DTC POD Rosa Li - wildwonder
What'S up DTC pod? Today we're joined by Rosa Lee, who is the founder and CEO at Wild Wonder. So Rosa, I'll let you kick us off. Why don't you tell me a little bit about the brand that you guys are building and a little bit about yourself and your personal background.
Awesome. Great to be here, Blaine. Thanks for having me. Wild Wonder is a heritage inspired sparkling drink with gut health benefits. So these drinks are inspired by my grandmother who raised me for the first twelve years of my life. She brewed a lot of these healing tonics with just a symphony of wild herbs and botanicals that were really good for my health. So fast forward to grow at me. I had a lot of stressful jobs and started to see the effect of that on my body and I actually had digestive issues I started to look into, became a true believer in gut health, which I can talk more about.
Essentially went back to grandma's homemade tonics and decided to put a modern twist on asian wisdom and create a delicious drink that essentially is the first one to combine both prebiotics and probiotics. And I like to say wild wonder is the combination of grandma wisdom with the concept of a California produced stand.
Sweet. I think we're going to have so much to talk about on this episode. I mean, you guys have grown tremendously. You guys are already at eight figures in terms of revenue, so I'd love if you just take us back. We've kind of got the idea for the concept of the brand, but I'd love to know a little bit more about your personal background professionally. Where were you in your career when you launched this brand? What really made you take the leap and have conviction that this was the right brand and right product to start building?
Yeah, I mean, I did not come from food and beverage. I always loved the industry. I'm a huge foodie myself. Prior to founding, Wild Wonder was actually finance. So I worked as a private and venture investor at a large fund and I traveled a lot. It was a very stressful lifestyle which actually led to some just more stress and health impact. So definitely started looking into this area when I was in business west Stanford. So Stanford is obviously very well known for creating that entrepreneurial spirit and environment.
And I worked alongside many other startups, actually helped a friend launch their business, an e commerce business afterwards. So after a series of startup thought, you know, I could start something and really focus my attention on something I'm personally passionate about. And that's really to bring these gut healthy and heritage inspired ingredients to the masses. So I would say my very first venture was not wild Wonder, was actually a loose leaf teas and herbs business because again, grandma wisdom. So really love the space and learned very quickly that dry teas and herbs really aren't the most convenient. So we're all pretty lazy here and wanted to create a more convenient format to consume better for you ingredients. And that's really what ended up being world wonder, was learnings from everything from the initial venture and turn it into the product today.
Yeah, I think it's always really important to kind of scratch your own itch and understand that when you're building a product, you're building for yourself as well. You can kind of be the north star of early stages of product development where you want, where you see the market going. So why don't you take us back? What, when you were just starting the brand, what did it take to get started? What are some things that maybe someone who's looking to launch a brand in the CPG or the beverage space, what did you learn? What did you find out? And what did it take to get this product from an idea to an actual physical product that you were ready to sell?
Yeah, great question. I actually used to ask that question to many other people, and I would say, having gone through this whole process and learned so much, is to get a product out there as soon as possible. I was definitely a perfectionist and maybe still am. It feels like, oh, something's not ready. And I wanted to make it as good as possible. And I would say consumer feedback is so important and time is money. Now, knowing everything I know, I would always push for just getting something out there and getting as much feedback as possible and essentially to shorten that feedback loop. So if you can iterate faster, that's always better.
And you never know what people will say about a product. And it's very rare for a brand to land on a perfect product right away. So it's actually better to just get something out there, at least get some feedback. And that learning means so much in terms of what a product should be. Even like. When we first launched Wild Wonder, it was in a glass bottle, and it looks quite different from what it does now. And what we learned from that was a lot of people were saying, hey, this feels like more of like a kombucha that you have to nurse over time. And they actually felt, like, wasteful for them to go through multiple bottles a day, which means we're not going to have as high repeat or high velocity.
So we were trying to drive out the accessibility, the approachability of the product by turning into a can, which they can. Also, people are more used to drinking multiple cares throughout the day because it's like a seltzer, right, or sparkling water. So that really changed the packaging. And we immediately saw an increase in velocity in stores. And that was also a learning from COVID As you probably remember everyone's quarantine, there's very little traffic in the grab and go section of the stores. So we basically said it was the best way for ecommerce and being in a can form, reduced breakage, reduced the shipping costs, so actually made the whole experience a lot better. So that's something that we had to basically learn from talking to people and getting feedback, and made the brand so much better.
Yeah. And the next question I have in terms of the early stages of the product development, I think taking customer feedback, iterating on it is obviously key, especially for a lean brand in the beginning stages. But what did it actually take to get your first batch to market? Like, how big was your first po? How much capital did you need to start off? How long did it take to go from idea to a bottled, I guess, at that stage sort of product?
Yeah, that actually was a really interesting story because I had planned to launch food service March 2020 was when Wild Wonder launched. And I actually drove my whole booth down to Expo west with the intention of launching at the trade show. And obviously the whole world shut down. And then we had to have a very different launch strategy. So I actually pitched the product to a lot of offices. So the very health conscious offices like Google and Meta and LinkedIn, they all stock beverages and snacks for their employees. So when I first pitched them, I just went to a chef and I had this person taste the product and he really liked it. And this is before I even had a product.
I just brought liquid. So that whole idea is better for you. It's lower sugar, it's got functional benefits. I tracked this person down, essentially stalk them and figured out a way to get in front of them and they liked it. And they actually invited me to one of those tasting shows and it was basically brands like Cliff Bar and very established brands. And this will be like the first time I would unveil this product and I had no product. So I actually basically homemade everything in my kitchen. I made the liquid and I bought these swing top bottles from Amazon to basically pour the liquid.
And I actually hand bottled. Basically, it was a glass bottle, which is the only thing I could find. And I printed out this label and just stuck it on there just to make it look like it was a real product. But I really had no product back then. So then basically I did the show and everyone loved it and they actually voted for me. I think this was Uber. And they, you know, we want a product. And then I had my first po and then I said, okay, where do I go produce it? I now need the product.
So then I found out that there's a co packer. This is back in the early days. I think they're still around. Basically, they're in northern California, up in Sonoma, and I begged them to basically produce for me and they wouldn't give me the time of day. I basically figured out who the owner is and I figured out when he was going to be there and just cornered him and I just would not leave the place until he said yes to me. Finally gave me the okay and to say, hey, you can produce a small batch by half to basically abide by their timeline, because they want to make sure when it comes to producing these drinks, they like to match the packaging so they don't have to change lines as much. So I had to go based on timeline when another beverage in the same bottle was producing. So then this guy was like, well, this is the one day we can produce for you.
Do you want to take it or not? Of course I was going to say yes. So basically I had to just rush to make things happen and had that first batch, honestly, I don't remember how large that was. It was the largest, I think it was like the smallest they could do and the largest I could afford. So it's whatever day number they gave me, I had to take it. And then that's how I had my first batch of products. So I had the product and I was going to launch it at the show. And obviously the show was shut down and so I couldn't talk to buyers. So I had to go figure out how to sell all the products because the offices were shut down as well and I had nowhere to sell the products.
So the first, I would say starting the first year when everyone was quarantining, I just went door to door. I live in San Francisco, so up and down the street, every single independent store that could talk to me, and I was basically in a mask and selling to the buyers while they were stocking shelves. I even offered free labor to help them stock the shelves so they could like me better. And also, it's like a high risk environment, but I got bottles to sell, so I was just selling door to door. And by the end of year one, we were in about 100 doors, and that includes our local whole food. So that was just really about survival. And the other thing we did to really generate sales, even though the offices were closed, I basically leveraged those relationships and sent them to our e commerce site. So also built shopify with them basically for three or four months because we had to, and directed traffic from office channel to online channel and actually drove some sales as well.
So instead of having people enjoy the drinks in their offices, we were taking care of them at home and sent care packages and also learned that there's just way too much breakage with these glass bottles and it's not scalable. So that also drove the other decision to turn everything to cans and that happened in 2021.
Okay. So we've got a lot to unpack there. I'm very curious about what you kind of said, how you've kind of got a couple of initial customers in terms of these big, kind of like tech enterprises who are buying for their office employees, and then you're still going door to door and you're selling. What was the team like? Was it just you? How were you managing the relationships between 100 doors and being able to manage unguarantied production, call it plus a mix of a whole bunch of different doors, plus different office channels. How are you managing this yourself? Was it a team? What did that process of management look like in the early days?
Yeah, I mean, I basically just worked twenty four seven. It was myself and had one employee. And it's really funny because I had hired this employee right before COVID thinking, oh, we're going to grow so much. We're going to launch this product. And then Covid hit, and I was sitting back here and thinking, wow, did I make a mistake in hiring someone? But I decided this is the time we really need to survive. And it was a great decision because my number one employee is now my director of operations, and he has also helped me grow the business so much. So it was a team of two. And we basically, between the two of us, we built a website.
We significantly improved the product. And I was basically doing all the sales from retail to food service. And we did not hire a second team member until, I want to say, like, mid year, the following year.
Got it. And let's talk a little bit about scaling up those ops. Right? What did the next wave look like? I know you said you made some product iterations, so you moved to cans, but what did the next call it phase of operations look like? Were you scaling up your sales into office? As people were maybe starting to come back to office after Covid, were you scaling doors? Were you scaling ecommerce? How did the operations grow?
Yeah, so we had this omnichannel approach where we wanted to touch the same customer throughout their day from when they're working in the office, if it's not in the office. And there might be a hybrid model to grabbing food from a cafe to shopping in a store to shopping online. So it's not so much about the timing of the different channels, but it's really about going deep, not wide. So I really just focused on San Francisco, Northern California, and it was every cafe that's open is willing to take products. Offices weren't really open until I want to say like, gosh, like 2022, maybe some 2021, but very little volume. And we were just doing whatever, whoever would be a good customer, but within the same geography to really be very capital efficient and build as much brand awareness as possible. So we were going to a lot of the independents, some of the chain counts all within the same geography. We launched DTC, we were also doing cafes.
And then once the offices were open, we started teaching offices.
Awesome. And talk to me a little bit about. Yeah, let's go a little bit deeper on the go to market there, right? You guys have done a whole bunch of different stuff. You guys have been on Shark Tank. Talk to me about the ways in which once you understood there was initial demand for the product, what else did you do to start to grow, right?
Yeah. So we actually didn't do too much marketing because to me, you got to have the distribution in order for marketing to be effective, because we need to provide availability of the product in order for people to purchase. So a lot of our efforts were focused on the local market and it's more like grassroots. So for instance, once we are in stores, we will be doing demos and we would be doing local events as much as possible to really drive awareness. And in terms of launch strategy, it's always been the same omni channel strategy. It's retail, it's food service online. And when we launch in Southern California at the beginning of 2022, and you can probably do the math, we didn't really go outside of our market, our local market for a while because we really wanted to go deep. And the market in California is huge.
So even now we still have a lot of white space. So we didn't need to actually launch nationally or launch on the East coast, which obviously is very attractive for a lot of people. But to know running a sustainable business is very important and making sure that our operations are as lean as possible and as efficient as possible, that's important for me. So we actually stayed in Northern California and only expanded to Southern California in 2022, and then also just went with all the cafes and the independent specialty chains that will be really on brand for us. And that way the same customer can be reminded of Wildwander. Maybe it's when they're in a workspace and in the store and browsing the website.
Yeah. And one of the great things about CPG is the fact that when we talk about marketing, sometimes just retail or cafes or offices is the best marketing. Right. Like, you've designed a really pretty compelling product. It's something that people see, you get it on shelves, you get more eyeballs, et cetera. So I think that leads me to my next question, which is, let's talk about the development of the actual brand. When you look at the drink Wild Wonder website, it's super colorful. Your brand is fun, but it's also like you can tell who it's speaking to.
It's really colorful, it's fun, it's amazing. But why don't you said you guys started in the bottles. What was the initial brand like and how did you develop it? Did you work with designers? At what time did you start to really invest and start to turn wild wonder from a product into a real brand?
Yeah. And thank you. Thought a lot about the brand. Obviously, if you think about the category, we actually started 2020. We didn't really have this whole prebiotic soda or functional soda category back then. It was kombucha. And a lot of the functional beverages people found really intimidating, including kombucha. If you think about the packaging for a lot of kombuchas, very serious, very health forward, which is great, but more serious.
So we really wanted to bring more approachability to the category with something that's very whimsical, that's really fun, approachable. So that was the whole idea of wild wonder. And the design elements and the patterns do not change from bottles of cans, even though the form factor change. So the brand personality is always there and been the same. We obviously iterate on packaging over time based on consumer feedback. I would say that's what draws a lot of people to us, is really the packaging because it's so fun. And they didn't feel that functional beverage needs to be intimidating or requires a lot of knowledge, they were drawn to just how approachable and uplifting the packaging is. Oh, yeah.
And then just to answer other question about who I worked with. So the brand is really about creating everyday wonders and for those undervoice in our communities as well. So we actually worked with this women founded design shop in Berkeley, very close to where I live. And we generally wanted to collaborate with people who also would embrace this kind of mission. So worked a lot with diverse and female based design people.
Amazing and transitioning outside of the design and the operations. I want to talk a little bit about Shark tank and your experience there. What was it like being a CPG brand? What stage were you guys at when you went on, and what was the impact from going on the show?
Yeah, I definitely encourage everyone to do shark Tank. If you have a physical product, it's truly life changing. And I would say we aired on shark Tank in January. So I taped last September. Honestly, I knew that was going to be very impactful. I did not know about the magnitude of impact. So I would say when it aired, we went immediately out of stock at Amazon. Like within 2 hours we're out of stock and we stocked.
Amazon gives you a maximum storage limit. So then we basically stocked everything to the max and it went out of stock. And so immediately everyone went to our website, which is also great because we had a direct relationship with everyone from Shark Tank. And we also saw a huge lift in terms of velocity. We were national with sprouts. So a lot of stores went out of stock and that's harder to control. Right. I couldn't call all the stores and tell them to stock up on wild wonder.
So I know just from our data, a lot of stores went out of stock and we had a lift in terms of purchase orders from all the distributors as well. And the brand awareness that Shark Tank provided was just huge because it's 4 million viewership. All of a sudden we had national brand awareness. And I remember this moment on Shark Tank when Mark Cuban tried the strawberry passion. That's our number one seller. And he said, really resonated with the message that we're here to really expand the market for kombucha with no fermented taste. And he said, oh, I can't stand kombucha, but I can drink this all day long. He actually chugged the whole can of strawberry passion and he said, I'll go buy it.
And immediately the sales of strawberry passion just shot up because of what he said. And that's the true influencer. So we were able to basically make a whole month of sales in one week because of shark Tank. And I had thought, okay, well, we're going to get a peak in sales. Our customer service team is going to love it. Our warehouse is going to love it because they're going to have to work overtime for a long time to fulfill those orders. But then sales will come down to normal and everything is like business as normal. What ended up happening was shark Tank completely catapulted us to a whole different level.
So our baseline was lifted. We actually just continued to have sales increase over time. So that was truly amazing because I think what happened was the brand awareness really helped people to understand wild wonder. I mean, first find out about Wild Wonder, all the benefits we offer, and they actually continue to come back. So actually really increased our metrics across the board. Not just sales, but also, we had higher repeat purchase rate. We had more higher average order ball, which is truly amazing because it's a testament to brand. We didn't do any marketing before.
Now that there is the impact of marketing, people actually are saying, hey, this is validation and we really love the product and we're coming back for it. And every time we come back, we're buying more.
We are really excited to announce that.
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So anyway, keep listening to DTC pod and more shows like us on the HubSpot podcast network at podcastnetwork. That's amazing. And what happened, maybe for the listeners who didn'tune into your episode, what ended up going down? Was there a deal? Was there no deal? How to go down?
Yeah, there was a deal. And in general, they always tell you if you make a deal, obviously your sales would increase regardless, but if you make a deal, you will get more sales. So we actually made a deal with a guest shark, Tony Shu, who is the CEO of Doordash. So just for those who don't know, I don't know. If you watch Shark Tank, there's usually five sharks, five panelists, and four of them are regular sharks that you always see. They have one guest shark, and they tried to match the guest shark with the company industry. So right before I went on to tape, they told me, hey, you'll have a guest shark who's in food tech. They tried to make as close as possible.
There's no food entrepreneurs who was going to be a shark. And when they said, it's going to be food tech, and I actually thought to myself, hey, wouldn't it be cool if it's like someone like Doordash? Because then they could distribute my product. I had no idea who it's going to be. And then immediately before the show or before taping, they said, is Doordash CEO. And it was literally like, wow, this is meant to be. So that's the sharp I wanted. And I was thinking, you know, I don't actually care about getting a deal from anyone, but I want a deal from Yixu. And so that was the intention and the plan, and it just happened that he really resonated with my story.
So I talked about being raised by my grandparents for the first twelve years of my life in China while my parents immigrated here. He also comes from an immigrant family and I don't think they aired this part, but he actually said, I was also raised by my grandparents. I also spent the first twelve years of my life in China. And then we also both went to the Stanford for business school, Stanford GSB for business school. So he actually said during the show, hey, didn't we go to school together? And I think that really helped to build rapport and build that connection. And I'm just also really happy that he believes in the product and so made a deal and then he actually onboarded us to the Doordash platform. So we're now available via Dashmart and we're doing some other things to deepen that partnership, which is obviously tremendously helpful because not only is he providing financial capital, he's also helping us out with widening our distribution.
Yeah, I think that part is so important. And one of the reasons we're really excited to have you on the pod is because I think you guys have done an awesome job of not doing what everyone does when it comes to beverage. Like even your initial reaction to say, oh, why don't I get in the offices at Uber and some of these other tech companies? That's not something everyone who's starting a CPG brand does, right? And thinking about, oh, how can I tap into an investor who's got kind of this synergistic distribution network? That's something that I think is really important as an entrepreneur because some of the best opportunities are where maybe everyone else isn't looking. So one question that I'd have that I'd love to kind of hear you think as the company scales, as you grow, what are some other ideas that you have for where you guys might look to unlock new levels of distribution? Are you thinking wholesale? Are you thinking other last mile partners? Are you thinking more deepening the relationships with other restaurants or food delivery providers? How do you tap into maybe channels that aren't so traditionally, or maybe are more traditionally overlooked?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I'm always thinking about alternative channels, ways that not only build distribution, but also brand awareness and product trial. So not a lot of people focus on food service. And food service is very broad. Some people think about food service as cafes. Some people think of it as for me, it's a lot of office pantry because that's huge volume and I still manage all for office pantry food service business. And there's no other sales manager for that. And it tells you how much leverage I can have with sales just through that one channel.
And I would say the way I think about it is what's going to drive more volume and what is the ROI with every dollar we invest. And that's how I decide on where to go. So everyone finds retail very attractive. I'm not saying it's not, it's truly the holy grail. But at the beginning, beverage is very capital intensive and retail is very expensive. You don't get a lot of volume from one store, but you could get 100 times the volume from one office. And that's how I thought about it at the beginning. When we had no capital, I bootstrapped the business.
At the beginning, I didn't have a team, I had one employee. And I was thinking, how do I make what's the highest leverage with my time and with every dollar I spend, that's how I decide. And I think nowadays, as we have higher brand awareness, more brand awareness, we can actually go into retail. When awareness is there, the return is also higher because people are looking for our products. I do think that there's plenty of opportunities out there with alternative channels, and that actually ends up driving retail velocity and return on investment in retail.
Yeah, I love that. Rosa. My next question was going to be, where do we go from? Right. Like, I think that the category that you guys are building in is really interesting. You guys have tapped into a whole bunch of different channels to grow the brand, to really build deep in specific markets and then scale out from there. But as we look to the future for the brand, what comes next? How do you think about the market as a whole? Right. I think what we see now is we see more and more people launching beverage brands in the functional soda space. In the beverage space.
How do you think about the market? Are things getting harder to compete? Where do you go from here?
Yeah, great question. I'm always thinking about that. And I would say, I think beverage has always been very competitive. I don't think it's any different than before. I've always seen constantly new beverages launched every day. I would say the way I think about is, do we offer something different than the rest of the market? And I do think the answer is yes. Because if you think about the functional sodas, a lot of people, only pop and popular, are doing super well. They're creating this whole new category of prebiotic sodas that are essentially making duts also more approachable, which is awesome.
And I think with that wave, that's actually opening up a lot of opportunities for the space because people are finding, hey, it's not just kombuchas. There's this whole new category being built and every brand in that category is growing at the same time. And buyers are actually coming to wildwinder and telling us, well, we're looking for something more uniquely flavored because not everyone's going after a cola drink or a cream soda flavor. They're looking for something different because people always have different interests and preferences. We got to keep the customer entertained at all times. So we come in a space, even though it's a bubbly drink, it's a healthy soda alternative. But we have more uniquely flavored drinks that have more of a botanical and cultural influence. So we're bringing a different customer into the space.
We're also providing incremental revenue to the retail shelves and beyond what kombucha and all the cola flavored drinks are offering. So the other trend that's really helpful for us is kombucha obviously has done a great job building up a category. But not everyone is used by acquired taste. And we actually see the category plateauing for some reason, right? Because it's fermented, it's very vinegary, and it's quite serious. So it's not for the everyday consumer. So that's what buyers also like about us, is we provide kombucha benefits without the vinegar. There's both prebiotic and probiotics in the drink. It's a more holistic way to approach gut health, and it's a very easy swap.
You can very easily convert from a kombucha to a wild wonder. And for those people who would have appreciated probiotics but just don't like the taste, can also enjoy us. So I would say when I think about a category or even like any product, the positioning is really key. Is there white space and can we provide a different perspective and a different offering to really take advantage of this growing category?
The last thing I do want to talk about is exactly what you had mentioned. It's positioning. It's differentiating a product in a crowded market, especially one that might require education, and especially one that you may not have the opportunity to educate as much because you're a beverage, you're on a shelf, you've got limited space on the can to educate. And I know education is really important, especially when it comes to something like gut health and the benefits that you provide. So how as a company, do you guys think about education? Right? Like, this is something that every brand whether you're CPG, whether you're product focused, you're constantly thinking about position. How do I communicate to my customer? How do I educate them about what it is I do and what the benefit is to them? So I just love your take and your perspective on how you guys approach product education.
Yeah, I mean, education is definitely very expensive. As a small brand, we don't have a lot of budget for marketing. So when a product is so different, you do have to do more education. The good thing is there's enough awareness of gut health out there and people generally know it's good for you. People generally know that probiotics are good for you. So we're not trying to tell people, hey, gut health is important. We're just trying to say we're making gut health more accessible and really delicious. So we generally try to do education in different ways, obviously through our website.
But people are not constantly browsing our website. We do it via social as well. And this is something we can definitely do more of. We just haven't really had the resources to do a ton of education, but more so relied on bigger brands who have already educated the market and taking advantage of that. So I think as a small brand, that's always something to think about. Sometimes it's actually better to be a second mover than a first mover. When someone has already built out a category and somewhat educated the market, then you can come into the category with a slightly different perspective and still attract a lot of customers. This is how I work in perspective.
That's the exact answer I was looking for. And I think that's right on the money. Sometimes educating when you're educating from zero is really difficult. You will get some. Maybe you're the first brand to do it, but once the market's been warmed up, once you've got other companies dumping massive amounts of spending into education, like you're saying, it doesn't make sense for you guys to say, teach everyone what gut health is. They know that education has already been done. It's your job to be able to capture the consumer attention, link it to the concept and the trend, and be able to provide the solution in a really easy and accessible way. So, Rosa, as we wrap up here, where can our audience connect with you? Where can we find you? Why don't you shout out your socials as well as, I don't know, are you guys on LinkedIn, Twitter? And then where can we find and shop?
Wild Wonder at Drink Wildwander is our handle for all social media platforms. We're also on LinkedIn and we're active on TikTok and Instagram the most obviously. Our website is drinkwildwunder.com. You can find our store locator there for a store near you. Sweet.
And what about you? Where can we connect with you?
I am at Rosalie says and Rosa at my email. Perfect.
Well, thanks so much for coming on the show Rosa. We had a great time, learned a lot and excited to see you guys continue to grow.
Thank you Blaine, really fun having a.

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