Today's guest started his company by doing what most entrepreneurs do - outsourcing manufacturing to China. But after this nearly affected his product's quality and production rate, he started looking for affordable ways to manufacture at home. What he found opened the floodgates to more opportunities - he could launch more successful products by shipping faster and testing the market quickly, a system he calls "fast factory." Since then, he has successfully launched many more products.
Join us now as our guest, Anthony Franco, Founder of MC Squares and inventor of the Reusable Sticky Note, shares the ideas behind his winning method, his marketing wins and misses, and lessons from his experiences. It is a fun interview; you will be glad you clicked the play button.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
The drawbacks of manufacturing in China and why you may need a backup plan.
How retailers can hamper product innovation and why you may need to start preparing ahead.
Benefits of quickly shipping new products to test the market.
The power of influencer marketing and what it entails.
And many more.
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
MC Squares are inventors of the Reusable Sticky Note and also the manufacturers of other reusable products for home and office use. Their products have been featured on Shark Tank, where they secured a deal, and on USA Today, Wired, Daily Beast, Buzzfeed and Bloomberg. Visit www.mcsquares.com to get great deals on these products now.
To be a guest on our next Harvest Growth Podcast, contact us today!
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare [00:00:00]: Marketing a new product is really a numbers game. So the more products you can launch, the more successes you'll have, even though you'll likely have a few misses along the way. When you find ways to be fast and flexible with your manufacturing, you can test more products and get to the successes faster. Today's guest brought his manufacturing in house for the ultimate flexibility and has had many successful product launches since then. It's a really fun interview, so be sure to stick through to the end. [Intro] Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, john LeClaire. Welcome back to the show. Jon LaClare [00:00:49]: I'm really excited to be interviewing Anthony Franco today. He's the founder of MC Squares. You can check out his product at MC, the letter M. Marycharlisquares.com. We're going to dive into more of what the product is, and I know you're going to love it. But he's also got a great story or backstory behind this as well that we'll get into in our interview today. Well, first of all, Anthony, welcome to the show. Anthony Franco [00:01:12]: Thanks for having me, John. Jon LaClare [00:01:14]: So let's start off. Can you explain? What are MC squares? Anthony Franco [00:01:19]: Well, high level, it's reusable stationery. So we're the inventor of the Reusable sticky Note, so we make little flexible reusable sticky notes that stick to anything shiny. You expand that out. We make to do lists and planners and calendars, and then we also make rigid whiteboards. So everything that works with wet erase and dry erase markers, that's handheld, we kind of make a version of that, a high end version of that. Primarily we sell on our website, but mostly we sell on Amazon and trying to get into retail. We've been in consumer packaged goods since 2019, so we've been around for four years and we're plugging away. We're the manufacturer, so we make our own stuff. Anthony Franco [00:02:06]: We're made in the USA company, so that's fun too. Jon LaClare [00:02:12]: I'd love to dive into that a little bit further in a minute of the make your own stuff thing. It's not very common. Before we do, let's just a little bit more on the product. So what was the first one that you came out? Was it the Post It Note or was it something else that was your very first product you launched? Anthony Franco [00:02:25]: No, the first product that we made, we still used for NASA training centers and Air Force training centers, and high schools have these in their classrooms. They're a templated dry erase board that have magnets on them. So you think about things individually. You bring it up to the front of the room and stick it on a whiteboard and collaborate on it. That was the first thing that we launched, and that's not a consumer product. So it's more of a b to B sale, and those are still doing fairly well. I discovered this really interesting material in 2018 that had it's called Micro Suction. It sticks with suction. Anthony Franco [00:03:17]: And so I found it and I'm like, oh wait, this could be something really cool if I put a dry race surface on it. We have a reusable sticky note. And it's kind of an interesting angle because most of the time you're told to start a company by finding customer need and then making a product for it. And actually I found a cool material that could fulfill a customer need. So I kind of did it backwards. Jon LaClare [00:03:44]: And it is amazing. I've got one for our video audience. I stick these right on the edge of my computer. You can't see that part and it sticks really well. Super easy reusable. You can use it a bunch of times and just rinse it off in water to take the ink off it's. Anthony Franco [00:03:58]: The two year sticky note. We warranty them for two years. Jon LaClare [00:04:02]: Wow, that's awesome. Really? I didn't realize it was that long. Yeah, I think on the backside, obviously you can collect some dust if I use it on my dirty desk or whatever. And you just rinse off with soap and water the backside if you ever need to refresh it, right? Anthony Franco [00:04:14]: Yeah, exactly right. Jon LaClare [00:04:16]: And one of the things I love about it comes with at least the postit note version comes with a wet erase marker. So once it's dried on there for a few seconds, I write my notes. As I'm taking notes during our interview here. And you can put your fingers over them. They don't smudge, it doesn't go away. So it really is like having a paper postit note, but it's reusable and. Anthony Franco [00:04:35]: The writing all of our products, that's our brand of wet erase. It's called a tacky marker. And every one of our products comes with a tacky marker. And then we also sell those tacky markers independently. Jon LaClare [00:04:47]: Very cool. I was going to ask you if you guys developed those yourself or if it's your own product. Very cool. So do you have from all the products now, you started with one B to B. You've got the posted notes we talked about. You've got a long list of other SKUs or products in our website and on Amazon. Do you have a favorite that you use more often than the others personally? Anthony Franco [00:05:06]: Well, we just launched I'll try to point it at my desk here. This is going to be upside down, but we just launched this desk. The this is a big, huge dry erase sticky note, basically, that sticks to our desk. I love this thing. It's a mouse pad desk mat. I use this now every day, but it's brand new. Before that, it's these reusable notepads. So this would sit on my desk. Anthony Franco [00:05:30]: And I don't keep notes, but I take notes. And that just helps me remember what I need to do. And then sometimes I'll have, like, a little to do list on it, but it's great. I just erase it and start over again every day. So it's either those what we call jotters, which is utilizing lows pads, but I use the desk mat all day, every day. Jon LaClare [00:05:55]: That's cool. I'll have to check that one out. And there's obviously a lot of variety on your site as well. On your product journey, have you had any surprises that really took off? They're like, wow, I didn't realize that one was going to be quite so much a success. Anthony Franco [00:06:08]: I'm still waiting for that one. No, our products are relatable. In other words, they're not so far out there that you don't know what they are. But it's not something that people are looking for. So we're having to do a lot of customer education and product awareness stuff. I wouldn't say that we've had a viral launch of any kind, so we're just slowly growing month over month. Unfortunately, no surprises. Jon LaClare [00:06:46]: That's not always a bad thing. Sometimes those surprises come and go quickly too. Anthony Franco [00:06:50]: Right. Jon LaClare [00:06:50]: It's good to have that steady growth and frankly, to be spread with your revenue across a lot of different variety or a lot of different products. So let's get back into the manufacturing. You mentioned. How you do it yourself? I'm trying to think back if I've ever had an interview on this podcast. We've had a few clients that have done their own, but it's usually they own a factory to begin with, and then they get into marketing their own stuff or whatever. So how'd you do that? I guess getting from the point of not only developing this coming up, the idea, but now your own factory, your own magnufacturing? Anthony Franco [00:07:17]: Well, it's certainly not how I started. So I started our first product, which is more of an industrial whiteboard, handheld whiteboard product. I self taught, SolidWorks, and designed the product in three D and sent it off and had the molds, and it injected molded in China. And that product, it was doing fairly well. And I went to place my second order, and the manufacturer said, oh, we lost the molds. You're going to have to pay us to redo the molds. And at that moment, I realized I don't own the business they do. So I thought, this isn't super complicated. Anthony Franco [00:08:04]: Let me redesign it in something that doesn't need to be molded, but we can cut it out of acrylic sheets and different types of plastics. And so I redesigned the product, bought a CNC router, and started cutting the product and manufacturing the product here locally. And that's really how we got into manufacturing. It was out of necessity. And then I discovered this microsection material, and we bought a really nice cutting machine and printing machines and just kind of expanded the factory organically like that, based on new products that we wanted to Launch. And now our factory is 20,000 sqft. We make our own packaging. We package our own products. Anthony Franco [00:08:49]: We've developed what's known as what I'm calling a fast factory. So we've developed this factory with a lot of technology in the background, so we can do what I call small batch at scale. So I can launch 25 units of a product, test it in the market, and if it doesn't work, I kill it. And if it does work? I scale it. The factory is a pretty mature factory even though it's only two, three years old in its current. Jon LaClare [00:09:20]: Know as you're talking I wrote down the note know doing your own manufacturing bring it especially coming from China. Even if you're working with a local factory that's not your own, you've got a lot more flexibility. That's the word I first wrote down is the ability. But I love how you talked about that flexibility of launching new products to the test markets where man, the timelines can be really long. It can be very expensive. Even if your manufacturer is just down the street from you. But when you own that process yourself, you can cut the time down, cut the cost down and really take bigger well, I would say bigger risks, but less expensive risks. Right? You can take more chances. Jon LaClare [00:09:53]: Let's say it that way. Anthony Franco [00:09:53]: Yeah. Look, 70% of consumer products fail. 70%. So there's two ways of trying to tackle that, right? One is getting really good at product specification and audience selection and understanding consumers and doing a lot of strategic work up front or launch a whole bunch of products and keep the winners. I tend to think that launching faster and being willing to fail has more chance of success because all that product research takes you a long time. And by the time you're done with it and start to go through the manufacturing process, the market may have changed. I'm a big fan of. Obviously. Anthony Franco [00:10:43]: I kind of drank the Kool Aid on that way that we're doing know. Jon LaClare [00:10:47]: It reminds me my long term listeners will maybe remember a story from a long time ago I shared, but from my time with OxiClean and working with the founders of that company. So I used to work in house with that. And they shared a story one time about our company back then. Right. It's been sold off. It was back before I started Harvest Growth. Long time ago. But like a fast moving train and really launching products is like that. Jon LaClare [00:11:11]: They would describe it as running down the tracks. You've got stuff flying off the side hinges, doors. Little things are going, but the train is still moving. You're still growing. And it's kind of like that. There's so many ways to take that story. I think the way I take it with you, what you're talking about is you get products that are going to fall off along the way, right? The More you can launch and keep that train going, driving towards really strong growth, the better, and realize, no matter what, you're going to lose stuff along the way, even the best. Before OxiClean, I was at Kraft Foods, and we would spend, typically $2 million on any individual product launch, which made it really risky, which made it so we didn't launch a lot, and we had a 90% failure rate. Jon LaClare [00:11:50]: This is years ago, right before online, ecommerce, et cetera. And it's just very different in the grocery world. So when they worked, obviously, it's big, big brands, it paid for itself, but you still have stuff falling off the side even if you're going slow and careful. So, man, you might as well have funnel away and launch as much as you can and find that we can. Anthony Franco [00:12:08]: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to talk over you. I can think of a product right now and have a working product, not a prototype, an actual product tomorrow afternoon. And the limiter of our ability to launch a product isn't the product, it's the photography and the copywriting and publishing. It on Amazon. Usually, the last thing that you do or the shortest thing that you do, is the longest part of it. For us, that's the publishing and the marketing and the copywriting. But the product itself takes us no time whatsoever. I think about it. Anthony Franco [00:12:49]: We design it in Illustrator, pump it through the factory, print it, cut it, and ship it. It's that fast. Jon LaClare [00:12:56]: I love it. Obviously, not every listener is going to be able to truly manufacture as quickly as that or do it all in house. But finding ways to get closer to that, right? Finding ways to be more flexible as to get into test markets faster right. The next day is amazing. And if our listeners can get there, awesome. But even, frankly, if it's a month, right, versus a year, that's fantastic as well. So finding that faster path to test marketing is a great advantage. I love it. Jon LaClare [00:13:24]: So let's talk about marketing. What so far for your business has really worked best to help with your growth. Anthony Franco [00:13:31]: So we do yeah. I'm trying to figure this is such a complex topic for us. To be candid, we have not had much success with traditional it's kind of funny to say traditional social media marketing, but that's where we're at. Right. You know, Facebook ads, Google Ads just are not successful for us. And when I say successful, we get a lot of reach. But the cost for those ads, compared to the value that a customer brings, we just haven't been able to achieve a good ROI on it yet. So most of our marketing is twofold. Anthony Franco [00:14:16]: One. It's standard PPC advertising on Amazon and authentic Influencer marketing. And when I say authentic, all we do is send product to influencers and say, Tell us what you think, and we get a lot of organic, authentic influencers just saying, hey, Look At This Cool Product This Company Sent Me. It's unpaid. So we see a lot of great halo effect around that. Initiatives. We send out quite a bit of free product to influencers just to get that organic reach. And it's great because they appreciate the free product. Anthony Franco [00:15:01]: And if we didn't make something good, they wouldn't mention it. So it's good validation from that perspective. And we do a little bit of paid content creation, but it's not a lot. Most of it is just authentic influencer outreach. And then we just send traffic into. Jon LaClare [00:15:16]: Amazon from that how do you find these influencers? I'm sure not everybody you send ends up doing a great video. It's a numbers game. But how do you find ones that may be potential good partners for you? Anthony Franco [00:15:29]: I have a diabolical marketer. Amanda. Amanda comes from PopSockets. She used to be their head of influencer and PR marketing, and she's just influencer marketing takes a very special and unique person that treats it. Like, Amanda would be a killer salesperson if she liked doing sales, because that's really what influencer marketing is. It's doing a ton of outreach, a ton of cold outreach to influencers that she likes and says, hey, would you like to take some product? And it's a constant battle to find these influencers, and it's a process and a funnel and a lot of work, and she's just excellent at it. Jon LaClare [00:16:21]: And you talked about reaching out to them. Is that done before you send the sample? Do you have that communication happen? Like, hey, can I send you something? Get their approval before actually mailing it in the mail. Anthony Franco [00:16:31]: Well, yeah, because we don't have their addresses, obviously. So, yeah, it's cold. Outreach. Being persistent? Relentless. Jon LaClare [00:16:41]: Yeah, for sure. Well, if you think back, let's talk about learnings in the business. If you could go back and do your first full year in business all over again with all you've learned since then? Hasn't been that long. But you've had a great journey of growth since then. What would you do differently? What'd you learn now that you wish you would have done differently. Maybe that first year in business. Anthony Franco [00:17:01]: Well, the way I operate is I launch first and ask questions later. So I move and then figure it out along the way. And that really wasn't the right way to start an Amazon business because I thought we came up with this reusable sticky note. I'm like, let's throw it on Amazon, see what happens. And it kind of took off. And I'm not saying like this hockey stick growth, but week over week, month over month, we kept growing. And I actually started our account incorrectly and started those listings incorrectly. So we had this good selling product that was kind of set up incorrectly on Amazon that I wish I would have set it up. Anthony Franco [00:17:46]: Like in hindsight, I wish I knew what I knew then. That I know now. To set that up. Amazon's a beast to sell on. And so, yeah, gosh, there's so many things I wish I knew back then that I know now, and it's constantly changing. So for sure, Amazon, I also, in hindsight, I wish I would have taken the merchandise, the shelf merchandisability. Merchandisability. What's the word? Help me with the word. Jon LaClare [00:18:27]: What's the I would say merchandising. Make it easy. Anthony Franco [00:18:30]: Merchandising. Thank you. I would have taken the shelf merchandising a lot more seriously for hitting retail shelves because we're behind on the retail side a bit. We've made a lot of ground up. But yeah, getting into retail and big box retail can be a big challenge, not just from a product perspective, but also how you think about your products selling online is a lot different than what it's going to take to sell it off of a retail shelf. Jon LaClare [00:19:04]: I think along those same lines, it's important to realize, I know you know this, how long those timelines can be getting into retail, where you can make a product invent it today, produce it tomorrow, be on Amazon as soon as you can, get pictures done right. So very quickly. And your website as well, retail man. Even if it's successful and they love it, it may take six months or more from your first initial meeting with them until it's actually on shelf, depending on small versus big, et cetera. Anthony Franco [00:19:32]: Yeah. So small independent retailers, they could place an order today and have it on shelf next week. But big company retailers like Target and Walmart, it's 18 months. And I actually think that's going to change. I'm making a bet that that's going to change, that big box retailers are going to value companies like ours that can produce in smaller batch tests and do some shorter run tests in stores and then roll it and then treat their in store advantage with some of the ecommerce flexibility that exists. I hope that's going to come to play because we built our factory around it. Jon LaClare [00:20:19]: Yeah, I hope so. I think you may be right. Hopefully, we're swinging back towards supporting real innovators rather than the kind of the riskless, but growthless opportunities. Just to add in another skew for an existing brand on shelf that might sell 1% more than it previously did, these companies, especially Walmart, back in the days, I think back to my OxiClean days, they were really innovative and they've gotten so big. It gets harder, but it's just a conscious decision to be able to launch things in fewer stores, do these little test marks and markets and find great, successful entrepreneurs like yourself that can help drive their growth and start small with them. They don't need to get it into three, four, 5000 stores at the same time. I agree with you. I hope they're swinging the pendulum back the other direction to really get more innovative. Anthony Franco [00:21:08]: It's funny, in my aisle at Target, right, the aisle that we belong in. It's funny because the innovation from Sticky Notes is like, hey, we've launched a four pack in four colors versus the three pack. Right. That's the innovation in the space. It's a little frustrating to get these buyers to recognize that there can be innovation outside of different pack sizes and a slightly different foil stamp on the packaging versus the fact that the product is a unique way of thinking about stationery in general. And I think that same mentality carries through all the aisles within a Target or Walmart too, there's just a hesitancy to innovate, probably because frankly, doing business with them is very difficult and it's expensive. You have to be a big company to be able to do business with Target or Walmart because it's expensive to do business with them. Jon LaClare [00:22:15]: Agreed. Yeah, very true. Well, Anthony, are there any resources that you'd recommend, things that have been helpful for you and your business? Anthony Franco [00:22:26]: Yeah, so for me, the most help has been very localized. So I've been purposeful about being engaged with the local startup community. And in Colorado, the local startup community is phenomenal. So I've been very lucky to have a lot of other entrepreneurs to bounce ideas off of and to also help and help with my own experience. And there's something for me about just engaging with other entrepreneurs. It's a lonely gig. And finding other people with the same disease I have has been uplifting, to say the least. So if anybody that's listening isn't involved in their local community and has entrepreneur friends, go find them. Anthony Franco [00:23:27]: I find giving is a lot more rewarding than giving back, especially in that environment. Also, it's kind of a no BS zone right from my side. Typically from friends and family and employees, people tend to tell you what they think you want to hear where a fellow entrepreneur is going to tell you. That's a terrible idea and I don't get enough of that. So I would encourage people to go and find local communities where they can go have a breakfast or a coffee or just have a zoom call and connect with people that have the same maybe not having the same issues that you're having as a business, but the same issues you're having as a leader. Jon LaClare [00:24:20]: Yeah, that's great advice. And they don't have to be even product businesses. I know you might be in a group with people from completely different industries, but it is amazing how often the big high level issues are very similar. And learnings that they've had getting through solving problems can really apply to our businesses as well. So we can help and we can receive help from owners of other businesses. Anthony Franco [00:24:45]: Age of company matters, but what you're selling, that typically doesn't make as big a difference. Jon LaClare [00:24:54]: Yeah, great point, great point. Well, Anthony, is there anything I didn't ask that you think could be helpful for our audience? Anthony Franco [00:25:01]: Yeah, I just like to underscore the fact that for the founders that are listening, that are feeling lost and lonely, like, that's normal. You know, I often get asked, you know, I'm I'm thinking about becoming a founder. I'm thinking about becoming I'm thinking about starting my own company. What's your advice? And my the first thing I say every time is, don't do it. And they look at me like, what are you talking about? You're doing it. How could you tell other people not to do it? And I find that the ones that listen to me, they were right not to listen to me. And the ones that think I'm an idiot, they're right. I am an idiot. Anthony Franco [00:25:56]: Right? So it's kind of a self selecting answer. So it's hard. It's not for everybody. It's not glamorous. You need to have no shame and no ego when you do this. And that feeling of loneliness is normal. That feeling of I always put it like, you know that moment where you're just about to fall asleep in bed and you jump up, you jerk up and you jump. Have you ever had that? That's what it feels like all the time. Anthony Franco [00:26:29]: And that's okay. That's normal. That panic feeling. And if you're not feeling that, if you're not feeling that, if you're not feeling panic, then you're missing something. So embrace that feeling. Embrace the loneliness. Get used to it. And if you can, persevere through it. Jon LaClare [00:26:49]: Great advice. Yeah. I think everyone should really take that to heart at any stage of business. Frankly, in all the conversations I've had, those feelings, they exist when you're making $100 of revenue, right? When you're just starting out, and they exist when you're making $100 million. When you're still in that entrepreneurial stage. They're different, right. But it is lonely, or can be lonely. It's amazing. Jon LaClare [00:27:13]: When you have the passion for it, obviously, you love it. I love it. But with anything we love, there's hardship along the way, and you've got to have that passion that's going to keep you going. So I love that answer you give to people, because like you said, if they're going to be turned away from that response and decide not to go on their own, then they shouldn't do it because it's going to be hard. But if they've got the passion to ignore you, they need that because they're going to have to ignore a lot along the way. You're going to get no's at every step of the journey, for sure. Anthony Franco [00:27:39]: Yeah. Jon LaClare [00:27:39]: Well, Anthony, I really appreciate the time. This has been a really fun interview. I know our audience is going to love this as well. Thanks again for joining the show today. Anthony Franco [00:27:46]: Thanks again, John. Jon LaClare [00:27:48]: Be sure to check out Anthony's email@example.com. As always, you can find it in the show notes. And also be sure to check out Harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. And if you'd like to take a shortcut and learn the process that we've used to profitably launch and grow hundreds of products since 2007, download our secret sauce product marketing campaign Cheat Sheet at harvestgrowthsecretsauce.com. Or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free, one on one consultation.