk about is your loyalty rewards. Obviously they’re usually important to most B2C brands, at least a lot of them are doing it really right, but just looking at it on this side, I mean you took it up a notch by giving points for following you on social, for writing a review or just simply for having a birthday. It looks a lot like an airline, if we remember airlines, like in the airline rewards program where you compare the perks and the status levels and it goes from silver to platinum, what did you learn from starting that rewards experience? I also believe I heard you say earlier on on the show that you talked about your VIP group in Facebook, which might be linked to this or maybe not but do you have any tips for brands on the importance of of starting loyalty programs?

Nick G:

So in regards to loyalty and when you’re looking at brand, I think for me brand means the relationship that a company has with their customer. And a lot of brands, I feel either do a really good job at making sure they’ve continued to build this community and nurture all their customers and make sure they’re continuing to add value or they just kind of don’t really look at that as something that’s an important driver for their business. And for us we’re always trying to find new ways of adding value to our customer and people that continue to come back and are loyal to the brand, we want to make sure that we’re providing some value back to them.

So that’s this loyalty program that essentially we put together that rewards customers for repeat purchases and also puts them on various tiers and gives them the opportunity to refer their friends for points that they could then redeem for product.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Makes all the sense in the world to me. When you look back, even though you had a ‘competitive advantage’ when you launched your first product because you had an audience, which is already amazing, but looking back when was that moment when the two of you sat together and you just stared at each other and you’re like, “Holy smokes, we’re actually moving from a startup to a real brand. This is the moment where we having our big breakthrough.” And I mean, looking through your bio online of where you guys have been and what you accomplished in those few years, there are many of them but what was it for the two of you where you just sit together and you’re like, “Wow, I think this is it. We’re brand now.”

Nick A:

I think there’s been a few different pegs along the ladder I mean I think the first big kind of wow moment was, I think the Oprah list and there were a bunch of them, it’s all relative. So the first one, it might be someone cool posting, which now probably happens 20 times a day but back then it was like oh my God. And so you kind of get used to that side and then I think the Oprah list is pretty incredible and then Good Morning America and The View were pretty crazy.

And then it just kind of catapults and snowballs and you just kind of, I think now as we grow our team, we have an HR department and things like that, that’s kind of a big moment in seeing that we’re a pretty legit and big company. But I would say it’s all relative because what something that seems crazy in your naivete mind becomes a little bit more normal as things go on, as time goes on.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

That’s awesome. And on the flip side usually, not everyone wants to talk about this but it’s not all roses. I mean there’s also fails and especially with CPG brands, boy so much can go wrong. We’re talking about foods, we’re talking about containers, we’re talking about shipping, we’re talking about how does something actually work in the users hand, all of that stuff, was there some brand fail where figured you know what, oops, someone can learn from this. We just kind of screwed this one up. Was there anything like that where you feel like other founders listening can learn from it? Or was perfection through and through?

Nick G:

We’re still failing to this day.

Nick A:

I don’t think yet since we launched without fires everywhere. It doesn’t exist, that doesn’t exist. It’s a fairy tale.

Nick G:

We actually threw away or we discarded our very first run of product because it wasn’t right. We didn’t, I guess, take into consideration all the sampling we were doing on a small scale and how that would translate into a larger scale run. So the finished product wasn’t the actual product we thought it would be and we all just kind of looked at each other like wow, all right.

Nick A:

We missed.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

How big was that batch? I mean what kind of, because the first round could be fairly small. In comparison to now I’m sure it’s tiny but-

Nick A:

It wasn’t a truckload but it was a decent amount of product.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

All right. Wow.

Nick A:

It was, but I mean the barriers entry never gets but steep. I mean every single day, every single thing we do, there’s a whole host of hurdles we have to jump through. I mean, it’s standard (.…) It’s just how it is, I mean the world landscape changes. I mean think about all the businesses that were relying on the Suez Canal last month and lost a couple of weeks, are behind, their supply chain is in different routes and factories I mean the snowball is just insane. And it travels worldwide.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And that was actually a story that really caught most people off guard because they don’t even know. I mean, we all don’t no. It’s there’s this tiny little area and if anything happens we’re all so co-dependent on it. I live in Long Beach here, which I know you’re from-

Nick A:

I used to live Long Beach. I used to live right on Ocean and I would look at the port that you’re probably going to talk about and I’d see one or two boats. And now there’s 100 or 200 boats.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

You just told my story. This is not fun.

Nick A:

I know.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Now I’m going to have to tell your guys’ story.

Nick A:

I apologize. We probably live in the same building.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah exactly. Well our office actually used to look over all of that and it is crazy. I mean you see these, I don’t know, 40,50 boats and it’s, and why they are there and how everything is interlinked then I think running a product company, that’s when you really start opening your eyes to all of that, of how politics and economics and society and God pandemics and how everything works together and one ship that just seems to go sideways can completely ruin the entire economy for a couple days. Nuts, I mean this day and age. It’s just completely nuts.

All right let’s, obviously you guys have, you were always interested in branding. It was always part of what you did, you both did your own gigs prior to starting Truff and now, I mean branding for Truff was, I would say it’s one of the key ingredients of the sauce. I think that you can fight me because the ingredients are amazing that are in the sauce and like you said, this is first and foremost but I do believe that the brand itself is just so recognizable and you spent so much time and TLC to make it what it is today. What does branding mean to you now versus four years ago, five years ago, where branding might have been the logo but what does it mean to you now?

Nick G:

To me branding is the relationship that company has to the customer and the emotional connection and making sure that isn’t something that never takes the backseat. Branding on the design side obviously you want to make sure that the product that you’re creating, the story that you’re telling is very easily communicated to the customer. And Nick and I, we wanted to essentially reverse-engineer the design and the brand and the visual for social media.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Love that. Nick number two, any thoughts?

Nick A:

There I mean you could probably have 100 different conversations on what a brand is and what a brand means-

Fabian Geyrhalter:

It’s exactly what I do actually.

Nick A:

Exactly. And I think it’s ever evolving, I mean on the surface I’d like to think of a brand that’s like a vibe. If you were to go to a strip, I mean if you’re going to move to Fullerton and if you go downtown Fullerton you’ll bar-hopping. I know you’re not going to do that when you move to Fullerton but I’m just saying but you’ll go to each different bar and each bar will have its own vibe. Different types of people, different types of energy, different drinks, different aesthetic, it’s like you can kind of count on that vibe at that place and it’s like with a brand and a lot of times, you can kind of count on a certain vibe and how they do things and what they stand for and how they present themselves to the world and the voice that they use and all these different things and it’s, I would say a lot of times it’s an extension of the people building the brand.

Nick A:

I think Truff is very much so the child of our team and everyone involved with it and all of how we are and we communicate in ways that we want to, based on our world outlook and how we want to present ourselves to the world and so I think that the landscapes can decide how a brand should be. I think about how often the new Tiktoks, the new app and the way to build your brand on Tiktok would be widely different than if you’re going to build it on MySpace and so in that sense, you’re probably going to, that brand is going to be different. And so I think brand is the people behind it but it’s also the landscape that they’re playing in. And so I think marrying the two is really, really important.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I so agree with that and you said something really important. You said it’s the vibe and I think that can be downplayed too often but it’s so important. A couple of years ago I drove by a surf store in Venice Beach and the surf store was broken into, so you could see that the front door was a glass door, that it had wood over it and they spray-painted on the wood they said, “You can’t steal our vibe.” And I just think it’s so awesome because I mean you can take our boards, it’s okay. That’s not the soul and that’s not the vibe of who we are.

And it’s so much bigger than that. And so I really think that’s important. It is a vibe and I do agree that a lot of it comes from the founders in some of the most authentic companies that I see around. Talking about authentic companies, and everything that you just said is taking that idea of brand and really thinking about what is that true north? What is that DNA? What is that if you would, and I love working with my clients on this, is taking everything, your culture, your product, your marketing, taking everything through a funnel and out basically comes one word or two words that are all encompassing the telling the story about the brand.

And to put this in perspective, looking back at some other awesome consumer packaged goods brands that I had on Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream for instance, she said that her brand in one word is flavor. Which is so simple but then you think about it. Well it signifies character. It’s got flavor. And so it was actually pretty deep and then Mike from from Liquid Death, he said that his was mischief, which I thought was super interesting too. When you take the Truff brand and you distill it down, what could it be? What could one or two words be?

Nick A:

That a really good question. I think we met Mike a couple times a great deal. I think that’s the perfect word for their brand. With Truff, I mean I had to think about that. I don’t know if you have a word off the top of your head Nick?

Nick G:

I mean people and quality are two that I think really stand out. Building emerging brand in a traditional space, we’ve had to really focus on quality but also people. And we’ve gotten very deep on both I would say. Developing relationships organically and authentically with our customers in the hot sauce phase, it’s a lot different than how these brands were built in the past. And in doing that, we have to back that relationship up with an amazing quality product. And it’s not even just product too, it’s all the content that we’re putting out. Just everything.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And would even… Go ahead Nick A.

Nick A:

No go ahead.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well I mean I would even add the idea of taste to it. Because I think in a way there’s this luxurious part of having your product on the kitchen table. It feels elevated and so it kind of makes me feel like if I put that on my table, I’ve got taste. And then on the other hand everything is about taste because even understanding the world of truffle, it recommends, I mean it deserves some kind of person that has some sort of taste, and of course it’s all about taste with food but sorry, Nick A I know you wanted to say something, especially to what I just said I’m sure.

Nick A:

I think the natural place to look is taste like with Jeni’s and flavor and I think as being food product that you want to highlight taste and the experience of the flavor but I think that’s a little bit more on the surface for us. One of the things that we’ve done every step of the way is basically break every rule. That’s everything from mixing spice and truffle to making custom packaging to using Instagram account to do your primary source of marketing. I mean we’ve really done nothing that a previous CPG brand has done, at least in this kind of era and every step it’s been a rule breaker. I can’t do that, you shouldn’t do that, I always do it this way, and basically what we stand for is kind of ignoring the consensus and thinking in our own way. If you can boil that down to one word, I’m sure there’s words that describe that but I think what we do best is responsibly break the rules and doing in a way that it actually come out on the other side with the new rule.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I love that. I love the responsibly breaking rules. I think that’s really great. Very good. Do you have any thoughts for startup founders that are just starting out. Doesn’t need to be in the CPG space, could be in any space, and they basically say branding isn’t important or I’m not going to focus on that, I’m going to focus on features first and I’m going to maybe kind of put it on the side, is there any brand advice from your end where you say, “Hey, here are a couple of things that I would definitely make sure to get right right off the gate”?

Nick A:

I think it’s a very broad question because if we’re talking CPG specifically we can get a little more detail but there are a lot of businesses where they focus on features. I think Evernote is one of them where they spent zero on… Didn’t you have Evernote on?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Yeah.

Nick A:

Didn’t they spend zero on marketing and everything into product?

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well in the brand, in the actual icon to them was so important. So for them the visual icon became featured in the App Store because it was, well at least that’s what they think, is that it was really iconic and that kind of… But I agree otherwise.

Nick A:

And so it’s, I think it’s all based on what industry you’re in, what space you are going after. I’d say in CPG specifically, if you walk right the Fancy Food Show or Expo West and you look at all the booths and all the brands, I think a lot of times you’ll notice that there wasn’t really, or at least it seems like, a ton of thought put into what was created. Whether it’s someone wanting to sell their cookies that are just like every other cookie or someone making whatever, a chocolate that’s their own chocolate and they just put it in the regular package. There’s really nothing unique about it and they just want people to buy it.

I think a lot of times there wasn’t too much kind of thought put in where it’s how can we differentiate? Is there a need for my chocolate or cookies? Is what is being done in this category that is not so impressive? I think really thinking through, Nick and I would say sharpening the axe before you go to cut the tree. We spent years sharpening the axe, maybe five or six years before we launched this brand and so it’s really taking a step back and in common culture it’s move fast, minimum viable product, put it out, raise money, go, go, go go.

I think a lot of times you only have one real shot to break through and for us, we’re more on the patient, reserved and yes, it’s a higher risk because you might not hit it off right out the gate but I think a lot of times a lot of these problems can be solved just with analyzing things and taking a step back and really thinking through what it is that you’re doing.

The second thing I would say is stop raising so much money. Stop raising. I don’t know if you add to that Nick.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Raising with an R-A-I and in R-A-C. Both because it’s kind of one goes with the other.

Nick A:

It’s crazy. It’s crazy what people, how they approach brand building in terms of how much money can we raise. It’s crazy.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

And Nick G did you want to add anything?

Nick G:

No, that was well said.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well, and I mean also thinking about how you guys got started with @sauce, you had to find a huge differentiator and you had to not be 1 of 5000. So I think that going through that entire exercise, you really learned how to differentiate on every single level, which must have been amazing for everything else that you do in the future with the brand.

Nick G:

Totally.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

So talking about the future of the brand as we slowly wrap this up, what’s next for the brand? What are you excited about that you can actually share with us because most of it you most probably can but what are you really excited about in the next, let’s say six months?

Nick G:

I’m excited about continuing to build out these new categories that we’ve gotten into. Mayo and Pasta really exciting, as well as getting our hot sauce into more people’s hands.

Nick A:

I think we’re at a phase where we’re kind of, with Mayo and Pasta, these are skew that can be in probably a wider, a lot more just distribution based on the category and the price points. So really going a little bit wider with couple of our skews and then we’re building out our team pretty heavily right now. We have some insanely amazing people like Michelle who we’ve been in contact with that have been helping us steer this ship and do a lot of things that we just simply don’t have the skill set or resource to do ourselves and building out our team has been a blast and it’s been we’re learning so much from everyone. And kind of we talked about before, it’s continuing to turn into a big company. It’s very exciting and there’s always a Rubik’s cube in front of you and it’s something that we enjoy and we feed off kind of the energy of it and the challenge of it.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Well we’re all excited to see the brands grow and we’re going to start seeing the brand not only everywhere online but also in a lot of places offline. I think by now how many stores are you in?

Nick A:

We’re in about a little under 10,000 I think. I don’t have the exact number and depends on the skew and whatnot but I’d say between 7000 and 10,000. It’s growing pretty rapidly.

And it’s all U.S. only at this point?

Nick A:

No. We’re relatively international. We have a presence in Australia and New Zealand pretty well. We have a presence in South Korea, the Middle East, Canada and some places in Europe. It’s been very cool to see… We’re also making our way pretty heavily into the UAE, in Dubai right now. I wouldn’t say international is a major focus and we’re not trying to build a global brand overnight but when very cool opportunities arise with individuals that are able to take on a challenge of bringing Truff to their country, our team in Australia has worked really hard and has done a great job of moving quick. Same with our team in Kuwait and Korea and whatnot. So it’s been pretty interesting to watch those markets develop.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

Amazing and so usually I ask my guests where they can find the brand online but with you it’s pretty easy. So on Instagram it’s @sauce and everywhere else I guess it’s Truff. It’s Truff.com and that’s most probably where they can find all the products and where they can actually locate them.

Nick A:

Check your pantries, they might already be in there.

Nick G:

Hopefully.

Fabian Geyrhalter:

I love that. That’s the mic drop moment. And with that we’ve finished the show. Thank you guys, this was awesome. Really appreciate your time and sharing your insights with my tribe.

Nick G:

Thank you so much for having us.

Nick A:

This was a fun interview.


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