Episodes > Season 2 Episode 6

Nino Otto episode

Why Jimmy Joy refocused on DTC after breaking into retail

Otto Mouton & Nino Levicar

What's in this episode?

On today’s episode, we’re talking with Jimmy Joy, a pioneer in creating nutritionally complete and sustainable shakes, bars and drinks. Specifically, Nino Levicar, Chief Marketing Officer, and Otto Mouton, Chief Commercial Officer.

Otto and Nino are sharing the challenges they faced going to retail, what they learned from rolling out in the biggest supermarket in the Netherlands, and why they chose to refocus on DTC.

So let’s dive in.

Connect with Otto on LinkedIn and Nino on LinkedIn. Check out Jimmy Joy.

Episode transcript

Chase Alderton: Welcome to Hit Subscribe, a podcast by Recharge designed to educate, inspire, and connect the subscription commerce space. On today's episode, we're talking with Jimmy Joy, a pioneer in creating nutritionally complete and sustainable shakes, bars and drinks. Specifically, Nino Levicar, Chief Marketing Officer, and Otto Mouton, Chief Commercial Officer. Otto and Nino are sharing the challenges they faced going to retail, what they learned from rolling out in the biggest supermarket in the Netherlands, and why they chose to refocus on D2C. So let's dive in. Otto and Nino, thank you guys for joining us.

Otto Mouton: Thanks for having me.

Nino Levicar:Thank you for having us.

Chase Alderton: So give us a little bit about yourselves. Otto, why don't you go first?

Otto Mouton: Yeah, sure. I've been with Jimmy Joy for about six years now this summer. I think the company is about seven years old, so I was with the company pretty early on. Originally I came at Jimmy Joy to be an intern to do research on how to get the Jimmy Joy products retail ready, because seven years ago we were still in our baby shoes. And yeah, there was just a lot of work to do, especially if you operate in the food industry and you have your own production in house. There's a lot of rules that you have to comply to. So they brought me on to do research on the retail strategy for Jimmy Joy, what would need to happen to actually get the product into retail eventually.

Otto Mouton: After finishing up that research, I decided to stay as I have a commercial background, and they took me on as their sales lead. So from there on, I did mostly B2B sales and eventually land at Jimmy Joy after a lot of hard work and a lot of research in one of the biggest retailers in the Netherlands. I think that took about one and a half year in total, which was really, really cool. Then eventually about two years later, I took on the role as Chief Commercial Officer at Jimmy Joy. So yeah, been with the company for about six years, and grew with it as the company grew bigger as well.

Chase Alderton: We're definitely going to dig into some of that intern to chief level role. So I want to talk about that more, but, Nino, give us your background as well.

Nino Levicar:Yeah, sure. So I'm Nino, I'm the Chief Marketing Officer at Jimmy Joy. Started about seven years ago. Before that, I worked at a small e-commerce shop, also in Amsterdam, but I wanted to move into digital marketing. And that's the same moment where Joey, the founder of Jimmy Joy started experimenting with the products. And I was a good friend of his, I've known him for a long time. So I just asked, "Hey, do you need any help with setting up the e-commerce side?" And coincidentally, he was looking for somebody. So I just started off with doing a bunch of stuff that you could do at a startup. So, from setting up the store, finding how we will ship the products, finding ingredients, basically just doing everything, logistics, yeah, to finance.

Nino Levicar:Slowly as the company grew, I was able to shift my focus to this other stuff. I had lot of interest in packaging design, so I designed the first packaging, and also slowly moved to marketing. And that's where I still am. So I spent the team, tried to grow the business from there.

Chase Alderton: That's fantastic. I love hearing the stories where you start low and you kind of work your way up. So that's where I want to start actually. What's that process like? I mean, I know coming in it's total start-up, you're wearing a bunch of hats. Everyone's doing everything. No one really has a job description. Otto, what's it like coming in and just kind of hitting the ground running and going, "Okay, I'm going to just learn and figure this out as I go,"?

Otto Mouton: Yeah. I think you kind of hit it spot on, like everybody's wearing multiple hats. It can be very chaotic at times, but also it's what definitely makes it interesting to work at a startup, right? Because I mean, you could go to a big corporate and be on the 13th floor somewhere in a high building, doing marketing all day as a startup position, but you're immediately thrown into the depth of the pool when you get into like the startup scene and in a startup business.

Otto Mouton: So yeah, you grow in your position as the company grows, and everybody's finding their own way and finding their own interests. While the team expands, it's usually like the ones who are on board first are a few steps ahead, obviously. So yeah, I think it's a really, it evolves naturally. And you know, if you put in the hard work, you see that the company is benefiting from it, then it's definitely a two way street and everybody wins.

Nino Levicar:Definitely.

Chase Alderton: How about you, Nino? What's that process like, growing from zero to the top?

Nino Levicar:Well, as Otto mentioned, it's just doing the hard work and making a lot of mistakes on the way. I think we made pretty much every mistake you can make as a company, so we learned a lot from that. I think you can learn a lot from all the mistakes that we made, so that is definitely how you start getting into role. And then as time goes on, you learn about what metrics really matter the most or what you have to focus on. And what's a bit less important, like what really drives growth in the company and what is just some fuzz that you don't need to focus on. So, it's an interesting process.

Chase Alderton: Great insight there. Let's talk about the actual product. Give me a little bit of detail about what Jimmy Joy is.

Nino Levicar:Sure. So Jimmy Joy is basically a nutritionally complete meal. That means that every meal contains a balance of 26 essential vitamins and minerals. It has plant protein, essential fats, complex carbohydrates, fibers, it's low in sugar and completely plant-based.

Chase Alderton: So you started D2C, and you started selling online and then you moved into retail. Is that correct?

Otto Mouton: Yeah, that's correct. The primary focus has always been D2C. Although, we had very ambitious plans early on, especially because we had such a great start. We launched internationally, I think in the first year we already did like 40 countries worldwide, if not more, but retail was definitely something that we were eyeballing as well, because I mean, it's a boy's dream, right? If you grow so fast and you see it exploding everywhere across the globe, you want to be on every street corner as well right away. So yeah, primary focus has definitely been D2C, but retail has been part of the journey for sure. Yeah.

Chase Alderton: And that's how we all grew up. Right? You walk down the grocery store lines or you can see things on the product shelves D2C wasn't a big thing when we were younger in the '80s, '90s, 2000s. So that's always the big goal to get there, but things have shifted so quickly. Nino, what's it like trying to get into that retail world and where were maybe some of the successes and failures from that?

Nino Levicar:I think that's more Otto's department. I think he's better at answering that question, because he basically just set up the ... he got us there. Maybe you could tell us a bit about the packaging, like how we did not have packaging that was specialized for retail. And we designed it for retail.

Otto Mouton: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, sure. It actually started with the production itself. Right? Of course, we were taking measures to produce food in a safe way, but if you're talking big retail, they want to have the highest food safety standards in place. In our case, that meant the BRC food safety certificates, which basically is just a whole big, massive list of rules you have to comply to all the way from the production itself to the top management basically. And we were not there, that place at that time.

Nino Levicar:It's good to mention that we basically just have everything in house, so production in house, but also fulfillment in house. That was a choice of ours because one thing is, if you keep it in house you have oversight of the entire supply chain. You can keep the costs very low. Up until today, we have not found a partner that can produce the products for a cheaper price while maintaining the same high quality of products. And eventually that also transfers to the cost that we can, like we can offer a super affordable product to the consumers, and that's also what sets us apart from the rest. So that is a big benefit, but a big negative aspect is that you have to have all the BRC certificates, which we did not have at the time.

Chase Alderton: So you're still in house.

Nino Levicar:Yes. Yeah.

Otto Mouton: Yep. We are. For the powders we are, absolutely. Yeah.

Nino Levicar:Yeah, yeah. Especially in the first couple of months or first couple of years. No, first year, actually. First 12 months, we moved four times. We were first based in Joey's living room mixing some powders together. Then we moved to a bigger garage basically where we got the first national media attention. And then we moved to a, I think 200 square meter room where we thought we could just stay for forever, but after two months or so we needed more raw product that we can actually fit into space. So we went looking around in the neighborhood if there were any other office spaces and production spaces that were fitting our growth goals.

Nino Levicar:So we went to look at, I think, 1,000 square meters. And I was like, "Yeah, this is pretty big, but still not big enough." So next to that was a 2,000 square meter area. And we went in there and it was like, it was huge. Like I could not imagine us being there. And then we just said like, "Let's do it." So it also gave us a growth goal because we had to fill up the entire room. So yeah, that's basically how it started.

Chase Alderton: So you went 10X, you went from 200 thinking it was too small to then go to 2,000 thinking, "This is too big, but we have to fill it. That's the goal."

Otto Mouton: Yeah.

Nino Levicar:Yeah. We're still there. Yeah.

Chase Alderton: And you're still in the same spot.

Nino Levicar:Yeah. So yeah.

Chase Alderton: That's super cool.

Nino Levicar:It was a good decision.

Chase Alderton: That's super cool. What's the process like once you get into retail? I know that you both are super big fans of retail and there's the sarcasm coming through. What happens when you do get into retail and you kind of start to see, what are the metrics you're tracking? How difficult is that?

Otto Mouton: That's where the problem starts, because there are no metrics to track. The only feedback you're going to get is a quarterly sales evaluation of the products or a bi-monthly sales evaluation, and that's everything you get. Especially from the big retailers. They're just, "Okay, give us your products. We think it's good enough, we'll place it on the shelves, but it has to sell, and if it doesn't sell, eventually we'll probably phase it out again. It wasn't the case with us, but it's definitely very, very hard to work with.

Otto Mouton: And the main challenge there is actually aligning everything, aligning the D2C goals and the retail goals. Because especially if you're talking about retail and you have these big conglomerates with a lot of bureaucracy and tons of rules, being a very flexible and fast growing startup, it doesn't really go well together, because obviously you start off with product development, then you move into the sourcing of materials.

Otto Mouton: Then you go into the production stage, you want to time your stock right, and then eventually you want to launch the products whenever you are through with your current stock of like the old formulas. And to time that together with the retail, because the retail will only allow you to change up your products once, maybe twice a year, especially if you're talking big retailers, unless you're like a super, super big brand and you have a lot of power with the retailers, but that's a different story. And we're definitely not quite there yet. It's really hard to align that entire process together with your retail goals, because obviously you want to be selling as much as possible in a retail and you really to want to get your product out there. But that also means that often you have to make sacrifices in your D2C goals, because you need to time it right with those retail moments that they give you.

Otto Mouton: And you're going to know it a couple of months in advance. When it's April, they'll say like, "Okay, we're going to have a next swap in August, so if you want to have a formula launch or a formula swap in August, everything needs to be ready by then." And it also means that if you have one month delay, basically you're screwed and you have to wait for the next moment, which will be six months later. And then they're holding two products in stock or both different formulas, one for retail, and one's for D2C. And yeah, it just messes up your whole planning in terms of the stock, supply chain and everything. So there's definitely a huge challenge there as well.

Otto Mouton: And another challenge for the retail is, if you want to have appropriate omni-channel strategy, it does require a lot of money, especially if you're aiming for big retailers in the first place, because obviously a lot of stock is going there. But if you are a D2C startup, that's basically creating or part of creating a new category, like we are with a complete food, new replacements or complete convenient foods. A lot of people are not familiar with those products. So, how are you going to differentiate yourself from the other products on the shelves that are somewhat similar to yours?

Otto Mouton: I mean, for example, our complete nutrition bars, I mean, you could compare them to a protein bar or maybe a lower quality meal replacement bar. I won't name any brands. How are you going to differentiate yourself? How are going to set your bar apart from the other brands that are already in the shelves that are quite similar, but also not really.

Chase Alderton: And it's not a website, so there's no value prop. You can't talk about your mission statement of the company. There's no, like, "Here's why our value prop is better than that." It's just someone walking in an aisle trying to look, which one do I pick? And you have two seconds to figure that out.

Otto Mouton: Absolutely.

Nino Levicar:It's a matter of a matter of branding. So as Otto said, you have to have a lot of capital behind you. And then if you bootstrap like Jimmy Joys, then it's a bit difficult. And especially if you don't know if the marketing that you're doing is working, for example, on Facebook you know exactly, the second day you can just check and see if it's effective or not. That is not the case with a retail store.

Chase Alderton: Right, and you-

Otto Mouton: We're talking big budgets as well. I mean, if you want to do a campaign with a large retailer, and we're talking about the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a small countries. So when I'm talking a big retailer in the Netherlands, we're talking about 1,000 stores. If you compare it to the US, that's probably like nothing. But even the smallest campaigns, we call marketing campaigns you can do with these retailers start at like 50,000 euros. You can spend 50,000 euros on Facebook and you know exactly what you're going to get back for it, because you have the whole funnel of control. You're measuring metrics every day. So you can basically plan ahead and say, "Okay, this is what I need to make in order to be profitable on this marketing budget." But if you're doing this in retail, then you have no idea because you're going to get sales data two, three months later, and then if it's effective or not.

Chase Alderton: So you've shifted back mostly to a D2C strategy then.

Otto Mouton: Yeah, absolutely. The category has been expanding rapidly in the past couple of years, and I think we were too early, especially in the Netherlands. I mean, if we're looking at the US, like the meal replacements market has been bigger and around for a couple of years longer than in the Netherlands. And yeah, there was just no real product market fit yet for retail, because we couldn't really tell our story, our value prop. We didn't have the funnel where we go from the Facebook ads all the way to the website about us, the product information, et cetera, et cetera. So we were really, really missing that. I mean, you only have your packaging, so your whole story has to be on the front of your packaging for the people who walk past the shelves, and that's all you got.

Chase Alderton: Totally. And I think you hit the nail on the head, you're talking product market fit. So if you're defining a category and if you're trying to lead that charge and be the first ones through the wall, it takes a lot to get there. And sometimes it just doesn't work, which is not a bad thing. It's just, it's a lesson. And I think you guys are the best ones to know that going from where you were to where you are now, is you have to fail and you have to make mistakes. And then you have to kind of pivot learn and go different direction. So I think that's spot on. One of the other things I wanted to talk about, Nino, is you did go through a rebrand and it was fairly quickly. How did that rebranding kind of work with the whole overall strategy? What was it like again, trying to go back into D2C and have a different brand, a different look? What was that like?

Nino Levicar:Well, I think we were, we were in the shops when we went through the rebranding already, if I remember correctly. So the rebranding, it was not a case that was together. So the rebranding happened first, then after that the expansion into retail happened. Back when the company started, the founder is called Joey, and the brand was called a Joy Land. It was inspired by an American brand, but the names were very, very similar. In the beginning, I don't think they expected us to grow as fast as we did. So what we did was what anybody who's successful would do, is call them and ask if it would not be a problem if we stay on the same name. And if there would not be a core clash, if we continue.

Nino Levicar:And their answer was basically their lawyer calling us, asking us to change the name. So I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but yeah, we settled and we thought maybe it's better to just continue with our own name, because that will save a lot of hassle in the future. What we did not foresee was that the impact on a lot of different sites. So for example, SEO, that was a big factor. We took a big hit there, but also at the timing in which we had to do rebranding. So I think we got like four months to do the complete rebranding. So we had to order new packaging, do the entire designing process while also just doing everything like day-to-day, because you got to keep the company moving.

Nino Levicar:So that was definitely a challenge, but it was good that we had a very loyal community, because what we did was just set out to a forum and ask, "Hey guys, can you think of some names?" And then I think we got like 2,000 potential names. So we went through them all, checked if it was not already registered. And that's how we came up with the Jimmy Joy, because it still has all the joy in it that the previous name had, and a lot of the community, a lot of really funny community really liked that name. So it was a very easy pick.

Otto Mouton: And it has a mystery around it as well. Right? I mean, no one really knows who Jimmy is, but he's definitely bringing joy.

Chase Alderton: You need some sort of mascot that you can name Jimmy.

Nino Levicar:Yeah. There is no Jimmy. There's not a character of anything. It's just like, who the hell is this guy?

Chase Alderton: There's some marketing opportunity there to create something, someone named Jimmy.

Nino Levicar:Maybe, maybe.

Chase Alderton: Very cool. Last thing I want to talk about is, you actually mentioned it before that you're bootstrapped and you've been bootstrapped since you started. How has that process been?

Nino Levicar:Yeah. Interesting. It gives you a lot of opportunities because you don't have to explain yourself to any investors. So we've got a lot of freedom. So I think that was a big benefit, but a big negative side is that, well, you just don't have a lot of money to spend, so every euro or every dollar that you get, you have to get at least $2 back, because otherwise there's no liquidity, because we do the product development, production, fulfillment, everything happens. So we need to have some liquidity, some cash in the bank to make that all possible. And people are used to from us to always further improve the product, because we work in iterations. So that's why we have version numbers in the products. So every time we bring something new, it has to be better, but usually costs more. So better ingredients are more costly. So it's definitely a challenge.

Chase Alderton: Otto, what about from your side?

Otto Mouton: Yeah, I think Nino had it pretty much spot on. I mean, on the one hand, it gives you a lot of flexibility because you don't have to answer to anyone. So you can basically do what you please, because you don't have to please the venture capitalist or the people that come on board. But on the other hand, I think cashflow management is really, really important. And while it is somewhat of a challenge, it's also a very nice challenge because you really see the work you put in and the growth that comes with. It's really coming from your own pockets and your own efforts. I mean, sure, you could throw like $10 million into the market and acquire customers at a loss for the first few months, but where's the fun in that, right? I mean, if you're constantly improving and optimizing all your own processes, I think it's very, very satisfying to reap the results from that.

Nino Levicar:Yeah. And also to add to that, I think if we would have gotten funding like a few years ago, I think we could not have used it better than we potentially could now, because now we exactly know what metrics to focus on. We don't really even need the funding. So if we got it, we could make much more out of it. So I think if you set out to seek funding, make sure you know what to do with the money. I think that's the biggest takeaway of financing.

Chase Alderton: So I was going to ask in closing here, what's a piece of advice you'd give to a company that's kind of in your similar shoes or something you've gone through? It sounds like inventory and money is a big one.

Otto Mouton: Yeah, absolutely. And especially that it's okay to make mistakes because we've made tons, like Nino said, but I guess that's what any entrepreneur on this podcast is probably going to tell you. It's okay to make mistakes, but there's definitely no lie in that. But also try to think ahead, because usually if you get in external money investments of some sorts, you have to giveaway like a part of your company and a part of you that comes with it. So if you want to keep that freedom and do exactly as you want to do it, then sometimes yeah, it might be better to not sell your soul to some VC fund. Sounds a bit dramatic, maybe.

Nino Levicar:Just a little bit.

Chase Alderton: It's not the first time we've heard that phrasing used. So I think you're spot on. I think a lot of people will relate to that. Otto, what are some of the plans for the future at Jimmy Joy?

Otto Mouton: Well, we want to really improve our product line and take it one step further. So we started out with complete meal replacement shakes. Then we moved on to bars, right into drinks. And now we also have the Plenny Pot, which is basically an instant oatmeal. And with every step we do in terms of product development, we're also thinking about the future. And one of those things is also a re-entry into retail. So we've definitely kept an eye on our packaging, took all the learnings that we got from our previous retail venture and iterated our product. Not only from the inside out, in terms of ingredients, but also from the outside, mainly talking about packaging and branding.

Otto Mouton: And we're actually looking to do a re-entry into the retail landscape probably later this year, if not early next year, because we do think that our products are definitely fit for retail. The market has matured. We as a company have matured, our products have improved. We've been looking for different suppliers and production partners to speed up the whole development process and to be more flexible with those problems that come with retail. So yeah, that's basically our plan for the future, just to keep on improving on our products, expanding our product range and also expanding our markets, including retail.

Chase Alderton: Final question for you guys, what are things that you subscribe to? Who wants to go first?

Nino Levicar:I'm not really subscribed to a lot of stuff. I think just my mobile phone, I have my Netflix and I've a Stadia to game at home.

Chase Alderton: All right.

Otto Mouton: Yeah. So I think that the best way to answer this, or not the best way to answer it, but I think if we're comparing the US market to the European market and maybe even specifically the Dutch market, because I think UK is kind of tagging along slowly, subscriptions aren't really a big thing here. So we do see a very big increase on the portion of our business that is subscription-based over the past few years, but it's not really ... The D2C subscription brands aren't really that much of a thing yet. So I did have my bulk shaving set back in the Netherlands. We're now in Malta, but that's it. And of course like the technology, like the Netflix, Prime, that kind of stuff I'm subscribed to, but the D2C subscriptions, they really have a big catching up to do in Europe. So, yeah, it was only my both bulk shaving kit for my sensitive skin.

Nino Levicar:And now that you mention it, I remember, I think four years ago we wanted to integrate subscriptions on our website, but there was nothing available. So what we had to do is call up the bank, and we managed to get some kind of deal. And what we had to do was print out a form where people would put in their bank details, then they would have to send that to us. And then we would have to process them every month. So thinking back on that, we came a long way.

Otto Mouton: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: It's awesome to hear all of the challenges you've been through, all of the crazy things. Thank you guys for joining the podcast. Really appreciate your time. I think this was really insightful for everyone.

Nino Levicar:Thanks, Chase.

Otto Mouton: Cool. Thank you very much.

Chase Alderton: We want to thank Otto and Nino for joining us. If you're interested in Jimmy Joy, you can head over to JimmyJoy.com. If you're looking for more of our episodes, check us out at getrecharge.com/hitsubscribe. And to get the latest episodes, remember to hit subscribe on whatever platform you're listening from.

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