For this first episode of Agents of Innovation Season 2, Dave’s guests are the co-founders of Slate Milk, Manny Lubin, and Josh Belinsky. Recovery has become a pillar of every athlete’s training regimen – as important as gear, workouts, nutrition, and data/analytics – and chocolate milk has long been one of the best-kept recovery secrets of serious athletes. Unfortunately, chocolate milk has been considered a kids’ drink, not a serious recovery beverage, and not optimized for the nutritional + recovery needs of the athlete. Enter Slate Milk. Founded by Josh + Manny with a vision to create a “clean slate” for chocolate milk by offering an “adult version” – all-natural, lactose-free, with 20g protein, 0g added sugar, and more protein, carbs, electrolytes. In just a few short years, the duo has experienced a successful Kickstarter launch, an appearance on Shark Tank, and successful launches at top retailers, including Wegmans, Whole Foods, Publix, Giant, Harris Teeter and selling in CrossFit boxes, Amazon, and for delivery via GoPuff.  Manny and Josh share the story of their journey, including how they build teams, stay focused, and are creating a fitness brand found in grocery aisles – not the nutrition section – that people consume every day for strength + energy.  

Podcast Highlights

4:50 – What Is Slate and who is the Slate customer?: Manny says, “Our customer is an active millennial or a healthy-minded parent. People with a healthy mindset.”

6:19 – Where to buy Slate Milk: Josh says,  “We started off locally. We really tried to focus and we still are very focused on the east coast. So we’re in Whole Foods, all over New England, and Roche Brothers. Those are our two launch partners up here in the Northeast. But over the last two years, we’ve really started to progress and take over more of the east coast.”

10:35 – Buzz and Boots Model: Josh says, “Manny and I had a mission of, let’s not go everywhere, too fast. We’re going to focus on four retailers for the first year and be the number one item in our set, which we were very lucky and able to accomplish. We call it the Buzz and Boots model where Manny and his team just build as much buzz that they humanly can, mostly through social media and partnering with these athletes and influencers.”

14:49 – Slate’s Casein protein vs Whey protein: Manny says, “One of the reasons we love milk is it’s 80% casein, 20% Whey. Casein actually makes you feel full for longer. So a lot of people are using our products almost like a bridge meal. We do think that there’s going to be a little bit of a movement towards casein and the sports and fitness world. ”

16:00 – How Kickstarter worked for Slate as a launch platform + concept validation: Manny says, “We were found by both Whole Foods and Shark Tank scouts. These were the first dominos for us but helped us knock over more. Kickstarter was a sign that people wanted our product, not that they were just supporting us. And gave us “pretail” value.” 

21:03 – The Shark Tank Experience: Manny says,  “Positive experience for us. If anyone saw the episode, it didn’t go as planned. Uh, but we, we got the brand out there and we, it drove sales, it drove awareness. And we, we, we used the momentum from the show, um, to really help us get into retailers.”

Josh says, “I think the only potential negative is the amount of time that it takes. I think it takes a lot more time than people think. We put hours and hours into it,  into the different actual legal stuff, the application,  you’re flying out there.”

24:20 – The strategy of being deliberate. Focused. And the art of saying No: Manny says, “I think a lot of times we think about in the future, what, which path will we regret less if it doesn’t go as planned. And I think that if we can’t make a decision, that’s really how we think.” 

Josh says, “Our strategy has been to focus, be the number one selling item. If we went national with places all over the country, we couldn’t support it with the marketing and the field team, unless we want to raise $50 million tomorrow.”

26:00 – How Slate has approached venture capital/funding: Josh says, “So our strategy so far has been purely individuals and angels too. Our cap tables are big, we didn’t take a million dollars from five people total and call it a day. We have chosen to take the path. If somebody can add value, even if they’re not a food person, those circles grow.”

29:30 – Keys to success: David says, “Don’t just raise money, raise smart money. Know what you don’t know; always have a beginner’s mind. And follow what Chase Garbarino does.”

30:40 – Why the Boston startup community is a great place to start + grow.  Manny says, ” We just love the people here, the people on our team just want to be a part of that. It’s a great place to build a network. And I think that’s what we’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people that just want to help. “

33:00 – The meaning of Brand:  Manny says, “Brand is who you are, why you exist. Why does the world need you? So many great options in every category. Every brand should have a purpose to do more than just sell a product. We’re evolving into a strength + energy brand as we want to give people strength.”

36:00 – Why every startup founder has an obligation to help with sustainability. Josh says, “We’re trying to actually create and give to the world with our product. We wanted to make sure that with a specific beverage, could we make the best positive impact on the world and what we didn’t even realize is how many of the issues that people have with milk is simply treatment of the animals, the impact  of water on the planet, the impacts of methane that’s going into the sky from the cows.”

37:00 – Culture + Mindset: Manny says,  “Before we’re founders, we’re people. If your end goal is just to make a lot of money, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Buyers and consumers all say “Are these good people or just trying to jam something down our throat?”

44:20 – Entrepreneurial DNA + mindset: Josh says, “We take pages out of playbooks from companies we want to emulate. We believe in grit, hustle, will make it happen. We keep looking to others for learnings, lessons and are constantly listening to startup stories,  listening to what went wrong”

46:10 – What’s next + what success means:  Manny says, Our end goal is to be on top of every set we sell in. Our long-term goal is to create a brand that people consume every day.”