On this podcast, we talk about the 2 things you need to do after product R&D, why you should consider a third co-founder, choosing editorials and earned media over paid media, and so much more!
Justin is a seasoned entrepreneur that's launched multiple consumer product ventures over the past decade.
As the founder & CEO of Doris Dev, the award winning global product development firm, Justin has worked on the development of category defining products in beauty, housewares, connected hardware and everything in between.
Justin is the co-founder & co-CEO of Canopy, the innovative beauty products company that introduced the game changing humidifier and waterless aroma diffuser.
Justin also co-founded Factored Quality, a quality control technology platform being used by consumer product brands around the globe.
Justin is a proud New York transplant currently residing in Austin, TX.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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"Was anyone gonna buy this product?" We had to do a ton of like upfront validation work and really just make sure that there was demand there.
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.
Today, I'm welcoming to the show a seasoned product development specialist. He's a supply chain pro as well.
He's founded a product development firm by the name of Doris Dev, and it spun out some awesome ventures including Canopy and Factored Quality.
Justin, welcome to the show.
Thanks so much for having me. Chase.
Awesome. Alright, let's just... Quickly before we really dive into it, let's talk about Canopy which is going to be the star of the show today.
What kind of products is Canopy bringing to market?
For sure. So Canopy introduced its hero product, which is an award-winning bedside humidifier that has light technology baked in that helps prevent mold from growing inside [and] makes it super easy to maintain.
And we built-in an aroma diffusion feature for home scenting, which makes it the cleanest, best humidifier in the market and addresses the ton of pain points around what people hated around humidifiers in the past.
Awesome. This is gonna be such a fun conversation. So take me back in time.
Where did the idea for Canopy come from? How did you get this thing started?
Yeah, for sure. So I guess for some context, my background is I go deep in developing consumer products.
I have spent the last 10+ years in the world of making and commercializing consumer products for scale, both on the design side and then the supply chain side.So that's my background, and where I started with this.
And the genesis of Canopy actually came about because my partner at the product development firm that I started a few years back, his girlfriend was using a humidifier as a beauty hack year round for her skin.
And she had this weekly ritual of breaking out q-tips and vinegar to clean it out so it wouldn't mold over. And we thought that was interesting.
It's this product that she was using all the time and kind of had daily interactions with, but had this very common and typical pain point of trying to keep it clean.
And when we dug into that, we realized that a lot of people had that pain point. Everyone had a story about how their humidifier would mold over and was really hard to maintain. And it was a hassle and a headache.
And we thought that that was really interesting because it was a category or a product that really wasn't talked about or considered very much.
And so as a product person, somebody that's gotten deep in consumer products, we started digging into it.
First, looking at the features and things that we could improve on and spent about a year doing R&D on what ultimately became Canopy.
And through that process, what was really interesting was, we fell back on that insight that my partner's girlfriend was using it as this beauty hack for skin. And that resonated with a lot of people.
So as we were going through this process of designing and reengineering a humidifier to make it better and easier to maintain, we realized there was an opportunity to really focus on positioning it as a tool for beauty benefits for skin health benefits. And so that's...
That was the original genesis that we chased and fell down the path with ultimately what became Canopy.
Absolutely. Now with taking a year for R&D, I guess we need to highlight a bit more about your background. If I was an entrepreneur out there, what was the advantages of your background and how you guys DIY'd this yourself first...
What an entrepreneur might need to either hire out for or the skill sets that they might need to have an in-house to figure out some of these challenges?
Yeah, I think there's 2 dimensions to that.
One is, I guess I had started and built up a product development agency so [I] had the luxury of having the resources and some folks around me that were product experts: So designers, engineers, people that I'd be able to lean on to help lead some of the work to that R&D process, which was incredibly helpful.
But the second piece of it --which you don't need to have the luxury of having-- is really this curiosity that keeps pushing you to go down this rabbit hole where it's like, "Okay, you start with a problem."
And our problem or interesting tidbit that we kind of came across was that everybody had this really negative experience with humidifiers, where they would mold over and they were a pain to maintain. And that was just the starting point. And curiosity kept moving us down this...
Moving us down the field, where we were like, "Alright, you know, we can figure out one feature around how to solve this problem, but it would open up the door for something else for us to work on."
And the curiosity was strong enough to keep us moving down the field in that same direction.
And so what I would say is that A, it was great that I was lucky to have the resources of, you know, the product development team around me.
But B, it also required the constant drive to keep pushing towards the solution for something that might not might not have been super obvious right out of the gate.
Absolutely. So you've got this year of R&D under your belt, you've got a product now. You have...
Basically, you've done the research. You're like, "Alright, I think we're on to something."
What's the next step after having a product? What do you do?
Yeah. Well for us, the thing that was...
We know what the trajectory looks like for bringing a product or at least figuring out how to set up a supply chain for a product, which is: You create the technical assets, the design assets, the engineering assets, the CAD, the color material and finish documents, the bill of materials...
All of those technical assets, you organized into a package that you then can bring to a manufacturing partner.
And for us, we scoured the landscape and looked for manufacturing partners that had experience in a relevant category --making small appliances-- and then conducted a request for proposal --an RFP-- to go figure out who would be the best fit to manufacture the product that scale.
And that process takes weeks or months, depending on how hard you want to look or how easy it is to find and engage one of those potential manufacturing partners.
And so we kicked that off with our team to go find a manufacturing partner for scale.
But as we were doing that, I think the thing that we weren't really sure about was, what the demand was like on the other side.
So in parallel to that, we wanted to do the work to figure out "Are we going to invest all this time and energy into a product? And on the other side of that work, was anyone going to buy this product?"
So we had to do a ton of upfront validation work and really just make sure that there was demand there. And the way that we did that...
Really the early stages, it really felt like kind of a snowball gathering momentum.
But the way that we did that was just putting the idea in front of people that we deemed to be experts or would be most excited about something because we were positioning it as a new beauty device or somebody who was obsessed with skin health, or somebody that we thought had previous experience, negative experiences, with humidifiers. And so we just...
We basically pitched our product idea to probably hundreds of people to just get data points to make sure that we were on the right track.
And there was at least some semblance of demand, before we went down the path of investing the time and energy into the supply setup work.
Is there anything else that you did to validate the idea and make sure that you have product-market fit?
Or even partners that you utilized to even... To go from really zero to one to find these first initial customers?
Yeah, for sure. So outside of just those conversations within our network, there are a couple other resources or things that we did. Tactics that we did.
So one is we actually reached out to merchants or folks that worked within the retail space to pitch the concept to them, to see whether or not there was interest, demand, or anything like that already within the landscape.
And so we got some early pieces of feedback around like who the competitors were, where we needed to position the product for it to be different or unique relative to other products out there...
And then the other thing that we did is we actually made some like low-level ads to run on Facebook, that we just shot on our iPhone with humidifiers, basically highlighting some of the pain points that we knew people had with humidifiers that, drove to a site for people to opt into an email. Basically, sign up for email.
And we were able to use that to just deem some low level interest in the category to begin with by spending money on Facebook and driving traffic to the site where we were capturing emails.
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You guys are validating this product, you have some initial feedback from Facebook and the people that you've interviewed, and now when you have these merchants and talked to them. Were these wholesale merchants or what was it?
Yeah, they're wholesale merchants and actually people that worked in retail agencies.
We had some friends that were working for, basically, rep firms that were able to ask about the product concept and what they saw within the category.
So they were like rep firms that were selling into the Targets of the world or even on Amazon.
And it was more, I would say, anecdotal or qualitative to just get some data points around like, "Hey, what did they see in this category? And where could we kind of create a differentiation for the product that we wanted to launch?"
Awesome. So you guys have got a product. You've got some validation.
What was the go-to-market strategy? How did you launch this?
Yeah, well, I think...
So for us, again, my background is in product development and supply chains. And we wanted to...
And as does my partner, we wanted to launch a beauty tool, which is like a totally foreign landscape for us. We didn't really have experience in beauty.
It's a pretty tight community and audience that you're targeting or chasing after with a new product. So it's not an easy pool to jump into.
And so our first thing, the first step that we wanted to do was really bring an expert into the fold to help us navigate the beauty landscape.
And so we tapped into our network, --meaning our friends, acquaintances, and work colleagues-- and basically tried to find somebody who could assist us to position the brand within the beauty sphere.
And we were lucky enough to have somebody that had started a really successful beauty brand that connected us with somebody that we initially started conversations with, just to get some advisory help.
But that relationship ultimately culminated with that person joining us as one of our co-founders, and now is our CMO for Canopy.
And his background --we were very lucky-- is, he was an early employee at Birchbox and went on to incubate a beauty brand at Walmart after that, but had 10 plus years in the beauty world, basically building and launching new brands.
And so he brought just like this vast knowledge and understanding of the landscape that we really didn't have.
And it was, really, a quick fire education and support system into jumping into that pool. And so we were really lucky with that.
But once we had our co-founder that understood how to position the brand for the target demo that we wanted, then we basically needed to figure out a strategy that would create a splash.
Because one of the things that we were limited with was, we didn't have a ton of capital, a ton of runway to basically throw at a launch.
We had limited resources so we weren't going to just go spend it on performance ads or a big splashy event or something like that.
And so what we decided on doing actually for our launch was really leaning into editorial and earned media because we thought we would be able to stretch our energy and our dollars further.
Because some of the early signals that we had in those conversations I mentioned with folks in the beauty world indicated that there was this undercurrent of people using humidifiers as a beauty hack for their skin but there was no brand that was really leaning into that to own that space.
And what we realized was that a lot of people's ears perked up when we said we were going to be creating something to address that need.
And so we thought that if we could pitch that to beauty editors and beauty publishers, we would be able to get placement. And so it was a hunch that we leaned into for our go-to-market strategy, which ultimately really paid off. So we hired...
And this was one of the areas where we did invest in, but we hired an amazing PR firm that specializes in the beauty world.
And she was able to help introduce us and get us in front of dozens of beauty editors across really all of the beauty pubs before we brought the product to market.
And we pitched Canopy, we pitched why it was not just the best in class humidifier --which everybody was confused about at the time. "Why is this humidifier brand getting pitched to an editor at Vogue?"
But once we were able to convey the skin health benefits and how important it is to put your skin and optimal relative humidity in your home and how important it is for skin barrier health when nobody's thinking about it, [then] these beauty publishers finally realized like, "Oh wow, this is super interesting."
And the big unlock for us was that they were getting pitched day in, day out all of these consumables, and topicals, and creams and goops for beauty, but nobody was really pitching them devices or devices that were focused on the environment around the skin, not just for what goes on the skin or in the body.
And so it was this refreshing take on what a beauty product was and what a beauty brand represented.
And so I think that was a really important unlock for us. Because what it did was it was refreshing and a new take for editors to latch on to.
And for our launch, we were then able to translate that or parlay that into having a lot of editors write about Canopy for our launch out of the gate, because it was just something that they hadn't seen, or they weren't traditionally used to getting pitched.
And so for that, that was our big unlock going to market.
Oh yeah, that's fantastic. I think earned media is a very underutilized way to build a brand. People are...
Most people are just like dumping money into Facebook and Google and paying to acquire customers that way. I want to go back though and highlight or just ask a more specific question about your co-founder.
For people out there that are building a brand and potentially exploring this avenue, what would you say...
What should you be looking for in a co-founder? And were there any benefits outside of just it [feeling] like a shortcut?
Yeah, I think... Well, so the original team was myself and my partner from the product development agency, who is our Head of Product.
So he is the technical brains of the operation. He's an engineer by trade, whereas I focus on supply chain operations, more on [things] like business operations.
And so he and I have a great working relationship, but very much focused on product and supply.
And what was really interesting is when we brought our third co-founder into the fold, who came from beauty and he has really strong marketing chops and understands brand strategy, and retail relationships, and brand partnerships, and all that, it was a new dimension that the two of us really didn't have experience going deep on.
And the other thing that was really helpful --which I think a lot of folks are thinking about when they're thinking about bringing on co-founders-- is actually bringing a third person into the fold.
So not just 2 but a third co-founder into the fold to be a decision maker was really helpful for us because it created a really strong sense of balance with differing perspectives for all of the critical decisions that needed to get made going from zero to one.
And we felt like, between the 3 of us, we had a really good coverage of all the different areas that we needed to have covered for bringing a new product into the world.
That's fantastic. I'm just going to point something out there: When you're getting a co-founder, something that you said, but you didn't really highlight is everyone has a specific set of skills.
And I'm gonna say it. You don't need a co-founder that does the exact same thing you do.
For sure, yeah. Because there's...
You don't want to have too many cooks in the same kitchen. You want to be able to create discrete lanes and people can get into their lanes.
So you guys launched this product with PR and things are going.
Is there anything that you can share that you've learned since the launch? How are things going?
Yeah, things have been going great. We've been in the market now for a little over 2 years. And one of the things that we are most excited about with the product is there's actually a replenishment component to the product. So it's not just a device. It's a humidifier.
There's a filter inside the humidifier that filters out metals and minerals and gunk from your tap water so you can just use tap water in the humidifier. And that filter gets consumed every 6 weeks.
And something that was really interesting that we've built a big part of the business around was because of how the product is architected with this filter, there's no steam that comes out of the humidifier like traditional humidifiers, so you don't see any mist.
And one of the early signs or pieces of feedback that we got from testers was that they were confused that this was a humidifier that didn't have any mist or you couldn't see anything visible coming out of the device so you didn't know it was on.
And that was one of the reasons we included an aroma diffusion feature in the product. [It] was because we wanted to give that signal that the device was working through scent.
And so we incorporated this really innovative way to defuse scent using these pucks where you drip some fragrance oil on into the puck, and then the fragrances evaporate. And that's how you...
It's basically like a reed diffuser on steroids.
And so that snowballed into its own thing, which is that people loved the aroma diffuser feature on the humidifier.
And what we ended up doing was we initially launched the product just with a filter subscription.
And after about 6 months, we were hearing from people that were using the aroma diffuser feature that they loved it so much. And what we ended up doing was introducing a second type of subscription where people could opt into also getting new aroma kits with every filter that they got on subscription.
And so all of a sudden, we took our subscription business where it was really only utility, --you're getting a filter, you're replacing that filter every six weeks-- and we were incorporating this aspect of delight, because people just love the aroma diffusion feature so much.
And so from that, the next step we did was we started introducing/rolling out new aroma kits every quarter.
And instead of just doing them ourselves, meaning Canopy branded aroma kits, we started partnering with other brands and we would do limited edition versions of our aroma kits.
So over the last 2 years, we've done those limited edition aroma kits with brands like Prose, Laneige, Curie, Lalo, Open Spaces, The Sill...
And we have a bunch in the hopper, where we're going to continue to introduce new limited edition versions of the aroma kits with brand partners. And it's been...
It's become like a really important part of the product offering. People love our aroma kits. People love getting the aroma subscriptions because they're getting a new one every quarter or every 6 weeks. And some of those are these limited edition versions that we've done with other brand partners.
And on top of that is that it's become a really important vehicle for growth as well. Because every time we do these limited edition partnerships, those brand partners are introducing Canopy to their audiences [and] to their customers.
So it's become like this really incredible flywheel where it started with a reaction to incorporating a feature into the product so that people knew that it was a humidifier and that thing was working.
And it's now snowballed into something that's become a really critical part of the growth engine and a product feature and totally almost like a business line that our customers love.
That's such a fantastic little growth hack there and I was waiting for you to mention just the fact that you're basically just acquiring a bunch of almost free customers with these partnerships. It's just... It's so fantastic.
Before we go here, let's talk a little bit about your history. You're still running Doris Dev, and we just glossed over Factored Quality as well.
So let the listeners know about the other things that you have going on.
Yeah, for sure. So the genesis of canopy came out of Doris Dev, which is a product development company that I started about 7 years ago.
Essentially, it's a service business that helps other teams, entrepreneurs, [and] companies bring new physical products to market.
And the Doris Dev team has internal teams to lead industrial design, engineering, sourcing, supply chain setup and management, fulfillment operations...
So really everything from ideation all the way through shipping of physical goods.
And so I've been working in that space, again, 10+ years. And Doris Dev has worked with some really incredible brands, to help them bring their product ideas to market and help them scale with operations in the background.
And that's been an incredible experience in and of itself. We've gotten the opportunity to work with world-class entrepreneurs and incredible brands learn about different strategies of bringing products to market and what works, what doesn't work, and all of that.
And so I was really fortunate to have that front row seat and was able to leverage that for bringing Canopy to market.
And out of that experience, we also incubated another business called Factored Quality, which was essentially we partnered with a company that was building a software solution in the supply chain space. And we were doing...
One piece of work that we were doing on the supply chain operation side was quality control for product brands, which basically means we were helping to send inspectors to factories to qualify them or to go sit at the factory during production to make sure that the goods were meeting all of the specs when they came off of the factory floor. And there was no digital...
Something that we noticed was that there was no digital solution for all of that work that was happening or there was no source of truth for everything that we did as it related to quality control operations.
So we ended up partnering with a software team that built a software platform for that work. And then on the back end, our team was doing essentially all of the quality control coordination and operations work. And all of the data now funneled into this platform called Factored Quality.
And through the platform, we've been able to tap into some really incredible insights and provide some really great, essentially, perspective on making really good decisions around supply chain operations and quality control for physical product brands.
All of it stems back to this experience of essentially working in consumer goods, building something end-to-end, getting the perspective of what it takes to go from concept all the way through shipping, and then tapping into learnings to do interesting things with the infrastructure that we built.
That's fantastic. Now, is there anything I didn't ask you about today that you want to share with our audience?
I think you did a great job diving into the right questions about Canopy.
Awesome, thank you so much. So if I'm a listener and I'm curious about Canopy, Doris Dev, Factored Quality, your birthday, what do I do? How do I get a hold of you?
Yeah, the easiest place is probably to find me on LinkedIn. Justin Seidenfeld. Also, always happy to get an email. It's firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Justin.
Thanks so much for having me, Chase.
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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