Startup To Scale

89. Building a Brand in Public, Lex Evan

January 25, 2023 Foodbevy Season 1 Episode 89
Startup To Scale
89. Building a Brand in Public, Lex Evan
Show Notes Transcript

How can building your company in public help build your brand? I talk with Lex Evan, founder of Lexington Bakes about how he turned his passion for baking into a Luxury Baked Goods Business. He’s sharing every step of the journey on Linkedin and his newsletter so you can see behind the scenes.

Doing so has brought in new partnerships, retailers, and customers. Lex also sees it as a way to give back to other founders and share his years of marketing experience.

Startup to Scale is a podcast by Foodbevy, an online community to connect emerging food, beverage, and CPG founders to great resources and partners to grow their business. Visit us at to learn about becoming a member or an industry partner today.

[00:00:00] Everyone for today's episode, I'm excited to have on Lex Evan, who is the c e o and Co-founder of Lexington Bakes, which is a brand selling luck, $10 luxury brownies, and more. Soon as I am, I'm sure they're come. And what I really am excited to talk with Lex about today. The journey of building a business in public and the highs, lows, pros and cons of that, of being transparent about what goes on behind the scenes so that one, everyone can, can see firsthand what it takes to build a business.

But two, you can build a, a broad kind of community of followers and fans and advocates and people rooting for, for his support. So Lex, welcome on to the podcast today. Thanks Jordan. Thank you again for having me. And I apologize in advance for my voice. Suffering from a cold for the past 10 days, but I feel great.

So I'm ready for tipping. Excellent and happy that you're still able to join. So I'd love for you to kick off and just give [00:01:00] a 32nd overview of what Lexington Bakes is. Sure. So Lexington Bakes is consciously baked luxury treats, and the luxury is that they're natural, clean, ethically sourced ingredient.

I make it a priorities to, to source ingredients from companies who do good for the planet, whether they're B Corp certified, or just have really great policies in place to support the people and the land from which they harvest. I think that's amazing, and I'm glad you have such a, a kind of clear mission on like why you're, you're doing this and how you're helping the planet.

I'm kinda curious, I know you have a deep experience within cpg. How did you come to start? Lexington. . I have been joking about this for the past year, but this is the brand I didn't want to start. Baking has always been a personal hobby and just a joy to share what I bake with people that I love. Last November, over a year ago, well, two last Novembers, so in [00:02:00] 2021.

I just did what I normally do, post my recipes, Instagram shared what I'm making. For some reason the specific post about the brownies just got everyone really excited and I received a ton of dms to order brownies. I had no intention of selling them. I tried to tear, turn my baking business into, sorry, turn my baking hobby into a business years ago, and it just wasn't fun.

So I didn't wanna. . But the brownies, something just clicked in my brain when people were asking for them. Brownies are very easy to ship. They're square format. You can pack them in a nice box, they won't move around. So all of that just got really moving in my brain and I was like, all right, maybe, maybe this is my next thing in life.

You know, I've been at my current job for over a decade working in c p g Beauty. I wasn't particularly looking for a change. This just called out to me as something that could be very fun to do and seemed like something people wanted. So it's not like I created a brand and I'm pushing it onto people.

There was an [00:03:00] organic natural request from my community to provide this product. So that's how Lexington Bakes came to be. You know what's interesting and really exciting is that you mentioned like people were like begging you to bring the products out so they could buy it. You always hear stories about founders in the food space starving because they have a recipe that they make or a hot sauce or something, and their friends and family say like, this is so good, you should sell it.

It's different though because a lot of times they wouldn't actually buy it when you themselves, like give you money for it. But when you have people requesting and saying like, Hey, this is so good. How can I buy these from you? That's a much different kind of business model to start with because, you know, there's an inherent demand already of people willing to, to pay.

Yes. And the most interesting thing that I have learned from just baking in public, this is before Lexington Bakes. I've been baking for eight years now, and from day one, everything I made, I just posted to Instagram. You won't find that history on my Instagram. Cause I [00:04:00] deleted my Instagram account two summers ago and started from scratch.

We can talk about that another time, but I learned eight years ago that if you photograph your bakes really. , it is compelling enough to get people to want to buy them or to ask you to cater their parties. I used to think it'd be impossible to sell food online because how are people gonna taste it to know if they wanna buy it?

But when you go to the grocery store, you're not opening everything and tasting it, you're, you're looking, so you're shopping with your eyes. And the same thing goes for bakeries. You, you don't go to a bakery and say, can I try everything and then I'll pick the one I want that only works for ice cream shops.

So I got over. Mental barrier or hurdle early on when I realized that my photos were enough to, to convince people that I'm a good baker. I love that you kinda mentioned the baking in public because I think that's one thing that's really exciting that you've done extremely well is building your business in public and you share the highs and lows, kind of the [00:05:00] everyday journey of being an entrepreneur.

And I think that's really powerful because of the tracks of following of people who wanna support you and want you to succeed. And so maybe you just have been doing this forever and your baking. , was it a conscious, conscious decision to kinda share your journey as you've been building the company?

It's an interesting question because everyone thinks I'm doing this to push the brand, but it's genuinely how I've lived my life for the past. I don't know, I'm 34 right now. I grew up with the internet. I grew up with social media, like my life has been in public from day one, so it's not unnatural for me to build this business in public.

I've had a few other startups in the past where I would go off for a few months and build in private and kind of debut this big launch, almost like rehearsing a theater show and then you've got your hope and unite. And it was exciting and people were like, oh my God, I can't believe you did this.

But the interest kind of like waned shortly after because then I would go back and hiding and work on [00:06:00] the next big. . So there were these gaps in between what I was announcing and for selfish reasons, it's easier to build in public because your friends and family know what's going on. So when you see them and when you're a founder, you see them less frequently.

But you can pick right back off where you left off. They know what's going on. You have much more to talk about. Being transparent about your struggles also allows. Anyone to jump in and help you cuz you don't know what everyone else knows and how they can possibly help you. Yeah, I think that's, that's good.

No, because. I, I think that last one is really key, right? A lot of times people reach out and they're like, Hey, how can I help? And you're like, I, I don't really know what you do. I don't know what you have available. And by you posting your challenges and your successes, it gives opportunity for people to approach.

And so like, Hey, I just read this post about you having this issue. I actually have a solution for the potential one, and that can directly solve that. And so I think that's That's just a really amazing opportunity to be able to do so. [00:07:00] Yeah. Not to plug something else, but I started a newsletter recently bringing more transparency to what I'm building, but within the first day, I had a response from someone who subscribed and it's like, Hey, I saw this as your top priority.

I have this opportunity that I think would be perfect to help you achieve that. Like that was the best feeling ever. It's like I didn't even have to ask for help. I just pushed out what I was doing and the help came to me that I didn't even know was out. Yeah, that's so cool. I just subscribed to your newsletter as well, and I will post the link in the show notes so that anyone who's listening can hop in and enjoy, join.

It'll definitely be packed of info when entertaining. So you definitely have that to, to follow. So I'm curious too, for anyone kind of listening or founders who are thinking like, Hey, maybe I wanna share more of my journey. , how do you decide kind of what to post and what not to post? Is it conscious or is it just like whatever you're dealing with that day?

There's a little bit of editing. I mean, I'm also a writer so I, I do [00:08:00] edit what I put out there to some degree. In terms of the newsletter format or kind of what I post to LinkedIn on a daily basis, it's just what's top of. , I've learned not to overthink it, it's just when I wake up, what is the thing that I have to tackle that day?

How can that obstacle or challenge inform others or kind of shed light on how to solve it for other people? So I, I'll just take my approach put it in some great copywriting format and put it on LinkedIn. Start the day that. I like to post in the morning because it, it gives me opportunities throughout the day just to check in and see who's interacting with it, who has some additional thoughts to share on it while I'm still working through it.

And then in terms of the newsletter format, I've been doing that for a year now. I have an Evernote and I just make a new page every month with like, , cool. What were the wins from last month that I can look back on when I'm feeling down or when I get rejected [00:09:00] from a retailer or an accelerator or some other program?

It's like I can look back through all my notes each month, all the summaries and, and really focus on the victories. I've got them bullet pointed out. I've got links to everything that I've received, praise or recognition. So it's very helpful. And then I pr, I outline my priorities every month, so I've got those bullet points from the last 12 months too.

So I just figured why not just share it? I'm doing it anyway. . Yeah, I think you're right. That helps for like personal reasons, because this journey is a founder obvious. You know, there, there's a common analogy that it's like a, a rollercoaster because there's high highs and low lows and as you build, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger on each side.

And so it's great to be able to reflect and say, Hey, I actually did have a good year, a great year, even though these bad things may have happened or. And I think that's really important to look back on in your posting that you've done. Have you found that there's a a certain topic that people tend [00:10:00] to resonate with in terms of like what you're sharing as part of your journey or any particular area?

I've been trying to analyze that. Not too heavily cuz there's just so much going on, but I can easily notice that when I post about recent Victor. that gets a lot of traction. People enjoy cheering you on and celebrating you and kind of seeing your growth. Cuz every victory eat is one step towards your, like next major milestone.

So it's, it's great to have people cheering you. It's kind of like a marathon, right? At each mile marker you've got more people cheering you on. They like to see you advancing. The other thing that I do is cheer on other people. My top post from last year, which received over 10,000 I think, impressions and over, I don't know how many engagements wasn't even about Lexington Bakes, it was about Lollipop and how much I love Lollipop Vintage Chicola.

And I just outlined or documented my journey [00:11:00] to discovery in that brand. So between those two, those are the top types of posts that resonate best with people. I. adding another kind of priority for this year, which is how do I create content that provides more actionable value and insights for people who are maybe a year behind me or a month behind me rather than just living in the moment.

Now, how do I, how do I extract all the knowledge in my brain from how I've accomplished what I've accomplished in the past year so that other people can, can take action steps to, to follow. Yeah, I appreciate that. And I think that's where this, this industry really thrives because the CPG industry, especially like emerging food and Bev, is very supportive and of one another and very kind of open and sharing.

There's a ton of collaboration that's happening and a ton of uplifting. So I really appreciate that you are focused on giving back and, and, and sharing some of that knowledge and value that you had to help others along the way. [00:12:00] Thank you. How does it feel to be the public face of your brand? It's kind of fun.

Yeah. Black and black . I've never put my face on any startup that I've started before. This is my fourth attempt. And I never wanted to be the public face of something because everything I built before, this wasn't about me. One of my previous brands was kind of an advocacy brand. Change the perception people have about the LGBTQ plus community.

So it didn't feel right for my face to be that, cuz I, I don't represent everyone within that diverse community. But with Lexington Bakes, that's, that's my name. That's me. Like people refer to me as Lexington Bakes . So it's fun, it's great. I love it and it fits, it's, it's appropriate is how I'll end that.

Yeah, I think that totally makes sense and is a, and is a good fit. And I think one thing that I've found, especially in the last few years, but it's been true throughout the last [00:13:00] maybe 50 and, and, and just like brand building is. People want to relate to other people, especially like in the past pandemic years of like wanting to understand other people's stories and get into like what drives you?

Why are you creating this company and how is it gonna change your life in the lives of others? And so you being the. The advocate for it goes a long way. And I have found that companies who are doing that and sharing those behind the scenes journeys are the ones who are going further faster because they're able to build that community that supports them.

So I think that's awesome. From my experience in beauty, I have found that brands with a public face do better because there's, there's more of a sense of accountability when you put someone. The leader or the, the face forward, right? Whose perspective is leading this company. It's, it's safe to not have a public face and kind of have this ambiguity around [00:14:00] who's making these decisions.

Cuz if something goes wrong, there's no one to blame. It's, it's this ambiguous brand or company. It is riskier to put your face, whether it's your face or an ambassador's face on your brand because if it's not you, and someone else representing your company, there's a big part of their life that doesn't represent the brand, right?

So there's, there's a greater risk that something they might do might offend the people of the company or, or not, or not live into the ethos of the company. But for me, my, my personal ethos is embedded into my company. I started this or pursued it rather. , because I have a perspective on food. I, I have a perspective on how ingredients should be sourced.

I have a perspective on how ingredients should be communicated to your consumers or customers. Like this, this brand is my brain. You do a lot of demos, I'm sure. Have you encountered people who are, I won't say like [00:15:00] offended by the fact that they're $10 brown. , I was offended that it's a $10 brownie

I didn't wanna start this business because I knew how expensive it would be to sell this. I use, my biggest frustration before I started this bakery is that everyone hides behind the statement of, we make things with the best ingredients on the planet. And it's like, okay, let me roll my eyes one more.

what exactly does that mean? So for me, that means ethically sourced ingredients that are also the best in their field. So I use the best chocolate, the best butter, but I describe or kind of explain what makes it the best. So taking all those top ingredients, which are the top of their markets, and then putting them into one new product.

it's gonna be very expensive. And I thought it would be really hard to sell that. But when you communicate to people what clean ingredients mean, what they mean for the planet, what it means for their bodies, what it means for other people, what it means for the animals they're, they're, they don't bat an [00:16:00] eye to the $10 brownie.

They're like, Nope, that makes sense. And we've reached a stage in our society or kind of inhumanities, e. where we can afford to make better choices with the products that we buy. I'm gonna, I'm gonna stop myself from going off in a very long tangent, but we'll end there. I had once was doing demo and, and our product TCOs were selling for like 6 99 at the time.

And someone walk talking, they were like, I could buy a pound of almonds for $5. Why am I gonna buy your bag for seven? And I was like, Well, don't , so, so that's actually one of the like logical justifications I have for this is I am very transparent about the ingredients that I use and the brands that I use.

Like you can literally go and buy all the same ingredients, make the same brownie. It's gonna cost you a lot more when you're paying the full retail price for each of those ingredient. , you're, you're having to [00:17:00] buy different sizes that they each come in. So if you just want one brownie, it's gonna cost you like, I don't know, over 60, $70 to buy all those ingredients to make a batch of brownies and have one.

And then what are you gonna do with the rest? Either store them for later or give them out. Or devour them all and pass out under your couch somewhere. And hopefully I have done that before . So I love that you're building all this with the brand. It also doesn't come without its challenges and I know manufacturing and scaling up this business has, has taken a little bit longer than you've expected.

So can you talk about more what those challenges are that you're going through now? Yes, . The first challenge was identifying a manufacturer that could make the product in the way that I make it. I did not realize before this search that not everyone melts chocolate to make brownies, which is mind boggling cuz that's the definition of a brownie.

So yeah, the search took a couple months doing the pilot run. Not as long, but still took some time. And [00:18:00] then there was just figuring out the plan. Like, all right, what products are we gonna make? What minimums for each flavor? How, how, how many runs can we do in a year? Like, what is, can this manufacturer meet the, the planned projected sales for the year?

And then there's when you're bootstrapped and you're waiting on a small business, That can take four times as long as a mortgage loan, which I was not anticipating. So that caused another delay. And then when you finally get the loan and place the order, it takes five weeks to get some of the equipment that you need.

It takes another eight weeks for your roll stock to get printed materials to get ordered. So it's taken like five times as long as I anticipated, which is frustrating cuz I'm still self manufacturing. I still have a full-time. , there's only so much I can produce and I can't achieve my goals without more inventory.

That's, that's definitely the something that everyone listening who's not truer or founder can, can relate to, definitely [00:19:00] sucks. . So one of the biggest problems, and I experienced this as well with T-score, is, was taking your, your close to perfect recipe from your own bakery in moving it to a, a manufacturer.

I know you mentioned having to buy equipment. You found it like you had to buy specialized equipment to make it the way that you want to maintain that. Not so much for quality because the manufacturer that I found was able to replicate the process as I do. The equipment that I had to order was to cut the brownies.

Right now I'm cutting them by hand and I bake everything in a tray, so it takes me a very long time to cut the brownies perfectly square or with perfect edges. I'm cutting through frozen. brownies or frozen cookies to get them sharp on the edges. And that takes a lot of strength and a lot of time.

So the equipment that I had to order was a cutter to just do all that in like a split second, just one stamp out of the entire tray. It's amazing. Like I did the math, I'm like, how many brownies my coat manufacturer can produce in the same amount of time that I'm [00:20:00] producing? And it. 15 times, which just makes me 70

That's amazing. I know. Isn't it funny when you find it like, oh wow. Like I can, like not only can I do more stuff, but they can do it way better and way faster and way higher volume than I can. Yeah. Every time I mention to someone that I'm going to a code manufacturer, the first response is like, oh my God, aren't you worried about quality?

And it's like, do you know how much of the grocery store is made by co manufacturers? Like, are you really worried about quality because. . I mean, they wouldn't be in business if they weren't able to meet the quality demands of businesses and brands. Like I think manufacturers de deserve a lot more credit.

Yeah, they definitely do. The I'll, I'll tell you, it's where most people end up going wrong, which is where I went wrong, is developing a, a ingredient mix that's so specific and unique that like literally no one's made it before. And then it's like, Caused it so much headache. And that was my biggest headache because just like [00:21:00] the, the form factor of t squares was not impossible to manufacture.

Just really, really expensive. I didn't, we would've had to buy a $300,000 piece of machinery to do it properly. But it's a, it's a journey. Well, I mean that's, yeah, that's how you get to innovation . You can't use the same equipment to make the same things and expect brand. Never before seen products. So kudos to you for doing that.

Yeah, we we never ended up buying the equipment. We ended up hand, hand making it, but it was definitely something I wish I would've knew at the beginning, so we could have consciously made that decision or not. Before we got started. Well, let's, I'm really excited about your journey and everything that you've accomplished, and I can't wait to continue to follow along through your newsletter and on LinkedIn to see where the brand goes.

Thanks for being on the show. Thank you so much for having me. It's been great talking to you.