On this podcast, we talk about Three Wishes’ creative marketing tactics, learning from agency clients and applying it in their own business, the harsh realities of going retail first, and so much more!
Margaret Wishingrad is the Co-Founder and CEO of Three Wishes, a healthy-while-delicious cereal.
Before founding Three Wishes, Margaret was Chief of Staff at BigEyedWish, an ad-agency based in New York.
While at the agency, Margaret worked with Fortune 100 to seed-round startup businesses.
She and her Husband and Co-Founder welcomed their first son, Ellis, in 2017 inspiring Three Wishes' genesis.
While feeding Ellis, Margaret realized the white space in the market for a cereal she wanted to feed him nutritionally, but also enjoyed eating herself.
Margaret has grown Three Wishes from conception to a national brand, with retailers including Whole Foods, Sprouts, Erewhon, and many more in addition to a strong DTC arm.
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.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.
Let's get on with the show.
Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer.
And today, we're welcoming to the show, the CEO and co-founder of Three Wishes, Margaret Wishingrad.
Thanks so much for being here. For the people that are unfamiliar, could you... Quickly, what is Three Wishes? What are the types of products that you guys are bringing to market?
So Three Wishes is a “better for you” cereal brand. We are high-protein, low-sugar... We're gluten and grain free.
Oh, that's fantastic. So take me back in time. Where [did] this idea come from? When did you realize you wanted to be a serial entrepreneur?
I know the little double entendre on the "cereal" entrepreneur. So the answer is actually so my husband and I have an ad agency here in New York called the BigEyedWish.
And we had the amazing pleasure of working on all sorts of clients: The fortune 10s, the small startups. And the idea was born out of our own frustrations as parents.
So we had our now 5 year old but then he was our 6-month old, and he was eating finger foods. And one of the recommendations for his little pincer skills was cereal.
And it was an "aha moment" where I haven't had cereal for the longest time, because [they're] not so good for you. And I turned to my husband Ian. I was like, "Okay, crazy idea. Entertain this. We should make cereal." And he was like, "Oh my... Yes! We should make a cereal."
So long story short, we ended up becoming "cereal" entrepreneurs. No, but it was really for both myself, my kid... I really realized...
No, I realized that it was a lot of the legacy brands that I grew up eating. And consumers are just smarter. I think we've upgraded all of our other categories. We've upgraded what pasta we're picking, what tortilla chips we choose to consume.
And cereal felt like a really obvious "Aha!" but no one had done it. And fast forward 2 years of R&D later, we launched our product.
And we've been in the market for about almost 3 years now.
That's fantastic. And I did not realize that I was coming to you with a double entendre until it slipped out of my mouth and I went, "That's really good." So I guess maybe go back a little bit.
Let's talk about your history before branching out to what us on the agency side, like the grass is always greener over there.
When you're on the agency side, you're like "I want to start a brand. I'd be so good."
And then when you're on a brand, you're like "Running an agency will be so easy". So let's talk about the agency for a bit and what was going on there.
And then we'll go back more into the product side of things.
Awesome. So the agency side by the way... And that is exactly it. It is the "Grass is always greener." I think the service industry is always like "Oh I want a product."
I think we always knew we wanted to create a brand. I don't think we knew what it was. And then when cereal hit us it was like, "Oh my gosh. Yes, it was the most obvious, glaring one of them all." And it's just... It's really fun.
It's extremely frustrating because we are also our own worst client. Usually we tell clients, "Oh, you can only stand for one thing. Consumers have a short attention span. Go for one thing." We're like, "Hey, let's go for 3." So it's fun.
But the other really fun thing is we also did our packaging in house. And that took us so long. And I think you overthink everything. You become so close to it. It's like "How do you distance yourself?" It was a whole nightmare and a lot of fun at the same time.
But yeah, it's really interesting to do both. And now, Ian and myself, we each chose her own lane. So he still runs the agency.
He helps out with all the marketing on the Three Wishes side. But I really run the day to day on the three wishes side.
And it's been really fun to shift from operating an agency to operating a consumer good.
Absolutely. And so as an ad agency, the services you guys were offering over there... Was [it] like more traditional media, paid media, and ancillary services that go along with it?
Yeah, it's a mix of a lot of things. It was some branding packaging. Ian's background is the copywriting side. So [he] loves TV, loves doing video. And so that's been a big part of what the agency focuses on, but we've dabbled in all of it.
And I think because our clients became our mentors in a way where we were able to work and figuring things out and what works, and didn't work for them, and then apply it to our business. So I think that was...
That gave us a leg up for sure where some people might not come armed with that skill when they start a brand. But yeah, it was a mix of all fun, creative things.
Yeah, Margaret, you read my mind. That was where my next question was going. It was like, How did running the agency kind of give you a leg up or accelerate the launch of Three Wishes?
Yeah. In so many ways... One of... I think there's a lot to learn. So on the side, where you work with really big clients, they have these massive budgets and are able to execute things on huge scales.
I think when you have a start up, it's really helpful to work on the other side, where you have small clients that come to you with an innovation and you help them go to market, and you help build their brand, and you help with all the little things.
And you figure out how to utilize much smaller budgets and how to really create efficacy in those little buckets. And so for us, one of our clients was a pet toy client and had an amazing...
They like rolled out in retail really well, they had really interesting strategies that they applied. And so we got to borrow those little tidbits from them.
And then we really help them on "How do we communicate the brand? How do we make a customer feel a certain way about this brand?"
Or "How do we make them feel a certain way to bite for their dog because you're buying for someone else?"
And so there's all of these little nuances that we picked up along the way, but I think that was the best experience working on a smaller startup, and helping them really scale, and become a bigger brand helped us a ton.
Oh, absolutely. I think that's an advantage of working with agencies or consultants or whatever is...
Just from the brand side, they're learning 10 to 20 times faster than you are because they're experiencing all the problems you have plus all the problems all their other clients have.
So it's just such a crash course in education on what's the weird stuff that's out there that you have to fix, in either the platform or what's going on with the market.
But this isn't about agency stuff. Right? Let's move forward a little bit. It's more about the product. Right? So you said 2 years of R&D.
Walk me through that process from when did you... "We're gonna take this seriously, we're gonna build a cereal brand." What was that process like?
R&D is such a time. Yeah, so it started in late 2017, we had the idea. We initially... We did a million phone calls. How does one make a cereal?
So it's a thousand of those, "Hey, do you know if someone like a food scientist that formulate this type of thing?" Then you find the food scientist, then you give the food scientist a brief. Now it's finding a facility that could produce it. So it's like so much research.
And people are always like, "Oh, where did you find your facility?" The same way you find everything else: You dig into the depths of the internet, you start calling people, and so it's really... You leave no stone unturned. And then it's also about finding the right size facilities. So Goldilocks.
You don't want something too small that can't scale. You don't want something so big that they can't take you immediately. How do you find the right partner to scale with you?
So it was finding a lot of those partners initially. And then from there, it was just, "Hey, these are the things we want to tackle as a brand. These are the ingredients that are important to us. These are the values that we want to stay in for. The macros that we want to hit."
"And how do we create that from a product standpoint? And how do we get as close as humanly possible to the conventional cereal that is filled with a ton of sugar and has no protein? And how do we bring in nutrition to something that has no nutrition?"
So it was all these different things, and finding those right partners. And then from there, just iteration. It was getting line time, going in with a formula.
Not working? Tweak the formula. Tweak process. Tweak whatever you can to really get to a product that you feel comfortable with.
We as marketers knew the biggest thing that could crush your brand is good marketing and bad product.
So I was really maniacally focused on making sure our product is there from day one. I think especially in food, no consumers, like "Oh, new recipe. I'm gonna give this brand a chance." It doesn't work like that.
You try something, you either love it or you don't love it. And you're either gonna buy it again,or you won't. And we look at it with a really funny agency lens where we're....
We want retainer clients, we don't want projects. So we want our customer that's gonna have repeat and a customer is going to try it and continue to buy it for the rest of... As long as they live. So that's how we set out and looked at the product.
And we ended up launching in late October 2019, which is probably a lot later than I would have hoped to initially launch, but it's...
R&D is a lot like house construction, where you're like, "Oh, it's gonna be 6 months." And then it's two years.
So that was an interesting learning process. But to get something to a really good place takes a long time. And then October 2019 came around. We launched in retail.
For us, that was a really important thing to be a product that is sold on store shelves. And I think for us, we understood that cereal. Our type of cereal...
It's not like we're bringing you a cheaper mattress delivered in a box or glasses delivered a different way. No one was looking for a cheaper Cheerio or a different delivery method.
They were looking for a much cleaner, better product that's good for you. So we decided it wasn't about the delivery mechanism. It was about where the price point was, the ingredients and how the customers were experiencing.
So we really focused on launching in brick and mortar. But of course, we're also sold online. And that's a great channel for us as well.
Absolutely. So the go-to-market strategy, when you launched initially, was getting on retail shelves. That's better said than done. How did you accomplish that?
I know there's a lot of listeners out there right now that their goal is to break into retail. So any learnings from that you can share?
Yeah. Arguably, retail is probably the hardest channel to break into. You have limited store shelves, you have a product that's already on the store shelf that you basically have to convince someone to kick off to place you on. So it's a really interesting process.
And just learning that whole ecosystem is a little thing in itself. But for us, the important thing was we knew that people feel a certain way about a product when they're involved in the process.
So we brought in some of our buyers to some of our retailers really early on and gave a peek under the hood of like, "Hey, try our latest R&D sample. What do you think? What would you change?"
And I think as you got them involved in the process, they were really excited to bring it to market. And once everything was tweaked, and perfect and ready, the retailers were ready to get in there. The other thing that we've learned within retail is nothing has a…
It's not like a two minute talk like, "Okay, my products ready, let's get it on store shelves next week." There is so much involved in getting a product to shelf the resets, there are calendars...
So in theory, you can have a product and it won't see a shelf for 6 months, 12 months, even if your product is approved. So figuring out and backing into the strategy, which we borrowed from our creative agency brands, was figuring out how do we build a grand plan? What are the retailers we want to go into? What makes sense from a brand standpoint in terms of discovery?
And what does that look like? What's the funds involved to make sure you can bring a product to store shelves? They're all...
Stores are really expensive to plan as a channel. So there are so many different variables.
But for us, it was making sure our buyers became our partners and got really excited to bring a product to market.
Absolutely. So you build these strong relationships with your buyers and it helps you get into those stores.
Now after launch and as you guys are starting to scale, you guys obviously have a strong direct-to-consumer arm. How did that kind of play into the mix?
Well, interestingly enough, the pandemic that no one predicted. I think we'd like to follow consumer behavior.
So when we launched, people were still going to grocery stores for discovery. A pandemic enters the scene, not so much. I don't think people are so excited to peruse an aisle to find the newest and greatest cereal.
It became, "Hey, we need essentials." And so the interesting thing about essentials is, this is where the internet got really interesting.
Amazon during this period, I think March 2020, wasn't allowing you to have anything within that regular 2-day span, unless it was an essential. Food was considered an essential.
So we're like, "Okay, great. Amazon's a channel we can really get behind and push. And then on our own website, similar to any other D2C brand. Within a couple of weeks, we just redid the website, we launched it and wanted to make a really frictionless consumer experience.
And so it was really the opportune time where people were looking for new things because maybe the cereal basically consumed either was sold out on store shelves or sold out online.
And it was our opportunity to be one from a retail and online perspective to be the vendor that's there for you. So hey, you discovered new cereal? Yes, we're in stock.
Yes, you can get it within 2 days, whether you bought it on Amazon or on our website. And so it was just really taking this not so great time and creating that into an opportunity, and then figuring out how Three Wishes play in there.
So we really quickly pivoted from "Hey, our strategy right now is crushing brick and mortar" to “Hey, let's crush online while we know the eyeballs are there."
And then as the world normalized, it becomes a balance where we're like, "Hey, the people that buy it online or discover things online, they're gonna continue to be the consumer.”
“But the people that are now so excited to go back into a grocery store and walk that aisle with our cart, were there as well."
So it really pushed us into being an omni channel brand. And it was a really interesting lesson.
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Absolutely, how did you get those eyes during that time on to the product? Were you guys [doing] PR, going into paid? What [were] the acquisition channels?
So we dabbled in a little bit of paid but that wasn't the big thing. The big thing for us... One, it's always organic. I think we learned...
And whether it's from just clients or just being consumers... Consumers are not dumb. They see when something's an ad. I think the best thing is a genuine endorsement.
So we started doing a lot of just cold send outs DMing people "Hey, may I send you my product to try?" And then seeing their genuine...
Because we knew the product was great. So seeing a genuine endorsement of someone going, "Hey, I tried this new cereal Three Wishes. It's great. You should buy it."
That performs better than anything. But the really fun thing we did was flex our creative muscles, which was... So this was the era of drive thru COVID tests. We used to sample and demo in stores before the pandemic. Obviously not you can't do that.
So we have a U-shaped driveway in our house. And my husband Ian was sitting and he's like "What if we did a drive thru taste tests?"
And we've just like glove up, mask up, and give people a sample here in our little community and see what happens. And I'm like, "Okay, crazy idea but fine. Whatever. What else are we doing?"
So we both set up in the driveway, and we painted a big sign. I'm standing there gloves, tongs, mask, and people that are just like circling the neighborhood --we've been pretty busy streets-- are just entering the driveway. Just continuing to enter.
And Ian's like alright, "I'm just gonna capture this B-roll footage and see what happens." So we had... Whatever was a great day people sampled the cereal and then Ian sent that content over to our local paper.
It started to get picked up I think during a dark news cycle where everything was about death count or whatever was going on.
Any good little bit of "Hey, here's how small businesses are figuring out how to thrive." or "Here's what this couple from Westchester is doing." It started to just pick up and so went from our local newspaper to USA Today to Fox.
They were like then we have a 3 minute hit on national TV. And that was our biggest sales day all from this. We spent $3 on art supplies to set up a little table in front of our house, but it was "How do we create these moments that become really relevant to media that become really relevant and resonate with our consumers?”
So that was kind of one fun little feel good thing we did. And then we also launched our cocoa flavor, right in the heat of the pandemic, the middle of 2020. And it was also another vicious cycle.
"Really, how do we create some feel good something around this cocoa cereal? And how do we tell people it tastes really good and chocolatey?"
And so we're sitting in brainstorming, and we all have the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a classic. And we're like, "What if we could reunite the original cast or the original living cast and have them endorse Three Wishes, the cocoa flavor?"
And Ian just started to like, hit the pavement, call... Call person to call a person...
It was digging through the internet, we found... So Charlie is a veterinarian in upstate New York. Mike TV is a real estate agent in LA, and Veronica Salt is the loveliest grandmother in England now.
And so we called all of them, and we told them our story. And we're like, "Hey, if you like the cereal, will you please send us a video of you eating it, and enjoying it. And they all loved it." And they all send us...
Veruca did it in her Veruca outfit. Charlie was sitting in his... And we wrapped each one like a chocolate bar with the golden tickets. So it played into this whole Charlie and Chocolate Factory thing.
We took that piece, we put it all together, and had the cast members of Charlie and Chocolate Factory endorsing it.
But what that created was this really feel good moment where it was like, "Oh my god, they had Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pushing a chocolate cereal." And that had some nice media pickup as well. So it's just creating these fun little feel good things.
Oh, absolutely. And I can tell that your ad agency experience is like playing into that. And when you know it's an off the wall idea that's going to get that free PR, which is something that not a lot of brands are doing campaigns for is to...
"Alright, we can obviously put paid behind this." But winning "earned media" is what they call it in the biz is such an overlooked way to get eyeballs on your product.
Yeah. And I think people forget about the little guerilla things that really do move the needle.
Now, is there anything looking back over your growth over the last couple of years, any mistakes that come to mind or just things you want to tell our listeners to watch out for within their journey like "I've been there, done that. Maybe stay away."
I think it's really just creating the strategy and sticking to your guns on strategy. I think the other thing that saved us and that's our experience from the ad agency side is the ability to be nimble, and the ability to be comfortable with killing ideas or pivoting in general.
It's like such a hard thing. So if you're seeing that something's not working and you're burning capital, turn it off, pivot, and just be quick to react to it. I think that's a big saving grace. But for me, it was sticking to my guns.
There were opportunities to go into other retailers that were larger, that were excited about it, but just not the right partner for the brand growth at that time. So really for staying that strategy is --as difficult as it is-- is also really important.
And then outside of that, there's a fire drill every single day, there was something that needs to be tended to and put out. But I think that's part of the business.
There are so many lessons with all of those things. And there's not a thing I could say or do that's going to stop these things from naturally occurring to people's businesses. I think understanding how to problem is the biggest thing.
Yeah. And you're right, there's a really big difference between the overarching strategy and then the tactics that you're using to accomplish that goal. And founders really need to identify it. So if your strategy is more sales, that's probably gonna be through more traffic to your website.
And you're trying one tactic, maybe that's paid acquisition, and you just can't figure that channel out, after you've given it a good shot pivoting that to another strategy that's going to give you tactic because it's still...
It's another tactic that's going to give you traffic that's still on board the same strategy, but it's like learning what's not going to work or what will work for your brand.
Most important lesson.
Absolutely. Now, is there anything I haven't asked you about that you think would resonate with our audience?
Not that I could think of. But I'm happy to answer anything else you have. Business is...
There's going to be an obstacle in every part of every business and just having that entrepreneurial spirit...
And there's so many times where you're like, "Oh, this sucks. I need a minute to just smell the coffee beans and just recalibrate." Fundraising is really hard. That's another thing. I mean, I remember there was a point where I did like 10 calls in a day and they were probably all no.
And I turned to Ian and I was like "I need to take... I need to take a break. I need to take a few days to regroup myself and get my energy back together and pitch with the same love and passion that I have for my business today that I did then,"
And so it's okay to do all of those things. And it really, as cliche as it is, it's not about the destination. It's about the journey.
And just optimizing that whole experience is super important too.
You sign up for a roller coaster when you decide to become an entrepreneur, but it's the best roller coaster and it's so well worth it.
Absolutely. Now, we've talked a lot about this awesome cereal. If we've got a listener or a viewer on YouTube, hungry to try this, where do they go? What do they do?
They're going to threewishescereal.com, or Amazon, or any Whole Foods, Sprouts, Wegmans, Fresh Market, probably any other store with "fresh", "green", or "whole" in it in the United States, we'll likely stock it.
But we're always available on our website.
Awesome. Margaret, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Thanks so much for having me.
We 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.
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