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How To Dominate & Be The Fastest Growing Company In An Outdated Industry

Featuring Guest -

Chip Overstreet

Headshot of podcast host.
hosted by: Brandon Stover
March 3, 2020

Chip Overstreet has an extraordinary executive career being the CEO of 3 startups, raised over $40 million in venture capital, and has a combined 25 years of experience in the high tech B2B software sector as a marketing and business development executive with an expertise in B2B eCommerce, marketing, business development and helping early-stage companies grow. This growth driven exec has no plans of slowing down as he has now become the President and CEO of the #1 fastest growing spice company in the world recognized by the Inc. 5000 List. Spokane-based, Spiceology, has gone from a Startup Weekend-winning idea in 2012 to a $5.5 million-a-year rocketship inside the spice industry.

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Finding your passion, identifying what gets you energized, and working with people who are similarly passionate to help the issue you want to solve to be a mainstream possibility.

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Hey everyone, welcome to evolve. Today's guest has an extraordinary executive career being the CEO of three startups, raised over 40 million in venture capital and has it combined 25 years of experience in the high tech B to B software sector as a marketing and business development executive with an expertise in B2B eCommerce marketing, business development and helping early stage companies grow. His repertoire includes companies like Oracle blue martini software, my bias and being VP of business development out of from the San Francisco based FinTech juggernaut started by PayPal, co-founder max Levchin to disrupt the consumer banking and credit sector and even sold his first company our time to Sony to become the multiplayer gaming engine for PlayStation. However, this Growth-Driven exec has no plans of slowing down as he is now the president and CEO of the number one fastest growing spice company in the world recognized by inc 5,000 list Spokane based spices.

Spiceology has gone from startup week and winning idea in 2012 to a 5.5 million year rocket ship with 45 employees serving restaurants and retailers across the world from the Pacific Northwest to Australia and Dubai with 250 premium herbs, spices, chili salts, blends and modernist ingredients. They serve a wide variety of clients such as Williams-Sonoma is neat. The Seattle Seahawks, the Yankees, the cosmetology tin of Las Vegas and even thousands of high end chefs sharing his expertise on how to rapidly build a profitable startup. He has mentored and dozens of startup community events like tech stars, triangle, venture expo and Washington state universities hackathon. He also sits on the board of directors for the spoken angel Alliance and has been featured in multiple publications such as the spokesman and lender and Spokane journal. I'm honored to welcome president and CEO of spice allergy and a man who was hooked to the company after having a plate of spicy habanero chicken chip Overstreet

Wow, thanks. I appreciate that.

Absolutely. Well, the very first question I have for you is with having 25 experience or 25 years of experience in the B to B software sector, why become the CEO of a spice company?

That is a good, I've had more than one person asked that question and I had to ask myself that question as well. But I I actually spent 30 years in, in high tech and moved to Spokane about eight years ago from the Bay area. And when we moved here, I recognized that there was not a, not going to be a lot of high tech opportunities in Spokane. There certainly is a growing number and I applaud the folks that are doing that. But I've been commuting back down to the Bay area for the last eight years prior to joining spiceology. And you mentioned affirm, spent three years as VP of BizDev and basically got on a plane every Monday morning and flew down to San Francisco and spent three or four days down there and then came back. And at some point you just get tired of that.

And I had been on the board of spiceology for a couple of years and timing was just right. Pete and head of the, the cofounders approached me at the beginning of last year and said, you know, we'd love to love to have you consider coming on board as CEO. And I had a, as I said, been on the board for a couple of years. I got to know the, the team got to know the market, got to know just to the business and I fell in love with it. I think spice ologies got so much promise and I couldn't be excited, more excited about doing something, but it is, it's kind of a strange transition going from, from 30 years in software and the it, the spices. But I have found that it's the, the, the skills that you learn in one in this industry are pretty, pretty transferable to another.

Yeah. How has the expertise and experience that you've had over those 30 years served you inside the spice industry?

You know, I think that at the end of the day you're, you, you're, you're marketing a product, you're selling a product, you're building teams, you're communicating, you're developing strategies, budgets whether you're selling spices or personalization software, you know, consumer finance, technology. There's, there are a lot of common things. I think the biggest differences that we make physical goods here, either we have a spice cave out back where we we have a spice lab where we actually create the product and the spice cave where we store and, and shipped the product. And that's, that's new. I spent 30 years with invisible products that were hard to, hard to explain. That's another big difference. Nobody, nobody's confused with what we do here that we could make innovative spices and blends and put them in little packages and we sell them. So it's, it's fine.

Yeah. What was it you know, in 2012 when you had that first piece of chicken and you met Taylor, what was it that you seen in him and then maybe in the company later when you became, you know, on the

Board of directors? I met P, I didn't actually try his, his chicken. I met him at the farmer's market on second half, and I was just walking through with my kids. And there was this guy, this bald guy with these bright blue eyes, and he was just Ned, a big smile on his face. And he's standing over barrel and he's scooping up spices into, into these little tins. And, and I just asked what his story was and we just started chatting and bought some of his spices and took them home and try them. And, and saw him again, encouraged him to come to the start of weekend and he went, he pitched an idea, he wanted the one, the one, the the the weekend. And just you know, we would keep in touch and he founded spice ology about a year later with cofounder, Heather Shelton, who was a famous food blogger, just happened to be living 20 miles away and Cine and the two of them locked arms and and founded this, you know, become a really, really, really cool company. They've done an amazing job of elevating the brand above the, the thousands of little spice companies out there in America. Like really, really built a cool and respected brand.

Yeah. Spice ology is created by chefs for shifts and really has a trifecta of advantage, which is the best spices at the best prices and all wrapped up in this, you know, philosophy of fresh matters. So what is the impact that spice ology is trying to have?

Well, there we, we serve two different constituents. One are chefs and the other consumers and in the chef world first thing they, they love our packaging. We like to say every chef has a little bit of OCD. Those that don't have a lot of OCD. And when they see our periodic table of flavor packaging, they fall in love and they're like, this is beautiful. It would look perfect in my kitchen. If I'm in the middle of a dinner rush and we run out of Bazell, I send my line cook over, they're not going to struggle to, to, you know, Bazell is an herb. Herbs are green, periodic table of flavor. I look for the BA and I've got my base. So it's the beauty of the packaging that gets us in the door, but it's the quality of the product, which is what they buy.

We've got a grind, fresh pack, fresh ship, fresh mentality. So all of our suppliers import their products into the U S they grind domestically in small batches and they were able to ship fresh. And so the, the difference between what we're offering and what chefs are used to is, is often like a year, multiple years in freshness. And chefs just instinctively buy from their produce or from their, their, their broad line distributors, that same place where they buy their cleaning detergent and their toilet paper flower. And their oil. And you know, five, 10 years ago chefs started diversifying. They started buying their produce from specialty produce providers. They started buying their seafood from specialty seafood providers. Same thing with beef. And now we're basically doing the same thing with spices. We're showing them that there is a much, much better, fresher, more delicious product and you don't have to pay more for it. Because we're, we're, we're shipping direct, we're, we're not going through those, those same broad line distributors.

Right. You guys have, I'm sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.

He's going to say, then on the consumer side, it's all about innovation and flavor. The, we, we certainly have consumers that are buying our core spices like garlic and pepper and time and, and, and Aleppo pepper. But they tend to, to spend more on our innovative blends. We've got our smoky honey Hoben year that you referenced earlier. Our black and blue, the first world's first Cajun seasoning with the hydrator blue cheese. We've got a raspberry Chipotle Lei, which is like beautiful on ribs, but it's, it's so low on salt. You can actually put it in a, in brownie mix, the zest to your brownies. And so our tagline is experiment with flavor and consumers just love the, all of the innovative things that we're doing. And so different value propositions for those two constituents, but a lot of crossover as well.

Yeah. You guys have a pretty deep understanding of who your consumer is and like one of the things that you do for chefs that's pretty unique is this a take back your kitchen program where you swap out all the spices and stock for spice ology spices. How has this program generated a new clients for you for spice ology,

You know, it it's been extremely successful for us. The as I said, the chefs fall in love with the, the, the beauty of our product. Once they get the product in their hands and see and smell and taste the quality difference, they, they fall in love the price. We basically pegged our pricing to be similar to what they're paying today. So it's basically a much better product for the same price. The one thing that always hung up, hung us up is this, the, the chef would like point to their, their spice rack and say, look, I've got all these spices, so come back in three months. And as soon as all my spices are gone, we'll, we'll, we'll start buying from even come back three months later. And they got all fresh spices. Again, not fresh, but full spices and other restaurants they have, did they have to be full?

So being able to go in and say, we're going to take all of your spices off of your shelf. We're going to together, we're going to go down to the the, the local food bank or the union gospel mission or some, some facility that is, is providing food for those that, that, that need it make that donation and we will replace everything 100% with fresh, beautiful spice ology and no cost, no commitment, no contract just to, you know, we're, we're so confident that you're gonna you're going to love this, that you just, you'll start buying from us. And that, that has been great. They love it and it's, it's a great way for them to just do a wholesale change. We, we, the only requirement that we ask for them is to, to, to make that donation and then they look at that. It's doing something good at the same time.

Yeah. It's a no brainer value proposition for them.

Yes, it really is.

You guys also have a loyalty program that you stack on top of that. How has this increased customer retention rates for you and that lifetime value?

It's, it's good. It's, it's really good. I think the similar to the, the, the, the, you know, the beneficial nature of donating your spices, that the loyalty program is seen by chefs as a way to give back to their, their line cooks. You know, why they're there. They're undervalued, they're underpaid, they, they work their, their, their tails off. It's hard to recruit them. It's hard to retain them. And so what most chefs do is they will accumulate their loyalty points over time and then they'll turn around and, and they'll, they'll buy all of their line cooks a, a true cooks Hedley and Bennett apron or a true books hat or a shirt or something, something that just shows them that you know, that they're part of the team and that that's the predominant use of the loyalty program. But it's, it's been great.

Yes. When you guys kind of were taking that first step in growth, I'm working with social media influencers, like the true Coke's partnership was really a big thing for you guys. So what's been spice ologies marketing strategy with influencers?

So the, the primary thing we've done historically with influencers is, is to partner with the BBQ influencers. Guys like Matt Crawford and Derek Wolfe Derek Wolf has got, for example, 950,000 followers on Instagram and he hooks a big slabs of meat over an open flame. His Instagram handle is a over the fire cooking and and people, people follow him because he just teaches them how to barbecue, how to, how to barbecue more effectively. And he's just very innovative. All of these barbecue influencers are, and we we work with these guys to come up with blends that they're passionate about. With with Derek Wolfe, we developed five blends together up Chipotle garlic Nashville hot Tennessee smoke. And and then we sell them, we sell them to consumers, we sell them to barbecue influencers. And increasingly chefs are, are, are experimenting with these.

Hmm. the spice industry is a pretty old market that really hasn't been disrupted in quite a long time. And what challenges do entrepreneurs face when taking on an industry that hasn't seen a lot of change?

I think every, every industry is different. I think that in the consumer packaged goods space, I think the big challenge that we're seeing across every type of category, whether it's a potato chips or yogurts or cereals, is that these big brands that had become who they are because of their brand are finding that millennials and gen Z have no brand affinity. They have no loyalty. In fact, in many cases they're looking for anything bought to the established brands because those established brands have really, they don't typically share the same values. They're not about freshness. They're not about, you know, reducing or eliminating salts. They're, they're, you know, the GMOs are, are prevalent in, in, in many of these foods. So if you look at the whole CPG industry, the challenge that they're facing is how do I connect with this whole next set of generations that I don't have a relationship with.

Most of these CPG firms have gotten to where they are because of their brand, because of their, their shelf space that they own in grocery because of their distribution relationships. And then upstarts like spice ology come along. And, and we, we build quality products and we don't put any funky stuff in them and we adhere to that quality and we ship direct. So we're not, we're not beholden to, to needing that perfect shelf space or those, those key distribution partnerships. It's a, we have a direct relationship to those consumers, most chefs. And that is, that's what's disruptive. So my advice to anybody wanting to be a disruptor is start with quality. If your product is not demonstrably better than what they can get through the, the, the established players here, you're not gonna, it's not gonna resonate either. There has to be something innovative. There has to be something. Something unique, some, some deep, deep quality differences. Cause there's, there's no place to hide. If you're not putting out quality product. You will be called out in social media very, very quickly. All right. So figure out what consumers want, what chefs want in our case and and, and give it to them

With the year 10 years of experience as an early stage CEO, what advice would you have for those starting their company?

The, the number one piece of advice I give to every entrepreneur is pick something that you can do and, and, and really dominate. And every time you start thinking about what more you can do, twist your thinking 180 degrees and think what you can do less like the number one failure of small competencies trying to do too much. And there is a, there is a, a natural belief that if I spread my arms wider, I'm more likely to catch fire or catch success or catch whatever's in my path. And it's the exact opposite. You just have to narrow, narrow, narrow, and just focus in on one thing and do it really, really well. And once you've been able to go in and dominate in a particular segment, then you can slowly start expanding your, your focus. But it's a, it's hard. Every, every entrepreneur, every person believes that they can multitask. And every time I'm telling an entrepreneur that, giving them this advice, I can see them kind of looking at me and nodding and thinking what's going on in their head is that good advice for everyone else. But I powers and I can. So it's I really think that that's the number one, the number one focus area that he is focusing in.

Yeah. How did you help spice ology get that focus?

I think the most important decision we made while I was on the board before I joined was to, to, to get out of grocery. Grocery is very complex. They're, the, the established players have got a very deep establishment in grocery and it takes a lot of money. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of of effort and it's just not the right place. Focusing on a direct relationships, selling to consumers and to chefs direct is just a much better model. We, we, we don't have the, the same friction, the same challenges that you do in grocery. So we, we will get back into grocery. But we'll do it from a position of strength as opposed to, you know, when we have an a grocery market, no pun intended. The it was probably three, three and a half, four years ago. Companies very small and and so that, that advice was adhere to. And I think that was probably the most important decision the company made. It continues to be.

Absolutely. You talked about kind of the admiration for Spokane. What what do you think Spokane in the Pacific Northwest community offer for entrepreneurs that they really can't get anywhere else?

Quality of life moved here from the Bay area. It's a Bay or he's got a lot of great things. You know, there's, it's a, it's a magical place, but it's crowded, busy. We we had our third third child back in 20 2009 and boy, you know, it's raising children down there is, is much more difficult. There's 200 times, three or 400 times more people. Everything's, everything's harder. So we moved up here eight years ago and just love Spokane. It's more spread out, the volumes a couple of notches lower. We're outdoors people. We love to spend time with the lakes in the summer, in the mountains in the winter. And Spokane just, just got, got all of that from a business perspective. Certainly the cost of living and being able to build teams much more cost effectively than you can in in Seattle and important in the Bay area.

If you've got a great company, people want to work there and when you're in the Bay area, people are jumping from job to job every, every year, every day. Very hard to attract and retain talent. Much, much easier here if you're, if you, if you've got a really good company and you, you treat people well. So I, I just think that this Spokane is a, is an ideal place to, to, to, to start a company to build a company and we're seeing more and more companies move to Spokane Rover, a rover.com just moved headquarters here, ignite just moved here from the Bay area and about year, year and a half ago, we're seeing more and more companies that just recognize that if I can give my employees a better quality of life, they're going to be happier. They're going to stay longer. They're going to, they're, they're going to, ultimately, the company is going to benefit from that.

[Inaudible]. We've also seen some big companies like Amazon from Seattle move in. Ketara is moving in. How do you think a Spokane will be growing in the future?

You know, it's a, it's a double edged sword. We, we all want spoken to, to grow in, in the right ways. I, the, the worst thing would be for Spokane to suddenly become as, as what's the word I'm looking for? You gotta be careful here. It's just the trying to get around and Seattle is just, it, it's damn near impossible. You pretty much have to live close to where you work or you're going to spend all your time in your car. Same thing is true in the Bay area. So I think, I think a, we want growth. We want more, more comments. I'd love to see more tech companies in Spokane. I want Spokane to be a place where my kids can come and live when, when they, and, and, and for the jobs that they want to be available here. That's, that's the ultimate goal for me and many of us here in Spokane.

Yeah. At a spice ology. Have you guys been attracting that top talent to basically come and work for the company? We have.

We have, we've got a press release going out today. We've just hired two amazing executives, a vice president of marketing named Jeannie Ryan, who is phenomenal and a just a on Monday of this week, Darby McLean from Jen prime, former COO over there came and joined us as our VP of channels and development. And there's, there's, there's a ton of talent, Spokane and they, there are not as many great jobs. So if you're, if you, if you've got a great company and, and you treat people right, you can attract amazing people.

You work with quite a bit of the startup and entrepreneurial organizations around in our region. In your experience, how do you best prepare early founders and entrepreneurs?

How do I best prepare them? In what way?

Well, I mean, obviously you had invited Pete to the startup weekend. You saw that there was, you know, some potential in him, but obviously something in that process that helped him, you know, launch his success. So kind of how do you prepare those people that at first have those ideas coming about?

Well, I'll go back to what I said earlier. The first thing that I'd tell them is, is narrow your narrow your focus, close the aperture, bring it, bring it in and really figure out what you can do really, really well and just focus on it. Don't try to get too big, too fast. Just, you know, focus on quality. Solve the problem. I think one of the challenges that I've seen consistently, not only in Spokane, but everywhere, is that there's a tendency to try to go, go super wide. Like I'm going to go get 25 customers and, and get them all signed up. And, and, and maybe each of them uses my product five, 10% of the, of its capabilities. I'd much rather see you close three customers and get them to use 80% of it and really get the most value out of it.

Obviously, I'm talking more about software here than I am about spices or any sort of a technology. But I'm really going deep with your early customers so that they can really get as much success as they can. As an investor. What you're looking for is I, I want to see something that is, goes super deep and solves a problem really well and provide some economic benefit, either cost savings or revenue growth or, or something at a deep level. And once you see that one, two, three times, you can then say, I can see how adding capital to that can then multiply. If conversely you're talking to a company that's got 25 customers that are all having a small amount of success, it's less obvious how investing in a company like that is going to going to be successful. It's, it's, it's looking at the, the unit economics, looking at the individual customers and how, how, how deep they are able to get that success.

It I think is, is the best indicator of how that company can scale. In the case of spice ology. It, it was a matter of, of talking with chefs and, and just sitting, sitting down with them and understanding what made you decide to, to, to go with spy solid G and when you, you, you hear their answers and the passion in their voices when they're talking about, didn't even realize that how bad the product was that they've been using for years and years until spice ology showed up and said, look, grab your deal weed off the off the shelf and bring it over here and let's compare it to our deal weed. And there's this kind of a yellowy Brown and large as is is green actual grain delete as as it should be. And just to see the kind of the light bulb go on. That seeing the depth of success with individual customers is a much, much more important indicator of success for the company than seeing a little bit of success spread out over a much wider base.

Yeah. And if, you know from a business perspective, going deep with those first customers, getting them to the most success that you can is really what's going to help that word of mouth in the beginning, that marketing and brand building getting word out about your company.

Yup. Absolutely. There's a, there's a great book that does not get talked about as much as it should back in the, in the 90s. It was, it was, it was the Bible is called crossing the chasm, Jeffrey Moore. And I will always encourage entrepreneurs who read that the lessons in that book don't get old.

Hmm. Are there any other books or resources that have helped you along in your journey?

You know, I I don't do a lot of reading of business books. I, I'm, I'm more experiential. But yeah, I, I'm, I'm probably not the best, best resource for that, but crossing the chasm is a great one. But my favorite book on marketing was written back in 1967. It's called positioning the battle for your mind. Phenomenal. Look on, on advertising and positioning, product positioning and company positioning really gets you to think about how to carve out a position for yourself and for your, your products that is differentiated and easy for people to grasp that. One of the, one of the challenges most entrepreneurs have is that they, they're, they're, they don't articulate the value of their product in the most simple, crisp manner. And it's always a good exercise to just, you know, practice on your grandmother. Your grandmother understands everything that you're saying and if she does, fantastic. You've, you've, you've, you've got your pitch down.

You have three children. Is there anything that you are doing to teach them about business or any lessons that you're passing on to them?

As much as I can. I, my, my oldest is 15, and she is a sophomore in high school and this summer my first summer as biology, she she got a job here in our spice cave and, and she and I wrote bikes into work every morning and we hopped on our bikes at six 15. So six 45, she had to clock in at seven o'clock. And just, you know getting, getting them getting them in and letting them know that if you, if you're going to be working in a company that I'm running, you gotta work twice as hard as everybody else because otherwise just, it's just not gonna look good.

And we meant, I mentioned before we got to the interview looking at the future of education and you went to Stanford. How well do you feel the education prepared you for your career as an entrepreneur and CEO?

Mmm, wow. Good question. I, you know, I don't know. I think, I think education is really important. I think it teaches you how to think. I think that too much education today is teaching how to do well, how to do pedo, how to get good grades. I I was that naive kind of stupid freshman in college. I showed up and met with my counselor and he said, you know, chip, what do you, what do you want to get a degree? And I said, business. And he said, you know, we don't have a business, great Stanford, but it'd be kind of a business degree. I mean, I, I was, I was a dumb kid. It just didn't, didn't do to do my homework. And they there was an economics degree, but we, at the time we didn't have computer science.

We talked through science. We didn't have a computer science degree. There was no premed. There were no, what they were specifically trying to do is not make it a, an education that teaches you how to do a job, but providing more abstract opportunity to just teach you how to think. And I think that is what's important in life, let alone in business. So I, I always thought that was a, that was a good way to approach education. But I don't, I don't feel in my case that there were a specific set of tools that I learned in college that helped me specifically, or would that I could trace back, but just how to think critically.

Yeah. I think that that's a huge scale bet. Needs to be learning. Cause you're going to, especially now with as many times is you may switch jobs or be changing markets, like being able to take that scope set of critical thinking to any one of those and, you know, be able to execute on that. Of all the things that you've seen, whether you know, you're advising other startups or working in the food industry now, what are you most excited for in the future?

Oh, I'm, I'm just so excited about the, the company that I'm in and I I wake up early every morning and then just like the brain is just spinning. We're, we're, we're, we're in a zone right now. Things are going there. Well, we're just about to close a round of financing. That will be, it will be announcing very soon and will give us the capital that we need to just continue the growth and that, that just, that drives me exciting.

Yeah. Very exciting. We'll have, before I get to my last question, where can everybody learn about spice? [inaudible]

It's by [inaudible] dot com.

All right, nice and simple. My last, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve?

You know I think that it would be irresponsible for me to say anything other than take climate change seriously. I think there is no bigger threat to our existence than climate change is a real problem. It has somehow become a partisan issue. It's, it's nonpartisan. This, it's just it's reality. It's scientific, it's fact. We need to do more. We need to make it part of the conversation. And it's, it's very frustrating to be a parent and to, to see that the lack of focus on something that's so critical to, to our existence.

[Inaudible] Kind of a follow up question from that. What what responsibilities do you think businesses have

That's that therein lies the problem. Therein lies the problem. I think that the challenge with climate change is that it's going to cost money and it's much easier to ton of push, push it under the carpet and say that it's not really a problem because it's, it's cheaper. It's, I have to spend less money to to do what's right. But I think that if we as a country speaking for, for the country, for a moment, if we stop thinking about it as a problem and more of it as an opportunity, I think that you know we talk about like a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure. What about a trillion dollar investment in clean energy? What that could do to this country in terms of not growing thousands or hundreds of thousands of jobs but millions of jobs and really doing something that can, can help STEM the, the problem that it exists. I just think we're, we're not thinking about appropriately what got the United States to where we are is innovation and putting the right incentives in place for businesses to focus on clean energy. I think we would whoever does that best is, is, is going to emerge as the next next grade superpower.

Well, thank you so much chip for coming on today as it's spoken in native, I'm excited to see how spice ology grows and you know, where it takes a Spokane and putting it in the limelight.

Thank you Brandon. Thanks for what you're doing.