Heather McDougall, Cofounder of BogoBrush
John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past seven years. He knows their ups, their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Heather McDougall who is working to bring sustainability to the toothbrush industry with BogoBrush.
1. Tell us your BogoBrush elevator pitch.
BogoBrush creates beautiful, sustainably designed toothbrushes and elevates your toothbrush to something you’re actually proud to display on your counter. Unlike the more than 800 million plastic manual toothbrushes each year in the U.S. that cannot be recycled, BogoBrush is made from recycled materials or plant waste, and is designed to never see a landfill. We believe doing good is good for business, and we contribute 10% of our profits to support people who care for each other and the planet.
2. Why toothbrushes and why sustainability?
My brother and Co-Founder, John, and I often laugh with this question because you could say it all started when we were kids, growing up as children of a dentist in Jamestown. We had zero plans of doing anything in oral health. John went to design school and I studied music and law. We realized we had a shared passion for sustainability and wanted to do something where we could use our skills and talents together and help the world be a more beautiful and balanced place. So, we thought about a variety of products and companies to start and in the end we couldn’t resist starting with a toothbrush. It’s something you use every morning and night, and with BogoBrush, you will have two seemingly small touch points with other people and the planet. From the start we’ve said, if we can change the way people think about a toothbrush, it will be the start of something so much bigger.
3. When you say BogoBrush is one of the tools, what do you mean by that?
My calling in life is to help restore the relationship between humanity and Earth, and BogoBrush is one of many ways to help people identify that relationship in themselves. John has carried about his version of this mission in designing the most future looking, sustainability-focused cars and transportation systems in the world. I have spoken on stages from Yellow Conference in LA to Middleburg University in Netherlands to SXSW this March, empowering people to step out of their eco-anxiety and realize their inherent power to do good for the planet. I mentor community and start-up leaders on my signature 8 Limbs of Sustainability, How to build impact businesses, and other business topics like marketing, supply chain, and leadership. Yoga, music, and social media are all ways I work to restore our relationship with the planet. (thisisheather.me) In BogoBrush, we’ve even written and published a delightful children’s book that shows how imagination and being a good friend and neighbor can be a big adventure, even helping you save the world. Sustainability is in your every movement, and there is no one right way. The more you see it all working together, the more efficient, the more sustainable the world becomes. We have tools to help. Let’s go:)
4. As BogoBrush is growing, you’ve chosen to grow here in North Dakota. Why are you choosing to make the move now?
First of all, we have deep roots here. John and I grew up in Jamestown and no matter how far I’ve traveled and lived, my blood still runs with North Dakota roots. Second, we work with some great people in ND. Most notably is C2Renew whom we partner with about materials and innovation. About six years ago, I was working closely with Greg Tehven, Jake Joraanstad, and others in the area for what it would take to bring BogoBrush back to ND. The timing, business needs, and funding weren’t aligning right at that time, but it’s stayed in the back of my mind. Then, during the early months of the Covid pandemic in 2020, BogoBrush was experiencing massive growth as we launched into CVS Pharmacy and desperately needed inventory financing because our cash flow was nowhere near the scale we were expanding into – one of those ‘champagne problems,’ as Ange, our CSO likes to say. While most traditional bridge financing was tied up with Covid Relief programs, the startup-friendly ecosystem in Fargo and ND rallied. Particularly thanks to you, John, and to Ray Grefsheim at Cornerstone Bank. As a result of that support, BogoBrush had 10x growth in 2020. And overall, we want to be part of the culture of change and innovation in North Dakota. Some of the most impactful conversations in the world are things going on right in this state. It’s exciting.
5. We’re starting to see more businesses where employees can be scattered around the country or world. Your team is like that (North Dakota, Detroit, Toronto, Amsterdam). How do you effectively manage that?
John and I were intentional from the very beginning, 10 years ago, about creating a business system to work from anywhere in the world. We’ve always utilized tools like Google Meet and Zoom (Skype in earlier days). To make this system work, it is important to set up clear self boundaries of time commitments. When are you available and when aren’t you? Also, it’s important to create clarity around who is needed in what conversations as well as who does what. And just say anything about whether you’re feeling supported or a bit on a limb. Honesty, mission, and teamwork. And, our seemingly scattered team, so far, is really cool because it’s connected BogoBrush to more communities, expanded our understanding of needs, strengthens partnerships and impacts. Fingers on a lot of pulses. And now, I’m excited about how we can build our ND company that fits a new generation’s lifestyle expectations. We want BogoBrush to grow in ND, hire in ND as well as elevate Fargo and ND, to prove that companies can grow here.
6. Will you tell me about your pivot to incorporate more of a B2B model as compared to direct to consumer?
We are still doing both but after investing to test both channels more seriously in 2019, we started to see significantly more traction in B2B than B2C. With our product, the direct to consumer route is a less efficient path when it comes to the costs of customer acquisition and shipping, and ultimately profitability. Demand was growing for distribution and retail markets, so we embraced our focus to meet that B2B opportunity.
7. From working with your company, I’ve heard you talk about the importance of when you chose to invest in hiring a broker to help with this. Will you tell me more about that?
In the spring of 2019, we were on a strategy to test business to business wholesale against direct to consumer online subscriptions. We invested heavily in a digital marketing firm to support us because neither John nor I were experts in digital marketing and weren’t going to become experts overnight. It’s the same instinct for hiring a broker for distribution and retail sales. We’d done a good job generating leads, PR, and even sales for over 100 stores, but there is a skillset and expertise that comes along with successful wholesale, and it’s not one that was in John or my zone of genius. If we wanted to learn more, and really test the B2B channel, we needed to find someone to help. And it’s been an awesome choice. After she, Angela Wallace, brought us sales with Urban Outfitters and CVS, she joined our team full time as our CSO/COO in the summer of 2020. And for my fellow founders, this part of the story is only after I reached burnout. I think there is pressure, for too long in many startup spaces, to bootstrap as long as possible, and at least for me, a mentality that I needed prove I could do everything. This is a trap that’s easy because we’re in both the weeds and the vision, but when you start hitting a wall and feel overstretched, really ask yourself where you need support so your genius can fly, and then prioritize getting it. Expanding the team at BogoBrush is one of our top 5 goals for 2021 so we can all grow and thrive within the brand.
8. Why are corporate programs like the “CVS Innovations Program” so important to you companies like BogoBrush?
It’s David & Goliath. The cost to compete and grow in mass market CPG is cost-prohibitive to most emerging and scaling brands. For instance, there are 5 figure marketing programs to join so you can pay an additional 5 figures or more to participate in consumer facing promotion. Or, you ship the first round of product on free fill – basically consignment. Many versions of this cost exist, but the point is that programs like the Innovations Program we’re in through CVS decrease the barriers to entry. And the CVS program is especially supportive because we received full point of purchase display, end-cap feature alongside two toothpastes who were also in the program. You never get that, normally.
9. If you could go back in time to Heather from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
You are amazing and deserve to do what feels good! There will come a time when you feel exhausted and you think you need to keep going to prove to someone – investors, mentors, customers – that you are good enough. You will feel unmotivated and scared. This is not a signal of a bottomless pit of failure. This is you expanding and ready to step into new leadership. This is a sign you’ve overstayed your welcome in this version of focus. Identify what YOU are excited to do. Trust that your zone of genius will lead to your own unique flavor of creation and success, and trust that as soon as you take actions toward changing that reality, you will feel the channels of electricity open for you. Be the leader you need.
10. What can we do as a community to help BogoBrush succeed?
Gosh, thank you for asking! One of the simplest and most impactful things you can do is to purchase a BogoBrush through cvs.com, create an account so you can leave a review for us. Positive and thoughtful customer engagement in reviews is REALLY valuable to our buyers and future customers, so you’d be making a big impact for us. Other ways to help BogoBrush succeed include introducing us to friends who host podcasts or blogs who are looking for a radically honest conversation about Sustainability and the power of Entrepreneurship to create major shifts in the world, and then stay tuned to our social media and email announcements about hiring new team members; we’ll welcome support spreading the word. Thanks, again!