Joe Spector has been a startup entrepreneur for over 15 years. Prior to Dutch, he was a co-founder of Hims (NYSE: HIMS), one of the fastest growing direct-to-consumer brands in history, which went public in January 2021.
As a co-founder, Spector was instrumental in its success of helping millions of people; in fact, he built Hims national telemedicine and doctor network, set up the initial pharmacy supply chain, and launched wholesale partnerships.
He holds a BS from the Haas School of Business at University of California at Berkeley, and an MBA from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.
He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, three children and a corgi named Edgar.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:10] Startups are both easy and hard at the same time
- [02:39] The “scrappiness” of startups
- [04:04] Silicon Valley show vs reality
- [05:20] Startups require “nerves of steel”
- [06:15] Joe’s Hims story
- [09:03] The names before Hims
- [09:46] Importance of startup names
- [10:40] Skills that Joe brought to Hims
- [12:30] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
- [12:50] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
- [13:34] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- [15:00] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
- [15:33] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
- [16:20] Product that makes people happy
- [17:51] Eight-figure brand vs nine-figure brand
- [18:57] From Hims to launching Dutch
- [20:45] Dutch working with Shopify’s “limitations”
- [23:12] Dutch’s sales process using Shopify
- [25:48] Chase analyzes what Dutch is doing
- [27:30] Make a choice, start a business
- [29:37] It’s about how fast you pivot
- [30:15] Understand the types of your consumers
- Subscribe to Honest Ecommerce on Youtube
- Online vet care and visits with licensed veterinarians dutch.com
- Connect with Joe linkedin.com/in/joespector
- Scale your business with electriceye.io
- Download Mesa at the Shopify App Store apps.shopify.com/mesa
- Level up your customer support gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- Respond to any of Rewind’s welcome emails and mention HONEST ECOMMERCE to get 1 month free rewind.io/honest
- Get started with a free account at klaviyo.com/honest
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Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
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Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. Today I've got a fantastic guest coming to the show, Joe Spector.
Joe is currently the CEO of Dutch, formerly of a company that we'll get into here in a little bit. But Joe, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?
Awesome. I'm so excited to talk to you.
I am a nerd. And I'm so excited to just learn from you. So before we talk about what's going on with Dutch and your previous position, take me back.
You've been in the startup space for over 15 years. The world has changed in 15 years. So how has the startup scene changed?
Oh my gosh. So much and so little. I think that in many ways, the thing that's always drawn me to startups is just the scrappiness overall. I think for me, personally, being an immigrant to the United States, I've always just had a life of having to figure things out.
And so I think it took me a while to really figure out even before I got into entrepreneurship, that's where I shine. But I think, "Look, there's an influx of capital. And the word on the street is that it's easier than ever to start a company."
But at the same time, I think it's harder than ever because when I was around in the 2000s dotcom bust, literally, any idea, it seemed, could go public. I think today, numbers, data, [and] results matter more than ever.
So it's interesting, on one hand, it's been easier than ever. But on the other hand, I think expectations are significantly higher. But a lot of the skill sets, I think, are very much the same.
Absolutely. I really like that you mentioned the scrappiness of startups. I literally saw a tweet yesterday.
And it was someone saying it's like, "It's really funny when these people leave big companies like Google, and Facebook, and Amazon, and go and join a startup and they realize that everything is held together by duct tape."
And it's like, "We're digging a hole, grab a shovel."
Yeah, it's so interesting, because we've actually grown quite a bit. And one of the things I asked candidates to do is to put together a 90-day plan.
And there's been quite often where from a big company, the 90-day plan is like a 10 day plan in our world. And this notion that there's a committee to make a decision.
Again, that doesn't exist. And it's all these things I love. My first job was out of JP Morgan. And I just remember thinking, "I'll never climb... I could never just randomly call another CEO because I would have had to ask [for] 3 layers of permissions. And god forbid that I didn't say it in the right voice."
Whereas here, you want to go meet a CEO, jump on a plane, go meet them. And in fact, people are going to be mad at you for not doing that if that was an opportunity to advance the business.
Oh, absolutely. Startup world is just fun. Actually, I've never asked this question, but I want to... I want to see what your opinion on it is. Are you familiar with Silicon Valley? Have you ever seen that show?
Oh yeah. Took me a while to see it.
Other than just the Mike Judge-esque of it being a comedy. Were there any parallels to that show to the real life shenanigans that go on in the startup world?
Of course, I think that's why it took me a while to watch it because it was too close to home. And there's definitely moments of cringe worthiness.
But I certainly met the lawyer on that character. I've met lawyers like that. The main... I think the main guy is based on Peter Thiel.
But again, there's lots of quote "Asperger-like" VCs out here. I think that's cringeworthy.
The Google, the big competitor... There's just a lot or multiple, not just one of those types of personas.
I think writing those characters was probably the easiest part of the job.
Yeah, and then of course, the "Oh shit" moments that happened on the show. And again, I constantly...
I'm like, you have to have nerves of steel and thick skin to make it in the startup world. Because if you're a fragile flower and you can't take the heat, shit happens multiple times a day.
And you have to just have that mindset of "Okay, I'm gonna... Let's take a step back, take a breather, how do we solve it? Etc." And again, we've all survived so far.
So clearly, there's a path forward, but there's just people who are gonna run into the fire and then there's people who are gonna run away from it.
It's that meme of the dog sitting in the room and everything's on fire. "This is okay."
"That's fine. Everything's okay."
Awesome. Well, let's move forward a bit here. And you were the co-founder of a pretty big brand. I'll let you share your backstory there.
We spent almost a year together in stealth, and, you know, Classic startup in that now that it's successful, it sounds like a no-brainer for everybody.
But back in the day, I remember people looking at me like I was an idiot for joining the startup that was about to sell erectile dysfunction pills and hair loss pills.
Yeah. So, you know, we started a company that ended up becoming Hims and went public a year ago.
And I think in many ways, it was a match made in heaven because it was an opportunity for me to apply all the hustle, all the scrappiness that I've built up for my whole career. It was a time in a field where we were doing telemedicine, and at the time...
Again, it's hard to fathom this, but most most of the country didn't even allow for telemedicine in the first place. So again, we must have been batshit crazy to, like I said, run into the fire and start this business. But timing is everything.
So we were there, right as Viagra became generic.
We were there as a lot of the laws were changing.
And the states were coming into the 21st century and updating their laws.
And then of course, the pandemic hit and it was sort of like...
What happened in one year moved the laws 10 years ahead, just because people were forced to make the change and allow for more digital telemedicine.
So it was a really transformational time. And again, I think for me, I certainly grew tremendously.
And I saw what it's like to raise money, I saw what it's like to build a billion dollar consumer brand.
So these are pretty important lessons that I could only have seen being at the front of this rocket ship.
Yeah. That's a wild ride. You mentioned something that I wanted to follow up on is that it became Hims. So there was another name beforehand.
Multiple. (laughs) It was... (laughs) This is why you need to have... For everything, hire people who know what they're doing.
At first, it was a really cool name called DNSR or "Denser" (laughs) for hair loss. And then it became called Clubroom. That was another salesy name. And I think it was super clear that they are corny.
And we worked with a pretty awesome agency to come up with Hims.
And now I guess my follow up question is how important is the name at startup?
So this is, I think, one of the lessons learned for me.
I think there are so many, especially first-time founders, who are just gonna be like, "If you make a great product, everyone's gonna come. Doesn't all the stuff... It's just like bells and whistles, it doesn't really matter."
I think the way when you're building a consumer product... Again, like I said, in today's world where the consumer continues to expect more than ever, I think it's immensely important.
By the way, it's immensely important, not just for the consumers, but it's mostly important for the people you hire.
Because the people you hire are also looking at you thinking, "Is this person an idiot? Or can they actually build a brand?"
And so I think investing in that before you launch is critical.
That's great advice there. And then you also mentioned that So you joined Hims, over 5 years, because he had about 10 years skin in the game before that.
What were some of those skills that you brought to the table that you think that, if it was the first time around, you probably wouldn't have been able to help out as much as you did?
So I had some experience, on supply chain operations, with subscription businesses, with just strategy in general. Most of my career, I've been at companies that are going zero to one.
So I've constantly come into companies where there isn't a foundation, there isn't really any kind of safety net, and you have to make it or believe in order to survive, so I feel like I've had those environments consistently. I've also...
At least in my career, I've worked across so many different industries, but the skills were the same so I felt comfortable.
Most of us who came into Hims, never had any healthcare experience but we've all had experience across multiple industries across the general notion of building a brand, building an operational structure. And I think those skills were super transferable.
And like we said, just the comfort of the unknown, and maybe the... You need that naivete in order to think that you're gonna change the laws in 50 states. So I think that blind, positive, entrepreneurial vibe is something I had to help me.
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A lot of our listeners here are more in the direct-to-consumer product space. And so I guess what is the same about building a billion dollar business that's the same as building a million dollar business?
You need to have a product that makes people happy. I mean that, in order for you to have even a million dollar business, you got to have some customers who are your biggest fans, who are the customers.
And like the quote, you can fool some people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time. So, again, in today's world where there are reviews there... The consumer...
The smallest consumer has a voice. Whether you're a small brand or a big brand, if you're pissing off consumers, other consumers will find out and it'll be hard for you to build any sort of business.
And at the same time, if you are having moments where you have... Where you just blow and wow, a customer away, that is something whether small business or big business is necessary.
And then you have to just think about your product, how do you do that? And that might mean how do you do that in an electronic or non-verbal way. And then some of that is just through the actual product and service.
Absolutely. And then I guess on the other side of it, what are some of the major differences between an eight-figure brand and a nine-figure brand?
I think it'll be in the refinement of how much they're putting into their branding. Do they understand their different consumer personas?
So that customer insights piece, I think a smaller brand just may not have the budget or even enough customers to really understand their personas. It is how much you're investing into your brand. I think...
When I think about the amount of money that went into Dutch, the visual experience, the UI, UX, again, I think that small brands don't have it.
And I think that the difference between good and great is actually quite exponential. So I think a smaller million dollar brand will settle on pretty good. And that's understandable.
But the difference between good and great, I think, is quite substantial.
Absolutely. And you just lead into the next thing. So I was like, obviously, you're no longer at Hims, now you've launched Dutch. So what is that product? What are you trying to solve there?
Problem with that and the background is that I felt like we've had so much innovation on the human side. It's become so easy to get in touch with a doctor and get medical advice without having to come in-person. And I just was like, "Wait a minute, this does not exist for pets at all."
There's not a billion dollar brand that makes it easy for you to talk to a veterinarian for the myriad of issues that dogs, cats and other pets tend to have quite frequently.
Most of the time what consumers know is that "If my pet had the... Is throwing up or has some kind of rash, I have to... It's an arduous process.
You have to be mindful, hold for 10 minutes just to talk to a receptionist and then it could be weeks before you can ever come in.
So we want it's taking a lot of those learnings from Hims and basically saying, "Can we be this end-to-end solution, where digitally you interact with a veterinarian, you do a video call, you do a phone call, and we can do anything from prescribing medication for a rash that your dog has all the way to just looking at the dog... Looking at the dog's diarrhea and telling you is this an emergency or is this because they just ate a crayon and it'll go away in a matter of days?”
Absolutely. No, I think that it is... Again, it's a fantastic idea, you seem to surround yourself with those. So I congratulate you on that.
What I find fascinating about Dutch is that you guys have actually built this on top of Shopify.
And I think that that's probably interesting to a lot of our listeners as well, because there are a lot of very specific quirks to how your business can operate.
And I don't know if you can shed any light on some of the technology choices and how you circumvented the "limitations" of Shopify.
Totally. And Shopify was not a platform available to us at Hims. Because in the human world, you have to be what's called HIPAA compliant, which is essentially, there's just a lot more and understandable regulation when it comes to privacy in medical records.
That doesn't apply to pets. There's certainly privacy, just general consumer privacy guards, but pets are not humans.
And so a lot of the protections of HIPAA don't apply in the pet space. And Shopify is one of those platforms, where it would not be something Hims could use because it doesn't have those medical HIPAA compliant options.
Whereas with pets, we were able to build on top of Shopify. We're the first platform with the first medical type of platform to be built on top of Shopify.
And then at the same time, we get to take advantage of all the tools and integrations that Shopify has built in terms of payments, in terms of just its modules, so it is pretty...
It was a pretty credible option for us, certainly not even then we can talk about it without some roadblocks. But it was like....
I just remember at Hims, we wish we could have had all... We have to build everything from scratch because nothing... Nothing existed.
And so partially, I think, with time, more tools have come about, but also I think it was always in the back of my heart. If I could ever build another business, it would be on top of Shopify, because it's such a great platform.
Absolutely, I'm sure that they're, they're gonna find that and cut it off and be like, "Hey, can we use this?"
No, I mean, for everyone listening, what Joe said about investing in a brand and just building a really powerful platform, go check out the website Dutch.com. It is a phenomenal piece of work.
So I would recommend checking that out. And with telehealth, and what you guys are offering at Dutch it obviously isn't the same as "I'm selling a pair of shoes on Shopify."
And you mentioned some of the roadblocks. But could you dig a little bit deeper into how your sales process goes using Shopify and how you think outside the box
For sure. Some of the differences? Buying medicine is definitely not the same as buying a pair of shoes. Because you're putting something, yeah, in your body or in this case in your pets' body. And people definitely care deeply about their pets.
So they're going to think twice about exactly what it is that their pet is ingesting. And so the way that our process works, is that you've...
And actually this is something we just launched recently. You first have a video conversation with a veterinarian licensed in your state in order to get a prescription. Just so, I think, incredibly awesome. Just a few...
Again, think about it instead of waiting weeks or instead of waiting minutes just to talk to your receptionist by phone, within minutes, you could talk to a --by video-- with a licensed veterinarian about your specific issue with your dog, cat, or whatever other animal there with you.
I think that's awesome. And then if you're...
So we can't prescribe in every state, but we can actually suggest an over the counter product in every state.
If you live in New York, for example, and you're talking to a vet about this crazy rash, we could prescribe a medicine bespoke to you and your pet based on your condition in order to treat it.
So at first, all you're doing is scheduling this $19 vet chat. And then depending on how that goes, you can check out with additional products.
So it's like a concierge service that you're signing up for and then that concierge can help you choose a product mix specific to your needs. It's almost like...
So I would think of it as like custom shopping experiences that you're buying.
Oh, absolutely. I can see the same style/thing being useful with not just Meta. Or maybe assisted shopping for fashion... Black t-shirts is all I wear. So you can see the model is going to be useful elsewhere. But I do want to highlight what you said.
You can't prescribe things in every state and you can... You're recommending products that you guys aren't selling, because at the end of the day, you're trying to give value to these people and you're building trust and getting [them to] like you.
And I know why you're doing it. It's because your goal is to eventually be able to actually prescribe things in all 50 states, but you guys are taking that investment and losing a bit in the states where you can't build that trust to when you hopefully can change the laws or get the laws amended in your favor.
Yep, for sure. And again, oftentimes... So the awesome part is when it comes to any product…
Again, we're pretty much the only platform that can actually send prescriptions to your household and not just have you then send you off to figure out how to get it somewhere else at Walgreens.
But even when it's over the counter, oftentimes, that can be something that solves at least your immediate/urgent problem as well, enough to get you over then to see someone in person. So by the time you're seeing them in a couple of weeks, at least you aren't...
The condition wasn't becoming worse.
Absolutely. Now, with watching a brand like this --I know that a lot of our listeners are gonna be curious-- what's the go-to-market strategy? How do you get the word out there about this breakthrough technology, [this] awesome brand?
This is like a constant thing I think with a new startup is you will never learn... Whatever you think you're going to learn whatever strategies you come up with beforehand, you will never learn as much until you actually do it and until the consumer actually has to take out their credit card and give it to you.
From those consumers, you'll never learn as much until you actually do that. For us when we launched...
Certainly, we had a whole APR strategy, a go-to-market strategy of how we launch, what kind of products we launch, what kind of price strategy is important to us....
And I think we launched small. So we launched with two conditions: With a behavior/anxiety and allergy/rash conditions. And I think very quickly, what we saw from consumers is consumers that are coming to us, they just want their problem solved.
They don't care how you do it. It doesn't have to be medicine. But they want to feel like "Okay, there's a solution at hand."
And we wouldn't have known that until we launched. And so part of that is why we are now... We launched...
We changed and split from selling products that included everything to a product that first includes the veterinary chat, and then the product.
And you might not need a product because maybe you just wanted to talk to someone and you realize that this is normal, or you do need a prescription product.
We wouldn't have known to split that until after we launched and started talking to our customers.
Yeah, no. That's fantastic advice. I think that when people are sitting there... When you have choices to make, sometimes you get caught up in like, "Oh, I'm gonna make the wrong choice."
It's like "You don't know what the choice is and no one ever does."
Just make a choice. And if it's wrong, you'll instantly know and then you can just pivot. 99% time it's never gonna be detrimental to the business.
That's right. I think about things we learned. when Hims launched and some of the changes we made with that product by the kinds of products we launched with our consumers how we...
The mix of products, the pricing, all that also and probably to this day continues to change.
Oh, absolutely. And the more customers you get, the more feedback you get, the more you dial in on trying to solve those problems.
Joe, I can't thank you enough for coming on the show today. Is there anything I forgot to ask you that you think might resonate with our audience?
I think it's always interesting to understand different types of consumers. To this last point, I think pet consumers are very vocal. Maybe all consumers are vocal but they're very...
They're very nice too, I think. They're...
Because, I think, we're offering them something they didn't even think was possible so they're pretty delighted when they see that they can have this experience. But it's been interesting how vocal they are in sharing their feedback.
So I almost would say, don't underestimate your own audience for those listening. Your consumers bought your product because they thought it was going to be great. And so don't take it for granted. But don't underestimate their desire to help you and help your business.
Yeah, I think that's great advice. Everybody listening, go check out Dutch.com. Especially if you have a pet, I think it'd be very useful for you. Joe, any parting words?
No. Thanks for having me. It's an exciting time and we have so many more products that we'll be launching in 2022. So yeah, continue to check it and checkout with Dutch.com.
Awesome. Thanks so much.
Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us.
We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.
Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have.
Make sure you subscribe, leave a review. And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.