Episode 180
October 23, 2020

“I Wouldn’t Allow Our Business to Become Dependent on One Channel”

Damian Soong, co-founder and CEO of Form Nutrition joins us to talk about Form and building a B-Corp brand that serves a wide audience.

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Phillip: [00:00:00] When you think of DIY, what do you think of? Well, you probably think of sloppy or unskilled or untidy work, but today DIY has taken on a brand new meaning. DIY represents a customer's choice, a consumer's choice, to have a more meaningful connection to the inner workings of items that could otherwise be easily purchased. I want to introduce you to our brand new report that we just put together in partnership with Gladly. And it's talking about The New DIY. That's the name of the report, The New DIY: Creators, Crafts and Commerce. And this trend isn't just confined to arts and crafts. It is expansive, and it incorporates everything from electronics to robotics to stock trading and real estate investment. And we are proving out the theory that trends that begin on social media culminate in purchases on Amazon, which inspire another wave of social media posts. This cycle of purchase intent is linked to social media inspiration, and we can see it. We can plot it out and we do that in our newest report. I'm really stoked about it. You can get the report today over at FutureCommerce.fm/TheNewDIY.

Brian: [00:02:43] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:02:46] And I'm Phillip. Today, we are joined by someone who I feel like I know, but I only just met for real and not on Twitter about five minutes ago. Joining us today is the Co-Founder and CEO of Form. It's Damian Soong. Welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:03:03] Welcome.

Damian: [00:03:04] Thank you. Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Phillip: [00:03:06] I've heard so many podcasts that you've been on that aren't Future Commerce. So I feel like in some way your story has been told before, but I don't want to take anything for granted. What is Form all about, and who is Damian?

Damian: [00:03:23] Okay, well, I guess that's a great question to start with. So, yeah, my name's Damian. I'm CEO, Co-Founder of Form. Form is a plant based brand all built around the belief that you can be the best version of yourself while being mindful of others. Very high level. We have a range of plant based proteins for your body, nootropic cognitive supplements for your mind. We're a B corporation. Actually, the first UK brand or first UK protein brand rather, to achieve that. So joining the likes of Patagonia and Tom's and other hero brands in the US and being committed to using business as a force for good. And that's been something that's been amazing for us. You can find us online. Obviously we're predominantly online, but also a cool stockists around the UK and the US. Planet Organic. Equinox. And cool places like that. But I guess my kind of background is really kind of varied. I studied engineering. Like all good engineers I went to work in the city, so I did about six years in investment bankers and analysts. I went to do an MBA. I got involved in a lot of startups there, then went to run a contract manufacturing company. So I learned a lot about manufacturing in organization's operations, all of that side of it, but always, always been interested in working out ever since I guess it would be like late, late kind of high school and college, that kind of 16 to 18 year old. I'd always been going to the gym, always interested in nutrition and eating well. And, you know, I grew up watching army movies and Bruce Lee, that kind of stuff. So I've always taken a protein. And back then and until fairly recently, it would have been whatever kind of whey protein I could have got my hands on. But around about I think... When was it? Was it 2015? Around the time of Cowspiracy when those kind of documentaries were coming out.

Phillip: [00:05:15] Yes. Yeah.

Damian: [00:05:15] Philip, you're vegan, right?

Phillip: [00:05:17] No, I'm on the trend to get there, but I'm not there yet.

Damian: [00:05:21] Mostly plant-based or something.

Phillip: [00:05:22] Yes.

Damian: [00:05:23] But I got interested in a round about that time of Cowspiracy. I'm sure you've probably seen that, as well.

Phillip: [00:05:27] For sure.

Damian: [00:05:28] And my kind of personality is fairly kind of addictive. So as soon as I kind of saw that, I went and devoured all the kind of information that I could around that kind of movement and read The China Study and those kind of books. And it got me really interested in the plant-based movement. And naturally, I tried all the proteins around at that time. And remember, this is around about 2015. So there wasn't the choice that we have now. And certainly veganism wasn't the thing that it is now. But I tried, literally that old story of I tried them all and they were all terrible. So I saw an opportunity. I thought I could create something. I had no experience in creating those kind of products, but I had a lot of experience in creating other products and a lot of experience in startups and in building businesses and in manufacturing and all of that. So I saw that challenge. I wondered why there was no great tasting products and also no brand that spoke to me. So when you looked at the branding in this space, especially at that time, in kind of the lower left hand part of the quadrant, you had all horrible plastic tubs with terrible graphic design, that kind of typical gym bro type stuff. Or, in the other kind of top right quadrant, you'd have something that I would describe as a little bit too hippie ish and wishy washy for me. Right? So I didn't understand why there was nothing that I would describe as a more aspirational, performance driven, beautiful brand that would appeal to someone like me. That wasn't something you'd want to hide away in your cupboard. That was something that you could have on your on your work surface, in your kitchen, and was just a beautiful brand and object. I didn't understand why there was no kind of at that time anyway, no kind of like Aesop of nutrition or something like that. And so I wanted to create something that spoke to me and I figured that other people might like it as well. But then there was a lot of other things about protein and nutrition that I didn't have an issue with. I thought it was strange that it's very much people look at protein shakes is just something you neck after the gym and then hopefully you get big biceps or a six pack or whatever. And I wanted to elevate the whole idea of nutrition to be more than just a protein shake after the gym. How you nourish your whole self, and I think when you start to broaden the definition of nutrition to be more than just what you're eating, but rather how you nourishing your whole self, it gives a brand a license to talk about a lot of other things like mindfulness, nutrition, education. So that's how we started. And the other super important thing about Form as a brand is that we recognized really early on that nutrition and wellness by definition, it's about the self. So we just thought, let's turn that on its head and make it about others. And that's how we brought in the aspects of giving and creating the Form Feeding Fund and having that giving aspect of the brand. So, yeah, I mean, this is all back in like 2015 that I kind of started thinking about it. And we eventually launched after about 18 months of R&D and testing and what have you, around about 2017.

Phillip: [00:08:41] Wow.

Brian: [00:08:43] Wow. So it sounds like the world... Go ahead.

Phillip: [00:08:46] No, I yeah, I was going to say that the timing is really right for the kind of consumer that I think you were trying to reach. Of course, there's a lot that's changed in the world this year. I think we'll get to that. The thing that really stands out to me is what you just said about this idea of it being beyond just performance gains or appealing to a specific subculture of fitness focused or fitness mindset around the protein. But in that you work it into every other part of your life. I think your content, the content that you put out, actually really tells that story in a really meaningful way. inForm being one of the emails that I get every week that I look forward to seeing. There's a few recent articles that I think sit outside of the realm of like performance, nutrition or athleticism. A couple just off, to kind of rattle them off are "Sustainable Laundry: 8 tips to help you look after your clothes when cleaning them." There's another one, "Has the pandemic kick started a new dawn for sustainability and fashion?" I think you're speaking to the mind set and the way that a certain kind of consumer thinks. That is a consumer that cares about things that are more than just gains with a Z, right?

Damian: [00:10:14] Yeah, exactly. So big thing for us in terms of defining what we're talking about is we're talking about performance, but understanding that performance means something different to everyone. And for some people that is going to the gym and getting ripped. But for a lot of people, it's performing at work. So it might be raising three kids. All of these things are very, very, very, very different. But people who have a performance mindset just want to do that to the best of their ability. So we're trying to cater to all of these things through what we call like the Form Lens of these values of empowering individuals, being ethical, looking after the planet and being not afraid to take risks and do things differently. And the content with inForm is, as you say, and I'm really pleased to hear that because it was a big bet for us to really go all out on publishing. And we have our own writers and editorial and all of this kind of stuff. So it's a big undertaking for a brand to do that. But I truly believe that content is the future of marketing. And also one thing I've always quite fancied is having a magazine and that kind of stuff. So it's kind of scratching a bit of an itch as well.

Brian: [00:11:27] Yeah. In fact, it goes beyond just the magazine. It looks like you have courses as well for education, which is just incredible. And it just, I think is a perfect extension of the brand and your mindset. There's a seven day course on sustainable weight loss. It sounds like everything that you do is about sustainability, education, living a life that actually is not just good for you, but for good for the people around you. And education seems like a very natural outflow of that as well.

Damian: [00:12:02] Yeah. And it's something that we've always done. I mean, one of the first things that we kind of realized in the nutrition space is sometimes there's a problem with credibility. I was always surprised with how many nutrition companies don't even have a nutritionist on the payroll. So it was always important for me to have that kind of credibility. Our Head of Nutrition is a PhD with 20 years experience. And he writes a lot of those courses with us. And that's about giving people quality information. And all of that's free as well, because nutrition is one space where it's a super complicated science and often it gets kind of dumbed down into headlines that you often see in the press and so on. And we wanted to do it justice. So our content is is easy to understand and is bite sized and has boiled down to principles that you can take away and act on. But it also pays respect to the science. It doesn't dumb it down to a simple headline, because it's such a tricky science and it's so individual. So that's a hard line to tread. But yeah, something we do a lot of. And, you know, prior to COVID, of course we did a lot of events as well. So we would do talks and have various people in. But obviously that's on hold now.

Brian: [00:13:17] I hear a very like strong community minded sort of ethos to your brain as well. It's not just about pushing stuff at people. It's also about listening and giving them opportunity to engage with each other. Is that a big part of who you are as well?

Damian: [00:13:36] Yeah, 100 percent. We've always tried to to grow through what we call real customer advocacy, I guess that's just word of mouth, right? But that happens now on social media, obviously. And for us, that's the best form of marketing. We've worked with a lot of influencers, never paid. [00:13:54] But we always try and develop relationships and add value to each other. And that's enabled us to grow really through that real customer share increase in community. Being open. And as founders of the brand, we're very approachable. Our whole kind of tone of voice throughout our customer service and emails, all of that kind of stuff, it's very much encouraging conversation. And we love to hear from our customers. [00:14:21] We do a lot in terms of like data and so on, getting to understand our customers, so we can serve and offer more value. So, yeah, I mean, it's community. I mean, it's a bit of a kind of cliche. Now, I know everyone's talking about it, but it's something that we've always, always focused on.

Phillip: [00:14:37] As long as I've known the brand, which isn't that long, a little over a year maybe. But as long as I've known of Form, my sense was this idea of a a brand that I wish that I could probably get access to a little quicker. I felt like I was on the outside trying to get into a community that primarily existed, in my mind, in the UK.

Damian: [00:15:07] Well it did. Yeah, I mean, we launched in the US in January this year.

Phillip: [00:15:11] Yeah, I remember I think I might have first purchased in February or March, somewhere around that time. And I felt in the customer experience, at least, in having first purchased the product showed up as fast as I would have expected any other US brand to have launched. Like, in no way did it seem like it was far away anymore. Talk a little bit about that strategy of like sort of extending out and global. And I think of you primarily as an eCommerce brand. You say that you're in other other places now. What does that look like for you to kind of grow up out of my mindset of these sort of eCommerce roots? Is that an incorrect framing of what Form is or has been traditionally?

Damian: [00:15:56] I mean, we started as many brands do, is kind of like what I'd call like a pure DTC brand. We were selling online directly to customers, but very, very quickly we had really good retailers come to us and want to stock us. And within two months of launching in the UK, we were in one of the best retailers in London, Planet Organic. And within three months from that, we were leading that category, as the top seven out of 10 products in the whole protein category, not just vegan. But the way we approached reaching out of pure DTC was really by treating retail as places that we would like people to discover our brand so we can kind of still control it a bit in terms of how it's discovered. But we didn't want to be everywhere. I'm sure that time will come. But for now we've just positioned ourself in places where we'd like to be discovered. So that might be a Net-a-Porter. It might be Soho House. It's places like Selfridges or in the US like Equinox, places that fit with our brand where we can add value to them, and they can add value to us. We didn't want to just hand over our products to a distributor and lose control of things like pricing and where they show up and so on. So that's been really important for us. And that's how we look at it. I mean, we've said no to a lot of, you know, big commercial opportunities because it wasn't really the right place for Form to be, and that really depends on your mindset in terms of the type of business or brand you want to create. Right? For us, this is the right decision. But, you know, for a lot of other people, it would be the wrong one.

Brian: [00:17:37] Yeah. One thing you said earlier at the beginning is that you are a B Corp. Actually I'd be really curious to hear more about that process and what was required to become a B Corp. Did you have to amend your bylaws? What happened there?

Damian: [00:17:58] So the B Corporation thing has been really good for us actually. But I guess... How would you explain it most simply? I guess I would explain it as a certification of the businesses that want to use business as a force for good. In my mind, it's something that really focuses on people and the planet. So there's a fairly lengthy certification process to go through. An audit goes through all aspects of supply chain impact and everything from how you treat your people to every aspect of your business, really from a people and planet viewpoint. From where you get your power from to what you do with your waste, for example. And there's an assessment and audit. And I think it took us about a year maybe a little bit longer to get through that, and in the end, you get a grade and a certain grade allows you to become a B Corporation and become certified. In terms of articles, yes, you do have to amend them, or your bylaws as you as you call it in the US, I think. And really that amendment there is really to commit stakeholders and shareholders to considering what I would call the triple bottom line. And that's like people and planet, not just profit. So that's written into your articles. It means that everyone's committed to thinking about the holistic impact of the business on people, planet, and not just profit. I've done my background in running manufacturing businesses, and so I've done a lot of certifications in the past, from ISO to GMP and NSF and so on. But really, it's only the B Corporation that is one that I've seen that really focuses on these aspects of people and planet and sustainability, which is a really big thing for us, as you know.

Phillip: [00:19:40] What would you say is the most astringent part of that or the hardest part of obtaining the certification? Is there a mountain of paperwork or is it something else?

Damian: [00:19:53] Well, it's very broad. So it goes across all aspects of your business. So there's a lot to cover in it. And yeah, I mean, you talk about paperwork. There's there's a lot of documentation. I mean, I guess most businesses, you would hope, have some documentation and have processes documented and employment contracts and all of this kind of thing. But yeah, there's a lot of documentation from having an employee handbook that covers certain things through to policies on recycling or whatever it might be.

Phillip: [00:20:23] Are there any third party auditors or someone that sort of keeps that that industry healthy and making sure that they're re-achieving some sort of accreditation or keeping them honest? What does that look like on from the like an annual basis?

Damian: [00:20:40] I think they re-audit you every two years.

Phillip: [00:20:44] Oh, wow.

Damian: [00:20:45] So it's fairly... It might be three. I'd need to check, but it is two or three years. But yeah, it's fairly robust. Most quality certifications would be a two or three year cycle depending on risk. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:20:58] I have a something that sort of struck me is the Form Factor for the protein. And I do want to talk actually about the nootropics in just a second because I'm fascinated with the growth of that particular category. But just on the protein. Other protein that I've bought in the past, let's say there's another... There's a pea protein here in the United States that I used to subscribe to on Amazon. And it comes in a human sized container. {laughter} It's massive. And in reality, it's sort of daunting as someone who might just casually use it or want to sample some things. Was there a decision around the Form Factor of the protein the package to be smaller? What's the thought process around that? And is there a temptation in the business to sort of go more towards these larger portions and sit next to others on the shelf, so that it's seems like it fits into that sort of a category?

Damian: [00:22:08] Yeah, I guess the main reason why we went with the stand up pouches was A) sustainability. We didn't want to have a big plastic tub. B) It was about creating something that looked nice and looked different. So all of our pouches have always been full color printed with nice imagery and very kind of clean and minimal. I didn't really want to just have a label or something like that. And then the important aspect in terms of the packaging also was we moved to fully compostable packaging as well. So we we worked with suppliers to develop a plant-based cellulose that's bonded to paper to make all of our packaging fully compostable now. So, again, that's fitting in with our sustainability goals. And in terms of the size of the Form Factor, it's 520 grams, which is thirteen servings roughly, depending on how you use it. It was a kind of a conscious decision. A) Because it looked the right size. It was a decent number of servings. If you use it every day, it would be two bags per month. And also because we're reaching more away from that kind of gym bro kind of customer, more towards a lifestyle customer, we knew that it probably wasn't going to be the kind of people that are necking two shakes a day or something like that. And we just felt it was the right balance. It's still working really well for us. But to be honest, one of the biggest questions we get asked is when are you going to do bigger bags? So that probably is something that will roll into the pipeline at some point. Yeah, I mean, that was the point of the thought process behind the bags. And actually, I don't know. From the time I've spent in the States, I think those kind of stand up pouches as a format is more, or was more, common in the UK than it might be in the US. So while it might seem quite different to you, probably to our consumer in the UK at the time of launch, it wasn't that different.

Phillip: [00:24:03] Oh, I mean, but the US perspective is obviously the correct one. {laughter} I'm just kidding. We have been accused in the past of being myopic in the North American point of view on this show, which at this point will just go ahead and own that we are guilty of that. One thing you had mentioned on Twitter some time ago was there are things that are difficult in business. Some of those might be more difficult than others. One, you listed as the sort of formulation and the flavor profile or the taste of the product being one that you spent a tremendous amount of time perfecting. What was that process like?

Damian: [00:24:48] So yeah just thinking back now, it seems like a few years ago, but we're actually still always continuously doing it, looking for new flavors and new products. But I think, to go back to the point I made at the beginning when I started most vegan products all tasted really bad, it's because they were added as an afterthought to people with successful dairy based ranges. They just thought, okay, let's just just stick a vegan protein. And, you know, they did it and it tasted terrible. And we spent, like I say, pretty much 18 months testing and developing flavors. And it's really, really hard. Coming up with a formulation is very, very easy because you can write down the macros that you're trying to hit. And that's just like solving a formula in terms of the ingredients that you want to hit, the macros that you want. But flavoring is an art, not science. So how things interact together, what flavors mask other flavors, all of those things, there's no way of kind of figuring that out in a spreadsheet. You have to do the hard work of creating samples and tasting them. And I'll tell you that is hard work because after you've tasted thousand terrible proteins, you get pretty sick. {laughter} And I just remember me, Pete, and Natalia tasting all kinds of stuff. I mean, one that sticks in my mind is we have turmeric in one of our proteins because the curcumin is a good anti inflammatory. And one of the samples was we're starting off we just had way too much turmeric in there. And it actually tasted like kind of chocolate curry, which actually kind of grew on me because I quite like curry and chocolate, but I didn't think it would have been a hit on the market.

Brian: [00:28:37] Since you launched in the US, have you thought about launching additional flavors? And how is that process been? So you spent the first 18 months sort of formulating flavors. Have you looked at engaging your customers in that process, especially as you expand into new markets?

Damian: [00:28:59] Yeah, we always speak to customers about the kind of the flavors that they'd like to see and the products that they like to see. We do a lot of talking to customers, lot of surveying and things like that. In terms of the US, it's interesting because I was wondering whether that is going to be a different kind of palate in the US. Are people going to like different flavors? But we see exactly the same trends in the US in terms of which are the most popular flavors compared to the UK. So I find that quite interesting.

Phillip: [00:29:24] I'm surprised you don't get like a nacho cheese recommendation from the United States.

Brian: [00:29:29] {laughter} Pizza.

Damian: [00:29:29] I think even though, you know, obviously the US and UK are different, I think the kind of the personas that we're speaking to in the UK are probably very similar to the personas in the US. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. Like I say, we've only just launched what is going really well in the US. And obviously it's a massive, massive opportunity. It's just been difficult for us with COVID, obviously, because we've not been able to spend as much time there as I would have liked.

Brian: [00:29:56] Has that affected how you go to market this past eight months?

Damian: [00:30:00] A little bit, because obviously everything had to be online. So we had some plans to launch with Neighborhood Goods and a few in their spaces in New York and Texas. And obviously they ended up shutting. Now they've just kind of reopened. But whether retail is kind of ripe right now for us, I'm not sure. So we've really just been focused on online in the US. But as soon as we get the OK to fly back in, I think we just have to wait maybe after the election or something. I don't know. We'll see what happens. But we'll be focusing on New York and LA, possibly Texas. And actually that's where all of our US customers are. Those three places.

Brian: [00:30:40] Interesting. You mentioned online, obviously, you've got your website. Have you looked at expanding into niche marketplaces or even broad marketplaces?

Damian: [00:30:50] What do you mean by that?

Brian: [00:30:51] So marketplaces, meaning like Amazon and Walmart.

Damian: [00:30:55] OK, so we're on Amazon in the UK and in the US actually. Amazon is I mean, you guys probably understand it better than me. But I think I said to someone else the other day, it's kind of like having a caged beast in the basement that we need to kind of have it there, but we don't want to let it out or let it get too powerful. I wouldn't want to have a business personally that relied too much on Amazon. But on the other hand, I can see how it can be very addictive because just the amount of traffic and sales that happen on there, it's insane. But yeah, we are an Amazon in the UK. I've just got approval in the US. In the US there were a few hurdles to jump through because of FDA registrations and things like that. But yeah, we worked on that now. So yeah we're there.

Phillip: [00:31:44] Ten years ago there was a thriving sort of mom and pop, small health food store, naturalist store culture in the United States. I think a lot of that is shifted to digital now. And unfortunately, I think some Amazon has cannibalized it and then Whole Foods took whatever else was left over. We do see the emergence of some like Thrive, which are wellness focused marketplaces, which I think would satisfy the niche vertical that Brian was talking about. Do you see any of that in the UK? Are there specialty shops that are still quite predominant or prevalent?

Damian: [00:32:33] Yeah, so obviously we have Whole Foods here as well. And a more independent version of Whole Foods in London would be Planet Organic, which is I think eight stores now in good neighborhoods of London. And I think the kind of comparison to that in the US would be Erewhon in LA. So, yeah, we have that here. I don't know if I think Thrive that you mentioned is kind of quite big online as well as I understand.

Phillip: [00:32:58] Yeah. Correct.

Damian: [00:32:58] I don't think in the UK we have like an online Thrive type business. I mean, Planet Organic, for example, sells online, but it would be a very small proportion of their business.

Brian: [00:33:16] So another thing that you mentioned, Damian, that I thought was really interesting is that you've created a bag that you know lasts about two weeks if your customers use it every day. Are you finding that customers are using products as you expect? And then I noticed you've got subscription available, which makes a ton of sense. Is that the main way that people eventually consume your product is through subscription? And did you see any difference between the UK and the US in terms of how that was leveraged?

Damian: [00:33:48] Let's take the subscription question first. So we do have subscriptions. Yes. And they're very popular. And actually, the thing that I've noticed in the US is many more customers tend to subscribe than in the UK. That proportion is much higher. In terms of how customers use the product. This is really an interesting question. We've been doing a lot of data work to look at customer usage and time between orders and trying to predict churn and things like that. It's really, really hard for us because people purchase in so many different ways. You get to some people that just purchase occasionally when they need it. We have some people that purchase like 10 bags at a time. So trying to model and really understand the customer usage is really, really difficult. And we have a data scientist now, and that's actually something that is one of his big projects to try and figure out that and then use that to help us understand churn when it might be like a customer's going to churn, so we can reach out and help them and make sure they're getting the value that they need from the products.

Phillip: [00:34:51] We're certainly talking about, you know, the direct channel first party data. Those are great. How do you approach that as the business becomes more omnichannel? And what is the strategy to sort of maintain the mix? Are you looking to keep all the channels where you can find Form in sort of balance with each other? Is there a harmony there that you're trying to achieve?

Damian: [00:35:18] Yeah, I mean, I think part of the reason why I like DTC as a channel is I like all the data. My background is slightly kind of nerdish with engineering and being in the city and all of that kind of stuff. And so I understand the power of data. And like I said, we have a data scientist now, which is very cool. For me anyway, not for anyone else. {laughter} But yeah, I mean, in terms of maintaining the mix and the balance, I think yeah, I've been around enough businesses that become dependent on one channel or another, or one thing or another, whether that be acquisition by Facebook or whether that be revenue via Amazon or whether that's just being a traditional business. You know, one customer... Too much concentration in one customer or one segment. So I wouldn't allow our business to become like that, so I would think that I would always try to balance it, but it's easier said than done. And sometimes things or events take you in different directions. But at the moment, the plan is to kind of maintain that. For us, it's like a 70/30 direct to consumer balance.

Phillip: [00:36:26] Well 70/30. I mean, that's great. As the business grows, there's been a lot of conversation on Twitter about exit intent or exit eventuality. Is there a pathway that a particular kind of CPG brand is probably taking these days? Is that something that... Are you looking to build a healthy business or you're looking for... What's your opinion on building like the health of the business and the sustainability of the business as a whole, versus a business that might be built specifically for acquisition?

Damian: [00:37:01] Yeah, I'm a bit old fashioned in that I like to build and run businesses for profit.

Phillip: [00:37:06] Right, right.

Damian: [00:37:07] And that's just me. And that doesn't mean that the right way. That's just my way. A lot of people have done far better than me doing it different ways. So that's just a difference in opinion. And actually I have a mentor who sold the business to Accenture, but he's been in DTC since, like before the Internet was invented, when it was catalogs and adverts in the back of magazines and stuff. And he kind of says to me what I say to other people as well is it depends on you, right? What do you want to do? How fast do you want to push things? Are you comfortable effectively reporting to big investors every quarter? Is that the kind of business that you want or do you want to have more of a lifestyle business? People forget that, you know, if you create a profitable business, the income you can generate, assuming you own significant shares still, is significant. And also, people forget that the amount of dilution that you might take growing a massive business and raising a lot of money, even an exit of ten million dollars or something is very difficult to figure out what to do with that and actually how to create another income from that if you've already created one great business. So, yeah, for me, I'm in kind of for the journey to create something lasting as a brand and as a sustainable, profitable business. But other people's mileage may vary.

Brian: [00:38:29] It sounds like more sustainability.

Damian: [00:38:32] Common thread. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:38:39] That's very authentic answer, given the recurrent theme here.

Damian: [00:38:46] It's interesting because it's funny because I'm in my early 40s. So [00:38:53] I've kind of been in the city during the dot com boom. So I've seen these kind of trends ebb and flow. And I saw how over the last few years we had the kind of the glorification of the founder and the glorification of raising hundreds of millions of dollars. And all everyone cared about was growth and so on. And I get that. Totally. I get that. But for me, that's a different type of business. That's a business that's not actually about the business itself. That's about continually selling investment and continually raising money and passing it down the line. And eventually, you know, the founders and the original investors make loads of money, but eventually those businesses are run up against a brick wall either of kind of running out of cash or the scrutiny of public markets. [00:39:40] And we've seen that with lots of recent IPOs and so on. And I think probably the watershed moment for me, I think when there's kind of the mood music change was probably the end of WeWork. Not the end of WeWork, but the botched IPO of WeWork. I think that it is funny because on Twitter, you see a lot of groupthink and everyone's talking about raising money and now everyone's talking about bootstrapping and being profitable. And I think, you know, that that for me was kind of a watershed. Well, not for me it wasn't. But it was a watershed I could see. It was around that time, I think of, you know, Adam Newman and WeWork.

Brian: [00:40:17] No, it's really interesting. You're pretty active in the eCommerce community and a number of Slacks and on Twitter and on podcasts and very engaged in the community beyond just sort of the nutrition community, but like in the actual commerce community. And if you've ever listened to the show for any length or you engage with the show, you know that Phillip is very active on Twitter, and I'm not very active on Twitter. He's always trying to pull me into it.

Phillip: [00:40:53] One of us has a better mental health than the other. I'll let you guess which one. {laughter}

Brian: [00:41:00] But there's been actually a lot of chatter about Twitter. I think Webb Smith posted something about, you know, how valuable Twitter is. And I'm curious, what have you learned on Twitter and being more engaged in the public forum? What are the connections that you've made that were valuable?

Damian: [00:41:23] I think the key with Twitter and I guess all social media is curation of your feed. It is very easy to just find your blood pressure going up by kind of engaging with the wrong people or following the wrong topics. So I've curated my feed quite, quite ruthlessly. And I've learned a lot. I think we follow a lot of the kind of the similar people. Obviously, I've met you guys and a lot of interesting people like Kristen. Did her podcast. And I've learned a lot about digital marketing myself, a lot about different views on business that don't necessarily align with mine. So that's always like super interesting debate and good thought and learning for myself. I mean, of all the social media channels, Twitter is the one I'm most active on. And I'm not active by kind of Twitter standards. I'm not hardly very active at all. {laughter} But I occasionally tweet and occasionally reply. But I read a lot and I get a lot of news from Twitter and I get a lot of good ideas from good thinkers like Webb that you've mentioned. Like Kristen. I like you guys, obviously. Yeah. And I've met a lot of interesting people, a lot of interesting ideas on there. But I try to kind of compartmentalize it and not spend too much time there. It becomes a bit of time suck otherwise.

Phillip: [00:42:46] Do you think that there's the tendency to... I believe that people are impacted by community. I believe community exists wherever people are, whereas I hear a lot of folks say something like, "We're creating a community..." Well, a community exists wherever people are. So if there are people there, then it exists. You could argue if you created it or not. I believe you set a table and people choose to eat a meal. So you can create the environment, but I don't know that you can create the community. When people engage in communities for long periods of time, I tend to believe they start to emulate each other or average out.

Damian: [00:43:22] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:43:23] That's the human dynamic. Right? Human dynamic is for us to appeal to each other because we are better together. That's evolutionarily encoded in us. You mentioned groupthink. Are there any things that maybe you could admit to as sort of like having been a distraction as something that might have come up in a public sphere that you've since come around on? Kind of putting you on the spot. But I sense that there are some things that are more fads than they are truisms. But they're billed as having been true, like the one true way. Any thoughts or reactions to that?

Damian: [00:44:03] Not really. I'm sure there are lots, but off the top of my head, no. I think you mentioned the groupthink point is interesting. It's funny to kind of almost take a step back and watch that happening in slow motion on Twitter, for example. But, yeah, I can't think of a specific example.

Phillip: [00:44:26] This has been so good. I appreciate you taking all the time with us here today. If you had to give some advice to another founder, so we're going to do the thing that we said earlier, which is like being very founder... {laughter} Sort of praising the founder. There are usually folks that are listening that are looking for some sort of assurance that they're on the right path. Any advice that you could give to anyone that is just starting out the journey and they're trying to build a more principled business. They're trying to be more thoughtful in the way that they're approaching trying to build a sustainable business while at the same time making it balanced people and purpose and profits? Any thoughts about that from your journey that you could share with the others that are listening?

Damian: [00:45:15] That's a really big and good question. I think for me, it's like I did a lot of research and I really went deep in to the marketplace and thinking not just about brands and the products, but how they really impact people's lives and not just the users, but everything throughout the supply chain and what it means kind of personally to the users, as well. And also those aspects of self and things like that. It's really hard to kind of explain how you might do that for another brand or for another product. But that's that's kind of what we did. I mean, [00:45:52] I think an interesting point is raising capital and how you do that and remembering that resourcefulness is just as important as capital. And sometimes constraints around capital or, you know, they really create creativity. We didn't start with a big sum of money. And I think that was probably a really, really good thing for us. [00:46:14] I think I'm struggling here, so I'm just trying to think. But it's a really difficult thing to put into words. But, yeah, I mean, [00:46:28] for me, it's like creating something that aligns kind of perfectly with all of your values and that can kind of transcend all of that through to your customers as well. And don't just do another deodorant or protein. [00:46:45]

Phillip: [00:46:47] {laughter} I promise I won't make that the show title, although I kind of want to.

Damian: [00:46:52] But I mean, I think what I always wanted to do was create something different and stand out a little bit. When I told my friends I was going to do a protein, you know, they rolled their eyes. Who needs another protein brand? There's like a billion in the world. [00:47:10] But sometimes those crowded spaces are very easy to stand out in because they're full of people doing the same thing. So sometimes a crowded space isn't necessarily a scary place to enter. It can be a really exciting place to enter if you're able to stand out. And I think that's what I like to think that we managed to do with Form just a little bit.  [00:47:28]So, yeah, try to stand out and look for... Actually one of my favorite books is Blue Ocean Strategy, and I think that's a great resource for people looking to create or start a new business. Do that analysis, look at all the values and attributes of the current incumbents, put them all on some kind of chart or graph and, you know, look for what they call the blue oceans. Where are those uncontested market spaces and where could you enter and do something different and turn it on its head maybe? So, yeah. I mean I still think there's like so much opportunity and so many great tools to realize it. And in some ways the fact that it's so easy to start a brand and start selling online, that's amazing, but it also makes it very difficult.

Brian: [00:48:19] Wow.

Phillip: [00:48:22] Great place to end it. Amazing advice. When you started out, you're like, "Oh, I don't know." And then you dropped a bunch of knowledge bombs.

Damian: [00:48:31] Oh good. Yeah you can edit out the I don't know bits.

Phillip: [00:48:32] Yeah, I love it. That's authentic.

Brian: [00:48:36] Very authentic. Yes.

Phillip: [00:48:37] Damian, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Damian: [00:48:40] It's been a pleasure, guys. Thanks so much for having me. It's been really good fun to chat, and I'm very grateful. Thank you.

Phillip: [00:48:47] Appreciate it. If you want to support Form Nutrition, where can we send people?

Damian: [00:48:52] FormNutrition.com and yeah, all good social media channels. Just @FormNutrition. Yeah. And I'm @Damian_Soong on Twitter, I think.

Phillip: [00:49:02] Awesome. Well thanks for coming on the show. Thank you for listening. Hey, if you want to support the show, the best way to do that is to go leave us a five star rating on your favorite podcast service, but probably on Spotify or on iTunes. Those two would help us the most. It costs you absolutely nothing but maybe a few seconds of your time. And yeah, that that would be really wonderful. That's it. Thank you for listening to Future Commerce. Remember, we have the ability to change the world. We just happen to be doing it through commerce, and we want to help you shape the future that we all want to live in. And that's it. Thanks for listening.

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