Building a DTC Brand: Q+A with CEO & Founder of JOI

by Branding and Design, Ecommerce, Marketing

We sat down (virtually) with the Founder and CEO of JOI, Hector Ian Gutierrez to discuss his journey in building a DTC brand. JOI was born from the shared goal of creating high-quality, delicious, and environment-conscious plant-based milk that’s far superior to the stuff you’re used to finding at the local supermarket, without all the time and energy of traditional homemade plant milk. 

Now that we’ve introduced you, let’s get into the interview with JOI’s “Chief Nut,” Hector.

oatmilk and whisk in glass with oat milk powder

Q: Tell us about JOI and how you came up with the name.

A: We actually launched as Not A Milk Company in 2018. We were primarily focused on foodservice businesses like cafes, grocery shops, restaurants, and that sort of thing. Not A Milk Company was nice, but we felt like we were adding value to the customer and wanted to cast things in a more positive light. So, while Not A Milk Company fit our product, we wanted something a bit more encompassing how we felt and how our customers felt about the brand. Plus, our customers started letting us know that they weren’t only using it for milk but using it for ice cream, plant sauces, dressings, yogurts, and so on. We took this info and distilled it as an opportunity to rebrand and cast a better light on the product. 

We thought, why don’t we launch a DTC business and launch it under a new name. That’s when we came up with JOI which stands for “just one ingredient” because our products have no additives or preservatives. JOI felt very in line with our positive approach and being a disruptor in a new product category. We felt those two things were synergistic and harmonized under this new brand identity. 


Q: How do you break through the noise in the alternative milk space?

A: Though the market is crowded, we think of ourselves as not having competitors. It’s not just a mental framework for us, it’s really a challenge because we’ve introduced a new product category while building a DTC brand. We’ve created a concentrate that makes milk. 

We believe in this category we’ve created for a few reasons:

  • Our products are making a substantial impact on the ways consumers incur waste. For every one of our containers, it yields 7 quarts of milk or 7 tetra packs of milk
  • We offer a full protein, full fat, raw material that’s broken down and easy to digest. Free of oils, gums, and binders. We like to say “plant milk for plant people.” 
  • We’re trying to get people to ditch the carton and change their habits. We see food as a vessel or opportunity to share ideas and talk about problems. This philosophy has led to how we view CPG. Through our product, we can enroll people in this way of eating and engaging with food. 


Q: When did you know that you found product-market fit?

A: From the get-go, we knew we were solving a problem because the foodservice businesses were finding a lot of ways to creatively use the product. Our biggest challenge was conveying this product in a way that the consumer would gravitate towards it.  Finding product-market fit I think is pretty easy, because there are just so many different customers in the United States and so many use cases for our product. Finding a customer for your product isn’t really the difficult part- it’s getting them to come back and creating new products that they’ll come back to as well. 


Q: What’s been the most successful marketing strategy for JOI?

A: The lowest friction stuff usually comes from when a credible, I hesitate to say influencer, because the most impactful ambassadors for us are extremely educated in nutrition, often being dietitians and chefs. When those folks talk about our product that’s when mountains are moved. They bring in highly engaged and highly retained customers. The ones who make the biggest impact are the ones who genuinely love the product and love speaking about the product.


Q: Best advice for a young DTC brand to acquire customers?

A: Organic content. Monitor what content creates reach. Use new features on new social platforms that help educate before getting into advertising. Identify influencers who can help you communicate the core propositions of your product. By doing so, you will get early users – there you can identify where you want to place capital in paid advertising.


Q: Describe your strategy with Carro.

A: Carro has been a great facilitator for being able to engage with our community outside of JOI. We very much call of our Carro brand partners “Friends of JOI”. Being able to expose our customers to like-minded brands and people is such a fantastic resource and tool for us to move the needle. 

We don’t see people’s buying experience as a silo. How are customers going to buy all 15 things they need in a week from 15 different individual brands? For us, it’s important and much easier to begin identifying brands that your customers are already buying and seeking out. Putting these brands in your store helps customers understand your missions. With Carro, getting exposure to really amazing partnerships. To have Carro provide the infrastructure makes it frictionless, easy, and scalable – we don’t have to do the heavy lifting. 

Check out JOI’s brand partnerships marketplace and read about their success building a DTC brand with Carro.

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