Chuck Lepley Of Opopop: “Everything has withstood the test of time until it hasn’t”

Everything has withstood the test of time until it hasn’t. There is always room for positive disruption. As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Lepley. Chuck is a Founding Partner and the CMO of Opopop — a new DTC company […]

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Everything has withstood the test of time until it hasn’t. There is always room for positive disruption.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Lepley.

Chuck is a Founding Partner and the CMO of Opopop — a new DTC company that is re-inventing what it means to be a popcorn brand. He has spent over a decade launching new companies and leading global marketing for consumer products brands including Sphero — best known for their category defining smartphone-controlled toys and Star Wars BB-8 Droid. Chuck began his career as a TV Producer for shows like On-Air with Ryan Seacrest and networks including E! and FOX.

Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Out of college, I just wanted to go somewhere new and didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a career, so I headed out to L.A. I ended up in the entertainment industry sort of by chance and worked as a TV Producer for 6 years. I enjoyed it, but felt drawn to go back to grad school and return to Colorado. So in 2009, I returned to the University of Colorado and got an MBA degree with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship. From there I joined Sphero, prior to their first product launch, and grew that company all the way through our partnership with Disney for the most recent Star Wars movie series. Most recently, I have been working to create and launch Opopop. In June, we launched our first product — Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The popcorn industry is interesting. It’s a massive category with a huge consumer base — over 90% of Americans eat popcorn. And it has a long history as one of the world’s favorite snacks. It’s a must-have for movies, it’s a go-to snack for watching sports, and it conjures up fond memories for most people. But not much new has happened in a long time. The last real innovation from a popcorn machine perspective came in the late 70’s with the air popper. That was also when microwave popcorn was invented and it hasn’t changed since that time either. Even the flavors lack much variety and excitement — until now. Our Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels are a totally new take on microwave popcorn. We use a proprietary process to individually wrap each kernel in flavor and it makes for an amazing tasting gourmet popcorn product. We’ve created signature classics, like Fancy Butter, and unexpected new flavors, like Vanilla Cake Pop and Maui Heat. And it’s been great to see that as soon as people try them, they are obsessed.

But it’s not just this one product. Our approach to popcorn is totally different. For the most part, popcorn has been commoditized and it’s a race to the bottom to make the cheapest popcorn. This is especially true when it comes to warm and fresh popcorn which, let’s be honest, is the way that popcorn should be eaten. We’re here to give popcorn the respect it deserves and to show people that popcorn can be much better than they are used to.

We spent a lot of time looking for the perfect popcorn kernel. One that has a great mouth feel, the right amount of crunch, the perfect expansion rate, and great taste. Those unique kernels are grown for us on a family farm in western Nebraska. Once they’re harvested, they’re sent to our headquarters in Denver where we turn them into Flavor Wrapped Popcorn Kernels in small batches. Then we package them up and ship them off to you. So we handle the entire process to ensure a great product.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s not necessarily a mistake, but I think early on we were extremely naive about our ability to create some of the ideas that we had. For quite a few of us on the founding team, this was our first venture into food. So we were doing some ridiculous things in our kitchens to see how we might be able to create some of these products.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

To be honest, I’ve always been the first marketing person for the companies I’ve worked with. So I’ve had to be my own mentor. However, I will say that Gary Vaynerchuk has been someone that I like to get knowledge and inspiration from. He’s like a hype guy for marketers. Every time I listen to him talk, I just get inspired.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Everything has withstood the test of time until it hasn’t. There is always room for positive disruption.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life — I had always feared being stuck in a job that I hated, but once you find what you love, it no longer feels like a job. You get up every day excited to tackle the challenges.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know — life is one part planning and one part luck. Your network will end up being one of the most important things you have in your career. I met the two co-founders of Opopop, Jonas Tempel and Brad Roulier, over 20 years ago through music production and DJing (something I did when I was younger). Our careers and paths crossed again a few years ago and we all ended up starting this popcorn company together. Something I never would have expected.
  • Culture matters — this is especially true for new companies. You need to be very conscious of building a positive company culture early on because those things will be much harder to change later. You can have an inspiring product, hire smart people, and pay them good money, but if you have a bad company culture you will eventually lose good people.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have other new popcorn products in the pipeline that are totally different from anything else out there — and that includes everything from stovetop products to popcorn machines, so we’re planning to introduce innovative new products into every popcorn category. It’s safe to say, we’re really excited about all the stuff we have coming.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Crossing The Chasm — this was required reading when I was in the MBA program at the University of Colorado. In a nutshell, it’s about marketing products when you’re an early-stage startup. And how to “cross the chasm” from early adopters to the mainstream. It’s invaluable if you’re starting a company or doing marketing for a startup.

The Gary Vee Audio Experience — once again, I have to mention Gary Vaynerchuk. He’s forward thinking, doesn’t mince words, and always helps me think about things in new ways. If you’re a marketer and don’t know who he is, then you absolutely should.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Someday Never Comes — quit saying “someday” and put a plan in place to make it happen, otherwise that thing that you always wanted to do will pass you by and it will be too late. I had always wanted to spend a year travelling the world. So I spent 5 years saving and living pretty frugally, so I could do just that. In 2016, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I left our jobs, packed up our belongings, and hit the road. We lived in a van in New Zealand for 6 weeks, travelled in an RV for 6 months across North America, and spent a couple months backpacking through Europe. I would always regret it if I had never done that. And I can’t tell you how many people we talked to that said “I wish I would have done what you guys are doing when I was younger.”

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Unfortunately, I feel like the changes we need to make as a society to bring about the most amount of good the most amount of people are totally politicized. So I’m not going to go there.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn or check out photography from my travels Instagram.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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