Sunwink Co-Founder Jordan,savvy beverage entrepreneur on building the future of plant-based products
Joining me on today’s show is Jordan Schenck - Co-Founder and CMO of Sunwink.
Sunwink is a plant powered wellness company for the masses. Their first products to market are a suite of sparkling tonics that have functional benefits from the superfoods and superherbs within and taste delicious.
In this episode we’re covering so much of the good stuff, like how Jordan came to be part of this project in the first place after heading up the marketing for Impossible Foods, the critical importance of branding and brand building and her key advice for women who have a big idea.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Of course my name is Jordan's Schenck. I am one of the Co Founders of a company called Sunwink. We are a plant powered wellness brand that creates well originally we were creating beverage products that will be launching a few new powder products this year and hopefully more in the coming years.
00:04:10Edit But our mission is to create super clean, super accessible products that inspire people to integrate plant powered wellness into their daily life. Gosh, it all sounds so delicious and looks so beautiful. I'm super excited to get into that part of it, but let's go back first to life before sun wink and what you were up to what you were doing and what was getting you interested in starting your own business, definitely. So before sun wink and my story coming to sun link is a bit unique, which I think is also probably going to be unique for people thinking about their businesses or you know, if they're in a startup because I joined my partner after she had done quite a bit of like product testing as a co founder. But yeah, before this I was, you know, I was head of marketing at Impossible Foods, was there from the pre launch, go to market strategy development through the launch of the product. Um and then right at the start of, you know, sort of cascade of scale with burger king launching and a whole bunch of other sort of more globally recognizable carriers of the product, which was a really exciting journey.
00:05:22Edit And a couple of things happened in that, that was where I got sort of, not even like reinvigorated, but it's where I sort of got like the soul of what my purpose would be in my career, which would be to create and bring into the world as many companies that focus on bringing plant powered or plant based to the masses. Obviously it's one of the most, I would say the most important sort of challenges of our time is just deeply understanding people's relationship with food and bringing better foods to people. It's better for the planet. We know it's better for everyone out there. So I figured why not make that my calling. And it also gave me the hunger to build and create companies. And I think Impossible was sort of what felt like would be at once in a lifetime experience and what I realized is that it wasn't going to be and that I had this like, I don't know, crazy bone in me that made me want to keep making and growing companies, oh my gosh!
00:06:25Edit It gave you the itch. It's something like that, right? So you have this itch, something like that. And then at some point you meet Eliza, How did it come about? And what was she telling you that was getting you excited about joining the project that she had already started working on Eliza and I met at first just like two friends with meat, which is like usual, you get really drunk and you have like a good time together and you realize like you enjoy each other's company first and foremost. And she had been working on some of the early formulations of the product and she was sort of working on the kind of nuances the brand, but I was just really inspired. I don't know like when you meet someone who, you know you're going to be your partner, I was like first really inspired by just this person who had ruthless conviction to like make something work. And also like this sort of like ability to be flexible and like just like the desire to like want to make it work. I always think about it. Like we always say it's like a dandy lion, right?
00:07:28Edit Like a weed. Like she's just like, I'm going to live here even if there's concrete and like, did you knock me down, I'm going to show up like elsewhere. And so my god, I love that. I was just like really interesting as like a person and then the product like what I started to see which was really interesting about the concept was like with impossible, I was given the opportunity to go all over the world, right? Like all over the country. We, you know, did a lot of work in Hong kong like and in that I was able to sort of start to understand consumers literally across the planet and where they were with like they're sort of plant journey call it like whether it was plant based or plant based like health and wellness and we just did so much research or I was literally like standing next to a line with like people waiting to try this burger and having so many conversations and what I kept hearing was like It wasn't just like for the cool kids right? Like I would be talking to like 60 year old sort of like big burly american men like in a line waiting for a plant based burger and I'm asking you know them like what really got them interested and they're like, well you know, I've really been thinking about like my health lately and like I started trying things like tumeric supplements and you know, I'm thinking about like whole foods and this is like in Cleveland Ohio where we had like people telling us that like middle America is not going to want this product and I'm sitting there like no they absolutely do and it's like this consciousness around like what it means to be consuming plants is so different than what it was like even five years ago and people are so much more conscious so hearing Eliza talk about her journey in wanting to bring products that were pretty much the closest thing you could have to earth to beverage aisles to snack aisles.
00:09:19Edit I was like this is super spot odd and actually people not just on like the coast of America and the cool cities of new york and L. A. Are looking for these products. So I was like at the time we were like we have no idea where this is going to go and take us but like you have this really interesting tonic that's kind of a little too intense tasting but I think we can make it more palatable and then it was just like from there we we just sort of started going and I started like I was an adviser and then like consulting with her while like still doing like other parts of like my life figuring out like if we could work together and then we just decided to like fully merge and become co founders together to like kind of shepherd in what the launch of the product that you see today and the future of the company, wow, so exciting, what was the timeline like in terms of when you sort of had that conversation, you know what, I'm actually going to go all in, how long was it then until you actually launched the product?
00:10:23Edit And things started to move? Well, we were, it was funny because we were like, we probably were working together for like four or five months. I can't remember before. Like I officially started. It must've been october yes. It would have been like seven or eight months or so. And she like, had first come to me around just like, I need like the brand isn't, doesn't look good, like it just doesn't look good. And I was like, it doesn't, it looks like a doily and like it's like, it's not going to resonate with the consumer you want? No, it's not what you want. It's not what they want. It like needs to, it just seems to change a little bit. And so like, even though I was like an advisor and then like, like loosely consulting, it was like, I was not billing for like hours where she would just be sitting at my table late at night and we would be like working through it and I would be like, I'm not, you know, a perfect creative director, but like, here's the direction, I think we should go and like, I know this designer that can help and like, so we, we were doing that sort of off and on and I was like the person she would call where she's like I think it needs bubbles and it needs to be more like soda.
00:11:32Edit And I was like yes. And then like pretty much she was like running marketing quietly on the like side and I don't know, she had been sort of like, would you be interested in? I don't like, it just sort of like happened where I was like, well now I'm so far in this and committed to it because we've had so many like changes, like big changes that I had helped impact that it made sense to like just like come in fully and like start really building it. But it was like a law, it was like seven months. Like it was like, and it was essentially like, I just like at that point I was like, I'm too committed, like I have to like we have to do it, you know, like and then I joined her in that kind of scenario because she had already started the product before you joined and it was her idea coming in as a co founder, Did you have to like buy in or was she did she see you and then think, you know what, you are the perfect person to build this brand with me, let's just, you know, figure out and you know, a deal essentially and going on in this together.
00:12:37Edit We we just figured it out by way of like how would we split the like the company itself based off of like where her standing was in the business. Like, so it really, I mean at that point we had had like angel investment as well to like the company had been priced and so like that has a different sort of like weight on it. So it does come down to like an honest conversation between the founders, like with what, like what is equitable, what makes one individual feel whole. And that was like, again, like we had been able to have like really productive conversations and so that felt really good by me. And so it was just like, how do we find the split that feels right for like how far in, you know, she was versus like where like it would go in the value that would come in with, where like my joining the company would bring. So it's like, and it's not as I'm, it's actually quite more common than it's like not for a lot of folks, especially if the company is really, really early stage. Like at that time, like we were probably in like, You know, like 40 stores and like it was still like Eliza had just gotten done driving around a Honda fit and delivering product.
00:13:48Edit Like it wasn't like the company had big distribution didn't have like a web presence didn't have any like sort of like press notoriety. So it was still quite early, but we still had to deal with like the semantics of like the company had been priced and we had to figure out like there was real value versus like a zero sum start got it, that's so interesting. So prior to that kind of time when she was originally doing it, how was she building that awareness for the brand and then how did that evolve when you came into the picture with your background and with your expertise in marketing at the point at which like Eliza was doing the work, there wasn't really, I mean there wasn't any type of like initiative or work around brand awareness, it was really like rooted in product testing and product development. So what Eliza it was interesting was she used like small retail channels and like the demos you see in grocery stores to test the product. So like, whereas like if you were a big company you would be able to do that all behind the scenes, you know like bringing your focus groups and really iterate Eliza just like took that into that live, like she would go set up a demo, she would like have people try the product here, the reactions like she'd have some formulas or people like spat it back in her face and some formulas where it didn't work or it did work on.
00:15:12Edit I love that, that was like the early products, so she really used that time just to figure out like product market fit and what was important for consumers. And so that's why when I came in it was like still the same, pretty small, like pretty conceptually quite small. And then what we did end up planning while I was like sort of like advising before I had fully joined was like, how do we create sort of like a really big launch at expo west where the brand was turned over, where like the booth that like we launched looked amazing. And I'm like sitting here like, here's some different, like amazing like vendors that I know from like having built a million things and marketing before and so we made that really splashy and that's what got the attention of whole foods. And so when whole foods like clicked on, which is a big retailer here, like a big sort of national retailer that was when like I came in to like really like, okay, this is now like serious with like the brand coming sort of into its next phase as an organization, but still so so small.
00:16:18Edit Then in that time then when you, you pick up whole foods as a huge stock test and I imagine at that same time you need to balance like getting customers to demand the product and to be going in and buying it in store and you really have to focus on that brand building exposure. What kinds of things were you doing at that time. So I mean in the early days we had to focus like where we were so whole foods, like early whole foods launches. We launched in like the Rocky Mountains, right? And then we launched a little bit in North House. So we did a lot of like straight up like sampling and community development, like making sure that the product was at events, making sure that we had like a heavy dose of like demos and store. Like it was really scrappy. We didn't have like this sort of, you know, big digital advertising push. And so we like, we didn't the again like the harder way which is like everything we do or whatever, which was like just really having to start to like saturate and build demand in the market.
00:17:25Edit We use like a bit of press here and there to kind of pull it off. Like we had a few good articles like at a time when we launched in like marijuana in L. A. And we did a few like events through some more of like the influential retailers. But it really wasn't until I would say at the beginning of 2020 when we turned on our online business that like things really started to take off like retail obviously was growing. but online allowed us to like really start to scale awareness. So we've like been able to not only see like our e. Com business grow but also the velocities and our retailers grow simultaneously because we're advertising more people are able to like try the product anywhere. We're getting like consumers and random, you know, parts of the country where we're not going into retailers and asking them to carry it in. So like really once we turned on DtC things started to move exponentially, which again we've been always a bit more cautious about like how we and where we enter.
00:18:28Edit And I think some of that just came down to like at first we were like the products always been in glass bottles and to make sure you're setting up fulfillment in a way that's like not totally putting your brand at risk of like every shipments of damage does take time. And so like getting our d to see together was like, You know, we were just a bit more thoughtful, but again it was like within 12 months, so it's not like thoughtful is like it feels thoughtful and startup world, but like it's really short, right? Got it. And when you say you turned on, you know, the digital side of things, do you mean performance marketing, launching pads, doing google or is there more of also an organic play happening at the same time? Are you able to dig in a little deeper? Yeah, it was both. So the performance marketing side with like social ads and then are google advertising has obviously really helped from just like an awareness and acquisition standpoint. Um But then that also allowed us to really start to grow like ari crm smS became like a really has become a really incredible tool for us.
00:19:34Edit So we've actually just found these like, I mean better ways that we're engaging with our customers and also like we're able to say, hey like maybe there's a product launch or a sale on the website, but also like if you go into whole foods right now, there's a promo going on, so we're able to kind of move our audience in different ways, which is the cool thing about beverage because like beverages such a frequent purchase, you know, like I think on average I was you know, reading like the average american consumes like three non water beverages a day, like something crazy like that, so wow, it's like really high, I mean this is, I mean if you think about it like we're sort of like the land of coca cola's and kombu which is right, so people here really like their products and like we were like, hey there's actually like a really cool sign of kind of bit of frequency we can play with. So that really helps. We also, you know, and starting to partner with like kind of unique thought leaders or folks that are on like instagram or twitter or ones that are within our sort of mission alignment space whether that was like sustainability, plant powered uh wellness and social justice issues, we were really able to start reaching out to them and we just like gift gift like crazy, which I probably like sometimes I shouldn't say that on a podcast is a request, but like we really do like if someone asks that they want to try it or like we see someone we really like, we just, we're probably sending like several 100 samples of like a month to different people.
00:21:13Edit And like that's a really, I think important part of like how do you get the word out there? Yeah. And I imagine for you guys, you know, if people like the taste of your product then they're sold, they'll buy it at the supermarket when they see it, they'll order it for their home, they'll request to have it in their office. You just need to get it in their hands. Yeah. And like when the pandemic hit usually in like the food world, you build a lot of awareness like through in store like demo or in store promotions, there's sort of a whole alchemy around like the grocery shopper, right? And when you walk in, like what's going to make them know and learn about your brand and with the pandemic, no brand had that like you couldn't demo, like you couldn't like no one was going into like the refrigerated beverage aisles, they were going to buy flour, you know, so it's like this whole, like how do you, and then there were no physical events, there were no bars. Like so this whole question of like how do you introduce the product to people really like moved us to relying too.
00:22:21Edit Like how do we sample through? Like as much as we can through online means like how like again, like how do we get people to like try for the first time by like a performance like marketing advertisement. So it, it changed our business a lot this year in a good way. I think like it's been so, so positive to like really learn and grow and move online a bit more totally, still set up and raring to go over when the world goes back to normal and wants to buy in store as well. And we're running like and that's like slowly starting to return sort of the foot traffic. And I mean it's a good thing like we're seeing that in our numbers, We had to be nimble. We lost. I mean we were a big food service brand as well and we lost like 40% of our business in a day. Like nobody in Cafes and bars or restaurants could be open to buy. So we had to really think like we have to like move as quickly as we can to meet the customer where they're going to be, which is ordering online.
00:23:26Edit Absolutely. We made it up. Which was like definitely. I know for a lot of people's it was like super, it's like that jarring moment. We're like, okay, what do we, what do we do? Yeah. You know, earlier you said something when you were with impossible foods, you were standing in those lines and you were seeing that actually the customer was potentially a big burly guy who was really interested to try this non meat plant based product. Have you also seen a difference in who you thought your customer was going to be and who your customer actually is? Yes. I think what, you know, we went into this, you know, and this is probably what I'm sure you see there's a lot of founders, like founders tend to make products that they need, right? Like it's I need this. So I make this for myself and you know, Eliza and I Are in our 30s where millennials, we're going to make the product based off of like what is missing for us. Like we want products that don't have like junk in the like ingredients and we want something that's you know beautiful with a mission and you know, a give back component.
00:24:37Edit Like those are just sort of like the minimum expectations we have as individuals and how we eat. So we, and we want that to be everywhere. You know, like we want that to be in walmart. So it's like, how do we do it? And so of course you designed for yourselves. But then I think what was really amazing when we started to really get traction was that we had, You know, we found that some of the like more mature demographics that were like sort of the 4550, like actually really are seeking products like this as well and they're not, you know, in the driver's seat of like pop culture anymore, but like, like genuinely still have the same value set, which is like, is it clean and coming from the earth? Like does it have a mission? And so that demographic really came on for us in a meaningful way. And I think we also saw a sort of like world of like almost like the tech keir kind of like a typical kind of techy dude come in and like that was also this group that is again like ingredients their health, like the mission and so for whatever reason on this mindset, all these different audiences are meeting and that's been really cool to see because you know, I think we designed the product to have like some form of ubiquity and I think the beautiful thing about like plants is that we all have some relationship with them in some way and that makes it a little bit easier for us to not have to like sort of be like, okay, we're like Red bull and we're only for like, it's extreme sports.
00:26:16Edit We're like actually were just for like Earth and the people that live on it and all the wonderful things they do to make the planet this magical place and like, there are people like there's a huge audience that like really wants that, you know, like they're never going to like jump from a spaceship kind of thing. So I think we've just started to see that and it's like really, I think it's really cool and it's really starting to grow and people get it and some people don't get it, which is also a really good thing. Like you don't want everyone to like be a part of it. And I think well you do, but like, you also need some people that are going to be like, I don't thank your mission is great and you're like, okay, well that's fine. Like if that's you're making some strange decision then if you're like, you know, you know what I mean? You're like, okay, cool by we're not for you were not the right fit. Yeah, I totally get that. I love what you're saying though about, you know, it's for people who love the world and people who love plants and stuff and I feel like I can also really see that reflected in the design and the kind of content that you put out.
00:27:21Edit It's so it's such a beautiful brand, really speaks to me, I just have to say thank you, what advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business that they don't know, I think that you just, I'm sure you get the whole time and that you just have to start doing it because I think the hardest thing is like jumping in right and you're not going to solve everything in the day. It's like it's all these like little micro steps that you take. So like when you first have an idea like write a pitch deck for yourself and then like just do it like and like don't show it to anyone at first, but like because sometimes it feels like this huge big thing, right? You're like how do I network in, who do I like, how do I figure out how to make this in the packaging or like what do I do about like this type of sourcing and like that stuff can start to like really collapse you. So what I always say is like the easiest and the first thing you can do is like just write it out, draw it out and then just like start calling your friends and like walking them through it and asking them like, do you know anyone that can help me with this can help me think through this.
00:28:36Edit And like that is like a first step, just starts getting you moving and like what you start to find in that process is like either this is a really awesome idea or it's like not that good of an idea, but it doesn't mean that it's a bad idea and then like rinse and repeat the process until like as you sort of run down these lines, like what's gonna happen is something's gonna like pull you like you're gonna meet the right connection, they're gonna pull you in, you're gonna find your manufacturing co packer and then all of a sudden you need to figure out like how do I get like 50,000 $100 to like pay for this right? And then you kind of keep going. But like it's just that like all you have to do is just like make, it can even be a google like a google doc or a word doc and just start like you have to start like running the idea around and if that's like also like some people are more networked in certain places than others. And so obviously that's like there's different levels of like if you need to like do it like if you've done it before or if you're super network and food, like you may be able to run faster in the beginning if you're going that direction, like you may not be able to run as fast.
00:29:44Edit It's like, it's the same thing as like, I don't know like when you're training for something like you can't expect to run a mile in under six minutes when you start running like it takes like day after day after day. So I don't know like sharpening your skill set totally every day, like I admire entrepreneurs, I see who are like reaching out on linkedin and even though it's like, they might not hear back from everyone. Like I know what they're like, they're chipping away at it and it's like, you just have to keep chipping away chipping because it's like the hardest thing is like you are like, it's almost like, I don't know how to explain it. Like you're constantly like, like a, like a bit of like a dodgeball game, like you're dodging the ball and you're trying to look at the moment where you catch it and you can throw it back, but it just takes so much work to do it. But it's like, that's what you have to do just like, just socially, that's like, that's the start because I've had a lot of things that like are so bad, like I've done this same exercise where I've like started to run it out and start to socialize it and like, it just doesn't stick like you can't like you can feel like you can't feel the network effect of like a concept and someone pulling other people in for you because like that's a really important part of it.
00:30:59Edit And so the more you can just like sort of like beta test it, the faster you move and also just like throw it away if it's like not sticking, you know, and try something else on or change the language or change the product, I think about an important one. Is that advice Is that? Yes, absolutely. It's so helpful and I think you raise an interesting point there when you say it's also okay to throw it away and it's like, yeah, you don't have to stick to the one idea and you know, you read a lot that you have to persevere and you have to push through and all this kind of thing, but actually there's something to be said about being like, you know what, I don't think this is the idea and just being like, I'm gonna move on, I'm going to try and find the next one. Yeah. And the crazy thing is in the process of like while you're and this is the same for our lives. Like well I was going through like the rounds of thinking through ideas or companies like you end up sometimes like meeting someone who's at a different part in their journey and you may end up like finding your path is like, hey actually it's like co founding this thing or like you start to move through this space of people who also have ideas and there's like, you have to be like open to that.
00:32:09Edit But it's not until you just start like talking about your ideas, are you gonna find like other people who are like sort of in the same head space is like that's all you can do, talk to anyone who I said totally okay we are up to the six quick questions part of the episode I ask every woman I speak to the same six questions. So question number one is, what's your why? Why do you do what you do? Because I want to leave the world a better place than when I landed on it. I love that question number two is, what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made your business pop? Well, the most relevant one would be launching our online business. But then I also want to see the close second is our packaging in our branding because we've been able to create so much attention by just the sort of energy and the feeling of what it looks like. Yeah, I see that. It's so fun, so, so bold. I love it. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter?
00:33:16Edit What are you reading? What do you listen to, what newsletters do you subscribe to? Well, before the pandemic, I was always someone who hung around, you know, an art museum or even like a concert or a show. I used to tell my team or I've always told my teams like the role of marketing is to bring the outside world in. So it's like how can you just experience as much outside as possible? I am someone who doesn't read a lot of like industry other than maybe like some stuff around leadership. I don't read a lot of industry, like books I tend to like more of a social person. So it's like if I'm out or I'm like networking or I'm like looking at this thing. Like that's how I find a lot of my inspiration. But if you were talking to Eliza, she's like reading an HBs article and I'm like, like, just like, there's like, there's so much, I'm like on Tiktok, I'm like, I'm actually way more inspired by what's happening on Tiktok than I would be like reading sort of a formal business trade that I know that the value and I see the value in both.
00:34:23Edit But that's where at least for marketing, I get love Tiktok, Tiktok is so much fun. It's so much fun and it's like, it's like art and real form people interpreting social events information, which is for me always a better way to understand like history, society where you know where we are versus like don't have to flick on the news or read some lengthy like Wall Street Journal place or piece though. I do love the journal because my friend Ryan commutes in is the voice on that podcast. I do a lot of podcasts. I, I still do like a lot of my podcasting. But like, but yeah, if I'm like in this creative space, it's too hard to like be elsewhere. I get it. I also reply all like, I'm a pot like podcasts are great reply all is amazing. I do like my daily like my usual weekly routine is like every daily, every journal, every reply all that comes out and mostly the atlantic and then I also like dabble between content of different news platforms.
00:35:26Edit So I don't like, I kind of like move through the space, but I'm just a hyper consumer. I'm like a hyper consumer of like, I'm like all the content, all the things, all the things love that. Yeah, question number four is, how do you win the day? What are your AM or PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful? I make sure that I like walk every day before I start my day and then when I end my day, so like in the morning, I make sure I'm either like walking to work or like walking to grab a coffee or just like walking for the sake of it. That's actually become a really important part of like just getting my head in the right space. I think in the pandemic, it's easy to like flick on and end up at your computer. But if you don't make that space, even if it's like the weather is not that great, not making space that, that like sort of throws off my day at the end of day, I always end up with a walk and then usually mid day I do a lot of like walking meetings were like go outside and I'm like on the phone. So I'm just like movement and like being outside is such an important part of my winning of the day and then I'm not so hard on myself about routines but like you know I am therefore, but usually for me it's just like how do I get nature in my life three times a day.
00:36:46Edit I love that, I need more of that. Yeah, it's like having tried so many different routines, it's like the only team that seems still like actually yeah, keep you grounded, keep you calm grounded, take time for yourself to just have a big breath totally. Question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, how would you spend it? Yes. Yeah. I don't even know how like what we would spend that on. It's kind of like to look at what is the most important use of a dollar for you guys? Is it is the company gonna end after it? I would just know well I was just divide it up and give the rest of it to my employees. Like The last $1,000 would be split by the like you know probably like people minus me and Eliza at the company and then then they can do with it. What they, what they will um That's how the last $1,000 would go. Amazing. And last question question #6 is how do you deal with failure?
00:37:52Edit What's your mindset or approach at sun wink. We actually do something that I think is pretty cool and it's one of our values. It's, but what we call is fail fabulously, which is like in the company's core values and then also on Mondays we do, the whole company comes on and does gratitude, which is just sort of like going around and saying we can be grateful for something at the company or like for something in their personal life and then we do something called fabulous failures were like something that you totally like mucked up or you know, like could have happened to you because you did, it could have happened to you because you didn't, you know you were just within the sort of like periphery of something and the chance to sort of like say it out loud and like have that cathartic experience of being like this didn't go the way I wanted it to and then the whole company kind of like celebrates it and you move forward. I always have a really hard time with the concept of failure because I don't really like believe that there's like failure and absolute like I always think that there's like in the hardest times where I'd say like I haven't done what I intended or like things didn't go the way I wanted, I have learned the most though, like the intended result may not have been right, so I just say like failed fabulously and often that sounds so much fun, I'm gonna, I'm gonna bring more of that into my life, fail fabulously, totally.
00:39:20Edit Thank you so much jordans for taking the time to be on the show today and sharing all these amazing bits and bobs. I have loved learning your story and what you guys are creating for the world. Thank you so much. Dune. I appreciate it.