Lessons from a pro!

Isabelle Steichen is the CEO and co-founder of Lupii, a plant-based, sustainable food brand known for its protein bars and newly launched pastas. Lupii uses the lupini bean as its main ingredient and source of plant-based protein, and to create simple, sustainable and delicious food to keep you going. After becoming “obsessed” with lupini beans and in-depth research, it became Isabelle’s mission to introduce this protein-packed bean to more people worldwide. She and her co-founder Allie Dempster then launched Lupii in January 2020.

Isabelle’s conversation with Katie Hankinson is absolutely loaded with value and insights for entrepreneurs in all industries. Isabelle shares tons of advice on finding the right business partner with complementary skills and why she and Allie work so well together. She also discusses lessons she’s learned throughout her entrepreneurial journey: early R&D with actual customers, benefits of working with influencers, not rushing growth, and the “retail playbook.”

"We talked a ton about we wanna build an inclusive brand that empowers people to eat better for themselves and better for the planet."

Isabelle Steichen

Transcription

Katie Hankinson: (00:00)

Welcome to Building While Flying a Sasha Group podcast where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

 

Katie Hankinson: (00:12)

Allie Dempster and Isabelle Steichen co-founded Lupii in January, 2020 with the goal to innovate in the 34 billion plant-based food market and introduce the Lupini Bean as the next go-to plant-based protein. The brand is known for its variety of delicious protein bars. Most recently in August launch, a line of pasta. Currently, Lupii is set to double its size of gross revenue from 2021 to 2022. Due to large retail launches coming online and incremental revenue from the pasta Lupii’s succeeded in increasing average order value by 50%. Has a whopping 25% returning customer rate, and is now in 400 retailers nationally. Today we’re gonna speak to Isabel Steichen, CEO of Lupii, to hear about the trajectory of the company. Isabel, welcome to Building While Flying.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (01:01)

Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited.

 

Katie Hankinson: (01:02)

Well, it’s lovely to have you on the show. So I’d love to start just by talking a little bit about mm-hmm. the beginning of the relationship between you two co-founders. It sounds like it began with a kind of kismet. Yes. So can you talk a bit about, just quickly, about how you guys came to be, what you, each of you bring to the business? Yeah. and how that began.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (01:23)

Absolutely. Yeah. And I’m gonna try to make it pretty short, but I’ve been obsessed with Lupini beans for a long time now. probably started researching them as you do, you know, around 2017. Just a casual, just a casual lupini obsession. And, you know, that all came from the fact I’ve actually been plant based vegan for the last 10 plus years, since I moved from Europe to the us motivated by ethical, environmental and health reasons, and spent my career working for early stage startups, mostly in tech, so mm-hmm. , kind of unrelated to food, but have been very interested in a plant-based food movement. Got certified in plant-based nutrition by e-cornell. I started a podcast too with my husband a few years ago. Amazing. Called them Plantiful, where we’re interviewing plant-based change makers. So,. I’m doing more

 

Katie Hankinson: (02:10)

As a branding person.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (02:12)

It, I will have to get, give credit to my husband for that . He, otherwise, you know, he won’t forgive me. So that was his idea. But yeah, so as I was learning more about the space, I realized that there was a real shift in consumer behavior towards eating more plant-based mm-hmm. here in the United States. Mm-Hmm. , and the real driver was health and the real concern was nutrition and more specifically protein. Mm-Hmm. , you know, all my friends and family members would always ask me, Where are you getting your protein from in a plant-based diet? And that might seem so obvious as a question for you, but I was like, you know, having grown up in Europe, my parents are like, What is protein? We don’t care. That’s not why we make our food decisions . But functionality is really important here in the states.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (02:53)

Yeah. And so I realized people want to eat more plants, but they’re really worried about nutrition. Lots of foods that are on the market like the meat and dairy replacements are great transition foods, but they don’t really deliver on nutrition. Right. They’re very processed. People don’t feel that much better. Right. So that led me to researching ingredients and that led me back to kind of my origins having grow up in Luxembourg. Lots of my friends were Italian and Portuguese. Mm-Hmm. and Lupini has been a real part of Italian and Portuguese culinary culture for centuries. So that’s how the obsession started. Fast forward, I decided to quit my last startup job in 2018 in August. Right. Had this idea, went and found this early stage startup studio in, in Manhattan, and kind of pitched them this concept and they were really excited, but their condition was that I would find a co-founder with complementary skill sets mm-hmm. . So I was like, That’s a great idea. You know, having worked in startups, I saw the most successful teams who are led by co-founding teams. Right. With complementary skill sets and different ways of thinking. Well that’s not always comfortable. I think that’s necessary. Right. To build a business. And so I went on a quest, literally had a spreadsheet going, no joke. Probably met with 70 plus people for coffee. Every, every meeting would lead to two or three more meetings. You know, to every

 

Katie Hankinson: (04:15)

Coffee shop knew you extremely Well.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (04:16)

Exactly. Everyone was like, she, oh my God, it’s her again. Okay. and then one day I was introduced to Alexandra’s former coworker, and this lady, super impressive, had worked with her at Pepsi. She was amazing. She wasn’t interested in being my co-founder, , but she was really sweet and she was like, You should meet my former coworker. You guys are all about the same thing. That’s was the quote, literally what she said to me. So we were like, Okay, let’s grab coffee Saturday morning, freezing cold in February. We met at Whole Foods Bowery. Allie was coming from a yoga class sweaty. I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing here. This is not gonna be my co-founder. And we met and it was love at first side. We were obsessed with each other. You know, she had worked in big food and beverage, worked at Carlsburg Group in the beer industry. She was at Pepsi at the time. Mm-Hmm. on a global team. She had a really strong branding in marketing and innovation background, which I know nothing about. Huge. Yeah. And then she also happened to be plant based. Finally, her husband is from Europe. I’m from Europe. My husband’s American, She’s American. So that was like the personal stuff too. And we really hit it off. And, and the other thing that was crucial was she was kind of thinking about leaving Pepsi. Right. And she was ready to make that job the,

 

Katie Hankinson: (05:31)

For the new challenge.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (05:31)

Exactly. And so two months later she quit. And she joined Lupii full time. And we raised some preceded capital at the time. So that was in May of 2019. And then we started building our first product range Lupii bars, which launched in January, 2020.

 

Katie Hankinson: (05:48)

It’s a great story of a really complimentary pair coming together, where traditionally in this space, the kind of shiny stories is so typically of the, the sole founder and entrepreneur that represents everything. It’s so much harder to imagine that one person can reflect all the skills needed. Yeah. So this complementary is super interesting. And then quickly, just so we can just be clear before we jump into the rest of it, plant-based space mm-hmm. , lupini beans. Mm-Hmm. High Protein. I’ve done my homework. You gave me some, some intel and importantly whole food. It can be used in whole food for perform. So no processing. And you began with protein bars and are now obviously now moving into Pasta. You launched in 2020. Yeah. Spicy time to

 

Isabelle Steichen: (06:33)

Be launching brand new. Perfect timing. Excellent.

 

Katie Hankinson: (06:36)

Excellent. And I know that meant a few real game time decisions for you. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about about what that, how that played out?

 

Isabelle Steichen: (06:45)

Yeah. I mean, it’s funny, we, we often talk about Allie and I, about November, 2019, we looked at each other, we’re like, Oh, everything is going so well. Our branding in packaging was done, production went great. We started talking to retailers. We were like, We’re ready to go. And then February, 2020 hit and everything froze up, right? So not only were we launching you know, a new brand, which is hard during a pandemic, but also we were launching in the bar category. Right. Which is actually a huge category and has notoriously been growing over the last decades except for 2020 and 2021 when it was down by 40%.

 

Katie Hankinson: (07:23)

Cause everyone’s actually making real meals.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (07:25)

Everyone is eating real food. Cooking is, you know, happening again. People are baking bread all everywhere. And nobody’s going to the gym. Nobody’s traveling, nobody’s eating protein bars. So it was a crazy time. And you know, I think we didn’t really talk about it that directly, but there were only two options, which the one was close down of business because we don’t know where this is gonna go, this pandemic, what are we gonna do? Or just tried to make it work and adapt to the circumstances. Mm-Hmm. . And so we went with, You

 

Katie Hankinson: (07:55)

Went with

 

Isabelle Steichen: (07:56)

Door number two. Exactly. And we decided to refocus the business on direct to consumer, which was very much against our will because we’re both big believers in retail. We think that that’s where, especially the introducing a new ingredient category, the category, it’s where it can do a ton of storytelling. We also are more versed in retail. I would say Allie’s more versed in retail. I’m more versed in retail. So it just, that was kind of what we were bullish on, but we couldn’t do that. Right. So we decided to do direct to consumer. And while we didn’t have, you know, huge funds to invest in acquiring customers, what we were able to do is build a really solid foundation of consumers. Mm-Hmm. that were became repeat purchases of the product that became evangelists that also became part of our innovation squad.

 

Katie Hankinson: (08:43)

You kind of R&D essentially, which

 

Isabelle Steichen: (08:44)

Is fantastic. Basically. Basically. And that were also super honest with us mm-hmm. . And, you know, the bars that the beginning when we launched, they were dry. We had them in transparency, semi transparent packaging, How did we think about this? But the oxygen barrier wasn’t strong enough, so they would dry out really quickly because they’re very natural products. So only five ingredients, no preservatives. So we went and we changed the packaging. We made some adjustments on a recipe. We added a pinch of sea salt to round out the flavor profile. And we did all of that during 2020 and 2021. And then we started pitching to larger retail accounts again. Mm-Hmm. at the end of 2021 and landed Whole Foods and some other really incredible retail partners. So looking back at it now, this was all meant to be, and in many ways it was a way for us to optimize our product and iterate.

 

Katie Hankinson: (09:30)

I love that that point you just made. I mean, the fact that you were forced into this corner, but the rapidity with which you receive feedback about the product. Yeah. And I think the other interesting thing in which you mentioned the last time we spoke is mm-hmm. , the, there’s a degree of forgiveness that happens with early audiences.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (09:49)

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s, that’s such an interesting thing that, you know, I feel like when we first started Allie coming from large food and beverage mm-hmm. , there is no forgiveness. No. Because Pepsi messes something up. Everyone has gone destroy

 

Katie Hankinson: (10:01)

Them. Twitter, like break

 

Isabelle Steichen: (10:03)

Over. Exactly. That’s the end . If Lupii messes something up, people are like, Oh, you know, they’re just starting out. And the other difference is I think we’re super transparent and honest and not that Pepsi is not packaging now . Right. not, not that Pepsi is not, but you know, it’s just really important to be super, super transparent and take people along the journey. And people appreciate that. And a lot of people tried the bars at first, and then we sent them an email. We’re like, We made recipe changes. Do you wanna try it again? And most people are open to that. And so I think that’s the benefit of being an emerging brand, is that people are willing to give it a second shot, which

 

Katie Hankinson: (10:41)

Is great. Yeah. I think it’s super important as well. We have, I mean, we talk a lot philosophically about putting ideas out in market mm-hmm. in, in advertising and social and content. Mm-Hmm. , you can do the same thing with product. If you have the right distribution, you have the right ability to reach the market. And there’s that mechanic of hearing back from people

 

Isabelle Steichen: (10:57)

That’s so valuable. It’s almost like a software, you know, I come from software and it’s unfortunately not, the iterations aren’t as fast as what you can do with software. But the mentality of saying, Okay, let’s iterate and test and be transparent.

 

Katie Hankinson: (11:10)

These come to our Lupii beta.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (11:11)

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Katie Hankinson: (11:13)

Or

 

Isabelle Steichen: (11:13)

Beta, we’ll send you better product soon.

 

Katie Hankinson: (11:16)

.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (11:16)

Yeah.

 

Katie Hankinson: (11:18)

And then, so I mean, obviously you learned a lot mm-hmm. and then you rapidly moved into the pasta space mm-hmm. . So what have some of those learnings meant for how you’re thinking about launching the pesticide

 

Isabelle Steichen: (11:29)

Things? Yeah, it’s a, it’s a great question. So just taking a step back, you, you touched on this. Lupini beans are super unique, not just because they are being with the highest concentration of plant protein and they’re complete protein, so have all nine essential mino acids. They also have more fiber than any other bean that’s out there. More fiber than most grains like oats. And they’re naturally low in carbs. This trifecta that these beans can deliver on no other plant-based protein can deliver on mm-hmm. . And that makes them really poised to go into various aisles of the grocery store because we know there’s a lot of sections of the grocery store that are kind of lacking nutrition mm-hmm. that are low end protein, low end fiber, maybe super high-end processed carbs. So we always had the vision to go into different aisles and meet consumers at different mm-hmm.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (12:17)

Day occasions throughout their journey, throughout their day. And one of the categories we started looking at last summer was pasta. We had looked at some other categories as well. And we, we think pasta is a really interesting next move for us. You know, the bars are a snack product. Mm-Hmm. , they, they are a great grab and go. A lot of our customers actually eat them also complimentary at breakfast or as a dessert even because our chocolate chip flavor is more in the indulgent side, but delivers a nutrition mm-hmm. , but in pasta is a center of the plate kind of occasion. It’s a staple. It’s also hopefully recession proof. Right. So,

 

Katie Hankinson: (12:54)

And everyone’s afraid of carbs.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (12:56)

Exactly. Everyone is afraid of carbs. And so what are we doing? We’re coming into this alternative process space that has been driving the growth in the category. And we’re not only doing what lentil or chick passes are doing on a protein site, but we’re more fiber and way lower in carbs Right. Than anyone else. So that’s why we’re excited about this

 

Katie Hankinson: (13:14)

Category. So there you are launching with pasta. I mean, I think, you know, we’ve talked a lot about the functional attributes of the Lupini Bean and a little bit about your background of plant-based mm-hmm. and a real evangelism that clearly comes from you. Mm-Hmm. , I’m sure the same is true of Allii. If we think about what sits at the heart of the brand mm-hmm. , like really looking right within the essentials, what is that core mission that this is all tied to?

 

Isabelle Steichen: (13:41)

Yeah, I would say we talked a ton about we wanna build an inclusive brand that empowers people to eat better for themselves and better for the planet. Mm-Hmm. . So that’s really what we’re trying to do. And we think this being is uniquely positioned to do that because not only has does it have the functionality and delivers on a nutrient side, it’s a regenerative crop that’s used regenerative agriculture. It’s great for soil health. It’s resource efficient

 

Katie Hankinson: (14:05)

To crop, triple win,

 

Isabelle Steichen: (14:05)

Triple win. You’re really doing everything well, eating lupini beans. And so that is the vision for us. We are now trying to convert people to go plant-based, but we know more people, more and more people want to eat more plant-based protein, more plants in their diets because it’s better. It’s high in protein, high in fiber. And so that’s, that’s really what we care about doing. And we care about doing that in the most transparent and honest way as we can, taking our consumers along sort

 

Katie Hankinson: (14:31)

Of journal. And I like how you carried through the, the podcast name through to that statement of living life More plant.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (14:37)

Exactly. Exactly. That is division.

 

Katie Hankinson: (14:39)

It’s funny cuz when I think about my own, you know, dance with plant based mm-hmm. , you know, I’m, I’m not ready to go full vegan. That’s definitely the case. You know, I’ve also looked for ways in which you can make a quick decision that doesn’t require tons of, you know, confusing cognitive decision making in the middle of the day. Mm-Hmm. . Right. And I, I have like a plant based soup that I always go to for lunch mm-hmm. . But the idea of a staple, you

 

Isabelle Steichen: (15:04)

Just always pull recover.

 

Katie Hankinson: (15:05)

Brilliant. What have you learned about your customer in all of this?

 

Isabelle Steichen: (15:09)

Well, our

 

Katie Hankinson: (15:10)

Core who? To

 

Isabelle Steichen: (15:11)

Your customer. Yeah. Our core customer is actually not a vegan or a hundred percent plant based. It’s really a person similar to what you’re saying, someone who is on the spectrum was trying to eat more plants in their day and was a little bit frustrated with all the process stuff that’s out there is looking from a whole foods. And that’s what we’re doing. You touched on that. We’re using to hold, be as much as we can. We’re not using protein isolates. We’re not trying to add a bunch mm-hmm. mm-hmm. other things to it to improve the flavor and, and all that stuff. We’re just trying to use the whole be. And so we wanna be we wanna be that staple, like you said. And most of our customers are not plant based. We have a lot of moms and our customer based care about not only what they put into their own bodies, but also what their feed decades. So bars and pasta are fantastic for them. Yeah. Just, you know, a no-brainer. They can just make that and feel good

 

Katie Hankinson: (15:58)

About the keto brigade, presumably.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (16:00)

Big part of Yeah, definitely. I mean, I would say someone who’s like super hardcore keto still probably struggles with, especially to bars. Cause we use dates in them, but a lot of consumers are trying to reduce carbs and mostly processed carbs. Right. And I think people are getting more aware that carbs are not the problem necessarily, but it’s, you know, white flour that has nothing else. Well we’re, we have a low carb proposition at super high in fiber and other minerals and nutrients.

 

Katie Hankinson: (16:28)

So

 

Isabelle Steichen: (16:28)

I’m curious,

 

Katie Hankinson: (16:29)

You, you know, you launched this product a DTC brand in the pod, in the pod in the podcast, in the pandemic mm-hmm. and no doubt you had to do a lot of pretty hard working performance and sort of like marketing to drive that e-commerce flywheel. But also I’m assuming education is a giant part of what you have to do from a marketing perspective. Yes. How have you managed to, you know, what, what have been the most successful ways that you’ve educated your customer moving

 

Isabelle Steichen: (16:58)

Along? Yeah. Yeah. I am, you know, the term influencer has been a very, very overused. But we have built some really strong relationships with a few key influencers. We really believe in going deep everywhere we go. So when we launch in Whole Foods, we wanna do the best we can in Whole Foods and be really focused on that. When we do a partnership with an influencer, we wanna find the right person that has the right audience

 

Katie Hankinson: (17:20)

Authentically

 

Isabelle Steichen: (17:21)

Connected with the brand. So we have a few partners. One of them is Alexi Pappas. She’s a former Olympian female runner, also a writer and filmmaker. Incredible human being. I wrote her basically like a love letter when I saw her run the New York Marathon last year. Cause I’m a runner too. And she talks a lot about mental health. So there’s a lot of personal huge Yeah. Stuff there. And I reach out to her and told her about, you know, my own journey and then also loopy. And she was super excited. So she’s become an official partner of the brand. So Alexi’s audience, you know, is the type of consumer that we wanna appeal to. And she has obviously strong relationships with her audience, which she’s built through her own personal journey. Mm-Hmm. and the book that she’s written and this movement that she’s started around Bray. So those are the types of partners that we’ve been working with. And we can go really deep with those partners and they are real believers.

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:11)

And being a small brand you can have that’s really meaningful.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (18:15)

Exactly. It’s not just another big, you know, partnership where we throw millions at someone. No, we, we don’t have those budgets, but this partner, like Alexi or some of our other influencer partners, they deeply believe in the brand as well, which is really exciting. And a unique position that we’re in as a emerging brand. Yeah.

 

Katie Hankinson: (18:31)

So would you say you’re going for more of the quality over quantity approach to

 

Isabelle Steichen: (18:35)

Influencer? Yeah, I think in general, I feel like that’s one of you asked about learnings before and jumping back to that, that has been my biggest learning in this journey, starting this business. You know, I feel like having grown up in startups, I’ve been raised by startups, and I talk about this all the time because the largest company I’ve ever worked for was 50 people. Mm-Hmm. , she’s worked for Carlsburg giant, Pepsi Giant Corporations. I’m like, What? Like, but I used to think just go fast and do a lot and you know, that’s the way to do it because that’s kind of what I was raised by professionally. But I’ve learned building this business and being forced to pause more mm-hmm. because it’s pandemic that going slower more thoughtfully and finding the right partners in all respects, you know, whether it’s investors customers you know, as in retailers influencers, marketing partners is really important. And that takes time. It really takes time to build a great business.

 

Katie Hankinson: (19:31)

It makes so much sense. I love how you put that because it’s so obviously a thread that comes from, you know, day one of finding a co-founder.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (19:39)

Right. Right.

 

Katie Hankinson: (19:39)

That’s right. And it’s, you know, the intentionality and the thoughtfulness that mm-hmm. comes with each piece of building the business and the payoffs of having made those pauses. Yeah. And at the end of the day, you know, you know, down the line, especially when you are going through invest investment rounds and you have more people to answer to you, it’s gonna be harder to do that. Exactly. Now when you can be truly in control of the pace of the growth of the business to some degree.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (20:05)

Yeah. Building the foundation the right way. So important. Yeah.

 

Katie Hankinson: (20:08)

Yeah. So the customer return rate, 25% really good. Mm-Hmm. even for a small pool of early customers. Mm-Hmm. . Mm-Hmm. . What do you think is at the core of that?

 

Isabelle Steichen: (20:17)

I think people loved a product. You know, our core customers are kind of, they seeing a lot done with soy and pea protein and isolates. A lot of our consumers have moved away from bars because they think they’re so overly processed. Mm-Hmm. . So we’re bringing an incremental customer back to the category mm-hmm. , which is exciting because we’re a simple ingredient proposition mm-hmm. , but a powerful nutritional proposition. There’s that part. There’s also a dedication to sustainability. Right. And, you know, that is like one thing that keeps me up at night. When we launched the bars, I did so much research on packaging. Right. I was like, we’re gonna use compostable packaging, really sustainable wealth. Oh, it’s tough is a reality. First of all, there’s no like infrastructure in this country to compose backyard compost rappers for bars. It doesn’t exist. Most of compostable packaging needs to be composted in industrial facilities. Mm-Hmm. , no consumer’s gonna go and Google

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:15)

The drop it off in the random

 

Isabelle Steichen: (21:16)

Industrial. Exactly. That’s just not how it happens. And a lot of compostable packaging doesn’t preserve the product for 12 months, which is our minimum that we need to it into retail.

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:26)

It’s bonkers. Cause I was back in the UK this summer. Yeah. Yeah. And the amount of product from the same brands, you know, Driscolls Berries global now. Yeah. Like one of like the ultimate big beast. Yeah. Hass got a completely different packaging proposition in the UK because they can have, they’ve got the right supply chain set. I’ve

 

Isabelle Steichen: (21:46)

Rest have, There’s more infrastructure,

 

Katie Hankinson: (21:47)

There’s more

 

Isabelle Steichen: (21:48)

Plastic education, is it? Yeah, exactly. I mean, every time I go back to Europe, I’m like, this is, Yeah. So, but one thing that we’re doing, you know, to take responsibility as a brand is we have a plastic offsetting program mm-hmm. . So we signed on with actually European company called Cleanup. And every year we tell them how much product we produce, and then we pay for the equivalent of classic to be recycled, basically in areas where it’s about to enter the ocean. So a lot in Southeast Asia and India, that’s where most of the plastic actually goes and pollutes the ocean. So they have local organizations that pick it up. You can track basically every piece of plastic that gets collected. That’s amazing. And so it’s not a perfect solution, it’s a bandaid for now. Right. While we’re hoping that there will be more sustainable packaging options, and then with pasta, we strategically decided not to use a plastic window on our box. Mm-Hmm. for the exact same reason. Wherever we can reduce plastic packaging, we’ll do that. So it’s cardboard boxes that can be recycled still not perfect, but better that Yeah. You know, putting plastic in our packaging if we don’t

 

Katie Hankinson: (22:48)

Have to. And that tracking back to the customer loyalty is a big part of presumably what’s driving their appreciation for

 

Isabelle Steichen: (22:55)

The brand. Exactly. I think so. Yeah. It’s that we’re honest. We’re not saying, Hey, we’re super sustainable, but then we do things, you know, that aren’t, we’re saying this is not sustainable, we’re taking responsibility for it, and we’re trying to be better and we are actively, you know, improving things. So I think that’s a, that’s a big part of the reason why customers like us and, and come back.

 

Katie Hankinson: (23:13)

I love that. So outside of the, this hard working performance, the sort of education piece mm-hmm. , you had a podcast back in the day mm-hmm. where you may still be running it. What other things are you thinking about from a brand building perspective? Are other efforts, initiatives, is that something that’s on the radar? I mean, I know you are right in the midst of scaling pasta, so

 

Isabelle Steichen: (23:34)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, we have so many ideas of things that we could do, but a lot of it is more brand awareness that are bigger things. You know, campaigns that you can run, you partnerships with restaurants to introduce how, like that, the pasta some creative ways like that to just create more awareness. But I will say there is this like not very sexy basic playbook and retail that actually works every time. When you launch a new brand, your focus should be 80% of kind of like, I like to call it the last mile of marketing. Mm-Hmm. , I know that’s not the term for it. And Allie would be like, What are you talking about? I made this up . But I think of the top, top of the funnel, which is like a billboard somewhere, you know? Right.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (24:14)

A partnership with a celebrity that’s brand awareness. That’s not necessarily converting into a trial. Yeah. But what you can do once you’re on shelf is you can merchandise people go into stores, actually make sure that loopy is on the right shelf, priced at the right amount that buyers, oh, sorry. Managers reorder product when it’s out of stock, especially at the beginning as they get to know the brand, putting product on promo mm-hmm. , which is important so that people have a way to get their foot in a door and try a product at a discounted rate, and then hopefully come back for more and demoing and sampling, which was the thing that we couldn’t do during the pandemic. Right. Which we’re doing now. And it’s our number one conversion tool. So it’s these three things, you know, with a limited budget and limited time. That’s what we’re really focused on in the short term. And with demoing and sampling, we have amazing partners that we recruit ourselves, that we train, so that they understand what the brand is, what Lupini beans are. So the education can happen with that as well. Huge. And that’s

 

Katie Hankinson: (25:11)

Huge. And it becomes a storytelling, I mean that it’s, it’s right at that like pointy end of the brand of the brand’s touchpoints with the consumer, but it’s also the place where you can go deep into the back story.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (25:23)

Exactly. And

 

Katie Hankinson: (25:24)

Exactly connect with people. Training is so important for that, that piece. For sure. Love it. So I was, my, my question was gonna be about what marketing channels are most powerful for you right now? Mm-Hmm. , but it does seem like that still, that’s what it is. It also kind of the, the previously not switched on you like turn it on and suddenly everything doubles.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (25:42)

Yeah, exactly. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s just, I feel like now that, I think we weren’t even able to sample our product for like a year and a half. Basically during the pandemic, we would still donate product to events, but nothing was really happening. Mm-Hmm. . So now when we’re able to do all of that in store, you know, I love going to demos. Unfortunately it can’t be at every single one because I don’t have more than 24 hours in a day. But I love being there. I love hearing customers. Right. I actually don’t like telling them that I’m the founder because then, you know, everything is kind of distorted. I love hearing what they say, their reaction to questions that they’re asking. Mm-Hmm. seeing my product, you know, be alive in a store and interact with my consumer is really helping me to build a better business. So it’s without a doubt, really exciting.

 

Katie Hankinson: (26:26)

That’s phenomenal. And I mean the value of that direct, literally being able to sit with your consumers mm-hmm. , you know, absolutely priceless. So back to you both Isabel and Allie I feel like a huge part of your stories, both of you and your kind of ethoses, you’re both extremely self motivated kind of autodidact mm-hmm. , it feels like you’ve kind of taught yourself how to do these huge chunks of them as well as your background. And you’re very much building a business that’s very aligned to how you live your lives. Mm-Hmm. , can you talk about like how that has manifested and how you think about the business moving forward?

 

Isabelle Steichen: (27:08)

Yeah. I think, you know, I love using the term growth mindset. Who talks about that? Angela Duckworth, I can’t remember, but just having this, you know, knowing that you know nothing and being excited about learning and finding people that are smarter in you and learning from them. I think that Allie and I both really believe in those pieces. Mm. And that’s how we want to build the business, you know, surround ourselves with advisors and investors that are smarter than us mm-hmm. that have done great things and build great businesses, and we have fantastic advisors and investors that have done exactly that. So that’s the way we think about building the business is really, you know, what you said at the very beginning, like the solo founder, like, I can do everything. It’s just, that’s just not how humanity works. That’s not how humans work. Like we all have to learn. And

 

Katie Hankinson: (27:53)

We’ve all seen that Icarus story.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (27:55)

We all have seen what happens apparently, you know, some people get away with it, but, you know, it’s just, that’s just an illusion. And maybe once in a blue moon that can happen. But everyone, you always need a village to make things happen. I really believe in collaboration and finding, like I said, smarter people to surround yourself with, to help you grow and learn. And, you know, it is so exciting. Like, I think I’ve never learned so much in such a short period of time in my career than when building this business. It’s been fundamentally emotional because I’m so closely attached to it. And it’s in many ways an extension of myself, even though I try for that not to happen. It totally is. But just this constant growth keeps me wanting more, and that’s incredibly exciting to be able to do that and wake up every day and feel like, okay, there’s so much that I don’t know that I will be learning today and the next day. So it’s very exciting.

 

Katie Hankinson: (28:51)

Mm. I love that. And I, it’s interesting, I I, I’m gonna completely blank on where I read this, but somewhere probably on LinkedIn recently was reading about, you know, the shifting and opinion about the emotional workplace. And at the end of the day, work is an emotional thing and it is something that you bring your whole self to. Yeah. And you need to be, and, and it’s a great thing to be driven by those passions in a way. And, and so like galvanizing that and finding ways to connect, to grow that, it sounds like you guys have done that

 

Isabelle Steichen: (29:20)

Hugely. Exactly. And I think I think about that all the time, how grateful I am that this is what I spend so many hours with every week, you know, versus doing something that I might not care about so much. I this that’s, Yeah. It doesn’t really feel like work. It feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. by far. But it feels like I kind of always wake up and want more of it. So it’s this very strange Yeah. Situation where it’s like you’re saying it’s hard to kind of really have a clear cut be between yourself and, and the business and the work.

 

Katie Hankinson: (29:51)

Yeah. It’s arduous, but awesome. . Yeah,

 

Isabelle Steichen: (29:53)

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Katie Hankinson: (29:54)

So what’s next? I know you are in the, and the process of going for another round of investing, I believe.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (30:01)

Yeah. You know, I feel like as a, as an emerging business, you’re kind of always fundraising. But yes, we are raising capital right now. And we’re, we’re at the point now with all these retail authorizations, you know, we just landed a few other retailers mm-hmm. a few regions of Albertson’s, which is really huge for us. We’re expanding to pasta. We’re launching that in Wan and la retailer that is already has our bars and we’re doing well there with the bars. Thrive Market is coming on board in January, so there’s just a lot happening and we’re just two people, so we’re ready to build out a team a little bit, just at a few people

 

Katie Hankinson: (30:38)

Double it.

 

Isabelle Steichen: (30:38)

Exactly. Exactly. That would be great. Have just two more brains on the team and, and more hands. And then continue investing in marketing in exactly the strategy that is scrub to you. I think for the first few years, it’s not, you know, it’s great to do a lot of creative things, but it’s also important to stay focused with your capital and when something is working, you know, and it has worked from many brands before continuing to do that. Double, double down. Exactly.

 

Katie Hankinson: (31:04)

Yeah. Well, I think we’ve reached the end of this conversation. I know we can find Lupii now in a whole number of retailers. Yes. And also direct to consumer. I, I will be definitely trying the product. I haven’t yet actually. And I think there’s some over there. So

 

Isabelle Steichen: (31:17)

Can, Yeah. I brought some for you.

 

Katie Hankinson: (31:20)

But it’s been so exciting to hear about the journey from what began as a casual bean obsession into fully scaling business that’s at the forefront of plant based living, which is, let’s face it, something we all have to get way more used to. Right. but it’s been such a pleasure speaking

 

Isabelle Steichen: (31:38)

To you. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. Really appreciate it. Thank you.

 

Katie Hankinson: (31:41)

Thank You.

 

Katie Hankinson: (31:51)

Thanks for joining us for Building While Flying Today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Lupini beans are the future!

Isabelle Steichen is the CEO and co-founder of Lupii, a plant-based, sustainable food brand known for its protein bars and newly launched pastas. Lupii uses the lupini bean as its main ingredient and source of plant-based protein, and to create simple, sustainable and delicious food to keep you going. After becoming “obsessed” with lupini beans and in-depth research, it became Isabelle’s mission to introduce this protein-packed bean to more people worldwide. She and her co-founder Allie Dempster then launched Lupii in January 2020.

In-flight topics:

  • Finding a business partner 
  • Refocusing on DTC during the pandemic
  • Importance of transparency in building a brand
  • Educating your customers through marketing
  • Building authentic relationships with influencers 
  • Developing sustainable packaging
  • Having a growth mindset as an entrepreneur
  • …and so much more!

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