Marketing is often confused with promotion, but really, it’s about much more than that. Marketing is about knowing and understanding your customer so well, that your product or service fits them and ultimately, sells itself. In short, marketing is about insight above all else.
In the spirit of those insights, we present our Meet the Marketer series, where we discuss the careers and tactics of marketers behind industry-leading brands.
In this episode, we chat with Aron North, Chief Marketing Officer at Mint Mobile. Sound familiar? You might remember the wireless company from their 2019 Super Bowl commercial “Chunky Style Milk.” It went something like this: Premium wireless for $20 a month. It’s right, all right, unlike chunky style milk. Fast forward two years, and Mint Mobile continues to change the wireless game. Just $15 a month. No contracts. No overages. And no BS. They’ve been able to give customers all of this, while keeping their ad-spend low. Like, low-low. What’s their secret? We’ll let Aron fill you in about this and more, including highlights from an illustrious career that features brand work for Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, among others.
Can you share some background on your career?
Reid: I'm happy to do this. Well I want to set up your background for our listeners a bit before we get into where you are today. After college, you started your career agency side, which I'm still familiar with. Had a significant stint as an entrepreneur, then went onto big brands on the client side, such as Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Can you elaborate a bit on your trajectory from there to where you are today?
Aron: Yeah, I've always been a big fan of marketing and business entrepreneurship. And starting out on the agency side, seemed like a natural way to cut your teeth and begin to learn. I had no idea what I was in for and working in an agency is something I highly recommend to people starting out in marketing in their career, because you are about to get four years in two. You're going to deliver four years of work in two years of time. That's just how agencies operate. So I loved working at agency. I loved working on fun clients.
Aron: And ultimately, after about a decade, I realized that this was killing me and I needed something different. So I had seen this coming beforehand and when I was working for an amazing agency up in Los Angeles called Ryan Partnership, I went and got my MBA.
Aron: Ultimately, I came back to Orange County, was working with Young & Rubicam, Y&R, who's awesome, really fun shop to work at. And then, I had always visioned going client-side and that MBA is a requirement to get in the door a lot of these places. I ended up at Taco Bell, which was amazing, so much fun. It was a tough interview. It was a tough job to get because when I was interviewing, Taco Bell was being sued in a bogus beef lawsuit.
Reid: Oh, man.
Aron: I remember during my interview, my future boss asking me, this arrogant marketer who comes in like, well, what would you do? She had three different print ads in her office. And we looked at them and I gave my point of view and my support and rationale. And it turns out that was the ad Taco Bell ran. And I got the gig and had a blast there, just so much fun. We repositioned the brand. So brand archetype work, like real meaty strategy work. That manifested itself with a new tagline and a whole new direction for the company back to the company's roots of the explorer mindset. So food as an experience, not just food as fuel. And that led to some really fun innovation with the Doritos Locos Tacos. Being able to bring that product to life was amazing. Also, bringing breakfast, a new day part to taco bell was really incredible. That one, the marketing was insane. We launched that campaign with Ronald McDonald. So we went out and found 40 or 50 Ronald McDonald's and invited them all in to try Taco Bell breakfast.
Reid: I remember that one.
Aron: I had never seen anything like that at the time. I remember being in the room with the agency when the concepts were being presented, them getting to that and me raising my hand and going, "I don't even need to see the rest of the deck. If we can get legal to approve this, this is what we need to make."
Aron: And it was a real great stint and then to get poached or tapped to come to Ultra and build Mint, build Ultra. Wow. I don't think I realized how great the opportunity was at the time. I don't think most people can see that far ahead, but the willingness of this organization that I'm with now to grow and think, and be bold, has been so fun and really exciting for me to move from building a team, which is what I had a lot of experience in, to building a marketing division or marketing department, which was a really big stretch for me. I'm very excited about the team we have. We went from a group of about five to about 40, including a full in-house creative shop. And we're just kicking ass if I do say so myself. I'm really proud of the team and what we're doing and the growth we've received as a function of all this hard, hard work we've been putting.
Can you tell us about how Mint Mobile started? How's Mint different from the other wireless carriers?
Reid: Yeah. I mean, that's why we're so excited to have you and tell this story. I mean, it's a big story. Man, it's hard not to start the conversation with your famous owner. I mean, you talk about the team right now. It's not really where the story starts. I mean, it feels probably to a lot of people like an overnight sensation, but it's been a work in progress to get to where you have Ryan Reynolds' name on the brand. Maybe can you tell us a bit about how Mint started when you talk about Ultra? I mean, that's what I think probably people are more familiar obviously with the Mint component of this, but maybe explain a bit how it's different from where maybe so people are more familiar with like your Verizon's, your AT&T's, and such.
Aron: Happy to do so. So Mint is the five-year overnight success, if you will, right? Like we've all seen those bands.
Reid: That's how overnight sensations happen, right? I mean, it doesn't start that moment.
Aron: Yes. We are not fortunate enough to be an overnight success, but we have learned so much and really grown as a brand in the last five years. Mint started really as a white paper concept and a challenge. Could you sell wireless online? And nobody was doing it at scale at the time. My sort of blueprint for success was Dollar Shave, Warby, Casper, brands that were, one, building a brand, they were in a commoditized market building a brand. And then providing the marketplace with a different solution. Same product, different solution or different purchase and delivery vehicle. They were my role models. I spent months learning, reading, analyzing, and really constructing and tuning what we were doing with Mint. And Mint had success early, Mint had success often.
Aron: And then a big piece of what I preach is a willingness to fail internally. And I try to inspire my teams to fail because I look at failure as a pushing a boundary. So we don't look at failures as a negative thing. We look at failure as an opportunity for us to learn and grow and push. So Mint as a construct or a physical piece of the brand believes in testing the unproven or the unknown. And so much of what we do that has scale has been out of that environment. So we'll test small, test fast, train, learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. You can mess up a bunch of... Programs won't hit. You don't really mess them up. They just don't deliver. But the ones that do deliver, typically we don't do things that won't scale. It just doesn't make sense. So we'll use these as scaling opportunities and then they go into our plan, but Mint has executed that game plan since its origin. And that's how we've been able to grow. I mean, we did release this fact. We don't talk about our subscriber count, but we've been growing to the tune of 50000% over the last few years. So super hyper growth as well.
Reid: I think that's pretty good.
Aron: Yeah. Anything times 50000%, even though it started small, ends up being nice.
Aron: So we have that and Mint was just doing great, really happy building the subscriber base, I don't want to say steadily because it was what we call hyper-growth. It was exponential. So we were growing rapidly, but really the Ryan opportunity sort of... I think many things were happening at once and you had this really interesting opportunity between David Glickman, who's our CEO, and Ryan at the time. David sits on the board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation. And Ryan is a board member there as well. That's how they were introduced. And David's really excited, almost more excited than me about Mint. So it's pretty exciting when you have an owner who's very, very excited about the brand. And we started talking to Ryan. David started talking to Ryan, just excited about Mint and that opened the conversation. And they would meet. And then all of a sudden it'd be, oh, how's that going? Oh, it's going amazing. It's growing like crazy. And you started to see the relationship grow and change from two folks who were sitting on a board to a potential partnership and then it escalated from there.
Aron: And Ryan has been jet fuel, I think is the best way to describe what he's added to the brand. We thought we were growing fast before. Wow. Wow. Wow. It's really exciting, really special to have him part of the brand. And the coolest piece of this is that he believes in what we're doing. He believes this is the most essential technology and that it doesn't make sense to be charged $100 a month for this core ability to communicate with others. So Mint's model is all about disruption and changing from brick and mortar, us owning stores, to direct to consumer and having him on board with that before he came into the organization just makes it so amazing when the brand DNA and his vision are already alive. So it makes it really fun and really special.
Can you tell us more about Mint Mobile's brand purpose?
Reid: Yeah. So that's interesting. We started talking about the MBA level kind of business plan part of this, but now it sounds a lot more like a sense of purpose, like the ability, core ability to communicate. And it does feel like there's a sense of purpose in the brand.
Reid: Can you expand on that and articulate that. Because the cool thing too, is it started with this... which I obviously didn't know. And I think probably really excited for people to hear is that Michael J. Fox Foundation has started in a place of purpose. So, it's a neat place where you have like-minded people in interacting at the very least. And now this brand has this sense of purpose. So maybe talk a little bit more about that.
Aron: I do want to just caution that we are not Toms. We do have a purpose, but it is our purpose is really to make sure affordable communications, everybody has access to an affordable communication platform. What's interesting is we've taken that mission, if you will, and we've pushed it to the boundaries. This is how we're different from the carriers. You had asked this question a second ago. Compare and contrast Verizon, AT&T to Mint. It's very easy. Initially, Mint gets introduced as half the price. That's how people recognize us, whether it's 15 bucks a month, which is our core proposition, all the way up to unlimited for 30 bucks. That's what shocks people that, "How can this be?" But what they realize when they start to develop a relationship with our brand, is that we genuinely care about the customer.
Aron: And Ryan had the best line ever. He said, "At Mint, we don't hate you." And he's a genius with these colloquialisms. But the thing he's manifesting there is when you compare us and you talk about purpose, mission and our competitive set, "ARPU" is the term all the public companies use, which is average revenue per user. And there's a fight to drive the stock price up by driving up ARPU. Mint is private. Mint has a very different lens on that. So we, as far as I know, are the only brand today who actively trades you down. So we sell unlimited for $30. We know America, broadly, has been tricked into thinking they need unlimited. You've been burned once in your life by a thousand dollars cell phone bill, or a $500 bill. You're like, "Never again. I will take unlimited everything." Well, in reality, you don't need it.
Aron: So what we do is you access Mint by buying... We've combined two models. Direct to consumer and buyable. So, that's how we sell. And what we do is when we sell you a three month package, initially, on unlimited, we monitor your usage. And at the end of each month, we send you a report. "Here's how much data you're using. Here's how much data you're using." And then at the conclusion of your 90 day, introductory period, before you send us more money, we tell you, "You're paying us too much." There's a way for you to save even more. You're going to cut your phone bill on half coming to Mint, and we think there's another way for you to save more staying with Mint. And we recommend that to the subscriber and yes, it hurts short-term revenue, but it creates long-term value with the customer. And we create loyalty.
Aron: And to me, that's really what we're talking about. That mission. We want to build a brand that people love and they buy into, not just buy from. And there aren't many wireless companies out there who genuinely care about saving their customers money. It just doesn't happen. So we think that's really special, really different. And it's starting to catch on. You're seeing it now in the wild. So you go to Twitter and search Mint Mobile, and you'll see four or five people going, "Oh, I'm hearing about this. Is this legit?"
Aron: And then look, we're a smaller brand. We acknowledge that, so you're not going to see a hundred comments. But you'll see five or six where almost all, if not all are very, very positive. We've even seen some, where people are like, "I had to leave for a personal reason," or, "I moved to a very, very remote area and I wish I could get it. I can't wait for it to be available to me again." So, we're pretty excited. It seems like we've got something different and something interesting and something consumers are really responding to in a positive way.
How do "random acts" play a part in your larger brand purpose?
Reid: Yeah that's where core insights, they are that simple. "We don't hate you," is actually probably the key articulation of the value proposition that runs counter to the competitors at that point. And it's important that it's phrased almost in a funny sort of a way, because then you really can buy into that, and then articulate that into a lot of different behaviors that you have. And in those kinds of random acts of kindness that you guys talk about on an individual level, which is trading them down, at a macro level, I saw recently about what you guys did for those affected by the weather-induced power outage disaster in Texas. And how do broader, random acts like this play a part in your purpose? You talked a little earlier about legal even in the Taco Bell story with bringing in the Ronald McDonald. How do you get something like that approved? Because that's a big thing I would think.
Aron: Yeah. I'll tell you exactly. I have two examples of this. One where we helped the entire nation and one where we helped Texas. And it was both in the last year. So of course, Texas, a couple of weeks ago crushed, right? I don't think it was polar vortex. I don't know what we call it, but the jet stream dipped and Texas froze. What? So as a wireless service provider, people's service continued. And when we look at service disruption, there's things we can and can't affect. But for Mint, because the business is online and it's credit card based, people weren't really losing disruption because of a payment cycle. So the customers were generally happy. However, on a Friday evening, there was a tweet that went out from just a customer in Texas and they sent it to Ryan and Mint and said, "We could use some help here."
Aron: And Ryan texted me, I didn't see it. Ryan texted me on Friday night, said, "Is there anything we can do here?" And at first I was mad at myself for not thinking of this, how can we help these folks out? But then we went into quick action. So it's insane how fast we were. I have to tell you, you have to really strap in for this. And it's a breakneck speed. So I got the text message. I immediately texted our CEO and said, "This seems like the right thing to do. I think we should do it. Are you on board?" Text message back, "Of course. Go." So we have leadership level buy-in.
Aron: Next thing, I sent a text message to a core group of four folks, because remember we're a telecommunication provider. We have many, many systems that need to sync. So immediately care, product, business intel... All the core groups that bring this thing to life, engineering. I can't remember if I said business intelligence, but these are the core groups that have to make something like this material, to deliver it to the customer. Text message goes out. We all jump on Slack. And within 15 minutes, everybody's ideating and working the problem, because it's not just easy. It's not easy to just make these things happen. So we had a solution in 53 minutes, which is insane.
Aron: It is Friday. I don't have my Friday beer in hand yet, because it's early. But it was Friday after five somewhere. And I just remember sitting there going, "This is insane. I'm not going to be able to finish this beer. We're going to have a fully baked program. Holy shit." And sure enough, not only did we have a fully baked program, but we had tweeted to the user within 53 minutes of us recognizing the issue. And I was just so proud. I put it on my LinkedIn. It's not a moment for the brand to beat their chest, because the brand's just doing the right thing. But it's still something I'm really proud of, because we built an organization that can execute that way.
Aron: And it wasn't just a tweet. On Monday, we didn't want to be texting people on Friday night. So on Monday we let them know. So we did the tweet and then we followed up. Everybody in Texas, effective immediately, has free, unlimited data. So any data you have bought previously, we're going to refund you. Any data you need, we will give you. Pay for it, and we'll refund you the next day. That was a system we were able to deploy in 50 minutes, not necessarily perfect. We couldn't zero price it. But I think customers today and subscribers today and people today appreciate the effort, and it doesn't have to be perfect. Yes, you have to pay for it, and we will initiate a refund. A little, I don't want to say the word clunky, but it's quick, right? The desire is quick, but the customer gets the benefit.
Aron: Now the bigger one was a year ago. I guess a year ago in a week. So in California, the stay at home order came on Friday, the 13th, March 13th. And I'll never forget, we were way ahead of it. We could see this coming. We knew it was going to be impactful. So as an organization, many of our high risk employees had already been given the opportunity to go home. Equipment was being sent home. We knew this was going to be a thing, but when we got physically sent home, it was still scary for us and our families as well. And I got home and I realized, there's a lot of uncertainty and a lot of fear. The last thing we want them to worry about is wireless.
Aron: So, we basically immediately came up with a program, effective every subscriber, current, previous, and future. If you just came into Mint, Mobile and bought our entry-level plan, we were going to give you free data, free unlimited data for the next 30 days. It's okay. We got your back. That program was a big one. Now you're talking about the entire subscriber base nationwide, and everybody coming in. We thought about that, that program kicked off on a Friday night as well. And by Saturday morning, we had a game plan. Now, it took us Saturday, Sunday, and then we released on Monday. But that was a huge program to impact every single subscriber, and had never been done before.
Aron: But still had some fun with it. From a marketing standpoint, I know this isn a marketing podcast. But what we were able to do was on Monday, Ryan put voicemails. So because we're a telecom provider, we have the ability to drop a voicemail onto your device without the phone ever ringing. It's a pretty cool piece of tech that we have that's very unique to us. Well, we used that platform to let people know your service has got your back. And we had Ryan deliver the message in a fun, light way. It was, "The service is better. We've got your back. 30 days, free unlimited data." We ended up extending it until 90 days.
Aron: So it was a really, really rich program taking care of our existing base. But in Ryan's typical charming fashion, the voicemail was very factual, but also very fun. And customers gave us voicemails back. So sometimes you just have to have a net out there to catch things. And I said, "Well, what's going to happen. How does this work?" Because we had never done it before
Aron: They said, "Oh, Aaron, you're going to get just an inbox notification." I go, "Will it have a phone number?" And they go, "Yeah, of course." I go, "Okay. Well, let's set up an inbox on that phone number back and maybe somebody calls."
Aron: Got thousands of phone calls. Thousands And we ended up cutting together, I guess you would call it an audio piece, but we put it out on YouTube and it's so funny. It's so funny. People saying thank you. People reacting to his voicemail. People just dropping in random notes about how they either did or did not like his movies. It was just so fun.
Reid: Did they think they were calling his number? How did that play out?
Aron: Well, the crazy thing is that they did because we... The brand marketing team listened to the thousands of these voicemails, but we kept the best ones or the ones that we thought were fun and we sent them to Ryan and Ryan's team. We're able to cut this piece out of it. Maybe it's not his personal phone number, but he's listening. He's very active. It's really great to have someone so involved in wanting to do good work when it comes to marketing, that it just makes it so much more fun.
Are there particular creative guidelines for the Mint Mobile brand?
Reid: Well, it's so impressive how you make good use of what is such a cool core asset in Ryan Reynolds and obviously then the brand persona and all of that. As part of that though, there has to be expectations, not just between you and between Ryan but with the customer. Do you have guidelines or did you have to stay within the brand should do creatively? Places you should or actually maybe even, better where you shouldn't be?
Aron: Yeah, that's a really, really great question. Our brand has tenants. We always start with the brand archetype. We believe we're the outlaw. We're bringing disruption to this space. Ryan acts as the outlaw naturally. His natural brand has a natural fit with us. I think what some people forget is that we know this is not Ryan Reynolds, mobile. This is a Mint Mobile and Ryan is the owner of Mint Mobile. We definitely keep the distinction between the two brands and I think that's an important piece.
Aron: Now, the brand has a perspective on where we should be engaging in communications. We're not going to be in every national whatever day. It seems like every day isn't national compliment day, national avocado day, national sunny outside day.
Reid: National Employee Appreciation Day here, March 5th, 2021.
Aron: Yeah. You see brands that are like, oh, this is today's thing. Well, I'm going to insert myself in that conversation. We don't do that. We're very selective in how we engage socially. That said, nothing's off limits. We're not going to handcuff the brand. Perfect example and you started this by saying expectations. Things we should and shouldn't do with the brand. I think as marketers, we are doing ourselves a disservice constantly with creative and I think that's a huge issue today. The issue that I see is that marketers feel like they have to put their thumbprint on creative to make it better or to make it passable and what ends up happening is all I see is the rounding of corners and the dulling of edges. I want the work so sharp that it cuts.
Aron: You just have to put your faith in, if you believe you have an excellent creative team, then why the fuck are you not trusting them? I'm sorry for swearing, but like it drives me nuts. I have a team. George Dewey is our main day-to-day contact at Maximum Effort. He's Ryan's business partner, writing partner. The guy's a genius. Why would I take a creative genius and constantly want to nuance what he's doing? I'll tell you, I'll give you a perfect example.
Aron: Ryan and George came to us with our first ad campaign. We'd written the brief, we had built this out and it was called "Ryan And." We'd run a series of these ads, one's running live right now called Ryan and Wassem. Wassem is one of our first real customers in New York. Been on the service for years. We just wanted to talk to him. That campaign launched with Ryan and Rick Moranis. Now we have a young brand that goes after, I don't know if we want to call them tech savvy, but more cord cutters and folks who appreciate the direct to consumer model. Rick Moranis is not the first actor I would think of that would drive popularity in this age segment.
Aron: When I saw the concept, I looked at it and I simply asked just, why Rick? The two were so excited about Rick and look, we know Rick hasn't been in the public for some time. We think that's what makes this special. Plus, we love Rick Moranis. We have this love for him and I'm like done. I don't need to be sold on it. If you guys think this is going to work, let's do it. Let's see what happens. I have full faith that it's going to be amazing because they have a history of producing amazing. We just did it and Holy smokes, I had no idea what happened was going to happen. That thing was everywhere. Oh, so happy and I'm going, gosh, I can see a world, even in my own history. I was at the agency. I did this. I'm guilty of it, where I would have said, oh, what a great idea, but who else do we have? Who's younger and more closely aligned and that's such a miss. Put faith in the creative team.
Aron: You talk about expectations. The expectations are always high. They've completely over-delivered and it's really amazing, but I think my big takeaway from this is that it put faith in the creative process. Put faith in the creative product. Now, if there's a glaring mistake, like the product is not being presented properly, yeah, that's the time for marketing to jump in, but why dull the edges?
Reid: Yeah. Well, you mentioned and I think a lot of people, that's where data and analytics sometimes get thrown onto it is like, well, we need to someone to meet this demographic, in this court, with this kind of rating or whatever that may be and sometimes you do have to trust the gut of the professionals and the experts in this way.
Aron: That is something I have held my entire life. I hate ad testing. I hate it. I won't do it. I was so lucky at Taco Bell to have a boss who believed in that as well. Her philosophy was, we look for the absolute best marketers. That's what we're hiring. If you fit that bill, your instincts and your guts should be good enough to get us past a group of six people who don't understand advertising, who are consumers. There's nothing wrong with their point of view, but their point of view comes from the lens of consumption, not necessarily creation. And I love that. It was one of the big things I walked out of the bell with and it has served me well. I think it puts even more, the creative team feels like you've got more invested and more faith in them because you're like, I'm not going to go to some panel to tell me if your work's any good.
Reid: Yeah. Well, I've got to think too, at a practical level, it just increases the pace. Just so many examples we've been talking about is, you know what, we believe in it. Like you said, you could ask fair questions, confirm that that the details are right, but beyond that, you're ready to rock. I think that allows you to maintain, the evidence we've talked about as your growth.
As CMO, how are you managing Mint Mobile's tremendous growth?
Reid: That being said because we have talked about how you've grown in such crazy fashion, I mean, it's a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Now going back to some of the more practical matters of just operations, as the CMO, do you have any key insights for our listeners about how you manage amid such growth? You've got to bring on new team members, you've got to get them onboarded to the brand. What are some things that people should keep in mind because not everyone goes through that kind of growth. Some people are going through some form of it and I'm sure dealing with it right now.
Aron: Be prepared to make mistakes, is the first piece of advice I'd give you because when I was at the bell, when I started, we were $5 billion a year in sales. When I left, it was nine, which for an organization that big and in absolute dollars, it's huge, but we weren't growing at a three-year rate of 50000%. That's a function of us starting small.
Aron: Things you need to look out for, things that we didn't even think of, like growing in spurts and the stress it puts on the organization, customer service. The first time we had our first growth spurt, it rocked us. It rocked us big time because we couldn't keep up. Everybody's answering the phones. Everybody's in the warehouse shipping out. It's classic startup fun. The cool thing about our organization is that this is an org built with a backbone around hyper growth. David who's the CEO is the only person to have ever taken two companies to number one on the Inc. Fastest growing. Every year, Inc does the 5,000 fastest growing companies. Ultra was number one in 2015. This organization has a mindset that understands hyper growth, it just caught us off guard. It does create problems.
Aron: Our biggest issue right now... That we have two big problems. One, what do we say no to? That is the hardest thing we have every day because when you have good ideas and growth is there and you see an opportunity, you want to do it. You have to be disciplined, focused and say no to things. That's very hard for us. That is a big learning. The other big challenge we have is staffing.
Aron: I have a team of, I believe, 40 right now, maybe plus or minus a couple and we're going to maybe double the size of that group this year. Now you have to onboard folks, keep the same dynamic. We're a privately held company. I commonly refer to my co-workers as my family. Spent enough time together now where it's true, but these are my people. They're my family. I love them. They're great. I want to make sure that not only are we bringing in the most amazing talent for the role, but that they're a good fit for the group and the vibe doesn't die. When we were in the office, it was really, really special. I think we're holding onto that specialness because of the people right now in this digital world, but in the future at some point, some form of office life will return and I want that cultivating atmosphere of partnership and family to stay there. It's a huge one because when you're interviewing and you're going to double the size of the group, the group dynamic is going to shift. Not only that, but also making sure that your employees are not scared about this shift.
Aron: I have a group of individuals that I'm so proud of, like so proud of because I had to raise my hand about a year and a half ago and say, I can't do it. We're reaching the limits of what I know and I think as a good manager you should be saying that, "I need smarter people around me because I want to be the dumbest guy in the room." We started hiring these critical roles, because we saw the future plans and the growth within the marketing department and marketing is the tip of the spear. But by me raising my hand and saying, "I have a capability and a capacity issue." It changed the organizational structure within the marketing department. My teams have faith in the broader vision I've got for what we're doing. And they trust me, which I love. And they were welcoming of an organizational shift. I mean, they're getting a new boss, they're getting maybe a new boss and a boss's boss, kind of a thing. But laying out that roadmap of a brand, we have a long-term vision of being a billion dollar challenger.
Aron: So in order to hit that, it's going to be uncomfortable a couple of times when we grow, but having a team that trusts you, that you care about and they believe that too, because you've shown it to them and you've done it, you've built this belief. That was a challenge I didn't have to face, which was amazing. Because I can't even imagine having to manage growth, hire the team, double the size of the group and then really have to work hard to convince the team you have now that this is the right way forward. That seems like it'd be a very challenging thing to do.
Reid: So, talk a little bit about the skills gap, how are you now organized? Being so direct to consumer the way you are, you had to break that apart. I know people think of marketing and digital marketing and e-com and all these things, maybe as separate stuff. How did you decide to net out on all that?
Aron: Yeah. So at the time, again, remember Bootstrapper starting up, scale up excuse me, is probably better. I had... And I don't mean this to sound arrogant, but my scope was massive. So I had brand marketing, media, e-commerce, retention, consumer insights. What else? There's more, there's like two or three more areas. And what we had, it was just too much. Oh how could I forget creative? Creative in a full in-house agency. And this group, everybody's bubbling up and I think I had seven or eight direct reports at the time. And the first thing I said is, if we're looking for growth, we need to bring in a direct to consumer expert. We need somebody who's taken the company from a couple of hundred million to a billion. I want that know-how in house. So that was the first thing we looked for.
Aron: And in bringing that person in, that allowed a lot more capacity on my plate to get into the future forward thinking. Because one of the biggest challenges I was having was, I couldn't get far enough out in front to make step function change in what we were doing. So that was critical. We got very lucky in that we were filling a direct to consumer business before direct to consumer became a mandatory because of the pandemic. So the rules or the vision we had had already been baked. So we were filling in a lot of these absolutely critical roles. You just can't find now. Talent is so thin. But our creative teams structure shifted a little. Our direct to consumer became a group inside our organization, where under our DTC lead, we have a trilogy. We have media, which to me is the trigger. We have e-commerce, which is the conversion. And we have retention, which is now you have the full life cycle of the consumer. That was a big pivot for us organizationally.
Reid: Well, that's great. So the way I'm hearing it is you kind of wrapped it around the idea of the consumer and the life cycle part of it. And then the tentacles from that came out, as opposed to thinking of just yourself. You had to put those two pieces together and orient around the consumer.
Aron: Absolutely. And we do that in everything. I mean, a silly anecdote I'm in Reddit every single day, because I want to hear the voice of the consumer. I'm in there, I sign off every post I make and you'll see them if you go to our sub Reddit. I'm in there commenting probably too much. But it gives me... Reddit's an interesting space. It's different from Instagram. It's different from Facebook. To me, it's an environment where you get active, constructive feedback.
Reid: Sure. The trolls.
Aron: And we take a beating there too. Sometimes we deserve it. Sometimes we don't, but we take it. But we really have embraced that community. And I feel like they've embraced us back and we are making product enhancements and service enhancements based on their input. Which, I know a lot of brands say it, but we are very consumer centric.
Reid: Yeah. Well, that's amazing. And that's just a really hot tip right there. I think everyone does try to get a sense of the voice of the consumer, but I don't think you get it unless you're actually interacting with the consumer. I mean, research can only tell you so much.
Aron: And it's aggregated. So when you get something that's like, "Do you want this feature next?" If you've got a survey and there's a hundred features and everybody's like, "Oh, I want this feature next." But the second feature has half as much, but the passion behind that second feature is 10 times louder than the most popular, I might go with the second. You have to evaluate these things and numbers can only get you so far.
What are the priorities for you and for the brand going forward?
Reid: Yeah. Well, so no numbers aside perhaps, but I'm sure that's part of it. So now I'll segue into, what are your priorities for you and the brand going forward? You've opened up space for you to focus on that future vision. You have that priority of being the billion dollar challenger brand as that outlaw. But your priorities, what do you think you have ahead of us? What are we looking forward to with the Mint Mobile brand?
Aron: This is going to be such an exciting year.
Aron: Yeah, we have some very, very fun things happening. Everything is consumer centric, I will tell you that. This year is Mint's coming out party. People are going to be able to go, "Wow, you got to be kidding me." So we launched on limited last year in August and September, it was a product portfolio gap. The response to that product has been phenomenal. We are looking at other areas where we see gaps and we're going to fill those gaps. But on our side of the table, Mint equals disruption. So if we're going to launch something, we're going to do it in a very Minty way. And if you look at unlimited at $30 and us actively trading you down after... Look, I get it. It's Kool-Aid, I'm drinking it, but that's different. That is very different. And it's exciting. And consumers have responded so well.
Aron: So we see opportunities with areas of our business that are weak and our competitors are strong. And we are also coming into this business with outside in thinking. We talked about at the beginning, I was a taco guy, taco slinger before, this working at agencies before that. I don't have any telcom experience except for using a phone. But that gives me a fresh lens. I think outside in thinking is really healthy. And I have asked some questions about this category that can not be answered smartly. So we are going to invent new things to disrupt this category in new ways. And I don't want to go any further than that, but I'll tell you-
Reid: Well, I don't want you to spoil the surprise.
Aron: They are right around the corner, they're so fun. I hope everybody who sees it when it goes live, feels the fun and the energy and the excitement we have in it when we do it. Because I tend to feel it in work, you know when you see it, you're like, "Oh, I could tell somebody had a lot of fun working on this." But we're doing this and it's not just fun and exciting, but it's always with the lens of, how do we make sure the customer is getting more value? And when you start to see some of these things, I look at them and I'm like, I'm shocked we can do this. I guess when your business doesn't have retail and owning stores, managing stores, leases and lights, employee... All these things, it just completely changes the business model.
Reid: Yeah, physical stuff, just changing a sign on a new location, that's a whole ordeal. And I think when you don't deal with those sorts of things... And I think you're in a space now, I understand why they existed in the first place. You go back a long time ago and people needed to talk to someone, see something, feel something. But we're in an environment now where people have a set of expectations, they know what advice. But I think also you're satisfying the trust that they would have then that... You're going to deliver on what you say you're going to, that doesn't require necessarily that interaction with a human that you can go back to at the retail location near your house. I think you guys have created this personification of trust because there's an inherent empathy in what you guys are doing.
Aron: Thank you.
Reid: And I do think part of that, what you talked about, is that objectivity that you've been able to bring to this brand and ask those, could I say those stupid questions because you're not coming from it. And go, why is it this way? Because as a consumer I would expect X or Y and the answer doesn't have to be any more, "Well because that's what we've always done." Because you're reinventing it anyway. So where everyone's on board with that.
Aron: That's exactly right.
Reid: Oh, that's so much fun man. Well, you know what? This has been a fantastic conversation. We're really excited to see what you guys have in store for us in the years ahead. And so thank you for sharing your experience with our listeners and for doing what you're doing with such fantastic passion. It is absolutely infectious.
Aron: Thank you so much. And thank you for the conversation as well. It's really fun talking about this kind of stuff, it really is. I just love it to death.
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