In this episode of The Business Gay Podcast, host Calan Breckon speaks with the Founder and CEO of Explorer Cold Brew, Cason Crane.
An adventure-seeker and risk-taker, Cason has traveled to over 100 countries on all seven continents. He was the first openly LGBTQ person and fifth youngest person to climb Mt. Everest and the Seven Summits – which is a collection of the highest mountains on each continent, a feat he achieved while raising money and awareness for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention.
It was on these adventures that he discovered the magic of coffee, and was driven to introduce some of the world’s best cold brew coffees to the masses through Explorer Cold Brew. Cason is always looking for new products and spends his time perfecting Explorer’s brews so that they represent the world’s best cold brew coffee.
► Today’s Sponsor is Surfer SEO – level up your content creation with AI.
Get a FREE Website SEO Audit from Calan: CalanBreckon.com/audit
Links mentioned in this episode:
Key Takeaways for quick navigation:
- [03:48] Founder of Explorer Cold Brew identified a gap in the market for decaf cold brew during the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
- [05:11] Cold brew is a $90 billion industry in the United States, but only 10% of coffee cups consumed are decaf. Explorer Cold Brew aims to fill this niche.
- [07:32] Explorer Cold Brew’s decaf options cater to pregnant moms who want to enjoy cold brew with lower caffeine levels during pregnancy.
- [11:35] Queer-owned businesses may face challenges in overtly positioning themselves as such, but collaborations with queer influencers and artists have been positive.
- [20:31] The biggest challenge for Explorer Cold Brew was the sudden increase in digital advertising costs for e-commerce, prompting a shift to an omni-channel strategy with a focus on retail.
- [24:50] Pricing challenges: Customers often overlook the value of a product and make decisions based on the price tag without considering factors like serving size, quality, and benefits.
- [25:18] Pivoting for market alignment: Adjusting product features, like concentration levels, to match competitors’ standards can help align with market expectations and improve acceptance.
- [26:13] Habitual buying behavior: Breaking into established customer habits is challenging, especially in grocery stores, where routines play a significant role in purchasing decisions.
- [29:00] Cash conversion challenges: Despite significant sales in grocery stores, the delayed cash conversion from distributors poses a financial strain on emerging brands.
- [41:28] Free trial lessons: Offering completely free trials can attract deal hunters who may not convert to loyal customers; introducing a small fee increases the commitment level and improves return on investment.
- [46:58] Focus on a specific audience; if you’re for everyone, you’re for no one. Clean your own garden before helping others.
- [48:30] In business, focus on doing one thing really well before expanding. Patience is crucial for long-term success.
- [50:23] Support Queer-owned businesses; explicit targeting of LGBTQ+ community can be a valid business strategy.
- [53:08] Prioritize mental and physical health as an entrepreneur; avoid hustling for worthiness.
- [55:41] Networking is crucial for business growth; connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and be open about challenges.
[00:00:00] Calan Breckon: Today’s episode is sponsored by Surfer SEO. Trusted by brands like Square and Intuit, Surfer SEO is a tool designed to help SEO optimize your written content, like blog posts and articles on your website. Instead of guessing what Google likes to rank, this tool offers you a data driven analysis of exactly what’s missing from your already existing content. Surfer SEO is constantly checking thousands of data points, analyzing its findings, and prioritizing that information so that you have the best chance of ranking your articles on Google. Surfer SEO also comes jam packed with AI technology. Their powerful Surfer AI tool allows you to streamline content creation by taking care of research, writing, and optimization, saving you countless working hours each week. Once the AI is done writing the article, you get to go in and make all the edits you want to bring that extra special magic only you can do. Don’t leave your SEO strategy up to chance. Surfer will give you an SEO workflow to boost your organic traffic, increase your visibility, and improve your rank. Visit calanbreckon.com/SurferSEO for more details, or just click the link in the show notes. Now, let’s get into today’s episode.
Welcome to the Business Gay podcast, where we talk about all things business, marketing, and entrepreneurship. I’m your host, Calan Breckon, and on today’s episode, I have the founder and CEO of Explorer Cold Brew, Cason Crane. Ooh, a bit of a tongue twister, because that is Explorer, not explore. An adventure seeker and risk taker, Cason has traveled to over 100 countries on all seven continents. Damn, he has beat me. I’ve done 80 countries and all continents except for Antarctica and over 200 cities. So that’s awesome. Anyways, continuing on, he was the first openly LGBTQ person and the fifth youngest person to climb Mount Everest and the Seven Summits. And for those of you who don’t know, the Seven Summits is a collection of the highest mountains on each continent, a feat he achieved while raising money and awareness for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention. It was on these adventures that he discovered the magic of coffee and was driven to introduce some of the world’s best cold brew coffees to the masses through Explorer cold brew. Cason is always looking for new products and spends his time perfecting Explorer’s brews so that they represent the world’s best cold brew coffee. I am so excited to dive into this conversation with Cason because I want to talk about all things being LGBTQ and a founder of an awesome brand. So with that, let’s jump in.
[00:02:43] Calan Breckon: All right, welcome to the show, Cason. I’m so excited to have you. How are you doing?
[00:02:48] Cason Crane: I’m great. Thanks for having me, Calan, and I’m pumped to be here and to chat today.
[00:02:52] Calan Breckon: Right, well, it’s really magical when you find a unicorn and out in the wild, who is proudly out LGBTQ and an amazing founder. So we got to toot the horn. So with that, let’s just jump right in, because I’m so curious about this whole journey, because you’ve been to so many places, done so many things, what inspired you to dive into the world of cold brew coffee? And were there any memorable Aha moments that actually led to the creation of Explorer Cold brew?
[00:03:25] Cason Crane: So there actually was a very clear aha moment, and I feel like there’s a lot of entrepreneurs out there who don’t have the luxury of having that actual light bulb moment. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but it really did happen for me. It was 2020, early days of the pandemic, and I was staying up all, all night, every night, not because of some health condition or one thing or another, but because I was insisting on having my afternoon cold brew later and later and later in the day because back then, I lived in Brooklyn with my husband. And what else were you going to do? We couldn’t even leave our apartment, really. So coffee was this source of joy and this treat to myself. But eventually, my husband begged me, he’s like, Cason, I cannot sleep when you are rolling around all night with your insomnia. Please switch to decaf. And so I searched for decaf cold brew on Amazon. This is exactly what happened. Search for decaf cold. And nothing came up. I mean, other cold brews came up, but none of them were decaf. It was just like the regular cold brew. And I was like, wait, 10% of coffee cups consumed are decaf. I know that most people drink cold brew to get the caffeine, but there’s people out there who just like the smoothness, the low acidity, et cetera, but who can’t handle the caffeine. Surely there should be a product for them. And there wasn’t. And that was the moment I thought, I need this product, and I need to bring it into the world. But I didn’t just want decaf. I wanted to be able to pick my caffeine level. Because sometimes, like a Friday night, my friends are like, Cason, let’s go out dancing. I’m like, I have been working since 06:00 a.m. I do not have the energy. Well, now I do because I drink my extra caffeinated cold brew. But then sometimes I need a lower calf or a decaf, and we offer four different caffeine levels. So that was the AHA moment that.
[00:05:17] Calan Breckon: Blows my mind that there wasn’t a decaf cold brew. Like, I just assumed with all the gays running around every single city in the world, that there had to at least be one decaf option out there.
[00:05:29] Cason Crane: I’m sure that there’s the occasional coffee shop that will brew a decaf, but I mean, honestly, I think I’ve seen it in one or two coffee shops, and I’ve gone to a lot of coffee shops around the world.
I think I’ve only seen it once or twice. The reality is, coffee is a huge industry. I mean, coffee in the United States is a $90 billion market, and the reality is, 10% of the cups consumed are decaf, according to market research studies, but not 10% of that financial market, because they tend to be much lower quality and lower priced options. The decaf options.
Cold brew, especially. Let’s just think about that, really. Cold brew has only been a phenomenon in the United States since about 2015.
Starbucks, for example, only finished rolling out cold brew to all of its stores in 2018. It was really not that long ago. And so when you think about now the proliferation of cold brew companies and options out there, it makes sense that almost all of them, really, everyone except us, would be focused on the 90% of cups that are caffeinated and not on the 10% of the cups that are decaf. But there’s definitely an opportunity there. And it might not be the gays with our fast walks always running on high caffeine. Maybe. But at Explorer, one of our biggest customer and most passionate customer segments are our pregnant moms. Because when you’re pregnant, your doctor will tell you, invariably, you need to cut out, or at least cut down your caffeine consumption. And there’s a lot of millennial moms out there who are fully addicted to cold brew. The smoothness, the low acidity. They love their cold brew, iced coffee, and they don’t want to have to give up their daily cold brew ritual. And we are the solution to that problem. So those are some of our most passionate customers. We love our moms.
[00:07:27] Calan Breckon: Yeah, you are a dealer to those moms who need their cold brew crack.
[00:07:35] Cason Crane: I always joke that we should set, like, a nine month timer from the first decaf order, because invariably, you see this trend where this is more anecdotal, but we’ve got our decaf. Our moms who are drinking decaf. And then all of a sudden, they have their beautiful baby and they’re switching to the maverick, which is our extra caffeinated cold brew because they need all the caffeine they can get. So you see this transition and we’re that one stop shop where you can get any caffeine level of your choosing.
[00:08:05] Calan Breckon: Oh, that’s too funny. And yeah, because now they’re going to be staying up for basically the rest of their life, taking care of that.
Taking care of that child. That’s wild. Thinking back, my very first kind of growing up job was Starbucks Barista, naturally, as a gay.
And it was like 2006, 2007. And we had cold brew, but it was like we just brewed regular coffee and then we stuck it in the fridge and I think we put like one or two in there and we rarely, rarely. I remember there was one guy specifically who would get it and he would just get, like, cold milk in it, ready to go. But it wasn’t an option that most people got. Most people would get like, an iced caramel macchiato or an iced, like, one of the fancy drinks, but not just like a straight up iced cold brew drink. So that’s really fascinating how culturally things have changed. Do you think the gays have been a proponent of that?
[00:09:03] Cason Crane: Oh, definitely.
You just have to look on social media to see all the memes to know that the queer community drinking cold brew all year round, regardless, there’s like those memes of the gays and freezing cold temperatures with their cold brew in hand.
It’s great. And I think as a queer owned and operated business, it’s fitting. It’s not why I started the business, but it is fitting. I mean, I am also my number one customer, so I fit the stereotype. But I think we’ve had a lot of success, especially this fall, partnering with queer artists, with the brand. We partnered with Troy Sivan on his Got Me started music video, which was really amazing. Matt Rogers, if you saw his new Christmas song, really, really funny.
[00:10:00] Calan Breckon: Wait, is it in that video? I need to pay attention. Yeah, it’s in there.
[00:10:03] Cason Crane: Oh, my God.
[00:10:04] Calan Breckon: Hilarious. Yes. I have laughed at that Christmas. I was like, this is the outrageousness I need right now.
[00:10:11] Cason Crane: Exactly. And it’s a great song, too.
And we were just this past weekend supporting Orville Peck’s Pioneer Town Rodeo, its fifth annual rodeo. So we’re seeing a lot of interest and really sort of mutually beneficial collaborations with queer artists, other queer businesses, et cetera. And I love that. I wish there was more of that.
I don’t know what has been your experience and what’s your perspective on collaboration or lack thereof, amongst queer owned businesses?
[00:10:48] Calan Breckon: You know what, actually there’s a lot, but it’s kind of quiet. I don’t like you’re an NGLCC certified business, which is the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce in the US. In Canada we have the CGLCC, the Canadian LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, and I’ve gone to the event they just did in Denver this past summer and there was about 1500 people in the room and it was amazing. It was great to be like, oh, all these amazing LGBTQ people in business. But a lot of them were corporate or worked in the corporates and not a lot of them were entrepreneurs. Most of them were corporates and we’re here to support you and help you, but at the end of the day still serve their corporate and there was less actual entrepreneurs. And I feel like that’s just because we’ve had less ways to get into the game. Unless you’re Siz white straight passing, which both of us technically I would say are, but definitely for the most part, there’s a lot of other people who don’t fit into that category. Well, they’re going to have so many marks against them to get into those doors, to get in with VCs, to get into all these spaces in order to kind of create what they want to create. Plus they’re already going to have that weight on the back of their shoulders. So a lot of them just go, well, I’ll just do it myself. And then they fall into that like 90% of startups and businesses crash and fail because they already have less than. The Canadian government actually just invested $25 million into the CGLCC to foster 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurship in Canada because they see how much we actually contribute to the economy. We employ over 500,000 people in Canada. We bring in over $22 billion in economic growth. And so they’ve realized that like, oh, these people are movers and shakers and we do tend to kind of raw ourselves and be like, fuck it, I’m going to make this happen because we’ve not been able to depend on other people. But what’s your experience been in partnering? Because I will say one of the things you do have is beautiful bottles. And I know that artists and people like that, they will if it is a beautiful product that they also get to use. Yes.
[00:13:05] Cason Crane: Well, I’m very proud of our now award winning branding. We just won a Bronze Pent awards prize at the most prestigious global branding competition just this past Friday. So that’s very exciting.
I have some hardware now on the shelf which I’m very proud of.
I love the look and feel of our product. It’s top shelf cold brew.
Excuse me, but to answer your question, I think I mentioned obviously some of our recent collaborations and partnerships with queer influencers and artists and comedians. I think though one thing I’d love to see more from our community is more interest in buying from queer owned brands. I think it’s something that I think we have a lot to learn from and can be inspired by other groups, whether it’s women owned businesses, black owned businesses, et cetera. I think there’s a really amazing atmosphere of support just from consumers within and even outside of the community to buy from those businesses. And I don’t feel that as much. And maybe this is anecdotal, but I don’t feel like anyone is buying from Explorer because we’re a queer owned brand now, thankfully, there’s a lot of other reasons to buy our products, whether primarily the taste in our customer surveys, the taste is the number one reason why people buy and continue to buy our products. And that’s actually an amazing thing.
But I do think there’s. I don’t know if just from general consumers there’s as much of that sort of solidarity, I guess. That said, there are some exceptions. The rule. My friend Spencer started a brand called Gay Water, which has been sort of really resonated with our community.
And more broadly, I think it’s a really fun. It’s like a spiked seltzer and good weird. Another queer owned beauty brand that is gay water.
[00:15:18] Calan Breckon: Isn’t it gay water? Like a vodka soda? Isn’t that technically what it is?
[00:15:22] Cason Crane: That’s basically. And it’s brilliant branding I’m really proud of. I mean, it just launched, so shout out to him and to his early success. It’s really awesome. But I think broadly, to go back to your question, queer entrepreneurs, I think they sense whether it’s explicit or more of a gut feel that overtly positioning their brand to be a queer. VIsibly and vocally queer brand doesn’t necessarily benefit them. And here’s what I mean by that. Unless you’re doing gay water or good weird is like it’s a beauty brand and it’s really directly appealing to the queer consumer. But for the majority of brands I think that there’s this wariness of being too niche and ultimately I don’t believe that a woman owned brand would get this well, and maybe I’m wrong, actually, but I don’t think that a woman owned brand or a black owned brand would get the types of emails that I have occasionally gotten when we have promoted our queerness and our queer giving back. We give back to queer organizations like the Trevor Project every year, and I will get emails saying, this is disgusting. I didn’t realize that it was this type of thing. I will never buy from you again. I can’t imagine. Again, I hope that women owned businesses blocking business that don’t get those emails. It’s definitely possible that they do, and very sad if they do. But I do think there’s a reason that there’s a wariness to be overtly a queer business.
[00:17:08] Calan Breckon: Oh, big time. During the NGLCC conference, there was a talk, a whole talk about this, about how a large portion of people prefer to stay in the closet or just don’t voice their community ties because they think it’s going to be a hindrance to them growing and moving into their business. And I mean, it’s kind of one of these chicken and the egg.
More of us need to stand out for it to become more normalized and people to get used to it and all that kind of stuff. But then you’re going to lose out. So it’s like, who are the brave ones who are going to stand up and do it first? And I think that’s what it really comes down to is that we’re at a point where it’s starting. We have queer artists. I remember when that started happening because I’m in the era when that we had, like, what, Ellen DeGeneres, maybe. Rosie O’Donnell. There wasn’t boy George. I’m a big boy George, but there wasn’t like a lot of really artist artists, like young, fun doing things, and now theRe’s a lot coming up. And so I think that that trend is continuing, and I think that that’s going to spill over into branding and with brands. But I think that a lot of us in business, we have to step up because there are a lot of very powerful people who are LGBTQ in the community, who are in very powerful positions, but at those corporations, they also have to answer to other people who aren’t. So it’s like, when do they stick out their neck? When do they not stick out their neck? But the more of us in our branding, like, this is the Business Gay podcast. I specifically called it that on purpose because I wanted to give visibility to this community in regard to business because there’s nobody else up in the charts who is actively showing and shouting, hey, we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re also doing business with or without you and we’re making it big. So I think it’s really important that we do have that and businesses like yours that are kind of saying, hey, let’s partner with these artists. How have those partnerships turned out for you? Like the experience overall with them been?
[00:19:09] Cason Crane: Oh, I mean, the experience with our, especially our recent partnerships, the ones I mentioned have been very positive and I’m hoping to continue to develop those partnerships even further in ways that are still in the works. But yeah, I think they’ve gone great. And I’m hoping that, as you’ve mentioned, there wasn’t a choice of on ten years ago or 20 years ago, ten years ago wouldn’t really have been able to be out. I mean, we still in Hollywood have actors who are out in maybe their personal life, but not out professionally or, I mean, that’s sad. Hopefully that’ll change. That said, there are more out stars now, so hopefully we’re heading in the right direction. But I think it doesn’t take a queer person or entity to make a great partnership. Another amazing one of our flagship partnerships is with Delta Airlines. We were the first cold brew to be on a major US carrier. We’re on Delta’s premium long haul domestic flights with our single serve bottle of concentrate. So it’s just little two ounce bottle. You mix it with water at your seat, enjoy. Delicious cold brew at 38,000ft. And Delta loved from day one. They sought us out in part because we were a proudly, openly NGLCC certified business.
They wanted to work with us for a whole host of reasons, but I think it was very valuable that we were NGLCC certified and that we were queer owned and had really put our money where our mouth was and joined the organization, joined the Chamber of Commerce, attend the events. So I’m really grateful for the Delta partnership.
I’ve worked with queer employees at Delta, non queer employees at Delta, and it’s one of the things that differentiates our brand. So I’m grateful for the partnership, even from a big business like Delta.
[00:21:15] Calan Breckon: Yeah, which is amazing. And they do have it built in. I’m going to a lot of these big events now, especially DEI work is working its way through and ESG and all the acronyms that they have and supplier chain is becoming a massive part of it because they have pressure from their tops of like, okay, we need to introduce this. How are we doing it? And they’re coming through the supply chains of these small suppliers and they’re going, oh, hey, there’s all these great small suppliers. But the way that you’re getting found is through the NGLCC, the CGLCC in Canada, we have CAMC, we have the IWSCC. All these small business certification programs are helping these large organizations to get your business found. So if you’re looking to get your business found or have access to start getting into those supply chains, find and seek out one of these certifications for yourself, and it would definitely help move your business forward. Now, I know your business is still quite young because you said in 2020 pandemic. All the success for such a young business is tremendous and amazing to see.
[00:22:22] Cason Crane: But we’re three years old.
[00:22:24] Calan Breckon: Yeah, there was clearly unexpected challenges that you faced along the way of establishing this. So what were some of those and how did you overcome them?
[00:22:34] Cason Crane: The biggest challenge we face as a business is I started Explorer as an ecommerce business because selling online has only gotten easier and less expensive to do. Well, it had in 2020, especially when we were all at home almost immediately after I started the business, it got a lot more expensive to market online to customers. The digital advertising world has just crashed and burned. There are so many different elements that contribute to that. Whereas whether it was the Apple meta Wars with Apple’s privacy updates and iOS 14, et cetera, et cetera, or just more competition, there’s a lot of different reasons why it’s gotten more expensive. That headwind has been really challenging because even though we have done a great job of pivoting to become an omnichannel business, we’re in several hundred retail stores across the country right now. We sell in nontraditional channels like on Delta Airlines. We have a food service business that is behind the scenes but does really well. Even though we’re omnichannel, it’s still the fastest way to reach the widest breadth of customers. And for it to have gotten so expensive so quickly is a real challenge. So I think my advice to any entrepreneurs looking at the CPG industry right now is make sure your product is well suited for retail, for grocery, or whatever the retail is, because you can always. I think online e commerce is not going away. People still buy things online, but I would not advise viewing that as your primary sales channel. Think of it as an add on and really make sure you’ve got that product market fit for retail. We had to go through a lot of different iterations with our concentrate in order to position it for retail. So the challenge was, we’ve got this ecommerce business. How do we make it omnichannel? We’ve got a beautiful concentrate that is very concentrated. Packs 2025 servings in 132 ounce bottle. You can see them behind me, my left shoulder. But will that work in retail? And I wanted to believe, yes, it will, because you sort of have to delude yourself into thinking it’s going to.
[00:25:00] Calan Breckon: Work because it’s your baby. And you’re like, my baby’s the most beautiful.
[00:25:04] Cason Crane: It’s the most beautiful. And I’m like, okay, this has to work. People will get it. They will understand that the reason it’s priced at $40 a bottle is because it makes up to 25 cups. So it’s under $2 a serving, and it’s organic, and it’s fair trade. And when you compare that to a Starbucks or even the other cold brews on the shelf, that’s actually very reasonable.
Turns out people are very bad at mental math. In fact, I don’t even know if they’re doing the mental math.
They see the price tag and they move on. So that was the challenge we first faced when pivoting to this omnichannel model. And it took a lot of courage, I would say. I look back on this, and I’m really proud of the decision I made. We changed one of our signature features, which was the level of concentration of the product for retail. I bit the bullet, and we changed it to a one to one ratio concentrate to match the other products on the shelf. So all of a sudden, that sticker price came down to 1499. Makes ten servings dollar 50 per serving. And more importantly, that sticker price was now in line with the other products on the shelf. And it was a brilliant. I mean, it was a necessary decision. I don’t want to say it’s brilliant because it was necessary, but it’s the sort of decision that feels like you’re going back on the whole rationale for creating the product in the first place. The level of concentration, I thought was so special, one of the things that made it really great, it’s so versatile, you can add it into smoothies and cocktails, et cetera. I was like, this is one of the reasons why people buy our product instead of other products. But ultimately, I had to be pragmatic, and I’m glad we did. That’s how we’ve gone from zero stores to 400 in just a couple of months and a few hundred more before the end of the calendar year.
[00:26:56] Calan Breckon: But it’s so hard, because if you have to educate your customers, they are not going to buy your product. Because people are just, we’re habitual. So much of our day, so much of our business is just out of pure habit. And so if somebody’s going to the grocery store, usually I know exactly where everything I need is. I go to those spots, I grab those things and happen there’s something next to it or a new product that’s the same and has a different bottle or look or something. I might check it out, but I’m not going to switch, especially if it’s a significantly higher price. Like, I’m not even going to be looking at that because it’s not part of my habit, not part of my system. The only way you can grab new people is like, that’s a new grocery store or a new space and they’re thrown off again because our brains, this is going into like, have you. I’m sure you’ve read James Clear’s atomic habits.
[00:27:49] Cason Crane: No.
[00:27:49] Calan Breckon: If you haven’t, do it. But it goes into the habits of our brains. And our brains are so lazy that we just want to do the easiest thing possible. And so we get into those routines and habits so that our brain doesn’t actually have to continue think. And that’s our brain is constantly being like, I don’t want to think. I’m just going to do the easy thing that I’m used to doing. Which is why so many people get stuck in what they’re doing all the time. But to break those habits.
[00:28:11] Cason Crane: I wish we’d had this conversation a year and a half ago. Maybe I could have.
[00:28:15] Calan Breckon: Give me a shout. I got lots of business stuff up in here. But to be able to break that is so difficult. So I’m glad that you did change that, because also in grocery, I have a friend who does. She does Nona vegan. She’s amazing, Kaylee. And it’s a beautiful vegan brand. Vegan sauces, I believe. Cashew, don’t quote me on that. But a lot of sauces for people who are like gluten free and so many allergies. She can enjoy it. And it came out of her and her mom making Italian meals when she was younger and her mom passed away. So it’s an ode to her mom. Amazing brand. But her in the grocery industry is so difficult because the margins are so small that you really have to be so dialed in to make it work and then to get into the stores and to do all of that. So I can only imagine that that journey was a whole journey, and I.
[00:29:10] Cason Crane: Would view it as an ongoing journey.
I think the hardest part in grocery is the beginning. It’s when the odds are most stacked against you. And it’s been an eye opener for me, honestly.
I think even unintentionally, because the distributors and grocery chains have, in theory, gotten more receptive and encouraging of emerging brands like ours to enter to get on their shelves. However, they have not gone far enough to make it actually sustainable.
I don’t want to be too negative about. I’m really grateful for the partnerships we have.
We have an amazing partnership with one of the big distributors, and I’m happy about a lot of things. But there’s one thing I’ll say, which is we have sold hundreds of thousands of products in grocery in the last few months. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have so far, to date, gotten $0 in our checking account from all those sales over the last, like, five months.
I don’t even know if the distributors realize how challenging that is for a business to manage our cash conversions.
It’s crazy. And there’s so much more that needs to be done to make it actually like a breeding ground for amazing, innovative emerging brands.
[00:30:36] Calan Breckon: This is a whole conversation that we are not going to have today because we could go on for hours, but inflation in combination with the fact that groceries, at least here in Canada, are making record breaking sales and that you’re not making money from this, I just want to find out where the broken pieces are, sue them all so that it can all get back to normal. But we’re going to put that conversation off to the side because we’ll go down a whole rabbit hole on that. Let’s switch gears a little bit. I know that your company has a very unique approach to crafting its beverages. And so I want to know what’s the most adventurous, or, like, outside of the box ingredients you’ve experimented with? And did any of them actually make it into the final product?
[00:31:20] Cason Crane: Okay, Seo. Our most ambitious beverage, in my opinion, was a decaf or a caffeine free Chai tea.
Chai is a comp. I mean, yeah, I’ve always loved chai is.
There’s obviously masala chai from India. There’s a whole world, literally a whole world of different chai traditions with different nuances. But a spiced chai, I think, is just one of the most amazing beverages. And I thought, you know what? Don’t think that the bottled chai options that I see available are good enough. So naturally, I set out to create an explorer Chai line, I wanted to do a dirty chai, which has our coffee in it, instead of an espresso shot.
[00:32:11] Calan Breckon: Dirty chai amazing.
[00:32:13] Cason Crane: Called the Alchemist, a classic spice. Chai the magician. We have that.
But I also wanted a caffeine free chai. Knowing that we have these customers who are very sensitive to caffeine and Chai is complicated.
[00:32:28] Calan Breckon: I can’t drink coffee.
[00:32:31] Cason Crane: Okay.
[00:32:32] Calan Breckon: Yeah, decaf. But that’s why I like decaf. That’s why I love this conversation.
[00:32:35] Cason Crane: Exactly. Yeah.
We called it the idealist, and it’s a mix of a dozen spices, and instead of black tea as the base, which has some caffeine, we decided to use my personal caffeine free favorite, chamomile.
This does not maybe sound particularly complicated on face value, however. Turns out chamomile. Chamomile flowers, when in the brewing bottling process, are like a sponge.
A sponge for bacteria.
And we struggled so hard. Obviously, food safety is the most important thing. And we test all of our products very extensively, and every single time we tried to create this product ran into bacteria issues. And I would never have guessed that chamomile, this beautiful chamomile flour, beautiful chamomile flavor, would be so difficult to work with. And I’m disappointed, because the idealist, this amazing caffeine free spiced Chai concentrate, what I did taste was amazing. We just couldn’t get it to be safe, and we thought we’d nailed it. We had a moment where we were like, okay, this is good. And then we did A full production run. A full production run cost tens of thousands of dollars. And then the test came back, and it was contaminated. So all of that product had to be discarded.
So we’re still working on it. I’m experimenting with other things we’re now working on. Instead of using camel, we’re using honey bush, which is really nice, actually.
So it’s not the most wild ingredient per se, but I think it’s one of those learnings where you go in and you’re like, oh, this should be pretty straightforward. And then it turns out it’s not. Or like, another one like, that was. We had a beautiful turmeric concentrate. The healer, a beautiful turmeric tea concentrate. And our entire bottling facility was orange because of the turmeric. It was hilarious. It was like Willy Wonka factory. Like, everything was orange.
There’s so many crazy mini adventures that you go on.
[00:35:10] Calan Breckon: Oh, my goodness.
[00:35:11] Cason Crane: I’d say that’s the wildest.
[00:35:13] Calan Breckon: Okay, well, I can see that because, well, I’m a nerd, so I do my own fermenting and stuff like that. So, like, bacteria and growth and all that. I’m very familiar with, and I’m a tea person. Like, I have probably 50 teas from David’s tea in my cupboard at any given minute. And so chamomile naturally. Yeah, there’s flowers in that. Instantly, I would know, oh, the bacteria would be very difficult to work with that overall.
So, yeah, when you say that, I was like, oh, yeah, that’s going to be dangerous. Or you’re just brewing alcohol for people, because fermentation of it, all of it, and you don’t want to go down that road and be like, here’s your alcoholic tea.
That’s so wild. So would you say one of those moments was kind of like, when it was so challenging? Did you have that, like, I’m questioning everything in life right now moment?
[00:36:06] Cason Crane: No, I had a different moment. This is like a painful memory. Even now, two years later, my true lowest.
I’ve had a few low moments.
I go to therapy twice a week now.
[00:36:23] Calan Breckon: Good for you. We should as entrepreneurs. I literally just posted a video today from one of my previous episodes that Just came out today, and it was saying, mental health is one of the biggest parts of being an entrepreneur that entrepreneurs don’t talk about.
[00:36:37] Cason Crane: Oh, yeah.
I was asked from a publication to recommend holiday gifts for an entrepreneur, and I was like, can I recommend therapy or Prozac?
Truly transformative for me, personally, for my life, certainly as an entrepreneur, I think therapy, and I’m very open about, I take Prozac. I think it’s been amazing. Medication isn’t the solution for everyone, but I can say for me, it’s been really life changing.
And so just putting that out there in case anyone is listening and thinking about it, different things work for everyone. But my lowest moment was pretty early on. It was in our first year of business. We were selling really well online, but I was trying to experiment with new ways to acquire customers in an affordable way. And I thought, oh, we’ve got this amazing product. Surely people just need to try it. So why don’t we do a free trial? We’ll do a free trial of our starter pack, box of four mini bottles so that people can try it and hopefully that will encourage them to then actually purchase from us. And I launched the free trial, send it out to our, blast out to our email list, and some orders come in. I’m like, okay, yeah. And then I go to dinner with my with my husband, and my phone keeps buzzing. I’m like, oh, my gosh, it’s amazing. We’re getting hundreds of orders. I’m like, oh, my gosh. This is that moment. This is the moment that I’ve been dreaming of, when finally people are catching on and they’re trying the product, et cetera. And as someone who really likes interacting with my customers, I emailed a few of the new customers saying, thank you so much for the order. How did you hear about us? And the answers were sort of oddly vague. It wasn’t like, oh, my friend Callan told me to order this. It was sort of like, oh, it was mentioned somewhere. And I was like, oh, okay. And then a few people. Someone mentioned, like, a Facebook group.
Long story short, turns out that it had been blasted out on a bunch of freebie Facebook group Telegram groups, et cetera. And these folks, you could just read in the comments, I mean, some of them literally were saying, oh, I don’t even drink coffee, but free is free.
And I was like, oh, my gosh, that’s so, like, if even they had said, like, oh, this is amazing. I love coffee. I can’t wait to try this, I would have a different reaction. But it was so clear that these people were just, they were just deal hunters, and there’s nothing wrong with getting a good deal. But I did feel, honestly, I felt a little betrayed, because I don’t think any of them appreciated that. At that point in time, I was bootstrapping my business, completely bootstrapping it. And this was depleting all of my inventory, which was a risk I was willing to take, thinking that these customers would come back. I think that I could count on one hand how many of those hundreds of customers ever purchased again.
[00:40:00] Calan Breckon: Because as soon as you start talking, I was like, my brain. I’m more of a logistical, analytical minded person. So my brain instantly went to, okay, well, what baked in limits did you bake in? Like, the first 100 people, the first 200 people there has to logistically be a stopgate so that you can protect yourself as the business. I’m guessing you didn’t do that.
[00:40:21] Cason Crane: Well, no, I didn’t. But even now, I get notifications every time I get an order. So I certainly was then. So I stopped it at several hundred, 300 orders.
It’s not like I went from zero to 10,000 orders and I couldn’t fulfill it or something like that. It was more the emotional high and low. Like, I was on such a high for an hour or two. And then when I realized what was happening and I did track it. I mean, I still held out a little bit of hope, like, oh, maybe these people will end up repurchasing or.
[00:41:00] Calan Breckon: Giving it to friends and family who maybe liked it. They’re like, oh, I don’t like this, but you might like it and they actually like it, then they go and look you up. It’s hard to track those obscure numbers of like, oh, I regifted it or I gave it to my sibling or husband or whoever and then those people then come around and later on are like, oh, I really like this. I’m actually going to buy this now. It’s so hard to actually get those numbers and to see that part of it.
[00:41:27] Cason Crane: It is. But we do have a post purchase survey and I can tell you that I do not have any data points now that suggest that it was lucrative. However, one of the lessons that I learned was that people need to have a little bit of skin in the game, so to speak. And so we have done free trial promotions subsequently that charge a small shipping fee like between 499 and 999 depending on what it is, and that has had a better ROI. But when it’s completely free, you get too many people who just have absolutely no intention of repurchasing. If you put even a couple of dollars on the line, you get a much higher interest customer than you would otherwise.
[00:42:19] Calan Breckon: It’s like marketing online. Yeah, it’s like marketing online. Even if you have a product that you just want to use as an email generation, even if you charge them one dollars or $2 or something very minimal, you’re going to cut out all the freebie seekers and the people who are genuinely interested in you. And if they bought from you once, that is more likely to lead to a transaction later on down the road because you know they’re willing to get out their credit card to put it in. And especially if they liked your stuff and you over deliver in that one dollars $2 thing, then they’re more likely to be like, well, this was amazing and it was so cheap, then I’m willing to buy this next product at the $50 mark, the $200 mark, et cetera kind of a thing.
[00:42:59] Cason Crane: Exactly.
[00:43:01] Calan Breckon: All right, so building this amazing brand and this great product obviously is fantastic. How have you also built in the audience and kind of your community and connected all that together? Because I know that that is a huge piece and you talked about the mamas from earlier, so there must be a community piece. What have you found resonates the best with your customers?
[00:43:29] Cason Crane: So this is a topic that I wrestle with a lot because I would say that my experience with Explorer over the last three years offers hopefully helpful insights on good and bad things on this community audience customer question. Because I think, number one, so a few different things. Number one, I think I sit out naively trying to capture too many different people in our orbit. We were doing the caffeine levels, but also we’re a queer owned brand that was visibly vocally queer owned. Also we were giving back. Also we were doing sustainability in a way that we’re trying to basically be the leading option on so many different dimensions. And I thought, well, of course we should. I mean, both because it’s the right thing to do and some of these things like being a vocally visibly queer owned brand is a no brainer, just like sustainability to me is a no brainer. But even we talked about the limitations of someone buying in the grocery store and how they only have mental capacity or awareness. For one thing, if they pick up your bottle, you’ve got like 2 seconds to communicate one thing, not two things, not three things. One thing in our case, if they pick up the bottle, the one thing I want them to see is the caffeine levels or caffeine level, because based on our customer research, that is the unique differentiator for our product. Anyway, even with a broader audience, even with ecommerce, where you can in theory communicate more, there’s a similar phenomenon with audiences where if you go too broad, you actually don’t end up really going deep on any of those communities. And so I would say, I would not describe our audience community building as one of the strong points of our business. I think it’s something where I’ve learned a lot, but if I were to do it over again, I would do it differently. For example, I mentioned our moms, our decaf customers. In theory, if I were to go back, the best approach would be to just do decaf, to be solely decaf, to make it very clear to cultivate that specific audience with a brand directly appealing to that audience.
Now I only drink our decaf a couple of times a week. I drink our other caffeine levels more. So, selfishly, honestly, selfishly, I made the decision to have a range of caffeine level offerings.
I stand by that. That’s my choice. But from a pure business standpoint, cultivating that narrower but deeper audience would have probably been the more prudent business decision.
Yeah. So in terms of what we do from community building, we have our beautiful new branding, we actually rebranded this year. So the new branding has only been in place since March of this year. And we’re trying to sort of have the common theme across all this about all the different dimensions to be about having that top shelf cold brew that will elevate your day, that top shelf coffee or chai ritual, and using that to combine the different dimensions that I mentioned. The giving back, how we give back with every purchase to charity, water, to LGBT causes, how we are always trying to maximize our sustainability efforts and always trying to improve, whether it’s offsetting our shipping emissions, even brewing and bottling in the concentrated format itself is a sustainable choice, et cetera, or whether it’s the organic, fair trade nature of our beans, that premium offering inside the bottle and more. So that’s our current approach. But I would say that if I were giving advice, I would say, if you’re looking at starting a business or looking at building an audience, there are many benefits to going narrower. Even if you want to. If you want everyone to listen or to watch or to buy, maybe think twice about it.
[00:47:48] Calan Breckon: If you’re for everyone, you’re for no one. I always say that I’m going to get canceled for this.
Our community. I love the whole community, the two s, LGBTQIA plus community, the alphabet soup, the alphabet mafia, whatever you want to call it. I love everybody. I’ve worked for with everybody. I’ve supported everybody. But I believe we need to clean our own gardens up first, our own front yards up before we can go over to our neighbors and help them. Because if our own shit’s not in order, you can’t help somebody else. I think of it as you have to fill your own cup so much that the overflow gets to go to other people. But if you’re giving the dregs away, there’s nothing helping to fill you up. And it’s just like, if you have a lot more money, you can do a lot more good with that money, and you can choose what you do with that money. So if you’re struggling, you have no money, and you’re trying to volunteer and do all these good things to help the world, yes, it could be selfish to then pull back and go, no, I’m just going to make a shit ton of money for myself. But then, in turn, you can actually end up doing a lot more good later on because you have a lot more money to give and a lot more time to give to people. And so in our community, I always focus on doing one thing really well and kind of stick to your lane. And when you have the means and capabilities, then you can kind of branch out. The podcast I had before, gay men going deeper, it was gay men, we are trans inclusive, but it was very much gay men oriented. And I think that that’s why it’s had so much success, is because we’ve stayed in our lane and we’ve not tried to spread things out. People have been like, well, why don’t you do this? It’s like, well, because we need to help our lane first. And then once we get to that kind of critical mass and we have the means, that’s when an organization looks out and goes, okay, where can we make the biggest impact and help the most? And that’s when people grow. But people are so impatient and they think you need to do it their way because everybody always thinks that their way is the right way and it’s the only way because people are just emotional beings. They’re not rational, logical minded. And that’s why also a lot of people fail at business is because they’re not willing to do the 510 15 year journey and actually keep pace and just focus on, keep going. They want instantaneous right now. They want to have it. They want to do the thing. They want things to change right now. And it’s like, that’s not how the world works. That’s not how life works. That’s not how this economic recession is working. It takes years to go through all of this. So that’s what I’m going to say about that. I hope I don’t get canceled.
[00:50:23] Cason Crane: I don’t know. I think what you’re saying is very reasonable and I think it’s very reasonable. And I think from a business standpoint, it’s one of the reasons why I’m actually very excited for my friend Spencer and Gaywater because I love that he’s so explicitly targeting our LGBT.
Well, I mean, hopefully people beyond that are buying, but he’s being so upfront about it. He’s making that one of the reasons why, and I really hope, I mentioned before, I hope that our community can stand behind that. Why shouldn’t it be a reason to purchase a brand? It should be something that we’re looking for. We should be supporting other queer owned and operated businesses if there’s an option. I mean, all else being equal, that should be a big reason to buy something.
[00:51:17] Calan Breckon: I think I hear you and I’m like, it’s that double edged sword of, like, I hear you, I see you, I want that. And I think it’s because we go to therapy. But there’s a lot of people who just don’t want somebody else to have success or have something because they don’t have it. And our community has a lot of that history of just how we grew up and the world and us, that there’s a lot of anger in there and that gets projected outwards. But it’s a very fickle and funny community. But if you hit it right and you do it right and I feel like you are doing it right, then things definitely can grow in your. I definitely. You got to hook me up with Spencer. I definitely got to have them on the show.
[00:51:54] Cason Crane: Yeah. Oh, definitely.
[00:51:56] Calan Breckon: Talk about gay water. All right. Every entrepreneur has their secret weapon, their kind of go to ritual for staying energized. I’m going to assume yours has to do something with.
[00:52:09] Cason Crane: Yeah. Is it, is it a cop out to say that it is my explorer Cold brew?
That is what it is. Really. I’ve already had two cups of Explorer today and it’s early afternoon, so I’m sure there’ll be an afternoon one as well. But beyond that, I think that’s my answer. But I have a second answer, which is I stay energized by making sure I put myself, my own health, physical mental health first. As an entrepreneur, it can be very hard to become comfortable carving out time for yourself, whether that’s time relaxing by yourself or with your partner or loved ones, whoever that may be, whether it’s exercising every day, whether it’s going to therapy and making sure you have the mental health support and resources you need.
There was a time, especially early on, when I felt guilty. I felt guilty if at night, even if my favorite band was coming into town and playing on a Tuesday night, I was like, I can’t go to that. I have to be working all day, all night, every night. And that is not a healthy mindset, certainly not a healthy long term mindset. But even in the medium term, make sure you will be best off most energized, most excited about building and growing your business if you feel healthy, energized, focused, motivated. And that comes when you’re also carving out time for yourself.
[00:53:41] Calan Breckon: Yeah. That is a huge part of being an entrepreneur. And I’m so glad that you brought that up, and I’m so glad that you said that because so many times people are just hustle. They’re not hustling for their business, they’re hustling for their worthiness, and they’re hustling for their value. It’s not about feeling of guilt.
[00:53:58] Cason Crane: Yeah. It’s like, if I don’t do this, yeah, if I don’t do this, if I can’t do this, I’m not good enough. And you know what? There’s so many setbacks when you’re a small business owner, when you’re an entrepreneur, when you’re founding or starting a business, there’s so many setbacks. That’s so easy to be down on yourself, and it’s the only thing you can control is working more. You think, oh, if I just work more hours, I can redeem myself for that setback. And that’s not the answer.
[00:54:24] Calan Breckon: It’s an illusion. The only thing you truly can control is your thoughts and the way you think about the things. So things happen to all of us all of the time. We have no control over other people. All we can control is our emotions, our thoughts, and our feelings as to what we feel about the things that we are experiencing. So if you are feeling and thinking that you’re not good enough because of XYZ, you’re choosing to have that thought. But those things can still happen, regardless. If you thought that way or if you were like, I’m still bomb, but this just happened because that’s what happens in the world. Shit happens. And if you commit to the journey and commit to what you are doing and you truly believe in it, just keep walking in the same direction. I take evenings and weekends off, go to therapy, I make sure I take care of myself, because I know the fastest way for your business to fail is to burn out. And that is hustling for your worthiness and not going and seeing your favorite band not going and doing enjoyable things, because you’re missing, literally the journey, which is the whole purpose of it. There’s no finish line. The finish line is when you die.
[00:55:29] Cason Crane: Yes. Which is hopefully a long time from now. No, everyone is different. So experimenting and finding what works for you. For me, I actually would rather work every single day of the week, seven days a week, and have the flexibility to work what would be like a half day.
I get more work done on Saturdays and Sundays because I’m not being inundated with emails on those days.
I’ve discovered that actually works for me. That’s not a punishment. I would rather have every afternoon and evening off to do whatever, or to let myself be disconnected and work more then because I’m more productive, more efficient, I enjoy it more. So experiment, find out what works for you, get ideas from other entrepreneurs. I think that’s another thing is like, I have found such amazing friendships and support from other founders, other entrepreneurs seek out those people and be vulnerable with them. That’s sort of just my default. I’m like a heart on my sleeve, open book person, and that’s not everyone. It can be really challenging, but I have found so much mutually beneficial support in being open about not just what’s going well, but what’s not going well.
[00:56:44] Calan Breckon: Yeah, that’s really definitely hugely important. And connecting and doing those social network things. Like, I’m a super introvert. I love being at home, working from home, doing my thing. But one of the biggest things that has helped the growth of my business is going and networking and not networking networking, but going and making new friends in the business realm. And the CGLCC hugely helped with that because it was no longer a Bros tech Bros La la kind of vibe. It was other people in my community that I felt safe with, comfortable with, and that I could talk openly with. So if you’re looking for that, look up the NGLCC, look up the CGLCC, look up some sort of chamber of commerce where you’re from. More often than not, they’re going to be an amazing group of people that you can connect to. All right.
[00:57:25] Cason Crane: Yeah. And find a friend. Go with a friend. My first NGLCC event, another one of my friends, my friend Sam, who started a fitness app called Pride Fit. It’s a great app. Highly recommend it. He and I were both a little nervous. That’s a totally fair feeling. So we were like, let’s go together to our first event. Our first in person event. We went. It was such a blast. And just that one event. Now I would feel comfortable going by myself. So find a friend.
[00:57:50] Calan Breckon: Yeah, exactly. You don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s the fear that comes up. But then once you do it, you’re like, oh, this is super easy.
This has been an amazing, magical conversation. I am definitely going to be looking at getting the Chai because obviously I’m going to have to try that out. Where can listeners find out more about you and Explore cold brew? So if they want to order something.
[00:58:13] Cason Crane: So you can go to Explorercoldbrew.com or Amazon Search, Explore cold brew. And we are in an ever growing number of retail locations in the United States.
We are in a few hundred. Now. If you go to our website, Florida.com, scroll to the bottom. There’s a store locator. So I really appreciate people buying in. Also, if you are buying on Amazon, please leave a review.
Ideally a nice review please leave a review Amazon Reviews really matter and just as of recently, if you’re in Canada, you can buy our products on Amazon Canada. So yes, and if you have any issues, send me an email or DM me on Instagram because it’s a very new thing. So hopefully we’ve worked out all the kinks. But yes, Amazon Canada, Amazon Us, and a bunch of other places.
[00:59:05] Calan Breckon: Amazing. Magical. Thank you so much for being on the show today. This has been a very enlightening and energetic conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
[00:59:15] Cason Crane: Likewise, thanks for having me.
[00:59:16] Calan Breckon: Holy Cannoli! What a jam packed episode with Cason. That was absolutely phenomenal. If you want to get your hands on some cold brew, check out Explorer with an ER so Explorercoldbrew.com. That link will be in the show notes for you. We also talked a lot about the NGLCC and the CGLCC, so you can check those out at nglcc.org and CGLCC.ca if you want to find out about those Chamber of Commerce organizations. They are phenomenal. I want to thank you again for tuning in today. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button. And if you really enjoyed today’s episode, I would love a star rating. We all got to support each other, just like how I talked about in this episode. We got to lift each other up. And giving me a star rating definitely helps tell the algorithm that this is a magical podcast. The Business Gay podcast is written, produced, and edited by me, Calan Breckon, and if you’re looking to get a free SEO website audit, you can head on over to CalanBreckon.com/audit and set one up with me. Or click the link in the show notes to do it for yourself. All right, that’s it for today’s episode. Peace, love, Rainbows.