Leading Innovation for Fast Growth with Jonathan Propper at Dropps

Every company faces the need to stay ahead of the competition. Our job as leaders is leading innovation even when we are ahead of our peers. My research in fast-growth companies has revealed the constant drive of leading innovation. Today’s guest is Jonathan Propper, Founder & CEO at Dropps. Inc Magazine ranked his company #289 on the 2020, No. 1031 (2019) Inc 5000 list. Dropps is an innovative retail brand that has produced a dye-free, harmless laundry pod. Jonathan shares his perspective on leading innovation. We talk about his journey to create a new product and the failures along the way. Leading innovation is needed now as much as ever.

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Jonathan Propper: The Transcript

About: As Chief Executive Officer of the e-commerce company dropps.com, Jonathan Propper is a maverick driven by the belief that the home care category can be redefined to be effective as well as safer and better for people and planet. Unafraid to challenge laundry industry norms of colorful products packaged like candy and the over-consumption of single-use plastics that are devastating our landscapes and waterways, he has innovated a smarter, more sustainable way to do clean up our homes – and our environment. Under his leadership, Dropps introduced the first liquid unit-dose pod in 2008 and continues to redefine the home care category with innovations in safety, efficacy, and sustainability.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Jonathan Propper: Test test test for constantly testing, both positioning product development claims all along the way through an agile process, re iterating and reiterating on development the nascent stage two testing internally to testing with the consumers. That’s what that’s beyond. You know what you’re doing online in terms of advertising. Right with advertising, if it’s existing products and changing that messaging up and testing which message works with which audiences have one messages, key 10, 20% of your budget, just for, for development and testing things that you think you have the right product, and then you get it to a certain point. You realize that you have the right insight, but you have to run product for the consumer that makes you nearly dropped back. Then go back. Again, so it’s a continual process until you get it right? And then you move

Intro: Welcome to Grow Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: When you see the innovation is necessary for you to keep up in your market? You want to make sure you’re the leader that can lead innovation no matter what you’re facing. Now, a lot of people see the challenges and see all of the things that they can’t do, but many leaders I know, and the ones that are really extraordinary at what they do are not afraid to be leading innovation. Leading innovation requires you to be confident and requires you to be much more focused, but you have to be able to align resources in a new way. Through that pivot today, we’re talking with the founder, CEO of Dropps, Dropps is kind of a unit-dosed laundry detergent, and he talks a lot about inside the program, but what you’re going to learn from today’s conversation with the CEO, Jonathan. It’s about what does it really take to lead the innovation? What does it take to create the kind of impact that you really want to when things aren’t going the way you intended them or they were, they need to change because the marketplace is changing. We talk about what this means inside of his business. I think you’ll learn from the conversation. So join me in welcoming Jonathan to this show,

Jonathan. How are you?

Jonathan Propper: I’m fantastic. It’s great to see you today. Thank you for including me in your, in your show.

Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate you being on taking the time to talk to our audience about what does it take to lead a fast-growth company? You have Dropps and you’ve been on the fast growth before two times. Tell me a little bit about what Dropps is?

Jonathan Propper: Dropps is a, we were the first to develop the liquid unit dose laundry pod. We said that a liquid laundry detergent is the most expensive bottle, bottled water. You can buy it, shipped all over the country only to be put in the machine that dispenses water. So Dropps is a, is a laundry pod. , liquid laundry pod that, very lightweight to ship and all you need to clean your clothes. And as a result, of developing pod technology, we’ve developed it into other applications in laundry and. And then dishwashing as well. So it, we tend to overdose in a lot of, in a lot of ways, right? And unit dose, gives you just the right amount to either clean your clothes or clean your dishes and ensures that we don’t waste. And, what I call the big CPG companies would like us to just pour and use more, but double the detergent doesn’t necessarily mean double the clean. And so, by having a unit as it makes it easy for the consumer they don’t have to think about what amount to use and they can either just toss it in a drummer or put it in the pocket of their dishwasher.

Gene Hammett: I think many of us are familiar with these, you know, unit dosing for certainly our, dishwashers, but when you created something for the laundry, You, you were kind of creating a category that wasn’t there in the, in the bigger guys could not figure out the technology behind that. Is that fair to say?

Jonathan Propper: No, I wouldn’t say that they couldn’t figure out the technology. I mean, they’re very smart. But when you will control 60% of the market, there was no reason to innovate necessarily. And so, and you have a lot of. Capital invested in equipment that injection molds bottles and fills up bottles with detergent and water and so forth. And it wasn’t until we had a recession that big laundry started losing market share, and people trading down from brand to, into a private label that they realized that they didn’t bring innovation to the category. You know, that trend could continue. And we were the innovators in the category, which, which they expanded. And so now it’s about 25% of the laundry category. It’s interesting because at the time dish Unidos dish was about 35% of the market. And big laundry said, oh, no, people like to really control their laundry. They want to measure, you know, measure it out. And, the reality is that I think we could, laundry wants to control. The consumer and they know if the consumer doesn’t have to doesn’t have something that’s, pre-measured, they’re just going to pour more than they necessarily need. So for big laundry at this, you know, having reached the stage where they needed innovation, they, we look to true Dropps and our technology to follow. And now, as I mentioned, represents 25% of the ocean. Detergent character glory. You know, what’s interesting is no one ever complained about carrying a box of distributorship. Right. But everyone complained about lugging a jug. Of water around. So to say that the consumer really wanted to control their laundry and pour it themselves is really not the truth. It’s just, you know, why trade dollars if you have own 60% of the market, is really

Gene Hammett: So Jonathan you’ve given us a context to the space you’re in and, and sort of the innovation that was necessary for you to get where you are today and create a fast-growth company. But you didn’t do this alone. You have a team of people behind you. you’ve got a combination of full-time employees with contractors and you’ve had to re pivot things and realign people. And that’s what we really want to kind of dive in today. What is sort of the core principles of creating that kind of alignment across the team?

Jonathan Propper: Well, first of all, the reason we had the pivot, it made sense to, for us, when we develop the liquid unit does pod to go into retail because we were the only one who had a liquid unit dose product. And we thought that our form might create an opportunity with the consumer and, you know, sort of like when you no computer store, they’re all PCs, except that then there’s an apple, and you see the difference on the shelf in our case, we went with that same assumption, but the problem is the large consumer product companies control that shelf. Yeah. You don’t get to, that eye level where that person who ordinarily is going down the aisle. Yeah. Would let’s see you, you get put on the top or the bottom of the shelf, big laundry finally came around to introducing their product. We then got muscled even more on the shelf. And at that point we realized, you know, how are we going to compete what then became multiple companies or in the unit of space. And we decided to go directly to the consumer. So that was the real pivot, for the company. And so we had a high, a high growth. And then a flattened out when we were in, in retail, right. Then started to fall. When, when competition, you know, nudged us more on the, on the shelf, we said, you know, the only way we’re going to win is to go directly to the consumer.

And since that time we’ve had 17 straight quarters of growth. So, we looked at a model like a dollar shave club that had an Anthem video and we created our own. Version of an Anthem video. I, I actually, as you may know, took off my clothes to talk about the naked truth about laundry, something that I knew, the big CPG companies, none of the representatives would take off their clothes to make their, to make their point if you will. So at that point, we didn’t have to educate the consumer about buying online because we had the benefit of Amazon. We didn’t have to educate the consumer about subscriptions because we have the benefit of place. People like Harry’s or dollar shave. And we didn’t have to educate the consumer about buying unit dose because we had all these big monetary companies promoting that we just had to show why, why our unit dose was, was better than those other products and how it cleaned as well as the, as those other products. But plant-based ingredients. So it was powered by nature, which made us different from those other products. And it was delivered in a compostable package, a box. And rather than in a single-use plastic container, you know, we say a laundry bottle, if you will, or a pouch, you know, take about two or three weeks to use, but they take a lifetime to degrade by, you know, giving people something that works really well. That is easy too,  receive and easy to use, and then easy to re recirculate it. Well, it gave us a competitive advantage and the consumer, you know, adopted that. And so with. We changed our team too, right? We, we changed from being sort of retail-oriented to be consumer-oriented and CMO. Who’s more digitally oriented.

We have a growth marketing person because all of our ads are being done. Online through places like social, like Facebook and Google and Instagram and Tik Tok. And then we need innovation to create a pipeline of new, new products. So through an agile approach to looking at what the consumer is missing, what, what can we do? That’s better for the consumer, better for the environment. Easier, easier to use, easier to use. Because there’s, there are so many opportunities in this space when you don’t have to worry about, about the shelf. So it’s been fun, you know, bringing on new members of the team and delivering, you know, new products

Gene Hammett: Let’s get a little bit more specific on this. Jonathan, I know that making that pivot from retail to, , you know, an online purchase is a different team set. In order to make that change. Was this just showing them the data or did you guys have to restrategize and realign together, as a team? Not just your ideas?

Jonathan Propper: Well, I didn’t have the team at that point. We were pretty thin. We were pretty thin and so is, you know, it’s not over to you quit. Right. And so it was really a question of do we knew we always had a great product, but we never were able to really get it to the, into the consumer’s hands because we always had these barriers. To get it there. And so, you know, it was first taking it to the consumer and the, and with a new message and a new, new packaging. And then that created some momentum to then hire new people who, who knew a lot more about this business than, than I do. My mother said you know, you can do any business. We want, if you just change your reading material, but there’s only so much read, you know, there’s, you need a lot of experience and digital marketing and social. And so then brought on in the last year we brought on, you know, several seniors, team members to help drive the business to the next level.

Gene Hammett: Jonathan, what inside of your leadership skills and principles have allowed your company to grow as fast as it has.

Jonathan Propper: That’s a that’s a really good question. You know, it’s always a lot of luck, but,

Gene Hammett: To be unluck, what is it?

Jonathan Propper: Well, if you try, you know, you try so many things, something’s got to work, you know, spaghetti against the wall. It’s got, it’s got to work, but you know, as, as a leader, just, just my commitment to making it work. My commitment to making really good products that the consumer is going to love, my enthusiasm and my passion, and my sort of grit, because it hasn’t always been easy, has kept not only team members in the game, but also some board members who might’ve, you know, wanting to throw in the towel and, I think, you know, we’re all amazed that you know, that we were able to turn. In a direction that that found a path for, for success.

Gene Hammett: I wanna ask you one more question. Before we wrap up today, innovation is a, is a big word that gets thrown out a lot, but are you doing anything unique inside your teams that allows you guys to keep innovating? Whether it be through the ads and the messaging that you’re creating? What are you doing on a consistent basis that we could learn from?

Jonathan Propper: Three words? Test test test. We’re constantly testing, both positioning product development claims all along the way through an agile process, re-it-iterating and reiterating on development. The nascent stage two testing internally to testing with consumers. That’s what that’s beyond. You know, what you’re doing online in terms of advertising, right? Because with average it’s existing products and changing that messaging up and testing which message works with which audiences, you know if I had one message is key. 10 20% of your budget just for, for development and for, for testing things that, you know, you think you have the right product and then you get it to a certain point and you realize that that the, you have the right insight, but you have the wrong product for the consumer. And that makes you, you know, you drop back and then go back at it again. So it’s a, it’s a continual process. Until you get it right? And then you move towards the launch.

Gene Hammett: Jonathan, Thank you so much for being here to share some of your insights around, what does it take to create a fast-growth company and the pivot that you made, you know, having the commitment to the product, but also how you truly were able to align a new set of team members to a new direction is remarkable. So I appreciate you sharing that with us.

Jonathan Propper: My pleasure. Thanks so much for including me.

Gene Hammett: Fantastic conversation. Hopefully, you learned something there. One of the things I would focus on is the need to test, test test. When you think about that, that means accepting failure as a path forward, and understanding that everyone’s responsible for testing the message, testing, the sales channels, testing. Everything is necessary for you to continue to lead through innovation. That will keep you evolving. And that is necessary if you want to lead innovation. If you are still listening in here and you are serious about taking your company to the next level. My work with executive coaching, I work with extraordinary leaders that are doing impossible things.

I’d love to connect with you in some way. We have a community of founders, CEOs, and presidents of fast-growth companies. If you want to check that out, just go to fastgrowthboardroom.com. If you think you could evolve and could use help in finding out what your next step is, make sure to check out me at genehammett.com.

When you think of leadership and you think of growth, think of Growth Think Tank as always, live with courage. See you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.




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