Under The Hood: Steph From Cadence
2023 has been a big year for Cadence with the launch of Flex Capsules and extenders. Can you tell me about what you have in the pipeline for 2024?
Steph: Absolutely. We're finishing off 2023 with a number of very beautiful variations of our Capsule Flex System that I think our community will really love. We just launched the Pinks, and that went wild in the best way.
We also have a new category launch slated for 2024; we've been working on it for over two years. For us, things have to be done with a lot of thought, integrity, and innovation. Like all of our products and manufacturing processes, it's something we're patenting.
So that's coming down the pipeline, as well as a number of very thoughtful collaborations that are very specific with who we work with, whether it's brands or people. That’s what’s ahead for 2024. Our community can look forward to a lot of beautiful variations of our existing flex system and some additional newness around Cadence in general.
Can you walk us through the process of bringing the capsules to life? Did you struggle to find a designer or manufacturer that could help you bring your vision to life?
Steph: Totally. How do we find the right people? That's the hardest part – always finding the right people. That process was definitely very arduous in that we knew the problems we needed to solve and the list was really long to create something truly leak-proof, space-efficient and also BPA-free. We also needed the product to be post-consuming material, but also super durable so you could throw it in your bag with true assurance.
So it was a pretty long list to manage. I went to manufacturers and engineers all by myself. I was reaching out to people on Upwork and talking to friends of friends and reaching out to aerospace engineers. The most common answer I got back was, “this is impossible.”
If they did take it on, it’d be very short-lived. They’d send back our designs basically looking like everything else in the market.
It’d basically be eradicating any value we would actually be creating – for the customer, it was beautiful and simple, but for the manufacturing process, it was nearly impossible because of how we have to actually put the product together.
I was a solo founder and after a while I found our automations and manufacturing engineer Graeme who is just phenomenal. He was the first person who said we can definitely figure this out. I think it just takes persistence. It is so easy to get into this mindset that it's hard. It's going to be expensive. It's not possible. We just onboarded a new industrial designer and the way we design internally is so different from every other company.
I did not realize that not everyone literally made their products from scratch. The only place in the entire world that makes Cadence is our manufacturers and our tools. It is virtually impossible to get it anywhere else. I didn't think about that when I think about other products that exist, but the more I've learned, I realized how it works is so different from the way we've done it.
Most people go to a manufacturer and say, I want to make a pot. And then they choose the color and change it slightly, and then that person makes them the pot for cooking or something else, and then they sell it.
So in a sense you’re talking about white-labeling products, right?
Steph: 100%. Yes. I didn't realize that that was the case. So I'm very proud, and that's what we're here to do.
We're not here to rebrand products that exist. It's a completely different business model and we just are doing something different. So even when we think about how we do the innovation pipeline, it's very different because sometimes my team wants to kill me.
They ask, “Well, what are they going to be sold for? Or what are the cost of goods?” And then I respond, “If we start with that, we will never come up with something really creative.”
I know it's very painful, but we never would've come up with the capsules in the beginning if we had focused on COGs. My goal is to actually solve a real problem and completely solve it, not half solve it or get 75% of the way there.
I want to get 100% of the way there and then if it's a big enough problem and done well enough, people will buy it.
And if the product can stand alone because of its quality, people will keep it. That's what we found with the Capsules. That's how we design our products.
In the beginning, yes, it was very challenging. So it is always so hard finding the best people because any business is made up of two things – great people and great products. So it was definitely a challenge in the beginning, but nothing is impossible. Few things are impossible as we like to say at Cadence. It's possible until proven otherwise.
Back in 2020 and 2021, when travel was practically shut down, what was the growth strategy? How did you pivot your marketing?
Steph: Launching in February of 2020 was a great “trial by fire”, it was a very crazy time to launch. The positive was that we never started out by calling ourselves a travel company. All of our messaging was always either for at-home and on-the-go moments. It was never geared towards people who were just getting on an airplane and going somewhere.
That's something that was built-in from the start. So it didn't feel like a big pivot. It actually just felt like we were plugging into the situation at hand and able to maybe, if anything, lean in a little bit more to that.
What we found is people do use Cadence every day. I think that's a bit of a misconception from people who from very afar might think it’s only for travel usage.
When we talk to our current customers, we always hear that people are using them day in and day out – in their gym bag, on their desk to remember to take their supplements during the day and so forth. They just grab one and go. So that's something we leaned a little bit more into over that period.
I love that we never, ever, ever wanted to be a product that sat on your dusty shelf in your bathroom that you pulled out twice a year only when you go on a vacation.
We feel proud that our customers need it everyday. I need it for the beach day. I need it for my weekend trip. And that's what we love because people then touch and use it almost every single day. And that's really where the value is for us.
Nowadays, what are the key marketing channels for Cadence? Has the brand launched on Amazon or retail?
Steph: Well, we just launched on Amazon, so you can find Amazon right now, which we very thoughtfully wanted to go about. The reason we ended up going on Amazon is because people buy us right before a big trip.
It's that last minute, “oof, how am I going to pack my stuff?” And then they want to buy and expedite that order via Amazon. It's kind of like you go to the Amazon and Targets to get that last round of things we need before a big vacation.
So we’re excited about that and the launch on Amazon has gone really well. We just launched in the Container Store, so we're in retail now too.
We're in every single Container Store nationwide. We have an upcoming retail launch slated for 2024. We have been really excited to be able to be in person.
Typically what we hear is people come in and they're like “I've seen these on Instagram and TikTok and I've wanted to experience them” and it's something we're really happy to hear because our products are really tactile. It's a data point we've had for a while that people will get our products when they buy online and they'll go “Oh, this is even better than I thought. The quality is better, it feels better.”
So that retail touchpoint with the ability to go into a store or grab it right before a trip has been one of the contributing factors for why retail has been phenomenal for us.
We obviously have an influencer/community that is something we're always working on building. We have really cool, awesome, loyal people who just really love the product. The number one way people hear about us is through word of mouth and that's something we're very proud of – it’s ahead of all of our paid media spend and all of that.
It's people sharing it with other people because they love it. I think it's just because when something solves a real problem, again going back to product and quality, people love to share.
Did you have any hesitations launching Cadence on Amazon?
Steph: 100%. We thought a lot about it from a brand consideration standpoint. There are a lot of beautiful brands on Amazon and for us, a durable, manufactured tech product, we're very well suited for something like Amazon.
Ultimately what's most important is that we can solve people's problems. If they want to overnight ship Cadence via Amazon or add it to their order ahead of a trip or a beach day, they can throw us in their cart. We wanted to have another touch point where people were really confident that the shipping would be on time.
So as we understood our customer a bit more and as we thought about the brand, it ultimately came down to solving another problem for them via Amazon.
When I started, we did a pretty significant survey around the average amount of those refillable sets people buy and throw out each year. It was around six bottles every single year and that’s the alternative to Cadence.
It's just net positive for the world and that's something we're always proud of. We know everyone who buys Cadence will not have to buy these single use travel size plastic bottles ever again.
What has been a key learning from your marketing efforts to date?
Steph: When we started, people always tried to tell us that our customers were only going to buy 1 or 2 capsules at a time. And I always thought that wasn’t entirely true. But people really did think that.
Then we launched a set of 12 capsules…and people started buying it. Now we have people who buy 28 capsules or 30 capsules. We have people who go hard with their Cadence Capsules and they're the best.
They'll buy seven on a first purchase and eight on a second. It'll really start to add up. We’ve just focused on rigorously merchandising to really serve the needs of our customer’s routine better. That has been huge for us. It has almost quadrupled our AOV which is something we really spend a lot of time working on internally.
What are you doing community-wise? How do your community efforts tie together your retention strategies?
Steph: We look at this two main ways. One, it’s having a really, really good product. People come back because the product really serves their needs and so that's one major step in the right direction. That’s the cornerstone. What we do with our community has been phenomenal and has supported us from the beginning. We just launched on Kale.
Folks who already have the capsules can post about it or share the link to Cadence. Obviously we have a relationship with them. We have an amazing community of people who have the capsules and love them. We're pretty in touch with a group of VIPs who have purchased a significant number of capsules.
I always reach out to them ahead of launching a new product and just ask about what they think and hopefully get on a call with them to chat through a focus group to get their opinions on things.
We're always thinking about community and how we can do better. The amount of heart myself and the team have for our customers is incredible since they’ve been with us from the very early days and recommend us to friends and family.
What were some key partnerships early on for Cadence? What are some traits you look for in partners?
Steph: Great question. I always love agencies or freelancers. When I’m looking for new partners, I’m always looking for small, undiscovered companies. I met Fulya, the founder of Bowery Boost, really early on and they’ve been key for us.
She was starting out when we were starting out and now she is this incredible, very large agency. We started with them when Cadence was spending $50/day.
She was so kind, she didn't even charge us for the first month and a half. We're so small and we've really grown together. So I always recommend Bowery Boost as a paid media partner. Then when you’re looking for other agencies or freelancers to start, you just have to find what’s best for you. I have a great trio of women who are incredible for Cadence. Fern Diaz is a phenomenal strategist and copywriter who I always recommend to brands who are looking for messaging help.
She's the queen of consolidation and strategy. I'm a big note giver around creative and I think she's one of the first people where I don’t have a ton to say back. She was big in working with me very, very collaboratively on that.