S3 E4: Letting your great tasting product speak for itself with Christina Dorr Drake (Willa’s Oat Milk)


Today on Retention Chronicles, we’re joined by Christina Dorr Drake, Co-Founder & CEO of Willa’s Oat Milk. We joyfully chat through many things on this episode, such as,

  • pivoting from an agency background to founding a CPG brand,
  • starting as an entrepreneur and learning how to work with a smaller team,
  • revolutionizing the oat milk business to use the whole oat (rather than just the sugary part),
  • food waste and how to prevent it,
  • experimenting with different tactics on social media, gifting product to influencers,
  • and providing different customer experiences to meet them where they are at.

Be sure to subscribe to our pod to stay up-to-date and checkout Malomo, the leading order tracking platform for Shopify brands.

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This transcript was completed by an automated system, please forgive any grammatical errors.


brand, people, oat milk, influencer, recipes, product, super, willows, real, waste, willis, chocolate milk, oat, milk, team, food, ingredients, idea, taste, fun


Mariah Parsons, Christina Dorr Drake

Mariah Parsons 00:04

Hi there, I'm Mariah Parsons, your host of retention Chronicles, ecommerce brands are starting to shift their strategy to focus on retention in the customer experience. And so we've decided to reach out to top DC brands and dive deeper into their tactics and challenges. But here's the thing, we love going on tangents. And so with our guests, you'll often find us talking about the latest trends, as well as any and all things in the Shopify ecosystem. So go ahead and start that workout or go on that walk and tune in as we chat with the leading minds in the space retention Chronicles is sponsored by Malomo. A shipment in order tracking platform, improving the post purchase experience, be sure to subscribe and check out all of our other episodes at go. malomo.com. Hello, everyone, and today we are joined by Christina. Christina, thank you so much for being here. I am so psyched to learn more about you and your journey. And Willis oatmilk. Can you just give us a quick hello, and a quick intro? Sure. Hi,

Christina Dorr Drake 01:12

thank you so much for having me, Mariah. I am a co founder of willows, oat milk. willows is a wholly better oat milk. We use all real organic ingredients. And it's the only oat milk to use the whole Oat, which makes it super rich and creamy, lower in sugar higher and all the benefits of the oats and zero food waste and the best choice for the planet.

Mariah Parsons 01:34

Wonderful. I love the little pun that you included in there with holy Oh, that's so wonderful. And right. Yes, yeah. Who doesn't also like fits? Yeah. Yeah, it fits your brand so well to you. This button, right? I feel like a lot of brands these days, this is a little tangent. But a lot of brands like, I feel like if you can tap into that branding, and just like being fun, like, I'm just I know in the DTC space. And I think just more and more of the brands and like retail are getting are tapping into that. And I think it's so entertaining.

Christina Dorr Drake 02:07

For so long. It was like all of the better for you healthier, more sustainable back brands took themselves so seriously. And I never wanted Willis to be that way. You know?

Mariah Parsons 02:17

Yeah, yes. I've actually never thought about it in that way where it's like, Oh, if you have like a very serious or like dedicated mission, the branding also kind of followed that. Yeah, that's, that's a really interesting, like differentiator. Yeah, that's fun. Okay, so can you tell us kind of what led like your background? What led to the creation of Willis? I know, it's you and your sister who co founded it. Correct? Okay. Yeah, it started was all about that

Christina Dorr Drake 02:45

it started with my, my sister, and, and me, and then my husband, quickly became our third co founder. And then my mom started getting involved as well as wonderfully there are four of us now. And my background is as a marketer, as well, I worked in strategy on the agency side, brand strategy, innovation strategy. So my role was looking at the intersection between the business opportunity and what was happening in culture and, you know, really understanding our target audience. And then working closely with all of our partners and cross functional teams, so less on the media side, more on the on the brand side. And we originally started with us, because we were kind of tired of plant based milks that were sort of watery, or chalky, and were mostly sugar and artificial ingredients than actual plants. And yeah, or like been there. My grandmother used to make oat milk. And she used real ingredients like vanilla extract, and sea salt to make this really rich, delicious recipe. And so we just wanted to bring her recipe to the world. And then as we got further down the entrepreneurial path, we just kept learning more and more things about the way plant based milk is normally made, that did not align with our values or live up to my grandmother's name. And so we essentially ended up redesigning the entire way that that plant based milk is made, which was no small feat.

Mariah Parsons 04:15

Yeah, I bet. Oh, my gosh, I can't even imagine that. I definitely wanted to tap into that of like, just redesigning and kind of that space of innovation that you all had to go through. But real quick. So for the podcast, we have a our like brand branch of the podcast, and then we have our like, agency side, and we've talked to a lot of agencies. So was Was that like a big switch to go from? Like the agency consulting approach? Because you're working obviously, I can assume with a bunch of different brands or companies and you're solving like their specific problems. And now you have kind of the whole docket for your own company. What was that like?

Christina Dorr Drake 04:55

Yeah, I mean, working on the agency side, in many ways was the best training ground for Being an entrepreneur, because it's super fast paced, it's collaborative, you're working with cross functional teams, you're solving problems every single day, you know, different problems are coming up all the time that you need to figure out, there's a lot of negotiation involve a lot of pitching. So all of that was really, really good training ground for being an entrepreneur. But on the flip side, there were some things that I sort of sort of had to unlearn and relearn. For example, you know, for one, I mean, I was used to having these big budgets and lots of people and, you know, lots of experts around and suddenly, you know, you're sitting by yourself as an entrepreneur, and you have these really high expectations for everything, you know, design, copy, messaging, all of it, and you're realizing I am one person, you know, especially in the early days, or I'm, you know, I'm in charge of marketing, and my co founders are each in charge of something else. And you realize how scrappy you need to be, and how much you need, you know, to just kind of learn as much as you can from other people who've been down this road before you. The other thing that was the big learning for me, and now now, it's funny, but at the time, it was kind of, it was kind of nuts, when we, when we first started, you know, pitching angel investors or, you know, pitching retailers, whoever, I was, like, very intent on presenting from slides, because that was the world that I grew up in where it was, like, you were just super precious about every single word on every slide. And I've since realized, and this was really thanks to my husband and co founder, Rusty, that it's so much more powerful to just, you know, put a deck together figured Done is better than perfect. Send it ahead of the meeting, even send it through doc send so you can see what slides people spent the most time on. And then just love that trick, real conversation. Back and forth discussion. And, and so so yeah, with any with any transition, it's sort of like, the things that made you successful in your past job might not be the same things that make you successful on the new one.

Mariah Parsons 07:07

Right? Yeah, I love that emphasis on like the scrappy niches of a startup and the entrepreneur spirit that comes up a lot. You know, just with Malomo, or with the podcast specifically, I'm also part of a professional development program where entrepreneurship is like at the center. And so it I just, I've, I've heard that time and time again. So I'm but I don't think even though how many however, many times you hear that message, it's never enough, because until you're sitting in that seat, and you're like, Oh, now this is my own experience. I have to apply those learnings. It can get caught up in the whirlwind. But yeah, working with a lean team. I know I've definitely learned to like find a couple of things that you're really good at and stick to that rather than rather than trying to master everything because you just can't with limited resources and a smaller team. Yeah, absolutely. It's

Christina Dorr Drake 07:58

nice to hear that I'm not alone in feeling that way. Um, yeah, and same thing, even just the website, every, every time I go to our website, I see things that I want to change, or you cringe at and like, ah, image, um, yeah, you just have to let it go. You know, because it's like, you have to stay focused on your goals and remind yourself that not everything is not going to be perfect ever, right? And you're going to keep optimizing and keep learning and you just kind of have to stay super focused on the key opportunities that you kind of scoped out for yourself.

Mariah Parsons 08:35

Yes, I think too, with, like, not having to have everything perfect. And like the website, and I think it's very relatable to we're all way harder on ourselves than we are like other people, right? So I landed on your eyes website, I was like, oh my god, it's beautiful. Like I, you know, like, it's way easier to be hard on ourselves. But with that, I love that that little tangent into entrepreneurship. And I would love to now learn more about how you approach like redesigning the industry of oat milk, with your product and how you all approached kind of like the product design or the product iteration

Christina Dorr Drake 09:10

aspect. This is where my sister's background really came in super handy. She has a background in chemical engineering and CO manufacturing in food and beverage. And she brought on one of her colleagues, Laura as well. So they really lead all of the r&d on our team. And you might have noticed some you know, a lot of these plant based milks have a ton of sugar. In the case of oat milk, sometimes they have 711 13 grams of sugar per cup, and little to no protein or fiber, which you know, are really the benefits of the oat and so we were just really puzzled by that and what we discovered and this is well documented. Oat Milk is typically made with just the starchy part of the the sugary part and the healthy parts of the oat are almost always filtered out and often end up in a landfill Fill, which really isn't great for society. And you know world where so many people are food insecure, and also isn't great for our planet, because food waste is actually a leading cause of methane and greenhouse gas emissions. So as you know, it, you know, it doesn't fully break down. When it's thrown into a landfill, it's not, it's certainly not the same as composting. So when we learned that we thought, okay, there has to be a better, more honest and sustainable way to do it. And that's where Elena and Laura essentially redesigned the whole way oat milk is made and figured out how to mill the whole entire Oat. So you get this really rich taste, you get all the benefits of prebiotic fiber and protein, and it's zero food waste, which makes it a better choice for the planet.

Mariah Parsons 10:46

Yeah, that's so wonderful. So I know, okay, can you explain to me like, if, you know, why is it kind of the normal process, that it's just the sugary part of the oath that's taken? Is it like, is it cheaper that way? Is it just like for taste? What's the rationale kind of behind there?

Christina Dorr Drake 11:07

I mean, I can't, you know, I can't speak on behalf of our competitors. But some of the theories that I've heard that makes sense to me are, you know, for one, if you want to sell a product in the US, the kind of tried and true, you know, conventional wisdom is just make it super sugary, because Americans love sugary beverages, right. So there's that. There's also the fact that, you know, what we did is a lot harder. Now we've got, you know, we've got our whole approach and process really dialed in. And our team is we have an internal r&d team, which is actually unusual in our space. So they're just constantly improving upon it, and just, you know, really putting our values around health tastes and sustainability at the forefront. If we hadn't had Elena and Laura, you know, we might have gone to a lab and said, Let's, you know, take an off the shelf formulation. And so, I think some of it is just maybe, uh, you know, sometimes it's just easier not to reinvent the wheel. Right now. Yeah, definitely. Longer than we were expecting, going about it the way we did.

Mariah Parsons 12:17

Okay. Yeah, that's helpful. That's, I think it speaks to kind of the process that you all went through. And like the time that you took to develop a product, like you said, that you all were happy with and like, spoke to? Was it your grandmother? Yeah. Yeah. Spoke to your grandma. Yes. Yeah. Spoke to like, what your grandmother stood for. And one more question about that as well. Because we had, so are you familiar with bored cow by chance? They're in. They're like an animal for Okay, I have to get this right. So animal, they're an animal milk, but dairy free? No, no, that's not right. They're a dairy. They're an animal free dairy milk alternative. So what they do, so they don't use cows, and they take the whey protein from dairy cows, and they synthesize it in the lab and grow it that way. So that's how you get the animal free component, but it's still dairy protein. So it takes me I remember, when we had them on the podcast, I was like, I had to rehearse. Yes, yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so but they, we had Luke, who is their creative director come on the podcast, and he spoke to just like that whole process, and how food waste, and just the agriculture industry or animal industry is a huge, huge contributor to you know, methane, and really, like climate change just in general. And so I think it's super interesting to hear from you as well, like, a kind of a, because we didn't chat about this with bored cow, but the component of like, food waste and it sitting in a landfill and how that's not the same as composting. Because it like, it's, I think it would be easy to maybe conflate the two because you just think like, oh, it's in a landfill, it'll decompose like, eventually, right? Like, isn't that what just composting is? So can you explain like, maybe just a little bit more of that?

Christina Dorr Drake 14:23

Yeah, that blew my mind to I think the first time I really was able to wrap my head around that was Anthony Bourdain documentary, maybe four or five years ago about the about food waste and essentially, you know, what people don't realize because food waste is often talked about in the realm of food insecurity which which is also super important in a world where so many people are food insecure. And, you know, in the case of our category, you know, you're you're taking the healthy part prebiotic fiber and protein things that can really benefit people's health and losing that but With food waste, essentially, if you put it into a landfill, it releases methane into the atmosphere, it doesn't break down the way it would in a compost or, you know, if you planted it or something like that. So that process is something that we're not only trying to, you know, prevent. But we're trying to stop from happening in the first place. There are a lot of brands doing upcycling, which is wonderful. They're taking the waste from another product. They're basically taking the byproducts and turning it into a new product, which is great, but we're trying to prevent food waste from happening from the very beginning. And it's really crazy to think that this is, this is sure, yes, you should compost. But the biggest issue is all the food waste that happens before food even gets to the grocery store. And the UN did a whole report on this and found that it food waste were a country, it would be third after the US and China and greenhouse gas. So um, yeah, it's just wild when you start thinking about the math around it. So with Willis, everything we do, we want it to be, you know, not only the tastiest, but the most sustainable and the healthiest plant based milk on the market. That is our mission and our aim. And so using a zero waste process, and also using organic oats, which are really good for soil health. You know, that was just a no brainer for us.

Mariah Parsons 16:27

Right, right. So how do you ensure, like, how do you what kind of processes is it like baked into? I guess, the, like, the inventory? Or like, how, how do you ensure that you're, like, not creating any food waste? It is my this might be a more technical side of the question. So it's okay, if we don't want to go there.

Christina Dorr Drake 16:51

Um, I mean, in a nutshell, it's really just making decisions based on our values, you know, taking the time as a team to talk about how we can solve, you know, solve any issues that come our way. So things that might mean that we we end up with, you know, some loss of product, and making sure that we're having those discussions before we go ahead and produce product and always optimizing, improving. So this was this was a really long process, we start we started well as in 2018. And we launched our full launch was in January of 2021.

Mariah Parsons 17:30

Wow. Yeah. So would you say majority of that chunk was kind of like getting all of those ducks in a row? Right? Yeah,

Christina Dorr Drake 17:36

very much. It was almost all focused on r&d. Wow.

Mariah Parsons 17:40

Yeah. I mean, it sounds from, you know, from being a not an expert in this space, like yourself. It sounds like it was a very difficult process or a very lengthy one. But I would assume now that you kind of made sure that your process follows that. It's a way smoother process now.

Christina Dorr Drake 18:01

That's right. Yeah. So yeah, we use the whole entire oat we actually use the whole oat groat to be exact. So for people who buy oat groats, you know, you get more of the oat and outside of it that way. And then, you know, because we have our own internal r&d team, were just constantly looking for more ways to improve and optimize to truly be the most sustainable option and help reverse climate change.

Mariah Parsons 18:28

Yeah, makes sense. Okay, cool. I always love like, it's so fascinating to me, especially just because I rarely ever touch like anything in product, right? I mean, we're not, we're an E commerce app. So technology, of course, you don't really touch like any of the logistical aspects of like CPG brands or anything, but it's just always so fascinating to hear. So thank you for walking me through that. And now I want to shift and I know your background is in marketing as well. So can you walk us through kind of now you have the product that you're happy with? The process that you're happy with? How then do you approach like what you want your branding to be? I know, we, we mentioned it a little bit earlier with the branding, but how do you approach all all of your marketing strategy your brand,

Christina Dorr Drake 19:18

you know, with the brand. The ethos of the brand really come from my grandmother, you know, we say she was real honest and uncompromising, which is 100% true, she was a really warm, loving person, but she's also incredibly direct. And she was super real. And so we you know, the brand isn't meant to be sort of old fashioned or stuck in might, you know, another era or a different time. We wanted something that was really contemporary and fresh and would stand out at shelf and you know, packaging that would work really hard for us. But at the same time, we wanted to make sure that that story and that the The ethos of the brand, the tone of the brand, we're really born out of honoring her because you know, she, she is the reason that, that we have this wonderful recipe and we have this product and she was a real force in our lives.

Mariah Parsons 20:16

Yeah, yeah, that's amazing. Would you say like, nostalgic? A little bit? A little bit?

Christina Dorr Drake 20:24

Yeah, I think it's the tone is never meant to be nostalgic. But I would say the story definitely is, you know,

Mariah Parsons 20:35

yeah, yeah, I think everyone. Or maybe not everyone, but a lot of people could, because I read your story, and like how it was based off of your grandmother's recipe and how it really influences the branding. And so like, even right, as I was reading, that I was thinking about my own grandmother, and like, she passes, she had, like, this big cookbook that she passed to my mom and then has, like, passed will pass on to my siblings and I. And so like, I that's where the nostalgia came in. Not necessarily like the design of the brand, but I think you're right in that. It, maybe the Yeah, the context or the story. Is this nostalgic. And I always I mean, it ties into like emotion, right? Like, if you can have your consumers experience something while they're interacting with your brand, it's like, and have that be positive. Right? That's, that's very impactful.

Christina Dorr Drake 21:31

I love that. I love that that, you know, that idea of kind of these strong women passing and passing along wisdom that in some ways, I think we're all kind of going back to a lot of the old wisdom around food and the food system and how Eakins ecosystems can you know, work together. We don't just have to like force them into monocultures, pesticides, all that stuff. Um, I think I think that's really cool that that brings up emotions for people about, you know, positive people in their own lives.

Mariah Parsons 22:00

Yes, yeah. Really cool. So and I want to walk through the customer experience and a little bit because I know I just mentioned that. But before we do, also, of course, in addition to reading your brand story, I had to check out your social media, because you know, I'm Gen Z, I had to do it right marketing. So can you can you tell us like a little bit about your approach there? And just like, What are you thinking about when you're, you know, going to market with your products. In the early

Christina Dorr Drake 22:33

days, we were so precious about how we shot content. And I quickly realized that was completely unsustainable for a small new brand of a tiny jig. Right? Yeah. And so now we're constantly coming up with ideas as a team and testing them out and seeing seeing what sticks. One of the things that I think is the coolest about our content is we have had a lot of interns, college students, or people that are, you know, recent grads, and we essentially tell them, like, come up with ideas, we're pretty much open to anything, as long as you know, is in line with our brand values and align with them. And so, we get so many great ideas, both from our fans from our team. And in many ways, I had to, in the early days, kind of let go of that piece and put it in the hands of people who were much better at it than I was. Which in all honesty wasn't that hard, because there's so much better at it than not.

Mariah Parsons 23:38

It makes it just a little bit easier. Anything can be

Christina Dorr Drake 23:42

totally, I mean, the videos that they'll shoot, you know, we've had videos that I mean, we don't have the biggest presence ever, but well, we'll have a video of you know, ice coffee cubes with willows poured on top, and it'll get 20,000 Organic views on Instagram. And it's like, that is amazing. It's beautifully shot with someone's iPhone. And it was just an idea somebody had you know, on our team one day and Shay Sylvie Anna, we've had just like phenomenal interns who have come up with great ideas. One thing that we really had to balance is we have a very strong point of view on you know, sustainability and health and how we believe oat milk should be made. And what we have to be cognizant of is we don't want to be, you know, sort of, we never want anyone to feel, you know, like shame or like judgment. And we also never want willows to be portrayed as like food is medicine. Because the number one reason and surveys and everything we do the number one reason people buy will us is not just the health and the sustainability, it's the taste. It's so interesting time and time again, every time we do a survey or we talk to people and we're doing sampling or an event, it's always taste and so with that, you know, we try to take every opportunity to tell people about the whole load story to tell people about my grandmother to tell people about the things that make the brands so unique. But part of the reason you see so much recipe content and things like that is because that's the number one people reason people love the brand.

Mariah Parsons 25:17

Is that Yeah, I mean, kudos to you. Yeah. Yeah, if you can have that the, like the what everyone's saying, like, oh, like, yeah, I love the mission. And I love the branding, and I love the health benefits, and, you know, this sustainability mission statement, all that but then be like, but I really enjoy the product and the taste of it. Like, that's, that's huge. That's a win win, right. And so, yeah, I noticed, like just the content that you will have, it's very aesthetic. And I am, like, I know myself as an end user, and I love like, aesthetically pleasing videos, like, I will watch them, right, like, recipes being made. And like, you know, drinks, like you just said, like drinks being poured into like, pretty cups. And it's just pretty. So that's, I think, kudos to you, too, going back to like the entrepreneurial conversation we had in the beginning of the episode of just I think that's also another aspect that I've been fortunate enough to hear entrepreneurs speak to as well of like, you know, you create something and it's hard to let it go. It's kind of like your, it's your project, it's your, you know, you have a lot of affection for it. And so to be able to step back and be like, well, you know, there's certain things that I just couldn't recognize, it's not my area of expertise. And for you to kind of give that to those wonderful interns that you spoke to, or students or grad, recent grads, I think that's all the more power and I think the brands that are doing that, that are recognizing, like, Hey, I don't, you know, you don't have to be super precise, or, you know, you don't, everything doesn't have to be perfect, especially when it comes to like the newer era of social media and how, like DTC or like CPG brands are doing on social media, especially tick tock. It's, it's like morphing. So kudos to you for being able to say like, you know, what, not expert. I'm gonna give this to someone else and let them run with it. Because I think that's when you get some of the best ideas, like you said, was it 20 20,000 views organically like

Christina Dorr Drake 27:30

us? Yeah. Which is a lot for a brand that I think at the time we had, like, less than 5000 followers. Yeah, that's huge. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I think it also extends to like different channels, because the content we create does, performs really well a lot of the time on Instagram, because it's, you know, really beautiful and really beautifully shot. And then it just will, you know, it will not perform the same way on Tik Tok. And that's where I think influencer gifting can be so great because again, if it's like, you know, we haven't figured out tic toc yet on our team. I'm totally transparent about that. And there are people who are so phenomenal at it. It's like, let's you know, let's let's partner with the people that really love it and know what they're doing and are creating wonderful content there already.

Mariah Parsons 28:23

Right? Yeah, no, so we, we haven't spoken specifically on this podcast about like influencer gifting. So I would love to go down that rabbit hole. And I think it is like, again, there's so many people like I myself even I'm like, I don't know how for because I am on Tik Tok both for our company and personally and I'm like, I don't know how the heck my like, personal algorithm is so tailored to me and I'm like, it's kind of scary, but also, I'm like, so impressed. right like so. And we haven't figured it out on the Malomo side like completely transparent it's just something we're exploring because you know, that's that's part of the fun of it. And so I Yeah, it's a funny thing that like some brands are just their their content their audience is more on one platform like Instagram versus another like tick tock so yeah, but let's let's go down into the like influencer gifting route was just something that kind of like, came up. Maybe one of your team, like one of your teammates had an idea around it or like someone reached out.

Christina Dorr Drake 29:35

In the very early days of willows, one of the best things we ever did is we just started reaching out to everyone we knew who might know somebody who was the founder of not even just a CPG business, but any business and just started getting all of the advice we could. And in those early days when we were just getting started. A lot of fellow founders were like you need to gift you just need to I give product and not put any stipulations around it. And if people love it, they will share and they will ask for more. And so that's, that's what we did. And that you know it again in our survey data that's like, where most people find us. So it's just yeah. from people who've become big fans on their own, either reaching out to us or us reaching out to them. One of them is Dan Buettner, the founder of the Blue Zones, who studied the parts of the world where people live to 100. He's become a wonderful fan and champion, and and there are a bunch of a bunch of influencers who have come up with the most amazing recipes with willows, things that I would never even imagined. So yeah, it's been it's been really fun, because it's, it's meant that we've also just met so many incredible people. That way, you know,

Mariah Parsons 30:53

yeah, yeah. Right. The communities get larger and larger. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, that's great. I think to the recipes, this might lend us well into the customer experience, side of the chat. So because I know recipes, specifically getting into more of like, Malomo. And what we see a lot of our food and beverage brands will like share recipes, as someone is waiting for their package to arrive or like on social media, right? Like, gets, gets a lot of traffic to recipe pages, because people are excited about their new product and like, Okay, love the original product, and, you know, whatever you choose to use oat milk for with whether it's coffee or cereal. You know, you have like your habits, right? But then it's fun to experiment and try these other things that you would have never thought through. So like, how do you is it mostly through like social media, you would say that you share those recipes, or people just find them organically?

Christina Dorr Drake 31:49

Yeah, I mean, we, you know, if we come up with a great recipe, or if a partner does, we just share it everywhere, you know, and sometimes things will perform really well that you wouldn't have expected for instance, one of our top performing recipes, as well as White Russian, which would love to do that.

Mariah Parsons 32:12

That is so fun.

Christina Dorr Drake 32:15

Again, I mean, who would have thought that would be like one of the top performers, but people love it also is great as a zero proof cocktail just well as on ice with a little bit of nutmeg and cinnamon. So yeah, you know, sometimes it's like, you're just constantly taking a piece of content or an idea and figuring out how many different places you can replicate it and then seeing seeing what works.

Mariah Parsons 32:41

Yeah, that's so cool. Um, could you I have another question about the influencer gifting. So once you kind of reached out to people and you had, you know, you started gifting out willows, did you find like, and I know, you said people would come back and ask for more just like naturally share it. But have you like, was there like affiliate links combined with like those gifts of say an influencer came back? What was like more of the technical side in case someone was like, You know what, that's a great idea. And wants to implement that after listening to this podcast?

Christina Dorr Drake 33:18

Yeah, I mean, there's a million ways to do it, you could you could go for, you know, the mega influencers and sponsor them, you could go for the tiniest micro influencers, and just gift a ton. And I think it really depends on the brand. And I feel like all of this is changing so much, because the platforms are changing, the algorithms are changing, what's trending on tick tock an hour ago, is probably different right now. I mean, like,

Mariah Parsons 33:45

ya know, it moves quickly,

Christina Dorr Drake 33:47

you can come up with a formula, but you know, don't expect that to be the formula that's going to work a month from now. So I'm in, in our case, you know, we just kind of started building relationships with different influencers and gifting them product and supporting them in whatever ways they were interested in. So some, for example, love it, that will post a recipe of theirs on the website and link back to their site and link to their social. And, you know, say they're like a nutritionist or a functional doctor or an expert in something, you know, we'll share a little bit about their bio. Some people prefer affiliate links, some people will want to do giveaways. You know, we really try to just support and whatever ways we can and get creative. You know, we're never going to have the budgets of our much larger competitors, but we do, I guess, have the benefit of being a team and you know, sometimes it's me, you know, DMing the influencers myself, you know, we have the we have the ability to be personal and real and Um, you know, support in ways that are a bit more custom.

Mariah Parsons 35:04

Yeah, and kind of have that like sentimental aspect to and like be very interconnected to the community and be like, Oh, this is what I'm seeing from this person from this influencer. I think there's a lot of power to meeting people where they're at to like, one of the things I've learned just through other guests on the podcast has been like, if you don't have any reason not to, like offer a plethora to your influencers, like a plethora plethora of like, what's the word I'm looking for of like, options for how they can interact with your brand, or like, even for customers to write, it's like, you don't want to force someone down a specific route, just because that's the way that you and your brand are doing things. Like if you have the opportunity and the availability to open up and try these different channels or try these different platforms. It's like why wouldn't you? You know,

Christina Dorr Drake 35:53

totally, I mean, what what do you have to lose? So you do another test, and you learn something from making a small bet, you know? And I think that's, that's always the best way to learn is just figure out what, what are the small bets and the small tests you want to make each week or month and then just keep, keep figuring out what's working?

Mariah Parsons 36:11

Yeah, for sure. So while we're talking about like, figuring out what's working, can you kind of walk us through the customer experience, like a typical customer experience of someone finds well as through an influencer through social media or whatever? Or, or or organically? Can you can you tell us about like, you know, they hit that buy button? What, what's going on there with the customer experience?

Christina Dorr Drake 36:38

Are we the customer experience specifically for DTC? Right. Yeah, yeah,

Mariah Parsons 36:44

just please think Yeah, yeah.

Christina Dorr Drake 36:48

It's, you know, I mean, obviously, it varies, but I think, a pretty major contingent of the, the, you know, customers we have for Willis kitchen.com are people who are really looking for real organic, pronounceable ingredients and less sugar. And for that reason, willows, unsweetened original, which is just water, oats, vanilla sea salt, one gram of sugar per cup, still super rich and creamy. And that's what I have in my matcha. Every morning. That product does really, really well online. And I think it's because so many people are searching for something exactly like that, that actually also tastes good. And I, and because the loudest voices on social right now are, you know, in our category, talking about ingredients, sugar, what's actually in these plant based milks? You know, that's something that when we started with us, we weren't even sure if people were going to care as much as we did about the ingredients in the nutrition label. We weren't sure if this was going to go in the same direction as the Impossible Burger. But that has really changed, people are taking a much closer look at the plant based milk category. And with that, there's just a lot more conversation on social media. And so those those voices that are the loudest talking about the health aspects tend to be the ones that drive a lot of traffic to our site. Same thing with willows, dark chocolate, which just launched it is the only chocolate milk I know of that uses real cacao we use transparently traded raka single origin cacao from Peru. It's super good. It's traded with indigenous Peruvian farmer cooperatives who've been farming cacao forever. And it has an amazing story around it, it uses a little bit of maple sugar, just again, like ingredients that are real so people who are searching for something that is their you know chocolate milk, they want to get that chocolate milk fix, but they would like to also feel good. Balance good about it. You know, it hits all of those notes. And with that, you know, we just we tend to get a lot of the more health focused plant based milk drinkers coming to the website.

Mariah Parsons 39:05

Yeah, yeah. So would you like it's a was it a collab? Did I understand that? Right? Like, Raka, right. Yeah, that was so fun. Right? Like it was

Christina Dorr Drake 39:14

Yeah. Such a joy to join a partner with them.

Mariah Parsons 39:16

Yeah, yeah. And I'm a huge chocolate lover. Like it is the bane of my existence, but also like, Oh, it is like the highlight of my day whenever I chocolate. So when I saw that, I was like, Oh, God, that looks so good. So yeah, that's also like a fun, I'm sure. Like a fun twist. Right? Like you don't really see like, a collaboration with a milk brand and a chocolate brand. Like all the time. Yeah. Well, yeah.

Christina Dorr Drake 39:47

We used to do these events at we works where we'd be making like matcha lattes, or Willis white Russians which do that. For fun In general, and it started becoming like an internal joke on the team. Because every single time we would do on somebody would come up to us and be like, hey, so my guilty pleasure at night is chocolate milk. Do you guys think you could make a chocolate milk? And so we started, like having this like bet as a team is like how many people are going to come up and ask us for chocolate milk. And then we looked at the chocolate milk part of the category and we're like, Whoa, this is the worst part of the, you know, plant based milk category. It's the most sugar, terrible ingredients. Just not great for your health. The cacao trade is, I won't get into it right now. But it's associated with the worst parts of humanity. So um, we love we love the team at Rocco. We love what they do, their cacao was transparently traded. And they just have a real attention to craft and detail and flavor. And so it was just a no brainer to partner with them.

Mariah Parsons 40:54

Yeah, it seems like it right, like, yeah, that is that is so wonderful. Thank you for diving into kind of more details around that. And so I also noticed you all use recharge for Subscribe and Save. So can you kind of walk us through? Like, is there a different experience for the consumer based off of if they are assisting a subscriber versus if they're not? Yeah,

Christina Dorr Drake 41:21

absolutely. If they're, you know, if they're newer to the brand, there's, you know, more opportunity for education around what makes Willis unique. We again, always try to share recipes no matter what because like I said before, we don't want to be just associated with like health and food is medicine, we put a lot of care into creating oat milks that are really delicious, that pour into coffee and give you creamy swirls. And that again is like the number one reason people buy it. So balancing anything you know that we do, we're we're talking about reversing climate change and health with also just delicious recipes and creative ideas for how to use it in baking or cooking or, you know, dairy free mac and cheese are different beverages, and making sure that there's a balance between all of those different messages. Our website sales for a long time were 80% subscription based, which I think is a testament to how much people love the taste. They usually buy us because they're looking for something healthier, lower sugar, but then they stick with it because of the the taste of Ruelas that has come down to around 60% Because we just launched two new products will is barista which is great for you, if you have a home frother it creates Latte Art for coffee shops. And then we'll start chocolate was like a limited release last year and it's sold out. So now we're fully launching it for the long haul. But we always try to make sure that the subscription option is as an accessory is an accessible price point as we possibly can get to it. You know, Willis is a premium brand, we use the most expensive, high quality organic ingredients. At the same time. We don't want it to be, you know, completely inaccessible. So anyone who's willing to come to our website and order there and buy a six pack subscription, we believe they should, they should always get the best deal possible.

Mariah Parsons 43:24

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think there's a lot of power to be able to like give out that same option of like, Okay, try it out. See if you like it, whatnot, subscribe. Or just being able to, you know, tap in when you need it when you want it have like both of those options. Because it again, it meets your consumer, where, where they're at. And I also want to say I saw the barista product. And it was in that moment that I realized I was like, I didn't even know that you like it would be a different product. Right? Like, I'm so I'm not a coffee drinker myself. And I've tried macho, which I know you mentioned you have much in the mornings, but I guess I don't know, I just didn't think of like, a barista for like, the latte art or for like a frother would like need to be different. So that's that was just like a little point that I was like, Oh, that's so interesting.

Christina Dorr Drake 44:21

Yeah, I mean, making making a milk out of plants that can do the same things that dairy milk has been doing, you know, easily forever is, is is not as straightforward as it sounds.

Mariah Parsons 44:36

Yeah. Yes, that totally makes sense. Yeah. So I just wanted to share that because I thought it was interesting. And I wonder if any other listeners kind of had that moment where I was like, Oh, I didn't even consider that. So I think that's really awesome. I know we're coming up on time here in a couple minutes. But I just wanted to ask, I know we got into your entrepreneurial background a little bit The beginning, you shared some advice around that. But I always open up the floor at the end of these episodes to share another tidbit of advice. It can be specifically around being an entrepreneur or just like general life advice. What's one thing that has kind of led to where you are now?

Christina Dorr Drake 45:20

The quote that has stuck with me the most in the past year that I constantly talking about with my team, I think we've all kind of internalized it is James clear, the author of atomic habits said, we don't rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems, and you think about how often you'll set a goal. And you think just writing it down is enough, but then you can't quite get there. So as a team, we've really internalize that. And we're really trying to create a super strong foundation for the business create really great systems and processes. What I have been kind of amazed and inspired by is, internalizing this idea of like, we got to create the systems to get to our goals together, has also really helped to ensure that we create a culture of collaboration, I think we've all worked in places where the fuel is basically anxiety and perfectionism, which kind of leads to a lot of like, passive aggressive blaming, or finger pointing or, you know, indirect finger pointing. And when you say, Okay, we're not just going to set goals, we're going to try to create systems to get to those goals, when things go wrong, which they inevitably do all the time. When you're working. As a team, you're able to say, okay, so we learned some things, how do we make sure we have the systems and processes so that we can either prevent that from happening, or turn that into an opportunity, you know, make lemonade out of the situation, and be even stronger for it after the fact. And I think that's been something that I've just been really excited and inspired by, because I always wanted to create the kind of company I would want to work for. So yeah, again, thank you to James clear, if he's out there for reminding us to just work together to create, you know, create the system so that we can get to our goals together.

Mariah Parsons 47:13

Yeah, I think that's a beautiful way to look at it. And a great reminder, I know our founder Yao, he says the same thing where like culture and collaboration and our like core values are at the very center of our business. And so like, I know, I've loved working here, just for that reason, it sounds like Will is very similar, where it's like, there's no blaming, there's no none of the bad practices that unfortunately, are common practices and some, some areas or some industries. And so I absolutely love ending on that note, thank you so much for being here. Christina. This has been a delight learning from you and just getting to know more about you and Willis. So thank you for making the time and sharing all your wonderful insight.

Christina Dorr Drake 47:57

Thank you so much, Mariah. It's been a pleasure to talk to you