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.
Speaker1: Yeah. And the power of having those networks and those contacts that you're able to leverage, I'm sure that helped as well. And so what's working for you guys now, like in your marketing and when you're acquiring new customers, what is Instagram still that kind of key channel for you?
Speaker3: Instagram is definitely a key channel. I mean, that that ties into our organic posting as well as our, like, paid advertisements. I mean, it's massive.
Speaker1: It's just amazing.
Speaker3: It's where we live our lives. I actually run our Instagram account and like it is a really I mean, it's a really fun and very educational way to just, like, see directly what is resonating with people. I mean, like, you know, I used to work at a New York mag where every day there was new content on our site, like our website stays constant generally, like our Instagram is our way to communicate very quickly, to test out ideas, to to hear from our audience. And as much as the Instagram itself, it's like too much sometimes. I'm very grateful to have that direct line to customers and to the broader public. So that's huge for us. We also have a service called Hot Hotline that is a free tech service that gives real time cooking advice.
Speaker1: Oh, my God. Cool.
Speaker3: Yeah, it's fun. You can just text, you can just text and you can get texts from London. You can text us from anywhere and you don't have to be a great customer. And it's meant to kind of get out like, oh my God, I have especially right now in quarantine, like I have chicken thighs, a can of beans and Swiss chard in my fridge, like, what can I make? And we'll really, like, give real time advice there to help you through it.
Speaker1: And so how does that work? Is that like WhatsApp for business? And you have someone that actually is like monitoring these lines nine to five or something and they just write back?
Speaker3: Yep, we have we've expanded the hours very recently. It is really pioneered. I give credit to Gabby Soelistyo on our team, who is actually this came from her. She runs our our customer experience and answers the emails that they use and integrate. Jones we would always say like emails for like I did a recipe like, you know, like she's not just there to just say, here's your shipping conversation. Like, Gabby's an avid home cook and this was an extension of that. So she answers the the majority of the text that come in. But it's really just people on our team. It's like this is there's no robots involved in this. Like this is just the equivalent of, like, you texting one of us.
Speaker1: Oh, my God, that's brilliant. I love that. I'm going to be texting you guys around the clock. I'm going to be like, what's for dinner tonight, Gabby? Yeah. Yeah.
Speaker3: So love that
Speaker1: Shout out to her. She's going to love this. And I want to switch focus a little bit and talk about some of the kinds of challenges that you face in your business at the moment. You're a few years in. You've had massive growth. What are the kind of challenges that you have?
Speaker3: Yeah, there are many. I think one is figuring out. I'd say figuring out, as you said, like massive growth is a wonderful thing. And certainly revenue growth is a wonderful thing. I think it's trying to balance growth activities with one making sure it's sustainable for our team. We have a very small team still. And like when we have ambitious plans and like, yeah, I'd love to press a button and be like, we're international. We're the three that money, new products like how do you figure out where to focus your team's energy so that they don't burn out and everyone feels invested and and feels like actually the goals we set to achieve are feasible? I think on a more business side, like how do you balance revenue growth with making sure that the unit economics of your business makes sense and your margins are strong and like those are? I think there's that kind of a reckoning. The consumer world right now where people are looking at the financials across really your whole model, not just looking at pure revenue growth as like what makes these businesses work. And last I would say. Yeah. And there's also like the exciting, fun challenges, like we want to come out with so many new products, like we hear from our customers constantly that they have requests and ideas. And like there's the kitchen is a big space and like trying to be patient as to how we traunch that out and what we do and where there are products, where we can solve your pain points for people and improve on what's in the market is a good challenge to have.
Speaker1: You know, I really hate those can open is that always never open God damn cans and I'm like, how is this allowed to be sellable on the shelf when it doesn't work?
Speaker3: No, I think be the first one who suggested they could keep it open there. But like, good to know.
Speaker1: So what is coming next? What are the kinds of things you guys are working on? A lot of say
Speaker3: We lost a sheep pan in the holiday season last year called Holy shit, that polish. I loved it. It's been great. It's really it's our best selling product. And that was our ship's great because it's like kind of half bakeware, half cookware. And I'll just say, like, it's been successful. So we're excited to go deeper into one half of those categories that we haven't totally touched yet.
Speaker1: Really cool. I'm going to be so excited to tune in. And I also wanted to ask you, I was reading that you both have you and Marty both have mentors. And I wanted to ask you some advice on how you go about finding a mentor. What's that relationship look like? And if you had any advice for women who are in the position of wanting to find a mentor.
Speaker3: Yeah, that's a great that's a great question. I mean, I think I think like anything, there's some mentor relationships that just take form over time and have like a like, you know, slowly build. And those are wonderful. And then there's others that you ask for, like there have been people that have completely just said, I admire what you're doing. I'd like can we spend more time? Can I can I call you with this specific question? I think being one direct and two specific, like I get things sometimes and people who are like, can we can I just get, like, your general advice? And it's you know, I try to say yes, but it's much it catches my attention. It's much more powerful. And I found this on both the receiving and the giving in to say, hey, I actually want your help with figuring out how to merchandise this product or designing X or like doing this kind of fun race. Being really specific with your asks helps. And something that I've had to work on is feeling more comfortable being vulnerable. Like it's I think we all probably just want to pretend like everything's perfect and like you're really only going to get closer with your mentor and and really actually benefit from them. If you can be like this is a problem I'm facing, like, this is you know, this is not this is not ideal and feel and like being comfortable with that.
Speaker1: Yeah. Like, this is this is where I probably don't perform as the way I want to. Yeah. This is where I need help. Yeah. Cool. Really great advice. Thank you. And before I get onto my section of six quick questions which I asked every woman, the last question I usually ask is what advice do you have for any woman woman who wants to start a business? I would say like.
Speaker3: A lot of great businesses run by women in particular, their origin stories are tied to their own personal. Honestly, smells like shopping problems, like I know even Jen Rubeo from over, as you mentioned, like her luggage, like my my Teflon cookware was chipping off, like take your own concerns seriously for one. Like even if they're like shopping problems like those are valid, like we are as women. I think very active consumers, attentive consumers. And I think we tend to do research before we purchase something and are very observant. And like that allows when we identify gaps in in the market and see that as an opportunity. I would also say that like recognize that there are while. Yes, like female entrepreneurs face a lot of disadvantages in the stats around fundraising are like pretty bleak, like there are recognize where you can lean into this being a superpower. The competitive advantages, like 70 percent of your customers are women. And yet there are very, very, very few female kitchen brands. And while we don't only sell to women or speak to women like that is the perspective that I create from is is huge and something to celebrate and own.
Speaker1: That's amazing. Thanks. OK, so now if this part of the podcast, I ask you six quick questions and I ask the same questions to every woman. Are you ready? Yes. OK, number one, what's your why?
Speaker3: Oh, my. Why is cooking is one of the true forms of self care and it's it's something wonderful you can do for yourself and give to others. And if we can make people feel more confident and proud doing that, I really think that that does a lot of good.
Speaker1: It's a good way. Number two is what's the number one marketing moment that made your business, pop?
Speaker3: Oh, I'd say aside from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, like Great Press Day and the Today Show was huge for our business and them sharing our story, I'm like forever grateful for.
Speaker1: Wow, that sounds amazing. Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter,
Speaker3: To get smarter,
Speaker1: Be books, podcasts,
Speaker3: People? Yeah, I say. Anyway, one of the greatest things about starting a company is, like I actually said, this was the I said I was like I was I was I was checking in with friends a lot through covid like I am like this. A great new network of friends who have also started businesses. And really I it's. Speaking to them and like I said, being vulnerable, sharing this, it makes us feel less alone. And so I would try to find friends who, whatever you do, whether that's starting a business or something else, like finding other people who who have similar responsibilities, is just where I get my energy and where I learn from.
Speaker1: Question number four is how do you win the day and that's around your arm and your rituals that make you feel happy, productive, successful if you take those off the list?
Speaker3: Oh, I. I need to definitely get better at the rituals that exist at me to work. Like I mean, I would say I win the day like I by spending time with my dog. I like my dog. Hubble is the best. I actually got him sort of like we were starting the company. So like it's and I and I remember thinking, like, OK, this this is out of like this is like a weird time to do this. But I really want it. And I think it was the best. I like just knowing that I can step away from work and get outside and have this like, I don't know, I just that's that's my that's my ritual. And I think having whatever your outlet is, having something else outside is important.
Speaker1: Yeah. Something you can really switch your focus to and get comfort from as well. I actually want that to be mine. That's clearly my goal for next year. I want that ASAP.
Speaker3: It's truly one of the best things I want to do my whole life, like my whole life. And it's just such a joy.
Speaker1: Your dogs also are really cute as to when I was stalking you on the ground. Question number five is if you only had one thousand dollars left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? And it's kind of like, where do you need to allocate your resources to? What's the biggest driver for you to keep going?
Speaker3: Yeah. Oh, that is a hard
Speaker1: That is a tough one.
Speaker3: Like I'd want to if we were about like I'd want to give it to our team if we were like about if we were really I'd want to make sure that they felt valued for their work. I mean, I would say otherwise I'd probably spend it on. Producing video or photo content that I'm trying to think of the level of photo shoot or video shoot and but probably something around our Duchesse showing all the ways to use it and and showing and tying it into. I think tying it into minds, we like our first campaign shoot, which was virtually more than a thousand dollars, but it's like a really meaningful marketing moment for me, which is we got a bunch of real life couples and families and individuals to show how they used our products. And we've always used real people in these shoots for videos or photos. And I would definitely want to recreate that to personify why we do what we do, what we do, what we do and remind people of that energy.
Speaker1: I love that. That's really nice. No mistakes,
Speaker3: I'm casting your friends in your photo shoots.
Speaker1: I said, that sounds awesome. There's actually a really cool brand in London that they also do these kind of photo shoots. It's Rexer. I'm not sure if you've heard of it. It's a British brand. It's amazing. And at the presentation during the last fashion week before Korona, they have all these women of all ages, you know, and they all know each other like they're all kind of like it could be someone's auntie or someone's grandma, like they have all these beautiful women from all walks of life. And I just think it's so special. Really cool. Final question is number six, how do you deal with failure? And it can be personal experience or just your general mindset and approach when things don't go to plan?
Speaker3: I try to say I got into this because personally, I saw this as a wonderful way to challenge myself professionally and to make myself uncomfortable in service of creating something that that that I really believed in. And in those challenging moments, I try to remind myself that this is why we do our things. This is why we take risks. Like what can I mean, it's it's hard it's hard to do in the moment. Like, what can we learn from this? How can this make me better? Like, all we can be doing is improve. So I try to remember that. And I also, you know, I seek comfort from friends. And that's where my friends who have started businesses and kind of having this great network of women around me is really important because you guide you a healthy mix of like venting and and processing and then also picking yourself up and saying this is only going to make me stronger. It's only going to make me more resilient. It's only going to make me more empathetic.
Speaker1: Love that. Thank you so much. Thank you for being on the podcast. Where can people find you?
Speaker3: Well, the great Jones Instagram is just great, Jones, and you can quietly find me there. And my you could also find me at the British. Yeah, I probably in terms of social media, I spend the most time on Instagram so you can definitely find me there.
Speaker1: Amazing. Thank you so much.
Speaker3: Thank you.