How to Build a Distinguishable Brand (& Make Tinned Fish Sexy) with Fishwife Founder Becca Millstein

Updated: 9 hours ago

Today’s episode is brought to you by Klaviyo and I’m chatting with Becca Millstein, the Founder of Fishwife.

Fishwife is a new female-founded and led food company aiming to make ethically-sourced, premium, and delicious tinned seafood a staple in every cupboard. They work with small boat fisherfolks, sustainable aquaculture farms, and microcanneries to bring the vibrance of European conservas culture to the North American table.

I started following Becca’s journey with Fishwife when it first launched last year and have been drooling over it ever since as a big tinned fish eater myself - so I’m really excited to share this episode with you. We’re chatting about creating a distinguishable brand, what it costs and how to find the right folks, what it actually means to create a sustainable tinned fish company, how to start small and build within your means and building a brand that’s truly authentic and unique.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Speaker2: Yeah. So my name is Becca. I'm a co-founder and I have a co funder. Her name is Caroline Goldfarb. Co founder and CEO of a new tin fish company called Fishwife and Fishwife is relaunched in December where a new, ethically sourced tin fish company right now are. Our sourcing thesis is just going to the places where they have the best and the most sustainable seafood. And we just try to bring it to people in a way that they have not been presented with within the past five years.

Speaker1: I feel that. I really feel that. And I'm definitely going to dig into your branding and your language and tone and all that kind of thing. But I want to start like, really with the name. I'm super intrigued. I love Fishwife. It sounds like the coolest thing ever. Tell me about Fishwife, the meaning.

Speaker2: They're totally so fishway. First of all, I have to give full credit to my dear friend, Grear Stockmann, who is also an amazing woman entrepreneur. She and her sisters are on a company called Block Shop. Encourage everyone to check it out.

Speaker1: Great. We'll do a shout out to her.

Speaker2: Shout out to her. But we came up with we came up with the idea for the company. And I sort of we're calling all of our fellow entrepreneur friends in all fields, not just food, CPG and grear. I think just in Googling found the term fishwife, which was just so unbelievably perfect for what we were trying to achieve with the project. The like with the etymology is I use three to term that was used for the wives and daughters of fishermen who would sell their husband's wares at the market. And because it's fish, it's highly perishable. They gained a reputation for being really bossy and swearing and being like, oh my God. And fish. Fish, right. Which was a neutral term, came to take on this sort of sort of gendered insult for allowed bothy woman. And then it has like this dual meaning of like these fishwives gained sort of like professional rights earlier than maybe some of their contemporaries because they had this power to control these businesses. So it has this like dual toned entrepreneurial approach as well. Plus, love it, I love it. That's the story ever.

Speaker1: What a great name

Speaker2: It was like there was nothing else after you after you found that one

Speaker1: Totally coined it. Let's start from the beginning. Where does your entrepreneurial story start? With the fish,

Speaker2: With the fish, the fish in particular. So Caroline and I, my co-founder or quarantining together, like from the beginning. So March started haunting me at the end of March last year, and we were living in sort of a remote desert, which not a lot of fish around. We were we were on a hike and we were literally bouncing back and forth business ideas, because when you're on a hike, you just talk about whatever. Got plenty of time to gab. And we had been we've been cooking this gorgeous trout a lot. For whatever reason, we've become obsessed with this trout. And then we were just eating a lot of tin fish because it was just like such a perfect Corrigin food. I think, like all of us were pretty overwhelmed with how much time and energy it took to make like healthy, delicious food during quarantine because it wasn't like at least for us, it wasn't like you're you're like ordering a sweet green or like you're going to get a burrito somewhere. You're like in your house needing to make food for yourself. So we were naturally just eating a lot of sardines and tuna and mussels and all these things. And then, like as a background to that, I have lived in Spain in college for a short time. Caroline had somewhat recently traveled to Portugal and Spain. And in those European exploits, we'd both been exposed to the like elegance and sexiness and casual allure of conservers, intensive food, which it's just like you have that culture, like going to a Spanish wine bar and getting a tin of like beautifully decorated sardines. And then you have like going to an American grocery store and looking at the shelves. And it's just like totally clinical, absolutely devoid of any sexiness. And it was like, why? Yeah, it's all done with. Yeah, exactly.

Speaker1: Although I love wings, but

Speaker2: It's all we have. Chicken of the Sea, which like if a grocer exists, please educate me. So. So anyway, we came, we were all on this hike and then we were like, we have to do this. We asked a couple of friends that were in the food world lucky enough to have some like food entrepreneur friends and food journalist friends. And they were just everyone validated that idea. And then we just started fully working on it like the next day.

Speaker1: Oh, my God, genius. So it was born overnight on a hike from a love of fish, which we are all experiencing in quarantine. I feel like one of my favorite meals just in general is literally tinned fish with rice and capers and some fresh tomatoes or whatever, like chopped on the side. So I'm there with you. But back to the story. I want to cover all all different corners here. And obviously, we need to start with the branding. You have an extremely distinguishable brand. It's so cool. It actually brings me a lot of joy looking at your Instagram and reading about it. Who worked on the brand with you and what was the kind of inspired behind the look and feel?

Speaker2: Yeah, so we thought I mean, we've we put a ton of thought and energy into this, as you might imagine. And the way we thought of it, I come from I worked in music before this and did like sort of creative direction and marketing for artists and the process there would always be to go on Instagram. Instagram is so it was very helpful for all of its. It's an amazing database of information. Find different artists, illustrators, graphic designers and pass through who would best be able to communicate the conceptual design concept on a project. So we sort of just started digging into finding illustrators and artists that we thought would be a good fit for them. So we kind of had European conservatives and the bold graphics and the vibrant colors and sort of like the simple symbolism was was like the founding concept for the for the visuals and the branding. And then, like a couple other brands are really inspiring to us, like Cafe Bustelo, Topo, Chico, just sort of these like utilitarian but also really vibrant brands. And that just had sort of a classic feeling so that those were like the mood boards that we created. And then we found like 20 illustrators that we loved. And we pulled a bunch of friends about who they liked the best. And the person who we kept coming back to was one of the only referrals that I got. He's a local illustrator in L.A. Guy Danny Danny Miller goes by Dan Bell and he's done a ton of work with Andron typography, patterning, pattern work, and then like a bunch of cartoon and stuff, like if you go to Instagram, which everyone should, he put out his first comic book this summer and it's just so beautiful. And he communicates so much in such a simple way. And I mean, I can't explain how amazing a partner he's been throughout all this. You just do such a great job and so lucky to have him in my life.

Speaker1: Gosh, that is so cool. Are you able to share, like, how much it costs to actually work with someone like that and how much it costs to kind of bring a brand to life when it comes to like a website and a logo? And you guys have a lot of supporting elements and the packaging and there's a lot going on there. I'd love to know.

Speaker2: You know, it's it's a really, really good question. And I think I understand why people would be mystified by this, because there are I think a lot of startups work with branding agencies and branding agencies are great if you have a budget and don't necessarily know exactly what you are trying to create in terms of individual or brand, or maybe you have an idea, but you really could use the help of a team to formulate it. We really knew what we wanted for the visuals. And so with someone like Danny, he had never done CBG packaging before. And also CPG is consumer packaged goods. I don't know if everyone knows the acronym, but he so he was sort of like we we asked him his fees, his fees were and this is so nitty gritty, but

Speaker1: Please love the nitty gritty.

Speaker2: Yeah. I mean I think like his fees were that of like an indie illustrator designer and they were and for us who had no budget, I mean we bootstrapped the company up until a couple of months ago when we raise a relatively modest precede. Yeah, they were they were like affordable for us. And I just would like encourage people to. To work with independent illustrators and designers, like I think you can use the branding agency, but I had so many people tell me we had spent probably five thousand dollars on on his graphic work. And then Natalie Berger, who is who is doing a lot of our recipe development and photography is also absolutely fantastic, also totally new to food, geography and recipe development. I think up until maybe February, we'd spend about five grand on all those assets. And that's a rough estimate. But I think it's pretty, pretty close. And I just have people telling me that the visuals that we put out was a quarter million to half a million dollar job. Which like a very big discrepancy, you know. Yeah, I mean, I just think it's best of all worlds if you can find independent artists because a like they need support and they like it's helpful for them to get their work out there in this capacity and then they can grow with you like Danny, as we grow and get more funding, we can bring him on to do more and more projects because like we had to hack certain ways that we could be able to use his work, like he would create these beautiful stickers for us that we could use for a bunch of different things because we just didn't we were paying out of our out of our own bank accounts.

Speaker2: So that's what I would say. If people are like trying to come up with sort of their visual language, like there are so many artists out there that are not being paid for their work. And this is a great channel for them to also, like, see their work, at least as far as I can tell, to see their work come to life and really exciting and non-traditional way for for them.

Speaker1: Totally. Gosh, and I actually really love your photography. I didn't mention that in the beginning, but yeah, I also love that kind of element of what you guys are doing when it comes to the other piece of the puzzle. So obviously you need to invest in actually the fish and fish. And I imagine there are cues, minimum order quantities that are through the roof for someone just getting started. What kind of investment or personal cash did you need to put into the brand to get that kind of initial order? And what was that piece like, finding the manufacturer and that kind of thing?

Speaker2: Yeah, I mean, so on to your latter question about just finding our partners are and building our supply chain. It is really I mean, I guess the material story was we started by trying to find a cannery partner in Portugal and Spain, which is obviously where the idea sort of germinated. And we did find one. We had to go through a bunch to get to find someone that would hit an HemoCue that we felt comfortable with. The folks that we talked to range between fifty thousand units to twenty five thousand units mostly. And that was just like the not a good business idea to get fifty thousand cans. Hardings before we launched the brand. It's a lot, it's a lot of fish. It's a lot. And we ended up finding a partner in Galizia that would do ten thousand cans, which now we're about to launch that product about. Seems like nothing which is great. But once we started building supply chain in the US, there were no queues. We were working with all of these micro canneries, which is a double edged sword because it means we're working with these really like pretty modest, relatively mom and pop canneries that aren't. Pushing out hundreds of thousands of cans a day, like maybe some of our more industrial canneries and in Spain and Portugal where this has so. That's what I'll say we we ended up finding partners that really didn't have much use, but I think it's that also presents certain questions of maybe they're things of scalability that will prove to be challenging as we as we continue to grow.

Speaker1: Hmm, totally. That's so interesting, I'm wondering, like, how you actually found those really small. Cannery's, I've never even heard of that word before.

Speaker2: Yeah, I mean, it's so it was all like cold calling it just like I mean, when you start a company, you just have to talk to. I hear this from entrepreneurs all the time. Like, you just have to talk to so many people, like you talk to everyone. And that was the first three months of the company was really just at that point, it wasn't really a company. It was just like a thing. And we were trying to make happen, but just talking to everyone. So that's sort of our supply chain, I think. And how we've built it has been a story of a mixture of cold calling and finding partners through just research online and and hitting people up and going through references. And like especially as we started to really hone in on, like what sustainable seafood sourcing means, we really have to go to experts that can dig through the bullshit and and find us really great. And it's really great partners.

Speaker1: I actually really wanted to ask you about this, the the sustainable side of things, because, I mean, obviously safety is on everyone's mind at the moment. I haven't personally watched it yet, but I plan to. And I've been listening to some different podcasts like Planet Money has been talking about what does sustainable fishing mean and what does it mean for people who do like to eat tinned fish and buy this kind of thing? So what does it mean to you guys? And what do you kind of what defines a truly sustainable tinned fish company?

Speaker2: Yeah, I think the thing that is confusing to people and I gave I mentioned this in an interview recently, but the reason why. Seafood sustainability, like probably so many other kinds of sustainability, is so confusing is because it is just a very multilayered question. So it's not like sardines are sustainable or I mean, there are a couple of species and we'll go into that like mussels and oysters. Bivalves are like are truly an unbelievably sustainable seafood kelp as well. Know, at least at this point. I know you can feel great about eating them, but by and large, like just saying this species, you're saying the reason that's not enough to determine whether it's sustainable seafood. So you kind of have to look at all of these things in context. So it's like the region that the seafood is being sourced from, the way it's being caught. So like this Buratha, when you watch it, you'll see a huge problem that they that they broke is bycatch and their ways, their methods of fishing that greatly decrease bycatch. So obviously, we hear a lot about hook and line, which is by and large the most sustainable way to catch the food, because you're catching one piece of cutting one fish at a time. Whereas with, like these big trawl nets, you're like catching a bunch of stuff and potentially bringing stuff into the fold that you are not intending to catch and you're not going to sell. And it's a terrible waste. So. You just have to look at all of these things in in in context, so just to sum it up very quickly, it's the species, the region that you're fishing it from and how you're fishing it.

Speaker2: And that's for wild. That's catching wild fish. So something that we have been very excited about and very passionate about and digging into much more because. The most recent product we launched, Rainbow Trout, is a product of sustainable aquaculture is is just this whole industry of of of aquaculture, which. I mean, you'll you'll watch this very thing and come up with your own thoughts, but I think by and large, the conversation has been, yes, this documentary has brought up some really important points that we need to be thinking about and need to acknowledge and harsh realities we have to face, but also presented in a totally binary perspective on seafood consumption. And the only path forward that was presented was not eating seafood at all, which. As we all are, I guess not as we all know, but as we should know, is just not a viable option for feeding our growing population. And there are just so many economies and people that depend on depend on seafood as their primary protein source. It's just not a viable option. So what we need to do is support and figure out ways that we can continue to eat seafood in a way that is sustainable. So, for example, our rainbow trout in which we launched last weekend is delicious. So I would encourage folks to buy it if they can. Very tasty. It's a product of land based aquaculture, which the film doesn't mention at all, which like. If this documentary is cutting out a whole swath of an industry as a means of production like you have to, your alarm bells should be going off, right?

Speaker1: I've heard it's really like a sensationalist kind of perspective,

Speaker2: Which like it's the film. I'm trying to get people to watch it. But like, you don't talk about they don't talk about Sustainable Goslar. They don't talk about the incredible sustainable fishing hook and line fishing that people are doing in the US. You don't talk about the potential for for mussels and oysters to serve as an incredible source of protein and iron and all of these things that people need to live. So, yes, you should your citizens should be tangling. But anyway, you are the firm that we work with. We work with a farm in Idaho on our on our rainbow trout and potentially other products. In the future we shall see. But the fish is one hundred percent traceable from the egg to the tin that we send to you. They harvest all of their eggs themselves and they grow just or they harvest this gorgeous steelhead and rainbow trout. And there's no like for example, they talk about escapes in this film, like ocean escapes, where you'll have salmon that are modified in such a way or they carry disease and then they escape and then they in fact, other populations that are like these are all things that are incredibly important to think about. And in systems that do need to be improved, like land based aquaculture, for example, it's totally it is totally disconnected from the ocean environment. So all of those problems that are broached in the documentary are eliminated. So.

Speaker1: Got it, got it, so good to know. Gosh, that's crazy. And it's one of those things like, you know, I've been speaking about it a lot, obviously it's a hot topic, but I haven't watched it because I'm like shit like, does this mean you have to go vegan? Like, I love seafood. It fully doesn't. It's a tough one to feel really guilty.

Speaker2: I mean, it means you sure you can be thinking much more critically about when you when you order seafood and when you buy it and ask questions, ask your waiter, where did this come from? And and check out really amazing resources like the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch List, which looks which examines the sustainability of seafood in that sort of matrix of what I was talking about earlier and make informed decisions. But you do not need to be vegan and it's not a viable option for a lot of people to be vegan. And also that sort of diet presents many problems of its own. So.

Speaker1: Well, lucky we've got some good options out there. I'm excited to try the fish were excited to try the drought. OK, I want t