“I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”
My wife Jenn and I like to keep a pretty clean lifestyle, which becomes especially important when you have children who can start to reach for things in the fridge and the pantry!
We also hate the idea of handing people a drink with 40g of sugar or, on the flipside, a bland sparkling water.
Functional soda OLIPOP is the perfect middle ground, and we’ve been big fans of the brand (Jenn literally has a subscription) for over a year, well before the opportunity for today’s interview even arose.
In 2018, Ben Goodwin – alongside his business partner David Lester – launched OLIPOP as the world’s first clinically-validated soda that’s good for digestive health. Their brand has taken off, and they’re well on their way to evolving a soft drink industry that’s worth $40 billion in the US alone, toward not just a new product but a new category.
Raised on the standard American diet, and enduring a traumatic childhood, Ben had an epiphany at 14 where he began focusing on exercise and nutrition for the first time. Through that process, he lost 50 pounds and developed a love for how the things we put in our bodies contribute to physical and mental health – especially the human microbiome.
Today, OLIPOP is available in more than 20,000 stores (including Whole Foods, Walmart and Target). It has attracted A-list celebrity investors — such as the Jonas Brothers, Camila Cabello, Priyanka Chopra, and Gwyneth Paltrow — and is valued at more than USD $200 million.
It’s been heralded as the most disruptive innovation in the soda category since Diet Coke in 1981.
Ben has dedicated countless hours aligning with academic researchers, medical professionals, dietitians, and other luminaries in their fields to make sure OLIPOP is the best product it can be. He’s also been developing digestive beverage products for more than a decade. Not bad for a college dropout.
In this episode:
- How a traumatic childhood shaped the man he is today
- Ben’s best entrepreneurial lessons
- What he’s doing to remain one step ahead of the competitors, and
- How he built OLIPOP into a disruptive powerhouse.
Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.
Let’s WIN THE DAY with Ben Goodwin!
Ben, great to see you! Thanks for coming on the show.
James, thanks for having me!
I’ve interviewed 300+ people, but this one was very important to my wife Jenn. OLIPOP is her favorite brand and we’re an OLIPOP household. Before I drove to the studio, she said to me, “Don’t you screw this up!”
How have you been able to create this magic that transcends households and established such a strong emotional connection with the brand?
Well, thank you, A, obviously for having me on and, B, shout out to Jenn!
At the end of the day, there's a bunch of different conversion factors that are all piling together. One, soda has done a fantastic job. Products and brands can only be so powerful, right? You only have so deep of an attachment system to them. One of the things that soda has done so incredibly well is soda has found a way to shove itself into a much deeper attachment system for so many people.
We talk to customers all the time, and I go, "Tell me about your memories of soda," and there's always the backyard barbecue, my grandma's porch. Soda is a very, very powerful vehicle because it has attached with people so deeply in a way that's much more powerful than most brands or products ever could.
The problem, as everybody can guess, is that it's not particularly good for you, right? It's like liquid cake in a can. According to the CDC, almost 40% of Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic. By 2050, the CDC projects that one in three Americans will be diabetic.
We know for a fact that sugar is one of the big things driving that, plus obviously a really inadequate fiber and prebiotics and nutritional diversity, which are all things that contribute to those bodily systems working correctly.
By 2050, the CDC projects that one in three Americans will be diabetic.
A lot of health products in general, they're led by founders who are just chasing a paycheck. Others are well intentioned, but they rejected the standard consumption system or the standard brand ecosystem, and so they're putting their alternative marketplace, but the challenge is that most people aren't there.
You can’t create a product that shames people and says, "Hey, remember these deep memories you have with your family? They're all stupid and you're stupid for drinking it." People will be like, "Okay, well, great job. See you later," because you're not really meeting people where they are. So that's what we try to do with OLIPOP, and that's a foundational part of its success.
That being said, you can't say that you're trying to replace that territory and not really walk the part. The good product has branding and flavor profiles that actually, to the point you made in the intro, are actually full flavored and actually meet that real need for many, many people. And I think that's at the core of the trajectory that we have.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for you. You had a particularly challenging childhood, and we like to keep it pretty real from a mental health perspective.
What were some of those experiences and how did that shape the man you are today?
It's interesting the way you phrased it. I was actually thinking about this on the Lyft ride over. At my core, one of those aspects is a really keen interest around innovation. Actually, my predilection for innovation saved my life, but that's a whole other meta narrative arc.
But one of the reasons why, through that lens, I became willing to commit myself to the path of entrepreneurialism, is because entrepreneurialism forces you to constantly grow, evolve, and adapt. In my case, the person that you become ends up being the most direct conduit to your success – or to your ability to be impactful – because you so often have to really reach deep within yourself and figure out who the fuck you actually are. Right?
My childhood was not great. My father died when I was very young [one year old]. We grew up really poor. Unfortunately, my mom didn't do well with my father's untimely death, which is not a surprise. She found herself in a very unhealthy relationship with an abusive drug addict. So those are the conditions I grew up under.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ben Goodwin does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
So sometimes it's a semi-sanitized version where I'm like, "Oh yeah, I grew up on a standard American diet, and we did grow up poor." And that's all true. Also, it turns out that chronic trauma will drive a lot of stress and cause a lot of negative health outcomes. I mean, arguably as much or more than things you're doing on the physical side. Basically, they work in concert with each other.
The nervous system takes information from how well you're treating your body with your exercise and your food, but it also takes information down from the brain and then tells your body how it's doing. So that combination did create the state of anxiety, insomnia, and weight gain and all those things in my teenage years. I mean, I don't know what happened.
Unfortunately, my mom didn't do well with my father's untimely death, which is not a surprise. She found herself in a very unhealthy relationship with an abusive drug addict.
I empirically have a weird brain that is something later in life I did find out. I actually had a 16-channel EEG brain scan, and I have empirically a weird brain. The brainwaves that I use to do my primary processing are extremely unusual. It's probably a portion of that's genetic. It's probably a portion of that's actually an adaptation to trauma. I'll never fully know.
In this case, it's about leveraging it so that it actually can help me to the point you made. Yeah. I was literally sitting there one day at 14, and things have obviously been building up for a while, this deep feeling of existential crisis.
That was the feeling that I wanted to ask you about because there's a quote from Jim Rohn that says, "Disgust is a powerful motivator."
And the biggest turning point for me was when I literally couldn't stand what I saw in the mirror. I wasn’t 14, like you. It happened in my early 20s.
Was there an element of that disgust in your journey, or something else?
It's a fact that we move towards pleasure or things to help us survive, and move towards things that are destructive and painful. And yeah, I'm sure that without the chronic emotional pain, it would've impacted the motivation level, for sure. I've also found with my gas tank, I guess it can run on a handful of different things, but my gas tank really runs on inspiration. That's when I'm actually doing it.
There's neurological reasons for that, right? I know I'm tangenting, so if you need me to refocus, let me know! But basically, we've got our limbic system and neocortex in our brain. And they're connected to two different areas of our nervous system and nervous system states. One is your sympathetic nervous systems connect to your limbic system. That's your fight or flight.
And then, there's your prefrontal cortex, which is connected to your parasympathetic nervous system, that's your rest and digest. Kind of more complex, abstract, high-functioning, open-minded strategic thinking is attached to your neocortex.
My gas tank really runs on inspiration.
If you're chronically in fight or flight mode, which at this point most of the country is because we've got terrible health, and we are having divisive wedge issues shoved in our face all the time, that chronic fight or flight mode actually makes it very hard to think and calculate and strategize and get to know yourself.
I would say even the predominance of what's actually worked for me hasn't been about admiring or rejecting as much – because the thing that actually flipped me wasn't like, "Holy, this is hell." Because my life had been hell, right?
So what flipped me was actually a really simple thought, "This is not going to create a good life." And importantly, I want a good life.
Incredible maturity at the age of 14.
Yeah, and some people do it in the 30s to 40s, I'm really lucky. I'm incredibly lucky I was able to do it at that age. It is what it is. Apparently, I had to get busy doing something else, so that's what I'm focused on.
There is something you mentioned there that I wanted to key in on for the Win the Day community. You mentioned that inspiration is the big driver for you.
Yeah. And I think the hero narrative archetype structure is super, super useful. I think you got to be a little careful with it sometimes because there's a lot of insecurity. Even if you set your topic as like, "Okay. Hey, let's stop killing myself here. Let's stop being my worst enemy. Let's focus on being the hero, seeing myself in that phenomenal light," I think that's a phenomenal first step.
And then, the second step is, "Okay. Well then, there's the hero's journey to go on." And the potency of the hero's journey is all about rising, going through real challenges that test you to your core. Again, that ties itself into the entrepreneurial journey because it's packed with those if you're doing it right. So anticipating that those moments are going to be a part of it.
You don't just get to be the hero, and then all of a sudden you don't have to deal with stress and pain. Actually, the thing that crafts you from the conceptual hero into the actual hero is 100% the challenges that you are faced with and the soul searching that's part of that.
The thing that crafts you from the conceptual hero into the actual hero is 100% the challenges that you are faced with and the soul searching that's part of that.
And then, just as a part of that as well, just being like, "Yeah, I have X and Y insecurities. These are my weak points, these are my strength points, so I reinforce my weak points." Anyway, you probably don't need this pedantic lecture, but that's something I always recommend people combine with the hero's journeys or recognition is that's what the path looks like, and that's also just the maturation purpose.
For sure. It's recognizing that life is going to absolutely kick you on your ass.
Everyone who has come on the show has been so open about a lot of those things that they have gone through.
We had Dr Michael Gervais, who's one of the world's top researchers on elite performance – he works with CEOs and Olympic gold medalists and all these different things – and he talked about the idea of life is to slide into home base with a lot of bumps and bruises and a dirty uniform, rather than visualizing yourself sliding in completely clean.
Yeah. I think it just sets you up for biological reality.
I'm reading Antifragile right now, which is a great book. Actually, one of my staff members was reading it and then texted me and was like, "This sounds like a lot of the shit that you say!" And I was like, "Oh yeah, I've heard of that book. I should read it."
But yeah, it's a piece of the equation. I mean, things are disruptive all the time. How do you have a sense of self, a sense of direction, and allow yourself to adaptively respond to challenges? Then you grow through that process.
You mentioned therapy before. What were the biggest and most practical things that you have taken away from therapy, and how has that helped you?
I'm a big advocate of therapy, and we've implemented a personal development stipend in OLIPOP, and one of the things that you can pay for with it is therapy. And actually, it's funny when you say it out loud, but I think about 40% of the OLIPOP team is going to therapy or started at therapy the first time!
I tell that to some people and they're like, "What!? Are they traumatized from working with you?" Like, "No. I hope not!" We're trying to de-stigmatize the experience and provide access to create a positive environment.
Going to therapy should be like going to a gym for your emotions. Right?
I think connection is the biggest thing missing nowadays and you go to therapy, you can connect with the therapist, you can connect with yourself, and it enables you to better connect with those around you, especially the team.
If they're upfront about the vulnerability, which they will be if a lot of them are doing it, you bring everyone up to the same level.
Also, it gets away from that constant American knee jerk of presenting perfection all the time. Anyway, I'm a big fan of therapy!
That being said, I'm also a little bit of a hard therapy patient, client, whatever you want to call it, because usually, I've done a lot of the thinking that can be addressed verbally with a therapist. So for some folks, they don't have that thought process. They need those new lenses and that can be game changing.
The thing that has been incredibly impactful for me is something called EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing]. The idea is that we have an easier time accessing subconscious information in what is the brain equivalent of REM sleep, which is why when you have your REM sleep, you have your dreams, your dreams are your subconscious bubbling up.
So there are couple different inputs, so audio, visual, and tactile, and you can actually combine them in different ways. It basically stimulates it and trains your brain so that it thinks it's going into a REM state. What happens, and this is why it was so useful for me, happens with a lot of traumatic information, is you might cognitively understand it all day, but it's really hard to access and process emotionally.
We've implemented a personal development stipend in OLIPOP.
Especially earlier in my life, there's a really big disassociation component, right? And I use that to get me through, but I would disassociate, which means I wouldn't actually be able to access it emotionally to process it. Amazing about EMDR is that EMDR actually pulls that wall down. And then, in a therapeutic setting, you can actually access it emotionally.
And at the end of the day, the wounds are emotional. The emotional wounds generate the conceptual narrative structure, but just addressing it on the conceptual narrative level doesn't really hit the core wound. You actually have to get to it on an emotional level.
Our brains do this tricky little thing, and they think they're helping us, but our brains are like, "That was really intense. Let's split it up into a bunch of areas and make sure you don't access it ever again." But it's constantly this thorn.
It's a defense mechanism.
A hundred percent. Yeah.
So I'm a massive fan of EMDR. And I personally like combining the audio and the tactile. At the same time, I've never actually done the visual version, but that combination, I find trains me really well. Then, I can go through therapeutic process.
I've had hour-and-a-half sessions that were more potent than anything I could have gone to in five years back to back talk therapy. So combining modalities I think this was really useful.
We had a 26-year Navy SEAL veteran, William Branum, on the show, and he said the hardest thing out of his entire career was asking for help when he felt that he needed it.
The stuff that you've shared there, thank you so much. For anyone out there who's struggling with mental health, don't go through that alone. Be brave enough to share those thoughts and welcome someone in to share that with you and get help.
Ben, something you do that I love is you focus so much more on learning how to think rather than what to think. How can people understand and implement that mentality of learning how to think?
So, good research.
I mean, that's basically the rationale because I'm a college dropout! And that's actually the rationale I gave behind it.
First of all, with the background of not having a lot of cash, like for example, my sister is a doctor. She got a PhD from Stanford. Love you, Megan, but I'm probably the one who's going to end up paying off for student loan debts, right? Because that's how the system is built. Unless you're hyper exceptional, if you don't come from the right family then, they'd make you a wage slave some other way.
You've got to be able to sniff out your own bullshit and you've got to be able to sniff out external bullshit.
Being able to use your mind dynamically and constantly peeking at things from different angles, that's what I think. Again, it's innovative thinking and not getting stuck into a given trap. Education is fantastic, so I'm not anti-education by any means, but I do think that there's a lot of people who become so attached to the piece of paper or what it means.
I find it really empowering the idea that I can wake up and use my brain and be very, very interested in things and take more holistic pictures. There's an empowerment component to that.
That being said, if that's more of the route you take, in addition to dynamic thinking, you also need a really robust bullshit filter. Because if you're going to open yourself up to a much broader stream of information, and try different tactics and perspectives, you've also got to be able to sniff out your own bullshit, you've got to be able to sniff out external bullshit.
I'm actually really, really skeptical even of myself, and that is a helpful counter to trying to be very open-minded and dynamic in my thinking approach.
Take us into the origins of OLIPOP and how it all came together.
There's a consistent narrative arc basically from that moment when I was 14.
What I was expecting out of that process was like, "Yes. Obviously, I wanted a life overhaul." I became super fascinated by nutrition at minimum because it helped me step into a little bit of a self-empowering paradigm of like, "Here's all these things I can do," because I get a job at like 14, so I could actually pay for the food I was eating and blah, blah blah.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ben Goodwin does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
I liked the self-empowerment aspect of it, but I also liked that if you really invest in good nutrition, you can viscerally feel the difference. And then, obviously, that also corresponded with weight loss and energy increase and those are those things.
However, the real impact moment I would actually say came four to six years later after I had started that journey where cumulatively, I was noting that it was not just affecting my energy level, but it was really affecting my cognitive functioning, my clarity of thinking, and my emotional stability, which was still hard for me to come by, to be honest.
All that kind of stuff. Anxiety and so on. All of those different pieces, but also just for the first time in my life, I was starting to feel a little bit like, "Huh, maybe I'm all right." And of course there's all these different facets to it.
I could definitely trace a lot of it to how I was changing what I was eating. That was the piece that I was like, "Wow, this is very powerful. This is something very tangibly that I can do that doesn't just affect my energy, which is important, but also affects clarity and emotional stability and all those types of things." As a byproduct, it was very powerful from a self-actualization, personal development lens.
Then, I went through the thing where I dropped out of college. It's a long story, but I was throwing raves and warehouse parties. Through that, I ended up meeting this guy, because my mentor is a civil rights activist, won a Supreme Court case by himself. That really was mind-opening for me. After spending some time there, that's when I had this shift around how to think versus what to think.
I dropped out of college. I was like, "All right, what do I do now? Well, I'm really into this health food thing. And I think it's really important for the world." And I actually helped a friend start a kombucha company and I was like, "Okay, I don't even know what kombucha is, but I am really interested in beverage for some arbitrary reason. I want to join and help out."
That's when I had this shift around how to think versus what to think.
And so I got a lot of really great introductory level experience through that, but also in researching what the hell is kombucha like, "What am I doing when I'm fermenting this thing? And why is it important?" I learned about the microbiome, and the microbiome is incredibly powerful. It affects so many different systems of the body. The one that stood out to me, the most though, was something called the brain-gut axis.
Actually, 80% of our serotonin in our bodies, in our digestive tract, all those microorganisms produce something called metabolites. Metabolites can then be repurposed into hormones and into peptides and into neurotransmitters. And then, I looked into the research. It's actually very, very compelling animal and human research that there's a very direct link between emotional stability and the ability to stay at a fight or flight when people have more well-regulated healthy, robust microbiomes.
Then, I was just like, "Okay. Fuck. Well, this is the thing, right?" Not only does it help with this brain and emotional functioning, it also assists with immunomodulation, healthy-functioning immune system, digestion, absorption of nutrients. It's very, very powerful.
So that's the thing I ended up, and I wanted to focus on. And then, after a couple years, did some freelance product development, learned a lot more there, eventually got bored selling esoteric high-end products to people who didn't need more esoteric high-end products, which as a guy living in California, who was pretty new-agey myself at that point, that's just what I fell into. And I was like, "I don't know, I'm not really doing enough with this. It's stupid. I'm making fine money, but it's whatever."
So then, I wanted to get back into beverage. I started working on something that we eventually called OB. Spent about four years doing the R&D for that, hundreds of different experiments with the microbiologist and organic chemists. That's where I started to get more serious about the science.
So you were pretty hands on at that point with formulation?
Very hands on.
Yeah, I've always been very hands on formulation side. And that's one of the things I discovered super early is that I definitely have a knack for it. I also now know that I'm a supertaster and a superhero. All my senses are turned up to 11, which is a blessing and a curse! That's why that Oscar Wilde quote you mentioned in the intro made me chuckle.
I thought you’d like that one!
It's really true.
I'm one of those personalities with the shit I don't like and fucking really don't like it, but I'm not a blanket curmudgeon. The stuff I really like, I can really appreciate and I really enjoy.
So we did that for a bunch of years. And then during that process, we were basically trying to figure out how to mutate our own water key for a culture bank and scale it, which is a really complicated process, which I won't brain numb you with.
But then during that, near the end of it, I was like, "Why don't I just make this into a soda? Because everybody seems to really fucking love soda, and it seems to be causing a lot of harm. And what if I could take all the health benefits that are associated with this product to make it taste like a soda?"
Well, that turned out to be no simple task, but a year and a half later of just grinding out long, long hours in the lab, making my own custom sweetener solution, I felt like I got to a good place. And near the end of that, I met David Lester, who's my business partner. We're really fire and ice. We're very different personalities, but we have a lot of very overlapping values, which is the core of relationships and a very complementary skill. So we clicked, got some branding, raised some cash, launched that.
That's a bit of a long story that I'm also legally have some reconstrictions around what I can say, but I'll just go to the end, which is we exited that in 2016 and felt good about a lot of parts of it, had a really good relationship with our investors, had a great relationship with our supplier community and learned a ton, and also got really key insights around going into the, "Let's make a healthy soda."
We literally had board members who quit because they were like, "God has given you a gift and you are throwing it away by making this a soda?" And we were like, "No, we want to make a soda." I felt very confident about my idea.
Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out!
Yeah. More or less, respectfully.
But a little bit in the back of our minds, we're like, "Well, we should probably test that if actually this does work." And we got some really good data signals during that process. But broadly speaking, that concept has legs and potential.
And then, the other side of it, I was just degassing from that. Beverage businesses are incredibly intense under the best of conditions.
Because going up against Coca-Cola and Pepsi, I mean, these are some of the most, if not the most, iconic brands in the history of the world.
Yeah. I mean, so the stat, which I did not know getting into beverage, I know now that I'm arguably "successful", but the 2% of beverage brands make it to $2 million in revenue and then 2% of those make it past $10 million, so it's a Death Star shot.
It must have been tried. Like a healthy soda, it sounds so simple, but there must have been a lot of people who have tried in many different ways that have just been destroyed along the way?
There were some kombuchas that were going into the soda territory. There were some sodas that were, I guess, I could call them more health neutral, as in they weren't as harmful or the big innovation is cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
So either slightly less bad, which that's really not that much less bad or more neutral. I hadn't really seen many, if any, actually health forward sodas.
It was either that or just LaCroix and your basic sparkling soda?
Yeah. I mean, my best estimate at this one is probably sparkling water is a $4 billion category, and I would be willing to bet that half the people in sparkling water are actually just people trying to get away from soda.
And it's unsustainable because a lot of the people away who I talk to who consume sparkling water to get away from soda, don't really like the way sparkling water tastes, and it's really hard to retain a healthy habit if you enjoy it a lot less compared to the thing that you were trying to get away from.
Are you trying to pull soda drinkers or are you trying to pull sparkling water drinkers? What's the priority – or is it both?
The priority, at the end of the day, is the soda drinker, because it's the biggest bucket. It's where the most harm mitigation opportunity lies.
However, like everything else, you've got to earn your stripes, you've got to earn your way there. So that's why we started in the natural channel, which is typically a more early adopter consumer, a little bit less of a price-sensitive consumer because you need to build your brand up, build your revenue base.
Then, you have the data. If you're successful in validating the next level of customer, then you get that data. And then it's the next level of customer because, again, we're going up against something which I said on the outset is an incredibly deep emotional latch point for a lot of people.
One story, I hope it's okay to share. We had a customer write into us. The customer wrote to us and her grandmother was dying of terminal stomach cancer in hospice and couldn't really eat or drink anything because stomach cancer is very painful. And when her grandma was just a little girl, she drank root beer all the time, and it was this very nostalgic thing for her.
It's really hard to retain a healthy habit if you enjoy it a lot less compared to the thing that you were trying to get away from.
This woman was bringing her grandmother OLIPOP root beers because she found that not only could she drink them and keep it down and was actually fine, but it was triggering that nostalgia for her. She wrote into us, "The only time I saw my grandmother smile the last couple months she was alive was when she was drinking your root beer and reminiscing on being a little girl drinking root beer, and then she passed away. And now, we all drink OLIPOP root beer to remember her by."
Bro. I mean...
Don't take that flavor off the shelf!
Well, obviously, I sat there and cried for 30 straight minutes because that is, I mean, just the layers to that.
What it meant to the granddaughter, what it meant to a person who was exiting this world. Just all the layers to it, it's a lot.
I haven't had a soft drink in at least five years, and I haven’t been a regular soft drink drinker in maybe 12 years. But purely because I'm like, "I don't want to drink the sugar and all the crap that’s in there."
And I see people who start their day with these giant Mother Energy drinks, all these different things. I’m like, this is how you choose to start your day!?
Now, at the end of most days, we have a ritual where we share an OLIPOP and pour some for our daughter who loves being part of it. And knowing it’s something healthy makes all the difference, because I wouldn’t ever have soft drink at home for her to access.
Well, that's the thing.
Again, this is something that I experience in my own journey, that own emotional self-reckoning. As you get to the point, we recognize that we're all just emotional creatures, right? So what's the emotional motivation for people to even be healthy? Well, okay. You want to be healthy so you can enjoy your life more.
What if we made the process of getting healthier intrinsically enjoyable? Okay. Well, that'd probably line up the emotional need sets, so yeah.
What if we made the process of getting healthier intrinsically enjoyable?
But I think just to cap it off, the powerful story about the grandmother also just, again, goes to show how deep that relationship is. Well, some people come in and think like, "Oh, these people have a problem because they're drinking all this soda."
I almost approached it with almost a bit of reverence, which maybe a slightly heavy-handed way to say it. But I'm just like it's actually almost an honor that somebody would have such a deep relationship with something. And then in theory, be open to switching to something that allows them to keep that lineage alive but make a healthier choice for themselves and their family.
Actually, it's a big deal. That's more of the angle we try to approach it from.
What was the moment for you, from a business perspective, where you were like, "Wow, we're onto a winner here"?
So I do this thing called a Hogan test, which is a whole long conversation, but there's a subscore and I call it accomplishment. And my accomplishment score is very low. Well, it basically means that even if I do something really hard and then I win – and this isn't like necessarily positive, because it's actually really important to celebrate wins – but I've always had this psychology where I'm like, "All right. Cool. We did that thing."
When I view where we are now, I'm definitely very grateful because given the Death Star shot that it is, it's way more often than not, it very much does not go this way. Simultaneously, when I think about the mission, this is the amount of momentum you need to make that even a possibility. So that's the target I look at and so this actually tracks alongside that target.
We've been really fortunate that since very early on in this company's life cycle, it's shown a lot of signals of demonstrable success. In beverage, surprise, surprise! The big thing that everybody's tracking is what's your velocity. So what's your sale rate of the can on the shelf, and ours have always been astronomical, right? And you need that data to prove out to retailers and stuff that you're worth bringing on.
When I think about the mission, this is the amount of momentum you need to make that even a possibility.
I would say we did just have a pretty big moment – we just launched to 4,000 Walmarts and that was a relationship we'd been cultivating a little bit. They actually wanted us to come on earlier. And if you go into Walmart too early, it actually can be quite harmful for your business, so we held off for a while.
But getting to the point where we're actually I think it's still a test, fingers crossed, sweating bullets, but I think we're actually ready to check this out now.
Another thing that I actually came about recently is we did a lot of segmentation research, and we've been trying to figure out who are our customers and who's drinking soda and all that kind of stuff. And tracking our current customer patterns, we're actually over-indexing in the Midwest, which most health and wellness products over-index in terms... on the coast, right? LA, New York, etc., and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But if you're trying to disrupt soda, and you're trying to create something that actually locks in on a mainstream level, you want to hit the Midwest. Plus, if you're trying to, at some point actually make a dent in the south, which the average sugar consumption rates, something like 200 grams a day per person in the south, if you want to have any shot of actually making a dent there, you would need to prove that you can actually execute in the Midwest.
So the fact that we're doing really, really, really well in the Midwest and the Krogers and the Targets and the Walmarts, that's something where I stand back for a second ago like, "Okay, we're actually on track here. This is great."
Every time we go to Whole Foods to do our grocery shopping, it's like OLIPOP can't get enough shelf space.
Every week, it's just a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more like. It's just doing so well. I look at the sparkling water aisle, and it just seems so boring and stale. A
Were there any guerrilla marketing tactics you used early on to establish that traction that's now got you into Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods?
There's never going to be something that makes up for if your product has intrinsic traction or not, which it sounds simple. You just have to have a white-hot product. And then, I guess everything else goes well. Unfortunately, that is the just solid truth.
I don't know there's a specific executional tactic like, "Hey, when we did..." I mean, there's cool stuff that we've done. Really early in the company history, we did a takeover of Grand Central Market in downtown LA, which was cool from a visibility standpoint. We were a really young brand at that point in time.
The more important piece of that was actually the belief it built inside of our ecosystem, actually being able to bring our team together to have that experience and many of our different investors for them to come down and even some buyers.
So we don't lean heavily into promotion, we don't lean heavily into trade spend. We have marketing, which is going through a really interesting overhaul – and I can't share too much about. So there's definitely tactics and strategies we use.
The thing that's infinitely more important to me is, A, are we tracking feedback from our customers? Are we listening to them? We're making sure that we're giving them what they actually want. Do we have the relationship?
And then B, what's the psychology of the people in our team who are out selling this product and dealing with people. In beverage, you've got a sales team, there's a lot of different layers to it. One of the more introductory layers is the ASM or the area sales manager. And there's so many different ways you and ASM can operate.
A lot of buyers give us the feedback like, "Oh, we've got these ASMs, and they come into the store all the time, and they're just like, "What can you do for me?" And they're just like shoving themselves. And that's a lot of teams are trained up like that, to just be really aggressive. Well, it turns out that's a stupid fucking strategy!
Yeah, you need to build a relationship.
Yeah, that's right.
ASMs, I'm like, "Yeah, go in there. If you take a day off during the week, go back into the store on a Saturday, help that buyer throw a load, don't ask for anything. And if you do that enough, now all of a sudden it's like getting your shelf space expanded or doing whatever, that actually is a very, very easy thing that came up as a symptom of the relationship that you built.
That kind of training has always been much more important to us than the marketing gimmick or the tactic.
And it's even that way when you look at the construction of a successful business that has a product. There is no fudging the product market fit, so that has to happen. If that's there, then it's about actually building a business, so do you have margins? Do you have scalability? And then, it's about the team and the culture.
At the end of the day, especially as other things shift, that becomes where you end up putting the majority of your effort if you're smart, because the psychology that the team has, the cohesion that the team has, does the team understand the mission? Are they aligned for the mission? Is it putting some energy in their step every day? Are all those things really, really aligned and a highly cohesive high-trust organization is a strategic advantage.
It's a meaningful strategic advantage.
Why doesn't Coca-Cola just allocate every resource they have to destroying you? Do you worry about that?
I try to calculate to the best of my ability for as many probabilities as I can.
One layer is I'm sure it's a likely scenario that a number of these different businesses are very much interested in actually acquiring OLIPOP at some point, so I'm sure they've got to run a careful game around like, "Hey, do we put something out? Do we incubate it? Do we crush them? Do we buy them? I'm sure they're just doing their own calculus.
So the acquisition dollars could be smarter than the R&D to try and make their own?
Yeah. I mean, I'm no expert in super large scale corporate because I would actually self-emulate in that environment. It's just obviously not my zone.
But my perception is, especially with these bigger public companies, they're managing quarter to quarter. There's a lot of political machinations steeped into their cultures, which generates less innovative thinking, it generates less speed and efficacy, and that's why they have taken this strategy of buying interesting brands.
So that's actually even something we think about with OLIPOP. If we're going to, in theory, go through a strategic exit at some point, how do we actually build this thing now so that if that happens, the acquirer doesn't accidentally dismantle the things that are of core importance to the business in their attempt to integrate it into their business?
It's why I think something with Coca-Cola, the brand name could work against them. Because if I'm looking at a so-called health conscious product, and I see Coca-Cola on it, it will turn me off instantly.
Jenn and I have noticed recently that, even in products like chicken stock, these companies get bought and all of a sudden they start adding this crap in there – these filler ingredients.
Why not leave it the way it is and enjoy the continued success!?
They want to squeeze out another penny.
I know. And look, there's a bunch of things that you can do. I mean, that's why a lot of these CPG brands historically, over the last 10-20 years that have sold into strategic, they've had a certain... It's almost like flipping a house.
One of the common strategies that I see that I can't stand is the business actually gets built like pretty unsustainably. And then, they're like, "Oh, we're getting close to exit. And they're like, "All right, well, let's just fire all the 1099s, and let's massage this and drive trade span down."
If we have something that has gone through a lot of really legitimate scientific research, that research is part of the foundation of the brand.
So now P&L looks fine, but that better looking P&L is not what built the business. And then, you've got all the problems. The more of those friction points you throw in intentionally or unintentionally during the whole exit process, the higher the likelihood that it's not going to go super well inside of that other business, and they're going to have to start making a bunch of changes.
If we have something that has gone through a lot of really legitimate scientific research, that research is part of the foundation of the brand. We've managed to put our sourcing together in a way where the margins actually work, and we have a profitable business.
You've done a great job of getting some really high profile investors on board. How did you go about getting that, and how validating is it to have that group of people on your side?
So I'm the least pop culture dude of all time! I'm not on TikTok. I only started an Instagram account because I needed to do Instagram lives occasionally. I'm on LinkedIn begrudgingly because it's useful, but it's not my jam. I listen to electronic music. I don't know who half these people are. I don't even own a TV, so I didn't do anything really!
I'll go have meetings with these celebrities, and I'll get on Zooms with them, and I'll talk through what we're doing and it's cool. And I'm also appreciative. We're appreciative that especially the ones that want to lean in and amplify the brand. I certainly appreciate it. I understand their time is valuable and their interest is rarefied.
What's super key is always doing your best to retain that connection with yourself – your intuition.
That being said, we didn't really go down, and we didn't really track down or knock on a bunch of doors to get the celebrities who have come in the brand. They are actually, by large, organic OLIPOP fans. And they'll find out that there's a round open, and they're people will get a hold of our people and be like X, Y, and Z is interested.
There's also a bunch that we've looked at. We just haven't moved forward with because the deal mechanics weren't right or they actually wanted to invest more than we even have space for. And we're like, "This is just a lot to deal with all this!"
It's like what happened with Vital Proteins and Jennnifer Aniston. We had Kurt Seidensticker, the founder, on here and he said, Jen Aniston just happened to be a fan – and it led to everything else organically, which has got to be the best way to do it.
Yeah, I've heard stories of situations where it's hyper transactional. Even when it's not just transactional, it still can be really, really tricky to actually then utilize the celebrity and have the deal make sense.
Check out the YouTube or podcast version where Ben Goodwin does the Win the Day Rocket Round, answering questions about his favorite quote, what advice he’d give his 18-year-old self, the one thing on his bucket list, and a whole lot more. 🚀
I actually get a little more fanboy sometimes when I get a hold of a researcher that I have been following for a decade. And then, I got to be on a Zoom call or have a meeting with them, and I'm just like, "Ooh." I get more tongue-tied in that environment because I'm like, "Your work on fructose biosynthesis in the liver is incredible!"
I love it.
What's next for OLIPOP that you're most excited about?
I just finished doing a lot of formulation. The first half of this year, I still do 100% of our formulation, which in addition to being a CEO and co-founder is a lot.
I'm just picturing you in a room somewhere, just mixing things, tasting things…
That's what's happening!
I bought a new house recently. I have a lab that's a dedicated room. It's really nice to have your own space in your house and some good equipment and it's fun. And I've got labs I can go to, I've got good relationships where if I need to drop it in a lab, I can.
But I spent a lot of time doing a lot of formulation on a handful of flavors that were very, very requested from our customers. And so there's going to be a lot of very happy people really in the next month or two here. And then again, early Q1, Q2 of next year.
We've got over 10,000 customer flavor requests, and we have it all broken down by flavor, by ratio, so I know exactly what our customers are interested in.
Actually, by the way, if you're an OLIPOP fan, if you have a flavor request, do let us know because we actually keep every single one in a database. We've got over 10,000 customer flavor requests, and we have it all broken down by flavor, by ratio, so I know exactly what our customers are interested in.
We went from about 9,000 doors end of last year. We're now in just north of 20,000 doors. There's some additional great accounts coming on that are going to increase accessibility for customers even more. And I'm really happy about how the Minions Banana Cream launch went, and there's some more stuff like that coming up.
I think it's going to be great. We're growing by 120%, 140% this year, and I've never actually felt better about the internal construction where all the different departments are at. I feel very good about where we are and where we're going to be moving into this next year.
What about the international focus?
For international, Canada's obviously a nearby target, ton of requests coming out of it. The problem with Canada is obviously for half the country or so, you have to have dual language packaging, so that adds some supply chain complexity, but we're looking at Canada.
The way I think about international broadly is it's similar to pipeline innovation. Well, first of all, we don't have a mandate, so we'll see what happens. If this is an astronomical opportunity, depending on what route we go as a business, this might not always be the case. But for right now, what we're thinking about is that it's probably important to prove out that the brand can be successful in a small handful of other countries.
But America is also very large as discussed, it's a $40 billion dollar market to go on, and we have just south of 2% household penetration.
It's a good market as your home market!
Yeah, there's a lot of work to do. I mean, traditional set is 97% household penetration, so within the next two decades we could focus on the United States and be just fine. That being said, I would expect at some point that we'll start poking around internationally.
On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard to show yourself on your work day?
Oh, my God, I am not good at affirmations, man. It's not my strong point. I probably need to make myself more... I'm pretty hard of myself actually.
Maybe something really generic, like “Believe in yourself” or some shit like that. I do think it's important that you do have to have respect for what you have accomplished.
I've matured enough as a business professional that I now have been in enough environments where I have pretty good visibility on what specifically I bring to most situations that otherwise would not be present. And that's part of my unique contribution.
And so, constantly keeping in touch with that is important and so something that would keep redirecting me to that observation, which I think creates a combination of emotional stability and also knowing how I can be the most valuable to a given situation.
Final question, number 10, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?
There's a lot of trite shit that I can talk. Exercise is important. Sleep is important. Diet's important. Supplement regime is important. Stress management is important.
The thing that I think all of the ladders up to is the thing that's most important, which is those physical primers are there to put you in the right emotional and cognitive space. Right?
What's super key is always doing your best to retain that connection with yourself – your intuition. But also, from a philosophical and a principle's perspective to always ask, "Why am I doing this? And then, if that ‘why’ were to express itself in an optimal way, how would it play out? And then, am I moving things in that direction or not?"
You focus on that all the time, you'll win that day.
So good and so refreshing, no pun intended!
Thanks so much for coming on the show.
James, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.
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Resources / links mentioned:
📚 ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ by John Gray
📙 ‘Beyond Mars and Venus: Relationship Skills for Today's Complex World’ by John Gray
🧭 ‘Codependent No More’ by Melody Beattie
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