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Fighting Plastic With Laundry Strips

Featuring Guest -

Ryan Mckenzie

Headshot of podcast host.
hosted by: Brandon Stover
EP
50
December 22, 2020

Ryan Mckenzie is the Co founder of Tru Earth which bootstrapped from 0 to 2.5 million in monthly revenue in only 17 months while waging a war against plastic. After a career of growing several premium subscription boxes to multi-million dollar businesses, this serial entrepreneur decided to create a subscription, zero-waste, environmentally friendly laundry strip that completely eliminates the need for heavy plastic detergent jugs. With roughly 85 thousand active subscribers in 45 different countries, they have collectively kept over 2-million plastic jugs out of landfills, donated well over 2-million loads of laundry to vulnerable families in Canada, the United States and Ghana, and skyrocketed to the second fastest growing startup in Canada this year.

But the success of 8 figure monthly run rates has not always been the norm. Starting in the 90’s this entrepreneur has seen the heights of success getting hundreds of thousands of subscribers, generating 6 & 7 figures a month in revenue, and the lows of losing it all, working out of an ice cold garage in the canadian winter, and rationing out discount ground beef for his family for the week. Despite the ups and downs, the lessons learned in his 20 year career helped him design a subscription model around this laundry Eco-Strip, initially aiming to sign on 150 customers, and landing him with an astonishing fifteen-hundred in the very first month!

This disruptive startup and innovative founder has been featured in dozens of media outlets and in his written content that has been read by more than 100 million readers. Additionally their viral sensation "Things You Should Never Mix with Water” has been viewed over 16 million times.

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what you'll learn in this episode

  • What lessons Ryan is teaching his son about entrepreneurship from his 20 year career.
  • How Ryan's love of video games and book from Safeway opened the door to making money online.
  • How Ryan failed is first business & got the courage to try again.
  • Why a kid's Youtube show made Ryan passionate about a laundry strip.
  • How a simple laundry strip can eliminate 2-million plastic jugs out of landfills.
  • How Ryan designed Tru Earth's subscription service to become an 8 figure business.
  • What is the wrong way to create a subscription service.
  • How to maximize profit and impact.
  • Ryan's secret strategy to keep customers happy on subscriptions without sending them more stuff.
  • How to create a community around your product.
  • Ryan's favorite framework to build a brand story for mission driven businesses.
  • How to nurture an emotional connection with your customers.
  • Should businesses leverage their missions in their marketing?
  • What challenges are unique to subscription boxes.
  • How Ryan has maintained a business relationships with his cofounders since kindergarten.
  • The 10 minute meeting that will show you any problem in your business.
  • How Ryan builds a team to mitigate his weaknesses.
  • How Ryan has changed in his 20 year career.
  • And so much more...

How Ryan Believes We Can Push The World To Evolve

It's never too late to like start making little changes. So, laundry detergent, it's just an example. There's like a million other things that you can do. Whether it's putting solar panels on your roof or maybe walking to the grocery store instead of driving.  My kids, when they go to school, they have like silicone bags that they bring their snacks in, but we don't give them any garbage when they go to school and everything that they bring to school they literally have to bring it home. And you can get your kids programmed early on to not want to create waste by making their lunches in a way that everything is returnable and reusable. So little changes, add up to big impact.

Selected Links & Resources From This Episode

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FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Brandon Stover: [00:00:55] Hey everyone. Welcome to evolve.

Today's guest bootstrap from zero to 2.5 million in monthly revenue and only 17 months while waging war against plastic. After a career of growing several premium subscription boxes to multi-million dollar businesses is serial entrepreneur decided to create a subscription, zero waste environmentally friendly laundry strip, that completely eliminates the need for heavy plastic detergent jugs. With roughly 85,000 active subscribers and 45 different countries, they have collectively kept over 2 million plastic jugs out of landfills donated well over 2 million loads of laundry to vulnerable families in Canada, the U S and Ghana and skyrocketed to the second fastest growing startup in Canada this year.

But the success of eight figure monthly run rate has not always been the norm. Starting in the nineties. This entrepreneur has seen the Heights of success getting conscious of thousands of subscribers generating six and seven figures of month in revenue and the lows of losing it all working out in high school garage in the Canadian winter and rationing out discount, ground beef for his family for the week.

Despite the ups and downs, the lessons learned in this 20 year career helped him design a subscription model around this laundry eco strip. Initially aiming to sign on 150 customers and landing him with an astonishing 1500 and the very first month.

This disruptive startup and innovative founder has been featured in dozens of media outlets and has written content has been read by more than a hundred million readers.  Additionally, their viral sensation things you should never mix with water has been viewed over 16 billion times.

I'm honored to welcome the cofounder of true earth. 20 year marketing, veteran, and CoStar in the infamous Parana plant brothers, Ryan McKenzie.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:02:38] Oh, man. I'm so flattered. That's amazing. I never told you any of that stuff. that, that's impressive. The, the ground beef rationing and, my son is going to be excited to hear that, the Perona plant pals, got, got a showed up. That's he's, he's six and that's his, tells me, yeah, I'm going to make lots of money.

I'm going to have, my, our video game channels. And again, so many visitors. That's that's awesome. Yeah, you have my hair standing up. Let's still standing up. I really appreciate that.

Brandon Stover: [00:03:03] Yeah. Well, before we get to some of the questions about your story, you know, based on all your experience, you know, you had mentioned your son and he's obviously a big thing in your life. What kind of lessons have you been teaching him about entrepreneurship?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:03:14] I, you know, it's funny. He actually like. Every once in a while we'll be driving. And like, I was joking around one time talking about economics to him. I have no like formal education in economics, but I was like explaining like supply and demand. And I was explaining it in like a way at his school where like, Everybody has like a bake sale.

I'm trying to see, you can sell the most. And you know, if you want to, if you want people to want your product more, don't put it all out on the counter. and maybe just show, just show a couple. And then you're not people competing over to get those since they seem like they're, they're more rare. I was just looking around telling them that in the car one day, and then he started to delay actually like, tell me something more about like these different things and like persuasion , And my, my wife's probably like rolling her eyes in the passenger seat.

Like, like, like I don't need to hear this and my daughter doesn't care. My other son's a baby, but, he, he loves it. I mean, I don't know whether or not he's going to be, entrepreneurial or what, but it's, it's pretty cool when they're like six years old, he was probably five. When you started like ask you, like, tell me more about like this concept.

And it's like, ah, even if you could learn that stuff, that young, you're probably gonna. I don't know. You probably have some success at least persuading people in your school to listen to your ideas.

Brandon Stover: [00:04:27] Yeah. Well, you started, pretty young in the nineties, like building web pages and each TML pages. what drew you to the internet and wanting to start making money on it?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:04:36] when I was a kid, I loved video games from like the time I can remember being at like a flea market and like begging my uncle, like crying for him to buy me an Atari there that was at the flea market. And I was crying and I, I guess it worked, I learned a few persuasion techniques at like five, but I got me this Atari and then my parents got me Nintendo.

And I thought at least when I was a kid, that everybody played video games a lot. And then that kind of just turned into computers, probably around like, I'm I'm 39. So it would've been like late eighties, like 89 90. My parents got a computer, like a PC.

And we had like Macs at school and stuff like that. And I was lucky enough when I was kid to get put into, a couple of computer classes actually with one of my co-founders Kevin Hinton. there's Kevin and his Brad, but Kevin and I have known each other since kindergarten. And we were put in these computer classes before everybody was really in computers.

And, you know, when I was like nine or 10 and I started getting into that stuff and my dad was into tech. So we had DB going on like BBS, which were like, like dial up modem, They're like Bolton board services. They're like super nerdy things that I loved it though. when I was a teenager I always wanted to either like, be a computer programmer or, you know, something like that.

And it's funny cause I played sports and stuff too, but I definitely was more, I don't want to say like nerdy, cause I don't, I don't want to like put a negative connotation to it, but like I, I loved, I just love computers. I love tech and. I love the idea of entrepreneurism.

And, anyways, one day, my dad got this CD or your service desk. It was for this, we had the internet and you couldn't really do too much on it at the time. There wasn't even like web browsers. It was the closest thing to a web browser was this thing called turbo gopher. But he brought this disc home one day and it was a desk for this software called mosaic, and it's basically turned into Netscape and then Netscape turned into Firefox. that was the first time you could kind of see like, visuals on your webpage. So of course, I was into like visual basic and some basic computer programming.

So, I got him to get me this book at a Safeway. It was a magazine and it was like an HTML book. it was like how to write basic HTML and learn a little bit of that and started digging around a viewing source on other people's sites.

And, we put together these old GeoCities webpages, which eventually got bought by Yahoo and. There was like little friendly competitions between some of my techie buddies on who could get the most views to their page. And like, you know, it just kind of continued to evolve from it.

Brandon Stover: [00:06:58] And so this kind of started your career in, you know, marketing in webpages. and you got into the ringtone business, which, you know, didn't end too well. Can you kind of share the story of the rise and fall of that and the lessons you learned there?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:07:11] Yeah. So we did a bunch of, we did like affiliate marketing before and. one of the companies that we were working with it was called the zoo. And, they're my rep at the time who actually passed away. we had gone to California for this ad tech conference and he told me, you're not going to get into the ring tones, the ringtone business.

It's like, it's way too Way too many people in that space. I don't know if you remember, or know who Jeremy Schumacher is, but he was a big internet guru back in the early, mid two thousands. And, he had posted some check with, from ringtone. So anyways, we're like, we couldn't do it.

So we, you know, we started making, this affiliate site for ringtones and, we eventually, went up working with another partner who had a platform and, we built that up and he got pretty big and. They want to run it. They want to just run into some legal trouble as pretty much everybody did that was in that space because it was built in a really weird way.

Like your cell phone bill would get the charge and, you can't really control who uses your cell phone. So I guess kids, some kids were wandering up doing it anyways. They got sued. And I don't even know where that whole thing is, But, yeah, it, fell apart and,  that was kind of the first major fall from grace.

Brandon Stover: [00:08:16] As an entrepreneur, how did you decide to get back up again and go back out there and try different things?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:08:21] after that, we're like, okay, we want to, we want to provide value. Because, you know, I did a lot of S I did a lot of SEO, in the first seven years of the two thousands. And, what I just kept on finding is that Google would change their algorithm. And like, there was no best practices.

Right? So like, whatever you did, whatever loophole you found to help rank. either they would want it clogging it, and then they would like also flush you down with the new update. So I was like three or four times that I had been like, basically reset. There's like blog posting services that would literally create blogs and, post links to you. And it was legit. And then that, you know, that eventually got penalized for that. So we're like, Hey, we want to do something that like creates value. and isn't just a means to make money.

And so we launched this InfoBarrel site, which was a place where people could contribute content and they didn't have to market it. And they would, generate 75% of the revenue that, their content or. And that's again, that blew up again, and it was primarily fed by Google, but then Google started cracking the whip on, you know, things that were allowed and things that weren't allowed.

And like you had to control the links that were pointed to your site. And some of the people that were writing were also, you know, using different schemes to get links to the site anyways, the site wind up getting penalized again. and I'm really lucky because, Through that period. It was a really, like, I've had a bunch of periods like that that were really tough.

And like I was working, selling cell phones at the same time. we were trying to build this out and I was kind of getting to the end of being able to like work, every night selling cell phones and on the weekends and do this all day. It was just like, like killing me. And, we were working with my partner, Brad now, He had a couple of sites, a skatey and traveler site, and we had InfoBarrel and he had, talked to this other guy and, they asked if we were interested in doing a merger and our software would be what we use to, for all these magazines.

And, I had stopped selling cell phones and I had got a job working at the port, which paid fairly well. And I was just like, I just don't need this up and down battle anymore. Like, it's just so stressful. And I can remember like being in the bottom of a steel ship, like a big, those huge ships, like booking anchors on like metal to get lifted out of these boats.

And it was paying me like 50 bucks an hour. So I'm like, well, you know, this is a lot. I get to go home when I'm done this. And I don't have to think about anything else. and I was, I was very close to being, I was very, very close to being done and I'm really happy that I stuck it out, but it's interesting. Cause when you're on top, you'd feel like you're never going to fall from grace. like at least at least the first one or two times. And then when you're at the bottom, you feel like you're never going to get back to the topic again. And I think what's interesting about entrepreneur ism as a whole, especially after you've gone through that cycle, a couple of times The first time you get a bunch of money, like you're probably going to be, if you're younger, especially, you're probably going to be a little bit stupid with the money. Like, especially if you don't come from it, right. Like you're just like, I made it, let's spend it all. Like let's do crazy things then after you've lost it and you have to grind to get back to that spot again, you have a lot more perspective.

where I am right now is by far the largest business I have ever had any association to. And I feel. More in line with the Ryan. when I was grinding and, making sure that I made ends meet, once you've experienced all that great stuff or what seems like great stuff, You realize that, that like, that really doesn't have any value, you know, like it's your family and your friends and who's around when you're not at the top that matters.

And I would way rather be that person than the flashy guy on the other side of money.

Brandon Stover: [00:11:53] Yeah, for sure. And it seems like you've taken a different turn as well with this new business, you know, laundry. Strips doesn't seem like the next thing after hearing that career. So why are you so passionate about this laundry strip and why is it such a game changer?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:12:08] Yeah. It's, it's funny. somebody on Facebook posted yesterday. They said, Oh, what did you think you were going to be when you grow up? And I just joked. And I said, I said, I'm going to be a laundry detergent guy. And she's like, Oh, you did it. I'm like, I'm kidding. Like, I didn't like have, like, I wasn't like watching Mr. Clean commercials as a kid and thinking like I was going to have a, I got glitter in my teeth, you know, but, yeah, I always tell people that, like, I didn't like, you know, even five years ago, if you said, are you going to be on the bubble laundry? I would have said probably unlikely. I don't think I'd be able to disrupt the space, but, it's interesting.

I don't know if you have, you have kids, you don't, so it's funny, like when you don't have kids, like, and I'm not like judging anybody or anything like that, this is just my personal experience when I didn't have kids. I wasn't really super worried about the future for myself. Like the future for myself is, it's going to be what it's going to be and I'll just deal with it.

But after I had kids, I just started thinking a lot about what the world has in store for, for them, because it's not just me that needs to survive. I want them to have a good life and so on and so forth. so. things like Elon Musk is talking about AI and all the bad things that it could potentially do, like sky net type things.

And I'm thinking about like, you know, global overpopulation, like, is there going to be enough food for people climate change, like there there's so many things and, But, my wife was pregnant and it was like 2018 and my kids never watching a YouTube shows.

Like they love kids love, like those unboxing shows. And I watched it for long enough that I was like, just kind of getting like disgusted with the consumerism a little bit, but I mean, kids, kids don't know kids just like kids, Dopamine, they want surprises and stuff.

So when I was watching the show and on this show, There's like this treasure chest they're opening and the treasure chest was wrapped in plastic and the treasure chest itself was made of plastic. And when they opened it up, there was like 10 toys on the top rack. And they were all wrapped in plastic and a plastic shell.

And then the toy itself was plastic. And then they pulled the rack out after opening all this plastic and having plastic. Garbage everywhere. And they're doing this outside on the playground too. So I don't even know what they did with all of it. But then the second layer again, there was like another, like 20 more toys, all wrapped in plastic, in a plastic shell with a plastic toy inside of it.

And I was sitting there thinking like, if this is what the art, like, this is the future of for our children, like we're in trouble. And like, I kind of got sick of like virtue signaling. Like I'm not a big virtue signaler, but like in private conversations with friends, we would like kind of debate what the future has in store and stuff.

And. It's like, this is, there's gotta be something that we can do. And it just like a few months earlier, Brad, one of three co-founders his wife's stepbrother, had approached him at like a dinner party and said, Hey, you know, I invested in this patent for, these laundry strips.

And you know, with your guys's subscription background, I think it might be something interesting that you guys could do. Maybe you could do like a dollar laundry club or something like that. And, at the time when Brad had told me about it, you know, we're kind of like, it's pretty hard to make a product at that price point really work, like how are, you know, the big boys have so much funding they've already established their space.

Like, it's just, it's almost impossible. And, so we kicked it down the road. And then when I was watching the show, I'm like, I wonder how much plastic, like laundry detergent bottles use up. And I looked it up and I was like, Holy smokes. There's a billion laundry detergent bottles sold in North America every year.

And only about 30% of those can be processed in some way. And like, I think it's only 10% that's actually recycled. So like bank 20% is like burned with some energy recapture and then 70% just ends up in landfills. And some of that finds its way into oceans.

So,  Kevin is our CTO. We asked them to set up, a page. We could try it out. And we agreed that if we hit 150 customers in the first month that I, it would be worth pursuing. And, we had, we had more than 1500 people sign up to be a subscriber in the very first month, which, you know, that was a pretty clear path.

Let's go all in on this, you know?

Brandon Stover: [00:15:50] Yeah, that's pretty amazing. How did you guys design the subscription model that made it so successful right off the bat like that?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:15:56] I have a bunch of random mentors over, over the years and like, One of the things that I've always found that that stops me from getting moving is trying to know everything before I actually start. And like, you know, and I think that stops a lot of people is that you have to get everything perfect before they roll it out.

And we were absolutely not perfect. So when we started out, Don is better than perfect. and with the internet, you're lucky you can iterate. Right? So when we first launched, we didn't have way for customers to purchase the product that wasn't a subscription That was problem. Number one. So you could only get them on some on subscription. So like, I'll just point out some like fundamental flaws here on that. So with laundry detergent, you know, you have families that are like 10 people, which they could get more than one package. That's fine. You have families that are for people.

You have people that live alone. You have like. Really old people who live alone and they probably don't leave the house that much. So they don't do that much laundry. So when you have a month free subscription, that gives you 32 loads of laundry, and you might have somebody that only does one load of laundry a week.

But what ends up happening is on the subsequent, deliveries of the product. They get it and they tell themselves, Oh, I need to cancel it. And they put it with their other pack. And then by the time they built up three or four or five packages, every single time they look in their, in their cupboard now to do laundry, they're reminded.

Of the fact they're, they're getting these negative associations with your brand and like the next time that they need laundry detergent, are they going to go, like they have like this dissonance tied to your brand and they're not going to want to purchase from you again. So like that was the first mistake or there's two mistakes.

They're not allowing people to buy a single, we would allow them to if they reached out to us, but not giving them an option to buy a subscription was the first screw up. And then the second screw up was, by not giving them frequency options, because everybody has different, requirements for how much laundry they do.

And if you look at like our different cohorts, so like, if you were to look at like before we, made it so people could pick their frequency versus afterwards the rate at which the lifetime value increased, on. The segment where they could pick their own frequency was way higher. Because by default, if you only have monthly subscriptions, you're going to get, a lot of people want to cancel right off the top because you know, they don't need, they don't need to get a package every month. So your numbers are always going to look terrible. I mean, regardless of the numbers of the numbers, they don't necessarily paint the. Perfect picture when you only have one offer, but you want your numbers to look good too.

So if you're going to start a subscription, you want to make sure that you let people, opt out on their first purchase and then let them choose how often or how much they want to get.

Brandon Stover: [00:18:27] What I really love about your guys's business is that you are both doing like something that's very impactful, but you're also very highly profitable at the same time. Can you talk about how you've approached, maximizing both the impact and the profits for the company?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:18:43] big mistake that I think a lot of people, Bob it's maybe not a mistake, but a lot of way, a lot of people approach customer acquisition, especially in like 20, 19, 2020, where.

People really lean on Facebook hard. And you hear a lot of marketers talking about what their return on ad spend is and this, that, and the other thing. Well, also the rise of, dropshipping, like all of these things have kind of made this expectation that you need to make money on the first sale.

Like you, like if you're not making money on the first sale, like I think a lot of people just quit and they forget that. The real value in business, especially when you're, when you have customers, is in your ability to have a relationship with that customer and to be able to sell them additional, not, not just the product that you originally sold to them, but also other products in the future.

So like, I look at, from a growth and profitability standpoint, I'm looking, I'm more concerned about how do I have the best customer experience and what can I offer them in addition to what they already have or how could I, sell them more of what they already have, in a way that makes sense, where they're happy.

they're able to promote the product to other people. And, you know, again, at the end of the day, we need to be profitable in order to, continue doing all the, great things that we're doing, which is like eliminating plastic and donating to charity. But I mean, at the end of the day, we also need to feed our families and that a hundred and something employees that we have.

Brandon Stover: [00:20:13] a really good example of you guys. Are you specifically building a subscription box that basically, You know, went beyond the product and made that customer experience really, really well was the outdoor gearbox you did with Explorer magazine. Can you explain what you did with that, box that made it more than just a product?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:20:30] I think everything gets commodified over time. So, you know, the subscription subscription box market is kind of the same thing. And there's like, one of the challenges with subscription boxes is that people eventually get enough stuff and they no longer need to be part of the business anymore, which, Which, you're probably not going to be, generating future revenues from them, which, you know, you never want to happen.

So we looked at the problem of like, okay, well, if they know if they don't need stuff anymore, which, we're generally trying to not be, a stuff Busher, what's something that we can do. That's gonna, like how can we provide them value to their life? So with Explorer, our model was, you be excited to get the first package because you wanted the outdoor gear.

It would be themed. but what was cool about it is you're not just gonna go and put that box on your shelf because inside the box, there's also these challenges that comes in the box. And then there's also like weekly challenges and monthly challenges and quarterly challenges and annual challenges inside the community.

So that pulls you into the community, which, we have like speakers and stuff like that, that come on and they can do like AMS, but, what's really valuable is it actually gets people to start, You know, living the life that they want. So people buy subscription boxes, people buy things because they have an expectation that their life is going to be different after they have this thing.

That's just like, that's why people buy things, right? So people want to be adventurous. So they buy this subscription box. I think it's gonna get them outdoor adventure, but that's not what actually does it like for us, we find that. The challenges themselves where people to take pictures of it and it proves they did it.

And I mean, that also gives us assets that we can use for advertising. But, they sign up for the, the gear and they wind up sticking around because they love the challenges. And eventually they will have enough stuff that they don't need to get stuff from us anymore. So we came up with, like outside of the regular box.

We also have the adventure challenge club, which is they continue to get access to the same group. They get, all the challenges. Some of them might be tweaked a little bit, so they don't need it. A very particular thing from the product, they still get the magazine and the digital version and they get to continue, with the benefits that actually changed their life versus just the stuff.

And, you know, we found a huge percentage of the people that stopped when it wind up switching over. And, you know, they don't, they don't want to quit that. Like they want to quit the stuff. They don't want to quit the lifestyle that we've helped them build.

Brandon Stover: [00:22:51] Yeah. And they're also buying into a community of people, you know, that are like them. have you guys done anything with true earth that has helped with your, you know, quick growth in terms of like creating community or a network effect or anything with the subscription?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:23:05] we were planning on having a full community and it's probably, it's very probable in the future. It's just the one thing is that like a community, especially the Facebook group is, is like a lot of work. and we, you know, we had probably like three or 4,000 people in the other community.

And, but like, with a product like this, we have over 200,000 customers. it's, it gets pretty substantial. So we, we we've been bouncing around the idea of how we would manage that. But, outside of that, we, we do have like a very good community, regardless of actually not having an actual place for them to kind of get together.

But they've built this grassroots. movement, we call it the true earth movement and, the people who are our customers, we call them our change makers. And, they're the ones who are responsible for the growth. Like, it's amazing how many people chime in on the ads.

They comment on everything. and They're happy that they're not only having an easier way to do laundry, but the decisions that they're making are helping change the potential future of the planet. And that's kind of like one of our slogans is like little, little hinges, swing, big doors, and it might not seem like much for you to change your laundry detergent.

But when you know, a million people eventually all changed that laundry detergent that's massive impact on the world. And. what's cool is like, people will have a subscription. And then when we have like a sale or something like that, and we'll have like 10, you can buy 10 packs for a slightly discounted rate.

People will buy these 10 packs. And like, we have so many people wanting to give them as in stockings or for Christmas presents or like, it's crazy. Our customers they're basically responsible for everything that's happened. Like if they weren't in there, if they weren't sharing with people, if they weren't like posting pictures on Instagram and social media and talking about I don't know how many other laundry detergents you've ever seen people going crazy for on the internet.

Like, as much as I would like to take credit for everything, it's not, it's not me. It's not Kevin. It's not Brad. Like, we've been lucky enough to facilitate this, this community. That's like taking the ball and running with it.

Brandon Stover: [00:25:05] I know you guys are also pretty big on like, having a brand story and like treating your customers as the hero of that story. What is the importance of a brand story for like a mission driven business and how do you start crafting it so it speaks to your customers?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:25:17] just to pre-phase this, I used to think that like branding and stuff was stupid, five or six years ago, I just thought like, I was very into direct response. I thought like branding was dumb and like, I feel super ignorant. That that was the way that I thought I was just kind of like trashing something you don't know that much about.

and story has got to be one of the most powerful tools that exists for marketing. And I've said it on a couple other podcasts before, I almost would rather do the story before I start to really discover like who my avatar is, because I feel like the story almost. I kind of go back and forth on this, but the story, you know, you, you figure out like who the villain is, who the hero is, what the hero looks like.

and the brand is not the hero. The brand is like the guide basically, you're the customer, you're Luke Skywalker, I'm like, I'm like Yoda telling you, Hey man, you should, learn to use the forest.

And the forest is the laundry detergent. Right. And like, You can't have multiple villains, but I think what's cool about storytelling. And this is like part of the same reason that people like cry when they watch a movie. Like they know the is fake. They know that's not real, but when you tell a story, your brain can't differentiate between like a memory in your head and what you're watching on TV.

Like it's not real, but you're still getting emotional about it. And, I'm not saying to use that in a way where you're lying to people or being manipulative, but. When people can position themselves in a story, they're going to be way more receptive to the message. And if they buy into it, their identity is going to get wrapped up in your brand.

It's like, PlayStation and Nintendo and Sega. And you know, over the years, like back in like the early nineties, people were either super Nintendo fan or they're a Genesis fan. And they would like fight to the death or like a better example now is like Android and iPhone. I can't believe There's like religious Wars on cell phone discussions on Facebook. I like won't even participate in those anymore because is like, people literally cousins will like talk about like decapitating each other over like which phone they want. Like it's insane. And like, that's just, that is like the best example ever of identity tied to whatever story you want.

Right? Like,  when you can get people to that level, that's a whole nother level, but when people will go to war on Facebook, over it, like a stupid computer in your pocket, like that's why. Okay.

Brandon Stover: [00:27:30] Yeah. And I think it's a really powerful when you have a mission. From business, such as this, to be able to easily position them as the hero. And you know, you guys are fighting against plastic. It's really easy to have an enemy because nobody wants, you know, the plastic and the landfills are in the oceans and whatnot.

So it's really easy for them to get hooked into that story.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:27:51] Yeah, for sure. And like, if anybody's looking for like resources on this, the easiest way to get started, I have like nothing to do. Like his name is Donald Miller. He has a book called the story X called StoryBrand. and there's like, Madlib fill in the blank documents that are free tied to that.

That you can just go and Fell out and have like a, rough story. and you can kind of test your villain on people if you want. your friends and family, see how, how evil they think it is. Or like, maybe there's another villain. Like, I dunno, you just wanna have one bill on though.

That's the general framework. If you read that book, you will know how to write a story.

Brandon Stover: [00:28:22] When these people have taken in your story, they're part of your community. How do you continue to nurture and support that emotional connection you have with them?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:28:30] Yeah. So there's a lot of different things. Like we do a lot of micro content on social media. So the people that follow us, like we, try to tell uplifting stories, on Instagram and Facebook, just like different companies, different people doing great things. on Instagram we try to share A lot of leaders, in like some of the black, black lives matters leaders.

So some people that might not get the voice that they deserve, like, we try to support other, are there other communities that we believe are doing good things, but, you know, the two biggest things, from month to month that we try to do is make sure that we keep our customers and our, our Changemakers updated on how many plastic bottles they've helped keep out of landfills? Cause that's a huge thing. And then, we donate a lot of product on their behalf. So when you buy a subscription, we match your donation and like we've got arrangements with like food banks all across North America.

Like you said, we've donated to Ghana, to mothers in need over there. right now is a really difficult time for a lot of people. Like COVID is making a lot of people, not have jobs. And, if people can't take it care of themselves, there's no way that they can eventually get to a point where they're back on their feet and then they can be part of our community.

So, you know, lift people up. And what's that cliche saying, like rising tides lift all ships, right.

Brandon Stover: [00:29:38] Have you guys found that, putting your mission out there in the forefront and leveraging that, like in your marketing, outperform some of the other things?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:29:46] Yes. I know, like, it's funny because if you go to the site, we're not really like super aggressively showing off any of those numbers. It's kind of more something that we share once you're inside the community. we put out a little bit of press and once in a while, we'll we'll share that, but I honestly have not split tested, split, tested it.

the laundry jugs thing we are super proud of, but as much as I want people to, to use our product, I don't want to like psychologically manipulate them into buying our product because we're, we're donating. Product on their behalf, like, yeah, we do it.

And sometimes we'll mention it in, in certain things. But, I don't really have a fantastic answer for you on that, but I don't, I just, I just don't want to be manipulative. So like once they're in the door, we're, you know, a lot more open to, to talk about it. And we talk about it a little on social media, but it's not, we don't want you to buy just because you want to donate.

We want you to buy because you love the product and then we want you to stick around because you know, we're doing good things

Brandon Stover: [00:30:37] think that's an excellent approach because you see a lot of companies who may do like this greenwashing, where they kind of put that up front and they're not actually doing as much as they say that they're doing.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:30:46] Yeah. I mean, that's a slippery slope, right? Like, what if something changes in your business model somewhere down the line and like it's not financially viable to donate on that same level. we do the things together. We're going to continue to do good things together, but I don't want you to only buy because you want to, you know, you feel guilty about something and you need to donate.

Brandon Stover: [00:31:05] What challenges do you guys face as a subscription service that maybe aren't necessarily apparent in other types of business models?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:31:12] there's a lot more customer service that's required. We've been continuously, trying to like upgrade the tools that are available, like the self-serve tools. and it's alleviated a bit of stress on our customer service, that's one of the biggest things that we've been working on is trying to, increase our response time or shorten our response time so that we can, again, everything comes down to the customer experience.

but like, that's the one thing that people don't account for when you get into subscriptions is that once you hit a certain tipping point, you really can't be a solo printer and like have that you kind of a subscription box for sure. Cause there's so many pieces to that. you probably could get by for a little while in like a single product environment, but your customer service is going to need to expand at some point.

Because people don't know how to cancel sometimes. And sometimes people want to like, maybe change the version of the product they have or the frequency and like, not everybody is as much as you want to simplify your TAC. There's always going to be somebody that can't just quite, can't quite figure it out.

Not everybody is tech

Brandon Stover: [00:32:13] Hmm. Yeah. you've been in business with your partners, for quite a long time. When going back all the way to the nineties. What has made that relationship like so strong that it could go through multiple different businesses, ups and downs, failures and whatnot.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:32:27] How's it. That's a good question. It's pretty uncommon that what we have. and I think there's a few things. Well, first of all, Kevin and I have been friends since before kindergarten. which, he's almost 40. not a lot of people are like still friends with their kindergarten friends.

So I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful for that. but then Brad, Kevin, and I all have entirely different skill sets. and we've gotten pretty good at kind of like identifying. Well, it falls into each person's lane. We just, we basically call it lanes. It's like we're driving down a highway and we have three lanes.

And every once in a while, somebody will slide over into the other lane, but we we've kind of got an understanding of who handles what particular thing. we have quite a few. meetings to kind of like make sure that we all stay on point, but we've gotten to the point where our communication is very good too.

Like, you know, we're, we're all able to be kind of blunt with each other. And, nobody really takes anything, too hard emotionally. And we recognize when, when somebody's having a rough day or is having a rough week or a month and is stressed and, we're lucky that we have that dynamic, but if I was to start another business and I have to have entirely new relationships, like I've had bad, bad relationships in business too.

And I find that almost everything shitty that there, I don't know. Don't swear, sorry. Everything bad, everything bad that comes like, out of, out of business relationships typically comes. From, misunderstanding and poor communication. And that probably goes for regular relationships too, which, you know, I'm still not an expert on communicating there.

but every time that I've had something go bad, it was because somebody was afraid to just communicate what it was that needed to be communicated.

Brandon Stover: [00:34:07] Is there a time, in your guys's time working together that, you know, maybe it was a rough patch or whatever, but you were able to, you know, work through it. And how did you kind of get over that?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:34:16] there's times where,  I probably spent too much money on marketing and didn't say anything or. some tech went down and, or Kevin, Kevin handles all of our tech.

There is like maybe a couple of days where like a bunch of stuff was all kind of like, like it was w when stuff rolls downhill, it seems like it comes down in an avalanche. And he could have been overwhelmed and then we're getting frustrated because he's having a trouble diff difficulty communicating it.

But it's mostly because he's under water or like, I mean, the same can go for any of us. Right? Like, we've all kind of been there. everybody's been at fault for something at some point, but, if you have partners I would recommend everybody read the book traction by Gino Wickman.

it was really good about it is like, there's this level 10 meeting, which is like supposed to be every week in a department. And, after you go through some metrics and the big projects you're working on for the quarter, every week, everybody talks about like, if there's any like issues, or like we used to have issues and fires.

So if there's an issue with something, we bring it up and we try to address. All the issues that we can, like any given point, we just number them when it is done, we deleted off the list. And that way, whenever there's anything bubbling up to the surface, we have to, we're forced to communicate about it and deal with it because it's on the list.

it's such a simple thing to do. it also prevents you from feeling like you're not being heard or like you're, whether it's a tech issue or like a relationship with somebody else or, whatever it is, like your business, You address business issues and you move forward and it's like the, the traction system's really good because it not only does it help you address those issues, but it helps you identify what are the big projects for this quarter that we need to accomplish to move the business forward.

And you're constantly going through the cycle of iteration and, The these issues that pop up on a weekly basis. If you look at it from like a conversion rate optimization type lens, you're basically optimizing your business systems and relationships every week, so that you're able to, make your business more effective.

Brandon Stover: [00:36:12] How do you think you've changed the most in the last 20 years? Either professionally or personally? since when you started out.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:36:19] Well, you know, a lot of things, man. from things like thinking that I had to do everything myself and learning how to delegate, I'm also like, pretty add I have struggles with focusing and like organization a little bit. So. for me, like learning how to build systems around the way that I am.

Like, I can't change the way that my brain works. And, I'm not a victim. Like I don't have like a disease. You know, what it is is that my brain works a certain way and I have to build a support team around me that I'm under, like, know how I work. And like, I have to build, routines that allow me to, to kind of like do the things that I'm good at and delegate the things that I'm not.

so, as a result, the people that are on my team are all very structured, because that's not something that I'm good at. So like, understanding what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. Has allowed me to grow as a team, just by virtue of I know I know who I need around me, so that I can be the best version of me.

So, I know things I suck at, you know, and I'm, I'm totally fine with, like, I can sit with it. I'm never going to be the guy that's like perfectly organized. I just, I can't. but as like a human being, early twenties, you know, standard male insecurity, all the fun stuff that I don't know, everybody goes through it again.

I can only speak for myself, but like, you know, levels of depression and anxiety and not being good enough and needing to look a certain way or needing to be built a certain way, or like, Two thousands were a different time than it was now, but like, you know, needing to be like super masculine and, all that stuff. I think I've changed in that. I'm not like out there trying to be like the man, I'm not trying to be like this alpha dude. but I want to be able to contribute impact.

Instead of I'm not just about money. You know, like when I was in my twenties, it was about I needed money so that I could get a Lamborghini, which I never got a Lamborghini. Thank God.  I don't think I could look at things objectively then, like I can now.

but those things. Don't motivate me. I haven't taken more money since we started this business. I don't pay myself more money. when I used to get overwhelmed with business in the past and it would be, what is this all for? What is this all for? Is this just for money?

Like, why am I doing this? Why am I killing myself? Why am I juggling 800 balls at once? Just to get more money? I don't get like that now. Like if I get overwhelmed now, I get the thing that, what I'm doing, like sure. There might be money at some point down the end of the road, and that's gonna allow me a little more autonomy, but like for me, it's a lot easier to feel to sit in overwhelm when you can have an impact on, on both the world and, on people that, that, that aren't in a good place in their life.

Brandon Stover: [00:38:58] I love that. Well, before I get to my last question, where can everybody find you in the stuff that you're doing?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:39:03] you can find true earth at www dot T R U dot E a R T H R. There's no E on. True. And there's no.com or anything. It's just a.earth domain. So that's true.earth. And, you can find me on LinkedIn. If you search, if you search Ryan McKenzie, true earth, I'm sure you'll find me. I'm on Facebook too.

I've got a business page. So the rye McKinsey, T H E R Y E McKenzie. and I'm sure if you look hard enough, you'll find me on, on the regular Facebook as well.

Brandon Stover: [00:39:31] Awesome. my last question is, how can we push the world to evolve?

Ryan McKenzie: [00:39:35] I think that you're gonna have people that are going to be able to, make big impact. And I think regular, everyday people. And I'm not saying that they're, they're less or more than those other people, but I think don't have a way that they can make big impact over time. It's never too late to like start making little changes. So, laundry detergent, it's just an example. There's like a million other things that you can do. Right. whether it's, messing around with putting solar panels on your roof, I mean, that's probably expensive one, but the thing's like 10 maybe walking to the grocery store instead of driving or like, My kids, when they go to school, they have like silicone bags that they bring their snacks in, but we don't give them any garbage when they go to school and everything that they bring to school.

they literally have to bring it home and you can get your kids, like almost like programmed early on to not want to create ways by, making their lunches in a way that, that everything is. Returnable and reusable. So little changes, add up to big and back.

Like when you think of every single person on this planet made one small change, the amount of impact would be absolutely insane. If every person made five small changes. Like, I can't say that it would eliminate a lot of our problems, but you could even just go and plant a tree, like, you know, go plant, go plant 10 trees a year.

like, that's a huge impact and anybody can do that. Trees are cheap.

Brandon Stover: [00:40:48] Yeah. When, once you start doing some of those habits, they start to compound on one another and they become easier habits for you.

Ryan McKenzie: [00:40:54] I thought I read somewhere the other day that we need about 27 trees per person to, to offset our carbon footprint. So could every person just, going plant two trees, a month or a little bit more, you know, like then maybe three in summer.

it's a pretty easy thing to do. I mean, it's not easy, but if you think of it like that 27 trees, all, you know, that's doable.

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