Startup Confidential

A zero B.S. look into the realities of running a consumer startup in today’s market. A truly independent voice in an industry chock full of vested interests.

``Dr. Richardson has a unique way of saying the things that no one else will say but needs to recognize. Humbling and empowering.`` amkojo

``This is the only business podcast that is both deadly serious and laugh out loud funny.`` - Alex

``You’re right. Founders don’t need any more inspiration ~ what we need is practical, tactical advice`` ~ Mama NYC

GUEST POLICY: Dr. Richardson does NOT accept requests to be a guest on his show.

Ep. 47 – Why Startups Fail – w/ Tom Eisenmann Part 1

JUNE 1, 2021

99% of business media stories on startups are essentially PR for the startup itself. This makes these stories a one-sided source of information on what it’s like to operate and grow a startup. While there are more and more discussions of mistakes, basically no one at Inc or Entrepreneur or anywhere else really will ever greenlight a debate on this or that failed startup unless, like Theranos, it ended in some massive ethical scandal. Failure is depressing, they say. Not me. This month, I’m honored to bring you the first in a two-part interview with Professor Tom Eisenmann of the Harvard Business School (HBS). He and I chat about themes from his new book Why Startups Fail and how these patterns play out in the world of consumer packaged goods (CPG). In this episode, we discuss what to do when you have little business training, how unit economics evolve differently in CPG vs. tech startups, and how to prevent False Positives by doing just the right pre-revenue research.

Since joining the HBS faculty in 1997, Tom has led The Entrepreneurial Manager, an introductory course taught to all first-year MBAs, and launched fourteen electives on all aspects of entrepreneurship, including one on startup failure. Eisenmann has authored more than one hundred HBS case studies, and his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and Forbes.


Ep. 46 – Advertising ROAS and Repeat Purchase

MAY 15, 2021

In the world of consumer brands, it’s common for investors to look down on paid advertising. Why? Because they often don’t see the same kind of trial surge that a temporary price reduction or change in attribute-outcome signaling can deliver. So, they generally see no real return on the expense. However, ROAS has to be calculated on the basis of a longer-term view of how repeat purchasers contribute to the brand.


Ep. 45 Competitive Strategy Formulation for Exponential Growth 

MAY 1, 2021

This episode teases you with the contents of my quarterly Riding the Ramp online training event. If you want more detail than you found in my book on how to create a compelling strategy and a competitively advantaged 4P playbook, than this training is for you. It’s so important that you attack the market and not just serve the whims of merchandisers. 


Ep. 44 – The Future of Trade Shows

APR. 15, 2021

Trade shows need to get blown up, from a design perspective. Enough the booth-cages. The pandemic has shown what we really can’t get done face-to-face. And it’s those zones of human persuasion that industry events should re-design themselves to facilitate and monetize. Let’s kill the trade show, and make events for ALL stakeholders work much better. 


Ep. 43 – Your Product Isn’t Done…Sorry

APR. 1, 2021

In this episode, I explore WHY exactly the initial product line you launch, across all touchpoints, is unlikely to be really a finished line. Not only will you need to iterate, but you’ll need to learn from your fan to do it. In-market learning is really the only way for many premium CPG brands to fine tune the nuances of their product symbolism, package design and marketing communications efforts. In some cases, though, it has huge relevance to which channels and banners you sell in and how you sell in those channels and banners. Don’t be arrogant. Launch ready to learn.


Ep. 42 – Don’t Hire Friends as Service Providers

MAR. 15, 2021

Hey, know anyone who hired their buddy to do pack design or social media marketing? Yeah, of course, you do. In my latest podcast episode, I share some sociological reasons founders of early-stage brands don’t want to hire ‘friends’ as service providers. If you’re an investor, take note as you advise your portfolio brands. This selection behavior is super common in the U.S. because, as a culture, we seem to place irrational levels of trust in our thin friendships. It would take a whole book to explain why. I’d much rather recommend you hire your brother than a friend….take a listen to understand why. 


Ep. 41 – The “Death Funnel” – Revisited

MAR. 1, 2021

80% of CPG brands never make it past $500K trailing annual sales. It’s a cruel reality. Often, the end of the business is self-inflicted due to business inexperience. Too often, though, it’s based on overly ambitious timelines to scale fed by reading anecdotal cases that trade media love to cover. The unicorns distract too many starting out. This episodes revisits the brutal process of turning the engine on for a CPG business when you are under-capitalized and under-staffed. 


Ep. 40 – Stakeholders – Distributors

FEB. 15, 2021

I’ll probably lose some LinkedIn Connections once again with this content. Don’t care. The reality is that new founders to retail CPG need to get super real about 3P distributors, especially the national players specializing in natural and organic products. Listen up and learn the one stunning oversight most new founders make when starting to work with UNFI, KEHE, and others.


Ep. 39 The Skate Ramp – An Excerpt from Ramping Your Brand

FEB. 1, 2021

Goldilocks was right. The middle path is the way forward when you are trying to scale quickly and actually get to scale in good enough shape to keep growing in the double digits. Listen in to a ‘dramatic’ reading from my forthcoming audiobook edition of Ramping Your Brand. I think you’ll enjoy it!


Ep. 38 Pressure Testing Your Topline

JAN. 15, 2021

The more years in the market and, regardless of your actual topline growth rate or scale, the more likely you will no longer be able to notice the subtle signs of underperformance in your business. This is most pronounced when growth is strong. But that’s when it’s most important to look underneath the topline hood and pressure-test for solid, healthy $ growth. In this episode I share some initial tips straight from the toolkit I use with my clients every month at PGS.


Ep. 37 Behavior-Based Brand-Building

JAN. 1, 2021

Unfortunately, the folks who talk loudest about brand-building are either a) branding agencies, b) venture capitalists or c) overly enthusiastic founders. Curb your enthusiasm. You can design a brand identity, a symbolic system. But, ‘brand’ is an outcome. It is an outcome based on influencing real human behavior, entering social networks with memorable consumer experiences, potent symbolism, and grassroots ‘influence,’ not social media puffery. Learn the rules of behavior-based brand-building or get ready to struggle unnecessarily on your journey up the Skate Ramp.


Ep. 36 Conversion vs. Trade Techniques in Driving Velocity

DEC. 15, 2020

It’s no secret that Placement is the “P” that dominates strategy among most early-stage consumer brands, selling into retail primarily. And there’s no shortage of brokers, fractional sales VPs and consultants ready to focus you on manipulating the trade to win narrowly. The problem with this ‘normative’ viewpoint is that brands don’t grow via TPR programs. There is NO marketing science to prove this common myth. Brands grow by adding households and growing velocity inside those households (generally most common for beverages). So, in this episode, I take on the myth and explain why you need to understand the limits of trade techniques in the later phases of the Ramp.

If you’re a Founder and want to see how well your team is set up for exponential growth, please take my Founder’s Quiz online right now and get your score immediately.


Ep. 35 Stakeholder Classes – The Buyer

DEC. 1, 2020

Retail buyers. Either right now or eventually, you will need to convince buyers you are a key new addition to their sets. In this episode, I share some pros and cons of developing relationships with these important stakeholders. I also discuss why the Skate Ramp is just not on their radar, even though one of your key KPIs – velocity – absolutely is.


Ep. 34 Why Your One-Page Strategic Plan is Lame

NOV. 15, 2020

Well…Well..Well, I never…I mean, what a rude title!  Then stop writing plans not based on market and consumer data. Then I’ll take this episode down right away. It’s a plague among early-stage startups in ALL industries. Dataless plans based on wholesale case projections. Your review mirror of case sales to the distributor is not sufficient to make a smart plan for exponential growth. In fact, it sentences you to repeat the growth rate in the mirror itself. If you’re growing at 10% and want to grow 100%, the rear-view mirror of case sales doesn’t help you much.


Ep. 33 Why Saying No is the Critical Skill as a Founder

NOV. 1, 2020

You might think saying ‘no’ is simply the luxury of an established business who has the privilege to turn down an opportunity that isn’t dead-on perfect.  But you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.  In this episode, I introduce the perfect training ground for saying no: the onslaught of service providers who ‘prey’ on the ocean of startups, most of whom will fail or stagnate as hobby businesses. A small % are actually really good. But they never come to you…

If this episode intrigues you, you might like my recent on Episode on How to Filter Advice.


Ep. 32 Stakeholder Classes – The Investor

OCT. 15, 2020

It’s time to share thoughts on one of the more important stakeholder classes for your fast-growing early-stage brand. I focus on the pros and cons of angels, venture capitalists, and private equity firms. I’m very keen on angels for reasons you’ll want to listen in and discover. The big challenge for most entrepreneurs is their de-leveraged situation early on up the Ramp. Maximizing your leverage is a sociological challenge, not a financial one in the face of very, very rich people.


Ep. 31 Founder Archetypes – The Brand Worshipper

OCT. 1, 2020

Grab onto your handrails, folks. You may hear the thunderous retort of the entire global branding industry in the middle of this one. Branding is one of the most over-rated arts in the early years on the Ramp. Without a data-refined strategy in place, you just can’t finalize your brand’s symbolic system. Yes, you can try to research it in advance and over-determine everything like a Big Company. But since that rarely works out well for them either, I advise patience. Don’t launch a product line hoping initial branding will carry you. Professional branding is expected by consumers. It’s not impressive or distinctive any more in premium CPG.


Ep. 30 An Interview with Jake Huber – Negotiating with Buyers Part Two

SEPT. 15, 2020

He’s back! Jake Huber riffing with me on more advanced topics in retail buyer negotiation. The big one in this final part of the interview is : how to say no…obviously, without ever using this word. 🙂 If you liked Part 1, then you’re going to luv, luv, luv this part. Again, I apologize for the horrendous audio on my end. Won’t happen again. You have my promise.


Ep. 29 An Interview with Jake Huber – Negotiating with Buyers Part One

SEPT. 1, 2020 

Pardon the horrendous audio. This was recorded in a chaotic apartment during the early months of the pandemic. Nevertheless, Jake Huber and I riffed on some very important topics. In Part One we address the #1 thing founders screw up when approaching buyers, how pitching investors and buyers is similar/different and the challenges posed for introverted founders. Hope you like it!do consequat.


Ep. 28 Why I No Longer Work With Young Startups

AUG. 15, 2020

Sorry to discuss my boring business, but, in this rare case, my internal decision is based on something it might benefit some of you to hear about. I hope so, or this will be a seriously low performing episode! This episode hinges around the concept of coachability. And my foil is the human need for validation. We all have it. We all need social validation or we will eventually commit suicide. A problem arises for founders of young startups, especially for young founders of young startups when they approach business advisors or mentors looking for validation, and not for professional critique. Listen in, if you dare…


Ep. 27 Navigating the Death Funnel

AUG. 1, 2020

The UPCs you initially launch with are very, very unlikely to be the ones that you scale. Maybe the product inside the package is largely the same. But many things will change as you learn and iterate on the basis of market feedback. In this episode I read a few pages from my new book – Ramping Your Brand and hope you enjoy them.


Ep. 26 How to Filter Advice

JUL. 15, 2020

As an advisor, this is a tricky topic to wax poetic about, since it might appear atrociously self-serving. Yet, here I go. I want folks newer to business and to CPG specifically to get a lot more critical about how they filter inbound advice, especially the unsolicited kind you tend to get poured on you during events, virtual or real world. There’s usually at least a shred of help to find, even if most of what is offered is bunk. This is NOT a pitch for paid advice, trust me. The rules I describe cross the paid-free divide. I hope it helps you out.


Ep. 25 Why Hitting the Gas on Distribution Almost Never Works

JUL. 1, 2020

My favorite punching bag is the ‘door count’ tribe. Who are these folks? The folks whose primary KPI is I added me a sh*t ton of doors last year. Boo-yah! Really? Yes. These folks do exist. They’re generally the same folks whose case study research was limited to 10 unicorn brands, mostly D2C and funded off enormous wealth. In this episode, I explain in somewhat redundant, sermonizing fashion why you must forget this non-KPI. It measures nothing of importance at all.


Ep. 24 Interview with Mark Crowell – Part Two

JUN. 15, 2020

In this episode, Mark and I finish our conversation, getting into the details of finding the right co-man and the three different ways to approach professionalizing your production in general. Just don’t wing it, people. And don’t hire the first warm body. Ever.


Ep. 23 Interview with Mark Crowell, Founder of Culinex – Part One

JUN. 1, 2020

Do you own your IP? Do you know the difference between a prototype and a protocept? Founder of Culinex, culinologist Mark Crowell, addresses these questions and more in the first of a two-part guest interview on product development. If anything has NOT changed due to the global pandemic, it’s the laws of product development. It’s science folks. Learn it or outsource it. Just don’t ignore it and then blame your broker for your crappy sales.


Ep. 22 The Preface from Ramping Your Brand

MAY 15, 2020

If you thought your career was messed up, then entertain yourself with the Preface from my new book – Ramping Your Brand. I share the bizarre twists of fate that illogically led to my current expertise in guiding growth strategy for emerging consumer brand. As we all muddle through the pandemic, have a laugh at my expense…or maybe three.


Ep. 21 When to Change Your Strategy

MAY 1, 2020

The current global pandemic is a massive temptation to over-react to near-term signals. This is especially true when it comes to business strategy in consumer packaged goods. In this episode, I use the COVID-19 social distancing reality as a foil to remind us of what strategy is, when you know you should change it, and why you need to really understand your category fundamentals now more than ever.


Ep. 20 A Second Reading from Ramping Your Brand

APR. 15, 2020

Who drives your brand’s adoption? And why? In my new book, I break down four rough segments of consumers who trade up to premium CPG brands. Each segment has a set of macro-drivers that affect their near-term vs. long-term value to your business. Spoiler: most founders fit nicely into just one segment…ahem…the one that doesn’t scale brands. Have a listen. And buy Ramping Your Brand, if you haven’t already.


Ep. 19 Learning the Right Lessons from the Covid-19 Emergency

APR. 1, 2020

This national health emergency has thrown most 2020 plans into the trash. As everyone revises their moves, it’s important to understand the lessons for near-term business decisions and the lessons for the long-term. If you want to dig in more, I have a free webinar about the surge in CPG caused by social distancing orders. It may be helpful to you and your team.


Ep. 18 Working w/Agencies – Identity and Branding

MAR. 15, 2020

Look at my glorious brand! Save it for the bedroom, please. In CPG, you are scaling a product line. It may have a name. It may have a look. But let’s not confuse how important branding is in the ramp-up of a strong business. It is VERY easy to overthink these elements and agencies will charge to the maximum extent of founder ego if you let them. Time to get real. So, you must be in the right place.


Ep. 17 Professionalizing Yourself

MAR. 1, 2020

My favorite punching bag is the ‘door count’ tribe. Who are these folks? The folks whose primary KPI is I added me a sh*t ton of doors last year. Boo-yah! Really? Yes. These folks do exist. They’re generally the same folks whose case study research was limited to 10 unicorn brands, mostly D2C and funded off enormous wealth. In this episode, I explain in somewhat redundant, sermonizing fashion why you must forget this non-KPI. It measures nothing of importance at all.


Ep. 16 The Serial F(l)ounder

FEB. 15, 2020

Back to my series on founder archetypes. This time, I riff on the problems faced by serial entrepreneurs in CPG and how their biggest strength poses a risk you will never encounter. Tune in to hear why MOST serial entrepreneurs in CPG do not succeed more than once.


Ep. 15 Designing to Command a Premium

FEB. 1, 2020

My favorite punching bag is the ‘door count’ tribe. Who are these folks? The folks whose primary KPI is: I added me a sh*t ton of doors last year. Boo-yah! Really? Yes. These folks do exist. They’re generally the same folks whose case study research was limited to 10 unicorn brands, mostly D2C and funded off enormous wealth. In this episode, I explain in somewhat redundant, sermonizing fashion why you must forget this non-KPI. It measures nothing of importance at all.


Ep. 14 Working with Agencies – Communications

JAN. 15, 2020

It’s critical to understand what kind of communications talent can most help an early stage premium brand. And it is not the typical agency employee or veteran…not at all. I explain why in this episode.


Ep. 13 Founder Archetypes…the Creative Founder

JAN. 1, 2020

The majority of CPG founders exhibit this archetypal orientation. They got into this because they’re innovators. They’re category geeks. Some, even snobs. But the real weakness these folks have to accept and address somehow is that they are NOT business people at heart. And yet it is the professional businessperson (and his/her team) who scales innovations. Not product-obsessed amateurs.


Ep. 12 Founder Archetypes – The Finance Founder

DEC. 15, 2020

Founders are not snowflakes after all. They tend to come in a finite array of archetypes. In this series, I begin by discussing the Finance Founder. His/Her orientation to money and ROI over-determines every decision they make. For good and for bad. If you recognize yourself in this episode, I hope it helps trigger some self-awareness and growth. You need it. 🙂


Ep. 11 Working with Agencies: the Creative Brief

DEC. 1, 2020

This is a professional practice of large companies that badly needs adoption among early stage brands. Poor, inconsistent, or absent, communication about the goals of communications work is a consistent reason why marketing fails and then gets cut prematurely. Don’t make this mistake. Smart founders know enough to write a good brief, because it’s an analytical exercise, not a creative one!


Ep. 10 Seven Reasons You Need a Strategic Plan

NOV. 15, 2020


Strategic planning is what I do. I live it and breathe it. Most founders don’t enjoy it. And this podcast starts off by explaining why this is. Yet, the folks who ride the Ramp to glory almost all engaged in disciplined planning. Not rigid. Just smart.

Startups are nimble and with this comes the risk of chasing your tail, spinning your wheels or, even more dangerous, over-reacting without any benchmarks or principles.