Chase Alderton: Welcome to Hit Subscribe, a podcast by Recharge designed to educate, inspire, and connect the subscription commerce space. On this episode, we're talking with Christian Thrapp, co-founder and COO of Drift, a direct-to-consumer air care company. We chat with Christian about Drift's origins as a Kickstarter navigating the growing pains when first starting out, how the subscription model has helped Drift's lifetime model ,and the plans for the future of the brand and their products.
Chase Alderton: Christian, thanks for joining us.
Christian Thrapp: Hey, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Chase Alderton: Give us a little bit of info about yourself and about Drift.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. I am currently the chief operating officer of Drift and co-founder. Drift is a direct-to-consumer air care company. Selling an air fresheners over the internet. When my mom told me to, I was quitting my job, I told my mom that to sell air fresheners. She was a little surprised, but here we are. So it's a good thing. To give you a little background on Drift, we've been running, we did a Kickstarter in 2016, just about, just a small little one. Me and my co-founder, Ryan Baylis, and just to test waters a little bit while we were working our full-time jobs. And it worked out, everything's good to go. We picked up a little investment in 2017, and 2018 we quit our jobs and started doing this full time. So it's been a fun ride.
Chase Alderton: I was going to ask you, actually, I've heard the story that you had to tell your mom, and it was an awkward conversation about selling air fresheners. What's that experience like going from like stable job and founding this company, and going into a, for a D2C company, air fresheners is something like not surprising or not super normal. It's kind of [inaudible 00:01:42].
Christian Thrapp: No, no. Yeah, not at all. So yeah, a little background on that. It was a little crazy. Like at the time, my wife was pregnant with our second child, we just bought a house, and I just got a promotion at my job. Like we were going to make some pretty good money, and like, "Hey, we're going to go sell, we're going to try this. We're to sell air fresheners online." So my mom's like freaking out about insurance. I'm like, "Look, we'll figure out insurance. Don't worry about that." But I'm like, I absolutely have to make this work, it gives a little fire to everything. Put the fire under it. So that helps a lot. There's a lot of reasons to make this succeed. So it made it work. All my coworkers just thought I was absolutely insane. Like, you're just selling air fresheners? Like, well, here we go. And it's worked out so far.
Chase Alderton: It sounds great. As moms usually do, a little over protective and little over worried.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Meanwhile at Drift, how we started is my co-founder Ryan Baylis and I, we were on a hike actually one day, we were just kind of batting around business ideas and he turns to me and he says like, "Oh, I've been sitting on this, but I've kind of been waiting for the right time." And he kind of explains how he had a nice car for a college student, back in the day. And he's like, "I loved my car. It looks nice. And then I'd always look at that hanger air freshener hanging from my rear view mirror. Everything in my car, I love it. It's meticulously clean, It looks great, and then I have a piece of paper hanging from my rear view mirror, and I hate it." So he's kind of just started going off of that idea, like, okay, well, how do we rethink how air fresheners are purchased? How they're used? What's the customer experience? Everything like that. And he'd been sitting on it for awhile. And we just went to the drawing board and started getting stuff. And we just understand like, oh, we don't want the tacky stuff in our car, we just want something that looks good. You don't want to see a Maserati with a paper tree hanging from their rear view mirror.
Christian Thrapp: And so like with Ryan's, he's honestly a creative genius with that, that creative genius backed with, I have a little bit more of the business acumen and the finances, the operations, everything like that. We kind of make like this great team to take this idea and bring it to fruition, and scale it. And now, we have an awesome company.
Chase Alderton: Dig into Drift as a company, a bit more. It's a millennial focused company, obviously air fresheners. You talk more about air care and kind of a philosophy and a strategy around air fresheners and smelling, rather than just kind of the old school hang it on your rear view mirror kind of thing. What was kind of the reason behind starting it? What's some of the details around Drift as a company?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. First and foremost, like fragrance and scent, it's a really important part of just like the human experience. But honestly, it's kind of left in the dust sometimes. People, it's overlooked a lot of the times when it comes to the senses. Like taste is obviously the big one, but smelling and just fragrance is really important. And the ethos of the company essentially is like, let's just make all of your personal scent, and your home, and your car make it really like important. Because, like I said, it's overlooked, but it's also really important. So if we can just help you just a little bit, have everything fluid and it just it's working great. That's what we want to do.
Christian Thrapp: Like I said, we started out with car air fresheners and we'll be moving into personal care and home, and taking all these products that oftentimes are overlooked, and just make them like a fantastic experience for our customers.
Chase Alderton: So everything jewels back to the customer experience, I think that's a pretty consistent theme we see across D2C. What is it about [email protected] that gets you so excited? Is it the market? Is it the actual product? What is it that made you kind of jump into this field in the first place?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, there's a few things. I love the direct-to-consumer economy, and the way that things are going a little bit more at this point. One of the main things that I love about is we just have direct connections with all of our customers. There's no middlemen there telling us what our customers may or may not be thinking. Right? I have all the data and say like, "Oh, they like this." And I can email a handful of people and call up one of our customers like, "Hey, like what did you think? If you canceled, why did you cancel?" And go into improve it. Just that direct feedback loop is incredible.
Christian Thrapp: As far as like the economy as a whole, like, obviously it's moving that way. I wish I knew the numbers off the top of my head, but pre-pandemic, and even like a month or two into it, the percentage of share or percentage of sales online, it jumped through the roof, right? We have like 10 years worth of growth in e-com in a matter of months.
Chase Alderton: It's absolutely [crosstalk 00:06:45] all over the place. Yeah.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. So it's a really fun market to be in right now, and it's only going to get more and more important. We're just at the beginning, so I like to see where it's going.
Chase Alderton: So something you just said that's really interesting, I want to double tap on, you said calling customers wondering why they canceled, what are the reasons there. Is that something you've actually done in the past is calling customers and talking to them?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. But I've had my fair share of conversations with these customers. And typically it's a pretty good conversation and we understand a little bit, and other times they're just like, oh, just whatever, they weren't as happy. But yeah, it's still good feedback and it's vital for the company to understand exactly what the customers are going through.
Chase Alderton: It's super cool to hear that, because you assume as a founder CEO, you're busy with business plans, you're busy with founding, and all this kind of like high-level stuff, but taking the time to really understand what your customers want and what they're looking for, and what the problems are Really. You don't get feedback on what's working, you get feedback on what's not. So hearing those things is probably great for your brand in the long run.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Ultimately it's what's most important, right? If our customers aren't happy, then what do we have? We don't have anything. And we've taken on some money, some investment, but still very, very small. It takes up a very minuscule amount of our time at this point. So we can be really customer centric with everything that we do. From developing products, of marketing it. Everything just revolves around the customer and trying to make people happy.
Christian Thrapp: We've kind of taken the route of, yeah, let's raise less money and shoot for profitability versus let's shoot for a billion dollar top line, and be in the red for 10 years doing that or whatever. And that's kind of the way that the direct-to-consumer market's running a little bit as well. So it's really good.
Chase Alderton: Especially with everything pivoting so quick and moving so fast. It almost doesn't make sense to take money super long-term, when everything may change in a year or six months, much less.
Christian Thrapp: Yep. Yep. For sure.
Chase Alderton: So Drift is subscription only. You don't do one-time products at all. What's the philosophy behind doing that?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Currently, it's kind of just the nature of the product of an air freshener. In the old days when you're at the checkout, you'll buy a little hanger for yourself, and pick it up, and head on out. But as the economy moves more to e-com, you kind of just need that little reminder just to pick it up or whatever it may be.
Christian Thrapp: What's nice about the product is it's consumable. There's going to be a limit on how the longevity of the fragrance either way. So there's not a whole lot you can do about that. We're not like trying to plan obsolescence. Like, oh, let's get into the perfect, no, it's just the nature of the product, honestly. There's only so much we can do, and if we can make one last for six months, we would do that. But you're working within some limitations of physics and all that stuff. So, only so much we can do.
Chase Alderton: So putting people on a subscription, it's worked out really well for us. We've tested like, okay, what if we do one-offs? And we found that this subscription model has helped our lifetime value the most. So it's worked out for us.
Chase Alderton: Is lifetime value kind of your gold standard metric? Is that your end all be all thing that you end up coming back to?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, honestly, we're always looking at the CAC to LTV ratio, and like, okay, how can we lower CAC, raise LTV, and everybody is happy in the end.
Chase Alderton: Yeah. You can kind of afford to spend a bit more if your LTV is higher, versus if your CACs raising, you've got to kind of make sure you're keeping them for a longer period of time. It's fun math, we're going to get into those numbers later.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, yeah. We'll get into it, because it's not easy with an $8 product.
Chase Alderton: I'm sure. I'm sure. So I understand you kind of have a bit of a Trojan horse mindset or strategy, if you will. What is it about Drift that makes you guys unique in the spot that you're in currently? And you kind of mentioned earlier, you're going to start to move into home products and into personal care. How is the car kind of your Trojan horse in getting into those next markets?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, it's a little bit of a two-pronged approach, but one of the main reasons why the car is so great is it's nobody's marketing towards the car right now. Right? Part of that is because nobody knows how to do e-com with car air fresheners. There's probably some stuff on Amazon, everything like that, but it's really an underserved market at this point. So as we build this up, we understand how to sell air fresheners, car air fresheners, people driving cars. So we have a huge leg up when it comes to that.
Christian Thrapp: And so it's a little bit easier and cheaper to build up our customer base, and that car becomes the Trojan horse, right? So like, okay, we have this great, awesome car air freshener, but you still have these, let's call them subpar scents for home and for personal care. And we really just want to make awesome experience when it comes to the scent for everything that you're doing. So here's the car to begin with. It's an underserved market. It's a little bit easier for us to pick up these customers, and then like, oh, hey, we actually have these candles and reed diffusers. And we'll be launching some bigger items for the home here in just a little bit that we're kind of in the design process right now. It's like, if you already love our scents, here it is for your house. Or for other aspects of your life, whatever it may be.
Chase Alderton: It seems like a great product strategy. I think we're obviously TBD on whether it works or not, but everything in philosophy is there. Like you started in an underserved market, you started in a really, really good product market fit. There's not a lot of people marketing to the car. Do you have any idea why the car market is underserved, or it's just something that everyone's stuck at home, so no one's really driving many places? Just [inaudible 00:12:45] new market.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. The pandemic hasn't helped people in their cars. We didn't really expect that, but it hasn't hurt our business as much as we thought it would. But I think honestly, one of the reasons is people aren't as willing to spend on their car as they are say their home, or for personal care, whatever it may be.
Chase Alderton: Interesting.
Christian Thrapp: And we're out to kind of change that, right? Because it's super important. And I just don't think people really understand, and fragrance, like the smell of your car, it's just going to change your mood. It's going to change everything. And so people don't fully understand that yet. And I think more importantly, people, companies, or marketers don't fully understand that, oh, others, they want their car to smell good. They don't have a ton of other options out there. They can take a really synthetic smelling cheap hanger and put it in their car, but that's only going to last couple of days and it's not going to be the best scent, you know? So I think part of that reason is that the options are really limited out there and we're breaking out of that a little bit.
Chase Alderton: Have you gotten feedback from anybody who's a subscriber on using the air fresheners in different ways already? Like maybe bringing them into a car, and I'll give you, like I said, or I'm sorry to bring them into a house or into a room. For a bit more context, I actually am a subscriber to Drift.
Christian Thrapp: Oh, nice.
Chase Alderton: And I had it in my car for a bit, and it ended up, like, I love the scent, but I was driving around a bunch and I pulled it out of my car and left it in my garage, because I got a bunch of smelly trash cans in the garage. So I just left it in the garage, and every time I open the door now, it's fantastic. That's, to me, much better. It feels like a home air fresher now, it's not a car air freshener. It just kind of bridges the gap between the two.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, exactly. And for all the listeners, we have a metal clip and a woodblock with a magnet on it. So you can put the wood clip on the visor of your car and use it as your car. But then that magnet, it's really useful, because I have tons, you should see it. My whole wall in my garage that there's a little metal plate just has a ton of woodblocks on there and it smells great.
Christian Thrapp: But yeah, that's usually what we hear is, if we can't recycle these woodblocks let's up cycle them. So a lot of people throw them in their garbage cans. I actually throw mine in my drawer. So like all my clothes just smell great when I pull them out. But yeah, I've heard a lot of that, or if they get a little bit older, just put them on their desk, and you have a little nice smelling scent there that just sits there. So it's nice.
Chase Alderton: There you go. What is the production cycle like for creating kind of new fresheners? Do you have to go an entirely different route? Do you need new suppliers and all that? Because you said you're going into kind of like reeds or like air fresheners for the home, like plugins. Does it feel like a separate business, or does it feel like you're kind of just splitting your products?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, it is really, really different, right? Because back in 2016 we were started, I was just like hand drawing some stuff. And I personally was cutting the woodblocks and doing all the production. Yeah, I rented a little space that had a bunch of tools and everything, and I was cutting them and I broke a ton of their machines. So they were losing money on me, like crazy, because I didn't know what I was doing. So I would work my full-time job, get off at like 3:30, and then go to the wood shop and cut them all night. And this is when I had a six-month-old son, so my wife wasn't super pumped about that.
Chase Alderton: Sure.
Christian Thrapp: That's what you do when you're starting business and working two jobs. So I was hand cutting them all, and eventually we offloaded that. So it helps a lot and we have our supplier now. But a wood product that we're kind of doing a lot of the production on is very, very different than say, like a diffuser or something like that. Typically those will come out of China or whatever. And we have a little bit more money to throw some money at R&D to help with the design and I'm not drawing stuff. Back in 2016, I wasn't really a product designer, but learned a lot in the past few years. Enough to be dangerous, and guide, and lead the product design direction on that. But they are very different companies or products I should say. So at times it does feel like, okay, this is a whole different monster that we're fighting with, and working with overseas suppliers, and logistics, and everything like that versus some dude cutting some wood up. But-
Chase Alderton: [Crosstalk 00:17:20] backyard project to a couple of million dollar business is significant change.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, yeah. Oh man, it's so fun and you just learn so much.
Chase Alderton: Does that kind of give you a leg up when you start competing in a more saturated market? Because like you said, when you started, the car market is underserved, as you move into the home, as you move into personal care, that becomes very saturated. Does that initial experience help you compete in that market?
Christian Thrapp: Good question. And whether it helps us compete in that market, it's taught us if nothing else to be really scrappy. And we haven't gone from zero to a hundred million in two years kind of like Native deodorant did, you know? So it's given us a ton of time to learn, and figure out all the levers that we can pull and okay, these are good business practices, and this is what's going to help us win. And as we move into the home market and personal care, those definitely will be good lessons and advantages for us to take into consideration.
Chase Alderton: It seems like that's kind of the key overall lesson, is the Natives of the world hit a home run, and it's not a sustainable way to grow a business. To use the baseball metaphor, you can't win a world series just hitting home runs. You got to get on first, you got to drive runs around. So when you're pulling on those levers, when you're learning, when you're cutting the wood on yourself, it's building sustainable businesses really is what you're talking about. So then by the time you split it and you go to a different product, or you look at a different market, you're really already prepared to say, okay, we know how this works. We know what levers we can pull on. Let's just kind of duplicate this and see what we can do over in this world. Is that fairly accurate?
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. I'll add to that. And this is just a little bit related to like growth. We have grown a lot obviously, right? Pretty significantly. And the nice part about that, is we have a little bit of a parachute. So we're in a, you know, I wouldn't even call it like hypergrowth, but we're in growth mode right now. We've grown significantly. If we want to become profitable at any point, we just marketing, ramp it all the way down to zero, or we'll pull all the way back to zero. And we'll just start printing money essentially. And so we find ourselves in a really, really good spot that will enable us to become successful as we move into these other markets, because we do have that parachute. It reduces a little bit of the fear like, oh, if I make the wrong move, am I going to totally destroy this business? Like, no, no, no, no. We're in a good spot. It allows us to be a little bit more innovative, take a few more risks that normally we wouldn't be able to, and that's going to help us a ton here in the future.
Chase Alderton: You've talked about a couple of roadblocks, a couple of problems that you've seen kind of stemming from being mostly bootstrapped. Taking a little bit of investment. What are some of the other roadblocks you've seen in your journey from zero to where you are now? And then kind of talk about how you get over, and what you've learned, and what are the next steps.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Being as we're kind of the first company to really hit it hard in direct-to-consumer air care, especially with car air fresheners. We're running into these obstacles and we plow through them, but looking back you're like, oh, whoa, that could have absolutely crushed our company at some point. We had no clue. We had no clue how close we were to like shutting down.
Chase Alderton: Wow.
Christian Thrapp: One of those roadblocks is we made some assumptions when we first started, and we assumed that you could ship out one of our wood pieces at like a letter rate through USPS, through the mail. And so, we tested it. We didn't really know what we were doing. We sent a few like, oh, I guess this is legit. We'll ship it at 45 cents. And then our first batch, we dropped like 150 off at the post office and they all got kicked back immediately. We're like, oh crap, this company's done. All right. Well, we have to fulfill these Kickstarter orders, or whatever we had to do. That was nice. Nice knowing you, Ryan. I'm glad we're still friends, because we'll continue on some other point, but like, yeah, it's over. Whatever. That was fun. Nice ride.
Christian Thrapp: Eventually, it took a lot of gumption and grit, but we figured out a way to shoot to fulfill it cheap enough, to ship it cheap enough. But the margins weren't like the 75% that we thought we were going to get or whatever it was going to be. And we're like, oh man. But just through just pure will we fought through it and made it work.
Chase Alderton: What was scary time-
Christian Thrapp: That helped us a lot.
Chase Alderton: What a scary time going from thinking you have this awesome brand and creating a product only to feel like you're going to be torpedoed by shipping costs. Like that's got to be a tough one to take.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah, yeah. We're like well, pack it up. But we figured it out, you know, and we thought we were on the verge of being done, but it worked out, and there's been tons of things like that in the past. And we're fragrance and air care is a really tricky market to play in, because there's a lot of things, especially and the production being newbies. Like we had no idea. And we found out, we're trying to do things the right way, and we were dunking stuff in fish tanks. And I'm sure that people at Walmart when I went and bought like 10 fish tanks they're probably thinking I'm doing something illegal or something like that.
Christian Thrapp: But we ended up like melting fish tanks and doing all these crazy things. And we do our own fulfillment as well, which has been an obstacle in itself. And that's one of those things where had we understood what we were getting into, we would never run our warehouse, our own warehouse, and fortunately, we were naive at the time and we started our own warehouse and our own production, own fulfillment. And we had no idea what we're doing, but if we understood, we'd never would have done it. But that honestly has become one of our best [moses 00:23:33], because we can do it way cheaper than in the other 3PL, or co-packer, or anybody that may be. We built the infrastructure and now we understand like, okay, this is how you do it. So we're becoming a little bit more vertically integrated in that sense.
Chase Alderton: That's super cool. That feels to me like that's where a lot of change comes from is people think they can do something better. Maybe there's a little bit of naivety there in not understanding the full capacity of what's actually happening, but something like a 3PL and doing warehousing and shipping, it seems like something you might want to outsource, but it just takes one person to figure out, we're just going to bring this in house and do this. And all of a sudden your revenue levels change. And it's a significant factor for you just because maybe you were naive about it, but it turned out to be a rick you took and it worked.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Yep, exactly. That's exactly it. I was talking to my co-founder, Ryan, the other day and was like, man, entrepreneurship, you have to have a healthy amount of hubris, because you're like, oh, I can do it. I can do it better. I can do it faster. I can do it cheaper. Whatever it may be. And you end up, you just have to go and do it, and it works out and sometimes it doesn't and you find out you're not the best of the best. But I think that attitude can take you a long way when it comes to starting a company.
Chase Alderton: That's super cool. I love the story. Speaking of starting a company, let's get into a couple of closing questions. What is a good piece of advice you would give to a brand who's just launching, maybe in your same shoes of thinking they can do something, and maybe they're a little bit hubris, a little too much pride there. Piece of advice that you'd do in a new brand.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Well first, and this goes for anybody that's even thinking about starting a company, just go do it. Right. I'm not the first one to say that, but the only difference between me and somebody else that hasn't started a company is I just started doing stuff. That goes for anybody that started a company. You just have to just take that first step and go. And I think it's important, right? Because I definitely am not the smartest, or the best with numbers, or the most creative, but the difference is we just decided to go do it, me and Ryan, we both were like, okay, we got this. We'll just go. We have enough of a parachute and we were fortunate enough, like if this fails, I'll go live in my parents' basement, whatever. We'll figure it out.
Christian Thrapp: But the other side to that is like, okay, you've already started doing it. Okay. So testing. Test everything that you possibly can do, whether it comes from creative to product, whatever it may be, just try to test it and bring out different iterations, and I think that's insanely important just to get the best thing that you can possibly get out there. And you can only understand that if you're running tests, and they don't have to be complex tests or anything like that, but send it out to your customers. Oh, hey, here's a product. Do you like it more or less than the other? Especially right at the beginning. It doesn't have to be complicated.
Chase Alderton: It's great advice. I'm going to double up here. I think you just answered my second question, which was piece of advice to give to a brand scaling once they've kind of found your product market fit, how do you continue to grow? So I'm going to double up here and ask you again, what's now a second piece of advice you'd give for someone to kind of continue scaling and hit that hypergrowth platform?
Christian Thrapp: Gotcha. And this is something I'm trying to figure out myself a little bit more, and I'm understanding it more and more, but to us, systems are very important, right? And I'm kind of the personality of let's just go get it started. We'll be scrappy. And as we've built this thing, we're trying to scale, now these systems and processes in the organization is becoming a lot more important, right? So those tests, they have to be a little bit more systematic, and they have to have a little bit more data backing it, and everything like that. So I think it becomes a little bit more important.
Christian Thrapp: The other side of that is not losing focus on what the customers actually want. So if we're not talking to our customers consistently, if you're just kind of, you're like doing the same thing that you've always done, I think it's very easy to backslide and to not take it to that next level. And we're understanding that every day like, oh, okay, we just have to do that 1% better, just a little bit every day, just to get a little bit better at whatever we're doing, whether it's their systems or processes, and talking to the customers. That's what kind of gets you from the good to the great.
Chase Alderton: I think it's a really interesting combination of things that you just gave us, which were just get started, test everything, processes are super important, and also staying in contact with your customers and talking to them consistently. The combo of those four things is kind of the magic bullet. That's kind of the secret sauce. So it seems like that's what everyone's chasing is the combination of like, just get moving, but you've got to kind of keep things systematic and test things, but you always have to have the customer in mind. It's cool to see that everyone is still working on these things, but it seems like you're definitely moving in the right direction.
Christian Thrapp: Yeah. Yeah. And one thing I'll add to that is, like I said, part of my personality is like, I'll get it up there and we'll be scrappy. And I think one piece of that is like people that you hire. So we recently brought on a VP of revenue and analytics, and this guy is, he's the organization and process guy, right? And he even brings back just data backed decisions. And this is what we need. I can hold my own in an Excel spreadsheet, but this guy is top notch.
Chase Alderton: Right.
Christian Thrapp: And as you look in, as you look to scale, I think hiring these people that compliment and enhance what the team doesn't currently have is hugely critical.
Chase Alderton: Hiring is insanely critical. It's so funny to see how many people say hiring is kind of make or break to their success.
Christian Thrapp: Last question for you, what physical products do you subscribe to?
Christian Thrapp: Great question. I love the e-com, so I think Quip is like my number one, because every month that I get that toothbrush head, I'm like, oh, heck yeah. Love it. My teeth feel great afterward. I also get Native too. So, I'm really basic when it comes to my subscription, but also if I could get like a subscription in some Allbirds shoes, I'd be down. I'm sure they probably even do it, but if my budget allowed a subscription in Allbirds shoes I would do it.
Chase Alderton: There you go. There you go. Better way to put it. Christian, thank you for joining. I really appreciate your time.
Christian Thrapp: Awesome. Thanks so much guys.
Chase Alderton: We'd like to thank Christian once again for joining us. If you're interested in Drift, you can head over to drift.co. If you're looking for more of our episodes, check us out at rechargepayments.com/hitsubscribe. And to get the latest episodes, remember to hit subscribe on whatever platform you're listening from.