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Expert Insights: Jeff From Reel Paper

It’s great to be talking with you today Jeff. Tell us a bit about your background and how it led you to joining and leading your team at Reel Paper.

Jeff: I’ve been working in performance marketing for 10 years at this point, starting at CLEAR and learning how to market and sell a subscription service online, before moving over to Harper Wilde - where I got to focus on a more typical D2C customer journey, along with the benefits and costs to stocking, selling, and shipping physical products. 

Reel paper
Reel Paper

Reel was the perfect overlap - a physical product that customers prefer to subscribe to. I joined nearly 3 years ago and was fortunate enough to learn alongside an amazing team - the majority of which have been here since the very beginning. We’re a lean organization overall, but our marketing team has been growing and we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to deliver so far. 

What challenges go into creating new products? What learnings from previous product launches do you implement when launching and marketing new products? 

Jeff: I’d say that the biggest issue that we face is that home paper products have been around for a really long time - but the focus on sustainability has been relatively recent, especially for a premium product in the sustainable space. 

That means that when we’re working with manufacturers in the US, the vast majority of the knowledge and technology is designed around tree-based paper and plastic-wrapped packaging. We’ve been fortunate enough to find partners who believe in our mission and are able to work with us to fund innovation, it has just taken a lot more sweat than if we were doing things the conventional way.

I think that the biggest thing that we’ve learned from previous product launches, is that if the product isn’t actually premium and good - people won’t care if it’s sustainable. We’ve tested and scrapped several new products because they didn’t meet our threshold of what a “premium” product actually is. We know that customers want to make the right choice for the planet, but we want to make sure that they’re not reminded of that choice (or sacrifice) every time they use it.

What was the biggest challenge the team faced when designing Reel’s first product? What was the biggest learning?

Jeff: The biggest challenge for us in designing that first product was finding the right balance between strength and softness. We knew that our product was strong and was something the consumer would be able to trust to not rip, tear, or leave little pieces behind. Just due to the nature of the bamboo fibers we use, we knew that it wouldn’t be the cushiony soft paper that some of the bigger toilet paper companies produce. 

Reel paper
Reel Paper

So we were trying to find that balance from the start of a product that was soft enough on consumers, but really delivered on strength and durability.

What we learned was that after a few uses the consumer actually really grew to like the product and get used to that mix of strength/softness that we had reached. We’re made small improvements and adjustments along the way, but we see in our retention that once a customer has tried the toilet paper and used it once they stick around for a while.

What were some of the key breakthroughs in acquiring Reel’s first 10,000 customers? What key tactics does Reel continue to use in acquisition?

Jeff: When we launched in 2019, we developed a playbook that helped us build a community of people who cared about sustainability and that were receptive to our message about the impact of conventional paper on our forests. Sustainability has always been our #1 message.

Reel Paper
Reel Paper

One thing that we didn’t see coming was the insane fixation on hoarding toilet paper that hit nearly every grocery store in the US during Covid. There was an unexpected overnight spike in our sales and demand quickly reached a velocity where we were concerned about future inventory for our subscribers. We actually had to turn off all online sales just so that we could make sure that our subscribers would never miss a shipment.

Tell us about your tech stack at Reel - what are some of your favorite tools? What tool can you not live without?

Jeff: I’m really happy with our existing tech stack - but we’re always on the look out for new partners - especially those that can lower CAC or improve the customer experience (and hopefully then reduce churn).

Our foundation is built on tried and true service providers. This has allowed us to expect the best outcomes and also makes integrations as easy as possible - which is especially important with a small team that moves quickly. Our site is built on Shopify, Recharge powers our subscription product, and we use Klaviyo for email and Attentive for SMS. 

My three favorite tools are Black Crow AI, Daasity, and Superfiliate. All three have been amazing partners to us and I couldn’t live without them. 

Black Crow started as a Meta-only prospecting tool that helped us scale spend during historically unseasonable months. They’ve turned into so much more as we’ve brought them in to boost performance for our welcome offers, email programs, and even our overall site performance. 

Daasity helped us unlock our data. Data management and visualizations is another thing that can be so time-consuming and difficult for a small team. Daasity has made everything so accessible and saved us hundreds of hours in the process.

Superfiliate began as our referral program and has grown into an indispensable tool used across new customer acquisition and LTV growth. Not only do we have the ability to create custom landing pages for every customer that participates, we’ve used their landers for podcast campaigns, influencer marketing, and so much more.

Again, they’ve been an extension of our team in so many ways and we’d never be able to generate so many custom pages without them.

What’s one thing you didn’t expect to be true about building a DTC brand?

Jeff: I can sometimes lean on the side of pessimism, I think generally it’s helped me stay grounded, especially in DTC marketing where something can be working amazingly well for one month, then change overnight.

The same goes in gauging how strong the support from our community of customers is. When you’re working on a brand day in and day out - I think it can be tough to know how it will be received by someone who interacts with that brand once or twice a month. 

I’ve been consistently surprised and impressed by how amazing our community is. My expectations are surpassed every time. We will be bowled over in responses to things big and small: from asking for reviews or new product feedback, to completely funding a community round of investment in just two weeks. We are so grateful and hope to bring them more things to be excited about.

If you had to boil your success at Reel all down to one thing – what would it be?

Jeff: It would be Focus. Building a product, a brand, and a community takes time and it can be easy to become distracted in the process. We’ve been blessed to have a fantastic hero product - one that we know is the best in the business and that we can put 100% of our effort into marketing it. 

It’s also been the focus of our message and trying to distill everything back to our sustainability mission. I truly think that these two points of intense focus have gotten Reel to where it is today and will carry us to where we see the business in the years to come.