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The Barcode Podcast is presented by Titanium CPG Insurance. Titanium protects forward-thinking consumer brands with a range of commercial insurance products and risk management services designed specifically for natural and organic food and beverage companies. Learn more at titaniumcpg.com

Today on The Barcode Podcast, we’re talking with CLEAN Cause founder Wes Hurt. This is a candid conversation – Wes talks about his drug addiction and recovery that led to founding CLEAN, a sparkling yerba mate water with the mission to create a sustainable source of funding for recovery efforts. 50% of profits support recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

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BEN                          Welcome to the Barcode Podcast. My name is Ben Ponder, I’m your host. Really glad you’ve joined us today. I’ve got Wes Hurt, the founder and CEO of CLEAN Cause. And we’re going to talk about his story, we’re going to talk about some interesting aspects of their brand and that brand’s evolution. I want to remind our listeners that this podcast is presented by Titanium CPG Insurance. Titanium protects forward-thinking consumer brands with a range of insurance products and risk management services that are designed specifically for natural and organic consumer packaged goods companies. So, you can learn more at titaniumcpg.com and I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

BEN                          So, Wes, so glad to have you here, man.

WES                          Cool. Thanks for having me.

BEN                          This is going to be a great conversation. But let’s get started with your best meal ever, which may or may not actually be about the meal.

WES                          Yeah. I suspect it’s not going to be about the meal. It’s an interesting question. Because I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I’m like, “Where’s the greatest sushi place, the greatest steak I’ve ever had?” And then I’m like, “Hold on.” Truly, when I think about what the greatest meal was, I think you’re accurate in that it was not about the meal.

                                    I’m sure we’ll get into this in a little bit, but I’m a person in recovery from a drug and alcohol addiction. I have been for about five years. So, that gives you a little context for where this meal comes from.

BEN                          Right.

WES                          Probably, I think it’s about 15 years ago. I was in a rehab out in California, and I left. And then went MIA and ended up in Tijuana, Mexico, for anybody who doesn’t know that. It’s one of the most dangerous places in the world. And I didn’t know that. I suspect I didn’t care as much, because I was intoxicated. However, I had a moment of clarity to get out of there after a couple days, and to come home to Austin.

I put my ATM card into the machine, and it ate it. And it was gone.

BEN                          Just gone.

WES                          I had a Greyhound ticket and no more cash. Because I had bought that before knowing that I would need some kind of deal. So, rounding up to the meal. So, it took about three days on a Greyhound to get from San Diego to Austin. And about a third of the way through the trip I hadn’t eaten anything. And we stopped at one of these bus stops in the middle of the night. Because that’s how they work. And they’re dropping people off. And there’s just some vending machines. I had no money. I walked up to a guy that I suspect, you know, and didn’t have much money.

And I said, “Hey, man, I’m begging you for like a drink or something. Or a bag of chips.” And the guy ended up buying me a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.

And to this day, I never thought I would be so grateful for Mountain Dew and Doritos. Because having had no food, it was about a day and a half, two days. But not having the money or the wherewithal, and not knowing really where I would get it. And this guy was so gracious to give that to me. So, because of his kindness, and knowing that he didn’t have a lot of money, because of the way that cheesy nacho flavor actually tasted like cheesy nacho flavor, for the first time I’ve ever experienced Doritos.

BEN                          That’s right, because you hadn’t had anything in a while.

WES                          And the burn of that Mountain Dew, sugar loaded, ready to rock and roll. I would have to say, that was my greatest meal for all of those reasons.

BEN                          Oh, that’s fascinating. That’s a great story. Yeah, it’s about the context. It’s about where you are, and where you’re going.

WES                          And I’ll never forget that guy.

BEN                          And a guy who showed you kindness in a place where you were pretty low.

WES                          And he’ll never know that.

BEN                          No.

WES                          15 years ago a guy spent $2 on me. And I’ll never forget it. I was eating, and I was like, “I’m so grateful for that guy. And for this bag of chips, and Mountain Dew.”

BEN                          Yeah. Midnight in a Greyhound station, somewhere in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Or something like that.

WES                          More or less, that might have been the town.

BEN                          That’s amazing. So, let’s back up. As we’ve talked about, your story is reasonably well-known. I want to touch on it, we need to for context. But then we’re going to kind of take it deeper in some ways, and some different angles other ways. So, you were an entrepreneur before. You had started here in Austin at Hey Cupcake. You had this idea that you would have a food truck, food trailer, and sell gourmet cupcakes. And that, on the surface, seemed to be going really well. Right?

WES                          Right, right.

BEN                          But behind the scenes, not going as well. Right?

WES                          Absolutely.

BEN                          So, tell us about the Hey Cupcake to kind of how you found rock bottom, and that sort of thing. And then we’ll kind of enter into the CLEAN Cause journey from there. Yeah.

WES                          Cool. Just to jump back just really briefly, the origin story, because I think it will speak to the viewers. I was in New York City; I was at a cupcake place. I was coming off my most recent failure, which I’m not sure it was. But there’s a lot of strikeouts in my history.

And I’ll never forget standing in line. And there was a line of like 75 people at this place. And I was with someone, and I was talking to them. But I was really just trying to see people’s reactions as they walked out with this cupcake and stuff. Because I was like, “What is going on here? People are paying $3 and there’s this many people. And they’re walking out with an average of this many cupcakes.” And when this guy and this girl walked out, and I saw them smile at the cupcake and themselves. That was something you could never really articulate or be able to explain other than seeing it. And my point of saying that was, in that moment, I knew that I was doing cupcakes.

Because I saw something that I can’t put in a business plan, that it spoke to the nostalgia, the joy, the happiness of this small individual thing.

BEN                          Just pure delight.

WES                          The connection was pure delight. So, what’s weird is I have that single moment, just like that meal, that I said, “I’m doing it.” I didn’t need anything else. Because I’d done the math with the economics with a number of people about it. And I was like, “Oh, that’s a lot.”

BEN                          Yeah, that’s right.

WES                          And then I saw that, and I was like, “That’s it.” And I’ll never forget, that day I decided to do it. So, fast forward. I come to Austin, three months later we’re opening up a little cupcake stand. We put it on the university campus. It fails. The first Yelp review I got on our cupcakes, or the first one I remember, because maybe its post-traumatic stress was that it had the consistency of a roof shingle.

BEN                          Nice.

WES                          Whereas, I’m like a super sensitive and insecure person just coming out of the womb. I actually had a lot of respect for the comment. Because it was almost thoughtful.

BEN                          It was honest.

WES                          Yes, it was honest.

BEN                          It was bordering on poetic.

WES                          I’ll agree, that’s why. So, usually where I’d have my feelings hurt, I was like, “Dude, I kind of like this guy. Who is this guy?” So, suffice to say, the cupcakes were not the best.

BEN                          Now, wait. What was that one called?

WES                          Hey Cupcake.

BEN                          Okay, so that was one was called Hey Cupcake.

WES                          Yes.

BEN                          Even the first one at UT. Yeah.

WES                          The first one at UT was called Hey Cupcake. But what’s interesting about that was three weeks before we opened, it was called That Cupcake Place. I haven’t told this story in forever. And I thought I was the most brilliant person in the world.

They’re like, “What cupcake place?”, “That Cupcake Place.”, “Which one?”, “That one.” Oh, now the impression has been made. And now we’re that much closer to seven impressions, so then it sticks in your brain forever. Right? I was like, “I’m so genius.” Maybe I was just drunk or high, I don’t know. But a few weeks before we did that, a place, no joke, opened up down the road about half a mile, called That Popcorn Place.

And I was like, “Oh, my.” And I called somebody, and they said, “Shut up.” And I go, “I’m not kidding. It’s called That Popcorn Place.” So, either they were brilliantly ahead of me, or –

BEN                          Your brilliant, original idea was in fact, not as original.

WES                          Exactly. So, I talked to somebody, I called them. And they called me, “Hey, Cupcake.” And I was like, “Boom. That’s it.” So, between the name not being done, and changing the name at last minute based on someone opening up That Popcorn Place and debunking my brilliance. And then our cupcakes tasting like having the texture of roof shingles. We were off to quite the start.

BEN                          Yeah. A very promising start. So, that didn’t work. Then you regrouped.

WES                          Yes. So, we came back. We still believed in that look that I saw in New York. Because that was the spirit, is what I saw. The human spirit.

BEN                          And about what year is this?

WES                          Wow, so is it like 13 years ago.

BEN                          Okay. Yeah. And at this point for most places around the country, a gourmet, big, decadent cupcake. This was a new thing.

WES                          Yeah. The idea that you would pay $3 and have a concept revolving around one little piece of cake, was not the most sound strategy or business plan to most people.

So, yeah, you’re dead on. It was very new. I think, Austin, in terms of that next evolution of where we went, was the perfect environment for something so weird like that. Or that just that didn’t seem as wise. I liked Airstreams, they’re silver, and they look cool. They’re nostalgic. And so, they spoke to a different generation, while also looking cool to the Gen Z’s, X, Y’s. I don’t even know where we’re at now, or where we were then. But between that and the giant cupcake on top that we built, and then it called Hey Cupcake. And then slapping it on the hippest road now, probably, at that time, which was South Congress in Austin. And it just stuck out like a sore thumb.

BEN                          Which, 13 years ago, was still in the midst of a transition.

WES                          It was dilapidated still, too.

BEN                          Yeah. People forget, it could be a little sketchy.

WES                          It was sketchy, and a little bit further down South, absolutely. You’re dead on. There was not much happening there, so it wasn’t prime real estate at that stage. But it was prime visibility.

So, we had this thing just sitting in this trailer, that was shiny with a giant cupcake, called Hey Cupcake. Siting in the middle of this parking lot. And we opened. And I was a little nervous to be honest with you. We had failed. But I’ll never forget the first day. I came there on a Saturday, and I drove up. And I see this line coming around the corner. And I was like, “There’s no way. No way.” And I’m kind of getting a little emotional inside here, because it was the first idea that ever “worked.” And I don’t know if I was expecting it to ever, too. You know, you’re always going for it.

BEN                          Right, yeah.

WES                          So, when I came there, and I saw this line of like 50 people. I’ll never forget, I started crying. I got on the phone and called my friend, who I’ve known since diapers. And I said, “Damon, it’s working.” And he goes, “What?” And I go, “It’s working.”

BEN                          “You did a thing that worked, Wes?”

WES                          And he goes, “It’s working?” And he actually said, “I’m going to move home. I’m coming home, dude. Let’s do it.” Or, whatever.

BEN                          That’s awesome.

WES                          But it was a cool moment that I’ll never forget. Because it was the first day that it’s like, “Dreams can work, you can finish it.” And a lot was after that.

BEN                          So, you were always an idea guy before that. Right? You were always kind of pursuing some things. You always had, you know. And to your point, you’d tried some things and they just didn’t work before.

WES                          You know, I was a guy that I think, looking back, my mom tells me a story about how I was selling my baby books door to door. She literally stands by this story. And I was like, “Wow, that’s messed up.” But I didn’t know how messed up it was. I was just trying to sell a good.

BEN                          That’s a natural salesman, yeah.

WES                          But, you know. And the lemonade stand. I wanted to figure out how to get the greatest visibility. And I like to tell people that I didn’t really choose to be an entrepreneur, it kind of chose me. Because I was always wired that way.

BEN                          There’s a lot of truth to that. There’s a genetic component for a lot of people in it. Now, some people find themselves down an entrepreneurial path. Maybe who aren’t naturally wired that way. And some people, you’re just like, “You were made for this.”

WES                          Right. Yeah. I mean, it’s not meant to limit someone that if you didn’t come out 6’8″, that you can’t play basketball. You can be an entrepreneur, and we all have different paths. Just, for me, I don’t ever remember anything different. So, that’s why I say it chose me.

BEN                          Absolutely. No, that’s good. So, Hey Cupcake, you have this moment. It’s validation, like, “I think this is going to work.” And then it continues, but then like you said there’s this kind of insecurity and creeping doubt that’s personal to you, too. That’s happening in parallel to this, what on the surface, is a raging success.

WES                          Well, yeah. It’s interesting. So, I thought it was working that day. But you always have just that insecurity that’s sticking there. The fear, that, “Now can we keep it going for Sunday and then Monday?” So, we scaled that business, and had eight trailers at one time around the city.

But like you said, I had a cupcake place. And addiction was starting to tear me to pieces behind the scenes. It was like, I think the word’s juxtaposition. Of like, this cupcake that represents nostalgic sweetness, pun intended. And the fun part. And then the flip side of, behind that cupcake was just being eaten alive.

What’s interesting about that is I’ve thought it recently, just over the last year. That I think that cupcake stand, and the cupcake in general, represented the levity, and the playfulness, and just the lightheartedness that I wanted in life. Or wanted my face to be. But the cupcake was that for me, and I just couldn’t be it. So, that might be too philosophical, whatever, too Nietzsche-ing.

BEN                          No. And it’s super interesting. You were projecting a certain aspirational identity.

WES                          Yes. Of who I wanted to be. Yes. I want to make people happy. I want to make something economical; I want to have purpose. Even if it’s making people happy and smile with a memory they’d have.

BEN                          Yeah. And it fueled you when you saw the people walk away from, now, your cupcake stand. And they have that delight and joy.

WES                          And I’ll tell you, one of the most powerful things from that day, too, was the affirmation of gut. Of this gut, of that sixth sense that you develop over time. It’s that emotional intelligence, or whatever you want to call it, to where I saw something, and I was like, “That’s it.”

BEN                          And you acted on it.

WES                          And I know that’s it. I had resolve. That day, I’ll never forget, I was like, “I’m doing this.” I turned to the person I was with, and said, “I’m going to do a cupcake business.” And it’s a cool moment when your feelings, in and of yourself, are vindicated. You know what I mean? Affirmed.

BEN                          Right. So, I think it’s also you have this business, it’s growing, you’ve got all of these locations all around the city. You’re making some money, too. Which can be a little bit tricky as well.

WES                          Oh. It’s not a good recipe for someone doing drugs. Thinking you’re bigger than you are. You’re like a cupcake Rockstar, is what you think. You’re hiring friends. You’re taking money from families at the beginning, you’re dating employees. Broke every freaking rule, we broke. And where that came to a head is over the last year or so of that business, which was about six years ago. I picked up opiates.

And up until that point I was doing cocaine, and I was drinking, and smoking pot, or whatever. But my life was still kind of manageable on the outward facing side, where people could see cupcakes. They’re like, “It’s working. It’s great.” You know, nothing’s wrong.

BEN                          Right. Yeah, “He just has so much energy.”

WES                          Yeah, right? He’s like, “Well, I just did a line.” No. Driving like that, it was wild to live in that reality, too. But that brought me to my knees.

BEN                          Yeah. Because then you were just spaced.

WES                          I mean, it went from popping one Vicodin and feeling pretty good. And like, “Wow, if I could feel like this every day the rest of my life. I’m just one with the world.” And then that accelerated to 35 Vicodin within a short amount of time. And then, my internal team doesn’t like that I share this sometimes, but I don’t mind. I was smoking crack.

BEN                          It’s the real deal.

WES                          And I was there smoking crack, taking 35 Vicodin, and just so empty. And, “Oh, crap. How do I get out now?” So, essentially, it brought me to the point where I got fired from the company.

Everyone in my life cut me off. It was the first time in my life there was a unified front to say, “Hey man, we love you enough to not participate in even talking to you unless you’re moving in the right direction.”

BEN                          Yeah, “We love you enough that we’ve seen this movie before. And if something radical here doesn’t change, you’re not going to be here.”

WES                          I think that’s an accurate way of saying it, yes. So, I ended up living in a warehouse with another homeless guy for a couple months. It was a crazy time. It was sort of the holidays, and then in Christmas I left my wife and everyone. I mean, it was one of the most painful things. Even looking back to this day, and even being intoxicated and anesthetized, I still felt a really deep pain in the core.

BEN                          Probably a lot of shame.

WES                          Just you layer on all the different things, and it’s like, “How did I get here? How am I going to get out?” And essentially, I like to say this just for any viewers, I know this isn’t necessarily about it, but I was suicidal for the nine months coming up to me getting into recovery. And I just say that because if you’re out there, you’re not fricking alone if you’ve been in those moments. But I also want to say that your life is worth it. And you have a stinking purpose. And don’t give up. And just hold on to any thread of hope if you’re out there struggling with that. So, I just want to say that. You know? I think it’s important.

BEN                          That you matter.

WES                          You do. You do matter and you can turn it around, and people, they want to see you win. They do. You know, friends and family. Just, they love you.

BEN                          Yeah. That’s important.

WES                          Yeah. It’s important for me to mention that. But what I find interesting about that time in my life is I was in a state of limbo. Of where it’s basically no one else is in your life that you can manipulate, and try to put in a corner to try, and then leverage so you can continue to rationalize your using.

Like, “You’re an asshole to me.” Or, “You treat me like crap.” So, there’s my one person that I’m going to excuse and justify my use. So, when all of that was removed on a unified front, it was me, and myself, and nine months of suicidal crying and drug using in a cemetery.  I believe in God, and I won’t go too far off into that. It’s a big topic. But I literally would pray to God, higher than a kite, that he would give me a green light to kill myself. Because there was something always in my spirit that was like, “You can’t just go.” I never got the text from him, thank goodness. You know? I always joke around like that. If you don’t laugh a little bit, you cry.

BEN                          Of course, of course. Yeah. The sky-writing airplane never showed up.

WES                          Yeah, right? I’m like, “He says don’t do it.” You know? But I never got that green light. And I’m so grateful. So, it came to a place where then I just had to decide by myself, just me in a mirror, “Do you want to live or die? It’s your decision now, fully.” So, thank God I chose the right path. And to come back, and I said, “Let’s go.” So, that was kind of the beginning.

BEN                          But that’s not just like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” Like, “I’m good now. We’re just going to resume life as it was.” Right?

WES                          Oh, no.

BEN                          So, there’s a journey there, right? You indicated that before, being in rehab, breaking out of rehab, finding yourself stoned and drunk, or whatever, in Tijuana. It’s a messy, rocky journey.

WES                          Oh, it is. It is. And up to this day, 20 years, like a career, that’s not the right word for it, of drug use and alcoholism, at six rehabs and psych ward. And just endless amounts of wreckage from personal, and everything you can imagine. And the one thing I think I regret the most is just the relationships. The people I hurt, that it just was an emotional component. Possessions and all of that stuff, as long as I didn’t hurt anybody else physically, I didn’t care about. But to this day, that’s the one thing that still just gets me and hurts me still.

BEN                          Of course.

WES                          I’m like, “I just stole from them and I didn’t know.” You know? So, having that decision, to be able to move. And you’re right, that’s just the very first step. But I said, “Look, I’m not going to kill myself. I want to live. I’m willing to give this another shot.”

                                    So, that led to the next stage, which was you just start one day at a time. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

BEN                          It’s cliché for a reason, yeah.

WES                          But also, it’s for all of us. You know? I won’t go off too far on that one.

BEN                          Or whatever your addiction is, right?

WES                          Yes. Oh, well I like to tell people all the time, and that’s something I like to approach. Because not everybody relates to my story. Only 25% of America, in fact.

BEN                          Which is a significant population.

WES                          It is. So, I don’t want to belittle that amount or diminish it. But to me, to speak to the idea that we’re all human, obviously and addiction is just my flavor of affliction. I like that because it rhymes. But I also like it because I think it’s real. Like you said, if it’s eating too much ice cream, or pornography, if I’m allowed to say that. Or whatever it is, for whoever it is.

BEN                          Right. We’re all trying to escape from reality in some way.

WES                          I think so.

BEN                          Because reality is hard. Even if your life seems, on the surface, to be going super well. There’s always something, there’s always some issue or tribulation that you’re enduring.

WES                          That’s the commonality, that we’re all struggling with something. And it’s just an ebb and flow within our life. Based on the circumstances most of the time, I would say.

BEN                          Right, and some are maybe more innocuous than others, but we all have things that we run to when we’re overwhelmed.

WES                          Well, see, the consequences of addiction are more visible to everyone. There’s jobs that are lost, there’s relationships, there’s cars wrecked, there’s jail time and stuff. If I’m eating too much ice cream like I am now, I’m starting to get dad bod. You know? That’s the consequence. But people can relate with dad bod, so that’s okay.

BEN                          It’s sort of like a jokey, playful thing, too. Right?

WES                          Right. So, that consequence of something that really consumes me because I’m escaping something, is just not as offensive, quite frankly. I think it is important that we mention that I’m not that unique in that way, at all. We all struggle.

BEN                          Your story had kind of these major consequences for your life, and for loved ones and other people around you, certainly. And we don’t want to speed through it, necessarily, to be like, “Okay. So, then Wes like…”

WES                          Turned the light switch, and you’re good.

BEN                          Yeah, “Turn the light switch and he’s great now.” It was a long, hard struggle. And it’s a struggle that continues to this day. And will continue for the rest of your life in different ways, where you have to understand your own limitations and consequences of those decisions. So, there’s certain places you can’t hang out. Right? You have to redirect your attention, your relationships, all of that stuff.

WES                          Absolutely. I think everybody’s got a different path, even within recovery. And if I were to tell you I’m good, and I’m cured, that would be a complete lie. In the sense of, am I popping pills and drinking? No. But my struggle is, like everyone, it’s hard still. You fight with your insecurities and all of that constantly. That’s going to be here to stay. And when I realized that, there’s also some peace in understanding that. Just knowing this is going to be an ebb and flow in life. And that’s life. You know?

BEN                          It is. In particular, when you’ve chosen an entrepreneurial path, which can be kind of lonely. You see other people around you, and they have stable jobs, and benefits, and things like that.

WES                          Security.

BEN                          Security. And all that stuff. And going down an entrepreneurial path often doesn’t provide a lot of that security. Right?

WES                          Uh-uh (negative).

BEN                          You can feel, I think, for people who are in the early stages or even kind of later stages of that journey. You can relate to that. Because it can be lonely, and isolating, and stuff like that. And that’s why it’s really nice when you have co-founders, and close friends, and colleagues, and peers, and mentors. And you can surround yourself with other people who can say, “Hey. Look, man. You’re not weird.”

Or, “This is not unique to you, we all deal with this.”

WES                          Yeah. I think you’re dead on again. I mean, yeah. Being an entrepreneur, it can be super, super lonely. And it’s even to the point, like even with my wife and stuff, when I get home, she doesn’t want me to talk about business, business, business. That’s what I do all the time. She wants me to talk about babies, and babies, and babies.

BEN                          Yeah.

WES                          And changing diapers, and dates, and flowers. And for good reason. But you don’t have that intimate connection to be able to share with something that consumes you almost 24/7, which I’m careful to say.

BEN                          Right. It’s hard to turn it off, too.

WES                          Yeah. Tell me when you figure out how to, please. I’d love to know how to do that.

BEN                          Well I think some people have hacks. I have very few things that can get me to not think for a little while. So, I think we can all kind of discovery those things. For me, it’s like strenuous yard work. You know? Like stacking rocks. Things like that.

WES                          That’s funny. It’s like to a certain extent, you know if you have a sprained wrist? And you’re like, “Dang, my wrist is hurting.” And I just keep thinking about it. And then if I take a hammer and hit my knee, then I’m like, the acute attention has been redirected to something. So, I’m like, “Okay, get a hammer, please. Boom. Ow, that hurt. I forgot. Cool. Rake, rake, rake.”

BEN                          That’s right, yeah, “Oh, I can do a thing.”

WES                          I was free. How was I free? I don’t know. A rake, it’s the power of a rake and rock stacking. But, yeah. Those are little human hacks, is what I would say.

BEN                          Absolutely. So, this uneven journey as you kind of go through the recovery process. When did what would become CLEAN Cause, when was the first kind of light bulb moment around that? Because when you started, the initial product was a water. Right?

WES                          Yeah, it was water. So, how it was born, and it’s kind of the condensed version, but within like 90s days of getting sober. First of all, I was doubting myself completely. Like, “Do I have anything, really, that was real?” Because it was 20 years of using. So, I started to link any kind of creativity or anything to the drugs or alcohol. And the moment’s mania.

BEN                          “Now that I’m not like powered by whatever drug.”

WES                          Exactly. Were those the only things that were inspiring me? Were those the things that made me feel entrepreneurial, because I was willing to be crazy and go for it? And you’re like, “Uh.” So, I really had some time where I genuinely thought, “I don’t have anything.” That nothing was real, none of it.

BEN                          Just deep self-doubt.

WES                          Yeah. I was like, “This is not real.” Almost like an absolute. And that’s why I also was at that point of wanting to kill myself. Because I was like, “None of this was ever real.” And I go, “God, I am 100% convinced I can never come back from this. And there’s nothing for me to offer.” And I said that every day. And I was like, “I can’t believe any other way.” Even if people told me, “No, dude, you can come back.” No. I can’t hear that in those moment. You know?

                                    But within 90 days I was sitting there. I don’t remember where I was exactly, but I had a spark. And something just happened. And I went, “Wait, what was that?” And I just gave it space for a second. And I was like, “Dude, use your story. Use this and try to find a way to go.” And I’m getting emotional, but I was like, “Turn some chicken shit into chicken salad.” As someone has told me lately. That was not the best expression, considering the gravity of this. But it popped in my mind.

So, I sat there, and I said, “Let’s use it for good.” It started with the 50% model in my brain. I’m like, “I want a North Star, and I want it to be explicit.” No more of this ambiguous stuff. I’m like, “Use my story, use my experience. How can I give back? And then how can I have that as a constant North Star to help me? Explicit life purpose, at least within my career.”

BEN                          Right.

WES                          So, the 50% model was done. Because I wanted to do something radical. And honestly, I didn’t know the implications of that from an investment standpoint or anything. I just said, “Let’s do something different.”

BEN                          I love that. I think that obviously was important for you, it’s important for the business. And I don’t want to gloss over it. Because it was aggressive. It was planting your flag, and saying, “No, this is what we’re about.” And this will, as we talk about your business, it kind of manifest itself in all kinds of different ways. Because everybody says, “Oh, we contribute to this.” Or, “A portion of something will go to that.”

                                    And you said, “No, I’m putting a percentage on it. And it’s going to be an aggressive percentage.”

WES                          And it’s part of our DNA. It’s not an afterthought. It’s first and foremost. It’s the tip of the spear, it’s our reason for being. And I share that with people, I’m saying, “No, no, no. That is our North Star within this new North Star. That never waivers.”

I mean, I’ve had investors even say, “Look, can we drop this to this?” Before they wanted to invest or something. I go, “Absolutely not.” And we’ve walked.

BEN                          Right. It’s not the right one for you.

WES                          We’ve walked from big deals early on because of that. And there was a lot of fear from other people revolving around it, but I knew that my conscience couldn’t continue down that road. And I wasn’t going to carry that compromise with me. I wasn’t going to do it. So, that speaks to the resolve of something. That speaks to that day I saw that cupcake look.

You find certain things, and you say, “I will not waiver from this.” Because it’s not because I’m just trying to buck the system. I know in my heart of hearts and my gut, based on my experience, that this is it. I need this.

BEN                          Yeah. And this is before you even had a product?

WES                          So, we started with the cause. And then I was like, “Okay. What product?” Oh, no, no, no. It was the name next. I’m sorry, the name. So, I’m sitting there. And this all happened really fast. Almost within the same day.

                                    Like, I think it did happen. So, I said, “What’s the name?” And I was like, “Sore thumb, 50%. What else could we do to be kind of just out there?” And I said, “Sober.” And I go. “Sober. I’m going to name a brand called Sober.” And then I was like, “Okay, what are we going to do?” And then the water came about. So, I was like, “50%, sober, in your face. People are going to be like, ‘What is that?’ It’s kind of like That Cupcake Place. That was the original thinking.

And then bottled water. Because I was like, “What kind of product could I get that everybody drinks, or that everybody uses on a daily basis, and it’s easy enough to get into a package?” I’m like, “I can get fricking water in a bottle with a label, even without not having experience within the CPG space.”

BEN                          That’s doable. Right.

WES                          So, I called my sister up right then, and I said, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. I want to launch a bottled water brand called Sober. We’re going to give 50% of the profits back.” And she was kind of silent. And I was like, “What’s up?” She was like, “Dude, Wes, I love the idea but the name, Sober.” She’s like, “I don’t want to carry a bottle of water into the gym called Sober.”

She was like, “I just don’t want people to think I’m an alcoholic.”

BEN                          Because, yes, it means sober. But it also can mean like, “Oh, that’s sober.” You know?

WES                          Or, that’s true, too. I hadn’t really thought about that as much. I thought about it as, she was telling me that she didn’t want people to think she was an alcoholic.

BEN                          Oh, right. Yeah, it’s sort of like wearing an Alcoholics Anonymous hat into the place. Or something.

WES                          Or whatever it is you do, yeah. It’s like, she didn’t want to be identified or associated with that without ever being able to have that opportunity to give the story of why. And she goes, “What about Clean?” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I love you.” And it was like, “Ding.” I was like, “I’ve got to go, bye.”

BEN                          Which is awesome, because I suspect that among the other people in your life, you’d probably let your sister down a few times along the way, too. Right? But she’s still in your corner.

WES                          The fact that they were even entertaining my ideas at this stage.

BEN                          That’s pretty cool, yeah.

WES                          It was pretty cool. So, I said, “Clean.” I’m driving home, and I’m like, “Clean, Clean.” And I was like, “But we have a cause.” It literally was like, “CLEAN Cause. CLEAN Cause, that’s it.” I called her back, and I was like, “It’s CLEAN Cause, it’s CLEAN Cause.”

BEN                          I picture you like veering off the road at that point.

WES                          And she’s like, “I like that.” I go home, and I swear to you, I pulled out my computer, and opened up Microsoft Word, and made a logo with Avenir font. Sent it to my graphic designer, and said, “Hey, I have this logo. Can you make one? This is the idea.” And he goes, “I think you just did.” And I go, “What?” And this is how it was unfolding. He rounded the corners, made it a little space, and sent it back. And that’s our logo. It’s Avenir.

BEN                          That’s hilarious. I was joking with some folks recently about Yeti and T-DOSE. It’s like they have all these Microsoft System fonts. It’s confusing.

WES                          Right, right. Yeah. It’s like Papyrus, Avenir, Courier. They’re like, “What?” And you’re like, “Yeah, that’s it.”

BEN                          Arial Black.

WES                          Yeah. It’s like, “We’ve made it a little bold so you can see it more.” And I’m like, “Boom.” You know? Yeah, it is funny how that happened.

BEN                          Was it vertical at that point?

WES                          And you know what? Now that I’m thinking about it, it was on Adobe Illustrator, so it’s a different brand. But I knew just enough to be dangerous. Because I would try to put my ideas down on a paper tab, someone who could really do it. So, I’m like, “Here it is, this is what it would kind of look like.” So, yeah. It was vertical though. It was vertical and underneath.

And then he rounded it out, slapped it onto a concept bottle, sent it to me. And I was like, “Boom, that’s it.” I called a friend who was in the bottled water business, and that I had helped with his business five years, or something, before. Just selling, or doing whatever I do, gabbing to people I knew in town. And he showed me crazy love. And was like, “Of course I will, Wes.” And I was like, “What?” And I was like, “But we’re going to be selling at the same places you are.” And he’s like, “No, it doesn’t matter. I want to support what you’re doing.” And to this day, we sell more water than they do now in Austin. And they’re a family that backed us.

And we honor them. And that’s one of the reasons why the water is still alive, it’s because of them. We made a commitment to them, that no matter what, as long as they could grow that brand and support us in Austin, that we would honor them.

BEN                          That’s really cool.

WES                          And the cool thing is when I tell investors that, because we’re all about less is more, focus, what’s the greatest ROI? Blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it. The ROI on this, the ROLI, the return on the life investment, is to honor the commitment we made to these guys who brought us to the dance.”

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          And those investors, they go, “Right on.” And I was like, “Now I know you’re the right investor, too.” So, we’re aligned. We’re aligned. Because that’s what we’ll do with you, as we tell you, as will subsequent investors. That’s who you want to invest in, or be a part of, people that actually follow through with that stuff. So, I have a lot of love for that family.

So, yeah. That’s where it was born like pretty fast. So, within probably three months of that date, it’s kind of cliché to say this, but I had like 40 cases of water in my garage. We have a picture of it, that’s my storage unit. And it’s like, “Let’s go.” So, I started selling it out of the back of my truck. We were going door to door, just trying to find friends and people.

BEN                          So, where did you go first?

WES                          I think I actually went to Matt Shook, the JuiceLand founder. And a close friend of mine. And, you know, he had known my battle and everything like that. And JuiceLand, even at that time before they were big, still epitomized top quality, totally Austin. To have his endorsement and support, was massive, to be honest with you.

I mean, to get to plant your first stake in JuiceLand, selling bottled water. It was pretty radical.

BEN                          Yeah. That was a great show of support from a friend.

WES                          We have an insane amount of love for him and what they’ve done for us. I think that was one of our first accounts, if not the first. Because, of course, I’m calling my friend, begging. I’m like, “Please, I need to leverage you. So, I can tell other people it’s in there.”

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          And he’s like, “Okay.”

BEN                          You’ve got to get the snowball going.

WES                          And then, man, it was one day at a time. And in recovery, one account at a time. That was it. Slow building.

BEN                          Driving, having those conversations with managers, owners. Anybody you could.

WES                          Connect.

What I can’t emphasize enough is that we hear to connect with people, we always hear that. Like, invest even a couple of minutes to listen to them. To remember their name.

Because we think we’re too busy, and we think we need 500 of those people we’re about to meet that day. And what you don’t realize until after the fact is, it’s the quality, not the quantity, that will help you stand the test of time. And even though I heard that then, it’s like an old person telling your life is going to be pass you by. And you’re like, “Yeah, I know.” But every old person will tell you that. And you’re like, “Why won’t I listen? Why won’t I hear that?” That if I engage with these people, and I actually be even that little fractional experience within their life, where they knew that I genuinely wanted to know something about them. Or, not from a patronizing sense, but from authenticity. That those, the times that I did that, I look back and I’m like, “That’s the reason we’re here.”

Because you stack those. And it’s not because I’m such a great person. My story really lended an opportunity for the other person to be vulnerable.

BEN                          To connect. Because even if they hadn’t dealt with that, almost everybody has somebody in their life who’s gone through it.

WES                          Almost everyone. And if it’s not that person or someone they love; they understand the gravity of it. So, it was so weird. You would think that wouldn’t be a blessing, to walk in and be like, “I smoked crack and took 35 Vicodin. And I have this idea to give away half the profits. You in?”

BEN                          “You sound like a great partner.”

WES                          They’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to be rooting for you. But investor? I’m going to pass.” They’re like, “It’s noble. I hope you make it.” But the irony, the flip, the flip side was that was the license for freedom.

BEN                          It also cuts through the noise, man.

WES                          Yeah.

BEN                          It’s unique, it’s sort of radically vulnerable and authentic.

WES                          And it allows other people that invitation to be them.

BEN                          Which is huge.

WES                          They can do it lighter. But you didn’t understand. It was like, if you go to the bottom of the barrel which is your reality, and you throw it out there, anything up above that is not as bad as you.

So, they’re like, “Dude, I kind of struggle with it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I get it, dude.” “You eat too many gallons of ice cream?”

BEN                          That’s right. You’re an impromptu counselor, probably, for a lot of the time, too. Right?

WES                          Don’t come to me seriously for counseling. But, yes, I think in those moments, a bridge to allow you to lean in to where you wouldn’t normally. Because we all have this fear that behind the eyeballs of somebody else who you’re talking to, that they don’t struggle with this stuff. It’s false.

We are all whispering about our afflictions to our friends. Or maybe we talk to them openly. But we’re not that different.  As unique as we want to be.

BEN                          That’s right. We’re all messed up in different, unique ways.

WES                          Yes, yes.

BEN                          And that’s where, I think, that what you’re doing is you’re disarming that. Again, in a business setting. People are putting their best foot forward, and you’ve got your professional attire. And all this sort of thing. And you’re just throwing a turd in the punchbowl at that point. It messes everything up. And all of the sudden you’re like, “Whoa, I thought we were having an analytical conversation. And now I’ve got a guy who’s just being radically transparent with me, and I don’t know how to process it.”

WES                          It’s fascinating you say that. So, I started doing this deal, what I’m dressed in right now and kind of how I look. A little unshaven. And it’s not because I don’t care about myself, I’m not trying to be self-deprecating, or whatever. It’s just, I’m comfortable like this. And when I dress up, I’m not. So, when I walk into places, even with big investors, I’ll be like, “I apologize I look like this. But this is what I look like every day.”

And that’s what I say, that’s how I start them off. And I’m like, “And that’s it.” So, we just cut in. And I think that levity, and that just disclosure right there sets the meeting for a different tone.

BEN                          Right. Because everybody’s taking them self so seriously that you’re like, “Look, I don’t take myself too seriously.”

WES                          Yeah. What are they thinking about me? I’m an egomaniac, low self-esteem, constantly thinking about myself. I’m selfish as I’ll get out.

BEN                          But I do want to point out one other thing, which I think is unique to our time. Which is, in an era of social media, where everything is about appearances. And you have this tiny shoebox apartment, but you’ve configured it perfectly so that it looks like you live this glamorous, Manhattan lifestyle, and stuff like that on your social feed. That it’s super countercultural to be like, “Yeah.” You know, “I was thinking about killing myself in a graveyard.” And you’re like, “But I actually am struggling and barely making rent, but I’m trying to tell all my followers that this smoothie that I drank today is the best. And you should be more like me.”

WES                          “And this is the third one I’ve had in a row. I’m feeling energized.” You know?

BEN                          That’s right, that’s right. Yeah. So, it feels… And I think there’s definitely a sub current about vulnerability, and honesty, and things like that. But I think there is an element where the story that you’re telling does kind of push back against some of the darker impulses of our society that aren’t necessarily even overtly about addiction. But it’s about this sense that, “I’ve got my act together. I’ve got my life together.”

WES                          “And I can’t let other people see that.”

BEN                          Right. And even then, even if you think, “Oh, I’m not perfect.” And you give this kind of glancing, like, “Oh.” You know. We don’t all have our act together. But then most people don’t go there in the way that you go there, right?

WES                          You know, the flip side, if I’m being truly authentic then, is that I struggle with the perception of being authentic or feeling authentic. So, I am the guy that at times is on that social media, like, “You know what? Shit hits the fan, but I’m so grateful.” And then I look back, and I’m like, “Was I real, or was I playing the card?” And I’m like, “Damn it.”

BEN                          Yeah. It’s all theater.

WES                          I’m like, “Gosh, dude.” My heart of heart, and I know it’s real in here, is that I want to be seen. I want to be authentic. I want it to be so natural and that’s what I aspire for, is like absolute authenticity, and I’m not there. And I want to be, but I’m not.

BEN                          It’s a process. There’s a journey.

WES                          Like, how many likes did I get?

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          My endorphins spike.

BEN                          And how do I not care? How do I really let it go?

WES                          And why do I let it go?

BEN                          And in particular, in a business, where getting more likes could actually be really helpful to my business, too. Right? So, there’s a lot of weird kind of dopamine hits that you could get at various points.

WES                          And then the flip side is, like you said, the disclosure of my battle with addiction when I come into meetings, or tell them and then I’m dressed like this, is the power. It’s like a paradox or something. I heard a guy say this the other day, and I didn’t get it. I was like, “Oh, it’s just a comment he liked or something.” But, “The obstacle is the way.”

He says that and it’s about Stoicism and stuff.

BEN                          Right, yeah. It’s Marcus Aurelius.

WES                          Marcus Aurelius, or something. I was like, “Dang.” I was like, if I put it into the context of my life, it is. It’s what’s giving me life. It’s what gave me purpose, it’s what’s giving me freedom, it’s what’s giving me personal growth and honesty with myself to even be able to tell you I’m not totally authentic.

That I still do setup the room. And I setup the lights at time. And sometimes I really do. And I know, like, no dude because I’m not worried about what you’re thinking. When I’m not worried about what you’re thinking, that is true authenticity.  So, even within this I’m probably like 90% not worried. So, I feel pretty good about that percentage. You know? I feel okay.

BEN                          Because you never arrive. So, the moment you’re 100%, then you’re like, “Okay.” It’s fleeting.

WES                          Then you’re delusional.

BEN                          Yeah. It’s fleeting, or delusional, or something like that. So, now, with CLEAN Cause, you had a water company. A bottled water company and you started to get some interest and traction locally. And you’re getting some distribution. And that’s encouraging, and that sort of thing. How did you come across the yerba mate thing?

WES                          So, the thing about water is I had a low barrier of entry. That bad news is, it has a low barrier of entry.

BEN                          Right. It’s hard to differentiate it.

WES                          It’s hard to differentiate. And even with a 50% and a bottle you want to think looks good and all that. We were selling water that was more expensive. And it wasn’t a great proposition for the retailers and all the partners involved. So, relatively early we recognized that this was not a business model or a product that can sustain the mission, quite frankly, which is to create a sustainable source of funding to help combat addiction.

BEN                          Right. Because 50% of no profit, isn’t a lot of money. It’s a good sentiment, but it’s not going to move the needle.

WES                          Absolutely and addiction, I’ve said this before, and I’m not so unique, it’s a big problem. A big problem requires a big solution. A big solution in this context, in my opinion, requires big money. And I’m all for advocacy. But we’ve chosen to take the position of action over advocacy. It’s move, get shit done.

BEN                          Yeah. I think you’re doing both, really.

WES                          I do, too. But if I had to pick one and say, “That is where my resolve is found.” It’s like, “Pull triggers. Let’s go.”

BEN                          Yeah.

WES                          You know? So how did we get from water to yerba mate? Well, I mean, the short version is that the water I saw as kind of a little fleeting grass fire. And I wanted a wildfire. So, you start to look at the characteristics of products, and the DNA of them that make a wildfire. And this is where things get kind of interesting. Yerba mate is caffeine. And caffeine is addictive, “Oh, by the way, we’re trying to give 50% of the proceeds to drug and alcohol addiction.” So, I’m like, at the beginning, I think I started with this place of like, “Can we do this? Can we fight addiction with addiction? Fire with fire is better, sounds better.”

But, ultimately, kind of the rebel in me wants to say that. And say, “I don’t give a shit.” And I do, completely. So, people used to say, “Wes, you’re using plastic bottles and it’s called CLEAN.” And I would say, “Lives over landfills.”

BEN                          Right.

WES                          But it was like, I was saying it reactionary. And it was dumb. Because I care about both. But I was like, “Screw you, lives over landfills.” I’m picking my position at the time where I can be economically competitive to be able to further the mission. Which your soul’s at play.

BEN                          That’s right. You’re like, I mean, hold your hands out and you just want me to pour water into your hands? That’s probably the most sustainable scenario.

WES                          Right and I told her, I said, “Look, I want a biodegradable corn bottle just like you.” I was like, “They’re not there yet.” So, anyway. So, fast forward. Justification, rationalization, probably a mix of both. Maybe a little bit of truth in there, too. Who cares? It’s a nice little smoothie of itself. Just to carry the JuiceLand. There you go, Matt, try JuiceLand. Sorry. I don’t know what happened there.

BEN                          No, no, that’s great.

WES                          Oh, mate, but I was drinking yerba mate and recognized, even being in recovery I still love caffeine. And it didn’t cause me to end up necking in Belize, like alternative drugs or things, if you will. Or crash cars, or whatever the case was. So, rationalize again, or whatever. I said, “Look. It’s the most lucrative category there is when you look at caffeine.”

BEN                          Right. I think this is important for people. Because they’re like, “Oh, Wes. He’s like this free spirit. He’s just sort of like traipsing through the daisies.” Or something like that. And you’re like, “No, he’s looking at the category data.”

WES                          I’m looking at the category, and I’m looking at what I did and I’m looking at how often I did it. And I’m looking at how much I paid for it. And when I started to look under the hood, which doesn’t take that long, I said, “We need something that turns. We need products that turn in retailers.” Because that’s what they care about.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          And if you don’t care about what they care about –

BEN                          You won’t be there long.

WES                          You won’t be cared about, at all. They won’t have to care or not care about you. Because you’re not going to be there.

BEN                          It’s a circle of caring.

WES                          It’s a circle of caring. Yeah. So, I was drinking Red Bull and all the other ones. Coffees, and stuff like that. And, dude, they just gave me too much anxiety and stuff. And I’m not a snake oil salesman. At least, I don’t think I am. And I was like, when I drank it and then function was there, that’s when I knew that was the right product for us.

BEN                          Right. It gave you energy but not in that sort of –

WES                          Not like the over B vitamin loaded, taurine, whatever. There are some good drinks out there with that stuff in there. So, the function was there. And I knew the VPO, or velocity per outlet, or the DNA of the economics was set to be one that could produce large amounts of funding. So, that’s kind of where it started. And I was like, “Boom. All in.”

BEN                          And when you’re saying funding, you aren’t necessarily just saying, “I’m going to raise money from investors’ funding.”

WES                          Oh, I’m actually saying the opposite.

BEN                          Yeah. It’s actually, “I want a business that’s sustainable. That makes a lot of money. That gives us the opportunity to fund these addiction recovery projects.”

WES                          Let’s recall that the beginning, the DNA of the brand was not the product or even the name. It was the give back. So, that’s the foundation. Nothing is compromised on that. So, if you’re able to produce a ton of scholarship funding, by default, you’re making money hand over fist. From the profit. So, what I tell people is, “The 50% is not a problem. The idea is that people are like, “How can you grow giving 50% of the profits away?” Instead, we’re growing because of that. Not in spite of it.

When you have a major national retailer, buyer, talk to you for 45 minutes about your cause, and 5 about the product, and then agree to take it pretty dang big. Which is coming soon, you know there’s power beyond the product. The product has to stand on its own merit, though. So, I think that’s important to mention, too.

If you have a cause as a component, or if you have something, a story telling component, whatever it is, that is good. And I think every brand has a story. Every single brand has a story.

BEN                          Yeah. And if you’re not leaning into that, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

WES                          You are missing out completely. Pour it out, people care about that. That’s what we’re buying into, too. It’s not just the spec and the product. I’m convinced that the fact that we do get 50% of the profits away makes our drink taste better. Yeah, I said that. It makes it actually taste better. You know?

BEN                          Yeah. That’s really good stuff. Now, what does that mean for your business? Where do you have to make sacrifices, or kind of cinch your belt, that maybe somebody else wouldn’t have to? Because you’ve made this North Star commitment?

WES                          Sure. So, I think, again, North Star commitment. A foundational principal of the business. And when investors came in was to understand that that is the model. And that if that doesn’t feel right for you, this is 100% not right for you.

I say you do have to drink a little Clean Aid. That’s what I tell people. I said, “Here’s your forecast. Here’s your day.” And I go, “Now here you go. Drink a little bit. You need a little bit. Okay?” And to that point, we were able to align with investors that recognized you can’t generate significant profit in a really short amount of time. Especially within the CPG space.

BEN                          Right. You’ve got to build scale.

WES                          Unless you’re a digital phenomenon or something like that, you have to build scale. So, we knew early on. We went and indexed some of the largest fully mature, I’d say, CPG firms to understand what percentage of their net revenue, or what would 50% of their profits represent in a percentage of net revenue. Does that make sense?

BEN                          Yeah, yeah.

WES                          So, we were able to say, “Look.” And then we invested. We’ve invested in that early, because we said, “Look. We’re willing to incur financial loss to maintain and honor the 50% giveback model ahead of time. Because that’s everything.”

BEN                          Right. And how do you do that? Because, you know, you could say, it’s a percentage of net profits. And then how do you keep that honest?

WES                          So, we do it monthly. We also allocate it. So, you’re asking a great question. So, it’s like, for the first time in five years, which is crazy. Two weeks ago, someone asked me, “Hey, can you show me proof that you’ve given money away?” And so, you circle up with the team, and you don’t want to be defensive to a question like that. This is the DNA of the brand. This is the transparency. You live or die off the authenticity of that. At the same time, we’re a private company that you don’t want to disclose financials to. Because if you’re a competitor in a space that we’re going after and can see trade span and all these different things.

BEN                          They could reverse engineer things. Yeah.

WES                          It’s not that hard to do that. So, there was that balance of like, “Oh, crap. How do you show that in those moments?” So, a couple different things. We’re starting up a nonprofit, but we have a nonprofit and they’re going to facilitate this giving and be governed by a separate board. Where they can have the visibility of transparency. And quite frankly, our goal is not just to make the money, it’s to make sure that it’s allocated effectively. And has true impact.

BEN                          Right. Yeah, you’re not then just spending money wantonly.

WES                          That’s 50% of the equation, is giving 50%. The other 50% is, where is it going? Do people know it’s working?

BEN                          Right. Are you giving the money to the right addiction recovery programs, to the right people? Not just any charlatan out there who’s like, “Oh, sure. I’m doing this.”

WES                          It’s hard.

BEN                          But things that work, things that have been validated. And how do you find the right people to sponsor on the scholarship side? People who are serious about it. Or not just like, “Sure, I’ll take your money.” And then, you know.

WES                          We’re in that space, and we have been. I mean, we’ve given over half a million dollars. And when I think about that, I’m like, “How many people did we give to that we weren’t able to really know how to vet and stuff?”

BEN                          Right. And you’ll never know it exactly.

WES                          Well, no, we won’t. But now we have the opportunity and the bandwidth, the resources to set up a separate organization. Where we’re part of the same family, but because of transparency, because of their different missions. Make no mistake about it. People think this is kind of like too much capitalist sometimes with me. And I said, “Our 50% giveback model, the goal over there is to make as much money as possible. Profit.”

Yes, all the good stuff is still there. And it’s the brand. And that’s still my heart and the spirit. But if you have to break it down, and you’re talking about sustainability, you make the most profit. Then you give that profit to a steward, a trustee, people that understand the space, that have the expertise to invest in the right activities. For, like you said, to gauge efficacy. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Not only does it just in the first chapter, or the first leg of this, is to get people to understand, “Dude, I believe in this. I know what they’re doing.” And I’m hopeful that this could do something. I don’t know enough about the Sober Living Scholarships that they do. But I kind of believe the idea that staying for somewhere for 30 days after rehab, versus going straight back to the streets, is a better idea.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          Our next level that will help us stand the test of time, I believe, is showing the data. The science. The compelling nature of the give back.

BEN                          Which, having that foundation, that organization they’re not worried about selling yerba mate.

WES                          No, that’s their competency.

BEN                          They’re experts at this thing. They are a partner organization to your business that is focused on that. And, frankly, is addressing what most people regard as one of the major defining issues of our time in America, which is the opioid crisis.

WES                          It’s the greatest epidemic our country’s ever faced. And I won’t say it just because it sounds good.

BEN                          It’s pervasive.

WES                          It is insane. It touches every part of our society, in a way that I can’t necessarily do a Beautiful Mind white boarding for you. But I can tell you, I know it.

BEN                          If you’re in the city, if you’re in the country, if you’re disabled, veterans. It touches huge, huge chunks of the population.

WES                          It’s big.

BEN                          So, if you just say, “Well, I’m going to give money. And I’m going to be helpful by writing a random check to any…”

WES                          We’ll eventually go out of business is the truth. And I want to speak to one model. So, Tom’s shoes. One of my first inspirations that got into me deeply.

BEN                          Yeah. Their one for one model. Which other people kind of took.

WES                          They took it and ran. The novelty of that, the brilliance of being the tip of the spear for social innovation, and thinking that way, in that giving you receive. He was like the father of that, of sorts.

BEN                          And he made it obvious and simple. And that’s a thing that you did with your 50% thing, too. Right? It’s like, it wasn’t vague. He wasn’t the first person to do social innovation. He was the first person that like-

WES                          Put it out there.

BEN                          He made it super like, “Okay, so you’re saying, ‘One pair of shoes, one pair of shoes.’ Okay, I get it.”

WES                          It’s digestible in really quickly.

BEN                          Right? Yeah. Not just like, “Well, if we can achieve this particular metric, then we’ll run it through an algorithm. And then that might lead.” You’re like, “I don’t even know what you just said.”

WES                          Right. So, what I think is interesting, and I have a lot of respect and honor them and what they did. But when I look back, because we have the benefit to see what other people do in history, and so forth.

BEN                          Yeah. That’s right. If we’re paying attention.

WES                          Yes. If we’re paying attention. So, I just want to make sure he knows that I respect, love that guy and what he did. When I say this comment, though, when I look at shoes, that brand is kind of winding down now and it’s in some trouble.

But it served its purpose for its time in history, I think. And was brilliant, knowing. But what I think changed now, because you spoke about this idea of other brands starting to adopt this social innovation side of things. But without it being a real significant part of the plan. It’s like an afterthought. His was on the forefront and tip of it. However, now, I’ll speak to the next phase, which is the compelling nature of the give back. So, people can be hopeful at the beginning, grabbing a CLEAN Cause, and saying, “I know this is a problem. I’m hoping it’s going to go there.” If you went 10 years and just kept saying, “Its 50% of the profits, don’t know where…” That’s not going to be enough.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          This is like a personal relationship.

BEN                          Yeah. At some point, “Hey, bro, tell me. What did you do with that money? Did it make an impact?”

WES                          And how did it impact? What did it really do or not do?

BEN                          What do we know today about how to support individuals in recovery that we didn’t know 10 years ago?

WES                          And do I believe it? Because if I believe it, I’m going to keep buying the ingredient. Just to be practical about it. You’re going to keep buying that product or the products you follow up with. Because there’s such an emotional attachment to it in knowing that it’s real. That’s what gets people to keep coming back. That’s what gets people to lean in to give to things, because they believe the impact. Otherwise, it’s a patronizing donation.

BEN                          Absolutely.

WES                          And we all do those, too.

BEN                          Of course. You know, I like to talk about a lot of times the cause aspects of our purchases are post hoc rationalizations. Right? If you don’t like CLEAN Cause yerba mate, you’re not drinking it very much. Right? If you like it, if it tastes good to you, you’re going to drink it a lot. And then you’re going to be like, “Oh, I do it because I like supporting addiction recovery.” You’re like, “Yeah. Is that really?” Sometimes that’s the reason.

WES                          Water, I think, I’d believe it more so.

BEN                          Water, because you’re like-

WES                          It’s an even one, one exchange.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          It’s H20. No, but, I’m sorry.

BEN                          So what happens a lot of times is you just needed energy, and you liked the taste of this thing, and it met all your needs. And then you felt like, “Oh, plus one. I get to help a really amazing cause.” So, you dig into that a little bit more. A big part of that for you is there’s actually sort of an awesome marketing halo effect. Because it gives people a thing to talk about. Right?

                                    It’s a story. You have this cool, iconic packaging. And you’re not hiding. It says, “CLEAN Cause.” Really big on one side. And it says, “50% of the profits.” Really big on the other side. And it’s a conversation starter and this is really powerful from a marketing standpoint. If you’re drinking that, versus a Red Bull or versus a whatever, the thing is, it’s like, “Yeah.” It’s actually saying something about me, as the consumer, that I’m kind of a good guy.

WES                          It has the DNA to be part of a virtuous cycle, for everyone.

BEN                          It does. And I’m not saying that in a cynical way.

WES                          No, no. It’s a reality. And good.

BEN                          Yeah. It’s an aspirational part of our identity. You might be working in a cubicle somewhere, and you’re not volunteering at some addiction recovery center. But you can help in a modest way by doing this. And it also kind of signals a thing, “I’m the kind of person who cares about people who are going through a hard time.” And it says something good about me.

WES                          What it also says is, yeah, I think you’re right. I’ve had people who, their children are heroin addicts on the streets for like five years. And they’re like, “Wes, I just pray that the cause moves forward. Because I’m hopeless, and I don’t know what to do. But I still buy CLEAN.” Because it represents some sense of hope, or whatever.

BEN                          That’s really powerful.

WES                          It was powerful. And when I hear those things, I’m like, “Anything that’s gotten me down that week before,” I’m like, “that trumps.” I’m like, “Let’s go. Keep going. Keep going.” You know? I just got the chills. Because that brings me back to the roots of this thing, and why we’re doing it.

BEN                          It also gives you empathy for those parents who have, maybe, their kids stolen from them. And they’ve tried, and they’ve done all the things. And then they’ve just thrown their hands up, and they’re like, “I don’t know what else to do.”

WES                          Well, I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. And I’m trying to keep my kid from hitting his head on the corner everywhere. And I’m like, “One of my kids is probably going to do drugs eventually, or at least try them.” So, I get this overwhelming fear now. And what happened was, I finally was able to identify what my parents went through. Because I’d never experienced that.

BEN                          Yeah. When you’re a parent yourself, it unlocks a whole range of emotions that you didn’t know where kind of in there.

WES                          No. And I showed up to my parents’ house after I really made this connection that was real, real, real. And I was like, “I’m so sorry. I had no clue. I could not understand the love you have for a child until I had one.”

BEN                          Yeah.

WES                          And the powerlessness you feel about being able to stop them from slamming their head on the corner.

BEN                          Yeah. That your heart is actually on the outside of your body now.

WES                          Yeah. That’s fascinating. Yeah, that’s real. So, that just brings in that further empathy for others that are battling stuff.

BEN                          So, let’s talk a little bit about the business side. So, you made some decisions to, again, kind of put your money where your mouth was. And you started, originally, distributing the water around Austin in your truck. And then you guys made some decisions to kind of be ubiquitous around town. You were in every shop, every street corner. At bike shops, convenience stores. Anywhere where there could be a cooler, if you go around Austin, you’re there. Which is really awesome. I mean, just tremendously saturated.

BEN                          And you’ve done that largely because you made a decision to build out your own DSD, kind of, local, direct to store distribution. Which is a hard thing to do. It’s costly, it’s time consuming. And even more, you guys made a decision to provide jobs for people who were in recovery themselves as part of that program. Tell us a little bit about how you made those decisions to invest time, money, people, attention, in that?

WES                          Yeah. So, to go to the reason why we started distributing our self, the decision was made for us. No one else would.

BEN                          You didn’t have another option.

WES                          So, that made it pretty easy to say, “Okay. Do you want to try to go into business or not?” Then we realized pretty quickly that a truck with a bed in the back, that gas guzzler was not the most efficient. You know, so you say, “Oh crap. What are we going to do? Do we need a vehicle?” At that point, buying one little vehicle, which we called The Mullet, it’s one of those small transits, was a big move for us.

I mean, because we have 40 cases of water. And we’ve got to get a delivery vehicle and we put vinyl on it. And we’re like, “Okay, how do we do accounting with invoices?” So, it just gradually snowballed and built. I look back and people all the time are like, “Dude, you have a DSD network, and stuff.” I’m like, “One account at a time.”

BEN                          Out of necessity, one account at a time.

WES                          And I was like, “I wouldn’t do it over, necessarily.” No, I would not do it over. Let me say that.

BEN                          Yeah. It’s really hard.

WES                          I would not do it over again. No, that’s not true.

BEN                          It’s just part of the journey.

WES                          I would. I would, because it was part of the journey, that’s why. Because there was so many beautiful gifts that came out of it. And one of them being-

BEN                          Relationships.

WES                          Relationships, the intimacy, the comeback story that America loves. But then the little Choo Choo, which I like to reference. The Little Engine That Could.

BEN                          That’s right. The mobile billboards, the awareness. There’s a lot of things that are happening there.

WES                          Yes. So, we were just trying to layer wherever we could. And I’d say, if there’s one thing I value the most in people as a characteristic, or what I think is the most important thing in CPG and any business. But CPG, specifically, is hustle. People are going to be smarter than you. But you can out hustle them. You can. And that doesn’t mean overwork yourself. It means smart hustle. But it means hustle.

It means write a handwritten letter instead of an email. You will win. That’s the hustle. You know? So, to speak to how that kind of grew over time was, like you said, it was a necessity. So, the choice was made for us. And then we start building one at a time. Then, I had to find somebody who was crazy enough who’d want to come onboard with me that early.

                                    So, a friend of mine, who I pulled out of a car seven years ago, who was a meth amphetamine addict and stuff. He’d built his life up, become the number one sales rep at a company called NRG selling solar panels and stuff. Brought it back, over years. And I called him up just getting sober, four months, and being like, “Bro, had this thing. This, this, and this.” And I was like, you know. He came onboard for $40,000. Risked the life that he had rebuilt to come onboard. And, Ollie, I love you. Sorry I just outed you completely with the speed stuff. But you know. Everybody already knows that.

BEN                          It’s real. It’s real.

WES                          No, no, no, no, no. He’s cool with that, too. But my point is, each journey, each step, my sister said, “Clean.” Clean went to water, water goes to Ollie, coming back. Crazy enough to come onboard for $40,000. I said, “That’s all I can pay you. That’s all I got.”

And he came on. And then it was two of us. And then we started hustling. And it was three. And that’s just how it started, man. And we just kept adding accounts. And then people started talking. And they were like, “What are you all doing?” And we’re like, “We don’t know. But we’re going to keep doing it because it’s going. So, we’ll keep going.”

WES                          It’s funny, because I asked our Austin sales manager, now, who had just gotten off heroin when he came on. He was the third employee. He’d just gotten off heroin, he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. Didn’t know anything about the business, or anything for that matter, because he was just getting out of school. He was a heroin addict like me. We were just going on with life.

But he came on. And he started. And that guy, I call him True Blue to the day. He’s much younger than me, but so much wiser in years. But he came on, and he put his heart into it. And they’ve been instrumental. So, when I speak to the idea, a lot of people look at the fact of like hiring someone in recovery, or someone who has a real big issue, potentially, as a weakness. Or a vulnerability, or as a risk. I think the opposite. And I truly do. And I can tell you why. First of all, the ones that we have, and I say, “The ones that we have.” Our team of people in recovery outwork anyone. One of the benefits of having someone who has an addicted personality, and that’s going on the right track is that they don’t know when to let up. They don’t take no.

And I always would tell people, it’s kind of funny. They’d be like, “I don’t know how to sell that.” And I’d be like, “You don’t know how to sell that?” I go, “That’s BS.” I go, “If you wanted some dope, a beer, or cocaine, I would bet my life on it you could get it to me in like two hours.”

BEN                          “You’d figure it out.”

WES                          “So, go close it. Let’s live like that.” And we turned this thing that was so intense, the opposite direction. And it’s equal.

BEN                          Yeah. You’re sublimating some of those things that were bad impulses.

WES                          And it’s real, though. Because it’s a gift you’ve been given, this hyper focus on something that was bad can be used for good.

BEN                          You were resourceful back in the day, you were a scrappy person.

WES                          You’re damn right. Bring it over here. I’m like, “You’re already risking everything else. Risk a no and be hurt for a second. Versus wrecking the three cars that we did.” You know? So, that was one of the side notes that kind of selfishly plays into my favor, because we get a lot done. But the flip side is, that they’re part of the mission. They’re the mission living, they’re the mission walking.

They’re the people now that I don’t, you know. Ben, I don’t spend a lot of time patting people on the back, going, “Great job.” I do it authentically when we feel it, but the market is telling them that. I don’t have to. It’s because now they’re a part of something, and then they feel it for themselves. And they’re not answering to me and trying to make me happy. I don’t want them to. Yeah, I want them to make me happy with the numbers at the bottom line. They’re real. But we don’t have this weird, false obligation to patronize people as the boss, employee dynamic.

They go out there and the market says, “Thank you.” To them. And I’m like, “Yeah.”

BEN                          And people give them a high five when they come in the store. You’re like, “Oh, you’re the CLEAN Cause guy? Awesome.”

WES                          Dude, I hired a guy, he was probably our fifth employee. And I told him all this, I go, “You’re going to have your own experiences. And I can only tell you about them right now, because you haven’t had it yet. But, wait. And then call me or tell me when you have it.” And I go, “Because it will be real.”

                                    He called me a couple weeks later and he goes, “Man.” And this is a hugger, so it was good. But this guy goes, “I was walking into the store, dude, wearing a CLEAN shirt. And the guy just walked up to me and asked if he could give me a hug.” And I go, “Did you know him?” And he’s like, “No. I gave him a hug.” And, again, that’s why I say he was a hugger, so he was totally cool

Some people might not be. And he was like, “That’s why. It was just the shirt. It was the symbol, the association with it.” And he goes, “I had my experience you said.” And I go, “That’s it, man.”

BEN                          That’s awesome.

WES                          I was like, “Keep going.” And then it’s fun to hear about those other experiences because they start selling me like the day, I started feeling that passion to others. And I’m like, “You got it now. Go. Go.”

BEN                          That’s beautiful.

WES                          It is. Like, I’m so blessed. I could have never engineered that.

BEN                          That gives you motivation to keep going. And to continue building the business. It’s much better than like, “Oh, we made a little bit more sales this month than last month. Or whatever.” That’s cool, but there’s a lot to that.

WES                          Well, we have a North Star and it’s clear. This is going to sound probably dumb as a CEO or a founder. But I never wrote out our values or anything. And we probably should do that, I’m not going to lie.

BEN                          There are different schools of thought there, yeah.

WES                          Yeah. But I think for mine it was like, to be able to get CLEAR with the people that come onboard, and as long as it’s not just like some cliché, like just integrity, modesty.

BEN                          Not just a thing that’s framed on the wall that nobody knows.

WES                          I don’t think I ever knew up to that point, what were the real worlds that I truly believe disconnected from all of the big CEOs that I had heard sharing their values? I didn’t want to do an obligatory thing, just because.

And I don’t think it was just because I’m lazy. Because I am lazy at times. But it’s like, I just didn’t want it to be disingenuous, weird with values.

BEN                          Of course. You didn’t want to put on a false front. Which you see a lot of the time. It’s like, “Here’s my mission statement and whatever.” And you’re like, “But I know you.” Or, “I know your business, and you don’t really do that. You don’t really buy it; you don’t really believe in it.”

And we can be cynical and jaded. People have let us down. They’re hypocrites. And you’re like, “Oh, sure. You’re really into this.” Or, whatever.

WES                          Well, it’s funny you say that. Because people will come, and like the 50% model, they’re like, “You don’t give 50%.” And you’ll be like, “This.” And they’re like, “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be cynical.” And I go, “Why are you sorry? You’re only acting out or making judgment based on the precedent that was set before.” And that’s true. We have distrust for what people say because they don’t do it.

BEN                          They’ve let us down.

WES                          So, I was like, we have an opportunity to lift you up. But you said letdown, and that didn’t really work. But I wanted it to just to disprove it. To show that it can work when it’s done right. And you can have your cake and eat it, too. Or CLEAN, and drink it, too. That’s the craziest part. And I think when you look at our investors, I’ll say two things. One, you were talking about the power of the 50% on there. And kind of disarming for people. And they can walk with it or not.

Our first lead investor was Nav Sooch. The founder of Silicon Laboratories. This is the guy that is the complete opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to like, there’s this guy who went to Tijuana, and ate Cheetos, and popped Vicodin. And there’s this guy who graduated high school when he was like nine. You know, whatever it is. We come from opposite worlds. And we have a beautiful relationship and friendship. I’m so grateful for the guy. But what happened was his wife was in town, saw one of our cans. Her sister had passed away recently from a drug overdose. And saw the can and posted on it, got in touch with Nav and said, “What is this? Where is this?” And she was crying and all these things. And I get a text from Nav Sooch, which, again, Austin knows that.

BEN                          That’s right, yeah. Those of you who’ve visited Austin, or you live here, and you come across the Congress Bridge, and stuff like that, you see the Silicon Laboratories. It’s an iconic building downtown.

WES                          Yeah. And he’s got like a Dell figure-ish of Austin. You know, he’s been huge. But my point in saying that is not just to kiss your butt, Nav, I promise. No. It is to say that the power of that purpose and the cause on that can. Because that night I got a text and it said, “We’d like to meet with you tomorrow.”

                                    So, I met with them. I sit down with them, and they say, “What do you need?” I said, “What?” And they said, “What do you need?” And I was like, “What the heck?” So, we had this long conversation. I was like, “I don’t need anything today.” Long story short. The next day I get a text from them, and it had some big figures on it that they were willing to give us. And I was like, that day to see that they looked past the wreckage of who I was, to look at what the potential light of what we could accomplish. And to be willing to lean in, and risk, which they were.

BEN                          It’s a powerful vote of confidence.

WES                          It was like this gust of wind, is what I like to say, behind a sail. That I went, “Okay, let’s honor this. Let’s keep going.” So, we didn’t take an investment for over a year. Which was just the right thing to do, because we didn’t need it. But this relationship that started to bud, all because of a can that was sitting there that led to this thing. And then looking back, I’m like, “What happened here?”

BEN                          Right. And you bring up, this is a great, a beautiful example of a thing that I’ve talked to a number of different startup founders about it. And that is, your best investors are super fans. They’re people who, they’re not just looking. Like, “Show me more spreadsheets. Show me whatever.” And I’m not saying they shouldn’t and don’t do that, because they will. They will.

But if you’re beginning the conversation because they love your product, they love who you are, what you stand for, and they’re connected with it in some way. Then you’re always going to have different conversations than if it’s just a purely financial transaction. Right? And you’ve illustrated that, yeah.

WES                          If it’s purely financial, you better be giving them a lot of your company. Or it better be so stupid easy for them to see it. If there is zero connection, that’s your alternative. If the connection is there, I think, like you were saying, you’re already 51% of the way there. You’re already ahead of the game. So, I think that speaks to the idea, “Who do you prospect and why?” You don’t do it inauthentically, you do it because it’s going to add value to their life, too.

A lot of the time I like to say this, “Guys,” you know, the CPG folks like myself, “I’m still The Little Engine That Could.” We’re just trying to get in the game still. But what I tell them is, I started to think of what can I offer Nav? What can I offer the other people beyond money?

BEN                          Because they have money.

WES                          That’s what I’m saying. So, they don’t need that, they don’t want that.

BEN                          They’re not doing this because they need the money. Their kids are going to eat. Which is a huge insight for some people. Because you think, “Well, then why are they doing it?” And that’s where you’ve got to really dig into it.

WES                          I think you’re dead on. You always want to understand, “Why am I doing?” But we’re not, we just them to give us, versus understanding, what, why. What really makes them tick? And then can I authentically make a business deal with them that’s going to set a relationship rolling in the right way? That can grow, and be one that’s really honest and open? And know that there’s tumultuous times ahead. That’s fact.

BEN                          Because it’s a form of a marriage, right? You’ve in a partnership, you’re in a relationship now. And you’re stuck with each other. So, you’ll have good times and bad times, like any relationship. But you’re still stuck with each other.

WES                          And setting off with that, I think, what you’re saying, too. Great wisdom, I think, you’re sharing about the commonality of whatever your cause is, or your theme, or the thing that they care about. Having that is massive. I think there’s a lot of great insight in that. In that it’s almost like, don’t do it if you don’t. I’d almost say that. I would be careful, but I’m like, “Don’t do it if they don’t.”

BEN                          Which is weird, because, again, I’ve been in places before where it’s like, “I don’t know any of these rich people.”

WES                          I get emails all the time, saying, “Can you introduce me to one rich person?” They say that all the time. And I’m like, “It’s not like that.”

BEN                          Yeah. But you know what’s interesting is, and I’ve heard a number of stories kind of similar to this. Where it’s not that you were at the country club with Nav, hanging out or whatever. You did your thing. You were doing your thing with authenticity.

WES                          Well, you want to know the real irony is? I met him drunk a couple years before I started it. Just because I knew who he was, and I walked up. It was the place I was on my first date with my wife. My point is, that’s how he had my number. I never knew that. So, he had my number from when I had Hey Cupcake using drugs.

BEN                          That’s right. You didn’t architect that relationship.

WES                          No, I’m not a good golfer, or made some badass day trader and now I’m up there in that land.  I’m not hanging with them. But, yeah, you’re dead on about that. And I think that’s an important thing.

BEN                          Yeah. You were just doing your thing, man. Doing it with excellence.

WES                          Yes. And then when you get there, how can you honor these guys and these women for beyond their money? Yes, you already have a fiduciary to the best you can, and to make them the most with the mission that you’ve laid out. But is there anything you can add to their life that they would not have had otherwise? Because to me, that’s the return I can give them above and beyond. Because that’s life. It’s like, “Can I be this little horse for him that gets him excited?” Or them, or him. You know?

And I want to be that. And by the way, I do need to mention. It’s not just Nav. He’s just a special guy in my heart.  There’s been tons of them out there that have come to bat now. So, it’s a big deal. It’s just, that was the origin story. There are so many people. So, if you’re out there and you’ve supported me, please, know I love you. You’re huge.

BEN                          Absolutely. But I think it’s important, too. To know that when you’re dealing with folks who have achieved a certain level of financial security, where they can make a sizable investment in your company, or you, and that sort of thing. That we’re recognizing that it’s not a purely financial transaction. And that there’s other things. And a lot of times it’s related to legacy. It’s like, “What do I want to be about? What are the causes that I want to support? What are the things that I want to put my resources behind, and see them come into reality?”

BEN                          But then it’s also knowing that, I think for your people, particularly people who have become wildly successful in some way. And I think that you do this naturally. You’re just a such a real and gregarious guy. That what happens for a lot of these folks is they end up in a weird bubble, where everyone around them kind of like, it’s not real anymore. Right? Yeah. It’s very transactional.

WES                          And that’s the thing that I hate for people that have achieved great success. I don’t want to go there.

BEN                          Well, no and it’s hard. You do kind of feel sad for some people, because everybody in their life, they want money from the people. They want something from the people. Everybody wants something from you, right?

WES                          So, I had this one guy, too. Another guy that’s super wealthy. And I’m friends with these people, too, though. Because I show up like this, and I try to get real. I’m nervous at times. And I was earlier. I respect them and their accomplishments, just like anybody else would.

BEN                          But they’re people. They’re just people.

WES                          But they’re people. That’s the bottom line.

BEN                          When you have those relationships I think the key thing is, you actually do have something to offer to them.

WES                          You do, and here’s what’s interesting. So, to this other guy that’s super, super wealthy in town and known, I said this. We were talking, and I go, “Okay. Hey, I have an assignment for you tonight.”

BEN                          Nobody gives this guy assignments.

WES                          And I said this, I go, “Hey. How many times have you been told that in the last 10 years?”

BEN                          And he was like, “Never.”

WES                          And I go, “Exactly.” But the thing is, he kind of liked it. He liked it just being treated freaking normal. And I didn’t say it like that. I was saying it like just throwing it to the air. Like, “I’ve got an assignment for you.” But I recognized immediately.

BEN                          It was like it came out, and you’re like yeah.

WES                          But it wasn’t weird for me or foreign. It still felt right because it was real because I recognized it. And there’s a levity for them being treated like a normal person.

BEN                          Like, “I’m a regular dude.”

WES                          “I just got a lot of green, man. You know? But I’m just you. I’m eating ice cream tonight, maybe too much. This person’s this, I don’t know.”

BEN                          It may be more expensive ice cream than you eat. But, yeah.

WES                          Absolutely. Right? You know, one thing I’ll say, just because I think it’s timely. And not to go into it too far, but the whole Kobe Bryant thing and his passing. I wasn’t a huge Lakers fan. Not a huge basketball fan. I mean, I played basketball. I like it or whatever, and I don’t say that to dishonor him. I say it actually, what was interesting to me about his death was that it humanized us all really quickly.

BEN                          It did.

WES                          Because this was a Superman, for all intents and purposes, that had everything.

BEN                          Super type A.

WES                          Yeah. And when you recognized that he or anyone, all we all have is time. That’s the truth. And it sounds good, but for some reason, I’m going to use the word, that sobered up most people I know in the same way it did me. Even the fans that were sad to lose him, they were like, “No.” It just showed how my life is short.

BEN                          Yeah. It’s a snapshot. It stops just the regular course of life, and you go, “Huh.” Even if you weren’t a Lakers fan, or a Kobe fan, or whatever else. You go, “Yeah. This guy was doing all these interesting things. And he had his family, and all that kind of stuff, too.”

WES                          Pinnacle of everything.

BEN                          And it does remind you a thing that we all know, at least intellectually, but that we needed to be reminded of. That we have a finite number of years here on this planet. And are you making the most of it?

WES                          Years, months, weeks, or days.

BEN                          Months, days.

WES                          That’s where it gets weird to me. So, that thing I was telling you, I’ve always asked old folks. I go, since I was younger. I would say, “Hey, did your life pass by really quick?” Every single time, Ben, they were like, “Like that.” It’s either a blink, a snap, or anything. They’re like, “Live right now.” And everyone says it. Everyone. And I’m like, “How can I take that, what I consider to be an absolute truth now, and put it into my life on a daily basis? Or in this podcast, in this moment?” Because I am here right now.

BEN                          Right, yeah. That’s right, that’s right.

WES                          I’m right here.

BEN                          To be fully present.

WES                          How? And I struggle with that.

BEN                          Yeah. You have your gifts. You’re good at things and not good at things, and that sort of thing. And you have your story. And are you sharing that, are you empowering others? And that’s, I think, again, part of that Kobe legacy. As it turns out that some of his greatest achievements were actually in his mentorship with other people. And that sort of thing. So, how are you actually pouring into other lives, and making those lives better, and more impactful, and all the things that you hope your life was spent well?

WES                          You know, funny, because I think at times like pseudo-intellectual. Or I try to go, “Let’s get really deep.” Or whatever. And I’m not on drugs when I do that. But I’ve always asked people also, like, “What do you think the purpose of life is?” You know? And it’s like, “Oh crap. Here we go.” But I’ve kind of come to this place after reading a little bit more about Stoicism and things like that. And the idea of Marcus Aurelius and them just recognizing how short life really was, and the frailty. If that’s that word, I think?

But that you can die at any given moment and the refreshing part about that was just the awareness that it was supposed to bring. It wasn’t meant to be morbid, it was meant to say, “I understand fully and on a daily basis that I could be gone. How would I live?” What if we all lived like it was Christmas Day? Do you treat people differently? Do I? Yes. I open the door for three more people than I would have, and I hold longer. And I say, “Are you happy?”

But where can we take these things that we know to be true, and that we feel inside, and then embody them? And then do that at mass? So, then we can see, this is actually what really matters. In the moment, because I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. And I just wish, it’s almost like Memento, that movie.

BEN                          We love that movie.

WES                          I’m like, “Dude, you’re going to die.” Or, “Really live today.” Or, “Carpe Diem.” I’m like, I don’t want to look back and be like, “Damn it. I regret.” That’s my greatest fear.

BEN                          Yeah. So, in your life, in your relationships, in your business, in all your different aspects of your life, how are you kind of walking that out? Now, one way that you do that is with the people that you interact with on a daily basis on your team, and others who come to you. I want to shift gears just a little bit and say, what kind of advice do you find yourself typically giving to early stage founders who come to you, or maybe they email you, or whatever the thing is. And they say, “Wes, I need help with my business.” Or whatever the idea is.

BEN                          What are the kind of repeated tips, tricks, whatever? Or maybe even, it’s sometimes helpful to think back to your earlier self, and say, “What would I tell myself when I was starting CLEAN Cause, in particular, that would have been really helpful. Maybe I wouldn’t have wasted six months going down a dead-end path.”

WES                          Yeah. I think, more than six months. But that was gracious of you. You know, I’d say, first of all, we talked a little bit about it. The connection. And if you’re going to spend a minute with someone already, if you’re going to spend five, maximize that.

And maximizing doesn’t mean how much sales you’re going to get out of them. What do you value in life, what do you personally value? Even though I can’t tell you all the things for our company necessarily in the moment, I’m saying, “What do you value?” And then invest that into that interaction and that time.

Because it’s going to give you the best chance of monetary, but also a component of fulfillment and contentment. You’re building something that is not a one off, “I’ll see you later.” I just started the relationship with you and we’re going to cross paths again. And when we do, we start to strengthen that. And if you’re doing that everywhere as you go, the path you leave behind is not one that’s forgotten. It’s one that’s just a seed that’s planted and it’s started to grow. And then you start to see, “Oh.” And then six months later you go, “That guy could have done nothing for me.” BS.  And that’s not why you do it, but the byproduct is a budding piece of fruit off of that. And you go, “Oh my gosh.”

BEN                          Right. Yeah, you may not know how it could roll back around.

WES                          You’re not going to know most of the time. It’s so insane when I look back at everything, I thought I wanted, too. And had it worked that way, I would have been screwed. I wouldn’t be here. That’s the truth. You know, even within the business. So, I’d say that’s one thing. Maximize the ROI, the return on your life investment, or your time investment.

Maximize that thoughtfully before a meeting, “What can I give to them? How can I start this relationship?” If you’re going to play just a numbers game, and that’s all you are about then be clear on that. That’s fine. I don’t want to judge you with that. But I want to say that, in my experience, if I could go back, I would write a couple more handwritten letters than an email. I would not just go drop off a sample and say, “I’ll bug them later.” I would go wait until they could meet me and see me. I’d show up at their house, show that you actually care. Because, look, everybody else is fighting for the same mindshare. So, you’ve got to do it differently.

And differently, for me, when people come to me authentically or need help, or something like that. Dude, I will stop what I am doing. First and foremost, it’s not because I’m so important or my time so much. It’s because it’s what gave me a chance to get in the game. Is showing that love, and the people that have given it to me. So, I have a true, true heart for young entrepreneurs. And I say young in the sense of young in your journey.

BEN                          Less experienced.

WES                          Young, too. But just young in your journey. So, that’s one. Commitment.

BEN                          Yeah. And another way to say that, that I’ve talked with a lot of founders about, is like try to be relational, not transactional.

WES                          It’s so funny you said that. So, I’m working with someone right now because I’m learning how to actually be more effective speaking. And one of the things that really early on was like, “Wes, don’t entertain. Don’t try to entertain. Try to empathize.” What do they want to know? How can you add value to them and so forth? And I think that speaks in the same vein of what you were just saying. It’s just kind of, there’s more thoughtfulness to it.

BEN                          Yeah. Because if you establish your relationship on a transactional basis, then everything’s going to be like, “All right. What can you do for me? What can I do for you?” And we go back and forth. And we’re exchanging money, and expectations, and stuff. Like, “No. What do you need? I’m giving.” Right?

WES                          So, this guy was telling me, “Give without expectation, and receive without judgment.” Those are two things he’s taught me lately, and I’ve been like, “Dang it. My whole life is transactional. And I’m talking even with my wife.” I’m like, “I brought you flowers yesterday, and this morning you’re telling me to take the trash out?” Like that, but you know what I mean?

I was expecting something. I think I get points. And another guy used to tell me, he was like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “You’re just finally showing up. You finally just got back in the game, and you want extra points? No, man.”

BEN                          That’s right. I used to say this when my kids were younger, it was a real epiphany for me. They were the first relationships in my life where it was a completely one-way relationship.

WES                          Yeah, unilateral.

BEN                          Maybe they were cute. You know, they provided cuteness, I suppose. But it was all just like, take, take, take. It teaches you a certain selflessness, right? That you just give, you give, you give.

WES                          Yeah. So, I was thinking on the flip side, that is exactly the same as what I was saying. It taught me how selfish I am. Like none other. Because, like I was saying, when no one’s there, a kid’s not there to tell you about your inadequacies from a character follow through, whatever standpoint.

BEN                          But they show you.

WES                          But they do show you. And it’s the most compelling, because of the origin of it.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          And you’re like, “I’m so selfish.” It’s overwhelming.

BEN                          I’m kind of like that. Yeah. mine, mine.

WES                          Everything. It’s like, my service work is when it’s convenient. Is service work that is convenient, service work? It can be, don’t get me wrong. But I’m saying, is that sacrifice? Is that selfless? I know dude, kids.

BEN                          Truth tellers, whether they mean to be or not. So, any other tips that you find that you’re often kind of saying to these less experienced founders?

WES                          Yeah. I would say go slower, more meaningfully. If that works.

BEN                          Kind of go deeper.

WES                          We all want Whole Foods Global. But I can tell you right now, if you got that today, and you were just out of the gates, you would almost certainly fail.

BEN                          You’re not ready.

WES                          So, the distraction. And it doesn’t mean you don’t have the aptitude, or I don’t have the aptitude. We do. But I can tell you, when it comes to CPG in my opinion, and sales, nothing sells like sales.

BEN                          That’s really true. When you have those velocity numbers somewhere else, and you’ve proven that, and then somebody else learns about it or finds out about it. They go, “Oh, wow.” You don’t have to sell anything then. They’re like, “Here’s my resume from two other stores that were willing to hire me with an internship. Now you’ve seen my grades.” Now, what we like to do is think that more stores means better. Because more people will see it.

BEN                          Not necessarily.

WES                          And it doesn’t mean that at the beginning. And the beginning it’s like, “Let me build my resume for the job.”

BEN                          Yeah, yeah. That’s a great perspective.

WES                          So, if you have $2, and you can go get two stores and spend $1 at each, or one store, and spend $2 to support it. Do the one store. I know what you’re thinking out there, trust me. Because I’m still fighting it.

BEN                          Yeah. Fewer stores, fewer SKUs.

WES                          Fewer SKUs, fewer stores.

BEN                          Focus.

WES                          Focus.

BEN                          Narrow deep.

WES                          More does not mean better. Mile deep, inch wide. Absolutely.

BEN                          Yeah. Because if you can sell 50 units in that store in a week, it’s going to make every subsequent conversation easier. If you sell one unit in that store in a week, it makes every subsequent conversation harder.

WES                          50 stores with one case, or one store with 50 case? One store 50 case, all day. Because what we can’t see, again, just like the truths of your life passing by and all those things we know. Just about that we all have our own afflictions. This is an absolute truth; I’m going to go ahead and say. That less is more and do less more at the beginning. And just trust us.

BEN                          Yeah, absolutely. It checks all the boxes for everything the retailer actually cares about. They may do you a favor because you know them or something like that. But the truth is, they’re held accountable for their performance in their store. And if you’re helping them tell a really good story to their boss, you’re making them look good. Everybody’s happy.

WES                          And the reason we’re telling you this is not, so you lose money, or you don’t grow as fast as you want to.

BEN                          The opposite.

WES                          You will grow exponentially quicker. So, the paradox is, do less, more, and you will grow exponentially faster. Drink the Kool-Aide, because it’s real. So, if I could do one thing to go back, that’s what I would do. I would have done that. And I would have known every single person’s name in that store.

BEN                          And that’s a huge insight, too. So, the thing I tell people a lot, I meet a lot of founders and they want to skip steps. They think, “Oh, yeah. I don’t want to do the equivalent of the farmers market. Or I don’t want to be in the small store. Or I don’t want to go visit the store. I’m going to hire people out.”

WES                          They don’t care.

BEN                          And I say, “No, no, no. This is it, man. Do it. You show up personally at the store. Get to know….” It’s not just because you know who you think is a big shot at the store, you should know the stockers by name.

WES                          They’re the final mile.

BEN                          They’re the ones who are actually going to be recommending your product to other people.

WES                          They actually put it on the shelf. So, when they go back to go find the 10,000 SKUs they have to stock, and they see CLEAN because the person came in and gave a rat’s butt, even one time. They do grab that.

BEN                          They do. They’re going to grab you first.

WES                          And they know where it is.

BEN                          And you’re not going to be out of stock that day. You might be out of stock, because they got distracted and they didn’t replenish somebody else.

WES                          And then you were out of stock, and then that sales went down. But not because you thought everybody didn’t like your product, because it wasn’t on the shelf.

BEN                          That’s right.

WES                          We just make all of these assumptions. So, I think what you’re saying is truly valuable. That what we think is harder, longer. It’s not. And no one is insignificant in this process. I think that’s what I’ve learned. And I have to be honest with you, I’m guilty of that. Wanting to go to the topic and be like, “No, I want to talk to the decision maker.” In this business, sometimes, more often than not, actually, it’s better to go from the bottom up.

And one thing I say about that, I think this is really powerful because it speaks to the economic power of this, too. And less philosophical, which I find to be true, as well. But I like to say to our team, that the employees of the retailers pay the bills. The consumer makes the mills.

So, I said, “You win all of those people over in there and become advocates within the store, you’ve hit your VPO you need.” You’ve already hit it, you’re already winning. So, now they’re not going to kick you out. Next, the ancillary incremental revenue as a result of all your marketing activities, and the saturation of touch points throughout the thing. That is the top, that’s the surplus. But invest in your base within the employee bases, and I promise you, you will win.

BEN                          They are a decentralized marketing force that is not on your payroll. Who, if you activate them, they know about your brand, they know about your product, and they know the story.

WES                          See, I didn’t even say that. That’s even higher. It’s like, not only are they paying the bills for you to stay in there, they become advocates when they know it’s authentic.

BEN                          Tremendously powerful.

WES                          I just went to a 7-Eleven, and I like to say this just because it’s the first time it’s ever happened to me. I brought my CLEAN up to the front, I guess I’m trying to drive my own sales. But I bought one and I set it on there, and I was on the phone, and the guy goes, “I guess those are two for 5 right now if you want.” And this is at 7-Eleven, where we have to worm in to try to get space.

And I go, “Hold on just a second, I’m going to call you back.” And I go, “What’d you say?” And he goes, “Those are two for 5, it’s CLEAN. They’re like really good.” And I go, “Oh my gosh. That’s it.” That was that extra step.

BEN                          That guy, that guy. He’s tried it.

WES                          He was checking us out. I bought one and he said they’re, “They’re 2 for 5.” He knew of the promo over there without on the front where they say, “We got an extra candy bar for $0.50 if you want.” No, that wasn’t part of the plan.

BEN                          He’s upselling you as just a random consumer. Because he believes in it. He likes the product. And he thinks, “Hey, this is a good deal, dude. You should think about it.”

WES                          The product, the packaging, the purpose. That was activated by the person or the people. That first person that went in, boom, and that’s it.

BEN                          Yeah. That’s awesome.

WES                          So, maximize the time. If you’re already there, maximize.

BEN                          That’s good. That’s really good. Which ties into some of that other stuff you were about to say. You said you have another tip for these early stage-

WES                          Oh, that was it. I just dovetailed into it.  It’s, again, I say it this way, “Hey. The retail employees pay the bills, the consumers make the mills.” That what I say internally all the time. I go, “Guys, trust me. Activate. Engage. They become your greatest advocates and they buy the product and cover you.” Because we’re already having to be spread too thin. What you’re speaking to I think is brilliant, which is activate them in a meaningful way. And you still want to come back, you still need to be there. But time is of the essence to grow, eventually, when you have the funding.

Honestly, it pays off exponential dividends if you run down that rabbit hole. Because that each new person then buys it at the next place they went to. It’s all of those synergies that you can never know exactly. But almost like freak-o-nomics at play, or something. You’re like, “How did they get everywhere?” Well, because we went and gave away 50 cans at the Lake Austin Track on a Saturday morning.

BEN                          When you could have been sleeping in, yeah.

WES                          Connect.

BEN                          Yeah.

WES                          Have fun, too. Enjoy it. This is a ride.

BEN                          And it’s also just you think of it like a farming metaphor, or something like that. It’s like the more time you spend tilling the soil, fertilizing the soil, all the things. You’re not wasting your time. I promise you’re not.

WES                          Greater yield.

BEN                          Yeah, I promise you’re not wasting your time.

WES                          The fruit’s bigger, it tastes better. There’s more and that’s the thing.

BEN                          Like, “How did it grow so fast?” You’re like, “Because I made the soil perfect.”

WES                          Or, yeah, you’re like this, “It grew so fast because it took five years.”

BEN                          Yeah. Because the roots.

Wes, this has been really just a true joy of a conversation. You’re a great guy, you’ve built a great brand. I know some of the folks who work on your team. You’ve surrounded yourself with really, really great people. So, I’m really happy for you. And proud of what you guys are doing, and the remarkable focus and mission that you’re pursuing, and really bringing into reality. You and your team are to be commended for all of that.

WES                          Well, I appreciate it. You know, it is cliché when you hear it sometimes. But I’m being honest when I think about it. I truly am one person, and I’m an idea. And in fact, had it only been me, it would be called Sober. And we’d be out of business. But you look at it and you see; it truly is the people. And I always heard that, and I always was like, “Yeah, I know.” They’re like, “It’s about the people.” And you’re like, “Oh crap. Here we go. now you’re going to tell me values now?”

BEN                          Right, right.

WES                          But the connection you make with the people, let’s face it.

BEN                          If you’re in thousands of stores, you can’t be in thousands of stores. You’ve got to have good people.

WES                          You do. And you want them to be happy in what they do. So, I would leave you with this. It speaks to that redeeming the time. The time is going to go away whether or not you want it to, it’s how are we going to use it? So, when we look at how we’ll use it with the way we connect, how will we look at it? Look, we’re all having to work, most of us, more than we don’t work. In terms of a given day. You’re already there. You already have to be. We all have goals.

That’s all the given. What can we do differently to enrich our lives and others, and accomplish success in much greater, I believe, as a product of that mentality? And you drink the Kool-Aide.

No, no. Drink the CLEAN-Aide.

BEN                          Even better. On brand.

WES                          Boom. That was it.

BEN                          That’s awesome. Well, Wes Hurt of CLEAN Cause. Thank you for joining us. It was great. I want to remind all of our listeners and viewers that you can learn more at barcodestartup.com. And you can enjoy this conversation in every format that you possibly would prefer. Whether you want to watch it on video, listen in podcast form, or read the transcript.

And if you’re getting a lot out of these conversations, please, just for your sake and for the sake of your friends, and colleagues, and peers. Just share this with folks. Let them know, “Hey, there’s this podcast out there called The Barcode Podcast. And it’s not the same old vanilla conversations that you get everywhere else. But when I’m on the train, I’m in the car, I’m doing dishes.” Wherever you listen to stuff, “I actually am getting better and thinking differently about how I can and should be running my business or my project.” So, if you’re getting a lot out of it, just share. Share with all the people. So, thanks again for joining us. Until next time.

 


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