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“Develop your identity and packaging with experienced designers and copywriters” With Chef Vicky Colas & Dave Rule

Brand Development and Trademark Protections: Develop your identity and packaging with experienced designers and copywriters. Make sure you are developing brand assets that are distinct and can be protected via trademarks. Bonus, create a compelling name that can live beyond your launch category.Define a winnable go-to-market footprint — where do you want to be sold […]

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Brand Development and Trademark Protections: Develop your identity and packaging with experienced designers and copywriters. Make sure you are developing brand assets that are distinct and can be protected via trademarks. Bonus, create a compelling name that can live beyond your launch category.

Define a winnable go-to-market footprint — where do you want to be sold and how does your product get there. (Sales and Distribution)

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Rule, Vice President, of Austin Eastciders.

Dave has a unique knack for seeing opportunities where others see challenges. This instinct guides his management and strategic visions for the marketing of the booming Austin Eastciders brand, which has grown to become the #5 cider in the US and the #1 cider in Texas — having recently surpassed big beer juggernaut Angry Orchard.

He started with the brand — as its first marketing hire — when the only marketing asset was the package itself. He is a member of the Austin Eastciders Leadership Team and is accountable to the operating plan and the Board of Directors. He oversees strategic branding, new product development, go-to-market strategy, as well as the brand’s tasting room and restaurant footprint, the Austin Eastciders Collaboratory and Austin Eastciders Barton Springs.

Dave’s past experience includes working with iconic brands like Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Pepsi and KIND Healthy Snacks. At KIND, he was of one of the first 25 employees and contributed to over 1,300% growth in a five-year period.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in a blue-collar family in New Hampshire. My mom worked at the DMV and my dad was a truck-driver (and still is at 70 years of age). I was a latchkey kid and my siblings and I would have full reign at home after school till about 8 or 9pm every night. Sports were a big part of my life, I played in every sport I could through school and through the local recreation center groups and leagues. Over the years I played baseball, football (through pop-warner), soccer, basketball and one illuminating year on track (aka, I was baseball fast, but I was not track fast). I started my work career in action sports after college, but team sports are my biggest reference tool for the development of high functioning teams and culture.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

Our founder, Ed Gibson hails from Bristol in the United Kingdom which is known as one of the top cider making regions in the world. He is the founder of a cider bar on a boat in Bristol called The Apple. http://applecider.co.uk/ Ed, visited Austin and fell in love with the food, the music and the people. He moved here and quickly realized that he could not find the level of cider that he was accustomed to, so he quickly started pursuing the creation of Austin Eastciders. It really didn’t come to fruition though until he connected with his co-founder, Mark King who was a 30+ year alcoholic beverage sales veteran. The pair then worked together to develop the early stages of Austin Eastciders and bring on investors.

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?

I’m not sure it is funny quite yet but in the very early days of the brand there was some urgency to package as much cider as possible ahead of SXSW. Demand was much higher than our ability to produce. SXSW is a big music festival that takes over Austin for a few weeks in March and it leads to a heavy increase in alcohol sales. The team at the time got together and decided to skip the pasteurizer as it was the bottle-neck in our production process. For a short time, the strategy worked out fantastically as more cases were put into market. The thing is, pasteurization is very important. The yeast eats the sugar and coverts it into wonderful alcohol. The pasteurizer neutralizes the yeast so that fermentation process is halted when the product leaves the facility. Without pasteurization the yeast woke up and began to eat the sugar on warm shelves across Austin, producing gas and then eventually about 2 months after SXSW Eastciders cans were literally blowing up on shelf. We have come a long way. Our facility is state of the art and our Quality Assurance processes are world class but clearly there was a time when this was not the case.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?

As one of our buyers said recently, he’s drowning in new hard seltzers, but he is looking for brands with a hook — something distinct and desirable. Without a real reason to exist why should consumers or the trade spend any time with your brand? We have nutrition bars, hard seltzers, condiments, energy drinks, snacks and every other packaged good coming out of our ears with all sorts of ingredients, flavors, nutrition profiles, delivery methods and branding! Brand is important but you need to be answering a problem in the market. Why should a buyer or a consumer add you to their shelf if you are not bringing something interesting and new to the party? This list of mistakes could be very long but the other big one in my opinion is lack of focus and prioritization of resources. A start-up food brand has minute resources (financial and human). Focus should be around creating hubs of influence, create a strong base to grow from. Focus on one retailer or one channel, one geography, one product category, etc. until you gain some momentum and then expand.

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take? Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Audit the competition: Buy and consumer all of the interesting competitor products in the category (top performers and emerging brands). Confirm that you are bringing something to market with a hook. You might find some of your distinct attributes in the pile of emerging brands. If they are gaining any momentum than that might be more of an affirmation than a deterrent as they do not have the scale to own those unique desirable attributes in the marketplace yet. If Pepsi or Kraft are already going to market with your “hook” its likely back to the drawing board.

Understand the category: Know the size of the category and rates of sale or decline by-channel, by-geography, by-segment. Know how these products are distributed. Understand the ecommerce environment for this category. Is the category ripe for disruption? (big category with a small number of meaningful players).

Understand your supply chain. Map how your product will be produced. Will you produce this product yourself or will you have a co-manufacturer? Learn about relevant regulations and compliance. Understand the co-manufacturing footprint and build redundancies.

Brand Development and Trademark Protections: Develop your identity and packaging with experienced designers and copywriters. Make sure you are developing brand assets that are distinct and can be protected via trademarks. Bonus, create a compelling name that can live beyond your launch category.

Define a winnable go-to-market footprint — where do you want to be sold and how does your product get there. (Sales and Distribution)

Create a purpose statement and define your values. When you have profits what causes will you support?

Buy a helmet. Ok, head injuries are not likely but be ready to take some knocks and stay vulnerable and pliable. You, your idea and your approach will likely need to evolve to survive. Build a group of strong advisors that you listen to. You need experienced folks that can help you balance that run-through-a-wall entrepreneur energy. Define what you are good at, get references to support your narrative. Self-awareness will be indispensable.

Develop your investor pitch-deck and make sure you have objective advisors to coach you through equity fundraising.

Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?

I like to say ideas are cheap, execution is everything. A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you that the first step is the hardest one. If you have run the traps and you see a path the biggest hurdle to overcome is to jump in and start actually working towards your new business in a serious way.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

Incubators can be a fantastic resource. Our founders worked with the SKU incubator in Austin and it was a great resource in providing strong advisement across all facets of the business in the early stages particularly when the business could not invest in a lot of subject matter experts in-house. (Finance, Marketing, Legal, etc.)

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I believe the path here is situational. You are considering the interplay of opportunity window, cash, risk and equity. I think the only safe thing to say here is that ideally you can create a strong proof-of-concept in a small winnable slice of the market before you raise too much capital. Even better, figure out how to do this profitably. Getting this far will greatly help your valuation and the prospect of maintaining your own equity position and you’ll be a lot smarter for the “throw-more-fuel-on-the-fire” phase.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

Cult brands have a distinct point of view. They have a purity and consistency in how they communicate to the world and people love these brands as an extension of their own values and personality. When they communicate it doesn’t feel like it was produced by committee. The biggest thing though is to create a product that performs excellently. The #1 reason people participate is because the product quality is fantastic. Liquid Death needs to deliver clean and pure water, Red Bull needs to wake you up, snack bars need to be great food first before they can get people involved in their cause programming, Eastciders needs to be delicious, easy to drink and made with less sugar before people can get excited about our music or caring platforms.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Around 2007 I decided I wanted to work with mission-focused brands. This led me to the better-for-you start-up world first with an ill-fated brand called Purple and then KIND Snacks where I eventually was responsible for our caring platform creating programs that bring kindness into the world. At Eastciders we have built a caring platform that supports a range of causes by supporting local arts groups, dog adoptions and keeping a small carbon footprint at our production facility. Our new restaurant has made a commitment to redeploy 10% of our profits from the project to local community groups. Our initial partnership will be with Community First to build a tiny home for some folks who used to be homeless. The number one thing for me though is to be a great father to our two children and make sure that they learn how to lead with empathy and build community.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. 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.

I’ve always thought there is an opportunity to make kindness addictive through a global online marketplace. Kindness is clearly already addictive, but as communities become more siloed you can see how the folks with the resources do not have as much contact with the people they could help. There is a lot of power in seeing your kindness come to life. What if you had one platform where you could personally fund specific projects — a marketplace for kindness. Maybe the starting point is a $20 water filter purchase and then the ceiling is funding an orphanage or a school. You could have one platform to directly fund specific projects — then follow up with those individuals who donated so they can see their work in action (big dopamine hit). Maybe the water filter donator sees a picture of their water filter in action in a community and then the person who funded an orphanage or school can help design the project and have a higher level of personal engagement. I think creating personal ownership and seeing these specific things come to life would be really addictive and inspire a higher rate of giving and connectedness. Of course, you would need a dashboard and reporting to track everything and make things tidy for tax season.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Every other Saturday I mow the lawn with a rotary mower and listen to a podcast, I just wrapped up the Michael Lewis, Against the Rules podcast series on referees and coaches, I listen to Tim Ferriss and the amazing lineup of guests he brings on and also Scott Galloway. I’m a fan of the curiosity and vulnerability of all of them and would a sit-down with any of them. I’m lucky to know Kara Roell at VMG Partners from my time at KIND and Vermont Smoke and Cure, mostly through board meetings. I’ve always felt like I could learn a lot more from Kara with her approach to leadership and to the CPG investment world. Bill Belichick, Bernie Sanders or Matthew McConaughey would be a lot of fun as well.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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