Here is the full transcript of Brandless’ co-founder and CEO Tina Sharkey’s fireside talk: Live more. Brand less @ Talks at Google conference. This event occurred on January 29th, 2018.
Moderator: Jorge Cueto
JORGE CUETO: Thank you, everyone, for coming to our Talks at Google event today with Tina Sharkey. It’s great to have you, Tina.
TINA SHARKEY: So psyched to be here. And we brought Brandless snacks. So if you’re on the live stream, we’ll figure out how to get them to you later. But anyone in the room, feel free to get up, get some snacks. I won’t feel insulted. I’ll be really happy, actually.
JORGE CUETO: Tina is the co-founder and CEO of Brandless, which is an e-commerce startup that’s looking to shake things up in the industry by offering high quality products at a really affordable price point. Great to have you, again.
TINA SHARKEY: It’s awesome to be here.
JORGE CUETO: Can you tell us a little bit about Brandless in your own words?
TINA SHARKEY: So Brandless– my co-founder, Ido Leffler, and I, we were sort of feeling like modern consumption was just very, very broken. And that meant that if people really understood what things cost versus what they pay for them, they’d be, in his words, rioting in the streets. I don’t know that I thought people would be rioting in the streets. But that there was just this perception that better had to cost more. And it actually really doesn’t.
And so when we founded Brandless, we were really trying to– at this very high level– try and make sense of consumption. There was a sense that there were the haves and the have nots. And that people couldn’t actually find what they were looking for, shop the values they believed in, whether it was their dietary values, like, I’m gluten free. Or I’m kosher. Or I’m vegan. Or I like to eat organic. Or with their belief systems. I don’t want animal testing. I want non-GMO.
I want certain foods, certain things that I reach for every day to sort of live up to my value system. If, in fact, they were to use that as their shopping filter, they would definitely be paying a premium for everything. Because their value system actually comes at a premium. But it doesn’t have to. And so at Brandless, at the highest level we’re trying to democratize access to goodness, starting with everyday essentials, which is — everything on Brandless is $3. Sometimes it’s two for $3 or three for $3. And all of our food is non-GMO. Most of it is organic. Tons of it is gluten free. And all of our beauty and our personal care, our shaving gel, our shampoo, our conditioner, our hand creams, et cetera, are all completely clean.
Which means in the case of beauty and personal care, it’s free of animal testing. It’s free of SLSs, of phosphates, of sulfates, of synthetic dyes, et cetera. And every single category that we develop at Brandless, we use that filter to say, what really matters in that particular category? So for example, when we do cleaning, our cleaning products like our multi-surface cleaner, our toilet bowl cleaner, they are EPA Safer Choice certified. And everything that we do is just $3. Or two for $3 or three for $3. But everything is very much created for what we consider the modern lifestyle.
JORGE CUETO: How do you set yourself apart from other e-commerce startups that have been coming up over the last few years? For example, the Honest Company, which I think is doing similar non-GMO healthy products?
TINA SHARKEY: So as a startup, first and foremost, we’re a community. And we’re a community of people who believe that everyone deserves better. I can’t really say what Honest is doing, because I don’t know a ton about that company. Other than to say that the pricing structure at Brandless, everything that we sell is brand tax free.
So what we mean by that is we’ve eliminated all the inefficiencies in the system for what things cost to produce versus what you’re paying for them. And so I don’t know how Honest does that. By being a community that goes directly to the consumers and makes things for the people that we serve, we are developing the products. We’re putting them into our distribution centers. And we’re sending them directly to you.
And so if you were to look at national brands that have the same quality as ours, organic coconut oils, organic olive oils, organic feminine hygiene, all the non-GMO food, on average you’re saving 40% of brand tax savings of national brands of similar quality. When it comes to things like clean beauty, clean personal care, and clean hygiene, it’s as high as 300% to 400% savings. So I can tell you what Honest’s system is and how they do that. But ours is really about a community that is connected around a higher purpose, which is that the doing is what matters in life.
When you check out at Brandless, there’s something extra in your shopping cart. And that’s a meal that we partner with Feeding America to buy on your behalf and in your honor to feed those who don’t have $3. If you’re a member of BMore, which is our membership– and I’ll talk about that a little later. Because there’s a surprise coming for all of you. We’ll donate 10 meals in your honor. And every time you shop, we donate two meals if you’re a member. In the first 18 weeks of being in service we’ve already donated over 150,000 meals to Feeding America, both to be deployed to the disaster relief zones in California, and Texas, and Florida, and Puerto Rico, where we don’t ship, but we still are trying to do what we can. As well as to the people facing hunger in this country in everyday systems all over the nation.
JORGE CUETO: You mentioned the brand tax. Well, maybe a few of us here aren’t familiar with that term. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
TINA SHARKEY: Yes, you wouldn’t be familiar with it, because we made it up. And we trademarked it. But we were trying to find a way to actually describe to people what we meant by that inefficiency in the system. So when you think about the cost of, let’s say, in our organic tomato sauces as an example. So we make three different kinds of tomato sauces Arrabiata, garlic, and tomato and basil. They’re all organic. And we work with our partner to do that. At that point, we then send them to our distribution center, or we send them to you. That’s not how most other tomato sauce is distributed. It’s often created at that manufacturer. Sometimes the brand owns the manufacturer. Sometimes they partner with somebody who’s making it for them. They then have to distribute it.
So sometimes, especially in organics and naturals market, you can’t sell directly to a store like a Whole Foods. You have to go through a distributor. And then that distributor takes a percentage. Then you sell it, let’s say, to Whole Foods. And let’s say it’s a special tomato sauce that you want to have on a special shelf.
OK, well, then Whole Foods gets their markup. And that shelf has a special cost. Let’s say there’s already a sauce on that shelf. Well, you have to then remove that sauce, potentially, and put your sauce. Let’s say you want to do an end cap, which is at the end of the aisle.
Sometimes you see those specials. Or you have somebody out there sampling the sauce for you. The point is that all of those touches– and there’s many, many, many, many, more– you end up paying for that, which is all on top of the cost of the sauce to begin with. So by the time that sauce leaves the manufacturer and ends up on your pasta, it could be two, three, four times what it actually costs to make. I mean, everything is different.
But if you’re benchmarking it against a brand like an organic of similar quality, you’re going to see, on average, those types of savings. So we roll that into this idea of brand tax free. Which is to say that we’re trying in every which way that we can to eliminate that middleman. Every product is different. Because most products are sold differently.