Episode 3: Majed Masad, Cofounder of Mejuri

Majed Masad


Maj Masad discusses building a modern day direct-to-consumer jewelry company with Noura Sakkijha.

In this episode you will learn how Maj:

  • Pivoted from a career in finance and banking to found a consumer brand
  • Disrupted the archaic fine jewelry industry with a DTC model
  • Raised $29M in venture capital to fund Mejuri’s growth
  • Defines key DTC success metrics like repeat purchase rate, LTV/CAC, and CLV
  • Expands into global markets on a return-justified CAC
  • Employs a customer-focused retail store expansion strategy

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Eric Best: 00:00 SoundCommerce is a real time and predictive data platform for retailers and consumer brands. Our thesis at Sound Commerce is simple. We believe that consumer brands have the power to make the world a better place and direct to consumer is the model to make it happen. This podcast is about the people behind the brands we love and the moves they made to turn those great brands into great customer centric businesses.

I’m Eric Best, founder and CEO at SoundCommerce.

I’m very pleased to welcome a new host to the SoundCommerce podcast this episode. She’s a longtime friend and colleague and our head of growth here at SoundCommerce, Jessica Juergens. Hey jess

Jessica Juergens: 00:41 Hi, Eric thanks for the introduction. today, I’m sitting down with Mandy Lozano. Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Seattle-based Miir, a socially conscious direct-to-consumer brand selling, essentially everything in the sexy, high quality, stainless steel drinking vessel category. Everything from water bottles to growlers to coffee mugs. Mandy joins us with over 15 years of experience in consumer goods at enterprise companies like Burt’s bees, Pepsi, Starbucks, Nestle, and now of course, Miir, thank you so much for joining me this morning, Mandy.

Mandy Lozano: 01:17 You’re welcome. I’m Jessica. It’s wonderful to be here. I’m honored to be a part of this. 

Jessica Juergens: 01:21 Very excited.  why don’t we get started with you giving me a quick rundown of your professional history?

Mandy Lozano: 01:28 Of course. So, I have the incredibly marketable undergraduate degree of art. Studio art to be exact. Not even art history, more like I can draw and paint things.

And so of course, since the art factory didn’t call me upon graduation, I had to figure out what else to do to make money and no longer live with my parents. So , I ended up going into the handcrafted jewelry industry kind of by accident with the intent to be a designer and then fell into management and ended up loving it and loved the people leadership aspect, and operations and sales and marketing, and it was so much fun.   From then on it really sort of set me on my path more toward management leadership   and company operations, which is really exciting.

And then I ended up at Burt’s Bees in North Carolina back in the days when they were owned by private equity and had no idea what I was doing. Again, refer to art degree.  So, learned on the job a lot of things, I was able to actually report directly to the CEO who had an MBA from NYU. And that’s where I became aware of the fact that I probably needed one as well to really succeed in larger businesses.

So, I went to graduate school at the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business. But before that randomly I was a pro bike racer for two years, between my time at Burt’s and when I was at UVA and it was a wonderful detour, but really awesome. I’m sure you can imagine the things one learns while being a pro athlete. Contrary to popular belief, we fail way more often than we are victorious. And so, the amount of learning I got to do and also like the supreme accountability basically any successes and failures were mostly based on my ability to, learn from mistakes and train and work hard and set goals and all those wonderful things.

 So, I rolled into the Darden business school with some really great tan lines. And I started my MBA, which it’s a case method school so it’s very immersive and I did over 600 cases in my career at Darden. So, it was a very, very intense learning experience, but wonderful, wonderful school, great culture, superior institution.  And I was able to parlay that into an internship at Frito-Lay, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. That was an amazing experience. I worked on the Lay’s brand, so I know more about potatoes and potato chips then you could ever want, and also about how the potatoes are grown and where they’re made into chips and how they get to stores and all those things.

Very cool. And so, I accepted a full time offer with PepsiCo and was there for five-ish years working in various marketing and sales, and then also corporate, the power of one marketing proposition, which is a PepsiCo thing.   Then also a little stint in their strategic department called growth ventures, which was things outside of their direct store delivery system as sort of like unconventional ways of going to market and nurturing startup brands.

  Then I decided it was time to come back to the west coast where I’m from and got a role at Starbucks in marketing. And then about a year and a half in I decided it wasn’t so much for me and went into corporate strategy. So, for five years I spent time doing corporate strategy for the entire Starbucks enterprise and then got a role doing division strategy for the channel development.

 Jessica Juergens: 04:22 How did you make that transition into corporate strategy?

 Mandy Lozano: 04:25 There were things that weren’t at the time when I was doing marketing at Burt’s, PepsiCo or Starbucks even, that just weren’t all connecting for me and it was frustrating.  and I didn’t feel successful as I could have been.  I met some folks from the strategy team and the SVP of strategy. I really appreciate this.  He took a leap of faith with me and knew that he had some matter he could work with and mold into a strategist and he was successful. So, yeah, I think they thought saw that I had the desire or to learn the strategy consulting skillset and then brought with it a ton of industry experience so together  that team made me into what I was able to become, which was a corporate strategist. And I’m so, so grateful for that cause it actually enables me to be a better marketer.   I had one of the best bosses ever, a woman named Leslie handful who will probably go on to run companies we’ve all heard of in the future. She’s amazing. So, I really owe a lot of that to her wonderful development of me. And then I was able, like I said, to go into division strategy for the channel development division of Starbucks, which is one of four business units in the company, the highest profit actually, and deals a lot with external partnerships.

Which turned into Nestle essentially buying the talent and the licensing of that division. And so I moved over to Nestle and so I was with Nestle for a year doing the same role. And that was fascinating!  But I knew it was time to go pursue something that felt a little bit more in connection with who I am and my values.

And as you know, Nestle is the world’s largest food and beverage company, which has its merits. But for me, I wanted to apply my skillset to something that was more meaningful to me.

Yeah. So Brian, the CEO of MiiR found out about me  through a friend and we talked and I came on board as Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer, trying to parlay my corporate strategy experience to help guide the company into the future, and also my marketing experience to figure out how we show up both to the trade and to consumers. So that’s the story.

Jessica Juergens: 06:15 I love it. So, for those who don’t know or aren’t familiar with MiiR, can you give the quick elevator pitch? Who are you guys? Why are you so cool? I know it given that I grew up, but there’s a lot of folks who might not have.

Mandy Lozano: 06:27 Sure. It’s funny. The elevator pitch. is quite difficult to say because there’s so much about us that’s amazing. Right? So, for one we’re a B Corp we’re fiercely independent. We’re privately held. Brian started the company 10 years ago and has been the energy and passion and brains behind a lot of it.

Since then he’s since hired a C suite around him, it’s really helped support our trajectory. And so we are 1% for the planet, which you may know something that was founded by Patagonia.  We are climate neutral certified just this year. So we are measuring and offsetting our CO2 and also able to label that, it’s sort of like fair trade  It’s a nice consumer  message a vote of confidence. We deal with some of the most well known companies in the world like Starbucks, Patagonia, REI, Blue Bottle Coffee, and then also tons of smaller companies. And then also really interesting things like some movie stars find out about us and buy our drinkware for their staff,  it’s pretty amazing how folks find out about us. But, we’re really proud of the fact that we’re design forward.   No one cares so much about a company’s values, if your product isn’t good. So, we’re design forward and then generosity driven.  We donate 3% of our top line revenue to charity every year and we’re very transparent about that. So, you can find out about that by looking at the bottom of any MiiR product, you can see a unique code that you can then enter onto our website MiiR.com/gift and you can understand what that product purchase funded. So there’s a lot, we’re still working on our elevator pitch, but really “design forward, generosity driven” are the four words that I want to leave your listeners with.

Jessica Juergens: 08:00 Yeah, that’s amazing 

Talk to me a little bit about your channel mix and what those relationships look like and where you guys are seeing the growth.

Mandy Lozano: 08:08 Absolutely. So, we are fortunate enough to be about 30% international, which has been a really nice thing, especially in 2020. But we have such cool traction overseas, again, that design, the aesthetic that we have, all of our designs are unique and a lot of them trademarked and patented.  you won’t just find those anywhere.

 And then about 80% of our total units sold are custom printed. So, you know, Jessica’s podcast company can call us and say, I’d love my logo on one of your beautiful MiiR, water bottles or coffee cups and we will happily do that for you.

We’re known for having lower minimum order quantities than a lot of other drinkware companies and really, really great customer service. It’s very hands on, high touch and we’re really becoming known in the industry for the way we service those accounts and our innovation in terms of product we’re huge fans of coffee. And so we’ve got some super cool innovations that are unique to MiiR that serve that.

Jessica Juergens: 09:00 And what about direct to consumer as a channel?

Mandy Lozano: 09:03 Yeah, so ever-growing. When I started, we were, gosh I don’t remember exactly. For sure less than 5% out of our total revenue. And we are growing like gangbusters in 2020, of course, with the shift to DTC that a lot of brands have had to manage.

  COVID give us the ability to really focus. On how do we deliver value and meaning into the marketplace and DTC was the place to do that. We’re already at nearly 4x the packages shipped year to date than we were last year and we’re anticipating a really successful holiday season coming up with some really exciting things about how do we enable true generosity for folks who shop on our website. How can they give gifts that are really, really meaningful to people that they love in their life that are also doing good for the world.  We’re so excited about that.  DTC is gonna really take off and I have an awesome team around me. Who’s really motivated about it. And it’s just gonna crush, very excited.

Jessica Juergens: 09:53 It definitely is. Talk to me a little bit about the strategy that you guys implemented as well.  Once COVID hit and you realized that you were in it for the long haul.

Mandy Lozano: 10:03 Yeah.  I’m sure a lot of companies have had this experience as well.   You really begin to take a look at yourself and you ask yourself, who are we? And what do we stand for? And fortunately, we’ve been working with someone to really help refine our positioning of us as a company and a brand.

 That “design forward, generosity driven”, those four words came out of that work.  We want to put beauty out into the world, right? That’s that design forward piece, but the generosity driven, like how do we put something meaningful out into the world that’s going to resonate during this time?

 We realized the fact that with the shutdown of schools, so many children, and especially in the United States as you may know the stats on food insecurity it’s just mind boggling in one of the world’s most prosperous nations that this is the case. But because a lot of kids are out of school they’re no longer able to access those subsidized lunches that are so critical. And to some it’s their only meal of the day that they can be assured they’ll get so we wanted to address that

problem  those are children. And so we decided to donate $5 per unit sold to Feeding America for this amazing mug that we designed in collaboration with this awesome Northwest based artists named Kyler Martz.  So, Kyler delivered this incredible design to us and it was this, if you can imagine an octopus with some women sitting on its legs, reading books or drinking coffee, and hanging out with a cat, which I appreciated very much as a cat lady. And then also there’s a dog too but at any rate you can get her Instagram and see the animation of this design. It’s very beautiful, but the tagline was alone in this together. And we felt that that theme was so true for that time. Right? We were all suddenly locked in our homes alone, but together online. And so, we went from idea to launched product in 10 days. And that was because we had such good focus as a company, and we knew who we were and what we wanted to do for the world.

And I continue to be so proud of my team for how they worked during this time. And also, cross-functionally sales, operations, and Brian, our CEO, it was just amazing to observe the unity and the focus we had on delivering something into the world that added value and really helped.

 We’ve been able to donate over $60,000 to date from the sales of that mug. And it’s keeps going.   We’re delighted to keep supporting Feeding America. It’s just been a wonderful thing for us as a company.

Jessica Juergens: 12:25 I feel like it just matches you guys so well, right? Like you guys have been so certain of what your vision is and what your mission is, and this feels very authentic. I remember learning about it because one of my colleagues got the mug and she was showing everybody on our, you know, during Zoom’s with the team, she’s like check out this mug it’s so amazing! And so, I mean, I think that that authenticity and transparency and generosity to your point,  is just such a recurring theme in every decision you guys make, which is really a beautiful thing.

Mandy Lozano: 12:53 Thank you for noticing that, you know, we tell ourselves and like, as a marketer, I’m very proud of this, you ask yourself, what do I want to look back on in a year? I want to be proud of everything we’ve done. And what is the story that we’re writing about who MiiR is during this time?  I think we’ve come out with a very clear point of view and I’m super proud of my team for that. And also, just helps to reaffirm my choice in choosing to bail from the corporate machine and join a company like MiiR. This is why I get up in the morning to enable things like this.

Jessica Juergens: 13:24 Totally.

So, you know, you and I have spoken, you mentioned a little bit about your personal history and that you were a professional athlete. No big deal. But along those lines, I mean, you have a really fascinating personal story and I would love to hear about how you think that your personal history has impacted the way that you not only approach business, but how you were approached to just getting things done, solving complex issues and sort of thinking more broadly about the world, which sounds very huge and sweeping, but I feel like it’s relevant.

Mandy Lozano: 14:26 Yeah. So, you know, the things we experience when we’re younger absolutely shape our neural pathways, right? So, I was the extremely fortunate daughter of two incredible human beings who are no longer with us, but they’re amazing. My parents were classically trained artists and art teachers from the bay area of California, but my dad always wanted to be a cowboy. And so finally, when I was seven, we moved to a cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere in Oregon.

Off the grid. We never had a TV. So, actually in fact I got my first TV just a few years ago, but at any rate, my parents up and moved us from the Bay area to this place in the middle of nowhere, population 350.  I had a graduating class of 16 in my high school but at any rate, I moved to a cattle ranch.

And so, I think that is where that autonomous problem solving ability comes from. And then also the ability to think strategically. So on a cattle ranch, if it’s your livelihood and you depend on nurturing land to give you your source of income in the future, which was in our case, organic grass fed cattle, you have to think very long term about the choices you make today and how those impact you tomorrow. So, you have that aspect of my parents that worked at the ranch every day, especially my father. And learning alongside him, he was an amazing teacher of any sort of skill you wanted to learn. But to work alongside him when I was very, very young, you know, I learned how to drive in a 1941 Willys Jeep when I was nine years old with like a stick shift and a choke and like things you can’t even find in cars anymore. And so just to be able to learn just hands on how to solve problems, how to think far in advance was unbelievable.

 And my work ethic came from, I mean, there was as a trial, like again, no TV, no electricity, what are you going to do hang out inside? Absolutely not. My mother would refuse to let you even sit down in our house. So, I was always working, always doing something, you know, be it I’m working cattle or helping my dad shoe horses or cleaning out the barn, or like helping with the hay during our hay bailing season, there was always something to be done.

It’s a ranch and work was literally never done. So, you had to just make sure you were setting goals clear about those and did the work needed to achieve. And we were so far from civilization. If something broke yon don’t just call somebody plus, you know, no one gets rich running cattle in this world, at least small operations. So, didn’t necessarily have the money to even just like call random so-and-so to come fix it. So, you had to figure out how to fix things. Yeah, so I learned a lot of mechanical things that a lot of kids never learn and I was really lucky for that. So hard work doesn’t phase me a single bit and I think that’s helped me in both my professional life and then also personally, and as a professional athlete when I did that.

So, I’m just really, really grateful eternally to my parents who were also actually very well traveled human beings. They were married forever and in the beginning of their marriage they spent a year living in Europe, studying art and creating art.  They had a global view and I was very lucky to get that. While also being, you know, in the middle of nowhere, in a very red county, politically, it was just super different than how my parents grew up. So, it was just a fascinating experience and I I’m so grateful every day for what that gave to me.

Jessica Juergens: 17:33 You’re basically saying that you’re a badass Mandy. I hear you loud and clear.

Mandy Lozano: 17:38 You know, one of the rules of marketing is to let other people sing your praises, so I’ll let you do that.

Jessica Juergens: 17:45 No tv and no technology. It’s sort of incredible that you’ve managed to land at a direct to consumer company. There’s just so much technology and strategy required behind the scenes that I’m sure you’ve had to navigate. So, was that an easy transition for you? Have you got flack for it in the past or does it just feel like a funny childhood memory at this point?

Mandy Lozano: 18:06 absolutely. I think it’s like, it’s part of my DNA. So, you asked if I’ve gotten flack? Yes. Like in larger companies on occasion. And I can remember a specific time someone who is very senior leader now at another company who shall remain nameless once told me when I was a marketer he said, “well, I don’t really trust you because you literally, you’ve never had a TV. So, you obviously don’t know what’s going on in society.” Now this was before streaming was a thing people just so you know, to some listening, there was a life before streaming. So yeah, so he accused me of being like very unaware of what was going on in the world.

And I think that accusation was lame because I think what my childhood did give me was the ability to look at things for what they really are. So, I’m able to look at what’s going on in the world and try to get to the root of what it is, which is usually human psychology related. And I think my childhood in a place that wasn’t like how my parents grew up and then suddenly I’m in this very conservative area.

Beautiful, but just really removed from civilization. You’re able to look at things differently and you get to the psychology of why people are doing what they do so that you can adjust, and you can you know, assimilate into a culture and be welcomed. So, I, you know, scoffed quietly at that accusation and ended up continuing to be successful.

But I think I do, like if you ask me what’s the newest technological thing, I don’t always have an answer, but what I’m pretty good at figuring out is we have a problem to solve. So, what are the tools available to us to do so? And instead of saying, this thing will solve the problem and said, you’re just actually spend time on articulating what the problem actually is. And then you’d find there’s a suite of tools available to help you. Some of which are technology based and some are process-based some have to do with people on capability. So, I think it actually gave me a unique view on problem solving and setting strategic intent and managing toward that.

And yeah, I’m terrible at trivial pursuit, entertainment questions. So, taking me to a bar back when we used to go to bars and have trivia night, I’m kind of useless, but I do always know the literature and art.  So, it’s been a fascinating evolution of literally my own self confidence about how my childhood was super unconventional. I’ve literally in corporate America only met one other person who went to a smaller high school than I did and otherwise though, I feel generally as someone who doesn’t necessarily have the same experiences growing up as most people I meet. But I think it equipped me and, and it really did help build my self confidence that, and I hope people take this.

Like you are who you are and the more you embrace it, the more you can actually deliver value into the world and to people around you. So, I really lean into that.

And also leaning into your strengths, in terms of problem solving and all the rest of it. So, all right, well, how are you thinking about 2021? Here’s the loaded question for you. There’s a lot going on. What strategic initiatives are keeping you up at night or are you really focusing on right now?

So, I think at MiiR especially under our CEO and founder, Brian, always trying to stay ahead of the curve yet always being sure of who we are.

So, it’s not about oh, we must be better than X competitor per se. It’s about what can we do in 2021 to really bring our DNA to life? Because we know our DNA delivers value into the marketplace.   There are things that only we can uniquely do because we have a history and a track record of doing it.

   I still feel sometimes bad for brands that have pivoted during 2020 to suddenly be all about social justice, the environment, addressing Covid in this way that they don’t really have like a history or credibility in doing in the past. Like, you don’t have to be obviously no one was really fighting COVID until Covid happened, but there’s just like a falseness to what I’ve sometimes seen in the marketplace, and I’m sad for those companies and for their misguidedness. For us, we continue to be who we are. And we have to ask ourselves all the time, what does 2021 need? And so, there’s an element of prediction that we’re trying to do, figuring out, how has the marketplace changed?

 The fact that, for example, who knows when we’re all going back into offices, right? So that’s changed the marketplace. That’s changed our customers. Our coffee shops, how do we help them deliver for their most passionate customers? What can we do? And so that’s kind of how we’re looking at. We start with the DNA first and then we figure out what, what does the world need? And what’s the unique value that MiiR is able to give. And, you know, for example, like we’re not big enough, like some of our competitors to be able to give stacks of cash, but there’s other ways that we can deliver value that feel very authentic. And I think that’s meaningful and the marketplace has responded positively to that.

So, what keeps me up at night is just how we’re able to translate predictions of the future to the best you can into strategies that you implement. And then in terms of channels, like how do we continue our global expansion in the geographies that are going to take the MiiR message and DNA and deliver it in their marketplace in a way that’s valuable to customers.

That’s always the challenge and the fact that we have a base of global customers and network I think is a strong leg to stand on as we continue to expand our reach.

Jessica Juergens: 23:05 Exactly. And you talk a lot about who this ideal customer is and what is their DNA. So how have you guys arrived at who that target direct to consumer customer is and what they value?

Mandy Lozano: 23:16 That’s a good question. We do some, I mean, social listening is a fancy way of saying it, but just like trying to basically look at all of our past interactions that we’ve had with consumers as a company in our call management software and things like that, and trying to figure out what it is folks are telling us.

So that’s one piece of it and then there’s also an element of overlay of our own aspiration. Like who do we want to be?  it’s who we are, but like, how do we really amplify that. you know, our ideal consumer is someone who, you know, for example, we’re not caring to retain folks who want a water bottle for the lowest price that ain’t us. That’s not what we do. We’re a premium drink ware company. So, if you want a cheaper bottle or coffee, mug cool, go get it. That’s fine. What we want to make sure people feel good about is that their purchase went far beyond just giving them something to drink out of, or to keep their beverages hot or ice cold.

We believe that the values that we put out into the world and the generosity that we enable through the sale of our product does mean something to people. However, the product itself has to continue to be beautiful. And function perfectly. And Brian, our founder is a huge product afficionado, so he loves designing things.

So, we just tried to continue to marry those two things and meet consumers where they are with what they need. And we definitely appeal to, we believe, more well-traveled consumer with a global view and appreciation for things outside of the United States where we were founded. And hopefully you’ll continue to see that more and more in what we’re putting out in the world on Instagram and in our blogs and things like that.

Jessica Juergens: 24:45 Yes. Again, with that authenticity.

Mandy Lozano: 24:48 Yeah, absolutely.

Jessica Juergens: 24:50 Okay. Last question for you, or personal note, how have you been staying sane during Covid and quarantine?

Mandy Lozano: 24:58 Oh, man. I wish I had like this epiphany about this is it, but it’s not?  Man,  so after cycling, I transitioned into running and I became an ultra runner and I wish I could say that running has been like my sanity and it has on occasion, but  I’ve been working a lot more, but it’s not necessarily because of an ask to it’s because I want to it’s because I want to help MiiR grow in the right way.

And that takes a ton of thought and time, and I’m delighted actually to put a lot of energy and time into it. So, work has in a way, kept me sane in that I really, you know, it’s again, like why wake up in the morning? I took all of this stuff. I learned from all my prior experience in my MBA at Darden and my pro bike racing and like all the big companies I worked for and have put it into like what my challenge is, how do I take all these wonderful things and make them work for MiiR and make me are just like crazy successful and continue to punch above our weight. So that’s been really inspiring  

I consider myself a hyper extrovert. But man, this is kind of a whittled down a little bit of my friend group and I’m okay with it.   and then lastly, I know that not everyone has this privilege, but I have a really, really beautiful. The home it’s 120 years old and I’ve put a lot of time and energy into making it just so, so pleasant. Again, my parents being artists, I have my home is full of art and sometimes it’s just nice to sit in one of my rooms and like, look at the art. I treated myself to a baby grand piano this spring.

I was a pianist when I was a kid and so I occasionally just like tinker around on the piano and it’s just really fulfilling for me. So, I couldn’t say, I wish I had like a silver bullet that I could play for anyone, but man, it’s been just trial and error and there are dark, dark days as I’m sure everyone can identify with, but mostly I’m just so, so, so thankful for the privilege that I have to live in a home that I love, that I own in a city I love and have friends that I have contact with and work that’s meaningful. So, I consider myself super lucky.

 Jessica Juergens: 26:50 Mandy, I really appreciate your time today, your energy and just passion for MiiR’s sustainability, the global environment, giving back it’s inspirational. And I feel like our listeners are going to love hearing about your story.

Mandy Lozano: 27:04 Wonderful. Well, I’m excited to be a part of this, Jess.

I wanted to let your listeners know we have a little freebie for them. So, if you go to www.MiiR.com and you enter MiiR30 at checkout. You can get 30% off your entire order.

That’s our direct consumer site. Or if you are a small business or a large one, and you’d like to do some custom printing, go to B2B.MiiR.com and use MiiRVIP10 for 10% off your first order.

So, thank you again for having me. And, I hope that everyone goes and checks us out and helps spread the good news about MiiR and what we’re up to. Thank you.

Jessica Juergens: 27:50 Yeah, thanks so much, Mandy.

Thanks for listening to SoundCommerce with Eric Best. If you like our show and want to know more, check out www. SoundCommerce.com or call 1-888-41-SOUND.