Serial entrepreneur Eric Ryan has a formula for success.
Ryan, the founder of Method, Olly and now Welly Health, said that his key to success is finding big consumer spaces that haven’t yet caught up with culture shifts, and creating brands that reflect those changes.
“I’m a little bit of a one-tricky pony, but the trick keeps working,” Ryan told attendees at Beauty Inc’s Wellness Summit. “The common thing between all three of these really boring categories that I tried to sex up is that I kind of start with an idea — I’m very different than other entrepreneurs who typically will be very passionate about something or they’ll find something they’re very frustrated [with] that they want to change. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning, I had a hard time remembering to take my vitamins and I don’t bleed that often — these are not categories where I had a lot of personal passion. What I do look for is these really big consumer spaces, and I try to figure out what is the culture shift or the big market trend that the market has missed.”
For Method, which Ryan launched in 2000, there was an idea of “lifestyle-ing of the home” and desire for non-toxic cleaning products. For Olly, it was better-for-you trends and the Millennial mind-set shift toward health and wellness as a lifestyle pursuit, he said. “So, what if we positioned vitamins as lifestyle?” Ryan said.
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“It’s all about de-risking the execution,” Ryan said, noting that it’s better to start small and learn, and move from there. “We’re constantly learning and optimizing.”
That strategy seems to have worked, as Unilever snapped up Olly in 2019, and SC Johnson bought Method in 2017.
First aid, the category his newest venture, Welly plays in, has always been very clinical, Ryan said. “We looked at the Millennial, very Instagram belief, [that] a well-lived life is one where an injury is a trophy and something you’d be proud of versus something you try to hide away,” he said. Welly is sold on its own site, at Target and on Amazon, and sells things like Bravery Balm and Oops Equipment, a first-aid toolkit.
Ryan came out of the advertising world, where he was an account planner, linking consumer insights with creative operations. He describes himself as a person with “zero creative talent,” and he works hard to “make space” for the creatives and designers that have become the heart of each of his companies, he said.
The idea is “artists and operators working together to create companies with imagination, creativity, but able to create a predictable business,” he said.
“As much as strategy can drive creative, creative can really drive strategy,” Ryan continued, noting that inside his brands ideas sometimes start with creative first, instead of a brief being passed to creative.
That creative environment is top down, and even the companies’ workspaces tend to look more like advertising agencies than corporate environments, he noted. But now that the coronavirus pandemic has continued. Ryan and his teams are working to collaborate remotely.
“There’s nothing better than a really great whiteboard session, so we’re missing that right now. We haven’t found a really great replacement for that,” Ryan said.
He said he thinks COVID-19 will permanently alter the work landscape, ultimately toward efficiency.
Ryan, who is in his 40s, noted that he’s felt stuck in between two generational ways of working. On the older end, he sees employees who value face time, and are the first-in, last-out office types. On the younger end, workers have embraced technology and remote work—the idea that “screen time is work time, and why does it matter where my screen is?”
“In my generation, we were stuck between these two worlds in a very inefficient way. We’re eventually going to come out to what will be a much more efficient, fluid and still collaborative work style. COVID-19 is playing the role of a great accelerator in moving us there,” Ryan said, by doing things like eliminating commutes and businesses trips that require two days of flights to attend a single two-hour meeting.
“We’re recognizing how efficient our processes can be, and as our world starts to open up, figuring what is the best way to bring that in office collaboration back, but do it in a way that’s more efficient. COVID-19 has given us the gift of moving us along to 2030 much faster than we would have gotten there,” he added.
COVID-19 will also shift the way consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, think about health, he said.
“Every generation has a different relationship to health. Millennials really view it as a lifestyle pursuit, and design is part of that. What COVID-19 is doing is accelerating that trend across all generations, where we have to pay so much more attention to our health and we’re also not taking it for granted as we once did,” Ryan said.
“As health takes on a bigger presence in our lives, we’re going to want to express it in ways that are personally relevant to us. That’s where I see … where health and well-being products and brands can be targeted in a lifestyle and bring more of a sense of joy than anxiety.”
Ryan said he is already seeing broad adaptation of the lifestyle nature of wellness. Since Unilever’s acquisition of Olly, the brand has accelerated and found consumers globally, he said.
“Over the next five or 10 years, the nutrition and the health and wellness categories are going to start to look a lot more like beauty and personal care with more personalization, more emotional branding and just an elevated experience in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Ryan predicted.
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