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This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Lee Schneider: It’s the Cult/Tech podcast. I’m Lee Schneider. Joining me today is Cheryl Clements, the founder and CEO of PieShelll. PieShell is a crowdfunding platform that emboldens and empowers food and beverage entrepreneurs and enthusiasts.
Hey Cheryl, welcome to the podcast.
Cheryl Clements: Hi, Lee. Thanks so much for having me.
Lee: First, just tell me a little bit about your background. Why are you the person to be doing this?
Cheryl: Oh I love and adore food and come from a long line of what, back in the day, were called hard working women. Now we get fancy names like entrepreneurs. But they were always in the food space and so I’ve always loved that, and I adore technology, and the two of them coming together have worked really well. I’ve worked about 18 years in installing a large software package called SAP. And they always say to take two things that you love the most in a try and make a business out of that. And I just adored crowdfunding and tech and food and so it all came together.
Lee: Let’s talk about that a little bit — we’re going to get into how it all works. But I wanted your — just to go global for a moment. It’s interesting that you have both sides of the coin, right? You’ve made the pies, you’ve managed the software. Is there a direction for food that is a blend of the down-home and neighborhoody and tech and global?
Cheryl: I think there absolutely is. I think one of the things that we often talk about is that people are getting so insular in the world with their social media and they’re all, you know, on their phones and you know they feel like they’re — it seems like people are quite alone. But actually, what they’re reaching out to is all of their communities that they have online. And that is one of the things that crowdfunding leverages tremendously — is that sense of community.
I actually met Amy Cortese of Locavesting last week and it was something that we were speaking about earlier is that if you take that sense of community, bring it together to help leverage you and get your business off the ground … crowdfunding lets you do that by contributing funding through a technological platform to help people bring some of the most cool and innovative food ideas out there. So I think together it absolutely helps build that up for people and lets them get to the next level.
Lee: Let’s talk about PieShell specifically and explain what it is, what it does, and who it helps.
Cheryl: Yeah well, thanks for asking we’re so excited. PieShell is a brand new rewards based crowdfunding platform. We launched in October of 2016 so we’re very new, and we are only for food and beverage companies. So think of anything that’s a package good. Think of food tech, restaurants anything in that realm. And what I’ve done is I’ve taken my years of technology where I understood that best practices are the better way to make sure that you’re doing something that’s standardized and there are absolutely best practices to crowdfund.
And what we’ve done is we’ve built them directly into the software and we as a team of support incubate the food projects through. And what that does is it gives them every opportunity for success because they have very strict guidelines on how to crowdfund and that increases their chances of success.
We, by being a completely food and beverage platform, allow them to be there with like minded people. They’re not competing with as we say wireless ear buds and wrinkle free pants. They’re out there with their peers. The foodies that follow them and are passionate about finding some new and cool food, they’re watching and they’re seeing these new companies come to be.
But one of the other things that we’ve done that’s very different is we created a stepping stone model. We took all the feedback of why on the other platforms they’re failing 75 percent of the time and we incorporated that into PieShell to fix those problems. And one of the critical problems was people are asking for too much money and not reaching their goal. So we created steppingstones where your first steppingstone is a very clear task of what you’re trying to do for your business for a very tangible amount of money. And we say to people let’s move that into your first steppingstone and that’s your critical ask, we think of it. And then your second stepping stone is kind of what you would do if you reach that goal and moved on to the next step of your business. That’s your need. And then your next step is your dream of what you’d love to do if you made your first two money steppingstone goals.
What we then do is we say to people you know you can blow right past all of those aspects and you can raise all those funds. But it helps the people that are contributing, too. Because with all of these food startups nobody has any idea how hard it is for them to do. How much money it takes to get going. And so this actually helps educate them at the same time.
And so it’s actually proven really successful. All the projects we’ve had have been 100 percent successful in reaching their first steppingstone, which is equal to the ask on any other site they have. And the last thing we do is we’re all about community.
The biggest thing about food and beverage is that people are doing it because they love everything about it. It makes them happy. They want to be a part of it. And so for us one of the ways that we do that is PieShell it forward and we contribute 1 percent of our 6 percent fee for the site to a nonprofit partner and that partner is called Emma’s Torch. And they teach culinary skills to refugees here in the United States giving them amazing mentoring and skills and certification so that they can go out and get gainful employment and so they then get jobs in the industry that we just love and adore so much. So that’s something that’s really important to us as well.
Lee: Yeah that’s a great thing to be doing. You’re talking about community. And one of the questions we wanted to ask is “What are the marketing benefits of crowdfunding?” Community is wrapped up in that, isn’t it? Because in order to successfully crowdfund something you need a community. So this, in a way, part of your stepping stone approach, is really a way of building a community around the idea, the product, whatever it might be.
Cheryl: I think you should go into crowdfunding yourself. You’ve got it nailed perfectly. You’ve said it so succinctly it’s exactly what it does by building that community of support.
These people want you to be successful. They want you to create jobs, they want your product out on the shelves. And so many times they have no idea how to help you. Think of your friends and family when you tell them that you’re starting a new job or you’re looking to buy a new house. They always want you to succeed. They don’t know how they can maybe add some value. This actually gives them that opportunity. They can contribute in a way of sharing your campaign. They can contribute with a little financial token of, you know, their hope for your success. But what it actually does is it turns these people into the most fundamental foundation for your business.
If someone contributes a dollar or a thousand dollars, they are invested. They believe in you and what you’re doing, and they will be there to support you as you grow. Because crowdfunding doesn’t have to end with your first project. I mean, there are companies that launch every brand extension through a crowdfunding platform, because you’ve just built a virtual focus group, you have been able to test your idea out on a smaller subset of your market. But yet a very passionate subset who will absolutely give you their advice and their, you know, constructive criticism if that’s required. So it’s it’s really an amazing tool to do that. There aren’t too many other opportunities where you can market your business and make money at the same time and rewards-based crowdfunding is exactly what that model is.
Lee: I want to come back around to how to speak to contributors in a moment but I also right now want to pick up on this thread of the incubator idea, and the market testing ideas. Because one thing that you guys do is you pre-incubate and you help people get position. So they’re in a good place to learn as much as they can, to market as effectively as they can. Could you talk about that a little bit? I mean the steppingstone thing is part of it right because it helps people go step by step. But the incubator notion and the sort of container that you hold, the space that you hold for people is really interesting, and not a lot of crowdfunding portals really do that like you do it.
Cheryl: No and thank you for that. We it’s something that’s very important to us. We at the end of the day most of these startups are small little companies one maybe two people, and sometimes they just really want to know that someone is there for them, and that was something that was very important to me when I started PieShell I actually crowdfunded to get it started myself. I wanted to raise 10,000. I was fortunate enough to make thirteen. But it was the hardest one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I had no idea what I was doing.
And so when I put myself together I knew that we absolutely had to give way more guidance than education and what needed to be done. And it’s not a secret. I mean I’ve been a consultant for 18 years prior to my show and I always knew that. I know a little bit more than you do today and you know everything I know tomorrow and that’s kind of the logic we’ve put into the platform — that as people come to us we have a pulmonary call with them. We make sure that they understand what we’re about. We understand what they are about than we share with them a project blueprint which is a very comprehensive document of exactly how the platform works what all the different sections mean what needs to go into them. And then we give them critical next steps, because there are things that they should be working on.
We give them a budget template. We give them a timeline template. One of the most critical aspects which sort of ties back into this marketing is they MUST MUST MUST pre market their campaign. They must grow their email crowd. They must put it out on social let people know that it’s coming. They must put up some sort of a web site if they don’t already have one with a landing page where they can capture emails. You know, they need to be telling people that this is coming and that this is something that they’re going to be doing and taking their business to the next step.
Because when they launched the project they want as much hype around that project as possible. You know there’s the acronym FOMO. You know the fear of missing out. They want to make sure that people are excited and and ready to jump on board. And so we give them you know as we talked about documents to step them through all of that. We also review their entire project. We build it for them on the site so they don’t have the hassle of that. All they have to do is drop their project assets such as a video and photo indoor Dropbox. We also have created Word documents where they just tab through and fill them out. We copy it. We proofread everything. We make sure that everything’s good and then we have some pre requirement checklists. To go back to our PeShell forward. They have to contribute to an active campaign if they want to come into the community. So whether it’s a dollar or a thousand dollars whatever they feel comfortable we ask them to support one of their fellow projects on the platform. That’s a requirement.
One of our other hard requirements is that they need to raise 25 percent of their first steppingstone, because if they launch with that 25 percent already in their back pocket and showing on the site, then that gives them, again, another you know kick start and they have a 70 percent greater chance of being successful.
And so we put all of these things in place to make sure that they are as successful as possible. And so that if they were to fail at crowdfunding the only reason would be because there’s something about their business that they maybe need to tweak or change.
Because unfortunately if you go and you fail at a crowd funding campaign people don’t think it’s because you weren’t good at the campaign. They assume it’s because your business wasn’t viable. And many many many times that is not the case. So we want to make sure that they’re successful as possible with the project and that if they have some challenges that it’s really because they maybe need to relook at their business which is one of the other benefits of putting it out there is they can find out from all that marketing that they’re doing, you know, where there might be some pivots that are needed in their and their business model.
Lee: Yes, so true. It’s really creating a growth medium for the business and —
Cheryl: — 1000 percent —
Lee: — like a conceptual growth medium. Let’s flip the frame for a moment and look at the contributor’s side. Now a big piece of your puzzle, as you said, is getting foodies on board. You need to entice foodies to support local businesses, maybe innovative businesses, and getting into watching new companies launch and grow. How do you do that? It’s pretty big — pretty tall order I think, right?
Cheryl: It is. It is what we found that’s been working so far and you know we’re open to any ideas and suggestions. But one of the things that we found that’s helped us tremendously is we are becoming part of our community and the food community by having you know what we call community partnerships with incubators where there are you know they’re sending out newsletters, and being part of Facebook groups that are around people that love and support food.
Attending the food events and making sure that you know we in whatever way possible whether it’s through a sponsorship or whether it’s speaking at these events and whether it’s, you know, just sharing information about crowdfunding or new food tips and tricks by building that community through those you know — those are true kind of in many cases face to face type things.
We also have the good fortune of you know partnering with you know the Institute of Culinary Education where we you know where I get the pleasure of speaking at some of those classes and that goes out to the people that are in ice and who they’re obviously all food lovers and they’re looking forward to hearing about new tips and tricks.
But we also work really strongly on our content.
We try and put a really you know informational as well as entertaining content in our blog and in our social streams and work with influencers as well so that you know if they know about us then they’ll talk to their audiences and let them know that we’re here because they’re excited about those types of things that we’re doing.
So it’s it’s very grassroots for lack of a better word I mean with a little bit of money and some ad buys in certain areas or sponsorships. But it’s really getting out there and just being in front of people I’m going to events where you know foodies love like Smorgasberg for example here in New York is a wonderful organization you know of food entrepreneurs that have you know little pop ups that happen every Sunday through you know the spring, summer, and fall. We’ve had wonderful relationships with some of the vendors from there where, you know ,just walking around and finding all the food lovers at these type of event. It’s really kind of wonderful — they tell two friends, and they tell two friends and so on, and we’ve been getting a lot of wonderful coverage that way as well for folks to know that we’ve got some cool, new, innovative ideas out there.
Lee:: You can definitely see how the ecosystem works. People care about this stuff on both sides. They care about creating the food and creating the businesses and also consuming it.
Cheryl: They do!
It all works. Everybody loves to eat or drink. I mean, it’s one of those things that — it’s just it’s very it’s very community-focused to begin with. Who creates a 10 course meal to sit down and eat it by themselves, right? It’s how you tell someone you love them.
Lee: Let’s talk about a few. I know it’s like asking about your favorite child. But are there a few examples of recent projects that you’d like to call out on the show just so people have examples of what this is all about.
Cheryl: Oh sure. Well right now I you know we have two on the platform that are live right now and they are just amazing. We have creation’s by Kimiko who is a mom who is pivoting from doing fancy cakes to gourmet all natural candies and they are amazing and delicious.
And then Will is actually from nut shell and he’s doing something which is super cool. He’s doing a fresh nut bar. So if you think of some of the bars that you might buy that are all packaged up that’s a good until 2018. His is kind of I you know I hope I don’t do him any disservice, but I think of it as like a nut bar like you would go into a bakery to get similarly to how you’d go and get a brownie.
But the absolute favorite child and I know I’m not supposed to have one but is absolutely Not Ketchup and Erica from Not Ketchup has absolutely humbled me. She was our very very first project. A friend of PieShell.reached out to Erica and told her what we were doing and Erika was onboard instantly. She was our very first person to come on board. She reached all three of her steppingstones for her product not ketchup but even more than that. What Erika did was she shared with everybody her true personal vision because she realized that she had type 2 diabetes and needed to make a change in her life and had this product that was already out in the market already on a couple you know whole foods and Amazon a little bit but she realized she wanted to be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem.
So her project was to remove added sugars from her current project which was a fruit based ketchup type condiment. And so that’s what it was. But she was very honest with the with the challenges that she had had in her own life, and what she wanted to do. But then after all of that and after being full with her project after making all three of her steppingstones and after telling me that one of the reasons why she wanted to launch with us was so that we would be successful for the guys that came after her.
Erika has gone above and beyond because she has literally supported every other project that we have had on our platform and that, I cannot tell you, how humbling that is that she is the epitome of the community we’re trying to build, so we just love her to death.
Lee: That’s an awesome story. What a great thing.
Let’s sum up a little bit and speak to the people who might be wanting to list— who might be wanting to be part of this. Are there any ingredients for success that you might offer to anyone who wants to start a — list of project — start a project on PieShell?
Cheryl: Absolutely. I think the biggest thing is don’t limit yourself to thinking that you’re not at the right point yet. Make sure that if you’re ready to do this you know there’s no wrong time. But the one thing that you will need is time.
It is a lot of work to do. A crowdfunding project correctly.
But as I say to people all the time you’re looking to raise a significant amount of money and so you are going to have to put that time into it. So make sure that you’ve got the time, make sure you’ve got the bandwidth. Maybe you need to get some teams and some help.
And you know the other aspect is to make sure that you pre-market and let people know you’re coming. That’s one of the most critical elements. A lot of people leave it a little bit too late when they’re doing crowdfunding, so make sure that that’s something that you’re going to want to do. And make sure that you really have a good vision for what you want to be crowdfunding for.
It’s something that we work with folks a lot on. They have a business which has many different arms and paths and journeys that it’s going to take. But when you crowdfund it’s for a very very specific thing, and so make sure that you really focus it in and make sure that it’s you know a razor focus on what you want that money for and what you’re going to do with that money.
And make sure you are ready to be transparent. That’s probably one of the most critical aspects. You’re asking people to believe in you and invest in you in either their concept their ideas their time, whatever that is you want them to believe in you and so you really need to be open and honest with them.
So if you’re at the stage in your business where you are not at a point where you want to share your secret sauce, which we do have conversations with people about that they’re not ready to talk about their business model. They’re not ready to share — that then I cannot stress enough that crowdfunding is not for you because if you are not you know brutally honest with your with your audience and with the people supporting you they’re not going to be able to trust you. It’s it’s relationship 101. If you’re open and honest with people they’ll believe you. They’ll believe in you and they’ll support you as much as they possibly can.
Lee: Ready to be transparent. That’s really great advice. Cheryl, thanks so much for joining me today on the podcast .
Cheryl: Lee, it was such an absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
I’m Lee Schneider, Communications Director at Red Cup and this has been the Cult/Tech podcast.
Also published on Medium.