Dec 5, 2018

Rebel With a Cause: Changing the Game


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If everyone played the same way, we would end up in about the same place; not to mention, things would be pretty boring.  If we want to change the game, we might have to break a few rules in the process.

Last week we held our first ever Rebel With a Cause speaking series, bringing entrepreneurs and “rebels” in their fields, probing on how they reimagined the tried and true.  Our moderator and BrandJuicer Alexandra Hilker addressed these pitfalls, sharing that often in business, many find themselves returning to a proven process, a safeguard and also, a crutch.  Comforted by the familiar, we often become so close to our own field that we inherently miss the territory of growth and discovery that lies exclusively in the unknown. However, she also reassured that in shifting our thinking and breaking the rules holding us back, we can step outside the four walls of our businesses and enter into forward-thinking territory.


The Panelists. The Discussion.

With a dynamic group of panelists coming from dissimilar industries, you might ask what could they possibly have in common? The key unifier for all of these successful entrepreneurs was the fact they were individuals first, who fought for their core beliefs in the face of passable business conventions.

As the evening went on, panelists recounted stories of their early days “figuring things out”, attributing their success to an amalgam of hard work and serendipity, over shrewd business expertise.  We heard from Matt Hessler, CMO at Vinyl me, Please and the humble beginnings of the business, fueled first and foremost by passion. Rather than a breakthrough technology platform or a new way of doing the old, he noted VMP came to life through a desire to share the love of music and create an experience inspired by tradition for consumers.  Founded on a true insight that eludes many when starting a business, VMP thrived through authenticity and by staying true to the art of music. With the heart and soul in place, VMP finally gained traction when they were able to bring the end-to-end experience to life, including cocktail recipes, artist stories and anecdotes and other bite-size content along with their vinyl records; providing an ever more valuable experiential product.

Another inspiring panelist was Michael Friedberg, Co-founder of Yellowbelly Chicken—a fast, healthy take on comfort food. Friedberg provided insight on how outside knowledge can prove fruitful in differentiating your offering.  Most would not associate a professional career in skiing and food-as-nutritious-fuel with fried chicken; yet Yellowbelly is growing exponentially with an offering as honest as it is damn tasty. Friedberg conveyed his trust in an insight he uncovered: a need remained in the market for food that aligned with consumer’s health standards yet maintained robust flavor and appeal.  He shed light on his humble and grounding work ethic which directly challenged typical business hierarchies, saying that as an owner of a growing franchise no job is too small, not even dirty dishes. With a fluid approach to brand building and a culture of transparency, Yellowbelly is primed for sustainable growth.

And in the spirit of community and equality, we heard from Jamie Giellis, president of RiNo Arts District, who announced she’ll be making a run for mayor of Denver. In her community-building experience, she emphasized the need for collaboration, creating alliances through coalition building.  With a progressive vision for government and community, her forward-thinking approach is about bringing as many brilliant minds to her table as possible, which she ties directly to achieving buy-in from the community. Balancing a clear vision for inclusivity with bringing together an ever-evolving community as one, Giellis continues to intentionally take on challenging issues, reimagining them with novel solutions. From disrupting homelessness with the activation of the Beloved Community Village, to protecting the heritage of the community by instituting detailed design overlays, it is through the unorthodox that Giellis has found her success.

But where many rules are meant to be broken, for brands, there is gray area where the brands should tread lightly. David Maren, VP of Strategy at Spire Digital, shared an anecdote from a previous hurdle Celestial Seasonings had to overcome. In an effort to extend the offering, Celestial made a push into herbal supplements—deviating from their clear identity as a beloved tea purveyor. Maren’s advice was simple: push the envelope, but don’t trespass with your brand. While Celestial consumers loved, and trusted the brand, they had trespassed into territories that consumers didn’t necessarily want them to go. This is where insights returned time and again, leveraging strategy at every touchpoint to guide business and brand decision-making.


After a night of inspired discussion, we gladly convened for more conversation and of course, more wine.  We are grateful to all who shared their stories of trial and error, surprise and success. We hope you will join us for the next Rebel with a Cause as we challenge each other in our communities, to fuel innovative change.

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