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Building Brands

On Brand No. 10: Eli Weiss’ unorthodox journey from yeshiva to mascara

June 30, 2022 · 6 min read

This is an edited version of an email newsletter sent on June 30, 2022. We send out new issues every other Thursday, featuring deep-dive essays and interviews with industry leaders. Sign up below.

As of September 8, 2022, On Brand is on hiatus. We have closed new subscriptions for the time being. Read the backlog right here!

This week’s plot:

  • Eli Weiss’ #unorthodox path to making marketing magic

  • Why the bar for customer experience is so low (For this I bought a soda?)

  • Startups: America’s last (only) true meritocracy?

Eli breaks down the door

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with famed DTC Twitter “nice guy” and one half the Jones Road Beauty Bash Bros, Eli Weiss. Eli was in Israel. I was in Des Moines. But the connection couldn’t have been stronger. Could’ve been a bathhouse in Flatbush: just two ornery Jewish guys complaining about bad customer service, disappointing our parents, and sharing hacks for getting the most points on credit cards. Let’s get into it.

On Brand: How did growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household influence your outlook today?

Eli Weiss: In my current life — especially when it comes to work in the DTC universe — there’s a lot of best practices and a doing things the way you’re supposed to mindset, which I guess is exactly what Orthodox Judaism is. It’s a lot of rules! And breaking out of that universe gave me the ability to take nothing as a definite. I don’t take anything as this is the way to do it. And I absolutely hate rules. So anyone that’s like, “Oh you’re doing this? Do it that way,” makes me want to vomit.

Not to be cliche, but I think learning Gemara [Talmudic text] makes your head work in an entirely different way. You don’t always think literally. You’re always thinking there has to be a third door.

OB: How did you end up in customer experience — what was the unlock there?

The unlock was having zero education. A startup was the only company that would accept me. It’s the only part of the business world that’s a meritocracy. You don’t need a degree. You can just jump in and say hey, I know how to do this. I was always good at sales but I hated selling. I hated feeling like I was trying to trick someone into buying something.

I moved to Israel, where I ended up trying to be a generalist an early stage startup so I could really mess around and learn. I joined this luggage startup where I was answering emails, doing ops and logistics, copywriting, managing 1,500 customers in 64 countries. I was doing everything besides design and finance.

The luggage brand. Literally how does this work?? I can’t stop watching.

And then there was customer experience: we had a couple of other people on the team and they‘d be like ;this is the most difficult customer, I don’t know how to deal with them.’ And I’d look at the email and I’m like “you’re not even addressing what they want!” They’re telling you they want something, but that’s not really what they want. They just want is to be validated.” and I’d write a stupid email and say “You’re totally right. I’m so sorry. This is a shitshow,” and they’d be like “Ok! I’m on board.” It was easy.

I felt like I had a strong pitch around customer experience. My theory was that customer experience and retention were two different roles but in an ideal world they should be one role. If you can provide a great customer experience they’ll come back.

OB: Olipop has built an incredible brand — you were a huge part of it. If someone’s studying Olipop what have they just done really well?

EW: Olipop is the perfect example of a brand that took something mundane — soda — and just flipped it. There are mega brands spending billions of dollars a year on marketing and you’ve got this tiny soda company that’s paving a way for an entirely new category — Whole Foods had never seen a product like this. Healthy soda. It’s never been a thing.

Olipop’s subscription page. Are you tempted?

When I think about their success, there are three main things:

Number one, true conviction around the mission. Soda has 95% household penetration in the US and it’s the leading cause of obesity. Olipop proposes a fun way to change that, and they’re just obsessed with making it happen.

Number two, a kick-ass team. They hire really well, something made easier by conviction in the mission.

The third thing, most importantly, is they have a culture of allowing people to fail as long as they learn something from it. I’ve never in my career, until Olipop, seen of failure and subsequent learning happen at that pace. That’s it, straight up. You can screw up, learn, and then do something entirely different — all in the span of three days. They were not afraid to try things. How many bougie soda brands use a subscription model?

When I started there we had like 200 subscribers. When I left a year and eight months later, we have over 10,000. That’s an insane amount of people getting $35 monthly 12-packs! That’s brand. It’s people feeling excited about a mission of bringing fun, fizzy, fantastic goodness to a larger group of people.

OB: Lastly, how did you end up in the beauty business?

EW: My theory is that customers are all the same. They all want to be validated, understood, and treated well. We get feedback saying this is the best experience I’ve ever had in my life and you look at what we did for them: we responded to the email within an hour. The bar is so, so low.

Quick response times, we stand behind our shipping and delivery, we don’t charge you for insurance on shipping. It’s our job to get product from our house to your house and we make sure you’re satisfied. If you’re not satisfied you get a full refund. If you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it.

It’s that simple. That’s what we’ve been doing and honestly it’s been three months but it feels like a year and a half. I feel like I’ve been here forever, the team’s awesome, we’re knee-deep and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Key takeaways 🤲

  • How to build a great brand:

    • Obsess over the mission

    • Build a great team

    • Let people fail — and fail fast

  • All customers are the same: People want to be listened to. They want to be validated. They want to be responded to.

  • How do you know you have a great brand? When the people who work there are super excited about the mission. How do you know you have an even greater brand? When the customer is even more excited than the people who work there.

  • In an ideal world: CX and retention are one and the same. Leading with the former can all but ensure the latter.

  • Embrace the unknown and never get comfortable: Sell luggage. Then healthy soda. Then go sling mascara. There’s always something new to learn.

In the know

Generally these are marketing-related readings. But it feels pointless to add to that noise right now. Instead, here are some resources on abortion access.


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