Greg Frontiero: How Noowave Nailed a Bootstrapped CPG Launch
The concept for NooWave was brewing in Greg Frontiero’s head for six years before he was inspired to launch his nootropic coffee brand. 100% bootstrapped, Greg has succeeded by going into constant learning mode and learning from DTC founders who are several years ahead of him.
The concept for NooWave was brewing in Greg Frontiero’s head for six years before he was inspired to launch his nootropic coffee brand. 100% bootstrapped, Greg has succeeded by going into constant learning mode and learning from DTC founders who are several years ahead of him. The unique beverage isn’t about the coffee itself—it’s about turning those who drink it into the most productive yet calm versions of themselves. In this episode of DTC POD, he maps out his founder journey. Thanks to building in public and his history in sales, Greg has found kept the company profitable from day one.
Greg entered the tech scene early in his career thanks to a friend who tipped him off on a sales job at a New York startup. He started out by literally sleeping in the office by night and making 150 cold calls per day. Unfortunately, his busy schedule and city lifestyle quickly led to burnout. After buying a one-way ticket to Thailand to decompress, Greg came back to the states and got a job at Twitter as a senior sales associate. Soon, he found himself falling back into his old bad habits, and starting formulating a nootropic beverage that would allow him to do his best work without negative side effects. Next, he worked at Stack Overflow on the enterprise sales team, which dried up during the pandemic. During 2020, he found the momentum he needed to finally become an entrepreneur and found NooWave.
17:56 - Find your “personal monopoly”
Thanks to David Perell’s Write of Passage course, Greg found himself talking about his nootropics hobby over and over. A classmate’s interest provided the fuel he needed to get going.
“There's this online writing course. I don't know if you guys know David Perell and Write of Passage….The very first week he has this section of the course where it’s called ‘your personal monopoly.’ So, I'm Greg Frontiero. I worked for these tech companies. I love nootropics. I am a professional wrestler. I do MMA stuff. And like, what is this zone where only I can talk about it and nobody else can touch me, right? What's my brand that nobody else writes about but me? And so I would say these nootropics things in these breakout rooms, and everybody had the same question, like what is a nootropic? I would tell that story I just told you, give you an example. Oh, I drink this coffee. And this guy, Robbie Crab who is like a performance speaking coach DMs me in the middle of me giving my speech about it and goes, ‘I want to buy this. Where can I buy this coffee?’ And I was like, oh, like I make it. And he's like, you should sell it. And it was like immediately. So when I tell you I had NooWave in my head for six years, I actually launched the company in six weeks.”
21:30 - Tap your network
Greg’s first move was to write a letter about his new venture and send it to his network. The response was absolutely overwhelming, with everyone demonstrating interest in his product.
“So I take this one blog post and I launch it to what I think is going to be crickets. No one's gonna care about it. I put it on my LinkedIn. I put it on like Twitter. I put it on whatever. It launches, and I swear to God, it's like a movie where every single person in my entire life like came out of the woodwork. Kids I haven't talked to her since kindergarten, teachers, coworkers, people at my MMA gyms, wrestler friends, everybody. Everybody in my life came out and. And I don't know if they necessarily gave a shit about like a nootropic coffee, but they were backing me and they sorta wrote it for me. It was just such a feel-good moment of, man. All that time in my life was for something, the connections and the people that you met. So we sold out our first run immediately.”
25:49 - Cold call manufacturers
Most companies require expensive minimums that are out of range for bootstrapped founders. Greg tapped deep into his salesman roots to find a coffee company that would work with him.
“I'm also talking to all these manufacturers and how to do fulfillment and all that stuff. And it's a nightmare, right? Like when you're making this product and you have no money and resources and all these companies have giant minimums. And so now I'm looking at this and I'm looking at getting loans and small business loans and all that stuff. So this is what I tell everybody. I think if there's one thing I can tell people that is like the hardest part about starting a CPG brand is like the manufacturing process fucking sucks…The benefit of my experience is I'm so used to making 100 cold calls a day. I'm very used to that. And this is the old school of business. I am making like literally 10 phone calls a day to manufacturers in Seattle and talking to coffee people, talking to cacao people…That's how you have to do it. Honest to God. I'm telling you guys, this is not a thing where you can send an email and they're going to be opening your door, to maybe sell you 100 bags. You’re just not going to get a response. So you have to beat them down and you have to call.”
28:31 - Pray for good luck
After Greg identified a coffee partner, he started getting bad vibes. At the last second, another fulfillment option reached out to him. They remain his partners to this day.
“At the fucking last week, we're going here. This company is just waiting for me to write them the check. And side note, I fucking hated our sales rep, hated this guy. Just every conversation with him sucked. He would just speak to me and he'd be like, ‘Yeah, so about the formula, like is this right?’ I was like, no, that's completely wrong. Like it's written down, you're responding in the same email. Just look! This is the person I'm gonna work with? We're about to launch and you fucked this up three times. And so we can't get on the same page. He's not responding for a week. And I was like, oh my God, this is going to go badly. I get this phone call. I won't say who we work with, because I don't know if they're big enough for me to reveal my secret sauce…so this angel woman calls me and she's like, Hey, I'm an upstate coffee roaster. And we really want to work with you.”
33:55 - Monitor your pricing
Greg’s goal is to eventually reduce the price of NooWave so that his 20-year-old self could afford it.
“I can't wait to get our price down, by the way. I think we were we're definitely a premium coffee right now, and I don't want to be. I want to be like and get inspired by Chris Cantino and Jaime Schmidt. All they get is pitched by brands that are like, ‘we're like the luxury, you know,’ and it's awesome. By the way, at the time we sold a $30 coffee. So I can't throw stones at my glass house. But we had to, because I didn't have any money. And I was like, this is what it costs. I need to. I read Super Maker and it said to times it by three. So I'm going to do that. There's really basic stuff, but then I started doing it. And every iteration, we get a little bit cheaper and I'm going to continue to do that. Because I want the 23-year-old version of me to be able to afford this, and right now he couldn't. And that's not good.”
36:59 - Find your true audience
Greg’s first run sold out thanks to friends and family. It dropped sharply afterward, but he was able to bring sales back up thanks to tapping into his true target market: tech bros.
“Here's what the truth is. Everybody in my life came out of the woodwork and bought it. Let's say 90% of those people dropped off. Because they weren’t my target audience. They were like my mom, who's I don't need this. So then it's weird. It went immediately down, but I had this momentum of that Write of Passage, where all of my target audience are all these kind of people like me: these nerdy kind of tech-broey kind of dudes that are all now coming out of this course with their little newsletters that are all micro-influencers essentially. They all have like a thousand-person newsletters of all their friends and family. So I sponsor all their newsletters. They're all doing their unique projects. Word of mouth is a very real thing. So we started getting all these orders out of nowhere of people being like, this works. This coffee helps me focus, but it doesn't stress me out.”
38:05 - Build in public
Greg writes a weekly newsletter rain or shine. It not only allows him to organize his thoughts on building the business, but has resulted in valuable feedback from his customers.
“I do a weekly newsletter every Wednesday that is just like a personal blog. And I talk very openly about the business. And it's like very much building in public and saying, I tried this this week. It didn't work. I think I'm going to try this. What do you guys think? Hey, do you like this? So I'm like talking to my customers every week. They respond back. I have people I've never met that I have really deep-level conversations with on email. I've had phone calls with them afterwards. And actually, this is such a powerful thing for anyone who's listening. You know the whole like talk to your customers thing and nobody does it? I had a Google spreadsheet of everyone who bought this coffee. The first thing I did is I wrote every single person a personal letter, custom. If you bought it Ramon, ‘Thanks so much for buying this. I saw on your Twitter bio your DTC POD thing. I want to check out Trend too, let’s get in a talk.’ Handwritten…This is the crazy thing. At the end of every letter I was like, if you don't mind, please take a picture and post this. Even if it's not something you like, we need content. So now I have hundreds of bags. I have really roughly around 500 pieces of content. And I have enough to just post every day.”
45:11 - Identify mentors who are one step ahead
When you reach out to other product founders who were recently in your shoes, you can gain valuable wisdom that is fresh in their mind, without worrying about competition.
“The best analogy is the ladder, where you don’t want to talk to someone who's like sold a Unilever for $100 million dollars. They’re not going to be able to help you. You want to talk to someone who's a year ahead of you. When I keep bringing up Chris from CROSSNET, that is a great guy to talk to because he's five years ahead. He did exactly what I want to do. He's already done it, but he's not far enough that he forgot what it was like to be where I'm at. And that's like a good sweet spot. There's so many people now, DTC has sort of exploded. And there's people 1-5 years ahead of me that I can chat with and I can trust. And it's always good that they're not competitive to me. So if someone's like candles, they're not going to like steal your shit. And you don't have to worry about like, oh, this person's going to snake me. They're not even in the same space. They're not going to start a coffee brand.”
55:58 - Be prepared to grow slowly
When you are truly bootstrapped, you can’t delude yourself with visions of overnight success. Greg recommends keeping your business as a side hustle for as long as possible.
“If you're bootstrapping this thing, you need to do it from your job as a side hustle, or you need to have a significant amount of cash. Because it's not going to truly make money if you want to grow the business for a while. And you know, you see these revenue charts that people release and it's pretty common theme that year 1-3, it kind of just sucks. And there's something about that second, third year, fourth year you start seeing I'm able to pay myself now. And honestly, when I look at our numbers compared to people that have released historical numbers, I'm like, yeah, we're there. We're at two. So we're at six figures now. That's it. It's not impressive. If I paid myself now, it'd be mediocre. So like I said, we tried to grow too fast and we tried to cheat, and it just doesn't work. Whenever you try to copy someone without understanding why they did what they did, or why it's relevant to that company and why they did what they did, it's just a disaster. And every time we've done this methodical, long, like you can tell when the effort's there, it pays off in spades.”
59:28 - Don’t ignore Amazon
Yes, there are downsides to selling on Amazon, but the platform can also be an incredible option for bootstrapped founders who need revenue quickly.
“So first and foremost, everybody who says I want to own the customer and the data and all that, they're absolutely correct. I would prefer that too. Who would not prefer that? I don't have that option. I'm a bootstrap person. I need to make money. And if I need to make money, I need to like suck at Jeff Bezos's tit and do the Amazon thing, it works really fucking well. Upon launch, it's like immediately now probably 50% of our revenue is from Amazon. Because it just kind of takes care of itself. Your conversion rate for Amazon is like 40% versus like 2% on your stores. And we have 80 five-star reviews. It's not unimpressive, but they're all five-star reviews. So it's great. And the testimonials there are great, it starts helping us with our copy. Don't discount Amazon. I would start it right away. It's a process to get on Amazon. It takes time and you got to do it. It's annoying and finicky and shitty. But I think building both in tandem is actually really great.”
Watch the full interview here:
This episode is brought to you by OrderGroove and OpenStore:
thirdparty_demo_us&utm_content=demo today to receive 2-months off your first contract.
Visit https://open.store to get a free, no-obligation offer for your ecommerce business from OpenStore in 24 hours.
Have any questions about the show or topics you'd like us to explore further?
Shoot us a DM, we'd love to hear from you.