An innovative strategy shared by Sierra Tishgart, Founder of disruptive cookware company Great Jones
From Vogue to Forbes 30 under 30, Great Jones is the modern day cookware brand that everyone’s hot for.
Lifelong friends Sierra Tishgart and Maddy Moelis, had the idea over dinner a few years ago and set out to create a luxury cookware company that’s more accessible and affordable for young folk. And these are the kind of pots you want in your kitchen. They’re pastel themed and designed with small New York apartments in mind - they’re so beautiful they can literally live on top of your stove.
And the branding is something you need to see for yourself. I urge you to check out their website and their Instagram, these women know a thing or two about good looking stuff. It’s one of the best.
We’re talking about the benefits of co-founders seeing a CEO coach early on in the journey to maintain a healthy friendship and working relationship, how to ask a mentor to be your mentor and raising capital through like minded high profile female founders.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Speaker1: For everyone that's listening in. Do you want to talk about what great Jones is and what your products are all about?
Speaker3: Yes, Great Jones is a modern kitchenware company. The goal is to help build confidence in the kitchen and our products are really just the start of that. I think cooking can feel overwhelming to so many people. It's hard to know where to start. And a big part of I think that feeling comes from not knowing what are the right tools to outfit your kitchen or feeling like the right tools are inaccessible. So our goal is to create beautiful, well-designed pieces and hold your hand through the process of figuring out what you actually need to set yourself up for success.
Speaker1: I just absolutely love it. Can you tell us about the Origin story and why you wanted to start the business in the first place?
Speaker3: Of course, I was working as a journalist at New York magazine for five years covering food and restaurants. I had a very fun job of running around the city, interviewing chefs, reporting on food, politics and trends. But as a result, my home cooking had taken a back seat. And I started to feel, as I think a lot of people do, is they get into their later 20s, 30s, that this was important for my health. It was something I wanted to invest in. And for me, the first step was knowing that I needed to get new kitchen where I had hand me downs from my father that were Teflon pans that were chipping. Don't Google it. It's very scary. And when I went to go figure out what I need and why, even with the access to chefs and cookbook authors, people who are lucky to be in my text messages, it was prohibitively expensive and still extremely confusing to figure out what I need and why. Somebody said to me, just wait until you get married. And I thought, Oh, God, that's not how I make any decisions in my life. What I like is that really what we're still thinking about in terms of cookware, which is so tied to your health and my childhood friend that embolus had worked in the startup space. And we talked about this idea over dinner and she was also excited by it and we drove in.
Speaker1: And do you remember the light bulb moment where you were like, yeah, it's going to be cookware like this is it versus like, you know, starting with a cookbook or starting a restaurant? What was the moment that you were like, you know what? I'm going to be cookware?
Speaker3: Yeah, I think it was seeing and so, like, going to try to find a stockpot, which is a very simple item. And realizing that, I mean, we've all been in these shopping holes. I've spent two hours looking at, you know, 10 pages of stockpot. And I was just like, and this is Stockpot arrived. And it was massive. Like I cooked for one. I thought, like, this is what I eat. Like, this is what a family of four needs. And realizing that I did not have any straightforward advice or education and that I had really made me lose time and excitement over this purchase. I think the other element was I was reading this out of New York in a very tiny kitchen, and my cook were needed to sit out of my stove. There was really no other place for it and feeling like aesthetically and from a design perspective, nothing was speaking to me. There were some beautiful brands that were very prohibitively expensive, but also quite antiquated. And, you know, this was such a public part of my home in the same way that my sofa was or my art was. And I felt like no company had acknowledged that importance of it and that, you know, for form and function or so also close to to the the pride you take in something being aesthetically pleasing makes you use it more. And I felt like that was a perspective that that that no one was taking.
Speaker1: Yeah. You really want, like, some cute cookware just in the kitchen. And I feel like is such a big gap. It's like you buy something really cheap on Amazon or you buy something that's really expensive, that you probably don't need to buy this for hundred dollar individual, you know.
Speaker3: Yeah, I agree. I agree. There's a big gap. There's a big, big gap.
Speaker1: My girlfriend was actually texting me the other day being like, I need to buy new cookware and I recommended her your company, because I was like, oh, I have this really cool you coming in. She's based in London, so it didn't make as much sense because obviously, you know, shipping in this kind of things is a little difficult. But she had that same problem and inside. So, yeah, that's really interesting. I want to talk about your relationship with Maddie, your friend and now your co-founder, and how you guys navigate that relationship and and remain good friends and business partners.
Speaker3: Yeah, I mean, I think it is you know, we have very different skill sets and it's something we put a lot of work into. Starting a company for the first time is one of the greatest privileges and challenges of my life. And it's really important that we devote the time and energy to try to make our working relationship is strong as possible, as well as managers, as people who have investors now and responsibilities to them. I'd say something like all like all relationships. It takes a lot of work to keep strong.
Speaker1: I was reading that you guys have a CEO coach and I was like, oh, that's really interesting. Is that like therapy?
Speaker3: I mean, yes, sort of. I very much believe in the power of talk therapy personally and professionally. And I'd say a coach tows the line. There's a lot that is very similar to how a therapist functions. You know, a good coach also has some executive experience that can help with organizational structure and brings that lends to it to.
Speaker1: Yeah, that's really cool, very interesting. I want to talk a little bit about your investment raising. I know that you guys raised a seed round of two point two five, I think it was at a friends and family round of six hundred thousand dollars. And you guys have some really impressive investors like Jen from away and Audrey from the wing. Can you talk about what that journey was like? How do you how do you even know what to do? How do you stop?
Speaker3: I mean, friends and family is true to its word. And look, I think it's important to recognize that's rooted in great privilege, like having access to friends and family with disposable capital. It's very rare and privilege thing that I think it's important to acknowledge and take seriously. But it really started there, which was who is in our network? What can we show? How can they really betting on you as individuals? And a lot of those entrepreneurs you mentioned who joined the round and join the out of that friends and family round were people who initially I had looked to for advice. I sat down with Audrey at the wing and said, I'm actually working out the wing, or it's like this is being built in this beautiful place you've created. And I won. Like, I want you to know that that that's given us resources and to what do you think about this? And she actually was very keen. She said, I want to invest, which was so powerful to hear. And I think that really helped shift me to realize that I think is a woman in particular, you start to feel like asking people anything is a bird asking for their time as a bird and certainly asking them for money is a burden. And there had to really be a shift take place in my mind to realize, no, you're giving someone an opportunity like this. This is a great idea. We are very poised to do this. You know, asking someone for capital is not just like a favor. They're going to benefit from the success of this company. And I still have to remind myself of that.
Speaker1: What would you say that if you were to do it again, what would you do again and what wouldn't you do again
Speaker3: In terms of fundraising? Yeah.
Speaker1: Oh, I would.
Speaker3: I mean, some women given us advice that was like, you have to do it as fast as you can. Like, once you're in the market, people know you're in the market and you just have to move fast or else you become like, you know, if no one wants you immediately, you're like you're not desired. And that's old news. Yeah, old news. I mean, there's a lot of parallels like dating that I think are problematic. It's sort of like you're trying to position yourself and push yourself back, create a lot of pressure that I actually don't think serves the business like. Yes, I get it. You want to cultivate desire in the market. But you also look this just one of the more important decisions and relationships you can enter into. These are major stakeholders in your company who have major control, like I would say to myself, and we think we did this in the end, fortunately. But this is not something to just be rushed, like take the time and do the vetting on your part. You were interviewing them just as much as they were interviewing you. And it's not a race just to get the biggest or first check in. These are real relationships. You want to make sure a strong like the amount of time you know, it's like I interviewed 20 applicants embedded maybe one hundred resumes for a job. Like if I'm spending that much time with someone on my team like this, this deserves at least that attention. And to also keep that in mind, it's about the right partner, not the partner, I think, with necessarily the biggest chaffer, the quickest Jack.
Speaker1: Yeah. And I imagine if you're going to be in a startup for ten years, potentially the person that you speak to on the phone every day must be good for conversation.
Speaker3: Yes. Yes.
Speaker1: And you must be to like them a little bit.
Speaker3: It's all technology. And, you know, like what roles do you want an investor to fill? Where do you need strategic support? You know, different different investors in different firms, different people of different specialties like do we do we actually want to figure out how to ship to your friend in London, which is top of my mind, like that is such a bummer that she can access us. And like, where can you also use this to fill out different skill sets and bring other voices to the table?
Speaker1: Yeah, absolutely. Does that mean also you look for investment in terms of people's time versus just people's money?
Speaker3: Certainly, certainly. Our lead investor, Peter Boyce from Chairman Catullus is based in New York and is here. And that is and also was just so excited about us and had the time to give in, like having someone local who can come to our office, come to ACMS. Every event like share that energy and share that excitement is definitely a huge advantage.
Speaker1: Yeah, for sure. Gosh, how exciting. And I want to talk about your branding because it's just so cool. I absolutely love your website, the little guys fees and the illustrations and your plot line and how you came up with your color palette for the products. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to really go all out and and kind of creating this incredible visual brand to go along with your cookware and kind of innovate in that it's very like millennial feeling. It feels really alive and like a lot of thought put into it versus just being like, oh, you know, we're going to launch with the regular pots and pans kind of thing.
Speaker3: The goal for the brand was to feel nostalgic and retro and joyful, above all, like warm and joyful. I wanted to feel like we looked at a lot of vintage cookbooks and I'm willing to have that, but feel that's where the illustrations come into play. I love that vintage cookbooks rely more on illustrations than photography because like we've all seen that photo of a perfect cookbook, we're like, it's never going to look like that when I do it. So we don't want it to feel really playful and joyful. Like food and cooking can be such a wonderful, wonderful thing in our lives. And the process of finding the right kitchenware and outfitting your home was so detached from that. I mean, that was like 20 pages of soft pots and like floor-to-ceiling pots and pans in a store. It was like, that's not fun and cooking is fun. So how can we tie it more closely to that? I mean, a big part of also our I guess our branding and our site is is also showing people not just selling pots and pans, but showing people we admire how they cook it, like using that as a way to communicate our values as a brand just as much as our logo.
Speaker1: Yeah, and you guys also show a lot of behind the scenes on your Instagram, like the manufacturing process and like these kind of videos where you show just a point of difference. I think it's an unusual Instagram account that I really, really like. Which leads me into my next question around manufacturing. I was reading that you guys have a factory in Hong Kong that is making your products by robots. That's really cool.
Speaker3: Yeah, yeah. When we went and visited factories, that was the most amazing what we had seen. I think it was really incredible just to see the level of technology that could be harnessed for this and how I mean, there's like a you know, if you look at like it's like a Pixar movie, like the room where they test all the pots and pans and they really have a robot that, like, drops it a hundred times, like pole candles and does all these stress tests. And that was really fascinating to me and I think also spoke to the level of quality control we could have.
Speaker1: Do you think that by finding that factory, that's what was able to reduce or not? Do you think is that why that was that factory was able to reduce your cost of the units because it was driven by robots and not made by hand? No, I don't know how parts are usually made, to be honest.
Speaker3: Yeah, I mean, it's it's a mix. I don't think that that was not the determining factor there. I think the determining factor of why we can charge less than some of the heritage brands is that we're selling directly. I mean, that's the classic dissy proposition there is. When you avoid the middleman of a big retailer who chips away at your margins, you can actually have much more transparent pricing with the consumer and get closer to what the actual and pass that savings along.
Speaker1: Are you guys going to stay to say forever, or do you think you will look into potentially finding retailers and partners and becoming a wholesale brand as well?
Speaker3: Yep, I definitely don't want to make any forever commitments. The benefits of D to see beyond financial are really the relationship we can have directly with our customers. When you if you get stuck to the bottom of your pan like we are, they are. You can chat with us like we will help you figure it out, clean it out. Like having that relationship is really the biggest benefit there. I see. That said, you know, I think that I want our products to be accessible to people and bigger retailers. You have have the power to do that. And I think there I definitely wouldn't rule it out for us in the longer term. It's something to consider. And it really is like it's just like how we talked about raising who's the right partner. Do you have a partner who gets what great Jones is about? And we can pass on that ethos, whether it's in a shop within a bigger store, like how can we keep what makes us special through the lens of a bigger retailer? And I think a lot of bigger retailers are doing very creative work to support startups in that way.
Speaker1: Yeah, absolutely, I want to talk about finding your first customers and how you actually launched the brand. I know you guys have had significant, incredible press everywhere. That was probably key in your launch strategy, but how did you guys kind of plan out launching and finding your initial people?
Speaker3: Instagram is obviously just a powerful, powerful tool there of getting out our our message and teasing that out as a brand and also relying on some of the relationships I had as a journalist with chefs and other people in the space, and many of whom had tested our products, some of whom had invested it, allowed that us to reach that initial group of people. And I'd also really, you know, the power of press. This is where I'm proud to work as a I'm like once a journalist, always a journalist. Like our story very fortunately resonated with journalists who tested our products, liked what we were creating very early on. I think. What are the first weeks in business? Maybe like week two? We were in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, both in print in the same weekend, which was, wow, amazing accomplishment, and had a big picture of of our of our goods. And like that that was huge for us, getting the word out.
Speaker1: Yeah, that's incredible, and was that something that you were going out and pitching or you had someone doing for you or did that's kind of just fall onto your lap?
Speaker3: I was going on pitching. I mean, this is very nice, but that's what I used to be on the other side of it. So, you know, I think it's crafting an original story. It's speaks to our differentiation, as in our design that that that resonated.