It's a Matter Of... Thoughtfullness
Great Ideas Require a Great Plan with Craig DubitskySeptember 14, 2020 BeautyMatter
September 14, 2020
Sponsored By Azoya
Culture, disruption and community done right can result in dynamic brands that stand for more than the products they sell. The secret sauce is very often a larger than life, dynamic founder like Craig Dubitsky, the founder of Hello and Colgate Chief Innovation Strategist. Kelly Kovack talks with Craig, a visionary marketer and one of the most positive, generous people you'll meet. He is skilled in identifying white space and cracking open the opportunity by building brands that defy convention and redefine categories.
Craig Dubitsky [00:00:20]: Hello, my favorite word. I’m Craig Dubitsky, the friendly founder of Hello. To me, it’s a matter of being thoughtful about everything.
Kelly Kovack [00:00:33]: Culture, as it relates to building a brand and a business, has become one of these ubiquitous talking points like disruption and community that everyone feels the need to check off. I’m Kelly Kovack, founder of Beauty Matter. Culture, disruption, and community take commitment, and more than that, they take real work, but when done right, the result is dynamic brands that stand for more than the products they sell. Sure, all of these things can be crafted in strategy sessions, but the secret sauce is, more than often, a larger than life, dynamic founder. Craig Dubitsky, the founder of Hello and Colgate Chief Innovation Strategist is that guy. Identifying white space and cracking open opportunity by building brands that defy convention and redefine categories, Craig is a visionary, a brilliant marketer, and one of the most positive, generous people I know.
So, Craig, thank you for joining us today.
Craig Dubitsky [00:01:38]: Thanks for having me.
Kelly Kovack [00:01:40]: I have to say, I was so excited that you said yes, because I’m such a fan of the work that you do.
Craig Dubitsky [00:01:48]: Oh, well thank you.
Kelly Kovack [00:01:49]: And, I also found it incredibly difficult to prepare for, because there’s so many sort of things that I want to discuss. So, I thought, you know what, we’re just going to like, go at it and see where the conversation takes us.
Craig Dubitsky [00:02:03]: Yeah, I love that. Let’s go, I’m ready.
Kelly Kovack [00:02:05]: You know, so, I think that there’s so many brands that you’ve touched.
Craig Dubitsky [00:02:12]: They may have touched me first.
Kelly Kovack [00:02:14]: Well, they may have touched you – I think brands often do that, they kind of find you, but you were involved in Method early on, you were co-founder of Eos, and now, Hello, and I think that, you know, when I think of you or when I run into you sort of in the industry, you’re always sort of the most optimistic person in the room, and you are sort of the embodiment of whatever brand you’re sort of touching at that moment, which I think is – it’s amazing, because it shows the power of conviction of sort of what you’re doing.
Craig Dubitsky [00:02:50]: Well, thank you. Positivity and optimism, I’m very fortunate to somehow have this wild clock ticking inside of me that isn’t keeping time, it’s just keeping track of how much positivity can be put out there in the world, and I’m basically the luckiest person, ever. So, I appreciate all of my luck, and I think it maintains itself because I keep trying to put more positive stuff out there.
Kelly Kovack [00:03:20]: Well, you also share it.
Craig Dubitsky [00:03:22]: Well, I try, I’m trying, I’m trying. Again, I feel really lucky, and I think the way I’m able to maintain the luck over a long period is just keep putting positive stuff out, and I feel like the more of that that goes out into the world, the more you’re going to get back.
Kelly Kovack [00:03:40]: I 100% agree. I kind of wanted to approach this from you’ve created all of these great brands, and I think the most amazing thing to me is they’re really transformational brands; they’re not even…they’re disruptive, but they’re almost more than that. Like, you go head-to-head with some of the biggest companies in the world in one of the most difficult channels to navigate, and so, in kind of…I’m trying to – I would love to understand sort of the thought process, and I guess we can use Hello because it’s what you’re doing right now. What was that moment where you were like, “Okay, I need to do oral care differently”? Because that’s not something that people sort of ponder.
Craig Dubitsky [00:04:28]: Sure, sure. If I go back and it’s a nice moment of self-reflection for me, so thank you for giving me that and this great question. I think I owe a lot, as do most people, to their parents; my mother, in particular, instilled in me this sense that I could try anything. So, I think I grew up with this notion that there’s no reason to be scared of anything, and for me, I have no fear of failure, just of not trying, because if I don’t try, I’ve already failed. So, if people are listening to this, I want to share that with them: if you don’t try, you’ve already failed, so you’ve got to go for stuff, and regret is a horrible, horrible thing, you just don’t want to have any regrets. Funny thing, on my way in today, this afternoon, to come see you, I got a call from a fellow who I’d met about five years ago, six years ago, and I hadn’t spoken with him since, and he’s an adjunct professor at a university now and he just wanted to catch up, and he said, “You know, I remember six years ago you said this thing and it was this nugget that really stuck with me,” and I was blown away that this person, who is a very accomplished person, remembered anything I had to say, let alone this thing, and he said, “You made a comment that when a lot of people told you no, you couldn’t do something, it kind of egged you on,” and that’s another thing about optimists; a lot of people told me, “No, you can’t do something,” and I always felt they were much more accomplished and much more than I was, and I looked at that as a go signal, like, “Yay, this really brilliant person just told me they’re not going to compete with me!” They didn’t just tell me no, they just told me they’re not going to compete, so I’d go for it, and I give all that as a little bit of a backdrop, because you ask how Hello got started, but I think if I go like, deep, deep, deep, it’s because my mom was like, “Of course you can do it, why can’t you do it?” So, the genesis of Hello, actually, the birth of this idea, happened not very far from where we’re sitting, which is really amazing. Yeah, when I was on my way here, I’m like, “Oh my god.” Like two blocks from here, there was a certain large, national chain drugstore, and I happened to walk in to this drug store, and I’m hypervisual, I’m just always looking around, taking things in visually, and I didn’t go in there with the intent of looking for a category in need of some love, but again, sometimes you have an idea for a brand, sometimes the idea for a brand has you, and in this case, it had me walking by the oral care set, and I just couldn’t help but look at all these pictures of extracted teeth I had seen on the boxes, like some had holograms of extracted teeth. They were teeth, and they were teeth with their roots hanging out, like their little dangling roots, and it really jumped out at me, and basically, I don’t know if this is like a G-rated or a PG-rated podcast, but my internal monologue said, “What the fuck? This is the most fucked up thing I’ve ever seen, like what the fuck, why are there extracted teeth? That’s the last thing I ever want to see.” I know they’re telling me their stuff is good…
Kelly Kovack [00:07:37]: But, it had never occurred to you, sort of like…
Craig Dubitsky [00:07:42]: No, I hate the dentist. I was like a normal guy hating the dentist. Now, I love the dentist.
Kelly Kovack [00:07:44]: How many other times have you walked down, sort of an aisle of toothpaste, without paying any attention?
Craig Dubitsky [00:07:50]: Countless. Countless times. For some reason, my spidey senses tingled, and there was like this giant shelf set of extracted teeth, so I just thought, “That’s really crazy. Isn’t that sort of the last thing I want to see? Aren’t they trying to tell me that if I use this stuff, I get to keep my teeth? Why are they showing me this dead soldiers? It’s just weird.” So, I stopped, and I started comparing the teeth, because some had holograms of teeth, and some had beautiful, highly stylized teeth. As teeth go, we all wish we had these teeth; they’re beautiful.
Kelly Kovack [00:08:25]: It was one of those categories where it was like a war – a war for shelf space, a war for messaging, product proliferation.
Craig Dubitsky [00:08:34]: Right, everything. So, all these, like, speaking of war – there were all these casualties of war, which in this case were highly stylized teeth, and I looked at the ingredients, I just started picking up product, and I’m not a chemist, but you don’t have to be a chemist to realize…
Kelly Kovack [00:08:49]: And this was in 19…sorry, 2012?
Craig Dubitsky [00:08:52]: No, earlier, like earlier 2000s, I think, is when this first hit me. I’m so bad with dates, I’m like a dog, you close the door, you open the door, and it’s like I haven’t seen you in eight years, I’m like, “No, you just opened and closed the door, puppy. What’s going on?”
Kelly Kovack [00:09:07]: But, Hello sort of launched in 2012, so it was like, pre that.
Craig Dubitsky [00:09:10]: Yes, yes, so a couple years before that, I have this sort of extracted tooth epiphany, and looking at these ingredients, I shuddered. I’m like, “Saccharine? Didn’t that get vanished from diet sodas, like, decades ago? Why is that in my toothpaste? And alcohol? Why is there alcohol in this stuff? And artificial flavors? Why are there artificial dyes?” So, there were all these ingredient questions I had, but then, to your point, I had a bigger question, which was, why is everything in this category talking about war? Everything was aggressive, and to me, driven by fear and shame. And, I know this conversation we’re having now has now gone on for a minute or two or three, but believe it or not, all this happened in like a picosecond in my brain at one time, and I thought, “Extracted teeth: bad. Ingredients: really scary,” and all the positioning of the categories seemed to be driven by fear and shame, like if you weren’t whitening, you were frightening, and you weren’t going to get paid and you weren’t going to get laid. The job interview was going to go poorly, the goodnight kiss at the end of the date wasn’t going to happen for you, the dentist was going to put the hurt on you. Everything was, to me, benefit driven to this extent that it was going to keep you getting kissed and getting a good outcome from a job interview and escaping the dentist chair, without any extracted teeth involved. And, that, to me, was really, let’s just go with a nice, safe word: it was disturbing.
Kelly Kovack [00:10:39]: So, then what did you…did you just feel compelled, like there’s an opportunity here?
Craig Dubitsky [00:10:43]: Yes. I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it, and having had history with Method, in particular, and Eos, you know, I really thought there was this opportunity to turn this category that had really been commoditized into something very different, and the other thing that was really striking to me was that it seemed to go with the war theme again, it was like the color wars. There was a red brand and a blue brand. There was Coke and Pepsi, well there was Crest and Colgate. Yes, there’s always been other brands, Sensodyne is a wonderful brand, but the shelf seemed to be dominated by these two players, and both the brands started with a “C.” I thought that was really weird. I’m obsessed with things like that.
Kelly Kovack [00:11:26]: Oh, I know, because you’re very much, sort of like, words matter.
Craig Dubitsky [00:11:30]: Oh my god, words totally matter. Years ago, I asked to speak to a large paper goods company, and I made fun of – I mean, I’ll tell you who it is, they’re also, I’m going to sound untoward and I don’t mean to, they’re a wonderful company and they make really wonderful products, and they asked me to come down with no agenda other than to kind of just like shake it up, which is a gift, right? If someone tells you, “Just come down and be a little crazy, and make fun of our brands,” I’m like, “You’re kidding me.” It’s like being able to do stand-up about people’s brands. I’m like, this is a treat. So, I made fun of the Brawny man, because, you know, I just said – it was Georgia Pacific, right, so I was making a little fun of the Brawny man, because we could talk about male grooming and beards and flannel shirts, and I certainly like checked shirts and I don’t like to shave, so I can certainly appreciate various aspects of the Brawny man. But, I said, “Brawny and Bounty, shit, they even start and end with the same freaking consonants. You couldn’t mix it up a little bit more? Like Crest and Colgate, you couldn’t go a little further? You couldn’t choose another letter to start the brand with?” But, anyway, Colgate has been around for, you know, 200-plus years, so they, I think, had the jump on Crest. But, in any event, I’m getting way off track. So, I’m in the store, extracted teeth, lots of red and blue, and a lot of scary stuff around benefit-driven consumer insights, and I’m being facetious, my eyes are rolling and your eyes are rolling, for those of you listening right now.
Kelly Kovack [00:13:08]: And you’re like, “I’m going to throw those consumer insights out the window.”
Craig Dubitsky [00:13:11]: Well, I’m like, there’s a basic consumer insight, which is “Extracted teeth: don’t want to see them.” How about that?
Kelly Kovack [00:13:18]: There is sort of this time where – because I am not a fan of focus groups, consumer insights, I’m just like, “Okay, you really are just…this is sort of the CYA moment where you want to keep your job, and when does common sense come into this equation?”
Craig Dubitsky [00:13:37]: That’s a great question. I think what happens is, entrepreneurs have a moment where they go, “Wait a minute, this just seems really wacked. Why is it like this?” and people have said before, “Oh, Craig, you’re a disruptor, you’re a challenger,” and I just sort of kind of roll my eyes a little bit. I like to say, “I’m a questioner.” I want people to question why it took so long for someone to take the extracted tooth off the box. I wanted someone to question why this stuff doesn’t taste great if it goes in your mouth. Like, anything that goes in your mouth, it should taste amazing, full stop. And, if it’s going in your mouth, it’s going in your body, and therefore, it should be as natural as possible.
Kelly Kovack [00:14:25]: Well, that was the crazy thing to me. So, I mean, when you launched, all of the sudden, I was like, “Oh, I need to look at oral care, because Craig has launched a brand; there’s something here.” And the first thing, I was just like, I did the same thing. Aside from the packaging, I knew sort of – I’m like, “Oh my god, of course, this makes so much sense,” but I started looking at the ingredients, and then I was looking at the warnings of like, “Call the poison control center,” and I think at that moment, I actually – I was working with a dentist, and I was like, “You know, you need to pay attention to this, you’re a doctor. I really think the next category that’s going to be disrupted is oral care,” and this was sort of around when you launched. I’m like, “There’s something happening here,” and you know when you feel like you’re the canary in the goldmine? People look at you like you have ten heads.
Craig Dubitsky [00:15:18]: All the time.
Kelly Kovack [00:15:19]: It’s the same thing when you’re like, “Amazon, you know that thing that millions of people go to? You probably want to pay attention to it.”
Craig Dubitsky [00:15:25]: Right? It’s a thing, you’re getting boxes sent to your house every day. You’re wondering if this is going to work or not?
Kelly Kovack [00:15:31]: Yeah, and so – I was just like, you know, how can you have the rest of the beauty industry, because oral care is sort of an extension of beauty, but how can you be cleaning up everything else, and putting something toxic in your mouth?
Craig Dubitsky [00:15:48]: Well, again, I think it was a forgotten – maybe forgotten isn’t the right word, but there aren’t a lot of words coming to mind.
Kelly Kovack [00:15:54]: It wasn’t sexy.
Craig Dubitsky [00:15:55]: Yeah, and it just was sort of overlooked, or people were on autopilot, or they just used whatever their dental professional gave them, and it wasn’t that those products weren’t good, it was just that the dental professional was busy being a dental professional, and they were given, you know, a bunch of product to hand out to people, and that was fine, but we’re evolved, and we want more. We don’t want to just take what someone hands to us, we want to understand the provenance, like, where did this come from? Who are the people behind this? Why did they decide to do this? And, part of what I found really interesting about oral care was it was this anonymous category.
Kelly Kovack [00:16:34]: There weren’t any celebrity endorsements.
Craig Dubitsky [00:16:36]: Not so much, or even if there were, there were just these handful of companies that kind of controlled everything, and if you went to their website, there were no pictures of the people at the company, it was like, paid actors. So, I thought that was really interesting. How do we humanize it, because oral health and whole body health are truly inextricably linked, but yet, if you looked at the category or the products you were using, they didn’t feel linked to anything; they just felt really kind of devoid of any kind of personality, and I like to think we can make personal care personal again, and give it some personality, make it zhuzh, and of course, make it as natural as we can make it, but what’s really important is it has to be really effective, because if we made – let’s just say we decided to make shampoo tomorrow, and by the way, we could make fabulous shampoo, but it’s kind of a yucky day outside. I’m looking outside our window, and it’s a little rainy and humid, it’s kind of warm for New York City in February. So, let’s say you used Hello Shampoo, our fictional shampoo, and you said, “Well, it’s humid out, I’m having a bad hair day, but tomorrow, I’m going to LA, and I’ll have a great hair day tomorrow, so no big deal, I can suffer through my one New York City rainy, humid day.”
Kelly Kovack [00:17:52]: Are you giving us a cue to sort of…where Hello is going, to personal care nomination?
Craig Dubitsky [00:17:58]: No…well, we’ll get there, we’ll definitely get there, but my point is, if we made this shampoo, you’d be like, “Well, no problem, tomorrow I’m going to have a better hair day, it’s no big deal. I still like that shampoo, it smells good, it lathers nicely, my hair generally looks pretty good, but it’s pretty nasty. Okay, tomorrow I’ll have a better hair day.” If you would have had a bad tooth day today, you’re not getting on a plane and saying, “Tomorrow, I’m going to have a better tooth day.” You’re in big trouble. So, there’s more at risk. There was more at risk with oral care, because it’s a wellness product. So, if I told you we were getting rid of fine lines and wrinkles and our anti-rigosity measurements were fabulous, maybe it takes a little longer to get that little crow’s foot that you don’t care for out of your skin, but, it’s very different with oral care. There’s kind of no room for error, so the efficacy was always, always, always the top priority, and I think with a lot of start-ups, I find that they’re just sort of like, “Oh, we have a brand, we have a proposition.”
Kelly Kovack [00:18:59]: “We’ll figure it out later.”
Craig Dubitsky [00:19:01]: Yeah, and I was like, “No, we can’t. Screw that.” So, making sure that the efficacy was there and that our product – our ingredient sourcing, the product had to be epic, and the ingredients we were using had to be really, really thoughtful.
Kelly Kovack [00:19:16]: So, did you start with sort of the formulation and the product first?
Craig Dubitsky [00:19:19]: Yes, yes. So, there was this big moment, aha moment, that everything was kind of yucky and just not delicious, and certainly not fun, and the next thing was, “Okay, how do we make a formula that’s really going to work, and go the distance?” like compete in a serious way with sort of the benchmarks for the category. So, the first person I started working with was our formulator, who is still our formulator – hi, Connie, if you’re listening. She’s amazing. Our whole team is really like, just amazing. So, yeah, I met Connie early on, and I was pretty prescriptive, even as a non-chemist, about what I thought could or should or should not be in the product, and she’s like, “Yep, I can make that.” So, the first thing was to have this idea, and then the next thing was make a formulation that was really amazing, like a real superlative formula, and I think in parallel to that was trademarking the word “Hello” all over the world.
Kelly Kovack [00:20:19]: Was that difficult?
Craig Dubitsky [00:20:20]: I don’t want to say it was difficult, but it certainly was a challenge. I was very fortunate to know some amazing trademark attorneys who could figure out how to do it.
Kelly Kovack [00:20:30]: Because sometimes you just get the wrong writer.
Craig Dubitsky [00:20:33]: It can happen.
Kelly Kovack [00:20:34]: It happened to us.
Craig Dubitsky [00:20:35]: Yeah, it can happen, it can happen. We were very fortunate and we worked really hard, and again, great counsel, and it was amazing, it just wasn’t taken. I think part of the magic was coming up with a word that, you know, there are a lot of words, so I think it becomes a brand, I think, instead of a word, when somebody actually falls in love with it, when you can ascribe some other type of emotion to a word, then it starts to become something special.
Kelly Kovack [00:21:06]: How long did it take you to sort of land on Hello?
Craig Dubitsky [00:21:08]: Oh, it was immediate that that was the name, yeah, because everything seemed unfriendly, so the word I kept focusing on was, “God, this seems so unfriendly, it’s like this whole thing is scary and unfriendly,” and I thought, “What’s the friendliest word I can think of?” and it’s “Hello,” and I also thought a lot of brands talk about killing or fighting things in your mouth, I just don’t want to fight with you when I say “Hello.” It was literally just that simple, and I think people tend to complicate things quite a bit, it’s human nature. “Oh, it can’t be that simple.” It’s hard to do simple. It’s really hard to do simple.
Kelly Kovack [00:21:42]: Well, I think you also have to – something that sort of strikes me is that you trust your gut. I think there’s, you know, there are a lot of traditionally trained marketers and branders, and then there are people who just kind of have a knack for it, and you kind of know that it’s right.
Craig Dubitsky [00:22:03]: I think as trite as it sounds for people that aren’t in love or haven’t been in love, it’s like, you know when you know, and if you’ve been on that side, you know exactly what that feels like, and I think it’s the same thing. It’s just like, you have this internal sense and sensibility, and when something goes off for you, and you’re like, “Yep,” and I think when you feel it really strongly, even if people tell you no, or there’s these seemingly insurmountable odds, when you know it as deeply as you know it, when you strike this magical cord, nothing is going to stop you. I mean, it’s just like, “Nope, you don’t hear it the same way I do, but I’m hearing it and I’m going to play this song for you until you hear it, too.”
Kelly Kovack [00:22:55]: Well, I also think that the categories that you’ve sort of tackled historically, there are incumbent leaders with way more money. How long did it take people to see your vision? Because I have a - you know, I remember when it was first on the shelf, and I was thinking, “I wonder how hard it was to sort of get people to sort of place that first order,” and sort of you just strike me as someone who you just keep saying it, and eventually they’re going to believe.
Craig Dubitsky [00:23:28]: Well, here we are now, and it’s 2020, and it’s February of 2020, and a lot has happened, but if I go back to when this thing started, this stuff, it is not a smooth ride, and to say I made some mistakes, I don’t know how much time we have, but I’m happy to go through many of the mistakes, because you learn so much from the mistakes.
Kelly Kovack [00:23:47]: Well, and also, I think it’s important because you know, what I see now is there’s amazing things happening sort of in the food, drug, and mass channels, and I think a lot of start-ups get wooed by a big retailer that’s going to take them on, and they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.
Craig Dubitsky [00:24:08]: It’s very…so, yes, it’s very intoxicating, but I’ll tell you, when we started, the first meetings I had, I had because I’m, admittedly, a little obsessive, which is a nice word for – or maybe not a nice word. The nice word is passionate, I’m really passionate, but truthfully, I’m just wildly obsessive about design and brand and how things make you feel, and I would go into meetings and I’d have like a coffee table book of what the future could look like of oral care, and I had worked with this amazing design group at BMW, and I had this really cool, like, visual presentation that, like, unless you were blind, you wouldn’t…you just wouldn’t get it. Of course you would get it, I’d be showing you this gorgeous thing of what, “Here’s what this set could look like,” “Here’s what the future could look like,” and I’d say, “Try it,” and then I would talk about the brand, and basically, I would tell people, literally, this is what I would say. I would say, “You’ve seen your grandparents’ teeth. Why would you use the same brand your grandparents used?” And, that kind of would wake people up, and the other thing is, I would eat toothpaste, which I’m happy to do for you right now if you like, because it’s a visceral kind of thing, but I would do that, only with fluoride-free toothpaste. I’m about to do that, if you want to – this is the sound of a fresh box being opened up, oh so gingery, because you know, I want to make sure it’s a freshy for you, so you know I didn’t tamper with anything. But yeah, I’d go into meetings and I’d be like, “Guess what? You’re ingesting this stuff whether you think you are or you aren’t. If it goes in your mouth, it’s going in your body. So, this other stuff that’s out there, you can’t do this with it.” You ready?
Kelly Kovack [00:25:57]: I’m ready.
Craig Dubitsky [00:26:04]: So, for those of you listening, I don’t know, I took down a pretty fair amount.
Kelly Kovack [00:26:08]: That was a lot of toothpaste.
Craig Dubitsky [00:26:10]: Yeah. And, I would show them, like, “Look, notice, the tube retains its shape, because marriages break up over things like this,” like someone calls the other person an idiot for squeezing the wrong end of the tube.
Kelly Kovack [00:26:21]: It is true.
Craig Dubitsky [00:26:22]: It is true. So, if nothing else, we’re saving marriages, we’re saving relationships, because we’re a friendly company; that’s what we do. So, anyway, I’d go to these meetings and I’d say things like that, and I’d eat a big hunk of fluoride-free toothpaste, and people would be like, “That’s insane. No one from company X, Y, or Z has ever done that,” and I’d point things out, like in this case, it’s a fluoride-free, anti-plaque, and whitening, but next to every ingredient, it tells you what it does. Nobody does that kind of stuff. And then, I’d say, “Oh yeah, and our boxes, they’re FSC-certified paper so we don’t kill more trees, and we print them in America, and our tubes are made in America and our product is made in America and it’s vegan and it’s cruelty-free, we don’t test on animals, our entire supply chain is cruelty-free,” and you know, I think it humanized everything to actually go and talk with retailers as a very passionate person, not as a representative of a company. So, I think the other thing we were fortunate to bring to the table, and I’m saying “we” because I did these meetings at the beginning. The whole company at the beginning was just me. I had this fabulous formulator, and then I brought on board some other people later, but in the very beginning, it was just me. I don’t want to take any credit, because without all of these people, I would just be a crazy person with an idea.
Kelly Kovack [00:27:41]: Eating toothpaste.
Craig Dubitsky [00:27:42]: Eating a lot of toothpaste, which I still tend to eat a lot of toothpaste – only fluoride-free, never, ever, ever with fluoride. But, I think that retailers believed, because I would show this sort of, I think, unbridled enthusiasm for the category, which most hadn’t seen, and I was very fortunate to have had these other experiences, so having had history with things like Method and Eos…
Kelly Kovack [00:28:07]: So, you were a known quantity, to a certain extent.
Craig Dubitsky [00:28:10]: I don’t…I don’t want to sound ego-y or weird about it, I don’t think I was a known quantity, maybe I was, I don’t know. I had met people before, and I think I just kept showing up. So, I think it was combination not that I was known quantity like, “Oh, this guy really knows what he’s doing,” I think it was more like, “That guy again? He just keeps showing up. What has he got now?” and I think…just constantly showing up with a smile and listening, I feel bad because I feel like now, I’m doing a lot of the talking, but the magic came from listening a lot. I would listen a lot, because I feel like if you go see a retailer, no one knows more about these categories than retail partners, because they live and breathe this stuff down to the square inch, and they are just as passionate as you are. It doesn’t matter what the category is, I haven’t met a buyer yet who isn’t passionate. I have yet to meet a buyer that’s like, “[snore] whatever, I’ll buy your stuff,” like nope, they’re in it, and that’s beautiful, they should be. That’s the right stuff. So, when you meet someone who is just as passionate, if not more so, as you are, or can certainly go toe-to-toe with you on the passionate front, if you don’t listen, shame on you. So, I think a lot of larger companies don’t necessarily go in there with the mindset that they’re going to listen, because they have huge teams of people that just do insight research and just do, fill-in-the-blank, all of these things, and they’re expert, and the truth of it is, they certainly are, but buyers are expert too, and they’re in touch with the person who is the ultimate purchaser of your product in a way that’s really different. Research, if you’re in focus groups, people will tell you all sorts of things, but the moment of truth, to use the term coined by a very large CBG company, comes when someone is willing to part with a dollar.
Kelly Kovack [00:29:56]: Yeah, and if they’re willing to part with it again.
Craig Dubitsky [00:29:58]: Exactly. So, you don’t learn, you know, you don’t learn just by winging it, you learn by listening and trying things, but trying things under the guidance of some other really smart person. They may not even realize that they’re giving you guidance, but if you’re open, they’re willing to share a lot, and you learn so much.
Kelly Kovack [00:30:19]: Well, because they want the brands to succeed.
Craig Dubitsky [00:30:22]: Yeah, exactly. So, I love retailers, and I love retail, and I’ve learned a lot just by listening and going to meetings and not just going in to sell something, but going in and having a real discussion, because that’s how you build a real relationship and that’s how you build real trust with somebody, because you’re not always going to get it right, and you need to have a relationship so that someone won’t just kick you out, they’ll say, “Okay, I believe you when you say you’re going to fix something or you’re going to try something different.”
Kelly Kovack [00:30:50]: Well, I think that’s one of the things that a lot of start-ups don’t realize when they decide they’re going to play in this sort of food, drug, and mass channels, is that there are a lot of zeros behind commitments.
Craig Dubitsky [00:31:02]: Oh boy, yes. So, when you get accepted somewhere, usually that means something else is coming out, there’s a finite bit of space. So, that buyer has made a serious commitment if they say yes to your brand and your product, so your job then is not just to ship it, your job is not just to help get it onto the shelf, but to help get it off of the shelf, and I think a lot of folks just get excited by the fact that they’re talking to a retailer. It is an exciting thing, I totally get it and appreciate it, but your job at that point isn’t just to sell, your job is to create something that’s going to make their department shine, make them and their team look brilliant, like your job is to make them look smarter than…
Kelly Kovack [00:31:45]: And also drive traffic and brand awareness.
Craig Dubitsky [00:31:48]: Absolutely, and, you know, traffic is hard because most of these big retailers, they get footfall already. The likelihood that your brand is really going to move the needle, in all fairness, is very tricky. I’ve definitely said this before, so I’m going to say it again, because the truth never changes: the most important word, I think, in the retail lexicon, is “new,” and I think, how new is defined is really critical, and I think a lot of big brands, new is using the word new on something. I think for truly new brands, they don’t have to say much of anything, because what they’re doing is so unique, it’s so obvious that it’s new, and new in a way that’s emotionally engaging, that’s the key. If it’s just new, if I said, “This is Hello and it now contains gravel! It’s natural gravel!” right, that’s going to be new, it’s going to suck. It can’t just be new for the sake of, oh, no one’s thought of putting gravel in toothpaste before, like yeah, that’s a new idea, it’s a horrible idea, but it’s a new idea. It has to be new and beautiful, and new and special, and new and provocative in the best sense of provocative.
Kelly Kovack [00:32:59]: And, there are different levers sort of in food, drug, and mass. I think you need to know the rules of engagement in the channel.
Craig Dubitsky [00:33:07]: Oh boy, do you ever. When we launched, I was sort of like, “No, we don’t really need to know, we can do it totally differently,” and the first products failed miserably. I was like, “Oh, we don’t need a box, because who needs a box?” and it turns out, well, we needed a vehicle that would allow us to tell more about the story of the product, and we had this primary pack that was so beautiful, but so austere.
Kelly Kovack [00:33:32]: I remember; they were like those great tubes.
Craig Dubitsky [00:33:34]: Yes, yeah, they were toddles and they were funky and they were beautiful and they were so efficient, like we could get more product in them than…like the biggest tube you’ve ever seen, we could fit in something really small, which I thought was really funky, because it looked really beautiful and it was minimalist, and who wouldn’t want this beautifully sculpted thing? But, it turned out people couldn’t even tell what it was, because it was so different from the category, like every norm, every convention, we basically just tossed that out the window, but then no one could tell what it was. They thought it was a hand lotion, or we didn’t realize they were going to break the case packs apart in distribution centers and basically tote these things, like throw individual pieces into totes, and they were getting scuffed up, and by the time they made it into the shop, they looked like crap. So, we didn’t realize any of that stuff, but had we not had launched, well, we wouldn’t have launched. So, the good news is, we moved off of that so quickly, and that’s the key – that’s like the other thing about being a nimble, small company, is that when you realize you’re doing something wrong, I call it FUF, which stands for “fuck up fest.” If you’re going to fuf it up, just make sure boom, you fix it, and if you develop the right relationship with your buyer, again, every buyer is unique and every retailer is different, but hopefully they’ll appreciate the seriousness and the severity with which you will turn the switch and make things right, because that’s the key. It’s like your metal is getting tested, and it’s easy when everything is great to say, “Woohoo, everything’s great!” but the way you really shine is when everything is not so great, you’ve got to come through. That’s the tricky part.
Kelly Kovack [00:35:12]: When did you know – like how long did it take before you knew you were like, “Okay, this is going to work,” where you’re sort of building on momentum.
Craig Dubitsky [00:35:24]: That’s a great question.
Kelly Kovack [00:35:26]: I mean, there’s always this inflection point.
Craig Dubitsky [00:35:28]: Yeah, I think, to be really…I don’t think there are degrees of honesty, so I’ll just be honest. I still don’t feel that way. I still feel – I know you’re laughing, but it’s true.
Kelly Kovack [00:35:38]: Well, I would argue with you, considering you were just acquired by Colgate, but we can come back to that.
Craig Dubitsky [00:35:42]: What I would say is it’s funny, I was talking with Laurie, who is my – I call her my partner in friendly RCE at Hello, and we were talking earlier today actually, which we talk every day, but it just so happens that this morning, we were talking about our approaches to things, because it just sort of came up today, and she said, “You know, one thing about you,” she’s like, “You’re never done, you’re always driving. You’ve got one speed, which is like go-go-go-go-go,” and I’m…it’s not that I’m unsatisfied, I’m very satisfied just by waking up in the morning and being alive and being married and having two awesome kids, I feel very much fulfilled, but, I always think there’s a better version of what we have made or a better version of how we can behave, or a better version – like, we’re going to say goodbye later today and I’m going to be like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I said that. I shouldn’t have said this,” there’s always a better version, and yes, you might be able to edit a podcast, but it’s really hard to edit your life, at least in real time; you can’t really go back so easily, so I’m always thinking ahead, like what do we do? How do we make it better? How do we make it better? So, that kind of drives me all the time, and I never felt like, “Oh, we really made it.” Like, now that we’ve been acquired by this amazing company, I’m sure we’ll talk about that a little bit, I just feel like it’s a start, and people have said like, “Oh my god, congratulations!” I’m like, “No, we’re just getting started.” I mean, it’s great, we’re very excited about the news, it’s amazing, but this is just the start. We have so much cool stuff, I can’t wait. I’m really fired up.
Kelly Kovack To talk about the acquisition, you know, I said that I had sort of been kind of obsessed with the oral care category, and it’s one of those categories, it’s kind of like ingestibles. There were early brands that tried to unlock it and make it sort of more of a beauty product and it didn’t really work, but now all of the sudden there’s this resonance where people are paying attention to oral care, and I do think it’s a lot about, you kind of up-ended things and gave people kind of a different perspective, and then I think there’s the whole D-to-C thing which we can kind of come back to, but aside from the formulation, which I was just like, I can’t believe no one is talking about how toxic toothpaste is. The other thing is how inherently bad it is for the environment: the tubes, the plastic toothbrushes. It was National Geographic, which I’m obsessed with all over again. The amount of toothbrushes that go into the environment and the tubes of toothpaste, but Colgate has really been kind of on the forefront of trying to change things.
Craig Dubitsky [00:41:32]: Yes. So, we were very fortunate, on many levels, to be able to partner with Colgate and be welcomed – and I’m really serious about this – welcomed into the Colgate family. It’s such an amazing company. They’re a very humble company. They do a lot of things that most people, they don’t even realize. I wish the company would kind of share some of the stuff, and maybe it’s not my place to share it, I’ll leave it to them, but they do some incredible things, and they’ve developed this tube, and not to take anything away from their recyclable tube, but our tube also is recyclable, and always has been, which is pretty cool, and our new CBD line, the tubes are made with sugarcane, which is pretty amazing. Yeah, so, again, their tubes are amazing. The reason their tubes are amazing, and we have the same technology in our tubes, is because of their scale. So, while we could say, “We have this recyclable tube,” well, good luck trying to find municipalities that will recycle it. Because Colgate is as big as they are, they apply this technology, and their technology, I’m sure, is even…the next step beyond where ours is now in terms of recyclability. It’s that they bring so much scale to the equation that – because they’re the biggest oral care company in the world, so to be able to take that scale and create a recyclable tube, now all of the sudden with so many tubes available with this type of material that will change municipalities ability to bring this kind of material into the stream.
Kelly Kovack [00:43:07]: And also, I think I read that they’re willing to open-source the information.
Craig Dubitsky [00:43:13]: Yes, absolutely. Amazing.
Kelly Kovack [00:43:15]: Amazing, and you know, I think we’re in a time where, you know, regardless of what side of the political spectrum you’re on, government is failing us, and they’re not moving fast enough. So, I think…
Craig Dubitsky [00:43:25]: Private companies, right, we can – public companies can do these things.
Kelly Kovack [00:43:29]: You know, and we have to, like, focus on being sort of good, sort of corporate citizens, and take things into our hands to move things forward. So, I was like, that is amazing, that Colgate is sort of of that mindset.
Craig Dubitsky [00:43:46]: They’re doing amazing things, and the idea that they’re making it available to others is really, it’s amazing.
Kelly Kovack [00:43:53]: Because I think, you know, as an industry, where sort of like, it’s been steeped in IP and secrets, and I kind of feel like we’re not there yet, but if we’re going to crack this sort of sustainability thing, there has to be open-sourcing of information and transparency.
Craig Dubitsky [00:44:15]: I think it’s the way forward, and I think people and the brands they choose to engage with are coming together and demanding that this happen, because it seems so obvious, like, wait a minute, we’re going to waste resources, on what? What for? Why would we do that? What if we applied all of this good will and all of this technology to making things better? Wouldn’t that be great? And, by the way, wouldn’t we sell more stuff? That would be fantastic.
Kelly Kovack [00:44:44]: They’re not mutually exclusive.
Craig Dubitsky [00:44:46]: Right, you can do well by doing good, and do good by doing well, and I think in a world where you can share information, whether that information is about IP around your material science or information that you and I, as end-users of these things, can share with other people, and share our fondness for certain ways of behaviors versus others, that stuff is a natural contagion; it should spread in a good way and create real change. So, I can’t tell you how excited I am that we’re part of a company that really is walking the walk and talking the talk; it’s so cool.
Kelly Kovack [00:45:22]: I think I’m so excited to see what you guys are going to do as a team, because, you know, it is…I mean, it’s a commodity good, at the end of the day, everyone uses it, so if someone like Colgate can even kind of make the smallest change…
Craig Dubitsky [00:45:40]: It will be dramatic, just because of the scale. I mean, and that’s the other thing: they’re a global company, they’re in over 200 countries, and in some of these countries, to say they’re the dominant player is an understatement, and to be able to take change and scale it, that’s really magical. A lot of people talk about it, but they’re in a unique position, I think, to actualize it, and make it – the other, I think, really important part is to not just come up with an idea or a strategy or a material, it’s to make it seamless for the folks on the other end. I’m staying away from the word I dislike, which is “consumer.” To make something seamless and easy for someone else, that’s a really tricky, magical part, right? So, very thoughtful companies are getting smarter by the day and by the minute about how to do that.
Kelly Kovack [00:46:36]: I think one of the things that I really wanted to talk to you about, because I think we’re both sort of just branding geeks. I love brands, I love sort of the connection that you can create with people and using design as a lever, but, you know, I don’t know if we’re coming out of it or it’s evolving, but there seemed to be this period where the branding process got flattened, where, you know, D-to-C was sort of a shortcut to growth, and brands became sort of this sans serif sameness, and I kept thinking, like, is this really a new way forward? And, in my gut, I’m like, it can’t possibly be, because, you know, people still want to be attached to things, people still want to care, and so how can you just like slap a logo and a color on a package without thinking through sort of all the nuances of how it’s going to live? And, I think we’re seeing the results of that. I still am a firm believer that all of the touchpoints and the elements of a brand matter.
Craig Dubitsky [00:47:55]: Yes, understatement. I mean, it’s coming back full-circle.
Kelly Kovack [00:47:59]: I think so, I think so.
Craig Dubitsky [00:48:01]: Yeah, there was a moment in time, not that long ago, where I kept hearing the same narrative, because you know, apart from Hello, I’ve been an investor in some things before too, and continue to look at all sorts of stuff. I kept hearing the same narrative over and over and over, which typically came from – I don’t mean this to sound bad, but I was hearing the same narrative from a group of people that all seemed like they went to one of five business schools and had worked at one of five different companies, and I’d hear this same story, which typically was, “You’ve been screwed by the man. We’re going to disintermediate the man. We’re going direct to you, and we’ve hired one of four design agencies, and here it is, and we have this fun brand architecture that one of these handful of agencies…”
Kelly Kovack [00:48:58]: And, we’re going to innervate products. We’re not going to – we don’t need to get it right in the beginning…
Craig Dubitsky [00:49:01]: No, it’s all about disrupting, and I’ve heard the word “disruptive” and “disrupting” and “disruptor” many times, and even many times about Hello, and I have said, “No, no, no, we’re not a disruptor.” The only people that ever say we’re disruptive are the people being disruptive, and no one ever says, “Honey, will you bring me home some of that disruptive Hello toothpaste? God, that charcoal, whoa, it was so…you know, they’re challengers. They’re a bunch of challengers over there.” No one says that, no one throws these terms around, except the people, typically, that are being disruptive, and I like to say we’re not in the disruption business, we’re in the delight business. If we delight people, we end up being disruptive to the people who are not delighting people. So, I looked at a lot of these brands that are like, “We’re going to disrupt!” and I’d say, “Well, tell me about the disruption.” “Well, we’re going to ship this thing, and it’s going to be direct.” “Well, tell me about the thing.” “You know…it’s not about the thing, because screw retail! They’re charging too much and everyone’s charging too much. We’re going to go direct and we’re going to keep all that margin,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but shipping costs a lot. Tell me about the experience of…” There are plenty of websites devoted to unboxing, right, that’s been around for a long time and Apple aficionados know all about unboxing. So, they couldn’t really tell me a lot about that, or they’d say, “Oh, well we’re going to have this really great box.” “Yeah, okay, and how much is shipping going to be?” “Well, don’t worry, we’re going to lose money in that, but we’re going to spend money on advertising. It’s all about acquisition, and then a big guy is going to have to buy us because we will have disrupted,” and I used to just shake my head and say, “You know what, I don’t care how the thing gets to me, if it’s carrier pigeon, an Uber driver, a Lyft driver, a bird scooter user, Post Mates, go down the list, door dash, it doesn’t matter who it is, right, Instacart, your grandmother who’s not working who’s got a mobility device is going to deliver the package, DHL, UPS, USPS, FedEx, I don’t care about delivery mechanism or even the delivery window, because that’s a race to the bottom. I want to know what the thing is and why is that thing special, and it seems like everyone is focused on this, “We’re going to cut out the middle man and we’re going to ship it directly to you,” but no one was telling me about the thing I was going to get, like why was it better? If it was just better because you were going to ship it to me and I could select it in my underwear at three o’clock in the morning off my browser of choice…
Kelly Kovack [00:51:33]: And then send it back free of charge…
Craig Dubitsky [00:51:37]: Right, it’s like, that’s not good enough. So, I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way.
Kelly Kovack [00:51:45]: You know, it was one of those things where I was like, am I that out of touch with what’s going on? Because I would sit in the same sort of meetings, and I’m like, okay, so… “Well, no, no, no, we’re going to go direct-to-consumer. We don’t have the cost of retail.”
Craig Dubitsky [00:52:01]: Right, we’re building a direct relationship with the consumer.
Kelly Kovack [00:52:04]: And I’m like, “And you think that’s cheaper? How?” And it just, you know…
Craig Dubitsky [00:52:09]: Someone I’ve known for a long time pointed this out to me, and sometimes you have to be hit upside, like your cranium with something that seems really obvious to get it, and this is one of those times. I was basically complaining about why someone would want, you know, to partner with us and take all this margin away, and I really thought it was crazy – it wasn’t a retailer, by the way – and this guy said to me, “You know, that company you’re talking about, they’ve been around for like 50 years, and if they weren’t adding value somewhere along the line, they wouldn’t exist,” and it really – that was eight years ago, and it still stuck with me. If you aren’t adding value, you don’t have a reason to exist. So, somewhere along the line, people are waking up, and they’re like, “Wait, people actually still do shop, and people still want an experience out in the physical world, and people do want to have a myriad of selections that are visual in terms of their presentation at the same time.” Like, I love Amazon, I love online everything, I do, I’m right up there in terms of my usage, and packages that come to my house. I love it. But, I shop and I’m the one who does shopping in our house, because I have to see everything. It drives my wife totally crazy. So, she just knows, I just love shopping, and I think people are, again, attracted to things that are truly new, and it’s hard for them to find everything online that’s new, because everything’s grabbing at your attention in a certain way, and at the store level, it’s a different experience, and there’s this thing called merchandising, and that’s very different than SEO. They’re very different things.
Kelly Kovack [00:53:45]: Well, you know, I also think there’s…I think when you’re building brands and you sort of think about all the touch points, to me, that’s sort of like the foundation of the business, it’s your north star, it’s what you stand for, and it’s like, the product comes from that, but also, you build your team around that.
Craig Dubitsky [00:54:04]: The team is everything. I’m glad you brought up the team.
Kelly Kovack [00:54:06]: Yeah, but I think, you know, the other thing about these D-to-C businesses where it was like, the race to a billion-dollar valuation, and it’s like, you can’t have figured out a category and your product and the people who it’s going to connect in 18 months.
Craig Dubitsky [00:54:23]: Yeah, I think, you know, there are a lot of really, I think, elegant, beautiful, thoughtful brands in D-to-C. I don’t want to be a D-to-C basher or hater, because I’m a user of a lot of these brands, and I really admire the fact that they could build something so engaging in such a short amount of time, it’s incredible, but I do think there were financial constraints and financial demands that were placed on a lot of these brands to grow at a certain clip that didn’t serve the brand well, and I think that some of that noise…the signal to noise ratio got out of whack, and I think it’s coming back into like a range of frequency that’s a little more palatable and normal.
Kelly Kovack [00:55:16]: I mean, it was a wild ride.
Craig Dubitsky [00:55:18]: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s over yet, but I think that things will settle down a little bit, and I think that again, like the financial tail was wagging the brand dog a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with a lot of the brands that are now getting, I think a little bit of a bashing. The brands are beautiful, the teams are great, the designs are really compelling and they’re only going to keep getting better, but I think the weight that was placed upon them by a lot of their financial partners was dictating some moves that might have been a little bit tricky. I think we’re seeing that now, but I don’t think that’s a bad reflection on the brand itself or the product offering, I think people were just really, again, under this tremendous financial weight. We were fortunate, we didn’t have to do that.
Kelly Kovack [00:56:05]: Well, I think it’s also…I think it also creates this environment that’s incredibly stressful for founders, and you know, it’s sort of this trickle-down, and that was one of the things that when I would watch what you were building, I’m like, “You know, he’s kind of doing it the way he built other brands,” and there’s this noise over here, but it’s sort of like creating a brand that people can connect to that’s fun, and then every member of your team is kind of the embodiment of the brand, which is amazing.
Craig Dubitsky [00:56:39]: We’re really – again, we’re really lucky. One is, you know, in the beginning, when I got started, I was the only investor, so there was only one investor, which was really scary. Then, I was lucky enough to get it to a place where it made sense and it was the right thing for the business to bring on outside capital, and I was very fortunate to have some options there, and there was a group that again, I was lucky enough to meet, who had never sold a company, and they were like just build it, we believe, and we love it, and they stayed with me the whole way, and they were the right financial partner, because they believed in the vision and said, “Just keep going,” and we watched a lot of companies, again, just say, “We’re going to go direct-to-consumer, we’re going to have subscription models, we don’t care how much money we lose,” and were always – I’m a business person, so I was always obsessed with margin and profitability, otherwise, it’s not a business. So, again, very fortunate to have the right people, and another thing that was really cool, I don’t even know the best way to put this, but when you’re an entrepreneur, when you’re a founder of something, you have this unique opportunity that you don’t get in other parts of your life, and what I mean by that is, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. That’s just the reality. But, when you’re starting a business, it’s like being able to choose your family. It’s really, really special; I can’t stress that enough. At one point, we started to grow, and we had some people that were helping us identify candidates, and they’d come in, and I was like, “No way,” I was just shaking my head, I was like, “No. No way,” you can’t outsource soul. We’re asking some third-party to help us, and they know a little bit about us for sure, but it just wasn’t feeling right, and we were getting people that were very – let’s just use a nice word, very traditional, and I wasn’t feeling the magic, and at one point, I walked out – that sounds bad, I walked out, but I walked out of an interview, not because I walked out, stormed out, I walked out because I asked the person in this interview to do something, and I said, “How about like a half hour, is that enough time? You need to use the restroom, you want to make phone calls or check your email?” and the thing I asked her to do was to write either a one-word hashtag or one-line of copy for an Instagram post, and I just gave her a picture and I said, “Just tag this picture, whatever you want, one line of copy, just so I can see how you think,” and it wasn’t a crazy picture, it was just like a picture of, you know, a bathroom with product on it, and I thought a half hour was plenty of time to write a hashtag, one word, or one sentence, and I walked out, and someone said, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be in this interview,” and I said, “I just asked the person to do a little exercise,” and someone said, “That’s the most insulting thing. I would never do that!” and I said, “Well then, I’d probably never hire you. This shouldn’t be that hard,” and I had this epiphany after that, and the epiphany was we’re not really asking the right questions, and this is a really, like, I’m going to share this story, it meant a lot to me, and it still means a lot to me. So, I love sharing, especially with other entrepreneurs. So, this was like a really big thing for us. I think it was a turning point for Hello, because we were growing, we needed people, and it’s all about the team. I’m here, I’m the founder, but no joke, like, no shit, it’s all about the team. So, I had this flashback after walking out of the room with this person, asking her just to do this one line of copy, and the flashback took me to 1999, I think it was, this is also going to sound funny, like I walked out on this interview. I stopped a woman on the street, which sounds very inappropriate. Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, I will never forget, it was 47th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, and I saw this woman from like across the plaza, and this sounds like a romantic story, but I promise it’s not; I love my wife, I love you honey, if you’re listening, but she knows that already. So, anyway, I stop this woman, because I saw this thing on her shoulder. She had a strap, a bag, and on the strap that was on her shoulder, this was this little thing, this little icon, I don’t know what it was, but I was like, “What’s that?” and I went over and introduced myself, saying, “Hi, I saw this little thing on your shoulder from across the way, I promise, I just…I’m a normal guy, what is that? I’ve got to know what that is. I’m a happily married guy, I’m not like, hitting on you.” And she said, “I’m from Vancouver,” very nervously, and I said, “I’m sure you are. What is that thing?” and she said, “It’s a store I go to,” and I’m like, “What’s the store?” and she’s like, “I do yoga in the store,” I said, “I’m sure you do. What’s the name of the store?” and It was Lululemon, and they had one store in Vancouver, and I went back to my office, and I think I literally used AskedJeeves.com, I’m really dating myself because Google didn’t exist yet, to get the phone number for this one store, and I got this guy named Chip on the phone, who is the founder of Lululemon, and they had one store, and I was in love. And I told him, at the time, I worked for Simon Property Group, which was the biggest – still is the biggest owner of retail real estate in the world. I said, “I’m the SVP for Venture Development for Simon Property Group. I heard you have a store. I stopped this woman, I was in love with your brand from like a hundred feet away, I had to ask her what it was. Tell me about the store.” He’s telling me about the store, and I said, “That’s amazing. I don’t know if you’re looking for capital, if you’re looking to open up more stores?” He said, “Oh, yes, yes, yes,” he was a really cool guy. I said, “Great, do you have anything you could send me?” He said, “Oh yeah, we’ll send you something.” So, I thought I’d get the normal kind of stuff: a business plan, an executive summary, maybe an item of swag since I went on and on and on about the brand and how much I was just in love with the brand, and he sent me a questionnaire. I still have it. It’s on dot matrix printout paper with the little nubbies on the end, like you’d have to bend those things and rip them off. This was like, high effort to do that back then. Laser Printers were $100. This guy went and had a dot matrix printout like Apple Image Writer II or Style Writer II kind of thing, like this is old school. And, I loved it, and the questions were things like “Beatles or The Stones?” “If you could invite anyone to dinner, who would you invite and what would you talk about?” and I was literally like, “I am all in. This is amazing. Anybody that could do this, I’m all in.” Long story short, we didn’t invest, Lululemon became Lululemon, it’s a wonderful brand. What I took from that was, we weren’t really asking, in my mind, what were the right questions. So, I made a questionnaire for people, and when you ask somebody, “Think of something that you love and draw it,” that’s one of the questions I ask, you get amazing answers, because there’s people that say, “I can’t draw worth a shit. There’s no way I’m going to do it,” and some people will feel that way and freeze – and, by the way, we don’t give them this in the room, we’re like, “Go home, take your time,” but you get people that get really creative because they can’t hold a pencil, and they come up with a lot of other amazing ways to express themselves visually, but you get a sense of how daring somebody is. Are they willing to take a chance? Are they willing to put themselves out there? And you find out what they love. And, my whole thing is, we’re a company you join. We don’t employ people, it’s about enjoyment, not employment, right? You have a job, you have a paycheck, of course we take care of everybody. We have amazing insurance, we have dogs in the office, we have amazing food in the office, everything is great because we love our team. I love our team, and I’ll show you my laptop when we’re done because you’ll get a kick out of my laptop cover, but it’s all about the people. So, when we created this way to let them express themselves and share what they’re like and what they really love, of course we get to the hardcore questions, right? If it’s about supply chain, like tell me about supply chain. One person, as an example, we interviewed a supply chain person, and I said, “Think of something you love and draw it,” and she drew a maze. And she drew the most complex maze I’ve ever seen. This hand-drawn, complex maze, and I’m like, “Fuck, this is amazing,” she’s a logistics person, her whole life is about moving things from one place to another, it’s a whole giant fucking puzzle, and she loves puzzles, this is perfect, and she’s perfect, and she’s been with us ever since. So, it helped us find the right people, because we were asking them about what they love, and when you can marry up what someone loves to what the needs of the actual business are, it’s not working, it’s doing what you love, and if you’re doing what you love, it never feels like work, and because it never feels like work and it’s what you love, you get really good at it because you just keep wanting to do it because it’s what you love. So, we’re in the love business, like people say, “Are you in the toothpaste business?” I’m like, “No, we’re in the love business,” because we love design and we love branding and I keep saying I love people, when you love people and when you let them do their best work, like my job is to magnetize the place so the coolest, best, smartest people can do their coolest, smartest, best work, and it just so happens that it’s in service of bringing amazing products to people that they get to use or want to use every day that also happen to have this wellness benefit, and when you put all of that together and you’re thoughtful about how you bring people in and how you let them flourish, it’s a magical, unstoppable thing, and I think that’s why we’ve had all this great momentum, because we let people rock.
Kelly Kovack [01:06:01]: You know, it’s not an easy thing to do. So, congratulations.
Craig Dubitsky [01:06:06]: Thank you. It’s been a wild ride, and it’s just getting started. I’m serious, wait until you see what’s coming.
Kelly Kovack [01:06:11]: I can’t wait. But, I have one more question for you.
Craig Dubitsky [01:06:14]: So ready.
Kelly Kovack [01:06:15]: Alright. So, if you could give one piece of advice to an entrepreneur that would sort of fundamentally change their business, what would it be?
Craig Dubitsky [01:06:26]: Wow. Well, without knowing what someone’s particular business is, I would just say, stay – I mean, I think this is all potentially going to sound really trite, but please know, entrepreneur, or would-be entrepreneur, if you’re out there listening, these things sound trite because we’ve heard them over and over; you hear them over and over because they’re true, and they’re true for a reason. So, what I would say is, get excited by the people that tell you it can’t be done. Use that as fuel to get you fired up, because this stuff really is hard, and you will face incredible obstacles, but all the people that told you no, they should energize you, and you should realize that they’re some of the smartest people out there and they just told you they’re not going to compete with you, so like, let it rip, just go for it. If you don’t start, you’ve already failed, basically. So, stay passionate and stay optimistic. Oh, and the other thing I would tell people, sorry, is listen to as many people as you can and connect like crazy. I can’t even tell you how many magical things have happened to me from saying yes to LinkedIn invitations, to attending every conference you can. I have – this is also pretty funny, I’m going to have to take a picture of this and figure out what to do with this picture, but I have a whole wall of just lanyards with attendance badges, and literally, I probably have I don’t know how many hundreds, but hundreds. Go to everything you can, talk to everyone who is even next to you, because if they’re at a conference they’re there for a reason, and that person could change your life, and don’t be shy about getting in touch, and just remember, there are no bad questions, just bad answers, so keep asking questions. And, I always tell people, because I’m the luckiest person ever, I try to perpetuate the luck, so I always try to make myself available. So, for real, there’s a Skype button on my website, if I can ever be helpful, I love to be helpful. People can call me, I give them my cell phone all the time.
Kelly Kovack [01:08:22]: You are one of the most generous people sort of in the industry, you really are.
Craig Dubitsky [01:08:25]: Well, I’m lucky. Thank you. I feel really, truly, so lucky to have met so many amazing people, so if anyone wants to call me, they can, it’s 917-312-2000, you can call me, Skype me from the website, that’s easiest. It goes to me, it doesn’t go to anyone else, so ping away. If you haven’t tried our products, I hope you do, because they’re really lovely, and we put a lot of thought into them, so I hope you enjoy them, and I don’t know, what else can I tell entrepreneurs? Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up. It’s not hard, it’s a slog, but it’s not hard, it just takes a lot of time, and you have to put up with a lot of people who won’t get it, but just keep pushing your way through.
Kelly Kovack [01:09:08]: Yep, I agree. Thank you, Craig.
Craig Dubitsky [01:09:11]: Thank you for having me, this has been awesome. Thank you.
Kelly Kovack [01:09:15]: For Craig and Hello, it’s a matter of thoughtfulness. If you ever run into Craig, you’ll be treated with a big smile, and the question, “Hey, do you need any toothpaste?” which he’ll promptly pull out of a pocket or a bag. I believe people radiate energy, and Craig is all good vibes. He immediately grabs you with his effusive personality and seals the deal with his visionary thinking and business chops. The embodiment of all this is the brand Hello: the product, the marketing, and the culture of the company is Craig Dubitsky through and through. When Craig launched Hello in 2012, I knew there was a reinvention about to happen in the oral care category. Fast-forward to 2020, Colgate acquired the Hello brand and Craig is now the Chief Innovation Strategist at Colgate. He tackled an old market with a new brand that turned a commodity into something desirable and kicked off an evolution across oral care. Beyond the thoughtfulness that Craig applies to branding, marketing, and his business, it is the thoughtfulness with which he navigates the world and the generosity of time, knowledge, and spirit that I find most inspiring. Nice people really can win. So, in the end, it’s a matter of thoughtfulness. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time.
Craig Dubitsky [01:10:45]: To me, what matters is being thoughtful about everything: design, brand, culture, how you treat other people, because we’re only here for so long, right, and you’re only around for a certain number of – I hope it’s many, many decades, but if you’re not being thoughtful, what’s the point? So, thoughtful, to me, permeates everything. Thoughtful is about how you treat other people. Thoughtful is about how you write copy. Thoughtful is about how you talk to partners. Thoughtful is about design choices and material choices and business decisions that you make. Thoughtful permeates everything, to me. So, I think that’s the most important quality. People talk about character; character is incredibly important, but if you’re not thoughtful about how you behave, how are you going to have a good character? How are you going to have really good things in the world if you’re not thoughtful about how you make them, how you share them, how you talk about them, how you produce them? So, thoughtful, to me, is a pretty all-encompassing word.
Kelly Kovack [01:11:59]: It’s A Matter Of is a production of Beauty Matter LLC, copyright 2020. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial.