PODCAST: Navigating CPG, From Big Brands to Startup with Applied Silver’s Michael Lyons

Amanda Ashley
Post by Amanda Ashley
March 26, 2024
PODCAST: Navigating CPG, From Big Brands to Startup with Applied Silver’s Michael Lyons

In the latest episode of CPG Launch Leaders, hosts Darcy Ramler and Alan Peretz welcome Michael Lyons, CEO of Applied Silver and a seasoned veteran with a storied career at Henkel and Procter & Gamble.

Michael's journey is a testament to the power of meeting unmet consumer needs. He shares his insights on how these needs have shifted from purely functional to deeply personal, emphasizing the importance of understanding consumers on a more intimate level. This episode is a treasure trove of wisdom for anyone looking to innovate in the CPG space or simply curious about the behind-the-scenes of product development.

One of the episode's highlights is the discussion around the transformation of baseball cards—a nostalgic piece of Americana that has been reimagined for the modern era. Michael's personal story of reconnecting with his childhood hobby through his son's interest illustrates the importance of adapting legacy products to fit contemporary consumer behaviors and preferences.

But it's not just about looking back; it's also about moving forward. Michael's work with Applied Silver showcases the incredible potential of leveraging technology to improve lives. The company's mission to reduce hospital-associated infections using silver ion technology in textiles is a prime example of how innovative thinking can have a profound impact on public health.

The episode also dives into the nitty-gritty of transitioning from a large CPG company to a startup environment. Michael opens up about the challenges and rewards of making such a move, providing invaluable advice for those considering a similar path. He stresses the importance of agility, risk-taking, and maintaining a consumer-centric approach, regardless of company size.

Listeners will come away from this episode with a newfound appreciation for the complexities of CPG innovation and the various factors that contribute to a successful product launch. Whether you're a budding entrepreneur, a CPG professional, or simply a curious mind, this episode is a must-listen.

So, are you ready to be inspired? Are you prepared to learn the secrets from the front lines of CPG innovation? Tune in to this episode of CPG Launch Leaders and join Michael Lyons on a journey through the past, present, and future of consumer goods. Listen now and be part of the conversation that's shaping the next wave of CPG success stories.

Find us on Spotify, Apple, and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts, or click the player below to hear this episode now!


Listen to "Navigating CPG, From Big Brands to Startup with Applied Silver’s Michael Lyons" on Spreaker.



Michael: I think it starts with an unmet need. I think the definition, uh, of an unmet need has really changed over time. And the biggest difference was it used to be a very functional unmet need. But I think unmet needs have kind of changed over time where they've become more personal.

Announcer: You're listening to CPG launch leaders, the show where we interview new product trailblazers. You're ready for inspiration and secrets from the front lines of CPG innovation. Now, here are our hosts, Darcy Rambler and Alan Peretz.

Michael Lyons is the CEO of Applied Silver, a leading consumer goods company

Allan: Welcome to CPG launch leaders. I'm Alan Peretz, and I'm here with my co host, Darcy Ramler. Today we're talking to Michael Lyons. Michael's a friend, a laundry expert, and a leader who has had a remarkable career. He's, uh, currently the CEO of Applied Silver and brings a wealth of experience from companies like Henkel and Procter Gamble. And he's going to share a lot of insights about consumer goods.

Darcy: Michael, we're beyond excited to have you on the show and to share your growth story of applied silver. Before we dive in, we like to start every episode with one particular question. Currently, what new product has caught your attention in the market?

Michael: First off, thanks, Alan. Thanks, Darcy, for having me. I'm really excited to be here. Um, I know it's the first question and it's probably the hardest one. Um, so I've been thinking a lot about this one and what I'd say it's, um, tops baseball cards. I grew up collecting baseball cards. About three to four years ago, my parents called, they were moving. They said, get all your stuff out of the attic. Um, and with that came crates of baseball cards. And my son, who's a huge baseball fan, kind of dug into them and had a lot of fun with them and then really started getting into new cards. And if you know about the baseball card industry, it really had a low after the cards became devalued and commoditized and they were just boring pieces of cardboard. So, as I've gotten back into baseball cards with my son, it's an amazing transformation what they've done. They've taken, um, the baseball card pack, which we used to buy for $0.50 with a stick of gum, into an experience. Um, it's all about the treasure hunt. Every pack now has a different type of card. There's so much engagement on social media with it. People watch other people open cards. There's a whole ecosystem of baseball card collectors. And, uh, what tops has done over the years of just really taking the passion kids have for this and taking it to another level, using more senses, more mediums, it's just been an amazing thing. An amazing thing to watch and really fun to become a collector again.

Darcy: Absolutely. And it's hard to bring something that has such heritage into modern day times. So being able to move them into modern day times, but not lose. When, uh, you said it, I smiled because I remember baseball cards, and my son is into baseball now, too. But to not lose, like you said, there's so much love and passion, and it was such a collector's thing for so long. So to be able to move that into modern times is pretty impressive.

Michael: Yeah, it's fun to watch.

Allan: Now, I haven't seen a baseball card in many years, but I'm going to imagine that there's QR codes or NFC chips on them now.

Michael: There's everything on them. So the best cards, a couple of things are like, the best cards have, like, swatches of baseballs or jerseys in, um, them. Um, they do things like, my son just opened a pack and he got a card that was one out of three, right? So there's only three of these made. So again, it's like this treasure hunt moment. They got something unique, and it just creates a different kind of experience.

Michael went from big CPG to working for startup applied silver

Allan: So, Michael, before you joined applied Silver, you spent a lot of years at big companies like Henkel and Procter and Gamble, and, uh, applied silver is a lot smaller. What prompted your transition to go from big CPG to more of an emerging company?

Michael: Yeah. Uh, I went from $80 billion company, and now I'm working for a startup. So I've been in CPG for about 20 years now, which is kind of hard to say. Um, time just flies by, and I tell the story all the time. I could tell you where I was when I decided this was the path I wanted to go. And we're in a meeting, we were on the phone with our Walmart, um, team, and I closed my eyes. I literally sat back and closed my eyes in the meeting and said, wow, I could be at any one of the last four companies I've worked at. The conversation is exactly the same, right? And I knew the challenges of customer dynamics and things like that, but the conversation was the same. And I thought, I really need to find a way to stretch myself and do something a little bit different, um, and challenge myself. And I've been always curious, could I start run a startup? Could I take something from nothing and make it something of value? When this opportunity came up, it was something exciting to me. It kind of merged my knowledge of the laundry industry and the household care industry and passion, uh, area I had. So it was kind of an easy decision to make to kind of change paths a little bit.

Darcy: Well, me being Michael, a little bit about myself here is I've always been a startup girl, so I have never actually sat in the corporate side, but I definitely know there are large differences between the two. Can you expand a little bit more on what are those differences that you see now? Because I always think there's a beauty to seeing both sides of the fence. Right. I'm sure the pasture is always green. They always say when you're on the other side. But with working with huge brands like a PNG versus a fast growing startup, that is a bit of a roller coaster ride sometimes.

What's different between big companies and startups is the ability to take risk

Michael: First, let's talk about what's the same, right? Uh, because there's so much that's the same. So when you talk about big companies and startups, first off, there's smart people everywhere. And when you get into this big company culture, they try to teach you, like, there's only smart people here. And that's just what I've learned by. I've worked at a big company, mid, uh, sized company. I went back to a bay, uh, I've been everywhere and there are smart people everywhere. So that makes you comfortable or made me comfortable moving around, because I said there's more smart people out there that I can learn from. Um, the other part is brand fundamentals are the same no matter where you go. Right. And we'll talk more about this. But the art of building a brand is exactly the same. I think what's different is the ability to take risk with those brands. Um, at Proctor, at Hinkel, at big companies, you spend years managing risk out of your innovation path. And the reality is you do all that work and you still fail more than 50% of the time. So what I've learned, um, at the smaller companies is you have much more freedom to take the risk because there's a lot less downside.

Speaker E: Right?

Michael: So lean in, go faster. Um, trust your gut a little bit more. All right. And don't overthink it.

Alan Miller learned brand building at Proctor before going into applied silver

Allan: So when you think about that first part of your career, working at, uh, giant, uh, as you said, $80 billion companies, what are those things that you learned there that you were able to bring with you? Uh, as you went to applied silver.

Michael: Starting at Proctor, and you started there too, Alan. It creates just a great fundamental foundation. Uh, and the idea of brand building and that foundation is what I've taken with me, uh, the most. And it's about things like find a consumer insight and an unmet need.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Focus on executing with excellence. It's understanding, when you build a brand, what your points of differences are and what are your points of parity and really how to bring those points of difference to life. So no matter what size of company you work at, it's going to be the, um. Know the one thing I learned at Proctor, and it always made me laugh, is like, do the mom test.

Speaker E: Right?

Michael: And we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on research. And sometimes the easiest thing you can do is go ask your mom what she thinks of a product. Because at the end of the day, it's really about putting the consumer first into focus, and that's what's going to really help drive your innovation plans.

Allan: I like what you said, michael, because a lot of these things, uh, it's not stuff that you memorize, but it just becomes part of you after you've done it a few times. And, uh, it sounds like these lessons, uh, were definitely a part of you going into applied silver.

Michael: Yeah, it just becomes, as you said, second nature. Um, and it's relatively simple.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: I think sometimes we try to make things a lot more complicated than they are. Um, but if you could just boil it down to find the unmet met need, create a product that meets that need, and find the best way to communicate it to the consumer. You have a home run in front of you.

Darcy: Absolutely.

When you switched from applied silver to startup, did you change your approach

And I think you talked a little bit about the things that are the same, switching over from a major corporate enterprise company to a startup. When you did the shift and you started with applied silver, did you change any of your approach to brand development, or was that something you took with you and really leaned into?

Michael: The simple answer to that is no. As we just kind of talked about, the foundations are all the same. I took that piece and I applied it to the environment that you're in.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Um, what I learned throughout. So again, I went from a big company. If I went from applied silver to a startup, I would have failed miserably, um, because the transition from the PNG machine to a startup would have just been overwhelming. And I probably crawled up in a ball in the corner right now and not being able to navigate that there's.

Darcy: A difference between like a $5 million budget and $100,000 budget.

Michael: Who has $100,000 these days? No, absolutely. So what I learned is you can do things faster and be as effective. Um, a quick story. When I went to a private equity backed company, um, after Proctor. And we had nine months to create the single dose product, like single dose laundry product for that company, uh, start to finish. We knew Proctor was going to be launching in the marketplace. They've been working on it for years. Pretty top secret project. We didn't know when it was going to come in and we had nine months to get there. And during that time period, we had six weeks to develop packaging and get it ready for shipping, which is a very short period of time, if you think of Proctor was probably working. I've worked on packaging projects for simple label changes that took six months, like nine months. Um, and what we did is we just laid out a plan of like, this is how we're going to do it. These are the steps we're going to take. Here's what we can learn and here's what we're going to have to lean into. And we got early alignment all the way up the chain. And we spent two weeks in developing the concepts. We spent one day with the agency going through those concepts, picking ten to take to qualitative research. We spent two days in qualitative research, narrowing it down to three. And we did a weekend screener and we were done. Um, in my old world, I would have taken two months to develop artwork concepts. I would have done revision after revision before I even took it to a consumer. Um, I would have overanalyzed the hell out of what the consumer said and then I would have done a 90 day quantitative test doing eye tracking and everything else. But we didn't have that time. So I learned how to be agile in that. And we presented to the head of the company. Um, we put in a screener on a Thursday. We met with the CEO on a Tuesday, the following Tuesday, and we took him through it. He said, this was the easiest decision I've made all week. And it was because, one, he knew what we were doing, he knew what the expectations were and how we would get there. And the data was just as good. If I spent six weeks on this project or three to six months on the project, what you learn as you go to smaller companies, you can be faster and as effective. Um, you just have to be willing to get outside your comfort zone.

Darcy: And there's something to being said to being nimble and agile, right. Instead of having to go as you're talking about through art and go to the brand team to make sure you're doing this and all the check ins and the stops along the way, you were able to go straight to the source brief the final decision maker on what was the plan, then take the results of the plan to him. Um, and cut out a lot of, like you said, all of the different inputs along the way. And I think that is, there's a beauty to that and why I think now it used to be startup and now I love being in the startup space. I love now a lot of people reference the name of being disruptive brands or disruptors, right. Because that's what they are. They're changing the way we're doing things.

Michael: And you can't be a disruptive brand if you're afraid to fail, right. The risk of failure is what holds people back. Um, and as I said, companies like Proctor or Unilever, any other, they spend so much time hoping not to fail and managing risk out and still fail. And, um, if you just cut out that part that you're trying to manage out all that risk and just get to market faster, I think you'd have more successes.

Applied silver uses silver ions to reduce hospital associated infections

Allan: So I realize we're ten minutes into the conversation and we haven't even explained what applied silver is. Can you tell us a little bit about the company and origin story and all of that?

Michael: Absolutely. So applied silver is a company that was founded by a group of students at Cal Poly. And they really had this mission to, um, leverage silver ions and textiles to help reduce hospital associated infections. So if you think about a hospital, they have 1000 ways to, well, first off, if you back up even further, hospitals are pretty dirty places, and I've learned a lot about that since I started here. Um, the reason why hospitals want to get you out so quickly is because, um, every day you're there, your risk of infection goes up exponentially. So keeping soft surfaces clean is critical in the healthcare infection prevention environment. So applied silver, these students at ah, Cal Poly figured out that silver ions will create an antimicrobial barrier on fabrics. Um, so they did bench research, they did some in hospital studies, and then they did a clinical study that proved out that when linens and hospital gowns were treated with silver ions, hospital associated infections would drop 30% in that hospital. And then they spent a lot of time getting through the EPA and getting the kill claims. And the EPA actually created a new category for us around, um, the only product that will kill microorganisms post the laundry process. So it really creates almost like a shield to make a fabric antimicrobial. So when I came in here, um, the business was really just focused on the healthcare business, but really it started with that vision of, we want to help people stay healthy.

Darcy: Well, first, I have to say a big thank you for what you guys are doing. I am a mom of a. When she was little, too, was in the hospital, and then went back to the hospital with MRSA right after it. So I know all about being in the hospital, walking away with an infection, and then ending up back in a hospital for weeks to get rid of MRSA. So, uh, as you said, I think it's something we don't always realize and recognize, but obviously, a major issue and to have a solve for that is pretty phenomenal.

Selling into hospitals was kind of how it all started. But we've really expanded into this consumer space

So let's talk a little bit of I love you guys. Were going. It was really, as you said, selling into hospitals was kind of how it all started. Can you tell us about that sales process? And then where was the big aha moment, the pivot of where you decided?

Michael: So, first off, I'd have to say being a founder is hard, right? If you're a founder and this group founded this company with an idea and a vision, right? So if you're a founder, you need an idea and a vision. You, um, need the expertise and know how to bring that vision to life in a product, and then you need executional excellence, right? So to have all three of those things is you're a unicorn, right? And thank God for so many of these people that bring these new products to life, then can do it, um, because not everyone can. So, applied silver. What I'd say is the group of students, great visionary. They were phenomenal, smart people. And I always say thank God for smart people, especially in healthcare, right? Um, cal poly chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, they figured out how to do this. Um, and by the way, the use of silver dates all the way back to medieval times. Silver used to be in cups and things like that. They might not have understood it, but they knew when they used it, people were healthier, right, if it was lining the inside of a cup and things like that. But they figured out a way to do it, um, in these textile markets, which was phenomenal. So what they really needed was help on the execution. And I'm an operator by trade in a lot of ways. And really what I've done is come in and really worked hard to be with the founder and understand their vision and help bring it to life. So we started in healthcare, but they always had in the back of their mind that this is bigger than just the healthcare market, right? So what we learned about healthcare is it's extremely hard industry to break into, um, especially post COVID. Believe it or not, hospitals don't make a lot of money. So adding in new products that cost them money was really hard. So one of the things we worked a lot on is value reframing. These are terms that you come from the commercial, um, side of the business, but has a lot of application on the b to b side.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So while I'm adding cost, how do I save you money in other places? Um, the other thing we worked on is um, just the overall target market and really focusing on a more narrow number of consumers, um, or customers in this case. But what we learned is the healthcare market is about an 18 month cycle, right? A sales cycle, which is a very long, that's an eternity for a startup. So as I came in, they had this idea of the consumer product market, um, and we had our first product and um, it was a way to do a couple of things. It was a way to generate some early revenue and it was also a way to test the market a little bit more and really use that to understand if consumers understood the benefits of silver and if could we communicate it effectively. So with that, and we're still very much in the hospital space because of the mission and because of the importance of it. But we've really uh, pivoted or expanded into this consumer space because um, there's just so much opportunity beyond the hospital market and it's really become a much easier space to enter in. The cost of entry in the consumer space is probably the lowest it's ever been. So it's really um, a way for us to get quick feedback and um, early revenue for a startup.

Mike: Bold Labs helps you optimize your product marketing and pricing before launch

Hi Jesse. What brings you to the airport, Mike?

AD: Jesse: I'm off to the headquarters to share an update on the big launch.

Michael: Oh, I've heard it's selling really well. Care to share your secret?

AD: Jesse: Well, just between us, it's all thanks to bold labs. Their exclusive digital test market research, um, allows you to optimize your product marketing and pricing before the big launch.

Michael: That sounds fantastic. How can I learn more?

AD: Jesse: Just visit www.boldlabs.com.

Michael: I think direct to consumer or Amazon are the great equalizers

It's all right there.

Darcy: This is the final call for flight 723 to Chicago.

Michael: Looks like we'd better go. Thanks for the tip, Jesse.

AD: Jesse: See you soon, Mike. And remember, um, bold Labs is ready to help your product soar.

Allan: Say more about that low cost of entry. That's an interesting point.

Michael: Uh, I think if you rewind 2030 years ago, if you wanted to launch a new product, you would have to build it. You would have to get a major customer most likely to buy into it. You would need to get it on shelf, and then you'd need to spend a significant dollar amount to advertise it, to get people to not only come in the store, find it at your store, and then walk away with it.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So that is a whole long process and very expensive. I think the world has changed. I think direct to consumer or Amazon are the great equalizers. Um, and I always say this about Amazon. If I was to get one of our products in at a Walmart, I would probably get bottom shelf, one facing, and I would get lost in a sea of products. Um, and I'd have to spend significant dollars. Think about how many people walk that aisle to actually stop and look for my product early on. With Amazon, I can manage how much I make of the product, so I don't have to have enough to fill hundreds of stores. I could test my way into it. Um, I could get eye level, right. The example of eye level is I could get top of search.

Speaker E: Right?

Michael: And usually very, for a very reasonable amount of money, I could educate consumers, because Amazon, 95% of all search on Amazon, is brand agnostic.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: People type in problems more than Amazon, into Amazon than they do, um, brands.

Darcy: I said the best thing COVID ever did for Amazon is it made it the Google search bar. That's what it made it. You go on your app, you search something that's an issue or a problem, and then all of a become. Search has become a top of funnel in a lot of ways of just the way the consumer is searching for, like you said, their problem. What is going, um, and like you said, it's a testing can't be. You don't ruin a relationship. There's so much else that goes into it. You could get me started for days.

Michael: Michael, I love it. Right to your point, people test things like my shoes smell.

Speaker E: Right, okay.

Michael: And then now they have products specifically designed for that. And, um, the options are endless. So it's a great. And then it's peer to peer sharing and reviews, and they. You feel good about what you're buying before you buy it. So it's the great equalizer that wouldn't have years ago.

There's so much opportunity now with Amazon for innovations to come out

Uh, there's so much opportunity now with Amazon for innovations to come out, um, that there's never been there before.

Darcy: Well, and it's funny that you mentioned the search side of it, because that is something, I think it's a very different way of looking at innovation. There's two things that, for us that we bring into the picture a lot. One is looking at search habits and seeing what consumers are searching is telling you where categories are headed. Right. And white space opportunities. And the other thing is ratings and reviews, not only for your own product, but for your competitors products as well, to find the white space of what are the benefits that we should be speaking to in the category. I mean, it's basically consumer research right in front of us.

Michael: All done for you. All you got to do is spend a little bit of time.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: And all at zero cost.

Darcy: Exactly. Yeah. It's pretty phenomenal.

Michael: So as a startup, I don't have a research budget. I don't.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: But I have those tools that are very easily at my disposal and I'm able to navigate that at speeds. Then if I designed a custom research project, it would be months before I got the results. And to your point, there are thousands of consumer insights just sitting on the Amazon portal right now.

Darcy: We developed the first consumer product out of it

Allan: So you mentioned that original product. I think I might actually even see it behind you, the consumer product. Can you tell us a bit about that and what you learned from it?

Michael: So, um, when I came in, they had the original idea of taking that b to b product and bring it into the consumer space, and they had a product design for it, and they were honestly holding it back because we didn't have EPA approval on the consumer product yet. Um, and if you know anything about EPA approval, it's a multi year process. Um, and really challenging because they wanted to make these kill claims on the consumer product. And what we talked about was, in the consumer space, the insight is different. And Alan, as you pointed out, I've been in the consumer market for a long time. So one of the things I've been able to do as I've come in is take my vast knowledge of, I've met with probably thousands of laundry consumers. I've been in their houses. I've watched them do laundry. I've watched them how they deal with stains. I know about their segmentation. I can tell you what their kitchen looks like based on what laundry detergent they used.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So I was able to take that insight and said the number one consumer unmet need right now in laundry is odor. And it's really because our fabrics have changed.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: And I do this demo all the time. Fabrics are woven. Everybody's wearing athleisure wear now. And what happens with athleisure wear is when it heats up, it opens. And what that does is it wicks the water away from the body.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: The problem is when you take it off, it closes, and all that bacteria in your sweat just get trapped in there. So you take that athletic wear out of the wash, you smell it, and it smells great until it heats up again when you're wearing it, and then you get that permission smell. So I really pushed the team to think about what are the alternate claims we can make with this product. We had a great product. We had the consumer insight, and we developed the first consumer product out of it. And it looks like a giant dryer sheet. Now, one of the biggest problems we had is we tried to make it like a dryer sheet on a startup production line. And if you know anything about dryer sheet production and the folding and the cutting is really complicated. And our first product looked like a box of dryer sheets. The problem is we were selling it at such a premium to the dryer sheet market that it didn't really get a lot of traction. Um, so we went back and we rethought about it. And again, these are things that startups can do. It's about learning and failing fast and reinventing yourself. We talked about continuous improvement all the time at applied silver, and we really reinvented it and we wanted to make it look different. We also wanted it to fit the model we were selling it on. So we created this item, right, and it ships really well. It's really small. I took almost $10 of labor costs out of it by changing it. Um, and what we found is as we optimized the product, the review started to get better, right. People didn't compare it anymore to a dryer sheet. People knew how to use it because it looked different. They actually read the instructions instead of assuming, if it looks like a dryer sheet, I should use it like a dryer sheet. And then our reviews started to get better, and then our sales started to get better and the whole Amazon flywheel took off. Um, and it really gave us the aha moment. And it's funny that aha moment. It started April 3, right? We got the new product in Amazon. And starting April 3, I watched the daily sales continue to increase. April was, um, 80% better than March, May was 70% better than April. And we just kept growing. And to the point of like, we got it, we figured it out and it took us six months of trial and error, but we were able to do that live. And to your point earlier, Darcy, we were getting so much feedback instantly on Amazon that it made it easy for us to pivot and move fast.

Darcy: So I'm going to push a little bit more on those pivots.

So some of the feedback you were getting what were those initial pivots

So some of the feedback you were getting what were those initial pivots that you made? How did you approach that?

Speaker E: Yeah.

Michael: Uh, I think the, the biggest one is we had to look and act differently than a dryer sheet.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: And that was the biggest aha. Moment is like, people aren't using it correctly.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: You get little sound bites, like, I put it in my dryer. It did nothing. Well, that's not the instructions on the pack. And really, to get the best experience, you have to do this and use it this way. Um, so we optimized our instructions. Um, we used our space better on the packaging to really educate consumers on what the product is. Um, and, um, we changed the format just to get it away from that drier sheet comparison.

Darcy: And did you start to gauge that immediately based off of ratings and reviews and responses?

Michael: Ratings and reviews and sales. So at PNG, one of the general managers once said, if you want to know how healthy the business is, look at yesterday's sales.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Consumers act pretty quickly to these things. Um, and there's no better indicator of how well you're doing is if a consumer is willing to spend the money that they work hard to earn and put it into your product.

Darcy: Absolutely. We always say it's like, first you have to, especially with Amazon, win the search. Right. You got to know how they're searching, what they're looking for. What's the problem the consumer is looking to solve, as you indicated earlier, then you direct them to a page and you have all these mpis. So to your point, they needed to be able to see that MPI and identify immediately. Win the click. How are you winning the click? Have they identified? Okay, this is what my product use is for, and that's what you were solving for.

What does it take to make a product launch successful in today's world

Allan: So we've touched a little bit on some of the principles, but can you tell us, uh, in today's world, what does it take to make a product launch successful?

Michael: I think it starts with an unmet need. I think the definition of an unmet need has really changed over time. And the biggest difference was it used to be a very functional unmet need.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: If you look at Swiffer, the consumer unmet need that they started with is if you did a broom in a dust pan, no matter how many times you did it, you always had that line of dirt.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Very functional. And that was the insight that drove Swiffer. Huge brand, great product. I love it. Um, but I think unmet needs have kind of changed over time where they've become more personal. Right. And those unmet needs are sometimes I want not only a product that functions in a certain way, but does this for me, makes me feel this way, whether it makes me feel good about what I do, um, it makes me feel good about what I'm doing for the environment, there's more of that, or it makes me feel cool because I'm ahead of the innovation curve, right? So brands, more than ever have personalities. We always talked about brand character and things like that. I think brand personality in that equation has really started to increase. Um, the second piece is you got to be able to deliver on that unmet need, right? So whether it's functional or emotional, bombas is a great example of an emotional unmet need where there's so many people out there that want to help people, right? They have a great product. And socks, you could argue socks or socks, but they have a great product that makes me feel good about what I do because I don't have the ability to help people, um, on a daily basis. But buying a pair of bombas makes me feel like I'd have, um, now more than ever. It's got to be about the functional and the emotional part that you have to play into.

Darcy: So once you launch, right, you've done a launch, you're out there, you're going to the consumer, obviously. You've gone from b to b to b to c. I think there's several challenges that then become part of a brand's journey, especially in the startup spaces. One, how do you optimize? And we kind of touched on this. You started to see, hey, this is what the consumer is saying through ratings and reviews. You pivoted quickly, and then how do you decide what's your next opportunity to expand into?

Michael: Once we knew we had something, it really was like, what else can we do, right? And that's the fun part. This was like some of the most fun conversation because, um, really we were in such a small space and there was so much opportunity, there was more opportunity than we could go after. But we again implemented some of the discipline that I've learned at bigger companies and just did it in a small company, startup kind of way. So we broke it down into kind of three or four buckets. The first bucket is, um, is there a market, right? What's the size of prize for different markets and very simple red, yellow, green light charts, right. We weren't using tons of data. We were doing what's search volume on Amazon, things like that. The second one was, what's the competitive landscape in that market look. Right? I don't love going after playing in other people's sandboxes. Big brand sandboxes. Liquid laundry detergent. That's a really tough market to get into.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Not that I wouldn't get into it, but understand that it's going to be more expensive to play there.

Darcy: There's a bit more muscle that has to go into it.

Speaker E: There is. Right.

Michael: And then the third bucket is, will our product fit that unmet need? Do we have a technical right to win in that segment?

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Same thing. Red, yellow, green. And then the fourth bucket is, can we manufacture this right again, executional excellence. We could have great ideas that you can't execute. Um, in September, we went to the board. I went to the board and the investors and said, here are 15 products that I think we could launch in the next. Call it nine months. I have one product today. I have reason to believe. I've done proof of concept. I have reason to believe that silver ions work better than anything else. To eliminate odors.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: To permanently, not only eliminate them, but keep them from coming back from, um.

Darcy: Someone who has kids and dogs. Ah, I'll listen all day long. We'll eliminate.

Michael: We got tons of that, right? And I'll tell you about. So I have 15 products where I think we can expand to. I think I could get eight to ten of them done in the next six months.

Speaker E: Right?

Michael: I got everyone rallied behind that in the organization, and that's what we did. We picked off one at a time. And here's what I'll tell you is, the ones that you think are going to be great aren't always great. And the ones that you're like, that's going to be a sleeper. It's our biggest product. As a mom, how old are your kids?

Darcy: So my daughter will kill me. She's twelve going into 13. So stinky is our middle name, and my boy is eight going into nine, but he's playing football and baseball, and I just feel like every room smells in their direction.

Michael: And your car stinks, too.

Darcy: Of course, I had to change into the mom. I was like, I'm not doing a minivan, but I went for the telluride, and I'm like, the bags are in my car. There's always socks in there. I'm just saying it's real life struggles.

Darcy: Shoe deodorizers are our biggest sales for us

Michael: So, Darcy, here's the product. I'm going to tell you our biggest product. And as soon as I say it, you're going to say, I need this one.

Darcy: Yeah, I'm ready.

Michael: Shoe deodorizers?

Darcy: Yes, please.

Michael: Sneakers. Kids sneakers. Uh, stink. I don't know what it is, that item, smallest market we're playing in, biggest sales for us. And here's what I love about Amazon. If you look at the red, yellow, green light chart for that, yes, we can make it. Yes, it works. Um, green, not a huge competitive set there, right? But big red one is, it's a small market, right? How many people are out there looking for it? And if you put it on a shelf in a retailer, nobody's really, uh, ever going to find it, right. Because where would you put it? All these other things?

Darcy: Well, and Michael, honestly, it's kind of a shy buy if you really think about it. You're not wanting to put something on. You say, I got spooky feet. You could say it's for my children. But then you feel like you're being the person. They're like, it's for my children, not me. So it's kind of one of those things. Nowadays we've trained the consumers. They can search for shy by items like being smelly or things like that in the online space. And that's the beauty of it, right?

Michael: And here's the best part. I made 800 bottles of it, right? I put it on Amazon and we knew immediately we had a home run, right? And then I made more and I backfilled it out, but wasn't a huge investment. Um, we tested our way into, you know, somebody I used to work with at Proctor used to say this all the time. Light a lot of fires and you'll see which ones kind of take off and flame those fires and some will fizzle out, some of them will ignite like you poured gasoline on them. But that's just the way to look at it. And that's what Amazon does for us today.

Darcy: Yeah, no, I was just going to say that's the beauty of it. Like, you're looking at the competitive set, right? And they have the little things you can insert into shoes, but then you think about who's buying it, whose shoes are you wanting to keep the smell down? My kids get rid of anything I try to put in their shoes. So a little spray or squirt is amazing because I can just hit it and walk away from it. Like you said, it's understanding who your consumer is and then how they're utilizing the product.

From September to now, we'll have seven new products in market

Allan: So you told us about the, uh, shoe deodorizer. What were the other generation two products you launched?

Michael: Uh, well, from September to now, we're launching by the end of March, we'll have seven new products in market. Um, and that's building a whole new supply chain and all of that. What are we launching? So we launched the whole line of sprays, one for pets. Um, the great part about our products are they leverage silver ions, which is natural, um, environmentally friendly. Because of all the work we've done in the past with the EPA, all the testing for safety has already been done, so it's definitely safe for pets. We launched fabric spray, um, some that I'm really excited about. Um, and here's a trend that's coming, is dryer balls.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So a lot of people are going away from the dryer sheet. They're wasteful. Um, using dryerballs reduces drying time 25% to 40%. Uh, they're reusable. Um, but if you look on Amazon and you do the search, you could see they're all commoditized. There's really not any points of difference here. So we're really launching the first one with silver embedded into it that will actually help with odor. Um, the other area that we, um, are launching into are dissolvable laundry sheets. So this is a category I love, right. So I've worked in laundry for such a long period of time, it's amazing how many tests and fails we've had with Amazon and liquid laundries. Um, because shipping water is, one, expensive and two tends to get messy, really, um, hard to do. Um, and these dissolvable laundry sheets, and I have them here, really take all the water out of it because at the end of the day, laundry detergent is just shipping surfactants around. And if you could do it in a format that's not water, it not only has a huge environmental impact, um, laundry detergent bottles are one of the biggest causes of ocean plastics.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: Um, but shipping costs and the carbon footprint that is left behind on, um, shipping water is expensive. So again, we don't launch anything that we don't have the technical right to win in. So we've worked with, um, a co manufacturer to build the first, not only laundry detergent, but laundry detergent and long term deodorizer. Um, so those are a couple of interesting ones. I got some that, um, are a little further in the pipeline, but the opportunities really are endless because odor is such a big problem in so many different parts of your life.

Darcy: Definitely.

I always believe we learn more from our failures than our successes in life

And so I have one big question, because we've talked about all the learnings and successes that as a startup, making quick decisions, being able to be nimble, I always believe we learn more from our failures than we do our successes in life. Just in general, I try to practice that with my children. And even just in business is you always have to seek the why and then understand it, and then we're better for the next opportunity that arises. Anything that comes to mind of just being in now, your industry, in the startup space, anything you feel like you've learned from, uh, a significant failure or a big lesson or a takeaway that you've had.

Michael: I remember this as a brand manager, and I take with me is, um, don't let successes create blind spots. So it's about being paranoid. Um, and the example there is, I was the brand manager on the all laundry detergent business, and the business was growing, and it was extremely successful behind the freeclear movement.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: That was a growing segment of the business. The all brand owned it, number one, recommended by doctors, dermatologists, uh, pediatricians. And we were growing. That success blinded us to the weakness in the other parts of the business. And when the growth on the freeclear segment slowed, it really highlighted the, um, side of the business that wasn't doing well. So, yeah, overall, if I was to summarize it, don't let those, um, successes blind you to your weaknesses.

Darcy: I love that you got to be.

Michael: Humble and hungry all the time.

Darcy: You do, always seeking it could be going really well, but strive to kind of find what's around the next corner.

Don't get married to an idea in the startup space, Alan says

Michael: I was just going to say, the one thing I did want to talk about is don't get married to an idea.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So you and I talked about this before, um, especially in the startup space. And the analogy I use is like dating here. If you married the first person you ever dated, nine times out of ten, that might be a disaster. So you have to really be willing to have an idea, play it out, but be willing to move if it doesn't work out in the startup space. And what I learned early in the first couple of months here is I got married to ideas quickly. This is what's going to make us win. This is how we're going to get to the next level. We're going to sell the technology to a big CPG company. And when that didn't happen, it was devastating.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: So you really have to be, until you find that recipe for success, you have to be willing to kind of play the field a little bit and be okay with some of the things not working out. The second piece to that, Darcy, is what I'd say is when you do marry an idea, a, uh, marriage is work. So just because it doesn't go right at first, you got to put the effort in to make it work. And the example I'll give to you, we launched a surface spray, right? Silver ions. Great cleaning formula. The problem is, because our supply chain and the formulation, we're expensive in a very commoditized category, um, with a lot of low price points. Um, so we got bad reviews on that part of it.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: And the lesson was, you're too expensive for the benefit you're delivering, because odor on counter surfaces isn't a huge issue. Um, and we had a team meeting, and we were talking through everything, and one of the, uh, gentlemen on our team said, that's my favorite product. And I said, really? It's getting horrible reviews. Why? And he said, because I have three boys in my house, and, uh, the bathroom stinks around the toilet, the tiles stink around the toilet, and nothing I can do gets that odor out except for this. So, on a product that nine out of the ten people on the team were just dismissing, came that one insight of, we're an overpriced surface spray, but we are a, uh, benefit to a, uh, value in the bathroom cleaning.

Speaker E: Right.

Michael: And now we're still married to that product. We wanted to succeed. We just had to work to get the positioning right.

Darcy: You just positioned it a little bit differently. Yeah, absolutely. And I think like you're saying is, I'm with you being the startup space, I always tell my team, it's like, let's shuffle the deck, right? You're married. These are the cards we're working with. Let's shuffle the deck, and let's look at it in different ways to your point is, maybe it just wasn't positioned right. Maybe it's easy. And I understand this, and, Alan, I'm sure you would share more of it, of being a founder. It's such a vision, and it starts to come to life. It's easy to hold on to that. But being able to shuffle that deck, or, like you said, not being married to just an idea or a vision of something and letting it will show its way, the cars are going to show, or the course is going to show its way, and then it is. I mean, it's a lot of work as marriages, 20 years, but it is a lot of work, and it's good work. And when it works well, it's very satisfying. And I think that's the case with great startups and great brands, too.

Allan: Yeah. To, uh, illustrate your point, Darcy, uh, you always have to have a lot of ideas, and like you said, light a lot of fires. Uh, we have 316 domain names, uh, that, uh, we've acquired as part of building. So if that helps illustrate the point.

Darcy: At all, Alan can have, like, uh, a. He's a torch thrower. He'll make sure we got. Right. Alan.

Allan: Exactly.

Darcy: Well, yeah.

Michael Miller shares his CPG launch story with Bold Strategies Incorporated listeners

Well, Michael, I have to say, I know Alan has just shared so much about you and your story, and I want to thank you so much for sharing it with all of our listeners. It truly is stories like yours that remind us to keep innovating, stay inspired, and let us continue to define and redefine the world of CPG innovation. Thank you so much.

Michael: Now, thank you for having me. Was fun.

Allan: Thanks, Michael.

Announcer: You've been listening to CPG launch leaders, a show from bold strategies Incorporated. Don't miss the next thrilling launch story. Follow the podcast on your podcast player. Now, please give us a rating, leave a comment, and share episodes with your friends until next time.


Cpg Innovation, Startup Culture, Consumer Goods, Applied Silver, Product Launch, Michael Lyons, Henkel, Procter & Gamble, Baseball Cards, Consumer Insights, Brand Development, Amazon Strategy, Direct-To-Consumer, Antimicrobial Textiles, Hospital-Associated Infections, Cal Poly, Epa Approval, Odor Elimination, Agile Methodology, Disruptive Brands


Amanda Ashley
Post by Amanda Ashley
March 26, 2024
Marketing Director for BOLD