Breaking Into CPG
An open letter to the CPG industry:
I love what I do. I love Phreshly. We (my cofounders and myself) put everything we’ve got into making Phreshly the best tasting and most authentic cocktail brand money can buy.
But the CPG industry has an issue. There’s a cool kids club that no one likes to talk about. An exclusive group where you have to be “put on” to be noticed or get genuine support. It’s not everyone, but it’s enough.
It’s not just founders and operators. It’s VCs too, just in a different way. I’ve found that lots of VCs invest in what they know, not what’s good and can be transformative. For example, immigrants are some of the hardest working, most innovative thinkers in America. It’s what makes this country great. They introduce new ideas they discovered in their home countries to the market and make them winners. But in a space where familiarity is valued over true innovation, some of the best founders and ideas never get the opportunity they should.
In my experience, these things play out in small interactions just repeated over time. It’s hearing vague feedback like “Phreshly’s product is so amazing, but you’re too early”. Or being told “you know a ton of people, you don’t really need my help”. Or even blatantly being told I’m too old to be building a new product in the CPG space.
On the surface these things may not look like much, but they make a world of difference when one appropriately-timed introduction or strategy could completely transform the business. It’s the frustration of feeling like you’re on the edge of breakthrough, you can feel it. But not enough to grab hold of it.
Someone asked how things could be different. Here are a few thoughts I have for people who want to be better allies to underrepresented founders in the CPG space:
1. Recognize that we are not asking to be charity projects. When someone’s putting in the work, but asking for help, it’s not because they want the cheap way out. It’s because they’ve exhausted their current resources or options.
2. “Help” needs context. Often people reach out and ask “how can I be helpful?” But, I’m not sure how to answer them. It’s good to know in what ways you are able to help. Have a connection with a major retailer? Know a great fractional CFO/consultant? Know someone who handles food & beverage vendors at Delta Airlines (*wink wink*)? Say that upfront.
3. If you’re an early-stage investor, have conviction about the space and founders. Don’t just write checks into who & what you are familiar with. There are many stories in the CPG space of immigrant founders being successful at bringing something new to the American market. Great products matter just as much as great people.
4. Pass with candor. Another one specifically for VCs. Rejection of any kind is disappointing. But it’s much worse when you don’t understand why you’re being rejected. If you’re passing on a founder, be transparent about why. “We don’t participate until you have $X revenue” is much better than “now is not the right time”.
Cocktail Name: ???
This week’s cocktail doesn’t exactly have a name for it. It’s a spin on the popular tequila + peach-based cocktails. Once you’ve read the ingredients, I’d love to hear your name suggestions in the comments!
2oz Peach Puree (blend skinned peaches with a little water)
1/2 Lime, juiced
1/2oz Honey Simple Syrup
1 In a cocktail shaker add ice, peach puree, honey simple syrup, mezcal, cointreau, and lime juice.
2 Shake for 30 seconds.
3 With your glass cut a lime wedge in the middle and coat the rim with lime juice.
4 Salt the rim of your glass.
5 Fill glass with ice.
6 Double strain from cocktail shaker into your glass.
7 Garnish with a peach slice or lime wedge.
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