Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news and trends defining the world of retail.

In this episode, host Cate Trotter, head of trends at Insider Trends,  sits down with Brandless CEO Cydni Tetro. Brandless is one of the world’s fastest-growing omnichannel commerce platforms offering, like its name suggests, brandless DTC consumer goods.

Brandless recently announced a $118 million funding round—one of the largest funding rounds led by a female CEO. This will help the company expand its platform, to focus on creating an online influencer community and acquiring like-minded, better-for-you companies to help grow and support it.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted by Cate Trotter
Written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Cate Trotter:
Amazing. So let’s see how this intro goes. Hello, Retail Rundown listeners. I’m Cate Trotter, the head of trends at Insider Trends. And I’m your guest host for this week. Joining me today is Cydni Tetro. Cydni is the CEO of Brandless, one of the world’s fastest-growing omnichannel commerce platforms offering, like its name suggests Brandless DTC consumer goods. Brandless recently announced a $118 million funding round, one of the largest funding rounds led by a female CEO.

Cate Trotter:
This will help the company expand its platform to focus on creating an online influencer community and acquiring like-minded companies to help grow and support it. I am so excited to be talking to you today Cydni, thank you so much for joining me.

Cydni Tetro:
Absolutely. I’m super excited to be here. And can I say, I love your title, head of trends, I’d love to have a title like that.

Cate Trotter:
Yeah, it sets a lot of expectations that, but yes, it’s pretty good. It sounds like I know an awful lot, I have a crystal ball I think.

Cydni Tetro:
I think that’s awesome.

Cate Trotter:
Good. Glad to make a good impression. So yeah, it’s always a good place to start to get a quick overview or get your take on what Brandless is all about. So how do you describe your brand without a brand?

Cydni Tetro:
So a couple of things. That’s a great question. We absolutely do think of Brandless as a brand, unapologetically a brand. But we think of it in this category of how do you brand less and live more? Which really goes to the mission of the company, which is around how do you help people live their best lives possible, and have a great and good impact on their families and their community and the planet? And bring that community together, that is really mission-driven on creating better for you. And so Brandless is all about that mission. All about, better for you, cross-category, and doing so in a really transformative way that helps every individual person be a force for good.

Cate Trotter:
Well, I feel inspired by that. Definitely. And how’s the year been so far since you joined, what have you been working on?

Cydni Tetro:
The question is what haven’t we been working on? It has been an amazing year and you come off of a year like we’ve had over the last year where we’ve had the pandemic, and it has been extremely hard for everyone over the last year. And then when you look at the opportunity that we’ve had at Brandless to really focus on how do you help people? How do you become a force for good? And then how do you accelerate what the impact of that mission could be in as fastest way possible? Since I came in end of December, the fact that we’ve been able to focus so tightly and then drive execution and elevate the impact that that platform have is really pretty remarkable.

Cydni Tetro:
And that’s what’s made what we’re doing both so fun and meaningful. And in my DNA, I really love speed. I think a lot about how do you make impact fast? You might not have to be perfect at everything, but how do you become a force for good at a very individual level and an impact that you have on the world? And the fact that we’re doing that at Brandless also in the product world and in the impact that we can have as we built technology and bring like-minded brands together, and that we’re executing solidly on that strategy, that’s been a really rewarding part of what’s happened so far this year.

Cate Trotter:
Brilliant. And can you give me any more of maybe a practical understanding of what you’ve been doing? I’m guessing some clues about this, but I don’t know if there’s any more detail you can give me there.

Cydni Tetro:
Yeah, for sure. So maybe a little bit of the history of Brandless also helps and then I can punctuate those accelerations that we’ve created this year. So the company started originally in 2017, and was really on this focus of validating the mission-driven brand and the impact that you could have. And that was really validated in that ecosystem. And they built a community of millions, of people that are really big active part of that. And that was really validated in the early days. And about a year ago as COVID was hitting and all sorts of other variables came about, a capital equity firm had an opportunity to pick up Brandless, called Clarke Capital. And they’re based here in Salt Lake City, and they saw the opportunity.

Cydni Tetro:
They are consumer product goods guys, they’ve taken many companies from millions to billions and then into their next opportunities. And they saw all of that validation that had happened with Brandless. And so they acquired Brandless and they moved it to what in Utah, we call our tech ecosystem, Silicon slopes. So they moved it here in this ecosystem. And then when I came in, we saw this opportunity to take what was that core mission of how do you really democratize access to better for you products and accelerate that with two aspects? So for us, that meant how do you take this core platform that’s been validated and do a couple of things. Bring together like-minded brands that are mission driven, that we can really accelerate impact for.

Cydni Tetro:
All of us, every individual person is trying to make an impact in the world. And we saw an opportunity to bring those like-minded brands together, and then second, invest in technology that helps us scale and grow that mission even faster. So we layer that onto what was already the core, better for you products in the DTC space, and then create that omnichannel approach for all of those. So when you think about the acceleration that’s happened this year, as you mentioned in your intro, we raised a big round of capital, it’s helping fuel those two things. How do we acquire those like-minded brands, so that we build this platform that just creates impact at a much faster and scalable way?

Cydni Tetro:
And then how do we invest in the infrastructure and technology that really does that? Because the other thing we think that’s happening in the consumer space is this really big shift to individuals becoming the platform and individuals being a force for good, in all aspects of their life, including the things that they use. And so as we look at this disruption happening in commerce, this ability to have a platform that’s in the is all mission-driven and then invest in technology that helps the individual also demonstrate how they’re mission-driven and bring that ecosystem together, have really been our focuses this year so far.

Cydni Tetro:
Totally. Yep.

Cate Trotter:
And congratulations on the funding by the way that’s amazing. And obviously a lot has been written about Brandless’s latest funding round being one of the highest rounds led by a female CEO. Can you tell us a bit about that, how you have interpreted that, whether you feel like a female CEO maybe? Yeah, has that changed your experience of raising this money or maybe Brandless’s experience?

Cydni Tetro:
So what’s really cool is we’re just talking a little bit about this, the amount of speed under which we’ve been able to execute and drive is really remarkable. So it’s a really fun place to be in the company that we’re building. I’m going to give you a little bit of perspective on funding. So I come out of technology, I’ve built my entire career in tech and I’ve raised capital for a number of companies over the years. And I was reflecting on this whole question around being a female and raising capital because a couple of things are true, raising money’s always hard. I think that’s just universally true, no matter who you are.

Cydni Tetro:
But over the years, we also know that when you raise as a female entrepreneur, that your stats are just significantly less. Traditionally it has been that you have less than half of the same amount of success than maybe your male counterparts have had. And I was thinking about this in a capital raise that I was doing about seven years ago, and I raised capital for it. But I remember going into that and knowing all of the barriers that existed and how many meetings I would have to do. And I’ve often thought that the complexities that happened in that when I was raising capital then versus what has happened in this year, we’re really remarkably different. Which tells us a lot of great things about the changes that are happening.

Cydni Tetro:
Me personally, it’s really cool to break a barrier, but even more cool that, that barrier will be broken more and more, at a more aggressive rate because the dynamic that it’s changed over the last seven years is palpable. You can tell that the markets are changing, and that while you’ve got a dynamic that a lot of capital is flowing, and we’ve never seen so much many transactions that have existed, whether it’s in consumer products or in the venture world or in technology, so that’s already true. But there is a notable difference between as a female leader and as a CEO and someone raising capital, between what that experience looked like seven years ago and what it looks like today. And that’s cool. And that I think has maybe been my biggest insight in the round that we’ve raised.

Cydni Tetro:
And of course, when you raise money, the other thing that everyone should be thinking about is there’s always a great team of people around that. And you have to have great teams of people that are working with you and share that passion and vision so that you can make great things happen, but the markets are different. And that’s cool because it means that I won’t just be the first, there will be many more to follow and I will be cheering every one of them on.

Cate Trotter:
Amazing. Yeah. You broke new ground, which is impressive, but the more important thing, especially for a business with a mission is that other people can come up as well, that is changing things on a much bigger scale, so that’s really great to hear. And yeah, can you tell me a bit more about the change between Brandless mark one and what I’m now thinking of is Brandless mark two, you probably refer to this differently internally. What were the major learnings from mark one that have now been applied to mark two?

Cydni Tetro:
Yeah. I’ll give you a couple of my observations, and obviously I wasn’t there, but things that were really powerful about Brandless in the very beginning is the strong validation that was created around building a community, around being mission-driven, and about this idea that you can brand less and live more. You can take the frills out of the brand and create this mission driven approach, which creates a stronger ability to democratize access to great products. And that was really core to the mission of Brandless. And that validation was really proven by millions of customers, a super active community and a worldwide presence of the brand across all of, around everywhere.

Cydni Tetro:
I mean, billions of visibility, billions of eyes that had visibility into Brandless and millions of people that became customers. That’s a really impressive platform. Now, of course, when you build companies, you are always pivoting. You’re always learning and you’re always moving forward. So we looked at it as there is amazing amount of value in what was created in Brandless in the things that I just described. And that with the experience that we have, we can add this acceleration into driving acquisitions into this mission so that our reach can be greater and infusing a technology platform into that so that we can help individuals also become that platform the force for good that they’re looking for.

Cydni Tetro:
And so the really demonstrable difference between the two is that they’re still based on the same mission and vision platform, but we’ve really expanded what we, where we think that mission can go. We think about it in an omnichannel way, and then we think about it with those two other accelerants. The greatest way to make impact in the world is by increasing your reach as fast as you possibly can and bringing great things together. And so we are on a mission to do that too.

Cate Trotter:
Wow. There’re so many questions I could ask you off the back of this. It’s interesting that you’re talking about omnichannel because I know Brandless has dabbled in physical retail. Is that something you’re still thinking about or is that, are you, is your definition of omnichannel something else that doesn’t involve physical retail at this point?

Cydni Tetro:
That’s a really great question. So the way that we think about the architecture of omnichannel is we think digitally native first, and then expansions into channels so that you can provide accessibility uniformly, including into retail channels. But we think first and foremost about those like-minded brands as digitally native. And we do that for a couple of reasons, super important to know your customers and to build community. And so you have to know who they are to do that. You have to be able to use them in your curation of great products and the mission that you’re going after. And so for us, making sure that we’re grounded, which are the roots of Brandless also.

Cydni Tetro:
We have to make sure we know those customers. Now you do want accessibility, you want people to have access to great products in whatever channel is the place that they need to find you. And they find you in many places, they find you on direct to consumer sites, they find you in Amazon, they find you in retail presence, and they even find you in individual people’s platforms where people are talking about products that they use. So you want your product accessible in each one of those. So that’s our evolution of what it means to be omni-channel, digitally native first anchor, and then expansion into all of those.

Cate Trotter:
Brilliant. And yeah, it’s also fascinating to hear you talk about community. So can you tell me a bit more about that and maybe how that looks from a customer perspective, how I would feel if I joined? Is it a brand community?

Cydni Tetro:
Yeah. Community really anchors, I think, on a number of levels. So in the product innovation side, we bring our community a lot in both product curation and validation, because the thing that you have to do when you’re building great products and you’re mission-driven is make sure that their products and things that people care about, and that they are meeting their individual needs. So we focus our products in certain categories, things like wellness, and really thinking about wellness within reach. We think about clean beauty and accessible clean beauty across the board. We think about things like non-toxic cleaning.

Cydni Tetro:
And so we have these categories where we become really focused. And so in curation, we focus in communities on those… So they get early access to products, they provide us feedback, they help us understand and help us really co-create those roadmaps so that we’re meeting the needs. So for us community is infused at every aspect of the company from that product innovation side. And then we’ve even layered into product innovation from our operational side, this ability to be fast and to be able to be agile. I come out of tech and software development. So I always think about agility and this ability to test and optimize, so that’s even part of our ecosystem. We come up with ideas, we’re like, we’re going to be, we’re going to do that in a very testing way. We’re going to create 200 units of that product, we’re going to see what the consumers and our community say, and then we’re going to decide how we evolve from that.

Cydni Tetro:
So that is a big part. And that’s on the forward side of the, or the beginning side of curation. And then other things that we’ve done is we’ve spent a bunch of effort to build out our technology commerce platform and for what? And the reason that we’re doing that is because it’s community activation. It’s this ability to allow those people who are part of our community to be able to talk about what we’re doing, to be able to be involved in the conversations. To lead conversations for us, and for that to come back into the company in all aspects. So we think of community at every stage innovation, all of the way to ultimately activation and conversion.

Cate Trotter:
That’s brilliant. I’ve talked for a long time about brands and dialogue. How brands now have all these tools to ask customers, what they want. And so I see a lot of brands, just broadcasting their message through all their channels. And so it’s so nice to hear about this idea of co-creation. It just makes so much sense.

Cydni Tetro:
That’s a really good description right, brands and dialogue. In the tech ecosystem, we learned that this idea of product validation, where at every step you have to engage your customer and you have to know why they would buy? We created these terms, like what is their bias is? What would their buy could be if we created an entire ecosystem to understand why people would buy, why they wouldn’t buy and the business model around it.

Cydni Tetro:
And that is also true in consumer. I mean, you have to engage them in these dialogues, because ultimately success of the business is meeting customer needs, and the better that you can do that, the more strong you can create the opportunity. And for us being mission driven the force for good, being a force for good, you must have collaboration and community. And we strongly believe that acceleration comes also through sophistication and technology ecosystems for that.

Cate Trotter:
I was just wondering the insights that you’re gathering from this product curation, co-creation process, are you sharing this with the brands that you’re working with, or do you keep those internally to develop your own next set of products?

Cydni Tetro:
So infused in the operations of the company is absolutely collaboration. So we think very strongly as this ecosystem of brands are coming together. You have to lift all right, you have to be able to share that because that’s how impact is created. If you leave them in silos, then you never actually get your mission. So we think very strongly about how are these insights and then how are we infusing them back? It reminds me, or it makes me think about some of the tech platform side that we’re investing in. Because when we talk about influencers or individuals as a force for good, we don’t think about them as only people who have really big spheres of influence.

Cydni Tetro:
We really believe that every individual person, whether you have 10 people in your social world or you have millions, it doesn’t actually matter. You are a critical part of us gaining insight and being able to help activate in whichever way makes sense for them. We’re trying to infuse that sense of collaboration and transparency and insight at all stages.

Cate Trotter:
And it’s interesting to hear you use the word influence in that, because I like to do my research before I talk to my interviewees and I went around, and I saw the word influence or the phrase influence as service mentioned in an article, or maybe in a press release. Can you tell me more about that? That phrase just intrigued me.

Cydni Tetro:
Yes. So you absolutely saw that correctly, this idea that influence as a service, because what we see happening. And I think I can tell that you’ve also thought deeply about this from the dialogues with your customer. The world is transforming where the individual is now the platform. And we’re seeing this with market changes that have happened in Facebook, that have happened in Instagram, that have happened in all of the social platforms where it’s pushing us at an accelerated way that individuals are really the platform. And what that means is that we have to enable them to be the platform, even in the eCommerce space, and give them the tools that allow them to be successful.

Cydni Tetro:
So for us influence as a service, is this entire concept around the opportunity that they have to be able to use whatever their circle of influence is. It doesn’t matter how small or how large, and really participate in the things and in the products that they’re promoting to other individuals. And so it changes this entire dynamic where they as an individual, as a creator, as a content producer, become the platform.

Cate Trotter:
Yep. That’s so refreshing to hear as well. We talk about customers being brand activists, and basically as you’re saying, completing the brand and amplifying messages. So it’s just so exciting to be talking to someone who wholeheartedly believes in that and the power that’s there. It’s wonderful.

Cate Trotter:
Can you tell me more about how Brandless will become a social commerce aggregator?

Cydni Tetro:
This is a great question. And in context of what we were just talking about, we’ll explore it that direction. So everyone has different social channels, right. Every individual that we know, they have different ways that they create influence in their social spheres. And for some people that’s Instagram, for some people it’s TikTok, for some people it’s Facebook, and for some people it’s probably in-person when I’m watching like the soccer game or when I’m in a social activity, they’re all just different. And then what you think about, and if you step back for a moment, you can imagine all of the different, what we in the industry would coin as commerce conversations that are happening in these individual ecosystems.

Cydni Tetro:
And so when we think about this ability tie it back to influencer as a service for what’s happening in the social commerce space, we believe that there’s a very important transformation that’s happening. That you have to enable each one of those people to own the platform of things they care about and be a voice for the things that they’re sharing, and also be able to participate in the, as a value in that ecosystem, because they’re ultimately your marketing channel. They’re ultimately helping people understand the value that you create, and they’re sharing that with their community and that’s bringing them back into great products.

Cydni Tetro:
And so for us, that social commerce side and that aggregation side is about enabling them with the tools where they’re doing that. They’re exposing and talking in their communities about things that matter, they’re sharing it with them and then they’re participating in it. And they’re just basically creating recommendations for products that they believe in.

Cate Trotter:
Thank you. And I’m wondering I’m not actually a very technical person, but it also was interesting when you were saying that you’ve been investing in your tech, you’ve evolved that. And I wondered how is that supporting your social commerce and your influence as a service and all the other things you’re doing? Can you explain it to me as [inaudible 00:25:17] layman, please.

Cydni Tetro:
Yep, absolutely. As an individual, you think about all, every day if you’re like me, you’re recommending products that you love. You’re always in these conversations. I could totally love this product, I was using it. And I have a bunch of sisters and sisters in laws and we’re in these conversations all the time. We’re sharing things all the time, and every individual person that I know does this. And so the technology is aligned with that. So let’s say, we’re in a conversation, there’s things that you love. For the very simplistic terms, you can basically create a link to the things that you love.

Cydni Tetro:
And when you share it in no matter what format, it doesn’t matter if it’s an email and you’re like, “Hey, this was the thing that we were talking about, check it out.” Or if it were in your social, in Instagram right, you’ve got your profile where you put links in. Ultimately those links are linked to an entire technology infrastructure behind them that helps understand which products that you’re recommending? Are people loving and buying? And then provide basically an incentive back to you.

Cate Trotter:
Right. Thank you. And I was also recently, I’ve learnt a little bit about headless architecture, and I just also wondered with your omnichannel vision or all the work you’re doing there is your setup a headless one, or can you tell me a bit about that?

Cydni Tetro:
Yeah. From an architecture perspective, it’s very, it is in a headless ecosystem and it’s got lots of components that are built into that. So one of the cool things about the kind of architecture platform that we’re building is our team has a lot of experience in building from both the social aspect and then the technical architecture. So that you can both understand what people are doing and give them the tools that you need. And then you can really help them get value from the ecosystems that they’re creating. So as you can imagine lots of integrations in, a really strong platform that’s building that out. And then the ability for them to have real time analytics about the what is happening with the activities that they’re taking, if that’s of interest to them.

Cate Trotter:
Great. Thank you. And then well, it sounds like you could address a lot of different insights and KPIs from this, from your system. But it’s always nice to ask people, if I gave you the difficult task of choosing only one, what is the one and only KPI that you would use to measure the success of Brandless?

Cydni Tetro:
I always think about one of the… I mean, there’s always the business metrics, right. But I’m actually going to answer this question from the perspective of the customer and the community. The thing that you most care about is what your amplification effect is, or your vital coefficient. Because that informs you, that the things that you’re doing people care about, and that other people care about also. And so that becomes really one of the key metrics that allows you to understand the impact.

Cate Trotter:
Brilliant. Yep, that makes so much sense and it looks with everything you’re doing. And just thinking about all the people listening to this, it would be great to hear some practical tips that you have from the digital first businesses that are out there. Are there any factors that you think are disproportionately important that other businesses tend to overlook? What advice would you give to digital first businesses out there?

Cydni Tetro:
Yeah, that’s a really great question. So I’ll tell you where my mind went when you asked that question, it went to this place of, when you build digitally first brands, there’s two paths they typically end up. And ultimately the thing that makes brands successful is knowing customers, right. So you have to know your customer, you have to care passionately about them, and you have to be able to rapidly and agily adapt to their needs. So when you’re building a company and a brand, you have to know your customer. And I can’t think of anything that’s of most important, but I would also add to that this speed and agility metric. Because oftentimes people will spend so much time in maybe a theory place of trying to predict what they need or talking to them.

Cydni Tetro:
And ultimately the faster that you can get to understanding if people will actually give you money for what you’re building, the faster you’ll understand your business. And that’s the risk you’re always trying to decrease, because if you have to, when you create a brand, do things where, I’ve talked to a bunch of people and they said they’d buy them. And now I have to go make 5,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 of those, it becomes very complicated to get your conversion and to know that you did everything right. So you want to build into your DNA, this ability from day one to test and be like, okay, I can build smaller quantities. I can actually see if I can get people’s money. I can build community and then I can expand from there.

Cate Trotter:
Yeah, totally. And it’s interesting what you’re talking about, about well specifically caring about customers. Everyone’s talking about that. Do you think the retail industry really does care enough?

Cydni Tetro:
I think it’s the reason you’ve seen as digitally native space explode. Because when you think about each channel, they all have data-driven models that create their success, right. The way that you build out a channel on Amazon is different than how you’ve built up brick and mortar and it’s different than how you build that DTC. The explosion that’s happened on DTC is because it’s the place where you own the customer. It’s the place where you can get their insights and then you can create transformation. And that’s why the other channels are struggling and they’re not struggling, but that’s why you see them try to figure this out, right.

Cydni Tetro:
Because they have to find a way to know your customer. Every brand wants to know their customers. But if the economic ecosystem I created was primarily in brick and mortar then I design products for brick and mortar, and those don’t necessarily translate a hundred percent to a DTC community. So you have to get really smart about what works in what channel, and then create relationships so that as you look at expanding to the other channels, you know how to leverage them, to build those brands. That’s why the evolution is happening right now. That’s why disruption is happening in products.

Cate Trotter:
And with that in mind, can you see Brandless being in bricks and mortar spaces again? Or is that something you’re not thinking about at the moment?

Cydni Tetro:
No, we absolutely can. As part of that omni channel strategy, we think it’s super important to know your customers, validate your product through that digitally native. And then if you create an expansion into retail, it makes perfect sense as you do that because it’s helping you democratize access. And as people get access to products in many ways, and when you think about all the different products that you buy, there are many products that retail and brick and mortar is absolutely the right channel for, for all of the economics behind it. And so you need those partnerships. You need the place where people find stuff, but we believe that we have to anchor first in making sure we build stuff that’s driven from that community and then expand channels.

Cate Trotter:
Yep. Brilliant.

Cate Trotter:
So I think we’re running out of time actually, but just to wrap up, I’ll give you a very easy question. After 18 months of uncertainty, can you summarize your outlook for the whole of the retail industry, I said it would be easy, in one or two snappy sentences for us?

Cydni Tetro:
Okay. That’s a good challenge. We are at a moment of really unprecedented transformation. The world is now digital first, and we make decisions from that digitally native space. And in retail, that is now the way that we have to build relationships with customers, and that’s the outlook for us. We have to build relationships for customers and this transformation that the individual person is the platform, and they’re trying to do better every day with the things that they buy, the things that they invest in and who they are is the world that we now live in. And it’s all of our job to support that because the impact is great for the world when we do good things.

Cate Trotter:
Amazing. Cydni, you did not disappoint. So thank you very much for spending this time with me and sharing all your fantastic insights. And I’m so excited to see where Brandless goes next.

Cydni Tetro:
It was so great to spend time with you.

Cydni Tetro:
Thank you very much.

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