LA Business Podcast

15. Maddy Moelis, Co-Founder, Great Jones Goods

Maddy Moelis Great Jones
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We talk with Maddy about how she Co-Founded her kitchen goods business from scratch, her inspirations to do so, and her experience with creating products that young people can be proud to own.

Great Jones Goods

Intro: [00:00:00] Welcome to the LA business podcast, a forum for business owners and senior executives to share the experiences about the elements that drive their success. Your host is Robert Brill, CEO of, an Inc 500 company delivering the power of hyperlocal advertising. Robert writes for Forbes, Inc and Ad trade publications.

Our goal is to bring you the stories about successes and failures of people who are making big things happen in marketing, entrepreneurship and management.

Robert Brill: [00:00:42] Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the LA business podcast. Today our guest is Maddy Moelis Cofounder of Great Jones Goods. Maddie, thank you so much for being on this podcast.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to co-founding Great Jones Goods?

Maddy Moelis: [00:01:01] Yeah, sure. Thank you for having me. Um. I am a native New Yorker. I grew up right outside the city and went to school in Philly.  and after I graduated I sort of serendipitously fell into the startup world and haven’t really looked back ever since.

And that is what led me to this point to starting Great Jones. Great Jones is a modern kitchen brand.  we are sold fully online right now, direct to consumer and we launched in November of 2018 with five pieces.  but since then have launched more products, more colors, and the past year has just kind of been a whirlwind in growing the business.

So that’s a little bit about me.

Robert Brill: [00:01:54] So let me ask you a question, right? So you’re telling me about why, what was the reason? What’s the foundational thesis of your business? Like why does the world need a better, a different, another cookware company? Tell me what’s different about your products.

So, my cofounder Sierra and I have been friends since we were kids. We met at summer camp, but in the fall of 2017, we were actually catching up over dinner. I was working at Zola at the time, the wedding registry company. And Sierra was a food writer for New York Magazine. And we were chatting about how we just want it to become better home cooks.

We both felt a little bit insecure and we were entering into our late twenties and wanted to just be better at cooking at home.  and we both sort of got this common theme point of we didn’t even know what we needed to start and why.  and that really started with the products that we had in our kitchens and feeling like we needed to upgrade those products, but not even really knowing where to look or who to trust for guidance there.

 we ended up talking to a bunch of friends and, and professional chefs and, and leveraging our networks to see what’s sort of the sentiment in our demographic was like, and a lot of people, not the professional chef, but a lot of our friends and friends of friends felt the same way. That there just isn’t, there wasn’t that much guidance out there about what you needed and why.

There was no product that we really felt proud to go out and buy for ourselves and own.  there were some really expensive pieces. That a lot of people said, Oh, I’m just going to wait until I get married to own this. And then there was a lot of sort of just hand me down, culture and mentality.  but there were no brands that was really speaking to our generation in a way that we wanted to be spoken to around here’s what you need, here’s how you can use these pieces and here’s why.

 and so we really set out to solve that gap and fill that gap.  not to mention this is a huge market, and there hadn’t been a ton of new entrance at the time into the category. It was a lot of heritage brands that had been around for decades, selling through really traditional channels, and we just felt like the world was shifting.

Consumer behavior has shifted pretty significantly from when our parents were buying their first set of cookware, and there was a huge opportunity there to step in and be a leader.

So that’s really interesting. I saw this post on Twitter recently that the future of, I’m trying to remember the context of future of branding or products or marketing is going to be creating a physical form of social networks. And so, this idea that this is a little off the wall, right? So the, don’t judge me here, but like the idea that this is not what the person said, but this is what I sort of survise from it. Like a company like that can aggregate a physical space and a lifestyle element can actually create a network of people that connect amongst that lifestyle.

So what I mean to say here is I’m looking at your products. They’re beautiful by the way.

Maddy Moelis: [00:05:21] Thank you.

Robert Brill: [00:05:23] This makes perfect sense because I like to cook. I have no idea what’s going on with any of these things. I don’t know what any of these pans are for and I like the fact that your products have names that are kind of like specific to what their uses are, and also, they’re really cool and stylish, like they come in different colors. You see an opportunity to create, are you looking at this as a lifestyle brand or something more functional? Like how do you look at these products?

Maddy Moelis: [00:05:53] Yeah, great question. The term lifestyle brand I think gets thrown around a lot the way that we see ourselves as really building a community.  we want to build a community of people who are empowered to cook more and are excited to be cooking more.  and the way we do that is a few things. To your point, creating products that people are proud to not only own but out on their stove top and leave out and hopefully use more frequently because it just brings joy to you.

Daily activities, is the first way that we really decided that we could empower people.  and the product design we’re striking and we get great feedback about how they look, but also how they function, which is really exciting. The other way that we think about this, and it’s a huge investment that we make in our business is on the content and community building side.

With editorial and telling stories and leveraging social media as a way to engage, not only in a conversation with our customers, but to allow them and our community, but to allow them to communicate with each other.  we do that digitally through, like I said, like editorial and telling stories and, and constantly updating recipes and sharing those out.

But also we do a lot of in-person in real life events and community building activities where we’re bringing customers and friends with the brand and just people together around the joy of cooking. So 100% there’s a way to build in networking into a physical product business, and that’s pretty big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Robert Brill: [00:07:34] So the market, I can’t help it with the marketer in me. Like I’m looking at this. I’m thinking, if you take a publisher, like all recipes, there’s plenty of them, HGTV and plenty of other media properties that are wholly aligned with, with the lifestyle around cooking and the content and the feelings and all the things that go on with cooking and recipes and whatnot.

Like, I’m looking at this, and I’m wondering if like three or five years from now, you either are or own a media company, like all recipes where you’re still a product, you’re still selling the product, but you’re the content that you develop is about. 1,000 different ways to do recipes. So you use Great Jones products.

Is that even in your frame of reference right now, or are you just focused on the products?

Maddy Moelis: [00:08:27] Definitely in our frame of reference. You nailed it.  there’s just so much opportunity to reach people and engage with not only our customers, but the general public, beyond just selling a product. And we’re really excited about tapping into those other opportunities as you mentioned.  so yeah, that is definitely in our purview and something we’re really excited to tackle.

Robert Brill: [00:08:55] This is cool. Like I’m looking at this site and I see this section called altogether now it gives me all the details I need on what I’m actually doing with every one of these products? That’s so cool.

Maddy Moelis: [00:09:07] Yeah, and that was like that. We call it like the comparison chart internally that was really born out of pain points that we were feeling of like, well, why do you need a stainless piece and a nonstick piece in your kitchen? What are the differences in what you cook in those pieces?

And, and what does the size actually mean for how much can fit in there? If I’m cooking for myself, what do I need versus if I’m cooking for my family and as we expand our line, we’ll continue to provide that context and that education and, and sort of, you know, comparison setting. So people can make the best decisions for themselves and their needs at any given time in their lives.

Robert Brill: [00:09:47] Super cool. I understand the mechanics of like the need you saw in the marketplace, I mean, you have some great business experience, right? Warby Parker, Zola, Jobwell like an analyst, like, tell me about the experiences you’ve had that led you to the point where you’re like, did you feel comfortable? Did you feel confident in jumping into a cofounder role, did it didn’t naturally come to you with? What does this in your life plan like 15 years ago? Because for me, my business, like I knew at some point I wanted to start a business or was it much more like. I dunno this sounds interesting. Like where, how, did you get into this position?

Maddy Moelis: [00:10:35] Yeah, so it was kind of the perfect storm.  like I said, when I introduced myself, a big part of me is, is working in startups. I have a very entrepreneurial spirit. I love to build things from the ground up, and that’s something that I’ve worked in my career towards.

Um. So definitely wasn’t like totally out of left field that I started my own business, with a cofounder. But I, I do think that it wasn’t just like, I wasn’t just seeking out the next thing to start. It had to feel both right for me personally as a product in a category that I would be excited to dedicate my life to for the foreseeable future. And also, the fact that Sierra and I had this really symbiotic sort of relationship and perspective and also came from totally different places to really round out our skills, was a huge impetus behind that. Like making the leap. Like I think both of us would say we couldn’t have done this ourselves and still can’t and having a cofounder that also was really like synergistic and starting a kitchen brand felt really positive. Like, why not us? I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit. It really just made this made more sense than anything else, and we did a ton of research. It wasn’t like overnight. We just woke up and decided to do this.

We spent months while we were working full time on the side, researching and talking and getting feedback and vetting our idea, but once we had a truly a business plan and a and a beam plan, we felt like we couldn’t not dive in. The opportunity was just way too exciting.  and so yeah, that was definitely a leap of faith.

It continues to be every day. We’re figuring things out and always faced with a hundred decisions that we’ve never had to make before. But, it’s really exciting. So I think that’s the guiding light.

Robert Brill: [00:12:48] I love that. So when we emailed you said something really interesting, which I don’t think I’ve had that comment come up before in this podcast.

You said customer experience is key to drive word of mouth by reality. Can you expand on that? How are you guys doing that? I mean, is it really a matter of like just making the best product that at all possible? Or like tell us more about how you make a great customer experience.

Maddy Moelis: [00:13:21] Yeah, so I would say customer experience pretty much encompasses the entire organization. It’s not just who’s answering our emails and what they’re saying. When people reach out, it’s every touch point that someone out in the world has with Great Jones should be incredible and memorable and viral.  and the way we make sure that happens is from everything to whether you’ve come across us through, you know, a friend or an ad or an event that we’re hosting.

Those are all driven by like a core brand ethos.  so starting with your first touch point, you’re really understanding who we are and what we’re striving for and how we can help empower you to cook more. And then when you land on the website, to your point, we are trying to provide as much information and education and sort of joy as possible so that you feel great about purchasing this product.

 or even just engaging with our brand and reading our recipes and reading our stories. Learning more about who we are, then that passes through to once you do place an order, making sure that on the more logistics and traditional customer experience, that you are fully looped in about how long your order will take you to get to you.

And when it does, the packaging is surprising and delightful.  you’re presented with the materials you need to care and clean your products. And then. Once you actually have these in your kitchen, we’re continuing to follow up and provide you with more insight and information and stories and recipes as we keep saying, to help you make the most of the pieces.

So like from the end to end customer, we see customer experience being pivotal and it comes up in every strategic conversation that we have is how is this going to impact customer? Um. One really interesting example of the way that we’ve sort of taken customer feedback and made that into a core part of our business is through a service that we launched earlier this year called Potline.

We are getting a lot of inbound questions from people who were in real time in their kitchen saying I’m having trouble with my roast chicken or the fish that I’m trying to steer a sticking to the pan. Can you help me figure this out?

And we were realizing that we were becoming a trusted resource for cooking advice and recipe support. So. Instead of continuing to just engage with those people over email, which felt a little clunky and not as real time. We decided to create a text message-based hotline, where we’re live every day for a couple of hours a day and people can reach out and text us and ask questions and engage with our team and, and get guidance.

So that’s like a in real life example of how we put the customer experience first and really learn from the feedback that we’re getting.  and it’s been super successful and something we’re going to build out more in 2020.

Robert Brill: [00:16:40] I’m really surprised to hear that you’ve only been around since November of 2018 because to me it feels like you’ve been around for a couple of years.

The only thing I can think of is that I’ve, I’ve seen a lot of you guys. In, Inc around Inc. I believe it was Sierra who was interviewed at the Inc 5,000 conference on stage. It seems to me like you guys have a massive footprint in an exceptionally short period of time.

How’d you do that so fast, yo? Like, how does that happen?

Maddy Moelis: [00:17:22] Well, first of all, thank you. That’s, that’s really great feedback. It’s nice to hear that. I’m glad. Glad that you have that impression.  and yeah, I mean, we have grown quickly and we’ve expanded across the country and we’ve reached a ton of people and this holiday season is a good example of that.

It’s just been pretty wild to see. The business grows in the past couple of months in particular?  I think that there’s no silver bullet. I think it’s sort of the synergy between what we stand for and how that bleeds through all of the different things that we’re putting out in the world on our website, on our social, really having a strong mission of trying to make people feel more confident and included and just help them be more proud in their kitchens. And that is something that we make sure we infuse into everything we do. And having that sort of at the core has allowed us to build this community that’s gotten really, really excited.

Like, we are a small team, we’re a team of eight people. And so your perception of us being, you know, having a massive footprint is only possible through the help of customers talking about us and promoting us and, partners and all that. So like, it’s really just making sure that we’re putting our best foot forward to deliver on our mission.

I think. I know that’s a little vague, but it is hard to pinpoint one thing.

Robert Brill: [00:19:02] Sure. No, I agree. Like, you know, the thing that’s similar that comes to mind for me is, I know when I’m in the middle of leveling up my business now I know it. In the past it’s happened. I didn’t know it was happening until I realized, Holy cow. My media buyers are saying, stop selling please because we can’t handle the growth. Like that’s the type of thing where I’m like, Oh, that’s cool. Now I want more of it, and I never really know the one action that I take that leads to new business in many cases, or the individual tweet.

But I know that there’s an aggregation of activities that when I do them, it results in good things happening for the business.

Maddy Moelis: [00:19:55] Yeah, I think it’s being really rigorous, this is more maybe boring and business focused. Being really rigorous on focusing on what the priorities are and making sure that those are being delivered at 100% effectiveness.

 you know, something, I think as a small company, we talk a lot about, and I think a lot of companies could struggle with are it’s just spreading ourselves too thin and thinking about. You know, there’s a hundred different things we could be doing in January, February, March. But how do we focus on the things we know we can do best?

And what’s great about the position we’re in now versus where we were a year ago, is we actually have a year’s worth of insights and learnings and data and tons more customers to seek out feedback and sort of information from. So, it does feel good to have more leverage when thinking about the future as well.

Robert Brill: [00:20:51] So as you think about growing and scaling, you know, the mission for this podcast is really coming out my interest in growing my company and, the journey on this podcast is like, how can we help other business owners scale their business? Right? And I’m not under the impression that everything that every company does is going to be applicable, right?

So I get some things, but like, what are some actionable things that either you might be embarking on over the next year into 2020 or that you have seen work either at Great Jones or the other work that you’ve been doing. Like what are some of the best practices that you might be interested in sharing that some of our listeners could deploy for their own business, or at least at the very least test.

Maddy Moelis: [00:21:47] Yeah. It’s funny that you said the word test. I was going to say, I would recommend being experimental.  don’t be too scared to take a risk and put something out there and always, you can always pare back if something seems like a huge list or effort or potentially a risk, like you can always pair it back to be a smaller test.

But we’ve learned so much from releasing one new product that’s changed the way we think about product development and introduction and will now be, you know, thinking much more seriously about how do we continue to get more product into the world because we kind of pulled together a test for this holiday season, saw that it really worked, and now we’re leaning into that much more as a strategy.

 I think also something that we’ve done is identify what we do well and focus on that for us a lot of people ask. We got a ton of Press coming out of the gate and have continued to really lean into earned media as a way to get our name out there. We were on the Today Show this past summer, and that was until the holiday season, our biggest sales day to date.

So just a huge growth moment for us. And I think Press isn’t always the answer for every company. If you can identify some things that you do really well and that you have a core competency in.

Robert Brill: [00:23:22] Can I ask you about the Press thing? So Press is very interesting to me. You know, our business is ad buying, and I find that there is surprisingly, there shouldn’t be, but it seems like there’s a surprisingly massive gap between the outlook of the world from like PR and Press people.

Like PR people and publicity folks and paid media. It’s almost like, and I don’t know why this is, I have an idea about why this is, but it seems like there’s a lot of like consternation, and viewpoints and limitations when it comes to how Press and PR people feel about Media people or the practice of media buying.

So as a result, I don’t know a lot about getting Press. All I know about getting Press is basically like, go write, I write it in Forbes, I write in Inc, I just write stuff. And that’s the way I get Press. But I think getting on the Today Show, if you’re a consumer brand is incredible.

 and certainly, there’s the business-related type of publications that that I’m sure are valuable for my business and every industry has their niche to be publications. How does one work on getting, if you’re a B2C brand, how do you get into a publication or a show like the Today Show? That seems like you have to have a lot of connections and in fighter like access is that it?

Maddy Moelis: [00:24:56] So I think it’s a mixed bag. The Today Show, actually, I’ll speak about our situation because it’s the one I know best.  Sierra came from a media background, so she did have a lot of contacts at launch, which was really a huge asset for us because we were able to reach those contacts pretty quickly.

And from a person that they trusted.  the Today Show was not a preexisting relationship. The Today Show actually came inbound to us once our business had been around for about five or six months. THE Today Show for us was excited by our story as female founders and, they have a segment, around female founders.

So they actually came into our office and filmed us and we’re really immersed in the story of starting Right Jones. But I think one thing we’ve learned from Press is you have to, whether it’s cold outreach or getting introduced to people through your network, you have to, first of all, there’s a huge value in telling your story yourself versus having somebody else tell your story on your behalf.

I think the more authentic of who it’s coming from and what you’re saying, the more interested people will be in covering the story. And I also think it has to be something that’s notable and interesting and different. And that’s part of the skill of presenting yourself in that way, as it is having something notable, interesting and different.

But it’s not just like who you know or who you don’t know. I think it’s also how you present if that makes sense.

Robert Brill: [00:26:36] Absolutely. Yeah. You know, I’m spending some time, doing some search engine optimization work for my business. Not as an offering, but just like getting better at being discovered in Google organically.

Right. And I’ve gone down all kinds of paths. And one of the things I’m looking at is this company called, I think it’s called income school, and it’s these guys program, it’s like $500 it’s called project 24 I’m like, okay, that’s pretty interesting.

And one of the core tenants of this, the idea for this thing, and then I promise you there’s, there’s a relationship to what you just said, the core point is if you want to earn money by blogging. It takes like two years. And once you have done that, and if you follow the steps correctly and you write the right type of content and you pick the right image, you know the right things to talk about, you can make some good money.

And I’m like, okay, that’s interesting. I could probably apply that knowledge to my business. And the core thing that they tell you is pick something that you can actually win in. And I feel like that’s a core thing of what you just said. Like you have to present yourself well, but also have a good product.

Maddy Moelis: [00:28:05] And figure out what it is about your product that’s different than everything else out there.

Like if you have people engaged with your product or your brand, there’s something that they’re engaging. There’s a reason why they’re doing that. So figure out what that is and, and use that as the platform on which you pitch the value.  for us, I think it’s really the way our products look and the way they perform has been a really strong asset for us to get in the door because so visual and that’s also, you know, people like to look at pretty things.

But, our story has also been very compelling and I’m really excited about that.

Robert Brill: [00:28:48] I love that. And so, as we wrap up, two more questions. What do you, what does 2020 look like for you? What are the, some of the top line things that you’re, you’re gonna sort of expand on? Is it testing new products, new marketing initiatives?

Like what, what does 2020 look like for you guys?

Maddy Moelis: [00:29:05] Both of those things for sure.  top of mind is definitely introducing new products, being able to provide people with more that they can fill their kitchen out with.  and I think thinking more about dialing in more on the community building and how we can be continuing to provide people not just as physical products, but digital services that help to be more confident in their purchase.

Robert Brill: [00:29:34] Very cool. So, I’m a, I’m a big foodie. I have an Instagram called, dude let’s eat. I love taking food. Photos. Don’t like cooking as much, but I do cook.  and so here’s my question. What’s your favorite thing to eat? Whether you make it at home or you go out and buy it, what’s your favorite thing?

And in fact, I’m going to New York next month. Where should I go eat?

Maddy Moelis: [00:29:56] Oh, that’s a good question.  my favorite, I love Japanese food, which is not the easiest to cook at home.  but it’s my favorite cuisine. So when I go out, I like to eat sushi. I love ramen.  but the way I’m able to bring that into my own home and my own cooking experiences is just kind of being flexible and playing around. There’s a Japanese market on my walk home, so I’ll often just pop in and like pick up a few ingredients and just try and put them all together.  whether it’s like food on or rice and, yes. Yeah.  it’s not really that technical or sophisticated. It should be, but I, kind of bring it down to my level, but I love Japanese food.  and if you’re coming to New York, well, what kind of food you like?

Robert Brill: [00:30:52] I mean, everything, you know, when, when you said Raman, my immediate thought was Momofuku.

Maddy Moelis: [00:30:58] Yeah. Well, I would highly endorse Momofuku.  David Chang one of our investors, so we are big fans of all of his restaurants, but definitely check out Momofuku.

Robert Brill: [00:31:11] And then I would go to Milk Bar for some cornflake or serialize.

Maddy Moelis: [00:31:16] Yeah. Yeah. We’re actually doing a a cookie making class with them next week with Milk Bar. So you just named two very aligned brands with ours.

Robert Brill: [00:31:28] Very cool. All right, Maddie, how can people find you and let us know the number of the potline?

Maddy Moelis: [00:31:35] Yes. So you can find us at our website, which is and the potline is actually, the number is 1-800-BISCUITS. I have to go back and look for the actual numbers that sell out biscuits. But if you have an old school phone, it’s on our Instagram too which is @greatjones.  but the, the number is 1-800-BISCUIT

Robert Brill: [00:31:58] Is it

Maddy Moelis: [00:32:02] So we’re actually in a, in a moment of, it’s both. We were transitioning from to

Robert Brill: [00:32:06] Got it. Got it. I was like, Oh man.

Maddy Moelis: [00:32:14] You got it right. You got it right.

Robert Brill: [00:32:17] Cool Maddie. Well, thank you so much. This has been super interesting and, I will be paying attention and I wish you the best of luck with Great Jones Goods.

Maddy Moelis: [00:32:28] Thank you so much. Thank you. Appreciate it. Bye.

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