#124. Made In is a direct-to-consumer cookware brand. We talk with co-founder and CEO Chip Malt who talks with us about how he set out to create a curated and intentional set of products that satisfied everyday kitchen needs while chipping away at entrenched brands like All-Clad.

Check out the full transcript below. 

Chip: [00:00:01] Our consumers don’t walk out of their house on a Tuesday saying, “I need a new cookware set.” It’s not one of those things where you see a Facebook ad and you’re like, “Oh, I do need a new pan!” And then just like, one-click-buy. It’s a highly considered purchase. You may not even realize that your pan at home stinks.

Richie: [00:00:15] That’s Chip Malt, co-founder and CEO of Made In, a direct-to-consumer cookware brand. Chip started the company with his co-founder Jake, whose family has worked in the cookware space for generations. They set out to create a curated and intentional set of products that satisfied everyday kitchen needs while chipping away at entrenched brands like All-Clad.

Richie: [00:00:33] I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights, check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com. We also just announced Loose Threads Live, our-invite only and entirely off-the-record gathering for founders, executives and investors on October 3rd in New York City. Learn more at LooseThreads.com/Live.

Richie: [00:01:00] I started the Loose Threads Podcast to spark engaging discussions with leaders across the consumer economy. That’s why I was excited to talk with Chip about how the brand has developed products in the wake of ever changing tariffs, and how it’s turned to chefs to amplify its message. Here’s how it all began.

Chip: [00:01:22] We saw what was happening in the digital landscape—the Caspers of the world, the Brooklinens of the world. Each one of these verticals, if you go down a Bed Bath & Beyond header on their website and look at each one of the categories, they had slowly fallen, vertical by vertical, to a direct-to-consumer movement. And the one that really hadn’t been touched was the kitchenware.

Richie: [00:01:39] Why do think that was?

Chip: [00:01:40] What we found out was the supply chain was tough. We are working with metal crafters, there’s very few metal crafters in the world that can produce a great product, compared to apparel, where you can go to a trade show and there may be ten, 15 factories that can produce high-end apparel. There’s not that in the kitchen space. So one, I just think, from my ease of starting a business, there was that aspect to it. And then two, you know, I think it was just a little bit less sexy than some of the others. It’s a big market, which was interesting for us. It was a market that people are passionate about. Food is something that people love and Instagram, and so, for us, it was an interesting thing that just hadn’t been cracked.

Richie: [00:02:13] Given you knew those things, why go after it?

Chip: [00:02:15] So I actually had a childhood buddy whose family is third-generation kitchen supply, so I saw that opportunity. I love cooking. I do it all the time, I was doing it five, seven times a week. And, to me, personally, it was, hey I do it five times a week and I don’t know the brand of anything that I use in the kitchen, so there’s no brand affinity, but maybe there is for other people out there. Like, maybe I’m just an anomaly. And so I called him up and said, “Hey, is this an opportunity? Do people know anything about this space? Is there an opportunity for us to create a brand in this space?” And within maybe four seconds he was like, “Let’s do it.”

Richie: [00:02:46] Would you agree that there are certain items in the kitchen, a la, like the Vitamix and so forth that have the brand affinity? And I guess those are maybe more appliances, frankly. Beyond those, maybe I know what my knife is, besides maybe, like, Le Creuset or whatever. Like, you don’t really know what else is there.

Chip: [00:03:01] It’s also a big hand-me-down area, so most people we talked to—we obviously did the big survey before we started out with the idea of, you know, interviewing fifteen hundred of our potential quote-unquote “customers”—and said like, how did you get your cookware? And what they said, majority-wise was, “I either bought it at IKEA when I first moved in my apartment five, seven, ten years ago, and haven’t swapped it out,” or, “It’s a hand-me-down, and it’s something that’s just been kind of last on my radar.”.

Richie: [00:03:24] Did that scare you, a little bit?

Chip: [00:03:26] So we always talk about it as the challenge, but also the opportunity. So when I was in the apparel space, we always talked about how can we convert people away from Patagonia, away from Lululemon, all these brands that had spent decades building an affinity for them. And for us, you know, we don’t have that. The issue and the opportunity is, hey, you actually have to care about this space. And for us I think what we were seeing from a consumer standpoint was that people are hyper-focused on ingredients. They’re going and they’re sourcing a meal kit that cost them $60 bucks a month, they’re going to Whole Foods and they’re buying a $30 grass-fed steak or they’re buying organic this and organic that at two times the price. And then they’re coming home and they’re actually cooking on something they have no idea what that product is. And so that was a behavioral dislodge that we thought we could help overcome and then get people to actually care and focus on that last piece of the puzzle.

Richie: [00:04:14] So, I guess, when is this? And where do you begin, after that first kind of four-second conversation?

Chip: [00:04:19] Yeah. So I guess we looked at the landscape, and food is really emotional. And what we thought that was missing in this space was, again, that emotional attachment to the actual tool and product. So for us, we spent a year just looking at the best raw materials, who is creating those, the best factories that were third-generation, fifth-generation people who had just an absolute love and care for what they were making, and ended up partnering with them. So we talked to maybe 15 manufacturers all around the world. Europe, some Asia, India, the U.S., just to get a feel for what was out there and what people were creating. And, you know, we talked to a manufacturer that was fifth-generation in the United States and they’d say, “Cookware on the internet? No. People need to touch and hold a pan before they buy it.” And that was a really quick indication of, that conversation was gonna be a dead end.

Richie: [00:05:05] Was it like, fifth-generation, but still an older generation running?

Chip: [00:05:08] Exactly. And I think that’s something we’ve seen generationally across all the cookware category, is the kids that are my age that are, you know, the sixth-generation or that next generation, generally want to go for something sexier. So we actually found in multiple manufacturers and families that we work with that they almost see us as their kids, their hand-me-down. Which has been awesome for us, because we have unbelievably tight relationships with our manufacturers. We go to dinner with them, we spend time. We spend a week with them in France at their factories and in their hometowns that they’ve lived in forever. You know, we are lucky enough to get our kick-start in a really difficult category which is stainless clad cookware, it’s a really difficult process to make, and this is what separates, you know—

Richie: [00:05:45] Talk more about why.

Chip: [00:05:46] Stainless cladding is, basically, your sandwiching different materials together. Each material has a different property, in terms of corrosion resistance or heat retention or speed to heating. So, really, the best cookware and what separates, you know, a nine dollar pan from IKEA to a $150, $200 pan from All-Clad, and a $69 pan from us is that process of cladding. Basically, sandwiching multiple materials together and getting them to bond. There’s not that many great manufacturers in the world that can do that.

Chip: [00:06:13] We use aluminum in the middle, and then layer that between stainless steel, which makes it one, magnetic for induction cooked tops, but two, that’s where corrosion resistance and anti-warping and things like that come in. So, longevity. And that process is really difficult. We’re lucky enough to find a manufacturer who really cares about that and has done it the best in the world, but then also was forward thinking enough to say, hey, the internet’s the future, and if we don’t start to figure this out and these kids look like they’re the right ones to do so, then we’ll be left behind. So there’s a great symbiotic relationship.

Richie: [00:06:41] Did you know at this point what products you wanted to make, or where you wanted to start? And, I guess, how did you come to that?

Chip: [00:06:45] Yeah. So we’re kind of looking at the digital landscape market, and we loved the Casper approach, which was, let’s attack the core of the kitchen first, and we know eventually—you know, people don’t buy cookware every year. It’s not a replaceable item, so we know we’re going to have to go into other categories. And we always thought that if we started with the hardest and most core part of the kitchen—so a lot like Casper with the bed—it’d be much easier to go into what our version of the tangential categories would be. So, for them, sheets, other things, pillows, blah-blah-blah. For us, you know, the knives, the cutlery, anything else. If we could gain trust in the most core part of the kitchen then, for us, that LTV scenario would be a lot easier.

Richie: [00:07:20] So that meant starting with the cookware.

Chip: [00:07:22] Exactly.

Richie: [00:07:22] Within that, though, there’s still options, right? So, how did you figure out what that actually looked like?

Chip: [00:07:27] So my co-founder Jake, his background, as I mentioned, is in kitchen supplies, so he has a lot of great chef relationships. So we did, really, a counterbalance between going out and talking to a ton of chefs—so, what are the most useful pieces in the kitchen? What are those core pieces you couldn’t live without? And then mashing them with, obviously, sizing issues in the home versus a commercial kitchen. So we wanted to be able to say, this will stand up in a commercial kitchen. They use and abuse cookware. We want this to have a lifetime warranty. We want this to be as good as it can be for any home chef that there is out there. And by doing so, we want to be able to test this with commercial kitchens, and let them beat it around and have it work for them.

Richie: [00:08:03] So when you’re doing this survey and conversing with chefs, were there any surprises that came out of that? Or like, did that help disprove anything that you had come in with?

Chip: [00:08:11] For them, they always get a little bit too specialized. And for us, I think one of the benefits of the digitally-native movement is you’re simplifying the buying process which, if you look at the cookware space in general, it’s really confusing. And that’s something that we were cognizant of and that we wanted to really approach from a digital and ecommerce portion, is really making sure nothing we made was really too far out there, that you don’t need everything.

Richie: [00:08:34] It’s like, the 28-piece set, or whatever it is.

Chip: [00:08:36] Exactly, exactly, that will sit in [the] back [of] your cupboard that you’ll never use. And then there were some certain things that didn’t make sense for a commercial kitchen that we really wanted to approach from a home-chef-perspective. So, the content that continually came up in our interviews with home cooks was the lid drawer. You never use the exact lid on the right pot, because it clangs around and it’s just, there’s 500 lids for—you don’t even have those pots anymore, you don’t even know who they belong to. And that was a problem that we really wanted to solve for the home chef. So what we did is spend about a year creating a silicon outer shell over a stainless steel inner core, which ended up basically fitting all of our pots and pans.

Chip: [00:09:08] So you can have one lid that, one, is silent, ’cause it’s not gonna bang around, it’s got silicone on its exterior, it’s heat resistant so you don’t wear a glove picking it up off the pot. And it just completely simplifies the process, and that ended up winning a Time magazine invention of the year last year. So it’s kind of crazy, ’cause it’s a really simple idea, but it’s something that really just took listening to customers to figure out and develop.

Richie: [00:09:29] Bring us up to the launch, in terms of, I assume you’re building the brand at this point, too. And then kind of the experience of buying. Talk about those two pieces.

Chip: [00:09:37] Yeah, so we found the manufacturer, and that was the most important thing, because we wanted the product to drive the brand. So we actually didn’t start the development process of the brand— the naming, the color palette, any of that kind of brand stuff—until we knew where we were sourcing the product from, what that product assortment was gonna be. ‘Cause we felt like the product is gonna be what ends up making us a company that’s around for ten years, not a flashy brand. So, as soon as we lock down this manufacturer in the United States that we absolutely loved, loved the family, you know, we thought, what does that mean for our brand? And for us that’s authentic, it’s a little bit more gritty, not as perfectionist. And so, all those elements of the manufacturing process are what we brought into the brand.

Chip: [00:10:13] We spent about, probably six months developing the brand and the website. There was some generally feminine undertones, and a lot of the brands that were out there some of the newer brands, and we really wanted to shoot down the middle, ’cause we wanted our product, both design and brand, to be for everyone. So we tried to shoot everything down the middle.

Richie: [00:10:27] So what was the plan for the launch?

Chip: [00:10:31] So we obviously spent about a year and a half planning this whole thing. We pressed play, I think, on September 21st of 2017, and then spent the next six hours watching Google Analytics live, I think as anyone does. And the first order that wasn’t our parents was one of the more exciting things that’s probably ever happened in our lives.

Richie: [00:10:47] Do you know how that person found you?

Chip: [00:10:49] We got some good press hits on day one.

Richie: [00:10:51] Okay. So there was kind of a press build up.

Chip: [00:10:52] Exactly. Exactly. We did some influencer gifting and things like that over the previous two months before and prior to launch, all around the launch itself. You know, I think the biggest realization was that our consumers don’t walk out of their house on a Tuesday saying, “I need a new cookware set.” It’s not one of those things where you kind of see a Facebook ad and you’re like, “Oh, I do need a new pan!” And then just like, one-click buy. It’s a highly considered purchase. It may happen when you’re moving. You may not even realize that your pan at home stinks. So, definitely a learning experience where it’s a different category, it’s different than what I’d come from, which is the apparel world, where everyone always could need another shirt.

Richie: [00:11:26] So how did that start to change or inform how you marketed and went, post-launch?

Chip: [00:11:31] It’s just a really confusing category, where people don’t understand that cladding process that I mentioned. That’s what’s different between a $5 pan and a $100 pan. So for us we really started to lean into the education portion of our brand. And, so we actually ended up getting an investment from Tom Colicchio, which, you know, a really famous chef, hosted Top Chef, well known for being an expert at his craft. And in his book he basically said, more or less, if you learn the techniques of cooking, that’s when you can start to express your own creativity in cooking, and that’s where the fun comes in.

Richie: [00:12:01] So, tactically, how did you go about that, in terms of, what did that education look like?

Chip: [00:12:05] Sure. So on our website, and it’s part of our mission to have, really, a content and product synergy on our website, which we’re really blossoming right now. We have unbelievable access to chefs. And what’s been really interesting about the business transformation for us, is we launched as really, core focus of home consumer. And because of that supply chain and focus on supply chain that we had from the beginning, we had a ton of chefs reaching out saying, “I’ve never seen a cookware brand like yours before, and I want to get behind it. How can I?” So, with that, brought a lot of investment from chefs who are experts at their craft, in all different crafts, too. Like, one’s a vegetarian chef, one is a modernist cuisine chef. And so we’re like, this is an unbelievable opportunity for us to act as a conduit between these experts and our home cooks who would love to learn from them. So what our main focus is from a brand for the next year or two, three years, is to basically act as that bridge. Give people the experiences that we’ve been able to have internally and make them really enjoy cooking.

Richie: [00:12:58] So, is the idea then that, I’m gonna get education over time, I’m gonna become a better cook, I’m going to then, read my expectations. I go, “Actually maybe I need this,” etc? Does it happen via articles, videos? Like, what was the nascent state of it, I guess?

Chip: [00:13:11] Yeah, so our sixth hire was a full-time videographer/photographer, which I think is unique for our business. Generally that stuff is either farmed out to an agency. And that was our sixth hire because we knew we had a competitive advantage in, as I mentioned, the access to these chefs, and a content perspective. But also being from Austin, Texas, space isn’t that much of a premium to us, so we built out our own test kitchen in our office which, you know would not exist—it’s an old historic home. And so we knew like, we wanted this content piece to be a core part of our brand.

Richie: [00:13:39] We’re post-launch now. Take us through that first year. Where else are you spending your time? Other priorities for the business from, I guess, September 2017 to the following year.

Chip: [00:13:49] So we were lucky enough to have a really loyal fan base from day one. Our repeat rates were higher than we thought.

Richie: [00:13:53] Why do you think that was?

Chip: [00:13:54] I just think it’s something new in this space. We were really the first mover in the category. And, you know, we got a lot of customers writing in, saying like, “Thank god someone is finally disrupting All-Clad. The prices for them are insane, they’re impossible to get. They don’t care about me at all.” And, you know, we focus right from day one on customer service, on our price-to-value ratio, things like that, that we’re all for the consumer. So I think it was refreshing. For us, that first year is like, all right, now we have this cookware brand. One, we want to scale our core, which is the stainless-steel-clad cookware, but we have a ton of other products that are on a back burner. My co-founder Jake did a great job of already starting to build out the supply chain from day one for the next product, so that it is more of a press-play-when, as opposed to a, “Oh crap…we need to catch up and develop the next product.”

Chip: [00:14:37] So we ended up launching a carbon steel pan which, for us, is actually a really unique story for the United States, because it’s huge in Europe but people in the U.S. love cast iron, which is actually, to us, a really bad pan.

Richie: [00:14:50] Why is that?

Chip: [00:14:50] One, it’s super-heavy. But two, it’s actually a really poor conductor of heat. So the best way to cook with that is, you either throw it in your oven for ten minutes before you cook and get it up to temperature, or you leave it on the burner for ten minutes and let it finally get up the temperature. And it’s really great at maintaining that temperature, but the problem is, if you actually know what you’re doing cooking, like you’re changing your temperature throughout the process—you know, either searing it to start and then lowering the flame to cook the inside correctly. You want that ability to change temperature, and a cast iron does not let you do that. Carbon steel had a lot of the same benefits of cast iron; it seasons over time, it becomes nonstick and generates nonstick properties over time, but it’s much lighter, it’s much more maneuverable and it speeds up and cools down a lot quicker. So it’s a better version of cast iron for us. And it’s huge in Europe, it’s huge in the commercial kitchens in the United States, but the home cook didn’t know about it.

Richie: [00:15:37] Briefly, just explain the bundle that you launched with.

Chip: [00:15:39] Yeah. So we launched with about ten SKUs in stainless-steel-clad. So that’s two sizes of saucepans, a couple sizes of frying pans, a few nonstick frying pans, some saucepans and a saucier.

Richie: [00:15:50] It’s still a pretty good assortment though, to launch with.

Chip: [00:15:53] Absolutely. And that’s actually what ended up getting us a lot of attention from the chefs, is ’cause, as other brands popped up in the direct-to-consumer space, they were very pinpointed on two or three products, and they just cannot outfit a kitchen. Chefs were like, “You guys can outfit my entire kitchen. You have the SKU assortment to do so, can you outfit this, can you outfit that.” You know, all these restaurants around United States now. And it was like, all right, that is the most amount of SKUs we really want to create in stainless-steel-clad cookware space. So what else are we gonna do?

Chip: [00:16:19] We ended up creating a knife out of central France, with an awesome fifth-generation knife maker. That was October of 2018, so our second line. Then our third line about two weeks later was this carbon steel line.

Richie: [00:16:29] The chef in the kitchen piece started coming up. Did you anticipate a B2B business as part of this? Did that kind of come out of the blue or push your expectations? Like, how did that, the customer bases start to evolve?

Chip: [00:16:40] So it really started, I think we sold into our first kitchen probably after a year and a half of business. So that’s about six months ago. We’re about 18 months old now.

Richie: [00:16:48] Did you expect that to be sooner?

Chip: [00:16:49] No we actually don’t expect it, really, at all. And so, from then on everything has been inbound. We actually just hired last week our first B2B commercial salesman, and so we’ve sold into about 50 restaurants and now we’re quoting about 60 others. So it’s growing to be a meaningful portion of our business. And then also, it’s just awesome to work with these chefs, and we want to scale it but we don’t want to hire third-party distributors to like, pitch our stuff. Like, that’s where we lose that connection and that’s what we feel is really interesting for our brand.

Richie: [00:17:16] Talk a bit about price point, both on the consumer side to what’s out there. And then I’m curious, on the B2B side, how this competes to what wholesale that they’re buying as well.

Chip: [00:17:24] So on the consumer side what’s interesting is we’re about 50% of the price of All-Clad. So we’re a significant value to a premium incumbent. What is interesting is, again, since most people have a hand-me-down product or have bought that IKEA set, it’s still a premium purchase for them, it’s still an upgrade in price point. So we still have that convincing and education portion to do for the consumer. With the chef, they understand All-Clad, they understand what’s out there. And, really, we’re filling a price point that hasn’t existed in the commercial space before. There’s kind of the Wincos, which are the import aluminum pans that are probably nine bucks a pan, then the All-Clads that, even at wholesale, are still $80 or $90 bucks. You know, at the end of the day, they want to love the tools that they’re working with, and so we’re filling this price point which a lot of them haven’t had access to before, which is a really nice product at [an] in-between price point.

Richie: [00:18:13] Did your manufacturers think you were crazy doing that? Or how did they feel about this?

Chip: [00:18:19] They were supportive from day one. I mean, I think they were a little bit just shocked and wanted to see if it worked. They were interested to be along for the ride. Since then, you know, they’ve been unbelievably supportive. We’ve been blowing out all of our numbers. We’ve added additional shifts at their manufacturing facility. We have a really great relationship with the factory manager and, you know, we were leaving the factory the other day and he was like, “I love you guys.” And we were like, “Whoa!” I love it! Like, “I didn’t know we had this relationship. We love you too, man!”

Chip: [00:18:46] When you follow the trace of our stainless steel cookware from creation to when it goes into a box, it ends up passing through the hands of people who have been working in cookware for 200 years. So people have been doing this forever and it’s generally been the exact same for the last 30 years, and they’re excited now to try working on something new. They feel like they’re part of the brand, they feel like they’re on a new movement. So it’s pretty cool on multiple levels.

Richie: [00:19:06] So talk about the development of the knives a little bit, as the second product, as well.

Chip: [00:19:10] So the knives are something we’re super proud of. Similar to stainless steel, I was mentioning, there’s very few makers left in the world that create a knife the authentic way, which means there’s absolutely no welding at all in the process. It’s stamped from one rod of metal into a full knife. And obviously that’s more expensive to do. It’s harder to do. Takes a lot more time to create a knife as opposed to have, kind of a blade already made, and a handle, weld them together and just polish it. And that’s not just, you know, like a respect for the way knives are originally made, it actually has tangible benefits on the knife’s quality.

Chip: [00:19:40] So, for instance, you know, what you care about a knife blade is that it’s hard but not too hard. And for that to get that way, the stamping of the knife from the single rod into the knife blade actually consolidates the molecules and makes the knife blade hard. That means it lasts longer and stays sharper longer and things like that. We really didn’t want to skimp on the process at all. We wanted to find a partner that still produced things the authentic way. We talked to a ton of people. We found this knife maker, fifth-generation, awesome female knife maker in France who was from the area that actually birthed the modern chef knife. So it’s absolutely in their DNA. And we spent a week with her. We had our modern design. We took a little bit of hints from the Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere, combined them into design, and they helped us tool it, create it and then perfect it.

Richie: [00:20:23] So what were your expectations on new versus returning customer buying these? Like, how did the increase in assortment start to change with the business kind of looked like?

Chip: [00:20:31] On both launches, about 50% of that launch product went back to existing customers. Which was awesome because, as I mentioned, you know, it’s a new category for us. It’s something that, hey, are we just a stainless steel company? And the interesting part about the cookware space is it’s really conglomeratized. So group SEB owns Henckels, it owns All-Clad. It owns a ton of different brands and it keeps them all in their lanes. So you go to a Williams-Sonoma—and this is part of why the shopping experience sucks in the kitchen space, is you have to research Henckel versus Wusthof, and then you have to research All-Clad versus Le Creuset, or whatever it is. And you have to do a ton of different research. And because they’re conglomeratized like, All-Clad’s not creating knives, and you can’t just fall in love with All-Clad and go horizontally. This was the first test of being, hey, we wanna be a brand where you can fall in love with Made In, you can love us for stainless steel because you know we did our homework there. You can love us on knives ’cause you know we did our homework there. And so on.

Richie: [00:21:20] Talk about why you think that happened? Because it seems that, you know, at any point at market there’s either the bundling or the unbundling of these things. Why do you think they stayed so long with this very kind of point focus?

Chip: [00:21:31] If you read their 10-Ks right now and their investment materials, because a lot of things are public—

Richie: [00:21:36] Which I’m sure you do.

Chip: [00:21:36] I do, I do. They specifically say that our growth pattern is through acquisition. I think they’re more interested in, view it as a quicker vehicle to growth through grabbing brands that are on the rise versus trying to grow All-Clad’s next line. But I don’t think they would have too much trouble. Like, they’re known for being in it—it’s even in their name, “All-Clad metal crafters,” they’re known for being metal crafters. If they leaned into that portion of the brand more, I think they would have an opportunity to go into other metal-crafting things such as knives.

Richie: [00:22:02] But the point is that you, from day one, wanted to go wide.

Chip: [00:22:05] Yeah we learned that from our past job. I mean, I think we dug our heels in the last job I was at, we were started as a core product, which was gym shorts. And we really dug ourselves into a gym brand. And I think it took us a while to get people to trust us in new categories, ’cause they’re like, “Why is this gym brand making this and that?” We really wanted to lead with the factory ethos, first, which is where we’re partnering with and working with and creating with the best manufacturers in the world. So that Made In was not a stainless-steel-clad company, they were a craftsmanship company, and that let us go horizontally a lot quicker than if we were just really like, “Hey we’re a stainless-steel-clad company.”

Richie: [00:22:39] So bring us to the end of 2018 in terms of focus priorities. I’m also curious, did you start to find a seasonality to the business as well?

Chip: [00:22:46] First year, no. I think the newness and month-over-month growth trumped seasonality. 2019, June was the first time I think we saw a little downturn in seasonality. People are more interested in barbecuing in the Hamptons than cooking at home and staying inside.

Richie: [00:23:00] And you don’t yet really serve that.

Chip: [00:23:01] Exactly. And so it’s obviously something on our radar. You know, what can we create in June, how can we reframe the pans that we have to be more applicable for outdoors. So, for instance, our carbon steel. I mean, again, it’s half the weight of cast iron. People love to bring cast iron camping. This product’s a no-brainer for a camper. That’s just something that we totally overlooked from day one. Which, you know, next year I think we’ll find ways to counteract that.

Chip: [00:23:20] Kind of to your question on, bring us the end of year one and then into year two. We received our first investment from Tom Colicchio, so he was our first real chef ambassador, October of 2018. That fundamentally changed our business. He added a stamp of approval to our brand just from a unit economics standpoint, in terms of like, acquisition costs. Like, we had a material change in those with him on board, it started to kind of trickle down and attract other chefs. So we had this really great snowball effect.

Chip: [00:23:46] And in 2018 holiday season, we had an unbelievable holiday. I think it’s a classic first year startup story, we sold out of everything. Actually, on Black Friday. So we missed all of December and the Cyber Week, which was not great for an ecommerce business, but it was really like, kind of an eye-opener, that this could be a lot bigger than we initially thought, and it could be a lot bigger quicker than we thought. We ended up really kind of having a tough go in December. We missed a few Christmas shipments. But we try to do our best to kind of make it good for that, and then kick off 2019 in good fashion.

Richie: [00:24:16] Bring us into this year in terms of priorities for the first half, and kind of focus with a year under your belt.

Chip: [00:24:21] Product development’s interesting to us, obviously. We went deeper into knives. We launched an American-made butcher block which—great product there. We launched a larger carbon steel pan, than a wok out of carbon steel as well, which we ended up partnering with Stephanie Izard on the launch of that, the chef from Girl and the Goat, in Chicago. Awesome chef, James Beard winner. It’s been awesome.

Richie: [00:24:40] You mentioned Casper and a few other brands before, about starting core and then kind of expanding. Oftentimes those adjacent products are not as good or successful as kind of the others. It sounds like there’s been this steady kind of drum, though, of development from your end and much larger piece-building. How do you avoid, or how do you all think about avoiding that, like, let’s just hack stuff on so people buy more stuff, but at the expense of the integrity of the brand. And kind of that the first product is not always the best, or doesn’t remain the best, ’cause the stuff is actually getting better versus worse as you expand.

Chip: [00:25:11] It’s something that we talk about a lot internally. I mean, the one thing we fear is just becoming a marketplace too quick. And you get on there and you don’t realize the effort and the intention that goes into each new product that we create. I’m running the ecommerce side of things. On the marketing side, you know, LTV. I’m sitting there saying like, “Give us [an] ice cream spoon, give us this, give us that. Like something we can just kind of boost and increase LTV.” And I think Jake my co-founder is really good at pushing back on that and saying, “Hey, no. We need to stay in the core the kitchen, we need to move slower. We have a product vision. If we’re taking a short-term hit on LTV that’s okay, because we need to keep the brand integrity tight.” So far, I think we’ve been lucky enough that each one of our products, from a quality perspective, has been an absolute hit.

Richie: [00:25:50] Are there things that you’ve developed and decided not to launch?

Chip: [00:25:52] The universal [lid] that I mentioned earlier was something that we developed, that we got probably 95% of the way there within three months. And it started bubbling at 450 degrees in the oven, and, you know, it didn’t perfectly fit a pan or the clearance from the bottom of the pan to the top of the lid was just off. And there was that question of, “Hey. Like, this is 95% there. Like, let’s go for it.” It actually took us another year. We took a step back. We did about ten more prototypes until getting it to market.

Richie: [00:26:21] Bring us up to the present, and then talk through the focus for the rest of the year.

Chip: [00:26:24] Content’s being a huge focus of ours. You know, run out to L.A. and we’re shooting with four different chefs, all who are actual customers at Made In and have bought, for their new restaurants or old restaurants. So we have a huge focus on that for the rest of the year. We have an entire pipeline of product and we’re bringing on some new headcount, in terms of the creation and content side of things. In terms of product, launching this roasting pan, doing that with Tom Colicchio and some other chefs, which will help teach pan-roasting methods, and he’s got an awesome garden at his house and we’re gonna go up there and do some content to show you how to correctly do vegetables in a roasting pan.

Chip: [00:26:53] From just a brand perspective, you know, we’re super interested in just growing our presence, obviously. And remaining a digital brand right now, we’re 100% through our website only, no retail, and we think that’s the best means for the next year-and-a-half, two years, to get our word out.

Richie: [00:27:07] So, Martha Stewart is, call it the flagship kind of name in the space, at least for kind of the previous year. There are a lot of—I mean, we’re seeing this across a lot of categories—the growth of a lot of these celebrity-driven brands with a face on it. They’re putting their face and their brand on mediocre-to-average products and kind of driving that way. How did you start to figure out or think about the role that people of that level should play, where they shouldn’t play, and then kind of how that meshes with the brand itself? ‘Cause there are a lot of extreme examples out there; All-Clad is the commodity/brandless/faceless whatever, Martha Stewart is the face-driven one. How do you figure all that out? ‘Cause there are a lot of upfront perks to having someone’s name on it. I think the longevity question comes up pretty quickly and it’s just a pretty interesting kind of minefield.

Chip: [00:27:51] Yeah, it’s a really good question. Because one, how do we explain that these aren’t hired guns. Like, we didn’t pay Tom Colicchio a hundred thousand dollars to just endorse our product. Like, he’s [an] investor in it, he believes in the story, he’s bought our stuff for the restaurants, and that’s exactly what all the chefs we work with have done, is like, they have an authentic interest in our business, so much so that they actually are purchasers of ours. So they’re not influencers, they’re actual customers and partners. That’s something that we did actually a poor job of launching, which is, we kind of followed a path almost like a Nike, where it’s an endorsed athlete. And it made it more about, hey, this athlete is part of our brand, an athlete-first, versus the brand. What we’re really focused on over the next year is really showcasing how these chef celebrities fit into our brand and are actually part of our brand.

Richie: [00:28:34] In terms of tangential partnerships and so forth, I think of Resy, which American Express bought. I think of The Infatuation, I think of Food52. I mean, there’s a ton happening, call it more on the kind of media side as well. Do you see sites like that and companies like that as partners on this journey? Do you feel like it’s too early and that you have enough runway ahead through your own digital methods, that you don’t need them? I guess there’s also the press piece of wanting or hoping that they endorse these products as well. How do you think about where those players kind of fit into the ecosystem, as well? Some are also launching their own private labels. Also a lot happening there.

Chip: [00:29:09] Yeah I think you generally see products go in two directions. One is kind of the BuzzFeed, which is, we launch as a media company and we reverse-engineer, and see we need more cash flow, let’s launch some products.

Richie: [00:29:17] A huge license through Wal-Mart and so forth.

Chip: [00:29:19] Exactly, and Food52 is the same way. Where they launched as a content site, they started selling other people’s products first, and then are trying to transition to their own private-label brand. We think the other way is a lot more authentic. And so I think, at some level, we will be competitors with a Food52, etc. Don’t want to call them out specifically but, hey. Say, Food52 is like, “We’ve been talking about how amazing all these brands are. We are the trusted source of curating other brands and telling you that, Staub is the best brand and, here, you should buy it.” And now all of a sudden you’re kind of transitioning into, “Hey. Like, actually our stuff’s the best.”

Richie: [00:29:47] Like if the Wirecutter started making products.

Chip: [00:29:49] Exactly. It seems a little bit inauthentic and it seems a little bit like a business case as opposed to the actual reason why they started the business. And for us, you know, I think we think the other way is a lot more…like, hey, we’re creating these core products and, to us, we just really want to show you how to use them correctly. And with that comes the media portion. So, you know, who knows if one day it’ll be a revenue-driver. It’s something we talk about but it’s not a focus of ours. Like, really it’s about the entire experience of the product.

Richie: [00:30:15] You mentioned retail’s kind of far off field. Have you done anything event-wise or kind of more, IRL, for lack of a better term, that is interesting and worth kind of investing in continually?

Chip: [00:30:25] Yeah. I think we had some misses there, to be honest. We entered into a few of those kind of retail-as-a-service brands, which bring together a lot of direct-to-consumer brands into a space and showcase you alongside Hims and this and that. And, you know, I think retail is something that’s a focus of ours. If we do it, I think there’s interesting ways to do it, ’cause I don’t think a human wants to go into a store and walk out with a frying pan. It’s a heavy product. It’s actually something that drop ship model would be better for, in my opinion. And so for us I think it’s more about the experience. Doing cooking classes there, doing demos. Maybe you sell Made In spices, or something that actually helps the cooking process, or has free recipe cards. Some way to actually create an enticing retail environment that’s less about the product and more about the experience of cooking.

Richie: [00:31:07] Yeah. You guys did a spice or a sauce, didn’t you?

Chip: [00:31:10] Exactly. That was our first foray. So we launched with Stephanie Izard, who has a line of spices and sauces called This Little Goat. And what we really love about Stephanie is that she really challenges herself to learn world cuisine. If you go to Chicago, you know she has an American restaurant, Mediterranean restaurant, a Chinese restaurant. She learns and masters all these different cuisines and like, really, really respects them. We thought that’s exactly what’s interesting about cooking, is you’re able to understand and transport yourself into a different world through food. Also with her, we partnered up to do our walk and then a bunch of recipes as well as techniques around her This Little Goat line which, for us, is really interesting, because we think that’s that full package for the consumers. They’re not just getting the product they’re getting shown how to use it and then also exploring new cuisines.

Richie: [00:31:58] What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned, building the business?

Chip: [00:32:02] I mean Facebook continually ends up being the most expensive lesson. We’ve had a lot of duds in terms of, I guess, testing and learning on that medium. You know, I think we’ve tried some experiential events as well that have been—I think we look back on it and said it probably wasn’t worth the money. As a young brand one thing that we can do the best is stay focused and, obviously, as a human it’s really hard to do that. And, you know, we see an opportunity that in the back of your mind you think is gonna make you blow up as a company, and we end up spending way more man hours and time and money that we want on that initiative.

Chip: [00:32:32] So, you talk about IRL. Like, some IRL events, I think we probably should’ve pushed off until next year when we’re a little bit bigger and have more headcount, more than six people at the time we were doing those. So those have all been kind of expensive lessons.

Chip: [00:32:43] Cheap lesson I think has been on the customer-service side. So it’s cheap in terms of dollar amount, it’s not cheap in terms of attention care and, I guess, personal effort. As you mentioned, that holiday issue where we missed a ton of shipments. We wrote handwritten notes to all of those customers, delivered them handwritten gift cards and things like that, which our customer service agent Amanda, she views her internal role as, she works for the customer. She doesn’t work for Made In. And so she’ll come in and she’ll scream at Jake and I, and be like, “The customers need this. Like, blah-blah-blah.” Like, she’s not working for us, she’s the voice for the customer. And I think that has helped build loyalty, LTV. Like, all those things that we care about in the business side, but it also makes it a really enjoyable experience.

Richie: [00:33:22] How do you think about scale? And how big, how fast etc.? Obviously you, from reading 10-Ks, know there are a lot of big numbers out there, there’s a lot to aim for, but how do you modulate the speed at which you go about that?

Chip: [00:33:35] The interesting part of that has been, I guess the inbound interest we’ve already seen from the incumbents. I mean, they’re already knocking on our doors to some degree. And so, between that and the holiday season last year where we kind of grossly exceeded our numbers, that kind of awoke us to the fact that this could be a really big opportunity. And for us, you know, I think what we really want to do is build the next go-to kitchen brand in the United States, and then Europe and the rest of the world. So that’s kind of our mission internally. We’re hoping this becomes a really big success. We want to attack multiple verticals, we want to have a portion of the media side of things. Like, there’s a ton of opportunities that this can go, and we’re trying to go quickly.

Richie: [00:34:11] Are you open to or thinking about working with some of the larger names to get there, or is that more of a we want to do it without them.

Chip: [00:34:18] I think all of them have been very, very forthcoming, I would say, to their lack of digital knowledge, which I think we see a lot in a lot of the incumbent space. I mean, Procter & Gamble’s scooping up a lot these companies, Unilever is scooping up these companies.

Richie: [00:34:30] Johnson & Johnson, yeah.

Chip: [00:34:31] Exactly. And, you know, I think that’s just as much about the digital know-how, obviously, as it is the product. You know, at the end of the day they could create a lot of those products themselves.

Richie: [00:34:38] Right. They just cut their margins.

Chip: [00:34:40] Exactly. But I think internally and culturally, one, they can’t disrupt the relationships that a Procter & Gamble has, or CVS and Target, blah-blah-blah. And then two, like, they need a cultural change in terms of a digital-first mindset. And so I think that’s been the most interesting portion is, hey, like, the stuff you guys are doing on the product side is great. It’s really nice quality. But, you know your focus and the way you’re attacking the market is completely novel to the way this business has been done traditionally, especially in the kitchen space. And we’re interested in that.

Richie: [00:35:06] Where is the name from and how much was the domain?

Chip: [00:35:08] So we actually don’t have MadeIn.com, we have MadeInCookware.com. The name was focused on two things: one is that the products are made in the best places in the world, and where they should be made. So, U.S. steel U.S. cookware, France cookware, a lot of, everything is made within Western Europe and the United States, and we work, as I said, with a ton of the best manufacturers in the world. The products are made in where they should be.

Chip: [00:35:28] The second thing is really trying to encapsulate the consumer side of things, which is that the best memories are made in your home, around the dinner table, there are those Thanksgivings. And then, at the end of the day, that stuff is actually made in our pans, so those memories physically are made in our pan. So it’s kind of a multi-purpose name, which is great, because it has a lot of marketing efforts behind it. It’s harder to trademark but, you know, that was the balance that we made, and we love the name.

Richie: [00:35:50] Is the actual domain damn expensive or already in use?

Chip: [00:35:52] Yeah, it’s expensive!

Richie: [00:35:53] Raise a round of funding to buy it.

Chip: [00:35:56] Exactly.

Richie: [00:35:57] What’s been the biggest surprise, I guess, so far, building the business for you, or something that you went into thinking or feeling strongly about that was disproven, or something you didn’t even consider at all that is now very top-of-mind?

Chip: [00:36:08] I would say the media portion of things. I mean, I think that wasn’t even on our radar. We thought of it, to be honest, originally as an SEO play that we wanted to be ranking for certain intent keywords, and then it really fundamentally changed once we had access to people that, you know, were absolute experts in their craft.

Richie: [00:36:24] Right. Actually write creative.

Chip: [00:36:25] Exactly. And so the beginning, you know, it was Jake and myself and a couple others, and some hired freelancers, you know, writing blog articles that we thought were interesting, and obviously had some SEO benefits behind them. What’s the difference between stainless steel and nonstick, and things like that, which are informative but, at the end of the day, have some tactical juice behind them. And over the last year and a half, the media side of things, one, it’s attracted a lot of attention from investors. Hey, you guys have this medium to absolutely explode in terms of organic impressions for your brand, just genuine interest in your brand, because food, I think, is the number two thing on Pinterest that people look at. Obviously, the top chefs in the world and kind of those shows have blown up in the last decade. You guys have an absolute opportunity to be part of this conversation. And so that’s really been the major shift in the focus of our brand.

Richie: [00:37:10] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

Chip: [00:37:11] Awesome. Appreciate it.

Richie: [00:37:18] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.