Episode #20

Keta Burke-Williams from Ourside

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Keta Burke-Williams, CEO and founder of Ourside, shares her journey of building a luxury fragrance brand from the ground up. She discusses the challenges and successes she has experienced as a small business owner, as well as her insights on marketing strategies, including the use of micro-influencers and email campaigns.

Keta explains how her experience as a figure skater and an entrepreneur share similarities in terms of the journey is a lonely one. She also highlights the importance of perseverance and creativity in both fields. When asked about the marketing strategies that have been most successful for Ourside, Keta mentions word of mouth and email campaigns, which have been effective in growing their community and building brand awareness. The company has also started working with micro-influencers, which Keta believes is a great way to get real feedback from customers and build brand evangelists.

Keta shares that one of the challenges they've faced is the conversion rate to full-sized purchases. They had a lot of people who were interested in learning more about the brand but didn't necessarily convert to full-sized purchases. To combat this, Ourside created a discovery kit, which has been successful in getting more people to try their fragrances and eventually make purchases. They are also exploring the idea of subscriptions and memberships, but Keta emphasizes the importance of collecting information and understanding what customers get from the brand beyond just the products before creating such programs.

In terms of branded content, Keta admits that it's been a challenge to ensure everything aligns with the messaging. The company has been primarily focused on creating high-quality content that resonates with its community while also partnering with micro-influencers to leverage its content. Keta also shares that she recently hired an intern who is a content creator to help with this aspect of the business.

Overall, Keta's insights highlight the importance of building a strong community and understanding what customers want from the brand. Ourside’s success can be attributed to its focus on word of mouth, email campaigns, and micro-influencers, as well as its dedication to building a brand story that resonates with its customers.

Show Notes

  • (08:44): Sam asks Keta about the similarities and differences between being an athlete and an entrepreneur.
  • (08:58): Keta responds that both can be very lonely journeys and require perseverance and creativity.
  • (09:48): Keta adds that the creativity piece is the third similarity between being an athlete and an entrepreneur.
  • (10:21): Sam transitions into asking about Ourside’s marketing strategy.
  • (10:29): Keta shares that word of mouth and email campaigns have been successful in growing their community and building brand awareness.
  • (11:16): Keta mentions that they are excited to lean more into building community through micro-influencers and nano-influencers.
  • (11:58): Keta explains that they find micro-influencers that are a good fit by looking at other brands that share similar values or have a clear point of view.
  • (12:55): Keta defines micro-influencers as those with between 2,000 and 10,000 followers who have good engagement rates.
  • (13:51): Keta talks about their approach to growing their email list and collecting data on what kind of content their audience responds to.
  • (14:39): Keta mentions that their approach to turning first-time customers into repeat buyers is still evolving, and they are collecting information to understand what a meaningful subscription or membership program would look like.
  • (15:32): Keta explains that they use forms and pop-ups to collect emails on their website and are AB testing different offers to see what works best.
  • (16:23): Keta talks about their discovery kit, an introductory product for people to try all three fragrances and get a sense of the brand.
  • (17:37): Keta shares that they are still trying to figure out what kind of subscription or membership program would be interesting to their customers.
  • (18:25): Keta explains that one of the challenges they've faced is the conversion rate to full-sized purchases.
  • (19:50): Keta discusses the challenge of balancing their focus on being an omnichannel brand and how it will continue to bolster its D2C channel while also doing well in retail.
  • (20:23): Keta talks about the challenge of creating branded content that is high quality and aligns with their messaging.
  • (23:47): Keta discusses the challenges of hiring and delegating tasks to an intern.

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:01): Keta, welcome to Beyond the Inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Keta (00:05): Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to chat.

Sam (00:09): Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you started our Ourside?

Keta (00:14): Sure. so I live in New York now. I'm originally from Ohio. And my background has kind of not much to do with what I'm doing now except for that I learned how to be an intrapreneur. So I went to college you know, studied Portuguese and religion, kind of random things. Went to work for two huge companies, Kraft Heinz, and then Carnival Cruise Line. And then went to get my mba at Harvard in Boston. And it was while I was there that my passion for scent actually turned into something that was an inkling of a business idea. And so it was a conversation that I was having with my sister. I was visiting her in New York over Thanksgiving and we were discussing new products and new updates in our life. And she was telling me that she had made a lot of swaps for conscious products when it came to beauty products and skincare. And then when it came to fragrance that she had stopped wearing it. And for me this was really disappointing to hear because I'm like a fragrance lover, whether it's perfume or candles or burning Palo Santo or scent in my dream. Scent has always been a part of, of self-care for me. And so with her kind of more Gen Z attitude and me realizing that I wanted to start something that was the inkling of an idea that has now morphed into our side.

Sam (01:35): I have so many follow up questions. One thing I do wanna touch on, this is a quote from another interview. You said that my mother would often tell me, excuse me. My mother would often tell my sister and me a story of visiting to Nisia and smelling midnight Blossom Jasmine for the first time. That story has had such a profound impact on me that I've carried it with me through the years. Yes. Can you speak more on that <laugh>?

Keta (02:01): Definitely. So my mom is a Jamaican immigrant and she's done a lot of wild things in her life. One of which led to her becoming a backup dancer. And for one performance she went to Tunisia and she told my sister and me this story over and over again. This happened in 1984. But you know, the details are always hazy of exactly what she was doing there. But then she gets to the part of the story where she talks about opening this gate and seeing these midnight jasmine blooms and being by the water and smelling this incredible scent. And that part of the story is always the same. And so for me it's fascinating how scent can kind of transcend time and space and put us in a place, in a memory of somewhere where, you know, I've never been. And so for me it was powerful because I'm setting out to make, you know, sense that connect us. And so for me that was a very tangible example of how scent can bring us together in

Sam (03:00): We talked about your, me and you mentioned your sister before as well. During my research, I came across something that really stood out for me. You talked about how your sister is affected by Usma, if I'm not mistaken. And this was part of the reason for you to develop the fragrance brands. Can you speak more on now?

Keta (03:17): Yeah. So I think, you know, we are our own consumer and my sister and I both have allergies and asthma. And she was explaining to me that when it came to traditional fragrances, she would often get headaches and sometimes cough and sneeze when she was spraying them on. And so she felt like that in addition to companies not really supporting her, her values or sharing her values led to her not wanting to, you know, wear or use fragrance anymore. And so for us, when it came to deciding kind of who we are going to be as a company, what we're gonna stand for, and how the fragrances would actually look, that was a very important piece of the, of the puzzle is that we would create these consciously formulated fragrances that you know, don't have any animal byproducts that are safe to use on the skin and that are free from a lot of additives like phthalates that are contributing to, to headaches and some other kind of not so fun things.

Sam (04:16): Can you speak more on the importance of brand values for our side?

Keta (04:21): Yeah, I think at the heart of it, like that's what we have, right? We have our, our products and we have our sense, and I think they're special and great. But for me, since we're putting something new into this world, it was really important that we were conscious about how we do it. And so I would say that extends from our brand values to our product philosophy to the packaging that we use and where we make it. So for us in terms of brand values, it was thinking about all the things we want to be and all the, the things we strive to be as well, but also being realistic about what we as a small company can do. So for example I wouldn't say that we are a sustainable company. We have sustainability in mind because we make everything in the Bronx.

(05:07): And we right now ship only to the US so that helps our carbon footprint. We also produce our packaging. We source our packaging from the us, we produce it in the US right in New Jersey, which is right in that tri-state area. So we keep everything local as much as we can to reduce our impact and, you know, opt for materials that will reduce our impact as well. But we know that that's, you know, we're still putting something into, into the world. And so for us, the values are as much about how we wish we could be and how we realistically will be and how we can grow as a company as time goes on.

Sam (05:41): Can you speak on some of the ways you are communicating these values in your marketing materials?

Keta (05:46): Sure. So I think we communicate it on our website and in some emails in our email flows we talk a little bit about what our side is and, and what it means to us to create conscious formulations, what what we mean by conscious formulations because that could of course mean something different to every company. So we speak to that, what ingredients we opt to not use and in include. And then we have some exciting things coming up in terms of distribution. And so I think you'll see with the first partner that we've chosen there that they really speak to our values as well.

Sam (06:25): I wanna go back and talk about the rebranding that you did. So you were originally us spin a perfect carry, if I said that correctly. Yes. <laugh>. And now you are our side. Can you talk about that transition and the reason why you rebranded?

Keta (06:40): Sure. so first Apotheker is a mouthful, <laugh>. That was a very good and humbling learning I think in terms of, so how, how it all kind of came together. I started working on this while I was in business school the summer between my first and second year and was fortunate enough to get a grant from Harvard to start working and workshopping this idea. I am very much of the thought and the background that you need to test something quickly and learn from it. And so that is basically what we did. We put together a proof of concept where we kind of sprinted to put this kind of brand together and get something out there to get feedback. I think we learned a lot. So some of it great and some of it not so great that we used and put into, you know, what we, we didn't wanna become when we transitioned into our side.

(07:31): So in terms of the things that went really well, we were able to find our perfumer and manufacturer and that they are women of color owned business in the Bronx, New York. They're awesome and we continue to partner with them and will continue to partner with them. So that's something that has definitely stuck in terms of what has evolved is this realization that brand is really important and it's important that we communicate our values to whoever is going to support us and be a part of our community. I think that early on, that's something that we spoke about in internally when we talked about who we wanted to be, but we weren't so good at sharing that externally. And we realized that from the name to kind of how we came across, that wasn't at all what we envisioned really, it's just that we allowed ourselves to kind of be put in this box. Which is ironic because our side and Aspen Path Care we started because we felt like we weren't seen, like we weren't represented and like we wanted to be there for all the people who felt like they didn't fit in a box. So I'm really glad that I've had time to figure out this journey. And through the help of different, you know, accelerator programs kind of grown the brand into who we really wanted to be before we launched it. For real, you could say.

Sam (08:44): I wanted to ask you about, I know you trained as a figure skater and I wanted to ask you what are the differences and similarities between being an athlete and an entrepreneur?

Keta (08:58): Well, that's a good question. So I think, you know, both can be very lonely journeys. Figure skating is, is primarily a very individual sport. And when you're an entrepreneur, whether or not you have a co-founder, it's still you're bucking trends and you're kind of going against what might be expected of you. And some days your bills are stacking up and some days things are not going well and you still need to present a very positive front. And so I think they both can be very lonely journeys. I think with figure skating I also learned like you just need to keep on getting back up. You fall a lot when you're learning and you jump and no matter how bruised you get, you get back up and you try again. And I think that's something that perseverance has definitely helped me throughout my career and throughout this journey, even though we're in the early stages.

(09:48): And then I think the creativity piece is the third piece. So figure skating for me you learn a routine, but how you express it is up to you. And for entrepreneurship, especially with our side fragrance is this kind of creative endeavor. There are hard metrics as a company, as a startup that we need to measure up against, but part of it is inherently creative. And it's funny cuz I don't think of myself as a creative person, but I think there's space to express yourself differently. And so those three things are probably most similar between that journey and this one.

Sam (10:21): So let's transition into our side marketing strategy. How has it evolved over time and what has been most successful?

Keta (10:29): Sure. So for us, word of mouth right now is what's really successful. We're very early and I think having people talk about us and share what they love about us that's been really important. That's something that we also learn from the proof of concept is that that's sometimes is what gets somebody to be willing to try a new product, especially fragrance, which tends to be sticky but hard to get people to swap. And then email is a big strategy for us now we're growing our email list, it's you know, a little bit more than 10,000 people and right now we're not monetizing it a lot, but just learning what, what people respond to, what kind of content they wanna hear. And then of course the the typical, you know welcome series, post purchase, drip, you know, browse, abandonment, those kind of things.

(11:16): But I think that'll be an important way to be able to speak directly to our community. And then right now we're not doing a lot on the ads front but we are excited to lean more into kind of building community through micro influencers and nano influencers. I think it's great to see other people talking about your product and getting their very real feedback and thoughts and how they describe their experience with your product. And that's something we tried just a little bit when we launched since we did have limited product that we sold through. But I'm excited now that we have our second manufacturing order that's bigger to be able to test that and see what comes of that on a larger scale.

Sam (11:58): So let's dig into some of these a little bit more. You mentioned micro influences when you and I last spoke and I really wanted to learn more about that. Tell me how are you going about finding micro influences and what does that process look like from reaching out to them to whatever follows?

Keta (12:15): Sure. So I've spoken to a lot of different founders about this and everyone has their own opinions about what works or not and how best to execute it. Right now since we're in the early phases, it's kind of the scrappy like figure out a way to get it done and then if it works and we figure out that, you know, through the test, this is something that we wanna operationalize more, we can figure out how to scale it better. That's my viewpoint. So right now it's pretty manual. It is us looking for micro influencers that we think are a good fit either by looking at other brands that share similar values that they tend to talk about or that they might not share a lot of brands but they have a very clear point of view. And those values reflect our company values.

(12:55): And the way that we get in touch with them is literally DM-ing them. Some of them have emails on their profile, but we've found the best success with just the dm about who we are and what we're doing and inviting them to learn more. And from there we share a Canva document actually of kind of like a brand brief who we're about. So in case they wanted to click through a few things so that they can understand what we're looking to get out of a potential partnership we have a small contract that everyone signs and we ship them product and go from there and then stay in touch with them afterwards as well. Because my goal with this is that we find micro influencers who can eventually become brand evangelists for us. So that's the goal there. We're still trying to figure out if it's a good way to grow brand awareness and community or if it's also a good potential way to grow sales. But the jury's still out on that, so maybe when we chat next I'll have more information.

Sam (13:51): And how are you defining micro influencers? What's the number of followers they typically have?

Keta (13:57): Sure. So for us that's probably between like two and 10,000. It really, it fluctuates a lot and what we look for in our micro influencers are people who seem to have pretty good engagement rate. And so right now, since we're early and we're not working with you know, a ton of people, we literally do the digging ourselves of going through the comments on their posts and seeing what kind of interactions they're having and if they seem genuine, since we would much rather partner with somebody with a slightly smaller following who seems to have a community of people that they really genuinely speak with. People wanna know their real experiences when they're sharing about a product and you know, the goods, the bads, everything in between. And so that's kind of what we look for over just follower count.

Sam (14:39): I wanna go back to what you mentioned a moment ago about growing your email list and it's obviously a very big part of any e-commerce marketing strategy. How are you going about collecting emails on the website today? Are you using forms or popups?

Keta (14:54): So we have both. We primarily are using forms and those are I believe on our homepage and then every PDP product page as well. And yeah, it's a simple kind of email and offer. Some of them are just email, no offer and then the popup does have an offer and right now we're AB testing what that offer is. We tested both free shipping and a very slight discount and the very slight discount is what has one people over in terms of getting that conversion rate higher for us. But I know that depending on the product and and what it might be, that can look different for everyone.

Sam (15:32): And once they're on the email list and they're going through your welcome automation, is the goal to push for that first time purchase or is there another strategy in place sir?

Keta (15:43): So it depends on kind of like where they've signed up. If it looks like they had something in their cart and they literally abandoned it, then we're gonna do an abandoned cart series and kind of push for the purchase. If it's the welcome series, it gently encourages them to purchase, but it's really about building the brand story for now just because we are in the early stages and I'd rather have people who love us and then they're encouraged to purchase rather than being so put off by us trying to upsell. Especially since fragrance is such an emotional purchase it's really important that we're able to tug at their heartstrings using our, our story and what we're all about.

Sam (16:17): I wanted to ask you about something else you are doing as well, which I really like the discovery kit. Tell me about that.

Keta (16:23): Yeah, so that is <laugh>, we sold out of that faster than we thought we would. But that is kind of our intro strategy. So we know that we sell fragrance, which is, you know, you can't smell it over over the web and it's not like skincare where you can show it before and after or makeup where you can swatch it or food where you could even show it in a recipe. It's kind of this thing where it's just asking you to imagine what it might be like. And for some people that's really tough and we're selling a luxury product and so we wanted to create sort of an introductory product for people to be able to get a sense of the brand, try all three fragrances that we launched with, which are in this miniature little cute form of a discovery kit.

(17:04): And through that we then have an offer of the discovery kit price off of a full size purchase to encourage conversion from that kind of trial to a full size. And I think that's great because one, it gets a lot of people excited about us to try us, who might not be able to afford purchasing us right now. But two, it allows people to make sure that they know what they're getting so that our returns are going to be lower because they actually know which fragrance they love the most and they know exactly what they're getting when they purchase a bigger one.

Sam (17:37): I love that and I can imagine that is so valuable for so many people.

Keta (17:42): Yeah, yeah, it's been really great and I think that's why we sold out honestly faster than we thought we would and that conversion rate wasn't quite as high as we wanted it to be, which is a good learning for us. We have work to do on the email side, but great to know that so many people were interested in experiencing our brand a lot faster than we thought. We thought we had inventory for four months and it sold out in in a month. So that's really great news. We're doubling down on it and then we'll continue to evolve the strategy to try to increase the conversion rate to the full size and look at, you know, kind of different ways we can massage that.

Sam (18:14): What are your thoughts around turning first time customers into repeat buyers? As far as I can see on the website, you're not offering subscriptions right now. What will that look like in the future when you get to it?

Keta (18:25): That's a really good question and the answer is, I don't know. Right now the repeat buyers tend to buy the same fragrance over and over again. There's some like diehard fans and I love them for it. They literally within, you know, a month have maybe purchased twice or three times, maybe they purchase our 50 ml and are 10 ml and then they go and purchase another 10 ml for a gift or something like that. And that's all been within these few months. So I think we're, we still have a lot to learn in terms of what people want more from us. We are trying to make sure that in terms of product we think about how we we're expanding so that when people want to buy more from us, they have something more to purchase but that we also don't get too heavy and don't have too long of a tail in terms of assortment.

(19:10): And so I would say in this early stage it's really about making sure that we can be there for first time customers and the customers who are coming back their second or third time. And then slowly through that our goal is to gain insights to see what kind of a subscription or membership program might be interesting to somebody. Because as a brand, I think so many of us want to grow so fast and that we're willing to like try anything and everything all at the same time, which is great but also kind of messy. And so my goal is to collect information and understanding about what people get from us beyond just our products so that we can start to learn what a meaningful subscription or membership option would look like.

Sam (19:50): I think that's exactly the way to go and I can already see over time when you collect enough data from your customers, you'll be able to see how long it takes on average for someone to go through a 50 mil. Exactly. And then you can have an automation and so on. So I think there's so much potential there for you to explore.

Keta (20:08): I agree, I'm excited to learn. There's a lot you can learn with data, so yeah, I, I agree.

Sam (20:14): I wanna ask you about some of the challenges you're facing now when it comes to selling senses and fragrances and how are you are overcoming them?

Keta (20:23): Good question. So I think the first one I mentioned is a conversion to full size. So that we were hoping would be a lot higher to be frank. I think we had a lot of people who were sort of interested in learning more about us and I think that was a combination of having some organic talkers post about us who are really well loved in kind of this fragrance talk corner as well as having some really good press. That was kind of not unexpected, but we got a lot more than expected, really great organic press. And so that led to a lot of people who were mediocrely interested in us trying us, which is great. The more we get the word out, the better. But it also meant that then we didn't have product left for people who were actually super, super interested in, in trying the discovery kit because they were in, you know, intended to buy a full size bottle.

(21:12): So that was a big learning of like making sure we have product in stock, we have we had limitations because of some raw materials that we're on back order, yada yada yada, you know, as that kind of thing goes. But I think that was a, a big learning curve of if you don't have anything in stock, you can't sell anything. There are ways that you can still continue to engage your community and create, you know, back in stock lists and and whatnot. But that was definitely something that we've had to deal with. And then the second thing is I think thinking through what it means for us to be an omnichannel brand and how our future could look, I think especially for fragrance we knew that we didn't always wanna only be a DTC brand and so the next step looks like us going into retail especially because people can then smell it in person, but how will we continue to bolster our D two C channel and the love there while we also have this, you know, dual focus of doing well in retail. That's something that we still have to think through in terms of team structure as well since those competencies can be quite different.

Sam (22:16): What is your approach to creating branded content? We talked about social, we talked about emails. How do you ensure everything aligns with your messaging?

Keta (22:26): That is a good question and something that we're still working through. So I would say that's another challenge for us as a small brand. Luckily the brand looks awesome. I think, you know, of course I'm <laugh>, I'm biased. But we've got a lot of great positive feedback on on how we look and present as a brand and it's bigger than we are, which is is great, but also we still have <laugh> regular old limitations, especially when it comes to content creation since it can be expensive and we really wanna make sure that things are, as you said on brand. And so that's something we're thinking through of where is that balance between putting out enough content so that we can learn what, what works in terms of the different content buckets so that we can replicate that but also having it be high quality enough that we're getting, you know, actual good feedback. And that is something we're thinking through. Right now I just hired an intern who is younger than me and is a content creator so I'm excited to learn from her honestly. But that is something that we're thinking through a lot. And another reason that it's great to partner with micro influencers because a lot of them are kind of content creators and so we're able to leverage their content on our page as well. But that is something that we're thinking through.

Sam (23:40): How has it been for you hiring an intern? Have you had to overcome the struggles of, what has that been like for you?

Keta (23:47): Oh, definitely <laugh>. Definitely I think, you know, my previous roles I, at Kraft Heinz I didn't have anyone reporting to me. It was my first job outta college and then at Carnival Cruise line I had an interesting situation where I had people who didn't directly report to me, but they were really responsible for the, the success of my business unit and so had to learn how to lead through influence. And then I did have a, a direct report and I think, you know, I implicitly trusted her with everything cuz I had been able to work with her on another project and delegating was much easier then. Now I think one thing I've learned about bringing team members on is that it's extra time and extra energy and effort. So you definitely have to be ready because it is hard to have discrete tasks that you can explain to somebody else. So right now my approach is that I'm starting rather slow and that way she can understand who we are giving her discreet content pieces that I want her to produce, but none of which we need right at this moment. So that way she has a little bit of time to get situated, to get ready and for us to understand one another. But so far so good.

Sam (24:55): I'm glad to hear it's difficult for a lot of founders, especially to delegate and it's hard enough delegating to employees, much less interns. So I think you are on the right track there for sure.

Keta (25:06): Thank you. I agree it's, it's hard when you have your vision to, to let it go a little bit, but I know that in order to grow that's necessary. So that's what I keep reminding myself.

Sam (25:16): So we have a few more minutes left here and I wanna ask you, can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that our listeners can look forward to?

Keta (25:25): Sure. I guess one upcoming project, I can only hint at it, but we're working on different scent applications and by that I mean fragrance can come in the form of, you know, a perfume or a candle or a diffuser. So we're, we're working hard there and excited for what's to come. And then another one that I can only hint at cuz it hasn't happened yet, we haven't launched there yet, but we will be in person in quite a few cities and so I think I'm really looking forward to that as well. And beyond that, everything else is in the works.

Sam (26:00): I think that's a perfect place to bookend this conversation. Ka where can our listeners go to learn more about our side in the work you're doing?

Keta (26:08): Sure. So our website is www dot our side NYC and on Instagram you can also find us at our side nyc. And same with LinkedIn, I believe.

Sam (26:20): Perfect. Well Keta, I have learned a lot and I'm certainly gonna think a lot more about scent and story moving forward and I wanna thank you again for taking the time to join us today and all the best with our side.

Keta (26:32): Thank you so much.