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Chelsea Jones & Rachel Saul, Cofounders at Chelsea & Rachel

Chelsea & Rachel focus on the “why” to scale subscription brands

This episode we talk to Chelsea Jones and Rachel Saul, Cofounders of the agency, Chelsea & Rachel. We discuss the importance of the “why” behind subscription brands and dive into the strategies they use to scale their client’s companies.

We also talk about how being female founded and lead gives them a unique perspective in the agency world that’s different than most of their peers. Chelsea and Rachel share why it’s so important for them to deliver quality work while raising children and balancing all of life’s challenges.

Connect with Chelsea on LinkedIn or Twitter and Rachel on LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out Chelsea & Rachel and get their book.

Episode transcript

Chase: Chelsea and Rachel, thank you for being here so excited to talk to you today.

Chelsea: Thanks for having us.

Rachel: Yeah we're stoked to be here.

Chase: So give us a little intro on yourself and then we'll hop into the agency.

Chelsea: So Rachel and I are honored. We started our company, Chelsea & Rachel company, almost going on seven years ago which is crazy. It's been a whirlwind, and I'm the co-founder with Rachel and kind of lead visionary. My passion is to think forward and what's possible, what we can do to think up the impossible and innovate, be creative and focus on the creative side and development side of our team.

Rachel: Cool and I'm Rachel co-founder, I am the lead strategist. And so my focus here at the agency is really driving the strategic side of everything that we do from strategy, to user experience, user journey flows, E-commerce growth plans, and so I lead the team and our vision on that side of all of our work.

Chase: Awesome we're going to get into all of those things. For the video audience, you can see in Rachels' screen, there's a little award there for our podcast audience. We'll introduce it right now. So at ChargeX 2020 this year ReCharges' annual user conference, your team won best new agency partner for ReCharge. So tell us a little bit about the agency, kind of what makes you different? What makes you stand out and keeps showing off that award?

Chelsea: Yeah great question, and Rachel has some awesome insight into this, into our strategy. But in a sense our secret sauce is really our team and our focus of really caring about our clients. We love what we do, and we really get in the weeds with our clients and their business, on how do we really scale them better? What is it going to take to make it better from a design perspective? From a creative perspective and an innovation perspective?

Rachel: Yeah and I would just tag onto that. What really makes us stand apart is our holistic view and approach to everything that we do. So we're a full service web development, web design and implementation agency. And inside of everything that we do, we lead first with strategy, and all of the pieces of strategy really are a cohesive look as every piece of inbound, digital marketing assets that could come in, we analyze that. And I really believe that that sets us apart and really allows us to deliver, not only phenomenal web experiences, but incredible subscription programs as well.

Chase: So again I keep promising, we're going to jump into all of that, I want to stick on YouTube for a moment. You have on your webpage one of only five women own Shopify plus preferred partners in the world, which is a bold statement but also an awesome thing. So why is this something you want highlighted? Why is that something you continue to focus on to grow your agency?

Chelsea: Yeah very good question. Honestly, it's because we approach things a little bit differently. I think not only are we women owned and Rachel and I as strong entrepreneurs, but we're also moms and we're also... We have this component of how do we look at things for our own health, for own family, for our own perspective, when it comes to buying products? When it comes to engaging with brands? When it comes to that kind of conversation. And we've been talking with Shopify this is... 2020 has changed a lot, so that statistic may be a bit outdated. But overall we know it's very small on how many women owned companies are in the tech space within Shopify plus. And the reality of what we love to do is to highlight that, to highlight why being women founded does give us a perspective, that is from our own bias standpoint, as moms, as business owners, as everything else. But it also, for most of our brands we work with it's their target market. So it really comes at it from that angle.

Rachel: Yeah and I just echo that too. I think that we have a finger on the pulse of what it takes to convert a buyer, and really what is moving the needle when it comes in terms of why people are making decisions? What they're attracted to? And really why some of these things really matters to this target audience.

Chase: Very well said. How was it that you two work so well together? I think it's pretty clear you stated initially one's kind of the visionary lead, one's kind of the strategy lead. Was that always been the plan? Has that kind of evolved over time? How did that whole thing start?

Chelsea: Sure we started because we got pulled in together on a project for a startup company. And it was Rachel and I kind of doing all the work. So we've done all the details. I did the logo design, the web design, she did all the strategy, all the ads, all the components of that. And we just really complimented each other, I think any good business partnership and any partnership in general comes with communication first. Values has to be core too, I value her as a person, her core strengths as a mom and a wife, everything else that she is about. And she knows my values in the same way, but I think more than that, it's just that deep kind of trust and honesty of knowing that we have that dedication to make it work. We will pick up each other's slack if we need to, we will do anything.

I know I could call her on anything, she knows she can call me on anything. We have a transparency that is very real and it takes time to develop. It's like we're always evolving, but I think a lot of times we have grace with one another, as we do with different things. And then we're just that high achiever personality too. So when I say that, I say that in the sense that, we are harder on ourselves, probably more than most people. And I value that in her as she values it in me so we can offer that kind of balance to each other.

Rachel: Yeah and I think too, we never really set out to have just this perfect partnership. It was just really two meeting of the minds that just really worked well together. And over seven years, it's developed into this amazing business partnership that we really do have. We really have been able to grow into our core strengths, and there's such a balance and such a need in what we do, to have a balance of vision with the balance of strategy, and then be able to lead our team. And those two very respected areas has been pretty awesome.

Chase: Chelsea, you said something I want to dig on a little bit more saying that you can call each other on a little bit of your BS, if something like that comes up. I think that's just so key to growing and scaling. It's one of those untalked about, people don't really add it as a thing that's really important, but having a leader and having really a team that you can call someone and say "Hey I don't really think that's a great idea," or maybe "We should go this direction." It's so key to being able to get different viewpoints in there, it kind of goes back to your all women owned thing. It's a different perspective, it's a different view on things and that works.

Chelsea: And I think it's critical and I will give Rachel mad props on this. She's been phenomenal on scaling and growing things in ways I never would have. I'm good at energy and I'm good at vision and stuff like this, but sometimes that can cause a wake of problems. And she's so good at being like "Let's not do this because this is going to cause those problems or this kind of scenario," and I'm the starter, the tinder fire kind of stuff. And it's been so great to have that balance because on our own, I knew we wouldn't be able to grow in the same way that we've been able to together.

Chase: Totally I really want to start with kind of a vision and purpose. So there's a lot of content on your website about vision, about strategy, talk about the philosophy behind it, how you start working with businesses and in why you start with essentially the why?

Rachel: So I think that it's really important that we believe very holistically, like I mentioned before that no one piece of a digital marketing stands on its own, it's all interconnected. And whether we work with the brand and all of its multiple facets, or whether we're just doing one component, it's really important for us to consider everything. And so this overall creates a user experience that's seamless, and fluid makes sense, and it just connects well. The philosophy behind strategy led is because it is our course. It is one of our strengths and skillsets of what we do as an agency. And it has created a mindset in our team. Everybody always thinking on that level, we don't just create beautiful websites and just put something up there, we're focused on results. And our team has been able to also adopt the same mindset when it comes to strategy and coming to results, oriented focus as well. And I think that's an overall amazing strength of what we've been able to cultivate, just even the team.

Chelsea: And Chase, you asked that about how we work with first clients. I mean I think it's important for us, if we're going to bring on any brand and work with them as their agency, we want them to know that we're professional problem solvers in a way. We will not have everything perfectly lined out, we'll have a scope of work, we'll have details, but any project is going to have unknowns that are going to come into place. And it's more important on how you're going to solve those problems that arise when they arise. Then ultimately some of those details like just "Okay let's just get this done and check the box." So that's really I think to Rachel's point and what we are saying, we strategy lead because we want to solve problems for people that ultimately grow their business, serve more people, empower more people to do more things with their brands. And then we come at it with the tech side of it to help them understand why this is that capability.

Rachel: And I also think too, just tagging on one more piece to that, is that a lot of times brands come to us and direct-to-consumer is a new thing for them. And so they're looking for someone to hold their hands and to guide them, and to give them answers, and to give them the strategic best practices based on their vertical, based on where they're at in their stage of growth and scale. Because it's not the same for every stage of business. And so that is something that we do, and it's part of our philosophy it's our why?

We want to give brands the best opportunity to be as good as they can be on direct-to-consumer, by bringing all of these what seemingly complex and crazy things for a director of marketing to understand me, bring clarity to that. And we help them to put their systems in place, not just from loyalty and subscription and all of that, but even ERP systems, APIs, integrations, migrations, all of those things. We are excellent and so that really is a driving force behind our why as well.

Chase: We've talked on the podcast a little bit about certain things to help bring scale, and like you said, every vertical, every brand, every stage of the development is different. But so often we get caught up on those unsexy things, like you said the ERPs, the inventory, that the behind the scenes stuff, the stuff that no one cares about because it's not visual on the site, but those kinds of things really do move the needle just as much as not more than anything else. It's really interesting to hear you bring that up.

Rachel: Mm-hmm.

Chase: So we've talked a lot about your agency. Now we understand how you start with your why? One of the things that I preach a lot about is starting with your why as a brand. Really understanding why you got into the business? Why you're selling things? If you're just trying to sell products, it's not going to work, the Amazon's of the world they're going to beat you. What is your advice and how do you tackle brands who come at this with the why? How do you help them kind of build why and understand what they're doing this one first place?

Chelsea: I love that because to me, it really comes back to the vision of what do they want to do? Why did they start the company in our first place? Why are they serving their customer? It's so much more than just bringing a product to the world, it's usually has to do with a purpose behind it, or sustainability, or food in the case of consumption or healthier options. There're are so many incredible stories, and I think that is so much on the entrepreneur or the founder side of it, but then once they get to the point that they're wanting to scale this more, and let's say they have backers and they have other people involved and all these different things, sometimes that can get a little bit muddied again. So I think what's so important when you talk about the why, and you talk about the brand is to keep it simple, and to have it be that statement of vision of where they're going.

So if it is to serve, if you were a food company for example Chase, and you have that you want to serve a thousand meals a month, and this is your goal like "Okay let's start with that, that's a foundation of why" that's also a tactical thing you can reverse engineer, when it comes to your DTC website and your subscription and growing from there. If you want it to be 10,000, a hundred thousand, scalable, make that really the priority. And then put those plans in place accordingly. So a brand to us and their branding in general, the creative side of it has to be what people are saying about them more so than what they're saying about themselves.

Chase: That was very well said, starting with the why is huge. It sounds like you almost kind of take it in two pieces. So you can't work with a brand unless they understand what they're doing in the first place. That's kind of the foundation of why? But a lot of what you talk, which I think is seemingly different than other brands and other agencies that I talked to is, you kind of figure out the end goal as well and work your way backwards and meet in the middle to bridge the two gaps. A lot of times like you said, even earlier here, there are unknowns and there are things that kind of shift project to project, but understanding who you are in your core foundation and where you're trying to get to, that's your kind of master plan in order to get from A to B.

Rachel: You hit the nail on the head with that. Because one of the things that we also do differently is that we focus on KPIs and metrics. And when we lead this with the strategy and we create those KPIs and benchmarks, because a lot of brands either are coming into the direct-to-consumer space for the first time and haven't their benchmarks, and don't really understand how to look at customer lifetime value, or average order value. And then there's other brands who are just up leveling their experience, and they're bringing in some new revenue channels as well. And so how do we create those KPIs, those benchmarks that allows them to actually quantify their growth, and get to that end result

Chelsea: Mm-hmm and Chase, I think it's so much more than the why. The why and the vision is so great, but we're doers by nature. But an idea is only as good as the actions that implement in it accordingly. And I think in the sense of DTC and because you can do A/B testing, and you can get stuff up quickly and get feedback. We're a big component of strategy, but making sure that you hit something towards your customers, that really hits your core of who you are as a brand. And because it's what other people are saying about you, worry less about getting into all the details of your why, and start doing more so that you can have feedback and you can innovate and re-innovate and continually grow.

Chase: So you've talked about KPIs and metrics and data. Now a couple of times, how is it that you find those things and you dig into those things, where do you set benchmarks? How do you tell what stage of the journey people are at? How do you set those things in order to track yourself and then ultimately measure success?

Rachel: Yeah so we start off with whatever existing data they have. So if there is an established site, we're able to harvest that information from their existing site data analytics. If they're brand new to direct-to-consumer, what we like to do is look at our industry benchmarks across the verticals that we serve. And we know what those KPIs really should be for a thriving and growing brands. So we create those as those beginning points, and then we look to the strategy is "Okay so if we know that the average order value in this vertical is $45, and we're sitting at $39, what is our tactic to increase that average order value to get the average up to around $45?"

So we look at things like that. We grab... When we go into recurring revenue, we'll go into the ReCharge analytics, and we'll harvest information on things like average number of charges per customer, or churn rates and looking at the number of times that people are going to be having a recurring order. And then it tells us what strategy and marketing tactics should we insert prior to that? So say for example, average charges is $3.4, where do we insert marketing message right ahead of charge $3, to increase that long term value. And so it's things like that that we harvest and we create plans around.

Chase: It's amazing it's great to hear actual numbers and actual data that you're pulling from places and being able to set the plan, that's great. So many agencies we've talked to over the course of the ReCharge lifetime is we just build this, and we just do that, and we think this works well, and we hope that converts, but being able to build something and track it and then measure that and then tweak it and then be able to go different directions. That's where brands are really looking for success that's huge.

Chelsea: And Chase we’re better at existing brands and taking them to the next level. So we joke that we take you from junior varsity to varsity online. What does that look like? We have done startups and themes on that, but honestly, as Rachel said, it takes metrics to be able to scale and optimize more. And we love that higher level of scaling, optimizing, making it even better because in an existing brand, CRO conversion rate optimizing scenario, if you're going to take it from a churn rate of two months to then four months, that's a massive scaling growth for that business right? So things like that that are really important.

Chase: Is that just preference for you both on wanting to keep moving up market, and take an existing brand and kind of supercharge it and get it to the top level.

Rachel: Mm-hmm.

Chelsea: Yeah it's our vision of where we want. And we just love that component of... We've done the work in the why in the beginning stages, but we'd rather them already have that fleshed out. And we'd like to take them from "Okay this is where you're at, this is where you're going, now let's get there and beat that run rate."

Rachel: And I think the value there is that we get to work with teams who are really just solidly focused on their goals, and what they really want to accomplish. They have a very clear vision of their brand, their positioning, their product mix. And a lot of the questions are pretty much out of the way when it comes to a product packaging and things like that. But they just need the assistance and understanding how do we grow this thing? How do we take our brand awareness, and all of our amazing products, and our brand loyalty, and our subscriber bases and all of these things, and how do we put it together in a way where we can just blow it out the water? And so we have been able to work with some amazing teams. And to me that's some of the most rewarding work that we've been able to do.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm (affirmative) yep putting smart minds together can always accomplish really interesting things.

Chase: That's awesome. So the other side of this coin is kind of this work-life balance idea. You mentioned at the outset that you're both moms, you're both obviously co-founders growing and scaling this company, it's been a long journey for you. How have you managed to keep that work-life balance? How have you managed to spend some time with family, but also stay very focused on the business and keep it growing?

Rachel: Well that's the question that I think everybody wants the answer to. I would say that a balance is something that's pretty hard to find as founders. However, it's a very healthy mix of priorities. And I think I would rather look at it that way because, there's going to always be demands as a wife, as a mom, as a business owner, as an entrepreneur, we have a level of performance that is pretty high, and to be able to juggle it all, it's not easy at all. There's days where it's hard, there's series where we fail, but there's days where there's great successes too. And so I would say it's a matter of just really priorities in life. Really what is the biggest priority?

And we translate that down to the team too, because we want to make sure that productivity, in a sense it's kind of the same. It's focused on the things that actually really matter in life and move the needle forward. So making sure that you take the time out for family, for your personal health, as well as just devoting... What is your highest value... What is the highest value you can bring to the moment? And to me that translates across everything in life. And that's what I try to focus on, I'm not perfect by any means, but I think that's really where the mind is on that perspective.

Chelsea: And I think sometimes too, like Rachel said it's taking it day by day. What is it today that I'm supposed to accomplish towards the goal or towards the thing? Is it the moment with the kids? And also for us we've hired some of the best team members I think too, we're very selective in the people that we hire on our team and for a reason, and they've been a benefit and a blessing to as expertise, and to grow on that that's allowed Rachel and I to have some other time into those other areas of focus. But it really comes back to yeah day to day components, having metrics and plans written out, we're big on this productivity concept where we write out our daily weekly maps, what does it look like? Does it make us towards our goal or back? There's always going to be new things thrown at you, but if you can block out and say no to things, and that's hard for my personality when I'm like wanting to always like "Oh yeah we can help you."

And it's like "No they may not be the best for us to help them" or vice versa. But being clear on what that looks like and then prioritizing, yeah I mean Rachel and I have interesting parenting philosophies too. As entrepreneurs and business owners, we're training our children to have strong minds, to have strong thoughts, to be... So like have components, of course they need us, we're there as their mom in different ways, but as they grow, we want them to learn and think for themselves in a way that's healthy and strong too. So I think that's kind of how we take it, one day at a time we're never going to hit a perfect balance. And we have days that are great and amazing successes and days that aren't, but to have some grace in that and to keep pressing forward and knowing that it's the long game, that's important.

Chase: It's very relatable. You both said prioritization, we have kind of an internal motto on the ReCharge marketing team, where we just say prioritize ruthlessly. And the ruthlessly word is a bit aggressive, but you have to do that. There are so many things that take up time day to day, whether it's work or personal or family or friends, and being able to have that discipline to say "This is what's going to keep me on track today, and tomorrow, and through the rest of the week to get me to the success for this week," which then compounds that's huge. So very relatable I'm glad to hear you guys say that. I'm rounding up here a little bit, let's jump to a couple kind of quick questions. What advice would you give to a subscription brand who's just starting out? I know it's not really your bread and butter, but what are the things that really kind of help supercharge your store starting from ground zero?

Rachel: Sure I'll take this on. I think that if you're just starting keep it very simple. So the last thing you want is to overwhelm consumers with a lot of choices or complexities in your subscription program. When I find what makes the most sense and make that message very clear. I would make sure that your subscription offer is aggressive, it's worthwhile, and it gets people into trying and sampling your product. If you are a brand that has a catalog, and you're trying to put all of the products on subscription, I do recommend thinking about a sampler pack, just to get people trying your product, and then following that up with a subscription offer on what they liked best. So I think to me keep it simple, don't over-complicate it, and then just have a foundation to understand and test the market, and see where your opportunities lie. And that's where the sweet sauce is, you're able to grow and build upon your existing first successes.

Chelsea: And from a creative website perspective, you need a quality homepage that has them through a customer journey, a good product description page that has subscription easy on each of your products that you're wanting, and data below. That you need good photos, that's really important with DTC and an About Us page. I think it's important for companies to show their why very clearly on what they're doing. But other than that, don't overthink it. The main thing with starting a subscription business is getting it out there. So you're looking at a numbers game to get successful. So the sooner you get up the quality content, the quality elements, and they can check out, then it's just a matter of getting as many people to see it and connect with you as possible.

Our core foundation and Rachel and I actually wrote a book on this of The Five Pillars of Direct to Consumer, is one of the biggest things when you're launching out beginning, is to have the quality tech stack with you. So you need to have subscription with recharge obviously, and if you're on a Shopify site and if you have Klaviyo's or email marketing or some component of gathering their information, and then marketing out to them, an SMS component whether it's attentive or Klaviyo, those kinds of things are foundational just to get started to then scale and grow into more pieces.

Chase: All new brands that are listing, make sure you play that back and listen to that one more time. That was huge awesome advice that's expensive if you get it not from our podcast. Moving on, let's take it up market a little bit. Now we're getting in to what you're really good at, advice for brands who are trying to take that next step and go from maybe mid market to an enterprise market?

Chelsea: Yes so I think the biggest thing has to be what are you willing to test? And what do you want to see happen? There's no question now with the end of 2020, that we've seen unicorns happen with a lot of brands, and we've seen all kinds of scaling numbers and you see these stories online. So what a brand really needs to know is what are they actually capable of fulfilling? Because supply chain is going to be a challenge, 3PLs, ERP systems, all of that. So what can you actually fulfill and what can you scale on? And then it's a matter of just getting the right marketing tech stack in place to hit those numbers. The other thing for mid-level brands is scaling enterprise. You have to start thinking of your directing and the consumer as a part of your whole strategy, because if you have a wholesale component, it's going to add on to that.

You have digitally native brands that are great at scaling, just digital and then go wholesale. But you also have this legacy component of brands that have been wholesale forever, and now we're adding this as an add on. Don't get overwhelmed by all these other stories that have already done it, or you feel like you're behind, the fact is everybody feels like they're behind in direct-to-consumer. So brands that are at that, just own that and do whatever you can to start getting things out there, and testing the market and getting engaged with your consumer. The sooner you engage with them, the sooner you're going to have those numbers that will drive you to that next level.

Chase: That's pretty good advice actually, we we've heard that a handful of times that everyone feels like they're behind. It's really interesting, it's a consistent thing actually. People think like "Every day I don't do X, Y, Z" whatever it is "Someone else's beating me to it." It's the same. It's consistent across the board, everyone feels that same way. Just get up and running and just iterate and be better tomorrow.

Rachel: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think the second part to that answer is also focused on retention, because once you've acquired your customer, it's all about the retention. And if you can create a phenomenal retention strategies and programs, you're going to be able to increase that long-term value that is going to give that foundational pillar of the business. That's going to help you to always be converting returning customers and doing it over, and over, and over again.

Chase: Very true retention is arguably more important than acquisition for subscription brands.

Chelsea: Yeah and customer service with that, we have an ad fatigue in our society right? We're all digitally overstaffed, we get to YouTube and we click skip ad. There's an element of ad fatigue. So you have to have that component of how do you just engage with people? How do you be real? How do you put in conversations or even automations that are more genuine and more on brand for what you want to talk about.

Chase: And the key is being authentic. Being able to obviously distribute your ads and get them in front of people, but being true, being real and honest and genuine. That goes back to the why upfront, why you're doing this in the first place?

Chelsea: Exactly.

Chase: Last but not least what physical subscription products do you subscribe to?

Rachel: Oh I have to name all of them?

Chase: Real quick.

Rachel: Okay let's see here. I'm on Olipop, on Native, Primal Kitchen on Aloha, oh my gosh it sounds terrible. I just started Built by Basics. So it's a clothing line, Fresh Clean Tees, oh my gosh, that's probably the core of what I should tell you. There's probably a handful more.

Chelsea: Bobo's, Stitch Fix, yeah all the... We have a lot of digital subscriptions because we're nerds with all things, learning digitally with what we do a lot of that component, but because we're in food and beverage, a lot of times we do a lot of food and beverage drinks and food-

Rachel: It's like half market research, half personal consumption.

Chase: We can call it market research, we can do that. Just keep trying and to make sure you're better at the strategy and the marketing part.

Rachel: Oh and my favorite one, my newest favorite one is MUD\WTR. I've been drinking MUD\WTR for three months. Now replaced my coffee in the morning I love it I think it's great.

Chase: Interesting I've heard good things about it, maybe I've got to jump on that train.

Rachel: Good.

Chase: Thank you both for joining, really appreciate having you here.

Chelsea: Thank you so much Chase it was our pleasure.

Rachel: Yes thank you.

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