We chatted with Nicole Bleiwas, president of Felicity client Herbert, a functional beverage brand that “aims to harness the power of plants to help us grow in our everyday lives.” Herbert was started by some of the founders of Greenhouse Juice Co.
Nicole built her career within major CPG companies, including Kraft Heinz, Canada Bread and Coca-Cola. So what was it like to go from these behemoth organizations to a company that’s just beginning to bud? We asked her to share with us what she learned on her journey to leading Herbert, and the adventure since.
We’ve all been thrown into a state of trying to adapt to a widely different world than we’re used to. What did you find were the things that helped you adapt to the differences between “big corporate” vs. “growing startup?”
In large corporations, there are typically norms and prescribed ways of working that often include a hierarchy of decision making that we become quite used to. Patterns of expectations in what we do and when we do them—from defined job descriptions, annual planning cycles to performance management—these processes help keep things on track and offer a level of comfort in terms of knowing what is expected of us.
In a startup, the patterns and processes don’t yet exist. For anyone leaving a large corporate environment to go to a startup, one of the hardest things to get used to is the lack of process. Managing through the unexpected becomes the norm. The approach to problem solving is different, in part because there are fewer people to support in finding solutions.
The focus is on understanding a challenge, identifying solutions, weighing the pros and cons, and making decisions on how to proceed and then quickly taking action. To succeed in a startup means having a learning mindset of continual improvement.
What can one type of organization learn from the other?
The biggest thing that large organizations can learn from startups is to have a greater bias for action and rethinking what individual accountability means. In all of the large companies I’ve worked for, accountability has been a company value. This typically translates into being accountable for your personal goals.
In a startup, everyone has to roll up their sleeves and not be precious about who is responsible for certain tasks. In this environment, accountability takes on a deeper level of meaning. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. There is a safety net in large companies of knowing someone else can pick it up. In a startup, there usually isn’t someone else to take it on.
For smaller organizations, it is easy to get caught up in the tactical day to day tasks. Don’t lose sight of the need for strategic direction, goal setting, and the importance of understanding the consumer. A strategy serves as a guardrail and gives you a focal point against which to evaluate tactical decisions. While tactics can and should be open to change, having a well thought out strategy is critical.
Startups typically don’t have budgets for consumer research. Your personal bias and preferences can potentially cloud decision making. Incorporating consumer insight into strategy and plans is something startups can learn from large organizations. The big difference becomes the source of that insight and finding creative ways to access it—without big budgets. You would be surprised what you can learn through publicly available information, social listening, and talking to consumers in a store setting.
What led you to accepting the challenge of leading Herbert?
There were four primary considerations that led to my accepting this incredible opportunity.
The first is a belief in the brand. A wise person once told me to “make what you can sell, not sell what you can make”. On a functional level, Herbert’s products are tied to long-term consumer trends: Clean label, Low sugar, organic, delicious, and effective— products that people desire.
The second is an alignment in values between myself and Herbert’s founders, in particular having a growth mindset. Internal growth, learning from others, striving to be better and do better is a quality that all of us at Herbert possess, both in our business and in our personal lives.
The third is having the opportunity to lead and steer the brand. Having joined pre-launch, it has been really exciting and rewarding to cross over that threshold from “pre-revenue” to “generating revenue” and from “planning” to “operating.”
Lastly, although we are a startup, having the connection to Greenhouse Juice was a major draw for me. Greenhouse has six years of experience moving from startup to scale up that I am able to tap into.
We think readers will be interested in learning about the relationship between Greenhouse & Herbert. Given Greenhouse is such a well-established and well-regarded brand, what drove the decisions around how much of a connection to draw between them, and what to make distinctively Herbert?
There are commonalities across our products in that we both offer clean label, organic beverages made with cold-pressed fruits and vegetables. Herbert’s products are co-manufactured by Greenhouse—ensuring that our products are made to their same high-quality standards.
What makes Herbert unique is the inclusion of herbal botanicals in our beverages, such as Ashwagandha, Passionflower, and Dandelion, each of which has a beneficial impact on the human psyche. We like to say that “Greenhouse is good for the body and Herbert is good for the mind”.
Greenhouse is more of an all-family brand, while Herbert targets adult consumption. As a result, our communication is differentiated in terms of visual direction and tone of voice.
What were some of the big challenges you anticipated for the launch of Herbert?
Herbert’s mission is to “turn people on to the ways in which plants can help us lead balanced, present and energized lives.” The herbal ingredients we use in our products are not widely known outside of the naturopathic world. Educating consumers to help them understand the value of these ingredients, explaining how herbs work and how to use our products are important to proving that Herbert is more than just a delicious beverage.
Our campaign, “Herbert Wisdoms,” is designed to educate the consumer about the transformative effects of herbs and quality ingredients on the human body & psyche. These can range from pithy, attention-grabbing statements to longer more explanatory prose. Wisdoms are shared by Herbert and Herbert’s partners to build credibility.
What were some of the “normal” yet unexpected challenges you encountered in getting the brand off the ground?
Packaging has been the biggest non-COVID related challenge. We originally planned on using a clear on clear label on our bottles. Unfortunately, when we tested these, the labels didn’t go on perfectly. We shifted to screen printing that has given us a higher quality finish that we love.
We designed a multi-coloured secondary package for our direct to consumer offering. Upon printing, the colour combination resulted in bleeding, so we had to adjust. We launched with a one-colour box and are looking at alternative print techniques for the future.
What were some of the COVID-related challenges, and how did you adapt to deal with them?
Our launch date was scheduled for March 16th. This became the day that stay-at-home measures went into effect. As such, we postponed our launch to April 1st.
Along with this, we have pivoted our marketing plans. A press launch event was planned for April 7th which we have now postponed. Our products do require education focused on the usage and efficacy of the herbs we use—sampling through brand ambassadors in venues such as yoga studios and wellness centers was a tactic that we had planned to use to convey this educational message.
We have shifted our efforts to include printed materials in our sample packs and have put greater emphasis than originally planned in our social and email communication on educational content. As we roll out our distribution into retail, we are also leveraging educational POS material and doing more in-store sampling.
You engaged Felicity to undertake the Content Collective process with Herbert. What did you like/learn from this process?
The content collective was a great opportunity for us to hear from experts and understand what they thought of our products and communication plans. It helped us both refine and re-define direction. We loved having the diversity of experts whom we could learn from. In particular, their honest and open feedback on what they liked and didn’t like was hugely valuable.
How did your learnings from the Content Collective influence your plans for Herbert?
Coming out of the collective, we worked with Facility to create a roadmap. This included taking our “Herbert Wisdoms” from a planned social tactic to a bigger campaign idea that could come to life across a multitude of marketing channels.
Any “Herbert Wisdoms” to share with our readers?
Our co-founder Lee says this best- Herbert is a brand built on the promise of putting people in a better position to handle life’s ups and downs. Herbert doesn’t shy away from the unfamiliar, the unexpected, the uncertain—or even, on occasion, the downright difficult. Herbert embraces all aspects of experience, all moods, all feelings. Herbert helps us enjoy the good times but also helps us find resiliency and meaning in the tougher times. For Herbert, this is what it means to be alive to the world.