COVID-19 makes it easy to do just that. Sure, we’d be a lot more capable with a paring knife or a turkey baster. But at what cost?
COVID-19 makes it easy to do just that. Sure, we’d be a lot more capable with a paring knife or a turkey baster. But at what cost?
Restaurants are the backbone of small business in communities across the country. Without decent spots to grab a bite or celebrate an accomplishment, what good are barber shops or clothing retailers? If restaurants flounder, so too do the small businesses they help bolster.
That’s the world according to Marcus Samuelsson, famed restaurateur, Iron Chef competitor, Chopped judge, and owner of more than a handful of restaurants around the world.
This week on Business Casual, we spoke with Chef Marcus about his experience operating restaurants and strategizing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The long story short? It’s been really, really hard.
Restaurants have been suckerpunched by the coronavirus and the requisite shutdowns robbing them of business. And that means big changes for a lot of people:
But businesspeople like Chef Marcus don’t just stop when things get tough. They pivot—to delivery, to making meals for frontline workers, to lobbying on behalf of the industry at large. Because as far as Chef Marcus sees it, the government is going to step in and give his business the help it needs.
In this episode, we explore exactly how COVID has expedited those strategic shifts, plus what they mean for the broader hospitality industry. Listen now.
And tune in to Business Casual’s next episode to hear Part II of our exploration of the restaurant space in the COVID-19 world. We’re tackling fast casuals with two of the brightest minds in the industry. Subscribe so you don’t miss out.
Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:07] Hey, everyone, and welcome to Business Casual, the podcast from Morning Brew, answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant. And before we get into it today, I want to give you a quick heads-up. We recorded this conversation before widespread protests against racial injustice and police brutality swept the United States. It's a conversation about branding and marketing. And I'm sure if we had it today, there'd be even more to talk about. But without further ado, let's get into it. [sound of a ding]
Kinsey [00:00:39] I've got a question for you. How many emails have you gotten from brands in the last two months promising that we're all in this together or letting you know how the nonstick baking sheet you bought last summer is helping frontline workers today? I bet you've gotten as many of those emails as I've gotten, or at least seen commercials on TV or maybe even an ad spot on your Instagram feed suggesting the very same thing. And none of that is coincidence, because the thing is, companies that want to profit from selling goods and services can't just do that, sell goods and services, anymore.
Kinsey [00:01:09] To be successful in 2020, you need to have a brand and be a brand, something that can turn selling suitcases into selling a lifestyle, and promising to support you through a pandemic or a recession. And today, those brand moments, brand communications, and brand cultures are more important than maybe ever before. If they're successful, you'll recognize how genuine companies and their leaders were during this, unfortunately, very memorable time. And if they're unsuccessful, you'll recognize the opposite. How disingenuous those efforts felt. It's a make-or-break moment for companies, especially startups, hoping to establish brand affinity with both you and your wallet.
Kinsey [00:01:45] But establishing a brand, especially one that can stand the test of a recession in a pandemic-induced lockdown, entails more than just picking a font and picking a theme color. It's a highly intensive process. It's evolving all the time, and it's also really expensive to get right. So today, we're going to lift the hood on branding. I want to understand what goes into it to better grasp why today's brand communications are so important. Why the word authenticity feels almost as used as the word unprecedented these days.
Kinsey [00:02:13] So to help me do that, I am bringing in the undisputed branding champs of the U.S. startup culture. The brains behind brands you definitely recognize, like Allbirds and Casper, and some of the coolest people in Brooklyn, I'm sure. JB Osborne and Emily Heyward, two of the founders of Red Antler, which the brand company that specializes in startups and new ventures. JB, Emily, welcome to Business Casual.
JB Osborne, co-founder of Red Antler [00:02:35] Thank you for having us.
Emily Heyward, co-founder of Red Antler [00:02:36] Thank you.
Kinsey [00:02:38] I'm really excited to talk to you guys. We are obviously doing this remotely still. So there are three of us here on this call, but I think we're going to have a great time. You guys have obviously known [laughs] each other for quite some time now, and you have a lot going on right now. Not only are you helping out all these companies that you guys have been helping brand for some time, but, Emily, of a book coming out called "Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love From Day One." And you guys have been building Red Antler since 2007.
Kinsey [00:03:03] So I think the two of you, with the book, with this company that's been around for so long, definitely know what you're talking about when it comes to this conversation. So I'm grateful for you taking the time.
Emily [00:03:12] Thank you. We're so happy to be here.
Kinsey [00:03:14] Let's just jump right in, shall we?
Emily [00:03:16] Let's do it.
JB [00:03:17] Let's do it.
Kinsey [00:03:17] All right. Awesome. So, there's obviously a lot to cover here when we're talking about building a brand in any circumstances. But today's circumstances are a particularly unique, I would [laughs] say, and we're gonna get down to how that matters. But let's start by understanding a little bit better what Red Antler does. What does building a brand mean to the two of you?
Emily [00:03:35] So, when we started the company 13 years ago, we had a very specific vision for what it meant to build a brand. And it was very different than what people traditionally might think of when they think of what branding is. I think you hear the term and you think of a logo or perhaps if you're a little more sophisticated, you think of a logo and a font and some colors. And for us, because we knew that we wanted to work with disruptive companies that were fundamentally changing the game, changing how their industries worked, and really trying to build relationships with people in a whole new way.
Emily [00:04:09] We always saw branding as something much broader than that. It was really about thinking about the entire customer experience and how do you ensure that at every step of the way, you're delivering on a promise that you have a really clear idea of what you stand for, and that through everything you do, including design, of course, you're really bringing that idea to life.
Emily [00:04:31] So that's how we think about branding and we help companies do that. We work with a lot of prelaunch founders and we meet them before they've gone live with their business. And we help them continue to craft their idea as we figure out what that entire customer experience should be and how it comes to life.
Kinsey [00:04:49] So they'll come to you before they've even gone to market and say, here's what we want to do, what we want to sell, what we want to achieve. You guys help them achieve some sort of brand that I feel like there's a lot of intersection with that brand and with the company's purpose. So, JB, do you want to speak a little bit more on that intersection of where branding and purpose meet?
JB [00:05:08] Yeah. I think we're always filtering for the opportunities that we believe in—the purpose that they have defined. And, at the end of the day, I think it's incredibly hard to separate the brand, its purpose in the world, and the product itself when it's done well. Like all of those things should be working together for it to be [indistinct] buzzword authentic. But I think what purpose really means is a reason for being that is more than just selling a product or the product itself.
JB [00:05:39] I think today, and especially in this moment, more than ever, understanding your values and what you are working towards, that is a greater goal than just we want to sell as much of this thing as possible, ensures that you're focused on the impact that you have on the environment or the value you can add to people's lives or to communities outside of just, you know, the products and the business that you're building. And that purpose can be the thing that unites people around a single idea within your business and within your customers, and makes them feel like we are all a part of something together.
JB [00:06:16] And again, like that can sound big, that can sound fluffy, but I think we see it hit the ground in a meaningful way, where businesses—Allbirds is one that I just think is an incredible company that has, from the beginning, known why they existed. And it's so much more than to sell sneakers. They're out there to prove that you can completely change the supply chain and the materials in a category that is, you know, everyone's buying shoes. It's like a huge category and it's a meaningful category with established players.
JB [00:06:47] And they've come out and really proven that by having a mission and a purpose driving what they're doing, which is to change the way the category works and to make a positive impact on the environment, you can do that. While it's powered by selling shoes, but selling shoes isn't the point. They've put a product out there that many people have knocked off and they've created incredible momentum.
JB [00:07:13] And I think they're a great example of how modern businesses and modern brands, if they know why they're doing what they're doing, it will lead them to, one, be successful and two, have a bigger impact than just financial gain.
Kinsey [00:07:26] So modern businesses and modern brands is a great point here, that purpose-driven business has been around forever. But the purpose has changed a ton [laughs] since the days of Sears and Roebuck. Like you say, for so many businesses of yesteryear, the purpose was make money. The purpose was get people something that they need, fill a gap in the market, find product market fit, and, you know, laugh all the way to the bank.
Kinsey [00:07:50] But now it's let's disrupt the supply chain. Let's show people that something else exists out there. Let's be radically transparent, to borrow some words from previous guests on Business Casual. Why do you think that this idea of purpose has become such a driving force for startups this day and age? These modern businesses are so purpose-driven, so much more so than previous businesses. Is it because this is what we, as consumers, expect today?
Emily [00:08:16] Yeah, I think so. I think that we're living in an era where consumers have more power than they've ever had before. They have more choice. They have more knowledge. So many of the intermediaries that used to stand between businesses and consumers have been removed. And because of that, consumers are demanding a lot more from the businesses that they choose to engage with. I think that people want to know that they're buying into a set of values. They want to be able to support businesses that they believe in. And businesses have had to respond, which is wonderful.
Kinsey [00:08:48] So with all of that in mind, what's the process like for you and for your team when a company comes to you, says they have this great purpose that you, as a team, also believe in? How do you go about helping them build a brand that, to borrow your words, JB, doesn't feel big and fluffy, that this purpose feels tangible and real and authentic? What's the process like for your team?
Emily [00:09:07] So, I think that it starts with ensuring that whatever we're going to end up saying is rooted to the product itself. You know, to JB's point, I think what you can't do is decide, you know, we want to stand for spiritual happiness and we're selling, you know, pencils. [laughs] Like, there has to be a through line. And our job is to figure out how do we connect the product benefit, what it does, what makes it different to its larger reason for being in the world and the values of the business and its founders, and ensuring that that all builds one story.
Emily [00:09:46] Because I think that you're right. The idea of a purposes is as old as time. And brands have been trying to assign themselves emotional value from the beginning. Like Coca-Cola standing for happiness. That's a century-old idea. But I think today, people are much wiser and they're going to pull the thread and make sure that it actually connects to whatever it is this business is doing and how it's behaving.
Kinsey [00:10:09] Is that because there are more options in the marketplace for them, for something like Allbirds—you can get shoes anywhere? Is that why we pull those [indistinct]?
Emily [00:10:17] I think it's more options, but it's also more information. We just know so much more and information is empowering.
Kinsey [00:10:25] So this concept of transparency has been something I've, for some reason, I've been thinking a ton about lately. I don't know if it's just all these emails that I was alluding to earlier or not, but I saw a thread on Twitter earlier today, actually, the day that we're recording this, about the value of a certain healthy amount of mystique surrounding a company. What the ROI is on mystery for a company that transparency is good, especially from a founder's perspective. But at a certain point, maybe there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to transparency. What are your thoughts on this? Is a good maybe not always lift the curtain all the way up?
JB [00:10:59] I think it depends on the category and it also depends on what type of transparency you're talking about. I think at the end of the day, there are certain things that—it's like the sausage making isn't necessarily the part that is so important for one company, but for another, that might actually be the thing that you really should be transparent about. And that's using an awkward, weird sausage reference.
JB [00:11:23] But, there's absolutely value in mystique, and I think with our business and our brand, for many years, not intentionally, but I think it just was that we were incredibly quiet. We were focused on doing the work. We're trying to help our clients become successful. And that, as a happy accident, I guess maybe we were mysterious and [laughs] that can build curiosity and intrigue. It used to be that corporations were relatively faceless because the products that you bought on a shelf, to Em's point, there were intermediaries.
JB [00:11:57] You know, there is the retailer, there is the distributor. There is the wholesalers. And like all these layers. And so you didn't know who the people were, what their values were. I mean, think about all the companies that, not that long ago, were dumping chemicals in all of our rivers. Not that long ago, we were living in a world where things were incredibly different on a lot of levels. And now we're living in a world where, just access to information, access to options—as a consumer, sometimes it might be more convenient to go to a store and walk down an aisle, or you appreciate the curation that that can provide, but you don't have to anymore.
JB [00:12:31] And for all these brands that can exist online and that now have tons more awareness and traction because everyone has to shop online, there's a lot of power in that. And with that comes, I think, a different experience of commerce and a different expectation of businesses.
Kinsey [00:12:47] Right. The concept of scalability is always so attractive to investors for a lot of these smaller companies. But I'm wondering here if that can almost be a setback for some that, you know, do you see any of today's wunderkind startups outgrowing this idea that they can be transparent, that they can be purpose-driven, that they can be the exact amount of authentic that they need to be for their consumer? Can you outgrow that, and is that not the end goal anymore—to become the next Procter & Gamble?
Emily [00:13:15] Well, I think that happens all the time, and we're seeing news headlines all the time about companies that started out with pure intentions and then had to make choices that maybe aren't totally in line with the values [laughs] that they were out there proclaiming to hold. I think that the real goal has to be how do you grow and become larger and continue to succeed, but not become the thing that you set out to disrupt in the first place.
Kinsey [00:13:43] Yeah. Ooh, that's meta. [laughs]
Emily [00:13:46] It is. It's like you don't want to become your parents, right? [laughter].
JB [00:13:49] But you know you are.
Kinsey [00:13:50] You know you do. [laughs]
Emily [00:13:51] Yeah.
JB [00:13:52] And I also think there's kind of a bit of an irony, right. If you're building a startup, especially if you're raising venture money, a lot of times the goal is an exit. And in many categories, the people acquiring you are the people that you are disrupting. So it's like you're becoming a part of the thing that you set out to change. But, yeah, again, it depends on the category, depends on the business. I think that there's been a lot of talk about funding sources, expectations of growth and valuation.
JB [00:14:23] And what is absolutely now true, I think, is that investors are being more critical about which companies they should put money into. And just as much, founders are being more critical about who they should take money from and under what terms. And the idea of growth at all costs, which can lead to veering off from your values because you're focused more on growing than you are on the way that you are growing, is a thing that we're probably going to hopefully mostly [laughs] leave behind.
JB [00:14:53] And you'll see more businesses that are raising from people that understand their category and can bring strategic value and have a longer-term expectation of what success looks like versus more of a rapidly scalable exponential tech investment mentality applied to consumer brands that just literally can't scale that way.
Kinsey [00:15:18] Right. I think in this conversation, we've hit so far on a lot of these big-picture topics when it comes to accountability and brand communications. I want to let everybody kind of think about the brands that they identify with, the brands they feel they really know well. And while they're thinking about that, we're gonna take a quick break, hear from our partner, come back, talk about how all of that is changing because we're in the middle of a pandemic. —
Kinsey [00:15:43] All right. And now back to the conversation with Red Antler's JB Osborne and Emily Heyward. So we've spent some time already talking about how we establish a brand, why brand is so important, what the consumer psychology is behind all these branding conversations. Now, I want to know how all of that is out the window with everything going on today. How has this pandemic affected the branding conversation for upstart businesses?
Emily [00:16:06] So I actually think that the pandemic has not changed the rules of how brands should behave. I think it's highlighted the rules that were already in place. I think that when we think about brand building and the principles that are most important, they haven't shifted. They're actually more important than ever before. And, you know, just to name a few, I'd say one would be, you know, every time you're asking for time or money from your consumers, you need to be giving them more value back than what you're asking for.
Emily [00:16:40] Number two, I think, would be everyone's favorite buzzword—authenticity—you know, owning things that you are uniquely poised to own and not trying to take credit for things that anybody could say. So, of course, there are things that have changed. And we've got depending on the category, brands that are really trying to figure out what's appropriate for me to do right now or not do. But I don't think that the playbook has been thrown out. I think it's actually more important than ever.
Kinsey [00:17:07] OK. JB, what are your thoughts here?
JB [00:17:10] I totally agree. I think being thoughtful and acting with intention is what will get company. You know, assuming that your business has not been completely sidelined by all the restrictions and the limitations of this moment, knowing why you're doing what you're doing is the thing that will get you through it. Because, again, as I said before, it's not about playing by rules. It's about playing by values.
Kinsey [00:17:33] Right.
JB [00:17:34] And that will help you know what to do or not do. I think we are in a moment where everyone wound up kind of sitting on their hands for a second. It was like, don't really know what—you know, personally, we were all in a moment of just like stopping, going inward, feeling uncertain, scared, confused. And I know for me, for probably two or three weeks, I was listening to podcasts every morning about nothing but the pandemic, feeling like I just needed all the information. And then I was like, OK, this doesn't feel healthy. [laughs].
Kinsey [00:18:03] Right, yeah.
JB [00:18:04] And evolve to a different place. And I think a lot of brands of businesses did the same thing. And then on the other side of it, it's looking at, you know, what makes sense for them to do. And if they're following that, they'll do the right thing.
Kinsey [00:18:16] Yeah. And the concept of staying true to what you brought to the table in the first place is, I think in some cases, easier said than done. But I was having a conversation—I feel like this is such a humble brag—I was having a conversation with Jen Rubio. But [laughs] she, the founder of Away, was on Chipping in for COVID, the charity poker tournament that Morning Brew put on. And we did a sort of D2C roundtable with Jen and a couple of other founders.
Kinsey [00:18:42] And I asked them this question about how they try to stay authentic when all brand communication right now kind of feels like it sounds the same. And she made the interesting point of saying, we didn't send anything until we felt like we had something to say, which sounds so simple. But I think is very important in this moment; that you don't need to say something until you feel like you actually can add to the conversation.
JB [00:19:03] Silence is powerful.
Emily [00:19:04] And add to it in a unique way. I think that getting email after email, like we care about you, but it's not saying anything new and not anything that's specific to your business. It starts to feel like clutter. And in good times you don't want clutter, but certainly in times like this, the last thing you want is to have to read another email from a brand that's just generic and it feels like they're just paying lip service to an idea, instead of moving the conversation forward.
Kinsey [00:19:31] Exactly. And people are smarter than I think we sometimes give them credit for. The generic, everyday person can understand when a brand is just sending something because they feel like they have to. We're smart, we see a lot of ads. We're used to seeing them. We understand when we are being—the world playing pulled over our eyes. But I want to talk for a second here about what we think is at stake. We've established what's good and what's not. I want to understand what comes out of this.
Kinsey [00:19:55] So, I saw a report from Edelman that, based on interviews with 12,000 people in several countries, 71% of respondents said if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people right now, they'll lose trust in that brand forever. Forever. And 77% said they want brands only to speak about products in ways that show they're aware of the crisis and its impact on people's lives. Those are big numbers. That's a lot of people who are saying these things. What are your thoughts here? How do we put that in context? What is at stake?
JB [00:20:26] I would say that that feels like people saying things they think they're supposed to say.
Kinsey [00:20:31] Interesting.
JB [00:20:32] And it's not reality.
Kinsey [00:20:35] Really, why?
Emily [00:20:37] I totally agree. I take statistics with a huge shaker of salt.
Kinsey [00:20:42] So people just say it because they think they sound smarter? They say they're not gonna trust a brand?
Emily [00:20:46] No, they think they sound moral.
JB [00:20:49] Yeah. It's like the social norms of, if you ask them, would you stop buying from this brand if [indistinct], they'd be like, oh, obviously I would stop. But what if that product is something that you like, actually really love and you use it in your life, and then fast forward six months and you're buying it again? I think that that is an idealistic sense of reality [laughs] and not to discount that those aren't real sentiments and that there will absolutely be impact.
JB [00:21:16] But, I would say that feels like an exaggerated figure.
Kinsey [00:21:20] Interesting.
JB [00:21:20] And there's definitely a spectrum of what brands are doing and saying and how that will impact their future existence.
Emily [00:21:28] Yeah. I mean, I think the part about putting profits over people—obviously, if some brand comes out and has some horrible scandal where they're like taking advantage of the pandemic in a way that damages people's lives, that's a different story. But I think the second part about—I'm forgetting the exact wording—but sort of remembering forever the communications and that it needs to be about the pandemic. Who's going to remember what anyone said [laughing] this time?
JB [00:21:53] Yeah.
Emily [00:21:53] I can barely remember, like, what I did yesterday. [laughs] And I just think the idea that a brand sends one email that's not about what's going on in the world right now, and I'll never forgive them—it's a little overblown, I would say.
JB [00:22:08] Yeah. I feel like Edelman wants to get press, so they're putting out stats. [laughs] I think, you know, c'mon, you know.
Kinsey [00:22:17] I think that you probably have shifted the frame of understanding of the world around them for a lot of journalists and [laughs] think [indistinct] we rely so heavily on news like focus group type statistics, and it's a great point to bring up that they can't always be trusted. [laughs] And I'm even thinking about my own personal experience. I'm racking my brain while listening to you guys trying to think of someone who has a brand that was really shady, like, I'm never gonna buy that again because of the way that they've acted during this pandemic.
Kinsey [00:22:43] And the only examples I can think of are brands that I think handled it well. So now that we have taken this, to use your words, Emily, with an entire shaker [laughs] of salt, what are the impacts? We say that there will be impacts from the way that brands are operating during this time. How do we recognize what those impacts will be? And at what point do we say, here are those impacts, they're happening in real-time?
Emily [00:23:04] Well, we're seeing a lot of new businesses launch right now in areas that we weren't necessarily seeing six months ago. And that to me is really interesting—is like what kind of innovation is this spawning? For example, we're seeing a lot of businesses in the fintech space. I think people are really questioning their relationships with financial [laughs] institutions right now in a time of great financial instability. We're certainly seeing businesses in the healthcare space and looking for new models of telemedicine and how we offer people care in new ways.
Emily [00:23:40] So I'm really looking forward to the disruption that's going to follow this period, because I think that this is highlighting a lot of the ways in which traditional businesses are not serving people and offering opportunity for, you know, innovative founders to come in and make it better.
Kinsey [00:23:55] So as the people who are responsible for helping those innovative founders make their business even better, how do you latch onto that moment in time that can be kind of sensitive? You know, people are losing jobs. People are dying. How do you make sure that you're capitalizing as much as you can from this period of what will eventually be innovation without being insensitive?
Emily [00:24:16] I think that the goal has to be that the business itself is actually going to help people. So it doesn't get seen as some opportunistic thing where we're trying to take advantage of people's pain, but instead it's actually looking around at that hardship and figuring out should it be this way? And kind of business play the role of solving it?
JB [00:24:37] Yeah, I think problem solving is so critical to successful business. So if you're not doing something that is meeting a need for people, you're going to have to spend a lot of money on advertising to try to convince them that [laughs] they need it. And I think that's always been true. And in a moment like this, it becomes even more true.
Kinsey [00:24:57] Yeah. So the big question for a lot of these, especially startup-type companies, is what they're doing to help other people, especially the ones that already exist, not these new brands that are going to come out of this period of innovation, but these brands that are already in existence. They're either, you know, we had an episode with Chef JJ Johnson from Fieldtrip, who's giving back meals to frontline workers, or a Sweetgreen, who's also doing the same thing with World Central Kitchen. Do you feel that brands have to be involved in this moment of giving back, of proving that they're doing something to say, help frontline workers or help people who've been furloughed or laid off from their jobs?
JB [00:25:36] I think brands should be doing what they can do if it ties to who they are and what they stand for and what their product is. It's got to be something that has a meaningful throughline and doesn't just feel—because even that can feel opportunistic if it's not coming from the right place. But there's also a reality and we're seeing a lot of this. There's quite a spectrum of businesses that are not in a position—a financial position—to do anything. They're just trying to either stay afloat and they've had to lay people off or furlough employees.
JB [00:26:07] So I think that we can't have the same expectation for every brand because the context is so varied from one to another. But at the end of the day, I think brands should be doing whatever they can to help. And that might mean something different. It might be something that's quieter or more behind the scenes and trying to support their suppliers and pay all of their vendors, even if it means that they're losing money. I think people are doing different things based on the situation that they're in.
Kinsey [00:26:34] Right. What a novel concept of actually doing a good thing without getting press [laughs] for it.
JB [00:26:39] Yeah. I mean, yeah, I think it's tough. I think some things—I respect the intention and I think that everyone should be supporting everyone that they can around them. But I think when it comes across like something that is purely for the press and you can also see that there's not necessarily even that much substance to it, that, to me, is potentially more of a liability than a benefit [laughs] to society.
Kinsey [00:27:03] Right. Right. And values are such an important part of these young businesses, like we've talked about at length. But what about the legacy businesses? I liked kind of taking this as the two different sides of the coin here with the upstarts, with the legacy businesses. What about their messaging? I rarely watch cable television, but I am at home and I have been watching [laughs] it with my family. And I feel like the first weekend that I was home, there were already commercials from car companies saying, we're here for you. What do you think has been the experience for these legacy brands in communicating with people during this time? Has it been good? Has it been bad?
JB [00:27:38] Yeah. Like you, I've been spending most of my time on Netflix, where I don't have to watch commercials. I think that there is a challenge that's somewhat unique to those legacy brands, where they've bought media that they've already paid for, and it's kind of hard to show up and be like, hey, can we just get our money back [laughs] for all that media that we bought? Because people are still watching TV.
JB [00:28:02] So it's not like there's no one watching, but they're in a really tough spot because they probably have a whole bunch of commercials that they produced that, at this moment, are completely irrelevant or feel insensitive. And so they're kind of in a tough scramble spot and are left kind of all talking about the same thing, which is, you know, we're all in this together [laughs] and we care about you. And, you know, look at our employees are doing everything they can. And, you know, [laughs] we'll get through it.
Kinsey [00:28:32] Right.
JB [00:28:33] And it's tough because what else are you gonna do? Right? I think it's basically about, and for small companies and big companies, and a lot of this is just about how do we get through it and be in a place where we can think about the future and forward momentum in the way that we were before. But it's a bit of like a holding pattern moment.
Kinsey [00:28:55] Yeah. I was thinking, coming into this conversation, what else would I want to hear from, like Hyundai? [laughs] Their commercial doesn't really sway me in one way or the other when we're not in the middle of a pandemic, so I don't know what else I would expect to hear from them when we are in a pandemic.
JB [00:29:08] You probably just don't want to hear from them right now.
Kinsey [00:29:10] Yeah. [laughs].
JB [00:29:10] But, they bought media already. So what are they gonna do? You know, what are they gonna do?
Kinsey [00:29:15] Yeah. So bringing in this idea of the financial perspective, these media spots already bought, the money has already exchanged hands in many cases. These companies, especially the larger ones, many of them have already lived through a situation—not like this, but the most recent in memory of the Great Recession in 2008, 2009—what lessons do you feel like that you, as Red Antler, and also the people you're working with, are taking from this? Are there any comparisons to be drawn from how we come out of this, what is likely going to be a technical recession, and the recession that we had a decade and change ago?
Emily [00:29:54] I mean, it's funny because for us, that's right when we started our business. So it's very near and dear to us. And I think that we actually feel like some of our early success—it's horrible to credit success to something that was so negative for so many people. But I do think that moments of crisis can also be moments of extreme innovation because new needs arise and people find ways to respond to those needs.
Emily [00:30:21] And that's certainly true for startups, and I hope it's true for legacy businesses as well. I hope that they come out of this and rethink the value that they're bringing to their customers and rethink how to build deeper, more meaningful relationships, because I think we've all seen how vulnerable we are, how quickly the sort of ground can fall out from underneath us. So my hope is that it will encourage businesses to act with even more integrity and to really ensure that they're doing everything they can to build lasting loyal relationships.
Kinsey [00:30:55] Have you, as Red Antler, had more or less business coming through the door since it started?
JB [00:31:02] I would said different business has been the most interesting thing. And what that means, I think Emily touched on it a little bit, of just different types of categories and business models than what we had been seeing in recent past. There's a moment when everyone, us included, went into sort of like the scramble of, you know, is New York City going to shut down? There's all the rumors going around. And when we sort of decided to close our office and everyone went to work from home, there was a moment that was a really weird blip that literally felt kind of like suspended reality where, you know, we typically have a lot of interesting, like inbound conversations from founders and teams.
JB [00:31:43] And there was a few day period where that literally just sort of like, fell off a cliff. But then it picked back up. And it was interesting to see who was showing up. And I think that a moment like this, and again, talking about the spectrum, I think we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are businesses that literally just had to shut down because they couldn't have customers. But then on the other end of the spectrum, there are businesses that either have the reserves to weather a situation where their sales are impacted or they're able to keep operating at some degree, where everyone all of a sudden actually has a lot of like mental space and bandwidth to think about the things that they weren't thinking about before.
JB [00:32:21] And that means that they're focused on what's around the corner and what innovations they want to bring to market—new products, new services. So with established companies talking about what new things they want to do, where they're thinking about the future, which is going to be a different future, and how can they show up in a meaningful way? And then with new businesses, it's founders that are solving different types of challenges that are—it's really interesting, you talk to people, and they were working on something already that all of a sudden just became like the most relevant thing to the problems that people are having. Being at this now for about 13 years, we've seen lots of trends and cycles and things play out.
JB [00:33:00] And one of the most common ones that I'm always fascinated by is no one has like a novel idea at the same time alone. It's a very, very rare thing. And there's these broader cultural shifts that happen. And one business inspires another business. And we'll see like, three, four, or five people doing similar things. And a lot of times they don't know the other ones are doing it, but are all out talking to investors and talking to people like us. And you're sort of like, wow, like why did that happen right now? It's a fascinating thing.
JB [00:33:32] And I don't know that answer other than just we're all absorbing similar media and seeing like, oh, [indistinct]. That's cool. Like, what can I do through the internet and like, ship something new [indistinct]. Things are inspired by other things. And the way that's playing out right now is there are people who are thinking about things that connect to the, through the underpinnings of what a crisis like this exposes, that are now accidentally in this position where they're solving a problem that is a thing that people really need. And that, to me, is incredibly exciting.
JB [00:34:02] And it's really weird to live our days, where, in our personal lives, like everyone else, things feel very uncertain and strange and like you can't see the people you love and all of that. But then, during our kind of working days, while we're living on Zoom, we're talking about things that are really exciting and interesting and meaningful. And that juxtaposition is a really interesting one.
Kinsey [00:34:24] Yeah, I completely agree. I've experienced that sort of duality as well—that I feel, in a way, more creative than I have in a really long time, which is exciting. But it's also the circumstances under which that creativity is happening are really depressing. I think it's a shared experience for so many people and something we frankly should talk about more.
Emily [00:34:42] Yeah, we've had that conversation because our team is just doing phenomenal work right now and we're like, why is the work so good right now? Should we have been working from home this whole time? Or is it that this is our only creative outlet? You can't go out, you can't see your friends, you can't go to the movies, so people are just pouring so much energy into their work and into these creative pursuits. But it's interesting.
Kinsey [00:35:11] Yeah. I like that that is a reasonable explanation [laughs], maybe because I usually would say, like, I hate working from home. Even we had summer Fridays at Morning Brew that was optional to go in the office. I would always go in because I just didn't like working from my apartment. So now I feel like I have a better answer. Maybe it's because I'm not going out. I'm not distracted by a million different things in New York. But, yeah, I don't know. I think that this gives me a lot to think about in terms of what comes next, how we come out of this, and how the new things that do come out of this—these innovations that we're going to experience in the next coming months—change post all this happening. So we're gonna take a short break to hear from our sponsor. And then when we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about the nitty-gritty of that launch, those details, etc. —
Kinsey [00:35:55] And now back to the conversation with Emily Heyward and JB Osborne from Red Antler. So we've talked about—a lot—the innovation that could come out of this. And that, I think, has been a silver lining for a lot of people. Even in the last recession, we saw a similar experience play out. But I'm curious, from your perspective, as the people who are helping these brands get off the ground once the idea has already been born, how do you think launches are going to change when we think about how startups come into unicorn status? Does that change after all of this that we're going through today?
Emily [00:36:25] So we actually had an interesting experience where a business that we've been working on for almost a year was supposed to launch the end of March this year. I think the launch date was like March 23rd. And the business, which did end up launching—it's not that date, we pushed it a few weeks—it's called Jot and it's an at-home coffee business. And we really debated like, when do we launch? Does this launch? Is this the right time?
Emily [00:36:54] And I think everybody's feeling was, in those two weeks in March when people were just in a total freefall of panic, like this was not the time to bring a new business into the world. But a few weeks later, when we're all stuck at home, when people aren't able to go to their coffee shops, and people were actually looking for something new and fun and pleasurable to look forward to. It actually ended up being an incredible time to bring Jot into the world. And the launch has been so well-received.
Emily [00:37:23] There's been no messaging around COVID, around quarantine. It didn't even feel necessary, like people were able to connect the dots on their own. So all of this is to say, I don't think that businesses aren't going to be able to launch and have a successful launch or that every single piece of communication is going to have to be oriented around coronavirus. I think that businesses will find new ways to be relevant in people's lives. And actually, you know, it doesn't always have to be so serious either. I think people are eager for distraction and pleasure and fun. And there's a huge opportunity there as well.
Kinsey [00:38:03] And to your point, this isn't just one headline happening on one day in one year. This is an experience that has been incredibly drawn out and something that is universal in every sense of the word. [laughs] So understanding that, internalizing it, and operating in spite of all of that happening is a feat. And I think it's interesting to watch that all come to fruition. So, there are definitely silver linings, and I'm glad we've talked about them, some here. I think in this conversation, what I am walking away with is it's abundantly clear how a brand should look and walk and talk.
Kinsey [00:38:37] But it's also been really interesting to understand what the expectations are, what the consumer psychology is behind all this and these decisions that are being made. But I want to get a little bit more off the cuff here. So we're going to take out the Business Casual wheel. We have this wheel app. I'm showing you guys on our video right now. And we're gonna take a random —
JB [00:38:55] Taking a magic trip, where [indistinct] we're like, look [indistinct] —
Kinsey [00:38:58] Look at it. Look deeply. [laughs] I'm just gonna take it—take the app for a spin for you guys. And since there's two of you, you can both answer these questions or just random sort of get to know you.
Kinsey [00:39:09] All right. Taking it for a spin. All right. [sound of wheel spinning] [sound of a ding] All right. Landed on Follow for Follow. So who are your favorite follows on social media? People to follow [indistinct].
JB [00:39:25] I got one.
Kinsey [00:39:26] OK.
JB [00:39:27] My buddy, Doug Jaeger. J a e g e r. He lives in the Catskills with his wife, Kristen, and their son Silas, and they are currently building a chicken coop and have some of the most beautiful chickens I've ever seen. And it's a serious, like, the thing I want to be doing in quarantine, I guess.
Kinsey [00:39:48] OK. [laughs]
JB [00:39:48] Jealousy crush. There's my follow. So if everyone wants to know.
Kinsey [00:39:51] I love it. [laughs] I love the —
JB [00:39:53] JB coop living advice and just great, great esthetic overall.
Kinsey [00:39:57] OK.
JB [00:39:57] My buddy, Doug.
Kinsey [00:39:58] OK. Buddy Doug. Got it. We'll put it in the notes. What about you, Emily?
Emily [00:40:01] I love following Rachel Cargill on Instagram and Facebook. She is a black activist and I learn from her every single day.
Kinsey [00:40:10] Awesome. Those are two really great answers. So often people are like, well, let me think on it. But I feel like those were two really [laughs] specific, really quickly answered follows.
Kinsey [00:40:18] OK, we're gonna take another spin around the wheel [sound of wheel spinning] and [sound of a ding]. All right. It landed on Truth or Truth. So just give me the honest answer here. Why do you think Brandless didn't take off? The brand that did not have a brand, since this is a conversation about branding. What do you think happened?
Emily [00:40:38] I don't think it's fair to say that it didn't take off.
Kinsey [00:40:41] OK.
Emily [00:40:42] I think that this is a moment in time where people are re-examining how much these types of businesses should be raising. And I think Brandless is a casualty of having raised too much money.
Kinsey [00:40:53] OK. What about you, JB?
JB [00:40:56] I fully agree. That's my answer as well. [laughs].
Kinsey [00:40:58] Yeah.
JB [00:40:59] And if you look at all the press about Softbank and what's happened with the incredibly high valuations and then the pressure that puts on a company to function in a way that's not sustainable.
Kinsey [00:41:11] Yeah. All right. I like it. Another great, succinct, and honest answer. All right. One last spin around our Business Casual wheel. [sound of wheel spinning] [sound of a ding] All right, well, it landed on Follow for Follow again. We're working on the [laughs] experience here. [sound of wheel spinning] One last spin. [sound of a ding] All right. Call Me Crazy. So, this one, you just give me a hot take, an opinion you feel like maybe you're in the minority, and it either be something that was already in the past and you feel like you've been right or wrong about or a hot take you have today you think people will call you crazy for.
Emily [00:41:44] I've got one.
Kinsey [00:41:45] OK.
Emily [00:41:46] I think that on-demand entertainment is going to reach a point where people actually want content fed to them without choice sometimes. What I mean by that is the difference between having to pick what you're gonna listen to on Spotify versus just turning on Sirius and having them choose for you. I think everything has been moving in the direction of people want on-demand and they want it when they want it. But I think people are going to crave that level of curation, where someone's actually just like deciding what you should watch and listen to.
Kinsey [00:42:23] Yeah, we are bullish on curation at Morning Brew. And it's also just the concept of everything old is new again, like the radio. [laughs] It's crazy. It all comes back. What about you, JB? Any hot takes?
JB [00:42:35] I'm thinking if I have a hot—I mean, I gave you one hot take already, which is that statistics are potentially misleading.
Kinsey [00:42:42] That's true. That is true.
JB [00:42:43] That was a hot take, an unprompted one. How many hot takes do I have right now, I'm trying to think. I think that living a life where you don't worry as much about what you're going to wear, but instead curate a wardrobe that is very simple and focus on the quality of the things you buy and the little details that bring you happiness, but not getting too wrapped up in fashion as a cycle of constant consumption, leads to more peace of mind and happiness.
Kinsey [00:43:18] Interesting. You know, I have to say, I think as someone who is always like, don't be an outfit repeater, I might agree with you. Because I came home two months ago with a carry-on suitcase because I thought I was only gonna be here for like a week, and I have worn the same thing for two months and I've been perfectly happy. It's everything's fine.
JB [00:43:37] You seem pretty happy to me. [Kinsey laughs] Yeah.
Kinsey [00:43:38] Well, thank you guys so much for the honesty, for the hot takes, and for taking the time to speak with me today. I really enjoyed this conversation. I learned a ton and I'm really grateful that you are stopped by Business Casual.
Emily [00:43:50] Thank you. We loved it. We loved being here.
JB [00:43:53] Thank you for having us.
Kinsey [00:44:03] Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Business Casual. Do you want to hear us have more conversations about how brands are changing their messaging and adapting strategy based on current events happening in the world around us? If you do, let me know by emailing me at Kinsey@morningbrew.com. That's k i n s e y @morningbrew.com. I'm looking forward to hearing from you, and I'll see you next time.