Adam Robinson: All right. Josh Taekman, founder and CEO of EBOOST has an incredibly interesting career trajectory that has taken him there, unlike anybody I've ever met before. So, when I first learned of this, we were hanging out in New York like 15 years ago with Cash and Quintin and Daphne, who I was dating at the time, and he showed me this picture of you, Jay-Z, P Diddy, like the whole lineup of all the coolest artists of the time and you at like Marquee or something. I don't even remember what it was. I was like, "Dude, what is up with that?" Then you told me this crazy story about how you got into that world, what you were doing. So, could you just take us back to what you were doing and how you got there and start there?
Josh Taekman: Yeah. It's kind of a crazy story, considering where I came from. I grew up in Danville, California, which I don't know if you know it. It's a really, really nice little suburb outside of San Francisco, about 40 minutes. Extremely uncultured. I think we had one or two African-American families in our whole town of like 30,000 people. But for some reason, at a young age, I got hooked on hip-hop. I think Rapper's Delight just like connected me to the music. And then when I was like, let's see, I was probably 10 and 11, my best friend at this time, this kid, Kenny de Flore's sister, was older and she dated a little bit of a roguy that lived outside in Livermore, which was not necessarily, it was a little bit of the transient area of Livermore. And he was 16 and so we convinced him to take us to the Fresh Festival and bring us with him because he was going, and the Fresh Festival was in Oakland Colosseum. So, here we are. We're, I think, 11, maybe 12, and we're taking Bart to the biggest hip-hop concert in Oakland when back then like gangs were a big thing in Oakland and we literally showed up there. We had no idea, right? We were just these kids from the super-protected area and there's gang fights. I mean, it was crazy. We got shot at leaving the concert. A kid got beat up in front of me by 16 other kids. He got gang beat because they wanted his Georgetown Hoyas jacket. And we were like the only two white guys there. I'm like, "What is going on? What is happening?"
It was so intriguing to me, I just loved it. For some reason, I was like the danger element, the excitement element, and I just loved the music. And so, for some reason, I was just totally attracted to that culture and that lifestyle. And then when I went to school at University of Arizona, I would promote parties. So, I basically would bring hip-hop artists into Tucson and create nightclubs with different artists performing. So, I was always kind of into it. And then when I lived in L.A., I was an intern, an unpaid intern. I think I got free lunch on a Friday at a rap label called Tough Break, and they had a bunch of different hip-hop artists but it kind of got me a chance to get a taste of that industry in the music industry. And then I ended up moving to New York on a whim in 1996. I wanted to be in the music industry but it was weird because I had another job after that internship in the entertainment industry. So, I actually got a real salary and had a real job. So, I was a little too proud to go back and be someone's assistant. So, every job I was interviewing for was for an assistant. I wasn't quite qualified to be a product manager, and there was this guy named Steve Rifkind that had SRC, which was a marketing agency and Loud Records, and I loved what he was doing. He was working with Levi's and all these cool brands and helping them market their product to the urban culture.
And I'm like, "That's it. I'm the bridge between like. Mainstream American urban culture like it speak both, well, I don't speak that language very well but I understand it. But I understood how to bridge the two. So, I finally got a meeting with Steve Rifkind, and it was, without question, the worst meeting in my life. He literally said, "Why are you here?" I said, "I want to get a job at SRC, blah, blah, blah." He's like, "Not hiring." And I'm like, "But I can blah, blah." He's like, "I'm not hiring." "Blah, blah, blah." "I'm not hiring." And after like four...
Adam Robinson: It's interesting to me that he took the meeting with you to just say that.
Josh Taekman: It was crazy. I'm like I came in through a mutual friend, and literally he gave me like 2 minutes of not hiring. And I'm like, "You know what, f*ck this guy." I go, "I go create this on my own." I go, "Who could I do it with?" And I'm like, "Well, Puffy." I mean, Bad Boy at the time was the hottest, had the most heat and he was becoming, you know, from behind the scenes as a producer to very, very out in front of the industry. And ironically, like a week later, I was in Miami, I met the guy that was transitioning from Arista to be the president of Bad Boy. Just totally...
Adam Robinson: And you're 23 or something at this point?
Josh Taekman: I'm in my twenties, yeah. I'm like 24, 25. I just moved to New York. Literally, I knew nobody. I knew two people that lived in New York.
Adam Robinson: I mean, that's thinking pretty big for a 25-year-old, right? Like to just be like, "I can do this for these huge brands," and like, I mean, maybe I'm trying to get myself to think that way at that age, and I just wasn't thinking that way, you know.
Josh Taekman: I don't mind. I guess I'm always a dreamer. So, I always think about, you don't even think that there's any boundaries, right? Like, if you can't dream it and believe it, then you can't do it. I just couldn't imagine how I couldn't do it. I'm like, "Of course, I could do it." I mean, when you're doing nightclubs in college, like you're kind of doing it at a smaller scale.
Adam Robinson: Right. Yeah. Totally.
Josh Taekman: It's just elevated to a higher thing. So, I'm in New York. I don't have a job. My friend's letting me sleep on his parquet floor. And I have this meeting where I think I'm going to get a job at SRC. By the way, I was too proud to be an assistant but I was ready to work for free to prove myself at SRC. Just give me a door or window open. I'll prove myself. He didn't give me that opportunity. So, I meet this guy, Jeff Burroughs, that's coming over to be the president of Bad Boy. I cold call him the next week and said, "We met in Miami. I'd love to pitch you this idea." He said, "Great. Come in." I pitched him the whole idea. I said, "Basically, I want to create what SRC is doing at Bad Boy and create Bad Boy marketing." He's like, "I love it." He goes, "We'll put together a little plan and I'll set up a meeting with Puffy." We meet with Puffy. I present my plan. He's like, "Cool, cool, cool, cool." And at the very bottom, I put $2,000 a month to show him that I was invested like I'm all in because I think that he would think $2,000 is like a pittance.
Adam Robinson: You know, whatever. Literally, he was like...
Josh Taekman: Yeah. He rolled up in like the fresh, you know, 550 SL.
Adam Robinson: Yeah, and it's like running outside of his office all day.
Josh Taekman: Yeah. Exactly. And he's like, "I ain't paying you sh*t. You eat what you kill." I'm like, "Well, how do I pay my rent?" He goes, "That's your problem, not mine." So, I'm like, "Wow." So, basically, I had to come to Jesus moment when I'm like, "Do I either go all in and just try and prove myself and take a job that doesn't pay me anything and I eat what I kill in a totally unstructured environment?" There is no structure, period, right? It was a record label and I'm trying to create a concept that didn't exist. And they had street teams that did the guerilla marketing stuff. And that was really the baseline of what SRC was offering as we have the coolest kids in every urban culture-hood that will be the spokesperson for your brand to make it cool and relevant, right? It's like putting the coolest, putting the hot new sneakers on the coolest kid in high school was kind of how they pitched it. We could do that across the country to all these different markets because we're Bad Boy and they all listen to our music and we influence the culture. So, I end up going on saying, "F*ck it, Jeff. Just give me a desk and a phone and if I need you to come on a meeting, come on a meeting." And he, literally, plop me on a desk in the mailroom but he didn't tell me that the phone didn't work. it could dial out but no calls could come in. It was always busy. And back then you didn't have a cell phone. I had a pager, so I literally was dialing for dollars and saying, "Hey, if you could page me at this number and give me a ping, and then I'll call you right back." It was very unsophisticated.
Adam Robinson: So, what did the first like 90 days look like?
Josh Taekman: Well, the first day looked like this. I'm sitting at my desk. First of all, the first day looked like I thought the office opened at 8. I just assumed that every business opened at 8. I got there at 8 and I think I had a jacket and a shirt on. And it's 9:00. It's 10:00 and it's crickets. No one showing up and the elevator's locked. So, you need the office manager, Kibo, to unlock the door to bring you up. It's 10:30. Now, one or two people show up and they're waiting with me and they're like, "Yeah. It's like whenever Kibo gets here is when he gets here." He showed up like 11:45 and there was like four or five other people that showed up by that time. So, we finally get upstairs, 11:45. Jeff walks me around. Jeff showed up at like 12. He plops me in the mailroom at this desk and goes, "Oh, you could sit here." And then literally, like 45 minutes later, Groovy Lou shows up. He's like, "Yo, son. You're sitting at my desk." Groovy Lou was the stylist with the Rastafari and with the dreadlocks and just the coolest human in the world. And he's like, "Well, who are you?" And I'm like, "Oh, I'm here for Jeff. I'm starting this marketing agency." He's like, "All right. You could share my desk with me." I'm like, "Wow. That was actually very kind of you," because I'm in a room full of interns, right, except for Kibo and maybe Groovy, where no one else was getting paid.
And so, the next day I'm sitting on the desk and again, I'm just dialing for dollars. I'm basically pretending that we have this National Street team because they told me that we do. And I'm just calling. I started with film studios because they had all these films that were trying to appeal to an urban audience. So, I'm like, "Well, we can help you market it, do all the guerilla marketing to create the buzz in the markets, which then will trickle up and make it a mainstream hit." So, I'm trying to do that and all of a sudden I hear Groovy complaining that it's Summer Jam that Saturday and he can't get any money from Arista because he didn't do the proper protocols of putting in a purchase order a week in advance and getting the money approved. And I'm like, "Well, what do you need?" He's like, "Well, I need like all the flyest Nike stuff." I'm like, "We'll just call Nike. You know, they have a promotion office in Marina del Rey." He's like, "What do you mean? What's that?" And this is like kind of pre-product placement. Like, product placement really hadn't become a thing yet, but I was dating a girl in L.A. that did that for Adidas, so I got quickly and I love free sh*t. My whole life. I just love getting free sh*t as an athlete or whatever. So, I just love the idea, capture as much free sh*t as I could. So, I got to know Nikita a little bit, the girl that was doing it at Nike because one of the people at Adidas used to work with her.
So, I go, "All right. This is my opportunity to be the knight in shining armor and deliver something first week in." And I go, "Groovy, let me see if I can get a hold of this girl, Nikita, that runs that division." So, I call her and I said, "Nikita, I kind of know you through Rene and Ollie. I now work with Puffy at Bad Boy. They are closing the show at Summer Jam, which is the biggest hip-hop show of all the radio stations." I said, "They all need the flyest Nike stuff. Is there any way you can get them stuff by Saturday?" She goes, "It's like Wednesday." She goes, "I'd have to have everyone sizes by 5:00 today." And by the way, it's like 7:30 at East Coast. I'm like, "Great." I'm like, "Groovy, I need everyone's sizes." He's like, "Oh, sh*t, man, I don't have their sizes." I'm like, "Well, how can you be the stylist and not have everyone's sizes?" He goes, "Yeah, I don't." He goes, "Well, he just pick out what I shop for." So, me and him just sit and we go, you know, Styles P, size 11, Sheek Louch, Little Kim, Puffy. I mean, he knew a couple of them but he didn't have every - Mace. And we literally go through the whole roster and then all of a sudden everyone else is chiming like, "Yo, I'm size 13. I'm size..." I'm like, "Yo, yo, we're only doing the artists." No one else. Just artists."
So, literally, Friday comes and literally like 15 boxes of Nike sh*t shows up and these guys literally thought it was like Christmas on steroids, and he could not believe I got all that stuff for free. And now all of a sudden, by the way, to put things in perspective, there's the East Coast, West Coast beef. Biggie had just got murdered like two months before. Little do they know that there is a vehicle that's parked in front of the office every single day that's definitely like spying on the office, tapping the phones. They're under federal investigation just with the East Coast, West Coast, and everything happening. And here I am, the only white guy. They think I'm a narc. They have no idea who I am or why I'm there. They either think I'm there to fix the one fax machine which didn't work or I worked for the government on an intelligence level. So, the fact I was able to pull off the free Nike, all of a sudden, they're like, "All right, I don't think he's a narc. A narc wouldn't know how to figure that out." So, then I go, "Well, this is easy if they just like free stuff." Then I call my friend, Ollie, from Adidas. I said, "Ollie, I'm now working with Puffy at Bad Boy," and I was fluffing my feathers. I'm like, "Could you make me like 500 Bad Boy Adidas jackets and like a thousand T-shirts for us to give away to all the deejays and the artists?" He's like, "Yeah, just send me the logo."
Literally, a week and a half later, 100 boxes showed up. Puffy walks in the office. He goes, "What the f*ck is this?" And someone goes, "Oh, the white kid got it." And he's like, "Who told him to order this?" Everyone's like, "I don't know. I had nothing to do with it." He comes in. He goes, "Who the f*ck told you to order that?" And I'm like, "Nobody." He goes, "Well, who's paying for it?" And I'm like, "Adidas." He goes, "What do you mean Adidas is paying for it?" I said, "My man runs the promo. I thought it'd be a good look for us to get these out to deejays and the artists and blah, blah, blah." He's like, "You got all this for free?" I said, "Yeah." He goes, "Wow." He goes, "All right." And so, now all of a sudden they're like, "Oh, a little bit of respect." And so, now I'm just kind of like summarizing a little bit like how things happened. And so, now it's like two weeks later and he bought a house in the Hamptons, and Jeff and his whole crew always go to the Hamptons. And I had never really been there because I just moved to New York and Jeff invited me to go out and stay at his place. And he goes, "Well, Puffy's doing a party Saturday night, so you can come stay with me and we'll go to the party." I said, "Great." So, we go to the party and it was a fun party, right? It was like f*ck Masterflex, Mike Tyson's walking around with no shirt on eating a rotisserie chicken out of his hand. You know, it was like a party that you would see in New York City, like a crazy, The Tunnel, right? Extremely aggressive and urban.
And I'm sitting there and I'm like, "This is crazy. This beautiful brand-new house in East Hampton in the most lily-white area of the Hamptons and he's having a hip-hop party with no one respecting his property." They're throwing bottles on the ground. They're opening his fridge. They're going in his closet drawers like they're rummaging through his house with zero respect. And he comes up to me and goes, "This is a hot party, right?" And I'm like, "Yeah, sure." And he totally sensed that I was a little bit disgusted by it. And so, the next day he calls Jeff. He says, "Yo, you and the white boy get over here." So, we go to his house and it's a f*cking mess. It's like sh*t's everywhere. He goes, "I ask you last night if you thought it was a hot party and I could tell you didn't think it was." I said, "I do think it was a hot party if we're in Harlem or in New York City but you're in East Hampton, the whitest area and the wealthiest area in New York, for sure. And if you want to do what Russell Simmons does, where he comes out here and he networks with a whole different group of people that can create business value for them, then I think use this as a platform to integrate yourself into a world that can create new doors of opportunity for you. Like, those people didn't respect your house and I think that's why I was offended because you bought this beautiful new house and people are just treating it like trash. And that kind of was offensive to me. And I don't think you deserve that. I don't think you deserve that with your brand-new, beautiful home."
He's like, "All right, motherf*cker. You do the next party. You and Jeff do the next party." And I'm like, "Okay." And I'm like. We could definitely do it. Not that, I mean, I was a party promoter back in my old life, and I knew all the promoters in New York and Jeff was fly and knew all the sexy people. And I'm like, "Alright. We could definitely do that." I said, "But just to be fair to you, you have to pretend like you don't know anything about it like you have to let us run it because we don't want any of those people to be offended that they didn't get invited because they're not getting invited. None of those people are getting invited, just to be clear." And he's like, "All right, cool." So, now all of a sudden, I went from like this little white boy that he was looking at me cross-eyed to call me everyday, "What's up with the party? What's up with the party? We need a theme. We need a theme." And so, literally, be like three in the morning, "I need you to come to the studio right now." I show up to the studio like three or four in the morning to talk about the party, which was like three weeks away. And he's so amped up on this damn party and I'm like, "Alright, cool." By the way, me and Jeff had already strategized. We went to like the top four promoters and said, "You bring 20 of the hottest girls and you get two passes. You bring 20 of the hottest girls, you get two passes." And then I went and got sponsors.
I went and got Diageo to give me like $50,000 or $60,000 and all the liquor. He gave us a $100,000 budget. I got Perrier Jouet to give us all the champagne for free. I got Hanes t-shirt to give me $10,000 and all the white t-shirts in case because it was a white theme party, which he came up with. So, it was my first all-white party. And so, all of a sudden, I've generated like $80,000 in sponsorship dollars and got almost everything for free. So, his money is only going towards security and like some lights and stuff that he wanted to put up and the pool girls. I was responsible for getting mermaids in the pool. So, we had to hire some models to be in the pool. And that was actually I got my first fight with him that night over the models in the pool, to be honest with you.
Adam Robinson: What was the substance of the fight?
Josh Taekman: What?
Adam Robinson: What was the substance of the fight?
Josh Taekman: We're in the middle of the party and we're wasted. By the way, having the best time ever. And he's like, "Where are the mermaids? Why are they not in the pool?" I go, "I don't know. I'm not the f*cking mermaid handler. I just hired them." He's like, "Go find them and get them in the pool." And then I'm like, "I better check myself. Like, I just started with this guy like don't get mad at him."
Adam Robinson: And get a bottle broken over your head.
Josh Taekman: Yeah, exactly. So, I'm like, "My bad. I got it." Mermaids back in the pool. They're out partying. I pulled them from, like, wherever they were. I'm like, "Get back in the pool and do your job." But it was like one of those parties. It started at five. It was an all-white concept. I got Mark Ronson and QTip to deejay, and we invited all the right, we had like all the right people there, and it's 5:00, and all of a sudden people are showing up with gifts and all white people in all white dressed to the nines. And he's upstairs and he's freaking out. He's like, "Did you not invite any black people?" And I'm like, "Yes, your friends like Russell and Andre. Those guys are all be here when they come." And I'm like, "Just come down and say hi." And he comes down and walks around like people are like, "Mr. Combs, thank you so much for inviting me to your party. You have a beautiful home. And I brought you a housewarming gift." He's like, "You know, these white people are some of the nicest people I've ever met," and I'm like, "And they're respectful." And then Russell and everyone else showed up, Jay-Z and it literally turned out to be like the greatest party ever. It went to like six in the morning and it was just fun.
Adam Robinson: That sounds amazing.
Josh Taekman: So, I would say between getting the free sh*t and that party, it kind of gave me credibility to at least go out and then try and get some deals done.
Adam Robinson: Right. What do you learn working for a guy like that?
Josh Taekman: I'll tell you, the thing I learned from him is he was 24/7 and everything is like I got to imagine it's possible. So, there is no limit to everything is possible, right, if you put your mind to it and if you just set higher goals and expectations. And I remember I learned this very early on, there was a music video shoot for like I think Hypnotize or something and there was a helicopter. He's like, "I want that helicopter to be matte black." And this is like 3:00 in the afternoon and they're like, "It's impossible. We can't make it matte black. We don't own it." He's like, "I don't give a f*ck. You figure it out. We're shooting that at midnight tonight. That sh*t better be matte black." And sure enough, miraculously, everyone puts their heads together and they figure it out. It's matte black. By midnight it's matte black. So, I learned from him that, like, of course, you just have to hustle harder than anyone else. You have to look around corners people aren't willing to look around. And his favorite word was, "Figure it out. Not my problem. You figure it out." And your back's against the wall and you either crumble under the pressure or you get creative and you figure it out.
Adam Robinson: It's a great lesson.
Josh Taekman: And it's real life, right? It's like you have no choice. You either deliver or you fail. And if you fail enough times and you're not going to be around to even have an opportunity to deliver.
Adam Robinson: I hear you. I mean, I got to imagine that guy cut people pretty quickly, figuratively.
Josh Taekman: I will say, in a weird way, he was loyal to a lot of people that had been with him I would say to some underachievers but I also think he managed his expectations with them. So, the good news is if you delivered then you got a lot of his attention and you got hit up to do a lot of sh*t. So, I ended up being that guy because I just was like my back's against the wall. I don't know anything except for getting across the finish line or at least die trying.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. So how did this parlay into EBOOST?
Josh Taekman: So, I did that for about five years and I'll tell you how I kind of got the bug for it is so I was doing all these business deals and essentially I was doing, you know, I was looking at him as a brand and I'm like, "Well, he's a market maker." And so, when Tommy Hilfiger came to him for a licensing deal to create a line of clothing I'm like, "Well, don't you think that the problem with the licensing deal is you have no equity?" Sure, you're going to get paid while you're hot but if you become un-hot and the product doesn't sell, it goes away. If it becomes a massive hit, then you're going to continue to just get the same little royalty and guarantee but you didn't build any brand equity and you don't own anything. You're building Hilfiger's equity. I said, "You have so much juice and influence, I think you're better off creating your own brand and finding a financial partner that's an expert in sourcing and distribution. All you become is the design guru and the marketing guru, and you're the tip of the spear and the engine that drives the whole thing." So, then we went out and find a partner, and every deal was 50/50 partnership. They put up all the money and he puts up all of his human capital and marketing and resources. And that was really kind of the blueprint on how he was trying to structure deals. And Sean John.
And so, we created Sean John and it was the fastest-growing clothing brand, not just hip-hop clothing brand, in fashion history. It went from like 0 to 100 million in like a year and a half. And it truly started with like t-shirts and hats, and not sophisticated. But then it spawned all these other hip-hop artists to create clothing after Sean John, Rocawear, Shady. Outkast had a sh*tty line. G-Unit. Like, now all of a sudden the people like, "Oh, if Puffy could do it, I could do it." And everyone backed him because they saw...
Adam Robinson: And that was like exactly what your vision was from the beginning, right?
Josh Taekman: The beginning.
Adam Robinson: It's like there's this guy.
Josh Taekman: I'm like, "You guys are market makers." And then all of a sudden, because he proved out that you could be more than a music artist, that you had a platform that everyone that was entrepreneurial wanted to follow his thing, but he was truly the creator and the originator.
Adam Robinson: That's awesome. So, how to get to EBOOST?
Josh Taekman: So, yes, during that period of time, Nantucket Nectars wanted to license a song from us with Jadakiss because he referenced Nantucket Nectars and it was having a huge impact in the inner city on sales. And I'm like, "Well, f*ck, if Jadakiss can make that kind of impact, imagine what Puffy could do." So, I'd even talked to Puffy. I cold-called Tom Scott, who was one of the founders of Nantucket Nectars, and I said, "Tom, this is Josh. I work with Puffy at Bad Boy." He takes my call and I said, "Hey, I'm working with your team. I'm going to help you get that song licensed from Jadakiss because I guess it's having a big lift in the inner city." He goes, "Yeah." He goes, "It's not my kind of music. I'm sorry. I don't really know who those artists are, but I could tell you that we're getting a great response from bodegas and inner cities from that music. So, whatever it's doing, it's working. And so, my marketing department wants to run some radio around it." I said, "Well, you know who Puffy is, right? Sean Combs?" He goes, "Yeah, I mean, of course, I know who he is." I said, "Could you imagine the impact he would have if he got behind it instead of Jadakiss?" He's like, "Well, I have to imagine that. It would be big."
I said, "Well, the issue that he has with Nantucket Nectars is you don't have any urban-inspired flavors. You're completely missing out on that audience. You don't have grape. You don't have watermelon. He's got a bunch of ideas for flavors. And while he loves your brand, he just thinks that there's a void and there could be a bigger opportunity. And he'd love to talk to you about partnering with you." He goes, "I'll be there tomorrow." And he literally got on his little Cessna plane and flew from Boston to New York. And then I tell Puffy. He's like, "Why is he coming?" And I said, "Because could you imagine if we created a whole line of juices that were urban inspired under Nantucket Nectars using their infrastructure, their resources?" I said, "Think of what Air Jordan did with Nike. Let's do the same thing with Nantucket Nectars." He goes, "I like that idea." I said, "Great. Now, you got to sell them tomorrow. Come up with some ideas on flavors." And so, he literally had like the most amazing meeting ever. Puffy, when he's on, there's no one better and we're going to create a joint venture, like a 50/50 joint venture, same kind of model. And we would have crushed the market. It would be a multibillion-dollar business. This is way before 50 Cent in VitaminWater, way before anyone else was doing it except for Pepsi. They're using Michael Jackson and Sprite were using hip-hop artists, but no one was creating a co-branded product and bringing it to market where it would be his brand.
Adam Robinson: Yeah.
Josh Taekman: And Sharrock like the way Sharrock is right now. But this is 1998, right? We're going back.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. It's difficult to even imagine that. The white kids in Memorial would have loved it where I grew up. You know, like the basketball team or whatever, like everybody would have been all over it.
Josh Taekman: Everybody. And then so we had a deal done. It would have been a joint venture. And then he had a very unfortunate, very public felony. You know, they went into another music executive's office and a few champagne bottles ended up on the guy's head and unfortunately became very public and he got arrested and the guy's like, it goes, "Cadbury Schweppes is my largest investor. We can't be in business with a felon." And I had like three other deals similar. Donny Deutsch, we're going to create what I was doing and put it in Deutsche advertising, like some really cool stuff. And all those deals went away because of this felony. And so, basically, now I've got to go back to Ground Zero and start all over again. So, now I go back...
Adam Robinson: And then what you try to do just like recalibrate to people who didn't have, you know, big backing or whatever and just like people who care about that stuff?
Josh Taekman: You know, I kind of like time heals things and change had passed. And so, now I started up conversations with like Lincoln Navigators and do a Sean Jean navigator, a line of jewelry we're going to get, you know, because the jewelry category was so hot. I said, "Well, let's get behind the designer because there's Jacob, the jeweler, which is making tens of millions of dollars because you promote them and talk about them. Well, let's go create the next fashion designer for jewelry and you get behind them and you promote that person but we actually own the business." So, I had some really cool, interesting businesses set up. And then the gun charge with J.Lo and the shooting in the club with Shyne kind of blew all those out of the water. So, then at that point, I'm like, "Well, you're killing me. I'm setting up all these deals which will change my life and help make your life even bigger and more grander." And then he had no remorse. He's like, "Whatever, I'm good. There'll be more." I'm like, "I'm not. I just invested like all my time, resources, brain trust, until I get this to the finish line and then it goes away because of wrong place, wrong time, whatever you want to call it, bad decisions." So, I left and I started a marketing agency kind of doing the similar stuff, working with artists. And I had this guy come to me. They want to create a line of vitamins for the urban market.
So, kind of what I was going to do with Nantucket Nectars with juices, we were going to do in the supplement category, which is a massive $21 billion category that no one was disrupting. And I said, "This is actually great because everyone wants to look like they just came out of prison as opposed to they just came out of Gold's Gym in the urban market." Huge arms, lats, no legs. And there is no one better that embodied that than 50 Cent, who was like a brand new artist that was just catching crazy heat and credibility. And he had just started his whole crew called G-Unit. So, I said, "Well, why don't we just go partner with 50 and create G-Unit supplements and do G-unit protein bars and protein powders and protein shakes?" And so, I got that deal done. It was ready to go and all 50 had to do was show up to the last meeting on a Friday before he was leaving for Europe. And he was stuck in New Jersey and couldn't make it there, blah, blah, blah. And of course, the guy was like, "Well, I can't be in business with a guy that doesn't show up to my office to try samples after I've agreed to what I think is a pretty favorable deal for him." I said, "I was afraid you were going to say that." And so, he's like, "I'm out." And so, then 50 went on to tour for three months, and then they come back like, "Oh yeah, what's up with the G-Unit vitamins?" I'm like, "That ship sailed. I told you, if you don't show up to that meeting, there's a good chance that he's not going to move forward." And sure enough, he didn't move forward.
So, during that time, me and my buddy, John McDonald, were like, "Well, why don't we just create something?" And so, we looked into Airborne and Emergen-C and Brocken. We're like, "Why is there no like healthy, better-for-you powder that gives you energy, gives you immunity support, gives you focus, gives you your daily vitamins?" And we foolishly said, "Oh, we should create that." And so, I went to the guy, Mel, and I'm like, "Hey, you want to partner with us?" And he's like, "Yeah, I love it. Let's do it." And the challenge was as we kept going back to him and he was like a real lab guy like he was not a marketing guy but like a scientist type guy, chemist. And we kept going back and there's like floating particles. It didn't dissolve violently the way that we wanted. Like, the consumer experience sucked. Sure, the product might have been fine. Functionally, it could have been good but I'm like, "If the front end of the consumer experience doesn't work, then all the other stuff is moot."
Adam Robinson: Doesn't matter.
Josh Taekman: And after going to see him three times by the third time is when he's literally got a spoon and he's stabbing the floating particles saying it's not a big deal, I'm like, "He doesn't get it. He'll never get it." We're not going to get any progress as nice as he is and as willing he is to partner with us on it. So, I called my friend, Noah. I said, "Noah, who makes these kinds of products?" He's like, "Oh, Keith Frankel in New Jersey, Vitaquest, he's the best. So, he connects me to Keith. They go see Keith. We pull up and I see a Bentley in the driveway. I'm like, "I already like this guy." Then I'm in the waiting room and I see all these pictures of him and Sylvester Stallone and private jets. I'm like, "I don't even know this guy but I really like this guy." And he comes in bigger than life personality and he already did like Zipfizz and every other product that you can imagine. He's like, "Oh, this is easy. Come back next week." And so, that's how we started it. And it started in powders and now we have cans. We're doing 12-ounce cans but it all started in an effervescent, a powder packet. And then we've now evolved it to this and we got pre-workout but everything is based on being clean, natural, non-GMO.
So, I kind of selfishly built it for myself. I'm like for the void in the white space, which I thought was missing from the market. Like, if I went to a GNC and Vitamin Shoppe, I'd really have a hard time finding a product that didn't have Sucralose in it or didn't have a bunch of chemicals or artificial ingredients. And I'm like, "Why can't I get the benefits and also have it clean?" I'm like, "There has to be a niche audience like me that want the same thing," and foolishly and selfishly, we went for it and created the company. And I say that because it was like...
Adam Robinson: Why did you say foolishly and selfishly?
Josh Taekman: Yeah. Yeah, because I had another business and this was more of a passion project and I sadly treated it like a passion project for like the first six years where we got a lot of cool little traction and we got all this awareness, but the size of the business was teeny, and I was so ahead of the curve in both these categories but I ignorantly didn't ever raise enough money or build the right team to just go D2C. I'm like, D2C is the future. Amazon's the future. And I knew it but I never put the right resources in place to scale them up.
Adam Robinson: So, what would you have done?
Josh Taekman: I would have done differently, as I would have 100% focused on this as opposed to make it like off the side of my desk. I passionately love the product. I would have brought in someone way smarter than me that understood how to like I'm not an operator, so I would have brought in someone who knows how to like connect all the dots and actually execute. I would have just focused on direct-to-consumer and acquiring customers, building out lifetime value and continuity in Amazon and not even worried about retail.
Adam Robinson: Instead, you part-time went hustling around selling retail.
Josh Taekman: I dabbled a little bit, I try to do a little bit of everything but didn't do anything well, except for I have a product that people really liked and a brand people thought was cool.
Adam Robinson: Yeah, man.
Josh Taekman: So, I would say the most important lesson is know your strengths and then really build a team like build a vision and just say, "All right. Where are we going to focus on?" as opposed to just being reactive. I would say I was more reactive than strategic because it's fun. Like, we were getting great press and everyone loved the product. And again, everyone was people that I ran into in New York City or L.A. I wasn't looking at like the other 48 states. So, in my teeny little world, I was a big air but in the real world, I didn't even exist in the real world of like retail. So, I think I did the hardest part, created product like created a really cool brand but I didn't do a good job of scaling certain channels or a channel to make it really meaningful. And I always just raised enough money from friends and family to have like enough inventory. It was me and like two people or three people, super small team. And I should have just said, "There's an opportunity in D2C," raised a larger chunk of money, hire the right people that understand how to build those verticals, and just dug in because we would have been way ahead of all these other brands.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. And who are the category dominators now?
Josh Taekman: I mean, Liquid I.V. came in like within three years or four years. They sold for 300 million. Well, Emergen-C was early. They were the first ones in the powdered space in the natural channel. They have been around for like 20 years but they ended up selling to Pfizer. But now you see some of these, I talk to D2C brands all the time like gummy companies like, yeah, we're doing $90 million. I'm like, "You're doing 90 million? I've never even heard of you." Another company, "We're doing 20 million." A kids vitamin, "We're doing 40 million." I'm like, "Who are these guys?" But they figured out how to acquire...
Adam Robinson: What do you think the characteristic? Like, is there a common thread between them? Are they like Facebook nerds who are good at brand? Is that it?
Josh Taekman: I think they're good at acquisition. I think they're good at digital channels, content creation, and acquisition, and putting a lot of capital behind it, right? Just because a lot of brands have come up and like, "Oh, we're doing 10 million," and you're like, "Yeah, but you spend 14 to do 10."
Adam Robinson: Right. Exactly.
Josh Taekman: You know, so that's really part of the challenge is like, how do you balance the two where you can build a great business but make it sustainable where you're not upside down? I mean, of course, you're going to have to be willing to lose money for a period of time but at some point, you have to hit an inflection point where it becomes profitable. And I think that's the challenge a lot of brands have that with the iOS update and the proliferation of how many, the barrier to entry is so low for people to create a brand and sell it digitally, the whole market's flooded.
Adam Robinson: Right. Totally. You know a lot of people and you know a lot of D2C entrepreneurs in particular. Is there one vertical within D2C that you find particularly exciting and compelling right now?
Josh Taekman: TikTok. I'm just blown away with the people that have been able to just crush TikTok.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. And is it personal brand they're building or is it like UGC through influencers or like how?
Josh Taekman: I think usually through influencers. And I don't know if they're building brand, right? Like, there's a difference between a product that's got incredible awareness and sales and a brand. Like, I look at Liquid Death and that's a brand. They've built an incredible brand through all different mediums and communication channels, and I believe they have a platform and they just proved it with tea. I think they could go deep on their platform with different products and own beverage. Right? Like, I think they could be a mini Pepsi with what they've created in brand. Some of these products that are on TikTok that have created unbelievable awareness and excitement and engagement on a product that's not that much differentiated. There's no clinical data behind any and they're greedy and they've just created incredible brand awareness. And they're moving product but I'm not sure they have a brand that could be around forever and that they could build on it and have a second, third, fourth, fifth SKU and go broad. So, the difference between the two I think is far and wide and I think it's a lot harder to achieve what Liquid Death has created than to create a product that has all this affinity. I mean, there's a product that is doing $100 million because they hired one of the hottest TikTok influencers. The brand was struggling. They got her on board and she's leaned into it. Now, it's a 100-plus-million-dollar business.
Adam Robinson: That's bananas.
Josh Taekman: I guess I'm an idiot because I haven't figured it out.
Adam Robinson: Right? Neither have I.
Josh Taekman: I'm not taking my own advice but I do need to figure out who the right personality is because we have a brand and we have a platform but I need the right people out there to elevate the awareness in a way to get outsized impact from their content creation.
Adam Robinson: Sweet, man. I mean, that was great. Thanks for the chat.
Josh Taekman: I'm sorry. I just kind of rambled across a lot of these things.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. Well, that's what makes it interesting to me at least. I mean, your experience is just like it's so wild. Like, I don't know, probably like five other people who have a similar trajectory as you in the world, maybe even.
Josh Taekman: It's definitely been a unique path, for sure.
Adam Robinson: Yeah. Cool. Well, thanks a lot. And I look forward to hanging out in a few weeks in person.
Josh Taekman: Definitely, brother. I look forward to seeing you.
Adam Robinson: Cool, man.