On this podcast, we talk about why big brands don’t have a shampoo alternative, especially for guys, how Modern Mammals’ customer behavior made them decide to not place products on shelves, why their customers prefer bulk buying instead of a subscription, and so much more!
Joe Moriarty previously worked in technology investing in Austin, San Francisco, and New York prior to creating Modern Mammals.
He has experience with both fundraising and buying other businesses, and spends time helping other founders now as well.
He's from a town near Rochester NY, studied economics at the University of Chicago and did his MBA at Harvard Business School.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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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. I'm your host, Chase Clymer.
And today we're welcoming on the show, Joe Moriarty. He's a former software investor and now the creator of online brand Modern Mammals. And he's also working on a new offering to help operators [and] investors in the software space.
Welcome to the show, Joe.
Thanks for having me. Chase.
Absolutely. It's wonderful to have you here. So let's dive in.
Tell me, where did the idea for Modern Mammals come from? What was going on?
Yeah, it goes back to honestly probably 2015. I was living in at the time… Living in California. I was hanging out with I would say like the extremes of the health-conscious --I don't wanna say health freaks-- but people on the very verge of that world.
They're doing CrossFit, they were drinking unpasteurized milk... But I spent a lot of time with some of these people, and I was noticing their aversion to actually using shampoo.
And so I started just talking to more and more guys about it, and hearing from friends and things that were saying like, "Yeah. I actually avoid using shampoo. I've heard it's damaging. I don't like what it does to my hair."
And a lot of people were like, experimenting with Paleo and things at that time and just trying to do more and take care of your body more naturally.
So that's... Yeah, that's where the idea and the brand name "Modern Mammals" came from.
Awesome. And so when did it evolve into this take on shampoo?
Yeah. What I realized a little bit about the shampoo industry was like, Procter & Gamble was never going to come up with a product to stop, to go against Head & Shoulders or whatever brands they own.
So I just realized the shampoo companies that sell shampoo and conditioner, we're not going to come up with a product that replaced shampoo and conditioner. So I knew it needed to be a new brand and an outsider to the haircare space.
So I was in business school. I had the time to work on a business. I started off using Modern Mammals as a class project as I studied Ecommerce and brand building. And yeah, then just just went with it.
So when you're formulating a product for a... What were you dealing with regulations in your space or... Because I know when it's been beverage, obviously got the FDA and all that stuff, but did you have to jump through any hoops to get this thing ready for the mass market?
Not a lot of regulatory hoops. A lot of the manufacturers and chemists... We work with professional chemists. They are on top of that stuff for us.
The biggest hoop was honestly like getting manufacturers and chemists to want to work with you, I think, as a new brand.
There's probably a... They get pitched new clients and new brands all the time. They are hesitant on who to take on because they don't want to waste their time.
They don't want to take losses. And so just earning that credibility, getting referrals from other people to line up those relationships was the first hurdle.
Absolutely. So how long was that kind of process of product research and development and getting it from like, "Alright, we're gonna make... We're gonna do a new take on shampoo because we've done this research and we've learned that there are people out there that want this."
From that position to "Alright, we actually have this physical product in hand."
Yeah, it takes longer than you think.
Actually, I remember talking to the founder of birddogs about this. They make like these men's shorts.
And he basically said, "Look for a physical product, don't expect that you're going to be selling it in any less than 9 months."
It takes a long time from development, then the manufacturer needs to source their supplies, you have to do test runs.
So I would say fall of 2018, I had friends washing their hair with stuff I made in the kitchen. (laughs)
Yeah. That customer trust is important. And then me testing out everything out in the market for several months and then probably first started working with a manufacturer like March of... February/March of 2019. And then not actually selling our first version of the product until January of 2020.
Absolutely. And then within January 2020, obviously, you're launching right before the pandemic hits.
So how did you navigate those waters and how did that affect your go-to-market plan?
Yeah, we... It was crazy timing. We... I had hired my first employee, Wes, who is awesome. His start date was supposed to be April 1 2020. So between hiring him and starting, the pandemic happened. We had to go fully remote.
On the supply chain side, though, when you're not a big brand, you're not holding a lot of extra inventory. You don't want your cash tied up sitting in inventory. So we didn't have a ton of backup stock and we were still really iterating on our formula.
So when the pandemic happened, there was this huge rush for hand sanitizer, and we couldn't get some of our ingredients. We couldn't get plastic bottles.
So we had about a 4 month period where we were unable to sell anything, totally out of stock, and just use that period to really like work on our brand, redo the website, prepare for that.
But definitely a lot of tough supply chain problems right off the bat with a pandemic. And honestly, they still persist today.
With the launch getting messed up... Let's call it duck a duck. You retooled everything you were working on the brand.
When did you guys kind of go back out at it and what was your go-to-market plan? What are you trying to do? How are you trying to acquire customers?
Yeah, so we came back. So we sold out, basically at the end of May, early June, I think, 2020 and then came back with kind of a big splash at the end of September 2020. We had some press lined up.
We had our new website, our new brand. Really came out with kind of a splash, then. We're getting a lot of coverage, a lot of influencers covering us. And we had tested...
We've done a lot of advertising testing around this outsider brand image, a lot of different creative copy and such. And so, like a lot of brands, we had a social...
A big splash on social media. But we really thought about "Where can we reach guys?" And what we found in terms of acquiring customers is like our customers are on Reddit asking about our brand.
They're reading reviews from other customers, they're on our social media, reading comments from other customers.
So we like to see where the customers are, and then let them talk to other customers and have them vouch for us in their path to purchase.
Absolutely. So if a young brand is coming along, would you say that that funnel of using influencers to get some awareness out there and then social as well...
I'm assuming you guys are doing some stuff on Facebook and Instagram, what are the channels?
Yeah. And honestly, I wouldn't recommend influencers. I think people... We're not like an influencer/celebrity-led brand. We can't get into that. We're the opposite.
We're like a customer-led brand. It's not about...
We're about featuring our customers. We're not about talking about ourselves or showing pretty pictures of our product. I don't think influencers work that much.
I think people see through them. I think a lot of people know that those are like paid promotions now and they're a bit commoditized.
We happen to be getting interest from influencers back then. But we don't focus on that. It depends who your customer is, though, in terms of where you're going to reach them right.
Guys are on Reddit. I think a lot of people are comfortable purchasing on Instagram, or Facebook.
I think TikTok is a nice place to build some audience but I don't think people have the same purchasing behavior on TikTok, at least not for us that we see on other channels.
I would completely agree. Well, I think it's just the demographics on TikTok. They trend so young. They don't even have a debit card to purchase the thing that they're seeing.
And that goes to the platform being young, especially the ad part of the platform, they just did some crazy new features within the last few days.
They launched some new features about doing cross party pixeling or something like that, but that's a whole another conversation for a whole other day.
Alright, so we heard that customers hoard your product and there's always these crazy reviews that you have from people discovering your product.
What do you think is going on? Why do you think there's such a customer obsession within your particular product offering?
Yeah, we honestly get like the craziest reviews and it makes running the brand a lot of fun. Our customers are very... [They] very much want to be a part of the brand right into us. They love getting their reviews featured and things. So we get really, really funny stuff but the reason that exists is just because we have... We speak to a super...
We don't try to talk to everyone. We speak very specifically to this guy in your 20s - 30s. Very specific product, very specific pain point around like, "Look, you don't like shampoo. Shampoo is a bad product. We have something better."
It's a very clear simple message and people resonate with it.
You know exactly who your customer is.
We know who our customer is and we have... We fit just has a unique need in the market. Competition wise, there's stuff in the women's space.
But people selling shampoo, just it... We solve a gap in the market. We definitely fill a need and that's why people stock up on our product like crazy. It's...
I have friends who tell me like... They ask me... They'll send me a text message or I'll see them somewhere and they'll say, like, "Hey, will you let me know if you're gonna be out of stock because I need to stock up if that's gonna be the case." And I don't...
I used to feel bad when people say, "Oh, I'll buy a bottle for this person or whatever."
And I was like, "No, no, you don't have to."
Now I know people love the product so much that I'm like, "Yeah, do it. Go like the product."
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So what I want to really want to highlight here is that I think the initial success of your brand is that because you knew how specific your customer was exactly who you're trying to speak to, that helped you with getting things off the ground because you knew you were targeting with it.
So would you say that if there's like any entrepreneurs out there that are getting into the space and looking, that you'd say start with a problem and a very specific customer and then work your way backwards?
Yes, start with a start with a problem for sure. Look for something where you feel like people are either, using alternatives. We were very early in it, myself and Wes, who helps run the business.
We were out there experimenting with alternatives to shampoo. And when I knew all these CrossFitters that were using apple cider vinegar to wash their hair. I'm like, if people are looking for these weird alternatives, there's obviously a pain point there. So I think like...
There's this example I remember hearing and it's when you see somebody with a walker --maybe an elderly person with a walker and they put tennis balls on the bottom. They're using something else to solve a problem.
So you know that there's a product needed there. So I think like look for those opportunities where people are trying to work around something...
...and then figure out a way to speak to the customer in a unique way. Don't just put up pretty product photos and think that people are gonna buy your product.
Find a unique message that gets their attention.
Absolutely. And you mentioned this a few minutes ago that your customers are writing with these crazy reviews, and they love being featured. Now are you...
I'm assuming that you're taking all that stuff and repurposing it into your marketing materials and just like creating this flywheel of social proof within the business.
Yeah, we try to. I think it's easier with... I don't know if I want to generalize. You can cut this part out if you want. But I think what I've heard from other brands is you get more...
Sometimes you get more of that user generated content from a female audience and less from a male audience. So we have to work for it a little bit more. But we do try to...
We repurpose the reviews, because a lot of guys, what convinces them to buy is the reviews and feedback from other guys.
Some of that's in our control, some of it's not, but one thing we realize about our customer base, and the reason that we're not just on every Target shelf, is that guys will do their research online. They will go on Reddit and read the reviews.
They will go on our social media to read the reviews, but they're not going to browse the CVS aisle for 20 minutes reading about the products. So that's how we get them.
I feel seen right now.
Is that you? (laughs) Do you...
That is me. Everything I'm looking for is whatever the thing is plus Reddit and then I'm reading, just going and trying to learn and get some feedback from other other people that are looking to solve this particular problem. So yeah, a real world example right here.
So with getting those reviews and feedback from your customers, tell us about how you're like listening to the customers, incorporating that feedback, and basically just making the brand better from it?
Yeah, definitely listen to feedback on the product, we... I would say for the first year of business, we still iterated on products, used different formulas, see what people like. We incorporate a ton of feedback. And a couple of examples here.
We've heard people ask us for plastic-free. So we are working on... We actually have it almost finished, a plastic-free version of the product.
Another unique example, I'd say a lot of people push subscriptions super hard in D2C, generally.
They say, "Oh, have a subscription model. That's better for the business." We listen to the customers more. And what we saw is that something...
A lot of people would rather just buy 5 bottles at a time as opposed to having one bottle delivered every 2 or 3 months. So we came out with these big bulk refill pouches.
So it benefits us and it benefits them where it's just one shipment. We can sell you a lot more product at a time.
We get the cash upfront as opposed to being on a subscription cycle, and the customer gets a better deal too. So it's really a win-win for us.
The refill pouches were one of the first things we did because we just saw that behavior from our customers.
That's a fantastic example.
Now tell me, you mentioned that you're working on a new offering to help operators, investors in the software space. What's that all about?
Yeah, so and not just specifically software. But I would say like we... What I've seen... I'm in groups with other founders and stuff and it's tough to run these businesses on your own because the average business...
The average small business even uses about 30 to 60 different apps to run your company. You constantly have vendors. You need an IP lawyer in Europe. You need a marketing agency, etc.
And so it's just a lot of decisions you have to make, and you have to trust different things on the internet. You don't really trust reviews, etc.
So I've been building a list of kind of recommended apps, agencies, services, etc. from basically crowdsourced from all the different conversations I have, and people I speak to and build that like "best of" list for vendors and services and using that to help other founders build their businesses.
Oh, absolutely. Now, is that ready to go public yet? Or do I gotta wait to be able to share that with our audience?
I'm doing it pretty manually right now. So people can, reach out to me and whatnot, if they're interested. It's not fully productized.
It's because I'm still the curation layer of that. I'm vouching for what's good and what's not. So the filter still goes through me at the moment.
Absolutely. But at the beginning, when you're only working on something like that, you can't do the...
You need to do the things that don't scale at the beginning to make sure that the product is good.
Yeah. So I was talking to a former co-worker, and they were like, "Oh, you should call it like Joe's List, like Angie’s List because people trust you, as opposed to trusting random reviews". And I was like, "Yeah, maybe. Joe's List."
Alright, Joe, we've talked so much about this awesome shampoo. And if you've piqued someone's interest, where should they go to check it out?
Awesome. Joe, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Read the reviews. Don't trust me. Trust the other customers, for sure.
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.