Cocktail Syrup Manufacturer Pivots to DTC

The pandemic has upended businesses. Take Liber & Co., for example. The Austin, Texas-based manufacturer of cocktail syrups sold mostly to bars and restaurants. Then Covid hit.

“The pandemic initially decimated our revenue,” said co-founder Chris Harrison. “In the third week of March 2020, 70% of our business was wholesale to bars and restaurants.”

Harrison didn’t panic. While his wholesale revenue evaporated, direct-to-consumer sales greatly expanded. 2021 was the company’s best year, and 2022 has started strong. DTC revenue is now larger than wholesale.

He and I recently discussed Liber & Co., including the pandemic-induced pivot, expansion plans, and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your company.

Chris Harrison: I co-founded Liber & Co. in 2012 with my friends Adam and Robert, who are twins. We were in our early 20s at the time. We went to high school together and then to the University of Texas here in Austin. Our interest was making good alcoholic drinks. We saw a niche for cocktail syrups. It was a slow start and bootstrapped — no business plan and no venture capital — although a family friend invested for a bit of equity.

We gained momentum, accrued knowledge, built supplier relationships, and acquired the right equipment. We eventually manufactured the syrups ourselves. We sell to bars and restaurants and direct to consumers.

The pandemic initially decimated our revenue. In the third week of March 2020, 70% of our business was wholesale to bars and restaurants.

But we rebounded. 2021 was our best year, with 80% year-over-year growth. 2022’s been strong, too. This week we secured a lease in Georgetown, just north of Austin. We need more manufacturing space. We can’t launch new products as we don’t have available pallet positions. We’re going from 7,000 square feet to 21,000. It’s a big bite. We signed a seven-year lease.

Bandholz: Did you consider shutting down the business when Covid hit?

Harrison: No. It was a gut check for sure. Our bar and restaurant business stopped, but our online sales via Amazon and our Shopify store increased by 300%. Sales to liquor stores were stable. We ended 2020 with more revenue than in 2019.

Our direct-to-consumer channel is now larger than wholesale.

Bandholz: How do I make an Old Fashioned?

Harrison: It’s a simple drink, just two ingredients: whiskey and our Old Fashioned Cocktail Syrup, which is enriched with gum arabic, aromatic bitters, and a little orange peel. It’s the non-alcoholic version of an Old Fashioned. Just add a quarter ounce of the syrup with a shot of booze. Then stir over ice, and you’re good to go. It’s all-natural with real citrus and sugar and looks similar to maple syrup. You can make 36 Old Fashioneds with one bottle.

Bandholz: Have you considered private labeling?

Harrison: No. The margin on private labeling is low. Plus we don’t have the capacity. The most valuable aspect of our company is the brand. The products are great, but anybody could reverse engineer what’s happening here. It’s not complicated. Sourcing, ingredients, quality control — it’s a food item.

We have big plans to move beyond non-alcoholic syrups and do some booze stuff. Selling booze triggers a slew of regulations, but the margins are great.

Bandholz: You’ve had a strong 2022 thus far. What’s driving that growth?

Harrison: It’s mainly direct-to-consumer sales via our Shopify site and Amazon. We generate about 40% more revenue on Amazon, although the per-order amount is low, barely over one bottle on average.

Amazon is good for us because we tightly control who gets our products — no third-party resellers. Our contracts for all distributors prevent reselling on Amazon, although we’ve had issues with that. In general, however, we are the only seller of our products on that marketplace.

Plus, Amazon drives customers to our Shopify site because our bottles say, “You want cocktail recipes? We have 600 on our website. Go there.”

But most of our Shopify-store customers hear about us word-of-mouth. We pulled our Facebook ads after the iOS update last year. We do some Amazon advertising.

We’ve retained influencers on Instagram who promote and tag us. We’re big on Cocktail Reddit and Tiki Reddit. Bars and restaurants that buy our products also drive awareness. People go to Saltgrass Steak House, for example, and order a pineapple margarita. Then they ask, “What is this?” The bartender gives them our recipe, which has our name and brand.

We use Grapevine, the post-purchase questionnaire, for feedback. It’s basically, “Where did you hear about us?” Many people will say a bar, a friend, or on Amazon. It’s critical to know how people come to our brand.

Our marketing lead, Alex, and our marketing assistant, Cristina, are cocktail novices. They are pushing TikTok. Cristina appears in our videos — 15, 20 seconds. She’s great. I still like longer videos, however, for YouTube. It’s hard to review a bunch of bourbons in a short clip.

Bandholz: Talk about the Instagram influencers.

Harrison: We’ve had good luck with that program. The influencers generally love our products and don’t ask for money, just samples.

We’ve recently started experimenting on YouTube with cocktail influencers doing reviews. These are usually former bartenders who are taking their knowledge into their home studio.

An example is Anders Erickson out of Chicago. He does quality productions and knows his stuff. We partnered with him, and it’s been a great match. We extended an affiliate discount to him. He adds the link below his YouTube video that sends people to our website, which we track.

So far it’s been nothing but upside for us. It’s not like a 10-times return on ad spend, but it’s definitely worth it. And because it’s YouTube, it’s evergreen. We’ll get traffic from those links five, 10 years from now.

Bandholz: Where can people find you?

Harrison: Our site is We’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. I’m on LinkedIn.

‘Impossible Sleep’ Makes Sleep Possible

Twelve years ago Joel Runyon was laid off from UPS, living in his parents’ basement, and contemplating life. An athlete and ultra-marathoner, Runyon was attracted to training and performance products. The internet interested him, too.

He thought, “I like the internet. I like marketing. Maybe I can do something.”

Fast forward to 2022, and Runyon’s something is called “Impossible,” an Austin, Texas-based fitness and performance company launched in 2010. It sells digital training programs, apparel, and now, nutritional supplements. “Sleep” is the latest. It’s a powder drink mix for deep sleeping.

He and I recently discussed his journey. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of your business.

Joel Runyon: It’s called “Impossible.” It’s a mindset and fitness performance company. It started as a blog to challenge me to do new things and then morphed over the years from digital training programs, a training app, and now apparel. We recently launched our performance nutritional products.

Our goal at Impossible is to inspire people to push their limits, train them to do that, and fuel them as they go out and do impossible things. Then we capture that on social media to inspire others.

Bandholz: You’ve built a substantial email list, several hundred thousand subscribers.

Runyon: I didn’t know anything about marketing when I started. I was working in my parent’s basement, unemployed from being laid off at UPS, trying to figure out life. At the time, I thought, “I like the internet. I like marketing. Maybe I can do something.”

I took an internship at a marketing firm in Indiana and started reading everything. I learned from Perry Marshall, an old-school pay-per-click guy. I went into a couple of Perry’s events and learned a lot. I built my chops on pay-per-click and search engine optimization, and then I started building relationships with people with websites and audiences and getting into the influencer space. I made partnerships with podcasters and YouTubers.

Connecting with people is my strength. Coming off of SEO and building organic traffic channels, I figured out how to leverage partnerships with people who have audiences or guest blogs.

Bandholz: What is the SEO strategy now?

Runyon: The problem now is that a lot of people copy content. I built a site in the Paleo diet space when that was blowing up. We were one of the first pieces of content and everybody referenced ours. We saw a lot of growth. The health and fitness space is more challenging now because it’s becoming more medical. You’ll see WebMD show up for many results. Google is trying to de-risk what it ranks.

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, content is overdone but still king. If you can take an SEO base layer of content and then apply a brand filter on it, build links and authority, that’s great. A good piece of content attracts backlinks.

You can use the link juice from one page to promote another. Spread that traffic throughout your site as you want. Merge SEO basics with content with potential virality, and then utilize partnerships and friendships in the space to amplify specific things that you want to put effort behind.

Bandholz: You’re launching nutritional products.

Runyon: We’ve been working on a nutritional sleep formula for two years that went live in April 2022. It’s called Impossible Sleep, a powder drink mix. We want to help people perform at their best, and one of the ways to do that is by optimizing recovery time. I’ve always been an ambitious person. I used to cut corners on my sleep to get extra work done. That was debilitating in the long run. I tried different sleep supplements without much success. I wanted to create something for people who struggle with the same issue.

Our target market is high performers, athletes, and entrepreneurs. If you’re a go-getter but not good at sleep, we can help. A good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to recover and recharge. We sell via subscriptions and one-time orders.

Most sleep supplements have a lot of things in them that knock you out. Some are good for you; some are not. Many supplements act as a sedative, but those never actually make you wake up feeling good.

Impossible Sleep contains L-Theanine, which puts you in a calm state when you take 150-200 milligrams. It’s not necessarily going to put you out. It’s more of a habit cue, signaling your body it’s time to wind down. I find it helpful to take 20-30 minutes before bed.

I’ve been monitoring with my Whoop tracker. My recovery scores are through the roof. I’ve been waking up the next day feeling refreshed.

I’m excited to get the product in people’s hands. It’s going well early on. People are excited about it. We had a bunch of pre-orders. We’ve had a few dozen people share positive experiences. So I’m very hopeful about that, and I’m looking forward to more feedback.

Bandholz: What are you doing for fulfillment?

Runyon: We use ShipMonk, the third-party fulfillment company. Recharge, the software platform, manages the subscriptions.

I also started using the Shopify app Rebuy. It’s an upsell tool that will auto-push someone to buy our subscription. We’ve seen good results with it. It’s not a super complicated setup. Shopify does many helpful things outside the box, and then with the subscriptions, we haven’t run into limitations yet. It’s been cool to learn about warehousing and fulfillment.

Bandholz: Where can people buy Impossible Sleep?

Runyon: All of our products are at Our sleep formula is on the front page. Everything behind the brand, all the adventures, challenges, and mindset stuff, is at We have fitness training and programs at

I’m on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Fed-up Toy Company Responds to Knock-offs

Having founded Viahart, a manufacturer of educational toys, in 2010, Molson Hart learned his products were being illegally produced and sold by others. He realized the problem, intellectual property theft, extended far beyond Viahart. And that prompted the launch of his second company.

He told me, “I founded Edison Litigation Financing in 2017 with my brother, a computer science guy. Our company finds businesses experiencing intellectual theft. There are a lot of crooks knocking off products.”

Edison locates potential infringements, contacts the infringed party, and arranges lawsuits for damages. It earns a fee for that service. Viahart sells mainly through Amazon. It recorded nearly $9 million in sales in 2021.

Molson and I recently discussed both companies. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business.

Molson Hart: I founded Viahart in 2010 as an educational toy brand. For the most part, everything we sell is about inspiring confidence and capability in children. Our primary sales channel is Amazon, although we do have an ecommerce site. We sell a building toy called Brain Flakes, which does things that Lego can’t. It’s for kids between three and 13. We also sell Goodminton rackets and Tiger Tale toys.

I have a second company, Edison LLC, that does ecommerce-focused litigation financing for intellectual property theft.

We’re based in Austin, Texas.

Bandholz: Let’s start with Goodminton. How did you come up with the name?

Hart: When selling online, you’ve got to have a brand. One of the best ways to create a good brand and to take full advantage of word of mouth is to have a catchy name that sticks with you. We were selling a racket game similar to Badminton, and I thought, “Can we make a name that’s funny, memorable, and makes people laugh?” We decided on Goodminton, instead of Badminton.

Bandholz: What are the pain points of selling on Amazon?

Hart: Sometimes Amazon falsely identifies sellers as doing search or review manipulations — a pain point that happens probably quarterly. If we’ve got a hero SKU like Brain Flakes, our bestselling product, Amazon says, “Yeah, we’re going to put that in position 32 when customers search your brand name because you manipulated search results.” There’s no recourse, and there’s no explanation for how you can solve that issue.

If you’re starting, it’s pretty brutal because shipping costs are high. For us, it’s not bad because we’re scaled up. When shipping from Asia to the United States. We’re using 40-foot containers, so we have reasonable shipping prices.

We used to be able to do an email blast for reviews and stuff like that, and now there aren’t early review rewards on Amazon, so you need pay-per-click ads and sponsored advertising. It can be expensive. We don’t do paid social marketing to drive customers to Amazon. We only pay for ads on Amazon. Launching a new product needs to be differentiated and innovative in some way.

Bandholz: How do you handle knock-offs and intellectual theft?

Hart: I used to have an office in China. The first knock-off we ever had was before our trademark was registered. Someone in China used our trademark, Brain Flakes, for an interlocking disc product. I couldn’t do anything because our trademark hadn’t been registered. It turns out it was someone in that office, one of my Chinese employees. I ended up suing her, and then two years later, she did it again, and I had to sue her again. I found out that another employee was doing it, too.

I had three employees in China, and two of them were counterfeiting me and selling our brand’s products on Amazon. The third guy wasn’t. When I finally found that out, he and I weren’t working together. I sent him $5,000 to say, “You’re the man for not doing that when the other two were.” He’s a good guy.

After suing my employees, I was able to stop infringement. I knew that other people had those problems, so I founded Edison Litigation Financing in 2017 with my brother, a computer science guy. Our company finds businesses experiencing intellectual theft similar to what I just described. There are a lot of crooks knocking off products.

We connect brands dealing with infringement with a lawyer, who does the filings. The brand doesn’t have to pay any money. We take a percentage of the money that comes back. Our business evolved and now offers reporting, which is cool because we sign up lots of clients to pay us for reporting, and when we notice an opportunity for a lawsuit, we can use our reporting data in the case. We have a growing SaaS reporting business, and since my brother is good at programming, we have an excellent tech suite. Our lawyers use it, and increasingly, our customers do as well.

We take all the risks. So in exchange for earning a chunk of the money when it comes back, we pay all the legal fees, and should you be counter-sued, that’s on us. That’s the value proposition. We are turn-key, so you don’t have to worry about it. We gather all the evidence, and we do all the analysis. I have a warehouse in Texas, and hundreds of counterfeit products go to that warehouse every day. The items get shipped to that warehouse, and we open them up and take photos. Those photos end up becoming the evidence.

Bandholz: So you use your software to scour the web and find infringers?

Hart: Yes. We’re always looking for people who have exceptional cases. When that happens, we’ll reach out. We also have a $99 per month marketplace reporting service. For instance, if you have a brand selling on Amazon, you pay us monthly, and we monitor Amazon and combine the regular reporting with everything that goes into our lawsuits. So you get the best of both worlds.

We monitor all the major marketplaces. We scour Shopify, Amazon, eBay, AliExpress, and Walmart for fake versions of products. One of our clients pays us for 15 different marketplace locations. Each business is structured differently. Some people are like us and mostly use Amazon. Others sell their retail with the big brands.

Another way our business makes money is by handling photo copyrights. People don’t know this, but if you take a photo and register its copyright, and then someone else comes in and uses that photo, it depends on what the context is, but the damages for that are high. If I were to steal one of the Beardbrand photos to sell Molson beard cream, I would get in a lot more trouble than if I buy Beardbrand from whatever store you have and then sell it on Amazon. It’s not cool to steal people’s photos. Photography is expensive. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work. You do get compensated when people steal your photos.

Bandholz: Where can people learn more about you and reach out?

Hart: My website is You can follow me on Twitter, @Molson_hart. We’re also at Viahart and Edison Litigation Financing.

Efficiency Pro: Happy People Are More Productive

When he launched Asian Efficiency in 2011, Than Pham hoped to help folks increase their productivity. He counseled time management and focus — to get more done. Then he read a book about happiness and its impact on people’s lives. It changed Pham’s outlook.

“I had a revelation after reading the book,” he told me, “Happy people are productive people. Even if you don’t have the right technology, strategies, and tips, you’ll be more productive if you’re happy.”

Pham is a global authority on productivity, speaking at conferences, teaching courses, and hosting a top podcast.

He and I recently discussed his journey. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your company.

Thanh Pham: It’s called Asian Efficiency. I launched it with a friend in 2011 as a passion project. We created a blog to help people become more productive. That blog turned into a business. We want to help people maximize opportunities and live to their fullest potential. We offer online courses, workshops, and in-person events.

The idea is to maximize time, energy, and attention — the three currencies of productivity. We’re super-human productive if all three are in place. Most people lack time when they come to us. They’re overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. An example is entrepreneurs who spend time and energy on the wrong things.

Bandholz: Speaking of time, you work with a virtual assistant. Should all entrepreneurs do that?

Pham: Yes. I’ve worked with Jorrie, my executive assistant, for many years. I hired her too late — six or seven years into the business. I should have hired her in my first year. Time is scarce in an entrepreneur’s first year of business. The priority is typically generating sales. An executive assistant helps free up time — whether it’s booking meetings or arranging travel.

Anyone making $150,000 or more a year should hire an executive assistant. Jorrie works five to eight hours a week for me — part-time and not too expensive. Quality assistants are available for $20, $25 an hour. Hire someone who’s been doing it for at least two years. You don’t have to train them; they train you.

I prefer hiring an assistant directly versus using services such as Fiverr or Fancy Hands. It’s important to build a relationship with that person. Over time, she can make decisions on your behalf because she knows your preferences.

Bandholz: Is community building still part of your business?

Pham: Yes. We have had a community since 2016. It’s a huge part of our business. It’s a source of recurring revenue, which came in handy when Covid hit.

I’m always trying to add more value to our community. We’ve changed over the years from having a Slack channel to now having new classes every month, new coaching, and in-office hours. It’s great to meet online and communicate, but there’s something special about being in person.

We would ideally have industry conferences and in-person workshops and events. I’m not a big fan of the metaverse as much. I don’t see us going completely digital.

Bandholz: Do you get consumed with being efficient all the time?

Pham: It is something I’ve had to figure out. I’ve asked myself, “Am I being productive solely for the sake of being productive?” A book that impacted me is “30 Lessons for Living” by Karl Pillemer. He interviewed people about to die, asking them, “What’s one life lesson you’ll like to pass on to the next generation?”

The book’s theme is that happiness comes from our relationships with people — our partners, parents, siblings, friends, and communities. When these are in the right place, we tend to be happier, live longer, and feel better about ourselves. The biggest regret for many people is that they worked too much and didn’t spend enough time with their family or see their kids grow up.

I had a revelation after reading the book: Happy people are productive people. At the beginning of the business, I focused primarily on, “How do we make you so productive that you can get anything done?” Now, my message is, “How can we make you really happy?” Because happy people will be naturally more productive. Even if you don’t have the right technology, strategies, and tips, you’ll be more productive if you’re happy.

I’ve realized, especially with Covid, that we are all social. We’re tribal, and we want to be around others. Yes, Zoom meetings and remote podcasts are more efficient, but nothing replaces the in-person feeling. I’m okay with the inefficiencies, even cost inefficiencies, because we’re sharing an experience that’s hard to replicate online. What matters most to me are the memories and experiences.

Another key point is the importance of “thinking time,” a term from Keith Cunningham in his book, “The Road Less Stupid.” As our businesses mature, the impact that we make as the CEO or founder changes. In the beginning, we get our hands dirty with many smaller decisions. When we eventually step away from doing the work, we have a different impact, where our vision and decisions affect team members, clients, and customers in more significant ways.

Business owners have to remind themselves that it’s okay to mull over an idea. That comes from “thinking time.”

Bandholz: How can people support you and reach out?

Pham: Our site is Signing up for our newsletter is a good way to stay in touch. We also have a podcast, “The Productivity Show.” You can follow me on Twitter, @AsianEfficiency.

Needing Deodorant, Curie Founder Made Her Own

It’s one thing to create a product that solves a problem for consumers, but it’s another to get them to buy it, especially when the seller has no marketing budget. Take Sarah Moret, for example. An accountant and athlete, she formulated an aluminum-free deodorant and then marketed it herself in a live demo, more or less.

She told me, “I would go on a 15-mile run and then, on Instagram, sniff my armpit. I’d say, ‘I still smell like White Tea,’ one of our scents.”

That was in late 2018. Fast forward to 2022, and Moret’s deodorant business is now Curie, a thriving direct-to-consumer seller of personal care and lifestyle goods.

She and I recently discussed her journey. The audio of our entire conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Curie.

Sarah Moret: I launched the company in late 2018. This is my first business. I knew nothing about ecommerce. I was a certified public accountant out of college, did that for two years, and hated it. But it provided a good accounting and finance foundation, important for a founder. Then I worked in venture capital for four years as an associate at an early-stage fund.

We started to dabble in the direct-to-consumer arena. I’ve always been passionate about brands and products. I was one of the only female investors in Los Angeles, so many clean beauty startups were pitching me in 2016, 2017.

That’s how I became interested in this space. I started Curie as a personal need. I’m an athlete, a marathoner. I couldn’t find an aluminum-free deodorant that worked. So I made my own. I hired a chemist who helped formulate my version of that type of deodorant. It took off from there.

The last couple of years has been like a free MBA. I’ve learned from googling and talking to other founders.

I built the brand for a group of consumers that weren’t having their needs met. A lot of people felt like aluminum-free deodorant didn’t work. I tried to convince them otherwise. I was ubiquitous on email and social media in that first year. I would go on a 15-mile run and then, on Instagram, sniff my armpit. I’d say, “I still smell like White Tea,” one of our scents.

Bandholz: You’re the third deodorant company on this podcast. I’ve had Jaime Schmidt of Schmidt’s Naturals and Moiz Ali of Native Deodorant. It’s a competitive market.

Moret: For sure. I launched Curie with $12,000 of savings and zero marketing budget. We started with one product, our aluminum-free stick deodorant. It was a bootstrap side hustle for that first year. But I scaled up to six figures in revenue based on organic customer acquisition — word of mouth, influencers, and press.

That generated 1,000 raving customers who were a launchpad for us.

At that point, deodorant was becoming more and more competitive, as you mentioned. But I had loyal customers who loved the brand. Our repeat purchase rate was high. I started to think about where I could take the business beyond deodorant to continue the growth and momentum.

In talking to our customers, I learned they loved our signature scents. They wanted our scents on their whole body. If you’re an Orange Neroli girl, you wanted Orange Neroli everywhere. If you’re a White Tea guy, you wanted to use it not just on your underarms.

So we started to think long-term about the business as kind of a Bath & Body Works for the next generation. And that’s what we’ve done in the last two years for product development.

We launched our Full Body Deodorant Spray, our Whipped Body Wash, and a body oil. We have candles. We’re about to collaborate with a big scent diffuser company. We’re positioning ourselves as a clean scent provider that makes personal care products and home fragrances.

We’ve seen the response from our customers. They’re not just buying deodorant. I don’t think our customers think of us as solely a deodorant company anymore. Hopefully that will continue as we evolve the business into a lifestyle brand focused on clean signature scents.

Bandholz: You were on Shark Tank last month.

Moret: Yes. It aired on March 11. It was a long process. I first applied to be on the show in 2020 and was finally accepted this year.

I prepared for Shark Tank like crazy. I talked to everyone I could find that had been on the show, such as you from your appearance in 2014. I bought tons of inventory.

We re-did our website. Our old site was a basic Shopify theme that I created years ago. We didn’t have any upsell capabilities, our home page wasn’t shoppable, and there were too many clicks in the checkout. We optimized for conversions and launched the new site five days before Shark Tank aired, which I don’t recommend. If you have a big surge in traffic coming up, give yourself more space.

It was my first time being on national television. The response has been unbelievable. We ended up getting a deal with Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran. Despite buying the extra inventory, we sold out of our products. We had double the sales volume in the six hours after the Shark Tank show than our entire first year. We have a 5,000-person waitlist now for our deodorant.

Bandholz: Selling out of product — that’s the problem to have.

Moret: Yes and no. When you sell out, people congratulate you. But as founder, I’m like, “Oh no, we’re sold out. What are we going to do about our subscribers, our retailers?” All of our retailers sold out. They want more. We don’t have the products to send them. So we’re hustling to get back in stock to capture some of that demand from the show.

Bandholz: I love the Kaftan font on your new site.

Moret: Yes, that’s new. I love it, too. We went back and forth on it. Our motto is “humans in motion.” The Kaftan font has a lot of movement to it. We worried that it was too girly, however. Ultimately, we decided that our male customers won’t be turned off by a font that looks girly.

We design our site in-house. We bought an Archetype theme called “Streamline” and then customized it. We didn’t hire an agency, which probably saved a lot of money. I downloaded the theme one afternoon and started to build the site using it. I was able to get 80% done myself. Our designer made some tweaks and aesthetic customizations.

Bandholz: How can people support you, reach out?

Moret: Our site is We are also on Instagram and TikTok. I’m on Twitter a lot.

For, EOS Is A-OK

2021 was the perfect storm for many ecommerce companies. Advertising performance on Facebook tanked owing to Apple’s iOS 14 privacy updates. Covid shutdowns disrupted inventory. For Patrick Coddou, founder of, the direct-to-consumer seller of shaving goods, the challenges became overwhelming.

Desperate, he turned to the Entrepreneurial Operating System, a framework to manage a business.  He told me,  “I was basically at a point of surrender, on my knees. I started applying EOS to the business. It has changed the company, and it’s changed me.”

Coddou and I recently discussed the broader lessons of 2021 — managing adversity, setting a vision, delegating, and more. It’s our fourth interview in two years, having addressed the DTC model, a friendly wager, and the Facebook ad meltdown.

The entire audio of this latest conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: 2021 was a struggle. How do you handle bad days, sales-wise?

Patrick Coddou: It’s not healthy or helpful, but I go deep into the numbers. I check advertising performance — costs per impression, click-through rates — and our average order values. But I’m trying to take a broader perspective beyond the immediate day’s results.

We rolled out the Entrepreneurial Operating System this year. It’s been transformational for Supply. It’s a system and process to run a business. It has helped me grow as a CEO and leader and allowed me to delegate more of the details. I now organize my company better and create a vision by setting priorities.

Bandholz: Why EOS?

Coddou: One of the EOS catchphrases is when you hit the ceiling, you’re ready for EOS. 2021 was a challenging year for us. Apple’s iOS updates hurt our advertising results. Covid shutdowns and supply chain interruptions impacted us, too. The business did okay, but not great.

It was a hard year for me personally. We were working overtime on launching complicated new products. Development on those took six months longer than we expected. By Q4, I was burned out.

I know intelligent people who use EOS. One, Jay Sauceda, sold his 3PL and now works at Another, Chris Powers, is a brilliant Realtor here in Fort Worth. I’ve met people running restaurants and other businesses who use EOS. I realized if those folks were doing it, I should too. Jay told me, “It’s changed my business.”

I first heard of EOS a year or so ago. I told myself, “I’m not doing EOS. I know how to do this stuff.”

Then I was basically at a point of surrender, on my knees. I bought the book “Traction,” which explains EOS like a blueprint. I told myself,  I’m doing everything in it.” I read “Traction” twice. I started applying EOS to the business.

It has changed the company, and it’s changed me. I enjoy going to work again.

I love solving problems. That’s what entrepreneurs do. But at some point, those problems can become overwhelming.

Bandholz: So you implemented EOS.

Coddou: Implementation is a matter of covering the basics. We never had an organization chart. We never had a strategic vision for the company. So we made the org chart, developed a vision, and clarified our mission statement. We’ve had mission statements, but they were buried in a document, never a core of the company.

EOS calls for a 10-year vision, a three-year vision, a one-year vision, and quarterly objectives to get through the first year. We distribute those objectives to the team and focus on our 10-year goal quarter by quarter. That structure has been very helpful. It breaks down the long-term vision into manageable chunks.

Employees have told me they appreciate EOS. Some significantly so, especially remote employees. My developer is in Africa. He has limited connections to the rest of the team. EOS has given him more direction on what to do daily, weekly, and quarterly. He’s ambitious and enjoys solving problems. He now has a clear path of what to do, which brings satisfaction.

I now realize teams need structure, not for me to micro-manage but to supercharge their work and provide a direction.

Bandholz: How can people get a hold of you and buy some razors?

Coddou: I’m on Twitter, @soundslikecanoe. Our website is We’re also on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.

‘Embrace Growth’ Is Core to Atlas Staffing

In just 11 years, Joshua McKee’s Atlas Staffing has grown to five western U.S. locations, having launched with one in Spokane, Washington. The company serves a burgeoning light industry niche, but to McKee, success stems from its core values. “Embrace growth” is his favorite.

Explaining the term, he told me, “A person with a growth mindset finds meaning in the journey and looks at failure as an opportunity to learn and as a stepping stone to the next success.”

Values matter to McKee. I should know. He was a co-founder years ago of Beardbrand, my company.

He and I recently discussed his impressive Atlas Staffing journey. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz:  Give us a rundown of Atlas Staffing.

Joshua McKee: We’re a light industrial staffing company. We’ve been in business for 11 years. We have five locations across the western U.S. and just opened our newest branch in Phoenix. It’s been a long, hard 11 years, but I’m proud of what we’ve built.

We’re a big believer in the Entrepreneurial Operating System [EOS]. We implemented it years ago in our business. It was an important first step to getting serious about core values and goals and making sure they flow to everybody in the company. It’s been essential to where we are today.

We have clear core values and behaviors and work hard to communicate them to all employees.

We meet our recruiters at the branch level every day. We have weekly huddles and Monday morning meetings like the EOS prescribes. During those meetings, we discuss our values. We want our team to bring stories about candidates who have embodied those values. We celebrate when we hear those stories and share them on our company intranet.

We try to create and communicate parameters, such as, “This is the behavior and values we expect. This is the goal, and this is the core process. If you’re following those, everything else is up to you.”

We want people to express their uniqueness because we learn a ton from them. We don’t have all the wisdom in the world. We do not command and control. We want to see people take risks, fail, and make choices that perhaps our executive team wouldn’t make. But we know what values and behaviors help a recruiter be successful. We want to ensure that those values are entrenched early in someone’s employment with Atlas.

Bandholz: What are those core values?

McKee: I’ll start with my favorite: “Embrace a growth mindset.” It stems from Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset.” It’s not about financial growth. It’s about looking at challenges and obstacles in your life. A person with a growth mindset finds meaning in the journey and looks at failure as an opportunity to learn and as a stepping stone to the next success. We want people to have the mindset of falling short, learning, and moving forward.

“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.” That’s another one. We want people to do the hard thing first. It’s easy for folks in a sales role to chase what’s easy at the moment. “Eat the frog” is another way we phrase it.

And then we have, “Always protect the team.” That one’s straightforward. We look at the team as the business. A rising tide lifts all boats.

“No optional-ism” is a made-up word that we like. It means, “I made a commitment. I promised something.” We want people to follow through with their commitments, promises, and goals.

Bandholz: What are your core values around customers?

McKee: “Obsessed with customer success.” We want to keep the outcomes of the customer in front of us. If you forget the customer, you’re missing the point.

We have two types of customers: our candidates and the companies that hire them. We have different marketing strategies for each. On the client company side, marketing is more of sales enablement, making sure our team has the swag and the collateral to get in front of a prospective client.

On the candidate side, we’re asking, “What are our candidate acquisition costs? How are we reaching them? Is our messaging on point?”

Traditionally, staffing has been more sales-oriented and less marketing. I heard one executive of a huge company say, “Marketing’s sort of a hobby. It doesn’t do much for the business, but I enjoy it.” To me, that sounded like an opportunity. We’ve decided to spend the money to understand how our candidates are searching for work and how we can reach them.

We currently have upwards of 35,000 candidates in our database, and it’s growing. Marketing has helped us understand the value of that database. We can dig into it instead of going to Indeed or or buying Google Ads. We’ve got candidates in our back pocket. It seems obvious, but it’s new in our industry.

We’re still a small company. We don’t have a dedicated chief marketing officer. We have a fractional marketer who’s been phenomenal in helping us understand our metrics, such as what investments are paying off. We do a lot of email marketing and automation. Now we’re using bots to correspond and re-qualify candidates in the database. That’s been helpful as well.

Bandholz: When should companies use a staffing agency versus hiring employees directly?

McKee: Every business has to decide its core activities. Ecommerce companies have many activities and functions that are core.

If the task of hiring is not core to a business, then staffing makes sense. There are all kinds of staffing specialties. An industrial staffing company could help locate the right logistics person. Other great firms specialize in marketing talent.

Bandholz: How can listeners connect with you?

McKee: Our site is We serve employers and employees in Phoenix, Portland, Spokane, Boise, and Central Washington. We’re always seeking new recruiters, too. I’m on LinkedIn.

Direct Mail Replaces Facebook for Barbeque Seller

Apple’s iOS 14 privacy change has upended advertising on Facebook. Merchants accustomed to stellar ROI must now accept modest or less-than-modest performance.

But not Lea Richards. She’s the founder of Pig of the Month, an Ohio-based direct-to-consumer seller of barbeque. She told me, “With post-iOS 14 ads not working, we’re getting back into direct mail. We’ve found good results, up to 6-times return.”

Richards launched Pig of the Month in 2010. The company has grown. She has greatly expanded its product line and now provides logistics services for other sellers.

She and I recently discussed her journey. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Bandholz: Tell us about Pig of the Month.

Lea Richards: We do direct-to-consumer barbecue, shipped straight to your door.

We started with ribs. Now we do brisket, pulled pork, and corned beef. We have 50 flavors of bacon and bacon jam. We also source organic free-range meat — strip steaks, fillets, pork tenderloins, all kinds of stuff.

My background is in finance, which I hated. I was looking for a new opportunity. I had moved back to my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. It was 2010. My dad has always been a rib lover. For Father’s Day, I ordered ribs via the internet from a place in Memphis.

The order came, and it was just okay. Not many people were shipping food on the internet yet. It was mostly the big guys — Omaha Steaks, Harry & David. My dad told me, “I think there’s an opportunity here.”

I didn’t have a better idea. So I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a go.”

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started over a decade ago. I wouldn’t start this business now. It’s costly and time-intensive.

Plus there are lots of government regulations. They change all the time. It sucks.

Bandholz: Do you ship in frozen containers?

Richards: We use Styrofoam, which has sustainability issues. So we’re trying to get away from it. But we still use dry ice to keep the contents at a safe temperature.

Bandholz: What’s your supply chain?

Richards: We custom-fabricated a giant smoker with a rotisserie that grills and smokes simultaneously. We do everything here in our warehouse, and then we ship it from the back dock.

We try not to store our meat for more than 30 days. The freezer space becomes an issue. Freezers are expensive to run. We keep about two weeks of stock.

Sustainability, sourcing, and quality are important to us. At first, I required everything to be organic, free-range, and humanely raised. I went to the farms where we were sourcing to see their practices. I asked them, “Are you treating the animals well? Do they have clean food, clean water, and space to walk?”

I’ve always believed in quality food over quantity.

Bandholz: How does that scale?

Richards: It’s hard. We’ve had to add farmers because many of them aren’t looking to expand. We max out their supply. We’re trying to avoid turning to large-scale providers. Luckily, quite a few farmers are interested in the sustainably raised meat business.

Bandholz: How do you grow your audience?

Richards: We got lucky at first. I didn’t have any money. I banked on getting good press. We managed to appear on Good Morning America, the Today show, and Rachael Ray. It was a bunch of big press right away.

I saved those email addresses. I was big on email marketing from the start. That’s always been our main driver. SMS is a big piece now. With post-iOS 14 ads not working, we’re getting back into direct mail.

We’ve found good results with direct mail, up to 6-times return. We’re using it mainly for acquisition, working with joint venture partners, cross-promoting to each other’s customer lists. We use a direct mail service that automates the material sending process. Our partners are companies that offer complementary products, such as grilling and patio supplies and cigar and wine companies. They have the same target customer but do not compete with us.

We’ve tested a postcard, a tri-fold, and a small booklet. Segmentation is key. It’s trial and error and constant iterations. We do many small tests — 500 to 1,000 people. We don’t do any large mailings until we’ve gotten to a specific rate of return from one of the tests.

The cost ranges from 35 to 65 cents each, including postage and depending on the weight.

The segmentation strategy is primarily by ZIP code. We’ve occasionally targeted prospects by the region because grilling season varies based on weather. Holidays are big for us. The four to six weeks before Christmas are big, as are Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, and Father’s Day.

Bandholz: What are the calls-to-action on those mailers?

Richards: Free items with a purchase have been successful. We’ve done free bottles of sauce, free bacon caramels, and free bacon jam with any purchase over $25. Percentage-off promotions have been a complete flop. People are bombarded with those offers. Dollar amounts usually do well, such as $20 off the first order or store credit.

Bandholz: Have you considered helping other merchants ship perishable goods?

Richards: Yes. We’ll do both — sell to our customers and help other merchants. Interestingly, shipping for others happened organically. A customer did a bacon-of-the-month club. He didn’t make his own products and asked us if we could private label and ship for them. It grew. Now we ship a bunch of their products. That led to more businesses coming to us by word of mouth.

It wasn’t something I planned, but there are huge opportunities in logistics, warehousing, and shipping. Folks who want to start a business should consider logistics.

Bandholz: Where can people find you, support you, buy some meat?

Richards: Check us out at We’re also on Instagram. I’m on LinkedIn.

Ecommerce Copywriter on Tactics, Tools, More

Christopher Silvestri is a former software engineer who launched Conversion Alchemy, an agency combining website copy with UX design, two years ago. He believes high-converting ecommerce copywriting requires an understanding of the target audience, which takes research.

He told me, “I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy.”

Heat maps, polls, and usability tests are Silvestri’s go-to tools. He and I recently discussed those tactics and more. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Conversion Alchemy.

Christopher Silvestri: Before 2015 I was a software engineer. I am also a drummer. I wanted to tour more with my band. So I started learning about internet marketing and various business models. That led me to copywriting in 2015, 2016.

I did it on the side for a couple of years. When I moved from Italy, where I’m from, to the U.K., I shifted to full-time. I worked with an agency for two years. I then transitioned into usability testing for start-up websites. That’s where I learned user experience skills as well.

I launched Conversion Alchemy a couple of years ago. It combines copywriting with UX design. I work with software companies and ecommerce businesses — usually six, seven-figure companies that are stagnant. The businesses are profitable, but they can’t get to the next level.

Bandholz: Copywriting is critical for Beardbrand. I’ve had Neville with Copywriting Course on the show. I’ve had Sam Parr with The Hustle newsletter. The public school systems do not prepare people to write in an engaging way. It’s by the books, dry, corporate speak. I don’t care if the grammar is good if the story sucks.

Silvestri: I started from the perspective of an Italian who learned English. Copy for marketing should be conversational  — effective and clear. It’s much easier than writing novels, for example, where you have to use big, fancy words.

Bandholz: What mistakes do ecommerce brands make with their copywriting?

Silvestri: Some frequent ones are writing from their own perspective. They use the word “we” a lot, especially on the “About” page. They speak about what “we” do, what “we” offer, “our” product. Instead, they should write from a customer’s view in a way that entices him to read more and buy the products.

Bandholz: One of the first pages I visit on a site is “About Us.”

Silvestri: That’s common. It’s typically the second most visited page.

Bandholz: Putting a face with the brand.

Silvestri: It’s part of my research, identifying the people and personas behind a business. When I think about personas, it’s more about the kind of decision-makers they are. Do they make decisions quickly? Do they decide on an emotional level or logical? How much do they know about their product? About the market? The industry? What’s their awareness level?

Using a lot of pictures on an About page and the website generally is essential. It emphasizes the human element, which is very powerful.

Bandholz: How can our content appeal to first-time visitors and repeat customers?

Silvestri: A strategy of primary, secondary, and tertiary personas focuses on the main sections of the website to appeal to your target customers. Navigation is a big component, too. Test the navigation and optimize the filters so new and repeat visitors can find what they need quickly without friction. And make sure the design and layout include fundamental elements useful for the types of visitors you want to attract.

It starts with understanding your customers. I do a lot of customer interviews and surveys. The right open-ended question can generate many insights. You start seeing the same terminology repeatedly. That’s when you realize you are on to something with your messaging.

For example, I once worked for a website that sold used golf balls. I knew nothing about used golf balls. But in reading a ton of reviews, interviewing customers, and running surveys, I started absorbing the language of prospects. That’s the voice I used on the website copy. It’s essential to interact with customers and then write how they speak.

Bandholz: How do you get those customers to open up and share candidly?

Silvestri: I start with the moment they considered buying my client’s products. What other products or brands did they think about? What drove them to choose my client’s items? If they switched from a competitor, I try to understand why. I also try to understand shoppers’ concerns about us or our products to overcome obstacles.

I always ask customers if they encountered hurdles or friction points during the buying process. That can be very revealing, pointing out major issues.

The most important tactic is inquiring about the whole buying journey, from the beginning to the end.

Bandholz: How many responses do you collect for accuracy?

Silvestri: It depends on the website traffic. I always try to run surveys for at least two weeks to cover all the days. The minimum number of responses is typically around 500. With website polls, I aim for a 70% completion rate.

Polls are helpful beyond the immediate project. For example, you could survey visitors about an important change to the website. You could place the poll on a specific location, such as a product page.

Be careful, however, about page speed. Some of the polling and heatmap tools can slow down a site.

One caveat with polling and heatmaps is ensuring you’re testing the right people. That can be difficult with niches.

A few tools I’ve worked with are UserTesting, Userfeel, and Hotjar. I started with UserTesting. It’s now enterprise-oriented. But with, say, five videos in a couple of hours, it can uncover probably 80% of the problems on a website.

Bandholz: A pet peeve of mine is font size. I encounter many sites with small fonts, which are harder to read.

Silvestri: Bigger fonts are always better. A lot of websites use a light gray font, which is also hard to read. It’s design 101 to check a font’s contrast with the background for readability.

Bandholz: There’s a lot of risk with a website launch. How can you test it before going live?

Silvestri: You can run user testing on the mockups. Most platforms allow it.

I sometimes use Figma, a free UI design app to create prototypes. I then send people links to the prototypes. They are navigating a fake website basically, but it provides many good insights that can uncover problems.

Bandholz: Where can people reach out to you and connect?

Silvestri: My website is Conversion Alchemy. On Twitter, I’m at @silvestrichris.

Sutro Pivots from Drinking Water to Swimming Pools

Ravi Kurani is an engineer and former venture capitalist who launched Sutro, a water sensor manufacturer, in 2012 in India. The company produced devices that measured drinking water quality, a major concern there.

He told me, “We tried selling to the Indian government. It was the stupidest idea ever. Don’t try to sell anything to a government. It takes forever.”

Kurani’s solution was to return to California, his home, and pivot the company. Its sensor would target swimming pool owners, not drinking water providers.

The pivot worked. Sutro is now thriving as a direct-to-consumer seller and a technology firm to chemical companies and pool suppliers.

He recently described his journey to me. Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.

Eric Bandholz: Give us a rundown of Sutro.

Ravi Kurani: Sutro is a floating robot that ensures your swimming pool and spa water are safe. It’s a small laboratory that detects your pH level, chlorine, alkalinity — all in a simple app — so you know what chemicals to add and when. If you don’t have those chemicals, we connect you to a local pool store to purchase.

That, in a nutshell, is what we do.

Customers do not have to understand or program levels of pH, chlorine, and more. Our system is self-defined. It knows all the complex chemistry and mathematics to get you to that right level. We consider many variables, such as the local weather in Austin or your starting water chemistry.

Our system tells you exactly what chemicals to add. Our robot does not yet put the chemicals in the water, although that feature is coming.

Bandholz: Does your robot stay in the water 24/7?

Kurani: Yes, that’s what we recommend. The device’s algorithm learns over time how your water chemistry changes.

Bandholz: Your device wasn’t initially for swimming pools and spas.

Kurani: Yes, that’s correct. I used to be an associate at a venture capital fund in India. The fund’s primary purpose was to invest in companies focused on technologies and products for folks who make less than $2 a day. Poverty is a big concern in India. Lack of food and clean drinking water is a huge problem there.

Much of our deal flow was around drinking water filtration, but nobody was looking at water sensing. Those devices cost upwards of $10,000 back in 2011. There were very few companies that did water sensing. So we built our first water sensor in India around 2012. We tried selling it to the Indian government. It was the stupidest idea ever. Don’t try to sell anything to a government. It takes forever.

I came back to California. My dad and mom once owned a chain of pool and spa supply stores. We flipped the business model around. Rather than focusing on poverty, we decided to sell the sensor to wealthier communities, to folks that own swimming pools and spas.

We’re still interested in eventually solving drinking water problems. Anywhere water purity is an issue, we want to be there.

Bandholz: Are you still VC-backed?

Kurani: No. We were venture-capital-backed for the first five years. In 2017, Sani Marc, a large chemical company in Canada, acquired us. I now run that subsidiary.

Bandholz: Are you an engineer?

Kurani: Yes. My background is in mechanical engineering, with a minor in fluidics — the use of fluids to perform analog or digital functions. I worked at NASA for about a year after college. And then I got an MBA and worked in the venture capital industry. A lot of the technology in our initial sensor is from my mechanical engineering and fluidics days.

Bandholz: You’ve shifted Sutro to focus on pools and spas. How do you sell your devices?

Kurani: We launched our first device for that market during the pandemic. Everything we planned for distribution and retail sales changed. We quickly adjusted to more of an online presence.

The pandemic was great for us because more people were at home. Many built pools and spent time in their backyards. So our direct-to-consumer sales have been solid over the last two years. To find prospects, we use datasets from Multiple Listing Services of Realtors. We know where people with pools live because we can see a house with a swimming pool that’s been sold.

We aggregate that data and then plug it into Facebook and Google for ad campaigns. We also have retargeting campaigns similar to typical ecommerce businesses.

We’re now building a platform for pool stores to interface and communicate with their customers. Eighty-five percent of pool owners monitor water quality themselves.

The 85% shop online or go to a pool store to get their water tested. We want Sutro to be the Fitbit for your pool — an alarm that tells you if anything is wrong. The Sutro platform allows pool stores to see their customers’ data. Customers can then go to the stores and buy the chemicals. We hope to launch the platform this year.

Bandholz: How do you develop relationships with the pool stores?

Kurani: Sutro is the middleman. We recommend chemicals. We work with chemical companies to ensure that we’re right-sizing their product for pool owners. That’s how we get into pool stores.

We’re not knocking on every pool store’s door. We’re working with chemical companies to help them use the Sutro technology to better instruct the pool stores and their customers on what to put in a pool. That’s our model.

Bandholz: I see so many opportunities for your business. Folks in Flint, Michigan, could have used it, for example, to detect lead levels in their water. Even here in Austin, residents have had water boil notices.

Kurani: Yes. We could distribute to that segment in a couple of ways. We could sell directly to individuals. They could attach our product to their tap and measure the water in real-time.

But the better way is to sell to municipalities. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires city governments to test their water. But that would involve selling to a governmental entity, which was our first problem in India.

Bandholz: Tell us about your staff.

Kurani: We’re up to about 50 team members. The core group is just seven people. The others are mostly contractors in China that do our manufacturing. We have a small group in Quebec at Sani Marc, our acquirer, doing the chemistry and lab work. Our web and app development team is primarily in Kosovo, north of Greece, with a few in Mexico City.

Those contracted agencies do everything from manufacturing to chemical work to web and app development.

Bandholz: How do you manage such an extended team?

Kurani: Having a project manager is critical. That’s someone who knows everything across the organization, more or less a chief operating officer.

We split the organization in terms of products, such as manufacturing, app development, and web development.

Lastly, we make sure that Slack is a safe space. Engineers, especially, are often shy about communicating on Slack. We want a culture where people can talk about anything on that app. We have face-to-face communication on Google Meet. But Slack is our place for daily dialog and conversations.

Bandholz: What’s keeping you awake at night?

Kurani: Supply chain issues. We can get products made in China, but getting them to the U.S. is a problem. There’s a shortage of shipping containers. Many ports are clogged or blocked.

Ramping up sales keeps me awake, too. We’ve done a lot of advertising for brand building. Our ratio of customer acquisition cost to lifetime value is higher than usual. I want to bring that down for profitability. The Facebook algorithm change last year hit us hard.

Bandholz: Where can folks reach out to you and buy your products?

Kurani: Our website is We’re selling our devices right now. Hit the buy button, and you’ll have a Sutro in your house in three to five days. I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter.