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Founder Stories

Q&A with Monica Grohne, Founder & CEO of Marea

Being a founder can feel isolating. Who can understand your very specific problems or questions as well as you can?

Building a support system of mentors, peers, and subject matter experts is an important component of success — both for your mental and emotional health and the health of your business.

Talking to and learning from others can give you new perspectives, allow you to work through problems, and, at a minimum, help you realize you’re not alone.

With this in mind, we want to connect you to founders that we know and admire. Ask them questions that maybe you’d be wondering about yourself. Pull back the curtain on how different brands are built.

Just before the holidays, our founder, Paige, had a virtual conversation with Monica Grohne, Founder and CEO of Marea, a drinkable multivitamin targeted to support women experiencing common hormone imbalance symptoms.

Monica had tweeted about her love of email — you know that we are major proponents of email marketing as well. We initially wanted to talk about Monica’s approach to email marketing, but we also dove into other important elements of being a founder: understanding your customers, building a community, and being okay with being uncomfortable.

Q: Can you tell me about your background, how you got started with your business, and what you’re up to currently?

I’ve had a rather interesting journey, but I think we all have to some extent.

I really started my marketing career on the athlete side. I was a professional skier for about four years in my twenties, so I was working with brands like Marmot, The North Face, and other ski companies. I had to learn how to market myself, which everyone today kind of does to some extent, but ten years ago it was a little bit different.

That led me into working in production and media in the outdoor space. Then, I realized that what I really liked was working with brands. So, I started working with a direct-to-consumer pet company as their Director of Marketing and have worked for them for the last two and a half years.

During that same time, I launched my first e-commerce store, just because I wanted to know how to do it. I had a small skincare line that included an organic face oil and an organic body oil. It was something that I’d made for myself for years. That was in 2017.

Then I had this new product idea for something that was bigger, that had changed my life, which was the multivitamin that I’ve now launched with Marea Wellness. It’s grown from there. So at the end of this month [December], I will be a full-time founder.

Q: Congratulations! You have a background in marketing, but as you were growing your first e-commerce store or for Marea now, how did you think about approaching your own marketing? Was it different than how you would think about it for a brand you worked for previously?

When you’re working in marketing for a brand, you can look at existing data. You can go to its founders or existing team and ask: “What is your brand? Why are people drawn to your brand?” You can optimize on that existing information.

Now, being on the founder side, I have to ask myself those brand questions, right? What is the consumer’s problem? How do I speak empathetically to them about it to really draw them in? That has been more challenging to me because as a marketer, I’ve been more on the optimize or performance side.

Starting at zero is a whole other ball game. It’s much more about emotion and understanding why the consumer chooses you or why they need your product. It’s been hard.

Q: How did you think through finding the answers to those questions? Because there’s not always one specific answer. It’s more a varying shade of gray.

With Marea, I’m solving my own problem. So, I definitely had to step back into my mind to remember what it was like before I knew there was a solution to the problem I had.

We launched in June. In the last couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to our customers. Early on, that’s really important, but it’s not super scalable. I set up two or three phone calls a week to interview with a current subscriber. I ask them what they like, what they don’t like, and what problem we’re solving for them. I continue to iterate off of them.

Q: As a marketer, I know iteration is really important. But as a founder, there’s something scary about it. I do all of this work, and then I have to do it again? That process can be like this uncomfortable exfoliation, especially if you’re not ready for it.

It can be painful, but it’s also weirdly liberating too. You realize that something you thought was your direction early on is not your direction. I’ve learned to try to be forgiving in the process too.

Q: How have you had to pivot or change your approach to either marketing or go-to-market strategies?

I think initially I wanted to solve everyone’s problem. The whole point of this product is that it’s more effective and efficient. I realized that it’s better to niche down and focus. It’s actually been really enjoyable — everything got a little bit simpler.

We weren’t trying to cast this broad net anymore. We were able to focus and really nail it with that one customer persona. We know that we can grow from there, but the importance is nailing it with one group first and being able to expand.

I’ve been trying to stay open and accepting of the changes along the way. I realize that I’m not going to get it right the first time and probably not the third time. Every little change that we make, we can take something away from it.

Q: You launched this year. What is it like launching in the middle of a pandemic happening all around you?

It’s been interesting, obviously. I’ve gotten that question a few times. It’s all I know about launching a brand. Because there’s not much to compare it to, this is normal.

I will say that we have heard from a lot of women, particularly around our product and the pandemic and how it’s helped them. It is in the wellness space, and I think that everyone right now is grappling for some certainty or some increased wellness and health.

We’ve heard from a lot of our community members that they’re grateful to have found us. That’s been really exciting. As a founder, It feels good to have been able to provide something during a time when so many people are just looking for something to hold on to.

Q: You’ve mentioned community a couple times. It looks like you have a Facebook group and a pretty active set of social channels. How do you approach that with either existing or potential customers?

When I started thinking about this business, I knew that what was missing in my life around the topic of menstruation and women’s health was education and community. So even though we were building a product-based brand, I really wanted to lead with that community and educational aspect, so that people felt like there were other people feeling what they were feeling. That it was a common experience, even though the symptoms we’re solving for are not normal.

Whether someone follows us on social, is part of our email list, or touches our brand in any way, they’re not our customers or potential customers. They really are our community. They are other women seeking answers, support, or empathy around things that they’re dealing with.

We approach every touch point with that lens. We want you to feel seen. It’s okay that you’re not purchasing our products. We’re here to provide support and be that community that is missing.

Q: It seems like the number of products that are in the broader space around feminine wellness have really increased in the last few years. This conversation has become something that doesn’t just happen behind closed doors or at a girls’ night. It’s happening out in the forefront now. I’m sure it might be interesting leading that conversation as well. How do you balance the personal vs. professional element of that?

It’s weird. I’m an introvert, but, I’ve always been really open about areas of my life that people maybe traditionally aren’t. If I wasn’t leading with my own personal story about the struggles I’ve had, then it wouldn’t create the same space of safety for everyone else in the community.

I’m sure that there are probably things that I, as a founder, shouldn’t put out in public. But I’m human, and I want people to know that our brand is human too. It’s important that I’m honest with my story to help normalize the whole conversation.

Q: On Twitter, you said you loved email marketing. What do you love about it? Why is it such a beloved channel for you?

Early on in my career, email marketing to me was something that you had to do. You had to send the email once a week. It wasn’t purposeful.

As I’ve grown as a marketing professional, I realized that you can be a little bit creepy about knowing what piece of information a potential consumer wants next. You really get to break down the entire customer life cycle into different pieces of content. To me, it’s really fun.

I love to be able to connect and collaborate with different teams. For example, I ask customer service: what are our top five questions that we’re receiving from customers pre- and post-purchase? We can answer those questions and create efficiencies across the whole brand. You’re doing a better job educating the customer before they purchase. You’re doing a better job educating the customer once they purchase before they receive the product.

Because you get to capture that whole lifecycle from consideration phase through retention, it’s an interesting creative process, as well as a channel and a strategy.

It’s interesting to me when people are hesitant to use email because they think that we all get so much email. But I think we all know that there are some emails that you want to open. There are some emails that you want to read. There’s definitely value that’s being created, but there’s also a lot of noise.

Q: How do you think through what passes the threshold for what you would put in an email vs what might be wasteful to take over that space in the inbox?

I think often noise happens because a brand feels like they need to hit a certain cadence and send that newsletter every week. If you don’t have any additional value to provide to your consumer, then you’re just coming up with content because you need to fill that spot on your calendar. With every piece of content you put out, ask yourself: is this adding value to my community?

Another thing is to make sure that the consumer has the option to unsubscribe, to opt in to particular emails, or to stay in touch through a different channel. Each channel may not be right for each individual community member. You can give them the option to unsubscribe to your newsletter but still receive shipment notifications or special offers. Then, they control their inbox.

Your community will tell you what’s valuable — you can watch the stats. How are your click rates? How are your open rates? If what you’re measuring is low, then it didn’t work.

Understanding what’s landing is such an important piece. For a lot of founders, they say, “I like this type of content. I like this type of experience. This is who I am, therefore like it should be my brand.”

There’s a level of differentiation that happens, even if there’s a strong, personal brand element. How does your customer want to experience your company? What is the community’s desire for how to engage or connect with you? What’s the personality experience that’s going to make that really successful? Test different things. It’s hard to eliminate your own voice from your brand too.

That goes back to what I was saying was challenging for me is creating that strong, initial brand presence. Then continuing to evolve and adapt on that. I love it. I think that’s a really hard thing for a lot of founders too. It’s hard putting yourself out there over and over and over again and dealing with maybe not overt rejection, but maybe not resounding applause every time.

It’s hard to separate your own self worth from your business performance when you’re a founder, which is something that I haven’t felt as much in my career before. You’re keenly aware of every email, every stage of your flows, and every customer that could be a potential opportunity. You’re living it much more viscerally.

Q: You live in Jackson, right? Has there been an interesting startup community there?

There actually is an awesome entrepreneurial community here. Jackson is very much a tourist destination, and yet it’s also the home of many second home owners. And second home owners are people of wealth. Many of them are entrepreneurs. We have a really cool community of retired, older entrepreneurs who want to give back and younger entrepreneurs who are trying to figure it out.

There’s an organization here called Silicon Couloir, which is based around entrepreneurship and leadership in the Tetons. It’s provided a ton of value, especially to me. There’s a good community here. A lot of it isn’t directly in my industry, but it’s still support.

Q: We connected via Twitter, so I’m sure you find other people via Twitter. How are you finding and connecting with people there?

Twitter is amazing. I’ve tried to be really bold on that platform in terms of reaching out to people and asking for thirty minutes of their time. I make connections and then stay in touch.

I have three or four founders now who are at a similar stage as me or maybe a little bit further ahead. We have a monthly call, and we all have each other’s cell phone numbers. We text and honor that monthly call. We call them founder therapy sessions. When you’re so siloed as a solo founder, it’s really nice to have other people who are experiencing something somewhat similar.

I’ve also found different entrepreneurial Facebook groups to be huge.

Q: I usually run from Facebook, but now you have me intrigued. What kind of groups are you finding on Facebook?

There’s one called The Commerce Club. It’s all women in e-commerce. I’m also in a CPG-specific group that’s called OMG CPG. There’s also a couple of female founder-specific groups.

People in there are everyone from people who have sold a business to people who are just starting. When you reach out for help, it’s crazy the responses you get and the connections that you make.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by staying up on all of these groups. I also want to give back. Sometimes I’ll offer up email marketing account audits for free for founders. This also helps me remember that I’m an expert at something when other areas may not be going as planned.

Follow along with Monica Grohne and Marea:

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