How to scale a food subscription service from one person on a bike to deliveries in every state

How to scale a food subscription service from one person on a bike to deliveries in every state

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Andrew Warner:   Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneur about how they built their businesses. And I’m, I’m kinda surprised that today’s guest is here, I don’t mean because of what’s going on in your personal life. But thank you for that.

But, Nicole, Centeno who’s voice you just heard on Mike is the founder of splendid spoon. It’s a subscription meal plan service and. I fascinated by subscription meal plan services. My wife and I have tried a bunch of them. I thought as a business, it was going to change the way everyone eats. And then it turned out  If you read what, , many people are writing about it, it feels like it was written off completely. And here she is. Those still standings, splendid spoon. Is offering healthy food to busy people. And I wonder to find out how she’s doing it, how she’s making this work, and we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors.

If you listened to me, you know that if you’re hosting a website, you should go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And if you need to hire developers, go to top talent.com/mixergy, but I’ll talk those up later. First, Nicole. Welcome.

Nicole Centero: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Andrew Warner: I don’t think you’re going to tell us what your revenue is. Right. , , but that’s usually my first question and I don’t want you to feel like you have to, but , can you give us a sense of how you guys are doing.

Nicole Centero: let’s see. Well, we are in the midst of a a hundred percent growth a year and are now seventh year of business. I can give you kind of some of those comparative metrics and we’re serving, , every single state in the U S. We have over 12,000 subscribers on a monthly basis. I think , listeners out there who are decent with back of the envelope, math can kind of figure it out, , around $9 a meal and,

Andrew Warner: 12,000 subscribers who are paying minim so $45 a month, right?

Nicole Centero: Yes. , 55.

Andrew Warner: 55 is the, is the price right now. Okay. So we’re looking at over half a million a month in revenue.

Nicole Centero: Yeah, well over half a million a month. Definitely.

Andrew Warner: Okay, great. so, what’s a typical meal. What are people buying?

Nicole Centero: I mean, we focus on helping people too, to figure out plant based eating habits and whether you’re kind of just dipping your toe in the water, or you’re already vegetarian or vegan, and you’re just looking for great tasting meals with super clean ingredients. We. Serve the full gamut there. so, and all of our meals are really satisfying, great ingredients.

so, keep you full. So it’s anything from an AB and J smoothie in the morning to a green matcha smoothie, , which could be your afternoon. Pick me up. Two, I have the carrot lentil Curry for my lunch, and my husband will probably have the Allah Gobi, which is a t soeric infused, confused, wobble with roasted potatoes and carrots and peppers.

So it’s a whole lot of different kinds of food that, you know, one of the more common pieces of feedback that we get as well. I’m surprised that. I like vegetables as much, or I’m surprised that plant based food can actually keep me full, which we’re super happy to be. That that surprise there.

Andrew Warner: So what I, I’ve never heard of the phrase plant-based before a few months ago, what it means is for most people means largely vegetarian, but with a few occasional meat meals without feeling guilty about having that. Right.  .

Nicole Centero: So when we say plant-based, we mean that all the ingredients are truly coming from plants. So no dairy, no eggs, no meat, no fish. truly just from plants. The other term that’s often used is vegan. We choose to use the word plant-based  because. It’s about incorporating more plants into your diet, not about having a philosophy on how to live.

So vegan often connotes that maybe you won’t wear leather or that, you’re  Very focused on, not using animals for food or any other purpose. whereas plant-based, I think really has a slightly more, flexible, so, terminology.

Andrew Warner: a way of saying I want to eat vegetarian, but I don’t want to feel guilty about all the little things in my life, including the time that I have a burger or steak or have a business meeting. Can to eat something that I don’t believe recognize.

Nicole Centero: Yeah, or that’s, I mean, the term flexitarian has gotten very popular, so that’s, that’s another term that we hear a lot where it’s, it’s kind of like, yeah. My intention is to eat more vegetarian, more plant-based

Andrew Warner: I do see that happening more.

Nicole Centero: if I want to have wings, I’m going to have wings.

Andrew Warner: Right. What I’m finding is that a lot, for a lot of people, it’s about having an environmental impact. That’s a lower impact than if they were eating meat. And truthfully , I don’t care about the environment.

I care about my health. I do better when I’m, plant-based, I’ve run faster, have more energy. so,   and I like the term, , plant based because it makes me feel a little bit less judgy and a little less judged. Let’s go back to what I said earlier at the top. I was surprised you are, what are you going through right now?

I feel like I shouldn’t be revealing this unless you feel comfortable revealing it yourself on a personal level.

Nicole Centero: Yeah, no, I am 39 weeks pregnant. so yeah, I’m sitting at home, , not because of any sort of quarantine or work from home mandate from lemon spoon, but because,  , Dateline to kids. So I like to end my day at home and happily work, ,  , in an environment where we can be remote if we need to be.

Andrew Warner: And this whole thing started partially from what I understand, because you were pregnant and you started to say, well, what’s in the food that I’m eating. Am I right?

Nicole Centero: Yeah, absolutely. That was a big inflection point for me.

Andrew Warner: What did you start to notice as you were doing that?

Nicole Centero: Well, I think the biggest reason for me starting splendid spoon and trying to be more, plant-based trying to get closer to kind of like an 80, 20 lifestyle of,  , eating more plant based versus maybe indulging. Was that moment when I became pregnant with my first son and put more of a magnifying glass on how I was taking care of myself, or maybe not taking care of myself and the irony of the numnber of croissants in granola bars, I was calling meals and my background in nutrition and biology, and also having gone to culinary school and

Andrew Warner: I think I had this vision of you as working for magazines in the marketing department, right? You a marketing manager. , at wired magazine, , client services manager at Conde Nast. I had this vision of you worked at the new Yorker. Wow. so, I had this vision of you as someone who did that and then got pregnant and said, what am I eating?

And then went to culinary school. No, this interest in food, superseded the pregnancy, it’s the pregnancy that said, well, how did I, somebody who knows better get to a place where I am, , eating these things that I shouldn’t be eating, that I don’t want to eat. That I shouldn’t, that I wouldn’t choose. Is that right?

Nicole Centero: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.  we’re all. Really, so, very powerless to our h soan biases at the end of the day. And I think that’s a lot of the place of empathy that I come from with splendid spoon and with being faced with my own challenges, to keep myself , healthy in spite of a busy lifestyle, , our biology says, you know, eat.

What you can, that is calorically dense, , as soon as it’s available because we’re Hunter gatherers by nature. And that was a good amount of what I studied when I was in college. And, and yeah, I think that’s been a part of. My own passion and drive for a very, very long time. And as I, I studied that in college, it became very clear to me that wow, what you eat really does play a big difference in how your body works and even your emotional state.

Andrew Warner: So I, I get that when you are about to have a baby, when we have these big life changes, we reevaluate things that we otherwise would take for granted. How did that lead you then to starting splendid spoon? What’s the first step that you did based on this new realization.

Nicole Centero: first step was really  figuring out, , what was the product going to be? What was it that was genuinely going to help me in my busy life to achieve this so-called elusive balance.

And so the kind of start where you are philosophy of let’s start small and see if I can repeat something small. That’s really nourishing and great for me every day. , that will add up to a real habit that will add up to long lasting.

Andrew Warner: How did you know, would be soup and drinks?

Nicole Centero: so, I started with soup because it was a complete meal. so, . And, you know, just to scale to lots of people, you need a product that is equally scalable.

And so with those boundaries, you can really start to, , whittle away the potential solutions. And coming up with various soup recipes was. Part of kind of the secret sauce in the beginning, it was, this is a product food inherently has to be delicious and it has to have variety. , and for it to be scalable, there has to be controlled shelf life in some capacity and soup was checking all of those boxes.

Andrew Warner: So you, you created the recipe by yourself at home. You took it yes. To sell to who, who was the first customer.

Nicole Centero: , the first customers were just folks that I worked with. So at Conde Nast, , I had gotten some press. And so it was people in Brooklyn and New York who wanted healthier lunches. And it was literally just making batches of soup. Actually, I started in a piece of kitchen that I just rented in the off hours.

And as the customers grew primarily through word of mouth and through some, some local press that I was lucky enough to receive, I scaled into an incubator kitchen, so, and it was still very small at that point.

Andrew Warner: so, so you were making it and you were driving into their homes

Nicole Centero: Yeah, , I was miking it to their homes. I had a hiking backpack and I would make the soup and put it into little refrigerated containers and stack them all into a hiking backpack and have a Google doc and, , just peddle away. And when the path got too heavy for me, I hired someone else to do it.

And. , as that business grew, I started to gain the confidence to pitch to wholesale accounts as well.

Andrew Warner: Did you feel like this was, this is weird, but you’re a new Yorker. So maybe you’ll understand. Did you feel like you were too good to go drive this over to somebody’s house? This is messenger for service work. You’re a person who’s an executive at a major company.

Nicole Centero: No,

I really didn’t ever feel like I was too good, or like, shouldn’t be doing any of the roles in the business. I really felt like, , this is the task that I need to perform today. And I felt a lot of satisfaction in learning from the customers. So that. Experience of seeing where they live and getting to know them or understanding which flavors they like, you know, that kind of personal experience that food brings about.

And people was always really motivating to me and, and just enjoyable, even though it meant, you know, being hot and sweaty on a bike and, , spending lots of time in a kitchen and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that comes with it.

Andrew Warner: Yeah, New York does not. And definitely not back then have good bike lanes. Okay. Then you moved into an incubator kitchen. You were still making soups.

Nicole Centero: Yeah. At the time we were still making soups. We moved into an incubator kitchen.   At that time, I was able to start hiring out some temporary. team who would help me with the recipes. And at that time I was also realizing just how bad I was at being in the kitchen in spite of going to culinary school.

You know, I liked the experimental part of cooking and the recipe development, but doing the same recipe at higher batch quantities was not exciting for me. And I would inevitably kind of muck things up as I tried to make flavors more exciting or enhanced them. And that is really not the name of the game when it comes to.

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, scaling food for large vol soes of people. They want the same product over and over, and they want to be able to rely on it.

Andrew Warner: What’s one change that you made to the food to your soup specifically because you went to somebody’s house, you talked to them and you realized this needs to be different than you imagined.

Nicole Centero: I mean, to be honest, we still kind of employ that splendid spoon. I mean, it’s just a different level and. , you know, like today I got feedback from someone that the broccoli and their Moroccan bowl was not vibrant. Great. And we literally, that went right up the chain to our kitchen and we said, you know, this is she’s right.

It’s supposed to be vibrant and green and Chris and, , the next batch needs to look like that. And we’ve, I’ve always looked at it back as a way to. Signal things that can be better. so, you know, short of, kind of changing the entire profile on the dish. I take all of the feedback pretty seriously, even to the extent that it is often where we start, when we come up with new flavors.

Andrew Warner: How did you end up with fresh direct as a customer?

Nicole Centero: , I was speaking on a panel. At the Brooklyn brewery and had little tasting cups and soups for folks to taste after the panel. And a couple of people from FreshDirect were there and came over and they happened to also have their warehouse right across the street from the incubator kitchen.

So I made sure to tell them that I had a bunch of flavors for them to try and I could bring them by in the morning. And I walked right over in the morning and, so, had. Made my own batches in my own home kitchen. So the kids didn’t perfect and, so, brought over a bunch of flavors for them to try. And they pretty much were like, yeah, these are really unique.

, we don’t have our own vegan or plant-based flavors at the time. And, , you’re an interesting story and using great ingredients. So let’s give it a shot and that the rest is history.

Andrew Warner: Fresh direct is a online grocer. I remember them as like the original company to survive. And so they were buying your soups and making them available to people who wanted to order them and have them delivered to their homes.

And so what did you have to change in order to satisfy their customers or their process?

Nicole Centero: the process element was the biggest learning experience for me, because of all that time that I had spent getting to know my customers, I really understood the nutrition profile. I’m a flavor profile and, so, the type of marketing that that customer needed, but in terms of.

Labeling in terms of pricing strategy, in terms of understanding order management and inventory management, to meet a purchase order, all of that really had to be learned. And we decided that we would take about a month to kind of figure that out. so, and the first order came, , just around the time that Grover was born.

So that was, that was in. May June, 2013,

Andrew Warner: Grover is your second child.

Your first. Oh, wow.

. So this was really fast. from point of, I see a difference in the world that I need to now I’m at fresh direct. Wow. Wee. And I see, by the way, you’re still a fresh, direct I’m on their website right now. And I can see that there’s

Nicole Centero: Yeah. China, potato and a lentil doll.

Andrew Warner: at the stew red lentil doll, beans and greens, Wow. so, Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor. And then I want to come back in and ask you really from a practical point of view as a new mother. so, it’s kinda weird, but I happened to know that you’re nursing.

And so there’s all these issues that go into, so, taking care of a business, but also taking care of a baby. You know, I never leave negative reviews. There are few times in my life that I did when my wife was breastfeeding and the place that she would go to would not have a spot for her. It was more of the. Can you go in the broom closet? Can you just go to con that’s when I would go online and just get angry? Cause she’s not gonna say anything.

I’m gonna alright. Sponsor is a company called HostGator. I I’ve got to tell you that I started Nicole Mixergy in one of the worst economic downturns ever, maybe not ever, but it was, it was 2008 when things were really terrible.

And when things are really terrible, that’s when people are willing to change the way that they’re doing things, that’s when people had jobs and were saying, Hey, you know what? Maybe entrepreneurship makes sense. And because they were going through this period of exploring new opportunities, new ideas, trying new things, and they were open to Mixergy a place where I was interviewing entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.

And they were willing to entertain the idea that maybe they could be preneurs too. And that’s why Mixergy took off. We are now going through not an equal economic situation to one that was going on in 2008, but. A world where things are changing. And if you’re in a place where you are, I want to explore something new, create something new, don’t see this as a time, tough time to do that.

See it as an opportunity to do it. Just like you’re willing to change their audiences and customers out there are willing to change. And so bring it all home here and saying. Bring those ideas, bring that creativity, bring that new you for new customers over to HostGator. If you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, they’ll make it super cheap, really inexpensive and fast for you to create your new website and start bringing new ideas into the world.

hostgator.com/mixergy. I love that they have an option to create unlimited and host unlimited domains because that’s where you get. A lot of creativity, they will also give you a hundred dollar ad credit. They’ll give you lots of things. Unlimited email addresses on meter bandwidth on this and that tons of stuff.

Go look at the features, but understand this, hit that button and get started because it’ll change your world and your audience’s world. That’s what happened to me when I started Mixergy hostgator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy. Did you have any, any situations? Like what I described that my wife went through.

Nicole Centero: so, yes, but different. , I was with my infant son. , or he was with me, I shouldn’t say he was my partner in crime, as I tried to scale the business to meet the demands of fresh direct. so, so with that first wholesale account,  I decided to really focus on finding a co-packer, which was very important inflection point for me and Grover came along, so, I actually consider myself pretty fortunate. Cause I’ve heard a lot of stories similar to your wife’s story and being that I was my own boss, I just took my son with me and I took my mom with me and I would breastfeed in the car and then go into a meeting at the co-packer or breastfeeding the car and then go into the incubator kitchen and check on a batch.

That was just how I got things done. Prioritizing

Andrew Warner: And your mom was in the car at times. Just kind of waiting for you to be done with your meeting.

Nicole Centero: Oh, yeah. I mean, she’s total hero status for all that she did.

Andrew Warner: How did you feel about you starting a new company at this point in your life?

Nicole Centero: She was super proud of me. I am, you know, I grew up in an environment where my parents said, after you graduate from college, you’re on your own and you really better find something that you care a lot about because, , we don’t, we don’t come from money and are not going to be able to support you. So you’re going to need to work.

so, You know, it’s a lot of time that we spend at our jobs. , females will do something that you really enjoy,

and definitely encouraged to stay curious and encouraged to consider that you’re always learning and that. You know, you’re always evolving. And if you find something, you know, one of the things my mom always talks about with how she had worked in a pickle factory at one point, and she was like, and I knew when I was putting those tops on the pickles jars that I did not ever want to work in a pickle factory.

And it’s just as valuable to know what you don’t want to do as it is to do the things that you really love. And there’s something that you can learn from every experience. I really took that mentality with me where if I’m , curious about something, j sop in like the worst case scenario is that you learn, you don’t want to do it.

And, , you learn something else in the process.

Andrew Warner: So that’s why your mom was willing to sit in the car while you would go into these meetings and encourage you to keep on going, even though you had a brand new baby, is it too personal to ask you about your husband at the time? How did he feel about all that you were doing with his child?

Nicole Centero: when I was doing kind of all the experiments while I was still at Conde Nast catering and teaching, cooking classes and doing all this side hustle, he had been doing a lot of that with me and, and, you know, trying to do the side hustle with me and had had a really hard time with it.

And so I think in a way he felt like. I was cut out for it and maybe he wasn’t and it was cool for me to continue pursuing it. I do also think it created a lot of stress   because when I found that I really wanted to have a career in food, when I realized just how much I loved the exploration of being an entrepreneur and the problem solving and the building, I became obsessed with it. I mean, it really was. My first child in many ways, and you will fax anything for your children and you will sacrifice your own health, your savings, your, you know, a lot of logic starts to kind of evaporate, so, for many entrepreneurs.

And that was definitely my experience with. Starting splendid spoon, which, , it wasn’t his passion. Yeah. And it was hard for him to experience that

Andrew Warner: Because you can disconnecting more from everything, including him to go do this, to think about this business, to be splendid spoon.

Nicole Centero: Yeah, I think it, it was hard for him to relate to because he didn’t have anything like that, that he was super excited or passionate about. so, outside of, , You know, relationships with friends, I think, and for me, it was even more than that. It was like, this is something that gives me real purpose. It gives me a real meaning that gives me real flow and direction in my everyday experience.

And that seems super unique and super special and I’m gonna feed it. And, , it does mean saying no to things like social activities that maybe we had previously been. Fine with, it was like nothing really, really, so, satisfied me the same way that my business did at that point.

Andrew Warner: Yeah, I feel like it’s a gift to be in that zone. And most people would dream of having something that they’re that passionate about and understand that it’s just not going to happen. so, How did you end up then with the smoothies that I saw on your site?

Nicole Centero: Yeah. So we had so many customers who were asking for more than just soup. so, you know, I think that once they found, they trusted us for Hardy stews and chilies and purees, they wanted to have more. And we surveyed our customers and about half of them said they wanted breakfast. And about half of them said they wanted dinner.

And just like in the early days we looked at what was possible, what was scalable and which boundaries would help create a better chances for success for us. And we chose breakfast. There seems to be fewer options for clean, healthy breakfast. And it seemed like a great opportunity again, to help people with habits.

. So these smoothies we launched.

Andrew Warner: was a meal in a bottle is I think the way that you promoted it, you built your website or someone else data.

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Nicole Centero: ,  that was one of the other big tasks that we outsourced, and chose to use experts instead of hiring them internally

Andrew Warner: somebody else build the site. And then a co-packing is the other thing that you mentioned, somebody else would take what you created in the kitchen and put it into the bottles and make sure that got it. That it looked great. So how big did the business get because of fresh, direct.

Nicole Centero: So we were like a couple hundred thousand dollars a year with just fresh direct in the early days, which was

Andrew Warner: A couple of hundred thousand dollars  is the profit in that

Nicole Centero: we were  around break even, I would say because of that model that I had, so, of really outsourcing as much as possible. But, so, in order to grow, I did raise friends and family and angel capital.

So I don’t share how much we have raised, so, but significantly less than our peers. and that’s something that we’re really proud of. I think we’ve done that because of this focus on really staying tight to the core competencies that bring value to splendid spoon and outsourcing a lot of the operational elements to experts.

Andrew Warner: So I was trying to figure out then how you got more customers. What did you do? So you’ve got fresh direct. I imagine you tried to get other grocers to carry you. Did that work out?

Nicole Centero: it didn’t. Yeah, it didn’t. And you know, I think, , like a had mentioned earlier, a lot of what I loved about building splendid spoon was that relationship with the customer. And I was losing that with. , grocery accounts and I was not making any traction with grocery accounts. So as I started to build out my team and, so, found a great founding partner to really focus on the website and marketing, we made the decision together that we were going to pivot the business into direct to cons soer.

And that was a really powerful step that we made.

Andrew Warner: And so how did you end up getting customers to come to your site to subscribe,

Nicole Centero: it started out with just a few experimental dollars on Facebook was, was a big part of it. And then it was definitely supported by some good storytelling that we had on the press side and, , with our content strategy. And it started to create the beginnings of a real platform that people would trust for healthier plant based food.

And, , we built from there, you know, the Facebook, so, platform as. Controversial as it has been, especially with the DTC space was a huge boon to our ability to grow, especially in those early

days.

Andrew Warner: ads

and then I see that you bought well constantly searching to see what is she doing? What? So I see like a business. This may not be part of your, this is not an ongoing thing, but it looks like a business insider. You bought an article from them, , where they talked about splendid spoon and linked over and they got a commission

Nicole Centero: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think that’s part of the digital marketing strategy is how do you diversify to continue, , gathering interest from. Cons soer sets that fit that profile. so, and because we’re a national, no business that has been a big part of our strategy is, is really understanding who’s the customer.

Whereas where are more of those customers and what is important for that? It’s the same. As you know, if you’re thinking about your packaging on the shelf, how do you communicate? How do you engage that person who, you know, has a need that you can satisfy.

Andrew Warner: Why did you always stay? Plant-based.

Nicole Centero: It’s really the simplest way, the most efficient way to improve your health. And I think there’s so much noise and wellness. I think there’s so much. Eat this don’t eat this. And then it kind of switches day, one day. Coffee’s good for you. And the next day it’s causing everyone’s ailments and I’m a big believer in taking a wide step back and looking at what are the.

Big changes that we can, , create an our lives. And what are the manageable, practical things we can do do with the busy lives that we have today that will get us there and eating more vegetables is like, That’s paramount. That is, that is the name of the game when it comes to wellness. so, yes, like maybe we had, some of us have sensitivities to certain vegetables and we’ll figure that out.

But if every day we’re all striving for a few more servings, then we would all be a whole lot healthier.

Andrew Warner: All right. Let me talk about my second sponsor and then I’ll come back in and I want to ask you about the evolution beyond, , soups and drinks, two meals. And actually, I guess you might consider soup to be a meal, right? And the drinks you were offering as a meal, but I mean, the, so, how would you describe this?

What is this? This looks delicious. I keep seeing it on your homepage. What is that? Yeah, so like that. Alright. , first I should say that my second sponsor is a company called top towel. If you’re listening to me and you’re ready to hire developers, you know how tough it is to hire developers. You also recognize maybe that it’s time to think beyond people who are going to physically sit in your office.

One of the things that top Cal has always excelled at is. Developers were the best, really the best of the best developers. We’re not talking cheap. We’re not talking about just quickie work, but phenomenal developers. They’ve also said, you know what? It can be remote. Top. Cal has grown tremendously as a company and the whole business is remote.

Same thing with it. The developers that they will help you hire and start working with. It’ll be just like, they’re sitting at your desk in your office because they’re going to be part of your whole company’s Slack and a sauna and whatever it is that you use and your meetings. But there’ll be in some country where I don’t know, God knows where it is.

It could be wherever they want to be and they’ll do their work from there. You know, I’ve got to tell you for years, I’ve asked my guests, can I talk about top talent? The one big issue that they’ve said, Nicole is. I need somebody to sit in my office. I feel like now with coronavirus going on out there, people are realizing, you know what, maybe we don’t need to be at the office.

Alright. If you’re ready to hire people and you don’t have to have them sit at your office, you should go check out top tile. You’ll be able to hire the best of the best developers. They can often start within days and they will change your business. You’ll see it quickly. And if you’re not. I’ll check out the guarantee that they’ve got on their site.

Yes. They’ll give you 80 hours of developer credit. If you pay for your first 80 hours and they’ll also give you a no risk trial paradigm you have to do is go to top tower.com/mixergy top isn’t top of your head tells and talent. T O P T l.com/m I N E R G Y. Top  dot com slash Mixergy. I would say, yeah, I talk fast because I’m a new Yorker, but you’re a new Yorker too now.

Right? Nicole, you’re not talking this fast.

Nicole Centero: I think so. I’ve been here for about 15 years.

Andrew Warner: Yeah, you got patients. I don’t to patients. I love when I go back to New York, now I’m in San Francisco and somebody will say, excuse you and just move past me and go. This feels great. Thank you.

You know what I’m talking

Nicole Centero: is New York.

Andrew Warner: yeah.

so, how did you expand to green bowls? How did you know what to add?

Nicole Centero: Yeah. Again, it’s we really consider ourselves very customer centric. It’s as simple as asking our customers in polls and looking at cons soption data and looking at cancellation reasons and putting all that together and. Doing a bit of a gut check and doing some fun work to determine if we can make delicious flavors that we think people will be excited about.

And that’s really it it’s it’s so, people were saying, Hey, we don’t want to just use our spoons, something that’s hardier. And we said, yeah, we’re with you. so, let’s come up with a bunch of recipes that use grains. Those are. You know, again, super, super great for you. And, so, we know that there’s a lot of diversity that we can introduce to the space.

There’s, there’s not as much out there as could be. And, , our customers have just responded really amazingly to them.

Andrew Warner: Oh, shoot. What was I gonna ask? I was gonna ask, so, I forgot I had this great question I was going to launch into and for once I waited instead of interrupting,

Nicole Centero: I got to go with

it. Yeah. You’re going to go with your gut.

Andrew Warner: , Oh, I know what it was it wasn’t you mentioned cancellation, you talked to our producer about that too.

There’s a high cancellation rate in these things, right? People will keep. We’ll sign up, but there’s something about subscription that gets the, is it hard to stick with it? It has high churn. What have you found for churn?

Nicole Centero: We have found that by again, just being really receptive to customer needs. So things like being able to skip. Things like being able to add more meals within the category that they love versus, , forcing them to stay committed to, , categories that are not serving them. I think customer flexibility and personalization is going to continue to be really, really important.

And those are really critical components of. Limiting churn, increasing reactivation. And, so, and also I think we are considered a real guide on someone’s path to everyday health. And so continuing to provide. , communications through email and through our content that are genuinely helpful. so, that creates blended spoon is not just, Hey, this is my soup every week, but this is my helping hand.

This is my resource. This is who I go to when I have

Andrew Warner: It seems, it seems like you’re also helped by the fact that it’s not unlike other, so, kids. Is it a kit where I have to chop things up or is it a set of ingredients that come in together?

Nicole Centero: Yeah. I mean, that’s a great point. We are definitely not a kid. So I think that’s also something that has set us apart in a category. That’s been fraught with a lot of challenges where I’ve always been a big believer. That convenience is really, really important to the modern cons soer and cutting up vegetables is not part of that equation.

So having our meals, truly you open a bottle and you drink it or you pop it in the microwave for a couple of minutes, we call it break room ready. So you can have it on the way to work. You can have it. As soon as you get to work, so, you don’t need a stove or a blender, extra ingredients. You don’t need a knife.

You don’t need a cutting board. so, you don’t need time to read a recipe. It’s truly ready for you when you are.

Andrew Warner: And still people cancel. How do you get somebody who cancels to explain to you why they cancel? I’ve always struggled with that. And every guest that I’ve asked, we’ll say, well, we have a form on our site. I don’t think people when they want to cancel, want to give you information on a form.

Nicole Centero: We haven’t found that. I mean, we’ve just found that if you make the form really short and simple, so, They will, they will answer it. And it is pretty common practice the state these days. So I think cons soers are sort of prepared to give some rationale when they are canceling.

Andrew Warner: don’t they say, you know what? I’m just done with this company. It’s kind of awkward to tell you why I’m breaking up with you. I’ve got a form. I’m just going to say it costs too much money. Not enough time, boom. Solve the problem. Right. That’s what I see when I ask people.

Nicole Centero: yeah, I mean, I’m not saying that everyone is going to give us a long form answer. That’s going to give us a ton of color on their unique life scenario and, and the story. so, but yeah, at least getting some directional data on whether yeah. Price. Is it products, is it something else? so, you know, that has not been a challenge that we’ve

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Andrew Warner: What about what’s happening to the meal kit companies? I’m looking up a blue apron, blue apron, weren’t they? A billion dollar company. Now the whole company’s market cap is $37 million. That’s that’s like an investment round for, for some companies

happening in this space here at the height, the company was stock share.

The price per share was $140 today. We’re looking at $2 and 40 cents. From 141 is happening in this space. It feels like it was super exciting. And now suddenly

Nicole Centero: Yeah. I mean, I think it comes down to kind of a perfect storm. It’s not any one thing, but the combination that has really led to, , the demise of kind of the meal kit space. And I do think that it starts with. , of products that ultimately was quite niche, so, didn’t solve, , a big problem for lots of cons soers.

They don’t. My opinion is that learning how to cook is, is actually a pretty niche problem. People were gravitating toward male kids because of the perception of Preston freshness and great health and turning out pretty quickly when they realized it was actually. As much or more time than they were willing to spend making dinner for themselves.

And so, , they, they were able to turn out and then, you know, combine that with, , an investment environment where. There’s willingness to put in capital with ass soptions that a meal kit business can be a scalable, like a fast business. And do you then have a scenario where, , an early stage company that’s still figuring out product market fit has enough capital to buy lots of one-time customers.

And create, you know, a real bubble of growth before having the opportunity to really fine tune your product and understand your market. And, you know, that is one of the benefits of being an entrepreneur is being able to be really nimble and being able to pivot if you need to and, and test and try new things, but with the pressure of capital and, , you know, certainly pressure of kind of a leaky bucket.

Model that becomes really, really difficult to, to do. so, and then the third element that I think is really a big contributor is the operational complexity. So, you know, having hundreds of skews, the real cons soer demand to change those skews on a weekly basis to try and prevent. More of that churn from happening, so, create a lot of operational complexity and these businesses chose to be more vertically integrated and, and take on that operational complexity and capital, so, intensive operation on their own, which, which also then creates in the early stages of a business, so, a larger ship experience that is less nimble and, and, so, less able to respond to changing conditions.

Andrew Warner: So are you profitable now? Do you have more and more sustainable business

Nicole Centero: Yeah, we do. so, so we, yeah, we hit our positive EBITDA Mark this quarter. So we’re super proud of that

Andrew Warner: earning before interest appreciation, appreciation, want to say? ,

am I amortization? Thank you. Cashflow positive. And that was important to you as, as

Nicole Centero: it was important to

Andrew Warner: why is that important? Yeah. Why.

Nicole Centero: because I’m a big believer in that true entrepreneurial experience of having lots of options, so, of being nimble. And I’m not nimble if I’m dependent on, so, institutional capital. so, I’m not nimble if I have to have an increasing n sober of board members who have.

Their own sets of, , API that they need to meet for their funds, their LPs. so, I don’t have the flexibility to lean back into my customers. And the learnings that I have from them is as the real star for the business. so, if I have. Increasing amounts of capital and increasing amounts of influence on my cap table.

so, so that was super important to me. And, and I think also I do believe in the long game of a brand. I think that the best brands really take, so, business sustainability into account and, and really think about the value that they’re adding, not just their customers’ lives, but to, so, you know, the wider market.

I think it’s a real signal that, that you are doing something that, that matters for people.

Andrew Warner: so, we asked you or producer asked in the pre-interview, what is your biggest challenge? And you said, well, I’m a, I’m a business owner and I’m a caretaker of the family. You and your husband broke up. You’ve got, so, it’s a weird for me to even bring this up, but if you ha, if you told the producer, I felt like I had, let’s talk about it.

I want to get into the personal stuff. Tell me by the way, if I ever go too personal with you, will you, I think you will.  so, so you’ve joined custody of the kids. How do you make that work when you’re running? When you’re running a business?

Nicole Centero: Yeah. I mean, I’m not shy about talking about this because they think it is a big question that women still have and, so, whether that’s wrong or right. That women get asked these questions. , I don’t know, but it’s, it’s something that I was curious about when I was.

Andrew Warner: I think that it’s important for, for both parents to be asked it. I have to tell you, as we’re talking here, I’ve said this before the last interview in my day, I’m always looking at the upper right corner of my screen because I’m going to go pick up my kids from school before I had kids. If somebody would have said that to me, I would have said that person is a worst.

They’d not really committed to business and so on. And so I don’t talk about it, but. It comes out. Cause I interview and I yap so much. That’s going to come out, but it’s a concern. I think it’d be nice if I saw some other entrepreneurs, especially men, I feel like women do a lot of talking about this. I feel like it would be really helpful if other entrepreneurs, other men and women talked about this so that I could feel like, alright, I’m not alone.

It’s not a whiskey thing for me to say that I care about that.

Nicole Centero: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s. Listen to each his or her own. Right. And for me, it was important that I start a family and, , that I’m, , an active participant in my family life. And I wanted to be very involved in my business. I wanted to build it to be really influential because I believe there was a widespread problem out there that needed to be fixed and had a real solution.

And. I wanted to figure out a way to do both. And, you know, I think that is kind of like, to me, that is like ultimate entrepreneurial experience is saying, you, you world have told me that this is not possible. You, culture has not shown me an example of this and I, as the entrepreneur, I’m going to prove you wrong.

And that is actually a lot of how I feel about the family dynamic is that, so, when. You do make that decision for yourself. It is possible. You do have to kind of create your own blueprint. There are certainly trade off. And when you figure it out with the right team and the right support structure, both personal family, you know, I have you partner now and I’m remarried and expecting another child.

It takes work, but it’s so much more fulfilling.

Andrew Warner: your blueprint? I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you mine. I’ve interviewed entrepreneurs who will say that at the end of the day, they’ll go home. They’ll have dinner, they’ll help the kids go to bed and then they’ll work for me. I don’t, I don’t work that way. I can’t have the day broken up like that.

I will work all out here. I will all bet. Ignore the kids. If there’s an issue someone’s whoever’s with them has got to take care of them. And then once I’m home, I put my phone in the drawer where I’ve got a charger it’ll charge itself up. I put it away and I’m with the kids a hundred percent now I don’t, I don’t think that’s the best approach.

I think it would be nice if at the end of that, I can get myself back into work mode, but I’m done then I’m with Olivia mode and then I’m ready to sleep and then wake up again and do it the next day.

Nicole Centero: Yeah. I mean, mine is not too dissimilar. I’m I really focused on compartmentalizing. I really value my time when I walk into that office. , after it, as soon as I dropped off my kids, I am like excited to turn on work mode, excited to be really productive because the reality of having kids is that you do have fewer hours.

You know, if you, if you are shutting down at seven 30 at night, yeah. I guess you could say that the other entrepreneur who has no kids has a leg up because he or she could keep going. But I would argue that. When given more time when we have fewer boundaries, we kind of wasted. so, yeah, you think I’m a lot more efficient because I really forced myself to make decisions and to stay structured within the space that I’ve allocated for my work.

And similarly with my kids, I’m not kind of like. Half asking it as a parent, I’m saying, listen, this is my time with my kids. I’m going to be all in. I’m going to be really patient. I’m going to be really attentive. I’m going to be really present to the questions that they have. And, so, it does, they both benefit each other for that reason.

So very, very similar. And then there are exceptions to every rule, right? Like also just being really flexible that yeah, there are going to be, there’s going to be that Thursday where someone is sick and I liked being the first call. I like being the person to go to school and pick up that sick kid and bring them home and.

And yeah, and he’s gonna watch the iPad and I’m going to still do my work. I’m going to still take the calls.

Andrew Warner: That that’s my backup. The kids don’t usually get to use the iPad, but if there’s an issue like that, boom, bring it out. And it’s a dream for them that they finally get the drive, the iPad. The other thing that helped me is no early first meetings. I need a half hour buffer that way. When I drop the kids off.

If there’s an issue, that’s a flare up. I’m not in my head going. I got to drop you off right now because I didn’t get need to be with someone there’s someone behind you. I don’t want to get anyone on camera. He’s not supposed to be on camera.

Nicole Centero: Oh,

Andrew Warner: It’s fine. I wasn’t sure. I don’t know if you’ve done this, but I’ve done zoom meetings with people where suddenly there’s someone walking around in a towel behind them.

I have to say, wait, it’s getting uncomfortable.

Nicole Centero: I know. I know.

Andrew Warner: so yeah, so what I do is no meeting. I need a half hour buffer just in case that way the kids have my attention. And then I can go off to work. And usually that means because I’ve got a buffer and I’m not sweating it, they could, they don’t, they don’t go crazy.

They don’t feel the anxiety that I’ve got and a mirror back to me. I want to close out with this. I’m fascinated by, I should have been asking this question for a year now, but I’m gonna start today. What’s how do you make yourself recession proof? If we go into a recession, what do you do to protect splendid spoon and to make it grow?

Nicole Centero: Well, I think we are in a fortunate situation where we focus on food. You have to eat. , that is never going away and, so, getting the business to profitability was another space there. So really knowing the levers of your business, so, I think is really, really important as, as just kind of like bare minim so.

Yeah. Foundational. And then for us specifically, I can’t answer for other entrepreneurs, but for us specifically, it’s really leaning into the fact that when times are tough, , you really do want to rely on the brands that you trust and you want to focus on the things that are foundational and food is absolutely one of them.

Your health, so, and wellness is absolutely one of those foundational elements.

Andrew Warner: All right. The website is splendid spoon.com for anyone who wants to go sign up,  thank you so much for doing this interview.  And thank you all for listening. Bye everyone.



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